Thursday, July 11, 2024

The ultimate luxury (except for the sea)

Everything has its season. There are now fuchsia clumps of rosebay willowherb* lining the hedgerows, in this still-grey July. After a lesson, my mare and I walked down the road. I whistled and she galumphed on the buckle of the reins, swinging her neck from side to side like she was a horse in Don Quixote and half-heartedly swishing her tail at the lacklustre flies. There are wild cherries nearby, the pale yellow and pink kind, the ones no-one thinks are ripe, on the mile-long driveway to Ewelme Park and we went to investigate (which is code for eat greedily) but were thwarted. Birds -- squirrels too probably -- know a good thing when they see it. I am sad not to be able to stuff my face with cherries, but they too have their season, which came just before fat squirrel season. The willowherb followed the foxgloves, which followed the ox-eye daisies, which followed the bluebells. Next we have pale pink mallow which grows with mustard-yellow ragwort or tansy. 

*I first learned about rosebay willowherb at pony club camp at Rossway near Berhamsted, from Mary Rose (MR) Haden Paton. I am eternally grateful and to this day they remain some of my favorite wild flowers.


Astrology has never held me in her thrall, but lately that seems to be shifting. After being shaken up by the new moon on Friday I am aware that I need to pay more attention.  (I'm delighted and relieved to see I'm not alone in this. Thank you to the MissW readers who told me that they too had borderline out of body experiences due to the planetary shifts). I can't express it better than by saying it felt like tripping. I was doing the things I normally do, going through the motions, but felt outside of myself, watching myself, and porous as a a sponge, pulling everything in, connected to everything, and being drawn outside, to the trees. My friend S said that maybe because I don't drink I'm feeling everything more. If this is more, I can't imagine what most feels like. That might be a full-blown shift in consciousness. But, just in case there was a wee chance I was losing my mind, I booked in for acupuncture, and did a bunch of kundalini kriyas and breathing; Lots of long exhales to help the parasympathetic nervous system, and lots of walks with the dog to recalibrate with nature. I also baked a fruit cake, a plum torte, and other things that made me feel useful and busy and flour-covered. I'm not making this seem smaller than it is, although that is my tendency. 

I’m not screwing around. All of this pretending and performing—these coping mechanisms that you’ve developed to protect yourself from feeling inadequate and getting hurt—has to go. Your armor is preventing you from growing into your gifts. I understand that you needed these protections when you were small. I understand that you believed your armor could help you secure all of the things you needed to feel worthy and lovable, but you’re still searching and you’re more lost than ever. Time is growing short. There are unexplored adventures ahead of you. You can’t live the rest of your life worried about what other people think. You were born worthy of love and belonging. Courage and daring are coursing through your veins. You were made to live and love with your whole heart. It’s time to show up and be seen. -- Brene Brown

Brene Brown is all about the "what would you do if no-one was watching" and I've had a version of this thrown at me three or four times over the last couple of days. I'm so tired at having to excuse myself. I'm not ashamed of being out there and embracing alternative healing. I'm really not! So I'll just say this: My Chi was off. I knew it and although I had to kinda keep it to myself, I found a great acupuncturist called Anna in Henley. I loved her face so much in her photo (and she's an ex-Olympic hockey player) that I thought, she's my woman. I just sort of knew she'd get it, and she did. I walked in to her light, bright office and I'd hardly sat down before we'd mentioned all the things we have in common. And "what brings you here" she said, "this might sound a bit woo woo but I think my Chi is off," I said. "Hallooo...I'm an acupuncturist, I live in woo-woo" she said. (I had a similar experience with a friend/client to whom I suggested a book. You have to be careful. People can be very conservative and unwilling to shift the views that they've inherited from their parents. "I loved James Doty's 'Into the Magic Shop' I said, "but I'll warn you, it's a bit woo woo." "I grew up in Northern California. I have woo woo in my dna" she said. Oh God, it's such a relief not to have to apologize for who you are anymore. It's such a massive weight lifted.) So, forty minutes later, with a needle in my third eye point, two needles in the fleshy bit between my thumb and forefinger, another two at my knee and ankle, laying on her comfortable table and staring at rays of sunshine playing on the ceiling of her treatment room, we were gabbing away about Esther Hicks and James Doty and Rupert Spira. But she asked me this question, what would you do if no-one was watching, and also, what would you want if you could have anything. I said "safe." This of course was a slightly provocative thing to say without context. "Oh I'm not giving you secret code or anything. I don't live with an abusive partner. He is the kindest man on the planet!" But then I thought about it. What does safe mean? Safe is curled up in a warm duvet with a dog for comfort. Safe is lying on the grass, covered with a horse blanket, staring at the clouds and watching them change into animals. Safe is homemade cake and tea next to your person. Safe is being present to the now. Safe is no surprises. Safe is not putting anything off, not hiding anything. Safe is being allowed to be yourself. Safe is, actually for me, not having to sparkle, and knowing I will be loved nonetheless. This is a very hard thing.

