A Reflective Autumnal Journey…

The teeming autumn, big with rich increase,

Bearing the wanton burden of the prime,

Like widow’d wombs after their lords’ decease.

William Shakespeare (Sonnet 97, 6-8)

Autumn, in her characteristic colourful cycle, is in full ochre bloom and bluster, with winter waiting conspicuously in the wings. Where has this year gone?

It has evaporated into time’s ether, barely noticeable under the weight of challenges this year has borne witness to. And, my dear reader, I guess you are also handling your own significant challenges. I hope you are safe and well.

I have been absent from my normal activities for a few months, a family crisis that, still unresolved, has totally derailed me; emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually. Suffice to say, that when a mother faces such a challenge involving one of her children it is no small thing. As a result, I had unintentionally put myself in the shadow side of Demeter’s archetypal shoes. She is one of the three vulnerable goddesses.

I plan to write about the archetypes of Greek mythology, it is a fascinating psychological subject. I have three main archetypes that affect my life: Artemis, Aphrodite and Demeter.

Gradually I have returned to a modicum of functioning, and a good measure of my recovery (apart from my family and friends), has been derived out in nature.

My garden in full autumnal swing!

My Acer tree is my pride and joy…
Autumnal canopy of our cherry tree

Normally playing my violin would offer substantial succour for such deeply felt pain, but unfortunately my violin bridge collapsed and other parts of my beloved instrument badly needed replacing as well. For a violin that’s over 120 years old, this maintenance and renovation has been 35 years overdue in my ownership!!

I’m not sure if that’s a metaphor for my life at the moment – I certainly have missed her shiny wooden curves and dulcet tones (when playing well at least). But there is hope on the horizon, for it is having a complete overhaul by one of the most talented restorers in the UK.

Hopefully I’ll be able to create a rich, melodic sound, (if I haven’t forgotten how to play in two months), even though my bank account will be much attenuated.

Taking up yoga and appreciating the raw beauty of my garden and going for walks have lifted my spirits a great deal.

I have written before about autumn – my favourite season despite my aversion to cold weather!

In the last few days of October last year, my best friend invited me away for a long weekend to her place in North Devon. It’s not an area I was particularly familiar with, (Cornwall has generally been my place of pilgrimage), but I found it lovely. I thought I would share some pictures of a trip Sophie and I made to the RHS Garden Rosemoor on a mild but wet and misty day. My retinas were overwhelmed by the colours and contrasts.

We also visited the home of Dartington Crystal, and consumed a hearty pub lunch after we spent an hour or two roaming around the stunningly wild coast of Hartland Point. Hartland was used as the coastal location of Manderley in the recent film based on Daphne du Maurier’s classic novel, Rebecca:

Of course photographs can never do justice compared to seeing such botanical wonders in the flesh, but it can at least give a sense of the beauty contained in a quiet valley of North Devon.

I have not written any poetry for some time, it has never been a talent of mine, but it is oddly cathartic and creative to let my mind wander in this direction whenever I think about nature.

AUTUMN

Autumn, how do I love thee?

Your fiery fronds set my soul ablaze,

Arresting russets warm and endow with glee,

Nature’s glorious demise unfolds in reddish haze.

From abundant harvest gifts – to empty trees,

Searing elemental forces, pre-empting winter’s freeze.

RHS Garden Rosemoor – October 2020

Autumn, how do I venerate thee?

Your vibrant leafy fireworks fail not to delight,

From summer’s warm embrace we flee,

Like aged leaves, pulled inexorably out of sight.

The eternal paradox of loss and gain,

Inner and outer landscapes stay not the same.

RHS Garden Rosemoor – October 2020

Autumn, how do I revere thee?

Your spectacular yield appears so fleeting,

A bounty beyond gold, behold – you will see,

Clothed for the season, secure sacred meeting!

Tread vivid crimson carpets; such preternatural hues,

Live and breathe the evanescent, intoxicating view.

RHS Garden Rosemoor – October 2020

“There is something so special in the early leaves drifting from the trees–as if we are all to be allowed a chance to peel, to refresh, to start again.”

Ruth Ahmed

My Anonymous Postman Reveals Adventures I Never Would Have Imagined…

“If we don’t end war, war will end us.”

H. G. Wells

My regular postman has always been friendly. He’s cheerful and affable, even when he is being buffeted or soaked by inclement British weather. He must have a mountain of mail and parcels to deliver, but he never seems hurried and is usually chatty.

In a world where we may see certain people on a daily basis and yet know little about them, we grow a certain familiarity, albeit a superficial one; so it’s refreshing when a deeper connection takes place.

Talking isn’t a big part of the job, especially as Royal Mail are (not surprisingly), more concerned with productivity than my ‘friendly neighbourhood postman’.

120 Year old post box. Image by Grooveland on Unsplash

I don’t know my postman’s real name – and he prefers to keep it that way after divulging some very personal information about himself the other day. He seemed to want to talk more than usual; we were having a conversation about a trip he had taken to Argentina to see his girlfriend at the time.

Before I continue, it’s only fair to warn you that this post contains some harrowing stories, read on at your own discretion.

He explained that he had gone out for a run and had accidentally crossed onto the rural land of a neighbour. He knew he was in trouble when armed guards apprehended him and hauled him up in front of the owner. Humble and apologetic, he explained that he was staying next door as a guest of his neighbour, and did not intend to trespass. The tension gradually eased and all was eventually forgiven as the suspicion evaporated.

He was still conscious that men were brandishing AK47s and joked to me that he wondered if he would have to suddenly revive ‘special skills’ that he hadn’t needed to use in a long while. However, the property owner offered him a job as a body guard, which he turned down.

By this point I had a strong inkling that my postman wasn’t your average guy…

He then slipped in that he wasn’t popular in Argentina. I frowned; this seemed an odd and decidedly provocative thing to say. When I queried why this might be so, he hesitated for a split second, and coolly informed me that he had previously been on a clandestine mission there, as part of a military team sent to apprehend a child sex trafficker.

My jaw must have dropped.

Maybe he trusted me, (I like to think I am a good listener), and he went on to reveal things I never would have guessed about him.

One thing I had always been curious about (but was too polite to ask), was why he was missing his top two middle teeth. He is quite muscular, although not overly tall, and in otherwise apparent good health. It is an unusual thing to see in a fit man, especially as the rest of his teeth seemed fine.

Well, now I know why.

Without asking him he told me that during his time in the army he was deployed to Iraq after the initial invasion, and spent time in enemy territory. He was captured and subsequently tortured. Although recruits are given resistance to interrogation training he admitted it wasn’t sufficient to prepare him for the real thing.

As he relayed the inevitable torture that followed, it seemed somewhat surreal. His teeth were forcibly removed.

His nails were pulled out and other excruciating things done to him which I didn’t dare ask about. He was rescued, he thinks, by Special Forces. It sounds like he is lucky to be alive. Some of his friends and colleagues weren’t so fortunate.

A conversation with a friend back at base shortly after being rescued resulted in his nickname that he adopted as his military handle: Jericho.

His speciality in the British army was as a sharpshooter. He said it required nerves of steel and an alert state over long periods of time. Sometimes they were given drugs to help them stay awake during critical missions.

Note to self: must remain on good terms with my postman!

“No soldier ever really survives a war.”

Audie Murphy

He told of another day when his convoy was hit by IEDs. Some vehicles were on fire, and he had to drag one of his friends, burning and screaming from a badly damaged vehicle, sadly unable to save his life.

What must that kind of horror do to a person?

In short, it causes trauma. Survivors guilt. These life and death situations are extreme experiences, and the army needs to do more to help soldiers adjust to civilian life.

I was appalled by what he was telling me, but he seemed to have reached a level of detachment about it. He admitted that he had suffered with PTSD after being discharged from the army.

Another difficult thing for him to deal with was the fact that the Iraqi army would shoot civilians that spoke to them or demonstrated any kind of co-operation. They would be lined up and executed in cold blood. His unit were told not to interfere, something a normal person would naturally find abhorrent and shocking. He hinted that he felt torn following orders at certain times, especially when he considered them to be wrong. I got the distinct impression that his conscience was the cause of insubordination at times.

Actively letting atrocities happen is surely as morally reprehensible as participating in them. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

“There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.”

Howard Zinn

He must have seen and done things no person could ever forget, let alone attempt to process in order to lead a normal life.

He told me that working on a farm after he was discharged helped him to adjust to civilian life. He regularly woke up screaming. He would feel angry, on edge and ready for combat at the drop of a hat. He found that meditation helped him to feel calmer and recover mentally.

Ernest Hemingway became a literary icon through the creative expression of his wartime experiences. Writing can enable healing and catharsis.

Jericho (as I refer to him now), also got involved in boxing for a while, but gave it up to protect his wrists and hands so he could continue to play the guitar injury free. He likes to do open-mic sessions and also writes songs.

Before too long he was back in the mission saddle (aka conflict hotspot), this time working for various PMCs (private military contractors).

He would tell me about parachuting into a scenario in the dead of night, which funnily enough he said didn’t scare him as much as climbing up a ladder!

Over a number of years he was deployed on missions in 78 countries, including the Middle East, Russia, various African nations, South America and so forth.

Some of the smaller, less established PMCs had questionable clients, and he told of being on jobs where he would come up against other mercenaries in the role of body guards that he knew from his time at another PMC. He also worked for an international contractor where different nationalities worked together. He has some American friends.

I felt honoured that he was telling me such personal things about his life – but, if I’m honest – also a little disturbed.

He also spoke of a helicopter landing in the park near his house one night as an old employer had sent men to ask him about breaking into a certain facility he had experience of. It seemed a tad creepy. I asked how he could remember such detail, but he insisted he could recall the mission and was able to help them.

There are clearly major drawbacks to his previous line of work, but I asked if being in the military had helped him to develop self-discipline, and he agreed it most definitely had. He would rise at 5 am to work-out before the day started, and felt himself to be a highly independent and resilient person.

Image by Sana Ullah on Unsplash

Jericho’s was the sort of background that is often used in action movies, although it did not sound glamorous, as such activities can sometimes be portrayed on screen. But still, it is far removed from the mundane act of delivering mail!

Being a postman is a million miles away from the adrenaline fuelled excitement and danger of his former career, and I think that’s just how he likes it at this stage of his life. He also talked about his family and other everyday minutiae.

I liked him anyway, before I knew more about him, but I have a new found respect for Jericho. He has had to adjust through the kind of intense lifestyle and experiences that most of us could not comprehend. It may have been his choice to go down that path, but none of us ever really know where a path we choose to walk will ultimately lead. He is an interesting person, and gave me permission to write about him without using his real name, thus ensuring anonymity.

I’m thinking of loosely basing a character on him!

