heart, universe, one word

Ars Amatoria

I want to put my lips

On your ribcage

Just a bit off to the left

Of your sternum

On your strong beating heart

The wings of a powerful hawk

On my mouth, my tongue

The turbulent flow

Of your life force

Whenever I do this to you

Your hands

Clenching and unclenching

Contracting and expanding

Like the universe inhaling

And exhaling

“Jac”, you breathed

The content of your heart

And your whole existence

Years of waiting

Contained in that one word

O Potestatem, my Cambridge boy

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A short, cruel but beautiful love story……

It’s called Tadpole’s Promise, and it was written by Jeanne Willis and illustrated by Tony Ross.

In the story, a caterpillar and tadpole meet, fall in love and promise each other to never change.

But of course, we know that tadpoles and caterpillars have to change to progress in life. Like them, we too cannot afford to be stuck. Our relationships have to evolve with the years. What happens then?

Once the Tadpole breaks his promise to the Caterpillar three times the Caterpillar gives up on her prince. The irony in the story is that the Caterpillar herself changes too. She turns into a Butterfly.

But because they stubbornly hung on to their idealism of perfection, they lost touch with each other.

And here’s the surprising, masterful part of the story: One day, the frog eats the Butterfly. Neither one of them realize they were once the Caterpillar and the Tadpole, the big loves of each other’s life.

Here’s a youtube clip of this story:

May I never lose you, Jay Dazzles.

Revisiting the road to happiness

In 2006, at the height of my career and living in Knightsbridge, I took a three-month sabbatical to meander off the beaten track in India. The reason was that I was earning in excess of £100,000, yet I never seemed to have enough money to treat myself. And all around me, I was surrounded by equally “poor”, discontented, superficially successful professionals in their 30-40’s who were in the same boat as I. I didn’t want to wake up one day to find out that a large chunk of my life had passed me by and that I had spent it being discontent and searching.

I had no fixed plans about where I was going, but I ended up in Rameswaram, the holy place for pilgrimage, and here, by the temples, I found a beggar who taught me the Sutras. I just sat beside him on the pavement reading from morning till noon, and passers-by would give us coins. At night, I would return to my simple digs and whenever I was hungry, I ate what the temple volunteers fed pilgrims: mainly watery dhal and chapati.  My sweet treat of the day would be the flavoursome little bananas that were found here.

And I was happy. I was away from my comfortable life, beautiful home and lovely family, but I was happy. I came back and wrote a book about being happy with nothing; it was more like a diary, really, about the thinking humans’ time-old quest for that illusive something called happiness.

The book became modestly successful and I returned to Rameswaram to find the old beggar. To my great joy, I found him! He was still begging in the same spot. The open sores in his legs had not gotten better. Nor had they gotten any worse. Everything was same-same.  I wondered if he remembered me.  I tried to give him money – spoils from the book – but he didn’t want it. For a while, I felt awful for exploiting him. I promised myself that someday, I would write a sequel to this book about the noble man in rags who had more wisdom in his little finger than the learned professionals I surrounded myself with.

I am revisiting this old road, this old topic, because I recently met a kindred soul on life’s rich journey. She – a businesswoman and mother of two – and I got to know each other when she came to the island I am currently living on for a week of peace, soul-searching, meditation and yoga.

We spoke about many topics. It started with the usual. Oh, how tough it is to achieve that work life balance. How difficult it is to keep everything together. The whole world is going crazy being overdosed on adrenaline. we don’t pause enough to connect with ourselves. We lose ourselves. We neglect our spiritual side.

This was when it got interesting for Nicola and I. What is spirituality? An overwhelmingly large number of people do not know (or can’t be bothered). “God”, “New Age”, “mung beans and lentils” or “sandals and socks”?

