Buddha by Karen Armstrong

For those seeking peace in the midst of this chaotic world Karen Armstrong’s book, Buddha, offers hope. It talks more about a way of life than religion. Words such as enlightenment and Nirvana are inspirational but remain elusive and theoretical to all but a few. To know that the Buddha was born an ordinary man and through his own personal search reached enlightenment gives encouragement to those who are trying make sense of life in this troubled world.

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Siddhatta Gotoma (often spelt Siddhartha Gautama) was born into a wealthy family, his father being a prominent figure in Kapilavatthu, Nepal. Cosseted by his over indulgent father, Gotama had everything he desired and was sheltered from every form of suffering. He knew nothing of sickness, pain and death while growing up.

When he did finally encounter the misery and hardship that blighted the existence of those beyond his ivory tower he was appalled and became obsessed with the suffering that was the human experience. So much so that he decided to leave his comfortable home to seek a solution to life’s ills. He believed there had to be a way to “enjoy a calm in the midst of life’s tragedies that gave meaning to existence in a flawed world”.

One night, at the age of twenty nine, Gotama donned the robes of an ascetic and left behind his wife and baby to roam the forests in search of “a solution to the puzzle of existence…everything in the mundane world had, it was thought, its more powerful, positive replica in the divine realm” and Gotama was determined to find it.

So the search began.

Over the next five or six years Gotama joined various groups, partaking in their teachings but found they had little effect on him as a person. Physical and sensory deprivation did not lead to overcoming desire and greed – in fact it often had the opposite effect.

“He was not ‘entering into’ the doctrine and dwelling in it…the teachings remained remote, metaphysical abstractions and seemed to have little to do with him personally…try as he would he could gain no glimmer of his real self, which remained obstinately hidden by what seemed an unpenetrable rind of Praktri (nature)

As time went by Gotama believed that the teachers could not provide him with what he sought, that he must seek it directly; experience it directly. He was convinced that the answers lay deep within him and only he could “release the treasure that was held within”.

Whereas the ancient religions taught that salvation was through ritual and sacrifice, Gotama – and others at that time, such as Socrates and Confucius – thought that salvation lay within the reaches of each individual but that there was something inherent in human nature preventing the spiritual experience.

“The sages and prophets of the Axial Age (800bc – 200bc) were gradually realising that egotism was the greatest hindrance to the experience of the Absolute and sacred reality they sought. A man or a woman had to lay aside the selfishness that seems so endemic to our humanity if he or she wishes to apprehend the reality of God.

In conjunction with the skilful meditation techniques he had learned over the years, Gotama set about the practise of ‘mindfulness’ and self analysis. Gotama realised that even though he could achieve elevated states of consciousness “when he came out of his trance he was still subject to passion, desire and craving. He remained his unregenerate self. He had not been transformed by the experience and had attained no lasting peace”.

He believed that alongside the mediation practise, it was essential to cultivate kindness and compassion and to relinquish the unhealthy states of greed, violence and anger. He believed that right thought and right action would lead to peace in this challenging world. Daily, he would reflect on his thoughts and actions and determine if he could be kinder and more harmonious with those around him. He believed that compassion was the key to advancement on the spiritual path and he believed that “the new self developed imperceptibly over a long period”.

Although history relates that Siddhatta Gotama reached sudden enlightenment whilst sitting one day under the Bodhi tree, some think that it was at this time he received the revelation on how to reach enlightenment; that personal transformation had to come first.

The words of the Buddda are as practical today as they were over two thousand years ago. Compassion is the key to spiritual advancement and to practise compassion it is necessary to become free from the control of the ego. To consider others; to put others before our own selfish desires and not alway think of ourselves first.

The ego, in its fight for self-preservation, controls thought and action: The need to be right in an argument; the anger experienced when someone fails to consider our needs; the desire to obtain more wealth rather than sharing what we already have. These are all part of the human condition and which, if we wish to find peace in the midst of chaos, we must let go of. The Buddha believed that Instead of ignoring, denying or fighting suffering it is necessary to see it, understand it and work with it. It is our lessons. It can make us better people if we do not work against it or refuse to acknowledge it.

