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After my somewhat heated encounter with my parliament of selves I had hoped that they’d stay out of my dreams for that night at least and give me time to think. Fat chance.

It felt as though I hadn’t been asleep long, though it was way past halfway through the night. For some reason I found myself walking along Edgar Street towards the Courtyard Theatre. I think I was expecting to join a meeting of the Death Café. I went to the counter as usual to get my decaf cappuccino. I sensed something was not quite right when I bumped into Ian. He had died recently but was standing there ordering his usual hot chocolate.

‘We’re not in the usual place,’ he said. ‘We’re up near the Arts and Crafts bit.’

‘Let’s hope they don’t have a rock band next door like last time we were in there.’ I didn’t feel it would be quite right to ask him how he was.

As he picked up his chocolate, he said, ‘You go on ahead. There’s someone over there I need to talk to,’ gesturing towards a woman in the far corner holding a scythe.

I couldn’t get my coffee quickly enough. I dashed off upstairs, spilling it all over the free biscuit in my saucer in my haste to escape, hoping its cellophane wrapping would protect it.

On the next floor, between me and my destination, a group of skeletons in evening dress were practising the salsa, Mediterranean cruise-style. I had to creep cautiously around the wall protecting my coffee as best I could from swinging bones.

As I opened the door of the meeting room I realised I was in deep trouble. I could hear the strains of Hotel California coming from the next room. As soon as I stepped through the door, there they all were, every single member of my parliament of selves, including the toddler. There was no backing out.

‘Hi. Good to see you all,’ I lied.

‘Don’t lie,’ Mires grinned. ‘You’ve been dreading this. Anyway you’re here, and we thought this was the best place to meet. It’s where you claim you can come to have deep conversations about things that really matter, and that’s just what we all want to do isn’t it?’

‘I suppose it is,’ I grudgingly agreed.

‘There’s a chair over there for you,’ Pindance said, pointing to a place across the table from her.

As she spoke and I walked through the room to my place at the table, the words of the song next door came through the wall.

Running for the door
I had to find the passage back to the place I was before
‘Relax’ said the night man,
‘We are programmed to receive.
You can check out any time you like,
But you can never leave!’

‘Thanks,’ I thought. ‘Just what I wanted to hear.’

But I knew that in a sense it was completely true. This was a group of people from whom I could never be free. I had to find a way of integrating our different agendas to create some kind of effective unity, a sense of common purpose.

‘Is it OK if I act as a kind of chairperson here?’ Humfreeze asked.

As he spoke I tried to calm my nerves by pouring the coffee from my saucer into my cup and rescuing the biscuit.

‘I guess so,’ was my faint response.

‘OK, then. Let’s get started. You know already that Indie wants to know how the child fits in with your plan, and that Emma values her projects and Wordless his poems beyond almost anything else. So, we probably don’t need to rehash all that, do we?’

‘No, definitely not.’

‘Right. So I’m going to ask Fred to share where he is coming from. OK, Fred?’

‘No problem.’ Fred cleared his throat to give himself time to clear his head.

‘In a way I’m a bit more anxious even than the others about where I fit in exactly.’

‘Why’s that?’ I asked. ‘We’re both trained in psychology.’

‘Well, yes, but the problem is that you’re an applied psychologist, while I’m more interested in the theory. So, your take on it will be closer to what Emma wants as an activist and is probably OK with Chris because of all this mindfulness stuff you do nowadays.’

Humfreeze grimaced but kept his mouth shut. Pancake didn’t look convinced either.

‘I get your point. I think I’ll be able to reassure you on that issue later.’

My hands shook slightly as I peeled the dripping cellophane off the biscuit. It wasn’t too damp in the end thankfully.

‘Good. I hope so. I do realise that my anxieties about my more academic approach is probably a bit the same as Chris’s need to take meditation far deeper than mindfulness as currently practised can ever go. We both share an interest in mystical states after all. But I’d better let Chris unpack all that. I think I’ve said all I need to say for now. Over to you, Chris.’

