Getting it Right. Have You Met the Moment?

What have taking a photo, doing heart surgery and winning a grand slam have in common?

Have you ever experienced a moment when you knew that everything had gone right? It was what you wanted. I bet you have… most of us have had those moments, at least once. For some of us it may be the moment when we completed a tricky task – a complicated heart operation – a perfect photo – a grand slam – a delicious cake – a painted room. Whatever it is, you will recognise the moment, the moment of spiritual resonance when you “got it right”. 

This arriving at the moment is so special – it’s not the same as falling in love… it’s much closer to fulfilling a personal passion or exercising a skill.

When one trains as a hypnotherapist there’s a superb exercise where one hypnotises somebody and just says to the subject “that’s right” “that’s right” “that’s right,” over and over again. You need to do it fairly slowly, and you may change your voice and the emphasis with which you say it. It’s the most potent and beautiful exercise for both the hypnotist and the subject. Your subconscious just loves to know that you have got it right and getting it right for real is not a common occurrence, but when it happens there is a something splendid about it; witnessing that moment is also a privilege. It’s so healthy to know that we have got it right, and to be told so, and also tell oneself. We all need that feeling. 

Recognising those moments in other people or animals is something I love. I cannot help but feel that when I see a giant cat – a panther, jaguar, cheetah or lion hunting down their prey (on film) that they are in their moment of self-truth in “getting it right”. Our perception of hunting has contaminated us. Our idea of hunting is taking a bloody machine and mindlessly killing something after pointing a gun at it… but the deep experience that involves hunger, smell, taste, sight, judgement and a thousand other things including that kind of empathy one needs to have with one’s prey, are practically unknown to us. We no longer need to hunt in our world; real hunting to exist and survive bears no relationship to an idiot with a gun.

Last night I listened to a TV interview with Emma Raducanu, the English tennis player who has inspired so many young people since she won the US Open. While she was talking, it was pointed out to me that she said something that I had commented about her before. It’s her enthusiasm for Grand Slams, an enthusiasm that may be her only key to win inspirationally. The adrenalin kick, the fear, the reality of the moment which may only work for her at a vast and special occasion. The grand slam is the moment that brings her alive, that ramps up her innate skills; it’s a pleasure she may share with an elderly gentleman on an allotment who discovers that after years of trying, he has finally created a beautiful new kind of rose. Both experience the piquancy of the moment that resonates with their own unique spirit.

When I write I long to believe that I have produced a combination of words that work so perfectly as to produce the moment of recognition… but I also feel that language is a tricky thing, unless one’s name is Shakespeare, Austen or Dylan Thomas. Maybe it’s enough to keep up the optimism and keep saying “That’s right… that’s right…that’s right…” And that in itself will be enough.

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An Unexpected Prayer for the Mayor & Councillors

As of yesterday – May 26th – Brighton has a change of mayor. The outgoing mayor was Cllr Alan Robins who presided over Brighton during the pandemic and did a great job over two years.   He chose the Interfaith Contact Group (IFCG) as his chaplain and we supported him during this time in a number of ways. We held a memorial service for the 500 people in our City that died tragically during the pandemic and ran various events, including an art exhibition of photos taken during this sad time. It was also the task of the IFCG to present different faith groups to deliver prayers before Council meetings.

Yesterday was our last day as chaplain to the mayor. Rev Martin Poole and I went to the Town Hall for our final prayer session. Martin read two beautiful readings by John O’Donohue. I wrote a prayer and blessing for the mayor and the councillors. The reference to Dr Who was definitely unexpected. We were presented with a spectacular bunch of flowers as a token of appreciation. The prayer is below. 

In this hour of change
We ride a wave of uncertainty
It sometimes feels like an adventure
At other times it’s a bad trip on a clapped-out ghost train

Yet our City holds us tight
Amidst great twists and twirls of time and tide
Swept up on air, sea, wind and water
Stacking bricks, bungaroosh and mortar
Crescents, curves and minarets
We ride together
Painted in cerulean blue
Printed in nostalgic sepia
Attacked by a hungry seagull
Splashed by the kindly waves
Home to bargirl, busker and beekeeper
Refugee and poet, prince and pauper…
The wandering tourist will never know
That you fashioned the changes and the charges

And as for my pals… the bratty kids
We paddle, laugh and play
Gliding and riding along the front
While you… our custodians
Look out for us all
And knowing this I turn to you
And say thank you
For while the billionaire gambles
And the humble homeless sleep
The Council takes care of us all, day and night
And a councillor’s work is not easy

