Saturday, 18 May 2013

Still, My Soul

My friend Wendy and I are utterly unalike. She is highly intelligent, militantly atheistic, acerbic in her opinions,  (especially of men) and a spendthrift. I am none of these things, so it's surprising, perhaps, that we get on so well.

We met through an advertisement in the Gloucestershire Echo fifteen years ago. Writing and posting advertisements is Wendy's hobby. I was the only person who replied to her appeal for a woman friend: we hit it off,  and have met fairly regularly ever since.

Wendy has very high expectations of the men she draws into her epistilatory net. She meets none of her hopefuls. She corresponds for a while until familiarity, poor spelling and grammar, or libido, breeds contempt. Time passes, then, the cycle begins all over again. She is currently awaiting replies to her adverts in ' Private Eye' and 'The London Review of Books' (where she used Latin, I believe.) 

'They all want SEX my dear!' Wendy shudders. I am surprised that she is surprised. I try to be kind to the victims of the sharp end of her tongue ... But it's a stretch sometimes. The gentleman who sent a  photograph of himself, in close proximity to a horse, in a river, naked, deserves all the derision he achieved. That's what I think, and I'm a softie. 

I squirm when Wendy confronts me over God. I know my viewpoint is irrational, I can't explain away the suffering in the world, I don't believe in hell, and ( because I am one of them) I know that religious people are among the biggest hypocrites on the face of the earth. I simply cannot be an atheist, and believe me, it's not for the want of trying. Whenever this impasse is reached, Wendy rolls her eyes and changes the subject.

Imagine my astonishment, therefore, when Wendy announced last month that she was attending a meditation class. 

 I didn't know what to expect when we met for lunch on Friday. When  I broached the subject, I wasn't too surprised to discover that the class she had been attending had proved unsatisfactory. 

"Thirty minutes! We had to sit in silence for thirty minutes! Then there was a video of a talk by a guru that didn't make any sense to me... . The final straw was being asked to bring a poem on a spiritual theme next time. I emailed to say, ' Thank you very much, but the word 'spiritual' doesn't mean ANYTHING to me.' 

That's not the end of the story, however. Wendy confided that she had found ten free meditations on the web, and she was working her way through them and quite enjoying them.  'Then you have to pay.' She sniffed. I guess she won't.

Wendy's story highlights a plight that is probably not that uncommon: an awareness of a need for soul food that isn't attached to religion. 

I discovered a meditation recently that I pass on to those who  have difficulty with the concept of God, but feel the need to let go of emotional pain:

'Don't retreat from the anguish. Acknowledge it as you breathe in. Feel it, accept it. Take the breath down below your heart. Hold it for a moment. On the out breath, let the feeling go, and replace it with gratitude. For what was good in the  relationship, the happiness that came before loss, for the warmth of the sun, the beauty of the day, the closeness of a friend... Something, anything, that reminds you that you are alive, and that life is a gift. '

It is. It really is.

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