MARIA

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Maria and Patricia

 

I have been thinking of my friend Maria delli Zotti.  Maria was a simultaneous interpreter at NATO in Brussels during the sixties to eighties when I was there. She was also a member of the School of Philosophy, an esoteric Wisdom School which I attended, which is how I came to know her. Maria spoke several languages, French, Spanish and Italian, as well as English. This, she said modestly, was because of her background, French/Italian, and probably other strands as well.

Maria was a senior member of the School, was a tutor as well as a meditation teacher, whilst I was quite junior.  She was extremely elegant, small and petite, she was always beautifully dressed in a classic style. I admired her greatly. She was warm and outgoing, and regularly invited people round to her flat for tea and a chat.  I found her very easy to talk to, I had many problems at that time, and she always listened and gave me good advice. In a way she became a confidante and a kind of mentor to me in the School.

Me, Carol, Maria

An early morning calligraphy class, Carol is teaching in the foreground, I am next to her in a red cardigan, Maria is in the background, also in red.

Very sadly, Maria died quite suddenly when only in her fifties. This is what I wrote at the time.

“My friend Maria

I was having lunch with my friend Maria. For quite a long time she had been complaining of headaches. It was so unusual for her to complain, I ought to have realised there was something very wrong. I had seen her getting thinner and thinner, but she was immaculately dressed as always, even more elegant than usual.

As I say, we were having lunch. She did not talk very much and I was struggling to find things to say. We fell silent. I had a feeling it was taking her all her energy just to sit there. She suggested a walk in the fresh air.

I was hurrying a little, as I had to get back early to the office. As we went out and down the steps, she stumbled and lost her shoe. I remember thinking what absurdly high heels she was wearing. I realised I was going too fast and slowed down my pace to hers. I parted from her at the Main Entrance to go back to the office.

A week later, I heard she was in hospital, three weeks later, she was dead. Even as I left her, she was dying on her feet. If only I had known – but she would not have wanted it that way. She was courageous, considerate and kind, to the very end.

A very rare human being – my friend Maria.”

At the time of Maria’s death, I had left the School, but we still kept in touch. I went to her funeral, which was simple and very moving, and I met many of my old fellow philosophers there, among them Trevor who came up to talk to me.  I had left the School in 1985 and I left Brussels in 1989, so it must have been at some point during those years.

Another old friend from the School has just recently died, Anita Morris, a very lovely lady. Her death has brought back many memories of the School. It was a very special time for me, which is why I feel like paying this tribute to Maria here now.

Anita & Trevor

Anita and Trevor

May they rest in peace.

 

MOTHER

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Early in the summer of 2015 I attended a Conscious Writing Retreat led by Julia McCutcheon in Glastonbury. At that retreat I had the sudden realisation of what it had meant to me to have never had a father. In some turmoil I decided to see a therapist. She set me three tasks, to write a letter to my father, to my mother, and to my inner child. I recently came across the letters I had written to my mother and to my small child. I felt like reproducing the letter to my mother here. The photo above is of her at age seventeen.  Here is the letter.

“My darling mother,

You often used to say to me: “we must try to understand each other better.” I would look at you without comprehension, I did not see what there was to understand. I have changed so much since those days and I can see now where you were coming from.

It makes me sad now to realise how lonely you must have been. If you were alive now I would be able to talk to you and understand you.

There was so little psychological knowledge in those days. You had done everything you could for me, brought me up, clothed me, fed me, but you could do nothing for my state of mind. You did once say to me: “I wasn’t brought up, I was dragged up.” I have often wondered whether you felt any guilt about me. You never showed it and we never discussed it.

If only we could have talked, but I was very incurious as a child. I never wondered who my father was or asked any questions about him, and I never asked you about your own life.

I remember you as a comforting presence in my life, you were always there as something secure and safe. I was quite selfish and self absorbed and took you for granted, as I suppose many young people do.

I am grateful because you gave me a good education and because you were a stable force in my life. Without you I think I might have gone off the rails.

This is not to say that there were not moments of happiness between us. But I turned out to be an oddball, not the normal, conventional girl you would have liked me to be. I know you were proud of me because I was clever and you were very ambitious for me. I was cripplingly shy and had no ambition at all, not in a worldly sense anyway.

