And so it came to pass that another blog has rapidly made itself known to me, and as ever, I feel like I am just the messenger. The previous blog was all about birds and especially owls, mainly because we called in to our local Pets at Home to buy some cat food and ended up meeting Debbie and Mike and some pretty amazing owls. Fortunately for our cats we did manage to buy some cat food, but afterwards I was on cloud nine and got carried away with the symbolism and the sheer beauty of the birds. I was reminded of how wonderful it is for us townies to actually get to see something like an owl or hawk up close. Or even cows and horses, to be honest, because it isn’t something I generally do, but they don’t usually visit the pet store. But then as Mike so rightly pointed out in an email to me, it is a double-edged sword taking the birds out to meet people; this is not their normal habitat, and it is only because they are well trained and well treated that the birds can be trusted to cope with being man-handled by the public. They are most definitely not pets, and should never be seen as such. But it is only in being exposed to the birds – or in fact any animal in captivity – that most of us can experience the total wonder and glory of their existence; very few of us actually get the chance to see wildlife in its natural habitat so this is our only chance, and that is where people like Mike and Debbie are so important, double-edged sword or not. I wonder how many children go on to work in conservation because of a burning need to understand and protect the natural habitat or our native wildlife.
Before I get into massively deep water about conservation or animal cruelty, I want to say that this has been a very thought-provoking period in many ways. It has made me realise that my mind is often in two places at once, and they are mutually exclusive. Love the owls, hate the fact that they have been mistreated and have to be rescued, and then by some happy coincidence I get to actually stroke and hold one. And I am humbled that they get to bring comfort to children in hospices and to wounded war veterans who are locked in PTSD, when in fact the birds should be flying free. Then quite weirdly, my thoughts turned to other dilemmas, and the next one was straight to grief – but maybe that is because I am gutted that David Bowie died yesterday. I was no massive fan, but the fact that it was another goal to cancer upsets me more than words can say. I remember after my parents died (of cancer), literally days after my younger son was born, I was torn apart because I was should be feeling joy at my new baby, when in fact all I could do was cry for the loss of my mum and dad. Then feeling guilty when odd moments of humour came up and I actually laughed. Laughed! Yes, with two newly dead parents to grieve for. What was I thinking? Or suddenly finding myself singing along to a song on the radio. No – wait – I should be grieving. How inconsiderate. The truth of the matter is that we are born conflicted; there is always more than one thing to be thinking about. Remember when you were too ill to go to school but there was a party that evening? Ooh that was a tough one. Having had my own children now I can say I have witnessed that miraculous recovery in time for the party and it caused me no amount of distress trying to stand by my words. All I can say is that in my younger days it was tough love: no school, no party. Much like no work, no trip to the pub in the evening when I got a bit older. Old habits die hard J
And moving further out, I find myself conflicted between extremely healthy living and enjoying life a bit with a few glasses of wine or some truly wicked desserts. I know that sugar feeds cancer, so what am I thinking? I suspect that anyone touched by cancer is also weighing similar choices, and I remember some sage advice from a beautician at Leeds Castle. It was one of my first trips out after my hair started growing properly – before that time I wore a headscarf in public – and I treated myself to the first manicure in a year when we went to stay at the castle for the weekend. The lovely girl (who looked about 15 – sign of getting older I guess) told me she had lost her father to cancer earlier in the year but that he had a good period of remission after the first treatment and before he relapsed. She said that when it came back he turned to a really strict diet, stopped drinking, and basically stopped enjoying life. She told me – at her great age of whatever-it-was – that I should go all out to enjoy life, because the point of living is to live, and when her father stopped doing so was the point when he started to die inside, and his decline followed rapidly after. I think of her every time I feel guilty.
We face so many dilemmas because we are living in such troubled times. To be constantly sad because of world events isn’t constructive and it denies our friends the joy of making us laugh or cooking us a good meal, or whatever brings us together in the spirit of friendship; it is in keeping our inner fire strong and the spirit burning bright that we can do the most good for others.
It is in this context, where there doesn’t seem to be an easy answer, that I think a lot about the monks and nuns from Plum Village. In blog #63 I described how Matthew and I went to London to sit with Thich Nhat Hanh’s monastic community from Plum Village (in France) who were touring Europe. That in itself was a strange thing to do – taking a 2 hour train journey up to London to pay money to sit in almost total silence with a bunch of people on cushions – but actually it wasn’t. They were incredibly funny and human and nothing like we expected them to be. They had a massive impact on us and Matthew and I would happily have become stowaways on their coach for the remainder of their tour. We often apply their teaching to our lives, the most important of which is just allowing ourselves to be in the moment, whatever that moment might be, with all its uncomfortable feelings. It seems I have been in, or have been asked for my opinion of, several situations in the last few days, and the advice (including to myself!) is the same in every instance: sit quietly with the feeling. When we are faced with a conflict of interests, or a seemingly impossible decision, that is what we sit with. Pema Chodron talks about getting up close to ‘the spikey thing’ as described by her guru, Chogyan Trungpa, saying we should get as close as we can, get right into the discomfort, and just sit with it. Accepting that there is no definitive answer is liberating; we can’t solve everything. In fact we are unable to solve most things, and in realising this I think we find an element of freedom. And then we become strong.
Sending warm thoughts for your good health