Meditation 45

I do not want to be seated here writing this meditation with my lighted candle beside me on the table as usual. I would rather be writing it in the Drama studio at my school. I revisited it yesterday and would rather have written my thoughts there, when I was in situ, than trying to remember my reflections now a day later. It will be a case of ’emotions recollected in tranquillity’ as the poet Wordsworth writes about his own verses. Most of these mediations thus far have been ’emotions recollected in tranquility’, the tranquillity of my own home. Wordsworth’s phrase would be a good definition of a meditation. A meditation requires a little distance from the situation; a calm detachment.

My emotions were tranquil yesterday when I called into school and wandered into the Drama studio where I used to work until February this year. There was non-one else there as the school doesn’t open for lessons until next week. The space was empty and silent.

But it wasn’t cold and dark as the sun was shining through the windows at the top of the walls and, for those of you who have never been there, it is not a ‘black box’ as other studios often are. The walls are a sky blue and the blackout curtains are a deeper royal blue. I chose the colours myself when we were designing it in 2007. Heavy curtains of whatever colour would provide a blackout for performances and practical exams anyway and I wanted a bright and cheerful colour for the walls as the space (the old school gym converted) would be operating as both a large classroom and a studio theatre. I remember that at the top of my list at that time was the phrase ‘a flexible and intimate space’.

In a previous blog, I described being on an empty stage before a performance. The house lights are up and you are standing or sitting there looking at the empty auditorium. It was the Kolibri stage in Budapest I think. I used to love that moment alone on the stage while the cast and crew were getting their lunch before the matinee. It wasn’t just the chance to get my thoughts together before the show. There’s an atmosphere of anticipation in an empty theatre before a performance, an air of expectancy, and even though it is empty there is also a special warmth. It’s not because of the house lights out there in the auditorium or the stage lights beaming down. It is a feeling of being at home. No more than that: for me one of those rare moments when you realise that this is where you should be, just for this moment. I shall miss that warmth, that realisation, now I am retired.

The empty drama studio yesterday was entirely different. The space wasn’t set up for a performance as there wasn’t one. It was set up as a classroom with the retractable theatre seating back against the wall. I borrowed my colleague Leigh’s directors chair (mine got broken somehow ages ago) and sat in the middle of the performing area at the other end between the scenic flats that make a stage. I looked around the studio from there, facing where an audience would be.
Needless to say, memories flooded in of rehearsals, productions, gala evenings, exam performances, lessons, which I won’t bore you with. I can’t remember them now anyway. They flew in and out of my consciousness swiftly.

I have experienced that moment of warm anticipation before a performance in the studio too. It would generally be on the second or third night after the first night was over. There would always be some crisis or other to sort out before opening night!

But as I sat there yesterday, I realised that since the studio opened in 2007, I had never sat down and taken a good look at it. I’ve been too busy teaching, acting, directing and creating to notice the space I was working in properly. That is as it should be. Nevertheless I obviously have a great affection for the space. It has been a joy to work there in the final years of my school career. Not quite an Indian Summer as I do not think an Indian Summer can last for 13 years! I greatly miss working on a scene in the studio.

So here I was, now retired, finally looking around my old workplace, my creative space, my studio. ‘My empire’ as I would jokingly call it. Marcus’ empire was considerably larger than mine! Mine is more intimate and as a result more meaningful. I do not think he would have felt as I did yesterday as he stood outside his tent looking out over the plains of Pannonia.

How did I feel? Well I wasn’t upset or sad. Nor did I feel a sense of ennui. I found myself smiling. I realised that so much of me was in those walls. As I have just mentioned, I came up with a concept for the space. I could see myself everywhere, as I looked at the lighting box, the lighting and sound equipment, the seating, the scenery flats, curtains and walls. I had a creative input in all of these, working along with the previous headteacher, Tom Cahill and an ex-student Colin Mander.

What I felt was another kind of warmth: the warmth of pride.
I am reminded of a short play by Noel Coward called ‘Family Album’ about a Victorian family gathered for a celebration. In the play a family member makes a toast:
‘Here’s a toast to each of us and all of us together.
Here’s a toast to happiness and reasonable pride.’

That is what I felt: reasonable pride. And a glowing sense of achievement.
So why, do I ask myself, now that I have retired, am I so anxious to keep on achieving having achieved so much already? Perhaps I should take to heart the next line of the toast:
‘May our touch on life be lighter than a sea bird’s feather.’

Perhaps Noel Coward was thinking of himself when he wrote that line. He had a long and successful career as a playwright, composer, actor and entertainer. He must have constantly felt the drive to achieve.

So I slowly walked out of that Drama studio smiling and with a glow of pride which is an achievement in itself I guess.

As the Proms isn’t functioning as normal this year (like everything else), the BBC are putting archive performances on the radio each evening. So I have been listening to a wonderful performance of Mahler’s 5th symphony from 1987 with the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by the legendary Leonard Bernstein. In the middle of this amazing life-enhancing performance I have realised that life is not about achieving but about creating. I want to continue creating.
But I have left out the last line of the toast by Noel Coward. I think it is rather appropriate as we continue with trying to cope with coronavirus into the Autumn.

‘And may all sorrows in our path politely step aside.’

Ave atque Vale – Hail and Farewell – until the next blog!

If you are enjoying my blog, and have not already done so, please sign up below to receive notification of each new blog by e mail. Just add your e mail to ‘Follow’ as it pops up! And please do pass on the blog address to others who may be interested. A selection of previous meditations is also available in audio form as ‘Meditations of Neiulus Aurelius’ ASMR on YouTube. I would also value any feedback on nzolad53@gmail.com or my Facebook page or Twitter.