‘Thanks for that piece of clarification, Fred. I think you’re absolutely right. Meditation though for me goes even beyond transient mystical states. I’m really worried that this hearticulture idea will mean we end up being jacks of all trades and masters of none, if you see what I mean. I see different meditative practices as requiring a huge investment of time if we are to change evanescent states of mind into abiding traits, permanent dispositions to act, think and feel in creative and life-enhancing ways. Dabbling in all the bits and pieces you have stuck in that diagram, Pete, will leave us all frustrated amateurs rather than accomplished professionals. D’you get my point, Pete?’

‘Absolutely. You’re describing the sharp horns of a dilemma that has bedevilled me most of my adult life. I have too many interests to become a real expert in any. That’s why the hearticulture idea was such a breakthrough. Anyway, I’d better wait until I’m sure you’ve all said all you need to say before I try to explain.’

‘Anything that anyone else wants to throw into the mix?’ Humfreeze looked around searchingly.

Pindance, who was cradling the sleeping toddler at this point, stared hard at me across the table.

‘You know, don’t you, that I will never collude with any plan you have that doesn’t take this small child properly into account. Whether we all realise it or not, and even though he can barely speak as yet so is nowhere near as eloquent in expressing his needs as we are, our fulfilment absolutely depends upon caring properly for him so that he can thrive.’

‘Believe it or not, I agree with you completely, Emma, and I think my model does rise to that huge challenge. When you are all ready I’ll try to explain.’

‘Are we all done then?’ asked Humfreeze. After a short silence he decided they were and turned to me.

‘Over to you then. Convince us if you can.’

My heart was beating fast. The critical moment had arrived. I drained the last of my coffee.

‘I’d like to take it up from the challenge Indie left me with. My answer starts from the dream you are all familiar with, the hearth dream. I won’t go over it in detail at all, but you remember the powerful charge it has had and still has.’

They all nodded.

‘I’ll just focus on the word hearth and its implications for our present purposes. It combines heart and earth. When I was born, for the reasons we discovered in our last exploration together, part of me stayed buried in my heart, almost stillborn in a way with the force of amniotic grief, as though it was in a grave underground, in the earth. The work we did made it clear that the chamber of my heart that contained the child was more of a womb than a tomb. Even so I have an intensely strong feeling that this part of our family, as it were, has a strong affinity with the earth, even more than yours, Emma, in spite of your strong desire to campaign on environmental issues. The child’s connection is an intense emotional and intuitive bond.’

The intent silence with which they were listening was almost scary. My throat felt really dry. I asked for some water before I could continue. I took a sip before I marched on.

‘You may feel that what I am going to say is simply a joke but it’s not. I feel that the child needs a name that belongs to the earth but connects him as deeply with me as well. I would like for us to agree to call him Peat Humus.’

The tension in the room broke into gales of laughter.

‘You can’t be serious,’ Pancake howled.

‘I am. Really I am. Think about it. He doesn’t have to mix out there in the world. He doesn’t need a birth certificate or a passport. What he needs and what we need is the most powerful reminder of his true nature and of the deep and powerful connection our hearts have to forge, not just with the transcendent realm of the spirit, but also with the earth upon which our material selves ultimately depend. Our heart is the bridge between spirit and matter and this will help us always remember that. When our hearts and the earth are consciously and closely connected we have our hearth, a symbol of our true home and safety.’

‘I think I’m beginning to see where you are coming from,’ Pindance whispered, rocking the child gently as she spoke. Wordless, the nature poet with writer’s block, couldn’t have looked more pleased.

The others didn’t seem so sure.

‘And after we name the child so, then we can go on to see how the words heart and earth can also be used to remind us of how our different aims and skills are ultimately unified. The letters of the words can be used to remind us of the arts, for your poems, Bill, and of action, for your preferred way, Emma, and of reflection, Chris, and teaching, Indie, and the head’s deep experience, Fred. I know that’s not perfect, but it’s as far as I have got at present, except to say that hearticulture, to be effective, needs to draw on all your disciplines and modus operandi. It needs to keep them all in balance though, at the same time, rather than have any one of them dominating and becoming a single area of expertise for its own sake.’

