Stop press: ZenPenYen poetry collection
Orders R150 plus postage R40 – e book will be available plus voiced text
Two birds, inseparable friends, take refuge in the same tree. One eats the sweet fig, the other watches without eating. (the Upanishads)
This letter considers how these bird symbols can enrich, ground and nuance our writing and story-telling. Rumi says, ‘there are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.’ There are also hundreds of ways to interpret the connection between the two birds.
During a recent Temenos retreat, ‘Hundreds of Ways: Writing your Spiritual Journey’, I asked the ‘pilgrims’ present what this Vedic text meant to them. Here are some responses:
The two hemispheres of the brain… the doer and the being one in us. The silent inner witness to our outer speech… A mother breast feeding her baby… how to live in a world not of either–or, but of both-and… perhaps the two birds interchange roles…
I have just read another Bernhard Schlink (The Reader,1995) novel, The Woman on the Stairs (2018). In a Sydney gallery far from home, an unnamed lawyer stumbles across a nude painting of Irene, a woman with whom he fell in love:
“A woman descends a staircase. The right foot lands on the lower tread, and left grazes the upper…the woman is naked her body pale…the crown of her head gleams with light…against a grey green backdrop of blurred stairs and walls …the woman moves lightly as if floating towards the viewer. Yet her long legs ample hips and full breasts give her a sensual weight.”
The metaphor is perhaps one of man’s most fruitful potentialities. Its efficacy verges on magic, and it seems a tool for creation which God forgot inside one of His creatures when He made him. (Jose Ortega y Gasset)
A shepherd, an owl and a Buddha
Here is a dialogue between the Buddha and a shepherd from Zorba the Greek, (Nikos Kazantzakis):
The Shepherd: My meal is ready, I have milked my ewes. The door of my hut is bolted, my fire is alight. And you, sky, can rain as much as you please.
Buddha: I no longer need food or milk. The winds are my shelter, my fire is out. And you, sky, can rain as much as you please.
The Shepherd: I have oxen, I have cows. I have my father’s meadows and a bull who covers my cows. And you, sky, can rain as much as you please.
Buddha: I have neither oxen, nor cows, I have no meadows. I have nothing. I fear nothing. And you, sky, can rain as much as you please.
The Shepherd: I have a docile and faithful shepherdess. For years she has been my wife; I am happy when I play with her at night. And you, sky, you can rain as much as you please.
Buddha: I have a free and docile soul. For years I have trained it and I have taught it to play with me. And you, sky, can rain as much as you please.
Two Chairs for the New Year
The only true aristocracy is that of consciousness. D.H. Lawrence
Every 1 Jan I create a collage to set intention for the coming year. This letter reflects on the 2022 collage and how the assembly of images culled from magazines, knows more about me than I do. Like a Jungian mandala, the images arise out of the unconscious sea, land on my beach and speak, offering hidden insights and the words that accompany them. This becomes a visual writer’s map. (see 13 Feb opportunity under radar)
“I’ve told my children that when I die, to release balloons in the sky to celebrate that I graduated. For me, death is a graduation.
Imagine a roadside inn in the Middle Ages. People dying here on their journey while the innkeeper plays host. This letter’s focus is on this Hospice journey, this graduation, this crossing over, or as a friend calls it, this translation.
For some 25 years I have connected to Hospices – facilitating storyshops for volunteers who in turn elicit stories from the dying to leave as gifts, presenting Oom Schalk story evenings with Henk Serfontein and his concertina and MC-ing ‘Voices for Hospice’ as fundraisers. I’ve also mentored friend Peter Fox’s book (co-authored). He, a former spiritual director at a Hospice.
Between living and dreaming there is a third thing. Guess it. (Machado)
I refer to writing prompts as lit matches. In this letter are two recent lit matches emerging fresh during a recent retreat. I’ve dubbed them ‘ETHNE’ and ‘Porous Window’. They arrive from a voice hidden somewhere within/without – who knows? I recall two lines from a hymn sung as a child “speak through the earthquake. wind and fire / oh still small voice.” I have learned to respond to that voice. My Brisbane granddaughter, Mia, serves as model and inspiration for the ETHNE I envisage. (she’s a capital girl)
Imagine a young girl. (she arrives as inspiration between living and dreaming – thank you Machado). I ask retreatants to venture into the garden in search of ETHNE. They will find her everywhere – in the
wind and water, in the roots and leaves.
Healing the Family Tree
My grand-niece is researching family history as part of her journey.
She asks me about my parents and grandparents. So the story involves
five generations, with me in the middle like the two-headed Roman god,
Janus, looking both ways. While able to share some of my parent’s
stories, most of my grandparents’ stories have slipped into the mist.
This is a double death – the demise of the person and their story –
Many million year ago. Bones amid stones. Ankle bone of a frog? Tooth of a shrew?. Recently I facilitated a Zen Pen retreat at the West Coast Fossil Park writing in the presence of ancient bones. Pippa Haarhoff, our host, can identify the frog or shrew from the cluster in her hand. As we age perhaps, we begin to place our story in a greater frame, linking us to those who have a gone before and those who are yet to
come. Going back back.
Then en route home visiting the !Khwa ttu San Culture and Education Centre near Yzerfontein where Margaret Courtney-Clarke’s (When Tears don’t matter ) photographic exhibition is current (advise you to visit). Here too are our ancestors, the First People of our African home. A San art work at the Centre.
I believe in the healing power of listening to these ancient tales of origins then telling our story and leaving it as a gift. I also believe that our relationship to our ancestors is bi-directional. They influence us as they are present in our genes, in our DNA. Yet might it be possible that when we heal, resolve a family curse, poor parenting, addictions, our ancestors who could be stuck in some limbo, begin to heal too?
- On the retreat radar
ZenPen: Writing Being and Meditation (detailed flyers on request)
We can make our minds so like still water that beings gather about us to
see their own images, and so live for a moment with a clearer, perhaps
even with a fiercer life because of our silence. (Yeats)
In these retreats, surrounded by and part of nature, we explore our
connection to writing and meditation.
Zen (Chinese chán ‘quietude’) be present. live and write simply.
Pen (Latin penna ‘feather’) the art of writing and the implements
- Buddhist Retreat Ixopo 23-26
Sept (bookings via BRC site)
The Rough Writing Road: Keeping a
journal Sun 26 – Tue 28 Sep
A Writer’s Voice, a Writer’s Presence
Sun 3 Oct and Sun 14 Nov 15.00 – 17.45ish R320 pp (R600 both) (12 max)
- These wordshops are for those who wish to:
- find their voice
- be present
- open to their creativity and imagination
- be entranced by the energy of words
- learn, practice and enjoy the craft of writing
Folks respond positively to these zoom wordshops. They connect, enjoy the company and experience and in no time are writing away. Happily.
This month I read Siri Hustvedt’s The Sorrows of an American. In the novel the young girl, Eglantine, struggling to hold her life together, winds a ball of
string in the room around objects including the psychiatrist narrator (Erik) who is bound up in the web of her connections. Erik says: “I’ve always thought of wholeness and integration as necessary myths. We’re fragmented beings who cement ourselves together, but there are always
cracks. Living with the cracks is part of being, well, reasonably healthy”
So how do we hold all together? Connect? What are our balls of twine? This letter suggests a few paths including news of 3 retreats that connect writing to meditation (see below). One way is re-member as opposed to dismember. Putting together what belongs together.