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Reflections on Turning Sixty

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Reflections on Turning Sixty

Nanny, my father, me, Granny and my mother.jpg

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting: 

The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star,  

Hath had elsewhere its setting,           

And cometh from afar.

 

Sixty years ago, I was born into a Postwar Britain of bombsites, rationing and austerity. Neighbours dropped by to borrow sugar and stayed for a 'cuppa' at the kitchen table. Toys and furniture were scarce, optimism abundant. My parents wanted a child who would bring peace to a war-torn world and tell the next Hitler where to go. Their innocent aspiration invoked a tiny freckle-faced Tara.

 

This intention to benefit all beings,

Which does not arise in others even for their own sake,

Is an extraordinary jewel of the mind,

And its birth an unprecedented wonder.

 

 When I was ten, the Cuban Missile crisis erupted. I didn't expect to see eleven. That October Sunday, we sat around the television, watching Russian ships approach Cuba, waiting for JFK to press the button. Mutual Assured Destruction. Slowly, the ships turned.  I saw a world reborn, a hope renewed.

Morning has broken,

Like the first morning

Blackbird has spoken,

Like the first bird.

 

At seventeen I read On the Beach, post Nuclear Holocaust novel, watched Children of Hiroshima, learnt about ICBMs. It seemed impossible that I would live to be twenty. I would be turned into a shadow, only that. Adult insanity ruled.

 

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

 

Today I celebrate sixty years in a world on the brink. Sixty years of adult insanity. Nuclear weapons, My Lai massacre, Chernobyl, TMI, Fukushima, global warming, Age of Stupid, species extinctions, African famines, gulf oil spill, Twin Towers, Afghanistan, Iraq--war and still more war. Sixty years, waiting to be turned into a shadow. Sixty years, yearning for peace. And still my spirit is strong.

 

Drinking a cup of green tea

I stop the war.

 

 I have seen that all faith traditions are true and good and all religions tainted with misogyny and fear of fleshly lusts. Fear drives adult insanity. Fear turns us into shadows, with or without a nuclear holocaust. I have seen that life can be rich and full, even on the brink. I have seen that joy abides in all, beneath the horror, beneath the pain, beneath the fear, for joy is our true nature.

 

From joy all beings come

By joy they live

And unto joy they all return.

 

 

I have learnt that simplicity, contentment and humble pleasure are revolutionary acts capable of transforming the world. And I have seen that Eros, a much-maligned god, deserves a place of honour in my pantheon.  He gives much more than sexual ecstasy. He imbues my life with all-embracing love and transcendent passion, colouring everyday things with his radiance. Eros will never allow me to be turned into a shadow.

 
To see a World in a Grain of Sand 
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower, 
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand  
And Eternity in an hour.
 
 

As a teenager I made friends with Roman pagan poet Horace, translating his poetry and even visiting his house in the Aniene valley. Horace has walked with me ever since, tapping me on the shoulder when I sip a glass of water--how good it tastes!--or wander round the garden--see the flowers, feel the warmth of the sunlight, smell the fragrance, pluck today!

 

Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero.

Don't trust tomorrow's bough for fruit

Pluck this, here, now!

 

For decades I have studied Vedanta, Hinnayana, Mahayana, Tantrayana, Kabbalah, Hasidut, Sufism, Taoism and the Desert fathers. The essential teachings of all mystic traditions are summed up in a hymn I learnt in St Mary's Infant School.

 

Little drops of water,
Little grains of sand,
Make the mighty ocean
And the pleasant land.

 

Little deeds of kindness,
Little words of love,
Make our earth a Heaven,
Like the one above
.

 

In sixty years, I have learnt that this world, with its pains, its wars, its catastrophes, this world on the brink, is the birthplace of compassion, the ground of tenderness. And I have come to know that the greatest treasure we can possess is the human heart, in all its love, in all its sorrow, in all its pathos, for the human heart is where time meets eternity.

