Monday, 28 April 2014

Listen with Your Eyes

  It has to be said that by no stretch of the imagination can I be called a 'people person', depending on how far one is able to stretch one's imagination I suppose. In that particular area I struggle to develop the necessary stretchability to make my opening statement a fiction. It came as a complete surprise, therefore, to undergo my recent experiences in London and the 'enlightenment', if I might call it that, that was the aftermath of those experiences.
  Please bear with me if I recall my experiences in a way which pays no heed to the commonly experienced timeline, in which one event necessarily follows another in temporal sequence. The point here is that that is not how I remember my recent trip to the UK. And I must insist on being true to my thoughts and my feelings about that trip. 

  On the evening prior to my departure from the UK, I spent a few lovely hours with my eldest daughter and her family, with whom I ate and drank very well indeed. I also enjoyed some private, quality time with her which must remain private. But sometimes I do wonder what I have done to deserve this renewed relationship. But enough of that, please.

  On my final day, whilst waiting for my flight home to be called, I had lunch at one of those Japanese, self-service establishments in which a loaded and moving conveyor belt displays its wares for the communal delectation. This was new to me so I asked one of the girls employed there to give me a crash course on the form one was required to observe. With a quick giggle, she gave me the necessary information and reminded me to 'hang onto' the colour-coded dishes I had used, 
          "cos then we can charge you for what you've 'ad." 
That seemed to be eminently reasonable. At the end of my lunch, still watching the goodies passing me on their neverending journey - and wishing I had a little more room for further culinary indulgence - I looked around for someone to assess my consumption so that I could pay my bill. An open-faced young lad showed me a short cut to the till where our business was duly transacted.
"That was fun,"  I said.
  "Your first time?" he queried.
Gulping briefly at an unbidden thought about what that question might have meant in a totally different (and more appropriate) context, I said that it was. There was clearly a great deal of pleasure felt that one of his customers had enjoyed the experience of eating at 'his place'. Wishing him well for the rest of the weekend, I went on my way. 

  It had been two days earlier that, having been let out on my own to make my own travel arrangements and travel to the other end of London, (well people are concerned that one might get lost, or lose my ticket, or succumb to some other unfortunate happenstance, and it was a long time ago that I was born in this city), that finally I met up with Natalie d'Arbeloff, that lovely lady who appears in the blogging world as "Blaugustine". Rarely, for me, has time flown so quickly as we conversed about matters psycho-spiritual. It was such a deep pleasure to converse unselfconsciously and to be received so unjudgementally. As we sat and talked and listened, it came to me that I was experiencing that wonderful sense of listening with my eyes, and seeing with my ears. This is a difficult idea to describe, but is so simple when enjoying the sensation.
  Perhaps the real effect of that day's interaction with friend Natalie showed itself on the journey back to where I was staying, by underground and overland trains. As I said above, I am not a people person, but when I observed the people around me, the world seemed to take on a kind of glow. People are what they are, and I was not seeing them through rose-tinted spectacles, yet there was a joy, a sense of one-ness, a disappearing of inappropriate barriers, a coming togetherness that nevertheless precluded unnecessary contact.

  That evening, I mulled over the wonders the day had offered, and I considered the possibility that I might not reach the end of my presumed spiritual journey in this life, because I do not know what is the manner of that ending. More and more, I have become aware only of the next step, or few steps, that I am asked to take - in faith - and leave the rest to whatever guides my feet. At its deepest and most aware-ful level, this is a fearful experience, for to live totally in the present in this way, is to cut oneself off from the past and all that experience and support as well as from the hopes and expectations of the future. The Path no longer seems to be straight, but is gently curved as if I am being lovingly nudged away from my own ideas about where I should go, towards the way I was always destined to travel, if I chose to listen and hear. Some words came to me:-

"............Men's curiosity searches past and future
And clings to that dimension.  But to apprehend
The point of intersection of the timeless
With time, is an occupation for the saint -
No occupation either, but something given
And taken, in a lifetime's death in love,
Ardour and selflessness and self-surrender.
For most of us, there is only the unattended
Moment, the moment in and out of time,
The distraction fit, lost in a shaft of sunlight,
The wild thyme unseen, or the winter lightning
Or the waterfall, or music heard so deeply
That it is not heard at all, but you are the music
Whilst the music lasts........"

My posthumous thanks to T.S.Eliot who wrote those words, (from the third of his Four Quartets) and my living thanks to my dearest of all friends, Lucy, for introducing me to T.S.Eliot's writing.  


  1. Tom,thank you so much for this and for your presence in my home. I too have just mentioned your visit (and included your photo) on Blaugustine but it was a struggle to find the right words to report on a true meeting of minds and a real friendship, born out of the ephemeral world of blogging. I'm so glad that you are real and that presence...and an undeniable reality.

