Archive for January, 2016

staying is a journey

late at the airport —
if I miss my flight, what then?
remain where I am?
— instinctively I reach for
my wallet — but it’s empty

Best I could do with a very imperfectly remembered dream, in which my flight was at eleven o’clock and it was becoming increasingly clear there were too many delays on the journey to the airport. I was going to have to pay for a whole new ticket home. In the dream I assumed I had the money, but I took some poetic licence, and chose to challenge that assumption when it came to the poem, because it felt to have been made so very thoughtlessly, in the dream. The idea of fixing everything with money just seemed entirely suspect. The flight time of 11.00 clearly chimes with some thoughts I’ve been having about death and the dead. If I have an imaginative relationship with ‘the dead’ is that the same as having an imaginative relationship with death itself? Eleven o’clock is the time when we remember the dead on Remembrance Day (11th November). Taking off in an aeroplane suggests the event of death. If my flight represents my death, how can I ever be late for my own death? I like the idea that I just accept being where I am, without hankering after flying (dying). I watched a film called My Life Without Me last night, which probably provoked these thoughts, as it is about a girl who gets diagnosed with terminal cancer at the age of 23.


collective grace

watch them dance — human
hands seeking one another
— clasp at the centre
of a wheeling galaxy —
perfect harmony of will

This poem/dream must have been suggested by the news yesterday evening on Channel Four, about a woman who is going to undergo a hand transplant to replace both her hands which were lost a couple of years ago due to septicaemia. Apart from our brains, our hands are probably the most defining aspect of what makes a human being different from an animal. I am interested always, in examining that elusive ‘human’ quality, and asking what it means. For instance, what is it about Channel Four News which makes it simply in a different league altogether compared with the BBC and ITV news programmes? I thought to myself yesterday it was very noticeable the entire ‘feel’ of the interview between the journalist Jackie Long and the woman who currently has no hands, was incredibly human and compassionate and reflective and non-sensational and respectful and thoughtful. If the interview had been conducted on the BBC or ITV, this wouldn’t have been the case. The woman with no hands would have been dehumanised and exploited — would have been treated as a function of the process of reporting, and hence spoken to in a fundamentally emotionless manner. What on earth do we mean when we describe a person (or a TV programme) as ‘human’ in a complimentary sense? I believe passionately that it matters to be ‘human’ in that sense. Yet I don’t even know what that quality is or how to define it.

In my dream, I was on the edge of a dance floor, with a whole roomful of people impelled to reach out to clasp hands at the centre of the dance. In English Country Dancing, this is called a ‘star’, performed by four people. But in the dream it was more like a shoal of fish or flock of birds or herd of wildebeest. The flock kept dissolving and reforming. The hands themselves seemed to want to seek one another, with a will and intelligence of their own, like instinct — but carrying the full humanity of the individual dancer. It was very beautiful. And it mattered. The poem tries to get this across by comparing the group of humans to a galaxy of stars. Interestingly, scientists tell us that at the centre of every galaxy is a black hole.


without attachment
there’s no possibility
of loss — without loss,
there’s no finding and without
finding — no world, no being

Almost the only image I could recall from last night’s dreams, was of a container full of papers. They were precious memories, mementoes, and they were being upended and scattered downwards into a bottomless void. I dislike the highly abstract nature of the poem, but there we are. I suspect there is some kind of connection with having heard Bowlby mentioned in a talk yesterday evening. I know little about Bowlby except he is famous for attachment theory.  And I don’t know much about attachment theory though I am disposed to believe it because it arose out of Freudian thinking. It’s very odd indeed to observe my own willingness to believe two utterly different sets of theories about attachment — Bowlby’s and the Buddha’s. Neither of which I can claim to have studied. I know somewhat more about Buddha’s ideas on the subject, and yet I have the sense of psychoanalysis as my true cultural home in contrast to the exotic, imported flavour of Eastern wisdom. Why am I so ready to accept an external source of knowledge (in this case, Bowlby and/or Buddha)? I feel I must be some kind of naive schoolboy, still, at heart. Treating the whole world as though it were some kind of academic test. Crazy. The broad difference between Bowlby and Buddha seems to be, Buddha claims attachment can be (and needs to be) transcended, while Bowlby does no more than observe how it actually works in practice. The idea that Buddha succeeded in transcending attachment altogether, leaves me simultaneously sceptical and excited. What a wonderful vision! The Tale of the Man Who Achieved the Impossible. I only know it’s impossible for me, and that I’m unable to accept on faith that it’s even a wise goal to strive for. Of course Buddha said accept nothing on faith. But how on earth can anyone strive for an impossible goal except through faith? But the vision stands. And I’m pleased with my poem as an attempt to capture that vision.


