The image above is of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. The phrase ‘the cathedral of my mind’, though Christian, is meant here to engender spirituality in all its forms and is published as a tribute to Peter Brookes, 24th Feb 1941 – 16th Nov 2015. It was one of the many beautiful lines he wrote.
Below, four authors write very different pieces using the same title.
THE CATHEDRAL OF MY MIND
This dry dusty temperature-free pulsating echoing edifice occupies no space, it has no volume. It is at once both perfectly flat, crinkly folded and recursively looped. Its internal surface area is approximately infinite. In a lifetime it cannot be filled.
It has no exterior.
The capacity for storage is endless. For that which is stored, there is no system of classification. Nothing can be removed, nothing is ever lost – obfuscated by layers or glossed over perhaps – but never lost. In this non classification however, there is a hierarchy
The capacity for the storage of ghosts and their partners is endless.
I am free to wander these gabled, buttressed halls and passages, its hidden stairways and frozen gargoyled silences. Free to pass by long-avoided locked annexes
Through splintered crystal I can see
A Swedish Rhapsody
All things bright and beau . . .
Daddy will be home soon
The train goes when the man waves a green flag,
Heres your flag, wave it at the queen.
The Germ mans broke tower bridge
Stumbling over the top of stacked flat, all on top of each other, a non classified interrelation of deepening distractive irrelevancies is The Thinker, The Analyst, the worker-out of incessant situations, difficult perspectives, reflections caused by the complex/ other minds.
Who questions the outside: where did I come from. From whence came that -who- that asks these questions? Perhaps from the velvet stone walls. From where also seeps out the final chords last echo of the majestic gilded baroque organ swell. Its a trace, it cant be heard but its always there, just ask for it, its yours
Across, over There, there’s a whole gallery of bad things too. Errors, mistakes, pure visciousness, sweetie stealing form Becky’s . . . taking Maureens pennys, I bashed that guys car.
I blamed someone else.
Downright lies top of course . . . of course I did not sleep with Veronica.
Theres a whole file about Veronica somewhere, but there isnt because it doesnt work like that, its not classified, its interlinked, like this . . . perhaps . . . Veronica is inside London, London is inside this cathedrals’ youth. Youth rests upon childhood, childhood wraps around infanthood.
All things bright and beau . . .
Starting with Grandma, the first to have gone, there are the long vaulted branching tunnels of tombs. Even the cremated ones, they are all here, not themselves, but their tombs, the dead ones – slate grey dustedover lids – There’s Auntie Joy, Dad and wossisname, the old boy from next door wot Phil the milkman found cold dead . . .
Occasionally one visits, dusts them off. Uncle Bill, Eric, Ethel. Not all human tho’ . . . Bonnie, the golden labrador. Piggy the beach dog, Napoleon the hamster. They go back millions of years but their names are faded, illegible after 3 generations or so, the best binoculars could not pick out the details. Rock tombs of biological ancestors in times far far distance are not human shaped. But they are only shapes.
Not far away, in some state of preparedness is another freshly cut slate grey new, unnoccupied tomb. It is mine own. And tis yours. But we won’t have to share.
No flowers please, donate me to the medical school. I knew I’d somehow find a way to get into medical school without 4 good A levels.
Nearby, recent, another tomb, its clean, fresh, new, it has flowers. It wll remain legible, lighted, for two or three generations. It has ‘Peter’ inscribed upon it.
Cathedral of my Mind
My mind is not a cathedral; it is a windmill. Ideas and thoughts are continually whizzing around my mind- most of them inconsequential. The sails chop the ideas up and then the fragments might flutter and die, or unrelated fragments meet in the maelstrom and form an alliance. Action is then needed. If this sounds exhausting, trust me, it is.
How about a cathedral of the mouth? Let me take you to a dentist’s consulting room in London. The date is July 4th, 1965. The dentist, let’s call him John Gardiner, is surprisingly unsure. He is a competent dentist who knows how to scrape, drill and reassure nervous patients. His assistant shows in his next patient. It is Maria Callas. She has excruciating toothache. John Gardiner has two tickets for Tosca at The Royal Opera House; his wife, Hilda, has been talking about the treat nonstop for the last month. Now Callas is in his consulting chair and the success of her performance that night rests with the stability of his hand.
After the civilities, Maria Callas, polite but haughty, opens her mouth so Gardiner can examine the painful tooth. He manages not to drop his mirror and scrapper. He has never seen such a mouth- its roof soars high, high, high. It is a cathedral of a mouth. La Divina’s secret, how she achieves her breathtakingly wide range, her expertise with the bel canto technique, why her voice is described as a very special instrument, is because of this amazing cave.
‘The Voice that Breathed o’er Eden’ somehow I don’t think Maria Callas’s voice could be described thus, but this is the title of one of John Keble’s most well-known hymns. John Keble (1792-1866) was the vicar of Hursley parish, a pretty village four miles west of Winchester. He was a leader of the Oxford Movement, as well as a poet and famous writer of hymns and sermons. One bright autumn morning Keble was travelling by horse to Romsey to meet with the vicar of Romsey Abbey. They were to discuss matters parochial. He was also looking forward to an excellent lunch at The White Horse Hotel in Romsey Market Place.
