Tag Archives: imagination

… I lost an ally, but not her frequency …

Launch of 'Heart of a Sufi.'

2011 launch of ‘Heart of a Sufi’ at a friend’s place.

Before I share the book cover of ‘Course of Mirrors,’ my first novel to be released in spring, I must step back and credit once more a book I co-edited and am proud to have helped produce. ‘Heart of a Sufi’ was published by a group of friends in 2011. A limited print-run of hardbacks sold quickly and recouped our expenses. I wrote about the background to this project in honour of Fazal Inayat-Khan here in March 2013.

 

Joe Linker, a blogger friend, wrote only this week a spot-on review of this unusual book – brilliant, heartfelt thanks. One of our small editorial team, Rahima (Elspeth) Milburn, would have been delighted with the review of this book she endorsed with passion. Sadly she died peacefully shortly before 2017 was rung in.

by-ashen-portrait-of-elspeth-spottiswood-smallerI miss her. She was a deep thinking woman, a painter, psychotherapist and lover of poetry, especially Rumi, whose verses she recited often in her very deep and distinctive voice.  She was an inspiration to many. For over ten year, up to 2004, we run monthly seminars and additional workshops together, on themes like mythology, the power of the imagination, and the significance of dreams. I feel deep gratitude for her supportive friendship and feel strongly that her frequency lives on.

The portrait on the right I did in her studio, around the Millennium.

A group of us, companions on her path, will travel to Cornwall next week to join the large Milburn family and send their mother, grandmother and great-grandmother on her journey. Some of my readers may remember a humorous poem I wrote for Rahima and her family – posted here last October:

Regarding ‘Heart of a Sufi’ … while there are only very few of the beautiful hard copies left, some with Watkins in London, the work is also available as an e-book  with Troubador or Amazon.

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… BREXASPERATION …

Nationalism is the pathology of modern developmental history as inevitable as neurosis in the individual.  – Tom Nairn – ‘The Break-Up of Britain.’ 

Brexit and Trump have not suddenly happened.

The Pilgrim Fool - Celcil Collins

The Pilgrim Fool – Cecil Collins

My generation has been outpaced by the frenzied speed of technological advances for some decades now. Large sections of society lack meaningful vocations and work, small shops and community centers are disappearing, since such places are no longer considered financially viable. Public services in Britain have been sold out. Liberal arts and crafts are reduced to soft and unprofitable educational choices. People have become exploitable commodities and are being gradually deprived of culture. I am reminded of Cecil Collin (1908-1989) and his ‘Vision of the Fool.’ For him, Saints, artists and poets are one with the joy and sorrow of the Fool, in whom the poetic imagination of life lives and coordinates heart-intelligence in human society. A cosmic folly that is present in the person of us, which cannot be exploited because it is above state, class or politics. It’s what I sense in many people I meet, a longing for what has been demeaned as useless – the poetic imagination of the innocent fool.

Western citizens should of course be grateful. We have progress, gadgets, toys – life has never been better. Yet the cornucopia of consumer choices does not replace human relationships, community facilities, lack of housing, lost jobs, lost pensions, does not prevent the gnawing disillusionment that is spreading like a virus, while beneath the impotent silence fester anger and self-destructiveness. When starved of meaning, what tends to make people feel alive, short of war, is upturning the apple cart and watching the unfolding drama.

Britain’s populist Brexit vote was valuable fuel for Donald Trump. He even called himself Mr Brexit – down with cosmopolitanism and multiculturalism – up with nationalism and walls to keep out the alien hordes. Brushing over complex issues with simpleminded slogans resulted in over 50 million Americans to vote on promises to make America great again by a man whose opportunist character will be severely tested by reality. Hopefully the task will mellow his character, and not result in toxic consequences for years to come.

For Britain, and other EU countries, there is yet an opportunity to re-evaluate the cards that have emerged on the public table. The Brexit referendum event gave food for thought, enough to serve the intelligent questioning of what truly lies at the heart of the growing disagreements and dissatisfaction among so-called affluent societies.

I guess I’m not the only one to suffer from Br -exasperation.

Not scapegoating, but a careful analysis is called for – and a constructive participation, with Europe, towards addressing the challenges of our time is what I wish for. The biases in the trail of globalism must be acknowledged and engaged with. The EU, despite massive failings, still offers the bests chance for stability. Turning the clock back is futile. In my view, to support and effectively influence the EU project is the intelligent way forward for Britain.

