Monday, November 12, 2007

Edward Abbey's pearls of advice...

One final paragraph of advice: do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am - a reluctant enthusiast....a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much; I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this; You will outlive the bastards. [from a speech that Ed Abbey first gave to environmentalists in Missoula, Montana in 1978, and in Colorado which was published in High Country News in the 1970s or early 1980s under the title "Joy, Shipmates, Joy."]

Images from Cairo Museum of Modern Art

From my mum... her joy in life!

If I arrive in school feeling a bit low it doesn't take long to start smiling when you work with small children. How could you not join in with the feeling of wonder and delight that Zoe felt when she found a tiny green tomato growing on the tomato plant in the Nursery garden? It makes me realise how lucky I am to have this gift every working day.

Egyptian Museum of Modern Art - some images

On Saturday, I finally found a quiet place to sit in Cairo: the opera house complex in Zamalek. This complex has a couple of art galleries, and also a central place to sit with classical music playing. I sat and ate a sandwich there and nobody harassed me. And then I sat inside the gallery and just enjoyed the quiet. What bliss! Here are a couple of my favourite images from the Egyptian museum of modern art. I will post some more over the next few days.

From my dear friend in Chile

There is a quotation from Bradley Trevor Greive that I would like to share in a space like your blog, just for the reflection…

"Your life journey is not a race or a competition, nor is a boring highway without exits that you must trudge along for eternity. Embrace the unpredictable and go exploring for things that inspire you. Take time to enjoy the view… The fact is that one day, instead of waking up for breakfast, you will find yourself drawn down a long, dark tunnel towards a bright and beautiful light, and your journey will have come to an end. In that moment, when your entire life passes by before your eyes, I really don’t think you will care too much about the amount of money you made, the frequent-flyer points you accrued, the awards you won, the car you owned, the value of your stock, or the number of times you got your picture in the newspaper. Instead, I believe the most important things in your life will probably be the smooches you shared, the nights you spent gazing in wonder at the stars, all the funny looking snow angels you made, the first drops of summer rain caught on your tongue, and the time that someone special whispered, “I love you”. Don’t waste the present worrying about the future. It will come soon enough – I promise. In the meantime, I suggest you keep your chin up, put your walking shoes on, and follow your heart to the ends of the earth. As you make this journey, always remember that each day is a precious gift. If you can enjoy it for what it is and make the most of it, then believe it or not, there is another extraordinary gift waiting for you. Tomorrow.”

Saturday, November 10, 2007



It doesn't have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don't try
to make them elaborate, this isn't
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.


is where
in the pinewoods
in the moments between
the darkness

and first light
two deer
came walking down the hill
and when they saw me

they said to each other, okay,
this one is okay,
let's see who she is
and why she is sitting

on the ground, like that,
so quiet, as if
asleep, or in a dream,
but, anyway, harmless;

and so they came
on their slender legs
and gazed upon me
not unlike the way

I go out to the dunes and look
and look and look
into the faces of the flowers;
and then one of them leaned forward

and nuzzled my hand, and what can my life
bring to me that could exceed
that brief moment?
For twenty years

I have gone every day to the same woods,
not waiting, exactly, just lingering.
Such gifts, bestowed,
can't be repeated.

If you want to talk about this
come to visit. I live in the house
near the corner, which I have named

Five AM in the Pinewoods

Oliver's form of prayer is so compelling and takes her to the spiritual core of everything. I love the fact that she got up when it was still dark to get a closer communion with these two horses. How many people make this type of time to explore and connect?

I'd seen
their hoofprints in the deep
needles and knew
they ended the long night

under the pines, walking
like two mute
and beautiful women toward
the deeper woods, so I

got up in the dark and
went there. They came
slowly down the hill
and looked at me sitting under

the blue trees, shyly
they stepped
closer and stared
from under their thick lashes and even

nibbled some damp
tassels of weeds. This
is not a poem about a dream,
though it could be.

This is a poem about the world
that is ours, or could be.
one of them--I swear it!--
would have come to my arms.
But the other
stamped sharp hoof in the
pine needles like

the tap of sanity,
and they went off together through the trees. When I woke
I was alone,

I was thinking:
so this is how you swim inward,
so this is how you flow outward,
so this is how you pray.

Georgia O'Keeffe

I have a picture by O'Keeffe up on my wall in Cairo. It's a landscape of New Mexico. I love the way it reminds me of the open spaces of the West of the US - and the red canyons that come alive in the morning or evening light. These memories are certainly a wonderful and spiritually-sustaining contrast to the dust and noise that await me outside!

I love one story about O'Keeffe told by a biographer, T.T.Williams. He describes how, "in her search for the ideal color, light, stones, parched bones that contained more life in them than living animals, [she] transformed her forays into desert country into a communion with the perfection around her. Once, in a canyon bottom, she was so enthralled by the sight that she laid her head back Coyote-fashion and howled at the sky, terrifying her companions nearby who feared she was injured. "I can't help it — it's all so beautiful," was her response."

