The most momentous thing in human life is the art of winning the soul to good or to evil.Pythagoras, a Greek Philosopher who died around the 5th century BC.
I have had a wild morning of thoughts emerging out of memories during my morning shower, and all correlating with the other stories and more that I have been listening to or reading, of late. Synchronicities I like to call them. I need a recording device in my shower as thoughts crowds through my mind at a pace, making it impossible to hold onto them all. Many a time I have kicked myself as I managed to lose a few good ones! But, hey ho, if they were that good, they will find a way back to me.
There were two main streams of thought vying for my attention, both of which opened up a blog that I decided to get going on straight away. The first was a deeper understanding of my father, and the second being my increasing interest in the value of our feelings. I think I can bring them together in this piece.
My father had three heart attacks as a fifty-two year-old man. He was lucky to have the most famous cardiology hospital in the world a few miles down the road. The head of the team was Christiaan Barnard and his brother, Marius, was also a member of the team. They performed the first person-to-person heart transplant operation. It was around this time that my father ended up in the cardiac ICU at the same hospital, Groote Schuur in Cape Town.
My father was a strong man and although he smoked until the age of thirty-eight years I never knew him to be ill. It was my father who was the repository of ‘old wives’ tales’ in our family, and I find more and more of his sayings and care of our healthy coming back to me over these last few years. He was always cheerful, although I learnt later that he had experienced depression and did sometimes have dark moments. As a boy and young man he was attracted to live life at the edge which sometimes got him into minor scrapes. Leaving the UK to live in Africa was always going to suit him best. He was a kind man by nature, had big ideas for a man with limited education and from a small village in Kent. He was not gifted with business acumen, was a man of an open mind, and a person who felt things deeply. He had a natural and infectious love of life and everyone who knew him couldn’t help but prosper in it. He followed a routine of keeping himself healthy, and deep breathing is something I remember as being important to him. He was constantly physically active. His skin and overall colour was magnificent up until his death at the age of seventy-two. I used to say he was like Picasso; at the age of seventy he looked more like a fifty-year-old. So why the heart attacks was what went through my mind this morning. And immediately some thoughts came to mind.
I am not going into all the details of his story but will stick to a few relevant facts, both because of time restraints and because the story involves more than just my father and me. He had married during the war years, and although he and his wife parted ways for most of the war, they got back together for reasons I will not go into now. It is so hard to refrain from explanations but just to say that my father left his British wife when she was pregnant and encouraged her to return to Britain. When I was in my early twenties he told me, in a comprehensive discussion around this part of his personal history, that if he saw his baby he would never be able to walk away, and he was not in love with his wife. He also told me that he could not face a marriage that was not based in mutual love for one another. Weirdly I understood what he was telling me because of the honesty with which he spoke to me, and because I have always been able to see different sides of any situation. But that is not to say that I didn’t also understand the terrible pain that his need to reach this decision would have caused to the others concerned.
The reason for supplying some background to this situation is so that I can explain how disease of the heart possibly came to figure in my father’s life when he was generally in good health. There have always been healers and mystics who point out that there is always a reason for why a body suffers disease. It could be trauma or it could be because of toxins either within the environment of our bodies or coming from our external environment, and in some cases because of earlier physical damage to the body. Some will also say, look and know your karma. Most people still believe that illness has a random quality. Sometimes the reason for disease is hard to identify but that is because of our own medical limitations or caused by doctors and their medications themselves (Iatrogenic Disease), but sometimes, or even always, they have a spiritual scientific basis. With attentive study of one’s life and its experiences we can begin to engage with this idea. I know that many will disagree with me, but I don’t think that humankind, plants, trees or other creatures would have survived millions upon millions of years of adaptation if disease was systemic to life. It really is time to take a different view of disease. But as long as we believe that current allopathic medical science is the sole repository of all answers and solutions, and that we are random and freak accidents at the mercy of an adversarial planet, it is going to be difficult to get that conversation started.
