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.

Unattachment – 50 years getting there

Today, at the age of sixty-eight, I think I’ve finally, finally, finally, learned the value of unattachment; have finally “got” why and how it helps us on a spiritual path. At last I comprehend that unattachment isn’t avoiding involvement or discomfort. It isn’t uncaring or distancing oneself. Rather it is the tool for experiencing life, especially difficult or complicated situations, with compassion and concern but without judgement of other people or oneself; and, thank God/dess, without soul-scorching pain.

Today I learned that no matter how compassionate and caring you are; no matter how calm and comforting; no matter how careful and precise you are with words; there are people who neither understand nor want to understand what you are doing for or saying to them.

Today, I let go of someone whom I hoped was a friend; whom I loved and supported; but who, now, several years after we met, neither needs nor wants what I offer. As usual, this sudden realization was a long time coming, and, as usual, it began with an incident that was mundane, surprising, petty and confusing. After a frenzied exchange of pretty much useless messages that lasted less than a day, I decided simply to drop it. To let it go. I felt completely and absolutely mystified, struggling to find words; she seemed irrational and unable to get what I was saying. It was pointless. The blinding flash in my brain late last night was, “Stop it. Just stop it.” So I did.

Today, this was the discovered lesson: Unattachment to outcome makes life changes bearable. Though the process had saddened me deeply (I had cried while writing e-mails), confused me, and frustrated me, when I accepted; when I sighed and said out loud, “This is what is supposed to happen,” as opposed to what I wished would happen, the pain and confusion stopped.

So today, finally, after fifty-four years, I observed myself letting go without could-haves, would-haves, maybes or any other self-recriminations. I say fifty-four years because, when I was fourteen –I remember this vividly– and stretched out on my bed weeping uncontrollably, my dad knocked and came into my room.

He asked, “Anna-Marie?”

I nodded. “She said she doesn’t want me to be her friend any more.”

Daddy looked at me for what seemed like minutes. He had warned me about her when he met her, but he didn’t say I-told-you-so. What he said was, “You’re too willing to help people. Girls who need someone find you and they take what you give. But they’re never really friends. You’ll be hurt a lot in life if you don’t learn to be more careful.”

He could have gone on to list about half a dozen girls who were my constant companions for a time, sometimes months, sometimes years; then just disappeared as suddenly as they’d appeared. He could have told me stories of his own painful experiences.

But what he said was, “Most people never even have one true friend in life. If you find that one true friend, you’ll be very lucky.”

My mother was more practical and ruthless. “She hurt you. She rejected you. You don’t need her. You’ll meet a lot of people like her, and you’ve gotta’ learn how to spot them.”

It seems pretty pathetic that it’s taken me almost 60 years to learn this lesson. Mama would say that it’s because I’m hard-headed; I got that from my father. Daddy would say it’s because I wanted to help people, and I had no instinct for self-preservation.

What I say is that I am grateful for having finally learned the lesson. Grateful for understanding that unattachment fosters forgiveness. And grateful for my lifelong friends, riches beyond all imagining, because I have many, not just the one my dad hoped I would find.

I do wish that I knew how this episode was assimilated by the other person. What filled her messages were anger, fear, defensiveness, misinterpretation, misunderstanding, vengefulness, disappointed expectations. . .  But these are immediate and emotional responses. I wonder what the longer lasting effects will be. But I will never know.

Meditate Anywhere

One of the best practical aspects of Vedic meditation is that you can do it anywhere. You don’t need a candle, incense or yoga mat. You don’t need to sit in a special posture or hold your hands in a particular position. In fact, the teacher’s guidance is very simple: Sit comfortably, close your eyes for a few moments, and begin your mantra. Don’t worry about thoughts; let them come; then gently bring the mantra  back.

Ambient noise isn’t an important factor, either. Yes, you can settle in for Vedic meditation anywhere. I’ve meditated on trains and planes; in churches, Quaker meeting houses, libraries, cafes, art museums; on park benches and sitting on the ground with my back against a tree. I’ve meditated inside quite a few theatres and adjacent areas, including the bar in the Swan Theatre at the Royal Shakespeare Company and the huge lounge area at the National Theatre. (It’s fascinating to me that, in over forty years of practice, I have never been approached or bothered while I’m meditating in a public place. I don’t know what the mechanism is –psychic? energetic? politeness? what?– but it just doesn’t happen.)

There are, of course, yoga asanas and breathing techniques that can be done before and after meditation to enhance its effectivenes. And a nice, quiet place is the ideal setting. But these are perfect conditions and not always possible.

Regularity of your practice is crucial to realizing its full benefits. There are lots of meditation techniques, and each person’s need is unique, as is his/her steadfastness in regular practice. That daily practice is important, however, and Vedic meditation is very flexible. When you’re running late, you don’t have to skip your meditation. You can do it on the train or during your lunch hour.You can reap delicious life benefits through this simple routine.

