Love/Connection Tag

Away from the cavernous temple hall, with PA system and meditating monk, I climb upstairs to the balcony. From here I can see the roof, and look down on the umbrellas of women who grill sweet potatoes and corn on the cob. Turning a corner, I find a secluded shrine to Avalokiteshvara, which pulls me in. Many shiny gold arms wave at me. I catch my breath in this quiet spot, find the space to pay attention to my own practice. This involves saying thank you for the things that spontaneously spring to mind. I thank those who guide and help me. I speak an intention. Then I ask for blessings for all beings. A very versatile bodhisattva, Avalokiteshvara, (pronoun they) are known with many names, including Kuan Am in Vietnam. They are represented as male in some traditions, female in others. One head, five, or eleven, symbolise the many ears to ‘hear the pain of the world’. On hearing, they are willing to bear the pain of the world. They have many hands, usually 2, 4, 22 or 1000, which may carry useful tools to deliver acts of kindness. Their hands symbolize reaching out with love in infinite ways. This personification of compassion, represents the archetype of kindness. Avalokiteshvara shapeshifts taking the most suitable form to each situation, when appearing in the human realm. For me, trying to be kind starts with myself. Then expands outwards, to use my surplus energy to be in service to life. This small rupa seems to be talking to me. I’m listening.
O’Brien, Barbara “Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva” Learn Religions Feb 11 2020

In my early twenties I experimented with the ‘perfect’ Christmas. This involved a huge production number of card making, finding small but thoughtful presents and expensive decorations. It came to an abrupt end after a row with my mother. I stormed off (to my regret), taking refuge with my boyfriend’s parents. After we split up, I went on Buddhist retreats, neatly avoiding the festive season. I have currently arrived at a formula that seems to avoid seasonal stress. No presents, no shopping, no particular effort. Cards may be sent, but not to any deadline. There will be some delicious food, but there are no fixed rules about what or when. I would like to be a little more generous and a little less humbug, but I am wary of other people’s expectations. I love marking this time of year with simple rituals and spiced treats to eat. I don’t want to buy into a consumer binge. I enjoy having a relaxed quiet time, watching ‘The Crown’ with people I love. Today we have been quietly working separately and then sharing an annual review of 2019 and a visioning of what we want to focus on in 2020. Remaining ‘connected’ is my star, my guiding word for the year ahead.


There are some jobs which can be done quicker, faster and more efficiently with a cable tie. In an ideal world there will be no unessential plastic. In the meantime, I would like to praise the re-usable cable tie. This packet cost just a little more than the disposable single use cable ties in the DIY shop. The word ‘reusable’ on the label is easily missed. They look almost the same as regular ones, but a clever flange allows them to be closed then released to open again. Be a connoisseur; when rope or string just won’t do, invest in re-useable to make essential connections.

This feels like a moment of profound contentment. The suckler and the feeder both generate oxytocin in this primal act. My own mother’s milk slowed down and I was weaned at six months. I defiantly refused to exchange cow for mother’s milk. I have remained an avid lover of oral soothing from thumb sucking to kissing. I devour non-dairy creaminess – coconut yoghurt, oat cream and Ombar Mylk chocolate. I continue to be a fan of breasts. Holding the baby later in a sling, she falls asleep on me and I feel the intimate connection of our hearts beating alongside one another. This is one way to grow love.

I picture hearts connected by arteries and veins. It is an imagined biology, an extended metaphor from the blood connection between mother and baby. I wanted to create a map of the bonds between us – limited in years, but significant in influence. My letter to this unborn child aims to convey a summing up of all I have learned so far, and the whole cycle of life and death. I hope it will be received as a blessing from a good fairy, although it includes signposts to the gold in the shadow. Ancestor, living and child of the future, each hold a place in the line.

I often feel that my most radical act is simply being friendly. When I am in ‘flow’ I can feel like human lubricant – easing social encounters and rippling smiles into the neighbourhood. I enjoy the moments of recognition, chance encounters and random conversations with strangers. I want to live in a world where we greet passers by, where each “good morning” or “good afternoon” offers a well-wishing and an opening. These small acts of benediction glue communities together. With each nod of recognition, I feel as though I am woven – with my not-black clothes, plaits and dog in a pram – into the fabric of the Hackney streets I roam daily.

My few remaining relatives are spread wide. Instead I have a small chosen family. These are the individuals who encourage me, who will be there through thick and thin. These are the few who know me well enough to tolerate my peculiarities, and who I am willing to give time and energy to. These are also the ones who laugh at me, and help me to laugh at myself. Angus and I laugh too at the memory of his aged Scottish grandmother who asked on first meeting me, “Who are your people?” Now we say to one another in recognition, “I am one of your people.”

There’s a pleasing circularity in the things I am hearing in the meditation. It is led by Jarmbi Githabul of the Githabul and Ngarakwal tribes in Australia. Almost the same visualisation was taught to me by Eucalyptus who works in a Celtic tradition. I did a version of it in a ceremony lead by a South American medicine woman, and others before that. I am grounding through the earth, and connecting to the stars. It includes opening my heart. It is a practical way to connecting up both vertically and horizontally, which for me is the key to changing everything. I like his low key practical approach. To connect with who we are and our heritage, “feel your blood”, he simply says. I am finding my way back to the old ways, to those who were earthed, way back in my own lineage. Jarmbi’s bush lore circles through the words that loop round my head – disconnection, trauma, grief, honour, listen, ancestors, remember, ceremony, community, dance, love. The air ripples with the pulsing drone of the didgeridoo. One small gasp for air punctuates the sound of his circular breathing.

I catch some of the conversation without meaning to on the train. “Didn’t feel good today…yesterday was better…will you come and meet me?…I’m four stops away.” I’ve had this conversation frequently myself on this train line, especially in the long days when I returned from a Mum care visit. Emerging from the rush hour crowd I see them – the returner and the welcomer. I find myself captivated by the tenderness in their held hands, recognise the reassurance brought by the welcome. Walking in silence their togetherness speaks of love.

I have learned to look beyond the wallpaper at the care home. This wing – built in 1975 was last decorated when wallpaper borders were in fashion. It is a place outside time, where aesthetics are not the priority. “Is this real?” my friend asks regularly. I find it hard to answer this question. Yes in a practical sense, but perhaps not if all life is illusiary, philosophically speaking. He has sometimes asked me to describe the wallpaper as a way to gauge whether we share the same reality. What matters here is doing what’s needed, kindness, but mainly being. Our society values doing. I come here, witness how when doing is stripped away, being, kindness and love take centre stage.