Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Presence in The Present

Looking for one's keys, wallet, or glasses is one thing. Wondering where the mislaid friends are is another. Did I neglect to contact you? Did I not send the card, the note, the letter I'm sure that I wrote (at least in my head)? Being present in the present requires more than presence, it requires a certain prescience of being too; an awareness of actions impacting the future. Just telling myself that I'm putting my glasses down 'here' allows me to locate them more-easily later, indeed. But for that ease of relocation I must needs be very conscious of the 'now'. Or else.

Or else so much energy is wasted. Time smudges into circular motions, going over and over the past. The steps one took. The pictures in the head. The emotions felt. The meanings meant but lost in translation. We pick up and put down and forget, or some things haunt at us. And we wish to be able to revisit, to reconnect, to re-find! But yes, most things slide by in our continuum; we can but hope for memory’s clarity. After all, the New Year makes for each one of us being older.

My Mum Joan did not know who I am any longer. She really is my stepmother. I spent a seaside summer holiday week with her and my father when I was fourteen. And for very many years in my father's biannual letter, Joan would tag on some news in his aero-grams. But when I did see her again, nearly five years ago, she was in her 80s, and I a grey old man. We are not actually connected, other than by circumstance. So too for the very many people and things that pass through our being-alive along the way? We can hardly be blamed for not remembering all the names in the pathways of our journeys. But not to remember where one puts one's glasses?

Vision is limited by our immediate. We make plans and we do not pursue them because of the distractions en route. We have New Year's intentions and then the reality of old habits, or of chance circumstances, or worse, of accident happens. If, as professed by some, there are no coincidences, then why is it that I may spend wasted time searching for my glasses? Or is the lessons really circulating and circulating until I come to the concrete realization of my presence in the present? (Often, I imagine I am waylaid that I might not meet with some other misfortune.)

We take ourselves wherever we go. And we are not perfect. Even the reaches of that last word is very much arguable. How possibly to be ‘perfect’?

I’ve a long-time friend whose stance is that we cannot control the future; we will get dementia if it’s in the genes. He would argue this contention in the decades before brain-plasticity was a fertile topic, and nowadays, with Epigenetics as a ‘new discovery’ (its probabilities for self-change exciting the populace as if there never was such a thing) many still retain a deep-seated disturbance that dementia or Alzheimer’s might be inherited. At present I’m reading Julian Jane’s book: The History of Consciousness in The Bicameral Mind. Impressive title! Impressive book. It would appear that evolution of the mind is indeed a historical fact. We once thought a certain a way, collectively, if not individually. And slowly our consciousness grew such that we individually formed a new collective. So too for now. We are at least a national if not a global consciousness, and our group-think is evidently responsible for our socio-political contentions.

The bell curve is much like an inchworm, progressing bit by bit. The outliers push at the edges of established belief, thought, and ideals. And very, very, very slowly we progress. Patience is needed, and compassion. We easily forget the lessons given by history. We easily forget the examples given by our parents. We easily forget the wording and the philosophy and the sentiments that stir our hearts. They are things that we but momentarily give focus to, and we continue with our busy lives. Even the keys to our doors go missing, let alone our glasses.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Old Wrappings

 [photo courtesy of Santa Stuart Bentley]

When the idea first arose in Angela she felt lit up from inside. Without money enough to buy presents she was worried about Christmas. Her dear parents deserved gifts, as well as her younger sister, and so very many cousins and aunts and uncles too, never mind all her friends, and her three older brothers. After all, everyone always got her something. And although her parents always signed their gifts to others, 'with love from the family,' Angela, now that she was old enough to earn her own pocket money, felt very strongly that she should be giving back. But what to buy? Her pocket money would not go far.

Even as the idea invigorated her, young as she was, Angela knew that her problem was not so much about what someone might like as much as that she herself felt she'd put some effort into having them see that she cared. And carefully, over the next few weeks before Christmas, she gathered up every bit of spare wrapping paper from her mother's gift wrapping, and every little box, and even found the saved old wrapping from old Christmases past. It had to be old. They never really reused the paper anyway.

As the month or so before Christmas turned into a few days, Angela's beneath-the-bed store of treasures grew and grew. "Nobody peeks under my bed," she begged. "No one rattles or shifts a single thing, please. The surprise might break!"

At night she would sit by herself with her lists and scrawl out her ideas. She could've perhaps used the computer and printed out her words, but she felt it better to keep things in her own handwriting, and not yet let others see.

"What's up with you, Angela?" Her brothers and sister teased. "You're pretty dreamy these days, always wanting to be alone with your scribbling. Collecting boxes. Making a picture for me?"

"You'll see," was all that Angela admitted, giving them sparkles in her eyes with excitement.

Christmas morning eventually came. The tree was magnificent with their heirloom decorations brought out once a year, as well as with the new gaily coloured dangle-dangles and the coloured lights and the little Santa and teddy bears and snowflake ornaments and even the Christmas angel, right on top. But more especially, there were mounds of presents under the tree, and many of them were from Angela herself. A present for everybody she could think of; every one of her friends; and even for her teacher! Yes, they all were evidently wrapped with last year's old crinkly paper, some with battered looking bows, but every little or big shape was prettily wrapped, like building blocks of gaudy gold, silver, green, red, and many shades of blue.

Eagerly, Angela awaited the moment and then at last handed out her presents. "Everyone please wait until I say ‘open’, o.k.?  ... O.K., now!"

And as they did so, some ripping the wrap, some carefully lifting up the cellophane and unfolding the folds, the various sized boxes were opened. "There's nothing inside!" exclaimed one of her brothers. Another said, before reading it, "Your handwriting is in here?” Yet the third said, “Old wrinkled paper? Is this a joke?"