It reminded me that everyone has a story in them, that appearances and career choices are not accurate barometers of someone’s character or past. You never know what someone has been through, or about their early upbringing.

It was a lesson that compassion and kindness is a balm to ease suffering and make someone’s day a bit brighter.

Listening to Jericho elicited thoughts about my paternal grandfather, Jonathan Patrick Haley, who everyone called Jack. I vaguely remember as a child the rare occasions when my grandfather would talk about his time in the RAAF, (Royal Australian Airforce) flying spitfires in Burma during World War Two.

My grandad is sitting on top of the fuselage, second from right. Tall, skinny, handsome with dark hair! Sadly many of the men pictured did not return home. It’s good to see my grandad in his prime, even if it is from an old, grainy black and white photo. I only remember him with a bald patch and white receding hair.

There was only so much he would share about his time as a reconnaissance pilot. My grandmother told me that his doctor thought he was too weak and malnourished to make it beyond six months after he returned home to life in Australia, but thankfully she nursed him back to health.

When my dad was young the Haley family emigrated to the UK. He was a tall, active, no-nonsense man, with a soft spot for his grandchildren. I was very close to him in my early childhood when we lived near them. My dad has his medals, including a Burma Star.

I looked up to my grandfather; he was a source of inspiration, confidence and comfort to me in my early childhood.

Jericho’s personal history is invisible beneath his red polo shirt uniform; only a cheerful, gappy smile hints at his previous life. People have hidden depths, and it can be revelatory exploring them, not least to gain a greater understanding of others and ourselves.

It’s amazing what you can learn when you take the time to get to know someone. Active listening is compassion in action. Heaven knows the world needs as much compassion as it can get right now.

“Circumstances don’t make the man, they only reveal him to himself.”

Epictetus

Musings on the Mystery of the Moon and the Beauty of the Cosmos

Art thou pale for weariness

Of climbing heaven and gazing on the earth,

Wandering companionless

Among the stars that have a different birth,

And ever changing, like a joyless eye

That finds no object worth its constancy?

Percy Bysshe Shelley ~ ‘To the Moon’

Since the dawn of time mankind has observed the cosmos in awe, and it continues to engender curiosity and fascination. The sparkling firmament that illuminated the night sky demonstrated to early Homo sapiens that there were forces around us beyond our comprehension. So far away, yet irresistible to the naked eye, beckoning for us to reach up and touch them. The sun, moon, planets and trillions of stars seem to feed our need for oneness, unity and connection to a greater power.

Caspar David Friedrich – Moonlight in the forest

The stars invoke the heavens; some dazzling far-off realm that is simultaneously part of us, (our physical form is made of stardust: elements that were created from supernova stars), and yet unfathomably vast, distant and eternal.  

Christopher Columbus and many early explorers used the sun, moon and stars to navigate across oceans and deserts alike, while the moon has bathed earth and all who walk upon her in an ethereal, mystical glow through eons of nights of all our ancestors. Back then it must have been even more impressive, with little to no light pollution.

The eyes of our past were transfixed on the moon’s phases; was she waxing or waning, full or new?

Christopher Williams – Venice, Moonlight

Astronomers measured her movements and positions, alongside the other celestial bodies in our solar system. We are, if not entirely at their mercy, influenced greatly by these cosmic spheres; perhaps on occasion becoming a little too obsessed with our ‘birth sign’ traits…

The ancient seers and rishis of India developed Vedic astrology (a moon based system) from the time of the Vedas, the oldest and foremost scriptures of Hinduism. In western astrology my sun sign is Aries, but in Vedic astrology (which differs from western astrology by a whole month), I am a Pisces, and my moon is in Taurus.

The practice of arranged marriages, which were and still are common in India, used this system to accurately gauge affinity and compatibility between couples.  

Thanks to Claudius Ptolemy, Nicolaus Copernicus, Galileo Galilei, Johannes Kepler, Isaac Newton, Edmond Halley, Christiaan Huygens, Giovanni Cassini, Charles Messier, Edwin Hubble, Albert Einstein, Carl Sagan and many others who were curious about the universe, over the centuries we mapped our cosmos and grew universal science as far as technology and knowledge would allow.

But even our closest celestial neighbour, the moon, remained elusive until Neil Armstrong’s vicarious ‘giant leap for mankind’ on the lunar surface in July 1969.  

If the sun is the masculine ‘yang’, the moon is the feminine ‘yin’. Gentle and beguiling, and considered by some to be an emotional barometer.

She has always been our night time beacon and companion. Instead of scorching heat she casts soft hues and her powerful gravitational pull is responsible for the tides.

Albert Julius Olsson – Moonlight on the Coast

The forces the moon exerts on Earth and its inhabitants are experienced through physical sensations, mostly things that are enticing to humans; such as frolicking in the surf, or having a romantic meal or stroll under her otherworldly light. Moonlight on water is the most transfixing and mesmerising sight to behold.

Women tend to find that their menstrual cycles are synced with the lunar cycles, and the moon has been linked to fertility. In Greek mythology the goddess Artemis is associated with the hunt and the moon.

Artemis and Orion – Emilian School attributed

We assign meanings to the moon within our culture, with many references in literature, art and music.

I remember a cow jumping over the moon in a certain nursery rhyme!

With how sad steps, O moon, thou climb’st the skies;

How silently, and with how wan a face.

What, may it be that even in heavenly place

That busy archer his sharp arrows tries?

Sure, if that long-with-love-acquainted eyes

Can judge of love, thou feel’st a lover’s case;

I read it in thy looks; thy languished grace

To me, that feel the like, thy state descries.

Then, even of fellowship, O moon, tell me,

Is constant love deemed there but want of wit?

Are beauties there as proud as here they be?

Do they above love to be loved, and yet

Those lovers scorn whom that love doth possess?

Do they call virtue there ungratefulness?

Sir Philip Sidney ~ Sonnet 31

Artists like Turner, Friedrich, Aivazovsky, Pether, Olsson, Grimshaw and van Gogh immortalised their evening views.

Vincent van Gogh – The Starry Night

Beethoven and Debussy wrote evocative music, (although it was Beethoven’s publisher that assigned the sobriquet ‘Moonlight’ Sonata).

7 pieces of classical music inspired by the moon.

Perhaps the cosmos inspires us to act from the higher part of ourselves more than we give it credit for.

Marianne North – Moon Reflected in a Turtle Pool, Seychelles

Today, May 26th is a total lunar eclipse. It was around lunchtime here in the UK, (sadly facing away from the moon) as the moon, earth and sun all align to create the phenomena. The shadow cast from the earth hides the light of the moon and has been likened to looking at the shadow part of ourselves.

To ancient peoples eclipses often signified a terrifying event – omens of bad luck as the ‘lights’ in the sky were thought to be Gods, and it was scary when the Gods went ‘dark’! In ancient India they recommended submerging oneself in a river and chanting during an eclipse.

Eclipses are considered a good time for looking inwards and spiritual growth, but not for starting new projects in the material realm. Pay attention to your feelings, intuition and dreams. Now is a good time to declutter, revisit old, unfinished projects and pay attention to relationships and the people you love. We’re probably all feeling extra sensitive at the moment.

John Moore of Ipswich – Moonlit Landscape

Eclipses can be powerful times for growth and clarity, but in any healing a crisis point occurs that is the ‘darkness before the dawn’, encouraging us to see what we need to fix, change or heal in order to have the life we want.  

It is the very error of the moon; She comes more nearer earth than she was won’t, And makes men mad.

William Shakespeare ~ Othello

This lunar eclipse is also being referred to as the Super Flower Blood Moon; the red is perceived as the moon passes through Earth’s umbral shadow. I’m hoping for clear skies tonight so I can glimpse this stunning spectre.

The Super Flower Blood Moon over New York:

I had my second Astra Zeneca vaccine today, I’m not sure if that’s auspicious or not!

Wherever you are, happy moon gazing if that’s your thing!

Thou silver deity of secret night,

Direct my footsteps through the woodland shade;

Thou conscious witness of unknown delight,

The Lover’s guardian, and the Muse’s aid!

By thy pale beams I solitary rove,

To thee my tender grief confide;

Serenely sweet you gild the silent grove,

My friend, my goddess, and my guide …

Lady Mary Montague (1689 – 1762) ~ ‘Hymn to the Moon’

How to Release the Hold Difficult and Destructive Emotions Have Over us

“We carry around with us a huge reservoir of accumulated negative feelings, attitudes and beliefs. The accumulated pressure makes us miserable and is the basis of many of our illnesses and problems. We are resigned to it and explain it away as the ‘human condition’. We seek to escape it in myriad ways.”

Dr David R Hawkins Letting Go (The Pathway of Surrender)

It would be the understatement of 2021 to say that January and February and most of March were tough months for our nation. There’s the usual January blues, when it’s dark and cold and everyone is a bit skint; but this year the individual and collective malaise was on another level.

Like most of the rest of the world, we were hit by another wave of the coronavirus pandemic, (over 127,000 families in the UK are mourning the loss of a loved one to Covid-19).

Now that we have emerged from the dire months of being cooped up indoors, (alongside the mental health implications of our covid incarcerations), the nation is tentatively looking ahead and the schools (thankfully) have now reopened. Many businesses were forced to close or operate at a reduced capacity. Income levels dropped off. Then there is the inevitable Brexit fallout hitting fisheries, imports and exports, and business in general, with untold damage to the economy – the full extent of which is yet to be truly calibrated.  

With so many triggers for individual and collective stress, I may not be the only one who went through the January blues on steroids!!

Some days I felt like I was wandering aimlessly in a spiritual wilderness and would never feel joy again.

Image by Tengyart on Unsplash

Deep in the doldrums…

Now that I am on the other side of that particular episode I can reframe the experience and feel a certain relief and detachment. Some unresolved trauma from my childhood came up, which unfortunately was compounded as it coincided with lockdown and home schooling.

I barely managed under the extra workload of full-time home schooling two secondary school Year 7 & 9 daughters. For the most part, my youngest remained motivated and conscientious, but her older teenage sister did not, and trying to help her was exhausting. She suffered from a lack of social interaction. Those two and half months tested my patience and perseverance to the limit.

I’m sure many parents of school age children with limited indoor space must at times have felt some level of frustration, fatigue, lassitude, vexation, overwhelm and anxiety.

Most days, between the learning, the laundry and the kitchen, there was no time or energy for anything else. On top of that I was going through an intense healing process.

I have to admit that during those first two months I resorted to comfort eating and doing less exercise, (although I normally love hiking, we had biblical amounts of rain), and for most of January I went into total hibernation. I think my brain is still catching up.  