Many thanks
Neilus Aurelius

Meditation 44

As I sit here beside my candle, watching the steady flame, I am thinking of Marcus Aurelius, the inspiration for this blog. It is wonderful that we are able to read his own ‘Meditations’, which he wrote over 1,800 years ago and in a paperback edition too which is readily available in bookstores or even as a kindle book!

Though they were written in Latin and I have therefore been dependent upon a translator, yet he seems to be very present to me as I read them, as if he is really speaking to me despite the centuries between us. How far the real Marcus is reflected in these pages or how far it is the Marcus he would like the reader to see, I, of course, will never know. But there is an honesty and a genuine humility in his writing that makes me think he is truly present in his words. For one thing, he never mentions his military successes, whereas, for instance, his imperial ancestor, Julius Caesar, wrote extensively and interminably about his in his ‘Gallic Wars’!

I dare to hope that something of my own self is reflected in my own meditations in this blog, that I am present to you the reader through my writing.

During the months of lockdown since March, we have been present to each other in many different ways, thanks to digital technology, and in ways that Marcus could not have dreamt of. I say ‘being present’ because in these dark days, it hasn’t just been a case of contacting friends and family and acquaintances, but it has also involved being present to them as a support and encouragement and to share anxieties which may have meant spending a little more time than usual with them on a call.

There have been so many ways through which we have been present to others, not just the phone or e mail but through texts and group chats, and visually through FaceTime, WhatsApp, Skype and of course the new medium of Zoom.

Video calls on whatever platform have enabled us to see who we are speaking to, which has been so important and a great comfort, as for several long months we weren’t allowed to meet friends or possibly even family because of movement restrictions. Looking at my emails, I think that texts and video calls are replacing the personal e mail to friends and acquaintances. I might be wrong about this – it may be that people just don’t want to write to me anymore!
FaceTime, WhatsApp and Zoom were new to me at the start of lockdown, but as someone who lives alone, they have been another lifeline for me (as well as calls, mails and texts) once I got used to them. In the early months, it was wonderful to be able to have a video call with my family, to see them as well as talk to them and of course my close friends too across the country and across the world.

However I must admit that I found triple conversations and a three way split screen difficult to handle on the small screen of an I phone! The smaller screen made me feel constricted. I am much more comfortable and relaxed with a Zoom call on the wider screen of a laptop. Maybe my big personality is more suited to a wider format! I would certainly have been at home in one of those wide screen epics of years gone by. Perhaps I could have played Marcus Aurelius (as Alec Guinness did in ‘The Fall of the Roman Empire’ and, less successfully, Richard Harris, in ‘Gladiator’).

I have had such a variety of Zoom calls in these recent months, a committee meeting or two, two lectures with the Dickens’ Fellowship (of which I am a member), a series of group meditations and one memorable evening when I spend two hours chatting with my dear friends David and Peter, while we drank our bottles of wine on our respective sofas in our homes across London from eachother. It was digital decadence! However, it does seem rather silly at times: talking to a laptop screen which then talks back to you! It’s like being in an old sci-fi movie without the dramatic and earnest conversations from screen to screen!

In a video call our friends or family are there but not there. They are present to us but not physically present. I must confess to being saddened sometimes when the video call was over, and in a way that I wouldn’t have been if it was an ordinary audio phone call. It is the fact that you can see family or friends (which is wonderful) but they are not really present with you in the room. So when the call is over and you wave and end the call, there can be a sense of loss, an emptiness. A video call can never replace being with that person or persons. Nevertheless, it has been a comfort, indeed a marvel, in these dark months we have been going through.

Another comfort to me has been the streaming of theatre productions online. These have been from the archive of the National Theatre, the Royal Opera and Royal Shakespeare Company. Over the last decade, these companies (and others under the National Theatre umbrella) have streamed live performances to cinemas and a selection of these performances have been streamed in lockdown on BBC I player and YouTube and are therefore quite recent. They have filled quite a few evenings for me and I have been able to catch up on productions I have missed. One advantage of these filmed performances is that the cameras enable you to see the actors close up, which may not be possible from where you are sitting in the theatre.

One of these productions was Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ in a performance from 2019 at the new Bridge Theatre, by Tower Bridge on the Thames. I must admit that having directed the play five times and seen as many if not more productions of this play, I felt a little jaded about it as it started. It turned out to be an exciting, very funny and spectacular immersive theatre experience. The Bridge Theatre is able to change its seating for whatever production and had taken out the stalls seats so audience could stand while the play took place on a series of platforms and also above their heads as there were actors on trapezes above them at times. (‘Oh to do something like this in my school drama studio,’ I thought to myself!) The rest of the audience were seated in the circle on three sides. As is customary at present, there was some gender swapping of roles: Oberon and Titania, King and Queen of the Fairies, swapped lines for instance which created some hilarious situations. But the production was highly detailed and the text was very clear so Shakespeare was well served by this energetic company. Most important of all, it had warmth and was life-affirming and was magical (as all successful productions of this play should be).

I have mentioned in a previous blog (when I discussed seeing Wagner’s Ring Cycle of 4 operas at the Opera House) that a successful theatre performance creates an invisible ring binding the performers and the audience. This production of Shakespeare’s ‘Dream’ created that invisible ring from its first moment until the riotous final curtain call. There were many moments when I too, sitting in my armchair at home, felt part of that ring too. The experience was all embracing. What an achievement for the director Nicholas Hytner and his actors.
But they were only moments. Because I was not physically present in the audience. I certainly wish I had been last summer. As the play was nearing its final act, I began to feel saddened in the midst of the joyous atmosphere of the show. For our theatres are closed and I am missing them. We do not know when they will re-opened or when an immersive production like ‘The Dream’ with actors moving, running and dancing through the audience will happen again.

