What has the Dalai Lama got to do with the address
I did in the Unitarian Church yesterday?
Connection is in us and around us, from the moment we are born. From the moment the chord is cut at birth, to the moment when we fight to breathe in the air of the world we enter, we seek connection. And our search for connection and its opposing companion (detachment) continues throughout our lives, with our families, our friends, with ideas, plans, ourselves… we constantly seek connection.
This morning we relived our birth, and our lives, in a metaphoric sense. We woke from sleep and set out, after a while, to go to a place of connection, this amazing church. It is no coincidence that the church is historically referred to as ‘Mother Church’ and has done so for hundreds of years. It’s because (very simply) it offers nourishment and protection in the spiritual sense. In reality everybody has their own reason as to why they come to church, some want to see their friends, other long to hear words of wisdom… and other recognise that this astonishing and beautiful place is a source of spiritual inspiration and sustenance, and it is worth repeating the pattern of visitation in order to benefit spiritually, and of course physically and mentally. So we come here to connect… with ourselves.
It must be said, that one feels very comfortable in this space. It is massively civilised. It’s one of the most beautiful churches is Brighton, and one of the most enlightened. You may be Christian, but equally you don’t need to believe in anything much to come here on a Sunday and get the benefits of this place… spiritually and mystically…. And apart from coming to church… the building itself is extremely special. It has classical proportions. One might say it has more in common with a flower than a church, because it embodies divine proportions, and it’s much more a temple than a church in many ways… and being an echo of something so ancient, by virtue of the light, and the sensation of familiarity, its defining shape goes back a lot longer than the actual age of anybody here, so it gives us a powerful sense of familiarity, and this sense of familiarity goes hand-in-hand with a feeling of connection, connection that goes back hundreds of years… to the temples 6th or 7th Century BC… This is the home of the soul, and the connection of the soul with things ancient is an entirely natural, and dare I say it, organic and poetic process.
And the feeling of connection doesn’t just apply to this wonderful church, this feeling of connection also exists in this City. I have spent time in a number of places in England France and Italy, and been here 25 years, but never have I come across a place where people have such a strong sense of belonging as Brighton. One may be standing anywhere, and a great personality dressed in the most outrageous outfit, a feather or two plaited through the hair, green and gold make-up, a weird earring or five, plus a purple sari and matching beard will happily drift past us, and rather than saying, ‘Dear me how shocking’, we of Brighton and Hove tend to say, ‘Ooh er, what fun… only here, only here… and doesn’t he or she look great?’ and in some kind of affectionate way we feel comfortable and flattered that an outrageous purple clad person feels OK and safe here, and we feel OK and safe here too, because we all belong here. Belonging is very much about acceptance of ourselves… and others… and I will be putting on my feathers and revealing my beard after this service.
I think it is this sense of belonging that makes us actually want to thank the bus driver when we get off the bus. We feel grateful to be here… Whether we were born here or arrived in Miss Prism’s bag, or came by train or car… whatever… We feel connected… and rightly so.
But connection goes much further than a place of choice. How many of us have had friends, or maybe even lovers who came into our lives and we simply don’t know why, and these people, these forces of nature… were connected to us by virtue of their total difference with our own world view, their stultifying meanness, their mind-bogglingly anti-social behaviour, maybe their mystical superiority and beauty, or their sheer gruesomeness, whatever it was we all have friends or lovers who are distinctive by their difference… and yet there is connection. Connection is inexplicable and yet it is always there.
And then… how many times have we made connections, meeting (seemingly by chance) with people we know in circumstances that defy explanation, chance meetings in inexplicable places, love at first sight, encounters in far off lands, and not just finding a very particular person but meeting them at the apposite time, when we needed them or they needed us, or better still, when we were both thinking about each other.
But I do have to say, here is one anecdote, about this very address I am now giving… that happened last weekend, when I was walking back from the allotment with my sister in law; it was one one of the conversations when two people are sort of listening and not listening to each other simultaneously (it’s a family speciality I think), and I said aloud “I think I’ll write that address on Sunday about connection”, and Eileen (my sister in law) replied saying, “Do you know… we are just walking past the house of that woman who came to see me 18 months ago to talk about historical costumes and she never came back to me, I don’t know what I did to annoy her, perhaps it was political…” and when we got home, Eileen opened up her email, and behold there was a message from the self-same woman who had apparently avoided her. And this email started off with an apology for not getting in touch before, asking if could she do an article about Eileen’s company.” And I thought, “Oh hell! I’m going to have to write about connection now, whether I want to, or not.” This little incident is just another reminder of how powerful connections between people are, and the world likes to have a joke at our expense.
We have connections with so many things. Places, objects, good memories, bad memories, animals, pets, recipes, tastes, smells and people, soul brothers and sisters. The brain makes wonderful and clever connections, that sometimes are relevant, and sometimes completely inexplicable, but isn’t surprising… there are at least 100 trillion neural connections or synapses in the human brain, at least 1,000 times the number of stars in our galaxy. It’s a lot, and to this effect, our powers of connection should be cosmic… and I think they are.
Connections help us. They can come in the form of angels that save our lives, or the lives of our children, as well as helping us write books. Arthur Koestler invented The Library Angel, and here I quote Larry Dossey in his brilliant treatise entitled ‘One Mind’ about the ultimate connection, which I highly recommend.
Here’s what Larry Dossey says: “After reading scores of reports in which a book, magazine, article or quotation suddenly presents itself at a moment of need, Koestler said that ‘One is tempted to think of library angels in charge of providing cross-references…’” and then both Dossey and Koestler relate a number of anecdotes about research exercises of seeming impossibility where books have been selected in desperation and at random, and proved to be precisely the one needed, materialising quite inexplicably. In one case the story tells of a much needed volume that actually dropped off the shelf and fell open on the right page. I myself happened to be the owner of a particularly obscure and ancient volume on animal behaviour, which was thrown at me by a drunken friend one drunken night for no reason. I kept this tedious and ancient little paperback and it later turned out (25 years later) to be the missing link in my sister’s opus magnus on Virginia Woolf.
But perhaps the most baffling connections and senses of longing and belonging come from those that are no longer with us. The much loved dead and departed. The connections with those souls that lead us to find objects at very particular moments, as well as our own mysterious capacity to see and hear people that we haven’t encountered for decades sometimes before the very moment of death itself, and sometimes enabling us to avert death as well. It looks very much as though our capacity to make connections can transcend time and life and space.
And last but by no means least, we must appreciate that this desire to belong, to connect is a fundamentally human drive that will carry entire nations to seek safety and sanctuary…and… almost all of us carry genes that bear witness to our antecedents’ journeys in search for places to belong and survive. It is so sad that this journey to a place we want to call home or sanctuary can be so precarious, and the welcome we may receive at the other end may seem so lacking in compassion. So many people in this country are just unable to understand that there is a story, somewhere far back in their own history, and in our own genetic makeup, be it Viking, Latin, Roman or Semetic that mirrors the very dispersion and struggles of people today, fleeing war, poverty and the hazards created by environmental degradation. We make connections, it is true, but sadly not always in connection with the judgements that enable us all to understand the sense of longing and belonging so passionately experienced and needed by our fellow souls.
And all this takes me back to where we began, the very much shorter journey we all made to this place of inspiration and love today… a journey to make a connection with our spiritual selves…and I will close with a few apt words from The 14th Dalai Lama: