Tag Archives: war

… 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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… The Inner Jihad …

I met some remarkable people in my life. During the late 70s, instigated by my then Sufi teacher, Fazal Inayat-Khan, I stayed with my then partner for two months in Washington DC, at the time when President Carter was inaugurated.  Our contact person was Dr Abdul Aziz Said, Professor for International Relations at the American University. We saw him almost every day at his office at the University or at his lectures, or we met him at his home, and in other places. His sincerity had a great impact on me. His words never left me. He made us think about spiritual economy (of that another time) and he introduced us to some wonderful people, many of them Sufis , in the area in and around Washington DC.

Image by Yeshen Venema

Image by Yeshen Venema

Some were Muslims some were non-Muslims, some were Christians or Hindus, and others followed no religion but had faith in mankind. One day we were invited for a meal by a young couple, a practicing Muslim and his wife, a practicing Christian. Their loving relationship impressed me deeply. They lived what Sufis call the Greater Jihad, the inner struggle.

After the atrocity in Paris, having written realms of nonsense to try and clear my mind, I wondered what Professor Said had to say on the Islamic conflicts, I searched & re-found this yourtube video, where he addresses his students. It’s three years back but worth listening to twice. Here are some of his points:

  • Communicate respect and share values. Peace has been conceptualised by dominant cultures. Seek conflict transformation.
  • Insist on negotiating solutions, not impose them.
  • Engage – don’t exploit the rivalry between Sunni and Shia Muslims.
  • Westerners and Muslims could re-frame the conflict between Israelis and Arabs as an internal conflict within the Abrahamic family.
  • Peace is a fragile flower. Use public diplomacy to listen … and speak.
  • Build bridges through intercultural and interreligious dialogue, engage youth,
  • It’s not enough to condemn radical religions, we need positive alternative visions.
  • What does your religion bring to the table to deal with the issues of poverty, violence, and the environment?

He widens the perspective. East and the West must together become architects of a new story. The West could give the East the best it had to offer in exchange for the best the East has to offer. The idea is beautiful. I hope, with patience, it comes true.

Here are some of my present thoughts. I’m totally against bombings in Syria, as I was against the interference in Iraq. The problems of Islam are for the Arabs to sort amongst themselves, should have been from the start. In international conflicts the circular blame goes, ‘They hit us back first.’ Justified anger arises from having suffered abusive power, threats to livelihood, resources, security, chosen identity, religious or otherwise, or simply unbearable disillusionment, the loop has repeated itself throughout known history in the form of wars.

There is no denying the grit in the shells of democratic systems. Present irritations I observe in the UK are the dissemination of local community shops and enterprises, since anything small and beautiful can’t be economic, can it? Then the privatisation of essential resources, the absurd discrepancy between the rich and the poor, the lack of jobs due to a runaway technology, depriving innumerable young people of meaning. Add crime, insufficient support for mothers, depression and marginalisation … all in no small way due to excesses of a capitalism that feeds greed, consumerism and the exploitation of the earth. I’m not alone in feeling disheartened about such developments.

And yet, here’s the amazing thing, I can express my thoughts without being persecuted as an enemy of the state.  Cognitive dissonance and the battle for tolerance are uncomfortable, but rewarding. Maybe because of their faults, democracies have an evolutionary edge.  Here’s why?

Self-examination serves the growth of human qualities, or, if you like, the expansion of consciousness. I have an inner terrorist that battles with ambiguity, confusion, anger and vulnerability, at the same time I value being able to think independently. I feel privileged to live in a country where creativity and innovation are encouraged, individual voices can be heard, disagreements are allowed, and negotiations can be reached. Yes, hypocrisy and corruption are also rife, but with it the means to expose them.

Dresden, Feb 1945

Dresden, Feb 1945

Ideas can of course be subverted. Academics, innovators and scientists can’t control how their insights and inventions are applied, especially when social unrest becomes the manure for another utopian uprising, and more kneejerk reactions.