Angela's mother peered into her unwrapped box and read aloud: 'Peace in the present is wished for you, always.' Her eyes glistened. "Thank you my angel, it's perfect. A perfect present of peace."

"Yes, see, it's always inside us," Angela beamed, "we just have to remember to unwrap our old wrappings!"

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Sneaking A Peek?

Lessons repeat themselves. They come around in differing forms and nip at the heels, tug at the heart, manipulate mannequin-like, or simply trip one up. And we respond, or react, and even try to avoid them, consciously or not. So it is we break with our integrity, learn to lie, to cheat and steal, or worse, fool even ourselves into being so very much less than we can, ought, or might be. Christmas, especially, puts me most in the path of such lessons. Temptations abound!

Eggnog is meant to last at least a week. Chocolates in open dishes are meant for occasional guests. Cookies are meant as tea-time treats, with only one, or perhaps two, per occasion. And presents, the most tempting of all, are meant to be hidden, or wrapped and waiting under the tree, with not so much as a hint or a peek at what any one of them might be. But at seven years old, I was yet to begin learning the lesson that seems only now, in my seventh decade, to have come full circle sufficient for me to articulate the lesson itself. Perhaps had I not oft been beaten, scorned, shamed, and deprived I might more easily have learned the lesson. Integrity for the self might've become an internalized thing had someone articulated it clearly for me, but I was not insightful enough to realize that THAT was the lesson, not just a concept, integrity. Instead I feared honesty, feared admitting errors, and learned to keep to myself my thinking, my feelings, and my actions least the consequences, especially as delivered by others, would tear into me.

"Don't lie to me. You looked at your present after I told you not to, didn't you?"

To me she looked like an old woman; I was seven. "I didn't, Aunty," I remonstrated. "I was just moving some parcels while I was cleaning up the lounge," I offered, making sweeping motions.

"I saw the rip in the corner of your present, liar! You did take a peek, didn't you?"

"I'm sorry, Aunty. I was just so excited to see if it was what I hoped for! And it is! So thank..."

"Go get a belt, bend over the bathroom tub, pants down, hands in the tub, and wait for me! But first, I'm going to take your present now and give it to someone else!"

Yes, I recall exactly what it was I did not then get. But more significantly, the lesson I was then learning was not to own up, not to be honest, and worse, more carefully to conceal from others what I knew might get me into trouble. Boarding school and the army had exacted the same.

Which brings me to today.

"Please don't peek in my bathtub," my wife asked me, about a week or so ago. "I haven't yet wrapped your presents."

I did not, and never thought to. But today I was in there and noticed a black shopping bag on its side next to the small mound under the towel my wife had spread over whatever she's been collecting for me. And for a moment I was in the act of reaching out to just pluck at that new temptation that I might see 'more better' when... I knew instinctively that my integrity was about to be compromised. My wife would not know; but I would. And with that knowledge I'd not gain personal power, but lose it. A lifetime of deceptions and betrayals, small and large, came down to the apparently innocent act of sneaking a peek. Indeed, the lessons circle back and repeat; we are persons of integrity for ourselves, bit by bit, or not. How very much, as a child, I would have liked the lesson given voice to my cognizance; given precise articulation to my potential. But then again, integrity comes circling around and around in very many enticing guises, doesn't it?

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Trailing Clouds of Glory

Vitality is fascinating. We resonate best with people evoking not only our interest, but also our emotions. And when thought and feeling are yoked, they enrich our lives profoundly, whether for just a brief moment, or for a lifetime. Meeting Brandy was just that, a special moment to treasure at 500 plus miles an hour, more than 4 miles up. So was meeting Roger, down on the earth, homeless yet very much at home, just the night before. Both were youngsters in their early 30's. Both were beautiful, handsome, articulate, educated and motivated; and both gave us the gift of their time and their intensity. Brandy then gave us a caring card. Roger gave us an appreciative handshake. Yet boy, were they ever different as humans on our planet.

Roger was unkempt and dirty. He parked his old bike near my power-chair and I studied his hand-built tow-cart. We were in front of the Royal Bank at the hub of Victoria's downtown with the pedestrians a thick swirl all around us and the noise of the buses and the cars a frequent growl and grind at the ears. He looked to be about 30-ish, with distinctly overlong hair and an under-washed appearance. Yet he had clear blue eyes. "Built it yourself?" I asked. "Did too," he smiled, "all out of recycled parts." I looked into him. "You managing to keep warm at night with that bed-roll you've got?" I asked. "Any night of the year," he reassured me. "I've got everything I need right on me. Never use a bank. Keep my cash in my pocket. Work the jobs I can wherever and whenever I can. Don't use social insurance. Owe nobody nothing. Have no car, no rent, no mortgage, and no debts. I used to be a CPA. Ran a business. Now, I'm a free man."

"Fascinating," I responded, and wheeled my power-chair closer to hear. I did not tell him that back in my mid 20's, an escapee from Africa's military, I too had lived off my wits when I'd bicycled up Britain, avoiding Home Office authorities and deportation, intending to disappear into a crofter's lifestyle under an assumed name on the Orkney Islands. That was my story; this was his. And as my wife now came out of the bank and joined us, he continued.

"Yup. But on February 19th, mark my words, we'll have a new world order. The poor will no longer be poor. Before then for three weeks the banks will shut down to implement a new integrated economic system. All the heads of state, all the genocidal maniacs and the power-mongers and the biggest financial families will be jailed or removed from office and all the people will find themselves no longer suffering from overinflated foods and services prices. So also for goods and taxes. So too for mortgages and rents. We will have an entirely new system!"

And so, with February 19th but three-minus months from now, we left Roger to find his perch.

