Postcard 7 from Robina: London, June 2, 2011

Jun 2, 2011

I’ve been in London for ten days already. I love being here. London’s my old stamping ground. I came here first, ripe and ready for revolution, on January 4, 1968. I’d just turned 23. I’d sailed from Melbourne on the P&O liner, The Himalaya, after five weeks at sea. The cold! The short skirts! The long bus queues! The expensive cigarettes! All new to me. But I settled in immediately. I stayed, then, for five years, but it felt like centuries: I went through many changes here: hippie, radical left, black politics, feminist. It was pretty intense.

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On The Himalayan in 1967, in Melbourne, before sailing. On the left is Ian Cattlin, my sister Julie’s future husband.

I came back to the UK six months after I became a nun, February 1978. I’d already gotten involved in the publishing work of Lama and Rinpoche, with Nick Ribush at Kopan, and moved here with it. That time I stayed ten years, five of them in London. That’s when I took up martial arts again, this time kung-fu: I trained six days a week.

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In Lisbon, Portugal, a stop on the way to London, 1967.

This time I stayed at Jamyang, in Kennington, a fifteen-minute walk southeast of Westminster – and a bit further to the West End, where I’d spent most of my earlier years, either living or working. After the fourteen intensive days of teachings in Moscow, London’s been a holiday! We did a long-weekend teaching on karma and emptiness. I like very much to think about this: what better way to loosen the grip of ego-grasping than to think about dependent arising, and what better way to think about dependent arising than to think about karma, a perfect example of the fact that everything comes into existence in dependence upon causes and conditions. This makes emptiness so personal: it’s easy to get excited about the wisdom teachings, but unless it shakes the massive mistaken sense of self, it can be merely intellectual.

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London, 1969.

On Monday night, at the end of the course, I went with Ven. Kerry from Nalanda, Ven. Tiziana from Istituto Lama Tzong Khapa, Nick Grant, an old friend and former trustee of Jamyang, to Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in Soho to hear the marvelous singer Dame Cleo Lane. Which, of course, reminded me of my first visit there, in 1969, to see Miles Davis. I’d been obsessed with him since I was 16, after buying my second record ever, Sketches of Spain, and here I was, in London, the first chance to see him in person. I’d been to all his concerts in Hammersmith and heard about a BBC gig at Ronnie Scott’s, a private affair. I stood outside, a yearning groupie, hoping a ticket would manifest. The doorman felt sorry for me and let me in! I was in heaven. I’d even lost weight (with the help of speed) just for Miles. He’s still one of my favorite people. He was completely his own man.

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When I was involved in Friends of Soledad, London, 1971.

I’ve recited all my prayers onto my tiny ipod shuffle and like to do them on the go. I don’t much like walking in the bush – nothing to look at! – but I love walking in the city. And, also, why close your eyes to think about emptiness: keep them open and take in all those delicious dependent arisings! I did masses of walking in London, all in the West End: Soho, Oxford Street, Piccadilly, Mayfair, Belgravia. Love it. I had afternoon tea at Fortnum and Mason’s, dinner at Langhams Brasserie, lunch at Selfridges.

On Tuesday I walked into town again, to meet my old friend Vicki Mackenzie at St. Martin-in-the-Fields, right on Trafalgar Square. The church itself dates back to the 13th century, but the present building, an old Anglican Church, was completed in 1726. Like many churches these days they hold lots of wonderful activities. We had lunch downstairs in what used to be the crypt. Packed with people, really nice food, really cheap. After lunch we went upstairs, for a concert in the church itself. Just for an hour, three composers introduced their pieces for instruments and voice. It was packed as well.

My last night, tonight, I’m staying with friends in Fulham Broadway. Nicholas is a conductor and lately he’s discovered tango. I love tango! My friend Pearly in Melbourne sings it, and my other Melbourne friend Jane dances it. I’m meeting him after his choir practice (he’s also into singing lately) tonight and we’ll have dinner in Covent Garden.

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Me and Jan (Robina’s older sister) sitting on the road in our radical left days. Kent, 1971.

Tomorrow morning I’m off to Copenhagen: my first visit. Can’t wait!

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