Tag Archives: Heart

… musings of a neglected teddy bear …

She brought me down from the attic this morning and gave me a good bashing and brushing at the back door, where the wind scattered my accumulated dust. She had no idea why she suddenly wanted me, the transitional object, around. But I know.

I make her smile – something to do with face muscles relaxing. And she needs a perk. Glued to the news, she’s expecting a revelation of meaning from the madness around the globe. She tells herself to ignore the surreal headlines that flit across her laptop screen, to no avail. As if that was not enough, her intense curiosity in AI and its implications on society, can take up her mornings. It may be because a new, man-made race is the theme of ‘Shapers,’ the sequel to ‘Course of Mirrors.’

And I used to think teddy bears were the pinnacle of man-made intelligence.

Though she can’t remember, she valued me time ago, to be held by her therapy clients in need of hugging. How cool is that? Then, one day, I was unceremoniously replaced by a trickster rag-doll, apparently more successful in bringing up suppressed psychic material – alarmingly uncool.

For now I’m redeemed. Everyone knows that teddies are brilliant listeners. I nod and never talk back, avoiding all misunderstandings.

Her son used to benefit from an associate of mine. Such shame he was a rare antique, and had to be sold.

Not that my presence fools her. She may be a good listener to her clients, but not to her own heart in these bewildering times, which is why she brought me down from the attic. I listen and open spaces for self-reflection. Just think of the waste of all the other teddies dusting away in attics.

She learned that to really understand how another person feels, their experience has to be felt in her own heart. There is nothing to be done. She’s a crushed angel and needs to feel her own bewilderment deeply to be of use to anyone.

That said – I’m happy to be here, in this warm space of reflection.

She says hello to all crushed angels. There must be many of you out there, given the consistent visits to a post of this poem by Hafiz from May 2015.

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… weeks sans heating – rant about smart devices – an offer …

I’ve not been so happy for a long time, which I’ll explain later. Following a November without heating, I was

The Poor Poet by C Spitzweg, 1839

initially cheered by a brand new boiler and enjoyed a span of blissful warmth and hot showers. Turned out the new boiler’s sensitive mechanism couldn’t cope with the system. In my young days I used to be tolerant of temperature changes. Small groups of poor students occupied large houses that had a big stove in the kitchen and coal or wood fires in individual rooms. Halls, toilets, bathrooms were freezing zones. During severe winters in    Bavaria we used hairdryers to defrost our car engines. On the upside, our car tires had spikes in them, making driving on snow and ice brilliant and safe fun.

December brought two more weeks in sub-zero conditions. Attempts to write and edit with stiff fingers continued, helped by three pair of trousers, jumpers, legwarmers, wrist warmers, winter coat and hat. In addition I frequently refilled the hot water bottle on my knees to supplement the electric heater taking the chill off my back. Concentration was difficult, nerves frazzled. Baked chestnuts and hot lemon drinks brought a little warmth to my hands.

I dealt with government agencies that give grants towards new boilers, involving subcontractors, and more subcontractors. Bless them all, but among the experts I felt like a girl serving coffee at a conference table. The situation made me immensely grateful to have a home at all.

And being me, my mind went into a spin, considering the bursts of technological innovations during my lifetime, deceptively useful, miraculous even, yet challenging, never more so when it comes to integrate old systems with oversensitive devices and their narrow applications.

A mass of data doesn’t equate with intelligence, unless used with skill, heart, intuition and imagination. Artificial neural networks aim to emulate human potential that is only just emerging, be it the psychological understanding of the self in relationships, the impact of the unconscious psyche on our lives (as explored by C G Jung,) enmity or collaboration rooted in past experience, strange attractions, genius, intuition, creativity, attitude. A flow of fresh associations reach us from spheres that hold accrued knowledge. I like Pierre Teilhard de Chardine’s concept of a self-reflective noosphere.

Whatever one may call this sphere, white noise permeates it with a new brand of global wilderness. Beleaguered hive minds resist dialogue and integration. To use a lame metaphor, as a radio needs tuning to reach a required station, so a brain needs to be free of agitation to access harmonising frequencies.