I can imagine how hard it was for a loving and caring father, who nursed us when we were ill and seldom withheld something we said we needed, to look on us, his three children born of his current wife. He would never have been able to keep his first born child out of his mind’s eye. I think that I in particular, being my mother’s eldest, would have reminded him of his true eldest child elsewhere all the time. Many years later, into my middle life, I met up with a cousin that I had spent much of my childhood with. He confirmed this for me. This is what I mean by correlating our life’s experiences to learn more about the why’s and wherefore’s. His parents had shown more interest in me than any other grownups other than my parents. For some strange (maybe not) reason he told me that around the age of six I had told him that my father didn’t love me. He had told his father (my mother’s cousin) and apparently my uncle had told my father. I don’t even remember ever feeling that way, and certainly have only the memory of my father and I being very closely bonded. After I grew up I never saw my cousin again because we lived in different countries, and the only time I saw him again was when he walked up our driveway outside Winchester, looking for us while on a visit from Holland. It has always been a random moment in my mind, and I have never seen him since.
In the first years of our family life there was seldom enough money to put food on our table and pay rent for home, so he did not even have the option of being able to send money overseas to help with his daughter’s support. Later when there was more money to go around I don’t know what happened, but the only way I knew my father was to never turn down an opportunity to help out others whether they were family or not. Around the time that he and I had this important conversation, for some reason, I looked through his desk drawers for something, and I saw a small square sepia photograph of a little girl, about two or three, and could see it was none of us. Many years later when I came to know my older sister, I knew that it must have been a photo of her. All of this trauma would have put a great strain on his heart that was always a little broken.
Something else that would have added to the strain was his difficulty in contributing sufficient income to support his family. He had lots of ideas but most of them were ahead of his time or he didn’t have the capital to follow through on them. There had been times when he went into partnerships that didn’t work. My parents had no money to go out to the cinema or to a restaurant so a trip out for them was to go for a drive on a Sunday afternoon. On one particular Sunday, my mother, a trained nurse, with two young children, me about three years old and my brother, Greg, who would have been about six months old, did just that. Tired of the financial strain on their lives she must have been thinking about possible options. She couldn’t go back to work because they couldn’t find childcare that she was happy with, and she had a momentous thought – why don’t I open a nursery for working mothers? She asked her husband to take them for a drive to see if they could find a property. And they found one—a deserted and dilapidated large Victorian villa with a wrap around verandah on Rosmead Avenue, Kenilworth. It was on a large plot and set well back from the road. There was another building in beautiful condition next door, and they called in and found out the name of the owner of the wreck next door. A beautiful Jewish man owned it, and showed them around the property that in its last incarnation had been an old age home. My mom told me that fleas bombarded them as they entered this period property, still with much beauty albeit now desperately faded. He told them they could have it for six months rent free, and amazingly gave them also a three-year option to purchase at a fixed price. And my mom and dad got to work, and within a couple of months they were ready to open their doors. They started with two or three families, and my mom even took children in to sleep overnight to give parents a break or for other emergencies. Within a couple of months they had tripled in size and soon the numbers were up to forty children. Eventually my mom and her staff were responsible for the welfare of one hundred and twenty children, and her school’s reputation shone throughout Cape Town. But my dad still felt that he was not fulfilling his role of being a provider. He tried taking on employment but he was not built to be an employee. Eventually he found someone to work with at a successful scrapyard who appreciated his unique talents. He stayed there a number of years but it was tough work and did nothing for my father’s soul. And eventually he suffered three massive cardiac thromboses. I was fourteen years old. We, his children, were all taken into the ICU so he could say good bye to us.
What I know is that my mother could never have made a success of her school without my father’s help. He made all the equipment she needed both for the playground and for all the classrooms. Besides the jungle gyms, the slides and the swings, he made a merry-go-round and found an old fishing boat which he restored. He even built up a mini zoo for the children. Each child had their own mini stretcher to sleep on for rest time. The tables and chairs he made were the perfect size. The maintenance of the old building was never ending, and he also converted the coach house at the back of the property for us to live in once the whole building was needed as a school. So you can see why, besides the fact that my mother chose not to learn to drive, that running the business was really a two-man job. The strain again on his heart was obvious as he fought with his desire to provide for his family and to do all that needed to be done back home.
