TrueHeartWork | Leonard Cohen
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Leonard Cohen Tag

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Can’t Pretend

pretend-6As this year draws to an end, there are many of us who feel as powerless as a serfs in a feudal kingdom. Mother Earth is ravaged and bleeding. Her climate is changing. Democracy is hollow talk and the strutting Emperor wears no clothes. We can believe that we are helpless, hopeless, hand all our power to forces and systems outside ourselves, or we can harness our courage, step out of the box.    We can send love not hate to those in the brazen Towers of power.

Real presence is what’s needed at this time in our collective evolution. The Jupiter/Pluto square accentuates those areas in our lives were we  still cling to fixed and dogmatic beliefs, where our righteous “truths” merely mimic the righteous “truths” of someone else (November 2016, April and July 2017) . We may have to to be counter-intuitive: the “little boxes made of ticky tacky that all look just the same” may not be comfortable any longer.  In her superbly moving tribute to Leonard Cohen, Maria Popova quotes him saying, “Most of us from the middle-class, we have a kind of old, 19th-century idea of what democracy is, which is, more or less, to over-simplify it, that the masses are going to love Shakespeare and Beethoven. That’s more or less our idea of what democracy is. But that ain’t it. It’s going to come up in unexpected ways from the stuff that we think [is] junk: the people we think are junk, the ideas we think are junk, the television we think is junk.”

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Western culture celebrates the individual, the original. Yet the tribal mind craves conformity. Now as we face a regressive pull into the undertow of polarisation and fascism we must dare to think out of the box.  Venus in pragmatic Capricorn sparkles against the blushing breast of the western skyline this month. Her consort, Mars moves through Aquarius, a sign associated with detachment, logic, ideals and fairness. What these two planets symbolise are our inner values and our drive to be real in the most private, deeply personal places in our lives. Being real might mean leaving a relationship, a guru, or a work situation that tames or amputates our joy. For some it might mean questioning the value of submitting to a spiritual tradition that breaks the ego of the body. For some it’s reconnecting to that deep well of our creative life, surrendering to our authentic selves with a sense of ease and belonging. For us all it means remembering that for all our apparent differences, our human hearts look just the same.57a0eebb2a00002e004f7e56

Stepping out of our little boxes, becoming real, takes a life time and it certainly requires valour. May Sarton writes, in her beautiful poem, Now I Become Myself, “it’s taken time, many years and places; I have been dissolved and shaken, worn other people’s faces…”

In Margery Williams’ beautiful story, The Velveteen Rabbit, Skin Horse describes the long and often painful process of becoming Real:

 “Real isn’t how you are made. It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY Loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?”  asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,”  said the Skin Horse,  for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”pretend-3

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit? ”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,”  said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

Most of us define our identity, our authentic selves by the beliefs and opinions of others. Until we can’t pretend any longer. Elizabeth Gilbert, who wrote the book that inspired us all to Eat, Pray, Love, writes, “Death — or the prospect of death — has a way of clearing away everything that is not real. In that space of stark and utter realness, I was faced with this truth: I do not merely love Rayya; I am in love with Rayya. And I have no more time for denying that truth.”

f84ef897-eaa4-4933-a0dc-8f3cb8c80eacThe spirit of our times is the spirit of our collective thoughts and intentions. Our private thoughts mingle with the private thoughts of myriad human beings and affect the unwavering advance of world events. The immeasurable power of our blessings and prayers directed towards a situation or an outcome can transform people and circumstances if animated with Love.

Writes Elizabeth Gilbert, “at such times, I can always steady my life once more by returning to my soul. I ask it, “And what is it that you want, dear one?”little-girl-on-beach

The answer is always the same: “More wonder, please.” 

Tom Odell – Can’t Pretend

Little Boxes words and music by Malvina Reynolds 1962

 

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My Oh My

20150115_portraitWe may not be who we think we are. Our mistaken identity lies at the core of our searching. It is the denizen of collective and personal beliefs and eons of conditioning. It’s a theme that’s stitched into the warp and weft of myth, fairy tale and literature,  superbly depicted in movies like Maleficent.