Much has been touted about Zoom and other platforms being the way forward while coronavirus and the threat of it remains with us and beyond, when we are back to a kind of normal. There has been talk of digital lessons in schools, webinars and digital lectures in university and other educational institutions, digital conferencing etc. In certain situations this may be a way forward. But we must remember that nothing can replace the physical presence of a person. And we cannot let digital communication distance us from eachother and break the bond of our common humanity (which the production I have discussed so potently celebrated). We are social beings which means being physically present to eachother.

There are times on summer days when dark clouds appear and stay there in the sky. It seems as if the sun will never come out again. But it will and does. I am sure we have had those moments in these recent months, when we thought the dark clouds wouldn’t go. Well lockdown is beginning to ease and the sun is peeping through the clouds. We are able to move around more and see more of eachother. I have been able to visit my family in Leeds and friends in the London area too. I have been able to visit an ‘old friend’ the National Gallery (as another friend of mine puts it). But more about these in my next blog.

Ave atque Vale – Hail and Farewell – until the next blog!

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A selection of previous meditations is also available in audio form as ‘Meditations of Neiulus Aurelius’ ASMR on YouTube.
I would also value any feedback on nzolad53@gmail.com or my Facebook page or Twitter.

Many thanks
Neilus Aurelius

The days stretch so far into the evening at present that there is little need for a candle beside me as I write this meditation. Or perhaps I should wait till much later and the dead of night to get into true Marcus mode. I should switch off the lights and let my I pad keyboard be lit by candles or oil lamps or both as Marcus’ own tablet would have been. Indeed, I should not be using an I pad at all, but parchment or vellum and a stylus or quill. Then an army of scribes could copy these words onto individual scrolls and my trusty horsemen cold gallop away into the night to deliver them personally to each of you.

Perhaps it would mean more to you, to receive a scroll personally than to have this meditation pop up in your inbox or on Facebook. Dare I say it, perhaps you would read it more carefully if it were a scroll in your hands. But I am sure, dear readers, that you do read these meditations as reflectively as I write them. I trust that you do and I am honoured that you read them at all.

Isn’t it true though, that our reading skills have declined since digital communication has taken over our daily lives? We are forever skim-reading rather than digesting the information properly. I have noticed this when reading a book. I read too quickly because of my digital reading. Moreover, I do not recall things I have read as well as I used to. You may say, ‘Be realistic: it’s your age!’ That may to some extent be true, but as a medieval monk prophetically observed ‘Whatever finds an easy entrance into the mind is as easily lost.’ Our medieval monk, (William by name) could be referring to skim reading when he writes ‘easy entrance to the mind’ and so the information is ‘easily lost’ because it is not read slowly and therefore understood properly.

But before you could read the scroll with my mediation written on it, you would have to wait for its arrival by horseman. I suppose you have to wait anyway as I do not write these meditations every day. I think it is almost three weeks since the last one.

In these days of texts and e mails, we do not want to wait. We want an instant reply. We are grown so impatient. We expect an almost immediate response to our message or e mail. I certainly do: but then as I am retired I have little else to think about. Perhaps we sometimes mix up texts and e mails in our minds, because an e mail reply usually takes longer to compose than a text. Although it has been pointed out to me that some of my texts are as long as a paragraph in a Victorian novel. I of course make no apology for that. I would rather express myself rather than be compressed.

In these last months of lockdown, our patience has been severely tried. We have had to wait. We have had to wait until we are told it is safe to go out and return to some kind of normality. Whatever we have thought about the government’s decisions, day by day, we have had to go along with them.

Hopefully this waiting game has made us a little more patient, gentle and appreciative of others. Therefore, hopefully we will not be as impatient as we used to be for a reply to our e mail or text! Perhaps we will be more reflective and meditative even. Hopefully it has made us more grateful for our health and for our loved ones and friends and more aware of others in the community and in the world at large. Hopefully, as a nation, we will not forget the lessons we have learnt through experience as we ease ourselves out of lockdown and emerge into the future. This is the fear that several friends have shared with me. I sincerely hope it will not be so.

Then the waiting will have been worthwhile!

Ave atque Vale – Hail and Farewell – until the next blog!

If you are enjoying my blog, and have not already done so, please sign up below to receive notification of each new blog by e mail. Just add your e mail to ‘Follow’ as it pops up!

And please do pass on the blog address to others who may be interested.

A selection of previous meditations is also available in audio form as ‘Meditations of Neiulus Aurelius’ ASMR on YouTube.

I would also value any feedback on nzolad53@gmail.com or my Facebook page or Twitter.

Many thanks
Neilus Aurelius

As I sit here and begin to write this meditation, I do not really need the candle beside me. Even though it is the middle of the evening, there is still light streaming through the window. Perhaps I should begin writing a little later when the night draws in and when the flame will shine more brightly in the late night darkness.

In my last meditation, I was exploring the notion of being elsewhere: of escaping into the world of a book or a TV drama series or into memories through photographs of places we have previously visited.

I would really like to be elsewhere at the moment, but without having to go through the ordeal of a flight or train ride with present travel restrictions. I have begun to wish that I had learnt to drive when I was younger so I could go for a drive and then for walk in the countryside somewhere.

However. though I am saying to myself that I would rather be elsewhere because of three months of arduous lockdown, these last few days I have actually enjoyed being at home. Instead of Zooming on my laptop, I have been watching the birds zoom in and out of my little back garden. Ironically, now that the lockdown is about to be eased even more, I seem to have begun to enjoy being in my house. As this is my base in my retirement I suppose it is a good thing. And I count myself very fortunate to have a comfortable little house and garden to enjoy.

One of my home activities has been to sort through all the photos on my phone and laptop. I have obtained prints of some of them to put in frames for the lounge to replace some of the ones that have been gathering dust on my shelves. A long time ago, I bought a digital photo frame which has also been gathering dust and has hardly been used. So I have uploaded a selection of photos onto it. This means I can play a slideshow of my memories, of places I have visited, of my ‘elsewheres’.

