Tuesday, March 31, 2009

In The Early World

There is always a first time for everything. A first born child, a first new tooth, a first few steps, a first day at school, a first wobbly ride on a bicycle, a first sail, a first remembered Christmas, a first kiss.
For every human experience that you can think of there is always a first time that this experience occurs. There are first experiences that are related to every stage of our lives - first job, first love, first overseas travel and for many older people there is the first realisation that good health may not be forever which leads to first intimations of ones mortality.
.
When I look back on my first experiences, the firsts that happened in my childhood had a certain incandescent freshness and vibrancy about them, a luminosity of feeling and image that shone so very brightly. It was a clarity unencumbered by reflection, meditation or analysis. It was the joyful feasting on the treasures of an early world, a world of expanding consciousness and experience. It was a time of mindfulness, of being in the moment.
.
It is difficult, but not impossible in adult first experiences to have the same luminosity of these early first experiences. I think that this is because we bring to adult first experiences a certain lack of naivety and innocence that was alive in our younger years. We are more ready to spring to judgement rather than suspend belief, more wont to analyse rather than let ourselves be taken by the experience. But if we are really, really, really lucky we may have unexpected first experiences in our older decades which approach the shining freshness of those that we enjoyed in that early world.
.
This well known and much loved poem by Dylan Thomas is a celebration of that early world. It is a poem that shines brightly with the fresh, vibrant newness of a young world explored with a lack of inhibitedness and with abandon. It is one of my very favourite poems. It is long but it is worth the read.

FERN HILL - By Dylan Thomas

Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
The night above the dingle starry,
Time let me hail and climb
Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
Trail with daisies and barley
Down the rivers of the windfall light.
.
And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
In the sun that is young once only,
Time let me play and be
Golden in the mercy of his means,
And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,
And the sabbath rang slowly
In the pebbles of the holy streams.
.
All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay
Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air
And playing, lovely and watery
And fire green as grass.
And nightly under the simple stars
As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,
All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the night jars
Flying with the ricks, and the horses
Flashing into the dark.
.
And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white
With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all
Shining, it was Adam and maiden,
The sky gathered again
And the sun grew round that very day.
So it must have been after the birth of the simple light
In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm
Out of the whinnying green stable
On to the fields of praise.
.
And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay house
Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long,
In the sun born over and over,
I ran my heedless ways,
My wishes raced through the house high hay
And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows
In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs
Before the children green and golden
Follow him out of grace.
.
Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
In the moon that is always rising,
Nor that riding to sleep
I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.
.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Minka

A Young Elizabeth Taylor

When I was at primary school we used to sing a song called "Minka". It was a song from the Department of Education 'Broadcasts To Schools' singing books. It is a good traditional Russian folk song. It has a pleasant melody, great rhythm, a driving beat which gets faster and faster throughout the whole song and has the singers finishing with a resounding Hey! at the end.

I have always envisioned Minka as a sort of Russian counterpoint to Lara in the 1965 film Dr Zhivago. Lara is the beautiful blond romantic lead in the film. Minka seems to me to be a dark sultry gypsy minx of a character. You would meet Lara for dinner at the Ritz. You would meet Minka in a hayloft.

Given those sentiments one would wonder why this song would be taught at our school - well the song has as I have already outlined good musical attributes and despite my middle aged musings regarding the nature of Minka it seems that small children have very different ideas about Minka as you shall see. The words to the song go like this.