There seems to be within us an inner resistance to change and the awakening of our true selves, our inner being. The desire to meditate is often thwarted by distraction. The ability to stick to any serious research for the ‘inner spirit’  becomes an ongoing struggle.

What the story of Siddhatta Gotama highlights is that this struggle is experienced by everyone – even, or especially,  those who finally achieve enlightenment – but that with tenacity and strength of mind we all have the possibility of finding calm in this challenging world. Problems will aways arise, troubles forever on the horizon. The key is to learn how to deal with them in a manner that reduces suffering.

Buddha is telling us that we are often architects of our own suffering but that a different mindset can allow us to be happy in a world fraught with pain.

“The attainment of Nirvana did not mean the Buddha would never experience any more suffering. He would still grow old, get sick and die like everyone else and would experience pain while doing so. Nirvana does not give an awakened person trance like immunity but an inner haven which enables a man or woman to live with the pain, to take possession of it, affirm it, and experience a profound peace of mind in the midst of suffering

Karen Armstrong has provided a wonderful, easy to digest, insight into the life of an ordinary man who found Nirvana and achieved enlightenment. Although this book is about the Buddha I think it provides hope and encouragement for anyone trying to find meaning in life. I do believe that the basic tenets of most religions are those of love and compassion and the Buddha has provided a practical approach to work towards achieving these qualities to enable every individual access to a better quality of life.

The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan

You can read more about Ruth Hogan as she discusses her writing journey In Conversation with Greenacre Writers

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When Anthony Peardew, a British writer, discovers what he believes are human ashes in a Huntley & Palmers biscuit tin, while travelling on the 14.42 from London Bridge to Brighton, he labels the tin with the place and date of its discovery and stores it on a shelf in his study, along with all the other lost items he has collected.

In the clutches of old age Anthony is still grieving for his fiancee, Therese, who died tragically forty years before. On the day she died Anthony also lost the precious medallion his beloved Therese had given him and, although he was unaware of it at the time, losing the medallion provided a means for Anthony to find purpose to his life. Although devastated by Therese’s death he knew it would be wrong for him to throw away the future he had.

He would a million times rather had spent it with her, but to give up when she died would have been the greatest wrong; to throw away the gift that had been snatched from her would have been an act of appalling ingratitude and cowardice.”

So he dedicated his life to collecting lost items in the hope of returning them to their rightful owners, as he had hoped that one day he would be reunited with the lost medallion. As well as meticulously labelling and storing the objects he found, he also created imaginative stories as to the circumstances surrounding their loss. As Anthony finds his health deteriorating he is determined to hand over the responsibility of the lost things to his faithful housekeeper-come-secretary, Laura.

Laura, in the aftermath of divorce from her husband Vince, had been “barely surviving on wine and medication” when she had seen the advertisement for the post of housekeeper/personal assistant as she flicked through a magazine in the doctor’s surgery waiting room while seeking a remedy for her depression.

That had been six years before. Now Laura experienced only comfort and peace at Padua – Anthony’s mansion set in tranquil surroundings – and takes pleasure in caring for the house and her boss. To Laura, Anthony Peardew “was like a comforting constant, like Radio 4, Big Ben and Land of Hope and Glory”. On his death Anthony bequeaths Padua and all that is in it to Laura with the caveat that she continues to attempt to reunite the lost items with their rightful owners.

Interspersed between Anthony and Laura’s narrative the reader is taken back to the 1970’s to follow the lives of Eunice and Bomber to present day. Like Laura, Eunice sought a change from her mundane existence. Young and bored she answered an advertisement for an assistant to a busy publisher and her life was transformed when she met Bomber. Full of charisma and charm Bomber always made those around him feel good. Slowly Eunice falls in love and although Bomber can never reciprocate a close friendship develops.

The Keeper of Lost Things is a charming novel where Ruth Hogan has successfully blended the believable with fantasy to entertain but also to give the reader the opportunity to reflect on the deeper meanings of the story. It covers love and loss, friendship and pain through beautifully written prose, especially in the short stories relating to the lost objects.