I’ve had to forgive myself for my less than perfect attitude and cut myself some slack however, as these are unprecedented times. The accumulation of stress hit me like a volcanic eruption I couldn’t control. I just had to go with the flow…

I also watched, obsessed, as the geological equivalent appeared in Iceland, a short distance from where our family stayed in Grindavik during the summer of 2019. It would have been great to witness first hand.

Watching this amazing footage reminded me of Frodo’s quest to destroy the One Ring in the fires of Mount Doom…

At times the overloaded, antsy feeling on my Central Nervous System was acute and physically uncomfortable. At other times I felt suffocated by ennui, accompanied by a total loss of motivation. I caught myself thinking ‘what’s the point?’ I realise now that this thought (and others like it), had arisen from a feeling of helplessness and hopelessness.

I’m not seeking sympathy, I know many people have suffered over the winter and continue to do so; but I share this personal experience to illustrate that my months of introspection and healing did yield positive results.  

I needed to seek a solution; not just for me, but if it worked, to share with the wider world for anyone who continues to feel engulfed in an existential crisis, given all that we are dealing with.

What to do when you’ve sunk into a funk that you struggle to shake off?

I had to take it one day at a time. Deep breathing exercises and movement did help to calm me, as did meditation and practising gratitude. Even if it was only to appreciate that I had the opportunity to expunge some ‘dark’ emotional energy that was held deep in my body.

I realised I had to start small: I was only capable of making micro choices; which on a practical level helped me to regain some measure of control in my life. Focusing on the little steps and achievements built up my confidence and motivation bit by bit.

As I reflected on the difficult early months it informed my objectives for the rest of the year.

My main intention for 2021 is to live my life like a prayer. This is not a goal but a daily practice, and involves dedicating myself to being a servant of life in all its forms, appreciating the beauty of life, embracing a willingness to forgive shortcomings, to let go of the past (including resentments, negative emotions) and be a loving person.

Image by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

I’ve come to the conclusion that in the current global situation, being kind to one’s self and others, and a source of lovingness in the world is what will see humanity more serenely and successfully through this time. I knew I had to surrender my anger about the situation and the feeling of losing control of my life.

I rediscovered a book I bought a few years ago but hadn’t yet read: Letting Go – The Pathway of Surrender by Dr. David R Hawkins. I might have saved myself some anguish if I had, but they do say that when the student is ready the teacher will appear. Doc Hawkins has been a major influence in my life. I’m only a short way in, but already I have shifted my energy.

Fake thoughts!

Having let go of some heavy psychological baggage over the preceding weeks, I noticed, to my delight, that my mind was considerably quieter. The incessant yapping of my thoughts had abated. This has been quite a revelation for me!

Not having to waste energy fighting the negative voice that tells me I’m not good enough, or how tough my life is has brought some much needed inner peace.

According to Dr Hawkins, it is the accumulated pressure of emotions that sparks a myriad of associated thoughts. Painful and destructive feelings trapped unconsciously in the body foments unhelpful and negative thoughts.

As an example, just one painful memory from early life that proves too overwhelming to handle is subsequently repressed (buried deep), in the psyche, and over many years can generate hundreds or thousands of thoughts. Dr. Hawkins asserts that when we surrender the underlying emotion all of those thoughts disappear instantly.

The Gray-LaVoilette scientific theory integrates psychology and neurophysiology and their research indicates that feeling tones organise thoughts and memory.

Hearing a lot of negative inner chatter is a sign that there’s unresolved emotional material being held in the body. When an underlying emotion is buried, forgotten or ignored, and not experienced, a person may not understand the reason for their actions.

Dr Hawkins suggests a simple way to become conscious of underlying emotions behind any activity, by asking: What for? With each answer, what for? is asked again and again, repeatedly until the basic feeling is uncovered. To be effective this method requires self-honesty.

Another revelation was discovering that thoughts are impersonal. They arise from the attractor field that a person is aligned with at any given moment. Now I try to watch these thoughts scudding across the sky of my mind like jostling clouds, I just watch them come and go, I try not to identify with them. They are just thoughts.

“Thoughts are like gold fish in a bowl; the real Self is like the water. The real Self is the space between the thoughts, or more exactly, the field of silent awareness underneath all thoughts. Thoughts are like bait to a fish; if we bite at them, we get caught. It’s best not to bite at the thoughts. We don’t need them.”

Dr. David R Hawkins (Letting Go – The Pathway of Surrender)
Image by Kazuend on Unsplash

It is quite liberating to learn that thoughts emanate from unprocessed emotions. If we watch our thoughts we can ascertain the type of feelings that are responsible for them and begin the process of letting them go. 

The 3 major mechanisms for dealing with difficult feelings

Essentially we have three major ways of handling negative emotions: suppression/repression, expression and escape.

Repression/suppression

This is the most common way of dealing with strong emotions. We don’t want to be overwhelmed, we are not sure how to cope, so we just sort of muddle through. Repression is the unconscious pushing down of feelings and suppression happens consciously. How we sort what feelings are repressed or suppressed is influenced by the unconscious programmes we carry within us from our childhood, upbringing, social expectations and life experience.

Image by M.T. ElGassier on Unsplash

When a feeling is repressed it is usually because there is so much guilt and fear over it that it is instantly thrust into the unconscious.

In order to keep the repressed feeling at bay the mind resorts to denial and projection.

Instead of acknowledging or observing it, we deny the presence of an unpleasant feeling within us and project it onto the world and those around us. The feeling is eventually experienced as if it belongs to someone else. ‘They’ then become the enemy. Blame is placed on people, institutions, social conditions, God, luck, foreigners, ethnic groups (Brexit right there), and all other things outside ourselves. Through projection the individual maintains self-esteem at the expense of another.

Both methods carry psychosomatic consequences such as the manifestation of physical ailments and illness. If we don’t clear out this emotional garbage it impacts our lives down the road and weighs us down, limits our quality of life, relationships and inner peace becomes more elusive.

“The mechanism of projection underlies all attack, violence, aggression, and every form of social destruction.”

Dr. David R Hawkins (Letting Go – The Pathway of Surrender)

Expression

As the term suggests this method involves talking, venting and verbalising our feelings. This allows for just enough of the inner discomfort to be let out so the remainder can then be suppressed.

Dr Hawkins makes the point that many people in society, (me included, until I delved deeper into these mechanisms), believe that expressing their feelings frees them from the feelings. It has been shown that the expression of a feeling tends to propagate the feeling and give it greater energy.

Expressing in this way also allows what’s left to be suppressed out of awareness. The balance between suppression and expression depends on early training and the cultural norms of an individual.

A note on Freud…

Misinterpretations on the teachings of Sigmund Freud have resulted in the desire to express as a cure, because Freud identified suppression as the cause of neurosis. Freud suggested that the repressed feeling or impulse was to be neutralised, sublimated, socialised and channelled into the constructive drives of love, work and creativity.

Image by Kat Stokes on Unsplash

I regret the times I have dumped my negative feelings onto others, as now I know that they experience this venting as a form of attack – which they are then forced to suppress, express or escape. It is now thought that the expression of negativity results in the deterioration and destruction of relationships.

A better alternative is to take responsibility for our own feelings and neutralise them. This begins with developing awareness. If we can do this only positive, uplifting feelings remain to be expressed.

Escape

Diversion in one form or another helps us to avoid painful or scary feelings. Socially condoned activities like binge watching box sets, over-eating, drinking, sex and being a workaholic may help us dull things momentarily so we can cope in the moment, but are detrimental if used as a crutch long-term.

“We can avoid our own inner selves and keep our feelings from emerging by an endless variety of pursuits, many of which eventually become addictions as our dependency upon them grows.”

Dr. David R Hawkins (Letting Go – The Pathway of Surrender)

Shifting to the perspective of the witness…

Feelings are transient by nature; the important thing is to know that you are not your feelings, but that the ‘real’ you is merely witnessing them. When you become the observer you can cease identifying with negative feelings. Becoming more aware of your internal landscape is a progressive undertaking that enables you to become the witness rather than the experiencer of phenomena.

It’s not possible to both ‘watch’ and ‘resist’ a strong emotion at the same time. Resistance doesn’t serve you. It is resistance that keeps a feeling going. A feeling that is not resisted will disappear as the emotion behind it dissipates.

In other words, to some degree, it’s wise to wear your heart on your sleeve. You can only do something that doesn’t serve you if you do it unconsciously.

Stress

What causes you stress?

Image by Ben White on Unsplash

To attribute stress to outside factors is the projection of repressed feelings. Repressed feelings make us vulnerable to external stress. The word ‘stress’ is a bit ambiguous. When we say we are stressed, it covers a multitude of deeply held emotions!

Dr. Hawkins explains that the real source of stress is internal. Using the emotion of fear as an example, one might react to stress with fear if it is already present within to be triggered by an event. And let’s face it, there are plenty of ‘events’ going on around us at the moment. The more fear we hold inside the more the world appears to be a terrifying place. To the angry person the world is chaos, a mingling of frustration and vexation. The inner state influences the outer state.

Essentially, what we are holding inside (resisted emotions), colours our world…

Next time I feel stress I will see it as a warning sign that there is an accumulation of pressure from supressed and repressed feelings. Understanding that the havoc wreaked by stress is the result of our own hidden emotions puts us in control of handling it more effectively.

The energy of emotions

Emotions emit a vibrational energy field (I will cover more on this in a subsequent post), which in turn influences what kind of people are in our lives. All living things are connected on vibrational energy levels so our basic state is picked up and reacted to by all life forms around us.

It’s quite a wake up call to understand that our basic emotional states transmit themselves to the universe.

I like to imagine a pebble being dropped into fresh water and sending ripples out in concentric circles to the shore.

“The mind has no dimension or size and is not limited in space; therefore, the mind transmits its basic state via vibrational energy over an unlimited distance. This means that we routinely and unwittingly affect others by our emotional state and thoughts.”

Dr. David R Hawkins (Letting Go – The Pathway of Surrender)

The mechanism of Letting Go

This short video (with text taken from Letting Go) explains the basic premise of the technique:

I feel this erudite Beatles song sums up the optimal state of allowing-ness and acceptance of all our emotions, without judgement:

Handling major crises

The Letting Go technique is very helpful in daily life, but it is also fundamental to shortening and alleviating extreme suffering when one is going through a crisis.

In such a situation it is easy to become overwhelmed by strong emotions, when we are vulnerable to be triggered by one of the major areas of supressed or repressed feelings. In this instance the main problem is not so much identifying the emotion as handling the overwhelm.

The three mechanisms the mind consciously employs to process emotions that were mentioned earlier – suppression/repression, expression and escape can be employed in a deliberate manner. They are only harmful when used unconsciously, if the person is not aware of what they are doing.

In an overwhelm, it is advisable to use them consciously. This is done so that the sheer intensity and quantity of emotion can be disassembled and let go bit by bit. By holding at bay the bulk of the emotion we can deal with as much emotion as we are capable of in that moment.

