Terry Pratchett speaks…

I shall be writing an article soon about this most beloved of authors(whom I met a long time ago, a memory I cherish) but this article from the Guardian is a good background.

Warning: please have a hankie handy. Seriously. If this doesn’t move you, you may need a forklift truck or CPR.

 http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/sep/01/terry-pratchett-alzheimers-assisted-suicide

What’s your story?

 

 

What’s your story?

 

I’m a bit of a compulsive people watcher and what amuses me the most is the random snippets of conversation you overhear in the street or in cafés and so on. On Saturday, walking through Oxford, I caught this gem: “…..And my legs were full of lactic acid….” Once I’d finished giggling enough to explain to my companions what I was laughing at, I started speculating about what was behind that remark. We went off at all sorts of tangents and by the time we got home, the story in my head had taken on epic proportions of utter silliness. It happens in pubs and railway stations and bus stops: I hear a little snatch of a tale and I make the rest up.

But real stories are a different matter.

Real stories are the ones we tell about ourselves and our lives and I am of the opinion that these are the stories that create and sustain the world. The wonderful film The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus (by Terry Gilliam )and featuring some of the world’s finest actors) has this as it’s basic premise, that stories are what keep the world going.

I’m not talking about anything mystical (well not very) but rather about the fact that memory is created more strongly by repetition and by the creation of a narrative about events, so that the memory is strengthened by the telling and relationships are formed and reinforced by the sharing of personal stories. There’s a growing awareness that good relationships(whether with a romantic partner or friends or family) are enhanced by the bringing of new experiences into that forum. The inevitable question, “How was your day, honey?” is so often a formality. We brush it off, as unimportant and move on to anaesthetising our brains with TV or whatever anodyne does it for you and then wonder why we never seem to talk any more.

Not only is personal story telling important to relationships, it’s also vital for our mental health. It’s not just the telling either. Over the years I have seen a fair number of mental health practitioners, from counsellors to consultant psychiatrists and the ones I felt were most on the button were the ones who encouraged me to tell them my story. But it’s not just about having told it, it’s about the reaction. The questions, the analysis of events and of motives and results are just as important. It’s just as much about the listener as the teller of the story. Because the story changes ever so subtly when the listener asks the right question. “Do you think that’s what he meant to do?” makes you review your memory and search it for more clues to the puzzle. “How did that make you feel? How do you feel now?” bring you to look again at the strength of a painful memory.

It’s also probably why bloggers release their work for others to read; the insights of others can shed vital light on our stories. It’s not about egotism, as such, but about seeking the whys of our lives. Knowing someone else has read our thoughts, our stories, can take some of the sting away from past hurts; sharing our stories brings out our common humanity and forges bonds of understanding between people.

So it’s a natural progression when someone has hurt us, and we cannot understand why, to start to ask, “What’s their story?” and if it’s not possible to actually find out from them, then to improvise possible reasons why. To some degree this is what psychology is about, the need to understand someone’s back story, their whys. I’m usually very surprised to discover that my improvised version of someone’s back story is often very close to their real story, but by then, it’s not usually a problem. If I can find a way to explain and understand hurtful behaviour, then I can forgive and move on more readily.

German philosopher Goethe once wrote, “That which we understand, we do not blame,” and I don’t think I can improve on his words at all.

So, each day, with the people you meet, the ones you pass in the street, the ones you work with and the people (especially these ones) who rub you up the wrong way, just look at them and ask silently, “What’s your story?”

You never know, one day they might actually tell you it.

Music to lift the spirits

I’m feeling low and dreary but that’s my baseline setting, the default programme for me. You wouldn’t guess it if you met me, though.

I love music but unless I upgrade my wordpress account, I can’t share it here, but I can share youtube clips.

The following link is one of my favourite songs of all time and yes, I do know it’s in Italian. The words talk about wanting a house that is beautiful and full of joy and welcoming and where everyone has a place and no one is turned away.

I just like the way it makes me feel; the lyrics are a bonus. I concur with them. I’d like a house where all my friends, real and cyber ones, can come and be happy and peaceful and be full of joy. Until the day comes, there is always dreams and music.

Enjoy!

  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pYpD9yR1xOk

Meditating with aromatics

The following is a table of contents for the book I have slowly been working on. I’d be interested in any suggestions for things that you’d like included, any special scents you feel I have missed out, or that have significance for you.

This is one of my winter season projects and I need a bit of a kick in the pants to get going.

