Friday 31 August 2012


I am a lotus
in a sea of mud
I am the mud
in a sea of lotuses

All around me
the shades of love
ache and break
and giggle free.

You, in your shade of pink
robbed of speech
and smiles and braced, only
by the confines of bed

You, in your shade of yellow
burning in the fire of an itch
that has hitched itself to you
like an unwanted lover

You who sleep in shades of grey
keening wild broken prey
- recovering alcoholic,
overdosed diabetic -
You fill my nights and my days
with your vales of tears.

I, in my nest of love,
single thorn in my paw,
smile and smile
till my face is raw
and you feel
your pain no more.

(c) Shaista Tayabali, 2012 

Monday, August 27, Hepatology 
On some days, women cry at the same time. I don't normally but today someone else's crying was just that little too much to bear. I thought of curling up, but then I swung my legs off the bed, marched over to hers and hugged her tightly. Her husband looked startled, but good man leapt chivalrously out of the way. I took her so much by surprise, she stopped crying and started laughing. A reaction to a drug has caused her skin to be rubbed sore with itching and turn bright yellow with liver damage. I caught her jaundiced hands in mine and noticed the length of her nails. "Now where are you off to?" she demanded. "Scissors!" I called out bossily. "Funny thing," she said, a few moments later."While you're cutting my nails, I don't feel like itching." 

Years of hospital admissions have made me quite brave, but when the nurse advanced with the daily warfarin injection, I blanched."Go 'way," I pleaded hoarsely. "Do you want to do it yourself?" she asked. I perked up. Inject my own stomach? I took the needle and (look away now, squeamish readers) plunged and the job was done! The nurse hadn't really thought I had it in me. I looked up to find I had an openmouthed audience. Hah! "I can't believe you just did that," she said, shocked. Some years ago, my big brother watched these daily injections administered into his sister until the pain and compassion in his eyes squeezed at my own heart. I wonder what he will make of this story - but it was sort of ... fun... in a peculiar way. 


Nothing has been as much fun today as 'winning' the latest Marian Keyes novel in a raffle she hosted online. Marian has the most enormous heart of kindness, and flings gifts across the world like some Grecian Goddess of Love. A Boddhisattva of Compassion. Truth is, I didn't zackly win. Mine was the bonus prize of the raffle. To cheer me up. See? Being brave comes very handy indeed!

images from Rumi page on facebook

Friday 24 August 2012


Well, I have managed for weeks at home, but now it is time for some intravenous help. Am just too tired and unable to keep up my fluid intake. I hope there are some nice doctors, nurses and patients around me, but I shall know you are all with me, and that makes my burden lighter. Also, there are cakes waiting. Another lovely neighbour brought another lovely cake dripping with chocolate icing - and I don't trust my father round cakes. No, not one bit. He's a lot like Pooh around elevenses, and twelveses and so on.. So you watch over my cakes, and I'll hurry back as soon as my veins pulse with more life.
Come on Tigger... it's easy! Jump!

Wednesday 22 August 2012


Clutching my loot in the garden yesterday, I was ecstatically happy. "It can't still be your birthday today, can it?" asked a lovely Twitter friend just this minute. But it feels like it. I was dreading this birthday, is the truth of it. My arms are full of a sunshine bouquet from my brother and sister in Singapore, and a purple orchid from Victoria, my mother's best friend, who also whipped up a jammy Victoria sponge cake...
Sunflowers and roses from Mum...
Victoria won't mind me telling you that she made a cake the night before my birthday that didn't quite turn out, so her husband John is eating that one! Sorry John!! 
And er... sorry about this one - but my father insisted on it. Something about the matchy matchy flowers around my neck and on my skirt appealed to the aesthete in him... I am a dutiful daughter so, naturally, I posed ;)

My friend Yin reminds me too, that I have already had miracles - and she is so right. Greedy Lazarus is what I am, demanding miracles all the time. I had mine in 1998, and then again my sight saving miracles in 2005, and then again when I survived in 2009. Shameless I am, Yin!! But what can I say? I love miracles. And birthdays... and at the centre of it all, those two smiling faces who make every day of my life a joyful wonder. They are the real miracles.

Tuesday 21 August 2012


Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle.
Happiness never ceases by being shared.
- Buddha

On my birthday, my brother shares with me, photographs taken months ago - my nephew in my lap, fascinated by a statue of the Buddha. On my birthday, these images help remind me to believe.
My little baba of a nephew, my beloved Twitter family, my real flesh and blood family, my wonderful friends - will this be the age of miracles? Will this be the year that I wake from the dream of illness and emerge unscathed? Except no-one ever emerges unscathed. Even Gandalf, after eight days of battling the Bairog in fire, darkness and shadow, on the Bridge of Khazad-dûm, perishes even as he slays the fiery-thonged beast. This is how Tolkien describes the Bairog, this is how lupus is for me..
"Something was coming up behind them. What it was could not be seen: it was like a great shadow, no more than man-high yet terror seemed to go before it. They could see the furnace-fire of its eyes from afar; its arms were very long; it had a red tongue... and the shadow about it reached out like two vast wings...
But Gandalf the Grey is sent back as the more powerful, shining White Wizard. Could that happen to me?
Maybe, if I believe enough in the magic of miracles. 
But for now - HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!!!

