Letting Happiness In – Letting Go of Books

The following is a copy of a Facebook ‘post’ sent to me by the author who wanted me to have the opportunity to choose a book. Publishing here because….well, you can imagine why because.

An Exercise in Letting Go (Or, ‘Let me give you a book.’)
For a long time, I’ve felt like the dozens of books I take with me from place to place, and the hundreds more in various storage locations, are like horcruxes (look up that word). I’ve felt that each is an intimately personal treasure, close to my hand, or locked away safely with the people I trust the most. In reading them, they changed me, and with my highlighting, my underlining, and my exasperated and sarcastic annotations, I returned the favour. Saccharine as it sounds, I took them to form some part of my identity. Not just that they have supported the development of my thinking processes, perspectives on life, and prejudices, but that ‘having a lot of books’ is an important part of who I am. I am a reader. Intelligent. Intellectual. Thoughtful. Reflective. Moreover, owning an amount of books that is hopelessly impractical for my lifestyle choice (fairly low-earning, fairly nomadic) seemed like a sort of promissory note to myself: one day I am going to have the lifestyle that I think is befitting of these books. I suppose what I had in mind by that was being an Oxbridge don, with an office of wall-to-wall bookshelves and living to be made by thinking, reflecting, and generating and discussing ideas. But, in fits and starts, I am beginning to understand that neither attachment to some identity, nor attachment to some outcome, is doing me much good. No moment is ever going to be more worthy of my joy than right now, because right now is all I have. Letting go of an attachment to some identity; letting go of an attachment to some outcome, is letting happiness in. :)

Twee Buddhist sentiments aside, I’m getting rid of my books. I’m holding on to a lot of them- the stronger the attachments, the longer it’ll take to feel ready to let go. I’ve catalogued the ones I’m discarding, thanking each for what it’s taught me, and writing a small response to each: part epitaph, part sales pitch. I’m going to put them up for sale in the coming weeks, but before I do that, I want to offer each of you the gift of a book, in the hopes that I might spread a little joy your way. Yours E.

This chap is currently selling his books through the University system however when they become publicly available I’ll post the list. The epitaph/sales pitch he has written for each book is worth a read and speaks volumes.

It’s The Impeded Stream That Sings

The quote below by Wendell Berry echoes a recent text conversation with a friend. The texts referenced a decision I’d made while on an early visit to Throssel in around 1979. I’d decided I would take the steps to become ordained as a monk. My decision was set in the context of a life which had hit against a wall. And I was open. To make sure I didn’t go back on the decision I’d written a note with ‘I Know’ confirming what I ‘knew’ and put it with my toothbrush cubbyhole. It would be the first thing I’d see in the morning – the best of us go back on decisions especially ones which are life changing. More than one bride/bridegroom has been left standing at the altar!

The Wendell quote came recently in an email from a chap I’d met at Throssel. He was telling me about developments in his life since coming on an Introductory Retreat. Last year I believe. The words summed up an understanding he had come to.

​It may be that when we no longer know what to do,
we have come to our real work
and when we no longer know which way to go,
we have begun our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.

Wendell Berry

The texts:
Friend: Your phrase ‘I know’ has been burning into my brain since I heard you say those words! Incredibly powerful and helpful. 6.20 pm
Me: Errm, in what context did I so impress you with my words ‘I know’? 8:56 pm
Friend: We were talking about the note you left for yourself about deciding to become a monk. It was so powerful and decisive. 10:17 am following day.
Me: Now I remember. In a sense I think one always ‘knows’ and the stuff of life is sifting through ‘the rest’! And allowing that to fall away, recycle etc. My ‘I know’ was life changing and the rest did fall into place. Magic! And still does, given patience. 10:37 am
So, The impeded stream is the one that sings. How amazing is that?

Another Life – Floating in London

Last night I stayed on a 35 ft narrow boat (that’s NOT a barge), beside a canal, beside up market residential development. Beside train tracks running out of St Pancras mainline station. North London. The outfit, complete with canoe on the roof, owned by Julia a friend is tied up in a marina with its own dry dock. Started in the 1950 when this area was probably an industrial wasteland.

Right in the heart of north London homely pealing paint and rust co exist with chrome and speed. But for how much longer since this is a prime location which could easily go ‘up market. And price the current boaters out of the market. Life where ever you are and how ever the rain is stopped from coming in, is precarious. That’s the attraction, for me.

Somehow I am hearted by this pocket of cruising enthusiasts. Narrow boat people. ‘Did you feel that vibration under the boat in the middle of the night’? enquired Julia after my dreaming sleep on the bunk at the sharp end. Turns out not only are trains running just behind the boat there is a main line to Brighton tunneled underneath the marina.

It has been a great 24 hour adventure to the big city.

Where Spirit Meets the Bone

From Crinkle Crag looking into the Langdale Valley
From Crinkle Crag looking into the Langdale Valley

Who knows what ‘wars’ were going on down in the valley on Sunday, much yelling going on. The Fells just carry on as usual in Autumn – being what they are.

Have compassion for everyone you meet
You do not know
what wars are going on
down there,
where the spirit meets the bone.

Lucinda Williams
Full lyrics on Brain Pickings. + YouTube link

Yes, once again this Sunday I was out on the fell-tops where indeed ‘spirit meets bone’! Do I need to say more?

Once, over twenty years ago now, I mentioned to Rev. Master (Jiyu-Kennett) I’d been up on a Tor on Dartmoor in Devon while back in England to visit my family. She paused and smiled and said ‘you like being up high don’t you’. To which I replied, ‘Yes’! Up on the South Downs was about as high as she would have probably reached. But who knows. What I saw in her was Mudita, sympathetic joy. She shared in my obvious love of being out, looking out, on the vast landscape. Sunday was the perfect day to sit quietly up high and allow the majesty.  A slight difficulty in my bones (ankle) a blessing, causing me to turn around before reaching Bowfell, the destination, and make a slow and careful descent, pausing lots.

My intention in sharing with you some of my ‘up high’ adventures is for you to join me in the joy.

Meeting Life

Herdwick Lambs meet cattle grid. Langdale Valley
Herdwick Lambs meet cattle grid. Langdale Valley

How like life!
To move forward?
To tackle the obstacle?
To turn back?

Largely out of
conscious awareness
we face the obstacle
and move.

Or do a little dance
wonder and stall
in the end we move.

These large lambs in the Langdale Valley – wandered off to graze on the abundant green grass that is all around them. We say in one of our scriptures that the obstacles dissolve and in a fundamental sense they do. The point is  being  awake and notice what’s in front. And for that matter what’s all around and within – unimaginable to behold. There is no stationary place we inhabit. Not even when sitting still!