MINKA
From the Volga was he riding
On his horse so quickly striding
When he saw in ambush hiding
Pretty little Minka
.
Chorus:
Minka Minka go not from me
Do not in the forest hide thee
Come and tell me that you love me
Pretty little Minka
.
Shy thou art and very bashful
Yet to thee I'd be more grateful
If your heart was ever faithful
Pretty little Minka
.
Last week, there I was with my guitar teaching the junior children this new school assembly song. Teaching children new songs is a bit like getting one of those very big snowballs rolling as pictured in film cartoons. The snowball starts off very small and over time as it slowly rolls down the hill it gains size and momentum. By the time this particular snowball hit the long plain at the bottom of the hill the song had been well learnt, it weighed two tons and was travelling at 200 kph. This was good because this was exactly the sort of momentum this particular song needed and the huge Hey! at the end needed to be shouted very loudly - like the sound of a two ton snowball exploding on a large pine tree.
.
After we had mastered the song and sung it a few times I put down my guitar and asked the children some questions about the song. I said, "What do you think Minka looks like?"
One child said that, "Minka is a pretty little pony".
Another said, "Minka hides in the forest, she is a fast horse that runs out at you when you go past"
The third child said, "Minka looks like one of the Oompa Loompas from (the film) Charlie and the Chocolate Factory."

For some reason (probably the amusing juxtaposition of my personal image of Minka with an Oompa Loompa) I found this statement extremely funny and I laughed out loud. It was one of those head back belly laughs, it was a teacher putting aside the teacher persona laugh. For a few moments I cast aside the semi formality of the context and laughed in the way I might at something really, really, really funny in a pub after a few drinks.

The children laughed at me laughing. They laughed with glee at my obvious utter delight at the Oompa Loompa comment - I looked at them as they laughed. Mixed with the glee in their eyes was a sort of anxiousness - 'My god! he's laughing like THAT! what might he do next!! ? Stand on his head? Do burnouts in the teachers car park in his clapped out Honda? YES!!! we want to see what he does next - it's scary but boy do we like it!!

I remember all the junior school teachers laughing like that last year at a similar assembly with the visiting Public Health Nurse who after giving her talk asked the children, "So who can tell me 3 types of fruit that would be good to have in your lunch boxes? - A five year child who had her hand up was chosen to give her answer and said, "My father has got lots of tattoos and he isn't even in prison" - that made all the teachers laugh out loud like a sudden volcanic eruption - I think the glow in the sky was seen as far away as Amsterdam and pumice fell all over the Pacific.

But - I don't think we are done with Minka yet. Perhaps when the children are singing it again at our next big school assembly, we could get all the teachers and parents up the front to show the children how to do one of those Cossack dances where you squat with your arms crossed over your chest while kicking your legs alternately out in front of yourself with great speed - now that would be very very funny indeed !
.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Banks Peninsula and Christchurch, South Island New Zealand - My Turangawaewae

Double click on this photograph - the enlarged image will give you a much better view.
.
In the Maori language the word Turangawaewae means, domicile, home, home turf. If you are a Maori your Turangawaewae will be the place where your Marai is.
A Marai is the focal point or central area of a village or settlement and in contemporary times is usually a large meeting house full of beautiful Maori carvings depicting the tribes Whakapapa [genealogy, cultural identity ]. When a person is welcomed onto a Maori Marai it is done in the form of a traditional welcome containing much protocol and ceremony.

The welcoming ceremony contains amongst its prayers and speeches and songs a place where each individual stands and introduces themselves. This is called a Mihi. In your Mihi you talk about your own family genealogy and what part of Aoteoroa (Land of the long white cloud) New Zealand you come from. When talking about where you come from the word Turangawaewae is elevated from its meaning of "Home turf" to "The place where I stand" and when speaking of your Turangawaewae you name the significant Mountain of your area (this is your mountain) and a significant river (this is your river).

As a teacher I have taken classes to Marai on several occasions. They are very moving and significant spiritual experiences. To hear a tribes whakapaka recited from memory in the traditional oral way from the Maori creation myth to the present day is a moving experience indeed.

My own Turangawaewae is in the photograph. I am a fifth generation New Zealander. My ancestors were in Canterbury well before the main planned settlement by the 'Canterbury Company' and its first four ships. An ancestor of mine was the first white (pakeha) child born on the Canterbury plains. Both my parents have their pasts deeply entrenched in Canterbury genealogies. My river is the Avon river which flows from its head waters into a large estuary where I sailed with such joy as a child and young man and exits out to the Pacific Ocean besides the little seaside settlement of Sumner. My mountain is a very large one. In fact it is a collection of large hills really and its called Banks Peninsula. I have such wonderful memories of biking, tramping, rambling and sailing all around this unique and incredibly interesting ancient volcano.

