The Tree

The Tree had been there as long as she could remember. As long as her mother and grandmother could remember. As long as Great Grandad could remember. As long as anyone who had ever lived in town could remember. Pictures in old newspapers featured the tree: People posed in front of it on the 4th of July, Halloween, Christmas, even Easter, in the days when they still had the big Easter Egg Hunt in the town park.

“Meetya at the Tree,” was as often said as hello and goodbye.

In school she learned it was Quercus kelloggii, the California Black Oak. But it was always The Tree to everyone in town. It was big and tall and gnarled, its limbs all crooked and twisty, its waxy leaves dark, dusty green; and, well, it was just beautiful to look at.

But now, Mom said, The Tree was sick. It was a danger to the passing cars. It could fall down at any moment. That lightning flash last summer was the final blow, she said. The Tree was already weak from the disease, and the lightning had burned out what little healthy tree flesh was left.

So it had to come down.

Everyone in town was there. They did it early in October, on a Sunday, right after
church services for the town’s three congregations. But regular people outnumbered the church-goers gathered on the sidewalks. Not everyone believed in church, but they all believed in The Tree. They even loved it.

Even the contrary folks, people who wouldn’t talk to each other if they bumped into each other on the sidewalk, all stood together, mumbling their anger and sadness and agreement on what a shame it was. They gathered on both sides of the street, looking at The Tree where it had always stood, on its oval knoll between the traffic lanes, silent witness to all of the town’s upheavals and celebrations.

The tree expert said it was dead; they could easily pull it out by its roots.

But that old tree hung on tight. They put chains around it, hooked the chains up to a big tractor. They pulled on it for nearly an hour, but they couldn’t budge it. A cheer rose from the sidewalks each time the tractor choked, died, had to be restarted.

So then the tree expert, in his big boots, old jeans and flannel shirt (even though it was a late Indian summer that year and at least 90 degrees in the shade) climbed the tree and began to cut chunks off of it. When all the chunks were on the ground, there was a big, flat-topped stump about two feet tall. The tree expert had a bucket of stuff to pour on the stump to kill it.

That’s when the mayor stepped in and said, no, they couldn’t take the stump. They had to leave it as it was. A few days later, there was a little plaque by the stump, and they planted some flowers on the knoll, and it made a nice memorial to the town’s best friend.

About a month afterward, the tree expert wrote to the mayor. The Tree had been 372 years old, and he was shipping a cross section of the trunk to the town so they could put it on display. No one in town cared about that. It wasn’t really their tree, only a piece of something dead that used to be alive. A fossil.

The following spring dozens buds appeared around the base of the stump. Pinky brown shoots of strong young branches reached out to the warming sunlight. Yellowy green new leaves unfurled, then darkened to a familiar velvety dark green as summer moved on.

What grew there was a funny looking bush, full and green and lush with leaves, but all around a hollow centre. Eventually, it was bowed, shaped and trimmed to look like a solid mound of green-ness in the California summer dust. But everyone in town still calls it The Tree. And everyone in town, from kindergartener to nonagenarian, can still recount the history of that stubborn old tree.

©2008, Ramona K. Silipo. All rights reserved.

Deference? and Gratitude

When we got home that night, I asked my husband, “Did you notice that they were treating me with deference?”

He said, “Yes.”

We’d spent the late afternoon hours of tea time with our meditation teachers, and their extraordinary toddler, Lily.

I’d had a painful and frustrating underground journey from Saint Pancras station to Earl’s Court, where our teachers live; one of those frequent tube malfunctions that you take in stride – unless you need the lift; and the breakdown is the lift, in fact, all the lifts, because all the electricity in the station suddenly went off.

So I was in considerable pain, leaning heavily on my cane, when I arrived. Our teachers had never seen me look quite so affected by pain, and the worried look on their faces was touching, but also embarrassing. I assured them that I was all right as I asked for the water to take the painkillers the moment I sat down.

I was still aching two hours later, even after taking pretty strong painkillers , when we made our way to the Union Chapel where Tom Paxton was giving his last ever concert in London. Fortunately, we arrived late enough not to have to stand in the queue, and we found seats close to the stage. It was a perfect last concert, Tom’s voice as full and rich as when he started out all those years ago. He was going out in style, and I wept shamelessly through most of it. I felt drained afterward.