You always said I was too mystical for my own good, but I think it is that quality that has got me through my life and to where I am now.

I know now that I have inherited a lot of your qualities, but when you were alive I felt dwarfed by you, you were such a strong woman and very gifted.

Of course now I could meet you on an equal level, as I have developed my own strengths and my own gifts.

It is a great regret to me now that I did not appreciate you more when you were alive and that we were never able to become close. It also makes me sad now to realise how sad and lonely you must have felt at times, and that I was the cause of that.

I know you would have been proud of me later on when my work life improved and I got the MBE for my work in NATO. I’m sure you would have been pleased at all the things I’ve done since I retired, my painting, my singing, my writing. Whether you would have understood them, I don’t know.

As the years have passed my relationship with you has changed and I have come to understand YOU much more. My love for you has grown and my profound respect and gratitude.  What enormous courage you showed back in 1928, to give birth to an illegitimate child, and then, when you lost all your money in 1932, to start to work and build up a career for yourself with your cooking in schools, even writing a book about it!

In my later years I have tried to repay and honour you, first by painting you when you were a beautiful young woman, and later by writing about you and depicting the truly remarkable woman that you were.

Thank you, dear mother, for giving me my life. I think in the end it has not been in vain and that I have vindicated all the the hopes and trust that you put in me.

Your very loving, devoted daughter

Daphne”

You will be able to read about the relationship between my mother and myself in my forthcoming book, which goes up to my mother’s death. How I fared after her death will be the subject of the sequel.

Here is the very first painting in oils which I did in Paris of my mother, then in her seventies. She did not like it, I am not surprised, but for me it is a reminder of how she was, a comforting presence, and it is actually very like her.

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ART THERAPY

When I retired in July 1989 and came back to England, I started going to all kinds of courses and workshops, there was such an abundance of them, not available in Brussels. One of these was an art therapy course in Totnes, which I went to early in 1990, over a three day weekend, Friday to Sunday.

Our therapist was a good one. She gave us large sheets of paper and poster paints and various exercises designed to help us relax and open up to our subconscious minds. I did eleven of these paintings and  I have written about them in my life story, but my editor wanted more in depth information about them. How did they make me feel and how do I interpret the pictures?

So I have looked at them again. Yes, they are shocking and very, very powerful. What are they about? They cover that early period in my life when I was left behind with nuns in a convent in Brittany, whilst my mother found work after having lost all her money in the great Depression in 1932. I was four years old and I stayed with the nuns till I was seven.

I have been feeling for a long time that this was a crucial period which determined the rest of my life. Fortunately, I can now look at them with some degree of equanimity and much more understanding.

I have decided to publish them here now in advance of the publication of my book.

Here is the first painting.

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I get a feeling of some primeval sludge, something which has been trampled, from which all the life force is being squeezed out, a primal scream, a darkness from which all the light is escaping.

Here is the next one.

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Here is a small child, a child still full of light, but who is encased in a prison, see the hands holding her down. She is distressed, tears are flowing from her eyes, and her mouth is wide open in shock and bewilderment. Her two extremities, her hands and her feet, are blue with cold, which will begin to spread throughout the whole of her body.

And the next one.

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The words along the side in red read: I FEEL TRAPPED, FRIGHTENED, HOPELESS, HELPLESS, I WANT TO GET OUT OF THE MAZE. Here is a small child, with bright yellow hair and blue eyes, surrounded by huge black figures who look as they they are trampling her to death. She is trying to escape but she is hemmed in on all sides.

And here is one more.

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Here a small child is standing in front of what looks like large black boots hemming her in, the middle of her body, heart and tummy, are blue and she is screaming to a menacing black figure above her :  Go away, I don’t want you, I hate you. MUMMY – HELP – love, protection, security, cuddles –  where are you? why aren’t you here? There is a barrier between her and the woman in blue who is walking away. The woman can’t hear her, her ear is covered by a red patch. The meaning of this picture seems to me to be self explanatory.

And the following picture, again self explanatory.

