Tuesday

Esprit d'Escalier Or Some Ramblings About God.

"You seem like an intelligent woman," said the atheist to the vicar when they'd both come off stage. "Why don't you just use your brain and see that there's nothing."

Of course I couldn't think of a reply — at least, not one that wouldn't have been equally as arrogant — but esprit d'escalier has been working on it ever since.

In case you don't know it, esprit d'escalier means 'the inspiration of the staircase' referring to the clever replies we can all come up with once we are leaving the building and it's too late.

I know a lot — a LOT — of people don't believe in God but, trust me, your brain has nothing to do with it. That's because God does not exist. God is beyond existence. God is in the spaces between us and our thoughts.

Can I prove that? No, of course not. The whole point of faith is that it is faith. It is intangible and it lives in just those spaces. Proof lives in the physical world and nowhere else.

Possibly, oddly, I don't give a rap whether you believe me or not. That's because I have experienced God, I have known Grace, I have shared time and space with the Divine and I have waded through cosmic seas of awe adrift in the bliss of union. And I am certain that I will do the same - and more - again.

And if that's all sanctimonious wanky bollox to you, then fair enough. I believe what I believe and I know what I know and what you believe is none of my business. All I want for you is that you are happy and even that is probably grossly presumptive of me.

The trouble with using your brain about God is that what we are generally taught about God simply cannot compute in a world where we are beginning to understand the enormity of the Universe. Any conventional belief in God will seem ludicrous and the non-believer will throw the baby out with the admittedly ghastly bathwater. That's the bathwater that is willing to condemn some super-intelligent furry sound-wave in a distant galaxy to hell because it doesn't believe in some bloke who lived on Earth for 33 years and (in the words of Douglas Adams) whom we nailed to a tree because he went around saying how good it would be to be nice to people for a change.

I believe much the same as many atheists do. I don't believe in the God that they don't believe in. I can't. God is not that old man up in the sky, nor the mean bastard of many religions. God is not small or tribal.

If God Is, then God must be at least as big as the Universe which means that It is the God of every single aspect of that Universe. God can be nothing like the small God of Christianity, Islam, Judaism or any other religion. Those are local interpretations (and sometimes useful, sometimes not) of a much greater Source.

This idea of hell is frankly ridiculous anyway: it's simply not sustainable. Just suppose for a moment that you actually got to heaven but someone you loved went to hell. How could you possibly experience heaven? You couldn't; you would also be in hell because your heart would be breaking.

I may do some more rambling about all that kind of stuff and why people need to believe in the idea that God wants to punish us another time...

I've long believed that Dark Matter is Spirit - and the Holy Spirit is part of God; inexplicable, ineffable, incomprehensible. We are not meant to know with our small and limited brains. But if we are lucky, we can know with our souls and, if we ever want to discover what that's like, then I think we have to learn how to find the space between us and our thoughts.

That's why I attempt to meditate every day. Even after 20 years I sometimes resist it but it is when I stop the thinking, even for a few moments, and find that space, that God can reveal Itself to me. Of course, incredible sunrises or sunsets, the sparkling night sky and moments of terror can do the same but it's nice to show up on a regular basis just to say, "I'm here; what are the miracles today?"

And if the atheist should ask me again, I'm going to have to try and compress all that into just one sentence.

Or, I could just smile and say nothing, like I did the first time.


Wednesday

I Have Resistance...

...the question is, does Resistance have Me?

Here's one I wrote earlier...

I've got 25 days left in which to write my latest, commissioned book. And I won't.

It's not that I can't, it's that part of me simply won't.

It's known as resistance and it's a bitch.

It will lose in the end, of course. As a radio and TV journalist used to tight deadlines, I'll get my head down just in time and work flat out to meet the deadline. Which is 25th November.

How to get round resistance? The world expert on that is Steven Pressfield, author of The War of Art which is probably the Bible of all writers. If you're a writer or a potential writer, read it.

Basically, the answer is simple: 1, Give yourself a day off; complete permission not to write the book ... that annoys resistance a lot ... and 2, Just bloody well write! That's why I'm writing this blog - so that my resistance remembers that, whatever it wants to do about it, I am a writer. Just because I won't write that book doesn't mean that it gets away without writing. Resistance is in me, but it doesn't have me. It isn't driving the bus.

And, as I write, I remember why I love writing so much; I find I am enjoying myself and inspiring myself. And, heck, I might even stick my nose into chapter eight just for a moment. Just to look at it, you undestand, not to actually do anything with it.