Yet by the time we arrived home, after midnight, greeted by our hysterically happy and hungry dogs, and had fed same, I was wide awake, elated by a wave of love and memory of the fifty years Tom was part of my life; and surprised but more or less happy to know that our teachers hold me in such esteem. I felt deep gratitude for the love and respect I felt in their company and tenderly delighted by Lily, with her devastatingly direct and real affection; and her happiness in her innocent ability to accept and love us as we were.

The Lone Ranger

Just now I serendipitously watched an episode of The Lone Ranger on television. A huge flood of childhood understandings rushed over me.

The good guys not only wore a white hat, but they, at least the Lone Ranger, also rode a stunningly white horse.

The good guys always caught the bad guys.

Not all “Injuns” were the same; they were good and bad, just like the settlers.

The girl doesn’t always get the boy.

Discussion is a better way to settle differences than gunfights.

Friendship and loyalty (Tonto and the Lone Ranger) were the most important things in life.

Would that life were as simple now as it was when I was six.

Quaker Concepts: Unity

Unity, in Quaker terms, is a staggering concept. It is reached not through voting or debating, but through silent discernment during a Meeting for Worship on the Occasion of Doing Business– short form “Meeting for Business.” During the business meeting an action is proposed, or a draft minute is presented. There is some discussion. If the item is of major importance, it is set aside to “season” for a time; that is, the decision will be made after a month or two (or ten), after everyone has had a chance to think about it and to practice discernment on his/her own. If it is a simple, practical matter, the decision might be made at the same meeting during which it is presented.

Unity  is reached by the movement of the Spirit among the gathered Friends. Sometimes this movement is palpable; other times it is not. This is difficult to describe or explain to anyone who has not experienced it, but is instantly recognizable once it is experienced.

William Penn, the English nobleman who left his title and his family to found the city of Philadelphia (city of Brotherly Love) and the state of Pennsylvania, wrote of Unity:

The objective of the Quaker method is to discover Truth which will satisfy everyone more fully than did any position previously held. Each and all can then say, ‘That is what I really wanted, but I did not realise it.’

The attainment of unity within the meeting is not the same as the attainment of uniformity. Unity is spiritual, uniformity is mechanical.

For a more thorough discussion of Quaker Unity, read Beyond Majority Rule, by Micheal J. Sheeran.

Mahatma Gandhi Museum, New Delhi

On our last day in India, we visited the Gandhi Museum. This, for me, was the most emotional experience of our time in India. The museum is  in the house where Gandhi spent the last few months of his life, and his room there has been preserved as it was the day he died. He went outside with his granddaughters for his usual walk, and was shot by a man in the crowd. The place he fell is marked by a small gazebo shrine in the garden.

Mahatma Gandhi's bedroom as he left it on the day he died.

Mahatma Gandhi’s bedroom as he left it on the day he died.

The "World Peace Gong" in the garden, near the entrance to the museum.

The “World Peace Gong” in the garden, near the entrance to the museum.

The museum is curated brilliantly, the ground floor comprising photographs, letters, drafts of the constitution and other valuable documentary artifacts, along with reconstructions of those for which the originals were lost or damaged beyond repair; and the second floor completely given over to interactive exhibits designed to engage children from very earliest school age through secondary school in their country’s journey to independence.

I was astonished by the diversity and creativity of the exhibits, which included

a full size replica of a steam engine with a compartment in which Gandhi would have travelled so children could sit on the train and feel “what     it was like” to travel the way he traveled

a wall map of Gandhi’s famous walk, with hand-sized and shaped icons below which children could touch to light up the steps of the journey

several hand-stitched story quilts in designs and colours especially attractive to young children

Gandhi’s bedroom from his first ashram, furnished with his own furniture

and rooms full of other exhibits that spoke directly to children and teenagers.

