Monday, 19 March 2018

The Lord's Prayer ~ fresh thoughts and reflections

I like The Lord's Prayer, which I have known and repeated from childhood, but it's only recently that I've thought much about what those words might mean to me on a deeper level.  The thoughts set out here are my own, and are likely to differ from the mainstream.  They draw in reflections which have accrued over many years and make sense to me.  I offer them as what may be fresh view of an old and familiar recital.  

Over the past year I have formed an intermittent practise of sitting quietly for ten to twenty minutes at a time in which I let myself rest in a contemplative way.  I have found this prayer a good focus for that and go though it slowly one phrase at a time.  Often I only get through the first few lines, which on those occasions is quite enough. 

The Lord's Prayer is non-denominational, arguably inter-faith, and collective.  In the text those who pray are not individual but many, hence this prayer is addressed as from a group to God, whoever or whatever we conceive that, him or her to be. 

It begins with the collective statement:

Our Father
Right away that puts me off, and since I got on very well with my own dad my aversion is not to fathers as such.  I prefer to say 'Our Creator', which does not assign gender, and gets us beyond the common archetype of God as the great patriarch, the bearded old man with the staff in his hand, who resides somewhere up in the sky.  There are so many problems with that that I prefer to set it entirely aside.  It has to be said, though, that using this different term can get a bit arduous at times, so I'm not consistent with its usage.

Why do we even think of God as a person?  I suppose that being human it's natural that we should do so.  I imagine that many people with Biblical backgrounds will instantly say that we know this because the Bible says that we are created in his image, therefore... he and or she must be something like a Divine and All Powerful us.  To this I respond that the Bible is a human document written by and for humans, so this is only to be expected.  

One could just as reasonably suppose that since God created everything, that animals, rocks, plants, bodies of water, volcanoes and all the rest of it, are also made in 'his' image, and if these have consciousness in any way parallel to our own, that they may also consider that God is just like a vivid prototype of themselves!  

I like that point of view very much.  Indigenous spiritual beliefs I know of recognise the presence of the Creator or Great Spirit in landscapes, creatures, and in the force of nature as a whole.  

My point of view embraces that, so I see God as being entirely present in Nature, and indeed, equally present everywhere, even in those we consider our enemies.  As humans we are only one small part of creation.  

So for me, 'Our Creator' is a near-enough form of address for the driving pulsating force of life which rolls forward in the great tide of creation of which we are only tiny particles of consciousness which, for a brief period of time, are intertwined with earthly matter.  

So I start again:

Our Creator,
Who art / is in Heaven,
What exactly are we talking about, what is this Heaven?  It is often depicted as a place that is much like Earth but without all the hardships and suffering, nutty neighbours, health problems, workplace madness, squabbling family life, and all the other trials that are so familiar to us all.  Much as I wish to escape these daily annoyances such an existence seems unreal to me and somehow lacking in salt.  Indeed, the prospect of being consigned to such a place fills me with unease!  

So what else can we come up with in the ideas-about-what-heaven-is-like department?

While any ideas of mine must be entirely speculative I have considered what does seem real to me.  If I think of God as the source of everything in the universe, the vital pulsating realm that extends far beyond our perception and whence all creation arises, which also contains all sound as well as complete and utter silence, what is the seat of all this?  In response I think of places like the Niagara Falls, volcanoes, coral reefs, vast frozen wastelands, and all those places which teem with life and life force, either expressed or held in abeyance, and also the intimacy of loving embrace, flowers opening, tiny plants sprouting out of hidden depths...  Reflecting on all of that can be quite overwhelming.  


It is also a description of life right here on Earth.  This is a nagging worry.  Maybe heaven is right here where we are now, even as we try to escape its hardships.  Perhaps we had better get used to that and take more responsibility for how things are going here, instead of thinking that we are only here for a short while and will sooner or later escape from it into some rosy afterlife.  Whatever the case, all spiritual teachings I have ever come across assure us that the Creator is right here as well as there, where ever 'there' is, so that is a good resting place for my thoughts.  

Being something of a loner my ideas about Heaven are not heavily populated with people.  But if we 'are good' we may go to Heaven when we die, so who else will be there?  Will I meet once more my dear departed parents and friends and greatly missed pets?  And what else will I encounter?  Extinct birds and animals?  That would be great - I'd love to see some of the birds - imagine seeing huia!  But Will There Be Dinosaurs?  Probably they lived blameless lives in their way so...  These thoughts, while engaging in their way, are just a distraction.  I presume that whatever exists in the great beyond is independent of my ideas about it, so my speculation is fairly pointless.  

What is real is that with regard to my dear ones who have died I can still feel the enduring love I have for them and can rest in that, and that's enough.  I actually don't need to know any more, but I do like to dive into what I imagine of those great cosmic generative energies.  And I can visit some of those places on Earth where I can feel that.  A walk on the beach is good!