I paused at that point to check out the reception I was getting. There was a puzzled frown on all their faces and an unhappy exchange of glances between Pancake, Humfreeze, and Mires. Maybe they weren’t happy that the word for their passion in life had only its first letter. Wordless was bought off by the presence of the word art as a whole and the connection with nature in particular, and Pindance was perhaps somewhat reassured by my sense of the infant’s importance.

I pressed on regardless.

‘Hearticulture is the discipline at which I want to become as expert as I can, and that will only be possible if we all pool our preferences and skills and work towards the same end. That may be tough sometimes, because it won’t allow any of us to become the world expert poet, psychologist, meditator/mystic, activist, teacher we might dearly love to be. What it does mean though is that as a unified team we can be an expert hearticulturalist, before I die and take you all with me.’

I was relieved to see that cracked a smile on everyone’s face.

‘To be honest though that’s not why I’m doing it. The satisfaction of hearticulture will come simply from practising it however badly, and in that way learning to do it better. This is what needs to be done for its own sake, while all our other arts and skills are practised for hearticulture’s sake. All my life, I suspect, I’ve been unconsciously striving to achieve a creative fusion of all our different strands of activity, and now it seems we have achieved it. I think it will work because, for me and hopefully for all of you as well, the heart is at the core of us all and is a bridge between matter and spirit, earth and heaven. Does that make sense? Can we all pull together with this?’

There was a long silence. Faintly from the other room I could hear the words of Gerry Rafferty’s under-rated song and felt them ease my heart:

If you travel blindly, if you fall
The truth is there to set you free
And when your heart can see just one thing in this life
We’ll set out on the journey
Find a ship to take us on the way.

It seemed to go some way towards easing the angst of all the others as well.

‘I think I can begin to see how this might work,’ Wordless shared, ‘how it will stop us fighting each other over whose pet project should have priority, how it will help us recognise that everything we come across can be tested for whether it furthers this aim or not, and if it does we can all pool our skills together for the best possible result, and if it does not, we can just forget it and move on where possible.’ Strong feelings were making the usually carefully coherent Wordless hard to follow.

Not everybody was nodding as he spoke. The art, in a heart connected with nature, had got him on board at least. The rest, except perhaps for Pindance, were not so sure.

Just at this point, my wife got out of bed and woke me up. That was unfortunate but I hope it didn’t matter, because perhaps for the first time in my life it felt as though I might just have found a way to bring all my warring selves together in peace at last, and I at least had a clear and practicable sense of what I needed to do with the rest of my life and best of all, how I needed to do it.

I had come a long way from my diary entry of 17 years ago when I was struggling yet again to work out what my priorities really were, with only the metaphor of ‘carpenter of minds’ to help me, and I wrote, wondering whether underneath it all I really wanted to be a writer:

Many writers have been completely self-centred. They have, in the cliché, perfected the art but not the life. At present I think it’s fair to say I am perfecting neither the art nor the life. To paraphrase Landor:

I strove with some, I almost loved my wife,
Nature neglected, next to nature art –
Somehow lost contact with the fire of life.
It sinks but I’m not ready to depart.

Only half a joke really. I’m getting older and losing energy year by year. My poem The Quarry seems truer by the minute. If I’m not careful there’ll be no time, no energy left, and nothing done, unless being a carpenter of minds part-time face to face has been enough.

Let’s hope I have enough effective reminders in place to keep the train of this new plan on the rails and moving forwards. Only time will tell. It wouldn’t be the first time if I have mistaken a stopover for my destination.

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It was sunny but cold as I waited outside All Saints church. I was five minutes early and looking forward to seeing Daisy after such a long time. The last time I bumped into her briefly was at the Courtyard Theatre after a Death Café meeting. She’d come back from her foreign travels but we hadn’t met since as she was still settling back into some kind of routine.

I kept scanning the crowds in High Town but could see no sign of her. I checked my phone to see if I had her mobile number as well as her email, but I didn’t.