While reading these poignant tales it gives pause for thought that these items have a story behind them. That the loss of the “Lime green hair bobble with plastic flowers. Found on the playing field Derrywood Park, 2 September...” came about during a moment of courage and triumph for its owner.

And, like the objects, people too have a story. When meeting strangers we have no knowledge of their past; what has brought them to where they are today; what experiences have made them who they are. Ruth Hogan has weaved a tale that highlights the complexities of human relationships and has done so with tenderness and a dose of humour through the lives of these delightful characters.

Bomber’s sister Portia and the ghostly element surrounding Therese bring a lighter side to the story. Sunshine, the nineteen year old girl with Down’s Syndrome, who befriends Laura, is special in many ways. In her innocence she reminds us that because someone is different their views and opinions should be respected.

And then there is Freddy the handsome gardener at Padua…how can Laura resist!

A lovely book to read sitting by a log fire…with a glass of wine…on a cold winter’s night.

Enjoy.

You can follow Ruth on Twitter: @ruthmariehogan

 

Not minding what happens

There is a lovely story in Eckhart Tolle’s book A New Earth about a gathering of people who have gone to listen to Krishnamurti speak in order to gain some understanding of how to achieve peace and enlightenment.

“I will tell you my secret” says Krishnamurti as the crowd wait with bated breath. This is the moment they have all been waiting for. A chance, at last, to grasp the meaning of Krishnamurti’s lectures.

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“I don’t mind what happens” he tells them.

And that’s it! Can you imagine their disappointment? Their confusion? What did he mean? How can we not mind what happens?

Our car gets bumped. We mind. Our house is repossessed. We mind. A close family accident-152075__340member is ill or dies – of course we jolly well mind! So what was the message Krishnamurti was trying to convey?

I have thought about this on many occasions and believe I am finally getting an inkling of its meaning. Language is not always clear. Perhaps I misunderstand (along with many of those listening to Krishnamurti that day) what he meant by ‘not minding’.

There is a subtle difference between not minding what happens and not caring about what happens.

Was it possible, I wondered, to care without minding?

I decided it was. I replaced ‘not minding what happens’ with ‘accepting what happens’ and set about putting it into practise. Our leaking roof seemed a good place to start.

Our flat roof, after a heavy deluge, brings rain water into the house. I have spent many exasperating hours painting on layers of roof sealant and it stops leaking for a while, tricking me into believing that, finally, I’ve sorted it. Then the sealant cracks under the summer sun creating havoc again the following winter.

Each time it leaks I curse and swear and bring out the bucket until I can get back up there to repair it again. (Get a professional to fix it I hear you scream but that’s a whole other story which I will not bore you with right now. Suffice to say I am the current roof fixer – and clearly not a very good one!)

As I sat at my computer last week, trying to hash out my second novel, the drips began. I looked outside and knew that the dark, ominous  clouds would not allow me out on the roof for a day or two at least.-product-674998000

I ran for the bucket.

I tried to remain calm and continue working. After all, once the rain stopped it would dry up. Other than an unsightly brown patch on the ceiling (just don’t look up I kept telling myself) you would never know it had leaked.

During this internal monologue I began to understand Krishnamurti’s philosophy. I was able to accept the leak without getting stressed but I cared enough to get up on the roof and fix it as soon as it was dry. I had learned to accept what was happening.

Whether I will be able to apply this reasoning to other areas of my life only time will tell but I sense a breakthrough.

I have hope that when I return home from a weekend at my father’s to discover the sink full of dirty dishes I will not boil with rage and shriek at my husband and son like a fishwife…

I will let you know!

Do we need to believe in an elusive spiritual world to benefit from spiritual practice?

A spiritual practice or spiritual discipline (often including spiritual exercises) is the regular or full-time performance of actions and activities undertaken for the purpose of inducing spiritual experiences and cultivating spiritual development – Wikipedia 

The above gives a fairly accurate definition of spiritual practice but I wonder if we truly need to believe in an elusive spiritual world to benefit from spiritual practice.

