When gurus get it horribly wrong

This story may have been in the news where you are and two separate people forwarded it to me. It is a dramatic and intense example of how easy it is to fall under the spell of a guru and how easy it is for people with charisma to make horrendous mistakes and abuse their power. If you know anything about sweat lodges, a certain amount of discomfort is normal but no sane leader would push particpants beyond this. A tragedy all the same; and people paid $9,000 dollars for it.

http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/U/US_SWEAT_LODGE_DEATHS?SITE=FLTAM&SECTION=US

To do or Ta Dah?

I’m talking about lists here.

For those like me, the eternally disorganised, the to do list is a scary thing. I’ve embraced it many times, making such beautiful and well organised lists you would weep at their inate loveliness, and then failed to do more than half on the list. I made lists of the disjecta membra of old lists; I still do.

The thing with the oncoming winter for me is the lack of structure. If you have a day in which to do not very much, you often find at the end of the day, that’s exactly what you’ve done: not very much. I also find the more demoralised I get by the lack of light, the less easy it is to whip through tasks that ought to take half an hour. Things get put off, or just forgotten.

Workwise, I haven’t got a lot on now. I’m tutoring a single student for a couple of hours once a week(need to go soon) in subjects that are not my specialty. This means I am having to face certain academic demons again, like maths and physics, to be able to teach them effectively. You should have seen my brain oozing out of my ears on Sunday trying to master quadratic equations. In motivation terms, it means I need to plan out a programme of learning. Couldn’t quite manage that today, sorry. I know what we’re doing tonight and that’s it so far. Other work, well, I’m off to Germany for a few days at the end of next month, so my task is to be able to speak sufficiently fluent basic German by then. The process is made possible by the fact that I did once speak some German and by some rather nifty cds I have now uploaded onto my mp3 player. It means I need to spend a minimum of 15 minutes a day on that, or better, half an hour. This is doable.

Now comes the clever bit: the ta dah! list. The ta dah! (said with an internal flourish of triumphant trumpets) is a list of what you HAVE already achieved. My advice is never make a to do list till you’ve made the ta dah list, and for  very good reasons. First is practical. If you make a list of what you have already done, you have a better awareness of what still needs doing. Second reason is psychological. If you tell yourself FIRST about your achievements, your subconscious reacts much better; it then tends not to get its knickers in a knot over what you haven’t done. Positive reinforcement.

So my ta dah! for today includes: half an hour of German(the mp3 player ran out of juice) , dog walked to the point of exhaustion(for both of us) dinner bought, new conference file bought for next trip, masses of information about my cities of destination printed out and then highlighted for ease of use, uploaded my German cds onto mp3 player, yesterday’s and today’s dishes washed.

That’s not including the things that some days there is a lot of point in including: such as getting out of bed, having a shower, making breakfast and so on.

The fact that I’ve done very little or no chores round the house is now not relevant. Housework is like painting the Forth Bridge; endless and depressing.

I’m trying to learn to be kinder to myself by not forgetting my own achivements. So, next time you start to write a to do list, how about a ta dah? list first?

How much does a Greek urn/earn?

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OK, I confess. I did actually take this picture with the title words resounding on my lips at the time. I grew up with Eric and Ernie and their humour.

In all honesty, I can’t remember much about this urn, beyond that it’s over two thousand years old and is Greek. I do remember that I was blown away by the sheer size. Others like this one were used as coffins, but I am not sure if this one was; I struggle to imagine the funeral procession lugging along something that looks like it’s intended for the wake afterwards!

Anyway, it was really rather magnificent.

Truly ancient history

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The photo above is of a district of the town where I live. Originally Pakefield was a village a short distance out of Lowestoft but for many years it’s been a sort of suburb and a part of the town itself.

It’s also the location of the oldest human made artefacts ever found in Europe. The cliffs you can see at the end had a minor collapse a few years ago and what turned up caused a major but very secret archaeological investigation. I have no real idea exactly where the cliff fall happened.

They found stone tools and worked animals bones dating not from 7,000 years ago, not 17,000 years ago, and not even 70,000 years ago, but from 700,000 years ago. This blows my mind. The humans who made the hand axes and so on were not our current species of human at all but either Homo Habilis(handy man!) or Homo Heidelbergensis, who co-existed at this time. It’s more likely to be Homo Heidelbergensis due to the fact that their remains have been found much further north, but as no human bones were found that could precisely pin down which species had been here, we’ll never know for sure.

When I walk along here, I can’t help dreaming about those early peoples, scavenging along the shore here(except it wasn’t shore then at all) and I can’t also stop myself hoping to find some sort of relic myself.

As I have said before, I do rather live in hope.

No masks

I’ve been thinking about the masks we wear and particularly the artifical masks us ladies wear. OK, not all of us do but I tend not to feel right for the world if I don’t put on mascara in the morning. It comes down to having eyelashes that are almost white and feeling like I look like some sort of albino bunny rabbit if I don’t. But usually, mascara is about the only thing I wouldn’t give up using. The rest is a form of a mask.