Some of those pictures were taken in Pisa and Florence, where I had a short break with a friend just over a year ago. The digital frame is too small to do justice to the epic statue of David by Michelangelo. My photos cannot do justice to its grandeur either; no photograph can, except in concentrating on the detail. And my little facsimile of the statue at the end of my garden can’t either! I bought my own little David on a whim in the branch of Homebase very near me, just round the corner. When I left the shop I had to cross over the road with little David under my arm (not wrapped of course). On the other side of the road, I bumped into two or three of my students from school. It was an embarrassing moment, but after a few pleasantries I carried on walking as if carrying a copy of a great Renaissance work of art under my arm was as usual as carrying a bag of groceries. They didn’t comment in school after the weekend, which speaks volumes.

There was one statue in the David gallery in the Accademia that I hadn’t photographed. I thought I had as it greatly impressed me at the time. It was an incomplete marble statue of a slave of the god Atlas – the ‘Prigione Atlante’. Several other statues in the gallery were also incomplete. It was breathtaking to see each of these large figures emerging from a slab of marble as the statue of David standing at the end of the gallery must have done. I came to appreciate in a small way not only something of Michelangelo’s creative vision and artistry but also the sheer physical struggle it must have taken him to turn a huge slab of marble into this epic figure of David.

Like the other incomplete statues, the Prigione Atlante one was struggling and striving to be be out of its prison of marble. Its torso was writhing and turning towards the viewer. Its body seemed to be aching to be free from its cold marble womb, to take its first steps in the world like the Creature in Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein.’

However, unlike the other statues, the Prigione Atlante had no head or face as it was more incomplete than the others. And as I have just mentioned, I have no photo of it. But the image stuck in my mind and came back to me a few days ago. I have checked my memory by consulting the Accademia Gallery’s website.

But why did I remember that incomplete work of art? Like the Atlas Slave we have been struggling and striving in this long lockdown and like the statue we are slowly emerging. However unlike the statue we are not headless or faceless. If you were standing in the gallery looking at this half-formed figure, you might imagine to yourself what the head might look like and what expression might be on the face. What expression will be on your face as you slowly emerge from the lockdown? Will it be fear or anxiety? Or relief and excitement? Or concern or wariness? Whatever our initial feelings, we must have hope. I do not think there is an accurate facial expression for hope. Because it lies in the heart.

Slave of Atlas. -Michelangelo (1530)

Ave atque Vale – Hail and Farewell – until the next blog!

If you are enjoying my blog, and have not already done so, please sign up below to receive notification of each new blog by e mail. Just add your e mail to ‘Follow’ as it pops up!
And please do pass on the blog address to others who may be interested.
A selection of previous meditations is also available in audio form as ‘Meditations of Neiulus Aurelius’ ASMR on YouTube.
I would also value any feedback on nzolad53@gmail.com or my Facebook page or Twitter.
Many thanks
Neilus Aurelius

The candle beside me is flickering as I write this new meditation. This is because there is a breeze from my lounge window, which is open as it is still warm this evening. It is one of those long drawn out balmy evenings when twilight seems to stretch out forever and the darkness of night is an afterthought.

When I was a student, I used to love evenings such as this one, when I would slowly wend my way home to my little rented room through the streets of North Oxford, past large walled gardens, the night air heavy with the perfume of foliage in full bloom. Would that I was a student again, ambling aimlessly along those sweet-scented avenues under a sensual indigo sky. But the past is another country. Moreover, I do not want to be young again. But I would rather be somewhere else this evening, in another place.

However, now that I am retired I am free to amble aimlessly again should I so wish. Within the restrictions of the current unprecedented situation of course.

After another week of lockdown, I am beginning to feel ‘cabined, cribbed and confined’ as Macbeth says in Shakespeare’s play. I am sure I am not the only one to be feeling this way at present. Even though the lockdown is easing slightly, we are perhaps still apprehensive about the future and at times ‘cabined, cribbed and confined’ in our own fears. It is the uncertainty about the future and our lack of control over it that is the seed of our unease which leads to a lack of interest in the present and so inertia seeps in. And yet, as I have mentioned before, we have no real control over the future anyway.

These fears and worries are exacerbated by the media frenzy about the virus and mixed messages from our government and medical experts. Perhaps we should take advice from Mark Twain (the creator of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn), who wrote ‘I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which have never happened.’

Feeling ‘cabined, cribbed and confined’ can have the effect of shortening our perspective. It makes us long for wider horizons and breathtaking vistas. No doubt this is one of the reasons why people have dashed to the coast and to national parks despite the lockdown. We are looking for something above and beyond the relentless news which overwhelms us, something more expansive to escape into.

I imagine that is why some people threw themselves into binge-watching box sets of TV dramas when the lockdown began, not just to occupy the time but to be enveloped in an all-consuming storyline. For the same reason, sales of long 19th century novels increased substantially in the first weeks of lockdown: another way of escaping into an expansive narrative. That must be one of the reasons why I reached for ‘David Copperfield’ on my bookshelf and immersed myself in it again. It was comfort reading: a long involved story

that I know but don’t know, as there are always scenes and details that you don’t remember in a long novel. We have needed to escape into another world, whether between the covers of a book or streamed on a screen. It is a way of coping with the fears and frustrations of the moment. To be in another place, even if it is an imaginary one in a fiction.

I doubt Marcus Aurelius would have approved of escaping into a story. The novel didn’t exist when he was alive, let alone movies or television. However, there were the great legends and myths of the gods and goddesses and their dealings with mere mortals. There were also Homer and Virgil’s great epic poems about the legend of Troy which are expansive narratives in themselves. I think he would have looked at them for a message, a moral to help him through the lockdown (as we can do too of course in our own reading).