The next morning, 5:30 a.m., we left our home to fly across the country, east to Ottawa. And that first leg from Vancouver Island to Calgary with WestJet was not so pleasant since the air hostesses were not quite awake. But after the hour or so's wait at the switch-over, our new plane for the four and a bit hours to visit our long-time friends was altogether more pleasant. We also met a new young friend, Brandy.

An air hostess, beautiful, unassuming, and for whatever reason resonating with the two of us, she spent some time squatting down in the aisle and chatting to us throughout the flight. It might have been that we were in the back of the plane and so there was no one else directly in her sight that made it easier for her to talk. It might have been my fatherly age and her daughterly self that promoted a connection, but the vitality between her and my psychologist wife, between us too, was a living thing in that fuselage of hundreds of people. It had a tempo of swapped stories that was vital and endearing and motivating. Brandy, so very different from Roger, yet also such a vibrant soul steering en route to her own glory. Vitality, indeed, is invigorating for all.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Critique, anyone?

Exordium: (winning of attention)
One is only as good as the judge thinks you are. When the ice skater falls yet wins a gold, while the other stayed upright, who am I to judge? Who determines the value of wine, the perfection of a dish, and who gets 'to stay'? This sunset is good, but you should have seen last night's! Why is writing for one person "brilliant," but "obtuse" for another? Unless judges have the same criteria, and are of the same mind, so much of the desired outcome in a competition, depends.
Narratio: (historical survey)
All of history has given us competitions. Evolution we believed to mean survival of the fittest. The Vikings pillaged and plundered. Romans loved the fight between lions and Christians, and gave us gladiators galore. Ancient Greeks venerated decathletes and bull jumpers. Knights tilted lances and hoisted on petards. Englishmen slapped faces with gloves and colonized the 'lesser-thans'. Russians shot the Tzar. The French ousted their Antoinettes. And Cowboys got quicker and quicker. The Industrial Age brought us race-tracks and commercial tycoons. Modern commerce and politics are rife with needs to secure individual purchases and public votes. Competition is in our blood!
Propositio: (resolving and defining main contention)
How to judge fairly? Especially in art. Objectivity versus subjectivity is the watchword. Yet surely a painting set in Africa will appeal more to one who has been there? So too for a story set in France. Or what about the differences between Caesar salads? One has to hope, when entering a competition, that the judges have the right wherewithal to know just what it is they are evaluating! Or are they like me, ignorant of the criteria that makes up ice-skaters?
         In writing, does the judge know the classic sea-star principles; know spiral-dynamic-memes of characterization; know Anneagram personalities; the Johari window; or a Classical Mountain deployment? One takes for granted that one's judge is aware of ordinary literary terms, has no qualms between similes or amongst metaphors, and is conversant with ontology, epistemology, and even the purposeful injection of a poetic anapestic tetrameter. But are they perhaps like me with ice-skaters, ranking each on a criteria that is just about entirely subjective?
Partitio: (dealing with arguments)
In parsing arguments for fair judgements it might be averred that we choose judges based on their proven expertise in past competitions, their professional affiliations, and their track record. Criteria for competitions is usually explicit. Set distances and laser-timers determine outcome. So too for wrestling matches. So too for productivity and sales charts. So too for voter counts.
           Yet evolution itself reveals that it is very much the lucky who survive, who win, rather than necessarily the fittest. A literary agent receiving 400 hundred cookbook submissions a week sifts  for the first or so 'perfect' fit; the rest can simply not be given their due.
Confirmatio: (proving one's point)
Three or more judges seldom are instantly unanimous. A deliberation is necessary. Juries most frequently require a debate. The distinction between the winner and the loser, particularly when there is only one prize to give, is reduced to delicacies complicated by democracy itself.
Reprehensio: (refutations of likely contentions)
Without the Latin terminology as herein explained (following the seven parts of Classical Oration) who may comprehend the purposeful thread of my current litany? Too pretentious? Which of us is easily aware of the diverse memes within the subtext structure of most written contentions? Must there be footnotes? No, we either like it, or we don't. Such is our wont.
Peroratio: (summation)
Careful adherence to criteria in any competition is paramount. (A runner in our local marathon was disqualified for accepting a drink held out by a spectator.) Trying one's best, belief in one's product, and knowing no such thing as perfection is the heaven that one might best reach for, or why else perpetuate possibly exceeding one's grasp with an entering into competitions at all?

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Shadow Sides

Not all shadows are harmful. We each carry them around inside us, wherever we are, even at night. (Perhaps, especially at night.) Some would call them our subconscious. Others might call them our Angels and Devils. Most would acknowledge that we each have these unleavened, unfulfilled, unrealized wants and needs that drive us habitually to repeat the same kind of actions, over and over again. The shadow does not necessarily always follow. Often, it can lead.

It's the Jungian shadow I'm talking about (hereby made up by me as an A and C side, with a B and D underside of the self). It is one's Attractiveness and one's Character that another sees, (and that we somewhat see in ourselves too.) And if my A and C sides resonate with yours, we easily may make friends, companions, lovers. Yet beneath each of these obvious precepts lies the shadow, that which drives my subconscious, my B and D undersides. I may be developed or mature or insightful or perspicacious enough to divine much of my inner shadow-self, and thereby my B side may become Bountiful, instead of Bad; as may my D side become Dauntless, instead of Deathly.

Now, since I am the one writing, I get to create at will the terminology to explain the Jungian concept. His actual precepts are fairly easily understood. We have an established A side, and a usually somewhat hidden B shadow-side. The A is that which you see (and like, or dislike.) Her A is 20, blonde, female, articulate, and attractive. His A is 23, male, tall, educated, a stud, and keen for a date. And off they go into the sunset to live happily after ever. But, there's a catch.