 

The clouds that gather round the setting sun

  Do take a sober colouring from an eye 

 That hath kept watch o'er man's mortality;

  Another race hath been, and other palms are won. 

 Thanks to the human heart by which we live, 

 Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears, 

 To me the meanest flower that blows can give 

 Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.

 

 69761_490531118152_98478258152_5948195_778327_n.jpg

 

 Related Posts:

http://www.alandiashram.org/mas_blog/2011/12/remembering-st-marys-infant-sch.html

Giving Thanks

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Penny Rug - Count Your Blessings

Image by Morna Crites-Moore via Flickr

A couple of days ago we had the opportunity to watch Roco Belic's  film Happy  at Boulder's own Dairy Center for the Arts. The film begins in a Calcutta slum, where a poor rickshaw wallah tells us of his happy life. "My house is great", he said cheerfully, gesturing around the crude shack covered with tattered plastic sheets.  "It is open on one side, so we get plenty of breeze." I was stunned.

As s child I remember singing Johnson Oatman's old hymn "Count your blessings"
When upon life's billows you are tempest-tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.
 

This simple children's hymn has always remained with me for the profound spiritual message it contains. Counting blessings is an important practice of metta, or loving-kindness. Counting blessings, giving thanks, frees us from hindrances such as doubt, despondency and discontent. Instead of feeling discouraged, bitter or frustrated because we don't have all the things--wealth, power and prestige--to which we feel entitled, we can experience a thrill of surprise for all the blessings we do receive on a daily basis.

 This morning I woke up in a warm bed. Amazing! There was clean water to brush my teeth. Fantastic! And delicious, pure spring water to drink. Incredible! We may take these things for granted; millions will never have them. Counting blessings leads us not only to metta, but also to karuna or compassion, as we think of all the people who have no warm bed, who go to sleep hungry or in fear, who have to carry water for miles, who don't have any clean drinking water. As we count our blessings with genuine surprise and enthusiasm, we naturally think of how to contribute in any way to those who don't get a chance to enjoy life's simple pleasures.

So, this Thanksgiving and every day, remember to count your blessings and feel innocent joy and childlike surprise. And if you want a moment of goosebumps, click the link below for a lovely rendition of Aled Jones 'Count your blessings one by one' by an English choir girl.


Count your blessings while you may,
For we are here but little time to stay;
All around are hearts sincere and true
Lovely things abound just waiting for you;
Count your blessings while you may
The big or small, whichever comes your way,
For then you'll find this world a place of love
If you will count your blessings from abov
e.
 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G300M90-qqc


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The Legacy of War

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Albert George Board.jpg

As a small child, I remember visiting my great-grandmother, Emma, in a sparsely furnished room. The only item of interest in the room was a large photograph of my great-uncle, Albert George Board, tragically killed during World War I.

Sergt. no 1853 6th Battal. (Rifles) The London Regiment... was an ostrich feather dyer; volunteered for foreign service and joined the 6th London Rgt 6 Aug 1914 after the outbreak of war: served with the Expeditionary Force in France and Flanders from 7th March 1915, took part in the Battle of Festubert, after which he was promoted L.Corporal for bravery in the field, gaining his second stripe 25 OCt for good work at Loos after his senior NCO had been killed: was promoted Sgt in Dec., and was killed in action at Loos 9 Feb. 1916 while investigating a mine crater which had only been exploded that morning. Buried in South Moroe Cemetery near Loos. Corpl Cuss DCM wrote: "The bombing platoon worshipped him, and the boys would follow him anywhere. We have sustained a loss which can never be replaced. He went out on his own to explore a mine crater which had only been exploded that day, and was sniped while doing so. His body was recovered the next day by two of his comrades, and buried with full honours and a cross was erected bearing a suitable inscription."

As his obituary points out, he was an amazing and charismatic figure, respected for his love and kindness. Thirty-five years after my uncle's death, I was born in a small town in England, the eldest child of two only children. My grandfather had died some years before my birth, from an autoimmune collagen disease. The man who would have stood in my grandfather's place, offering support to the new parents and love to the newborn baby, was Albert, whose life had tragically been wasted in a futile and cataclysmic war.

