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BARBICAN LIFE


Some of Sreela Banerjee’s son’s stone collection


who are doing something right, rather than pointing the finger at those who are repeating a set of errors. Embrace vulnerability, she says. Her thesis is that ‘numbing’ cannot be done selectively – if we numb our pain, then we also numb our capacity for joy - seems like common sense to me. More practically, what can we learn from the lives of ordinary people, our friends, family and neighbours, which can take the place of this artificial numbing?


composer intended to convey seem to generate a curious level of wellbeing. I sketch – my mother does huge puzzles. My mad uncle practiced singing, so beautifully that I have seen the traffic stop to listen until his particular phrasing of a ‘raga’ ended. (This happened in the cultured end of Calcutta in the early 1970s.) I don’t know what my son will do when he is older, but lately he seems to have collected a huge number of stones – one stone in each compartment of a set of boxes – pyrites, a piece of amber with a fly suspended in it, three different granites, a familiar sedimentary rock – blue lyas, I think. I saw him with my husband the other day holding up a stone to the light – father and son, lost in radiance, absorbed, happy. Being ‘in flow’ is to lose touch with our egos – to transcend disconnection.


Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi


The answer is ‘flow’ - no I speak not of drains, though a long hot bath has done the job of giving me time to reflect and adjust, many times. Put simply, we should all engage in something which makes us forget ourselves. Most of us need some activity in our lives, where we are ‘in flow’. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a psychologist who found himself attending Jung’s lectures in Zurich in the early post war years, calls it optimal experience: “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one. .. Your whole being is involved...”


My friend Stephanie, (a Barbican


mother, and neighbour) swims. I have seen her lose herself in the rhythm of her strong, beautifully executed free style – she swims beautifully, I recall thinking, as I did my untutored doggy paddle across the width of the Golden Lane pool. My colleague Charles, a musician, plays the piano. He loses himself too, his headache disappears, he is absorbed, contained, and his efforts to produce accurately what the


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Shakespeare arguably could turn to writing, but in this state of mind, where he was dissatisfied with himself, (look upon myself and curse my fate), he found that he was not producing words that he liked ‘with what I most enjoy contented least’ he says. Even someone as talented as Shakespeare admits to straightforward envy: ‘wishing me like to one more rich in hope, featured like him, like him with friends possessed.’ It seems that without the approbation of the world even Shakespeare felt envious, disconsolate. When he was feeling like that, what made him go back to feeling worthy of connection with the world, and ultimately with the ‘flow’ of writing?


‘Thy sweet love remembered. . .’ Peter Freeth RA continues, I understand, to explore the subtle variations in shades of grey. Some 30 years ago, he was moved to etch out a Shakespearean sonnet in full; a short edition of 30. That year, we picked the fifth of these imprints up from the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. I have got used to walking past it on my way to the kitchen. I noticed it this morning, next to my picture of the ingredients of mayonnaise – our first acquisition. I looked at it again. Social scientists (and that includes


economists like me) lag behind poets by centuries, approaching little by little the truth of any matter. To love is difficult, says Ms Brown. To risk rejection and declare one’s love makes us feel vulnerable, but shows authenticity, and is the most direct route to joyful living – thank you for confirming that, ma’am. Theses on social work stop short of expressing the quality of joy of course, because as her research professor told Ms Brown many years ago, ‘if it cannot be measured, it does not exist’. I recall being told the same thing, too. She adds somewhat disingenuously in her lovely Texan accent ‘I thought he was sweet talkin’ me’. She still has to attend faculty meetings – so for the moment, do not look for purple prose in praise of love from that direction, but her wisdom is almost palpable, and her delivery amusing and authentic.. I commend Ms Brown’s work to you. The layman’s question needs to be addressed though: how does it make one feel, to be loved, to believe oneself worthy of connection? Early childhood memories rose up - Sanskrit verses describing the battlefield of Kurukshetra where God’s love is likened to ‘the love of a father for his son, a friend for his soul-mate, a lover for his beloved’. Pedlars of ribbon and face powder singing the songs of the Sufi on the streets of India probably still begin with ‘o mere pyarey’ (oh my beloved) - and somehow link this to their wares. I recall my mother singing in the evening the lyrical tunes of Tagore. ‘you are that which my heart desires’.


A severe bout of drilling near Milton Court brought me back with a jolt. I looked up - Freeth’s etching again – and the rhyming couplet at the end of the sonnet, emerging from the greys:


‘For thy sweet love remembered, such wealth brings


That then, I scorn to change my state with kings.’


That says it all, for all time. Why measure it? Love remains both the yardstick, and the true measure of all that we aspire to. To think otherwise is simply barmy, isn’t it?


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