And as I write, I sense the Muse showing up, just a courtesy call; she won't settle into me again until I've shut the door, wrapped that figurative wet towel around my head, played six games of Freecell, checked Facebook until even my resistance is bored with the same stories in the feed, updated my tunes on Spotify, downloaded another App, and got going.

And then she and I will be in love again; that incredible one-to-one synchronistic love that flows the ideas and the words and never, ever wants to stop.

I am so looking forward to that.

The EasyJet Blog, Part Ten.


Cyprus, October 2018.

We had a lovely holiday, thank you. This was the replacement holiday given to us by EasyJet after our ridiculously stupid (and funny) experiences over Harold, the lost, run-over, bomb-scare suitcase. See here for the start of the story if you missed it.

I've come to realise over the years that every thought or problem is where you last left it. So if you've got an issue with someone or something and you don't clear it up, the next time you come across a similar situation or person, it will repeat itself. That's karma for you.

For example, it looks from the outside as if I had quite a few relationships before I got married - but it was all the same relationship just with different men. I only broke my duck when I met someone on the other side of the world when I was having to live consciously every day and was unable to put up my habitual boundaries and defences. Even then, I'd probably have re-infected the marriage if God/the Universe hadn't had enough of my ridiculousness by then and given me a red-flag event to wake me up for good.

Those red flags can be large or small. When we were given our new holiday and our new suitcase, I thought it was all sorted both inside and out. But then, I managed to damage a wheel on Harriet, the new suitcase, on a weekend trip and that stopped me dead in my tracks. It was very obvious that I had a suitcase problem.

Except, of course, it wasn't about suitcases; as the wonderful Danaan Parry wrote in his Warriors of the Heart  book on conflict resolution: 'the presenting problem is never the real problem.' It just looks like it is.

It took a while to find the root issue, during which I did quite a lot of internal work about loss and betrayal (yet another layer of the onion) ... and not only did the nice man at EasyJet give me his private email address and a 24-hour one for emergencies before we left ... but our suitcases all arrived safely. Phew.

There were some of the usual annoyances: the flight out was three-and-a-half hours late and the one back an hour-and-a-half late but then, if you think about it, flight scheduled times really only mean 'this flight will not be leaving before this time.' It's all a lot more relaxing when you've worked that one out and we both had really good books to read and a picnic so it wasn't really any problem.

Technically, you're allowed a free snack and drink if your flight is delayed more than two hours but they managed to cram us onto the airoplane after an hour and 55 minutes and then we waited the rest of the time on the tarmac. It's really quite clever, that one :-)

There was one glitch when we got to our room at the Helios Bay Hotel in Paphos. Have you ever seen a more ridiculous layout for a kettle and toaster? You simply couldn't use both safely. Even if the cords had been long enough to put them on the top of the hob, it was cleverly programmed to go beep if you did that, even when the cooker was switched off.

Yes, you could push the table up against the cooker and put them both there but then you couldn't sit at it comfortably or use the cooker... We did move the table  but I got annoyed; it was pretty late at night and I was tired.

The trouble is, I'm energetically pretty powerful nowadays, so when we tried to use the toaster for a late night snack, my annoyance transfered and it blew all the electrics, plunging us into darkness.

Luckily for me, I have a Lion who had already noticed where the fuse box was in the room and who had light sorted in a minute and we began to laugh. But the toaster was dead; it wasn't just a fuse in the plug. Obviously I hadn't cleared up all that energy quite as well as I thought I had!

We work pretty well together, Lion and I. He always notes the practical things and I always locate emergency exits. That's because my ego worries in depth (Scorpio moon) and his worries in detail (Virgo moon). Between us, we can worst-case scenario pretty much any potential problem and realise that we are doing it which actually makes it easier to sort stuff out.

The next day, we got a new toaster and an extension lead from reception and proceeded to have a very happy holiday.

(Somewhere in this picture is a Lion ... it's at the amphitheatre at the Kourion Archaeological site which is well worth a visit).

So the moral of the whole EasyJet story, I think, is that when something goes wrong, do point it out politely, consistently and stubbornly until your voice has been heard.

But even more, realise that, if the problem is a repeating one, then you are a part of it. There's some deep self-fulfilling belief inside that will ensure that the situation is repeated and repeated until a true resolution is achieved.

I appear to be sorted on suitcases but I know there's plenty more resistance inside me that needs work.  But it's a joyful kind of work because the results are clear, and lovely and prosperous.

Wishing you a wonderful day.