Because of this war, which occurred a generation before my birth, I was robbed of the company and love of an uncle who would have meant a great deal to me--the more so because I had no maternal grandfather. Because of the war, my great-grandmother lived her life in mourning. The death of Albert Board left an empty chair at the family table that could never be filled. It is almost a century after he was killed; yet his death continues to leave its mark upon the living.

World War I alone left empty chairs at fifteen million family tables--tens of millions of families changed forever by the loss of a loved one who could never be replaced. Then, in World War II, whole families and lineages were exterminated, entire cultures destroyed-- robbing the whole human family of the unique gifts of these lineages and cultures.

The 'war to end all wars' did not end war. In our nascent century, World War III has taken the form of a metastatic cancer, breaking out as many seemingly disparate entities. There are wars waged by wealthy nations against poorer nations, typically Moslem, tribal or both, as in Afghanistan and Iraq. There are proxy wars fought by poor tribal people against other poor tribal people, using the sophisticated weapons of the wealthy nations, as in Sudan, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast. And there are endless wars against abstracted enemies: the War on Terror, the War on Drugs, fought using sophisticated weapons from wealthy nations and resulting in the deaths of countless poor, often tribal, people.

Every one of these wars leaves empty seats at thousands of tables. Every one of these wars creates losses whose effects will still be felt in a hundred years, just as the loss of the uncle I never knew impacted my life permanently. Every one of these wars pushes tribes and cultures to the brink, robbing the human family of unique forms of wisdom. There is no war to end war, but as HG Wells said, "If we don't end war, war will end us."

Related articles:

http://www.alandiashram.org/mas_blog/2011/03/you-canot-make-peace-with-a-sw.html

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Dreams of Grace

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This week I had two interesting dreams. In the first one I met Shri Anandi Ma. She gave me a beautiful carved wooden box containing some gilt objects. She said, "These are our favorite deity seats. They are for you." According to Sadananda, this means that everything is in place for the Divine energies within to be activated.

In the second dream, I was holding a big graduation ceremony for the Gurukula. Both my parents were there. My mother was graduating from the school and was quite proud of this and said it was a very good programme. My father then endorsed the school. After this my father gave Sadananda an endorsement. He wrote down the endorsement on a piece of paper before returning to the ancestor world. It sounds as if everything is going well with my father's blessings!





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STONEHENGE, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 22:  Hundreds o...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

The Winter Solstice eclipse was a dramatic event in terms of my own chart, by Western Astrology at least. The eclipse, on the Galactic anti-centre, was opposite my Mercury, which is right on Galactic Centre. Meanwhile, Uranus, planet of erratic events, surprises and sudden changes, innovation and individuation, was square (challenging 90 degree aspect) to both the eclipse and my natal mercury, setting off a T-cross. Suffice it to say that this event offered challenge, change and innovation within my consciousness and mind.
 
So there was the somewhat nervous anticipation of the event, the actual lived event, and now the event seen in the rear-view mirror, as I share it with you. With the eclipse conveniently occurring on Monday night, we enjoyed our usual weekly Vedic fire ceremony and bathing of the Shiva lingam. Our Naropa crowd was gone for the holidays and it was just the three Pujaris, Katherine, Sadananda and myself. After meditation we took delicious South Indian prasadam. I was quite surprised to find myself rather peaceful and not getting into any erratic Uranian moods!

Later that night, Sadananda and I went back in the temple and chanted Om namah shivayah for an hour, into the time of the eclipse. However, we didn't stay up past twelve thirty. The interesting part happened next. I took Madhav Nidhan, a classical Ayurvedic text, to bed with me! While Sadananda was brushing his teeth, I was reading Ayurvedic pathology. And as  I look in the rear-view mirror, I see that this was in fact the great and anticipated Event--just sitting in bed in my brushed cotton nightgown reading a book that I would never have seen as bed-time reading.   Indeed, Uranus was illumining my mind with insights into the ancient text. In this darkest of dark nights, the light of Ayurvedic wisdom was flooding my consciousness. During an aspect, Uranus square natal mercury, when I was challenged to individuate my consciousness, I received a clear message that I was individuating as a vessel of Ayurvedic wisdom in twenty- first century America.
 
