Friday, April 30, 2010

A Day in the Life

Yesterday, I saw that the original handwritten lyrics of A Day in the Life, by John Lennon, were to go on sale. 

It was a bit spooky seeing John Lennon's handwriting, talking about Tara Browne. 'He blew his mind out in a car'.  Tara was the younger brother of The Honourable Garech Browne, one of the Guinness heirs and the owner of Luggala,a magical hideaway in the Wicklow Mountains.  Garech was one of my father's closest friends and has, in recent years, become a close friend of mine too.  I go to Luggala as often as I can when I'm in Ireland, for lunches and dinners. I finally got to spend the night there a few times last year, which meant I got to sign the famous guest book.  It's filled with signatures, poems, photos and mementos of all the people, a lot of them very well known, who have stayed at Luggala over the last maybe 30 years.  

Garech in front of Luggala (courtesy of The Telegraph)

When I drive down the steep hill to the house, I always pass the monument to Tara Browne. It makes me sad every time because I know how much it still affects Garech to this day. The loss of his brother was probably the worst thing that has happened to him.  A sensitive, highly intelligent man, he opens his heart to those he loves and I feel treasured when I am there.  I also know how much he loved my father. 

When my father died in 1992, Garech invited all of us to Luggala on the Sunday after the funeral. At Luggala, we all signed a whole 2 pages of the famous guest book, writing poems and messages about our father for Garech.  

After that,we all had lunch together in The Roundwood Inn, with Ronan Browne (no relation)playing the Uilleann pipes for us and lots of laughter, tears and reminiscing.  We didn't know we were supposed to be at John Boorman's house that afternoon too and ended up arriving very late.  John wasn't too happy with Garech, whose sense of time can disappear as the drinks start to flow!  I remember well coming into the kitchen and meeting Marianne Faithful who told me that she had fancied my father in a big way, even when he was old and sick with cancer.  I know he had that effect on people. His charisma was extraordinary. He had a deep voice and told wonderful stories, keeping people gripped to the wee hours of the morning.  

Now, a portrait of my father hangs in the master bedroom at Luggala, painted by Anthony Palliser. In it, he looks rather ravaged. What none of us knew at that point was that he had lung cancer, brought on by 60 years of smoking.  

I met Anthony recently at Luggala and he told me that my father had been one of his favourite people. It was nice to hear that, after almost 20 years, he is still so well remembered.  

Gerald Hanley by Anthony Palliser

Another weekend, I discovered that this master bedroom had been the room that Michael Jackson slept in while he hid away in Ireland with his children. It made me laugh, thinking about my father looking down on Michael Jackson as he slept! A ghostly degree of separation. 

Tara Browne's children were very small when he died. I met his son, Julian, recently. He lives in Hawaii now. A long way away from inevitable complications of a distinguished and complex family.

I hope that the sale of this original piece of writing by John Lennon doesn't make Garech too sad. I hate to see him sad.  He's a luminous and sensitive man. I don't think he knows how much he is loved by his friends. 

Friday, April 23, 2010

Pachamama and The Coyotes - A Celebration of the Earth

We stood in the light of a very bright half moon, around a blazing fire, invoking the Great Spirit to protect the earth. Just after we had invited the Jaguar spirit to protect the earth, a cacophony of coyotes howled in the distance. There were at least 6 of them, howling, baying, almost screaming out.  The dogs, two Labradors and a German shepherd, started to bark, restless and anxious.  Heidi, the Shaman conducting the ceremony, laughed and said 'We sent the Jaguar after them'.

Earlier, we had sat in Louise's house, in a large circle and participated in the Despacho ceremony. We were there to celebrate Earth Day and to let go of any of our fears, worries, negative ideas. Out of the group of 10 people,only 2 had participated in a Despacho before. I had seen part of one on a TV programme here in Canada, called Medicine Woman. What I had seen intrigued me.