Hallowed be thy name.
Having considered the immensity and complexity of the universe as we know it, and recognising that even with all our knowledge we know so very little ... how could that name not be hallowed?  Respect! 
Thy kingdom come...
Having planted my feet firmly with relation to the previous three lines this one is easier.  Or is it?  The  simplest response I have for this is: May we recognise that The Force is with us - in our lives and in our world, and act accordingly.
Thy will be done...
What the heck is God's will?  I have no idea, but undertake to do my best to accept what presents itself and to deal with it respectfully.  Beyond that I have my own ideas about what needs to be done and / or should be accomplished, but these are only partial and only my ideas.  Other people's rules on this subject, and especially rules written in books may be useful reference points in their way, but ultimately the infinite variations in our lives are such that we can't have rules for everything and what a horrible situation that would be if we did; we have to work out a great deal for ourselves, and to take responsibility for what subsequently arises.   Further to that many things are way beyond our control, and also the tide of life can carry us far beyond what we ever thought of or wished for, and it may not be what we like.  But relax.  We can't control everything.  For me there is a measure of relief in recognising that.
...on Earth as it is in Heaven.
With this we are back to the Heaven business.  If I take Heaven to be the essential pulsation of life, which includes both order and its collapse into chaos, life and death, matter and emptiness, than I have to accept all these, including the 'good' and the 'bad', as normal.  After all my strenuous efforts, trying to work things out, make sense of things, contribute in ways that matter, I can surrender into that, I can let go - of youth, such beauty as I may have had, health worries, dreams, projects, things I've desperately wanted and strived for, things I got because I fought for them, my little achievements and some of the bigger ones, as well as my failures.  It's okay.  Or I wish it were.  Well, anyway I have to accept that.  The tide of life moves relentlessly onwards.  I am just a tiny part of that great wave.  

Give us this day our daily bread
Food.  We all need to eat.  But for me this is about much more than the food-on-the-table kind of food.  It's about having the strength to get through the day - each day, that night, and then the day after, and then again.  There are times when many difficulties press in on me.  How can I live?  I need nourishment for inner strength and wonder where that will come from when my reserves are empty?  So I open up my inner emptiness and say, this place needs food.  Help me.  Just recognising that I can even ask for this and open myself in this way is helpful.  For which I say 'Thank you'. 

And forgive us our trespasses...
Oh mistakes.  Every day in every way I have made, and will continue to make, mistakes.  Well, often enough!  We all do.  It can be hard to let these go.  My quite usual human fallibility and the humiliation of having messed things up, having to sort out things, often the same sorts of things over and over, can be crushing.  And some mistakes I find myself replaying for years, stupid things I've said and done; not taking enough time, not thinking things through properly, misunderstandings...  Why keep going over them?   I know I'm not the only person who does this.  I do try to learn from my mistakes.  There are people in my past I'd like to go back to and sort things out with, but that isn't always possible.  It's only fairly recently that I've realised that holding onto regrets achieves nothing more than making me stiff and tired in my soul.  The tide of life moves on, carrying flotsam and jetsam with it, and eventually wearing it all back to sand.  

So I do my best to let go and to stop reinforcing mistakes by feeling bad about them.  Instead, I try to send love to all the mistakes and like a mother with a child take up it up to comfort it.  I am that mother and that child.  In my mind God or the Creator is that parent and I am that child.  So I say again, I do my best to let the past go, to let go of the ugliness and hurt both for myself and for others. we forgive those who trespass against us.
This is the same thing in theory but often very different in practice.  For the most part it is not too hard - broken china, a ding in the car, angry words now and again, but then there are the big ones which aren't so simple: the big hurts, injustices and the shattering injuries so many of us have suffered, and to these I've cried out, "No!  Don't expect me to go there, don't you dare even think it".  And yet... this is what it says: "We forgive..."  Why?  Why should we, why should I?  But in the immortal line from 'Angels in America', "If it's not hard it's not forgiveness".  

For me forgiveness for such injuries is a process, which can take a very long time, in some instances decades long.  I've had a large number of difficulties in my life which were not of my making, which happened to me because of the actions of others who messed up.  Some of them are very hard indeed to forgive, to let go of.  I've been hugely angry with certain people for a very long time.  And yet the task remains.  Loads of people have this.  

At the back of such pain there is this anger.  People say, "You have to get rid of anger".  I disagree.  It is a natural emotion.  All our emotions are natural and part of us.  As with any other difficulty it is paying proper attention to it that is the key.  Our emotions and capabilities can be likened to the pillars in each of our houses of life, each of which contributes to holding up the roof and making the structure sound and balanced: each has its place, all are needed.  In my view anger which is suppressed or not acknowledged is far more dangerous than that which is at least known.  That doesn't mean that we resort to violence, but how can we deal with this danger if we don't know it is there?  Danger is anger with a 'D' in front of it.  'D' is for 'detonate'.  So let's not ignore it, let's get to grips with it and sort it out.  It's there for a reason. 

What is the point of anger?  When things go terribly wrong anger, handled skilfully, need not equate with violence: it can be our enabler, providing us with the energy to assert and defend ourselves and to get out of situations which are harmful; it sets up a firewall between us and the source of attack, and spells out "No further, no more".  The challenge is to pay attention to this, to act accordingly, to get out, get help, take time out, and ensure that safety is restored.  Once this is achieved and we are back on our feet anger can resume a quieter place alongside our other emotions.  