  2. Natalie; I could have said so much more about our meeting, much of it a reflection of what you have said. But in an odd sort of way I felt, what is the word for which I seek, a sense of hesitancy, a non-wish to step heavily on something on the borders of the sacred.

  3. How delighted I was to see you over at Blaugustine! Such a happy visit for you both. It made me relive my own visits with Natalie back in 2009.

    And how good that you and your daughter reconnected as well.

    A journey full of blessings...

  4. A wonderful post, Tom. I too was so happy to see that you and Natalie had been together, and read your two accounts of the afternoon, with so much that I sensed remained unsaid because it perhaps could not be expressed in words. Like Marja-Leena, it reminded me of being in Natalie's apartment myself, and the deep connection some of us have been so fortunate to share.

  5. I am so pleased, Tom, that words such as unselfconsciously, unjudgementally and quality time describe the powerful emotions you experienced during your

  6. I'm happy to know you enjoyed your journey to London. Sitting quietly to watch people has long been among my favorite things.

    I live my life in widening circles
    that reach out across the world.
    I may not complete this last one
    but I give myself to it.

    I circle around God, around the primordial tower.
    I've been circling for thousands of years
    and I still don't know: am I a falcon,
    a storm, or a great song?

    ~ Rainer Maria Rilke
    The Book of Hours

  7. This post has left me feeling in awe over and over Tom. It is so difficult to imagine you as anything but a people person.

  8. There is much to admire in Eliot. The Prufrock is in the pudding: I try not to measure life out in coffee spoons or wear my trousers rolled. A fine post, Tom!

  9. Marja-Leena; It was a lovely trip for so many reasons. I am now experiencing that 'post-holiday' feeling, trying to get back into my normal way of life. Difficult!

    Beth; I am glad my meeting with Natalie has revived such happy memories, both of yours and Marja-Leena's earlier visits. Natalie is such an incredibly easy person to visit. Her hugs and her home just wrap themselves around you.

    Ellena; I suppose if I were to try to say what it was that generated those deep feelings, it was the sense of the presence of 'eyes-wide-open' love. I was with Natalie for about seven hours, maybe a little more, and it was a real effort for me to bring the meeting to a close.

    Susan; Thank you for the Rilke quote. I do so need these trips to London now and again. It feels akin to redemption. For many a year I was unaware that I was slowly sinking into rural France, and losing my self confidence as a result. Now I am aware of the danger and can make sensible and obvious plans to avoid the problem.

    Halle; I think in part it is a result of being extremely introvert, and part resulting from being 'kept apart' from the world by my father. I have often felt that, except for certain drawbacks, the monastic life has its attractions - so long as it was not too crowded!

    Geo; Now that reminds me of the London of my childhood:-

    "....The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
    The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes,
    Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
    Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
    Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
    Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
    And seeing that it was a soft October night,
    Curled once about the house, and fell asleep....."

    Then the clean air Act of Parliament was introduced.

  10. Oh, my, those words about music...i know I read that at some point in my life (I have an English degree), but they didn't stick, and I just love that. I think I may borrow it for what I will be writing about next!

    So glad for your wonder-full trip, as it sounds like it was. I think you would enjoy listening to the interview I mentioned with Stratford Caldecott, his talking about encounters with infinity....

    Oh, how I wish America were not so far from France and England!

  11. I echo Sheila's thought. The Pond is wide. And as an American, vacation seems not to be valued (read freely given) by the taskmasters). This post allowed me to float in Sushi moments of my time in Western Japan. Wonderfully enlightening. And Jean Gebser comes to mind again. And Marlene Dietrich ... (didn't see that coming, didja?!). In 1971, Marlene gave an interview in Copenhagen for Swedish television in which she said, "You see, we were taught that we were not important ... it was a very good upbringing. Because if you pay too much attention to yourself, I don't think you can help many people."

    As an introvert myself, I have thought long and hard on that interview. I was taught the same thing. And yet, I once met a man named Iahn. When I asked him about the spelling of his name, he told me that his parents had spelled it that way because it meant "I Am Here Now." My heart almost stopped, because that is a phrase I repeat to myself at times. It is a truth of mine.

  12. Sheila; So glad to have applied a little glue to a missing memory. I am intrigued by your reference to the interview by Stratford Chaldecott, but regrettably am unable to find it. Will continue to search.

    Not only is the pond very wide, but getting wider!

  13. Rouchswalwe; A lovely comment.

    On a different tack entirely, I feel I should point out (and I know this thought could not possibly have occurred to you!) that "Gwynt the Hawk" misses nothing; not even when something is hidden in plain sight on a certain Box Elder. :)

  14. Tom, I think my blog has a link to the place where you can get the interview, but I don't think it's available for free.....we subscribe to the journal and get them regularly, but I do think there's a way on the website to get individual sets (if not just a particular interview.)....Well, here you go.....