Heidi is a Shaman with a lot of experience. She is over 6 feet tall, blonde, in her late 40s perhaps. She drives a bright red Ford Mustang. I liked the contrasts in her. The obvious gravitas she had, her connection to each person in the room, her deep knowledge of shamanistic ceremony combined with humour, warmth and a touch of flamboyance.

The idea of the Despacho is to create a bundle of objects that represent the things you want to share with Pachamama. It can contain anything that speaks to you including objects created from leaves and flowers into which you blow your worries and fears or hopes and dreams.  In our case, we were honoring the earth and giving back to her in thanks for the bounty she provides us.

Surrounding Heidi were a variety of bags, boxes, plastic containers, flowers, bottles of wine, all containing representations of things that belong on the earth or in the Universe. It is a highly ritualised ceremony with great attention paid to each item that will be sprinkled in a circle on the paper enclosing all the offerings.  As she went along, she explained what each piece meant and some of them were shared out amongst all of us to imbue them with our own spirit.  
Incan Shaman creating the Despacho

As each layer appeared, the circle of offerings on the paper grew and grew. Some of the objects that were there included flower petals, sugar, sparkles, representations of animals and humans, a Southern Cross, beans, corn, juniper berries, raisins, peanuts and much more. I was thrilled to be asked to make a representation of the female, using Playdoh. At first, I tried to make a female figure and realised it was not going to work because the Playdoh was too soft so I created a complete circle representing the wholeness of the female experience.  Another woman created the male representation as the head of an eagle.

Once all the layers were placed on the paper and blessed, we were invited to place our layers of leaves and flowers, one for the earth and one for our own dreams, into the hands of Heidi or Louise. She placed the earth offering in the circle and then used the personal offering to bless each person and wish that their dreams would come true. For each person, she had a special message.

How a completed Despacho might look

Once this was done, the paper was folded and tied up with a ribbon and then covered in a woven cloth and again tied up with a ribbon.

Before going outside to start the fire ceremony, Heidi cleared the aura of each of us using the bundle we had created. She then whispered something in each person's ear. I watched as each person before me was cleansed and wondered what she might say to me.  

When it came to my turn, as she used the bundle to cleanse my energy, a shower of sugar cascaded over my head and shoulders. I later found out that I was the only person this happened to. It was like a shower of sweetness.  Heidi whispered to me "Don't hide your inner beauty. You are truly beautiful. You must look to the plants and trees and hear what they say to you and allow them to honour your beauty. This is very important. You must not hide any longer."  

I smiled as she said it because it was a reflection of thoughts I have been having in the last few months. I have had this feeling that if I relaxed my whole being that I might be able to see what the plants have to say to me. I know it sounds strange but I have had a strong feeling about it for a while now and was not sure how it might manifest. Coupled with this, I have been having dreams and also having the Universe present new information about this to me on TV programs like Medicine Woman. One dream I had was very vivid. A female Indian Shaman entreated me to pay close attention because she would reveal my animal totem. She kept repeating 'Pay attention, pay attention'. She told me my totem is the black wolf.  

A Shaman prepares the Despacho

It was time to go outside and give the offering to Pachamama.

The fire was lit with great ceremony, all of us singing a blessing song in the ancient language of the Incas. Only some of the participants knew the song (I certainly didn't) but it was easy to catch on after a while. We sang it many, many times as the ceremony unfolded. It became almost a hypnotic chant that filled the night as it gradually grew darker and darker. Right as the light faded, the half moon came out brightly, lighting the proceedings. The sky was brushed with vague wafts of cloud that almost looked like the shape of the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis.  

Each of us was directed to take some sticks, as many as we wanted, which would represent arrows to throw into the fire to let go of any thoughts, worries or issues.  As the fire grew, we chanted on into the chilly moonlight, each of us taking our turn to kneel in front of the fire and ask for our issues to be taken care of by mother earth. Once we cast the stick(s) into the fire, we took the fire's warmth with our hands and brought it around us.