I think of the physical brains as mediator, like the motherboard of a computer, or a radio. I hope future generations will be receptive to the body and find ways to relax it, so the brain can maintain the antennae to the psychic totality of the wisdom of our collective, non-local mind-being & its guidance, and not be misled by expectations that every pesky problem in daily life can be monitored and sorted by automated devices.

 ‘Long live the dead because we live in them.’ ― Clarice Lispector – A Breath of Life

From an old postcard I can’t source

AI intrigues, yet also brings our shortcomings into sharp perspective. Humans mirror the vast intelligence of the cosmos, through myth, art, religion, the insights of seers and scientists, all encapsulating equal measures of truth and untruth. If a higher will exists it must include the collective experience of a universal psyche, including yours and mine.

I must be free to make mistakes and form perception. Neurotic people muddle through. Old cars muddle through, old washing machines, ovens, fridges and boilers muddle through all manner of obstructions and, with a little devoted attention, can be mended until they have fulfilled their purpose. Life wings through seasons of existence in this limited material world, resurrected through other forms in further life cycles. Heck; imagine your experiential persona trapped indefinitely in a robotic body whose every need is monitored and anticipated. Imagination and the potential to understand another human being would wither away, the wisdom of aeons reduced to numbers. What a dumb and spiritless existence.

‘Technology, instead of liberating us from myth, confronts us as a force of a second nature just as overwhelming as the forces of a more elementary nature in archaic times.’ – Walter Benjamin.

I like my old car. It doesn’t lock me in or out, records my whereabouts, or suddenly cuts off its engine at a red light because its programme decides to safe petrol. I like devices that can be repaired with a little thought or the occasional bang of a hammer. I like my seasoned washing machine that doesn’t tell the world where and when I’m doing my laundry.

My old boiler pushed through the sludge in my pipes and could have been made to work again, with attention to the system. My rant is NOT about the new as such, but about the general dis-empowering trend that sells us short and prevents recycling of perfectly repairable items.

Each day we navigate unpredictable situations and complex problems. We feel the joy and pain of organisms, creatures, people, and often our reason is clouded by our passion. If only children were taught about emotional intelligence early on. Yet industries decree that trusting humans is risky, dangerous, and uneconomical. The story begins to resemble Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. Not worth a thought of course, because Shelley was a woman.

Jeanette Winterson expresses similar thoughts more poignantly in a lecture she gave in Holland … Super intelligence could conclude that all mankind is a waste of space and resources. Check for a translate button on the site. I thank my Dutch friend, Kitty, for sharing this link on FB.

Yesterday I had brilliant news. A couple of competent plumbers took up some floorboards and, with impressive intuition, and skill, solved the problem. My new boiler is at peace with the old system.

Happy & warm, I want to share my pleasure with a festive offer on Course of Mirrors:

The paperback will be half price for a limited period on this Troubadour page

In addition, the e-book will be 99 pence on most platforms up to the 2nd January 2018

In case you enjoyed reading my magical novel, you may consider leaving a short comment on the above Troubador site (no signing in required) and Amazon, where it apparently boosts sales, which would be wonderful.

I’m wishing all my readers peaceful festive days and a blessed New Year.

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… sometimes I feel …

… like a motherless child … This famous Spiritual is known the world over, maybe because it touches the orphan child in us. The lament of being a long, long way from home speaks of the universal desire  to feel safe, to be accepted, have one’s talent nurtured and simply be held. Listen to this deep-felt ache in Odetta’s voice from a late recording on You Tube.

In most cases we leave the nest in order to become our own person, but winning the obstacle race of growing into an adult and finding self-worth is a remarkable achievement, made easier when a child is welcomed and loved by a parent, a mentor or a community.

The latter presents a grim challenge for people who are forced to leave their homes, for whatever reasons. Affluent societies are now faced with a surge of refugees. There is much goodwill, but equally resentment, often based on ignorance. Public debates seem to miss the acknowledgement of how the wealth that brought about commerce and stability in the west was and is part-indebted to slavery and the exploitation of defenseless countries. The lesson for humility and tolerance is implicit – and ongoing.