Part of the reason I miss living in Laurel Canyon so much is the liberating lack of judgement. "It's all good" isn't code for "you haven't passed the salt, you ill-bred cur." People are just open.  And kind.

So if this is the time to cast off all the things that aren't serving you, what would you choose to lose? What have you carried with you all your life that you've inherited and have chosen to adopt because it served you as a child or as a young adult, but really doesn't help you one bit now. Let me give you an example: A popular notion when I lived in Los Angeles was potluck. It was something you'd accept from your child's school for a get-together picnic, but it would creep into other social gatherings - you'd find "pot luck" written on an invite in jaunty comic sans and your heart would sink. At least my heart would sink. Why? Why exactly did this bother me so much? It's a conundrum. And why is a pot luck so much worse than a picnic, a thing I adore? Fear of a bad dish? Fear of something you don't like? A lack of control? Ridiculous, isn't it? Potluck is joyous. What an opportunity to try a food from another culture, or something you've never had before! No-one brings something they don't love to potluck. It's delightful. 

Also, I'm not saying that potluck is a major curse I need to drop. I think I'm being overly dramatic. ;)

But I'm doing a Ronnie Corbett. I digress.

(I met an artist at a dinner the other night who was most definitely the Ronnie Corbett of women painters and I told her so. She wore it as a badge of honor. I love people who talk too much, particularly when their stories are fascinating. Actually, only when their stories are fascinating. Sometimes people who are anxious speak too much, about nothing, and it tends to bring out the worst in me. She made painting incorporating blood and bones and hair and even her mother's ashes. Which I suppose is a great way to be memorialized.)

I think what I'd like to say is that everything has its season. Nothing blooms all year. And neither do we. Slowing down is what we can do for ourselves. It's okay not to sparkle all the time...because when you do, it will be that little bit sparklier. We are so powerful. But, as I told my lovely acupuncturist yesterday, we need to charge our batteries.

And to the question, "What would you do if no-one was watching?" - what would you do? It's such a lovely question to think about. That wonderful idea that you could revert back to the stuff you loved as a child, and throw yourself completely in it, naked, and abandon yourself to it, not worrying not even once whether anyone was going to judge you. WE ALL DO THE BEST WE CAN, people! Give us a break! Do you remember that feeling of being on the beach and building a sandcastle, totally focused, salty-skinned and probably sunburned and totally drooling with childish focus? Or building a fort in the bracken? Do you remember how it feels to be so enveloped in your own creativity that nothing can stop you? We had a version of this. My brother and I were always out playing in the woods or the fields, or on our bikes, or exploring, and so my father installed a bell, a huge bell on the side of the house, the size of a church bell, and it would be rung at supper time by a long rope, because we would become so engrossed in our projects that we would easily forget to eat, our legs like jelly from running around in the dusky summer evenings. I'd like that again. Wouldn't you? We're so tribal, so tightly knitted together, so intent on being part of the groupthink surrounding our consumer culture - these shoes but not those, this dress, but definitely not that color (that's so 2023) - we're all pulled in to it. Imagine the bliss of a world outside of space and time where you can just be who you love and do what you love, and nothing stands in your way. In fact, the whole universe is collaborating with you, meeting you where you are, so that you can birth your creativity, whether it's a sandcastle, a flower arrangement, a cake, or watercolor. Just imagine how blissful that would be. That, I think, is the ultimate luxury.

That, and the turquoise blue sea to swim in.


PS. I gave my mother a pile of flowers from the garden this afternoon and she made these. How very beautiful.



