Cobbles – Oct 1995

October 1995

I am looking after an elderly man for a few hours, giving him his evening
meal, getting him ready for the night – all while his mind is seemingly
absent.

His wife shared some of his and their life stories with me, the other week.

Sitting with him for a while, before I go, in the drawer of his bed side
table, I find one single book, a worn copy of extracts from the
Upanishads.

……………There is a Light that shines beyond all things on earth,
……………Beyond us all,
……………Beyond the heavens,
……………Beyond the highest, the very highest heavens. *

Walking back to my rented bed-sit, over the cobbles of the old town, through
a dark but mild October night, a quiet, deep joy about the find is still
with me.

……………………………Shimmering cobbles,
……………………………Curtains drawn against
……………………………Orange lights.

Certain moments in a life, and they need not be particularly significant,
can compensate for so much in this life, give meaning to it. **

……………This is the Light that shines in our heart. ***

*Chandogya Upanishad, 3.13.7-8
**James Baldwin, Afro-American writer, 1924 -1987
***Upanishad, ibid.

first published by World Haiku Review online, ca. 2002

~ by Barbara S on February 2, 2013.

8 Responses to “Cobbles – Oct 1995”

  1. It was a time of trial and error. I made a few decisions that felt right through and through, my feet confirming them as went on my way – such as the one to move to Britain in Oct 1994.
    And not all that turned out to be temporary were wrong or unnecessary. Some were temporary because others were not ready to see me deeply.
    The New Testament tells one story where Jesus’ disciples want to remain on the top of the mountain where they spent a blissful time with him. It can’t be. I clearly remember such error (among others) – when in 1992, visiting the community Neve Shalom and its founder Bruno Hussar I was able to step into the newly built meditation hall Doumiah (Space of Silence). Sitting there, overlooking the valley, without religious symbols – felt so right. Really, I did know that this place was not for me, but still… Bruno did not comment. I would have to wait and see what emerged. Much, much later, I came to understand that there was a symbol-beyond symbols for the existential contemplative outlook or, as the FOCUSING practitioners say: You can’t think of all of that at the same time, but you can sense it.
    The other night I heard William Bloom, UK spirituality expert say ‘transformation does not happen in meditation – it happens during the gritty stuff of everyday life’ – or words to that effect. I hope the expert is right. If he is, my time in Edinburgh most certainly was transformative.
    The flu epidemic brought me a near-death experience. And I quit my job in a pioneering project of inclusion for disabled students in an FE College as planned the following year – just on the day when we are asked in a CPD session to share a word we associated with ‘inclusion’. I had to say: Suffocated. – More than 10 years would pass before I, as a social worker, was able to return my mind to and apply what I had learned of the PATH model (Planning Alternative Tomorrow with Hope) for deep person-centred social work…

  2. The old man’s story his wife told me about – I feel it is not for me to share. Suffice to say, here was also a man who had broken completely with any and all outer signs of his original life plan – and yet kept faithful to the existential core of it.
    I can still see, smell and feel the emptiness of the bed side table – nothing but that well-read copy of the Upanishads in the drawer.
    For all I know, he was not even aware that I was there. Yet we met, we had a dialogue about something essential and close to both our hearts. Tele in Moreno’s language or Begegnung/Dialogue in Buber’s world. A multicultural theologian who captured this experience, I feel, is Raimon Panikkar who speaks into a post-religious word when he says, somewhere in his work: Reality becomes its own symbol.

  3. Another highlight of the 18 months spent in Scotland was a whole evening in Glasgow, a one-man show in a small theatre that is sadly now permanently closed. While I don’t remember the title or the name of the performer – the essence and atmosphere I absorbed are vividly present: He performed and commented on his story, the departure from the medical model en route to finding healing from arthritis. While some restrictions of movement and a little limping were evident, his movements and storytelling overall were fluid and clear, passionate- accepting his condition gave him the freedom to be himself and thus improve the inflammatory status.
    I vividly remember his presence on stage, even in my toes.

  4. I also clearly remember the felt-sense of my clarity on leaving the theatre. Any aches and pains of mine were also on that stage. And, whatever Brecht said about catharsis in theatre being falsely pacifying – this effect here, has been real. I can re-present it any time I allow it to happen. Without the protection of monastic enclosure or even of the meditation hall in Neve Shalom – finding a suitable protection of my boundaries outside the theatre would take more time, much more time.

  5. When I started logging such moments in 1986, I thought might make use of the log later, see some pattern. Now it seems the log is simply what it is – a log of being being becoming transparent for moments. Reality becomes its own symbol.

  6. Reflecting on the time and context of this experience in Scotland, I note that on one hand I had to prove my survival skills as a Local Authority acknowledged they were treating me unlawfully regarding benefits earlier that year (“we know we should by law, but we won’t comply’ is what one job centre manager said to me; supported by a volunteer, advocate, I won an appeal) and on the other hand I was clearly not asserting my professional skills and experience but a year later that at least began to change. Is there a pattern? I remember reading of Simone Weil saying ‘I was poisoned by my mother’s milk – that is why I am such a failure’. – A sentence that takes my breath away in its depth. For Simone that was a physical reality – her mother continued breastfeeding while suffering from sepsis. But being a philosopher, Simone would have known that she was saying more. Today we might call it ‘Second generation trauma’. That might apply. The late Swiss poet and vicar Kurt Marti said on one short poem – it is those with thin skin (of all people) who carry their skin to the market… What I am saying is: Moments of Being are pure gift – no grand personal development and personal gifts to report here. Only a deepening longing to be witness in Neve Shalom’s secular Place of Silence, aided by the remaining presence of Special Moments – not merely remembered, presently embodied when remembered.

  7. The experience of the child – she is reluctant to talk about. Sitting on the fence between denial perhaps and something else that feels similar to awe and wonder. The child at the age of 9 had promised herself not to forget but did in the end until she remembered at 32. Even before she had the word for it then – transpersonal. Dialogue with something or someone unknowable. She feels for the old man with his empty bed side table more than for the child she once was. Viktor Frankl for whom meaning arrived in love for his wife, from his wife, in utter exhaustion from the realm of the unknowable while in Auschwitz – says later: It depends on each person… creatively making the meaning of life a reality in his or her own being.

  8. An acquaintance of mine, survivor of psychosis, a few years ago ended a public talk about her experience with the words ‘the light inside never goes out’. When I asked her what this sentence had come to mean to her she swiftly stated she had no intention to refer to religious traditions. Not having any such intention and not having expressed anything like that, I am left wondering how many people dismiss spiritual moments, with or without an insight about their life, because they don’t or don’t want to or can’t seem to see how they fit into any spiritual tradition. Read reflectively by the way, for me the Upanishads are more poetic philosophy than religion. But perhaps my acquaintance was right to be cautious – secondhand insights can easily be misused as religion – pointing at the finger instead of – at the moon.

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