Before I get carried away, this post is in memory of my mother, who died three decades ago to this day.

I miss her, and yet …

Sometimes I feel like my mother is near                                                                                                                                    At home, right here in my heart

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… rose is a rose is a rose …

 

The rose-phrase is the enduring refrain of Gertrude Stein. In her surreal 1939 children book, ‘The World is Round,’ for example, rows of three words appear throughout. A girl called Rose carves her name round a tree in an endless loop to affirm her existence .

Rose is a rose is a rose – rolls from the tongue much like the prayer beads of a rosary roll through nimble fingers.

You want to stay with the rose, let it take root in your psyche, and from there let roses after roses grow.

By comparison – BrexitisBrexitisBrexit – sounds like the rusty hinges of a rotten door, or the croaking of a parrot with a sore throat. I try to resist the word’s grating in my skull, but it’s difficult to avoid its ugly edges from day to day, in bizarre discord with the rousing refrain of Britannia rules the waves.

There’s repetition and repetition. Applied with intention in literature, music, dance and the visual arts, repetition can strip the familiar to its essence. The arts, at best, alert us to nature’s spellbinding repetitive rhythms. Shield your ears and hear the blood-river rushing through your veins – touch your wrist and sense your heart pump the river round and round. Spirit is seduced into this trance-dance, or it would never get trapped in forms. Repetitive behaviour settles us into mollifying routines and gives us a sense of stability, as well as addictive habits. Beneficial as they can be, customary routines also have a tendency to dumb us down.

In this time of rapid changes, words and images topple over each other’s associations. Type ‘apple’ into a search engine and up pop pages listing Apple Inc., the multinational technology company that has seized the apple, bitten off a chunk of knowledge, like Eve, and deployed it as a metaphor for its corporation – brilliant, and disconcerting. It had trouble finding a title for my novel, where ‘mirror’ was not already owned as a label by tabloids or rock bands.

Most young folk today move along the electric cultural highway in fast gear. Facebook’s Zuckerberg famously said ‘Move fast and break things.’ Maybe he’s a speed-hatched modern-day mystic. I’m reminded of Hazrat Inayat Khan’s profound quote regarding the journey of life – ‘The ideal the means, its breaking is the goal.’

I suffer a long view. My first experience of TV was Queen Elisabeth’s coronation. What unnerves me is the speed of spear-heading elites, leaving ordinary people no breath to digest events, especially as history and the arts are being replaced by computer science in education. With automation the rage, the journey happens in a blur, as do thinking processes. Keywords have become mechanical codes, and shareholders bow to the omnipotent algorithms’ patterns of, let’s say, how existential fears relate to consumer behaviour. We hardly notice our choices being manipulated. How to catch snap assumptions that keep consciousness caged, or one’s imagination buried under debris of glib answers? With traditions and ideologies on trial, how to develop a filter of authenticity to stem the flood of information? Reflective minds are turning cynical. I have that tendency.  Doubt is the new lodestar.

Like never before, we perceive phenomena through multiple eyes, tap into the states of other beings – their joy, their ignorance and excess, their poverty, suffering and distress. We may blank out what upsets, but can’t escape the increasing experience of contradiction, the very function of reality. Greater awareness deeply conflicts us, as much as it inspires creativity. There’s hope. Seeing does not require physical eyes. Collective consciousness will expand, be it through chaos. The least we can do is to still our own mind, which is why I return to the rose.

The genus Rosa, according to fossil evidence, is 35 million years old and begun to be cultivated circa 5000 years ago. Due to its tessellated structure, dome-like shape and its delightful perfume, the rose has become a symbol of the heart, of wholeness, love, beauty and perfection the world over, frequently with mystical connotation, and often highly stylised, as in Islamic art.