Tuesday, July 09, 2024

Greetings From the End of the World

I'm not sure where to begin. It was the moment when I was meditating in the churchyard, under the great yew tree which is either 500 or 600 years old, depending on who you talk to, which sits kitty corner from the field with the great barrow in it -- where apparently the dead were buried during the Black Death -- when the nice young Irishman I was listening to on a guided meditation on Spotify was instructing me to listen to my breath, and then the sounds around me, to the left, to the right, in front of you, behind you, to the more distant sounds in the wider world. I could hear a tractor to the left of me, the rain all around me, the faint hum of a train, the wind in the branches of the tree, but no birds. Not one bird. My face crumpled up into the strain of listening and I felt an ache akin the pain I feel seeing the two dead badgers on the side of the main road (the A4 - I say a prayer for them each time) and I tried again, even harder, through the rain, while listening to my breath, to hear a bird, but nothing, just a grim, grey birdless silence. And then, quietly and in the distance beyond the church, maybe in my garden, the faintest sound of a little wood pigeon, 'oh my pooooor tooooe betty,' it sang. And the tears welled up. The relief was so profound because recently I've been pretty sure in my anxiety-strewn state, that the world is ending. I'm not saying this to be funny, or with irony. Every day there seem to be signs of it. You know how you're supposed to note glimmers of joy or gratitude? You know how the great mindfulness teachers give you instructions to find the path to happiness? This is the opposite of that. At first it was the ox-eye daisies, hundreds of them, everywhere, on the sides of the motorway and in the woods and places you've never see them before, even in our garden, doh-see-doh-ing with the roses against the wall, and then the foxgloves, as if people had lain down great carpets of foxglove turf, like those wild flowers squares you can buy to create a field in your garden, so that everywhere you looked there were pinky-mauve bells, whole woods dedicated to them, in astonishing abundance.  You could only stop and gape. And then, only yesterday, my brother posted a whole field of meadowsweet, close to the Oslofjord, in a place where in years gone by, there were only one or two bushes of the stuff, amongst sparse bits of vetch and some wild raspberries, enough that you would think twice before snapping off a bit for the table (meadowsweet is legendary in being tough to snap, mind you, but it always looks lovely in the wildflower bunches we pick on the island in Norway). My theory, which is a little feeble, and not well thought out, and comes from a feeling rather than anything scientific, is related to the time my father cut an almost full inch-wide loop of bark from the apple trees so that they would produce more fruit. The strip almost meets itself, allowing a tiny gap for the sap to get through, tricking the tree into thinking it's dying, thereby producing a bumper crop of apples. First the daisies, then the foxgloves followed by the meadow sweet, and then the birds? 


My world is ending theory is compounded by a few things, and has been thwarted by a few things, for example, Le Pen not winning in France on Sunday. A Good Thing. And Keir Starmer's appeal to everyone to help him reset the country - and frankly, I thing we should all stop bitching and help him do exactly that. I mean, why not? Everything is a complete mess. We all need to pull on our big girl panties and start thinking about the good of the nation. We all need to help the Daily Mail realize that their way of thinking is just sooooo ten years ago. It's dull, isn't it, when there they are splitting hairs, creating great storms in their teacups, pursing their lips at everything that can get a reaction out of their readers. It's so dreary. There will be great swathes of the world that will be uninhabitable by 2050 (twenty five years time, less than one generation from now), mostly sections of the Middle East (ironically where the modern world was formed) and Africa, but a band across the center of the globe, where people will be unable to regulate their body temperatures enough to live because of the excessive heat. And God knows how many animals will be wiped out (41,000 species are endangered, including lions, tigers, leopards, rhinos, elephants). So I'm wondering exactly what is more important that putting every single resource into saving this one planet of ours. Please watch this beautiful film by Carl Sagan. This point of pale light, the lonely speck in the great cosmic dark. 

But I digress. I'm not proud of my theory, but it's not really a stretch. Everything is always dying, from the moment it is born, so why not the earth? And do we really deserve this place? Mankind is the invasive species and has done more harm than good, arguably. (Exceptions include miraculous stuff like the seed depository in Svalbard and the Hadron Collider, as well as divining for water, Mozart, quantum theory and so on. This piece of music too (we heard this at the 50th anniversary concert of the Pangbourne Choral Society, and I was not alone in bursting into tears when the voices came in. O, Zadok! Just imagine this in the Falklands War Memorial Chapel, light pouring through the stained glass windows in at the height of midsummer.)

The chickens aren't laying either. And I really don't know why. We've checked for red mites and doused their pen with disinfectant. Andy the rat guy has been here three times and placed ominous black boxes of death all of the garden, held down by bricks. I thought at first that perhaps I was spoiling them - mixed sunflowers seeds, blueberries, chopped up apple and cold pasta on a daily basis - and maybe this was messing with their laying ability. So austerity crept in and now it's just layers mash and water and a tiny bit of scratch in the morning. Margot is an ex-battery hen and too old for laying, but the girls Delilah and Prune - are barely a year old, so it's a conundrum. Maybe a cockerel would inspire them. But have you seen the way those boys behave? Poor, poor ladies would need special padded knickers. I've recently seen a video of a trained crow on Instagram, and I'm wondering whether I should train them to do something more useful as they're not producing eggs. They follow me around the garden and rush to greet me in the morning, like tiny feathered dinosaurs so I know they're biddable. And they are awfully sweet, the way they clatterr up onto the bench outside the kitchen window so they can watch us while we eat breakfast. Delilah will do anything for a half strawberry, strumpet that she is.

Meanwhile, the rain continues. I am cheered by India Knight's Substack and you should be too. Do join!

Alas, it hasn't stopped raining for, I don't know, a decade? This is NOT good for anyone's mental health. It's July, for goodness sake.

