So dear friends it is Sunday afternoon following my return to Glastonbury and I have (on finishing this) realised that this is my last blog before Christmas so I now wish you all the best for the celebrations of the season.
I got back Wednesday to discover that there were a group of Tibetan monks creating a sand mandala in the Assembly Rooms. So this week I’ve visited the mandala many times and sat watching the monks at work. It is such an amazingly complex, intricate and beautiful creation and there’s something soothing about watching the monks with their cups of brightly-coloured sand, and listening to the rhythmic rattle of the rods they run along the funnels they use to control the flow of sand, focusing intently on what they are doing.
It’s hard to know how I feel about the commercial aspects of this venture. Am I alone in seeing something here reminiscent of the participation of Native Americans in the “Wild West Shows” Victorians went to see and marvel at? A culture destroyed once more becomes a form of entertainment. It has something of the flavour of prostitution that this most sacred practice at the heart of Tibetan Buddhism is now packaged like a touring arts show and rolled out all over the world to collect donations for the monks in exile in Southern India. Am I alone in finding something a little uncomfortable about the “road show”? At the same time, it is amazing that I can go along and witness the creation of a sand mandala. But for the destruction of Tibet, what would we ever have learnt about this entire spiritual tradition and all the wisdom it embodies?
I remember asking a Chinese person what Chinese people felt about Tibet. Their response was “The authorities treat the Chinese people exactly the same as they treat the Tibetans – why should they be a special case? Why does no-one care what happens Chinese people but everyone goes on about Tibetans?” There was a lot of hurt hidden in this reply so it didn’t seem the time to start talking about how amazing Tibetan culture is.
And it just so happens that this week I also heard about the blind Chinese human rights campaigner Chen Guangcheng who has been under house arrest since being released from four years’ imprisonment. And what crime is he guilty of? None. He started out simply asking for the laws regarding the rights of disabled people to be exempt from some taxes to be honoured. But having been successful in this, he became known as a campaigner and ended up challenging one particular incidence of the human rights abuses that are so much a part of everyday reality for ordinary Chinese people. He has never sought to do anything other than ask that the authorities act within the law. He has never been convicted of any crime but was still sentenced to four years in prison, an experience that has left him with permanent physical injuries. But even after his sentence ended, the Chinese authorities continue to persecute him – and his wife. They cannot leave the house, they have been beaten up, and they have little food. No-one, absolutely no-one who does not already live there, is allowed into the village where they are confined. Amnesty International have taken up the case and this poor man is probably only still alive because he has become (and he himself has no idea that this has happened because he is not allowed access to any news) so well-known outside of China. His spreading fame is an inspiration for other ordinary Chinese people to start challenging the cruelty that they are so used to enduring. China has crushed Tibetans, destroyed their temples, murdered the people but I find it completely believable that exactly the same horrors occur throughout China as are famous in the case of Tibet.
My year for keeping this blog is coming to an end? Do I continue? I’d like to know what you think. I know people signed up for this but I don’t know how many of you actually read it or would wish to continue doing so. I’ve been having a rough time again and I have to own up to the fact that it has always been part of my strategy for coping to reflect on the hardships and suffering of innocent people.
It was the twenty fifth anniversary of my mother’s death on Friday and because the adoption of my son became irreversible on the same day (one of life’s synchronicities) the griefs are “meshed” with each other. They are entwined not only because they occurred on the same day but also because the reasons for relinquishing my son are so bound up in my experience of my mother. So I’ve been suffering through the latest layer in this ever-unfolding grief. I know four other birthmothers in Ireland. It is not, in fact, that uncommon an experience among Irish women of my age although I like to think it ends with our generation. All of them had daughters, all of their daughters are in contact and in all cases the reunion has been a positive and healing experience. There is a pressure to see this as a desirable end, whereas for years now my attitude has been “wait without hope/ For hope would be hope for the wrong thing” (T.S. Eliot: East Coker). I’ve been living with this pain for twenty five years now, and yet each time I find myself overwhelmed it is not by the past but the way in which to grieve a living person means it is an unending source of new pain. There is nothing to hope for but much to endure.
One of my brothers asked for us all to write something for the occasion of Mum’s 25th anniversary but trying to work out what to say was a precipitating factor in winding up in this state. I wanted to be able to say thank you because there are many things I’m grateful for and however difficult all those nights of listening to how unbearable she found being alive were, there are gifts here too. I am her daughter. I too go through dark difficult times. I got to see how someone else handled despair. I know that to struggle in this way is “in the family”. And in all my years as a counsellor, I never did meet anyone in a worse state than I saw my mother in when I was in my teens. But when it comes to what I can say about her, the poem I wrote when my own daughter was a baby is still the best I can do.
I say I do not remember
you cradling me in your arms
yet holding my child
I hear you in my voice and
know that I knew
before words formed universe
the inchoate power of motherlove
Painfully I recall the words
that separated us:
would that we had spoken
words enough for understanding
rather than let hurt silence us
but so each generation finds itself
adult through argument.
Now, child in arms
cradling and crooning
knowing mother as
first I knew you
the whisper of love
I hear in my bones
births mother in me
and sings in your voice.
Carolyn Baker quotes Meade as saying “It used to be better known that the only heart with having is a broken heart” (p 27 Navigating the coming Chaos). I’ve now lived half a life with a broken heart and truthfully I don’t think it has much to recommend it. Joanna Macy’s line on a broken heart “The heart that breaks can contain the world” is more helpful. It’s about keeping the heart open, recognising how hurting connects, that what feels like an isolating and lonely experience is in fact what we share, however we get there. There are many, many people find being here every bit as hard-going as I do. It is possible through opening up to pain to find compassion, suffering together. According to the Tibetans, the Lord of Compassion visited us in the temple the sand mandala represents in the Assembly Rooms today. It’s a nice thought. Let’s hope they’re right.
I wish you and all yours all the joy and peace that such a season is supposed to bring.
May light guide and love hold you all,