I've discovered relatively recently that inner peace comes from knowing who I am.
We spend so much of our time getting to know other people, and trying in the process to make a good impression on them, that we forget to allocate time to really get to know ourselves.
And that's a shame because so many of us are really nice people!
Here's the test, if you locked yourself in a room alone, all by yourself, for two days and nights, without so much as a television or a radio (and of course with no mobile phone or similar diversion), how would you get along with yourself? If the thought fills you with terror then its probably high time to examine your reasons for not wanting to spend some quality time with yourself.
As a lonely young man, I found myself in my own company much of the time getting to know the person I was then.
I've written about it in earlier posts, I'd spend days wandering remote hills and coasts in an effort initially to escape - both myself and the scary world around me - and later to get to know myself on some basic level, something I soon began to realise I'd never done. All I had been doing up until that time was reacting to the perception that other people had of me, and allowing that to inform how I saw myself. Anyway, I quickly found that you can't run away from yourself, you just end up taking a whole lot of baggage with you and dumping it down when you arrive wherever you thought you were going.
It was a very unhealthy and destructive way to be living. It took many years for me to get to know - and like - myself for who I am with all my foibles and quirks. As an individual.
I know from bitter experience that if you let others see you as lonely and vulnerable then they will descend like vultures... oh, yes, for example the time I was targeted by Christian missionaries who tried to manipulate and systematically destroy me and my unique identity, disguising their intentions with 'kindness' and clothing their nasty agenda in garments of 'love' and sympathy. Their imitation of love was a world away from the real love that I later found. I was into my third decade on this earth before I began to properly redefine the person I was and embrace him. Until that point I had believed what others presumed me to be - and they were mistaken.
I believe that the time I had spent by myself in my youth had at least provided a foundation of truth, which in later years when I really needed to rediscover my identity, was there, intact. Had I not been able to go back there to that place in my past, then I don't know where I'd be today, quite possibly beholden to those who in the intervening years had tried to claim me in order to bolster their own egos and selfish agendas.
So for those of you who could not spend two days alone in your own company, please, for your own sake, put aside some time to get to know yourself, don't let others decide for you who you are.
Recently I dusted off my old record collection, something I'd been meaning to do for years ever since I had reluctantly consigned my treasured vinyl LPs carefully to boxes in the depths of the loft, my record player having finally succumbed a few years earlier to a worn drive belt and a dodgy needle - and me having succumbed to the dubious lure of CDs and streaming mp3's.
But not long ago I purchased a budget record player of the new generational type, the sort with USB sockets and built-in 'conversion software' which I'll probably never use, and I began to sort through my very heavy boxes of LPs.
I was quite pleased to find that my musical taste has remained remarkably consistent down the years.
I still enjoy listening to Abba and all my cheesy 70s disco compilations, on vinyl they sound crisp and fresh and bring back a whole raft of memories from my younger days. There were some surprises too, I don't remember buying those Nana Mouskouri records and when on earth did I sit down and listen to Mantovani? Ehem.
Then there were some poignant reminders from the past.
One such happy find was a record by the American country singer Sammi Smith.
There is a story about how I came across this much loved singer. Sometimes one goes out looking for new music and on other rare occasions music comes to you, just when you need it and just when it will make a difference. This was one of those occasions. I was in Birkenhead, a small and, some might say, insignificant town that sits on the opposite side of the River Mersey to Liverpool, it's more famous cousin. This is a town with not a whole lot of money and, as is the case with such places, the shops often reflect this. And so Birkenhead had more than its share of charity shops (known in the US as thrift shops), where one can purchase donated goods, clothes, books, this and that, for the lowest prices with the proceeds benefiting a local charity or community venture. These shops are always worth a browse and, back in the day, they usually had a selection of second-hand records.
In the particular charity shop I had ventured into that day, the records had been consigned to the basement, only CDs, which had totally ousted vinyl by now, were given space in the main shop. The place was dimly lit, damp and full of stuff that hadn't made the grade to be displayed in the slightly more refined space upstairs. The records were in boxes on a table at the back of the room. They had mostly seen better days but had obviously once been someone's pride and joy, a lifetime's collection of music that had defined a person's life, someone now long gone but who was echoed in these old boxes of time.