Our B sides, the shadow sides, are not yet (if ever) unleavened, realized, fulfilled. The blonde did not have a daddy and always is looking for an older and wise(r) man. The stud happened to have a shrew for a mother and so is hyper-sensitive to the slightest of criticisms. And so forth.

Complex, ain't it?

Yet we can see that our B sides are not necessarily ‘bad’. We may find ourselves always wanting to be the very best we can be; always trying to prove ourselves; and always feeling insecure as a result of the lack of parental unconditional love. And the things we therefore ‘do’ are (and can be) so good because of it! Then too, we may find ourselves always shopping; needing more; cramming our spaces with things we really do not need; all because we did not receive these things as children; or they were taken away; broken by others; ruined. And though not ‘bad’, we do find ourselves overspending on things that might more readily have gone into something, well, grander than what we actually have, had we only saved sufficiently, or invested, but...

And then again, we can see that out B sides might be very bad indeed.

Like the man who killed the Canadian Mountie this month. What awful hole in him needed to be filled before he chose such an action? On scales of predominant sole-survivalist living; or feeling bound by family constellations and expectations; or feeling the self aggrandizement necessary to compete just to win; or feeling the pain-body of a cultural composition so strongly that the wrongs of history cannot be overcome; or needing to manage and dictate to others the ideals held within the self; or even of determining that everyone who does not think like oneself is an idiot; what great hole in this fellow needed so to be filled that he would choose to shoot up parliament?

Guy Fawkes bears a long shadow. So does Benedict Arnold. Yet we harbour shadowed ‘things’; he; she; they; and us. We each know somewhere deep in ourselves there is a want that may even become a need that we keep trying to feed, albeit but a nameless shadow that creeps and slinks and heels at our sides, whether or not in the full light of day. And we stand on guard, glorious and free, or not. Our shadows indeed may be beautiful, or not. At issue is our bringing them to light.

                                               [photo by Len Wagg as posted on Facebook]

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Death: A Deconstructed Construct

Other than the tag within the piece itself, there is no author mentioned to the picture-piece below. Seldom do I directly steal without attribution, yet all that any of us is arises out of the amalgam of that which went before and through us. And so to share:

Monday, October 13, 2014

An Atom or An Ant?

[In Afrikaans the word 'ant' is pronounced the same way one would say 'wall' or 'muur' in Afrikaans, ha! 
The caption reads: "I will tell you, but it stays between these four ants (sounds like 'wall')...
And 'idees vol vrees' means 'ideas full-of(with) fear', 

Dear Friend,
Good morning to you, from way over here.
Was awakened in the 5.00 a.m. dawning by something in my ear today. Jerked
up, bashed at my ear, out fell an ant, and not stopping to feel its fear i
crushed it and flicked it to the floor. Then i lay there in a state of
regret. Had i been more aware, less hasty, less reactive, i easily could
have rescued the thing and put it outside with its own kind. Would the
chance come again? And i realized that in such a microcosmic act lies the
significance of the future; the chance over and over for us each to do the
right thing, if we be but aware of what we're doing in the moment, step by
step. The size of our boots becomes the issue wherever we step, ha!
Then again, so many thoughts and words can just be chatter. It is good to
love without condition, expectation, even reciprocation; just to feel one's
being being connected to being. After all, being busy beings is so
Your friend,

Friday, October 10, 2014

A Piece of Peace

Happiness is not really what we seek. It is peace. The USA's "pursuit of happiness" as an end tenant might help one declare one's inalienable rights, but 'peace', inner peace, might more readily lead a constitutional adherent to wisdom. Happiness, after all, is so fleeting. And peace, within All, is independent of circumstance. Inner and residing peace (where one is integrative and accepting of all) can obviate emotional reaction, promote rational response. But let me not admit to attaining ‘the product’; glimpses are like shafts of light feeding a forest, and the journey is such that "these woods are dark and deep, and I have miles to go, and promises to keep."

Promises are words yet to make real. "He or she is full of promise," one might say, offhandedly, as though seeing something in the other as yet unleavened, unrealized, unfulfilled. (We are easily presumptions about others, if not of ourselves.) But to make a reality out of "I promise" is to establish one's reputation, one's honour, one's commitments. And how many promises have I not broken en route to here? You?

Broken promises. Yes, guilt, that enervating and debilitating emotion, can deprive one of the
light of peace. But to be accepting that the choices and actions of the past have led to this very moment, yet that one ‘would have’ done better if one were that much more mature, or more insightful, or more experienced, or less afraid, reactionary, impulsive, or more educated, more aware, more supported, more-better-er altogether, then one would have... Now, where was this all leading? Ah yes, to be at peace with whatever IS. Silly me! Idiot! (Shame, leave me now.)

Shame-based living is at the root of most things debilitating. It unnerves and makes insecure and robs confidence. It minimizes and castrates and calumniates. It trips up and hurts. It takes the subconscious back to an unwanted childhood and resonates with spite and villainy and greed and feelings of disgust, hate, envy, and laziness too. It judges and blames and seeks to excuse itself and makes a victim of 'me'. Yet shame drives one to be more than human too. When will I ever be good enough, do enough, achieve enough, have enough? When will I be loved and cared for, for just being 'me'? (Hey! Guests are coming, the house must be spotless!)

Authenticity and being real are hard won qualities if not nurtured by one's parents. Being too harshly criticized or beaten or vilified or traduced as a child results in learning to cover up or smooth over or outright lie. Untoward consequences are not worth honesty. Integrity and truth and even ethics dissipate in the face of another's anger, disapproval, disappointment. The psyche is too fragile to accommodate the moment, seeks to sublimate misdeed into the fault of circumstance, or another, but can hardly own up for the self. To be entirely true to oneself, let alone to another takes the practice of knowing that one is 'everything', and that all of oneself is every bit as human as the next person; it is the conscious exercise of preference and habits of caring and compassion and empathy and even morality that defines oneself in each moment, if not as a whole. But all around, evidently, there are "lesser and greater persons than the self."