When I struggle, there is a lot of breathwork. I battle, I really do, with being myself here, in England, by saying things like "breathwork" knowing I will be judged. "Honey, you're not living in California anymore, with your iced matchas, your kundalini yoga mantras, your breathwork, your spiral dynamics."  It's not that radical a concept. I believe I might have hit my Who Gives A Flying Fuck decade. I don't really care if people think I am mad. I am. I have to be true to myself. I am a nut and I am outspoken and eccentric and I'm overly emotional and hug too much and talk to strangers in the market. And when I struggle, I struggle HARD. Since Friday, (the new moon in Cancer I am reliably informed) I've felt absolutely haywire. As if I've been hit by lightning. Like Doc Brown in Back to the Future, with lightning bolts coming out of the sky behind me for pathetic fallacy. In fact, I had four friends for dinner on Friday night and I could hardly get through the day. "It's as if I've taken mushrooms" I said to Charlie early in the afternoon. "Listen, guys, I'm just in the weirdest mood, I'm so sorry," I said to my friends who had arrived early to watch the football, hoping to God that they wouldn't judge me. I had managed somehow to put flowers around the house (it's amazing what you find in the garden when you think all the flowers have disappeared; enough for four or five vases and the dahlias haven't even started yet!) and lay the table (one of my great pleasures in life) and sort out relatively simple food (local beef, asparagus, new potatoes with chives and parsley, apricot torte with cream, some cheese) but it was such an effort. It's never an effort. I don't drink so wine couldn't help. Everything was hard. My whole body was vibrating as if my self had evaporated. It was hard to stay in the room. I wanted to crawl up in a cozy ball in my bed with the dog. There was no sparkle left. No pizzazz. Nothing. Just a shell of who I thought I was. Thank God for good friends who understand. The thing I fear most in the world, if I'm honest, is losing my mind. Going mad. Going properly batty. And then I think of Julian of Norwich, being boxed in with bricks, being fed through a crack in the wall, and using that to commune with God. It's both terrifying and a relief. But you have to have faith in the process, don't you? You have to have faith that the only way through the crazy is through. There is no burying it or dodging it or thinking about something else, or blanking it out with wine or anything else. It's just there, this crazy, nutty, vibrating now. Put on your hardhat (put on your red shoes and dance the blues), it's going to be one hell of a ride.

I think the moral to this story is that if you ever think the birds aren't singing anymore, just wait and trust and have faith, and you will hear the wood pigeons. Charlie always tells me that there is blue sky behind the clouds; we just can't see it. I think about this all the time. I think about this when I check in on my girlfriends who are suffering. I think about it when I wake up in the morning and I've forgotten to remember to be happy (as in "happiness is a choice"). I feel as if I should have it printed poster size and pin it to the ceiling above my bed so it's the first thing I see, so it isn't groundhog day again, and we have to go through the same process to get back to homeostasis (this feels more like stasis, or freeze mode). I've listed here before all the things that we have to remember to do to feel okay, and it isn't getting any better. We can't ignore everything that's going on in the world, even if we avoid the newspapers. Everything Is Really, Really Bad.

You know I can't end on such a negative note. It goes against everything I believe in. Here are some things I love at the moment. Hopefully they may bring you joy too.

1. Meggan Watterson's book on Mary Magdalene.

2. This amazing interview with Ken Wilber by Elise Loehnen.

3. This song by Villagers, which I discovered while driving home late on Saturday night, quietly through the lanes and hedgerows of the Chilterns.