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An old crone is bathing a small child, who seems formless, with fair hair and blue eyes, and she is screaming. The crone has a large wart on her chin with three black hairs sticking out, she seems to be smiling. The black bars seem like a prison, while the red denotes a sense of menace.

The next drawing shows a change.

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The image is not very clear. A small sturdy child, now with brown hair, seems to be falling down a long chute surrounding by various kinds of monsters. Right below her is a large, kindly yellowish being who appears to be supporting her, maybe a sea monster, as he is rising out of the sea.  This is the start of the heroine’s journey.

The next picture has the caption: I want to find my Mummy. The small sturdy child is now on a pathway leading through hills, trees and valleys, with various obstacles on the way, as well as some more benevolent figures.

The next picture is a strange one. It shows a  large blue bottle with a yellow figure popping out of it and splitting:  there are body parts, legs, arms, a torso, feet, a head and a heart all flying around the page, while another bowl at the side looks as though it is ready to receive them all. Someone I recently met told me that shamanic healing consists in taking you apart before reassembling you again into a whole.

In the following painting we are back to the brown figure landing on what looks like the seabed: there is sand, fish swimming and waving seaweed. On the child’s face is a smile of triumph and the caption says: I”m here!

Here is the last but one painting.

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Here we see the bright yellow child again, with yellow hair. She is leaping out of the deep blue sea onto the beach, whilst the bright red sun is pouring its rays down on the scene. It is the end of the journey and all is well.

The final painting depicts a figure, not quite a child, could it be the soul, more like a stick figure with one large blue eye facing a woman in nun’s dress of pale blue now, with a veil. Her head is inclined to the yellow figure and there is a benign expression on her face. The childlike figure is extending her arms in a gesture of welcome. No black colours here, but yellow, green and blue, colours of peace and harmony.

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On the Sunday morning, the last morning of the retreat, I had a dream. I dreamt about the nuns, but they were no longer all in black, they were all wearing white robes. I lay in bed, feeling peaceful and happy. It seemed that there had been some resolution, a reconciliation. And all this had been going in my unconscious mind. It seemed like a miracle.

My mother removed me from the convent when I was seven. Why did she leave me there so long? It was only when the nuns wanted me to become a Roman Catholic that she took me away. She herself was an atheist, but there had never been a Catholic in the family! Again, years later, when I wanted to become a Catholic, my mother used the same argument. I returned to the priest to tell him I had changed my mind. His parting words to me were that he hoped that Grace had not departed from me for ever! Fortunately, I do not think it has.

Before the separation I was a happy and talkative child. When I came back to my mother again, I was a nervous, shy, almost silent child. I have hardly any memories of this period of my life. It has taken me a lifetime to unravel all the complexities of what happened to me at that time.

But this story does have a happy ending. When my mother died I had a strong sense of her spirit inside of me. Now I know that her spirit is with me all the time, and I have been told so by a shaman. My life has been one of spiritual exploration, and I think there has always been a knowledge deep inside of me, when I used to have long conversations as a child with a beautiful Being, which has somehow sustained me throughout all the ups and downs of my life.

 

 

THE NEW WOMAN

When I was eighteen and in my final year at School, I came across the following extract by the Austrian poet, Rainer Maria Rilke. I had a book (my Commonplace book) in which I used to copy my favourite quotes, my poems and short stories. I still have this book, and I recently found this extract whilst looking through it. I remember my excitement on first reading it, and I feel equally excited now. Here it is, written in 1904:

“The young girl and the woman will for only for a time imitate masculine manners and modes in their own development, only for a time practice masculine professions. Once these fluctuating time of transition are at an end, it will be seen that women, in these often ridiculous masquerades, have only sought to purify their nature from the distorting influence of the other sex. Woman, who lives a more spontaneous, fertile, confident life, is certainly more mature, more near to the human than man, the pretentious and impatient male, blind to the worth of that which he thinks he loves, because he does not plumb the depths as woman does by reason of the burdensome fruit of life. This humanity, matured by woman in suffering and humiliation, will see the day when woman will discard the conventions which condemn her to be no more than a woman. And the men who do not sense the coming of that day will then be amazed and confounded. One day (to which certain signs in the Nordic countries already point) the maiden, the woman will come into her own. And these words do not imply merely the contrary of the male, but something of worth in itself, not just a complement or a limit but a life, a being engaged in history, woman in her humanity. Such an advance will transform the experience of love, today so full of faults, and that in spite of man who will first be outstripped. Love will no longer be the intercourse of man with woman, but that of one humanity with another. (Von Mensch zu Mensch, nicht mehr von Mann zu Weib.) And this more human love (this love full of respect and silence, sound and sure in all that it binds and looses) is indeed that for which, in strife and pain, we make ready. It consists in this, that two solitudes protect, limit and hold each other.”