In this situation sharing the strong feelings with close friends or mentors reduces its intensity and the act of expressing the feeling releases some of the energy behind it. It is also advised to consciously use the escape mechanism to create some distance to the emotion, such as walking the dog, socialising, going to the movies (whenever that may be allowed), watching TV or making music.

When some of the overload has abated it’s easier to start to let go of small aspects of the situation. As we come out of overwhelm it is wise to recall that a certain portion of the emotion was purposefully suppressed or escaped. This is a good time to re-examine the feeling so that it does not cause residual harm, such as bitterness, unconscious guilt or lower self-esteem.

Doc explains in his usual easy going and pragmatic way how to handle major crises:

There is much more detail in the book, it really is one of the few manuals for life you’ll ever need. I hope to have relayed a valuable kernel or two of the profound teachings inside.

Letting go is a lifelong process, but it gets easier the more you do it, as you begin to feel lighter and happier in the aftermath of releasing.

There are no short cuts to emotional mastery; letting go and surrendering is the most direct route, as long as we are willing to explore the shadow aspect of our psyche and by doing so, shine the light of consciousness into the darkness. It can be a turbulent ride, but as Dr Hawkins asserts, you only ever have to handle the energy behind the feeling – which is finite and eventually runs out.

If every human being learned to effectively process their emotions the world would be a happier and less violent place. However, we are all at different points in the evolution of our individual consciousness, and as Gandhi stated, it’s our responsibility to become the change we wish to see in the world.

During my period of healing I noticed that I was judging myself for my lack of obvious progress over the winter months, but in the wake of my nascent recovery and heightened awareness, I realised I had in fact made huge progress!

Self-awareness, letting go, and being liberated from past trauma and disempowering beliefs is vital work.

“Because we are all part of the whole, when we heal something in ourselves, we heal it for the world. Each individual consciousness is connected to the collective consciousness at the energetic level; therefore, personal healing emerges collective healing.”

Fran Grace Ph.D.

Happy Birthday Beethoven! An Ode to the Joy and Genius of the Great Man’s Music – Beethoven250

“What I have in my heart and soul must find a way out. That’s the reason for music.”

ludwig van beethoven

Nobody knows the exact date of Ludwig van Beethoven’s birthday. It could be today, 17th December 1770, the day he was baptised, or likely the day before. Two hundred and fifty years ago in a pretty terraced house in Bonn, Beethoven came into the world; and his influence was of such magnitude it can still be strongly felt; universally loved and appreciated today.

Beethoven composing the Missa Solemnis by Josef Karl Stieler

Beethoven has always been at my side, a constant musical companion (from childhood to middle age), through the ups and downs of my life; my victories and vicissitudes, with his symphonies, sonatas, concertos, chamber music, overtures, lieder and choral works, resonating with my own experiences over the years.

I have applied myself to playing many of Beethoven’s violin works, and am now delighted that my youngest daughter (who recently passed her ABRSM Piano Grade 1 with Distinction, despite learning 90% of the syllabus in online lessons, thanks to her fantastic teacher), is falling in love with his piano music. I have never seen her practice so fervently on any other piece to-date as she does Für Elise, which she can now competently play a simplified version of.

There is divinity in Beethoven’s music, it speaks to the soul, but it’s also unmistakably human. How he transmuted sorrow, joy, jealousy, passion, injustice, fury, freedom, love, hope, and the depths of human emotion into the perfect notes on a score is his genius.

If you’ve read my blog now and then (thank you), you may have guessed that I’m a total Beethoven zealot!

He was one of the greatest composers that ever lived, numero uno as far as I’m concerned. I doubt his music will ever be surpassed.

There were very large boots to fill as Beethoven began to explore his musical promise. The great Baroque composers of Bach and Handael left a massive impressive ouevre, and soon after the titans of the Classical era, Mozart and Haydn came along. Young Beethoven had plenty of inspiration to draw from, but rather than worrying about how he was going to make his mark in their shadow, or let their talent suffocate him, he rose to be his own artist, shaping the late Classical era and defining the new Romantic era. Beethoven is a musical icon, his music is timeless.

Beethoven could be pugnacious and capricious, (the poor unfortunate souls who invoked his ire could attest to that), he was also volatile and could fly into a rage, even over a lost penny! But to his credit it wasn’t really a rage, Anton Schindler coined the phrase. A fantastic little piece.

He was also kind, dedicated, loving and loyal. I feel Beethoven was forged just as much by his flaws and tragedies as well as his talents and achievements; there were many facets to his character that made him so rich, complex and brilliant. 

Perhaps a challenging childhood is prerequisite for a romantic genius, and Beethoven ticked that box. He recovered from Smallpox, and endured a troubled relationship with his father, who would drink and beat him.

But Beethoven nurtured his prodigious talent and it would see him through multiple romantic heartbreaks, (including the Immortal Beloved), Napoleon’s assault on Vienna, health challenges, deafness and his problematic interactions with his nephew Karl.  To say his life was difficult would be an understatement. He had quite a vast range of experiences to draw upon…

In art Beethoven was usually depicted with a serious expression, tousled hair and intense eyes, the demeanour of a tortured artist. People overlooked the fact that he could be a curmudgeon and frequently irascible in nature, because through his musical gifts he brought profound beauty into a turbulent world. He wasn’t always understood and appreciated fully during his life, especially by the unsuspecting conservative Viennese audiences, but over the decades and certainly two and a half centuries since his birth, I’m sure millions of people feel the same way I do about dear Ludwig.

Classic FM asked some high profile Beethoven aficionados what Beethoven means to them in 250 words.

Beethoven’s music plays the human heart like no other. It is never ordinary; but profound, and soaring, passionate and searing, loving and lyrical, noble and idealistic, tender hearted and romantic, tempestuous, peaceful and bucolic, dramatic and virtuosic, heart breaking and visceral, innovative and revolutionary.   

Beethoven loved spending time in nature.

The year 2020 has been Beethoven’s 250th anniversary year – and it has been one of the toughest years in living memory; a year that will go down in history. Many of the planned celebratory live concerts did not take place due to the Coronavirus pandemic. I think Beethoven would have shaken his fist and carried on composing anyway. And luckily for us, modern technology enables streaming.

The difficulty of this year is all the more reason to celebrate his life and his music, it will see us through this terrible time, and if his music demonstrates anything, it’s that struggles can be overcome. It’s as though Beethoven is saying I understand your heartache and strife, your pain and your pleasure. Listen up!

I’m going to share some of my favourite pieces and some older posts I wrote about the maestro. But before that I wanted to explore some of his lieder.

Pain and passion

I’ve always felt that Countess Josephine von Deym (nee Brunsvik) was Beethoven’s mysterious Immortal Beloved, and read some of the early delirious, passionate love letters Beethoven wrote to Josephine, published in Jan Swafford’s tome: Beethoven – Anguish and Triumph.

In 1805 Beethoven was basking in the glory of his heroic third symphony, which premiered in April that year.

His health challenges were ongoing and he was working on his only opera, about a courageous and honourable wife: Leonore. The work was later retitled Fidelio. And his personal life was consumed by his passion for the newly widowed mother-of-four, Josephine. His heart and his whole being must have been on fire! He clearly wanted Josephine to be his devoted wife – but their societal positions and personal circumstances (at least for Josephine), meant they could not be together.

Not only did he write her ecstatic love letters, but composed and dedicated the song An die Hoffnung (To Hope), as well as the Andante Favori, which was originally intended as the slow movement of the Waldstein Sonata.

“O, beloved J. It is no desire for the other sex that draws me to you, no, it is just you, your whole self with all your individual qualities – that has compelled my regard…

Long – long- of long duration – may our love become – for it is so noble – so firmly founded upon mutual regard and friendship…Oh, you, you make me hope your heart will long – beat for me – Mine can only – cease – to beat for you – when – it no longer beats.”

Beethoven

Josephine made a respectful and honest reply:

“You have long had my heart, dear Beethoven; if this assurance can give you joy, then receive it – from the purest heart. Take carte that is also entrusted into the purest bosom. You receive the greatest proof of my love (and) of my esteem through this confession, through this confidence! I herewith give you – of the… possession of the noblest of my Self…will you indicate to me if you are satisfied with it? Do not tear my heart apart – do not try to persuade me further. I love you inexpressibly, as one gentle soul does another. Are you not capable of this covenant? I am not receptive to other (forms of) love for the present.”

Josephine

It seems that Beethoven wasn’t at all satisfied – for the heart loves who it loves, and perhaps he did not fully understand Josephine’s situation: she had lost her husband, gone through a nervous breakdown, taken on his debts, was running his business and raising four children; in a society, and from a family that frowned upon marriages between the aristocracy and commoners.

Beethoven’s frustration and heart break must have been expressed in some form of anger, which no doubt exacerbated the situation. Josephine responded with desperation:

“Even before I knew you, your music made me enthusiastic for you – the goodness of your character, your affection increased it. This preference that you granted me, the pleasure of your acquaintance, would have been the finest jewel of my life if you could have loved me less sensually. That I cannot satisfy this sensual love makes you angry with me, (but) I would have had to violate solemn obligations if I gave heed to your longings.”

Josphine

Josephine left for Budapest before Napoleon’s assault on Vienna, but even though he was emotionally bereft and in poor health, Beethoven ploughed himself into his music. It is thought that another song he wrote around this time, Als die Geliebte sich trennen wollte (When the Beloved Wished to Part), summed up his anguish, with some poignant lines, such as: The last ray of hope is sinking, and Ah, lovely hope, return to me.

In the early summer of 1805 Carl Czerny was present at a Lobkowitz soiree, where provoked during the course of the evening, Beethoven humiliated Ignaz Pleyel – a piano maker, publisher and pianist – a contempory of Haydn. Beethoven listened to Pleyel’s new string quartets and then was dragged against his will to the piano by some ladies. Beethoven was a great improviser, (he had quite the reputation in his early career), but must surely have transferred his annoyance at having to play in public into giving Pleyel the ‘Daniel Stiebelt’ treatment, featured briefly in my debut novel, The Virtuoso.

I listened to Beethoven exclusively and constantly as I wrote it, being as he was the heroine’s hero (and one of mine!).

Czerny, a talented pianist and student of Beethoven, recorded how Beethoven grabbed a copy of Pleyel’s second violin part and based his improvisation on a few random notes. It must have made quite the impression on him: “Throughout the whole improvisation the quite insignificant notes…were present in the middle parts, like a connecting thread or a cantus firmus, while he built upon them the boldest melodies and harmonies in the most brilliant (concerto) style.”