Coming to accept bad things that have happened through the actions or non-action of others can be a long and stony path and take a long long time.  But with time and support new things can arise and these hurts gradually fade into history where they belong.  

At the back of enduring anger with others there is often anger with ourselves, which can include blame that we didn't see the disaster coming, or the fear that perhaps we unwittingly contributed to it, so with the big hurts forgiveness of oneself comes first, or so I've found.  There can be a lot of pain in there.  

For me part of the process of forgiveness can be just sitting with that pain and accepting it.  It begins there.  Paradoxically only after I have finally accepted awful experiences as part of my life have I been able to begin the long path to becoming free of them, and eventually feel forgiveness.  The damage may remain but it no longer binds me in spirit.

People feel these things in varying degrees.  To those who don't recognise this level of hurt, good luck to you.  Any of our lives can change in an instant.  

Back to the prayer:

Lead us not into temptation...
On the face of it this sounds like a plea to our creator to not load us up with more complexities than we can handle.  But why would any creator do that?  More simply, it can be read as an acknowledgement of human frailty.  The way I read this line is this: however competent we are our lives are often cluttered with unexpected potholes, wrong turnings and false promise. I appreciate all the help I can get in seeing the way forward, especially in identifying mirages, and seeing when a pothole or wrong turning is looming.  For me that line must just as well read: "Dear God, please help me see my way, despite my blindness and stupidity"! 

...but deliver us from evil,
Choice of circumstance, however wise or well-informed we might happen to be, often seems to be entirely lacking.  So how do we navigate those times when everything seems stacked against us?  I've tried many things.  More recently I have found it helpful to sit quietly as described and to address my concerns to the Creator, to huff and puff a bit and yet try to be still for a bit, maybe for a bit longer than the huffing and puffing part.  It's something.  There are no big leaps here only small steps, and sometimes it seems no use at all.  But if, with this in mind, I sit quietly enough often enough, maybe once of twice a day, or just potter quietly in the garden, I am at least likely to feel calmer, which is a good place from which to deal with troubles of any sort.  And sometimes, quite often actually, having calmed down I find that insurmountable problems are not that big a deal after all, and much more manageable that I thought.  I think too that life presents us with coincidences more often than might be expected, so I'm on the lookout for those.  

With regard to the threat of evil, which these days seems like a sinister tsunami about to engulf us at every turn my firm conclusion is that the greatest dangers on the planet are human and twofold: unaddressed anger, which leads to vast social and mental health problems, and human complacency, in which so often we do only as much as is necessary for ourselves.  We all need to look out for these, to reach out to each other, and to take responsibility for our part in the whole.  We need to Wake Up.  Right, where's some cold water? 

So in this instance I say, "Dear God, please help us to Wake Up".

Back to the prayer: having dealt with all the rough stuff, it returns to the opening theme, acknowledging our relationship with The Creator, the universe and its magnificence, both personal and impersonal, matter and emptiness, in and out of time...

for thine is the kingdom

the power and the glory

for ever and ever


That's quite a journey.  Amen indeed, and thank you for reading.

I realise that there are some inconsistencies in the thinking that I've set out here.  I see this as positive: it's consistent enough for me to have a good foundation and leaves plenty of room for further comtemplation.  Life is always a work in progress, and the journey is never over. 

There are other versions of The Lord's Prayer.  I have linked below to a Maori one which I like very much. 
It's important to observe that the English translation given with it is not a direct translation of the Maori language used, which has nuance and meaning that we can only begin to recognise through study of that culture and further reflection.  Furthermore, te ao Maori, Maori reality and perceptions, are not the same as the European ones.  Great strength can be derived from diversity, and it's not a case of right or wrong, but rather of creating space for contemplation and at-one-ment.  
Kia tapu tou Ingoa - Sacred is your name.  
I imagine we all have particular parts that mean something special to us.  That one is mine. 

To find other articles in The Rushleigh Chonicles you can click on these links below:

Friday, 13 April 2012

Not my will but Thine ~ Parson Hawthyn at prayer ~ a memorable excerpt

In my previous article I talk about The exertion of will and the importance of not imposing one's will on others.  In the excerpt featured here the fictional character of Parson Hawthyn exemplifies this point according to his own spiritual principles: he prays for a sick child, but does not expect the child to live.  In fact it seems likely that the child will die, but he prays none the less, not for the child's recovery, which would be a presumption, but perhaps more for God's presence:

The excerpt is from "The White Witch" by Elizabeth Goudge, (Part 1, chapter ten), which was published in 1958.
In the church Parson Hawthyn sat up stiffly and rubbed his rheumatic knees.  He felt cold and stiff and his hour of prayer had brought him no personal satisfaction, plagued as he had been with indigestion, wandering thoughts, a depressing sense of personal failure and the growing conviction that Joe would die. The apparent failure of prayer never disturbed him, convinced as he was both of its hidden worth and of the adorable perfection of the will of God, but he was distressed because Froniga would be distressed.  Slipping once more to his painful knees he tried to pray for her too, and for the child's parents, and this time, as he struggled to compose his thoughts, they ceased to wander, were gently taken hold of and spun together, as it seemed, into one thread that tautened and drew out into a shining line of wonder.  He crawled up it as a spider might do, taking those for whom he prayed with him, though aware that in his case the line was not of his own spinning, up and up while the wonder deepened into joy and the joy into worship.  He hung for what seemed a timeless moment upon the point of worship and then the thread snapped, and he fell, so heavy was the weight of his sin.
     He hoisted himself back upon the bench again and thanked God for the mercy that had been vouchsafed to him.  He had not been kneeling in any of the places where Froniga had tried to picture him, but in the dusty corner where the sexton kept his branch of broom.  He always said his private prayers here, for he felt that the spiders and the mice who shared his affection for this particular corner were more suitable companions for his unworthiness than Our Lady of Heaven, or even that happy little creature Anne Haslewood.  As for mounting up the steps to the altar, he seldom dared to do that unless robed in the vestments of a priest.  These gave him both anonymity and confidence. Wearing them he was no longer that despicable sinner John Hawthyn, but the priest of this parish, one with all the priests of this parish both past and to come, robed in the mediatorial office of Christ Himself, so lost in it and dignified by it that his individual frailties ceased to exist.  But in private prayer these both frightened and humbled him, and he felt more at home among the mice.
      He listened companionably to their rustlings and squeakings, removed a spider from his neck with affectionate gentleness and watched with pleasure the flight of a white moth across the dusk.  To another the church would have seemed dark, but to him it seemed almost luminous, so deeply did he love its darkness that, like the habitual barrenness of his prayer, seemed not a wall but curtain. In his self-confident days he had tried sometimes to part the curtain, but not now.  His belief in what was behind, that made him able to describe himself in all sincerity as a happy man, nourished itself upon the fact of the curtain.  If it were ever to be drawn aside it would be from the other side, not this, and it would be no more his hand that drew it than it had been his hand that spun his thoughts together into that line of light.
     He got up and made his way through the shadows to the door and opened it.  The white moth came with him and fluttered out though the porch into the grey curtain of the rain...
I've known this book for almost as long as I can remember and have my own copy which I get down from the shelf from time to time.  It is not an easy book: it is set in the time of the English Civil War (1642 - 1651) and is full of conflicts and oppositions: Royalists against Parliamentarians, Anglicans versus Puritans, Gypsies versus Giorgio, Black magic warring with White, and families and friendships torn asunder.  At such times the features of truth, loyalty and friendship cannot be easily identified and otherwise amiable companionships are often forced into crisis.

Parson Hawthyn somewhat resembles dear old Mr Septimus Harding, of Trollope's Barchester Chronicles

Parson Hawthyn has a great deal more humility and strength of character than I have but his attitude to prayer and fate is very similar to my own: that all our experiences of life and eventual death do have their place in the greater scheme of things which we can't know, only catch glimpses of it.  We are required only to do the best we can - which at times can test us right up to and even beyond our limits. 

My own view of God is pantheistic, in that I see all aspects of the world, and the natural world in particular, as expressions of a universal life force which, although it is able to be scientifically evaluated, yet retains its own mystery which lies beyond that.  Thus, each creature and expression of the natural world is part of the face of God or Gods, and for me this awareness brings with it a great interest in as well as respect for the world we live in.  In fact this awareness came to me the other way around, but in any case the two fit together very comfortably!

Each creature, however seemingly tiny and insignificant, is striving to live out its very own unique physical and other characteristics to the best of its ability, and in doing so must battle the odds with those around it.  I'm aware of this with little creatures in rock pools as well as the insects and plants in my garden, just as much if not more so than the people in the world.  Blot any one of them out and that particular consciousness and life form is lost to the world.  So I'm careful, as I go about my work and explorations, to live and let live.  Yes, live and let live.  And when we die and we come to the end of what we know we are absorbed back into the mystery which lies beyond...   

I do my best to strive for what I believe to be right, to care for and respect others, and then leave it all in the lap of the Gods, hence: 
Not my will be done, but Thine... 

Sunday, 13 February 2011

The exertion of will ~ more about D H Lawrence and Mabel Dodge Luhan

Lawrence's remarks to Mabel about the exertion of the will as quoted in the previous article refer to a fundamental sticking point in their friendship, which I outline in this one: it's a very clear example of what can go wrong if we exert our will power to control others.

I am grateful to Mabel for being so open about her attitudes and experiences, so what follows is in no way intended to belittle her.  Having a strong tendency to exert my own will-power on situations, even for what I see as 'the best outcome' or 'the common good', is something I have had to learn to curb and guard against.  I do not advocate sitting back in a passive way when we see that 'good works' need to be done; I'm saying that this requires us to exert ourselves in other ways, even in our prayers, or perhaps especially in our prayers.  We each need to live our own lives.  What follows is a selection of excepts from what Mabel has written that are so speaking on this topic:  

It was Mabel who initiated the friendship, writing to Lawrence from New Mexico inviting him to come and stay.  The year was 1921.  She described to him in detail the pueblo Indians of the area and the unspoilt beauty of the landscape.  Her motive, however well-meaning, was political: she wanted him to see the unspoilt beauty of both and to write about them.  She thought this would help protect them from encroachment by white officialdom and so on.  In her book she relates:
"I tried to tell him every single thing I could think of that I felt would draw him - simple things as well as strange ones..." (page 16)
Lawrence and his wife Frieda initially expressed enthusiasm and then hesitated - for months. 