This beautiful prediction is, I think, already beginning to happen.  It is not a battle between the sexes. It is, as Rilke foresaw, the emergence of womankind from her previous subservient role into one of parity with her male counterpart.

I have never been a feminist as such, though I am grateful to those women who obtained the vote for us, and  to the pioneering women who were ahead of their time in breaching the male dominated professions. There have been exceptional women in every age.

I think men and women have different functions, inasmuch as they are physiologically different, so that their whole mental and emotional makeup is different. I would even go so far as to say that I think that women are the superior sex! But I think that for some time now women have lost their way. In trying to ape male ways they have lost sight of their own inner wisdom, and this has led to the great moral imbalance that now exists in the world.

In the Wisdom school which I attended many years ago, we were told that it is the function of the woman to set the moral tone for the nation.  The definition for a liberated woman, was:  ‘a woman who is in legal possession of her own mind.’ We were also told that it is the woman who holds the vision for the future, and the man who carries it out.

Not everyone will agree with this, I know. I have made no mention here of the great debate which is raging at the moment. This is for another forum.

When I was eighteen I had a certain confidence in my own inner beliefs, but I had no confidence whatsoever in my relationship with the outside world, and gradually I came to lose even that inner belief. My story is all about how I came to regain my own inner self confidence, as well as being able to relate it and myself to the outside world.

 

MEDITATION

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There is much talk about meditation and mindfulness these days. A couple of weeks ago Ruby Wax was in Bath to talk about her new book on how to be human, and recently I heard her being interviewed, together with a neuroscientist, on BBC Radio 4 about the benefits of meditation. John Humphreys remained sceptical.

In the 1970s, whilst I was living in Brussels, I joined the School of Philosophy, which claimed to help solve some of life’s problems, its teachings being based on universal spiritual principles. As part of the teaching, we were initiated into meditation. Aside from a short break, I have been meditating ever since.

At that time, I was very unhappy, suffering from depression and sometimes feeling suicidal. Meditation changed me from being very nervous and anxious to becoming very calm. I became much more centered and rooted in the present moment. All this took place over a period of time, of course.

I can only speak for myself, but I put down my good health, my equanimity (mostly), and the fact that my mental faculties are still intact, to this practice of meditation.

The other day the Skype system on my desktop broke down. I use it mainly for writing purposes. I had been planning to Skype with a friend, also a writer, to discuss the book I am writing. I was looking forward to it, not least because I was hoping to clarify some of my ideas on how to get it done.

I must admit here that internet problems send me round the bend, and my equanimity flies out the window!

For whatever reason, we could not connect. My friend said that I was not ‘on line’, I said that I was, since it was up on my screen. We spent several fruitless minutes on the phone trying to correct the problem. In the end, we gave up.

I am sure everyone recognises that feeling of frustration and powerlessness when confronted with the mysteries of modern technology.

My mind was in a turmoil, my heart was beating, I felt agitated and very upset. So I sat down and meditated. It took me probably ten minutes or more before my mind quietened down sufficiently for me to sit in a restful silence.

It then came to me to use this free space which was suddenly available to me. I went into Bath to do some shopping. I bought some special art paper that I needed, I went to the Body Shop to get some more toilet articles, and I bought a Clean Me Green detox kit from Neal’s Yard that I have been intending to use for Lent. All this in the space of an hour and I was able to get the next bus home. I spent the afternoon baking, and I made some Banana Bread using a new recipe I had been given. That felt good.

By the end of the day I was back to my normal self. The following day the IT man came, fixed my Skype problem, which wasn’t so difficult after all – its just a question of knowing how – and all was well again.