“We are caught in a trance, a belief that “something is wrong with me” that can be fixed or controlled by growth hormones, mood sensors, happiness meters or surgery, smoothed away by Botox, cured by finding a new therapist, improved with a new lover.

We all have a longing to be seen, to be understood (mindful seeing) and to be loved for what is seen. The wound of unlove is heart-breakingly evoked by Debra Nystrom in her sublime poetry. When we feel unlove we feel we do not belong, we are invisible, cast aside, uncared for. The wound of unlove festers, becomes a necrosis. Our inherent sense of our unworthiness sleeps lightly and wakes each new day when our inner world meets the outer world. For most of our adult lives we learn to re-parent ourselves, to weave together new narratives, new ways of being accepting of who we are. Yet for most of us the voice within keeps asking, “how am I doing? Or am I enough?”

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South African poet, Arthur Nortje wrote of his own exile from his country, his people and from himself. He was exiled in the darkness of depression, his life force dissipated by drugs. He wrote, “The isolation of exile is a gutted warehouse at the back of pleasure streets,” and died at twenty-eight years old, never having known his true face, his spiritual heart, his pleasure street.

There are many paths to awakening.

For some of us it is a descent into the Underworld where we are dismembered by depression, an illness that ravages our body, a loss that dissolves the life we once knew, exiles us from ourselves. We cannot see past ourselves until the time comes when we are ready. “when the veil of the trance lifts, the pleasures and pain, the hopes and fears of our small space-suit self still come and go, but they no longer define us,” writes Tara Brach in her book, True Refuge.  

The characters in the 16th Century Commedia dell’ Arte were stock characters. The actors had no lines to memorise though they did need to understand and embody their roles –they improvised, fleshing out the plot, making up the dialogue as they went along. Shakespeare knew that “All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players,” and as we go through the scenes in our lives we make up the dialogue and the action, the conflicts, the dramas. And yet, writes Byron Katie,“reality is always kinder than the stories we tell about it.”  In her work she brings fear-based beliefs and the wound of unlove into the light of awareness where they dissolve with questions that deepen our attention, invite us to pause, to inquire whether the assumptions about our “reality” are really true.

Sometimes we may pause long enough, breathe deeply enough, to recognise a purposeful pattern, a deep Intelligent Design at work. We may feel a connection to the Greater Whole, or be reminded of the gossamer veil between life and death.

ruby red slippersRam Dass in Polishing the Mirror: How to Live from Your Spiritual Heart says that like Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers what we have been looking for has been here all along. And yet, “spiritual practices can themselves become hindrances and obstacles.” Our lives can become performances requiring perfect delivery, problems seeking a solution, reminders of the rigid roles we play that mask our  True Self. Tim Leberecht writes in his excellent piece, Un-Quantify, we “focus on measuring multiple aspects of ourselves to achieve an unreachable nirvana of human optimization.”

Nikos Kazantzakis, Greek philosopher and celebrated author of Zorba the Greek, said pragmatically, “you think too much, that is your trouble. Clever people and grocers, they weigh everything.”

“Only the examined life is worth living,” another wise Greek philosopher famously remarked.

innovation“But it is important to remember that we can examine it without quantifying it. In business and beyond, we can manage what we can’t measure, and in fact we do it every day,” says Tim Leberecht.

To claim a life worth living, he recommends “unplugging from your tools and your carefully cultivated matrix of data. Instead of tracking how many calories you torched during a workout, concentrate on the movements you make, what burns, and what doesn’t—are you able to get out of your head and let go of earlier stresses? To be truly open and present for moments that will bring you what tools can’t track—joy, laughter, happiness, wonder, and love—it is necessary to be attuned to the world around you. What will make you feel more satisfied? Six-months of sleep data, or a belly laugh with a co-worker? You will maximize and optimize but lose the romance of getting to know.”

To claim a life worth living, Buddhist teacher, Ajahn Buddhadasa suggests that we “don’t do anything that takes you away from your body.” Mindful awareness is one way to connect with a safe home base when we are flayed by worry, lacerated by fear. Our bodies live in the present. So when we become aware of our bodies, our inner landscape;  when we quieten our minds, connect with our own breath, we connect with the earth that is our Home.