Provisional List of Contents

Introduction: About this book

Who it is aimed at and why has it been written. How to use the book

 

Chapter One: Introduction to meditation

History, cultures, benefits, spirituality etc

Chapter Two: Introduction to aromatics

What are aromatics, history of the use of aromatics through time, science of aromatherapy, limbic system etc, benefits of using aroma in daily life etc

Methods of use (incense, vaporisation, smelling strips etc)

Chapter Three: Basics of meditation:

Posture, setting, timing, breathing, music etc

How to use the guided meditations

Preparations, relaxation, grounding, recording of experiences

 Chapter Four: Everyday Aromatics

Using ordinary and familiar scents to deepen meditation

May include:

Orange, chocolate, coffee, bread, mint, lavender, vanilla, rosemary, apple, honey, aniseed, strawberries, pine cones, freesia, hyacinth, honeysuckle 

Chapter Five: Less Ordinary aromatics

Exploring less familiar but readily available scents

May include:

All spice, patchouli, white sage, rose, lemon balm, eucalyptus, seaweed, cloves, cinnamon, cedar wood and sandalwood

 Chapter Six: Exotics

Using exotic substances (but all available through mail order or from specialist shops)

May include:

Frankincense, benzoin, amber, myrrh, storax, labdanum, spikenard, sandarac, dragon’s blood, elemi, jasmine, neroli, opoponax, colophony  

Chapter Seven: Seasonal Scents

Using seasonally available scented substances to enhance meditation through the year

May include:

Snow and ice for January, snowdrops or hyacinth for February, narcissi or daffodils for March, lilac or violets for April, may blossom for May, roses or elder for June, elder or linden for July, strawberries or honeysuckle for August, hay or pencils and paper (back to school!) for September, apples or pumpkin for October, bonfire or toffee apples for November and clove-orange, mulled wine spices or pine for December

Chapter Eight: Scents for sleep meditations

Specially selected soporific scents and words for meditations to aid sleep and dreaming

May include:

Lavender, hops, chamomile, clary sage

 

Chapter Nine: Where to go from here

Suggestions for own explorations

Feedback reports from “guinea pigs”

I aim to have a small selection of friends write a little about their experiences using the meditations

Chapter Ten: Sources

Bibliography, suggested reading, useful sources for materials, helpful websites

Afterword: About the author

Short bio and thanks

Death by Water, revisited

 

Death by Water, Revisited

 

The haves with their gilded lives,

Who turn the wheel

And gaze to windward,

And the have-not,

A fortnight dead in the world’s eyes

Exist side by side

Seldom ever touching

Rarely really seeing

Never imagining that

Like Phlebas the Phoenician,

He was once as handsome

And tall as you.

 

Written for Stories without words, 16th December 09

(in homage to The Wasteland, by TS Eliot

To boldly go….

 This is my entry into Shafali’s Story telling carnival;

 http://shafali.wordpress.com/2010/09/07/announcement-story-in-the-caricature-blog-carnival-for-writers-bloggers-september-2010-edition/

To boldly go…..

Cut!”

The director’s voice carried sharply over the clatter of the set and the cast seemed to slump at the word.

OK, everyone, take five. It’s looking good!”

Most of the cast shuffled off in search of doughnuts, coffee and in at least one case, a double vodka, but Jemima stayed put, happily ensconced in the captain’s chair. Unwilling to leave a place it had taken her so long to reach, even for a much needed break, she shifted her posture and let her body relax. Her role required that she sit with ramrod straightness but the rigid plastic moulding of the chair meant her tail-bone would be rubbed raw if she didn’t shift a little. She considered asking for a cushion but it wasn’t something her character would use, so perhaps it would be refused.

It had taken so long to get here, in so many ways. So many miles, so many bitter disappointments and let-downs too. She would have graduated top of her class at stage school were it not for the prejudice of the tutors.

To put it bluntly my dear,” said the principal. “For a woman, actual acting ability makes no odds at this age. It’s all about looks. And yours, well, what can I say?”

She had hidden her tears and soldiered onwards, taking on role after role that typecast her as ugly and evil. Often the only work she could find was as an extra in horror movies. Landing her first speaking part (and in “Lord of the Rings”, too) was a triumph; but it was tempered by the bitterness of knowing she’d so wanted to play an Elf, or a Hobbit at the least. The make-up girl had carelessly remarked she liked “doing” Jemima as she didn’t need quite so much make up or prosthetics to fit her for her role as Orc as many of the others did.

Of course it was only a matter of time before she moved into sci-fi. The beautiful bimbos who couldn’t act their way out of a paper bag would have brief and scantily clad roles and then vanished once their looks lost their freshness. But character actors like herself flourished as they just improved with age and experience. In this film, her character had sufficient screen time and lines to count as a major character and for the first time her name would be up their in the credits as Co-star. Hmmm….Co-staring Jemima Riddick. It sounded great to be up there with the big names and not lost in the small print at the tail end of the credits.