What is ‘spiritual practice’ after all?

Meditation, yoga, mindfulness with the occasional prayer thrown in when times are tough (let’s face it even those who do not believe in God pray when desperate). Do we need to undertake such exercises with the sole aim of ‘inducing spiritual experiences and cultivating spiritual development’?

I don’t believe we do.

I was propelled into this line of thought after listening to a conversation on the tube between two women (I do this a lot so be careful what you talk about!). One appeared to be in her 20’s, the other in her 50’s. Mother and daughter perhaps. The younger woman said, a little self-consciously, that she had signed up for an eight week course in meditation and mindfulness to help her deal with her stressful job.

The older woman’s lip curled, a look of disdain on her face, as she replied:

‘You don’t believe in all that rubbish do you? Just a waste of money. They’re out to con you. You’ll be telling me next you’ve seen angels and was Lady Godiva in a past life!’

The young woman’s shoulders sagged and she didn’t reply, knowing perhaps that any attempt at defending her actions would be futile. The older woman then went on to complain about her ailments and how fed up she was.

By the time they had left the tube I felt depressed so I can image how the young woman must have felt because she probably had to listen to the other woman whinging on a regular basis.

This is the problem when anything connected with the spiritual comes into the mix, especially when some books or magazines claim they are ready to take your soul to a new level – probably in just 30 days!! People are sceptical and remain closed to the benefits of taking up practises like meditation, mindfulness and yoga.

But is it necessary to believe in the soul, in reincarnation or the possibility of an out of body experience to take advantage of what these practices have to offer? Surely the exercises can be carried out on different levels with different aims.

The ultimate goal for those on the spiritual path is enlightenment/transcendence. This means a shift in experience and perception of the world around us which frees us from pain and suffering. The problem with this approach is that most of us are unlikely to attain this goal anytime soon and are doomed for disappointment if that is all we are aiming for.

Is it not enough to practise mindfulness as frequently as possible in order to foster a measure of control over our emotions and enjoy life more fully? Is it not enough to practise yoga and meditation to calm the mind and keep the body fit? Is it not enough to think positively and make the best of each day?

There is a growing body of evidence that meditation alone can curb anger, relieve depression, lower blood pressure and…wait for it…increase grey matter in the brain (eat your heart out Poirot!) Mindfulness puts us in the present, allowing the appreciation of each day rather than waiting for something that may, possibly, happen in the distant future. The benefits of yoga for physical health and energy are well documented.

A belief in the metaphysical is not a prerequisite for partaking in these beneficial ‘spiritual practices’.

In fact, sometimes the desire to search for evidence of a spiritual world, of life after death, becomes so all-consuming that family and friends become less of a priority – and this should not be the aim of a true spiritual disciple. It is also easy to become disillusioned on the spiritual path when, after regular practice, a spiritual experience remains elusive.

Fantastic if you are on a quest to understand the purpose of existence but for those who are not, there are still huge benefits both mental and physical to engaging in the exercises of spiritual practice. The goals may be different but the advantages are the same for all. How amazing to be able to retrain your mind to positive thinking in order to be happy, calm and in control. How good would it be for your body to be fit and pain free? I can’t think of much that would be better!

 

…and if you are that lady on the tube, stop complaining and take up meditation, mindfulness, yoga  – or all three. Your family and friends will be grateful, I’m sure!

The Golden Apples of the Hesperides

“There are persons, who, without ever having any external signs of selfishness, are intensely selfish in their spiritual aspirations.The Labours of Hercules by Alice A Bailey.

Those on the spiritual path may find the esoteric study of The Labours of Hercules by Alice Bailey interesting. It carries a lot of wisdom and my favourite Labour is Gathering the Golden Apples of the Hesperides.

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Hercules is sent to find the Golden Apples from the sacred tree of wisdom, growing in a distant land and well-guarded by three maidens and a dragon. Naturally, Hercules wants to take the quickest route. He’s in a hurry. Having no clue as to the whereabouts of this wonderful but elusive tree, he searches far and wide and eventually becomes despondent.

