Mind Wanting More
Only a beige slat of sun
above the horizon, like a shade pulled
not quite down. Otherwise,
clouds. Sea rippled here and
there. Birds reluctant to fly.
The mind wants a shaft of sun to
stir the grey porridge of clouds,
an osprey to stitch sea to sky
with its barred wings, some dramatic
music: a symphony, perhaps
a Chinese gong.
But the mind always
wants more than it has –
one more bright day of sun,
one more clear night in bed
with the moon; one more hour
to get the words right; one
more chance for the heart in hiding
to emerge from its thicket
in dried grasses — as if this quiet day
with its tentative light weren’t enough,
as if joy weren’t strewn all around.
On March’s course block, our tutor Caroline asked for volunteers to run a seminar. I said I’d speak about ‘writing as spiritual practice’. I was crying too hard at the end of our group process to do the talk in the end, but that’s another story… ; )
Whilst preparing and collecting poems about writing, my friend Kaspa mentioned a poem by Snyder.
He found it later and emailed it to me. I liked it so much I posted it here.
I don’t know how, but a blogger called Luke Storms from Toronto found it and re-posted it on his ‘commonplace book’ blog, Crashingly Beautiful, where he collects marvellous things. Here it is (scroll down). I can’t remember how I found it there. I might have been ego-googling (blush).
Wanting to find more marvellous things, I checked out Luke’s main blog – Intense City – and there at the top right was the very Cohen quote I’d stumbled across for the first time a few weeks ago, when I was having a terrible day.
I went to find Luke on Facebook and said ‘hi’. He said ‘hi’ back, and sent me a youtube link to Leonard Cohen singing the song with the quote.
And so I woke up with Leonard Cohen this morning, with a fluffy black cat occassionally getting between me and the screen. There aren’t any finer ways to wake up. Get back under your bed covers right now, turn your laptop up loud, and enjoy.
(Thanks Caroline, Kaspa, Sage (who posted the quote), Luke, Leonard, Fatty, the man who made my laptop, and the multitudes of others who made my morning possible. Who do you have to thank for yours?)
It’s easy when I bounce someone else’s baby on my knee and he grins back at me.
It’s easy when I pull a jar of blackcurrant jam from the back of the cupboard in the depth of winter, and spoon condensed summer onto my toasted teacake.
It’s easy when I receive an email from a reader telling me that Leonard, the kindly gardener from my book ‘A Blue Handbag’, accompanied her through her skin cancer surgery.
But sometimes the practice of gratitude is more challenging.
We don’t feel grateful when we offer the chocolates around and someone takes the last caramel square (the one we had our eye on).
We don’t feel grateful when the cat plants a trail of muddy footprints on our freshly-washed white sheets.
We don’t feel grateful when we’re in a hurry to get home and our car dies at a roundabout.
Sometimes, things go wrong. People let us down. We don’t get what we hoped for. We disappoint ourselves.
Gratitude can help us to live through darker times.
It can remind us of everything we do have to be grateful for. We can enjoy the pleasure on our grandma’s face as she enjoys her caramel square. We can stroke our cat’s belly and listen to him purr. We can be grateful for car mechanics, and mobile phones.
It can also help us to find the learning in our difficult situations. Once we stop blaming the world for being horrid, we might find a lesson we can learn. We might be able to hear something that we couldn’t hear before. We might be able to help someone else through the same darkness.
Can we open up to the difficult bits? Can we say yes to blackcurrant jam AND muddy footprints? Can we say thank you for everything?
This afternoon I watched ‘Heima‘ by Sigur Ros.
Sigur Ros are an icelandic band who make exquisite, ethereal music. This film follows them around their homeland (the meaning of heima) as they put on a series of free concerts as a way of giving something back.
As I’d expected, it is a stunning film. Whatever the camera focusses on – children’s faces, wide open Icelandic landscapes, green mould on the wall of an abandoned fish factory – the shots seem perfect. It was as if the camera is loving everything it sees, and this makes it beautiful.
There are snippets of interviews with the band, including the lead singer Jónsi Birgisson. He is a skinny bloke with slightly crooked teeth, and he looks beautiful too. Give me this variety of beauty over the airbrushed covers of Vogue any day. Look around you right now. Can you see the beauty out of your window? In your room? In your mirror?
I’ve had a difficult week, but even this has the potential to be transformed by the eye of the beholder. Difficult weeks can also be ones where you learn a great deal about yourself, and start to build certain kinds of strength. We can find beauty in suffering if we persevere, gently, with patience.
I’m feeling grateful for Sigur Ros, and for the people around me, and for many other things. Including this poem – one of the first I formed a proper relationship with, when I was fourteen. Here’s to beauty (clink).
