BOOKS AND POETRY TO SHARE
Kasuo Ishiguro: The Buried Giant (Faber & Faber 2015)
Kasuo Ishiguro first caught my attention with his sensitive portrayal of personalities and relationships in The Remains of the Day, which was made into a film starring Antony Hopkins and Emma Thompson.
His more recent book: The Buried Giant, is set in Britain during the dark days after the withdrawal of the Romans, when native Britons and in-coming Saxons lived in an uneasy peace, often broken by local wars and skirmishes. The land is covered by a mist of forgetfulness which causes the inhabitants to lose their memories of the past. The central characters are two elderly Britons whose tender and considerate love for each other is the one constant amid the changes that beset them. In a moment of awakening from the prevailing forgetfulness, the couple remember their long lost son and set off on a journey to find him. The story describes their wanderings through unknown territory in search of him. The hope of seeing him again sustains them through the difficulties, doubts and dangers of the way until the end of their journey.
The story combines elements of all good myths: quest, journey, adventure, heroism, unforeseen perils and unexpected help. Some have seen it as an allegory of our own time and world. For me, it raised questions at various levels, personal, communal, national and global: What is it important to remember at this stage of my life? How do we travel this earth together on unmapped paths? What drives us and draws us towards an uncertain future?
The story ends with the parting of the old couple as they reach the island which is their goal. The boatman can only ferry across one person at a time. The husband reluctantly entrusts his wife to the ferryman, fearful of never seeing her again and mistrustful of the ferryman’s promise to return for him. The book ends with words spoken by the ferryman:
“Wait for me on the shore, friend, I say quietly, but he does not hear…”
Intriguing, beautifully written, evocative of the past while challenging our present lives and future, this is a book to get lost in!
Anne E. McDowell
IN ORDER TO LIVE
Thich Nhat Hanh The Miracle of Mindfulness (1991 Rider U.K.)
The rediscovery of Mindfulness has resulted in the publication of many books on the subject, the majority of them claiming “cure-all” consequences of the practice. Mindfulness, they proclaim, will relieve your arthritis, reduce stress, empower you, improve your relationships and team-work, and much more.
I was looking for a book which would introduce me to Mindfulness as a spiritual discipline, valuable in its own right. I found this in the writings of Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk born in Vietnam, but exiled because of his work for peace. Originally, the book was written in Vietnamese as a letter to Brother Quang, a staff member at the School of Youth for Social Service, founded by Thich Nhat Hanh. The students were trained in mindfulness and used their training to respond to the needs of the peasants who were caught up in the Vietnam War. They helped re-build bombed villages, set up medical stations and organized agricultural cooperatives. Their work for reconciliation and peace led to attacks on them, and this letter was written to encourage them in the dark days of war and persecution.
The teaching of Thich Nhat Hanh is simple, direct and practical, applicable to daily tasks as well as to silent contemplation. An example he gives relates to washing dishes and poses the question: do I wash the dishes so that I can get them done and have a cup of tea afterwards, or do I wash the dishes in order to wash the dishes, giving full attention to the activity? Mindfulness, he says, is keeping one’s consciousness alive to the present reality, living fully in the present moment.
In answer to the question: “How are we to practise mindfulness?” he says:
“Keep your attention focused on the work, be alert and ready to handle ably and intelligently any situation which may arise.”
He suggests simple breathing exercises as a starting point for developing mindful awareness of ourselves, our place in the world, the people we share it with, the environment, all creation and ultimately the Creator.
“You should know how to breathe to maintain mindfulness…..breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts.”
“….try to build up your power of concentration, to create an inner calmness and serene joy. You will shake off anxiety, enjoy total rest, and quiet your mind. You will be refreshed and gain a broader, clearer view of things, and deepen and strengthen the love in yourself. And you will be able to respond more helpfully to all around you.”
This mindful awareness leads us into an attitude of gratitude for the miracle of life, appreciation of people and creation, and compassion for those who suffer. It leads to an awakening to the truth that “All is one and one is all.”
This book and some of the exercises suggested may not appeal to everyone, but give it a try and you may be surprised where it leads you. It may even help you cope with your arthritis!
Anne E. McDowell