When held, thought or spoken of, the rose lingers on and generates a mood. It may appear in different stages of opening or beautiful decay, in a particular colour, light. The name alone conjures up memories of scents, places, relationships, delight or melancholy. What ‘rose’ evokes derives from a time-wrought cypher that evokes all roses that were, are and will be.  Rose is a rose is a rose – depicts a rose, no more, and yet, it kindles all the experiences and ideas humans formed around roses.

While fear of loss and abandonment engenders life, it also draws us towards the mystery of infinite consciousness, the one being with countless names. Various practices, derived from spiritual traditions, can calm a turbulent mind enough for a glimpse of harmony beyond divisions. For a while, at least, we sense the larger presence, the effortless zone, the flow – and given patience, come to realise that consciousness is what we are.

I invite you again to This guided rose journey I shared here three years ago, requires only your imagination.

It is a short imagery, easy to memorise. Enter with eyes closed, and it may work for you as a bridge to the recurring presence of rose – a reminder of continuous becoming and expanding consciousness.

 

 

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… friends …

P1080320 - croppedAugust –

my birthday month tends to be a time of remembrance and gratefulness for the friends in my life, close, far, cherished or neglected,  people that taught me to be a friend to myself, people I bonded with through heart-sparks that left indelible marks. My friends are soul companions that became part of my journey, they form a flowing web of connections I’m held in.

So far it’s been a social month. Having reconnected with two primary school friends from Germany aDSC_0472 from Lieselotte few years ago during a reunion,  they sprang a surprise visit (their first to England.) We had a lovely meal in an excellent pub, with my son joining us. I toured the girls through the woods of a nearby sculpture park, through my town, and, of course, through London. We started with a riverboat journey (my first) under London’s time-honoured bridges, got lost in Covent Garden, which eventuated finding a café that served Black Forrest cake, which delighted Lieselotte, and surfaced at Trafalgar Square.

P1080394 - smallerFrom there we wove our way through St James Park and ended up at Buckingham Palace.

The girls had a great time, and good laughs, especially when, embarrassingly, I fell into talking German with Londoners, attracting the occasional blank stare of incomprehension.

What struck me was how ‘in essence’ we had not changed since we were children.  Intrinsic qualities stay with us throughout P1080361 - smallerlife, shine through our energy field, temperament, movement, voice, characteristics and life-interest. The qualities my friends nourished in me as a child, I still value today, the unconditional kind heart of Gaby, and Lieselotte’s ability to assess situations quickly and get things done. I saw that they also nourish these qualities in each other. Sadly they had to return home and miss my party last weekend.

P1080425 - smallerThe Party… lovely sunshine, guest coming and going. An unknown sponsor even ordered a birthday balloon to sail above my garden 🙂 My good-weather-wish came true. Some of us kept a circle outside until midnight among sparkling lights. The occasional apple dropped.

My favourite deckchair folded  under more weightP1080413 - smaller than my own. Glasses clinked. There was silliness, acknowledgements, revelations.

Seen through the eyes of our friends’ imagination, do the lissome fleeting shadows flitting through our personal frames influence us, each other? I wonder, but guess they do.

As the years crawl along, heart-spark moments never dwindle. Stories are transformed and woven into a new context. Life stations glide by and return as in a spiralling carrousel.

Even friends not present were with us in spirit, remembered, since, like Kahlil Gibran put it … for that which you love most in (a friend) may be clearer in his absence, as the mountain to the climber is clearer from the plain.

P1080431 - smallerFrom The Prophet …

And the youth said, Speak to us of Friendship, and he answered, saying:

Your friend is your need answered. He is your field which you sow with love and reap with thanksgiving. And he is your board and fireside. You come to him with your hunger, and you seek him for peace.

When your friend speaks his mind you fear not the ‘nay’ in your own mind, nor do you withhold the ‘aye.’ And when he is silent your heart ceases not to listen to his heart; for without words, in friendship, all thoughts, all desires, all expectations are born and shared, with joy that is unacclaimed.

When you part from your friend, you grieve not; for that which you love most in him may be clearer in his absence, as the mountain to the climber is clearer from the plain.