Lifesize sculpture of Gandhi and his wife

Lifesize sculpture of Gandhi and his wife

Hand-stitched Tree of Life quilt

Hand-stitched Tree of Life quilt

The gardens of the house are huge, and furnished with sculptures and a few outdoor exhibits. There is a large terrace facing the garden where Gandhi walked each afternoon to meet the hundreds of people who came each day to meet Gandhi-ji. It was on such a walk that day, when he went out to meet the people who loved him and the people he loved, that he was shot and killed by a deranged Hindu radical.

The place of Gandhi's death is marked by a small shrine in the garden (small structure in distant center of this picture).

The place of Gandhi’s death is marked by a small shrine in the garden (small structure in distant center of this picture).

We left the museum by the back gates. The irony of this had to make us laugh, or I would have started weeping all over again:

A major training facility for India's military, with an antique cannon literally aimed at the Gandhi Museum.

A major training facility for India’s military, with an antique cannon literally aimed at the Gandhi Museum.

All through our visit, as we looked at the exhibits, I wept. I couldn’t help thinking that Gandhi never despaired, that he nearly killed himself by fasting until the inter-religious fighting stopped. What could he have done if he lived now? And if his soul is embodied again, does he remember who he was and what he did in India? Is he a leader now? (Doubtful, or things would be better.)

This museum is an homage to a great man, to a past when peace was possible by the will of a man because he was respected and revered by people everywhere in the world. Gandhi, through his non-violent resistance, actually had more power to effect peace than any single person in our time. I don’t know exactly what that says about the world as we live in it, but I don’t think that whatever it says is very positive.

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi: An Appreciation

This was posted two years ago, shortly after Maharishi died. My husband wrote it for our web site and I suggested we post it in other places. But I took it down after only a few days because of the bitterness and hostility of some comments. One person repeatedly posted violent comments which were not only inappropriate, but also completely off subject. I just got tired of dealing with the guy.

But Maharishi brought a tremendous gift to the western world,  and it must be recognized.

Further, the practice that he called transcendental meditation is centuries old, passed by oral tradition from individual teacher to individual student. Vedic mediation enhances the lives and deepens the spiritual experience of people who practice it.  In the Vedas, vast and ancient knowledge is coupled with depth of spiritual intention and great wisdom. Whatever a person’s religious tradition or beliefs, the Vedas offer discovery and reflection as well as comfort and joy.

The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was born Mahesh Prasad Varma on 12 January 1917 and died on 5 February 2008, aged 91 years. He brought an important meditation training system to the West from India. The system, which Maharishi named Transcendental Meditation for the West, is based on traditional Tantric mantras, sacred words.

Beatles drummer Ringo Starr, on hearing of Maharishi’s death said, “I feel so blessed I met the Maharishi. He gave me a mantra that no one can take away, and I still use it.”

George Harrison, probably the most spiritually devoted of the Beatles, practised meditation until his death in 2001. He commented, “The Maharishi was fantastic and I admire him for being able, in spite of the ridicule, to keep on going.”

You may have wondered why the Beatles’ song, “Across the Universe” refers to Guru Dev. The young Mahesh (the future Maharishi) studied Sanskrit under Swami Brahmananda Saraswati, a Hindu leader known as Guru Dev (divine teacher). Following Guru Dev’s death in 1953, Mahesh retreated into the Himalayas for meditation and reflection.

He re-emerged in 1955 and started his mission to popularise his master’s form of Advaita Vedantist meditation. He gave it the descriptive English name, Transcendental Meditation (TM), to bring it, first, to the United States, and soon afterward to Europe. His students began to call him Maharishi, which means “great soul.”

Maharishi was able to speak to the West through the common language of science. He grounded his approach in scientific terminology and commissioned research into the physiological effects of the technique early on. He had graduated in 1942 with a degree in physics from the University of Allahabad and had taught physics for some years before beginning his spiritual work.

In 1959 he founded the International Meditation Society in the United States. He established his headquarters in Switzerland and moved to Amsterdam in 1990. At its highest, the movement had over 2 million member- followers worldwide and an unknown number of practitioners who did not affiliate themselves with a particular TM center.

In the 1960s the Maharishi achieved worldwide recognition by association with the Beatles (the massively successful pop group from Liverpool).  Some others who learned TM included 1950s torch singer Peggy Lee, the Moody Blues, and Mike Love of the Beach Boys. The Maharishi offered an alternative spiritual path to the restless seekers of the era.