I always think that as human beings we have very big hearts that are like jigsaw puzzles. Parts of this jigsaw are often all over the country we live in. Sometimes pieces of the jigsaw of our heart are in different places all over the globe - with a grown child and their partner and children in a foreign country, with friend(s) in another.

But our hearts belong not just to people, they belong to places as well. In the Maori context the family (whanau) and tribe (iwi) and the Marai were traditionally all together in the one place. In a modern mobile society, where our hearts are in terms of PEOPLE can often be different from where our hearts are in terms of PLACE.

There are Kiwis who have lived overseas for a long long time. They establish themselves and build a life within their new country. Often there are times when they ask themselves where they really belong. Their children are born and raised in the new country and yet their own birth and formative years were in New Zealand. This sometimes means that there is a pull on the heart strings in two different directions. It is a pull that doesn't necessarily require an answer in terms of immediate action. For many all that is required is an assent of the heart - a recognition - an honouring to oneself of PEOPLE and PLACE in the heart and on an intellectual level. It is this recognition and honouring and understanding that may calm a rough sea of nostalgia and longing.

I am no different than other people and my heart is certainly distributed around this old planet of ours in terms of PEOPLE. But despite all of that there is a place where my heart has its centre in terms of PLACE. Despite the fact that I have loved living in Northland (it feels sometimes that it might as well be Mars!) and have been living here many more years than I have lived in Canterbury, the answer to the question - "Where is your Turangawaewae" - is instant and unequivocal. It is here in this photograph - amongst the streets and buildings and environs of Christchurch - at New Brighton beach, sailing on the estuary from my old yacht club, rambling and biking the wind blown tussocky hills, sailing around the bays of Banks Peninsula - all surrounded in the distance by breathtaking braided rivers and the shining snow capped Southern Alps - Although I don't live there anymore - This is the central PLACE of my heart - This is the PLACE where I stand - This is my Turangawaewae.
.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

"Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics"

Mark Twain

Recently I did something silly. I reacted in a really, really, really silly way. Initially the term "You are a complete dumb arse" came to mind, but after thinking about it for a while I started to make myself some excuses. I thought, "I am under stress, I guess it is a pretty average reaction if you take everything into consideration". After a couple of these thoughts the cunningly rhetorical questions came thick and fast.
.
- What makes you think you are an emotional superman?
- Don't you think that your reaction was a pretty typical, average sort of reaction?
- You were tired and overwrought weren't you?
- What average person wouldn't have reacted exactly the same?
- You are a male after all, doesn't the average male react like that?
- Since when did you rise above the norm as some sort of paragon of virtue?
(It's a long list but I will stop there)
.
The word that interests me in all of this is the word "average". An average is obtained by adding up a total of numbers and dividing it by how many there are. This gives you a statistical average for the given numbers. This leads us into the realm of statistics. Statistics is about data, data gathering and its interpretation.
.
Mark Twain has a well known saying about statistics which is the title of this blog post. He said, "There are lies, damned lies and statistics."
.
C. G. Jung would probably have agreed with Mark Twain on this. Let me unpack Jungs idea on averages for you so you know what I mean.
.
Jung made the point that statistical averages are only of use on a large scale and for a specific purpose. Finding an average is useful and is meaningful in certain circumstances, but it can mean that the "average" in the statistics doesn't actually exist - and because it may not exist it is useless as a statistic when one is dealing with a specific person. It tells us nothing about individuals - Let me explain.:
.
Let us say that you load up a large dump truck with rocks. There are rocks as big as tables. There are rocks as big as as shoes, marbles, cups, buckets, car wheels, one or two the size of a washing machine etc, etc, etc. After you have loaded up the truck you individually weigh each rock. You obtain an average weight.
You then try and find a rock of that exact average weight amongst all these rocks. It is quite on the cards that you will not find that average rock at all. The average is often a mathematical statistic and not a reality at all.
.
The point Jung is making is that if we want to deal with human beings we turn to the individual not to a statistical average. Each rock on the dump truck is unique in size and weight and human beings are unique in every possible way as well.
.
So despite the fact that we all react in similar ways to certain circumstances, we react as individuals within our own upbringing, genetic inheritance, life experiences and all the other myriad of circumstances that make up an individual life context.
When we look at ourselves and our reactions as those of an individual rather than as a statistical average - ("You are a male after all, doesn't the average male react like that?") we throw the responsibility back on ourselves where it deserves to be and are not able to hide behind the "damned lies" we tell ourselves all the time. It is each individual who is responsible for their thoughts, words, actions and reactions.
.
Life is about individual responsibility within a shared humanity - we live out that responsibility in our own unique and individual way - and there's nothing average about that at all.
.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Blessing The Boats


