Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Presence in The Present

Looking for one's keys, wallet, or glasses is one thing. Wondering where the mislaid friends are is another. Did I neglect to contact you? Did I not send the card, the note, the letter I'm sure that I wrote (at least in my head)? Being present in the present requires more than presence, it requires a certain prescience of being too; an awareness of actions impacting the future. Just telling myself that I'm putting my glasses down 'here' allows me to locate them more-easily later, indeed. But for that ease of relocation I must needs be very conscious of the 'now'. Or else.

Or else so much energy is wasted. Time smudges into circular motions, going over and over the past. The steps one took. The pictures in the head. The emotions felt. The meanings meant but lost in translation. We pick up and put down and forget, or some things haunt at us. And we wish to be able to revisit, to reconnect, to re-find! But yes, most things slide by in our continuum; we can but hope for memory’s clarity. After all, the New Year makes for each one of us being older.

My Mum Joan did not know who I am any longer. She really is my stepmother. I spent a seaside summer holiday week with her and my father when I was fourteen. And for very many years in my father's biannual letter, Joan would tag on some news in his aero-grams. But when I did see her again, nearly five years ago, she was in her 80s, and I a grey old man. We are not actually connected, other than by circumstance. So too for the very many people and things that pass through our being-alive along the way? We can hardly be blamed for not remembering all the names in the pathways of our journeys. But not to remember where one puts one's glasses?

Vision is limited by our immediate. We make plans and we do not pursue them because of the distractions en route. We have New Year's intentions and then the reality of old habits, or of chance circumstances, or worse, of accident happens. If, as professed by some, there are no coincidences, then why is it that I may spend wasted time searching for my glasses? Or is the lessons really circulating and circulating until I come to the concrete realization of my presence in the present? (Often, I imagine I am waylaid that I might not meet with some other misfortune.)

We take ourselves wherever we go. And we are not perfect. Even the reaches of that last word is very much arguable. How possibly to be ‘perfect’?

I’ve a long-time friend whose stance is that we cannot control the future; we will get dementia if it’s in the genes. He would argue this contention in the decades before brain-plasticity was a fertile topic, and nowadays, with Epigenetics as a ‘new discovery’ (its probabilities for self-change exciting the populace as if there never was such a thing) many still retain a deep-seated disturbance that dementia or Alzheimer’s might be inherited. At present I’m reading Julian Jane’s book: The History of Consciousness in The Bicameral Mind. Impressive title! Impressive book. It would appear that evolution of the mind is indeed a historical fact. We once thought a certain a way, collectively, if not individually. And slowly our consciousness grew such that we individually formed a new collective. So too for now. We are at least a national if not a global consciousness, and our group-think is evidently responsible for our socio-political contentions.

The bell curve is much like an inchworm, progressing bit by bit. The outliers push at the edges of established belief, thought, and ideals. And very, very, very slowly we progress. Patience is needed, and compassion. We easily forget the lessons given by history. We easily forget the examples given by our parents. We easily forget the wording and the philosophy and the sentiments that stir our hearts. They are things that we but momentarily give focus to, and we continue with our busy lives. Even the keys to our doors go missing, let alone our glasses.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Old Wrappings

 [photo courtesy of Santa Stuart Bentley]

When the idea first arose in Angela she felt lit up from inside. Without money enough to buy presents she was worried about Christmas. Her dear parents deserved gifts, as well as her younger sister, and so very many cousins and aunts and uncles too, never mind all her friends, and her three older brothers. After all, everyone always got her something. And although her parents always signed their gifts to others, 'with love from the family,' Angela, now that she was old enough to earn her own pocket money, felt very strongly that she should be giving back. But what to buy? Her pocket money would not go far.

Even as the idea invigorated her, young as she was, Angela knew that her problem was not so much about what someone might like as much as that she herself felt she'd put some effort into having them see that she cared. And carefully, over the next few weeks before Christmas, she gathered up every bit of spare wrapping paper from her mother's gift wrapping, and every little box, and even found the saved old wrapping from old Christmases past. It had to be old. They never really reused the paper anyway.

As the month or so before Christmas turned into a few days, Angela's beneath-the-bed store of treasures grew and grew. "Nobody peeks under my bed," she begged. "No one rattles or shifts a single thing, please. The surprise might break!"

At night she would sit by herself with her lists and scrawl out her ideas. She could've perhaps used the computer and printed out her words, but she felt it better to keep things in her own handwriting, and not yet let others see.

