Sunday, 6 June 2010

Corpus Christi

I nearly blotted my copybook with José our young Argentinean priest last night. I arrived early for mass for once, and Jose, who was lighting the candles, looking thinner than ever, asked me if I’d made an alter.
Madre Mia, I almost said out loud.
'I thought Corpus Christi was next week. Don’t worry,' I reassured him. 'I’ll run home and make one now, quickly. Everything I need is at hand.'

Corpus Christie is when in June we make outdoor alters around the village and then process from one to the next, singing. It’s an ancient custom here in Andalucia, but it's beginning to die out in places.

So I rushed home, got the tall green angel out of the meditation room, found the pink drapes, plucked the red Peruvian bit of fabric off the table in the hall,and collected ceramic baby Jesus from the top shelf in the pantry. This particular Baby Jesus is pure Kitsch , but gifted to me by a neighbor and absolutely obligatory for your outdoor alter. A plate with bread is required, and there should have been grapes too, but I didn’t have any. Also needed is a glass of wine, and a lighted candle, and lots of flowers in vases. The alters are made in the street, mine on the ledge below my front door where my herbs and empty flower pots sit at the moment. Flower and rose petals are strewn on the ground in front of the alter, surrounding a little cushion placed strategically for the priest to kneel on. I also brought out one of my two new Indonesian horse -candle- sticks which now stand regally and protectively at the end of the hall, beside the little chest of draws where the ceramic holy family sit. I wasn't sure if this was going a bit over the top.
When I’d almost finished arranging the alter, my neighbor Mari Carmen ,who moved to the big town three years ago but who still comes back to the village with her family for weekends in the summer, arrived splattered with paint to see what I was doing.
‘You not going to the mass?’ I asked her.
‘No’ she said grinning, pointing to her paint spotted legs. ‘I’m repainting the house.'

During my first years in the village, Mari Carmen’s alter was always the most grand, the most impressive. Hours were spent arranging and hanging the elaborate drapes, collecting broom and rose petals to scatter on the ground. All the significant props were arranged with thought and much discussion. In those days it was a communal effort with at least ten people, men and women helping. In those first years, 9 years ago, we had about 5 alters all around the village.

The custom is that after the mass, the whole village processes behind the priest, singing. The priest stops to bless each alter, and the singing stops and starts. Incense is waved over the alter. We say the Lords prayer. It’s very moving. Each year less people process, and this year there were only three alters, almost only two, had I not got the church early.

One of the most touching things about this traditional ritual is that after leaving the church and starting to process, there’s a moment where people decide who they will link arms with. This to me is such a symbol of neighborly and family love it touches me deeply.
Yesterday I had a moment of pure agony when I remembered how I had linked arms with my beloved elderly Angustia in the early years. How she had tottered, huffed, and puffed on my arm as we wound our way around the little hills and slopes of our village. Last night her small,orphaned,orange colored dog barked madly as we passed her empty house. I miss her too I said silently.
'It’s a miracle that dog’s still alive.' I said to Pili who owns the village bar.
The dog lives alone for weeks on end, feeding herself on dry food left in a shed. Pili wearing a glamorous beige tight fitting silk blouse with short sleeves said, 'Yes. Poor little thing.'
'She has a tumor the size of a grapefruit hanging under her belly.' I said.
'I know.' said Pili. 'Poor little creature.'
We tottered down the steep slope together, arms aorund each other waists for balance, she with her red sling back summer canvas shoes, me with my new white crocs.

The procession arrived at Carmen's house. The theme was blue, the alter beautifully assembled with huge pot plants of scarlet geraniums on either side. Mases of rose petals neatly surrounded the priests cushion. Carmen's fourteen your old daughter Amelia wearing new silver dangly earings and a blue top took many photos.

We sang a little breathlessly as we climbed the hill to the other Carmen's house. Her alter was the sweetest pale pink, assembled with immense love and charm. On the ground behind the rose petals, little baskets of sea shells and beach stones caught my eye.

I was so glad I had made my alter, even though it was put together so quickly, and was scruffy at both sides. I didn’t have time to hide the empty flower pots and there was quite a lot of mule shit on the track.

Loli , my dear friend of the beautiful blue and white house in the village, didn’t come, which means she was probably suffering from a terrible migraine. Her dad, Vicente, of very poor health but with a very large loving heart, walked slowly in the procession, often gripping the arm of Augustine. This alliance between the elderly man who lost his beloved wife 51 years ago, who then brought up his four daughters by himself, and my builder Augustine, a kind man in his 40’s no stranger to heartbreak, scorched my heart. It made me feel so privileged to know these people, my energy bubbled and bled, rose and tumbled, and finally settled into a state of indescribable bliss.

Viva Espana ! Viva Corpus Christi !

Wish Big

I sat on a mountain track above our village last week intending to read my wise friends letter once again, but a choir of at least twenty birds, bees and insects interrupted this intention. Nightingales, cuckoos, doves, blackbirds and many other tiny birds were right in the middle of their early evening-song, their vespers. It was one of those moments of pure surprise and delight. Split second bliss. I had anticipated being on my own in quiet contemplative silence. These joyful sounds of early summer surrounded me and with a smile on my face I offered them my full attention. Right in front of me was a clump of wild purple lavender, and beside it tufts of pale green sage and willowy wild fennel. The evening scent was heady. Many hundreds of feet below on an outcrop of rock nestled our magical village, the flat- roofed whitewashed houses strewn in the shape of a half moon . Behind the village, the snow capped Sierra Nevada Mountains were in full view. Large families of slim white clouds were racing each other home before sunset.
I'd come to think about the contents of my friend’s letter. I need guidance, and I need help to promote my book.

