Tag Archives: reflections

… resurrected treasures – fables …

Kalila and Dimna – Selected Fables of Bidpai – Tales of Friendship and Betrayal – by Ramsay Wood.

Fables can shock and surprise us, irrespective of their antiquity. Various collections, like Aesop’s, derived from versions of beast fables originating from the oral traditions of cultures that existed thousands of years ago. It must be the profound exposition of human nature revealed in this deep sea of tales that made them show up in all corners of the earth. The punchiness of these tales remains relevant to this day, in that their wisdom cuts through our neurotic habit of jumping to conclusions.

Ramsay Wood’s passion and labours of love has given us the humorous and delightful retellings of Kalila and Dimna – Selected Fables of Bidpai, with vibrant attention to detail. His research includes the famous Panchatantra, and a Persian version of the same, translated into Arabic.

In the first volume it says upfront: This book is dedicated to the many midwives of the book, including al-Kashifi, who in the preface to his fifteenth-century Persian version of this story described himself as ‘this contemptible atom of but small intellectual store.’

My 1982 Granada edition is among a bunch of books I’ve loved to bits – with pages falling apart. One of its tales within tales, ‘The Cormorant and the Star,’ depicts how appearances deceive, as all surfaces do. A line from Socrates appears in the margin, ‘Living starts when you start doubting everything that comes before you.’ Given the mirage of opinions floating across our electric screens, if this sensible advice were to catch on, the creativity released would be phenomenal.

Ramsay Wood kindly allowed me to use the little tale of  The Cormorant and the Star in my novel, Course of Mirrors.

Volume 1 of Kalila and Dimna has an introduction by Doris Lessing. She writes: ‘The claim has been made for this book that it has travelled more widely than the Bible, for it has been translated through the centuries everywhere from Ethiopia to China… It is hard to say where the beginning was… One progenitor was the Buddhist cycle of Birth Tales (or Jātaka Stories) where Buddha appears as a monkey, dear, lion, and so on… Sir Richard Burton, who like all the other orientalists of the nineteenth century was involved with Bidpai, suggested that man’s use of beast-fables commemorates our instinctive knowledge of how we emerged from the animal kingdom, on two legs but still with claws and fangs.’

Our inherited animal traits go a long way to explain the variations of our conflicting human dispositions and idiosyncrasies. I wrote a post last year about the perception of difference.

Ramsay Wood presents us with Dr. Bidpai, an incorruptible Indian sage living under the reign of King Dabschelim. The king is a stargazer, blissfully blind to the sufferings of his subjects. In desperation, Bidpai resolves to offer him his wisdom. The reader gets to know the good man through his own voice, sharing how his nervous and skittish wife fusses over his robe before the royal appointment, expressing her apprehension. Bidpai, though terrified of confronting the king, feigns complete confidence. His wife’s instincts were entirely correct, but he knew that his male arrogance would give her the blind strength of anger and that, at least, was better than the helplessness of fear. In truth, jails were full of men and women who had merely irritated The King.

Alas, no matter how delicately and tactfully Bidpai expresses his concerns to King Dabschelim, employing his words as both narcotic and as a scalpel; his audacity lands him in the dungeon. That is, until the king witnesses a shooting star, followed by a prophetic dream, leading him to a buried treasure. When he finds the treasure, it comes with a letter of admonitions from the long dead King Houschenk, addressed to the future King Dabschelim in person. The letter mentions Bidpai as a storehouse of fables that will illustrate the cautions.  Suddenly the sage’s counsel is most urgently required. From there on Bidpai’s wisdom unfolds in the form of stories within stories (think of 1001 Nights,) one tale branching to another, like the roots of a tree that also mirror the branches and tendrils reaching for the sky. The same method of telling can sometimes be found in the visual arts of painting, photography, collage, installations – images within images that convey truths in a dreamlike and surreal fashion. Artists note – fables provide endless inspirations and connections.

Here some links to click on, which will lead to Ramsay Wood’s books of fables:

Kalaila and Dimna Vol 1– introduced by Doris Lessing, illustrated by Margaret Kilrenny.   See also a present Giveaway on Goodreads.  

Kalila and Dimna Vol 2 – introduced by Michael Wood, illustrated by G M Whitworth

In a review for the second volume, Aubrey Davies, another wonderful story teller, writes: Wood concludes the book with two masterful essays. The first outlines the history of the tale and how this treasure trove of sophisticated teaching-stories posing as humble fables has so easily slipped over borders and been embraced by so many cultures.
The final essay was prompted by a challenge from a NASA Director to prove that story is a more effective medium for science outreach than technical writing. It details our limited conceptions of story together with an extended concept of its nature and value.

Highly recommended.

Clicking on any links in this text will open a separate page without losing this post.

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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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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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… distractions …

We meet monthly, a group of local friends, offering workshops or discussing on a theme. Last we explored distractions, which, well, distracted us from other things that afternoon, like the rain outside, concerns about people being unwell, family, and the buffet waiting for us in the kitchen. Most of all, it made us present to each other. I share here my reflections on the theme after our discussion. A dictionary definition of distraction is: To cause to turn away from the original focus of attention or interest; divert.