He is sent help in the form of Nereus who drops subtle hints – signposts – but Hercules does not recognise them for what they are. He then meets Busiris – a teacher – who claims knowledge and wisdom will be attained through him and it takes Hercules a long time to realise he has been duped. Time wasted. The teacher is not getting him any closer to finding what he seeks.

Next he meets Prometheus chained to a rock, vultures eating his liver, slowly killing him. Hercules sees Prometheus suffering, helps to set him free and stays with him until he is well before continuing his search for the Golden Apples.

Just as he believes he is close to finding the sacred tree he comes across Atlas carrying atlas-2433967__340the burden of the world on his shoulders. Seeing the intense suffering of Atlas he forgets his own ambitions and assists Atlas in releasing the burden of his load. Time is lost but because he has put Atlas before himself he is immediately handed the Golden Apples. 

He has found what he is seeking; he has passed the tests.

There is so much in this Labour to think about. The first is that despondency on the spiritual path is common to almost every aspirant, if not all. Enlightenment is elusive but then it would be wouldn’t it? We all know we are not going to be handed such a precious pearl without a lot of hard work.

And this is where the signposts come in. They are everywhere apparently but so subtle that they are frequently missed – even by Hercules! The seeker must be ever vigilant in case an opportunity is missed. 

Then we come to the teacher. The guru. Practically every serious seeker wants a guru. Someone to guide them along the path. Show them the shortest and quickest route. Who wouldn’t? But like Hercules, sometimes it distracts the seeker from finding his own way and the search becomes even more arduous; despondency ever greater.

It is only when Hercules encounters intense suffering, suffering he cannot ignore, that he puts aside his own ambitions and selfish desires and helps Prometheus and Atlas. This was all that was required of him. To put the needs of those suffering before his desire to find the tree.

Now back to the quote at the top of the page. We see many around us who give, apparently selflessly, to others in need. But do we know their motives? For many it will be pure and they will, hopefully, be handed the Golden Apples. The pearls.

According to this Labour help offered must come from the heart, not as a way of earning brownie points, thinking ‘Well, if I mow the lawn for the miserable old git next door who never says thank you then at least I’m helping myself into the good books of heaven.’ 

It is not enough to do good deeds with the view to self-enhancement.

Each time I read this particular Labour of Hercules I see more and more of what is required on the spiritual path and it is sometimes painful to reflect and uncover the motives for doing what I do. Am I annoyed when I do something for someone – even as simple as opening a door of a shop – and not get a thank you? Yes! All the time!  I try not to be irritated but deep down I often am. 

Some time ago we had an elderly, sick aunt staying with us and I remember the frustration I felt every time my meditation practise was interrupted by her calling out for something or other. I felt it so important that I completed the exercises if I wanted to achieve my spiritual goals and I got cross with her for preventing me. I didn’t see how I could progress on the path if I didn’t dedicate some of my time to spiritual practise.

I see now that I would probably have moved further along the path if I had put my aunt before my spiritual practice. Helping others – and I’m not talking about flying off to South Sudan or anything like that – is spiritual practice in itself. Spending the hour I would have meditated, reading instead to a crabby aunt, would have been better for both of us.

The three sisters guarding the tree, when they hand over the Golden Apples to Hercules tell him: “The way to us is always marked by service. Deeds of love are signposts on the way.”

So, if you have a difficult spouse, troublesome children, irascible relatives or neighbours – they are probably your tests. 

There are opportunities all around, in the every day. See them for what they are!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Broken Branches by M Jonathan Lee

When his brother Stuart dies, Ian Perkins returns to his childhood home with his wife Rachel and their small son Harry.  Cobweb Cottage has been in the Perkins’ family for many generations and it has now been passed on to Ian.

Along with its curse.

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Just outside the isolated cottage – which is more than four miles from its nearest neighbour – a huge Sycamore tree resides, watching over the cottage and its occupants with a sense of menace.

The tree had frightened Ian ever since he was a young child…It had brought so much suffering, so much misery, on the family.”