‘Imagine that you are not affected by flattery or criticism.
Imagine that in your presence all hostility is overcome by a profound peace’.
(Deepak Chopra)

I’ve been reading Deepak Chopra again recently. One of these two lines above has been gnawing away at me. Criticism. There’s this stealthy little fear creature lurking in my head which is feeding and encouraging the dread of being damned and rejected because I talk about things in my book that some people may find uncomfortable, embarrassing, or taboo. But also, I realise I am embarrassingly susceptible to encouragement. It’s nice. I am a magnet for uncomfortable thoughts right now.
Promoting your own book is extraordinarily challenging if you’re not a naturally extroverted kind of a person. The horror of being misunderstood by those on a different path is proving to be paralyzing.
So, after a lot of un necessary agonizing about how to start publicizing the book, and after re reading my wise friends letter many times, I decided to spring into action and take a young American friends’ advice. Send it to Oprah she said. I checked her website. Oprah is approachable and Oprah loves snail mail. I have a plan.
Deepak says all we need is clarity of intent. Then, if we can get the ego out of the way, the intentions fulfil themselves...we don’t need to become involved in the details- in fact, trying too hard may backfire, he concludes.

Apart from Deepak Chopra’s Synchro Destiny (harnessing the infinite power of coincidence to create miracles) I’ve been re-reading my Danish dentist wife’s book on the Law of Attraction. It’s one of those books that mysteriously comes your way exactly when you need it. At the back of her book, Else suggests 26 affirmations to kick start the laws of attraction into action. Affirmations are those punchy little lines you write for yourself that are guaranteed to change negative beliefs and bring good things into our lives, but frequently get forgotten after a few days. Ten years ago I created and remembered a brand new one. I mouthed it, silently chanted it, and said it out loud on and off all day for months. It worked.
'All that I seek now finds me.'
And that’s how I found my tumble down house in Spain, and my new life in the magical village.
One of my dentist’s wife affirmations is:

'I think BIG!' (She goes on to elaborate...)
I think big. I wish big. My imagination is limitless. I will accomplish my wildest dreams. I will focus on what I most want to manifest. I see only possibilities. I don’t have to know how my dreams will come true. The how is the domain of the Universe.
(Jeremiah 29.11. My addition.)

I like this enormously.
And why not think big?
Why think small?

My last (Good Grief) retreat guest left yesterday. His week went well. We had some wonderful moments, many shared laughs and some lovely walks. One day he remarked after a walk around the village that nobody was very friendly. I resisted telling him the reason. My last male guest four years ago came for two weeks, stayed for four, and did a runner without paying me !The villagers were horrified. But there’s more. He disappeared saying he was going to Granada to withdraw the money he owed me, and well, went on a bender for five days leaving his precious manuscript and all his clothes in my house. I left for a pre-planned short trip to Morocco and returned to find him living like a wild animal on the mountain behind my house. The women and children in the barrio were terrified. The men took him water and sandwiches. My neighbours were very worried about me and made me promise not to have any more male guests. Just think what could have happened Margarita they said.
During the last four years a few male friends have stayed a couple of nights, and I thought it was time to trust the Universe to send somebody honest who would benefit from the peace, the beauty, and the magic of our village. John left yesterday, and emailed the same evening:
I have returned with the best of souvenirs - a self awareness and an action plan to move forwards with my life.
I think that is priceless. Thank you.

One of the ideas John and I discussed was what we are, and what would we like to be a magnet for in our lives. Annie, my last retreat guest who got caught in the ash could drama and ended up in Madrid, says she’s a magnet for fulfilling moments. John decided he’d like to be a magnet for goodness. I think I’m a magnet for people with amazing stories. Last post, I didn’t get round to telling you the story about Annie’s heroic fiancé 20 hour drive from London to scoop her up in Madrid. And when they returned to London, the next day, he was back at work. That evening he was mugged and horribly attacked by four youths on his way home.

A composer friend on hearing this story told me about his would- be attackers. Twenty years ago, he sensed he was about to be robbed, possibly beaten up and dumped, by some youths who’d given him a lift. He was hitching home after a weekend’s ‘camping’ near Stonehenge. As the car lurched along, they asked him what he’d been doing at Stonehenge. When he started to tell them about the prayers he offered, the rituals he’d made, sleeping out under the stars, they feel into a state of awkward silence. Weren’t you terrified they asked? Stonehenge!! All those ghosts, and all that stuff? No, he said, and went on to elaborate. The energy changed between them. Suddenly he was interesting, no longer their victim.
Had Annie’s fiancés attackers known what intrepid adventures he’d had in Patagonia, what his dreams are, how he is a wilderness survival guide who can live for a week or is it a month with only a piece of sting and a knife, anywhere, well, how might their lives have been changed?

So Annie is a magnet for meaningful moments. John is a magnet for goodness. I am a magnet for amazing storytellers worldwide, and would love Oprah to be magnetically attracted to read my book !

What are you a magnet for?

Wish Big!