Mabel writes:
Through the months while Lawrence and Frieda hesitated about coming to Taos, I willed him to come.  [...]  This was not prayer, but command.  Only those who have exercised it know its danger.  And, as before, I had Tony with his powerful influence to help me.  I told him we must bring Lawrence to Taos because he could do a great deal to help the pueblo. [...]  His instinct somewhat opposed it.  [...]  But I overruled him, and he gave way - and together we called Lawrence.  (page 43)
So even Mabel herself recognised the danger of her actions.  In response I have to say "Mabel, this was Very Bad of you!"  To consciously exert one's will over another through their unconscious self is one of the worst forms of trespass; it's abuse and a form of vampirism.  I have written about vampirism in my article Energy drop-off and related issues.

However, Lawrence was up to the challenge: he chose his own timetable and once arrived also chose his own agenda, firmly refusing to be drawn into performing the wishes of anyone else.  This did not make him a comfortable house guest - far from it!  He recognised Mabel's controlling personality for what it was and challenged her about it repeatedly.

A little further on in the book she makes her thinking of that time crystal clear:
...It was his soul I needed for my purpose, his soul, his will, his creative imagination, and his lighted vision....
     I was always trying to get things done: I didn't often even try to do anything myself.  I seemed to want to use all my power upon delegates to carry out the work.  This way - perhaps a compensation for that desolate and barren feeling of having nothing to do! - I achieved a sense of fruitfulness and activity vicariously.
     Whenever you hear anyone criticized [...] for wanting power and using it on others, don't blame them.  It is only because they haven't learned yet to use it upon themselves.  So desperate is our need, on this planet of achievement, to return to the universe all we have taken out of it that when we haven't learned just how to do it ourselves, we try to make others do it for us if we can.
     I wanted Lawrence to understand things for me.  To take my experience, my material, my Taos, and to formulate it all into a magnificent creation.  That is what I wanted him for.
     When this crept gradually into his consciousness I don't know.  I certainly tried to hide it.  (page 77)
And here we arrive at the nub of the problem - she tried to hide it.  If we are bent on controlling others we should in all honesty be open about it and then let others decide whether that's their scene - or not.

Naturally these currents of energy produced tension in the way Frieda and Lawrence related to her.  After one such upset Lawrence and Frieda packed their bags for departure:
"There is destruction here," Lorenzo shot in.  "There is a queer menace in the air.  Oh, there's a witches brew on this hill!  And the Indians struggle against it - and I will fight it, too,  Yes.  I value my own little bit of life, and I will fight for it.."  (page 96)
Nevertheless, despite this and other ruptures, some of long duration, they persisted with their friendship.  Lawrence wrote to her in 1923 from Mexico:
...Don't trouble about the Indians.  You can't "save" them: and politics, no matter what politics, will only destroy them. ...I tell you, leave the Indians to their own dark destiny.  And leave yourself to the same...
     I also fight to put something through.  But it is a long slow, dark, almost invisible fight.  Yet, little by little, I win...
     ...I was your enemy.  But even saying things against you - and I only said, with emphasis and in many ways, that your will was evil masquerading as good, and I should still say this of your will: even as an enemy I never really forsook you.  There, perhaps I have said too much.  But don't think, even so, you can make a fool of me.  (page 120).
He perfectly understook unconscious connections and was not intimidated by her.  Indeed she quotes him as saying in another subsequent letter:
Let us keep an invisible thread between us.  (page 121)
So Mabel and Lawrence certainly provided a measure of support for each other.  Well, that's fine - if it's a conscious thing and an open one.  It's when such a connection is taken and used without permission that it's trespass.

Of course, there are times when we recognise this sort of connection between ourselves and another as existing independent of our conscious minds or our will.  If we do, the best thing is to be respectful, and to undertake to carry our own weight, and to keep the exchange of ideas and assistance out in the open and in the physical world.

People seeping into each other can be so draining and in my view likely to be the cause of at least a portion of human illness and disease.

To all who might lean on or manipulate me I say: be clean: live your own life and let me live mine.

Coming back to the book, I must say I thoroughly enjoyed it, and recommend it most highly to other Lawrence admirers.  I enjoyed sitting quietly with this book, like a companion, and having new fresh thoughts presented in this lively and thought-provoking manner.  I could identify with much of its content.  I haven't read such a book for a long time.  It afforded me a peaceful sense of being more the person I really am.  So thank you, Mabel and Lawrence.  Rest in peace.   