As I rummaged about, one record stood out. Covered in a thick layer of dust and grime, I could nevertheless make out some words and a picture. 'Something Old, Something New, Something Blue' was the title, and the artist, whose photograph graced the front of this 1972 album cover was Sammi Smith. I'll confess that at the time I had only a slight recollection of the name Sammi Smith though it did ring a distant bell for me. More captivating was the photograph of the lady herself, understated and unassuming , it spoke to me. I bought the record of course. And on returning home I very carefully and patiently cleaned first the cover and then the record itself which was coated in mildew from the damp conditions in which this treasure had lain for Lord knows how many years. The vinyl was in good condition however, and after the careful cleaning process was complete, I placed the LP on my turntable and with great trepidation I lowered the stylus on to the first track.
Revelation! Through the miracle of recorded sound, echoing through the years, here was a magical, soulful and tender voice. I realised now why something was drawing me to this record, through some mystical magic I had discovered this wonderful singer, whose interpretation of a song was both heartfelt and heartbreaking at one and the same time. So my journey with Sammi Smith began. Over the next months I tracked down and collected more of Sammi's albums. Here in England they were fairly scarce. Sammi had a huge breakthrough hit on both sides of the Atlantic with the Kris Kristofferson penned 'Help Me Make It Through The Night' (and this, I realised, is why I recognised her name when I first spotted the LP) but she had never quite managed to repeat this initial early success and achieve the mighty heights and accolades which she so richly deserved. Not that she needed to. While Tammy Wynette and others were pursuing the popular route, Sammi took the road less travelled, becoming a country 'outlaw' rather than following the trends, singing her song in her own way and thereby carving her own place in music history with a string of quality albums. Quietly and with honesty. Those in the know revere Sammi as a true artist who did not give in to the whims and follies of the music industry but remained true to her own country roots. And this is what still shines through her music. Listen to Sammi Smith today and you hear an artist of integrity who interprets a song with truth and her own convincing honesty.
Sammi passed away in 2005 but has left a catalogue of music that I and many others return to often.
Her son Waylon Payne carries his Mum's legacy in his heart, super talented in the fields of song-writing and acting, he is also a brilliant and moving singer, telling his tales in song with great feeling and sincerity. Just like his Mum.
Funny how a 'chance' find can lead one on a journey of discovery. For me, the day I found the old Sammi Smith record proved to be very fortuitous and continues to take me on a delightful musical voyage.
Getting a new lawn shouldn't perhaps fill one with sheer delight and cause a great deal of excitement given that, well, it is just grass after all and yet my partner and I felt elated when we arrived home last week to find that we had a green space where for the past two years there had been an expanse of grey, broken concrete, seasonally forested in a thick overgrowth of weeds.When we bought the house, we knew that the garden was a problem. It was completely overgrown and totally infested with Horsetails (also known as Mares-tails), an invasive and robust weed that is notoriously difficult to eradicate.
We were, however, so thrilled with the actual house, a lovely Edwardian merchants villa, that we concentrated on revitalising the interior of our new home and we tended to ignore the garden unless we had to go out there. Even the dog didn't care too much for the space, preferring to stay indoors rather than enter the desolation of the bleak back garden.
We did try to deal with the weeds ourselves on more than one occasion with ever stronger and more terrifying weed-killers but still the Horsetails returned to taunt us.
Horsetails, it should be mentioned, are not unattractive to behold, they look like miniature fir trees and apparently they have been around on this earth for aeons, once having stood like dinosaur trees, tens of feet tall, in vast forests. Now they are tiny in comparison but no less scary if you happen to be fighting them. In fact they are a good source of silica and we did briefly contemplate cultivating them until we realised that we didn't have a clue as to what anyone actually uses silica for...
Underneath this forest of green lay a broken concrete area which once had made up an easily maintained outside space where the earlier residents might have placed large pots of colourful flowers and patio furniture from where they would survey their summery garden. Now all that was left of those heady days was a sorry looking Camellia in a large pot being strangled by Horsetails. We managed to rescue the Camellia and set it aside, nurturing it for a year or so until it recovered. This year it has thanked us with a spectacular display of bright pink blooms.