For more information about Vedic meditation, these links:http://www.londonmeditationcentre.com/ http://www.newyorkmeditationcenter.com/                                            http://thomknoles.com/

This last one is being updated (as of March, 2016) but is a directory of Vedic meditation teachers around the world: http://www.vedicnetwork.com/

 

 

 

Christmas Skies

The word, leaden, to describe the skies, must have been coined by an Englishman. The very definition of the term defines the winter skies in England. It’s a pefect word, too, because it gives not only the colour, a dark, dull grey; it also gives a sense of suppression, a  sense of the  heavy weight on our emotions, here under those skies. When, rarely, the sun breaks through for an hour or so, our elation is dashed by the inevitable return of the leaden skies, often with rain.

This greyness of days is coupled with the long, dark nights that begin to close over us in September, and reach their longest on December 2st. Sunset is earlier and sunrise later each day. Here, it is dark by 3:30 or so, and in a week it will be dark by 3:00.

All of this, for many of us, saps our energy and even deadens enthusiasm for our usual everyday enjoyment of life’s good moments.

No wonder ancient peoples needed to have a festival, a celebration day, in the middle of this season. And no wonder the ancient Christian church picked December 25th, when the days are just starting to get longer again, to be Jesus’s birthday. Who cares when it really was? We need the celebration now; we need to say, yes, the clouds will lift and we will see more light . . . maybe not soon, but eventually.

White Handkerchief

In the Vedic meditation tradition that I practice, a student makes a simple offering at her/his initiation: a few flowers and a piece of fruit presented on a pure white cloth– for which I chose a handkerchief with a lily embroidered in white thread on one corner.

The offerings are placed on a simple table altar for a brief ceremony which thanks the teachers of the last 8,000 or so years who have passed down the mantras, teacher to student. After this chant, each student goes with his/her teacher to receive privately the mantra chosen for him/her. After the initiation, students meditate together with their teachers. At the end, teachers and students eat the fruit together or each student is given fruit to take home; and students take a flower, not one of their own, but that of another student, home. Each student’s white cloth is returned to its owner.pujatable1 I carried my handkerchief for my marriage ritual– both times. And I brought it for my initiation into a more advanced mantra nearly 30 years later. I carried it again when I received another advanced mantra in 2015.

Symbols are important. Sometimes symbols become more important than that which they symbolize. But if a symbol is a reminder, a prompt for contemplation, gratitude, or forgiveness, then it is valuable.

My white handkerchief is a reminder of the deep spiritual understanding that humans can achieve when an open heart and mind are set toward enlightenment and the doing of good. If I were going to be buried (I’m not; I will be cremated) I would want that handkerchief buried with me. As it is, I will give it to a most loved person before I die, someone who, I hope, will seek the Light that it symbolizes for me.

India: Pictures from Shiva Country

Parmarth Niketan, the ashram where we stayed in March, is in northwest India, where Shiva is the revered local divinity. As Krishna is in Vrindivan, so Shiva is through this region. Here are some pictures of shrines to and images of Shiva.

This is the beautiful face of the Shiva statue that sits on the platform over the Ganges.  It is on this platform that major worship  and celebration events are held.

This is the beautiful face of the Shiva statue that sits on the platform over the Ganges. It is on this platform that major worship and celebration events are held.

Longer view of Shiva on a sunny morning. Sorry for the power lines; I took it from the window in our room.

Longer view of Shiva on a sunny morning. Sorry for the power lines; I took it from the window in our room.

Taken on an overcast afternoon, but it shows the lion and other symbols that usually accompany Shiva.

Taken on an overcast afternoon, but it shows the lion and other symbols that usually accompany Shiva.

Exterior of a small village shirne to Shiva and Shakti.

Exterior of a small village shirne to Shiva and Shakti.

Shiva (left) and, smaller, Shakti inside the shrine. Notice that Shiva is decked in flowers, and Shakti is dressed in silks. She reminded me of the Infant of Prague, who is often  dressed by devoted women in Italian Catholic churches.

Shiva (left) and, smaller, Shakti inside the shrine. Notice that Shiva is decked in flowers, and Shakti is dressed in silks. She reminded me of the Infant of Prague, who is often dressed by devoted women in Italian Catholic churches.

Incredibly, intricated carved Shiva shrine. Very Detailed, very colourful!

Incredibly, intricated carved Shiva shrine. Very Detailed, very colourful!

Close-up of one of the friezes on the shrine. There are hundreds.

Close-up of one of the friezes on the shrine. There are hundreds.

Dancing Shiva, in the garden of Parmarth Niketan

Dancing Shiva, in the garden of Parmarth Niketan

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.