Teaching my class on the Grimms' tales the other day a young woman suggested that a king who fell in love with a picture of a princess is "cursed". I thought this idea fascinating. Love -- passionate and unrealistic and idealistic love for something one sees in another -- can be a blessing or a curse. When we love like that we simply have to do something about it, and that action can open our hearts. It can also feel like an overturning of everything we know. That's why some people see it as a curse. It upsets everything. And that can feel like torture. And that's the point -- it's an opportunity to change everything we know, to become fully human, perhaps. So, next time someone annoys you, disgusts you, or infuriates you, simply wish them the experience of this passionate loving for another. It will either change them utterly, or be torture. I'd like certain politicians to experience this love. I wish them to experience a love that will humanize them.
This afternoon as I gazed from the window I caught a flash of movement across the back garden. I looked again, and another quick movement. Whatever it was had gone into the shade and was up-sun of me. Then I saw it; a Northern Harrier had killed and was eating a sparrow (I think) and was now scattering feathers across the ground.It stayed there, feeding, for about 20 minutes. At first I thought how cool it was to see a raptor here in the city. Then i thought about the poor sparrow. Then I found myself thinking that a hawk was of more value than a sparrow. Wait. Really? Both are birds; both are lives. So are some lives of more value than others? Then I found myself thinking that "this was the way of Nature". Some creatures must die and be eaten, clearly, and sparrows are worth less than Hawks. But then I caught myself. That may be true of Nature, and that's fine. But this, where we live, this is Society; and Society stands against the savagery of Nature. It values all lives because we don't have to prey on each other. We don't have to victimize any person or class of people. Society has evolved specifically to offset that. Let us remember that we live in a Society -- and that no matter what legislation is forced on us we are not going to regress to a state of Nature.
Then let me tell you a story. The other day it was snowing and I looked out my window to see my next door neighbor struggling along in heavy galoshes to put birdseed in the feeder. Now, I like birds, but what tends to happen is that the feeder attracts flocks of sparrows who then drive the other birds away. My next door neighbor, I should add, doesn't actually live in the house. He lives some miles away. So he'd driven in, braving rather slippery and icy conditions, to replenish the bird feeder. In summer those sparrows flock to the bushes and sometimes, walking unwarily to the car, I've disturbed several hundred of them - and they've exploded out of the branches, mobbing me, a la Hitchcock. So you can imagine my mindset when I saw my neighbor's semi-heroic struggle to the bird feeder. I recalled that last fall a bird eruption had happen just as I nosed into my driveway, relaxed and with open windows, and sparrows had actually flown into the car, bouncing madly around until I could open enough doors to get them out. Then, just as I was shaking my head at this memory I wondered what my two granddaughters (2 and 4) would have done had they been there. From her childseat Zoe would have watched the fluttering crowd with delight and interest; Ellie would have waved her arms about, hoping to get a bird to settle in her hands, no doubt laughing all the time. So why had I gone to my negative attitude so readily? Today I looked out of my window and saw, beside the sparrows ranged in the hedge, a pair of russet red house finches, poised and absolutely at home, washed in the yellowish light of a new day. Thank you, neighbor.
One of the things about the new presidency is the subtle knock-on effect of his speeches and actions that, when multiplied by millions of citizens, can become catastrophic. I'll give a simple example. If I believe my government cares about the environment I'm much more likely to recycle my household items responsibly, take care about litter, and think about my carbon footprint and how to reduce it. Now, when a president arrives who openly favors fossil fuel use over solar and wind power, who is determined to revitalize the polluting power of coal, and who guts the EPA, then -- gradually I begin to look at my efforts to consume and pollute less and say: "What the hell difference will it make if I act responsibly? Placing this empty can in the right bin won't offset fracking, those oil pipelines and global climate degradation." Now multiply that by every citizen in the US. Multiply that again by every current belief system, such as taking care of the poor, the homeless, the disadvantaged -- and any other cause you can name. Can you see how this goes? Our job is to keep the faith and do what's right simply because it's the right thing to do.
As Trump lurches towards his inauguration I'm reminded of an old chinese story, much repeated. An ancient sage was sitting by his hut when an excited young man rushed up to him and said, "Some wild horses have come to the village. Everyone's running around capturing them! Isn't that great!" The sage answered: "It could be good, it could be bad. Who knows?" The young man shook his head and left. The next day the young man rushed up to the sage again. "Your son just got thrown from one of the horses he was trying to train. He broke his arm. That's a tragedy!" The sage looked up and said: "It could be good, it could be bad. Who knows?" The young man walked off, shaking his head. The next day the young man didn't come. Instead an old woman hobbled up to see the sage. She said, "This morning the Emperor's soldiers came to the village. They took away the horses and all the young men to fight in the war. They left your son behind, though, because he had a broken arm." We may want to consider this message at such a difficult time.