Sometimes a seemingly trivial event can be of great significance  when we reflect upon it.





 
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Second night of Hanukkah

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Hanukkah is about rekindling, reconsecration, bringing back the light. In devastation, light returns. Without destruction, without desecration, there would be no Hanukkah miracle. It is our desolate places that call out for warmth and radiance, the darkness of our despair that invites the light of the menorah.

It is a dark time for our planet, our ecosystems and our civilization.  Catastrophic climate change is underway and escalating, yet our response as a species is weak and hesitant. We are like a patient with a life-threatening illness refusing to take our medicine because it tastes bitter. Can we find our Hanukkah miracle of global cooperation, respecting the earth and the future of our children? It lies within our soul, we have only to awaken.Will light emerge from this time of unprecedented darkness?

The Hanukkah lights are warrior lights, celebrating victory and freedom. The Maccabees had only one resource, faith, as they took on the might of empire and warlords. In our time, can we break free of the imperial power sway of our military-industrial carbon based economy and come together as one people?  Can we take our earth back as the Maccabees took their homeland back?

I pray it may be so, Amen, Amen.


 




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Pakistan floods: Children playing in a relief camp

Image by Oxfam International via Flickr

It is a cold morning, the sun rising into a bank of cloud.The Homeless Shelter is crowded. By four  in the afternoon yesterday, a knot of people were standing in the cold, to wait an hour until the shelter opened. Family in the British Isles contend with snow, ice and cold. Villagers in Pakistan face a winter under canvas, short of food and blankets, their plight unseen and unheard, victims of climate change that they did little to cause.

In Brazil, drought dries up the Amazon rainforest. "These are the times spoken of in prophecy," says an indigenous farmer. "The sun is changing and the forest dying."

In Cancun, Mexico, the Climate Summit opens. CO2 emissions continue to rise even as weather catastrophes escalate. As I study prehistory and our Paleolithic journey, I see today's crisis inherent in the first microlith--the newest, coolest stone tool. Our fascination with technology and our urge to expand and people the earth has been with us from the beginning. We survived the Ice Age because of our longevity, which allowed for the support and guidance of elders. Today, we have more elders than at any point in history or pre-history, a potential pool of wisdom and experience typically warehoused away from contact with younger decision makers and leaders.

Our children face an uncertain future. Can the elders awaken? Can we make our voices heard? Can we meet each other with patience and compassion, free from judgment and hostility? Beneath the attempts to shore up the status quo, is another reality being born?

O God, lead us from death to life,
from falsehood to truth.
Lead us from despair to hope,
from fear to trust.
Lead us from hate to love,
from war to peace.
Let peace fill our hearts, our world, our universe.
 World Prayer for Peace, Satish Kumar




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Metta for the Fly

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House Fly on Wall

Image via Wikipedia

SO I decided to make a commitment to myself to do some writing work every day and to blog a reflection or poem daily....wish me well....

Metta for the fly

Why, why, why little fly
Do you buzz me, bite me, nibble me, tickle me
Crawl on my nose, my lips, my ears,
Why, why, why little fly?

Why, why, why sister fly
Don't  I Iove you, bless you, cherish, respect you
Wish you well in all your ways
when you buzz me, bite me, nibble me, tickle me?
Why, why, why sister fly
Don't I love you
Just the same?
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Thanksgiving 2010

