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Showing posts from 2011

Christmas – is it the greatest story ever told?

Three blind men were asked to describe an elephant. One felt the trunk and quickly announced: “An elephant is long and thin.” The second, who felt the ear, countered: “No, it’s broad and flat.” The third, who felt the leg, said: “You’re both wrong – it’s thick and round.” Each man was so sure that he was right that they ended up fighting over it.
This is one of my favourite stories because it reminds us that we are all explorers in life, groping in the dark, and that we should be patient with ourselves and with others as we muddle along together, learning about ourselves and our ever-changing world.
And, because it is a story, it is far more memorable than, for example, the explanation I offered afterwards. That’s the magical power of stories. In fact, the word “spell” meant “story” in Old English – and storytelling is a kind of “spellcraft”.
“We are part human, part stories,” says author and poet Ben Okri in Birds of Heaven, adding that people are “as healthy and confident as they sto…

Maybe we just need to busy ourselves more with doing nothing

“Just because there’s room in my valise here, I am stuffing it with hay. It’s the same with our life’s valise: we pack it full of anything that comes to hand, just to avoid leaving an empty space.” 
I can’t help feeling that Ivan Turgenev, writing in the 19th century, could be describing today’s world. I am certainly guilty of filling “the unforgiving minute,/With sixty seconds worth of distance run” (as Rudyard Kipling urges us to do in his poem If). And I’m not so sure it’s a good idea.
Once, my wife booked me on to a Relaxation Day at the Amoghasiddhi Kadampa Buddhist Centre in Attleborough, Norfolk. Apparently the stress of being overworked and trying to keep everyone (except myself!) happy was boiling over and scalding anyone who came near. 
“I haven’t got time to relax!” I said. 
But she wasn’t taking “no” for an answer. (Ironically, it was my inability to say “no” to so many other people that had led to the stress in the first place.)
Now, I’m not really a religious person – I distr…

Life, death and Halloween

A rich merchant asked a Buddhist monk for the secret to a happy life. “Grandfather dies, father dies, son dies,” he replied. The merchant demanded angrily: “How can that possibly be called happy?” The monk explained: “Like it or not, we all die. So what could be better than for it to happen in the natural order?”
We’re now approaching Halloween – the eve of All Saints’ Day followed by All Souls’ Day – when, according to Christian and other religions, the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead is thin and ghosts walk among us.
Well, children dressed as ghosts, anyway.
The beauty of the occasion, for me, is that in the fun and frivolity of high-spirited parties and creepy costumes is the dance between life and death. No matter how far we may feel from the natural world, we are still part of it. If the world harvest were to fail, we would find it hard to munch our way through our laptops and mobile phones. “Only when the last tree has died and the last river has been poisoned …