BLESSING THE BOATS

By Lucille Clifton

may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love you back
may you open your eyes
to water water
waving forever and may
you in your innocence
sail through this to that
.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Hindsight

From a poem about Parenting found on the web.

If I had my children to raise all over again, I'd finger-paint more, and point the fingers less. I would do less correcting and more connecting. I'd take my eyes off my watch, and watch with my eyes. I would care to know less and know to care more. I'd take more hikes and fly more kites. I'd stop playing serious, and seriously play. I would run through more fields and gaze at more stars. I'd do more hugging and less tugging. I'd build self-esteem first, and the house later. I would be firm less often, and affirm much more. I'd teach less about the love of power, And more about the power of love.
.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A Small Pony With A Very Big Bite

Weber Brothers Circus Advertisement - Onerahi Residental Area Whangarei .

It is said that it pays to advertise and when you consider the billions of dollars that are spent on advertising world wide - it certainly must pay dividends otherwise businesses wouldn't spend such huge amounts in search of customers.

The Weber Bros Circus has come to Whangarei and this inflatable man is one of a number of interesting displays all over town advertising this fact. I took this photograph the other day on my way to work. As I drove away from this apparition I pondered the scene when the owner of the house was asked to use his front garden - ("Oh yes a couple of tickets to the first night is very fair, some people actually pay US to have Mr Puffball / Blimp man on their lawn - yes really.") (Or am I being unkind? - maybe the house owner was paid handsomely).

Whenever a circus comes to town I am always reminded of a painful experience that happened to me a long time ago. It is this that is uppermost in my mind whenever I see a circus. It happened like this:

Many years ago when I was growing up in Christchurch a circus would often come to town. They were the old traditional circuses with lions, elephants and monkeys. There were lots of clowns and trapeze artists and all the traditional circus razz - a - ma - tazz. The circuses that I remember were set up either in Hagley Park which is in the centre of Christchurch city or the Big Top was pitched about 2 kilometres from where I lived in the Rawhiti Domain in New Brighton

After school one day a group of us from Central New Brighton Primary School went to see the pitching of the big top - we had heard that a circus was in the domain, so down we all trouped. It was there that we came across a group of Shetland ponies that were grazing on the grass. It was while patting and stroking these ponies that something happened that has made me remember never to turn my back on an animal - ever. I remember patting a nice little pony and feeding it grass when for no reason that I have ever been able to discern the pony curved his head around my waist and bit me very, very hard on my backside.

My first reaction was one of initial shock - I stood still for a moment, wondering if I had been bitten or struck by lightening - then I took off and ran as fast as I could all the way home.

Arriving ashen faced at home I gasped out my story to my mother who looked concerned but slightly bemused and unbelieving at my panting story about the ponies. "Lets have a look", she said. - "Oh my god" - then, with an expression I can still remember to this day, "You HAVE been bitten, my goodness what big teeth marks."

After running all the way home I had calmed down a bit and the fright of the bite had changed into the excitement of an interesting story to tell everyone. My mum got a hand mirror and showed me the teethmarks on my backside. I can remember that image as I type - imagine the teeth marks you have seen when one child bites another - now imagine that the biting child has a mouth the size of a small vicious horse.