And let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit. For love that seeks aught but the disclosure of its own mystery is not love but a net cast forth: and only the unprofitable is caught.

And let your best be for your friend. If he must know the ebb of your tide, let him know its flood also. For what is your friend that you should seek him with hours to kill? Seek him always with hours to live. For it is his to fill your need, but not your emptiness.

In the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures. For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.

Kahlil Gibran

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… bewildered hearts …

P1060111 lowres

We may reach out in vain towards heavy hearts shrouding broken ideals or stagnant truths that are dark-sealed against any doubt.

We may reach out in vain towards wounded hearts that shirk beauty, scorn at tender gestures, treat humour like treason and plot revenge.

 

Yet in the death rasp of each bewildered heart we may catch the echo of our sigh – the time-sculpted murmur of our own pain.                                                                                                                                                                                                                   P1060110 inverse lowres                                           

 

‘The ideal is the means; its breaking is the goal.’    Hazrat Inayat Khan

 

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… verwandlungen – transformations …

Bilder des Vaters – Wörter der Tochter                                                                                   A Father’s Images – A Daughter’s Words 

Auf dem wilden Kaiser

My father, now in his 90s, recently recovered from the shock of a fall. Brought to the fore, mortality reshuffles experiences – a mysterious process, different for everyone, young or old. Whether relationships are supportive or troubled by frustrated expectations, in the deep cavern of the psyche experiences assume fresh meaning when endings are contemplated, or happen suddenly. The unconscious speaks a surreal language.

A few years ago, my father took photos of a phenomenon on the island of Fuerteventura, where, in some places, when the tides recede, the white shingle derived from bleached shells and sea creatures mingles with the black sand of volcanic rock. The bizarre sand drawings my father came upon inspired me to write short lines in German, here with English translations. The alliance of images and words surprised us both, hinting at an underlying creative connection between us that could not have been otherwise expressed.

Im Sand träumt das Angesicht der Zeit … The Face of Time Dreams in Sands

Sand - no1

1

Ich seh Dich, du siehst mich noch nicht.

Meine Stimme klingt von der Ferne

In deinem Muschelraum

Geheimnisvoll im Werden.

Manche glauben ich sei nur Sand,

Die irren sich gewaltig.

Ich bin ein Traum wie Du.

 

I see you – you don’t see me yet

My voice sounds from far away

In your snail chamber, secretly becoming

Some think I’m only sand

They’re mistaken

I am a dream – like you

Sand - no22

Tränen waschen mich rein von der Macht

Das war mir eine Last.

Ich will ich mich nun auflösen

Im Gesang von schönen Symphonien.

 

Tears cleanse me of power

Which burdened me

Now I will dissolve

In tunes of beautiful symphonies

Sand - no 3

 

3

Ich bin ein komischer Vogel – mit Hörnern und Brüsten

Wie Du trag ich das schweigende Anglitz der fliessenden Zeit

 

I am a strange bird – with horns and breasts

Like you I wear the silent face of fluid time

 

 

 

Sand - no 44

Die blassen Gestalten um mich wollen mich beschützen

Als ob ich zu klein bin fur die Welt – vielleicht ahnen Sie

Dass ich ein Drache werden will der die Welt erschüttert

 

The pale figures surrounding me mean to protect

As if I was too small for the world – maybe they suspect

That I want to become a dragon to shake the world

 

Sand - no 5

 

5

Mein kleiner Tanz ist ansteckened – bald wird der ganze Strand

Bevölkert sein mit Kindern die Hände fassen in Ringelreihen

 

My little dance is catching – soon the whole beach

Will fill with children who hold hands in Ring a Ring o’ Roses

 

 

Sand - no6

 

6

Vom Wind verwischt und verwandelt bin ich

Das restlose Gemüt einer schlafenden Seele

 

Blurred by the wind and transformed

I’m the restless mind of a sleeping soul

 

 

Sand - no 77

Meine Flügel sind mir ans Hirn gewachsen

Wer weiss who ich dahin mit segeln werde

Mein Herz blickt schon längst ins Unbekannte

 

My wings have grown to my brain

Who knows whereto I shall sail with them

My heart has long been gazing into the unknown

 

Images: Ludwig Weiss – Words: HMA Venema

And then there is ‘The Story of the Sands,’ one of my favourite Sufi stories. Here told by Terence Stamp: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oNasXE5_OTI

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… what is your bliss? …

My moments of bliss come out of the blue, when I glimpse something moving in a certain way, in a certain light, not ordinary light, but a mysterious light that shines through nature.