We listed outer distractions – basically life’s realities, though they tend to get in the way of more immediate objectives and disturb our peace of mind:

Physical pain, noise, smells, temperature, food, weather, world news, politics, economics, ecology, bills, insurance renewals, nuisance calls, other people’s feelings and projections, family demands, accumulated clutter, maintenance tasks, bureaucracy, lack of response to a query, mail, internet, waiting … little things … we agreed that negatives can turn positive  🙂

Life’s demands tumble into our oscillating mind patterns as dissonances that excite or inhibit our well-being. Conflict results when we resist what’s happening. We may suffer loudly or in silence, or distract ourselves from unpleasant distractions through the innumerable uplifting or numbing sensations our culture offers.

As our discussion spiralled, we homed in on personal routines for dealing with distractions. They differed for each of us, depending on mood, attitude, the state of our nervous system, and the importance of the disrupted task. Days when everything is an effort are made up for by days when everything flows – bliss.

We went on to explore inner distractions, often reactions to outer ones.

Worries, anxieties, despair, obsessive thoughts, anger, pressure of deadlines, excessive associations and ideas, day-dreaming, nagging conscience, hesitations, doubts, guilt feelings, hastily given promises, boredom, pending obligations …

Regarding hesitations and doubts, the term gut-feeling came up. Can it be trusted? Somatic memories may trigger avoidance, a signal to protect us from danger, though the signal could equally sabotage our desires and deeper needs, whereas a higher level intuition might encourage us to re-evaluate what seems obstructive, and take a risk.

We find it exhilarating to watch wild animals chase prey, with total focus and concentration, fulfilling a vital need, which is why competitive sports are so attractive, where a clear and undivided attention towards a single objective gives an energy rush, even to the bystander. Having a passion, or specialising with narrow focus on mastering one skill or subject, is satisfying. Wave-ripples, most southern point, Lizard, poster desat

Having nothing that fully absorbs us for periods of time, we may be be tempted to roam in a vast sea of beautiful glittering mirror shards that will reflect a fuzzy sense of ourselves. But that’s fine too.

I had various passions in my life, which eventually come circling round to writing. One of my blog posts from last year contains a small excerpt from my second novel, where a character, Cara, shares a slice of the random processes of her mind. She turns out to be the myth-maker, the storyteller. If you’re a little peculiar, like me, you’ll grok this: https://courseofmirrors.wordpress.com/2012/05/10/the-wild-horse-of-the-mind/

I’m a dreamer. Like Cara shares in the excerpt, I occasionally like to let the horse of my mind run wild. I find wild things that way. Random, for better or worse, functions as the creative trickster in my writing, where distractions become allies. Sure, countless mental prompts heap up and demand execution. I procrastinate, adopting patience. My nagging voices are not jailers. They’re easily humoured until the time is right for a blitz of action.

In technological advanced societies, where the struggle for physical survival is being replaced by a struggle for identity, or its new definition, ‘brand,’ distracting prompts accumulate quickly. On the virtual stage I must become visible and speak up in order to engage with others. Love or hate the screens, messages keep wavering by. I become a switchboard for exceedingly complex influences. When switched on, I’m plugged into a bigger brain, the vast extensions of a collective nervous system. There is a challenged to assimilate differences and fast-changing knowledge. This calls for tolerance like never before. The Twitter stream, for example, of succinct messages and links, can be dizzying. However, if monitored and surfed with purpose, the information flow cuts through swaths of mindless, sensational news and opens meaningful connections across the world.

Fewer people are born into the blueprint of a tradition that defines them in terms of their roots, their country or family. The question – where do you come from – is shifting to – where do you put yourself, and to what purpose do you channel your energy? Yew-at-Waverley

Information available, the privileges we have, the choices and commitments we make, require astute intelligence of the heart, flexibility of mind, and they come with responsibilities. In today’s shadow play, we see people confront injustice head-on at the risk of becoming sacrificial heroes, which takes more courage than fighting a dragon. Others, like me, play subtler games. Those who have not found a purpose in their lives may get carried along by the sensation of it all, and continue searching for what matters most, for their deeper need.

So these are my reflection on the theme of distraction our friend introduced. We closed the meeting with a silence – an excellent practice for evoking a blank canvas/screen to re-draw one’s track on. Our time sees distractions speeded up, exposing us to multiple perceptions, some of them abhorrent to us, some of them uplifting. It is freed psychic energy that needs channelling. To develop a useful strategy for dealing with psychic energy we must look inside ourselves to find our homing device, our purpose, new communities, and new meaning.

I hope my reflections make you think about how you deal with distractions.

*     *     *

Just discovered – a brilliant article  in relation to our speedy electronic communications, it looks at the glitches that can reveal something truly distracting, and sobering … the mortifying ordeal of being known

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/06/15/i-know-what-you-think-of-me/?smid=fb-share&_r=2&

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