Unlike Stiebelt, who, in humiliation had stormed off in outrage and never returned to Vienna, Czerny explains poor Pleyel’s gracious reaction to the maestro’s mocking genius: “Pleyel was so amazed that he kissed Beethoven’s hands. After such improvisations, Beethoven used to break out laughing in a loud and satisfied fashion.”

Beethoven himself wrote of the incident to his friend Count Nikolaus Zmeskall: “I wanted to entertain Pleyel in a musical way – But for the last week I have again been ailing…and in some ways I am becoming more and more peevish every day in Vienna.”

It seems that Beethoven’s ego only surfaced full throttle when his art was involved, for he never put a lot of concern into his appearance or living conditions, and was not in the least bit foppish.

Beethoven in later years by Josef Karl Stieler

In 1807 Beethoven met Marie Bigot, an accomplished pianist, married to Paul Bigot de Morogues, Count Razumosky’s librarian. Beethoven flirted with Marie, and got into hot water with her husband, but having been caught out he apologised profusely and they remained friends. Apparently Marie had been able to sight read his water stained Appassionata manuscript. She was technically brilliant and put her own stamp on the music she played.

She had wowed Haydn in 1805, and had a similar effect upon Beethoven after a performance of one of his sonatas: “That’s not exactly the character I wanted to give this piece, but go right ahead. If it isn’t entirely mine, it’s something better.”

It’s apparent that Beethoven respected artistic interpretation and was not affronted by an artist’s individuality, as a non conformist, it was quality he valued in himself.

Beethoven’s advice on being an artist.

Immortal Beloved

In the spring of 1816 Beethoven completed a song cycle known as An die ferne Geliebte (To the Distant Beloved), clearly stemming from his own considerable pain, having written in a letter to Ferdinand Ries, “I have found only one whom no doubt I shall never possess”, a memorial to the Immortal Beloved.

This little cycle of folk songs unifies the story as a whole, greater than the sum of its parts. Beethoven was familiar with folk songs from his childhood and his early teacher Christian Neefe. The song cycle is strophic, so each verse is sung to the same melody with slight variations here and there. The emotions of the song are expressed less flamboyantly than opera, but no less poignant.

The verses were written by the poet and playwright Alois Jeitteles, and were highly relevant to Beethoven at this time in his life. Perfect to set to music!

Beethoven250: Analysis of the composer’s letters proves that creativity does spring forth from misery

There has been speculation that Josephine’s youngest daughter, Minona von Stackelberg was in fact Beethoven’s illegitimate offspring. By the time she was born Josephine and her husband were estranged.

As I’m short of time I’ve included some previous posts:

A fascinating discussion about Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas between Daniel Barenboim and Giuseppe Mentuccia:

Plus his five minutes on the Moonlight Sonata:

A small selection of some of my favourites :

The Opus 30 was dedicated to Tsar Alexander I of Russia

The Symphony no. 9 ‘Ode to Joy’, the apotheosis of Beethoven’s output – composed when he was entirely deaf!

Happy listening!

I wish you all a very merry (socially distanced) Christmas and a happy, healthy New Year for 2021! Thank you for reading and sharing my ramblings over the year.

“Life would be flat without music. it is the background to all I do. It speaks to the heart in its own special way like nothing else.”

ludwig van beethoven

Birth of a Nation: How did Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness Come About?

“Still I hope I shall always possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain (what I consider the most enviable of all titles) the character of an honest man.”

George Washington to Alexander Hamilton on August 28, 1788

The world collectively held its breath as the election for the 46th President of the United States of America was held during November, and has subsequently been rumbling on over the entire month. For interminable days it seemed to hang on a knife edge, and now, thankfully, Joe Biden has unequivocably emerged as the victor. But the election has been embroiled in quite a circus…

During such times of upheaval and turmoil around the world it’s essential that we have a grown-up in the White House rather than a self-inflated, messianic enfant terrible.

Trump has thrown multiple tantrums about how unfair democracy is, and has behaved like a desperate despot wanting to cling to power at any cost. It’s damaging not just for America, (being the beacon of freedom and democracy that it is in the world), but also for global democracy, when the perceived leader of the free world acts like some third-world, tin-pot dictator by refusing (until recently), to collaborate with the incoming administration for the good of the nation.

What kind of example is that?

Trump’s antics over the last four years have brought the Office of President into disrepute. His legacy is a litany of lies and ‘fake news’ accusations, the desecration of values, the demolition of decency, the destruction of integrity, willful ignorance around environmental issues, mishandling of the pandemic and the spread of division, hate, racial tensions and the complete polarisation of a nation.

The man (and I hope someday woman), serves the office, not the reverse!

There is still a way to go before the vote is certified and thankfully the unnecessary and baseless legal challenges from the incumbent president have been thrown out. His apparent denial of the facts and manner of departure will further test America’s democracy.

“The Constitution was designed not to give us rights but to prevent government from taking our rights.”

Thom Hartmann, Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights

Biden strikes me as a man of competence, common-sense, caring and humility – a breath of fresh air to Trump’s insouciant attitude toward responsibility, and his unrepentant vanity and hubris.

America, and (like ripples travelling across a pond) to a lesser extent the world, is reeling from the onslaught of an egomaniac and chancer tyrant. The fact that more people have voted in the 2020 election, (close to 150 million people) than at any other time in its 244 year history as the United States of America speaks volumes.

Balance must be restored – now the scales can start tipping towards the safer mid-point. How much damage has been done remains to be seen, and Biden is right to suggest that the nation needs to heal.

The fact that sanity has prevailed is in no small measure due to the principles and values that the Founding Fathers employed in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. These documents are sacred and integral to the founding of the United States of America. They are the bedrock and cornerstone of America’s power and prosperity.

But the severance of the colonies from George III’s distant rule was far from smooth. After the dust had settled from the Revolutionary War, a handful of men courageously saw a vision of what their nation could become.

The founding of the United States has been an incredible experiment in the evolution of human civilisation.

With its isolated geopolitical borders the United States of America was free from outside interference once they had eliminated servitude to the British monarchy. Inspired by the sheer unlimited potential and opportunities for a better life, a wave of immigration seeded the nation with a diverse population – an ideal cultural petri dish for the growth of the New World.

By looking to the microcosm of America we can apply the knowledge, wisdom and learning of human civilisation and evolution to the macrocosm – the world at large.

The only pre-existing cultural personality in the newly formed United States of America was that of the native Indian populations, it was still early days for the first generations of settlers, but their spirit of adventure, innovation and discovery has certainly permeated down through the centuries.

Unlike the more established nations across Europe, (where citizens were limited by their highly stratified caste-like society and hierarchy of power, usually predicated by blood lineage), America was a blank canvas for her citizens, where, on paper at least, all men were created equal; endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, and among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.  

In the United States Declaration of Independence, for instance, it was stated with great clarity by the originators that the rights of man stem from the divinity of their creation, and thus was established the principle of spirituality. However they differentiated this from religion by saying that citizens are to be free from the establishment of any religion. The founders were aware that religion divides and is based on secular power, whereas, spirituality unites and has no worldly organization.”

Dr. David R Hawkins

Sadly, these lofty ideals have not always proved the lived experience for many with darker skins, those of the ‘fairer sex’ or other minority groups. There is plenty of unfinished business, hence still, even in the 21st century, the #BlackLivesMatter movement was deemed necessary to attain a fairer, more egalitarian society. But the values are at least enshrined in its founding, the Constitution and Bill of Rights, and therefore inextricable from the nation’s cultural and social evolution.  

The values and courage of the Founding Fathers

The Deistic Enlightenment philosophy that was sweeping through 1700s Europe, as espoused by its leading philosophers such as John Locke, Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (whose raptures of ‘free’ noble savages intrigued many), resonated with Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and Benjamin Franklin.

“These men (who signed the Declaration) were the most idealistic and determined among the colonists. While the conservatives of the day argued that America should remain a colony of England forever, these liberal radicals believed in both individual liberty and societal obligations.”

Thom Hartmann

Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, Hancock and the other 56 delegates who signed the Declaration of Independence did so knowing that they would pilloried, ostracised, suffer financial hardship, ruin and possibly death. This act was no tea party!

Declaration of Independence by John Trumbull c. 1819

When they wrote: ‘We mutually pledge to each other our lives, our Fortunes, our Sacred Honor’ they were legally marking themselves as traitors, knowing the penalty for treason was death. Patrick Henry’s passionate statement, “Give me liberty or give me death!” was not merely hyperbole. When Benjamin Franklin said to his fellow revolutionaries, “We must all hang together or we shall most assuredly hang separately,” he was speaking literally.

John Hancock was the wealthiest of the American revolutionaries, with a net worth of around $750,000 in today’s dollars. Another wealthy signatory, Thomas Nelson of Virginia, had his lands and home seized by the British and died penniless at the age of 50. Hartmann purports that 9 of the 56 signers lost their lives in the war and 17 lost their homes and fortunes.

Hartmann further explains: “While many of the conservative Tory families still have considerable wealth and power (in Canada and England), not a single founder’s family persists today as a wealthy or politically dominant entity.”

It was inevitable that cynical attacks would be made on their characters in the years since the founding of the nation. They were not perfect human beings; their personalities contained flaws and contradictions like the rest of us – however, their hearts were in the right place. It’s worth remembering that this enlightened band of brothers stood up to what was then the greatest power in the world – the British Empire.

Their Deist beliefs meant that the Declaration of Independence encapsulated Natural Law: the notion that ordinary humans could be equal sovereign citizens who endow government with authority, instead of the other way around.

The tenets of Natural Law

In 1661 English philosopher Thomas Hobbes published his work, Leviathan, which attempted to codify Natural Law into 9 principles:

  1. Seek peace first, use war as a last resort.
  2. Be willing to offer the same freedom to others as to oneself.
  3. Keep your agreements.
  4. Practice gratitude.
  5. Accommodate your own needs to the laws of the community.
  6. As appropriate, forgive those who repent.
  7. In the case of revenge, focus not on the great evil of the past but the greater good to follow.
  8. Never declare hatred of another.
  9. Acknowledge the equality of others.

John Locke sought to hold governments accountable to these principles. In his Two Treatises of Government which was initially published anonymously in 1689 he suggested that if a ruler went against these natural laws and failed to protect ‘life, liberty and property’ the populace could justifiably overthrow a government. It happened in France in 1789, and heads rolled as a consequence…

One could argue that Brexit has removed some of our rights and liberties.

Jefferson used Locke’s arguments when he crafted the Declaration of Independence. But the Enlightenment philosophers were not the only influence on the Founding Fathers. Locke and Rousseau got their ideas from the Native’s New World.

Quite a circle of serendipity…

The ideals of human perfection existed in Europe since the golden age of Greece, but the idea of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness never actualised from an abstract concept to reality in Socrates’ world of form.