Leonard Cohen’s voice as smooth and dark as molasses sings out for all of us who have loved and lost another or ourselves …imagesEM1MOPTM

“Held you for a little while
My, oh, my, oh my
Held you for a little while
My, oh, my, oh my…”

Yet we are not in exile. We are Home. We are here now. Doing the best we can.

My Oh My from the album Popular Problems by the inimitable Leonard Cohen

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Who By Fire

Fire-Hands-Screensaver_1One size does not fit all. Our bodies, our minds, our souls have a fragile grace that is matchless. We are beautiful originals, with a journey to take that will be uniquely ours. Yet so many still cleave to centuries of congested conditioning which has congealed our minds. We have learnt by fire, by water, by high ordeal, by common trial that it is very dangerous to leave the protection and the tyranny of the religious, social, corporate, familial tribe. One size fits all. New or unique thinking and behaviour have historically been brutally silenced.  We have learnt that it is death-defyingly dangerous to be the sacrificial scapegoat. We have learnt by someone’s command or by our own assent how very lonely it can be in exile. Our brave hearts, our strong bones reverberate with the burnings, the crucifixions, the be-headings, the stonings and the suffocating clods of damp soil that silenced our ancestors who were buried alive, expunged from memory. They did not fit the tyrant’s mould. Heresy, blasphemy, treason! They asked for too much. Too soon. They were cut down to size.

Still we lop off those parts of ourselves that do not fit the standard norm of what is good, physically attractive, socially or politically correct. Still we sit in silence. Afraid to speak. Afraid to ask. We squeeze through the eye of the needle to find ourselves in Dante’s circle of Hell as we dance in the searing flames of pretence.

Alt-rock icon Amanda Palmer has gained acclaim and worn the fool’s cap of infamy as she has dared to ride the sacred cow of her truth. Giving voice to her uniqueness as a performer, a woman, a member of this human tribe, she dares to question, to challenge, to expose and to open her arms and her heart. She raises the Art of Asking to a sacred exchange between herself and her fans. She speaks of a world where one size does not fit all. Where people live surrounded by strangers in a vacuum of isolation and  loneliness. And where it is possible to meet, to connect with a simple gesture and meet each other in a tender gaze.b16537922d8c4547e298fa8c6d5ea50f5dcda21b_389x292

So, as we silence our voices in the Medusa stare of self-doubt, fear of ridicule or reprisal, we must trust that by exposing our vulnerability, asking for what we need, exchanging what we can give, we will eventually find our flock of swans and learn to fly.

We must promise ourselves that we will keep an oracle eye on our own agenda. We must promise ourselves not to break our vows to ourselves or betray another when we lose congruence of head and heart. We must promise ourselves that we will try to speak our truth from that place in our heart which is generous and wise and loving.

 “Consciousness is tough work,” says Carolyn Myss. It is tough work to be awake, aware, truly in our authentic internal power. It requires an act of will and spiritual discipline to pulverise our past in the pestle and mortar that contains the mustard seed of hope for each new day.

We alone are the custodians of our integrity. The setting aside of one’s integrity is not required to win someone’s heart,” Neale Donald Walsch says. “But the setting aside of one’s anger may be. It is possible to make a point without making an enemy. It is possible to be right without being righteous.”

At the equinox today, let us celebrate another turning in the Great Wheel of the year, and dare to speak, sing, shout our own personal truth. Carpe Diem!fire-heart

 

Leonard Cohen asks at O2 in Dublin, And who shall I say is calling?… Who By Fire?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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By The Rivers Dark

private moonThere are two kinds of people in this world: Winners and losers. This belief is celebrated in song and movies, entrenched in education and sport, set in the cement of corporate temples to Mammon. Dream big, reach for the  stars, you can have it all, because, dammit, “you’re worth it!” This  sense of entitlement, this determination to be worthy, might be a warm poultice on the inflamation of our unworthiness.