P1070862 - smallerLike the day after the sky was veiled by thick curtains of rain and next morning the sun spun its brilliance through the cleansed air, and a warm breeze played through my washing on the line. Such joy, when for an instant my whole attention is timelessly merged with a particular quality of being, transporting me beyond my senses in ways I can’t fathom.

I draw these tricks of light to me, like a collector tends to attract the objects he/she desires. When days or weeks pass without such moments, I feel deprived and nothing quite chimes.

Maybe it’s a rare beauty that takes the mind by surprise and stops time. The washing line reminded me of another bliss I met on a stormy day in the sand dunes of Rye on the Sussex coast. Imacon Color ScannerTo take the photograph I balanced with difficulty on a lifeguard tower that was rocked by strong winds, leaning precariously backwards to get the frame right. The light was sombre, the stirring in the air not playful but intense, yet bliss was present.

When I lose my bliss I pray for its return, like one would call on an imagined angel to make itself known. Occasionally I find a feather on the ground and think – it came and I missed it. Then again, no instance of bliss is lost; the experience is incorruptible and lives on in the calm depth of life’s pulsing heart. Everyone has their own kind of bliss.

What is your bliss?

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How do I read?

one of my notebooks

one of my notebooks

I jotted this question in my notebook a while ago. How do I read, in the widest sense? There is plenty of observation and advice on the art of writing, composing music, painting, photography, film. Less is said about on the art of reading, perceiving, interpreting, or how we reject or embrace what is expressed by others, and ourselves, even how we read our dreams.

I conclude there’s no difference between, let’s say writing, and reading, other than visibility, since any creative composition derives from an inner process of reading, the picking and shuffling of impressions into our frame of reference in relation to the larger myth of reality.

One could say the secret of being read lies in one’s talent and ability to read one’s inner psychic world, even when filtered through one’s most personal and eccentric imagination.

Long before communication was easily reproducible and reached greater audiences, people were reading the world, though only a tiny fraction of inspirations and inventions was circulated. Today’s media channels swamp us with communications. It’s confusing. We must choose.

In reading novels, I follow my intuition. The gimmick of an instant attention grabbing action scene puts me off. A proposal may be impossibly fantastic, but if I detect an authentic voice, rhythm and movement, I travel along. Invited into a mind, an atmosphere, a time, a place, I want to be absorbed in this other world and experience myself anew in a conflict between light and shadow from within the heart of another consciousness.

Whether meaning is intended or not, I read my own meaning into what has been imagined by another mind. An insight, a memory may surprise. Some books I treasure for one or two illuminating sentences, so I guess reading for me is a bit of a treasure hunt, which begs a question. What am I hunting for?

world objects for sandtray work

world objects for sandtray work

My interest is fleeting when events are contrived, plucked from the air. Characters convince me when they are embodied and grow around obstacles, reaching towards the light, while spreading roots and producing seeds (new thoughts,) even when they come from mythical creatures, kings and slaves of the past, or explorers of distant futures. As long as events happen in a believable psychological setting, I engage.

Then again, I’ve been convinced by writing that made no sense at all, until, with a little patience, I discovered a new comprehension shining through an abstract form. It’s a wonderful feeling, and important feedback for writers, who may be surprised by what is evoked in readers. Once I finished my present project, I intent to spend more time on reviewing – a most giving art of reading.

Stories for stories sake can be dull, while stories in which nothing much happens outwardly can be riveting when they resonate with the human condition, where, quite often, what seems true becomes false, and what seems false becomes true.