After another five minutes I saw a figure in the middle distance in a burgundy coat waving at me. After greeting each other we moved into the All Saints Café. Some people see this as rather like the money lenders in the Temple, but to be honest it’s hard to see how the church could be kept in good repair without some way such as this of raising large sums of money consistently over long periods of time.

It wasn’t busy and we were soon at a quiet table upstairs with our herbal tea and cappuccino.

I was lost in wonder at the places she had visited, especially in the four months she was on her own. She had even dared to go into the jungle some place I can’t remember, and been carried away by the intense beauty of nature in such a setting. She described it as a ‘once in a lifetime opportunity’ that she was glad she had taken when she had the chance, even though it seemed a bit of a risk beforehand.

When she asked me how things had been for me, the most dramatic development I could think of mentioning was my recent insight into hearticulture as the organising principle of my life from now on. For some reason I didn’t think of mentioning the cruise my wife and I had been on.

The hour we spent together flashed by. I gave her an invite card to our weekly wisdom meetings before I dashed off to walk home and get the car to pick up my wife from work.

As I walked back they started up again in my head.

‘Did you hear all that crap?’ It was Emma Pancake, my inner activist, whinging as usual about anything that might interfere with her incessant urge to be doing something as fast as possible. ‘Hearticulture! It was bad enough when we had the battle over reflection. That was a normal word at least. I’d got some idea what it meant. But he’s even invented his own word for this new fad.’

She sounded really worked up.

‘Calm down, Emmie,’ soothed the meditative Chris Humfreeze. ‘I really think he may be onto something here.’

‘You always take his side with these flaky schemes, Chris. I haven’t got time for all this. The world is going to hell in a hand basket. We’re speeding towards a tipping point with climate change and more species are dying out than when the comet that killed the dinosaurs smashed into us, and you want me to calm down. Grow up for God’s sake!’

‘Don’t bring God into it, Emma,’ Fred Mires, my Dr Psychobabble, chipped in. ‘You don’t really believe in Him – not most of the time, anyway. You’re far too busy to pray. If we want to know what someone really believes, watch what they do.’ He was trying to tease her out of her tantrum but it didn’t work.

‘You can shut up as well, Fred. I may be outnumbered but I won’t be outgunned on this. It’s too important.’

Humfreeze tried to defuse the issue by taking a more reasonable line.

‘What brought this on Emma? You’re usually only this passionate about the equality of women.’

‘The cruise he went on and that stuff he was reading about the earth opened my eyes. I suddenly realised how much as a woman, in this arrogant patriarchy we live in, I have in common with the earth. It patronises and exploits the planet in the same it has done and still does with women. And the potential damage is even worse.’

She was about to take off again into a rant.

I could hear Indie Pindance, who had been rescued from the cloud of oblivion left over from my childhood hospitalisations, murmuring something in the background but no one was listening. She was probably speaking quietly so as not to wake the baby we had exhumed and of which she was the main carer.

William Wordless stepped in.

‘Thanks for sharing that, Emma. I think it would be a good idea if we all stayed calm now and tried to talk about this sensibly. I love nature as much as you do, Emma, as my poems prove, but taking some time to talk this through properly isn’t going to kill many more creatures than we’ve lost already.’

He was sounding tense but managing to stay reasonably calm in the way he spoke. ‘I’m not sure I like this anymore than you do, but I’m not sure I understand it clearly enough yet to be sure.’

‘I agree.’ Pindance made herself heard at last.

I wasn’t pleased to hear Emma at the others’ throats over my insight that hearticulture would be the organising principle of my remaining time and energy in this material world. She clearly didn’t get that this included something important for all of them. I didn’t feel like tackling this as I hurried home. It would have to wait for another time.

* * *

At the wisdom meeting in our place that night there were only four of us there. I hadn’t expected Daisy to come to this so soon after our conversation, so I wasn’t unduly disappointed. The crucial thing was to keep running them every week.

One of the quotations we used included these words: ‘. . . when man does not open his mind and heart to the blessing of the spirit, but turns his soul towards the material side, towards the bodily part of his nature, then is he fallen from his high place.’ This reinforced my desire to win over my parliament of selves to my new plan: as far as I could see it was the best, perhaps the only way of motivating myself to lift my game to the required extent.