To reach Romsey, Keble had to travel along a spectacular length of road known as The Straight Mile so called because it is a mile of straight road- that simple. It is the trees either side of the road that take your breath away. They reach for the sky and then meet above you. The trees are deciduous so in autumn the leaves turn to gold with shades of orange, brown and green and, believe me, silver. ‘My cathedral of trees’ Keble called the fireworks. He must have found the experience a moving, spiritual one.
Can you equate listening to Maria Callas soaring to her high notes to Keble being moved by the glories of the natural world? I don’t know but the repetition of the word ‘cathedral’ might help.
Anyway, I have now decided that my mind is not a windmill. What’s left- a dustbin?
The Cathedral of My Mind.
It was so dark in there. I expected stained glass windows, sunlight and the smell of incense. I also thought music would be playing.
Not a bit. There was a playground though.
I sat on a swing and pushed myself forwards and backwards. I dared myself on, picking up speed until I flew over . . .
And entered the Cathedral of my Mind.
I was not alone.
There were so many people and animals there and a feeling that I would come to no harm.
I saw my long forgotten friend, Wendy McDonald, skipping outside of her front door,
‘I like coffee I like Tea, I’d like Tracy in with me.’
The rope was at my feet so I jumped. No sooner had I done so than it came at me again. And again. It was demanding all my attention. I couldn’t switch off for a second. Then came the magic words,
‘I don’t like coffee I don’t like tea, I don’t want Tracy in with me.’
I waved my thanks and she smiled back, transforming once more into the friend I left behind so many years ago when we moved.
Then I saw the dog that bit me. As I approached, my friend, Peter Hornsby, shouted,
‘Don’t put your hand over the gate . . .’
The big German Shepherd was licking his lips. Not like the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood, but as what he was: a nervous dog, scared of humans because of what they had done to him in the past.
I nodded and searched, unbitten, for a much bigger test.
I looked for it up high and down low. There were ledges and corners with crumbling candied icing. I blew away cobwebs and pushed past broken boxes of botched memories. I thrust my hands and arms inside a few, but they weren’t the ones. I rushed around like a Whirling Dervish in a tail spin of sweat and discomfort. My need was great. This was my panacea.
Just as I was about to give up I saw the cigarette machine. All I had to do was walk on by. I took a deep breath. My first thought was how small this rusted old metal box on legs was. The blue paint was still flaking, but now the contraption no longer dwarfed me. Goodies waiting idle. Pall Mall, Numbers 6 and 10 and the red stripe of Embassy despatched in packs of ten.
Behind it was the sweet shop. I walked in fast and the shopkeeper was waiting for me with a white paper bag in his hand. I gave him the coins, all of them, with immense gratitude. He smiled, clapped his hands and I left. The aromas of the sweet shop were on the paper bag, marshmallows and sugar candy. But something was wrong. I squeezed. These weren’t cherry sherbets, peanut brittle or sherbet spaceships.
Opening the bag I saw the gold of B&H and was hooked.
Cathedrals of the mind.
With due respect to those who use or simply admire this expression, to me it falls into that same bracket as so many Biblical quotations – so open to interpretation it’s barely meaningful. From the Greek or Latin, perhaps it means – to sit on your cognitive faculties! Hedra, a seat, well, you follow me. Each of us can have it mean what we wish, and more importantly to those who rather like the expression, leave it un-interpreted and gain some intellectual high ground above those who cannot or can’t be bothered to fathom what was intended in the first place.
Columnist Caitlin Moran sees it as ‘A library in the middle of a community, a cross between an emergency exit, a life raft and a festival. They are cathedrals of the mind; hospitals of the soul; theme parks of the imagination.’
Another writer refers to the internet with the same love and wonder, guarding at the same time against the temptation to switch to vaguely related subjects that become distractingly more interesting.
One writer who has used this expression, N L B Horton, declares she writes in silence, her mind making the only noise as she creates dialogue and action; the cathedral of her mind provided by her home, perched up on a high mountain, miles from anyone and anything. Her own noises – in her mind – is all she hears while working.
Most of us can work in other ways, which is just as well, there being more writers than mountains on the planet. Journalists rarely have easy access to a mountain top to coincide with deadlines, while the average writer would not afford the bus-fare to get to one, ever assuming there was a real alternative to the shed at the bottom of the garden.
Michael Michalko, rather more down to earth, agreeing with the concept that the complexity of a cathedral with its many aisles, alcoves, chapels and sanctuaries represents the mind, and how it ought to be; open, receptive, without barriers, one part linked with the rest. He thought that only education changes that: to compartmentalise learning, one room for maths, another for creativity, another for language, another for electronics and so on, each room closed by a door to prevent any overlaps. We all know of one or two religions that have closed a few doors to focus on a narrower line of belief.
And yet, just saying all that, maybe we can use the size and complexity of a cathedral, the various elements of it, the spires, the arches, even the floor that nobody looks at and the decoration, the statuary, paintings and the gold-leaf elaboration of carved wood that produce the oohs and aahs from the tourists, its potential for inspiration, awe and wonder – and its spirituality – to spell out just what might be hiding in the mind.
So, I give in, maybe we can talk about cathedrals, but in all of our minds, not just of those who are cleverer with words than me.