During the ceremony, the dogs stayed close. Some of them lay in the fire circle while the ceremony continued. As soon as it was finished, they disappeared. 

I was asked to put a special stick, representing an offering to Pachamama from the male and female, into the fire with the only man present.

I had thought that I would feel detached from this whole experience as it was new and strange to me but, on the contrary, once it got going, I became immersed in the ritual. I remembered what I had heard on Medicine Woman, a programme about a Native Canadian woman called Danielle Behn who is a medical doctor. She traveled around the world learning about native medicine in many different native cultures and one of the things that struck her most, other than the actual facts of the medicines, was that ritual plays a huge part in healing. She determined to start to use ritual of some kind in her Western medical practice and also to learn more about the plants she encountered along the way. The whole programme inspired me. Particularly her determination to let go of her Western training and try to open her mind to these new and strange experiences.

Last night, I took a leaf from Danielle's book and tried the same and, by the time we got to the part where Heidi cleansed each of us, I had let go of my skepticism and embraced the huge possibility of sharing my energy with the earth and feeling that we are all part of the enormous Universe.

None of us wanted to leave. We dawdled around the fire, chatting and laughing. When it came time to go, we all hugged each other and said we wanted to experience more of this. I hugged Heidi goodbye and told her she was beautiful and she laughed and said " I am only reflecting the beauty in you. It's all you"

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Searching for Friends in Yushu After the Earthquake

My sister, Jacquie, spent 5 months in China/Tibet mostly on retreat and getting to know the place. This was about 5 years ago. She has told me some stories about being in Yushu, the area that has just been devastated by a huge earthquake. 

She and some of her friends there went one day to rescue goats that were due to be killed for food. Once you pay for the goat, a red tag is attached to its ear to show that it cannot now be killed by anyone.  She rescued as many goats as possible that day.  Later on, she was at the Thrangu Monastery, where the lama explained to her why it was goats and not sheep that were rescued like this. Apparently, goats are more sensitive and thus aware that they are doomed and so it is a greater karmic act to rescue a goat than a sheep.  I was interested in this because, when I had lived in Morocco, I was taken one day to pick out a sheep for Eid El Kebir (the big festival of the sheep commemorating the sacrifice by Abraham of a sheep instead of his son, Isaac). There were hundreds of sheep milling around untethered. I saw a group of goats tethered by their hind and front legs, lying on the ground and asked my companion why this was. He explained to me that goats were way smarter than sheep and knew they were to be killed and would have run off into the sunset if they were free.  I felt so sorry for them, tied up and knowing what was coming (goats are eaten at Eid by people with cholesterol and diabetes problems).

So, my sister's story about the goats in Tibet made perfect sense to me.

Today, Thrangu Monastery is demolished due to the earthquake. No one know if the monks and lamas are alive. No one can get messages in or out of this part of Tibet because the Chinese have cut off access to Twitter and all other social media. Google has pulled out.

My sister was in tears this morning and slept hardly a wink last night worrying about all her friends and acquaintances there who might be dead,injured or buried alive. She spoke to her Tibetan friends here in Toronto today and they are equally distraught (they were with her those 5 months in Yushu and the surrounding areas).  One of them worked for the Tara Foundation, based in Germany, until recently.  He worked to get money and supplies to the area but recently the Chinese have blocked all monies coming in, ostensibly because they are worried about it being used by insurgents. This means that neither my sister, her Tibetan friends nor any of the Tibetan community outside of China, can get money into the area to help their people. No one can find out anything about the missing people. 

We had an idea to do a fundraiser to send money but there's no point as we can't send the money to the people who need it. My sister feels powerless and, with that, comes anger and frustration.

The Chinese might be being more open about the fact that there has been an earthquake but cutting the rest of the world off from being able to help or even get information, is a travesty. 