Monday

Being Visible

Picture by Ari Fox.
Last weekend I was invited to talk on a panel about 'The Invisible (Older) (Wo)man" at the Women of the World Festival in Exeter. I love how PC that title is! Basically it was a discussion on whether/why older women are not seen.

The funniest thing about it was that every single email in the booking process - and the Power Point at the event itself spelled my name incorrectly. The spelling of my name is important to me (as many of you know!) but it's also a very useful sign of consciousness. When we are conscious, we notice unusual things like a different spelling of a name. When we are unconscious (i.e. in our ego) we don't.

It certainly gave me a big opportunity to be very visible indeed at the start, by pointing that out...

Popularity mark: minus one.

I will cheerfully put my hand up to spelling other people's names incorrectly too at times; I'm nowhere near enlightened. And yes, I do know that autocorrect is not my friend. But I will continue, politely, I hope, to correct misspellings because a person's name is a valid part of their visibility.

I've done quite a lot of panels with an audience discussion and, in my experience, they frequently descend very swiftly into mutual pity-fests where everyone swaps negative stories. It's temporarily comforting because you feel heard and understood, but it doesn't move the situation on in any way. So, I decided that, this time, I simply wasn't going to participate in any of that. I wasn't going to court popularity in any way.

I'd say that was pretty successful... :-D

The author and teacher Caroline Myss calls repeating our unhappy stories in public 'woundology' - a way of showing that we are more interested in perpetuating and sharing our wounds than we are in healing them. The wounds become our identity - and often our excuse - instead of something from which we heal and move on. Caroline has lost a few friends through that one.

So, I didn't engage in the acknowlegement of wounds, nor tell my story at the start. I just said that I was not invisible and told them what I had done in order to make sure that I was visible. I said it was entirely an inside job and I hoped they would find the information I shared useful.

Popularity mark: minus two.

To be absolutely fair, by not telling my stories of unhappiness or grief, and by instead positing solutions upfront, I did inspire three women (who kindly told me so) but I seriously pissed off most of the rest of the room (some of whom not-so-kindly told me so - which was, of course, their right).

Now, it's perfectly legitimate to tell your story - and to tell how you overcame massive odds to succeed and both my fellow panelists did that very well. But I chose to say that I am happy and empowered - and much more so since growing older and becoming silver-haired - and offering solutions that have worked for me and which are the reason why I don't nowadays repeatedly tell sad stories of my life.

I also acknowledged that I was being annoying  :-)

One questioner said she didn't have time to do that kind of work.

I suggested she got up earlier, took magnesium if she were habitually exhausted and said I certainly found that I wasted too much time on social media and she might look at that.

Popularity mark: minus three.

One questioner asked what to do about shop packaging (not sure what that had to do with the topic!)

I suggested she handed plastic back at the tills, bought when she could from a local shop, made more of her own food and grew vegetables in window boxes if she didn't have a garden.

Popularity mark: minus four.

The questioner said she didn't have time to cook.

I suggested she cooked enough food for a fortnight at the weekend and froze it (that's a lot cheaper than living on take-aways).

Popularity mark: minus five. (fair call. She might not have had a freezer...).

A questioner bemoaned the fact that Dr. Christine Blasey Ford has vanished from the news and is in hiding and Brett Kavanaugh is still in the news and in public.

I suggested they wrote letters to Dr. Ford to thank her.  Her address is c/o Palo Alto University, 1791 Arastrado Road, Palo Alto, California 94304. The university will forward them.

Popularity mark: minus six.

I was also challenged for saying that I understood a situation that one of my fellow panellists spoke of as a reason why any of the Work I suggested above could not be done.

'No you don't understand!' she said with great emotion. I let her have that one because, having not told my story, she could have absolutely no reason for knowing that I did understand that situation. And I am immensely proud of myself for taking that hit and not succumbing to the temptation to dive into 'woundology' in return. That was quite a challenge...

Popularity mark: minus seven.

I was informed that I am privileged, arrogant and unsympathetic. This is a first for me and I think I might actually be rather impressed.

Byron Katie, the great teacher of The Work, says 'who would you be without your story?' and that is a  deeply profound question. Who I was, without my story was:

  • Not entirely popular.
  • Highly visible.
  • Perfectly happy.

I can live with that.

Tuesday

Back to Main Line Steam!

Not everyone gets to celebrate their 21stbirthday on a Castle Class engine in full steam. 

I’m afraid I rather took it for granted, having been raised in a family dedicated to steam preservation. 