Trouble is, other persons see oneself in a given moment. And if that moment is physically ugly, or socially unacceptable, or down-there embarrassing, or far too experimental, or in a lapse of judgement, or.... If one is not in the right mind at a given hour or for a day, peace seems far from obtainable. Peace comes in pieces. It certainly is not about complacency. Peace slides at us, even arrests us (albeit momentarily) in the light that filters through the forest of our contentions and meanings and doings and efforts and actions and achievements and thoughts too. Yet it is the pursuit of happiness that drives us. Still, when we feel peace with whatever our momentary circumstances we feel connected to the sense of being a part of the universe, indeed. Even in pain. For what part of everything does not belong? Now then, have a piece of peace to share? 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Burgeoned By Books

At issue is the memory. For what good the thoughts that pass through me other than that I make them useful, or that they change me, advance me, or give me pleasure? That last thought is the easiest to go by (and the reason to go buy, ha!) But books have their magic, and whether in the Bible or the attempts to capture Zen, we are caught up in their pages. Insubstantial air is given weight as thoughts are put on paper. Words become books. And we purchase the books and put them on our shelves (some of them only somewhat read,) for who can recall every sentence?

In Parksville's second-hand bookstore, a week ago, I leaned back in my chair while my eyes feasted. Thousands of books burbled. And there, in The Classics section, volumes of collector's series rested, awaiting their fate. So many words. So many thoughts. So many ideals and dreams and even (for some) so very many machinations for mankind. And so much yet to read!

My own library has been severely culled over time. And built up again. Whether on the fishes of Kariba or on the travels of Epictetus, I have a thing for books. Everything is interesting. But in the very many moves I've made over my lifetime so very many of my volumes have just had to be let go. For instance, there were some 20 or more of the John Jakes series of history novels; all of America's development, gone! And there have been encyclopaedias and history books and biographies and classics too, read and thumbed through and appreciated, somewhat, and now 'forever' gone.
Yet still, the addiction continues. (Even as I wait here in the car and type, and since Christmas is well, coming, my wife is back in that Parksville store, purchasing for me the two rare books on Zambesi once owned and signed by the High Commissioner of Lusaka!) And yet, despite the burgeoning walls of my own collection, I am still hard-put to pass by open boxes of books on tables, or second-hand bookstores, where old treasures lie waiting. And often it is worth it! For instance, for 20+ years I'd searched for the second of a three volume set by R.F. Delderfield, and last year it appeared in an Oak Bay second-hand book store, for a mere $4.25!

"I take great pride in never having read a book cover to cover," Professor John Futhey once beamed. I was in my late 20's. It literally (ha!) freed me. I'd marvelled at his recall, at his quotations, at his breadth and presumed depth of knowledge, and told him so. His eyes twinkled when he replied. Lovers of words and of ideas and of books, real books, understand each other. We have compassion for the reality that no one can possibly read everything. Any public library holds too much. But personal libraries? Well, even they can become extensive, full of the books one is going to read, rather than those one has already read. (Besides, many of my friends pass on their books once read, and have little interest in collecting them, or showing them off at all.) Admittedly, my books remain a source of pride; they reflect not only my variegated and prodigious interest (pompous as that sounds, ha!), but are symbols of my having surmounted the poverty of my youth, when to have a book, any book, was a rare treasure indeed.

Yes, my iPad and its kindle app allows for all of Shakespeare to be downloaded free. So too for all of Zane Grey. Thousands of classics are free. And hundreds of e-books are a mere dollar or two. But hefting a book, skimming it, and placing it back in a well beloved bookshelf is not an experience kindle gives you. For me Kindle takes away from that treasure hunt that is a meander amongst the shelves of a hole-in-the-wall bookstore, stacked to the rafters with the essential meaning of life. That meaning? That life is about the unexpected! And no matter what, when read, even though a book may seem as though made up of no more than imagination, it is very seldom free. Ha! 

Yes, I still shudder at the thought of the burning of the library at Alexandria! 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

On Perpetual Pain

Soul-Spring by r.f. M~Pentelbury, 1976

* This is the true joy of life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown out on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. 
                                                           (Shaw, 1903, Man and Superman, Penguin Plays, p.32)

So, you wanted to know how one deals with continuous pain? Well, we take on our karma with effective self-discipline and grace, or we may wither, whimper, and can wish all too loudly otherwise. And personally, I've known near continuous pain now for 50 years. 
"Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional," the Buddha said. Well, this journey for some of constant pain is debilitating, frustrating, enervating, and simply seems unfair. And like most things in life, one is left having to make sense of it all by ourselves, for another person's sense is not necessarily ours. It is the isolation of being in pain when there is no-one around to sympathize, empathize, or even bear witness to our endurance that pain really tests us, for in those long lonely hours, of what USE is our endurance and the suffering and the immobility and the harshness of our distinctive and seemingly unique reality?