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harvest window

Image by crunklygill via Flickr

My first experience of Thanksgiving was when I was a medical student in London and working as an usherette at the National Theatre. A fellow usherette was American and she and her boyfriend organized a community Thanksgiving feast in a small flat in the inner city. This was also my first taste of pumpkin pie!
Many years later, after moving to the US, I became a regular participant in family Thanksgiving with my in-laws. I also grew aware, and increasingly so, of the devastating fate that befell the Wampanoag Indians who participated in the first Thanksgiving, as well as of the Third World conditions in which so many of today's Native Americans live. Growing up as a young girl in rural England, my knowledge of such things was limited to playing in my Indian squaw costume and toy tipi. Although we didn't celebrate Thanksgiving, we had many wonderful celebrations of seasonal agricultural  life, including Harvest Festivals where the beautiful Gothic churches were decorated with vegetables and fruits which were later given to the poor. We sang harvest hymns to the sound of swelling organ and thanked our Creator for the harves
t.

Come, ye thankful people, come, raise the song of harvest home;
All is safely gathered in, ere the winter storms begin.
God our Maker doth provide for our wants to be supplied;
Come to God's own temple, come, raise the song of harvest home
!


Such feelings of deep gratitude for harvest go back to our earliest Neolithic roots. Harvest is precarious and a succssful harvest is truly a reason to thank the one we worship as the supreme source of food security.
Toady on Native American reservations, many are cold and hungry, lacking the basic necessities of life. In this wealthy country, where we enjoy conveniences and  luxuries that kings in previous generations could not have dreamed of, millions are food insecure. Today in Pakistan, what promised to be a bumper harvest has either been destroyed by floods or lies rotting because the infrastructure to deliver it has been destroyed by the same floods. The world food programme has cut back on basic food rations to malnourished children in Pakistan because of lack of funds.
Although government aid is important, it often comes with strings. Only private philanthropy, people  helping people and working with grass roots organizations, can meet the desperate need of the world's poorest. Currently, we at Alandi Ashram are focusing our efforts on Pakistan, partnering with Global Greengrants, a local Boulder organization with a global reach. Please help us raise $30,000 for Pakistan's flood victims...and have a wonderful Thanksgiving in every sense of the word.

http://greengrants.giveo.com/campaigns/emergency-fund
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There is a very important election, much more important than the current mid-term elections. This is an election to a great monastery. Sadananda and I are elected to this monastery. Sadananda chooses to become a hermit. An upper room or loft  is constructed for him. He lives in this upper room and once a day he lowers a bowl on a rope, with a note saying what he needs. We place the supplies in the bowl and he hauls it up.
I meet a woman from the future who has written a book about the five great saints of the monastery. Sadananda and I are in this book. I see  a chapter on Sadananda's life, and then a chapter called Enlightenment. I say "that must be Sadananda" although it is not completely clear if this applies to Sadananda or to both of us or indeed if I see it this way out of humility. After enlightenment comes Death but I don't read that section out of etiquette as it seems improper to know details of Sadananda's death before it happens. Then comes the chapter on me. I am quite surprised to find that I became one of the greatest humanitarians the world has ever known, making the problem of world hunger my own and solving it completely to the extent that everyone in the world could enjoy not just  UN rations but real food with fruits and vegetables. There was an illustration of my packing up apples for shipment. I say, "This all makes sense as Sadananda is more contemplative and I am more active, he is in fana and I am in baqa."  I appreciate that Sadananda's contemplation plays a part in my activism and vice versa. Again, out of etiquette  I don't read the chapter on my own death.
It comes time to visit Sadananda (an annual visit) and the Abbot and I climb up on a ladder. Sadananda is eating out of a big bowl. He will say nothing except 'Yes". Then he says to the Abbot "Yes. I know what I'm doing." Sadananda makes his meal by filling a big pitta bread with vegetables  and pouring in hot water, thus making soup inside the bread. He has eaten one and is going to eat another but the abbot takes it away saying "you don't have to torture yourself" . I feel sad  because Sadananda eats but once a day and due to our visit he will not eat his fill. The abbot says that from now on we will visit Sadananda once a month. I wake up.


The following night I dream about solving world hunger. I dream about Indonesia and that the problem of hunger in this country can be solved by water buffaloes. Also that literacy is the key to ending world hunger because knowledge is power.


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