Reflections on Turning Sixty

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Reflections on Turning Sixty

Nanny, my father, me, Granny and my mother.jpg

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting: 

The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star,  

Hath had elsewhere its setting,           

And cometh from afar.


Sixty years ago, I was born into a Postwar Britain of bombsites, rationing and austerity. Neighbours dropped by to borrow sugar and stayed for a 'cuppa' at the kitchen table. Toys and furniture were scarce, optimism abundant. My parents wanted a child who would bring peace to a war-torn world and tell the next Hitler where to go. Their innocent aspiration invoked a tiny freckle-faced Tara.


This intention to benefit all beings,

Which does not arise in others even for their own sake,

Is an extraordinary jewel of the mind,

And its birth an unprecedented wonder.


 When I was ten, the Cuban Missile crisis erupted. I didn't expect to see eleven. That October Sunday, we sat around the television, watching Russian ships approach Cuba, waiting for JFK to press the button. Mutual Assured Destruction. Slowly, the ships turned.  I saw a world reborn, a hope renewed.

Morning has broken,

Like the first morning

Blackbird has spoken,

Like the first bird.


At seventeen I read On the Beach, post Nuclear Holocaust novel, watched Children of Hiroshima, learnt about ICBMs. It seemed impossible that I would live to be twenty. I would be turned into a shadow, only that. Adult insanity ruled.


This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.


Today I celebrate sixty years in a world on the brink. Sixty years of adult insanity. Nuclear weapons, My Lai massacre, Chernobyl, TMI, Fukushima, global warming, Age of Stupid, species extinctions, African famines, gulf oil spill, Twin Towers, Afghanistan, Iraq--war and still more war. Sixty years, waiting to be turned into a shadow. Sixty years, yearning for peace. And still my spirit is strong.


Drinking a cup of green tea

I stop the war.


 I have seen that all faith traditions are true and good and all religions tainted with misogyny and fear of fleshly lusts. Fear drives adult insanity. Fear turns us into shadows, with or without a nuclear holocaust. I have seen that life can be rich and full, even on the brink. I have seen that joy abides in all, beneath the horror, beneath the pain, beneath the fear, for joy is our true nature.


From joy all beings come

By joy they live

And unto joy they all return.



I have learnt that simplicity, contentment and humble pleasure are revolutionary acts capable of transforming the world. And I have seen that Eros, a much-maligned god, deserves a place of honour in my pantheon.  He gives much more than sexual ecstasy. He imbues my life with all-embracing love and transcendent passion, colouring everyday things with his radiance. Eros will never allow me to be turned into a shadow.

To see a World in a Grain of Sand 
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower, 
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand  
And Eternity in an hour.

As a teenager I made friends with Roman pagan poet Horace, translating his poetry and even visiting his house in the Aniene valley. Horace has walked with me ever since, tapping me on the shoulder when I sip a glass of water--how good it tastes!--or wander round the garden--see the flowers, feel the warmth of the sunlight, smell the fragrance, pluck today!


Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero.

Don't trust tomorrow's bough for fruit

Pluck this, here, now!


For decades I have studied Vedanta, Hinnayana, Mahayana, Tantrayana, Kabbalah, Hasidut, Sufism, Taoism and the Desert fathers. The essential teachings of all mystic traditions are summed up in a hymn I learnt in St Mary's Infant School.


Little drops of water,
Little grains of sand,
Make the mighty ocean
And the pleasant land.


Little deeds of kindness,
Little words of love,
Make our earth a Heaven,
Like the one above


In sixty years, I have learnt that this world, with its pains, its wars, its catastrophes, this world on the brink, is the birthplace of compassion, the ground of tenderness. And I have come to know that the greatest treasure we can possess is the human heart, in all its love, in all its sorrow, in all its pathos, for the human heart is where time meets eternity.


The clouds that gather round the setting sun

  Do take a sober colouring from an eye 

 That hath kept watch o'er man's mortality;

  Another race hath been, and other palms are won. 

 Thanks to the human heart by which we live, 

 Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears, 

 To me the meanest flower that blows can give 

 Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.




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1 Comment

This was a beautiful retrospect of a life well questioned, breathed in, and loved. Brava bella!! I'm gonna be here all night. Thankyou for your words.

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    This page contains a single entry by Alakananda Ma published on December 15, 2011 11:12 AM.

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