We talked animatedly round the subject, circling it, and coming back to it again and again.  What is it? it’s the part of us that needs to be acknowledged, the knowing that there is something beyond the smallness of our everyday life. It could be something as ubiquitous as a beautiful scenery in front of your eyes or a piece of music that stirs your soul.  Holding the hand of your loved one and feel the connection in your heart centre. In Nicola’s case, sitting on a boat with lots of tourists on a cheap day trip, with a bunch of folks eating potato crisps and a boy puking into a paper bag as the boat rocked her towards an island filled with tourists. Happy and at peace, despite the cacophony and mundane happenings.

For within that bustle and humdrum of living is to be found that nugget of bliss. Nicola told me about the book she is currently reading, Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations by Thomas L. Friedman about the author’s gratitude for being kept waiting for it gave him the opportunity for reflection.

It reminded me of an enlightening book I read a long time ago one freezing winter in New York City with the imaginative title Shovelling Snow With Buddha by Billy Collins.

So, where does one find one’s spirituality?

Travel. Be on your own for days on end. Embrace growth and don’t be afraid of where the growth takes you. Take the time to meet yourself without the excuses, old pain, conditioning, past histories. Yeah, go shovel snow with Buddha.

Hearts and my mother Marion

The Cardiologist told me this beautiful tale about our hearts. I love the stories he tells, because they are shrouded in Eastern esoteric knowledge, folklores from a bygone world and also cutting edge medical research. He tells these stories when we walk my beloved South Downs, the Itchen Valley of my youth, the magical New Forest, the streets of London and in distant countries by the sea.

Over the years, it seems to me that he straddles the realms and he seamlessly merges the knowledge together oh so beautifully, though in the beginning I doubted him. But I have seen his strange beliefs working, in me, in my beating heart: he had patiently rebuilt my heart muscles every single evening during the dark nights and days of 2015-2016, when I was too weak to climb the six flights of stairs up to my eyrie.  We ran along the Embankment by Battersea Bridge every winter evening with my heart hooked to his. I still don’t know whether his contraption really worked, but it was a lifeline that I clung on to until I found my my own in my rebuilt heart.

When my heart went into difficulties, it sought his to find its life-saving rhythm again. It trusted his to lead it out of the infinite loop that it found itself in, that it was unable to escape from without help from somewhere, someone. My belief in him saved me.

He would put his ear against my chest with a frown on his face. “Ah,” he would say mysteriously. Sometimes, a smile would flit across his face.  He told me that during his training in cardiology, he would tape the heartbeats of as many patients as he could find and play those heartbeats back to him on his Sony Walkman, permanently attached to his ears,  until he was fluent in the language that hearts speak.

“That’s why I don’t always hear what you say, Jac, especially when you are nagging,” he often joked, and then with seriousness, “But I hear your heart all the time.”

This is something beautiful he told me a few evenings ago in rainy London, sitting in a pub near where we used to run every evening.  He told me that when a person suffers emotional trauma, his heart shifts its position within the ribcage. It could be a few millimetres or even centimetres.  I guess that’s why it feels like a physical pain sometimes, when someone or something hurts us deeply.

“Is it possible for a heart to move physically?” I mused.

He who held beating hearts in his hands many times said “Yes” with utter conviction.  “The power of thought alone can move a robotic arm, so this is no different. Science will bear this view of mine out in a few years’ time.”

He said that his heart had shifted a lot in the year that his mother died (when he was eight) and the brutal years in an English boarding school that followed his mother’s early death. He grew up learning to live with his heart in a different place.

“But when I walked into your mother’s house for the very first time, when she opened her arms to me and smiled at me with that big smile of hers, I felt something move in me. It was my heart, Jac, going back to its original place.”

 

The White Horse

In Catching Infinity, I wrote about 14-year-old Alice biking all the way from Jericho in the city of Oxford to the village of Uffington, where the White Horse had danced for 3,000 years, so big that it is visible from the skies. Here, she had lain quietly, alone,  looking at the stars and thinking about her love 8,272 miles away in Cape Town, South Africa.

Nobody knows precisely who or what civilisation created the White Horse of Uffington, only that every year, on chalking day for thousands of years, people had come here to clean the Horse. This tradition still goes on to this very day, with teams of volunteers turning up to clean and chalk this ancient monument of beauty. You can read the article on Smithsonian here.