As in all these sorts of events in our lives the body heals but the mind remembers and I certainly remember that little event. I am none the worse for wear either physcially or mentally but the memory of this is still as sharp as a tack.

So what did I learn? I learnt that:

- It is true that -"Horses are uncomfortable in the middle and dangerous at both ends." (~Attributed to both Christopher Stone and Ian Fleming)

- When it comes to feeding and patting horses it is a case of - once bitten twice shy!!!

.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Irish Blessing

IRISH BLESSING

May the road rise to meet you,
And the sun stand at your shoulder,
May the wind be always at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
May the rain fall soft upon your fields,
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.
.

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Circus Comes To Town (1)

Weber Brothers Circus Riverside Drive Whangarei 6th March 2009

Carl Gustave Jung the great psychiatrist once said that one of the negative aspects of modernity was the anonymity that was bought to peoples lives when they lived in huge cities which overpowers the human spirit and reduces the individuals role to that of an ant. He said that the heritage of humans is the scale of the hunting group, the tribe, the village and the small town. His point is that for our psychological health we need to live somewhere that is small enough for us to 'know' and be 'known'. We need a place where we rub shoulders with the familiar and the known - where our humanity is enhanced and developed amongst friends and acquaintances - a place that humanises rather than dehumanises - where we can become someone with a name and a face rather than a cypher.

I was thinking about this when I drove down the hill turned left to head down the harbour and saw to my immediate right that the circus had come to town again - A huge circus tent only one minute away from where I live. As I drove to work I pondered on the human scale and convenience of the city of Whangarei.

My workplace is a pleasant 20 minute drive with the shining Whangarei harbour on my right.
My yacht is 4 minutes drive away. I can be on board in 10 minutes.
Revas Pizzas to die for Restaurant is 3 minutes away.
Parks and walking tracks are close to the city centre or within easy reach of town.
The library, the shopping centre, swimming pool, hospital and all the other amenities of a small town are all within 5 - 10 minutes drive.
The coast and its many stunning beaches are about 30 minutes away by car.

The downside of course is that it doesn't have the huge choice and depth of choice of a city such as New Zealands biggest city of Auckland - and Whangarei can't match London or New York for international sophistication and excitement. Nor is it a crossroads to other foreign countries and cultures close by on a shared border. It is too much of a backwater for that - BUT as I found out in 2006 you can purchase a ticket, clamber aboard a 747 and go and have a look at all those other very nice places.

Whangarei is fairly typical of New Zealand. Outside of the four main population centres of Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin, most of the country is made up of small towns
- places where, when the circus comes to town, it is only a short drive there and back and where when you sit waiting for the show to start, you scan the audience, and you see many people that you know and many that you have never met, but are familiar to you in the way that faces are when you live in a small town. You know and you are known.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

WILD DAISIES

WILD DAISIES - Bub Bridger

If you love me
Bring me flowers
Wild daisies
Clutched in your fist
Like a torch
No orchids or roses
Or carnations
No florist's bow
Just daisies
Steal them
Risk your life for them
Up the sharp hills
In the teeth of the wind
If you love me
Bring me daisies
Wild daisies
That I will cram
In a bright vase
And marvel at
.

'WHAT IS REAL' from THE VELVETEEN RABBIT


"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender.... Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick out handle?"
"Real isn't how you're made." said the Skin Horse. " Its a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become real."
"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.
"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."
"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up?" he asked, "or bit by bit?"
It doesn't happen all at once" said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't often happen to people who break easily, or who have sharp edges, or have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out, and you get loose in the joints and very shabby.
But these things don't matter at all because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people to don't understand."

- Margery Williams
.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin 1881 - 1955. Jesuit, Paleontologist, Biologist, Philosopher, Visionary

"Some day after we have mastered the winds, the waves and gravity, we will harness for God the energies of love; and then for a second time in the history of the world, humans will have discovered fire."