Moments of Incandescence

‘On the stiff twig up there

Hunches a wet black rook

Arranging and rearranging its feathers in the rain

I do not expect a miracle or an accident

To set the sight on fire

In my eye

[omitted material]

I only know that a rook

Ordering its black feathers can so shine

As to seize my senses, haul

My eyelids up, and grant a brief respite from fear of total neutrality

[omitted material]

(‘Black Rook in Rainy Weather’, Sylvia Plath 1956).

It is natural on such an anniversary as New Year, a sort of mini ‘fin de siecle’ (end of an era), to reflect on what has passed. Although one is aware of a general sense of a sweep of history in one’s life, the things that light us up and are truly memorable are usually points of experience as described above in Plath’s poem. Only rare beings would claim to be ecstatic all the time and most of us run on auto pilot with our daily routines. Life can be a blur and often seem routine and neutral. Although it often takes a special event to burn itself into lasting memory, it does not have to be so. The event in Plath’s poem is totally ordinary and simple .The important ingredient is the act of noticing the present moment.

Depression tends to be about a sense of PAST loss and anxiety tends to be about a sense of a FUTURE event occurring. Complete focus on the PRESENT moment from time to time can be astoundingly uplifting, relieving and memorable no matter how seemingly ordinary the event. It may be random or it may be planned such as listening to a favourite piece of music. ‘Radiance’ by Ken Davis usually does it for me. It may involve NOTICING the moment when engrossed in a favourite activity or enthusiasm. These are the things that are likely to populate your memory when reflecting on your life as well as being experienced joyfully at the time. BE HERE NOW is a teaching that has been handed down through the ages. Practising this intermittently can support all the other necessary activities of life.

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Being The Emperor of Icecream

In 1923 the American poet Wallace Stevens published The Emperor of Icecream. In terms of framing life and death he said ‘let BE be the finale of SEEM..the only emperor is the emperor of icecream’ (emphasis added). What Stevens was getting at was the importance of being in the moment with its vividness of the experience of being alive.This is in contrast to worrying too much about how we seem to others.The latter attitude is so prevalent in modern day advertising with its emphasis on personal comparisons between individuals and their image and possessions.Many people report they are unhappy because of concerns about what they think others think of them. In real terms you probably do not really know what other people think about you privately whatever they may say publicly.A useful mantra can be to say to yourself ‘what other people think about me is none of my business. What I think about me is my business.’ The latter,you can control.The former you can not definitely determine.

Being the emperor of icecream puts emphasis on having fun:having recreation and hobbies;and the enjoyment of the experience of being grounded in the present moment in life. Balancing play, as well as work and pleasing yourself as well as others,seems important in the maintenance of  good psychological and physical health. Many unwanted symptoms are likely to include reflections of negative expressions of unmet natural needs to laugh and play in a healthy fashion.If we listen to Wallace Stevens about what matters,when framed by the end of life,the ONLY emperor is the emperor of icecream (emphasis added).

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Look for the Big in the Small

The novelist and explorer Laurens Van Der Post was a master in describing the universal in the particular such as a cloud formation as a metaphor for the Heavens or a wave characteristic as a description of the essence of the whole ocean..It is exciting to get an insight into the big from the small.Life often seems like a hologram in that a general pattern can be observed in the smallest interaction or interchange or observation.This is a useful idea in an age of uncertainty to try to get some bearings on what the future may hold.Sometimes the inner sense or inner observation is very quiet and easily missed in a world of hurry.Some quiet introspection may uncover a sense or a feeling which is worth paying attention to as a harbinger for a larger,yet unobserved,picture.Learning to pay attention and develop some trust for the inner world can pay dividends as a compass for future navigation in life.Noticing the small patterns occuring in an everyday environment likewise may give much focus for closer inspection and choice.

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Being ordinary is extraordinary

Being ordinary seems to have widespread bad press and can result in many people being very self critical,depressed,and unhappy.The Czech writer Franz Kafka wrote to a friend ‘I am dirty, Milena,infinitely dirty’.Kafka turned this into an art form by writing the book ‘The Metamorphosis’ in which the protagonist wakes up ‘transformed into a gigantic insect’.Fortunately,most people are not so extreme in their self judgement.However,striving ‘to beat the Jones’s’ is widespread with self acceptance depending on comparisons with what others appear to have or appear to look like.

It is often heard as a comment that some action or sporting performance is ‘pretty ordinary’ meaning terrible.This adds to prevailing concerns not to be ordinary in oneself and to have to be bigger and better.The fundamental confusion seems to be a misunderstanding about what it is to be a ‘human being’ as separate from a ‘human doing’.Of course,striving for excellence is a fine attitude but does not have to be at the cost of non self-acceptance.Being ordinary in terms of acceptance of self and others is the most extraordinary recognised quality of people who are most highly esteemed as a  ‘great person’.The ego inflation is not there in those who are simply being  themselves as no different fundamentally to anyone else.Neither better or worse.This appears to be deceptively simple but actually is not so with all the everyday pressures prevailing in society.’Being ordinary’ in the sense of self awareness and fundamental acceptance of self and others can be seen as  an extraordinary achievement in psycho-spiritual development.

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The Golden Rule

In the Mahabharata (Book 13) it says ‘one should never do to another which one regards as injurious to one’s own self’.In the Analects of Confucius (Book 4 Chapt.3) is the passage ‘The superior man does not,even for the space of a single meal,act contrary to virtue.In moments of haste,he cleaves to it.In seasons of danger,he cleaves to it’.In the Old Testament (Leviticus) is the instruction ‘love your neighbour as yourself’.This injunction is repeated many times in the worlds religious literature.

Most people know this and try to act on it for reasons of personal values,social expectation,or the pleasure of being neighbourly.Some may act out of enlightened self interest in the expectation of being treated well in return or in obedience to the Law of Karma which basically asserts that ‘what goes around,comes around’ in this life, or the hereafter if one is that way disposed.

Although this rule is accepted many find it difficult to remember in the hurly burly of daily activities.One’s own difficulties,worries and needs can take priority to the extent of others being perceived almost as the enemy.To get back on an even keel of self possession and adult functioning requires space for perpective.One way to do this is to regularly take time for ‘spot’ meditation or time out for personal reflection,to slow down.This takes practice and can become ingrained as a routine to get outside ‘the belly of the whale’ of bad feeling and see life more impartially and objectively.Working on effective communication skills to understand others,resolve problems and engaging in self esteem building activities helps to limit resentment or disrespect for others.Then  problems or difficulties can be focussed on with an ‘I’m OK-You’re OK’ attitude. This is a work in progress which is never entirely completed.The possible value of seeing “Tat Tvam Asi'(.Thou art That),as postulated in the Upanishads, is the hope for more cohesion, harmony and balance with associated reduction in stress.

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