It is precisely in those moments that the trick of minimizing the present reality becomes a personal practice, for I know that my own little clod of reality (as Shaw (as above) would have it) is very much diminished in comparative perception of the universe, and of what I can do for it by honouring a larger totality than myself, by contemplating its vastness of potential, and of focusing on the creative, the generative, the mystical, the pragmatic, the absorptive, assimilative, inclusive and integrative potentiality that is the gift we all have, to whatever degree we realize it. And so, like the choice of opening or closing the icons on a computer desktop, I minimize the pain window, open up and explore the other icons of my cognizance, and rather than pushing against pain, or being annoyed by its perseverance, I dial up some other icon and overwhelm the pain with some other aspect of my unlimited potentiality, given that I grant the same unlimited-ness to each and all in the essence of our being yoked to everything. And the more adept I become at minimizing my response to one set of provocations, particularly pain, and maximize the choice of my chosen direction, whatever creative or focused endeavour I turn my mind to, the more I become accepting of the moment by moment by moment. Move but slightly and the stab indeed brings me back to the painful reality of physical nerves rubbed raw and sudden jabs of agony, but then the journey resumes; it is a constant journey of voyaging with my senses focused on the next destination, rather than on the rattle and squeak of the bone-based vessel in which my being travels.

Wisdom would have us realize our journeys are at once for ourselves and others; we are cells connected to every other cell in a continuous process of covalent bonding, osmosis, and essential evolution. We are learning, voyaging, taking on a sea of troubles. Impatience with the process is among our many difficulties. Diamonds take time. How do we slough off the entirety of the old as we progress through to the new? How many times shall we pass the travail? How do we make the transition permanent by choosing to let go of the past habituations, by truly metamorphosing to become the butterfly from our own caterpillar-like crawling toward our larger destiny?

We move with grace and gratitude, or we cry. And crying too, has its place. Choice is our privilege. What part of everything is not?
September 21st: Following several requests for an explication of the painting, this is taken from my website:

Paintings - "Soul Spring"

“Soul Spring" by Richard Michelle-Pentelbury

Ever felt transparent? Ever reached beyond your grasp? Ever felt pain as a source of connection to the energy inherent in everything? Ever felt shackled by the constraints of country, civilization, collections of others? Soul Spring as a painting arises out of a person’s desire to reach beyond one’s immediate confines. The central figure, rendered semi-transparent by the energy radiation of his pain and circumstances is stretched out in a universe of molecular manifestations. Around him the semi-golden gyre of *aspiraling souls [*hereby coined] ascends toward greater enlightenment. He is shackled back to the materiality of the earth, Australia, Africa, and the American-Canadian continent. The mystical Rood, that giant staff of vertical assurance, is a mark of his ethereal insightfulness, and the mystical albatross, depicted against the gold of the moon, a symbol of his willingness to journey beyond the self. Then too, to the right of the painting is Christ on the cross, a symbol of one’s sacrifice of the self. And all around him are the seeds of virility, of the generative powers of the future, sponged up in the inevitability of the entirety of the universe. It is a painting of the visceral potential in each of us to escape beyond the concrete bonds of our existence. Painted in 1977, when the artist was recovering from a spinal surgery, it was an image that repeated itself so incessantly that he had a friend rig a canvas up above his bed, and he brought the canvas to life. The original is done in Renaissance oil glazes and is 48 x 48 inches (four feet by four feet). Only afterwards, when in university in the 80’s, did the artist come across the poetry and imagery of Blake and Donne, wherein such metaphysical conceit was not only endemic to the mysticism of poetry, but explicitly as apparent. May the piece have ever growing meaning for you too!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

"I Don't Know"

It can be difficult to accept oneself saying "I don't know". At any age. Especially for me when I was a young man. I'd pretend to have some knowledge of the artist mentioned, the singer's name overheard, the place name on the global map. "Ah, Oman!" I might've wisely acquiesced, knowingly, as if the speaker and I were in an esoteric accord. For I did not then think much of the distinction between knowledge and wisdom. I was not yet in a matured certainty between fact and intuition. And I certainly was then determined to find my wealth in Knowledge, the gleaning thereof, the accretion thereof, the banking and trading and commerce thereof. After all, knowledge was power. And to risk not to be au fait with the pop culture, the literati, the opera goers and the politicians and the intellectual purveyors was to be, well, 'less than'. After all, many a soul has been withered by others in the know.Ha! Even so, just this year I bought a book, ‘Know it All’.

My long-time friend sits on the bench beside me in the autumn sun. Ian wears my old friend Vic Peter's borrowed blue cap. They knew each other way back, in another lifetime, before I met either of them. Vic gave that blue cap to me as he and I set off in our power-chairs for our last vista over Calgary's Glenmore Reservoir, a few months before he died. But now, many years later, it is Ian who sits beside me on a bench overlooking the sun-baked Willow Beach. And much of our conversation is about death and dying, our comfort with its inevitability, and I introduce good old reincarnation too: "Ever been here in lifetimes before?"

"I don't know," Ian responds. "And at my age I'm comfortable with that."

"Yes, neither of us identify with reincarnation; we have no direct and intuitive recall to some other lifetime; we have no certainty of its existence for ourselves; we have no authentic and inviolable connection. Perhaps, like many books by Dolores Cannon suggests, we are survivors of The First Wave! Ha! If true, then alien souls have been sent in three waves to integrate earth-beings with compassion and a caring sense of a need for integration, for those earthlings in the cycles of reincarnation have missed the mark, and without compunction are destined to blow up earth and seriously affect the universe. In fact, as Steven Hawkins has of late said, given our Higgs Bosun experiments with the God Particle we are inevitably about "to destroy the universe!"

Ian smiles, "And how can one say for sure that Dolores Cannon is right? Or for that matter, Hawkins too?"

"I don't know. Ha! And..." I beam at him, "I'm comfortable with that."

Before us here and there on the beach are bikini-bathers, dog-walkers, children building sand-castles. My latest painting, Intercellular Connection, comes to mind. The beach is pock-marked in either direction with a hundred hours of footsteps, cellular and molecular, and the sea glitters away and toward us in a billion little bowls filled with light. Even the distant mountains on the horizon are enmeshed in a fog that re-assimilates their solidity into the landscape. It all is one.