He would definitely have taken solace in philosophy, and especially the Stoic philosophy which he tried to live up to: to accept and endure. That is what we have to do at present: accept and endure. We can learn from Marcus and the Stoics, then, though it does seem rather a joyless approach. A good story can help us in our endurance, if only to take our mind off things for a while. It might even provide us with a way through.

As I have mentioned previously, Marcus would have used the contemplation of Nature to help him to endure too. As he writes, ‘Nature, all that your seasons bring is fruit to me, all comes from you, exists in you, returns to you.’ He would have gazed at the sky as can we. The sky is its own breathtaking vista (especially as there is so little air traffic at the moment). We do not need to hurry to the seaside or a national park to find it. We can lose ourselves in its immensity by looking up from our garden (however small) or our balcony or window.

Ciaran Frederick, who took the photos of Neilus Aurelius for this website, is an ex-student of mine and is currently studying photography at the South Bank University in London. He has found a different way of escaping to another place: by revisiting places he has been to through his photographs.

He has created a booklet called ‘Dreamland’ as a lockdown project. It comprises landscapes of places he visited in 2016 and 2017 in Iceland, Australia, Ireland and parts of the U.K.. They are places he would like to revisit but of course he can’t at present. Many of the landscapes are bleak and isolated with solitary barns, cottages, dilapidated buildings and stone walls.They remind me of the covers of the ‘concept’ albums of the progressive rock bands I used to love when I was Ciaran’s age!

His aim is to put ‘a positive twist on the depressing feelings of lockdown’. So though the locations and objects reflect the bleak feelings of emptiness in lockdown, inspired by Aerochrome film, he has coloured the images with different shades of blue and pink to

give a sense of calm and excitement. Therefore the forests, plains and overgrown grass and bushes surrounding the objects are varied shades of pink and the skies and waters are different hues of blue and green creating a vibrancy of hope.

Like Ciaran, we need to find our own calm and excitement and hope in the bleak circumstances we are living through. Though we may feel we are living a monochrome existence at the moment, we need rediscover the colours in our life.

Ave atque vale – Hail and Farewell! Till the next blog.

If you are enjoying my blog, and have not already done so, please sign up below to receive notification of each new blog by e mail. Just add your e mail to ‘Follow’ as it pops up!

And please do pass on the blog address to others who may be interested.

A selection of previous meditations is also available in audio form as ‘Meditations of Neiulus Aurelius’ ASMR on YouTube. I would also value any feedback on nzolad53@gmail.com or my Facebook page or Twitter.

Ciaran’s ‘Dreamland booklet can be ordered on http://www.ciaranfrederick.co.uk

Many thanks

Neilus Aurelius

As I sit here gazing at my candle, instead of being aware of the final rays of the day’s sunshine through my lounge window, I am focused on the gathering gloom. I must confess that my spirits are rather low at present. They are being dragged down by the lockdown, I think, which has now made its weary way into its eighth week. Living alone in the lockdown and being in my first weeks of retirement is quite a struggle. It’s rather like being on a really fast waltzer at a funfair and wheeling around dizzily after you get off. And in this lockdown, it is like hurtling into a void within a void.

I am sure Marcus had his moments of melancholy. It is part of the human condition and emperors are therefore not excepted from it. Neither are writers of blogs! I am no guru, but only someone who wishes to share his thoughts and reflections with others. No-one is a guru. No human being is able to know the complete truth about anything or to be an inexhaustible fountain of wisdom, least of all myself.

In Shakespeare’s time, melancholy was not only acknowledged and accepted but fashionable. It was a pose adopted by young gallants writing sonnets to the objects of their affection, especially if they were unsure that their amorous feelings were reciprocated or if they were downright refused. Shakespeare’s own sonnets (which I am re-exploring at the moment) are no exception and Jaques in ‘As You Like It’ is a melancholic with his cynical and world-weary ‘Seven Ages of Man’ speech.

Hamlet of course is the melancholic par excellence, especially at the beginning of the play and has been christened ‘the moody Dane.’ I studied the play at A Level and fell in love with it. I related to Hamlet’s mood swings completely in my own adolescent angst. I wanted to play the role of course and learnt all Hamlet’s soliloquies for my exam and enjoyed doing so. However, I think I would have been more suited to playing Horatio, Hamlet’s good friend, a role I have played constantly in real life.

I once accused one of my sixth form students of being melancholic – he was being particularly moody in class – and had to explain the word to him. Thereafter, he brightened up because there was a big word which described his feelings and he used the word continually afterwards as young people will do when they find a new word that attracts them. He adopted a melancholic pose for ages afterwards. He had morphed into being an Elizabethan gallant, thought he did not produce any sonnets as a result.

I have been trying to identify why my spirits are low at present, dear readers. Along with many others, I am sure the lockdown has ground me down week by week. The first flush of online games and fun activities and contacting friends on social media and discovering

new ways of doing so is over. And you can only go up and down the Amazon to buy online purchases for so long.

I have asked myself what I am missing. Well, the theatre (though I am enjoying online archive performances of productions I have missed) and the cinema (though a lot of new movies are being streamed) and art galleries of course and concerts and the opera. Although I have seen so much theatre, movies and operas in my time (and especially over the last few years) that I cannot complain.

I think what I am really missing is the opportunity to share them with friends over a meal and a drink. I do not like going to the theatre or the operas or a movie or concert for that matter on my own. It is sharing these with others that makes them special. Yes going up to London to see friends is what I miss and of course the chance to visit friends around the country and most of all my family in the North and have friends visit me. Especially now that I am retired and have so much time at my disposal to do so.