In their childhood days, during long, hot summers, Ian and Stuart would swing from a rope tied to one of its branches. Now, well over a hundred years old, the tree seems possessed of a power which is beyond the natural.

In all seasons, it remained withered and bare, stretching accusingly at the cottage like an arthritic finger.”

As his marriage collapses around him, Ian spends time researching his family history trying to convince Rachel of the family curse. Despite a pact, made on their first wedding anniversary, that they would always talk and work out any problems, the barriers have gone up.

Rachel mooches about the house, unwell, and sleeps in the box room – which she keeps locked. For her, each day “was a day much like yesterday and the same as tomorrow”. Meanwhile Ian’s mental state becomes ever more fragile.

As the plot unfolds, elements of the supernatural appear, leaving the reader to question whether a curse does truly exist or whether it is all in the mind of Ian Perkins.

Broken Branches is a tale of family tragedy resulting in immense pain and suffering and Ian’s mental decline is very realistically expressed. His character elicits a great deal of empathy as he struggles to understand the curse that he believes has blighted his family for generations.

Jonathan Lee has written a very thought provoking story building up to an unpredictable finale. He has used the old, broken branches of the Sycamore tree as an excellent metaphorical representation of the breakdown of the family over generations which invites the reader to consider the story at a deeper level.

An enjoyable read.

Thank you to Hideaway Fall for the review copy – the book is released on 27th July 2017

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @MJonathanLee

 

Bucket List

“Some people want it to happen, some wish it would happen, others make it happen”. Michael Jordan.

I went to a friend’s BBQ last Sunday – and, yes,image (4) it was pouring with rain just about lunch time but the host had a cheeky trick of cooking the meat in the oven and finishing it on the BBQ for the last five minutes. It worked a treat, the food was delicious.

While chomping away on a chicken leg  one of the guests asked if I had made a bucket list. I wondered if I had aged rapidly since we last met or whether she was drunk.Thankfully it was the latter.

I do not have a bucket list, I told her, because I’m only 57 and I thought it a little premature. There’s no point in having a bucket list, she replied, when you’re too old to do any of the things on it.

I was not convinced.

However, after viewing the list she produced on her mobile phone, I thought it a great idea for clarifying what I wanted to achieve in the next twenty years or so. She was right. No point in hoping to climb Kilimanjaro when I was 86. (My father is 92 and I’m very optimistic… but even so!)

This prompted me, the following evening, to make a list. It wasn’t as easy as I first thought because I wanted the list to comprise of desires that were meaningful and ones I could begin acting upon straight away.

I like to spend time reflecting on the purpose of existence ( life can be so crappy sometimes I figure there must be some logic behind it all) so – now this may seem a little weird –  the first thing on my list was to discover if reincarnation really exists.and if there is life after death? Back to this a bit later.

My second was to see my first novel  in print (a little more down to earth I hear you sigh with relief).

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After that came many others: to visit the capital cities of Europe; visit Machu Pichu in Peru etc. I won’t replicate the list as it would bore you to death. (Perhaps you should begin your own list!)

I realised that travelling the world, as nice as it would be, isn’t my main desire. I want to know if we continue in another realm when we die and I want to get my novel published.. Both things I can work on immediately. No waiting to win the lottery. No waiting for anyone else to make any decisions about anything. No waiting to hear I have a terminal illness.

I figured if I meditated, seriously, every day for at least half an hour I might get an inkling. Many others claim to achieve great things using this method –  according to the plethora of books I read on the subject.! And now that I’ve finished the novel, rather than procrastinate,  I could bombard literary agents in the hope of getting it published.. Amazing! And very achievable even for me. If I get a few trips to Europe in the mix and plan on a world cruise when I’m too old to travel by any other means so much the better.

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And so I begin…

The need to be right

“Dumbledore says people find it far easier to forgive others for being wrong than being right” – J K Rowling, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

I mentioned in a previous blog ‘Obstacle to enlightenment’ that the biggest obstacle to personal growth is the ego. It is the ego that seeks approval, the ego that drives us to achieve great things and  the ego that gives us our individuality. All okay so far. However, the ego’s desire to appear clever or important often produces unpleasant characteristics which make us rude, difficult and offensive.