The first reports of the ways and customs of the native peoples of the Americas showed the concepts of democracy and balance of power were well established in these cultures at least 400 years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Some say as early as 1100, but there are accounts from the 1400s to 1500s of  six tribes that lived in what is now the northeastern United States, Southern Ontario and Quebec, a people who came together to form what was known as the Iroquois Confederacy.

The Iroquois Confederacy

Hiawatha was instructed by an elder named Two-Rivers to negotiate peace between the warring tribes. He proposed a League of Peace and Power to bring the tribes together. The result of this historic gathering bore the League of Haudenosaunee, meaning ‘people of the long house’.

“Every human longs for peace and love.”

Hiawatha

The confederacy was comprised of the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca tribes, later accepting the Tuscaroras who migrated from the Carolinas. Through this confederacy, six diverse nations managed to live in relative peace and harmony through a remarkable political system that was the forerunner to the United States Constitution.

Seneca – Chief Red Jacket of the Iroquois League

There are many similarities between the Iroquois Confederacy and the Constitution: namely the devolvement of power in the federal system – just as tribes maintained autonomy in regard to local issues.

A mutual-defense pack provided a strong multi-tribe nation to protect against their enemies. It conserved lives, energy and resources that would otherwise have been spent in waging war with each other. The confederacy also employed a sophisticated system of checks and balances between three governmental branches.

The Iroquois Nation of colonial America believed in freedom of expression, provided that expression caused no harm.

Whereas Western civilisation was more guilt orientated, tribal culture was more shame-orientated – a strong identification within the community motivated individuals to avoid transgressions that might bring shame on them and their clan.

“Human happiness and moral duty are inseparably connected.”

George Washington

The influence of Native American culture was profound and far-reaching on the early colonists, particularly those who grew up in the New World rather than England. The colonists adopted indigenous customs such as bathing, not considered a healthy practice across much of Europe at the time.

In Iroquois tribal society authority flowed from the ground up, not from the top down.  

Thomas Jefferson was deeply influenced by Native American wisdom, as his father Peter was a cartographer. They would go off on excursions together and Peter and would have meetings at their home in Virginia with the Cherokee chief Ontassete which young Tom possibly witnessed.

Franklin, Adams and Jefferson writing the Declaration of Independence in 1776 by Jean-Leon Gerome

Why the Fourth of July?

The 4th July is an auspicious date indeed. It is known that on the 4th July 1776, the Continental Congress formally adopted the Declaration of Independence that had been largely drafted by Thomas Jefferson.

However, some 32 years prior on the 4th July 1744, an important meeting took place that was also fundamental to the founding of the United States of America. A charismatic chief from the Iroquois Nation, Canassatego, met with the the English colonists to forge an alliance between the colonists and the Iroquois against the French.

He spoke of unity:

“Our wise forefathers established union and amity between the Five Nations. This has made us formidable. This has given us great weight and authority with our neighboring nations. We are a powerful confederacy and, by your observing the same methods our wise forefathers have taken, you will acquire much strength and power; therefore, whatever befalls you, don’t fall out with one another.”    

Benjamin Franklin, present at the meeting relayed a powerful example that Canassatego demonstrated to the colonists, describing how the chief held up an arrow and easily snapped it in two. He then lashed together twelve arrows, (one for every one of 12 colonies represented at the meeting), and even the strongest man in the room could not break them.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the Great Seal of the United States, designed in 1782 by Charles Thomson, depicts an eagle clutching thirteen arrows in his claws.

Obverse Great Seal

And it has a certain poetic justice that the President is referred to as the Commander-in-Chief!

In 1751 Franklin began his campaign for a federal union, writing: “It would be a very strange thing if six nations of ignorant savages should be capable of forming a scheme for such a union and be able to execute it in such a manner as that it has subsisted ages, and yet a like union should be impractical for ten or a dozen English colonies.” Aside from his jibe at ‘ignorant savages’, Franklin expressed admiration for Iroquois political practise. And thus, a new republic was created based on Native tribal wisdom.   

It’s disappointing but not altogether surprising, that information explaining the role of Native American culture on the founding of the United States was repressed until the seventies.

Soundtrack to the film 1492 – Conquest of paradise by Vangelis

How about this for a tragic and sobering statistic:

When Christopher Colombus discovered the New World in 1492 it was estimated there were around 6 million Native Americans living across the continent. Some argue there were many more, upwards of 20 million. But the white settlers brought with them a host of big city ‘plagues’ that were new to them, such as smallpox, measles and syphilis. The native population had no immunity to these diseases. In addition to the ravages of disease, other factors compounded their fate; warfare, forced migration, outright slaughter and a massive white land grab. By 1900 the Native American population had been reduced to around 250,000 souls.  

“You can’t justify the whole conquest and subjugation and destruction of Indian populations if there are things of value in the people you are destroying.”

Donald Grinde

The forgotten Founding Mothers

Although Franklin and the Founding Fathers acknowledged the contributions of the Iroquois Nation, they left out the specific role of tribal women in America’s Constitution. Maybe this was a step too far, and would not have been accepted at the time. Too often women’s role in history is brushed under the carpet or concealed. We should not overlook the importance and influence of the Council of Grandmothers.  

In Iroquois culture the Earth, plants and land were perceived as feminine in character – older women were responsible for the basics of life – growing and preparing food, birthing and nurturing children and the domestic work of the community.

This work was of value and the men recognised and appreciated the women’s fundamental power. A far cry from the underrated role of modern mothers. It was in everyone’s interest for the clan to be successful.

The clan was usually headed up by an older woman. Property and land was collectively owned by the clans and enough food grown to feed all of their members. It was a broadly egalitarian society and the Iroquois men understood the need for men and women to achieve unity and work together in balance and harmony.

True political power was in the hands of the grandmothers, who possessed the authority to select a chief and also to impeach him for wrongdoing or incompetence. The original impeachers!

The women even made the final decision about whether or not to go to war. When women were past childbearing age they became clan mothers and would often accompany war parties. They could be just as ruthless as men with enemy tribes outside the confederacy, especially when it involved the abduction of clan children. Maternal instincts can be as brutal as they are nurturing when required!

It seems that the clan mothers may have inspired the early 19th American feminists, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton who had contact with and learnt from Iroquois women.

Mother Earth and Father Sky came out of balance as patriarchy retained all the power in Western civilisation. The disconnection from the sacred feminine enabled the plundering of Earth’s resources, and put us out of touch with the natural world.

As usual, Marina’s lyrics are spot on:

“The world has never yet seen a truly virtuous nation, because in the degradation of women, the very fountains of life are poisoned at the source.”

Elizabeth Cady Stanton

The pursuit of happiness (as defined by the Iroquois Confederacy), was held in balance as long as citizens did not cause harm to others. One could argue that the pursuit of happiness has taken on a darker, materialistic slant in so much as corporate greed is running rampant with no regard for the consequence to human life and the planet. But that’s a subject for a new post!

In the meantime, even with all the turbulence and turmoil around us, as much as you can – be happy!

Life is a Creative Process: Provenance and Value in Art

“…Is there ever such a thing as a whole story, or an artist’s triumph, a right way to look through the glass? It all depends on where the light falls.”

Jessie Burton, The Muse

I love it when I come across a book I’d forgotten about. I purchased The Muse by Jessie Burton a few years ago, and as is my tendency, addiction even, to hoard books and novels, I added it to my ‘to read and ongoing’ piles around the house. Somehow it got buried.

As I’ve been decluttering and reorganising I came across it, just at the moment I decided I needed a break from research and non-fiction.

Jessie Burton is now my muse! It’s a fantastic novel, it stimulated my creativity and motivation in many ways, which is auspicious with #NaNoWriMo (national novel writing month) coming up in November, where writers aim to get 50,000 words onto paper or screen.

I ended up studying it anyway, a masterclass in historical, literary fiction, I couldn’t put it down.

The lives of two young women, thirty years apart and from different cultures are juxtaposed and intertwined in a riveting way, all connected to a work of art: Rufina and the Lion.

Maybe I loved it so much because the main protagonist is a writer, and the pivotal character a painter.

Odelle Bastien, a young woman from Trinidad, struggles to find fulfilling work in 1960s London. The story begins with her getting a new job at a respected London art gallery, The Skelton Institute.

Odelle writes in her spare time and works for the enigmatic Marjorie Quick, bearing witness to her descent into a destructive, downward spiral when Lawrie Scott, (Odelle’s boyfriend), brings a mysterious painting to the gallery for valuation; the only thing left to him by his late mother after her un-timely death. Odelle is determined to get to the bottom of Quick’s secrets.

In a parallel story the novel then jumps back to the past, and the life of the Schloss family who have just moved from London to Andalusia in January 1936. They are renting a large finca in Arazuelo, a village near Malaga.

This image captures how I imagined the Schloss’s rented finca to look.

The father, Harold Schloss, a renowned Jewish Viennese art dealer with a gallery in Paris, becomes obsessed by what he thinks is a work of art by a promising local Spanish artist, Isaac Robles. His wife Sarah is a spoilt and unstable English condiment heiress, and their daughter, Olive, a painter, is coming to terms with her formidable artistic ability.

To her surprise, Olive finds the rural Spanish setting and the presence of their close neighbours, Isaac and Teresa Robles inspires her to express her authentic self. Olive has a letter from the Slade art school in her possession, but she has not shown it to her father, fearing his lack of approval, but also she does not wish to leave Spain and her lover, who also happens to be her muse…

Olive paints in secret, only Teresa is party to her acts of creation. Teresa burns with indignation for her friend’s anonymity – that her talent goes unacknowledged and unappreciated. Her subversive actions on Olive’s behalf are the crucible of how events unfold, of the inevitable apocryphal attributions.  

Olive has a hard time persuading her reluctant muse to take the credit for her art.

“‘Why do you and your sister think I’m so stupid? Do you know how many artists my father sells? Twenty-six, last time I counted. Do you know how many of them of them are women, Isaac? None. Not one. Women can’t do it, you see. They haven’t got the vision, although last time I checked they had eyes, and hands, and hearts and souls. I’d have lost before I’d even had a chance.

‘But you made that painting-’

‘So what? My father would never have got on a plane to Paris with a painting he thought was mine…’”

Jessie Burton, The Muse

Harold Schloss entices Peggy Guggenheim in Venice (a real person and collector) to view the works that he believes are by Isaac Robles.

As Isaac and his younger sister Teresa become deeply involved in the complex dynamics of the Schloss family, they are all ultimately drawn into the Spanish civil war with devastating consequences.

Apart from being a brilliant and beautifully written story, The Muse subtly revealed and revelled in the themes of identity, provenance, the restitution of valuable paintings suspected of being stolen by the Nazis, the circumstances surrounding the creation of art and the cult of the artist.