I have of course been in constant contact with all my friends and family in these eight weeks and it is wonderful to see them on FaceTime or Zoom but it’s is not the same as being physically together. However, I’ve gone on safe distance walks with a few friends too in a local park which is wonderful and breaks up the week. And, of course, nothing can replace an embrace or a hug.

As I am at home a lot now, I’ve been looking at all the pictures on my walls. So many are from places I have visited. I have almost filled the doors and one side of my fridge with fridge magnets I’ve collected from places I’ve been to. Gift shops in museums and art galleries are magnets to me! And I have been scrolling down the photos on my phone and computer. I bought a digital photo frame years ago which I have hardly used so I’m going to upload a selection of them onto the digital frame to cheer me up in the evenings.

Traveling abroad is in the balance at present and I have had to forego two visits to Italy this spring. Fortunately my final Drama tour of Budapest took place in February before international travel restrictions. However I am a much traveled person, as regular readers of this blog will know. I didn’t go on a plane till I was 35 years old but have made up for lost time since! Perhaps I will make a list of all the trips I have been on. If I never travel on a plane again, I have certainly travelled enough! Again, it is seeng family and friends in other countries that I miss.

I have been thinking of my aunt Barbara, who lives on Vancouver Island. She has albums and albums of photos. Some of them are quite valuable to me as her albums go back to before World War Two when my father’s family were in Poland and there are pictures of my parents’ wedding which I had never seen. And of course there are photos of my childhood.

One I find rather embarrassing. It is of a chubby little version of me as a baby in walking reins. Every time I see it, I am back to being a teenager again and hot with embarrassment at being reminded I was an infant once. However, dear reader, I do look cute!

You see at the moment we are all in walking reins. We are unable to go where we want to for our own safety. And yes we tug at the reins because someone else is in control. We want to be out and about. We want to wander off (on a plane). Built we can’t at present. For our own good.

I suppose we are beginning to realise what we really value in these days of quarantine. We are being to value what we have rather that hanker after what we do not. And to remember all the riches we have experienced up till now.

Like Friar Lawrence in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ (another part I’d love to play), who counsels the miserable Romeo because he has to go away in exile (to be quarantined effectively) and will not be able to see Juliet. He reminds Romeo that at least he has not been sentenced to death and keeps repeating the phrase ‘Thereto are you happy.’

A phrase we should be repeating to ourselves at this time.

Think – ‘Thereto are you happy!’

But an embrace or a hug would be wonderful!

Stay safe and well!

Ave atque vale – Hail and Farewell! Till the next blog.

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A selection of previous meditations is also available in audio form as ‘Meditations of Neiulus Aurelius’ ASMR on YouTube. I would also value any feedback on nzolad53@gmail.com or my Facebook page or Twitter.

Many thanks

Neilus Aurelius

The flame I am gazing at is very steady this evening as I begin to write my meditation. However, now that we have entered the seventh week of the lockdown, my emotions have been far from steady. I take solace that Marcus Aurelius’ emotions weren’t either. From his own ‘Meditations’ it appears that he had a quick temper and could be quite impatient with others. At least he recognised these failings and was unhappy about them. I am sure that writing his meditations in his tent at the close of the day helped him to calm down. Writing this is helping me to calm down too.

Patience has never been my forte either! I am impatient for this lockdown to be over, as is everyone else, I imagine. I also seem to be suffering from inertia now and a lack of focus. I have discovered that inertia is exhausting, more so than intense activity! Everything can be done tomorrow. But then the world is in a hiatus at present. We are all in one long intermission, one long theatre interval. Except that we are not allowed to congregate together in the theatre bar to await Act Two!

Marcus teaches us that one way of coping with this lockdown is to connect with Nature and to exercise our innate powers of contemplation. That has been helpful, I must admit. I should be writing this seated at the table in my garden but the evenings are too chilly at present for that. Also to some extent I have stoically accepted the situation as he would try to do. But I think my stoic acceptance is now wearing thin after all these weeks.

Marcus also tells us to ‘take pleasure in all that is presently yours’, in other words to enjoy the moment. I mentioned in my previous meditation, that this is what Mr Micawber in Charles Dickens’ novel ‘David Copperfield’ is eminently able to do: to enjoy the moment and enjoy the company he is in, despite his continually desperate financial embarrassments. I have succeeded in enjoying the moment myself at times: listening to my music, sitting in my garden, reading and writing, watching movies and tv and streamed filmed theatre performances (especially productions I have missed). Most of all I have enjoyed distance walks in the company of a few friends in the local park and woodland which I have, to my shame, just discovered.

But despite these lovely moments, there is still that lingering unease, which is ever present and which we all feel. It is forever at the back of our minds, or fluttering in the pit of our stomachs. We are anxious for the lockdown to end and most of all for this horrific pandemic to cease. Like Mr Micawber, who was ‘hourly expecting something to turn up’, I am optimistic for the future and am sure this lockdown will end soon. But optimism does not take away that gnawing unease I have mentioned. Nor did it dissolve Mr Micawber’s unease either.

My impatience and unease are of course all wrapped up in the uncertainty of the future. Because of the pandemic, we have all had an acute awareness of the unpredictability of the future forced upon us. Also personally I am cast adrift in the uncharted waters of retirement, having finished finally in February. I do not possess an adventurous spirit (except artistically) so I must confess to being rather perturbed – or in the words of the Rodgers and Hart song, ‘Bewitched, bothered and bewildered’.

But then, we have to admit that the future has always in reality been uncertain. We have been so used to planning our lives because now we can book holidays and other leisure events so quickly and easily in this digital age. And of course our employment has to some extent planned our lives for us too. Yet we begin to think we are in charge of the future, dare I say it, masters of the future. This pandemic and the resultant lockdown have reminded us that we are not.