I was waylaid today as I made my way downtown to my Friday reflections perch above the compass in The Bay. Just outside at the entrance lay a near-naked lady in the sunlight on the pavement, as if on a giant's plate with its huge cutlery to either side, related vegetables and sauce strewn about and on her, and a sign saying "Relate to the Plate!"

To be vegetarian or not? To be a tobacco user, or not? To be a democrat or a republican? A conservative or a liberal? A believer or a non? To know or not to know?... But to be comfortable? 

We live with a certain passion that combines knowledge and wisdom. For the rest? I don't know, OK?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Decoding DNA

Subject: Grandma's Experiences Leave Epigenetic Mark on Your Genes |

We cannot escape our heritage. Or can we? Research (see link above) proves that we are inherently possessed by all that went before, unless we effectively countenance our impulses and habits and thereby change the very DNA sequencing that we in turn may pass on to our offspring. It is not just our parents who affect us, but indeed, our greatest great grandparents too. (Thing is, one hopes they were indeed great!) As such, these Epigenetic factors can be off-putting, or not. Like big words, the complexity chews hard. Broken down, the result is that we are the products not only of our own makeup, but that of our forefathers too. (Or might that be 'built up', not 'broken down'? No wonder psychologists delve into our family constellations, ha!)

Perhaps one ought to coin a new phrase for 'forefathers'; and yes, 'forbearers' will do; for our fore-bearers were both great grandparents and all our progenitors. That their genes influenced our own genes can be good, or not. (Any well-off Levi's in the family? ha!)

In the case of Beth and Lisa, it is good indeed. Grandmother and granddaughter, they both imbue a feminine grace, a lady-like comportment, a sharpness of wit, diction, and insight. They have an accord. They care deeply for others, are generous and thoughtful and considerate. They listen well. They both are long-suffering. They both clutch up their pains and share only to the trusted, and they do not smudge their lives with the private and inordinate trials of their passage, but rather sail with spiritual spinnakers unfolded in company, gloriously giving colour and vitality to the very air around them. And they both are indeed very beautiful. Strikingly so.

Yet when i was commissioned to do the painting from a 20+ year photograph her loving husband wrote:

"I just spoke with Lisa for the second time regarding Beth and how she may have influenced Lisa in her life. Lisa insists that Beth was of no immediate influence. Beth was a stay at home mother is what Lisa said. In no way does this remove from the deep love Lisa feels for her she insisted. So she is just her own person. She is self made."

Both women are highly artistic. Beth specializes in the most beautiful watercolours. Lisa spent a weekend doing oil-painting with me (and took to it like the proverbial petal unfolding to bloom.) And both women are gracious and self-effacing and humble and disaffecting. They glow with an inner light, Beth now in her early 90's, Lisa in her early 30's. And their love and care and respect for each other shines through. As does their interest in and warmth toward others.

Interesting how we do not see the mirrors around us. The friends we choose (or are chosen by); the things we like; the pastimes we pursue; the vocations into which we sink ourselves (or are buoyed by); these are the stuff that affects not only our own make-up but that get passed on in our genes to our children's children, and so on. We choose our mates and go on a lifetimes’ journey with them (or not) and are added to, detracted from, and shaped by the union. We are moulded by the choices we make, and that get made for us. Potential, like a seed in the garden, is somewhat dependent on the ministrations of time and circumstance and proximity to all the nurturing and generative propensities in ourselves, or not. Luck and accidents too play their part. And in the summation it is up to us to be the victim, or to be the o'erleaper, to be the survivor and the thriver and the achiever; we grow toward the light despite the shade of others, or we enfold and wither and sniffle and complain. Yet yes, we are indeed “self-made; our own person”.

But for Beth and Lisa, none of these debilitating factors held them back. They both can hold their heads high. They both can look back on a life well lived, and they both can be fulfilled in their love, and care, and inner coordination of their genes. Influence? Similarities? Quite a few!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Intercellular Implications

[Intercellular Connections. By r.f.Michelle-Pentelbury. Oil, 16x20. To Sidney Art Show, 7th Sept. 2014]

I suppose some will relate. The fingerprints of those we love and may not see again give us pause before we wipe them away from our crockery, the bottles they drank from, the bedding in which they slept. Grief does that. It is a sweet emotion that will have one lifting the absent loved one's sweater to the face, as though the garment itself will reach out with ghostly arms akimbo and embrace you. And it is the friendly ghosts of those we love that accompany us, in the car, in the elevator, in the hallway and in and about the rooms we both have occupied. But the real-real persons are not there. Not anymore. Perhaps not ever again. And grief squeezes at the chest.

I've two pebbles given by a friend. I've a glass bubble. I've a small seed-pod resembling a bird's brain that I picked up in the Kruger Game Reserve. I've things that had I had my own children I may have given to them; but being childless, the horse-statue, the train-engine, the teddy-bear are connections to more than an unfulfilled boyhood; they are touchstones to the pleasantries of a distorted past. (For what else can one actually deem one's history to be called unless it be picture perfect, entirely commensurate with those who recall 'back then' and relate to the same impacts?) Corroboration is a most treasured thing. When the item at hand still resonates with the presence of the giver then is sentiment silly? But even more, when the stories of the past have been experienced by one's brother in much the same way as oneself then the reassurance of impressions, especially after a long three or four decades of reiteration, is an affirmation indeed. Sentiment is both mental and actual. Things have great meaning; memory has great power. And we are impelled by the importance we give to each. We keep stock of our treasures, material and mental, and we spend a lot of energy maintaining them. Or not.

