Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Who says that coincidences don't happen?

I was given a lovely example of a strange and moving coincidence which took place, as many of my extraordinary life experiences seem to do, in a café, this time Paul’s in Marylebone High Street, to which I betake myself each morning to mull over my thoughts, with a croissant and small espresso in front of me.  I am often served by a young Italian waiter, Mattia, with whom I have struck up a warm friendship, as he, a great reader himself, is fascinated by how many books I read and by what I am writing.  Some months ago I gave him a detective story about Venice, since he was Italian and I thought it would help his command of English.   

I was immersed in my usual reading, when I noticed a woman of mature years with a face I seemed to recognize popping her head around the corner to stare quite searchingly at me, and then leaving the café.  The next minute Mattia plumps a book on the table in front of me and says, “You gave me a book about Venice some time ago, and this lady has just given me another book about Venice which she has written.”  The book was Donna Leon’s Earthly Powers.  Any detective story reader out there who doesn’t know who Donna Leon is should now go straight out and buy one of her books.  They are beautifully written accounts of life in Venice, a part of the world I know well from the many family holidays we spent on the Venice Lido.

As soon as I saw the book, I realised why the person who had looked at me had seemed so familiar to me.  Of course, she was Donna Leon herself, and I had been to a book launch she had given up the road at my local Daunt’s bookshop some months ago.  And the book I had given him was another of her books, as he showed me by placing the two books side by side, one signed by the author herself, the other signed by me encouraging him in his English studies.  I asked him why she had looked so directly at me, and he said he had told her that I was a lady who read many, many books and did my writing in the café.

Donna Leon lives in Venice and only visits London briefly.  What then are the chances of Mattia receiving two books by the same author in the same café, one given by the author herself and the other by me, both of us being together in the same place for just a few minutes?  I find it truly amazing how often such apparently coincidental happenings occur as though they are meant to be. It reinforces the, to me, comforting belief that that there is indeed a pattern to life, and whilst often this pattern remains unclear, occasionally, as today, it stands out in stark contrast to the shapelessness and random nature of much that happens around us.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Somewhat belated acknowledgement of the duality of mind and body

Recently the media have been paying a lot of attention to mental health and its problems.  It is as though people are only just now waking up to the fact that Western medicine concentrates upon the need to treat physical symptoms, whilst ignoring the fact that the solution to ill-health may well lie elsewhere.  It was therefore heartening to read the following in an article  in the Guardian entitled “Mental health?  It’s in the mind and the body, too”:

“Once we accept the union of mental and physical health, a few things become clear.  First, we should ditch the term “mental health”.  From now on, we should talk about someone’s health – all in. We should lose much of the stigma that still surrounds saying we are “mentally” unwell.  We’re not.  We’re just unwell. 

Second, treatment. What promotes good cardiovascular, endocrine and musculoskeletal health also promotes good mental health and vice versa.”

All this may seem so obvious to practitioners of a holistic form of medicine such as acupuncture that it hardly needs stating, but is clearly so far from obvious to the journalist writing this article that she shows her surprise at coming to the conclusions she does.  However odd we may find her surprise, it is nonetheless good that the holistic nature of healing is being recognized (at last, we might add) in this way.

Why are actresses called actors now? (Blog 2)

In a blog on 5 July 2011, I wrote about my puzzlement as to why the media now called all those who acted by the name of actors, irrespective of whether they were women or men.  Recently, with delight, I came across the following comment by somebody called Denise Gough.  Asked why she preferred to be called an actress rather than an actor, she said, “We fought to be on the stage.  We should reclaim that word.  I don’t know where it came from, this fucking notion that putting “ess” on the end makes us weak.  I would be no less afraid of a lioness than a lion.”

Hoorah for somebody who agrees with me that removing the perfectly appropriate word “actress” seems to me incomprehensible.  We don’t mind calling a daughter a daughter or a son a son, why then have we become so squeamish about the sex of those in the acting profession?  Has the world gone a little overboard in its attempts to be gender-neutral, to the detriment of common-sense?

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

"I'll have to think about that" - a phrase I would never use

It is odd how a small thought, casually encountered, can lead to much deeper thoughts.  I asked somebody what I thought was simply to give me his answer to, in my view, a very simple question.  I was surprised to hear him say quickly, ”I’ll have to think about that.”  My surprise was because the question deserved no more than a quick answer, and because I would never myself leave a questioner high and dry like this.

Here, then, was yet another lesson in learning to understand better how different elements respond, in this case to being expected to find a quick answer to a question.  Thinking further about this, I could not recall a time when I would have answered any question in this way.  Instead, if I am unsure of how to answer, I express this uncertainty immediately in words.  It is as though I am trying to find an answer as I talk. This is my Fire element’s dominant official, the Small Intestine, doing its job of sorting in plain sight, as it were. The friend of whom I asked this simple question, however, is not Fire but Metal.  Was his answer typical of Metal, then, I asked myself?  So I asked another Metal friend whether he could see himself replying like that, and he confirmed that he definitely could.

So here I had two instances of Metal needing time and space to think things through before coming to a decision, but making this decision by themselves rather than in open conversation with me, as Fire would do. This made me wonder about the other elements.  Earth, which likes to think things through thoroughly and slowly, would understand Metal’s reply, but would take longer reaching a final decision, possibly talking things through slowly with me.  Wood is the element closely associated with decision-making, but might be in danger of making too quick a decision and sticking to it through thick and thin, without considering too much whether it is the right one.*  When I come to Water, I am, as always with this hidden element, somewhat uncertain how it will react.  I must ask my Indian Water friend, Sujata, to help me here.

In a week or so, Guy Caplan and I are holding a seminar for 50 people which we have called “Exploring the Elements”.  I think this will be a good occasion to explore further with the participants the decision-making processes of the different elements.  This should help confirm or amend what I have written above.

*Added after I posted this blog for the first time:  Or Wood, always the inquisitive, enquiring element, might counter my question with a question of its own.