Are we brave enough to face the latent dangers of injustice, poverty and disillusionment that could call in another despot who sedates with propaganda and naive solutions that promise to solve all problems? For this reason, I think, a debate weighing the benefits of market-oriented enterprise against ways to curb the excesses of capitalism needs to happen, to search for a dynamic balance.

When it comes to the killing of civilians by militants in the name of Islam, ordinary Muslims do not condone these atrocities. Many may well be too dumbfounded and embarrassed to comment on the bizarre brainwashing of young the name of their faith, as in this video, which, however, given the puzzled expression on the children’s faces, I suspect has been commissioned to incite outrage in the west.  I dearly hope Muslims will find ways  to open a dialogue amongst themselves and with other faiths.

Lovers of life – don’t look away, don’t reject conflict and doubt, don’t numb your hearts. Secular societies with their temporary guardians, for better or worse, challenge us towards unlearning. Editing out complex thoughts will keep us stranded in the flatland of the known, unable to empathise with the physical and spiritual starvation suffered around the globe. Listen to the lecture of Dr Abdul Aziz Said again – and seek conflict transformation in all spheres of life.

One could say we are the particles of multiverses becoming conscious of embodied spirit. It’s no mean feat to shield our little lights from the winds of ignorance.

‘One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.’ – C G Jung

‘We are not meant to agree with each other, but to create beauty.’ – Fazal Inayat-Khan

And I can’t help it, I admire the graceful poet and singer, Leonard Cohen, who loves his country though he can’t stand the scene. Here is …  AnthemRing the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering – there’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in …

 

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… dream – a storyteller teasing my dad …

I love this image, but can't find its source,, apologies to the photographer.

I love this image, but can’t find its source,, apologies to the photographer.

Two nights ago, an enchanting storyteller appeared in my dream. She glowed from within, embodying her yarn with captivating gestures, her eyes saying – you’re loveable. Her whole being was a joyous dance. She flicked her fingers before my father’s face, touching his chin – making him laugh – his freed anima, maybe?

Ah, dreams are wonderful, unpredictable like liquid mercury, living silver flowing into shapes.

It was heart-warming to see my father laugh and absorb the affection, the irreverence, the humour. He did not retreat into silence before the piercing wit of the storyteller. The probe was softened through caring eyes … a miracle.

Alone, I could not have invoked such light-hearted banter with a father, who pulled the drawbridge to his heart ever since I dared to think independently. The dream vision lifted the cloud of my helpless woe.

After the dream, I recalled part of a poem I wrote long ago. Daughters may recognise the patriarchal fault in the lines of this poem, the discrepant realities that want bridging. It’s the same old story that could teach us, in the words of my late teacher, Fazal Inayat-Khan:

‘We are not here to agree with each other, but to create beauty.’

Truth worth seeking springs from the middle of each moment. Evolved individuals don’t see a women as inferior to men. The concept has harmed, and still harms, the psychological growth of both men and woman. Yet the deeply-etched hierarchical system keeps working its mean distortions across the globe.

He rests in stasis – cast in stone,

placed high in a niche

of this grand cathedral.

Sculpture Park, Churt, Surrey, UK

Sculpture Park, Churt, Surrey, UK

His daughters wake

and dare looking up.

What are they meant to do

with this apostolic vision

in their genes?

Someone tell them now,

tell them how the vacant room

was always theirs to own.

Here – sun streams through

rounded glass – crimson,

amber, cobalt, gold and green

play across crisp white walls.

Here – colours soften light,

a child can breathe deeply,

is free to release stale sorrows

and style fresh dreams.

Dad, we kick your ghost

out of here … no more

bargains with your fear.

What’s the cause of this stasis, so feared – like dying life, or living death? I think it’s war, each new war piled on top of other wars, and the unbearable injustices my father, many fathers, and mothers, were, and still are, subjected to. I shake my head, I nod my head, and somewhere between all contradictions I must accept the inherited traumas of humanity and seek life and joy with each new day.

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