I am not saying that meditation is the only way of sorting out our problems, but what interested me was that during this period my mind went haywire, my thoughts were all over the place and I could not find the words I wanted. My mind had been broken into a thousand disjointed bits.

Dementia is such a current problem these days, more and more people seem to be suffering from it. They say it is due to our living longer, but I wonder if it is not due to the stressful lives so many of us lead nowadays. To my mind, meditation is a way of counteracting these stresses. It might even help to delay the onset of these diseases of the brain.

I am only a layman and so can only speak from my own personal experience.

From a secular point of view, mediation can be looked upon as a useful tool. But for me it has become a spiritual practice. Meditation has, in fact, been practiced for thousands of years, particularly in the East. Only now in the West is it slowly beginning to be recognised and acknowledged as a Way of life.

 

“Stillness within one individual can affect society beyond measure”

Father Bede Griffiths

OLD MAID

 

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When I was in my twenties, in the 1950s, I was working and living in London and shared a rented flat with my mother. I was making £4 a week and my mother had her pension. We both supplemented our incomes by having extra jobs at night and at weekends. I worked as an usherette in the cinema or the theatre, or found typing jobs, and my mother did odd cooking jobs.

So, although we were poor, we were able to make enough money to go on holiday, which was usually a cheap package tour to Spain. One particular year, it might have been 1954, we went to Mallorca. I was excited at arriving in this strange new country, new surroundings. We arrived at our small hotel, feeling tired after our journey.

I started unpacking the suitcases, putting our clothes away in the wardrobe and drawers. My mother was resting on the bed, watching me, when she said:

“You’re just an old maid, really.”

I remember feeling very hurt by this remark, but I said nothing. It was indicative of our whole relationship. Later on in the holiday, when I remarked on the long curly eyelashes of our good looking tour guide, she expressed surprise that I had noticed them.

In truth, I was a romantic. In those days my one idea was to find a husband and have a family. I would dream of marrying a writer or an artist, and we would live in a ramshackle old house in the country, with a brood of children, an idyllic existence.

I have, in fact, ended up being an ‘old maid’ or whatever the equivalent for it is nowadays.

Thinking back, I can see now that my mother, though always very proud of my academic achievements, never paid me any compliments on my appearance. Once, when I was in my forties, she told me she did not like the way I was doing my hair. I remarked that she never told me when she liked my hair.

“Oh” she replied, “I never tell you when I like something, only when I don’t !”

This must be the reason why, for many years, I never had any confidence in my own appearance.

In the past, being an ‘old maid’ had a pejorative meaning, a lonely old woman who lived with her cat. Today there are many single women leading fulfilled lives. I never achieved my dreams, and although I live on my own, I lead a creative life, painting, singing and writing. I live in a small cottage, not quite in the countryside, and I have many friends. And yes, I do have a cat!

SELF DEVELOPMENT

It is the time of year when we all make New Year resolutions, and then promptly break or forget them. I have not made any resolutions for a long time, knowing that I will not keep them. This year is different, because I have started with an intention, and my intention is to complete my book.

I have not written anything for a long time, not since my last blog when I wrote about my dear friend Rezza, who died last January. Since that time I have been wallowing in a slough of despond, from which I have been trying to extricate myself through various means. Now, at the beginning of a new year, I have done it.

I have recovered my self belief and my self confidence. I had lost the belief that I had a story worth telling, and any ability to actually tell it. Now I know that my story is worth telling and I am ready to start again. In another blog I may relate how I was able to regain my self belief.

At the beginning of the year I wrote a new Prologue to my book, which is called – for now –  “Journeys round my life”.  The book is in two parts, the first one, which I am calling “Journeys round my mother”, covers my life up to the age of forty six when my mother died. This is completed and I intend to publish it on Kindle. The second part, which covers the rest of my life up to the present, will be called “Journeys round my Self”. This part I have still to write.

Here is my Prologue:

“I remember a moment when I was living in Paris in the early sixties – I was in my thirties – and I had made the tremendous leap of moving to Paris, bringing my mother with me, to work in NATO.