It is said we write the books we want to read. When writing, I search to combine words that convince intellectually and emotionally, until something true is mirrored back. Maybe what I’m hunting for in my reading and writing are fitting metaphors for the miracle of existence.

I always delight in discovering neglected writers, like Marlene Haushofer,  or the poet W S Graham, whom I wrote about here as part of a post in Sept 2013.  And beyond new works, there are innumerable old favourites, including H G Wells. The link connects to a post I did about one of his lesser known stories.

Thinking about photography, my other passionate reading, I was inspired by Henri Cartier Bresson – the link leads to my post about him.  And here the archive of the street photography of Andre Kertesz – enjoy.  I’ll leave film alone, that’s a whole other story.

What are your reflections on reading?

 

Some related blogposts:

Storytelling and the primary world.

Mother-tongue and other tongue.

Memory and Place.

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… the ones who walk away …

Ursula Le Guin’s short metafiction, ‘The Ones who Walk Away from Omelas,’ first published in 1973, had its 40th anniversary last year. My first reading, when Google and book review sites were non-existent, left a deep impression. This week’s re-reading, once, twice, three times – the story deserves it – made me curious as to what other readers might have made of it. Obsessing in a web-crawl I came upon predominantly moral interpretations, which I distinctly remember resisting, though these associations are understandable. The way our systems deal with the unadjusted tends to appease the troubled conscience for the rest of us normal citizens.

For me, there were deeper complexities in this brilliant piece of writing. I decided to share my thoughts and tempt those of you who don’t know the story to read it and derive their own insights. I’ll use spoilers, so if you want to read the story first, here is a link: http://genius.com/Ursula-k-le-guin-the-ones-who-walk-away-from-omelas-annotated

… With a clamor of bells that set the swallows soaring, the Festival of Summer came to the city of Omelas, bright-towered by the sea …  

Childhood, Thomas Cole, 1842

Childhood, Thomas Cole, 1842

We are shown a charming city where order and harmony reign, a city well-protected in a bay, resembling a womb. Reality is suspended. There’s a sense of timelessness. It is a civilised place, decorous, joyful, without hierarchy. No king, no swords, no slaves … no power games. Utopia comes to mind, the idea of eternal life – the eternal innocent child.

No science has yet dispelled the vision of a haven without strive, where everyone is happy. In the wake of traumatising wars and unspeakable atrocities, there are always attempt to re-create places like Omelas, attempts to soften the reality of birth and death, the extremes of joy and pain, nature, the cosmos our life depends on and which we try to fathom. But since our spiritual lore cautions that life is an illusion – an ornament that covers ultimate truth we can’t perceive with our senses, we get anxious when life becomes too comfortable.

The narrating voice, anticipating our scepticism, invites us to fill in the sketches of this perfect democracy. We are told, ‘They were not simple folks, you see, though they were happy.’ After all, Omelas may strike some as goody-goody. Smiles, bells, parades, horses, bleh. ‘If so please add an orgy.’ More delightful pleasures are suggested – celebrating life, with one significant addition, ‘One thing I know there is none of in Omelas is guilt.’

In contrast, the voice notes the bad habit of a different place, where pedants and sophisticates consider happiness as something rather stupid. ‘Only pain is intellectual, only evil interesting … the treason of the artist: a refusal to admit the banality of evil and the terrible boredom of pain.’ The voice insists that the citizens of Omelas were mature, intelligent, passionate people whose lives were not wretched.

The Festival of Summer has begun. ‘Do you believe?’ the narrator asks. ‘Do you accept the festival, the city, the joy? NO? Then let me describe one more thing.’

And there it is, the secret lurking out of sight, a child, kept in the darkness of a tiny cellar room, with only a faint ray of hope based on a dull memory. The child is not driven out of the city, like the traditional scapegoat, but contained below ground; there to absorb everyone’s fear of reality and its cruel justice, embodying, maybe, submerged histories, rather like the depths of the iceberg below water keeps its peak afloat in the light.