Today in this congenial chamber
I ask you to cherish our City
Caring for it like a friend
One that ages without much dignity
Wrapped in leather, tattoos and tweeds 
Dressed in purple dungarees
Unless its August
In which case it’s all the colours of the rainbow…

This is a moment of gratitude Mr Mayor
For your own brand of compassion and care
That held so many of us
During these two years of turmoil…
May your replacement be equally loved and venerated
Different and regenerated, like Dr Who
And like the good doctor
Unique throughout the cosmic universe 
For she will be the Mayor of a magic City

In closing… Let us celebrate our optimism, colour and diversity
And being the representative of the Interfaith Contact Group
I offer up best wishes to our Mayor
And thanks and blessings to our councillors
And all the people Brighton and Hove
May we always feel connected
May we always belong
And may we always welcome those that seek out
The kindness and goodwill of this, our beautiful City

Thank you

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Animals might make you feel good, but plants take you everywhere

OK… just open Facebook and take on board endless films of fluffy things, doing fluffy stuff. We all love it. I have owned fluffy things in my time, and one cat loved above all others, but plants take me somewhere else… plants take me everywhere… across the world and back again.

Today I am tending two clivia plants, which are both producing flowers. They will soon be magnificent. They came from two seeds that I took from the garden of Anna in Bondeno, near Ferrara in the Emiglia Romagna. Her lovely garden is wild and overgrown and full of leafy plants and ferns and hungry mosquitos and buddleia and heat. I put the two seeds in a soap bag and forgot about them, and when I unexpectedly discovered them, they were sad and shrivelled and dry, and looked unloved. So I potted them, and now they are massive and spectacular, and some experts might say they are big enough to split, but I say leave them and let them flower and flourish because they are magnificent.

Every plant has a story, particularly the ones that were given as gifts. The rubber plant seems a touch naughty. It was originally a gift from my sister, some 20 years ago. It got tall and taller like Jack’s beanstalk and I felt uncertain believing I couldn’t looking after it properly, so I gave it to a friend, and as she manoeuvred it out of the door, a branch fell off. I kept that branch and put it in water and it grew roots. Despite the apparent suitability of my friend’s conservatory, the original giant died, but the broken branch flourished. I trained it to grow up the walls of the bathroom, where it now dominates that space in glory, and sometimes has to be trimmed down when it gets too big for its boots, from time to time.

And what about the money plant, given to me as a teeny weeny thing many years ago, by the fabulous Carol Kirkwood? It is now vast and fine with the promise of living a very long life, and deserves to do so. It’s a succulent, and comes from the KwaZululu-Natal and Eastern Cape province of South Africa, and not from the far East, as I thought. The money or jade plant is everywhere, and popular everywhere, but when I look hard at it, I see it flourishing in the doorways of Chinese restaurants from here to Chinatown but I can also still see its modest and charming origins. There it is… growing in hot dusty lands, shining green and glorious amidst the golds and browns of dry foliage and parched earth…. There is no doubt… plants take you everywhere…

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Funerals that make Connections

Sadly, many funerals are fixed and truly dead. They are full of words repeated over and over again by priests and celebrants who do a job, and aren’t very interested in the person that died. Their prescribed words bear little relationship to the person who died… and these occasions can be the most tragic funerals of all. The joyful funerals are the ones that honour the individual to the full – they are powerful and meaningful and those attending get a genuine feeling of connection. 

If the funeral works one should imagine that the deceased attended, and enjoyed it.  Maybe they are enjoying the words of love, the music, the memories and the readings. I believe that when one gets the funeral right, whoever died, be they Buddhist, Christian, Jew or Atheist, it is the correct ceremony of departure that resonates with the person that died and the funeral attendees. That resonance is recognisable and perfect.

Funerals reveal fascinating patterns of human behaviour. The younger the person that dies, the more people that attend. Older people get families that may or may not love them, who may or may not attend but when they are there, and contribute, this can be inspirational. The death of a child is particularly tragic, because it’s about the death of potential. The death of somebody who was very popular, like a celebrity is always interesting, but equally powerful and interesting are the funerals with very few attendees. One of the most powerful funerals I have ever conducted was a Buddhist funeral that involved just me and the best friend of the deceased. His friend had a massive knowledge of Buddhism, and could speak passages from the Tibetan Book of the Dead in fluent Tibetan. I found some astonishing readings and also some beautiful chants and bells and used my own Buddha to oversee the service. Although we were not allowed to burn incense, the chapel attendant overlooked the matter of lighting candles. Somehow the friend and I got it right. It seemed that the little family chapel was suddenly full of spirit, sound, love and connection. The deceased was there… but then the deceased should always be there, whatever you believe. Here’s a lovely Buddhist reading:

It is not the end of the world,
when it is the end of a life
it is the beginning of another life,
in ‘another’ world.