In February 1967, George Harrison’s wife Pattie (who famously inspired both Harrison and Eric Clapton in their music making) was intrigued by a lecture on TM at the Caxton Hall in London. She told Harrison, who already felt a link to Indian culture. He had played the sitar on Rubber Soul (1965), and gone to India in September 1966 to study the sitar with its master, Ravi Shankar.

Two months after the release of Sergeant Pepper (1967) the Beatles heard the Maharishi speak at the Hilton Hotel in Park Lane. He told the Beatles in a private audience, “The kingdom of heaven is like electricity. You don’t see it. It is within you.”  He invited the Beatles to a TM course at Bangor, which they attended. They took their studies seriously, and the following year they were invited to spend three months with the Maharishi at Rishikesh, about 150 miles from Delhi. Daily meditation helped the group.  John Lennon came off drugs completely at this stage in his life.

But, one by one, the Beatles drifted back to Britain. There were tensions. However, both Harrison and Starr appeared for a concert in 1992 to support the Natural Law Party, which had been formed to promote the Maharishi’s teachings in the world of politics.

Skelmersdale, a small town in Lancashire, England, has felt the Maharishi’s influence particularly strongly. They have a golden-domed community centre for large-scale group meditations. They also have a school with 100 pupils, where the children are noticeably calmer than at a typical 21st century school in England.  They have the state-required lessons but also take part in meditation sessions twice daily.  They are balanced, not controlled, according to the Head.

In the USA, TM has been taught in some high schools, where the test scores of students who practice it regularly are significantly higher than those of students who do not, and discipline problems in the classrooms are much reduced. It has also been taught in prisons in California, and reduced the recidivism rate. Maharishi International University, in Fairfield, Iowa, has built a strong reputation, especially in the sciences.

In 2005, angered by the Iraq War, the Maharishi called Britain a “scorpion nation” and banned the teaching of TM in the country. The ban was lifted in August 2007, about the same time that Tony Blair left office.

In TM, the body relaxes but the heart and brain experience heightened stimulation. Clarity and creativity are enhanced. Numerous carefully trained teachers are in place to carry on the development of the practice, despite the loss of the Maharishi. Some of the original and creative thinkers he has influenced include Deepak Chopra and David Lynch.

Maharishi’s ashes were scattered on the Ganges River, 13 February 2008.

©2008, Ian Freer. All rights reserved.

For information on Vedic Meditation in the ancient tradition, go to http://thomknoles.com/ or to http://www.introtomeditation.com

For information on Transcendental Meditation as taught by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, go to  http://www.tm.org/

The Maharishi, The Biography of the Man who gave Transcendental Meditation to the West, by Paul Mason is an accurate, if uninspired, biography of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

Christian=Fascist?

When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.

Sinclair Lewis might be astonished to see how right he was.

Is anyone else tired of self appointed “Christians” giving all of us a bad name? I mean, really, kidnapping children in the middle of a disaster area. What could they have been thinking? Were they delusional?

Living abroad, I am frequently embarrassed by the behaviour of Americans on the underground or at the theatre or even just walking down the street.  Loud, arrogant, graceless, usually complaining about something, they lumber around London in a state of constant dissatisfaction. Why don’t they just stay home, I often ask myself?

But this, this expedition specifically to steal children from Haiti and take them back to the great, ignorant “Christian” midwest of  the USA — again, what could they have been thinking?

I left the USA seven years ago, when Dubyah stupidity and arrogance were in full swing. All my friends kept telling me, “You got out just in time,” and several of them actively pursued their own efforts to move to other countries –the UK and Canada being first choices. I have friends now living in Denmark, France, Netherlands, Canada… all of whom miss some things about America (mostly food items, believe it or not), but are pleased NOT to be associated with Dubyah and the America he typified.

Lately I’ve been watching a series on television called “Hate in America,” about the various groups that are actively recruiting new members and spout their various hate programmes– the Klan, American Nazi Party, Aryans, Skinheads, etc. While these are a minority of Americans, I believe that they dare to speak what many more people think. It’s only a matter of degree. Organizations such as Focus on the Family and Operation Rescue operate on fascist principles as well.