After the meeting and before getting ready for bed, I sat in my study and worked on a diagram that captured what hearticulture meant to me in a way that would help me remember and stay focused.

Even while I was doing so I couldn’t help catching fragments of the on-going heated exchange among my parliament of selves.

I remembered how I had felt, five months ago now, when we exhumed my buried neonate self, and I had hoped that my toddler self would be able to mature to the point of joining with the rest of us as we worked at creating a single sense of a unified self that could perhaps become capable, if not of tuning directly into spiritual reality, at least of developing a clearer sense than ever before of the direction that this transcendent reality required me to take for the rest of my remaining days. I felt I had found that clearer sense and what I had to do now was persuade my rabble inside to buy into the plan.

This was not going to be easy. I decided to meditate my way into their conversation. I closed my eyes and tracked my breathing for a short while. I wasn’t deep enough to see them but I could hear what they were saying clearly.

‘We’re going to have to talk to him about this. We need to explain that we’re not happy with yet another change of direction. We haven’t even sorted out what the last upheaval meant.’ Mires was drawing on all his knowledge of conflict management to articulate a way forward they could all agree to.

‘Can I join you for a short while?’ I asked gently.

They couldn’t hear me at first.

‘I’m on board with that,’ chimed Pindance, ‘but I can see that Emma is still chafing at the bit.’

‘Dead right I am. Still, my being furious isn’t going to solve anything. We can only sort this out together, and, though I hate to admit it, we’ll have to involve him as well.’

‘That’s good to hear,’ Humfreeze enthused. ‘I really appreciate that because I know it’s not easy for you.’

Pancake grunted something I couldn’t quite catch.

‘Can I join you for a short while?’ I asked again gently but louder.

‘What’s that you’re scribbling? Not another of your stupid flowcharts, is it?’ Emma barked. She might be on board but she was still rocking the boat.

‘’Fraid so,’ I said, wincing slightly at what might come back at me.

Before she could retort, Wordless took over the reins.

‘Listen, Emma. My poems have as much to lose as your potential projects, and I want to check out whether this new brainwave will make room for what we both need to see happen. If not I’d rather dump it. But a ‘kindly tongue,’ as they say, will attract more positive attention than angry rants and insults, so can we agree to cool down the temperature, and treat each other with a bit more respect.’

After a moment’s silence, Emma relented. ‘I’ll try,’ she said.

‘Do you want me to explain what I’m up to or do you want to ask me questions and share your reservations?’

I could hear the low buzz of ideas being exchanged.

‘We don’t need you to explain the model . . .’ Mires paused trying to find the right words.

‘We just want you to tell us how we all fit into your plan,’ Pindance finished his sentence for him. ‘And how is your plan going to help the tiny child inside you that I’m doing my best to look after without much help from this lot?’

‘Steady on,’ Humfreeze broke in. ‘We all take turns to look after him to give you a break.’

‘Yeh, great. But the sum total of the time you all give is less than half the time I spend with him. How fair is that? He’s getting to the age now where he’s learning to talk and he’s asking loads of questions, most of which I can’t answer. Don’t forget, I was shut out of sight for seven decades, while you lot were watching everything that the hearticulture manufacturer over there was aware of, and learning from it. So, be fair. This is just as important an issue as your poems, Bill, and your projects, Emma. And your meditation, Chris and your psychobabble, Fred, if it comes to that.’

The words sounded angry but she was clearly almost in tears.

I was beginning to feel quite daunted by the complexity of fitting all these apparently competing needs into the framework I was working on. I gave a desperate look at my diagrammatic model in the hope of some inspiration.

‘Pete,’ shouted my wife.

I crashed out of the conversation.

‘Yes, love.’

‘Can you switch off my phone when you come to bed.’

‘Will do.’

In a way I was grateful for the interruption. It might give me some more time to think on it over night. I just hoped I wouldn’t meet them all in my dreams just yet.

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