I was sitting in a café with my Romanian friend Arlette. It was one of those cafés, probably on the Left Bank, where one could sit for hours just conversing. I had made many attempts to make some French friends, and the closest I had come to it was Arlette. She had been born in France, but had never quite managed to fit in, and we had met at a club for foreigners. She was striking to look at, with jet black curly hair and flashing brown eyes. She was flamboyant, loquacious and full of creative ideas, and I was happy to follow in her wake.

So  –  there I was  –  in this café with two of her friends, and they had given us a game to play: it was a psychological game. On a piece of paper they asked us to draw three vertical lines, evenly spaced, and one horizontal line across the middle, producing six squares. In each of these squares we had to draw a symbol, a dot, a curve, a straight line and so on. We then had to complete and add to the symbol in our own way. Each of the squares represented some aspect of our personality. I remember particularly the first one, which was a dot, and represented the Self.

I had drawn lines radiating out from the dot, and then a circular line around the rays, turning the image into a wheel.

“Oh, that’s interesting”, said one of them, “that means self development.”

“Yes, we haven’t seen that one for a long time,” said the other.

It is interesting what one forgets, and what one remembers. That I have always remembered.

I have always been an observer, one who sits on the edge of life, observing others. Since I have started to write my own story, I have become the observer of my own life, and I can now see how much I have evolved and grown from those early years. I am still evolving and growing, a fact which astonishes me and fills me with gratitude.

I find my own story a fascinating one. I hope that you, the reader, will find it too.”

 

 

REZZA

 

My friend Rezza has died.  She got her unusual name when she married her third husband, Simon, who did not like her name Blanche at that time, and renamed her Rezza from the the musical term ‘tenerezza’, meaning  ‘with tenderness.’

She was 93 when she died, a good age, but she had seemed indestructible. Even when her daughter rang me about two weeks before her death, she called out from her bed:

“I’m not dying, I’m getting better.’

I almost believed her, after all, she had cured herself of cancer by going on a carrot juice diet, thus depriving the cancer of anything it could feed on. She knew everything there was to know about diet, and about her own body, just as she knew everything about plants and how to grow them, and their values and properties.

It is still early days,  and it has not quite registered that I will no longer be able to ring her and hear her familiar voice:

“Hello darling ……”

and then have a long conversation lasting about an hour, during which time we will discuss everything, from the state of the world, old books we have both read, her children, my writing, from which I will always emerge feeling refreshed, energised, and full of hope again. She has been a lifesaver in my life for so long. How will I survive? I almost felt I wanted to die too when Rebecca said:

“Rezza died last night.”

I first met Rezza in the 1970s when I was living in Brussels. I was going to the School of Philosophy and my friend Rozel had met her, then named Blanche, at a health spa in England, and had invited her over to Brussels.

I was very shy, retiring, and very earnest. Rezza knew how to penetrate my defences. She was a natural chatterbox and communicator, lively but at the same time intuitive, generous and kind. She made me laugh, she knew about books, she gave me advice on diet, about which she knew a great deal. She was deeply spiritual, but not in any conventional sense.

“There is no security in life” she said, “you must not hang on to anything.”

We became firm friends, and she became my confidante, my mentor and guide. Five years before I retired I was able to buy a small house in Bath. She visited me there, the house was unfurnished apart from two camp beds and a bean bag. We would sit in the front room by the gas fire and she would talk about Simon, whom she had just met: she was madly in love with him and trying to resist it. He was a priest. I was in love  with my boss, who was a married man. We confided in and commiserated with each other.

Rezza married Simon. They had met whilst both of them were doing charitable work looking after the disabled. He was very musical and had a beautiful voice. It was his voice that she fell in love with, she said. He also had psychological problems and Rezza was determined that she could cure him, through diet and her loving care. She was sixty and he was five years younger, they were like a couple of teenagers together. She rode a motorbike and he was a crazy driver. He drove her everywhere at great speed, to Devon and Cornwall, along the rocky coastline, and to Dartmoor where they went for long walks, and talked and talked. Rezza loved it all.