Anyway, so it was that a few weeks ago I happened to see a truck outside a house in our neighbourhood. It belonged to a gardener whose name, Mike, was emblazoned on the side of his vehicle. Knowing that this year we simply had to address the problem of our garden, I made a mental note of his name and came home. As I was browsing Facebook later that day (as one does instead of tackling the garden, or any other pressing issue), what popped up magically on Facebook but a 'suggestion' from them that I might want to check out Mike and his gardening service. Talk about Big Brother, Facebook seems to have eyes and ears everywhere though I still can't imagine how they knew what was going on in my mind.
Freaked out a little by the mind reading folks at Facebook but following this obvious pointer, I returned to the place where I had seen Mike's truck and there I found Mike himself. Within minutes, he had popped over to our house, assessed the garden situation, offered his advice and we had even agreed a price.
I guess I can actually cut this long story a little short, suffice it to say that the following week, Mike and his gang of hard-working garden chaps had transformed the desolate space at the back of our house into a wonderland of green grass and brightly coloured pebbles, the crumbling wall had been replaced with old railway sleepers which look amazing and I have already seen the first signs of wildlife returning to the garden.... okay well it was only a beetle but it's more than I've seen there in a very long time!
We are looking forward to summer with enthusiasm and a newly found love of the outdoors now as we plan what plants we will be getting and where they will be placed. Even the dog ventured into the garden today to inspect the work and he seemed pleased too.
As Mike disappeared into the distance I looked at my smart phone and thanked Facebook for reading my mind that day. Though I have to say I am very cautious to avoid thinking too much now unless my phone is on charge somewhere safely out of sight - lest Facebook hear that we really need a new kitchen.....
“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious..”, so said Albert Einstein and it is a quote I return to often as I seek to discover ever more wonder in the world around me.
Of all the mysterious natural, or more probably supernatural, phenomena that it is possible to experience, it is likely that one of the most unusual and little explained would be that of the Will O' The Wisp.
To happen upon this eerie green flickering light, that can be seen at night hovering above lakes, ponds and slow moving meandering rivers in the deepest countryside, is perhaps one of the most beautiful, elusive and unnerving encounters one can have. Even today in this bustling, modern, scientifically led world, the wonderful sight of something so enigmatic can tap in to our innermost child-like wonderment and send our imagination soaring into the realms of fantasy, both real and imagined.
Will O' The Wisps, also known by an abundance of other magical names such as 'ghost lights', 'hobby lanterns', 'pixie lights' and many many others, are documented in all parts of the world and in every culture. Here in the UK they are said to be most commonly seen in the wilds of Cumbria and Northumberland.
Many of the names for this phenomenon allude to an ancient belief in fairies, pixies and malicious goblins who lure lonely travellers away from their path and into the unknown. And so most often the Will O' The Wisp has gained a reputation for malevolence and is something to view warily and with great suspicion.
Some believe them to be lost souls, drifting in the dark.
In a few parts of the world however the story is different; in several European countries for example it was (and still is in some rural localities) believed that a Will O' The Wisp marks the location of buried faerie treasure.
Attempts to reproduce this strange, elusive and fragile-looking light scientifically have generally failed and it still remains largely unexplained, adding to its mystery and magic.
So whatever it is, please nobody try to enlighten me as to the true nature of this supernatural wonder. Whether it is a goblin lamp, a lost soul or a clue to buried treasure, I'm happy to sit in the depths of the countryside, just to watch and hope for a glimpse of my own Will O' The Wisp.
(I'd welcome comments from any readers with their own experiences of this or any other natural or supernatural phenomenon)
The sight of Camellias in flower is always a sure sign, albeit an early sign, of Winter departing to make way for the onset of that most happy of seasons, Spring.
In the part of the world from which I write, where winters are rarely severe, it is possible to witness flowers at any time of the year even in midwinter, though those that appear when frost and snow threaten are the bravest of plant souls, defiantly challenging the elements, sometimes winning, often perishing in their valiant endeavour.
So when the Camellias appear, showy, bold and confident, I raise my eyes to the sky and nod in appreciation of this surest first sign of a new season approaching.
I wrote this little poem today on seeing our own Camellia in flower in anticipation of warmer days to come.
Spring emerges, Blackbird sings,
Butterflies unfold their wings
to dance upon a fragrant breeze
atop the wispy Willow trees.