Saints Justa and Rufina by Murillo

Very often an artist’s appeal and allure increases after their death, although some are fortunate to become legends in their own lifetime. Death certainly creates and intensifies icons…

I’d like to think I’d hang a piece of art mainly because I loved to look at it, not because of who painted it, but very often the two are not mutually exclusive. Rarity adds value, as does sentimental attachment.

The Muse makes you think about what art’s intrinsic value is: the actual work of art itself, which once completed stands independent from the artist, or whether that value should be tied to the person who made it; their story and the ‘journey’ of the work post creation.   

The idea of provenance isn’t unique to the art world, but is also applied in literature, music composition and the purchase of instruments. I readily admit that given the choice, I would love to own a violin made by Stradivarius or Guarneri rather than one produced by an unknown luthier. Their quality has been proven over the centuries.

Maybe time is a factor in how we appreciate art. Trends and tastes change, but geniuses never go out of fashion.

Can we really separate a purely aesthetic desire from financial value?

Any creative endeavour, whether we like it or not, is bound by some degree to the person who originated it.

“I’m doing the absolute opposite of giving myself away. As far as I’m concerned, I’ll be completely visible. If the painting sells, I’ll be in Paris, hanging on a wall. If anything, I’m being selfish. It’s perfect; all the freedom of creation, with none of the fuss.”

Jessie Burton, The muse

Romantic notions tend to creep in when purchasing art and sculpture. We are naturally attracted to the story behind a work of art, it heightens our understanding of it, gives us context to value and appreciate it. Is it right that there may come a point when the provenance or story behind a work is perceived as more important and valuable than the work itself?

Provenance is solely a human benchmark.

I think Banksy was very astute to keep his identity a secret. It’s his trademark signature next to street art that has popped up on a wall or tube train overnight that almost seems to excite people as much as his original pictures…

And what about the artist? What value do they imbibe from their creative efforts?

View of the Grand Gallery of the Louvre by Hubert Robert, c.1796

Certainly they deserve financial remuneration, admiration and respect. Some of these external blessings never flow to an artist. So in many cases the inner joy of creating is paramount. Nothing is certain.

It’s hard to believe that Vincent van Gogh only sold a handful of art works in his life, but now his colourful and distinctive oeuvre is one of the most sought after and popular in the world. How much value did he place in his own ability versus other people’s opinions? Vincent struggled with his mental health, but he was compelled to paint regardless.

Real life scenarios in the art world where a lost masterpiece has been found, and subsequently authenticated, demonstrate how excitement builds and a bidding frenzy usually ensues…

Some amazing stories about lost and recovered masterpieces. And who wishes they had a Renaissance masterpiece hanging on the wall?

For various reasons authors sometimes choose to write under a pseudonym. J.K. Rowling penned the Cormoran Strike crime novels as Robert Galbraith, with modest sales. But once her true identity became public knowledge sales took a startling upward trajectory.

Like writing, art is highly subjective, and we each look at a work of art through our own prism or perceptive lens. Picasso is a big deal, but I don’t personally gravitate to his work. But I love the likes of Monet, Pissarro, van Gogh, Klimt, Alma-Tadema, Waterhouse, and well, I could go on.

In The Muse, Odelle becomes choked up about not being good enough. And who hasn’t experienced Imposter Syndrome to some extent at least once in their life?

Jessie Burton summed up these feelings that can capture and anchor a creative soul on the seabed of writer’s block.

“She had told me that the approval of other people should never be my goal.”

“You’re not walking around with a golden halo beaming out of you depending on the power of your paragraph. You don’t come into it, once someone else is reading. It stands apart from you. Don’t let your ability drag you down, don’t hang it round your neck like an albatross.”

“Like most artists, everything I produced was connected to who I was – and so I suffered according to how my work was received. The idea that anyone might be able to detach their personal value from their public output was revolutionary. I didn’t know if it was possible, even desirable. Surely it would affect the quality of the work? Still, I knew I’d gone too far in the opposite direction, and something had to change. Ever since I could pick up a pen, other people’s pleasure was how I’d garnered attention and defined success. When I began receiving public acknowledgement for a private act, something was essentially lost. My writing became the axis upon which all my identity and happiness hinged. It was not outward-looking, a self-conscious performance. I was asked to repeat the pleasure for people, again and again, until the facsimile of my act became the act itself.”

“…I’d been writing so long for the particular purpose of being approved that I’d forgotten the genesis of my impulse; unbothered, pure creation, existing outside the parameters of success and failure. And somewhere along the line, this being ‘good’ had come to paralyse my belief that I could write at all.”

Jessie Burton, The Muse

My takeaways are that we have to get out of our own way, have faith in our abilities, try to learn from the creative process and above all, enjoy it.

If every artist, writer or musician had decided to quit their projects out of fear of rejection or lack of recognition there would be no culture for us to enjoy, no legacy of human creative expression, no muses to inspire future generations.

“Although any collective answer to my question remains to be seen, personally I feel quite certain of it. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s this: in the end, a piece of art only succeeds when its creator – to paraphrase Olive Schloss – possesses the belief that brings it into being. Odelle”

Jessie burton, the muse

Now is a Great Time to Hear ‘Words that changed the world’

“Language is the dress of thought.” ~ Samuel Johnson

I love language.  I love the way anyone can employ almost infinite combinations of words and phrases to express themselves. There is a skill in the way words are arranged; their symmetry, their poetry, their layering, their meaning.

Language is sometimes woefully inadequate to express the human condition, (hence the saying, lost for words), but it’s the best, most accurate method we have to communicate with.

I’m not including music, which is in a realm of its own to stimulate imagination and emotions, a shared universal language that transcends language barriers. Music is more ephemeral, subjective and enjoyable, but it cannot give specific instructions, it can only elicit certain moods. It is a gateway to feelings, inspiration and words.

“Music is the one incorporeal entrance into the higher world of knowledge which comprehends mankind but which mankind cannot comprehend.” ~ Ludwig van Beethoven

Having said that, I’ve always been drawn to speeches; sometimes making them, but mostly listening to or reading them. I even included a speech (in dramatic context of course), in my novel.

As a formal way of putting across ideas either to small groups of people or to large numbers of the population, speeches can be used effectively by charismatic politicians (not necessarily of good character), in nuggets of beguiling rhetoric to garner votes.

At their most effective speeches record history, provide inspiration, communicate important ideas and concepts, and of course, tell stories that need to be told.

Emmeline Pankhurst delivering a speech

Delivering an impactful speech in the modern era is probably harder than in centuries before. People stream their entertainment and news from many different sources and have limited time and probably shorter attention spans. Most of us lead busy lives and have to filter a multitude of outlets vying for our attention.

The TED Talks are a wonderful way for thought leaders to reach people who are looking for ideas, knowledge and inspiration. Being in a position of power gives certain individuals a platform, but once it has been consistently abused those words will eventually fall on deaf or resentful ears.

In the recent chaos of house renovations, back to school and starting secondary school preparations, plus the upheaval of my 18 year old son’s move to Germany, I have been burning the candle at both ends.

One night I was feeling particularly exhausted and burnt out, and experiencing unexpected empty nest syndrome. My eldest son has already been in New Zealand for over a year, I thought I might handle it better. Despite being fortunate enough to have my two wonderful daughters at home, I still feel Will’s absence immensely.

On this night when I was at a low ebb, I started watching a 2018 episode of Intelligence Squared on YouTube, and soon became totally engrossed. The speeches, made at pivotal moments in history, still seem so relevant to what is happening around the world right now; as humanity faces a global pandemic, the insidious dismantling of democracy by right-wing populist governments and the environmental behemoth of climate change.

I think that’s enough to be getting on with!

“Speeches are great when they reflect great decisions.” ~ Ted Sorensen (speechwriter to JFK)

Words That Changed the World is expertly hosted by journalist and political broadcaster Emily Maitlis, who is flanked by two respected, experienced speechwriters, journalists and political advisers: Philip Collins and Cody Keenan – discussing the historical context and fascinating insight on their chosen speeches. This is not to be missed. The acting talent who give life to the oratory is equally brilliant.

The chosen speeches in the order they are presented and discussed:

  • The Gettysburg Address by Abraham Lincoln (1863)
  • 50th Anniversary of Selma Speech by Barack Obama (2015)
  • Their Finest Hour – Winston Churchill (1940)
  • Elizabeth I – Tilbury speech addressing the troops (1588)
  • Emmeline Pankhurst – ‘The laws that men have made’ (1908)
  • William Shakespeare – From Henry V Saint Crispin’s Day speech (1599)
  • Colonel Tim Collins – on eve of the Battle of Iraq (2003)
  • JFK’s Why go to the moon? speech (1962)
  • MLK’s I have a dream (1963)
  • The Perils of Indifference by Elie Wiesel (1999)

It felt good to remind myself of the strength of the human spirit listening to ‘words that changed the world’.

These speeches contain both substance and style – they resonate and connect with people on an emotional level – proof on me in the form of hair-raising goose bumps! That’s what we need now, leadership as a force for shared empowerment and good.

JFK’s full ‘why go to the moon?’ speech at Rice University on 12th September 1962 :

As Philip Collins so eloquently explains, rhetoric originates with the Greeks, and cites how Pericles in 431 BC gave his eulogy to the war dead before going on to praise democracy – a move mirrored by Abraham Lincoln in his immortal Gettysburg Address.

Cicero believed that rhetoric and democracy could not be separated. Collins highlights: “It’s only in a democracy that words really matter, because it’s only in a democracy where you’re trying to persuade. The act of persuasion is the act of politics…”.

An audience is always at risk of being hoodwinked by empty rhetoric. If only we could peer into the speaker’s heart and see their inner core, their truth.  A truly great speech doesn’t pass from lip to ear – but from heart to heart.

Even one of our most revered statesmen, Winston Churchill, who wrote some of the most enduring, best loved speeches in our history didn’t always get it right. Collins shares that early in his career, Churchill had a tendency to lavish verbosity and grandeur where it simply wasn’t warranted.  Churchill certainly embodied the phrase, cometh the hour, cometh the man.

Words that changed the world:

There is a danger that politicians will woo audiences with rhetoric that speaks to fear and prejudice, that appeals to our base motives, disguised as serving the national interest, but in reality does anything but.

The power of words, as is mentioned in this superb video, can work both ways. Freedom of speech is a razor sharp double edged sword.

“Speech is power: Speech is to persuade, to convert, to compel.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sadly, the broad, sunlit uplands that Churchill espoused in Their Finest Hour speech are currently shrouded beneath bloated grey clouds. Shadows and harbingers of our own collective making. We need to shine a light, a ray of hope, before we are enveloped in total darkness.  Our finest hour seems a long way in the past, as we hurtle full steam ahead into what looks like will be our most desperate post war hour, come Brexit.