I wrote this poem on May 16th, 2016:

ON BEING ENGLISH

When I close my eyes
And kiss your lips
I hear the winds
Of Uffington Castle
Singing in my ears
And the White Horse
Of Oxfordshire
Dances behind my eyelids
Hooves pounding in my heart
As the unmistakable taste of
An Englishman
strong on my lips
Each time I kiss you
Open your eyes
Show me your colours
Whatever you may say
Stop fighting me
Lay down your sword

Let go of
Your strength
Love yourself
And love me
Don’t give away
Your nationality
Don’t give away
Me
Together we are bound
By the heartbeats
Of our fair England
For Cross of St George
And my Englishman
My fire burns

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If you are interested to become part of the white horse of Uffington’s chalking team, please click on the National Trust’s website to volunteer.

Eyes to see higher dimensions

The world is so full of natural miracles and little pockets of magic, but we often don’t have the eyes to see them.  Only a couple of days ago, my 17-year-old daughter mused why these humble clams have geometric patterns on their shells?

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If markings have evolved for the purpose of camouflage (and hence protection from predator), then why geometric patterns? My friend from Borneo tells me that certain shells, chosen for their markings, are soaked in babies’ bathwater to soothe skin rash.  The natural world is indeed miraculous and wondrous.

But we often don’t see beyond the first three spatial dimensions.  As PW, the protagonist in Catching Infinity said, human beings cannot see higher dimensions because of a fault in evolution. As predators do not leapt out at our early ancestors from higher dimensions, we have not evolved the capabilities to see higher dimensions.

But that capability is there. It is in our brains. Researchers from the Blue Brain Project, a Swiss research initiative devoted to building a supercomputer-powered reconstruction of the human brain, using algebraic topology have discovered groups of neurons connect into ‘cliques’, and that the number of neurons in a clique would lead to its size as a high-dimensional geometric object.

According to the researchers, algebraic topology provides mathematical tools for discerning details of the neural network both in a close-up view at the level of individual neurons, and a grander scale of the brain structure as a whole.

By connecting these two levels, the researchers could discern high-dimensional geometric structures in the brain, formed by collections of tightly connected neurons (cliques) and the empty spaces (cavities) between them.

The full article can be accessed here.

In his inaugural lecture on the 26th dimension, PW talked about being free from the cages that restrict us.  Only today, I was talking to a friend who was lamenting about the restrictions of her life. She is in her thirties, tired, weighed down and demoralised by her dead-end job and living in a grey high-rise.  But as she is single and well-qualified, there are many other exciting options out there that she could pursue instead of being stuck. But she could not see any one of those options.

“Look up Teach Georgia!” I urged her. Go to Tbilisi and beyond, to the magical land in the remote Caucus mountains, live in the pure culture, discover a new world and find the unknown world within yourself. Be alive again. Georgia is the most magical country I know.

But perhaps we are too scared to let go of the known, safe world to look beyond the limiting confines of our everyday life.  Here’s a beautiful call to opening ourselves up to live fully from Pema Chödrön. See the higher dimensions. Know that WE CAN.

If we knew that tonight we were going to go blind, we would take a longing, last real look at every blade of grass, every cloud formation, every speck of dust, every rainbow, raindrop—everything.  Pema Chödrön

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I dedicate this to my late friend Eva. Dear, I see you x

 

 

 

DRINK ME potion

The DRINK ME potion is a magic liquid in Wonderland that makes the drinker shrink in size. When Alice could not fit through the tiny trapdoor to get into the enchanted garden beyond, a glass bottle with a label that says “Drink Me” magically appeared on the table.

The potion tasted of cherry tart, custard, pineapple, roast turkey, toffee and hot buttered toast all mixed up. It was so delicious that Alice drank every last drop.