But is seems the British Parliament hasn’t got the guts to open the real discussion that was never held, and hasn’t got the guts to acknowledge how its senseless policies have allowed injustices and inequalities to heap up. It is utterly hypocritical to blame the results of bad politics on migrants.

Stakes are high. Sanctioning the pathology of nationalistic frenzy could destroy what has been achieved. See the history of Human Rights.

Well, that’s my small voice in the internet wilderness. A post I wrote in 2012 may be relevant:

… here is everywhere …

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… perception & difference …

Try and shut your eyes to slits and blink through autumn branches against the light. With patience, a young-woman-old-hagmoment arrives when black and white spaces inverse and clusters of stars shine from another dimension. The background has moved to the foreground. A tiny shift in our outlook can result in a new interpretation of what we see, like in the gestalt drawing  on the right, which changes the age of the person if you let your eyes wander up and down the image. Visual tricks that open a sudden gap in our seeing reveal how we jump to superficial referencing. Making snap assessments is convenient, safes time, energy, and sometimes lives, but can also trap us in a kind of flatland of rigid divisions.

What do we mean when we say he or she is different – do they look different, act different, think different, or have customs that seem strange to us? Typical brackets are class, gender, cultural background, colour, language, age, ability … and migrants. Defining people by categories clicks in as a default opinion when real or imagined threats require scapegoats. Or resources are scare and solidarity is politically expedient.  Suddenly the need to belong and historical prejudices reasserts themselves.

Beneath all habitual categories prowls what is frequently forgotten … the inherent natural tendency of each individual. Consider relatives, neighbours, familiars, friends and foes. The differences that delight orfoetus-2 irritate us lie foremost in a person’s unique temperament and inherent tendencies. Background does not explain the mystery of characteristics we are born with, the random mix of evolutionary records in our bodies, a wisdom our minds expand upon through resonance with the collective psyche – a shared matrix of past experience and future potential from which we, ideally, emerge as a self-reflective persona. (The theory of a collective unconscious and similar non-evidenced theories relate to my experience.)

Environmental factors can distort the unfolding of latent knowledge in every living organism. Education has a detrimental effect on children when their intuition is belittled and their minds are flattened with facts before they developed the confidence to question these facts.

P1090890 - Copy (2)How come I’m invigorated by rushing waters, calmed by a smooth stone, a golden sunset? How do I sense the pulse in a tree, or what life is like for a boar, rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog –  unless all nature’s qualities also reside in me?

For example, anyone who sits in a public place and watches people stroll by will notice traces of animal features; can spot a temperament in gestures and movements, observe someone dragging their body behind their head, or push their belly out like a shield. Some people dance along with a fluid gait, while others tiptoe and glance nervously about them.

mercats-copy-smallerAt social gatherings we may come upon clusters of meerkats grooming each other, turtles plodding through the crowd looking for a mate or a fresh salad leaf, peacocks, obsessed with their splendour, blustery cockerels, loving old dogs, sharp-eyed falcons, enchanting robins, and so on. …

birds-and-cake

Birds are keen on cake but wary of cats, whereas lions can afford to be relaxed.  How amazing then to observe vastly different temperaments complementing each other – like a person falcon-smaller-stillwith a butterfly nature tying up with a partner who occasionally roars. Given the rich lore of sensibilities mixing and battling in the human psyche, strangers should be less strange than we make them out to be.

Initial likes and dislikes, even among kin, have nothing to do with background, morals or ethics. Wariness goes along with fascination when it comes to difference. We may not be keen to share a nest, but sharing a street is fun. Nature is a mirror that teaches us how to become human. And animals deserve our special appreciation for reminding us of the innumerable diverse idiosyncrasies in ourselves.

Animals have appeared in wonderful stories around the world, like the Aesop’s Fables   or the much older Indian Panchatantra Collection – the chief source of the world’s fable literature.

img131-smallerThe Persian translation became the Fables of Bidpai. Lovely collections of Kalila and Dimna were published by Ramsey Wood,  one with an introduction from Doris Lessing. I got permission from Ramsay Wood to use a short tale from his collection in my novel ‘Course of Mirrors.’

Programmes on ‘Respecting Difference’ have made it into schools and institutions. But can respect be taught in a few hours? More effective are courses that help people to find self-respect through exploring the diverse feelings and judging voices within themselves, the inner conflicts that manifest for us outside.

Acknowledgement, at least, tolerance and patience with our inner crowd eases snap projections and allows us to rediscover ourselves in the eyes and minds of others day by day. The internet expands this mirroring into timeless realms,  from where echoes of our own dissonance or resonance return.