Some of us are pretty forgetful. (It was interesting to have my brother, after a 40 year absence, remind me of some events that no longer resonated; yet entirely rewarding to have him confirm my long-held impressions and old-aged conceptualizations. But he was not at all affected by items that used to hang on our beloved Grandmother's wall; they did not register. Many of the photos I still have were of no meaning to him, and neither 'should' they be.) Thing is, this essay is not about the specifics of brother Andy and me; it is about the generality that we as humans experience with the detritus of our lives, and what any one of us makes of the flotsam.

As I type I'm sitting with a magnificent view across the Georgia Strait of Mount Baker, snowiest of the USA mountains. Andy and Elsabe did not see this. The weather was too turmoiled. Yes, mist and cloud quite often separates us altogether from the distant and makes the immediate that more significant. In life itself, many of us walk with our heads down in animated chatter with a neighbour, careful perhaps not to trip on the proverbial tree roots, but so engrossed as to be hardly aware of a life going on beyond ourselves. So too right now for so many of the Island View beach-going-passers-by in my shade spot under this tree. They do not know that Harville Hendrix and I once paused here, right here, in a lengthy conversation. That he is famous made and makes no difference to those noticing me. And so too from me to those going a-chat-chatting past me now; each is just an 'anybody'. (A 'somebody', most of us think, would be more recognizable.) Yet the intercellular-air circulates everywhere, connecting. The sea; intemperate air; all things; plants; creatures; people; we are each but molecules of a greater whole.

That's why I resonate with certain things. It's as though they retain the essence of the person I love who last touched them. Yes, the thing needs my knowledge thereof; and so I am inclined to sense for the loving fingers that wrapped the package of home-made marmalade, that stretched the elastic band. And yes, I can recycle such things. Let sentiment go. But not so easily the keepsakes given by people who mean a great deal to me, or that represent a story that can be begun by a glance. But yes, lose them, break them, have them stolen, and they were just things after all. Sentiment and silliness are the vestiges of the child in us still not sure of un-conditionality. Yet must it have to take lifetimes to feel oneself entirely worthy with nothing before oneself but a view?

Thursday, September 4, 2014

One Wonders?

The thing that impressed me mostly about them was their curiosity. Not just my brother and my sister in law, but also my friends: Ardella and Jerry, Ian and Linda, Barry and Carolyn, Clive, and even by message-mail, Jessie, Sharon, Nancy Sinclair, and Justin (whom Andy recalls from 1966!) Yes, an initial family and friends group met us all in Calgary: Keith, Peter-son and Laura and children Sean and baby Jack, and Peter-elder and Karen, and Karen Weir and Lisa and husband Sean, and Rob, and our dear sister Carol, and our kismet middle brother Peter, and ... Is there someone I forgot?

Questions prove interest. Listening proves it even more. "How do you come to know Richard and Linda? Where did you two meet? What do you do for living? When was it you were back there?" And my favourite: "Why? Why did you choose that; do you like that; did you go there; why ask me that?" Questions stimulated conversation. Listeners proved interested. Questions created a sense of care amongst us. Not just from and to Andy and Elsabe, but amongst us all.

We are inclined to want things to be interesting. Whatever is outside of ourselves needs hold our attention for us to sustain focus, generally. The scenery, the conversations, others, the TV, the shapes and sizes and colours and tastes and textures and sound, it all needs be interesting afore we become interested, generally. Being ‘interested’ takes something else; it takes energy and a letting go of wanting something else to entertain oneself. (How to generate an interest in even a hairline crack in the wall? Imagination will allow the mind to create a novel from that little crack.) And those five 'W' questions, who, what, where, when, and why will make for one's life being a tapestry of riches of one's own gleaning, rather than waiting for the right channel, the right persons, the right view, the right whatever. 'Boring' happens because one allows boredom; we make things interesting because we are interested! And cultural 'niceties' need not contain!

"May I ask you another question?" Elsabe would often begin. It was charming. And so too for my brother. All my friends, despite their evident interest in this accomplished brother of mine, with his explications of Oman, and stories of helicopter rescues with the SA Airforce, and of the ordeal of their relocation from Bredarsdorp to Muscat (especially for Elsabe,) were also asked by Andy and Elsabe about their lives, their interests, and their connections to life, liberty, and the pursuit of peace. We all understood that happiness is but temporary, dependent on the serenity of the moment; it is being at peace that we seek; a comprehension and understanding and inclusion and integration of all the variables. And because of being interested (using one’s innate entelchy) we make life interesting!

Sentiment tends to rest on those five 'W' questions too. Its strength lies in one’s emotion and the reasons for keeping a thing. "I got this compass-sundial from Andy when he visited me after a 40 year separation. I am so proud of him! He is such an authentic and caring human being. He found it in an antique store in Muscat. It was used by British explorers in the 1800's. He knew it would suit me well. Yes, I shall treasure it. The time? No, I'm still working out how to use it, ha!"

Only when we no longer value an object, find no connection, are we more easily able to discard it. Then again, I've friends who keep very little indeed. One reads a card and immediately puts it into the waste bin. Is it because his sentiment is immediate, in the moment; his appreciation fully present? Another friend does not take nor keep photos. (His memory must be sharp indeed.) A name, a place, an event is recalled in precise articulation with a myriad of details. But I for one am not like that. I would retain the fingerprints of my dad's last whiskey bottle. (I am drinking as I type, with all the thought-laden heart-sore sadness of missing them, the last of sweet Elsabe's Grolsch non-alcoholic beers.) And as I take this picture of Andy's thoughtful gift, and submit it to my posting in my Blog of this essay, I wonder who shall in the future find the thing, and who shall be there to answer the many questions it poses. What hands along the way have held this treasure? What's its story? How does it work? Where has it travelled?" Ha! To what reaches may we not soar by asking more?