The young people I have taught and helped have always been aware of this uncertainty as their future steps have depended upon examination grades. This year with GCSE and A level formal exams cancelled, their anxiety is even more acute. Even though now officially this is none of my business and I am no longer involved, I do feel for them.

In my case, my school career has, in a way, been a series of projects leading to productions and fortunately for me, my final project was completed in February, which I count as a blessing. But now the holidays I had planned – to Italy and Paris) – will not take place, nor will several theatre and opera visits. I have come to realise how much I have over planned my own life in recent years in my semi-retirement. I hope that is one lesson I have learnt from these last weeks.

But how should we view the future now, in these days of uncertainty? Should we, like Mr Micawber be optimistic? Yes: or how else will we get through these dark days? Which brings me to another possible approach to this lockdown. So far we have explored the Marcus approach and the Micawber approach, as summarised above. Now I am going to explain the ‘Martin’ approach.

Martin Luther (148-1546) the theologian, priest and father of the Reformation was also originally a monk. Being a good monk he kept a garden and apparently an orchard. The story goes that someone asked him, ‘What will you do if you know that the end of the world is coming soon?’
He replied, ‘I will plant another apple tree.’

In that reply there is not only optimism, but hope. Hope expressed in a positive act.

So I have bought myself an olive tree for my garden. And in a beautiful notebook from Budapest, which a friend gave me, I have made a list of possible plans for my retirement.

I may share these with you in future blogs.

Meanwhile: Be optimistic, or even better, hope. Hope in the future. Do something positive each day.

Above all, stay safe and well!

Ave atque vale – Hail and Farewell! Till the next blog.

If you are enjoying my blog, and have not already done so, please sign up below to receive notification of each new blog by e mail. Just add your e mail to ‘Follow’ as it pops up!
And please do pass on the blog address to others who may be interested.
A selection of previous meditations is also available in audio form as ‘Meditations of Neiulus Aurelius’ ASMR on YouTube. Including a NEW EPISODE.
I would also value any feedback on nzolad53@gmail.com or my Facebook page or Twitter.
Many thanks
Neilus Aurelius

Once again I am seated here beside a candle beginning my meditation. We are still in lockdown. The candle is still burning with a steady and bright flame. However, my own flame and that of some friends I have been speaking with, is flickering a little. This is because we are now into the fourth week of the lockdown and I am feeling a little flat, a little empty (as are my friends). It is not exactly boredom, but something deeper than that. A kind of ennui. And a feeling of ‘When will this end?’

In my last meditation, I suggested how Marcus Aurelius, the philosopher emperor and inspiration for this blog, might approach this lockdown. I imagined that he would try to accept the situation with equanimity in line with his Stoic philosophy. He would encourage us to make the most of the present moment, to connect with Nature and develop our contemplative powers. I called this ‘The Marcus Method.’ Now I am going to explore another possible approach, which might, incidentally help with the feelings I have described in the first paragraph.

I have recently been re-reading ‘David Copperfield’ by Charles Dickens. One of my retirement aims is to work my way through Dickens’ novels. At least those I haven’t already read, studied or dramatised! But, as I am ever one to be distracted from my aim, I decided to re-read’ Copperfield’ first. In January I saw the new film of the novel by Armando Iannucci, which was very entertaining and which made me want to go back to the original (as the film was a rather superficial reading of the novel in my opinion).

One of the characters in the story is Wilkins Micawber. When David is a boy, he is sent to London by his cruel stepfather, Mr Murdstone, and put to work in a wine bottling factory (which Murdstone partly owns). He lodges with the Micawber family, though usually has to find his own meals. The Micawbers are constantly in debt and avoiding their creditors or putting valuables into pawnbrokers’ shops to get ready cash. David helps them on several occasions.

‘David Copperfield’ is Dickens’ most autobiographical novel and Mr Micawber is based on Dickens’ own father, John Dickens. In real life Dickens worked as a boy in a boot blacking (boot polish) factory putting labels on the jars. This was because his father, like dear Wilkins Micawber, was constantly in debt and money was urgently needed. The Dickens family moved house on numerous occasions because of their constant flimsy financial situation when Charles was a boy (as do the Micawbers in the course of the story). In fact John Dickens, like Micawber was in the debtor’s prison for a while in the Marshalsea near London Bridge and Dickens, like young David, visited him there. The Marshalsea and its inhabitants are the centre of a later novel, ‘Little Dorrit.’

This was the most traumatic time for Dickens and he kept this period of his life secret except to his close friend, John Forster, who had permission to include it in his biography of Dickens after his death. Whenever Dickens strolled near the site of the blacking factory (by Hungerford Stairs, near what is now Charing Cross railway station) he would walk on the other side of the road or avoid it completely. But he did eventually find the courage to face his trauma by putting it into a novel.

Despite all that Dickens’ father put him through as a boy, his fictional alter-ego Mr. Micawber is affectionately drawn and appears as a larger than life and entertaining character. In a way he is a kind of philosopher himself, forever making long speeches and writing long, verbose letters (often of the begging variety). In total contrast to Marcus, he is a highly theatrical philosopher. His expounds his philosophy of happiness to the boy David:

“Annual income twenty pounds: annual expenditure nineteen pounds, nineteen shillings and six pence, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds: annual expenditure twenty pounds, nought and six, result misery.”

From these words you will probably notice the contrast between Marcus and Micawber: Marcus tried to live out his philosophy, whereas Micawber makes little attempt at all.

Sometimes he expresses his despair. ‘In short I am forever floored,’ he says. And yet, he is also the eternal optimist. Though he is forever unemployed, forever selling his possessions or pawning them and forever having to avoid his creditors (by literally running away, assuming false names and decamping his family) he is always ‘hourly expecting that something will turn up’ to alleviate his disastrous financial affairs. And after several appearances in the story, he eventually does get a regular post in a law firm in Canterbury and is the one who unmasks the devious Uriah Heap near the end of the novel.