Full title details are: "Lorenzo in Taos", by Mabel Dodge Luhan, published by Martin Secker in London, 1933.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

A passage from a letter D.H. Lawrence wrote to Mabel Dodge Luhan

The remarkable book, "Lorenzo in Taos" by Mabel Dodge Luhan, came to me from the collection of a dear aunt and uncle, who have now passed on.  In it, the author chronicles her friendship with Lawrence which spanned the last six years of his life.  I rate Lawrence as one of the top thinkers and writers of the 20th century, and am very happy to add this faded and rather battered book to my collection.  

Here is an extract from page 118 which struck a chord when I read it yesterday.  It's from a letter written by Lawrence to Mabel in October of 1923; I have copied it exactly as it is given in the book:
You have striven so hard, and so long, to compel life.  Can't you now slowly change, and let life slowly drift into you.  Surely it is even a greater mystery and preoccupation even than willing, to let the invisible life steal into you and slowly possess you.  Not people, or things, or action, or even conscious: but the slow invasion of you by the vast invisible god that lives in the ether.  Once you know that, you will never feel "out of work," as you say.  And it's only a change of direction.  Instead of projecting your will into the ether of the invisible God, let the invisible God interpenetrate into you. - After all, it's not a mere question of washing dishes.  It's the soul's own mystery.  And one can make a great, great change in all one's flow of life and living, from the power of output to the mystery of intake, without changing one's house or one's husband.  "Then shall thy peace be as a river."   And when it comes, like a river, then you won't feel out of work or unliving."
I find these thoughts wonderfully relaxing.

I'm not surprised that Lawrence's writings met with such widespread criticism during his lifetime.  He thought deeply and in an abstract way which is foreign to most people.  I'm similar in this respect and find myself constantly working to transpose what I think into something that I hope others will understand.  

Full title details are: "Lorenzo in Taos", by Mabel Dodge Luhan, published by Martin Secker in London, 1933. 
Note: the quote about peace being as a river is from the Bible, Isaiah 48:17,18.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Let's look on the bright side with the 'Life of Brian' finale ~

After the weighty content of the previous article here is a favourite song to cheer us all up!  A little silliness can go a long way to improving all sorts of things - and it's a catchy song with a good tune:

For those as yet unacquainted with "Life of Brian", the movie is a satire which centres around a man born at the same time as Jesus who is mistaken for the Messiah.  As a result a great deal of trouble and misunderstanding follow him around both literally and figuratively.  It's full of schoolboy antics, school prefects and unfathomable disciplinarians such as may be found in both educational and religious institutions.  It's also chock full of theatrical fun and games such as one enjoys in pantomimes.  For me it's Monty Python's best movie.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Rage as a response to pain ~

Rage is a natural response to acute and enduring pain.  It is anger pole-vaulted to its extreme, a reflexive reaction in which we may be fighting for our lives, physically or for our identity, our conscious sense of who we are.  Rage can provide us with the capability of getting out of traps with the energy and strategy which would otherwise be beyond us.  It's about survival.  But if escape is not possible and rage turns inwards chaos can result.

To express rage can be dangerous, a pathway of violence and hatred that can lead to greater harm.  To contain it may be even more toxic, a possible road to self-mutilation and madness.  But we can't always let it out, or may not know how.

Rage contained and denied expression for years is likely to result in all manner of disturbances, among them a weird sense both of disembodiment and rigidity, a sense of split realities, in which one's awareness of a situation may seem both normal and emotionally indifferent and on another level intensely abnormal.  The contradiction between inner and outer levels of functioning can be overwhelming and confusing.  Emotional responses, and even thoughts about emotions, may be unpredictable and extreme, a welling up of pain and desperation leading to panic and outbursts.

I am still coming to terms with trauma in my own life.  I often seem fine when I'm not.  Hearing myself sounding normal, and observing myself behaving normally when I'm feeling quite dreadfully unwell can make me feel even more unwell and distinctly weird.  There are times when even sleeping hurts.

Before exploring the depths of my own trauma and rage I had an intense aversion to Michael Jackson's more recent recordings.  Over the years he seemed to become increasingly rigid, brittle and unhappy-looking.  His movements lost fluidity and became robotic.  His handsome features disintegrated.  I still see him this way.  The difference now is that I've confronted parallel distortions in myself and having done so see his work with fresh eyes.  It now makes complete sense.  These things are not random or meaningless.  They comes from deep places within us which demand recognition - and expression.  Michael sang and danced it out with astonishing creativity and artistry.

His song and video of "Scream" perfectly exemplifies the weird head space and out-of-control feelings of a deeply traumatised person struggling to be normal.  He performs it with his sister Janet Jackson.  Like them I've found the sense of static in the brain almost unendurable at times.  No wonder that latterly Michael could not sleep.  Very likely by that time he was hot-wired to out-run or out-dance his own inner catastrophe.  Even dancers have their limits. 

Here is a version I found on YouTube: Michael Jackson: "Scream".

The link was slow when I first watched this recording, which gave me the opportunity to watch the video in slow motion.  It's masterful - art work in action, frame by frame.  I'm grateful to have seen it - and to have been able to find meaning in it, a reflection of aspects of my own troubled inner world, thank you Michael.