Many of us are sailing across the rivers dark of change and uncertainty at this time in our collective evolution. For some, the race to “get ahead”, to set higher “bench marks” has become utterly meaningless. Some may be in the right place at the right time. Their moment of glory will be encoded in the birth chart as they elatedly clasp the Oscar; proudly stand on the winner’s podium. Success – or  “failure” – may be predetermined by a sacred soul contract – a Divine Plan. We can merely determine or control the meaning we give to events as they unfold in our lives. The fabled “American Dream” is a Technicolour rainbow. As it evaporates, it leaves a grimy residue of shadowy taboo: envy, ridicule, disillusionment. And the shame of being a “loser”.

In societies where individualism and equality are valued and encouraged we may believe we alone are responsible for every aspect of our lives – our successes and our failures. We concoct our very own recipe for our happiness. Our ancestors could rail against misfortune, or the gods, or the circumstance of their birth. Today, self-made men and women sail solo. When we slam against the dark reef we cannot blame the gods, our parents, our ex-lover, or the government for our choices and perceptions. So we perform the blood-letting when our scapegoated heroes fall from grace, baying like frenzied hounds at their blunders, their stupidity.

Mass Wedding South KoreaWherever people gather together they create a language that binds them to the tribe, or anesthetises sensibilities to the savage brutality of what is really going on. In the military, it may be “friendly fire” or a “dust off” which shrouds the unspeakable horror of legalised mass murder or an air lift of mangled bodies. In the 24/7 world of advertising and marketing it will be power words that convey enthusiasm and the admonition to “Just do it” as we deliver the “deliverables” or disassociate from the pointlessness of our allotted tasks.

Life is simple in the fast lane. Or is it? Success will be yours, if you work hard, have the right attitude, pointed focus, if your character and integrity are “good enough”. In the 1920s Bertrand Russell asked,  “what will be the good of the conquest of leisure and health, if no one remembers how to use them?”  His question is still pertinent today. I have a friend who works within the honeycomb cells of a large corporation. She sprinkles her sentences with hollow phrases that encompass our cultural comprehension of success: products, like people, must be “relevant”. By unspoken implication, if we are not “relevant” we are obsolete. Disposable. Like tooth brushes, celebrity marriages and old people.

We hunt success with bows that are stretched to breaking point. Like Love and happiness, success has myriad, illusive permutations. And yet, in this world of contrasts could it be that even in external “success” there will be some measure of loss or painful sacrifice? Perhaps in our tenacious climb to the summit we must cut loose our close family bonds? Eschew intimacy. Perhaps the trade-off will be a bloated ravaged body. Scarce unstructured, unaccountable time to enjoy the financial benefits of our long labour. Sometimes we seem to be rowing around in circles. The straining, the striving can wear us to a scooped-out void, our hands bloody and blistered on the oars. We forget our  “holy song”. We do not know, we cannot see our own reflection in the moonlight as we panic on.

“What do you do?”  A question that carries in its vapour trail a cloud of unspoken appraisals. A question that may be as difficult to answer as “Who are you?” as we comb through the interwoven layers of our complex human lives. Oriah Mountain Dreamer asks us to see each other through a different prism in her Invitation: It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing. It doesn’t interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive…”

John kimSometimes it is a dispassionate Collective Fate that steps in to decimate our lives – the savagery of a bombing, the watery obliteration of a tsunami or the violence of a hurricane. Sometimes it is a private tragedy that rips the windows and blows the roof off our reality. We may resume our striving unaltered, unshaken, defences nailed back in place, just as they were before. Or we may painstakingly sift through the broken foundations of our hopes and dreams and find that nothing is and will ever be the same again. Our values, priorities, longings now sound forth in a quieter song. Perhaps then we may lift up the oars. Allow ourselves to be carried towards the jetty, accepting things are as they are, for now. We may smile, because we sense that this life is but a dream. In this part of the dream we can put down our bow, pack away our arrows, success no longer our quarry. Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream.Michael Melford

Private Moon Poems by Leonid Tishkov

Photographs by Michael Melford and John Kim

Leonard Cohen delivers his unsurpassed deliverables – By the Rivers Dark

 

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Old Ideas

There’s a fresh wind shaking the branches of the old oak trees of humanity. A whole generation of baby boomers at the golden zenith of their potential are growing new careers, committing to new relationships, scattering their creative offerings across a world on the brink of great social and cultural change. “Retirement” has become an anachronism in a new zeitgeist that sets fire to the taboo on old age and death. “Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again,” said C.S. Lewis. In our communities, our families, our friendship circles, there are remarkable men and women who defy the stereotypes, say a quiet “yes” to the soft flutter in their belly to embrace all the possibilities that allow them to start reading fairy tales once more.