I would love right now to be standing in the middle of a canyon and howling up at the sky! What an incredible release....


Addiction to "Busyness" and the need for contemplation

I was reading this morning about our culture's addiction to busyness and how it is like an addiction to a drug. One Presbyterian minister described how, when people said to him, "You're very busy," he would reply, "No, actually--I'm not that busy." People would get mad at him because a) they think he's lying, or b) they think he's lazy.

This struck a chord with me because I am definitely someone who finds it hard when I am not busy. I'm gradually trying to just sit with myself and be more comfortable with contemplation, but it's tough!

Martin Luther King has also emphasised the importance of prayer and quiet thought. He reportedly said: "I pray for 2 hours each day, and on days when I really have a lot to get done I pray for 4 hours."

Let's see if I can manage to get that type of spiritual balance in my life!
Information taken from

love from Chile - a note on loneliness

I received an email this morning from a dear friend's mother. I have not, as yet, been able to reply to the message because the emotional response it triggered is too raw. Basically, I cry too much when I read it! But I wanted to share some of the words she said to me because they come straight from the heart and demonstrate the extraordinary power of human compassion and love.
My friend's mother read the posting on my other blog about my feelings of loneliness in Cairo. I have never met this woman, or even spoken to her. I have just heard many wonderful things about her from her daughter. I have heard that she is the type of woman who is surrounded by loyal friends who love her dearly. The type of woman that will go out of her way to help someone in need. I am deeply honoured to have been pulled into the circle of this incredible woman's love.

[This wonderful lady has since died from cancer, but remains very much alive in many people's hearts and minds]

She wrote:
"I was touched by what you wrote regarding your loneliness because that is a feeling I have known myself and that seems to be common to those of us that have lived in cultures that are foreign and unfriendly towards us. I lived in England for too many years (without knowing if or when I was going back home), where I felt discriminated against for being different; from reading your blog I think you can relate to this feeling.
Sometimes I think loneliness is a very personal condition, meaning that we can be as lonely as we want to be. Some people can be in the company of family, friends and loved ones and feel at the same time very alone. Others can be far away from those that love them and still perceive their love and their company. I know from my daughter, that you are a much loved person and so, I think that maybe you are in the second group of people. Perhaps, instead of loneliness, you are bored and frustrated by your circumstances that, after reading your experiences, would try anyone’s patience.
I sometimes catch myself feeling lonely, bored and frustrated, especially given my current circumstances, where I feel like I have no control over my life. But when I take a step back and try to put things into perspective, look around at all that I have and focus on my future plans, however small, I feel lucky, grateful and eager to make the most of every single day
I hope that I kept you company, at least for the while it took you to read this e-mail.
Good luck and remember to always lay the table, sit down and serve yourself a glass of something when you eat – even if you eat alone. In my (too long) stay in England I learned that one must not abandon etiquette, even if there is no one to appreciate it. :) ..."

This woman certainly did keep me company, and her companionship will stay with me beyond the simple act of reading the email. I am deeply grateful for that.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Solitude in Quakerism

I have been reading about Quaker faith and practice this morning. I wanted to share this quotation from one woman writing in the early 20th century. I am continually struggling with the degree of solitude that suits my personality, and I liked the perspective in this quotation:"The amount of solitude which is attainable or would be wholesome in the case of any individual life is a matter which each of us must judge for himself... A due proportion of solitude is one of the most important conditions of mental health. Therefore if it be our lot to stand apart from those close natural ties by which life is for most people shaped and filled, let us not be in haste to fill the gap; let us not carelessly or rashly throw away the opportunity of entering into that deeper and more continual acquaintance with the unseen and eternal things which is the natural and great compensation for the loss of easier joys. The loneliness which we rightly dread is not the absence of human faces and voices - it is the absence of love... Our wisdom therefore must lie in learning not to shrink from anything that may be in store for us, but so to grasp the master key of life as to be able to turn everything to good and fruitful account."Caroline E Stephen, 1908

Mary Oliver: A long-term friend

I have recently moved to Cairo and I was only able to bring one bag. I generally carry excessive quantities of books with me, but this time I had to choose one. The decision was easy: Mary Oliver's New and Selected Poems. Oliver is a phenomenal poet. Her striking images of the natural world are blended with compassion and a Zen-Buddhist spirituality. She continually reminds me of the bigger spiritual force that is at work in our lives, and of the powerful healing process of identifying intimately with our surroundings. "Wild Geese" is a poem I have recited over and over again in the last 10 years. I have emailed it to friends and have it framed on my wall. It helps me to remember that life should never become too complicated (just let the soft animal of your body love what it loves), and that I am part of a much wider rhythm of life that continues whatever day-to-day obstacles are thrown in my way.

Wild Geese
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.