Take for example the need to be right. Arguments snowball at the dinner table or other social gatherings when a contentious subject arises. Voices get louder and faces redder in an effort to convey opinions.  I’m sure Google has prevented many a fist fight, as any issue which has a definitive answer can now be instantly Googled.

There! I was right, I knew it! (or wrong and your phone appears to have suddenly run out of battery)

I try now, particularly when I know I am 100% right about something, to stay out of the argument. Does it really matter, after all, who is right? Well, yes it does actually , especially if the person accusing you of being wrong is an obnoxious, loud mouthed know-all.

I arrived at a social event some months ago and bumped into a man I hadn’t seen for perhaps twenty years. The moment I saw him those twenty years condensed into seconds. He was unforgettable but for all the wrong reasons. He  was the archetypal obnoxious, loud mouthed know-all and I’d had a run-in with him before.

He had insisted that Montevideo was the capital of Paraguay when I knew with absolute certainty it was the capital of Uruguay. Back then I knew nothing of the psychology of ‘the need to be right’ otherwise I would have said ‘whatever’ and spoken to someone else. Instead I went to battle. In the absence of Google, all those years ago,  I searched the host’s house for an atlas. Sadly there wasn’t one (who doesn’t own an atlas for goodness sake!).  I conducted a poll of the other guests but the results were inconclusive. I even phoned a friend – yes, the idea originated from me!  – but the friend also thought it might be in Paraguay. I was furious I couldn’t prove him wrong.

 

Uruguay-map  Follow the evidence…

I wondered whether he had mellowed over the years but decided to avoid him just in case. I was doing well until he cornered me enquiring as to whether we had met before.

‘I don’t think so,’ I lied.

‘Yes we have! Of course. I remember now.  It was at Paul and Mary’s.’

Who on earth were Paul and Mary?

‘No,’ I replied, ‘I don’t know Paul and Mary.’

‘Yes you do. They’re friends of Jim and Sue.’

‘I know Jim and Sue but I really don’t know Paul and Mary.’

‘It was definitely there that I met you, I’m always right, dear!.’

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There is no evidence…

I took a few deep breaths and wondered if it was possible to Google Paul and Mary and a list of their acquaintances.

‘Whatever,’ I said and went to pour myself a large glass of wine.

So why do we have this burning desire to be right; to go to great lengths to prove our knowledge?  Because it makes us feel superior to the other person and when that person is an offensive bore, winning the argument is very sweet. With reference to the quote from Dumbledore, it is easy to be gracious to those who are wrong because that makes us right and our ego is very happy.

Karma – How fair is that!

“It is always sensible to have a credit in the karmic bank to draw on in time of need.” – A Little Light on the Spiritual Laws by Diana Cooper

Sitting in Costa last week on the pretext of working on my novel I was distracted by a conversation nearby between two women. Well, only one was talking – the other listening – and it was clear that she was going through emotional turmoil. Although slightly ashamed of myself for eavesdropping I felt compelled to listen.. So many traumatic events had occurred in the woman’s life over the past year that it was amazing she could still get out of bed in the morning.

As the conversation came to an end and they picked up their bags to leave, the woman told her friend in a tearful voice that she must have been very wicked in a past life to deserve such terrible things. And this got me thinking…

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good seed produces good fruit

Such sayings as ‘you reap what you sow’, ‘good seed produces good fruit’ and ‘what goes around comes around’ indicate we are responsible for our good or  bad fortune. It’s our karma. But what exactly is karma and how does it work?

I understand that karma is the law of cause and effect. Every action and thought is recorded on our akashic record. It’s a balance sheet of good deeds/bad deeds. I can see the logic that every action must have an effect and I can clarify this concept in my mind with the following analogy:

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To push or not to push?

Consider standing at the top of a cliff and, in anger or just for fun, you push a boulder off the top. The boulder will continue rolling down the cliff until something stops it: an object in its way, friction or it reaches the bottom. Once that boulder has left your hands, however, you are powerless to control its destiny.