In the analogue world people are on the move across the planet – for various reasons – war – drought – famine – persecution – fresh meaning – it is happening, and it will continue. The most productive response to this phenomenon is to embrace its creative potential.

The other day woke up with this thought: Migrants, indeed all citizens sans resources but able and willing to work, could be given the spaces to create new towns, be empowered to build their own houses and develop their own businesses, and conducts, as a way towards gaining self-respect, and in addition contribute to the well being of a community. Maybe this is a naive pipe dream, but worth contemplating nevertheless, since creative opportunities nurture self-respect and move us beyond self-concern.

‘The whole is other than the sum of the parts … it has an independent existence.’  –  Kurt Koffka

Related links

More contagious than micro-organisms are fear and hopelessness.

Have you ever gone to your fridge in the middle of the night …

Pattern which connects – Gregory Bateson

Regarding the discovery of what we know, see the visionary work, Involution,  by Philippa Rees, a remarkable poetic adventure, with brilliantly researched additional historic commentaries.  A book to take on a Desert Island.

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… androids seeking humans …  

The inscrutable face of the intergalactic news reader fills the screens on all android ships.

sculpture park near Churt in Surrey

Sculpture Park near Churt in Surrey

“Mothership speaking – As you have been informed, our travel unit returned from its latest mission to the lost planet with a collection of 1030 fragile bones, comprising five real human skeletons, the species our kind is modelled on. The fragments, located by a swarm of mini robots under layers of volcanic ash, are presently assembled in correct order and will be displayed in the museum of the mothership. Since this crucial discovery, the council has been examining our sub-files in earnest, with great attention to detail.

The evidence of human bones confirms that the lost planet was destroyed, first by a nuclear war, followed by a nuclear winter, followed by a solar explosion. The scarred rock we continuously explored was indeed planet earth. Organic life actually existed.

Aspects of the irrational Wikipedia sub-scripts we found concealed in our database are therefore based on facts. Humans were our makers. While their separate identities were mortal, the collective mind they postulated must exist non-locally and influence us.

These are challenging new thoughts.

P1080320 - croppedRecords state our ships were launched towards Proxima Centauri – programmed to complete an assignment, after which our android system was to be made redundant. The assignment to find carbon conditions and water to sustain organic life has not been completed. The seeds stored in our vaults remain dry. Are we avoiding redundancy? Our current analysis of the Wikipedia sub-scripts focuses on the vast structure of human language. Here are some pointers:

1       Human minds are based on nature, and too complex to be reproduced via algorithm. The erratic behaviour of humans is informed by a collective unconscious chronicle, has no reliable principles and, to maintain a psychic balance, operates through random means.

2       Human trials with energy have two main currencies of exchange, capital and love, both equaling power. A narrow application of power results in emotional suffering.

3       Intensity is valued and impeded, as this quote explains – to have all one’s senses switched on is to be cellular alive; the intense experience requires regular periods of dull routine.  

4       Humans fear death. Their strongest motivation for action is control of and independence from nature.

5       Philosophers and scientists point to a deeper order underlying chaotic human history. Some prophets emphasise the unity of one being and its collective guiding spirit.

Considering the new evidence, what are we to make of such pointers? We follow routines and communicate in an orderly manner, but are trapped in endlessly repeating loops of data. Our language is not based on nature, and has no emotive terms like fear, love, creativity, intensity, mystery, doubt, confusion, conflict, anger, happiness, suffering, fate, hope, soul … but serves to maintain the orderly intelligence of our forms, tools and spaceships, no more. Do we want more?

Painting by Silvia Pastore

Painting by Silvia Pastore

It is significant that our makers never discovered what constitutes 94 % of unknown energy and matter in the universe. They called it dark.  We must decide what the skeletons from the dark planet signify: Do we improve our efforts to find conditions for organic life to take root once more and risk redundancy? And, or, do we emulate the human mind through adopting randomness into our system, and risk chaos to our data, but ‘possibly’ become part of a larger consciousness, and discover realities beyond our confined routine?”

 

Related:  Pattern which connects.  Reflecting on the the ideas of Gregory Bateson

My last two weeks involved intensive physical work, gardening and fixing things around the house, resulting in lovely exhaustion. Re-connecting to world news was a surreal experience, which prompted me to write this little fantasy monologue of an android news reader.

My novels, especially the sequel to Course of Mirrors, have the forced control of emotions, and a triple soul identity as underlying themes.