Who in their right mind would vote for such a horror? Only if it is portrayed as a benefit and a blessing, as was emblazoned across a certain red bus. But there comes a time when people perceive seductive slogans and disingenuous rhetoric for what they are: harmful and dangerous. Perverted ideological fantasies are being increasingly laid bare; exposed in the light of truth and reality.

The power of hindsight enables us to see through tempting rhetoric to the destructive political attributes beneath the surface: criminal incompetence, bare-faced corruption, jingoism, greed, cronyism, nepotism, hubris, deceit, censorship and breath-taking hypocrisy.

There should be no doubt that Brexit will be a nightmare for our nation, for the majority of its citizens. Just as Hitler’s rise to power proved devastating for Europe and indeed the wider world. His passionate oratory belied his inner psychopath, but perhaps the signs were already there for those who looked closely.

I fear that we are headed towards tyranny – the worst kind of tyranny because it was freely selected by a majority under the influence of rhetoric, aided by media complicity. We all need to pay attention to what is happening in the halls of power.  British sovereignty is not being reclaimed, it’s being overtly purloined by a group of elected gangsters! The ugly content of their characters is on show for all to see.

Cody Keenan rightly says that speeches hold up a mirror to society.

“All the most powerful speeches ever made point to a better future.” ~ Patrick Dixon

Decency and honesty is such an important part of public life, alongside vulnerability. Being a servant-leader is a fundamental quality and should be a prerequisite for politicians.

When you look back at the best loved, most iconic leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Barack Obama, Emily Pankhurst and other luminaries who changed the world through their deeds and words; they had that skill to act selflessly and lift people up,  not just to say, but to do the right thing.

Listening to these speeches gave me a glimmer of hope that sparkled like a luminous beacon in a deep, dark well of despair that has recently opened up within me. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this dread and anger over the egregious actions of the current government…

Some short and shrewd Twitter speeches:

It occurs to me that the most memorable speeches in the world highlighted injustice, created harmony, hope and connection, whereas, in the long run at least, the ones that are forgotten or rarely shared conversely sowed hatred and division.

It would also be remiss of me not to include these fantastic snippets of Nelson Mandela:

I also felt it was worth sharing this deeply felt, perfectly executed and excoriating ‘misogyny’ speech by Julia Gillard, voted the most unforgettable Australian TV moment by Guardian readers:

The speeches in this post have reminded me that democracy and freedom should never be taken for granted. Through the ages they’ve been fought and sacrificed for. Let’s not let complacency, ignorance and indifference rob us now.

“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” ~ Elie Wiesel

A Pragmatic and Powerful Parable to Guide Your Life…

“These pains you feel are messengers. Listen to them.” ~ Rumi

I had several subjects lined up for this blog post, but changed my mind at the last minute. I had an accident on Friday and have badly injured my tailbone. Ouch!

Having given birth to four children, I can honestly say the pain of that fall came close! I can’t sit for long periods of time at the moment and have spent the last few days mostly lying on my side feeling sorry for myself, interspersed with copious icing sessions with frozen peas and popping pain killers.

I spent most of April recovering from Covid-19, and the next two months dealing with an inner ear infection and vertigo. It certainly gives you some strange and disconcerting sensations. Various renovations to the house and garden are ongoing, and before I knew it I was pushing myself to the limit again. I should have listened to my body…

There’s nothing like physical pain to facilitate the transition from a human doing to a human being. 

The really intense pain is less pervasive now, but I will be on a go slow for weeks. I can only write for short bursts using a special cushion to help alleviate the coccydynia.  When we don’t heed messages from the universe they become more and more obvious until they can no longer be ignored! Now I have been forced to scale back and rest more.

The kids were moping as it looks like a four hour drive to Cornwall for our holiday might not be the best idea next weekend. I may have to grin and bear it, as it will be my last family holiday with my younger son for a while; he is planning to live and work in Berlin for a year, commencing mid August. In fact, I think he timed his departure with A-Level results day!

I was at a low ebb when I read this Persian parable. With many ongoing challenges in 2020, on a personal level as well as nationally and globally, it feels like a timely message to share.

The Persian Parable

Once upon a time there was a king who told the wise men of the court: “I’m making a beautiful ring. I have acquired one of the best possible diamonds. I want to keep hidden inside the ring some message that can help me in moments of total despair, and help my heirs, and the heirs of my heirs, forever. It has to be a small message, so that it can fit under the diamond on the ring.”

All who listened were wise, great scholars; they could have written great treaties, but providing the king with a message of no more than two or three words that could help him in moments of total despair…

They thought, searched through their books, but couldn’t find anything.

The king had an elderly servant who had also been a servant of his father. The king’s mother died young and this servant took care of him, so he treated him as if he belonged to the family.

Learned Advice by Ludwig Deutsch

The king felt an immense respect for the old man, so he also consulted him. And the servant said: “I am not a wise man, nor a scholar, nor an academic, but I know the message. During my long life in the palace, I met all kinds of people, and once I met a mystic. He was your father’s guest and I was at his service.

“When he left, as a gesture of gratitude, he gave me this message.” The old man wrote it on a tiny piece of paper, folded it and gave it to the king. “But do not read it,” he said. “Keep it hidden in the ring. Open it only when everything else has failed, when you can’t find a way out of a situation.”

That moment didn’t take long to arrive. The country was invaded and the king lost the kingdom. He was fleeing on his horse to save his life and his enemies were chasing him. He was alone and his pursuers were numerous. He arrived at a place where the road ended where there was no exit: in front there was a precipice and a deep valley; to fall would be the end for him. And he couldn’t go back because the enemy was blocking his way. He could hear the horses approaching. He couldn’t move forwards and there was no other way out…

Suddenly, he remembered the ring. He opened it, took out the paper and there he found a tremendously valuable little message. It simply said: “This too shall pass”.

As he read “This too shall pass”, he felt a great silence descend. The enemies that were pursuing him must have got lost in the forest, or they must have gone the wrong way. All the king knew was that little by little he stopped hearing the sound of the horses’ hooves.

The king felt profoundly grateful to the servant and the unknown mystic. Those words had proved miraculous. He folded the paper, put it back in the ring, gathered his armies and reconquered the kingdom.

And the day he entered the capital again, in victory, there was a great celebration with music and dancing… and he was very proud of himself.

A Procession by Ludwig Deutsch

The old man was by his side in the coach, and he said: “This moment is also appropriate: look at the message again.”

“What do you mean?” the king asked. “Now I’m victorious, the people celebrate my return. I’m not desperate, I’m not in a no-way-out situation.”

“Listen,” said the old man, “this message isn’t only for desperate situations; it’s also for pleasant situations. It’s not only for when you are defeated; it’s also for when you feel victorious. It’s not only for when you are the last; it’s also for when you are the first.”

The king opened the ring and read the message: “This too shall pass”.

And again, he felt the same peace, the same silence, in the midst of the crowd that celebrated and danced. However, the pride, the ego, had disappeared. The king could finally understand the full meaning of the message. He had become enlightened.

Then the old man said to him: “Remember that everything passes. No thing or emotion is permanent. Like day and night, there are moments of joy and moments of sadness. Accept them as part of the duality of nature, because they are the very nature of things.”

This ancient parable, thought to originate with the Sufi poets, is probably the most important fable one could ever read and employ in life. Somehow it helps to dissolve worries and woes, and keeps you grounded; offering the succour of equanimity and acceptance in all situations.

When I look back on my life so far, and how awful some segments of it were, I remember feeling that those tough periods would never end when I was in them, but now, with hindsight I realise I grew stronger as a result of the struggle and pain, and they didn’t last forever.

This too shall pass reminds us of the ephemeral quality of emotions and the human condition, the transient nature of life.

The parable brought to mind the vibrant and totally captivating paintings of the Orientalist artists for me.

The Najd Collection would have been a wonderful exhibition to see:

I can’t help thinking there is so much in the world that needs to pass already, but events unfold at their own pace and this erudite parable confers wisdom and peace for all who are in the thick of it.

If we can make the most of each moment, whatever that brings, we may find we can take stock one day and fully appreciate a life well lived, shaped by profound experiences.

“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” ~ Rumi

Audiobook Version of The Virtuoso is Released on Audible!

“Someone needs to buy a radio station, then play nothing but audio books, with a different genre of book played at set times. That way we can always have something new to read, no matter where we are.” ~ Shana Chartier

I’ve been wanting to produce an audiobook version of The Virtuoso for about 18 months. Looking at the next step for my debut novel it seemed logical; audiobooks are a fast growing market in publishing (both in the UK and USA), a new way of reaching readers (or should I say listeners), that an author may not have access to via traditional print or ebook.

Image by Siddharth Bhogra on Unsplash

I diligently researched narrators on ACX, a time consuming process which quickly became overwhelming. The choice was phenomenal and my shortlist had a hundred names on it. I was determined to find a narrator, but I didn’t have a clue how to choose with such a dazzling array of talent on offer. I began to feel slightly dispirited.

Then, out of the blue, at a local networking event I met Cheryl Tissot, and whilst she wasn’t in a position to narrate my fiction novel she introduced me to a colleague of hers, talented voice artist Rachael Beresford.

I’m so glad I went to that meeting…

Long story short, Rachael was happy to narrate my book, which was a big relief. The moment I heard her voice I knew she would be perfect for The Virtuoso.

A few months passed before I was ready to proceed, and Rachael began working with the leading independent audiobook producer in the UK, White House Sound. My production date was booked in and I saved assiduously to pay for a professional production.

Image by Findaway Voices on unsplash

Chris Perks managed my project; he was patient with my inexperience and explained everything clearly – a total delight to work with.

The sound files came through during lockdown, lifting my spirits no end. After the uploading process I waited for approval from ACX, and last week my title went live.

I loved the way Rachael breathed life into Isabelle Bryant and the entire cast of characters, she did a brilliant job.

As an audiobook narrator, Rachael has recorded bestselling books, including titles nominated for the International Man Booker Prize and Waterstones Children’s Book of the Year 2017.

Apparently, audiobooks are more captivating than movies! Some interesting nuggets in 5 Things you didn’t know about audiobooksAuthor Mark Haddon on the magic of audiobooks.

I’m now on a mission to garner some audiobook reviews. As such, to celebrate the launch I am giving away five free audio review copies of The Virtuoso on Audible:

Redeem the one-time use codes below here 

  • 3U5Z4MJFJXFNU
  • 44HJYMBRLRFLC
  • 5M5B4R6BB2828
  • 64B7D3QR69XZJ
  • 8RGN5WPPD7J3C

Happy listening!

“Here is a nice fact books and ebooks take a lot of time to be read, but audiobooks just for one day or 2 you finish them… this is a great fact!”
~ Deyth Banger