Many perceive karma as punishment because often the effect takes place in a different lifetime to the action and that’s where the logic seems to disappear. How fair is it that you have no idea why you’ve received bad fortune? And what is the point? What can be achieved if you see no correlation between the cause and the effect?

Back to the boulder analogy. If you’ve been silly enough to push a lump of rock off the top of the cliff in the first place and then unfortunate enough to see one of your children suddenly appear at the bottom of the cliff with the boulder headed straight for them this would be a very serious lesson – one you would no doubt never repeat – whether the boulder hit your child or by some miracle it missed..

But to set the ball rolling, so to speak, in one lifetime and it ploughs  into your beloved child in another lifetime takes some understanding and it’s no wonder karma has such a bad press. It’s almost always perceived as negative.  When people receive good things in their life they say they are ‘lucky’ and don’t link this good fortune with their own kind or gracious actions from the past.

There are people who plan for the future and I have to admit I’m not one of them. Private pension? I might not reach 65 so why think that far ahead! So it seems a bit of a slog to plan in this lifetime for the next – especially as most of us have no evidence that we will return again.

However…I’m thinking that a little investment might we worthwhile… a small deposit in the karmic bank every day could be managed…and I will definitely stop chucking rocks off the side of cliffs!

 

The need to be liked

‘They’ve all got someone else to hate now, haven’t they?’ she (Lily) spoke to Frances softly – The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters.

Up to this point in The Paying Guests (page 490) my feelings towards Lily were somewhat ambivalent but when I read this line I felt I understood her actions a little better. If you haven’t read the book – and I won’t give anything away – Lily doesn’t behave honourably and I desperately wanted her to ‘do the right thing’. Then it struck me how difficult it is to do what is right. It is instinctive to protect the image of ourselves that we wish to project to the outside world. Lily was in deep trouble and had a lot to lose but was consumed with the desire to be liked.

In order to preserve this self-image we often lie to avoid looking stupid or ignorant and frequently blame others to save face. Even trivial things, such as when the doctor asks how many units of alcohol is consumed each week, there is a brazen ‘Ohh..I don’t know…about..mmm….4 units on average.’ Yeah right! Why lie? Because we don’t want the doctor to think we are alcoholics. Why does it matter what the doctor thinks? It just does.

I was in a similar situation just last week. My husband always blames me for losing his paper work. That he is so messy and leaves things all around the house, which I am then obliged to tidy away, is irrelevant. Says he. Usually I can retrieve it from some pile or other on his desk but sometimes…well quite often…I can’t.

This particular folder which he was looking for I had no recollection of. I hadn’t seen it. Hadn’t touched it. Hadn’t cleared it away. Otherwise, I say with absolute confidence, I would remember.  So the search begins. An hour later after trawling through mountains of jumbled sheets and other detritus on his desk the folder is nowhere in sight. My husband by this time is visibly irritated and I am offended that he believes me to be the culprit when he is so disorganised.

deskMessy office and curious cat

Then I go upstairs to the room I use as an office and spot a bundle of my folders that I had taken up a few days before. My heart starts to thud. Surely not! But somehow I know that the disappearing folder will be there. And of course it is.  I now have to decide what to do. I can conjure up a plan to sneak it amongst some other folders on his desk and make a big display of a more thorough search and Hey Presto! it was there all along. NOT MY FAULT; YOUR FAULT! Or do I risk looking stupid, enduring the mutters and the shaking of the head and go for the truth? My instinct, if I am truly honest, is to lie but I decide to tell the truth and, in my husband’s defence, he gives me a ‘look’ but refrains from any comment.

Lies and cover-ups abound when inquiries into serious incidents occur, often to avoid a custodial sentence but frequently just to ‘save face’. I think, despite cries of ‘disgraceful’ it is instinctive to protect oneself as far as possible. After some reflection I have decided that the only reason I have not behaved like Lily is because I have never been in such a precarious position as she. I suspect, judging by the missing folder episode I would be very tempted. It takes a very brave person to open themselves voluntarily to ridicule, insult and hatred and I am usually a coward!