4. Tomato tonnato, purloined from India Knight, but via the NY Times app. The best lunch!

5. Now You See Us, Women artists in Britain 1520-1920 is a wonderful exhibit currently at the Tate Britain.



Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Cali joy

"You've been to The Source," said Cecilia, who is veh veh Insightful. 'Tis true. California is the place for good. It's as if you are dropped down, very carefully, by a giant benevolent hand, into a magical place where everything is set up to work in your favor.  And you can take one, two, three dance steps with pointed toes to meet the pavement where it meets you. (Quite a few of) The people you love are there. The friends are there. Even people you haven't seen for years are there, and you bump into them frequently during the day, as a reminder that you're on the right track. The food is delicious. The trees are blooming. You discover the Eastern Redbud tree, filled with its tiny fuchsia colored orchid-like flowers. There is an Orange-Crowned Warbler outside your window at five ayem, singing its heart out. A small child called Otto, who thinks you're really, really funny, even when nobody else does, likes to sit next to you. He also stares at you intently, observing everything, waiting for the next sign to laugh.  You see a sliver of eclipsed moon on your first evening, and a mist that could have been from Avalon, floating over Wilshire Boulevard the following morning. There are long forgotten loquats, that plum yellow fruit, in almost every garden, bougainvillea falling over every wall, palest blue skies, new restaurant build outs on Larchmont, along with overpriced (but delicious) match and cardamom pastries from Sweden, and yes, your sister-in-law, by chance, wearing vintage earrings, hugging you unexpectedly. Also lunch with girlfriends you haven't chatted with in years. Walks with your son in the rain. Biscuits with cheese and chives in Griffith Park. Italian take-out with friends who've tucked you in a white blanket by the fire because you have jetlag and are complaining, like a baby, of exhaustion. There is green rice and black beans and seared fish and massaged kale salad, and churros, hot from the pan, served with either warm caramel or warm chocolate sauce. There is the old friend who has the new Great Dane puppy, already a hundred pounds, and spotted like your second Dalmatian who she loved so much. But BIGGER, Monica! Much bigger than a Dalmatian. Similarly adored. And your dress shop friend, the chicest person you know, with her new chin length haircut with the faintest sign of a flip, who makes cardigans and neck scarves look fresh and clever. Your journalist friend eating breakfast in the farmer's market with the same group every morning for thirty years. The booths that carry sound waves like speakers at the Beverly Hills Hotel, where no-one plays polo. The tv writer who trained as a quantum physicist. (Everyone carries something. We all carry something. We all do our best. I must remember this.) But yes, this is the source of optimism and hope and joy. This is the place where people root for you to win, not fail. It's where you belong, where you put in your years, where you found a home in that weird bit of manicured and watered desert, where you fell in and out of love, where your children put down their roots too, deep down where it's no longer dry. It doesn't matter what people say about California and how the dream has failed, or that the homelessness is out of control. All these things can be true. (There is a particularly moving opinion piece in the NY Times about the unhoused problem here.) It's still there, the source, the very true and brave and real and heady idea that you can do whatever you want to do, follow your dream, and you can succeed at it. That there is something you can plug into that will pull the best out of you and manifest it (ugh I am so not a fan of that word, but what is a better word?) It's filled with people with big dreams and big ideas and big emotions and the desire to talk about it all. You can almost see the ideas floating just a few feet above the people as they walk down the street, forming as they walk. They are out there, with light shone on them, sunlight...not held inside and twisted and shamed and tamped down, but lifted up for the world to see. Curiosity did not in fact kill the cat. It launched a million dreams.

Incidentally The Source was a very groovy Vegan restaurant on Sunset Strip when I first came to LA. Perfect, right?

 ‘Do what you want, just be kind’ - 
Father Yod of the Source Family

I've been thinking so much about this:

What you seek is seeking you - Rumi



Wednesday, April 03, 2024

More reasons for grace

There's a comforting lilt to posts I've written in the past about food and family. The lovely Amy Ephron would poach (no pun intended) food posts from Miss Whistle and purloin them for her own One For The Table, and I'm honored she did so. Here is one that just popped up - Thanksgiving: Cooking for 22. (Amy Ephron is a wonderful writer - you must check out her A Cup Of Tea.) And so, in this weird time where Mercury is retrograding like billy-o I'm coming back to the calm of writing about food (and thus, everything else) in this my favorite place to write. Thank you to those of you who still come back to Miss Whistle. I'm enormously grateful.

Something happened just two days ago that changed us on a cellular level - the arrival of Spring. On Thursday everything was wet and sodden and grey; huge swathes of pasture were under water, unable to receive even another drop, beyond absorbency and tired of it, clearly. A whole bunch of exasperated fields and lacklustre solitary daffodils, bowing at awkward angles, their limbs broken and feeling awfully sorry for themselves. Even the bunnies were hopping lackadaisically. Bare, dull, beige trees stood around like surly teenagers. Good Friday was as you would expect it to be: sad. And then, on Easter Saturday, the world burst open, birch leaves popping, wild garlic shooting, green fractals expanding spirally, chaotically, joyfully. A million more birds appeared and sang very, very loudly, like the annoying competitive family at the back of the church. Far too many descants. Hooting geese charged overhead in twos and threes like Messerschmidts, and the jackdaws and magpies and pheasants did an elaborate Morris dance outside the backdoor where the chicken scratch corn had been scattered. It was glorioius mayhem. Walk in it and you could feel every little organelle and microchondria bursting inside you, just bursting with joy. All the things that had been closed down, were absolutely brimming, every single thing that was true and honest and just and pure and lovely and of good report, were filled with praise.

And you think I'm exaggerating?

We were positively giddy, walking hand in hand down Pangbourne High Street, stopping for bread and cheese, and tulips for my mother. Swallowing, as you do, when you can't quite believe what you're seeing or how you're feeling; every little cell buzzing like a Murakami-style smiley face, every flower nodding towards the energy of the sun.

Lunch was artichoke soup, made with artichokes from one of the men C rings the church bells with, scrubbed and sliced thinly and put in a pan with some shallot and milk and a tiny bit of white leek, an Ottolenghi recipe. It's served with a spinach and hazlenut pesto. We had bread from Birch's, some very good cheese from the Pangbourne Cheese Shop (and some lovely Cornish Truffler that my sister brought with her).