Leonard Cohen, at 77, has just released his latest album, “Old Ideas”, Engelbert Humperdinck at 75, has been nominated to represent the UK at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. The British film industry, mirroring the collective lake of consciousness, has released two films dealing with ageing from very different perspectives; The Iron Lady”  and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”.  Meryl Streep, Maggie Smith, Helen Mirren, Clint Eastwood, Dustin Hoffman, Barbarba Streisland, Louise Hay, Dame “Judi” Dench, Oprah Winfrey… teachers, entrepreneurs, celebrities, and ordinary men and women living extra-ordinary lives – powerfully, positively, productively. As Pluto, god of the Underworld moves silently through the sign of Capricorn, the archetypes of the senex, and the crone are being embodied in these feisty elders, suggesting a gradual rebalancing of our collective cult of youth worship. Jane Fonda, now in her 70s is tackling Act III of her life with the same trailblazing revolutionary spirit that she brought to political causes, and the go for the burn”  fitness videos that plugged aerobics into the living rooms of millions of women. In her book, Prime Time” , she cites studies that show that on average, (in the well-fed, medicated, war-free West, I assume) an average of 34 years have been added to human life expectancy. She describes how at 46, she began to envision the old woman she wanted to be, and quotes gerontologists who believe that threshold events like widowhood, loss of work, moving home, even a terminal illness, are not experienced as traumas “if they were anticipated and, in effect, rehearsed as part of the life cycle.” Although much of her book has a disease model approach to sexuality and health, it is a starting point for a more soulful approach to living a richly meaningful life. The longevity revolution will require a compass and a new course.

By the year 2020, eighty million Americans will be above the age of sixty. Senior citizens will outnumber young people under the age of 18. In America the Wise” , Theodore Roszak writes of the implications of “the longevity revolution” on culture and social values. Roszak feels that we are demographically illiterate”  as a society and have not yet begun to grasp the implications of mass longevity. Never before have elders possessed the social weight to make their values count in matters of policy and the distribution of wealth… The growing numbers of old people in America could bring about an unprecedented cultural shift toward a more nurturant caregiving ethos, an appreciation for social interdependence and cultivated leisure, a transcendence of competitive striving and status anxiety, and a greater appreciation of the wisdom that comes with age.” There are, of course, millions of older men and woman who feel alienated, invisible, and impotent. Millions who suffer physical and mental degeneration that shrinks their lives and darkens their purpose and meaning. “Ever more people today have the means to live, but no meaning to live for,” said Viktor Frankl. When roles of Parent, Partner, Executive, Homemaker, or Club affiliate are shed, shadowy stretches of depleted time merge soundlessly into months, years that slide into a dark pit of despondency and negativity. The weather becomes either too hot or too cold. A  powerless refrain of lack of money, work, love, health, or support … buries us in the rubble of our concrete thoughts. Albert Camus said darkly, “alas, after a certain age, every man is responsible for his face,” and the truth of that stark statement is revealed in the mirror each morning.

So I guess it falls upon each one of us, no matter what the circumstances of our lives, to cultivate genuine gratitude for the little things: Waking each morning with the ability to get ourselves out of bed. The miracle of seeing the glistening dew on the grass, a coral sunrise, spring flowers. The enchanted chorus of birdsong. The stillness of our kitchen. A cup of hot tea. Our lungs that draw in lifegiving air, our brave hearts that faithfully beat, despite the heartache and disappointments we have endured. Only we can take the blindfold off our eyes. Only we can feel our hearts blossom open petal by fragrant petal. Only we can wear the crown of age, and embody wisdom and our authentic selves. Albert Camus says “In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.” Only we can stand tall in the  zenith of our lives, and delight in the reading of fairy tales.

Going Home – Leonard Cohen

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