I’ve always been fascinated by magic potions and have made a few in my alchemist kitchen. The green potion in the photograph above which I made contains millions of ephemeral, powerful chlorophyll cells and has the power to heal insides and charge the human body with good energy. If it is not working after a few doses, increase the consumption and the time.

Imagine my delight in finding these botanically brewed potions! They are delicious and have the effect of making drinkers’ tastebuds sparkle.

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I will be giving these cute little bottles out the at the forthcoming Wonderland workshops to the lucky ones Stay tuned for news of exciting workshops!

If you want to read about botanical brewing, do visit Fentimans’ website by clicking on this link.

 

 

 

Love and the universe

In a time when we are hurtling towards time-poverty, where things happen at a super-fast timescale, I would like to share something old-fashioned about deep connection with another person and the universe.

January 2017

Upon seeing this sunset from my balcony, we grabbed our picnic food, stuffed it into an old rucksack, and raced 600m to the beach. I think we were smiling as we walked single-file along the busy road leading to the seafront, amidst the traffic and pedestrians living their lives on the streets. I wanted to turn around and tell him this: “I am so incredibly happy to be with you.”

At the beach, just when the world was beginning to turn dusky pink by the setting sun, we fell into step next to each other and held hands. I love holding his hand. A thousand magical things happen whenever his fingers reach for mine.

We found a spot somewhere on the beach and laid down the picnic blanket. It was my old horse blanket, all tatty and memorable, but this was one of the rare occasions I did not think about my home in the Shires. I was here, fully present with this man who lit some long-buried fire in me.

As we sat down, his arms went round me and I moulded my body to his. I could feel him kissing my hair softly. Though the cloud had come in by now and obscured the display, we were lost in the beauty of the moment.

Until I broke the enchantment and moved away from him. ‘Your back,” I said. “You’ll strain your back bearing my weight.”

He was spooning me whilst sitting upright. And I thought about the spinous fibres of his erector spinae dancing alongside his spine, and his quadratus lumborum supporting my weight. He smiled teasingly at me – only a crazy woman would think about erector spinae and quadratus lumborum in a romantic moment like this – but he followed my lead anyway. We moved to a better spot. We found a tree that was just right for us, as its trunk concaved into a hollow into which his back fitted perfectly. I relaxed again, thinking about him in yoga class, on the mat beside me.

An aeon ago, before he became this special person to me, he had been a deeply familiar system of biological parts, subject to my mental dissection and intellectual exercise. He had entered my consciousness as a familiarity, and from then on, he weaved his individual and personalised magic in me. But I had thought about his body long before then, visualised its internal workings. I saw the architectural wonders of his body in my mind’s eye before I even first kissed his skin.

And here he was now, holding me in this enchanted space. He was touching my upper arm softly, like he was tracing the intricate network of arteries, veins and capillaries beneath my skin, subcutaneous layer, connective tissues and muscles. “So soft,” he breathed, watching my face in the fading light. At that moment in time, I thought it was the most perfect moment ever. The world around us faded into a distant blur – the Russian tourists, the Chinese chatter, the beach dogs, the whole world. All that was left was just he and I alone in this vast and magical universe.

It was as if some deep part of me was waiting for this man to breathe fire into my inner being. His molecules – the signature of his essence – somehow fitted in the intricate 3-D molecular structures within me, catalysing a waterfall of beautiful reactions. It is said that emotions arise from the synapses in the brain, but I am not so sure. I felt a visceral reaction deep within me at the taste of him.

We ate goat’s cheese and sundried tomatoes. And sticky mango rice. I tasted that on his lips, his tongue, his saliva, and felt all the parts of me that was capable of expressing joy coming alive, coming to glorious life.

And reading the book by Sophie Sabbage about the art of living on borrowed time, I thought, how exquisite it is to feel and to love deeply. Indeed, we don’t ‘fall’ in love. We rise. We are more, not less, of ourselves in its presence. We are uplifted, not laid low.

And thus we live; we really live.

Jellyfish and Winnie The Pooh

The conversation started between my daughter and I about jellyfish, because I wrote a short story about a girl who kept jellyfish in the bath.