Joy pervades the fresh green scene
where once the hardened frost had been
And trees begin to stir and grow
with zest for life as if they know
That nature's gift can never last,
their memory of Springtime past
reminding them that life and time
are there for whom the stars align.
That none of us can take for granted
sunny days for seeds we've planted.
Those who weather Winter's storm
may find themselves in Spring reborn,
and only then can dance and sing
and celebrate their life in Spring.
copyright: 2017 Jason Endfield. All Rights Reserved.
Okay, so I'm bragging...
but it's not every day that I can say I knocked Oscar Wilde off the top spot on Amazon.
To my huge surprise and delight, my little anthology 'Between Worlds' hurtled up the Amazon poetry charts on its release last week and peaked at Number One (!) on Tuesday 21st February.
I'm quietly proud of it and very humbled by all the messages of goodwill I have received, besides of course being exceedingly grateful to all the people who downloaded a copy of the book on its release.
(A paperback version was released at the same time, but I have withdrawn it from sale due to some issues with formatting and printing quality. A few have made their way into the public realm and one is currently on sale through Amazon for £16, so it would appear to be an odd collector's item already. As far as I know only three printed copies are in existence at the time of writing).
The kindle version (which can be read on any device) is available to download from any Amazon site.
My little anthology is out now on Amazon (in kindle form and paperback)
Contains some bits and pieces from my blog, some older short stories and a couple of new ones too.
One of a few stories I wrote for a small audience last year which may eventually end up published more widely somewhere...
Piotr A Story
Which is your real world...?
Sometimes, as the sages taught us, it is the very darkest of nights that bring the most illuminating truths.
So it was when Piotr found himself suddenly on a cliff-top in the middle of a dream one night; well that is how it seemed. Let me try to explain.
Piotr had gone to bed as usual that evening at around 11pm. He had switched off the light in his small living room, wandered to the kitchen to draw a glass of water and then locked the front door before he climbed the stairs. His little cat Temka followed behind him.
Finally in bed Piotr lay there looking up at the ceiling in the dark little room, Temka curled up on the bed at his feet.
A nearly full moon shone a dim grey light through the window and cast strange shadows on the walls. Piotr looked around. He noticed that one of the shadows looked like a small rabbit and then another like a bird; and if he squinted then he could make the bird appear to be chasing the rabbit. He imagined these shadows coming to life, it wasn't difficult to imagine such things in the dark of night.
He remembered when he was very small, his Grandfather telling him tales of demons and imps, of fairies and goblins and how at night as a small child he would sometimes dream of such creatures, waking himself with a start and peering from beneath his bed-covers to check that he was alone in the room. He always was. But he never felt afraid of these creatures, he believed they lived in another world, a different dimension. Surely in all of G-d's universe there must be many other worlds, Piotr thought, where millions of different creatures resided, each of them living their own lives in their own reality. Maybe they even existed alongside one another, in the same place but somehow in another time. Piotr didn't see any reason for them to suddenly appear in his world any more than for him to suddenly appear in theirs..
Perhaps, thought Piotr, that such things as ghosts were merely an echo of another of these worlds that exists beside our own.
And so this night, as Piotr drifted into sleep, he was untroubled by thoughts and and he let the world wash over him.
Suddenly he was woken by what felt like cold breath on his face. He sat up startled. It was difficult to see in the darkness and now there was no moon.
Temka was no longer there at his feet. He carefully got up from his bed. As his feet touched the ground he realised he was standing on grass. The cold breath he had felt on his face was now a breeze. He was outside in the open air.
As his eyes adjusted to the dark, he could make out a few stars in the black sky. He could hear the sound of waves, crashing waves a long way down below where he stood. Now he could make out a sheer drop to his left. He was on a cliff-top. Piotr had had dreams like this before, they were called lucid dreams where the dreamer suddenly becomes aware of himself within the dream and so can consciously influence the outcome. He decided to calmly get back into his bed but as he turned to do so he realised his bed was no longer there. This scared him. What to do now..? A track became visible at his feet. In the palest of star light he could see tiny figures dancing across the path into the distance. He felt drawn to follow. Every time he approached the figures they skipped further and further away. He found himself running faster and faster and faster until suddenly he felt the ground give way under his feet.