lying on the dirt
floor of an Egyptian tomb
— my head feels strangely
ordered and at peace — nothing
like what I was expecting

As an Anglo-Saxon Brit, my civilised history is a relatively recent affair. Maybe a thousand years old? In Egypt they were already living ordered, settled lives four thousand years ago. Assuming our ancestors are always with us, unseen, contributing their wisdom (and their foolishness) to our present lives — and that’s something which I do tend to assume — in that case, I’d have unconsciously developed in the course of my life, a whole set of expectations, based on the exact ‘feel’ of what kind of help to expect from my ancestors who were alive four thousand years ago. And that would be quite a primitive, animal sort of help (no less helpful for that of course). I would have picked this up from the very soil of England, from visits to ancient sites in England, from the activity of my imagination, from the real, living presence of those ancestors themselves. But when I visited Egypt, in 1984, and stretched out flat on the dirt floor of a tomb in the Valley of the Kings to try and commune with the spirits — I discovered my inner space behaving in a totally unfamiliar way. I had always assumed ancient wisdom to be somehow a matter of letting go of the thirst for order and control. Experiencing a little primaeval chaos and instinct instead. For me, communing with the spirits of my prehistoric ancestors (i.e. the Celts) had always been a matter of ‘going native’. And without thinking, I had expected the same from an Egyptian Pharaoh’s tomb. Instead, I felt the vibrations of a spirituality which, despite being so ancient, had nothing ‘primitive’ about it at all.

Last night I dreamed I was in modern-day Egypt trying to reach the airport, full of anxiety whether I had my passport and enough money.

the keening

pouring out of me
like song — my limitless grief
exceeds what I know
— a deep, spiritual love
possessing me completely

An extraordinary dream in which I was weeping for the death of a colleague. What an emotionless person I must be in real life, for such richness of emotion as in this dream, to feel so unfamiliar and unwonted! Actually back in the eighties I wept just like this a couple of times when I was very drunk. The colleague who was dead in the dream, figured in a similar dream a couple of years ago, where she was dead because I had been complicit in her murder. In waking life, I told her about that dream and she was quite upset to have been told, and it caused a certain degree of friction between us for a day or two. I guess I can be insensitive. I lack imagination sometimes, to envisage other people’s emotions. Or indeed my own. The word ‘keening’ was a late addition to my vocabulary. I like the dignity of it. I had never heard the word until I was in my forties. I just looked up its origin: it’s from the Irish caoinim ‘I wail’.


there’s no escaping
— I want to go back and change
the whole of my life —
how absurd! — as if now I’m
any wiser than I was then!

Yesterday evening I worked late on my talk on Spirituality and Mental Health. Mulling over my teenage sexuality and the reasons for my incredible loneliness, for the purposes of the talk, seems to have provoked a dream in which I was given complete licence to express my sexual feelings — with great tenderness and love — and in great detail — towards the first girl I ever slept with in reality at the age of 22. In reality, I was completely overwhelmed and did not know what to do and ended up doing nothing. So it was a one-off with this particular girl. And for the next 20 years my sexual experience amounted to half a dozen one-night stands. Looking back, it does feel as though I missed out on the best years of my life. Both sexually and, perhaps more important, socially. This isn’t a new realisation. But the vivid feelings of regret provoked by last night’s dream are much more immediate than anything I normally allow myself to feel. And it turns out that it makes quite a nice, neat, simple poem.


there’s no need to prove
sanity or madness — truth
is the faculty
of compassion, discovered
in myself — of all places

I quite like this poem. It just manages, by the skin of its teeth, to avoid pretentious moralising. I dreamed of my maternal grandfather, who sang bass for many years in Carlisle Cathedral Choir. He was a working class lad who left school at fourteen, had a wonderful singing voice, but was also perhaps too fundamentally scared of life to make good. In my dream, I saw him going off somewhere to practice his singing, and prove himself, and I felt sad because I knew his efforts were doomed. He would fail to break through the barrier of his own neurosis. Apart from that, I also dreamed of my mother’s Jungian analyst, Fred Plaut. Yesterday evening I worked quite late on a talk I will be giving this week, on spirituality and mental health. Central to the talk, is my own ‘mental illness’, and also the experience of hallucinating a flood of gold light pouring from Fred Plaut’s eyes when I first met him. I’ve analysed this experience quite successfully I think, in the talk. But unless I can talk with compassion (towards myself) it will end up with me hiding my vulnerability behind the analysis.