The make-up was itching and her prosthetic ears were burning her real ones; the glue was sometimes a serious irritant to sensitive skins like hers. But that was a small price to pay. Other roles had required that she shave her head and she’d been glad to be able to have her own hair and not even a wig for this one.

To tell the truth, she was amused at once again playing an evil villain. It was hysterically funny that human beings still equated beauty with goodness and ugliness with evil, or it might have been had not this misconception led to tragedy on grand scales. The witch hunts for example had claimed vast numbers of females whose only crime was to be old and unattractive. She was so glad she had not been here then; there had been progress of sorts in the intervening centuries.

In her last report she’d said so too, but had also added that it was still so far from the kind of world her people would ever wish to work with.

Perhaps another five or so hundred years,” she’d written at the end.

In the meantime, she’d grown rather fond of this barbarous little planet and had elected to stay a little longer and see it progress. Her acting career was really starting to blossom and unlike her colleagues who’d worked here during the witch-hunt era she faced nothing worse that ridicule and obscurity if she failed completely.

One day these naked apes would grow up enough to understand that what was inside a person was what mattered, not the exterior, and in the meantime she intended to enjoy the many innocent pleasures this little planet offered. That included the art of film-making and she intended to make her mark on this world and show the folks back home what a gal from the wrong end of the nebula could do with a bit of time and patience, not to mention hard work and persistence.

Of course, she could have chosen a more pleasing exterior to start with; there had been plenty in the catalogue. It had been done many times in the past and humans had dubbed them angels or gods, worshipped them briefly and then more or less disregarded them. This way was longer and harder, for sure, but she and her people were in no real hurry. Unlike Penelope Cruz, she had all the time in the world; back home she was barely considered adult yet. It was very much the thing, doing a gap year working with the under-privileged and disadvantaged.

The cast were mooching back onto set and Jemima snapped her spine back to it’s correct stance and waited for the director’s orders.

Action!”

Inwardly, Jemima smiled and twisted her face into its trademark scowl and started barking out orders to her crew. If only they knew how a starship was really run….!

My Cave

 

My cave

I found the cave high in the mountains by accident, if such things exist, wandering through tunnels of ancient rock, in pitch darkness, feeling my way for miles. My hands were raw with scraping against rock. There came a point where to go back was probably harder than going forward and as I stumbled, at the end of my strength, I saw a light ahead and rushed towards it. As I lurched towards the light, a strange figure was silhouetted against the daylight and I saw it was a reindeer and knew I was safe. My guide had come to meet me and I breathed a great sigh of relief.

I left the depths of the cave and found it grew wide and filled with light as I moved forwards and found myself on a wide ledge, maybe fifty feet across and the same deep, the surface filled with fine white sand. In the middle of it were large quartzite boulders arranged in a circle, and in the centre of the circle there were ashes that felt warm still. From the air, I knew we were high up, but the view was not alarming. Rather, I saw forests spreading out below my ledge and I saw there was a narrow path leading from my cave down into the forest. It began with wide steps and then was lost in foliage as it wound down the side of the mountain and into the forest.

The scent of pine and leaf-mould filled the air and I could sense a hint of winter snows, but whether going or coming I couldn’t tell. The forest was a mixed one, but this high, it was mainly pines. Further away I could see the vivid greens of deciduous broad-leaved species.

That first visit I was content to stay on the ledge, lighting a fire from stacked logs in the entrance to the cave, and sitting watching the flames and being still. Resin smouldered at the edge of the blaze, bubbling and finally igniting with blue tongues of fire that danced amid the yellow ones. The air became cold as night fell and only the thick soft coat of my guide laid next to me kept me from freezing. Who better to travel the dark night landscapes with than a reindeer?

Later visits I began to explore the forest around us but to begin with I loved to just sit at the entrance to the cave as the winter swept in. The fire pit moved deeper into the shelter of the cave as the cold took control of the forest, and I would sit wrapped in blankets and furs, dreaming, watching as snowflakes danced in the wind. The firewood was restored each time I came but in spring I learned who had done it: I did. By some twisting of time, I laboured long bringing back fallen wood and chopping it into logs, so that the winter I had already lived through might have fuel. Each time I filled the stack, I came back and discovered the wood gone. Time means nothing there, as long as you honour commitments. You get used to it. It helps not to think about it too hard or your brain swims; some things are just better accepted unless you can really figure them out properly.

Sometimes, when I am feeling stressed or miserable, I let the memory of my cave come back to me; the scent of pine resin and snow floods me with other sensations and I feel the deep silence of the high mountain guarding the great forest and for a second or two at least, I feel peace.

That’s all you can ask for, some days.