The best way to honour a relationship
is not by despair that it is lost,
but to be grateful for what it was worth.

It is not the end of a relationship,
when it is the end of a life;
it is but the temporal suspension of it,
till another time.

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Scammers From Hell

Congratulations!!! We wish to inform you that the UN / WORLD BANK ORGANIZATION
facilitated around-table meetings which just ended some days ago, and it has been agreed upon that compensation payment of US$8,355,000.00 should be paid to scammed victims and individuals whose Name and E-mail have been chosen through an open E-mail ballot system. Your email was included and that is why we have contacted you.

Oh man, how bird-brained do you think I am? These emails just drive me completely crazy, because they target us all, willy-nilly, particularly it seems, good trusting individuals. They dismay me so much because somebody out there is going to swallow this load of dreadful claptrap. Let’s face it… We all have a few friends who have been taken in by somebody, somewhere — on line, in the street, at their own front door, it can happen to any of us.

The problem is that those of us that become utterly sick of on-line madcap schemes, begin not to trust any kind of communication, and not trusting generally is just as sad as being over-trusting, in a different way.

As well as being offered trillions by the UN Bank, I have also been promised money by the CIA, not to mention every UK bank that exists. Also today I got an email from the very wonderful Which Scam Alert service, which I subscribe to. Which told me the Council Tax rebate scheme was one of a number of new scams, along with Fake Iceland and Morrisons pages and Facebook Posts. If I recall Covid vaccinations and testing kits have also been used as ways to wheedle money out of us all. The most terrible things about these scams is that they are using our receptivity and trust as a way to cheat us, but then, this is the mind-set of all confidence tricksters.

I have these fantasies about glorious super-powered hackers that know ways to tackle these scummy scammers – luring them on-line to a point where they witness the evil-doers rubbing their hands in glee, celebrating yet another sucker about to be taken to the cleaners… when very suddenly…. something absolutely shocking and horrible leaps out of the computer screen and bops them – shockingly and unexpectedly. It could provide a great opportunity for either a comedy or horror film. If a comedy they will get a really stinky red-nose glued to their face for a week or two… and if a horror film… well… I leave this one up to you. I just want scammers to be sent to hell in a hand-cart, in company with all those over-paid and emotionally bankrupt politicians who want to send refugees to Rwanda. And with this thought I leave you, wishing you a lovely, peaceful, jolly weekend.

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When Leadership Dissolves… Stuff Happens

There was a time when the idea of leadership was to lead, to take responsibility and to guide. Sadly this country we share, this aging empire, has not seen leadership prevail for some time. When David Cameron put the Referendum to the nation because he was afraid of Nigel Farage (a man who was not even a member of parliament) the country became the victim of a weak leader’s fear. And so the leadership of this country dissolved, and since then we have witnessed a scenario unfold revealing a leadership that has no interest in leading, no interest in the welfare of the country, no interest in anything except hanging on to power and the money that goes with power… at all costs.

         But there is an interesting upside to this. Despite the terrible decisions, the dreadful poverty and despair… many people show that they are still prepared to be law-abiding, dignified and responsible even if the leadership is a lying, double-dealing, lawless mess. The dignity of so many people is inspirational and beautiful.

         When people decide that they have had enough, they will move to remove the lawless mess, in a law-abiding way, proving that the people are better than their leaders. If they become impatient they will remove the lawless mess in a lawless and messy way, and this also could happen… 

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A Daffodil Speaks Out for the First Time

A Daffodil Speaks Out

Hi folks. With Easter and Passover and other seasonal springtime celebrations, It looks like the daffodil season is coming to an end. Or as William Wordsworth said:

Fair daffodils, we weep to see
You haste away so soon;
As yet the early-rising sun
Has not attain’d his noon.
Stay, stay
Until the hasting day
Has run
bla de bla

So what do the Daffodils feel about William’s words? We’ve heard the Oysters put their view in the Walrus and the Carpenter, but we’ve never heard just what the daffodils think about Wordsworth. In an attack of investigative nosiness I put the question to a fading daffodil last week and got this unexpected reply:

 “Look, we come back every year. It wouldn’t be the same if we hung around for weeks like a bad smell. Just look at the bigger picture… and tell William to stop whinging. On the other hand, if he hadn’t whinged about weeping to see us fade away, 10 trillion school kids wouldn’t have learned his tasteful poem about us… so I suppose there’s always a bright side to everything.”