As healthy as he was he was not able to prevent himself from creating disease in his body. Where fortune and mitigation came into it, being a sensible man and with the right doctor, he survived for another amazing ‘full-health’ twenty years. During this time he was able to make some amends with his lost daughter and her family, and also able to see the rest of his children grow to adulthood.
That is where karma and healing comes into his story and mine. Many understand how karma works while the rest of society now prefers to think in terms of comeuppance and bad or good luck, and are more inclined to spend time in judgment of others. I don’t know exactly what familiar relationships existed between my father and I in earlier lives but I do know there have been more than just this one time. We got to acknowledge our special feeling for each other six weeks before he died. I have never stopped being grateful for this. But what I do know is that from very early on, I had a sense of needing to deal with the ‘sins of the father’. Without thinking on this I embarked on a life long journey with my older sister, not always comfortable and understandably so, to incorporate her into our extended family. I can honestly say that it felt the right thing to do. We were relative strangers when I met her at the age of twenty, and my understanding of the need for a healing only came many years later. Together we have been through monumental moments together, not least when my younger daughter died and our brother committed suicide. My younger sister, and her son and his girlfriend, now live close to her, and I delight in their relationship. Between us there will always be a slight frisson. Perhaps something to do with the impossibility of there being two eldest siblings in any one family. But we both hold each other in a space I call respect and love.
I have come to rely heavily on feelings for informing me as to whether I am on a path or in a moment that sits well with me. I noticed a rise in my awareness of their importance and right to stand in a place of honour in our lives a few years back. It happened one day as I was editing my first book. I wanted to find a better word to express what I was trying to say and I found myself following a similar route of interrogation. I would take myself back into time to the approximate moment, and immerse myself in the feelings of that experience, and each time the perfect word would pop into my mind. After the pattern revealed itself to me I began paying more attention to feelings. I separated them from emotion completely and saw them as even superior to emotions which were often loaded in one way or another. I began to see emotion as more closely aligned with the ego, and also being capable of manipulating situations. Feelings, on the other hand, seemed to be much more honest, and could be seen as in a partnership with intuition although not exactly the same. Lately, over the last couple of years, I have noticed people talking about memories popping up in their mind, and also many more speaking of the importance of feelings. Last night at bed time, instead of listening to another lecture from the Rudolf Steiner lectures which I have been doing for months, something popped up on what I now call my own YouTube algorithm – Feeling is the Secret, a book written in 1944 by Neville Goddard. This book explains how feelings work as a bridge between consciousness and the subconscious, and how we can work with this opportunity to improve our lives. You can see how conscience slips into the story too. I have this wonderful feeling that all we ever want to have answered, the knowledge of everything, is housed in our subconscious. And I believe that Goddard who has written many books around the subjects of God and consciousness, did not invest his faith in an external God but believed that we are all god-like creators of our own lives, and by extension, of universal reality. I was interested to see that he also studied Kabbalah under a rabbi. I am not alone in thinking each and everyone of us can have access to all knowledge. Many mystics talk about a vessel inside us all that is waiting to have its lid prised open. Not too quickly, mind, because therein lies both the light as well as the darkness. People who knew Steiner personally believed that his knowledge came from his subconscious rather than he his being a channeller or a medium. Carl Jung is believed to have ventured dangerously all the way down into his subconscious as he wrote about in his Red Book. It was known that he kept a gun in his bedside table just in case the journey became unbearable. It is also thought that Dante wrote of his adventures by accessing his own subconscious. Goddard had a great interest in William Blake as well. Yes, the list is long and interesting and all adds to whether authenticity can be relied upon or not.
So I think the best thing for us in the changing world of today is to make sure that we are putting the right information back into the ether—no more negative thinking. And that we continue to spend real time with our memories and check in regularly with our feelings, having learnt to recognise when our emotions are trying to highjack our mind. Feelings don’t come in a range of good and bad. All they tell us is when something feels uncomfortable, makes us feels sad or depressed, or if we are lucky, they tell us we are in a good flow in the river that is life, both individual and universal.