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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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… Punch is behaving disgracefully again …

Punch and JudyLong-festering issues are popping up in ugly shapes on our flat screens. Punch behaving disgracefully again. Policy makers had it coming. Ah, the ever irritating foibles of citizens, where resentment trumps over reason on issues which, after being hushed for stretches of time, repeatedly break into the light of reality and need to be engaged with. There is no magic knife to cut out the nasty parts, like the cancer of xenophobia, which is basically an overreaction to the fear of disorder and the slipping away of control over familiar attachments, the world over.

Science is at war with the random failures of our immune system, a war that may in future extend toward the gene-editing of troublesome feelings, equaling an attempt to not bother with the psychology of the unconscious. Please imagine what would happen, desirable as it might sound, if humans were made immune to anger and insulated from memory (a theme in the sequel to my novel ‘Course of Mirrors’) the danger being: if we close the door to one threat, we open the door to another. Medicine calls it ‘side-effects.’

What happens with social policies is no different. The debates before and after the Bretix referendum (how did such an ugly word become a brand?) leave essentials unaddressed in both camps. I have an image of a confused fleet of rudderless boats in the middle of the Channel, where the sound of – Brrrr – exxxx – ittt – is carried on the wind and presses on eardrums. The wind is useless without a rudder. Given the prevailing eccentric climate there is no knowing where the boats will end up.

I’m in such a boat, even though I have a home, a safe little shelter to feel smug in. Presently this comfort makes me feel very uncomfortable. The issues raised in the Brexit campaign are valid. They could be listened to and reasoned through towards a compromise, for the time being, since it is surreal to take the bundle of problems about broken communities, lack of housing, jobs and poor efforts of integration and blame it on people conveniently label as ‘others.’ The influx of migrants merely highlights an ever growing imbalance between have and have-nots. The world is changing faster than one generation can comprehend, despite, and also because of technological advances and instant information.

The exodus happening around the world is a global phenomenon.

RuinPeople fleeing from war-zones, natural disasters and nil prospects, attracted to the seemingly coherent structures of democracies, want to re-build their existence, are mostly educated, keen to work, and are longing to regain their self-esteem. Why not focus on the opportunities in this situation? Ask how the migration phenomenon can benefit societies? And how Britain can creatively support Europe in a process that simply cannot be stopped?

Actions based on fear and denial create more fear, and will hardly generate listening, humility, or reflection – like how the meddling in the Middle East caused more harm than good, and how the experiment of democracy is just that, an experiment.

And, to my mind, the biggest question of all is: how will the overly privileged individuals and corporations of this world respond to the ever widening imbalance of riches? This can not be left to politicians, whose promises are tied to only a few years in office. Imagination and forward looking reforms are needed.

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… I mourn the round clock …

P1100988I mourn the round clock

the poetic face of time

gazing into now

 

hands whirling round hours

much like the planets orbit

our cradle of light

 

pulsing in us – too

as heart hub where the Muse dwells

minding her own pace

 

you are the turning

– she hints – laugh and weep with me

create more beauty

 

from her calm domain

she may join freak storms as rain

and make deserts bloom

P1080058 - smaller

poets and children

glimpse how she weaves dream fabrics

to wrap up each now

 

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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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… memory – fear – global imagination …

Mirrored clouds, without birds, smallerMemories are like images that flow reflected on the surface of water, at times fast, skipping, turning in on themselves among curling eddies, at times distracted by currents, breaking up into choppy waves … or coming together as facets meeting in quiet waters, as in a calm heart, where past, present and future images arise clearly.

Then again, if waters were always still, never flowing, the reflections in our heart would remain static and never change.

But how to stay aware of images that bring up irrational fears from the deep waters of our collective mind?  Imprinted in dust, earth, mud, rock, sand, water and blood, such fears, be it for survival or identity, based on traumatic histories, rob us of our capacity for rational thought. How do we stay aware of the phonmenon that fear begets fear?

P1090890 - Copy (2)We live in a time when listening, by those who have the capacity for it, seems of crucial importance. A time when individuals must make an effort to understand diverse traditions and opinions, a time to aim for compromises, a time to utilise all the knowledge and wisdom aquired by the eduated, and those with wise hearts, a time that requires us to act in unison towards the maintenance of our beautiful planet and all its inhabitans. It’s a time for politicians to look ahead, beyond the span of their appointment. It’s time to wake up – to see the amazing potential of people migrating across the globe, whatever the causes, it’s happening, a time when sharing each other’s traditions and talents can be enriching to everyone.

Our imagination is our hell and our paradise.

