Born: September 13, 1919, London, United Kingdom
Died: October 10, 2018
Mary was a dear friend and inspiration. I first met her when she came to a meditation class I was leading. Her husband had recently died and she was grieving. She did not need meditation, she just needed to grieve and that be OK, which it definitely was, but she continued to come to meetings and made a great contribution to the discussions afterwards. I got to know her well and when our house got to be too overcrowded with people who came to stay, my then wife, Caroline, and I moved down the street into Mary's spare room. This proved to be a very satisfactory arrangement all round. When I was writing "The New Buddhism", Mary was writing "Science and Poetry" in the next room. We both wrote all morning and then I would hear Mary shout "Soup, David?" through the wall, in her characteristically strident voice, and we would have lunch together and chat about what we were writing, about, about philosophy, about the state of the world, Buddhism, language, science, so many things! ... While she talked, her cat, a large tom, would sit on her knee. When Mary made a point she had a habit of giving emphasis by patting the cat. The pats varied in force according to the degree and sometimes the cat looked quite pained. Occasionally, when Mary was particularly animated on some important point in the argument, the cat would get off her knee and sit at Mary's feet on the floor until it judged that it was safe to return to the lap.
Mary had a very incisive mind and I learnt a great deal from her about how to think, how to examine and consider an argument, to admit unconsidered aspects and to avoid being caught in the fallacies, prejudices and tramlines that commonly bedevil popular discussion. One was not so much being persuaded to a particular point of view, but more induced into a deeper consideration of the matter in hand from which we might both glean new understanding. In this way, she was passionately dispassionate.
She was primarily concerned with ethics, but in a very broad way. It extended to politics, human-animal relations, the origins and meaning of life, the role of science and technology, what we can and cannot know from history, and what it means to actually be a living conscious - and unconscious - being. The Gaia hypothesis interested her as did such issues as whether we have a duty to far away people we do not know, and what it is, and why? An active mind, always inquiring, always intriqued by important questions. Also, a sharp sense of humour and irony. She was a great believer in the importance of science, but deeply lamented the way in which the common confidence in science had lead to it being taken as a source of authority on subjects that did not fall within its ambit - hence Science and Poetry and her battles with Dawkins and others who followed him. She thought the idea of memes lamentably imprecise.
Once I asked her, "Who influenced you most, Mary?" and, without hesitation, she said "It would have to be Aristotle, David". Like the Greek, she would start by thinking about commonly held ideas, or common ways of thinking, but then proceed well beyond them. This meant that she was a good listener, but not really in the empathic way, so much as in her own style of analytic. After a discussion with Mary one thought more deeply and more carefully and often came away realising, in relation to the subject of discussion, that there were dimensions one had not suspected and that one was attached to certain lines of thinking more than to others. This could be sobering, but also was a springboard for creativity.
People commonly make a polarity of head and heart and this can lead to a decrying of intellectualism. Mary was supremely intellectual without being intellectualist - her heart was always engaged even in her most abstract thinking and the reasons of the heart were her bedrock. Being with her I always knew I was in the presence of love. She was practical and moderate, seeing many perspectives and weighing them judiciously - not an easy position in this age of extremists and soundbites. A truly great soul for whom the wellbeing of humanity, and not just humanity, but all forms of life, was not a distant abstraction, but a matter that informed thought, decision and judgement in all areas. She was and remains hugely important to me.
Add a Comment