“Jellyfish are pointless,” G declared. “They have no brains.”

Brains are overrated, as my partner once told me. Sea squirts are born with brains to allow them to move to where they want to go, and then, upon finding their happy spot, they ate their brains up. Jellyfish don’t even have brains to start off with.

But this conversation reminded me of a book I once read, beautifully written by Benjamin Hoff, with the title The Tao of Pooh. The book opened with Confucius, Buddha and Laotzi (the traditional founder of Taoism) standing over a vat of vinegar. Confucius found the vinegar sour, the Buddha found it bitter whilst Laozi found it satisfying.

The jellyfish, without brain and hence, without direction, is the embodiment of the Tao principle of wei wu wei, the concept of “effortless doing”. They just float freely in the ocean, and if you ever watched a jellyfish swim, you could almost see enjoyment in their brainless beings as it flows up and down with the current stream.

It goes where the ocean takes it, no preference, no complaint, all experiences same-same to the jellyfish. This is the Taoist principle of pu, which is to be open to all that life brings us but be unburdened by it.

“Passiveness!” She retorted spiritedly, with her usual fire.

Indeed it is, but it is because Taoism sees nature/the universe as a self-balancing system that does not require an input of external force.

Like the jellyfish, we can learn so much from life around us and go amazing places, IF we open ourselves to it. So dear daughter, two very beautiful teachings from a humble, brainless living being. Just go with the flow of the ocean of life, reconcile yourself with the natural universe and embrace all experiences without being unnecessarily burdened by these experiences.

******

Three philosophers – a follower of Confucius, a Buddhist and a Taoist – fell seriously ill.

The Confucius philosopher: “I will seek out the best doctor and follow the advice and rituals.”

The Buddhist: “Life is about suffering. I will mediate and understand the nature of suffering and hence, gain self-realisation and freedom.”

The Taoist: “I am part of the universe. Thus I will carry on, without fear of death.”

Finding a piece of paradise

I was trying to find a small piece of paradise for a few days, some little place amongst a coconut grove with an ocean roaring beyond. It took me a while, though I live on the tropical island of Phuket. I didn’t want boutique villas or Airbnb houses owned by expats, and I certainly didn’t want hotels.

I wanted rural and real, yet with some modern comforts.

I went north, off the beaten path a bit, and in the shadows of a couple of international hotels, I found what I was looking for. The owner is a 42-year old Thai lady who used to work as an airport representative at Phuket International Airport. Dhao (or Stella) owns a piece of land on which she built eight sweet little bungalows. She built the bungalows away a bit from the sea so that they are not threatened by the sometimes violent monsoon that hit the island during the rainy seasons. “I’ve been here for four years, and I have not needed to change anything,” she said. I like her story as we drove in her little car, laughing like two old friends.

Stella (left) and I:

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Our little house was basic: plastic furniture, a few sticks of furniture, beach mats in the cupboard. But there were butterflies and little birds in the verdant garden where our pink bungalow sits.

“Look,” he said. “There’s a sort of a woodpecker just by the long grass.”

“Love his stripey pants,” I replied, looking out of the window, feeling foolishly happy, loving the peace around us.

We paddled a long way out on one paddle board, just two human beings, the sun, the sea breeze and the open ocean. This is how life is meant to be, I realised, stripped of its complications and unnecessary burdens.

At night, we had the back door open and watched the rain, listened to the call of the insects outside. Yes, there were mosquitoes but hmmm, they never bit me. I slept peacefully and deeply, to wake up to a beautiful blazing day. And the days were indeed beautiful, as well as peaceful and tranquil. I wondered fleetingly how this little piece of paradise would be like when the seven other bungalows are occupied, but no matter, we are surrounded by so much lush, undeveloped space.

I began writing the draft for my new book. He sits cross-legged on the bed, wearing anti-glare glasses, frowning a little as he deconstructed what I wrote. For me, life couldn’t get any better than it was at this moment.

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Stella can be contacted at themaikhaobeachroom@gmail.com