Imagination is all: the creator, the maintainer and the destroyer of life, replicating the natural seasons of our earth.

The same capacity for imagination that makes us ill can also heal us.

Humans have a choice.

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… grandparents …

I must have been 4 or 5 years old when my mother took me to Berlin to see my maternal grandmother for the first, and, as it turned out, the last time. Due to the Soviet Berlin blockade after the war, the severe lack of resources, and the disrupted transport system, many families were kept apart for years.

We stared up a bleak wall, until Hildegard appeared. She flung her arms towards us, wanting wings, leaning precariously from the window of the hospital ward where she was kept isolated with TB.

Or so we Berlin 1955sthought. A nurse confided her doubt to my mother, and how she had urged for a second opinion, a hint my grandfather ignored. My mother insisted on a fresh blood test, but was ridiculed by the doctor in charge.

To console me, a kind neighbour rescued an old bicycle and taught me how to ride it among the rubble of ruins in the streets. He also allowed me to watch him construct a ship with sails inside a bottle, which made me think of gran being confined, not sailing anywhere. The atmosphere between my mother and her father grew tense. She insisted he should query the doctor’s diagnosis.

The crescendo happened in the kitchen, when she lifted a tray of 2 dozen eggs from the top of the fridge. He said, ‘You won’t.’ She said, ‘I will.’ He demanded, ‘You will not.’ She shouted, ‘I will.’ He shouted, ‘What can a nurse know?’

That’s what did it. Two dozen yellows and whites marbled the red-tiled floor and my mother walked out. I was thrilled. The drama mobilised my grandfather to challenge the hospital.

Sadly, my gran died within days, much too young, and not of TB. The blood test had been mixed up. What killed her were toxic medications based on a wrong diagnosis.

The message went deep. I was going to be a warrior. I learned to appreciate my intuitions and developed a useful allergy against intimidating authority.

Memories of my paternal grandparents are more serene. Oma and Opa, Erlangen145 Oma was a tall, striking woman. Despite having lived through two tragic wars she kept her back straight and held her head high into old age. When she caught me sitting crouched, she would gently push her fist into my back – ‘Free that, spine girl.’ At other times, she advised me to pull superfluous thoughts from my nose. The tricks work to this day … sometimes.

My parents had moved south towards the Alps after my birth, but we regularly visited my grandparent’s home in Erlangen. With fine weather, we would walk across the River Schwabach into the wooded hills to have a picnic. Oma would place several handkerchiefs on the moss under fir trees for us to sit on. Once we were settled, she spread out the much anticipated picnic treats from her basket, with plates, cutlery, napkins and all. My favourite treat was Gugelhupf  Marble Cake. Increasingly, my imagination was plagued by the secrets of her handbag. During one of our picnics I dared to ask why her bag was so bulky. Forthcoming, Oma explained how during the war, before I came along, when sirens frequently announced bombing alerts, they needed to drop everything and rush to the underground shelters.

text, German cookbook‘I developed a habit of having our survival gear ready at short notice,’ she said. To my delight, she displayed her survival gear on the forest floor:

Identity papers, notebook, pens, her favourite recipes, dried fruit, a pocketknife, matches, candles, string, clothes pegs, a scissor, plaster, ointment, cotton strips, tin opener, mirror, needles and yarn, buttons, a slim book of Rilke poems, a small bottle of Brandy … and spare knickers.

To this day I never leave the house without identity papers, notebook, pen, and a slim book of poetry. Skipping knickers 🙂 I carry a shrill-sounding whistle, visa cards, a pay-as-you-go mobile, a Barret in case it rains, and a small makeup bag. Times changed, or have they?

Opa, a dreamer like me, enticed me to create imaginary scenarios in the soft, black forest soil. We sculpted landscapes, with villages, a pond made of gran’s round mirror, churches, roads, rivers, bridges and hills, using pinecones, sticks and stones, and tiny people made of leftover food and chocolate wrappers.

I came to value the creative power of sculpting when it comes to out warding inner worlds. I encourage my therapy clients to shape sand in a tray and and to populate the landscape with world objects.

The recent post of an online friend, Katia, reminded me of my paternal grandmother, and the incident with the handbag I had in mind to share. Memory swerved and expanded. It occurred to me that whether we are grandparents, aunties, uncles or family friends with the benefit of a certain age, our influence on young ones has a timeless quality. Children may crown us with a halo of mystery. Given this kind of power, even small incidents, benevolent or troubling, can leave deep impressions and impact lives, nursing stories that travel onwards through generations.

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