Thursday 17 March 2011

Warrior Poet, Warrior Nuns

Yesterday, I walked with seven young nuns and monks from Plum Village, Thenac, France. We met at Clare College, in the Latimer Room. Birds chirped and students crunched outside on gravel, as we practised peace, and sang songs of breathing, freedom and freshness. This is the very first UK Wake Up tour organised by the young novices, some of whom were students at Cambridge themselves, and had direct experience of struggling with mounting stress and anxiety of exams and future careers. This trip is holiday and work experience for the young monastics - I could see the bouncing energy in their spirit. I couldn't stop grinning - they looked so happy! Practising walking meditation down past the yellow daffodils and the blue scilla, we painted quite a picture I imagine :) Not a single person walked past us without acknowledging in some way the quiet mindful procession. And I like to think some waves of peace radiated through the colleges, and into the souls of panicked students and grim professors.

still, from the Keats' biopic 'Bright Star'
When I was 17, I had the most delightful interview at Newnham College, to read English. I breezed into the room, and immediately fell in love with the view across the lawns. I think the Head of Department and Head Lecturer were thoroughly amused. I had only lived in England for two years, so it was quite dreamy to have a conversation about the poetry and literature that was, and had been inspiring my soul for years. I remember raving about the romantic soul of Keats in particular. Love and death, I cried ecstatically! Poetry is always about love and death!

Following my diagnosis, I deferred my admission, but at 19, when I faced the Admissions Tutor again, she 'suggested' that with an illness like lupus, I would never cope with the stress of Cambridge academic life. She quoted the suicide rates to me. I was a shivering, quivering mass in that office, not knowing how to fight my case. I did not know enough about the animal raging through me to defend my ability to cope. What struck the final blow to my confidence, was learning that the English lecturer who had interviewed me, had lupus herself, and instead of supporting my case, had done exactly the opposite. "You'll never cope at Cambridge, with Lupus" resounded in my ears, on and on, through the years that followed. I re-applied again at 23, for my Masters, but the day before the deadline, I cancelled my application.
I have only recently forgiven myself for that action. Or maybe I haven't completely forgiven myself. All I know is, that yesterday, in sitting and walking meditation, something healed itself inside me. The warrior poet walked with the warrior nuns, and the ghosts of my past ran for it, far, far away from me.

images: assortment from my own, flickr and theblogpaper


Jeanne-ming Brantingham said...

You have bravely fought in many battles and lost not because you had no courage, but because you were outnumbered. But today precious soldier, you won the war. this is a new beginning, indeed.

Sherry Blue Sky said...

Oh Shaista, I love your writing, and your warrior spirit. Unbelievable that someone with the same illness would not support you when you needed it. I am so happy for you that you had that time with the nuns and monks from Plum Village. What a gift! I am sure the peaceful energy you all sent forth healed a lot of stress in your corner of the world. I LOVE the photo of the beautiful flowered field. Also loved the movie Bright Star. I admire your shining, beautiful spirit, Shaista. You are remarkable. Do keep writing, your words give a tired old heart hope. You remind me how youth shines, when I forget.

Tess Kincaid said...

Forgiveness is the first step to healing, dear warrior poet. Thank you for this lovely post. x

* said...

This is my favorite post of yours to date, from the title (combination of poetry/meditation/strength) to your words, which resound in me, remembering our day together in Cambridge, walking through the grounds and your story (this one). How we both wept.

I love you, Shaista. Your fight is my fight, in this, I'm no passivist.


Shaista said...

Terresa, I hoped you would remember :) But I don't remember weeping, only laughter! You have a picture of us on the bridge... and yes, I thought of you a lot as I walked across the bridge between my past and my future.

I love being in the company of all of you... that is the great treasure of my life NOW!!

Elisabeth said...

Hi Shaista, I'm here through Ruth's blog. What an amazing story you tell. I'm interested i the way rejections and disappointments in our careers, our bodies, our relationships, frame our lives. yours is a very brave story.

I have a brother who went to Cambridge all the way from Australia. He enjoyed his time there very much. But there are other universities and other places to go which also offer excellent educational opportunities.

I'm sorry to hear about your lupus but at least you have it on the run.

AM said...

love your narration and that's a touching story.

thank you for sharing.

Aayushi Mehta said...

I am so happy that this helped you. I hope you will be at peace.

Your writing is truly beautiful and inspiring. Loved reading this story.

Ruth said...

Well there is much to love in this post (but there always is here). I feel the pinch of regret, in myself, and through your expressions here. The lift of the heart you had, seeing and feeling what you did in that first interview. The hope of studying poetry in such a place, such a heart place. Then the ache of illness, and the disappointment and loss of that place and the learning you might have had there. I have other reasons for not following sparks like this in the past. The regrets remain open wounds until the time comes for some small (but thorough too) healing. This walk! Oh, such beauty, my dear sister-friend (sometimes I feel you a daughter-friend too). The visual stings and soothes me at the same time (tears flow), of this parade of you with the monks and nuns, through the beautiful campus, energizing (yes yes yes) the souls cloaked in stress as you pass.

I do love you. And I feel your love here, a constant, flowing walk that energizes me every time I come.

Verification word: ching

A Cuban In London said...

You have come to terms with a decision you made several years ago. What you must bear in mind is that we all make decisions sometimes that affect us in the long term. To come to terms with them, as you have done, signals the way forward. Keep your chin up, dear warrior and may this glorious spring sunshine smile on you! :-)

Greetings from London.

Lydia said...

Wow. Powerful and soaring writing.


This is my favorite blog!

Click to leave a comment