Easter lunch was a bit more of a challenge. Nine people and four small children. A gluten and dairy intolerance to work around, and no assurance of sunshine. Sunshine is awfully helpful when there are small children, dogs and a lunch to be had; they often do what we adults should learn from, take off their socks and shoes and charge around on the grass like musketeers, or gleeful benevolent marauders, allowing the earth to ground them (it does). I don't cater very much to small people tastes. Most of the children in our family are happy to eat most things, so I don't have to make plain pasta or cardboard pizza which seems to be generic when people raise uncurious eaters. Instead we made a slow cooked lamb shoulder, marinated in parsley and coriander and cumin and lemon zest and garlic, which goes in the oven as soon as you wake up. It sits on a bed of celeriac and carrots and garlic heads, big chunky pieces. Even people who have uneasy relationships with lamb because of school horror stories like this. We served it with Turkish flatbread, homemade hummus (from my Lebanese family in LA), a chicory salad with oranges and hazlenuts, a Persian cucumber, tomato and pomegranate salad with mint, dill, olive oil and cherry molasses (I'd run out of pomegranate molasses) served on a smearing of labneh. And Persian jewelled rice with barberries, orange rind, slivered almonds (pistachio intolerance) and pinenuts, and I added some fat yellow sultanas for good measure. The tadig could have been better, it was a little pale gold not golden brown, but no-one complained. And then rhubarb from the garden, which C bakes in the oven with honey, and the Claudia Roden almond flour and clementine cake as adapted by Nigella. Whipped cream or coconut yogurt.

The sun did come out, briefly, and filled the garden with light. It had been dry enough for a few hours that people could sit on the grass, or on benches which surround the wall. It's funny when it's not your own family. The conversations are about people you don't know as well, and you have to try a bit harder to make sure that everyone is comfortable. Merging cultures is hard. Misunderstandings with your own family are what they are, fast flare ups that get settled quickly and with hugs. Mix-ups and communication fails with people who aren't your family or haven't been your family for long are awfully complicated. There is no shorthand, and each word that is chosen must not be assumed to be understood. Meaning could be entirely different. It's easier, almost, to assume that people are color blind. This way, at least, doesn't lead to unintentional hurt. Different cultures do things in different ways, and it's our job, those of us that doh-si-doh our way into new communities, to observe, appreciate and embrace other ways of doing things. Just as my Danish grandmother who was born in 1908, the daughter of a consul and shipowner who traveled widely all over the world and brought home exotic spices, tastes and Chinoiserie, married a Norwegian doctor who was more interested in the theatre than the social etiquette of the time. Just as my upper middle class Norwegian mother who had grown up in the bourgeoisie of Oslo came to England in 1960 had to adapt to my father's farming family, with dogs everywhere, dusty houses and tweed (and she laments, no tablecloths). Just as I left England in the height of Sloane Ranger rah rah rah, weekends in country houses, and a completely blinkered, naive, frankly blind, view of the world, had to embrace the crazy, loud, joyful Lebanese/Jewish/Catholic/White Bread American family of my husband's family, and then from the all the things we'd learned create our own culture, our own way of doing things, searching through the generations of stuff and coming up with a big, glorious hybrid approach that tried I suppose to take the best bits of everything and marry them together to find something inclusive that worked for everyone and saved the individual bits we really cared about. And now, after all of that building, to find a whole other somewhat bewildering landscape, even after all of these years (I have been back in England since January, 2017). More room to adapt. More reasons for grace, I suppose.

I've been thinking a lot lately about life feeling like a wobble board. About trying to keep everything in balance, about how you can think too hard about your legs shaking and focus too much on them, looking downwards, instead of looking out, and fixing one's gaze on something beautiful and bright (it helps tree pose in yoga, so it must help me, one thinks). About how we struggle to regain equilibrium, and grab for joy when we find it. (Every day can't be like that sunny Saturday in Pangbourne; every day can't be giddy.) But in fact, that is the nature of life, that Tao shape, the light and the dark, the happy and the sad, the scarcity and the abundance, the change. That is the only thing we can hold on to. The only constant is that balance/change between the extremes.

There are bumblebees on my magnolia tree, so fat I can see them from my desk.

In my beginning is my end. TS Eliot.



Monday, February 05, 2024

Acornology

I am a huge, huge fan of Cynthia Bourgeault, the episcopal priest, modern day mystic and retreat leader, and I listened to this story from her book 'The Wisdom Way of Knowing' as I was driving back from riding this morning. I'm sharing it because it feels pretty much perfect for a Monday morning.

Ancient oak, Big Sur, New Year's Day 2024


Acornology 

Once upon a time, in a land not so far away, there was a kingdom of acorns, nestled at the foot of a grand old oak tree. Since the citizens of this kingdom were modern, fully Westernized acorns, they went about their life with a purposeful energy; and since they were mid-life baby-boomer acorns, they engaged in a lot of self-help courses. There were seminars called “Getting All You Can out of Your Shell” and “Who Would You Be Without Your Nutty Story?” There were woundedness and recovery groups for acorns who had been bruised in their fall from the tree. There were spas for oiling and polishing those shells and various acornopathic therapies to enhance longevity and well-being.