I hate to see young girls of 13 or 14 with full foundation, blusher, shader and the rest, layered on with a trowel. I know some do it to hide acne, and that’s OK. It’s the ones who could never leave home without it, let a boyfriend see them bare faced that I feel sorry for.

I also hate to see women of any age wearing make up that might have suited them a few(or indeed many) years ago but doesn’t now. Especially women of a certain age, prone to hot flushes and sweating, should never wear shiny, sparkly make up during the day: it just looks like a sheen of sweat or grease. I do wonder if they look in the mirror and see the women they used to be and not what they are now. We change; our skin tones change, both as the year does, and as we age. Subtle changes sometimes that means you put on a colour that used to look good and suddenly doesn’t. If you have time, you find something else, but many don’t. I have a colleague who puts on lipstick without a mirror using the same technique as applying a stick of lip balm. Needless to say, the effect isn’t what she thinks it is.

I do wonder why women wear make up at all. To look better, to feel more confident? During WWII, lipstick and powder were rationed, but then taken off rationing because it was felt that being able to get some meant a morale boost. What woman hasn’t at some stage bought a new lipstick to cheer herself up?

But today, nothing. I chose to be barefaced all day.

No masks.

What about you?

Patience and understanding, I gots ’em. Now where’s that halo?

Sorry for the long title using silly language but yesterday was one of those days that becomes funny after it’s over.It certainly wasn’t funny as I struggled on to cope with not the actual events of the day (which went surprisingly smoothly) but the peripheral issues of the person I was working alongside.

I don’t feel it’s a good idea to detail the list of things that got on my nerves and rubbed them raw all day. I spent a good deal of my time asking myself why I was reacting like that. I must add the reaction was all internal; I was outwardly pleasant and compliant. There’s not a lot of point in rising to things when doing so is just going to make things about fifty time worse. I’ve had issues with the colleague before and I’ve learned the hard way to just walk away before it gets nasty.

By the time I got home I was worn out, beyond what a 9 hour day should do to me, and ready to vent. My family were suitably outraged on my behalf and so was J when he rang; my Dad was sympathetic but calm and detached. Dad’s advice, “Well, it’s gone and over with; that’s in the past now.”

I’ve been trying to work closely using my instincts and yesterday I was doing so; following little clues and hints to make sure the day went really well for the 40+ people I was working for and trying to make sure that my baggage and that of my colleague didn’t affect their day in any way. I’m quite proud of the fact that when my colleague turned up ten minutes late for departure I didn’t make a fuss, or react when she said, “Oh am I late then?” I just said, “Yes, a bit. The meeting time was at quarter past the hour,” since I know that it’s pretty useless to actually try and remonstrate with her. I just may do my best to avoid working with her again; but I also strongly suspect that she will do the same and would go further than me and actually ask the boss not to put her on with me again.

I woke feeling very unwell; I’m not sure yet if it is stress or a virus. I’m not working now till Monday and that’s OK, as it’s just something quite different. I don’t know sometimes how to deal with the emotional aftermath of keeping a day on an even keel when someone else’s attitudes and behaviour have threatened it all the time.

I’m going to have a quiet day catching up on chores and a few other things, like relearning some maths and German. I’m going to try as far as I can to let go of the emotions, as both my father and my husband suggested and have a good and productive day.

But if anyone sees a halo lying around all tarnished and broken, it’s probably mine and I’ve started sticking pins in a wax effigy of my colleague!

Echoes from a Retreat

“You are beautiful but fallen.”

Words echo across more than twenty years; I’d never forgotten them and in fact I have probably seamlessly incorporated them into my personal philosophy. It came up in conversation with J a few nights go, about the idea of a mantra repeated to oneself about liking and approving of oneself. I said I had tried it and it simply didn’t work. It made me sad every time I have tried it because my instant response was simply that it wasn’t true and saying it wouldn’t make it true. I hasten to add that this is purely personal. It works for many people and is a good method. But just as from my teaching experience I know that there are always more than one way to explain something, I also know that since people are unique, one method will not work for all. Indeed, when I consider all the self help books I’ve seen or read, this explains why even successful authors of such books are obliged to write more, putting the same stuff but in a  slightly different way. The cynic in me thinks too that it’s about making even more money out of people’s desire for wholeness and healing but I will give some the benefit of the doubt. One size does not fit all.

Reel back the years then to March 1989 and to the North York moors. Ampleforth Abbey, home to the famous boys’ school where lived Cardinal Basil Hume, then the Abbot and one of the few truly holy men I have ever come across(once in Westminster Abbey for the enthronement of the archbishop of York, and once in a tiny village on the moors where Hume was directing traffic after a massive influx of pilgrims clogged the one main street and left it gridlocked) I went on retreat, seven months pregnant and I remember being about the only woman there , where most of the men were either ordinands(those preparing for ordination) or like my husband, firmly on the way to becoming such. It struck me then as surreal, a heavily pregnant woman at a silent retreat and it still does now.