Saturday 18 August 2012


It's all a mask
It's all a mask
It falls apart
so easily

It's paint on wood
It's just a face
It comes away
too easily
Hang it high, for effect
It's really just for show
Or look behind, if you prefer
It's just a piece of hollow

Would you care
to step inside
And give me eyes
and life and light?

I'll understand
it's just for a while
But your insight
might make me smile.

Too many weeks of fever, and ulcers and pain have woken the fibromyalgia beast again. Somehow my face falls apart and try as I might to stitch the threads together, this place is too fearful even for me. Some hours into waiting at the Accident and Emergency department yesterday, I lost my smile. The emergency medic finally let me go late last night because I couldn't bear to be admitted. Not then. 
I am trying to tell myself that my other face, my smiling face, is still there. When the waters clear, I will see her, and cling to her fiercely. Why does she ever leave me? I will never understand. 

Friday 10 August 2012


Monks are very hard workers. At Plum Village there are acres of land to be tended beside tending to the cooking, washing, cleaning, and of course the nurturing of the spirit of the sangha. On one compassionate day a week, there is no work. This is Lazy Day! On my Lazy Day, I accompanied several other retreatants to the nearest town of Duras, not knowing anything about it. So when I came upon the signs for LibertéÉgalité, Fraternité, I realised this was the place that Marguerite Duras adopted as her name.

This was La Place de la Resistance. Marguerite Duras, who was born in Saigon, French Indochina, led a fascinating life, becoming part of the French Resistance. I was thrilled when I saw a street named after her. And to think of the connections between Vietnam and France carrying back all those years.

Duras was sun soaked, geraniums bursting everywhere and history beckoning with crooked rusty fingers.

In a place so French, I am afraid I broke the vegan rule of the week and ate l'escargots, mes amies, and they were worth every scandalous bite. On Lazy Day, my fellow amigos were tucking into beautiful carafes of regional white wine and rosé. (Well, you would, wouldn't you?). And real French café "avec beaucoup du lait, s'il vous plaît!"

Before I could eat my first mouthful, a woman appeared hesitantly at my elbow. "Er, would you mind," she said. "I'd like to bring my grandchildren over to see The Snails." "Yes! Yes, of course!" I grinned, manically, as I watched her entire family troop over to observe me Eat Snails. "Can I take a photo?" asked a wee one, wielding a deadly digital camera. "Er... right, excellent," said I, hoovering up that first bite under the eyes of all sorts of strangers.

There was a beautiful statue dedicated to Duras A Ses Enfants, and later, as we trooped back to our Hamlet, I turned once, to breathe deeply the memory of my first French town since Verneuil-en-Halatte in 1996 when I lived with my French exchange family. Pour moi, c'etait bien sûr, la place de la resistance.

Monday 6 August 2012


If You Sit
Near a Famous Person
The Urge to Speak
Becomes Uncontrollable

If You Sit
Near a Tree
The Urge to Be Silent
Becomes All Powerful

Down By The Lotus Pond
Frogs Busy Themselves with Chatter
Fathoms Deep, the Mud Settles Quietly
So Quietly, Only Leaves Can Hear It -

We Make Our Choices
To be Frogs
Or Lotuses.

No Matter What We Choose
The Mud Is Inescapable.

(c) Shaista Tayabali, 2012
Son Ha Temple, Plum Village

The idea of the lotus in a sea of mud applies to so many people who smile deeply and laugh beautifully with their eyes and mouths, but are really the final product of many years of suffering intensely. In Plum Village, you see many lotuses. 
Here in dear old Shelford, I am not much of a lotus - am mostly mud in a sea of infections. I developed a fever a few days after arriving in PV, not helped by the fierce French sun, and fabulously new foreign bacteria. Have just visited the doc and am set up with 'special' antibiotics. Which is all rather depressing, so to cheer you up, here is our updated telephone booth character :)

Friday 3 August 2012


In this fading light
while the crickets sing,

A chant rings out
aboriginal, whole -

Keeping tune with the rhythm
of the humming gong -

Of the bell that brings me

© Shaista Tayabali
Bergerac, 2012
How can it be that I have gone and come? I left on my in breath, and I have arrived on my out breath. How can it be that only this morning I was on Plum Village soil and whisking my skirt along with a frisky French white butterfly, and now I step into the doorway of my little house in the garden and a white butterfly pranced around at my feet, flirting outrageously near my cheek before sidling off to you. Watch out for him!
The girl that I was belongs to ether now. In her place, something firm has grown roots and spread branches, from which fall green curtains of mists and memories.

So much to share. Will it suffice to say it was perfect, from the first person I met waiting outside the airport with the name Padma, meaning Lotus? To emphasise the depth of her name, a tattoo of a lotus adorned her right foot. My beautiful blue room was named Mulberry, and had a hot water shower! The unexpected thrill! The loveliest of roommates, from Israel, Canada and Romania, and the heartbeat of compassion that wove its thread around every one of the thousand retreatants.
I have arrived. I am home. But from the moment I arrived in Plum Village I was home too. Some of the time I was sick, but I was tended to carefully by strangers who were not strangers. A cup of hot tea in the morning, made by a loving new friend while you are still snuggled under the duvet - now tell me, does it get better than that?!