One day in the midst of this kingdom there suddenly appeared a knotty little stranger, apparently dropped out of the blue by a passing bird. He was capless and dirty, making an immediate negative impression on his fellow acorns. And to make things worse, crouched beneath the mighty oak tree, he stammered out a wild tale. Pointing up at the tree, he said, “We … are … that!”

Delusional thinking, obviously, the other acorns concluded, but one of them continued to engage him in conversation: “So tell us, how would we become that tree?” “Well,” said he, pointing downward, “it has something to do with going into the ground…and cracking open the shell.”

“Insane!” they responded. “Totally morbid! Why then we wouldn’t be acorns anymore.”




*This story originated with Maurice Nicoll in the 1950s. Jacob Needleman popularized it in Lost Christianity and named it “Acornology.” Cynthia Bourgeault retold the story in her book, The Wisdom Way of Knowing.


Have a great week. xo 

Thursday, February 01, 2024

Inspired by Elmo

It's February the first, always a good day to start something new. As Frank Cottrell Boyce says, "BEGIN...it doesn't matter where you begin but BEGIN because there is magic in starting something new." I keep a little scrappy picture of his handwritten IG post to hand and I refer to it liberally.

And the other person who is interesting on this subject is the slightly controversial Joe Dispenza, whose NY Times bestselling book "Becoming Supernatural" seems to inspire people. He says, and I'm paraphrasing, that you can't expect different results if you continue to behave the same way every day, that's it's only by changing things up that we ourselves change; that we should change our habits to change our lives.

I'm not an authority on change but I am someone who needs to make quite a lot of effort to be happy, especially in these winter months. I have to remember every day, and every time I catch myself in the rearview mirror to "turn that frown upside down." I'm a genuinely happy person, but it takes some work, and maybe you can relate.



On Monday, Elmo, everyone's favorite little red fuzzy Sesame Street character, tweeted, somewhat innocuously "Elmo is just checking in. How is everybody doing?" He was flooded with replies:

"I'm at my lowest. Thanks for asking," one person replied. 

"Elmo I'm depressed and broke," another wrote.

"Elmo I'm suffering from existential dread over here," another replied.

(source: CBS News) 

It's rough out there. And we're all feeling it.

I was at a dinner this weekend for 18 people and four of the people at the party told me that they had an adult child who was suffering from anxiety. One had trouble leaving the house at all. Another was obsessed with conspiracy theories. And another just hadn't found their place in the world, and was living at home, sleeping a lot.

So today I was thinking about whether there was something I could do to help. I've spent at least two years on an interesting path, a path to discover wisdom, a path that brings me back to when I was a philosophy student, but also something that is I suppose an effort to become a better or more realized person, to expose all the bits that have been covered up, and read books by those who are on a path of spiritual enlightenment in the attempt to understand better why we are here and how to make it a happier place for everyone. And also, I suppose, to expand in some way in an effort to find the truth.

A lot of the things I have discovered are about love, that it indeed makes the world go round, and, to a certain extent, that it is the basic building block of everything. I don't want to alienate people -- I am a bit woo-woo (I get the "you're so LA" a lot, as you can imagine) but hopefully some of this stuff is relatable. Here are some sure-fire ways to get you back on the right track, or at least to make you feel that you aren't swimming against the tide.

1. Wake up an hour or half an hour earlier. Get out of bed without looking at your phone (put it in another room; we are all addicts). Do something quiet for a few minutes while you're still in that beautiful, soft liminal state between sleeping and waking. Meditate. Pray. Do some yoga. Or write in your journal (I do Julia Cameron's three pages of longhand writing). Or do a combination of all of these things. This is what sets your intention for the day, so that the day doesn't just dump on you.

2. Get out in the world before the sun rises. You will start out grumpy but you will see the most magical skies shot with pink and orange, and the bare winter trees will sparkle as if they're covered in snow, and sometimes there will be geese or crows. And then, like an aria, the sun will rise, and you will stop in your tracks, or pull your car over, in order to photograph it or just marvel in its glory. (Even on blurgh days it's possible to witness a sunrise).

3. While you're making your morning cup of tea and waiting for the kettle to boil, get down on your hands and knees and commune with your dog. Everything else will melt away and it will just be you and your favorite thing in the world loving each other. (I was listening to Swami Medhananda who was talking about a particularly Hindu faith that believes that God so loves us that he/she manifests as what we love, so that for example, for Christians God manifests as Jesus, and for Hindus it's Krishna and so on. It struck me that for us dog lovers, that is exactly where we find God.)

4. Walking. 10,000 steps a day is a bare minimum. If you want to shift your energy or vibrate on a different level, walk or run or dance; just move your body. Lots of stuff gets stuck, so if you can't walk or dance or run, move your fingers, your toes, your arms, your neck, swing your legs back and forth, or do spinal flexes (cat/cow).

