Monday 28 February 2022


On the 21st of this month, Dr. Paul Farmer, infectious diseases physician and ambassador for the democracy of public health, died of a cardiac arrest in his sleep. With his death, we lose another giant oak under whose shade many small trees were trying to bloom. They are shaken, but we can only hope the roots are strong and the seeds are many.

As the grimmest of news swirls around our homes (are we not once again united by consciousness of a global storm brewing?), the work of Farmer in Haiti and Rwanda must not be forgotten. The grotesque healthcare inequities that characterise our modern world steered Farmer’s moral compass; compassion and charm did the rest. This month also ends Black History Month…

In March 1959, when Dr. King disembarked on the shores of Delhi, he said, 'To other countries I may go as a tourist, but to India I come as a pilgrim.'

King was besieged by villagers for his autograph and spent a night at Mani Bhavan, Gandhi's residence in Bombay, on a mattress on the floor beside the charka. Among the many elite persons he dined with, he also met with Dalit students in Kerala.

The five weeks King spent in India expanded his thoughts on race, the caste system, and land use discrimination.

The struggle to remain non-violent in the face of tanks and shells and every other instrument of war, cleverly crafted by the brilliance of the human mind, continues. Two peaceful leaders have died, and a non peaceful leader has re-awoken. What next? It is up to each of us to decide.

Saturday 26 February 2022


One of the special teas sent by Sister Linh Bảo, my friend and student at Plum Village, is Zitronenmelisse, otherwise known by the equally soothing name, Lemon Balm.

I have taken to drinking a herbal tea every night - another favourite is Twinings Digest in the flavour of 'Spearmint, Apple and Rooibos with Baobab'. I think about my monastic friends and the mindful significance of brewing and then drinking a cup of tea, alone or together. Alone, we are still together. 

Last night, I wept after reading about the reality of American evacuations in Afghanistan, simultaneously thinking about the Ukrainians trying to decide whether to stay, fight or flee. Today, I spoke with my dear sister, who took her phone, and via the magic of zoom, showed me around the outside of Thây’s hermitage in Lower Hamlet, specially pointing out the Fragrant Stream in the middle of the Bamboo Forest. Then suddenly, by Thây’s favourite swing, three giant Ukrainian pine trees. Thây had brought them back to France to plant in his beloved space. The sight gave me so much comfort. The timing was so beautiful. 

Tonight I, like so many others, find my way to this poem of Rilke, translated by Joanna Macy...

Let This Darkness Be A Bell Tower

Quiet friend who has come so far,

feel how your breathing makes more space around you.
Let this darkness be a bell tower
and you the bell. As you ring,

what batters you becomes your strength.
Move back and forth into the change.
What is it like, such intensity of pain?
If the drink is bitter, turn yourself to wine.

In this uncontainable night,
be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses,
the meaning discovered there.

And if the world has ceased to hear you,
say to the silent earth: I flow.
To the rushing water, speak: I am.

(from Sonnets to Orpheus II, 29)

Sofiis'ka Square, Bell Tower, Kiev © Michele Ursino

Friday 18 February 2022


Who am I? Where am I? What day is it?

There are hailstones flinging themselves against my window pane and the wind sounds more like a hurricane, tunnelling between trees and rushing down these village lanes. Storm Eunice is here. 

Sometimes Samwise and I stare down country lanes that lead into the unknown, but having had one experience of being ‘lost’ in a field, with no end in sight, I steer my little pooch away from mysterious scents that beg to be followed. We chase sunsets and friendly scarecrows instead... 

Mum and Dad celebrated their wedding anniversary at the end of January, and Mum had a birthday a few days ago. The house is full of flowers, scents of freesia and mimosa, vases rarely used had to be found. A freshly baked chocolate cake arrived the day before Ma's birthday, via our friend Joan, and Irfan sent mithai - from Gupta’s - gifts can arrive this way these days - Singapore to London to Cambridge…




Who am I? We have lived so many lives already. The bell of mindfulness on my Plum Village app sounds every fifteen minutes, bringing me back to my present moment, which is quiet and safe and peaceful enough. My book is out in the world and being read, and I am learning that it takes Time to approach another piece of work while your heart and mind are still engaged with your first. I am tired, there is no doubt of that. Pops has had many sleepless nights, and I have been his aide-de-camp in matters of tea and biscuits… posh ones, Cartwright and Butler…

My fourth booster must be organised soon, I have taken my pre-infusion covid test in preparation for tmorrow’s infusion… and so it goes… do your days and months have a pattern? Do you experience the funny swoop? The little flutter that reminds you these are still strange times, and we must take care of ourselves and each other. The bell of mindfulness sounds again.