Looking elsewhere:
In an article about Trauma in my Wasteland Chronicle I provide a link to an interview with Jessica Stern, described as America's top expert in the motivation of terrorists.  Prompted by her publisher she has recently written a book about herself entitled "Denial: a memoir of terror" in which she relates her experience of being raped when a teenager.  The interview closes with these words:
"People have asked me, 'Is this what you recommend as a way to recover from rape?' And the answer is absolutely not," Stern said. "This is not a model for how to recover from rape, to write a book like this. What I did was expose myself to madness."
My experiences have been different, for which I give thanks, but I recognise the signature of this depth of suffering.  One's sanity can seem dangerously tenuous at times.
Kia kaha, sister, I wish you strength.

There are no easy answers.  Acknowledging these difficulties is a start.  In my article "Speechless" I make the point that...
'Suffering of a deeply personal nature often seems to be accompanied by strange and incomprehensible taboos about speaking of it'. 
Possibly this is a self-protection mechanism.  However, starting to express it in some way can be an important step on the road to recovery.  Expert help is likely to be required.

I have written further about dealing with the effects of trauma in my article "Trauma in the world around us and striving for peace" as well as in other articles in Part Five of the Wasteland Chronicle.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Carl Jung, D. H. Lawrence & I talk about being natural ~

These two very influential men of the 20th century, so widely different in their lives and no doubt many of their views, had something important in common: for both of them natural expression was of central significance in human life, the act of life fulfilling itself perhaps.

Here is what Jung had to say about it:
It is the truth, a force of nature that expresses itself through me - I am only a channel - I can imagine in many instances where I would become sinister to you.  For instance, if life had led you to take up an artificial attitude, then you wouldn't be able to stand me, because I am a natural being.  By my very presence I crystallize; I am a ferment.  The unconscious of people who live in an artificial manner senses me as a danger.  Everything about me irritates them, my way of speaking, my way of laughing.  They sense nature.
This excerpt is quoted in "Carl Jung: wounded healer of the soul, an illustrated biography" (page 2) by Claire Dunne.  He was then in his sixties. There is a great deal else about this sort of thing in this remarkable book, but that seems to place the essence of it in a nutshell.

Curiously, Claire Dunne has dedicated her book " the seeker in each one of us and to that which seeks us."  That's a thought provoking statement: 'to that which seeks us'...  Hmm, I like it: not those who seek us, but that which seeks us.

In Chapter XVI of the novel "Mr Noon", D. H. Lawrence gives us his view as expressed through the character of Gilbert.  On this occasion Gilbert has been caught in a situation of considerable awkwardness and embarrassment in a small town in Germany some one hundred or so years ago:
     Poor Gilbert stumbled with his French.  The two men eyed one another.  The Baron was rather elegant and comme il faut, with his hair and his moustaches on end.  He was small, but carried himself as if he were big.  His manners had that precise assertiveness of a German who is sure of himself and feels himself slightly superior.  These manners always petrified Gilbert into rigidity.  Only his eye remained clear and candid.  He looked at the Baron with this curious indomitable candour, and the Baron glanced back at him rather fierily and irritably.  So, like two very strange dogs, they stood in the window and eyed one another, and Gilbert stuttered hopeless French.  He sounded like an unmitigated clown: only the insuperable candid stillness of his dark-blue eye saved him at all.  But the Baron was impatient... 
     Now Gilbert had this one saving advantage.  He went so stiff and absent in wrong company that he seemed an absolute imbecile.  No one can blame the Baron for calling him, when affairs grew hot, later on, an ungebildeter Simpel, a gewohnlicher Lump: very nasty things to be called: uneducated simpleton, and common lout.  Common lout is especially nasty; yet it was not, from one point of view, unapt.  And still, though in every other bit of him the young gentleman became a semi-imbecile, still, in the middle of his eye remained a certain impregnable self-possession, candour, and naturalness.  Now, the Baron had long lost his own candour and naturalness, therefore when he saw it so quiet in the middle of Gilbert's dark-blue eyes, like the evening star showing on a stormy sky, he was unsettled, he felt he must call names.  And poor Rudolf had so absolutely lost his self-possession, that he saw in Gilbert a strange menace: this thin, this silent individual, this raven of woe, as the poem later on put it...
Clearly being natural did not make life one bit easier for either Lawrence or Jung, at least in a social sense, yet to both of them it remained essential.  I agree.   

One sees artificiality everywhere.  Perhaps it's my advancing years, but it seems to be increasingly prevalent, in people's faces, in their ways of life, in the things we see in the shops.  Sometimes when I've had the misfortune to be in shopping malls everyone there has seemed to look like caricatures of themselves, certainly an unnerving observation.  Who's really at home in them, or is the whole thing not so much the theatre of life as a charade about it? 

Perhaps predictably one sees it particularly in advertising: the fixed, rather staring eyes, the wide toothy smiles which hold no happiness, while touting happiness, in the form of holidays, air travel, biscuits, air fresheners and so on.  Glamorous maybe, but that's all!