What does it mean? Tired, angry, and ill at ease,
No man, woman, or child alive could please
Me now. And yet I almost dare to laugh
Because I sit and frame an epitaph–
“Here lies all that no one loved of him
And that loved no one.” Then in a trice that whim
Has wearied. But, though I am like a river
At fall of evening when it seems that never
Has the sun lighted it or warmed it, while
Cross breezes cut the surface to a file,
This heart, some fraction of me, happily
Floats through a window even now to a tree
Down in the misting, dim-lit, quiet vale;
Not like a pewit that returns to wail
For something it has lost, but like a dove
That slants unanswering to its home and love.
There I find my rest, and through the dusk air
Flies what yet lives in me. Beauty is there.
Go and make yourself a cup of tea.
Get comfy. Click here. Read the poem slowly. Read it out loud if no-one is listening.
Now listen to Garrison Keillor read it out in his unctuous voice. The poem is just after three minutes into the audio.
Sip your tea. Feel your feet on the ground. Imagine the nuzzling.
We have had three glorious days of baking heat. The earth is parched, cracked. I went to bed last night with a plan to water the vegetable patch today. My veg patch is a little way from the house, and so this involves two hoses and a lot of time and effort.
This morning it is raining. It is raining on my yellow courgettes and my raspberries. It is raining on my embryonic runner beans and my scarlett chard. Sweet rain.
After planning this post, my Daily Dharma email arrived. Sychronicity:
The roots of all living things are tied together. Deep in the ground of being, they tangle and embrace. This understanding is expressed in the term nonduality. If we look deeply, we find that we do not have a separate self-identity, a self that does not include sun and wind, earth and water, creatures and plants, and one another.
Joan Halifax Roshi, from Essential Zen
Tangled roots. Precisely.
And who knows what else we might be grateful for, if we were able to find a different perpective?
I’ve really enjoyed writing here this week. Something else to be grateful for. Thank you for reading!
I just pulled a bunch of radishes from the vegetable patch.
They are glossy red, fading quickly to pure white tips, with bushy green leaves. When I slice them thinly you’ll be able to see the light through them. They’ll pack a CRUNCH.
I couldn’t find a photo online that came anywhere close to how fresh and red they look, so you’ll have to look at this one and use your imagination. Or maybe I’m just biased.
It’s been difficult for me to keep my world balanced for a couple of weeks now. Questions about whether or not my books are selling/will sell have been like a cloud of pesky mosquitos buzzing around my head. This week a big chain of bookshops sent 200 copies of The Letters back to Snowbooks to pulp. I feel a little sad for them, but it’s also a relief – there – that’s happened, and it wasn’t the end of the world. It’s just a small proportion of the ones they ordered in the first place. It’s early days.
Then a friend texted to tell me how much she was enjoying The Blue Handbag.
Radishes are just as important, anyway. And my other seedlings – chard, celeriac, runner beans, beetroot, carrots, french beans, butternut squash, cucumber, purple sprouting broccoli. The first new potatoes might be ready soon, to be boiled and slathered in butter. The garlic won’t be far behind.
The books will sell, or they won’t. People will enjoy them, or they won’t. I’ll keep writing them whatever happens. I’ll keep growing my veggies. If one person thoroughly enjoys each book I write, it will be like eating a new potato slathered in butter. Anything more (and I’ve already had so much more) is really more than enough.
I’m off to do some weeding now. Thank you for listening.
I’ve just spent a very fruitful half hour reading lassie and timmy (is that what the blog is called?), written by ‘the psycho therapist’ who appears here in my comments section from time to time.
There is no space to make comments on the blog, and no email for the author. It’s really bugging me this morning that I can’t say ‘thank you’ to her for her writing.
I’ll write my thank you here instead, and she may or may not see it. Maybe it doesn’t matter? Maybe she doesn’t write because she needs thank yous?
It still bugs me. I think it might be partly because I’m envious of PT’s elective elusiveness. I have sprinkled my email address across the internet like Hansel and Gretel’s breadcrumbs.
A part of me is ravenous for recognition (but I also know that this bit of me won’t feel full however much I get). And another part of me is very content to know that my words are out there in book and blog form and that they may or may not be making people think/feel better/feel something. This healthier part of me doesn’t need to hear any praise, but receives it gratefully as a kind of gravy (vegetarian onion gravy, of course).
Yet another part of me says thank you because I think I should – the dreaded thank you letter, the fear of things being ‘out of balance’ in the give and take of relationships. I always try and give more than I get – it’s safer that way.
But it also bugs me for the pure and simple reason that I like to say thank you to people who’ve given me something helpful or precious. Not because I ought to, but because I want to.