That doesn’t mean to say I didn’t enjoy every minute of it – and I drove that steam engine that night too – and, yes, I did have a reserve dress to change into for the dancing section later.

Steam engines are in my blood. My father, Patrick Whitehouse, was at the forefront of steam preservation in the 1960s-90s and together with a committed band of railway preservationists, he set up the Birmingham Railway Museum at Tyseley in Birmingham. I was always a horsey kind of child but I gave in, as the years went on, and accepted that the Iron Horse was a part of my destiny.

As a family, we travelled around the world visiting the last steam engines, photographing and chronicling them. My mother once said she knew every ladies waiting room in Europe! Certainly there was more time spent on steam trains than on beaches and we all took the most memorable of trips on the old Orient Express from Paris to Istanbul when I was 14. Of course, the most exciting thing I can remember about that was being chatted up by a suave Frenchman in the dining car – he was sent packing by my Dad very swiftly...

Most of my summers in my late 20s and early 30s were spent with my Dad travelling the railways of China – way before the days that Coca Cola and McDonalds made it over there and, in 1988 I made a documentary for Channel 4 Manchuria Express about steam in China. You can still see it on YouTube. As well as having a fabulous time, I did pretty well out of that trip – I married the sound recordist, Henry Barley.

But that particular 21stbirthday party, pictured, was held on one of the last steam engines to be decommissioned by British Rail in 1968, 7029 Clun Castle. I’m remembering it specifically today because today, it has been announced that the Office of Rail and Road has granted her – and several other engines – a licence to run scheduled express services across the main rail network.

My Dad is not alive now to see this; but my brother, Michael Whitehouse, has been at the forefront of the campaign by Vintage Trains. I’ve done basically nothing but bathe in reflected glory  – and pose for the odd photograph with my mother, Thelma Whitehouse, at Tyseley while Clun Castle was restored over the last few years.

Clun and her companions will run between Birmingham and Stratford to start with – at what may seem to be the somewhat sedate speed of 75 mph. They’ll stop at stations along the route allowing passengers to get on and off and we’ll have the choice of a basic ticket or a three-course meal in the restored Pullman dining car. But the plan is much bigger than that; Clun is in the market for running to York, Chester, Bristol and London.

It's less than a year since Clun has been back to her full glory after a costly and long renovation programme at Tyseley. I was honoured to be asked to bless her in public at the great party for her relaunch. 


A public share issue has raised £850,000 but the aim is to raise £3 million to expand the services across the rail networks.

Tyseley folk have a double celebration right now – this month the engine works turns 50 and there are special steam days on 29thand 30thof the month. You can find out more here.

There are not that many of us now who can remember the experience of being carried long distances by great, glowing dragons of fire and metal. My Dad used to say that a steam engine was the nearest thing humans had created to life – with the four great elements of metal, water, air and fire. And if you’ve ever stood in front of one of them while she snorted and steamed at you, you’ll certainly agree.

Here’s smut in your eye!

Monday

In the Eye of the Storm.

Since Christmas, I've been a jobbing vicar on the West Devon Methodist circuit, which means travelling to a variety of churches on a Sunday morning or evening to lead what's known as 'the five hymn sandwich.'

It all came about because of meeting quite a few Methodist ministers — particularly Rev. Jerry Cook — when I was doing the BBC Radio Devon Sunday Breakfast Show. And it's a huge honour to be asked given that although I am ordained, I'm also a notable heretic who has written a lot of books on Jewish mysticism.

Methodists, like other slightly less orthodox Churches are allowed to use Ministers from other traditions and I wish that were more commonplace. I know that the Rector of our Anglican Whiddon Parishes circuit would be hanged, drawn and quartered if he dared to use me. The row over whether or not pews may be removed from churches would be nothing in comparison!

So now I travel throughout West Devon, through the beautiful lanes, under the beautiful sky, to talk to tiny communities which still hold stillness and peace and song as an essential part of life. And I think their attentiveness to this heart of an ancient tradition holds and supports the county in a way it will probably never realise - and never needs to realise. This love is unconditional, whether the worshippers know that themselves, or not.

Being an independent means that you have to both bend like a willow to try and fit the ethos of the place where you are preaching and take the chance of contributing a breath of fresh air to lift some dust. Whether that dust dances like coloured sparkles in the light from the stained glass windows or forms a cloud of grumbling darkness in the corner really depends on how you handle it.

So far, nobody has complained but one or two times it may have come close...