… They all know it is there, all the people of Omelas. Some of them have come to see it; others are content merely to know it is there. They all know that it has to be there. Some of them understand why, and some do not, but they all understand that their happiness, the beauty of their city, the tenderness of their friendships, the health of their children, the wisdom of their scholars, the skill of their makers, even the abundance of their harvest and the kindly weathers of their skies, depend wholly on the child’s abominable misery …

Terms are clear, should this child be freed, the beauty would wither and be destroyed. The pragmatic solution seems such: One punished and suffering child is meant to redeem the rest from coming to terms with their inherited sins and traumas.

To leave this comfortable enclave of Omelas means leaving security and loved ones behind. It requires crossing mountains, stepping into the unknown, with no charm against collective guilt.

Omelas’ citizens are free to look at the unacceptable child. While reactions, those of young ones mainly, vary from disgust to outrage, most accept the necessity of this child’s sacrifice, though some fall quiet and leave Omelas in the middle of night, alone.

For me the child is there to serve cohesion, symbolizing a lid on the unconscious, primitive, wild aspects of the psyche. Isn’t dis-ease a loss of order and rhythm? If you judge this pragmatism harshly, consider the purpose of trip-switches in an electricity-wired house. Or, consider how people under social or dictatorial pressure may choose to safeguard the lives of their loved ones at the cost of betraying their knowing heart.

Le Guin does not condone staying or leaving Omelas, she provides no answers. I am one of those who walked away, many times, always at a cost, because I preferred guilt to shame. C G Jung developed the concept of individuation, hoping for it to expand collective consciousness from the inside out, through the individual, sometimes involving a precarious personal journey, going through a process of separating psychologically from parents, state, authority, to become whole. Like in the Zen story where the seeker eventually returns, better able to serve the community. While a single brain does not survive its limited life-span, the collective memory of matter, and each human experience lives on and is transmitted to every new-born life.

Each one of us carries the traumas of our histories, though not everyone has the opportunity to redeem such wounds, contribute new ideas, or explore different states of being. What drives one to walk away from the familiar – is it inner conflict, allegiance to one’s heart, fear to upset the order, the need for a wider perspective, or simply a calling? We bond to the systems we grow up in, in cases we adjust our behaviour in order to emotionally survive, along with the implicit bargain to keep quiet about the shit, our shit, others’ shit, and how we deal with all the shit.

There are those who leave a comfortable place and those who stay. Maybe a balance between conservative forces that protect structures and revolutionary forces that seek change is necessary. Not everyone, for example, can face existential pain and futility without succumbing to psychosis. There is a case for Festivals of Summer, sport, drugs, ecstasy, trance …

Was the power of the imagination born from fear of mortality? Is this why we envisage dystopias or utopias, and, ultimately, scenarios that make us feel in control of our destiny?

What we hide from ourselves and from each other often relates to our most prominent outcast, the neglected inner child, so embarrassing to the adult world. This child in Omelas seems to embody the ongoing ritual of shame for walking from Eden into the dawn of creation, a reality burdened with consciousness, and free will that frequently misses the mark, but, heck, is the very process of becoming human.

My naïve hope is that we can learn to embrace our all too human failures, show patience with our children, stop seeking blame and end scapegoating, yet also acknowledge our individual and collective need for comfortable realities … protecting us … from what?

Here a quote from a former friend and teacher, Fazal Inayat-Khan … taken from a lecture on Reality:

‘For the whole collective of the human mind – outside that self-created reality there is a storm. That storm – that wind – that pressure – that influence and space is for our existence and permanency completely annihilating and destructive … our assignment outward is because of a deep decay … Reality is a veil that is spun with the finest and thinnest and strongest silk. It weighs nothing – it covers a little darker area behind – and yet the moment when you reach out with your hand to draw the veil away it will skin your hand till blood is drawn.’ 

To fill this emptiness we assign our meaning outward. Call it the human project. Sorry to trouble you, my friends, but the function of reality is worth contemplating, and, in my view, Ursula Le Guin’s story does just that.

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