When I retired back to England in 1989 I would visit them. Simon was now a priest in Sidbury in Devon. He was not a conventional priest, which upset some of the older members of his congregation, but he was a very caring man and soon gathered a devoted group of old ladies around him, which made Rezza laugh. She herself never played the role of vicar’s wife.

Wherever she lived Rezza had a garden, where she would grow flowers, vegetables and herbs. She was a vegetarian and cooked beautiful vegetarian meals, which she made Simon eat, though I think he often enjoyed meat when he was out with his parishioners.This would upset her, as she had very firm ideas about diet and food values and what was good for him.

Rezza loved nature and all growing things, she had a natural affinity with the earth,and a sensitivity to plants and flowers and trees. She communicated with them.She was never happier than when out in her garden, digging and planting.

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Rezza with her daughter Rebecca in her garden. She was about eighty.

After I retired I visited Rezza often, driving down to Devon in my red Vauxhall car.

 

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Rezza and Daphne. We looked like sisters, which Rezza said we were.

Over the years Rezza’s life changed and became more difficult. Simon retired and they had to move from their lovely home. Then he became ill and Rezza, now in her eighties, could no longer look after him. They moved down to Ditchling, near Rezza’s daughter, Simon in a home, Rezza in a small, dark, damp flat, which was all she could afford, no garden.

She did still have her allotment, nearby, where she used to go every day to care for her precious plants, and then two allotments, one for her daughter. She was delighted when she received the silver cup for best allotment, two years running!  She no longer travelled. Every day she would visit Simon, who was still angry with her for having him put in a home, which hurt her deeply.

I phoned every week, she was always cheerful, and funny, with the occasional moan, inevitable in the circumstances. We even talked of trying to live together in a retirement home, but I knew in my heart it would not work.

The last time I saw her was three years ago, when she was ninety. I travelled down to Ditchling and stayed in a b&b.  She was wafer thin, her eyesight was very poor, we walked slowly over to her allotment and sat there, in the sunshine, in companionable silence.

A short time after I heard she was giving up her allotments. This was a great grief to her, they were her lifeline, but she could no longer see to cross the road. Then Simon died, after six long years in a home in a vegetative state. In one sense it was a release for him, and for her a shattering loss.

Last June, when the country voted for Brexit, Rezza finally had to leave her flat as her landlady had decided to sell it. Another flat was found which seemed ideal, a granny flat on the ground floor, with a garden, in a private house. It was the beginning of the end. Rezza, now blind, was finding it difficult to cope in her new surroundings. She was no longer in charge. Whenever I rang, our conversations became shorter and shorter. The last time I spoke to her was just before Christmas.

Rezza died on the 17th January, in her own bed, peacefully, her son and daughter by her side, of old age.

She was a remarkable woman. She was born in the East End of London, a real cockney girl with a love for dance. I can imagine her, a wild bright child, dancing round the streets. Somewhere along the line she lost her cockney accent.

She was a land girl during the war, then she trained to become a teacher and taught small children. She married three times, she was too young the first time, she said. In those days she was a communist and her second husband, was a high ranking Communist official. She had two children with Harry, a boy and a girl. The marriage did not last  and they divorced. When I met her she was bringing up her children on her own.

Her health suffered and she consulted a naturopath. Dr. Latto. She began to study diet, she became a vegetarian and started to advise others on their health problems. Whatever she did, she did thoroughly. She found her spiritual path through Ken, a master, a teacher, who lived in Wales. She attended his groups and followed his teaching from then on. She studied yoga and became a yoga teacher.rezza-at-80-in-her-garden

Rezza at 80 in front of the apple tree

All the time I knew Rezza she never read a newspaper, never listened to radio or watched television. She had her books and her record player. She knew what was going on in the world, she said. She introduced me to new writers, Jacob Needleman, Ken Wilber, she gave me a copy of Rilke’s Book of Hours. We had both read and loved Charles Morgan in our youth, a sign of our age!

She had a favourite poem, called My Body Effervesces by Anna Swir.

”  I am born for the second time .  I am light as the eyelash of the wind. I froth, I am froth. I walk dancing, if I wish, I will soar.”

This was how she was, a bright and free spirit.

When she could no longer read, she relied on her spiritual practices, a combination of physical, mental and spiritual meditations, to maintain her equanimity and balance. Even though she was now almost blind, she was still able do her own cooking  and move around in her small flat.