"What's up with you, Angela?" Her brothers and sister teased. "You're pretty dreamy these days, always wanting to be alone with your scribbling. Collecting boxes. Making a picture for me?"

"You'll see," was all that Angela admitted, giving them sparkles in her eyes with excitement.

Christmas morning eventually came. The tree was magnificent with their heirloom decorations brought out once a year, as well as with the new gaily coloured dangle-dangles and the coloured lights and the little Santa and teddy bears and snowflake ornaments and even the Christmas angel, right on top. But more especially, there were mounds of presents under the tree, and many of them were from Angela herself. A present for everybody she could think of; every one of her friends; and even for her teacher! Yes, they all were evidently wrapped with last year's old crinkly paper, some with battered looking bows, but every little or big shape was prettily wrapped, like building blocks of gaudy gold, silver, green, red, and many shades of blue.

Eagerly, Angela awaited the moment and then at last handed out her presents. "Everyone please wait until I say ‘open’, o.k.?  ... O.K., now!"

And as they did so, some ripping the wrap, some carefully lifting up the cellophane and unfolding the folds, the various sized boxes were opened. "There's nothing inside!" exclaimed one of her brothers. Another said, before reading it, "Your handwriting is in here?” Yet the third said, “Old wrinkled paper? Is this a joke?"

Angela's mother peered into her unwrapped box and read aloud: 'Peace in the present is wished for you, always.' Her eyes glistened. "Thank you my angel, it's perfect. A perfect present of peace."

"Yes, see, it's always inside us," Angela beamed, "we just have to remember to unwrap our old wrappings!"

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Sneaking A Peek?

Lessons repeat themselves. They come around in differing forms and nip at the heels, tug at the heart, manipulate mannequin-like, or simply trip one up. And we respond, or react, and even try to avoid them, consciously or not. So it is we break with our integrity, learn to lie, to cheat and steal, or worse, fool even ourselves into being so very much less than we can, ought, or might be. Christmas, especially, puts me most in the path of such lessons. Temptations abound!

Eggnog is meant to last at least a week. Chocolates in open dishes are meant for occasional guests. Cookies are meant as tea-time treats, with only one, or perhaps two, per occasion. And presents, the most tempting of all, are meant to be hidden, or wrapped and waiting under the tree, with not so much as a hint or a peek at what any one of them might be. But at seven years old, I was yet to begin learning the lesson that seems only now, in my seventh decade, to have come full circle sufficient for me to articulate the lesson itself. Perhaps had I not oft been beaten, scorned, shamed, and deprived I might more easily have learned the lesson. Integrity for the self might've become an internalized thing had someone articulated it clearly for me, but I was not insightful enough to realize that THAT was the lesson, not just a concept, integrity. Instead I feared honesty, feared admitting errors, and learned to keep to myself my thinking, my feelings, and my actions least the consequences, especially as delivered by others, would tear into me.

"Don't lie to me. You looked at your present after I told you not to, didn't you?"

To me she looked like an old woman; I was seven. "I didn't, Aunty," I remonstrated. "I was just moving some parcels while I was cleaning up the lounge," I offered, making sweeping motions.

"I saw the rip in the corner of your present, liar! You did take a peek, didn't you?"

"I'm sorry, Aunty. I was just so excited to see if it was what I hoped for! And it is! So thank..."

"Go get a belt, bend over the bathroom tub, pants down, hands in the tub, and wait for me! But first, I'm going to take your present now and give it to someone else!"

Yes, I recall exactly what it was I did not then get. But more significantly, the lesson I was then learning was not to own up, not to be honest, and worse, more carefully to conceal from others what I knew might get me into trouble. Boarding school and the army had exacted the same.

Which brings me to today.

"Please don't peek in my bathtub," my wife asked me, about a week or so ago. "I haven't yet wrapped your presents."

I did not, and never thought to. But today I was in there and noticed a black shopping bag on its side next to the small mound under the towel my wife had spread over whatever she's been collecting for me. And for a moment I was in the act of reaching out to just pluck at that new temptation that I might see 'more better' when... I knew instinctively that my integrity was about to be compromised. My wife would not know; but I would. And with that knowledge I'd not gain personal power, but lose it. A lifetime of deceptions and betrayals, small and large, came down to the apparently innocent act of sneaking a peek. Indeed, the lessons circle back and repeat; we are persons of integrity for ourselves, bit by bit, or not. How very much, as a child, I would have liked the lesson given voice to my cognizance; given precise articulation to my potential. But then again, integrity comes circling around and around in very many enticing guises, doesn't it?