Several people have written, deeply puzzled, asking about manifesting and wondering how Trump managed to get to where he is. Is that, they ask, how manifesting works? Do we have to lie and cheat and make back-room deals to get where we need to be? The point about manifesting is that we get what we are, not what we want. That's an often repeated maxim, but it has never been truer than now. Trump is a power and money hungry egomaniac, and what he has manifested is a situation in which he has power and money but no certainty, although he has plenty of mania. He has achieved his ends but without any sense of personal peace. Personal peace cannot come to him until he realizes that all his striving will not produce it. He hungers for power - so the universe gives him more hunger. He cares deeply about money - so what the universe gives him is more cares around the issues of money. He wants respect - so what the universe gives him is a situation in which he wants it more than ever, and isn't getting it. He has manifested a situation of wanting. He should be lesson to us. The Law of Manifestation does not discriminate between good and bad. It just is, like gravity. It does ask us some important questions, though, about who we are at the core of our being. Trump has never asked those questions. If we are to manifest the best version of ourselves we have to start by being the best version of that self we are capable of being. That takes work, and care, and love. Are you ready to do that?
According to reliable sources libraries these days (especially in the UK) have fewer books and more computers - computers that are increasingly used to research ancestry. It seems that in a volatile world the pursuit of ancestors, or of nostalgia, is consoling for many of us. I can only agree. I found myself last month researching my uncle, killed in action in 1944. Not much existed on-line, although I did turn up a picture of his grave. The thing is I could presumably have contacted the widow of his son, or someone from the family. I know they're alive. Unfortunately I don't know their names or where they are. My father didn't really keep up with them. What might this tell us? Perhaps that in earlier times ancestry (for those of us who aren't aristocrats) was something that didn't matter much. People had a pretty good idea of who they were and of their culture. They knew they had relatives scattered around and didn't worry about that much. Today we are more neurotic -more desperate to know who we are because the media tells us so often who we ought to emulate, but forgets to ask us to value who we actually are.
Character - it's an old concept, and one that we often get confused about. Character is not your past, nor is it your promises about the future. Character can be boiled down to this; how do you treat Time? Are you always late? Does that offend people? If you're always late you'll generate different opportunities for yourself than if you are, say, always early. And from those opportunities come choices. Those choices will shape what becomes your character. How you decide to live with Time effects what you decide. Do you waste time? That will create opportunities, too, but they may not be much fun. Do you come to snap decisions? That can be good, but it can also lead to prejudice and stereotyping - and so on. Time is character.
Today (November 20th) The New York Times suggested that the rest of the world is waiting, in this post election period, anxiously for the US to "get its act together". Ah, the myths we tell ourselves. I spent the first 30 years of my life in England (mostly) and I have to say that many people in Europe even then felt that the US never actually had its act together at all. That impression has remained, as far as I can tell, ever since. In the US we tend to think of ourselves in slightly grandiose terms - that we're somehow looked up to by every one. Envied for our wealth - yes; Envied for our power - yes; Looked up to - not always.... I can recall American tourists in Europe thoughtfully wearing Canadian flags on their clothes for exactly that reason. They wanted to be treated as people, not as "Americans". The Trump era is one we'll all have to work hard in - trying to make sure our country is kept relatively stable and intact. Let's do that. Let's work hard -- and then we'll see that we will indeed be looked up to.
A number of people have expressed fear and sadness to me about the election results, and asked for help processing what happened. While I'm always happy to offer my counseling services to those who need them I can also offer you some practical advice for something you can do right now, for free. If you can, take a walk somewhere with trees. There's no need to talk to anyone, just walk. Then make yourself a snack of some kind. Something small and easy to prepare -- an English muffin with your favorite jam, and perhaps a cup of tea of coffee. Sit and eat and drink slowly. Again, there's no need to talk or to text. Be quiet with your grief and disappointment. Then, if you can, do something to tidy up your immediate space. Put papers away; empty the dishwasher; do laundry. Whatever is close and easy. If you're at the office you can tidy your desk. You may have to do this once or twice a day for a couple of days. Gradually you will send your Unconscious a powerful message -- that you are taking care of yourself and that the struggle is not over. You will get through this. Because you absolutely will get through this. And when you emerge you'll be ready to take on any struggles you need to.