One of her favourite authors was Edward Monckton, a comic poet and writer. She would quote him often.

“Let us be lovely and let us be kind. Let us be silly and free. It won’t make us famous, it won’t make us rich. But dammit how HAPPY we’ll be!”

That is how I shall remember her, laughing, happy and free.

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Rezza at 93 in lotus position

 

 

 

 

WHERE ARE WE ALL GOING?

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This is a photograph of Bede Griffiths, the Benedictine monk who went out to India to find, as he said, the other half of his soul. There he took charge of an ashram called Shantivanam. in Tamil Nadu in southern India. The Indians, in the small village community where the ashram was situated, all looked upon him as a saint.

I never had the good fortune to meet Father Bede, though I had tried a couple of times. I did, however, visit his ashram in December, 1993. Bede had died in May of that year, and the place was still full of his presence. I felt it profoundly as I sat in the hut where he had lived, or in front of the Library where he liked to sit, gazing out over the landscape.

I was fortunate, though, to meet Brother Martin, the guest master who took over from Bede Griffiths in giving the afternoon talks. I did not, at that time, feel I was a  really committed Christian, but listening to Brother Martin made me see Christianity in an entirely new light. In fact, I was bowled over by him.

Recent events in the political world have been profoundly disturbing, not least the election of Donald Trump as the president of the United States, the most powerful nation in the world. This is a man who seems set to overthrow our present system of democracy and liberal ideals and replace it by a narrow, self serving, fear laden, racist and isolationist ideology, based on greed, self aggrandisement and an appeal to man’s lower instincts.

How did we get here? How did all this come about? I have recently been watching two films, one a short film, three quarters of an hour, one a full length film of an hour and half. The last one, WN, by Zadie Smith, I nearly turned off. I thought ‘I don’t want to watch this, but I did watch it as I always get hooked by a story, and it did, in fact, have a good and sweet ending. The other film had two stories, based on greed and pornography: both had their comeuppance in the law.

So many films nowadays are based on murder and crime of some sort, and on people’s unhappy lives, which must reflect the state of our society. Most of my friends do not live this kind of life. Why, I wonder, do the people who make these films think we would want to watch them. There must be sufficient numbers of people watching to make it worth their while. I think this surely must have a drip drip effect on people’s psyche, because willy nilly one does end up watching some of them.

There was a man called Gurdjieff, he came from Armenia, in the early part of the twentieth century, who used to say that men were half asleep, their minds were disconnected from their bodies, and so they lived in a semi hypnotic state, barely conscious of what was going on in their lives. His aim was to try and bring people into the present, in much the same way as Eckhart Tolle is trying to do today.

The media has played a large part in the manipulation of people’s minds, and the advertising industry very cleverly manipulates people into buying certain products.

I think this present situation has come about because the majority of people no longer have a religious faith, and they no longer believe in God, the Creator. Yet they are still looking, searching for a deeper meaning to their lives. Having a car, money, possessions, even a loving relationship, does not entirely fulfil them.

At the same time, I know that a lot is going on at grass roots level. It seems to me that the world is being polarised, the forces of darkness against the forces of light. I think what I am trying to say is that all those who are on the side of the light must come together, must work together, to combat these dark forces. We need to be aware, we need to be vigilant, we must not fall asleep, for we are indeed living in very dangerous times.

I started off with an image of Bede Griffiths, a wise and holy man. I would like to end by talking about Cynthia Bourgeault, an American Episcopal priest, an equally wise and holy woman. She recently came to Bristol and gave a talk at St James’ Priory on centering prayer and inner awakening. She has written two books on the subject.  The theme of her talk was finding God through silence and stillness, she described it as ‘standing still in the centre.’ It can reduce stress and anxiety and bring equanimity and balance.

She was in England just at the time of the presidential election results in the States. Back in her hermitage in Maine, she recorded a brief reflection on the election result. I would like to share it with you here. It is worth listening to. You can find it on: http://www.vimeo.com/191109234.  We need all the wisdom we can muster in these dark times.

 

 

PEACE BE WITH YOU