As you can see from this article in the Xinhuanet news, countries are sending their condolences and not much more.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Some Things I Want To Do Before I Die

I just read an article in the Globe and Mail about some young guys from BC, Canada who are going around in a beat up old van ticking off things on their "things they want to do before they die" list. One of the things was to appear on Oprah and, guess what, they are appearing tomorrow afternoon!  

That set me to thinking.  

I have done a lot of things in my life, about which many people have exclaimed 'my, what an interesting life you've had' and 'you should write a book about all the things you've done'. Etc.

I am writing a memoir but not about the things I have done that would go on a list like this. Maybe I should also make a list of all the things I HAVE done and see if there's also a book in that?

Anyway, here's a list of things I haven't already done and want to do before I die:

  • Finish climbing Kilimanjaro
    •  There's a story there
  • Learn to speak fluent Spanish 
    • reasonable but needs lots of work
  • Learn to speak fluent French 
    • it's pretty good but needs work
  • Live in Spain
    • Something I've wanted to do for ages and now actually see the possibility. Working on that now. Watch this space
  • Go to Japan
    • I read a book called Daughter of The Samurai when I was about 10 and became obsessed with going to Japan. I want to mainly go to the mountains and countryside but also want to experience Tokyo and Osaka. I feel like I lived there before.
  • Climb Mt. Fuji
    • I drew countless pictures of Mt. Fuji as a child and my father used to pin them up on the wall above his desk. I must have done hundreds. Weird, I know.
  • Publish a book
    • Working on that now. 
  • Go to Buenos Aires  
    • No particular reason other than it's a place of interest and, if I learn Spanish fluently, I will be able to have an even more interesting time there.
  • Dance the Tango
    • I learned to Samba in the 80s in California but never to Tango other than the occasional time my father got me to dance with him. 
  • Own a pair of pointe shoes
    • I wanted to be a ballerina when I was a child and had ballet shoes. My father gave me a gift of a book about Anna Pavlova when I helped him to plant a plum and a damson tree in our garden (They're still there. The house is now a home for abandoned and troubled traveler children). I never got to learn ballet as my father did not approve of it and also we lived so far in the mountains that getting me to ballet classes was not an option; not to mention the perceived favouritism when you come from a large family.
  • Be really fit again
    • I used to be the fitness queen and it seems I have been suffering from adrenal burnout for many years and need to heal from that in order to get really fit again. It will be slow but I know I can do it.
  • Learn herbalism
    • An interest that keeps growing by the day. I have had many good results from herbal treatments and feel a need to go back to basics and learn as much as I can about how plants can heal.
  • Finish all the knitting and stitching projects I have on the go
    • They're everywhere. Here in Canada. In storage in Ireland. In storage in England.
  • Cool down so I can tolerate humidity and visit South East Asia
    • I learned today that the reason my body temperature is so low and my blood pressure also so low is because of adrenal burnout. It makes tolerating humid heat very difficult. If I can get healed up it means I can go to hot countries I have avoided for years.
  • Go back to Botswana (is that cheating since I've been there already?)
    • I loved Botswana. I worked there, off and on, for about 2 years and have good friends there that I often miss. I never got to go on the full safari experience there so would like to go back and do that.
  • Own a Bichon Frise again (I still miss my Minnehaha)
    • I had to give up my beloved pooch when it turned out my building did not allow animals. I was completely devastated and still am. I miss her every day. I console myself with the fact that she is with a lovely family. I can barely stand to look at photos of her. (Nevertheless, I had to share a photo of her with you)

(I notice I'm going back to wanting to do things I've done already but am not complete with.  I also notice that a lot of it is about traveling so...)

  • Make enough money to be able to travel comfortably and often
    • Working on that one too. It might take a while....
  • Own a house in at least two places
    • See above....
  • Have a huge party that ALL my friends from around the world can attend
    • Last time I had a HUGE party was for my 40th. Maybe for my 60th?
  • See the opera Norma on stage

This is not an exhaustive list so I am sure I will come back to this at some point.


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