Through all these trials and tribulations the family somehow stay together for as Mrs Micawber frequently says: ‘I never will desert Mr Micawber!’ One minute Micawber is very low and will weep because of his misery and then the next he is dancing a sailor’s hornpipe or, red-faced, preparing his special hot wine punch.

At the moment, in this lockdown, we are experiencing the mixed emotions that the Micawbers feel as a result of a very different crisis to theirs. We may feel unsettled, uneasy and even low and depressed every now and then and then cheer ourselves up with music or binge TV or other online entertainment. Because of social media, even though we are physically in isolation, despite distances, we are able to cheer each other up with messages, video calls and we can even have parties and games together online.

In the novel, the Micawbers, because of their precarious finances, make the most of the moment. They enjoy themselves in the moment as should we. And they enjoy their family and whoever else is with them in the moment, as should we (whether they are physically or virtually present in that moment). This is another way of ‘taking pleasure in all that is presently yours’ as Marcus urges us to do.

Enjoy the moment, enjoy each other’s company (physically present or through social media). And, like Wilkins Micawber, be optimistic for the future, that this lockdown and, more importantly, this most horrific pandemic will soon end. I would call this ‘The Micawber Method’ to surviving the lockdown. I will explore another method in my next blog.

Stay safe and well dear readers!

Ave atque vale – Hail and Farewell! Till the next blog.

If you are enjoying my blog, and have not already done so, please sign up below to receive notification of each new blog by e mail. Just add your e mail to ‘Follow’ as it pops up!

And please do pass on the blog address to others who may be interested.

A selection of previous meditations is also available in audio form as ‘Meditations of Neiulus Aurelius’ ASMR on YouTube.

I would also value any feedback on nzolad53@gmail.com or my Facebook page or Twitter.

Many thanks
Neilus Aurelius

As I sit here as usual to write my meditation, I am not concentrating on the flame from the candle in front of me. I am thinking about another light. Moonlight. Last night as I looked out onto my garden from the kitchen door, there was a full moon in the clear night sky. It was strikingly beautiful. ‘The watery eye of the moon’ (as Shakespeare describes it’s surface) was crystal clear all those miles away. There was a warmth about this moon, like a pale version of the sun. It was not silver and cold but a delicate coral and warm. A benign presence in the night sky. Comforting. A beacon of hope.

I have learnt today on the BBC News website that last night I had been captivated by a supermoon. This occurs when a full moon or a new moon comes closest to the Earth in its orbit and so from the Earth it appears slightly larger than usual in size and also appears brighter. The website page showed some stunning photographs of this supermoon from across the UK and Europe and several friends have posted photos too on Facebook. It has been dubbed a ‘pink supermoon’ because it appears to have a rose coloured hue, although in reality there is little colour difference to a full moon.

Among these photographs was an image of the supermoon above the city of Rome and its shadowy ruins. This made me think of Marcus Aurelius. No doubt he had seen a supermoon himself when he was in Rome or on the plains of Pannonia when he was on his campaigns. He must have engaged in a great deal of sky gazing, skies devoid of high rise buildings and planes of course. And, as I have mentioned before, his sky gazing outside his tent on his campaigns probably put him in the right mood to compose his meditations. His contemplation of the heavens may have fed his writings.

He felt a deep affinity with Nature and was in awe of it, writing of it in exalted terms: ‘Nature, all that your seasons bring is fruit to me, all comes from you, exists in you, returns to you.’ Even though he was a philosopher emperor, he acknowledged his indebtedness to Nature, to Creation. He recognised and celebrated his primal bond with Nature, with Creation.

We too in this lockdown are able to gaze at skies free from air traffic, to enjoy the clouds, the stars and the moon, be it from a garden, a balcony or the window of an apartment. And if we have a garden, we have more time now to connect with the earth again, to be truly grounded. Or to take a slow meditative stroll in the park or by flowing water.

The lockdown has given us the opportunity to be like Marcus: to exercise the contemplative side of our human nature. To recognise our own indebtedness to Nature, to Creation, a dependency which our world has disregarded and shunned and trampled on. We too can acknowledge and rediscover our primal bond with Nature. To do this we need to allow ourselves to slow down, to let go of our frenetic selves, to accept the quieter, slower pace of life which this lockdown has forced upon us. It might seem strange, eerie even because we are not used to the calm and the quiet. But once we get over the initial fear or uncomfortableness perhaps we can enjoy the calm and stillness and maybe even luxuriate in it eventually.

This I am sure would have been Marcus’ approach to the lockdown. As a stoic philosopher, Marcus would have strove to accept the situation too and hopefully with equanimity. For him it is not only the duty but the delight of a good man (or woman) to accept and welcome all that is allotted to them. He may be saying to us down the centuries, ‘Will you not be satisfied with your present state and take pleasure in all that is presently yours?’ Once we have accepted this situation we can make the most of it and be positive about it and go with this strange, slower and calmer pace of life. To take the opportunity to live in and enjoy the present moment. And be thankful for what we have, especially our loved ones and friends and of course our health.

After a very cursory look again at Marcus’ ‘Meditations’, I feel this would have been his approach to getting through the lockdown. This would be Marcus’ method.
I shall be exploring a few more possible methods in my next blogs.

Stay safe and well dear readers!

Ave atque vale – Hail and Farewell! Till the next blog.

If you are enjoying my blog, and have not already done so, please sign up below to receive notification of each new blog by e mail. Just add your e mail to ‘Follow’ as it pops up!

And please do pass on the blog address to others who may be interested.

A selection of previous meditations is also available in audio form as ‘Meditations of Neiulus Aurelius’ ASMR on YouTube.

I would also value any feedback on nzolad53@gmail.com or my Facebook page or Twitter.