A silent retreat is pretty much what you think it is; a weekend of silence. After the initial meal, and the first talk and finally Compline, talking was forbidden. The experience was extraordinary. You might imagine that little communication went on and you’d be wrong. People communicated on other levels and by other means and while talking was forbidden, laughing was not, and a lot of laughing went on. For those who needed to talk, we were permitted to talk outside the building. March on the North York moors is cold, and the talkers(I did join them) huddled like the smokers today to exchange a few words  before scuttling back inside. I will never forget someone miming the sequence from Fawlty Towers “Duck’s Off!” during lunch on the Saturday.

I cannot remember the speaker’s name but I remember a lot of what he said but the thing that is relevant to this post is the sentence I started with. “You are beautiful but fallen.” Translate “fallen” in this context and I get, imperfect, incomplete, work in progress, damaged. For me the fact that this mantra starts with the positive and then qualifies it is why I can’t say, “I love and approve of myself”. For me, I can only go so far because I can’t tell myself lies and make them truths. I am beautiful. I know this; it’s my own personal beauty, internal and external. I’ve come to accept it over the years even when at times I reject it because of despair . But I also know that I am far from perfect or even complete and so the two statements are ones  can live with. I live better with duality than I do with singularity; for every night, there is(and must be) a day. Yin and yang. Light and dark.

One day I may be able to say I love and approve of myself but until that time I will say, I am beautiful but fallen.

Dorian Gray

I went to see the new movie “Dorian Gray” on Tuesday and it took me out of my grumpy mood for a couple of hours. It didn’t annoy me by differing wildly from Oscar Wilde’s masterpiece but knowing the story already I very rapidly found myself hoping that they would change the ending. It’s actually quite heartbreaking, but I won’t spoil it for you.

There are a number of concepts though that I found haunting. One of them is that pleasure is not the same as happiness. The eponymous hero seeks endless pleasure but it does not bring him happiness, just weariness. The second concept is the fact that our lives write themselves on our faces, that we get the face we deserve from how we have lived our lives. It’s said that you have the face you deserve by age of fifty. I’m not sure it’s entirely true but there is some truth in this idea.

The final idea I found haunting comes from a scene at the start of the film where Dorian sees for the first time the portrait his friend Basil has painted of him. Dorian is a very beautiful young man but this is the first time he has seen himself as others see him; the painting is pretty much Basil’s absolute masterpiece and when it is viewed by society, it is hailed as being an exact likeness of Dorian. The shock and amazement Dorian shows is what haunted me most. He’d never imagined how others saw him, just his physical exterior, and it’s interesting that people comment on how it has captured his essence; at this stage, his essence is pure and innocent and rather naive and charming. Unconsciously, I put a similar scene in a novel of my own, but at the end, and with different results, and it rather startled me to be reminded of it.

Are we what others see? Are we the sum of our experiences and do those experiences truly get written on our exteriors?

Things to think about.

A grumpy day

I’m stuck at “grumpy bitch” setting today and I’ve bitten off more heads than Ozzy Osborne. I’ve snapped and snarled like a bear with a hangover.

I don’t know why but just about everything has set my teeth on edge; from the cats demanding food to other motorists while we were driving around. I need shutting in a box(or a room) and leaving to my own devices until the mood(if mood it is, rather than the real me emerging) passes.

I feel every fibre of my clothes as if I were wearing hessian. My skin prickles at the touch of it. My head is pounding, but softly, like a Steinway in the background hammering out something angry and Russian and very dark.

I went to the cinema and saw “Dorian Gray” and it upset me too.

I’ll get over it.

Additions

..to my blogroll that is!

I’m sometimes quite remiss about remembering to add to my blogroll when new friends come along; it’s a mixture of being too busy and letting it slip my mind. If you’ve been a regular visitor and I haven’t added yours, give me a gentle nudge.

Two new ones.

Wendy’s blog is a lovely place to have a browse as she makes lovely things using knitting and fabric. Very creative in a practical way that makes me wish I could knit decently: I get everything too tight after  a few inches and need someone to get it loosened for me.

Harold at sumnonrabidus writes about his own life and about the extraordinary condition(s) he experiences. I have experienced ONE episode of the condition hypergraphia, for a limited time; due to several factors, Harold experiences it most of the time. It’s a window into another world that many people may find interesting; I hope you do pop over as Harold has just started blogging( I think so?). 

I’m trying to get my head back together after a weekend away at my parents’ house, which is where I grew up. Every time I go, I find I am faced with a lot of issues that never seem to go away.

So bear with me as I need to go and rearrange my psyche for a little while.