One sees it also in the rigidity and automated gestures and responses that accompany so much of the violence that passes both for news as well as entertainment these days: things exploding everywhere and disasters beyond a scale that we can comprehend, yet in a sort of emotional vacuum, or just plain hysteria.  We sit and watch them while we eat our dinner.  I find this more alarming than the disasters themselves.  Where possible I watch neither.  I do what I can for the common good, and beyond that I have other better things with which to feed my mind and imagination.

I recently had occasion to consult a doctor I hadn't seen for perhaps ten years but who I nonetheless hold in very high regard.  It was such a relief to find that he, his practice nurse and the receptionist, all of whom I remembered with affection, were still much as I remembered them: older, certainly, but so am I, but still natural, helpful and kindly.  It's so unusual, which is sad.  They seemed mildly surprised at my effusive appreciation.

Being natural isn't always pleasant of course.  If it's truly natural it includes the expression of a certain amount of volatility and pain, but for myself, I prefer it.  Not only do I need a certain amount of space for this myself, but I'd rather other people did the same.  I prefer to know what people really think and feel when they're with me, because then I can deal with that, whereas if I don't know and yet sense that things aren't quite as they appear I become uneasy.  

Too much niceness throws me off balance.  There is a sense of pretence which indicates that people aren't trusting each other, or maybe they're not trusting themselves.  

On the other hand, being subjected to the aggression which can result from expressing one's natural state in the presence of those who who are not functioning in a similar way can be upsetting, perhaps because others are continuing to conceal themselves behind a mask of artificiality.  One feels unfairly got at, which can be painful.

Gilbert knows this sort of situation exactly.  Here is how the passage above continues:
     Well, the raven of woe said Guten Abend to the blue-eyed, bald-fronted young captain, and took his departure.  A solitary and hopping raven, he went through the Frenchy, raspingly-Germanised streets of the city till he found a restaurant where he could go in and eat.  And even then, when at the end of the meal the waiter said Fruit ou fromage? - he only answered with a troubled stare.
     "Fruit ou fromage?" repeated the waiter, raising his voice.
     A troubled stare from friend Gilbert.
     "Obst oder Kase?" snapped the waiter.
     A look of greater bewilderment.
   "Obst oder Kase?  Fruit ou fromage?  Obst oder Kase?" shouted the waiter in exasperation.
     Two consternated blue eyes and a slightly open, pouting mouth, and a brow of agony, for answer.
     "Imbecile!" muttered the waiter, and flounced away. 
      Gilbert understood this. 
     Back came the waiter, and bounced a piece of gorganzola uncompromisingly under imbecile's nose.  And then Gilbert heard it all - Fruit ou fromage - Obst oder Kase - He heard it all, and he recognised the appalling sounds as perfectly familiar words.  But something had gone wrong with his works, and he only just had enough wits to remember that the word cafe meant a black substance, usually liquid, in a small cup. 
     He hurried away from the restaurant, feeling that he was really going beyond himself in the direction of idiocy.  Detsch was really taking off a skin too many.  
This description of Gilbert's reaction is comforting to me in that it's very familiar.  The effect can  so easily be to make one feel weak, foolish or just plain vulnerable and on an unconscious level I'm sure this is deliberate: the natural being has broken ranks and must be punished or at least be made to feel uncomfortable.  This is how groups and societies control non-conformists, by threatening to isolate them, starting on an emotional level.  

In advocating greater expression of the human state I am not for one minute suggesting that anyone disregard the feelings of another by carelessly expressing themselves in a hurtful way.  To communicate well in a natural way requires far more skill and consideration than what passes for communication in a general sense.  This may sound like a contradiction in terms, but most essential truths come down in the end to apparent paradox and I'll let my point rest as it is, for the meantime anyway.

Both books are favourites of mine.  The one about Jung I've reviewed in my article "Carl Jung: wounded healer of the soul".

Among D. H. Lawrence's writings "Mr Noon" is little known.  It was written in two parts, only the first of which was published in his lifetime.  Part Two was not discovered until the early 70s, some fifty years after the publication of its predecessor.  The two parts are only loosely linked and can be read separately.  Part Two is a rough first draft, all the more endearing to me for its rambling tangential content and chiding asides to prospective readers!  It's not going to be to everyone's taste, but for me it is a jewel of reassurance in an increasingly uncertain and dissociated world.  The characters have their difficulties and disasters, but I found them immensely lifelike and likeable even when they were behaving with considerable eccentricity.  Lawrence's lyrical descriptions of the German countryside as it was then, are beautiful and heart-warming, at the same time as his descriptions of massed armed forces performing military exercises are full of foreboding.  My only disappointment with it is that it trails off after Gilbert and Johanna reach Italy, and ends abruptly in mid-sentence, but this final inconsistency has to be part of the book's charm.  Part Two is the story about the forming of a relationship between Gilbert and Johanna, a lightly disguised version of the early part of Lawrence's relationship with Frieda, the German woman who became his wife.

One other quote from this book can be found in a brief entry in one of the other Rushleigh Chronicles which for some reason has drawn repeated viewings.  For those who are interested here is the link: "Idealism and Forbearance".  Both books are full of quotable material.

Book shop links for interested NZ readers:
I can't imagine why this book has such an awful cover.  My very battered old paperback has a  much better one.
Mr. Noon