Lessons of re-birth and death
The advent of spring, light and darkness in equal measure
Two weeks ago, on Sunday 20 March, winter gave way to spring. On the day of the spring equinox, the earth’s axis lies parallel to the sun and the length of that one day equals that of that night, in a perfect balance of light and darkness, life and death.
Many ancient cultures celebrate the advent of spring as a time of new growth and fertility: this is the ancient feast of Ostara, the great Goddess who gave birth to the Sun at Yuletide, the winter solstice, three months ago. Iranians, harking back to their Zoroastrian roots, prepare for the new year by a thorough spring cleaning, and by getting rid of items they no longer need. They welcome the New Year (Nowruz) by setting up a colourful spread with sprouting wheat or lentils, hyacinth flowers, eggs, red apples, garlic, coins – symbols of blessings and the magic of nature.
By Sunday, the 13th day of the new solar year, what was fresh and newly-born two weeks ago is dying: the sprouted lentils are already turning yellow, so they have to be cast away in running water by the end of the day. This ritual symbolises the letting go of what is no longer needed, the return of one life-form back to the elements, and the never-ending circle of life and death.
And the rest of the strands…
Memoir and Life Writing Group
Our big writing family of The London Writers’ Salon celebrated 2 years of Writers’ Hour last week, and we are still going strong! If you would like to join hundreds of other writers writing in community, join the free Writers’ Hour; one of the four daily sessions is bound to fit in with your daily schedule.
Writers explore all kinds of writing interests within this supportive community; I have the good fortune of hosting the Memoir and Life Writing group that meets twice a month to chat and exchange advice and support. Here is a provisional list of topics that we intend to explore together in the group: how to cope with emotional fallout after writing difficult scenes; practical tips on putting together a non-fiction proposal; autofiction; ethics in memoir writing; and more to come.
Got a Memoir/Life Writing project in the works? Or would you just like to meet other memoir and life writers? To join our supportive group, head over here.
52 Weeks towards a Good Life
Here’s the update from this group: we are now in Week 10 of Live Like a Stoic: 52 Exercises towards a Good Life, and we have met live on zoom twice.
Massimo and Greg joined us on our first zoom meet-up on 26th February. They were presented with real-life scenaria and answered the question What would Massimo/Greg do? You can watch this event here, or listen to it here.
Kathryn Koromilas and I hosted two second meet-ups on 26 March 2022. With gratitude for the Stoic friends who shared these nuggets, I copied them in my journal and share them here:
Addressing yourself as “you” in journaling (as Marcus Aurelius does in the Meditations) helps open up the space of observation of the egoic self (the observed) by the essential self (the observer);
Rather that reacting against hunger, pain or any other discomfort, reframe them as signs that you are alive;
When faced with physical discomfort, tell yourself “it’ll be fine” - and it usually is. Also remind yourself it will be over soon.
I have made a commitment to journal briefly every evening (but not always honoured it) , but definitely to check out every Saturday.
Week 5: Coping with minor physical hardships (27 February 2022)
“I know that my most difficult hardships are with heat and hunger. The heat is not an issue in the UK for now, and the hunger I find triggering, so I did not make any progress this week. I need to work on it more.
I have also been thinking of the invasion of Ukraine a lot. Somehow this week’s exercise seemed trivial in comparison, but also disheartening (addressing myself): You can’t even stand to feel hungry for a few minutes, and here are thousands of people driven out of their homes and losing all the comforts that you enjoy as a given. A long way to go… It leads on neatly to the next lesson.”
Week 6: Premeditation of future adversity (6 March 2022)
“An externally uneventful week, so I am not sure whether I am lucky, or I just have a boring life. However, the rehearsal of misfortunes is like second nature to me, although it is usually small misfortunes, like missing a plane or needing something that I should have packed during a trip, except the kitchen sink.
This week I have been thinking about the death of a loved one in the abstract; in fact had a controversial discussion with two Iranian friends whose rational processes are subject to principles different from mine. The disagreement hinged on whether the patient should know they have a serious illness, like cancer. In Britain there is absolutely no question: the patient’s right to know is unquestionable.
Even as I write the following, I find its absurdity stunning (but now I am being judgmental): the overwhelming consensus among Iranians is that if the patient is told, they will lose the will to live, slip into depression and die sooner than their time. Here’s the conundrum: my Iranian husband agrees with his fellow countrymen, and he is reluctant to discuss the possibility of death. As I premeditate the possibility of such a situation, what would my position be? Act according to his wish not to know (probably impossible if we are in the UK but likely if in Iran) or act according to my viewpoint, and risk adverse impact on his life?
From a Stoic and a mystic point of view, adversities help our spiritual growth and are therefore seen as opportunities, even blessings. Does not hiding the hard truth constitute denying another human being the opportunity to grow? The discussion still goes on.”
Week 7: Taking a much broader perspective (13 March 2022)
“The lesson of Week 7 suggested three methods: zooming out temporally, zooming out spatially, or comparing your problem to other problems large and small throughout history or elsewhere in the world now. The quote below shows an instance of how Marcus Aurelius did it. I usually favour the first and the third, but still find it hard.”
Week 8: Meditate on the nature of the cosmos (20 March 2022)
“One morning this week, I went out into the garden to check up on the flowers that the tall, dark stranger had planted for spring and the Iranian New Year. The pansies that had come from a garden centre months ago and had survived the end of the winter in small plastic pots are now expanding and blossoming. The hyacinths were bought as pregnant bulbs, and opened up to the air a few days after they were planted, tapping into the life of the soil. A few steps nearby there lay a dead garden rat. He lay on his side and looked asleep, except for some bleeding through his eye. His toes were frozen at the moment when time stopped for him.
And here it was, the ever-present constant of reality: the Essence bursts into a multiplicity of form; every form dissolves back into the formless, all in a small back garden.
We are in Week 10 (42 weeks to go!) but you can still join us in the Stoic Salon. Just click here.
The heart meets the (left) hand and they both embrace imperfection
"You can strip away many unnecessary troubles which lie wholly in your own judgment. And you will immediately make large and wide room for yourself by grasping the whole universe in your thought, contemplating the eternity of time, and reflecting on the rapid change of each thing in every part - how brief the gap from birth to dissolution, how vast the gulf of time before your birth, and an equal infinity after your dissolution."
Marcus Aurelius Meditations, 9:32, translated by Martin Hammond
(the bold bit written out in Greek, inspired from the Week 7 lesson above)
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