The balance has to be blending who I am and what I've learnt with who they are and what they wish (if anything) to learn. I get to do a sermon at each service and so far we have covered the hidden prosperity underlying the story of Jesus' birth in the stable, that betrayal is an essential part of human learning, forgiveness, binary and non-dual concepts of God, how to bring through the Holy Spirit and how very much God loves to laugh. Twice, just twice, someone has come up to me afterwards and said, quietly, 'that was exactly what I needed to hear today, thank you.' And in those small moments, is the foundation of the Great Work.

Now these are not high-and-mightly lectures delivered from upon high to a hundred people; if I'm very lucky I'll have 20 people in the church but, it is much more likely that there will be three or four stalwarts half-hiding in the back row, hoping that I'm not going to pick on them. Sometimes, I go and sit at the back of the church with them, sometimes, I sit on the steps leading up to the altar, sometimes I need a microphone but that's only because so many of them are deaf!

In the far-flung, beautiful little buildings, a small group of generally elderly people will gather, with a pianist, an organist or a CD player and they will sing their hearts out and have the Grace to listen, politely and attentively, to a total stranger.

Hopefully I'll be come less of a stranger as time goes on and I complete the full circuit. But, you know, there isn't a single Church that I has visited that isn't both grateful for the travelling ministers and also wishes, with a profound regret, for their own priest, with whom they could share their lives, little events and rites of passage.

Methodist Churches are closing all over Devon - and probably all over the country - as the church-going population grows ever older while fewer young people want to embrace the concept of faith. Certainty is the popular belief now; the certainty of atheism. And you can understand that because the orthodox religions cannot compete with a wide-open world. They must update - as my own teacher said, 'cultural patterns may change; Universal Law does not. What must change for the Churches to live is the interpretation of that law. And whatever you thought of Rev. Michael Curry's sermon at the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, that Law always has been and must be based in love.

What I have met, so far at least, is a series of pockets of people who are filled with love, with light and the eagerness for a faith that is relevant to today and its problems. And every time I drive home from these tiny churches, through the verdant beauty of Devon, I thank God for them and the peaceful eye of the storm which we experience every Sunday. Wherever two or more are gathered ... there is still Love.



Friday

The EasyJet Blog Part Nine (Resolution).

Meet Harriet. She arrived last week, compliments of EasyJet. No, she won't replace Harold in our hearts but she is very welcome all the same. And she is certainly snazzy!

So, the holiday is over; the refund for items bought or damage has been approved. Now, do I ask for a replacement holiday given that, although ours was certainly affected, we still managed to be happy and enjoy ourselves?

First, I had to sort out in my own multifariously-wired head why this had happened. You may be the kind of person who says, 'stuff just happens,' but I'm a Law of Cause and Effect kind of girl.

Was it karmic for something I'd done? If so, then no, don't claim another holiday. This was Justice.

Was it, however, Justice that it happened to Lion as well as me? Probably not. So, yes, do claim another holiday for his sake.

Was it that I was the agent for someone else's Karma? (that has happened before). If so, yes, do claim another holiday.

Was it going to take a huge amount of time and effort when life is about letting go and moving on? If so, no, don't claim another holiday.

I sat with this in meditation and the answer to why was so clear: I simply hadn't cleared up my thinking from last year's trip to Albuquerque to see Fr. Richard Rohr. When I went on that, I wasn't at all well and, to be honest, I'd thought the trip would be a major part of my healing. It was; but not immediately. So I was coming home, tired, a bit discouraged and bad weather delayed one of my flights which meant I lost the connection at JFK and ended up sleeping on the floor.

Being a vicar and all that, I had rather expected to be able to sleep in the chapel (!) but unfortunately, that wasn't on. So I was not at my best and, understandably, given the lost connection, Colin the Suitcase didn't make it home for another five days.

I didn't think much about it - but I certainly didn't clean up the vibration around it either. So, the Law of Cause and Effect would find it very simple for it to happen again. Nothing more than that.

So that was probably it but, even so, I wasn't entirely sure. So, the answer, for me, was to write just one, very polite, very short email to the head of Customer Services at EasyJet, outlining what had happened and respectfully requesting a replacement holiday. And then give it up to God.

I did just that, and let it go.

Within three hours, we had had a telephone call from EasyJet, apologising profusely and promising a new holiday. Now that's good customer service!

Okay it took a slight nag to get the follow-through but now we are booked to go back to Cyprus entirely at EasyJet's cost in September. We are thrilled.

And that's the end of the EasyJet blog in honour of Harold the Suitcase. Thank you for reading.

And there will be plenty more blogs to come...

Time For Some Not Fake Food.