Had he fallen off the edge of the cliff? Why no, as he fell he had felt himself rise again, carried along on what to Piotr felt like a wave of sheer joy.
He had in fact fallen off the edge of his world.....and into the next.
How do I know all of this you may ask? Because I am Piotr and I write to you from a distant world where dreams can become real and reality can be but a dream.
copyright: 2016 Jason Endfield. All Rights Reserved.
I once spent a while in the company of some Kosovar Albanians, they were refugees seeking asylum in The Netherlands. They struck me as very lovely people with a simple outlook on life and a sense of joie-de-vivre in spite of their dire situation.
In the years since meeting them, I have discovered a little more about the unique character of the people of Albania, they really are an unusual nation and Albania is a rather special, little known country. And one that I hope to visit some day.
Albanians saved hundreds of Jewish people during the War, taking in refugees and sheltering them, defiantly refusing to co-operate with the occupying Germans.
In World War II, not a single Albanian Jew was turned over to the Germans.
Albania was the only country in Europe to have more Jews after the War than before.
And the remarkable fact is that Albania is predominantly a Muslim country.
Muslims saving Jews. Who'd have thought...?
And indeed we also see Jews saving Muslims in today's world. Israel frequently offers shelter and medical treatment to fleeing Syrian refugees.
While it's true that there is often-times an Islamic claim behind the majority of terrorist attacks today, perhaps not everything in the world is always quite as the media would have us believe.
This is from the Yad Vashem, (World Holocaust Remembrance Centre) website:-
“...Albania, the only European country with a Muslim majority, succeeded in the place where other European nations failed. Almost all Jews living within Albanian borders during the German occupation, those of Albanian origin and refugees alike, were saved, except members of a single family. Impressively, there were more Jews in Albania at the end of the war than beforehand.”
Has the world changed so much since then? Perhaps the answer is yes, and alas if that is the case then we are doomed to a world of mistrust and suspicion.
As a Jew, I am well aware of the irrational hatred towards people of my faith and precisely because of this I am not going to try to judge the majority of others based on the actions of a few. That too would be irrational, no?
The Albanian Muslims saved the Albanian Jews and proved that compassion is unconditional.
My hope is that we will always find a glimmer of such compassion in even the most difficult and terrible of times.
Imagine. High azure skies, a solitary gull gazing out to sea and the sound of pebbles shifting timelessly on a sandstone shore.
Waves. A sultry, caressing breeze and perhaps the fleeting sense of another world.
This is Fleswick Bay.
I have kept this place a secret ever since I first discovered its almost sacred peace decades ago by following an instinctive feeling that I needed to go there.
And I have returned on many, many occasions since, each time to recapture that first sense of utter contentment that one can find in its natural sandstone amphitheatre. It feels safe, backed by high sandstone cliffs, facing out to sea.
But it's not as simple as that.
Here it seems as though there is no time. Time has almost ceased to exist. The sea moves here as if in slow motion, the tide ebbs and flows with a rhythm that soothes and calms. It is a place to rebalance, to refresh and to begin again.
Each time I go there it is surreal. Anything can happen there and probably everything has at some point, or it will.
It is rare to find another soul there. It is good to go there alone if that feels right. It is also good to share the visit with someone - but only someone special - and at the right time, for this is a spiritual place and spiritual journeys are all about timing, being in the right place at the right moment and with the right person.
On one occasion when I shared the visit with my own someone special, we could see two tiny figures sitting on a rock at the far end of the Bay. We made our way along the pebbly beach, no need to hurry, it makes no sense here. As we approached the figures, we realised that it was the actor Tom Conti together with a companion, no doubt someone he knew would appreciate these special surroundings. It was no surprise to find him there, Fleswick Bay is that kind of place. Reality overlaps here with fantasy and a dreamlike quality pervades. We exchanged greetings but we did not invade their space, acknowledging that they too were here for their own personal experience.
Fleswick Bay is a mind expanding, soul uplifting place.
If I had kept it a secret for all those years, well then now the secret is out. I am at that time in my life when I don't mind too much letting go and allowing another seeker of comfort and peace to find themselves there.
Where exactly is it?
Well, when the time is right....you'll know...
High azure skies, reflections of the sea,
Oh Fleswick Bay! Your spirit sets me free.
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