And there you have it for the first time. A daffodil’s point of view. You can’t say that I don’t love you.

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A Prayer for Peace in Time of War

This evening the Dialogue Society holds its annual Iftar Dinner in The Grand Hotel. I am usually asked to read a prayer, and this time I wrote one honouring the lives lost in the Ukraine war, and elsewhere.

Join me in prayer…
In a country lane
Where bees visit sleepy lavender
The crooning blackbird is pitch perfect
And the leaves are twirling in the breeze

Join me in prayer
In a laboratory
Where the efficiency of a cluster bomb 
Is statistically evaluated
The fruits of its achievements
Are found near our country lane
Where we meet the ghosts of travellers 
Children, women and men
Muslim, Jew, Christian and Buddhist
Innocent, each and every one

Join me in prayer
And let us say together 
Stop the machinery of war
Those that make arms
Those that use them
Those that give orders to deploy them
Stop them all

This is why we pray together… now

Join me in prayer
For a world where peace
Is utterly irresistible
Where killing machines are an abomination
Where you and I hear the sound of the wind
The birdsong, the buzzing of bees in the lavender
And we know in our hearts
That our prayers have finally been answered

Thank you

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A Nursery Rhyme for Our Time

The House that Dave inherited

With Thanks to the House that Jack Built

This is The House Dave inherited
This the referendum that Dave prepared
Because of the bogey he utterly feared
That lay in The House Dave inherited

This is Boris the Russian Doll that lies on his side
(Because he can’t do upright)
He won the referendum that Dave prepared
Because of the bogey that was utterly feared
That destroyed the House Dave inherited

In the wreckage of The House
(Inherited by Dave the unbrave)
We can see Boris the Dolly lying on his side
Amidst curtains and carpets and bottle of fizz
Where he lies and lies and lies and lies
Underneath layer after layer 
Doing his thing in that Russian Dolly way
Which is how we came to lose
The House that Dave inherited

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Who’s for Tennis? In the Armchair? Bouncing on Tarmac? Whizzing Across the Lawn?

About to smash the ball…perhaps

Why do we love certain sports? As children we see people playing them and we feel ‘I can do that’ and sometimes we can and sometimes it’s silly to even try.  Nobody in my family played tennis but I was completely entranced by this dotty game from an early age. Alone, in another time-space continuum I watched Rod Laver, Christine Truman and Billy Jean in grimy black and white… glued to a little old box with total fascination. I honed my service alone on the school’s tarmac, and later played endless rallies with those happy to play endless rallies. As a teenager I played in Regent’s Park next to Sean Connery and Ursula Andress. I improved my backhand significantly as an adult and also the serve.  I was not good… but not bad. In middle-age after surgery on the left side I over-compensated with the right arm and my tennis days came to an abrupt twanging end. But I still love it….And so, as I no longer play I have become an armchair tennis player. Now I watch the trajectory of the ball and begin to wonder if others far, far away are reproducing merry cosmic cataclysms in the same way. Somewhere in the further regions of space, divine Olympic forces are pinging white dwarfs and balls of gas around with gay abandon.

But apart from the configurations of the of the ball’s trajectory, I’m entranced by the personalities and the dramas, not to mention the enthusiasm of following one’s own national players. The first time I saw Andy Murray play, when he was little more than a weedy youth, I was captivated by his variety of shot and sheer intelligence; similarly, the first time I saw Emma Raducanu in action I felt the same way. When she competed in the US Open I put £50 on her to win, something I never ever do, and am unlikely to do for a year or two. And now today, after the third round of Indian Wells, when all the English hopes have almost entirely fizzled away, comes Harriet Dart, a face I have hardly ever seen, as fresh as a daisy and brave as a lion and the excitement begins all over again.

It’s a poetic game. The personalities, the arcane rules, the harmony of player and ball and the technique needed to master oneself and one’s opponent will always intrigue.

Better still I have a nephew who is now arguably the best tennis correspondent in the UK so I can even boast about something tennisy, even if my days of playing are gone forever! His name is Simon Briggs. His writing is almost as scrumptious as my own, but I strongly suspect his opening serve is a great deal better.

Not much has changed
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