5. Be in nature. There is a character in Isabella Tree's Wilding who is an Oak tree expert, and does marvelous mystical diagnoses on Oaks and what they need to thrive. He refuses to wash at all because he believes that the spores and bacteria and bits of micorrhyzal ephemera that stick to us are important for us to thrive as well. Everyone knows about shinrin yoku/forest bathing now. I go as far as hugging trees, especially on the oak avenue in the field to the south-west of our house, and the ancient yew tree in the churchyard. It's surrounded with a bench and I stand on the bench and throw my arms around the trunk and feel my body fizz with good energy.

6. Be a good friend. Check in with friends. Send them notes and poems and bits of random information so that they know you are thinking. This will come back to you in spades. Yesterday, I received a little box of writing paper adorned with bumble bees, from a girlfriend who said, "I saw these and they made me smile and think of you." That little parcel brought me back from a deep spiral of feeling a bit lost. Like magic. Such kindness! 

7. Be in water. Drink it. Soak in it. Shower in it. Walk by it. Feel its energy (waves). Immediate mood changer.

8. Breathe. 4.7.8 or 4.4.4.4 or just a deep cleansing breath to reset yourself. I tend hold my breath when I work or when I'm concentrating and forget this. I get stuck in a bit of fight or flight. Every time you go through a doorway, think "breathe." It's like a little moment of centering or bringing yourself back to the here and now. Imagine Ram Dass smiling beatifically at you as you do this.

9. Be part of a group. Join a local bridge club. Find the quilting ladies in the next town. Learn campanology. Chat to people at the local shop, smile at the lady at the garage when you're buying gas/petrol, say hello to fellow dog walkers. Find people with similar interests (I love my barn/yard/horse ladies so very much and last night we all went to see the film Priscilla which I worked on.)

10. Turn off the news. Of course you should keep up to date and be informed, but the 24 hour news cycle is just bad for our mental health. You know that sour feeling when you've been disaster-scrolling. Just stop. And instead of dwelling on the horrendous situations in the world, find a mindful way to do something. Give to Save the Children, for example. Find a way to channel your concern into something that might make a difference. (I know this is really hard. We are so very divided in the world right now.)

11. Create. There is a theory I like that says God is creativity. I think I believe it. It's in creating that we find that magical wisdom we've been so yearning for. Write, draw, paint, arrange some flowers, bake a coffee cake, reorganize your bookshelves, compose an opera. These are all acts of creation. I love to think of it as making something beautiful that wasn't there before. If a day goes by and I don't do this, I don't think I've kept my promise to the world and I find myself feeling a little empty.

12. This may or may not work for you and I'm not here to judge (as I still suffer from bouts of depression) but maybe try not drinking alcohol for a bit?  I gave up drinking 13 months ago, and everything is better. I don't miss it either, which I know astounds people. I sleep better and I don't wake up with existential angst, and there seems to be more time in the day. I am less scattered, more focused, happier. It probably deserves a bigger post, but I'm here to say, as someone who used to drink a couple of glasses every single night, that this is pretty awesome. If you would like more information on this, please ping me.

13. You are not your thoughts. I cannot state this enough.

14. Take an afternoon nap. Block it out in your calendar as a meeting. Sleep only 20 minutes, no longer. (Alternately do a thirty minute yoga nidra which you can find on Insight Timer, which, just like Heineken, reaches the parts other things can't reach.)

15. This is a silly little thing but tremendously cheering. The iphone wallpaper now has an option to choose photos of pets in its shuffle categories. (Go to Settings, Wallpaper, Customize and you'll see a little icon at the bottom left where you can choose pets or people or views...) I have Bean (the lovely deceased dalmatian who is the face of MissWhistle) on there, and Dotsie, who died ten years ago, as well as Thistle, my Frenchie. I'm trying to get out of the habit of looking at my phone, but when I do, I'm faced with an image of DOG. :)

Good luck to you with your February journey. I'm happy to be back on the blog; please do tell me if you have other good ideas we can add to this list. You can find me on Instagram at @bumbleward or email me at bramblejelly@gmail.com. Sending much love and hoping that it reverberates around the world. ❤️




 







Friday, April 21, 2023

Failing and Flying

Failing and Flying

Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
It's the same when love comes to an end,
or the marriage fails and people say
they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
said it would never work. That she was
old enough to know better. But anything
worth doing is worth doing badly.
Like being there by that summer ocean
on the other side of the island while
love was fading out of her, the stars
burning so extravagantly those nights that
anyone could tell you they would never last.
Every morning she was asleep in my bed
like a visitation, the gentleness in her
like antelope standing in the dawn mist.
Each afternoon I watched her coming back
through the hot stony field after swimming,
the sea light behind her and the huge sky
on the other side of that. Listened to her
while we ate lunch. How can they say
the marriage failed? Like the people who
came back from Provence (when it was Provence)
and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.
I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,
but just coming to the end of his triumph.