Tag: humanism

Vault Finding #4

Looking through my unpublished drafts, I found this intriguing quotation. The only thing I know for sure about it is that the words aren’t mine. But they did prompt me to write the poem which follows.

“I was talking this week to a friend who is dying. We talked about the meaning of death, whether our consciousness survived our passing, and if so in what form. We talked about the love in action he had experienced from his family, his friends and others during his illness. He described how humbling and touching this was, while tears of joy welled up in his eyes.

We soon realised that in talking about the meaning of death, we were at the same time talking about the meaning of life. How that special human quality which infuses our lives with true meaning and deep satisfaction – the sharing of love through action – somehow survives beyond our brief physical life here, to live on within the hearts and lives of those who remain. Who then in turn pass this on, relayed in pure undiluted form, when their own time comes. An essence of life that is unbound, and eternal.

We then wondered whether we were in fact talking about heaven – and if so, how lucky we were to have found heaven on earth.”

This has certainly struck a chord with me so I’ll take the liberty of adding a few words of my own by way of response. With apologies to Franz Kafka, William Faulkner and Johnny Rotten!

no future
for you are now
and only now

what then

no then
for you are now
and always now

no once upon a time
the past is never dead
it is not even past

for you

are always
only
ever
now

and always now
you are forever
if only in the thoughts
of those who know you

now

like a spotlight
moving through the dark

ever a bright spark
to kindle fires
of fierce remembrance

ever a steady point of light
where now


and now

and now
the dark is not

 

so dance

 

Image result for american indian dance

 

Image: World Arts West

The Waiting Game

P ushing buttons connected to nothing,
A sking for help when nobody’s by,
T rying to leave when there’s nowhere to go,
I llness and danger and no end to why?
E mbracing loved ones who can’t be protected,
N o answers to children whose questions accuse …
C an you rest easy while others are helpless,
E xpect them to suffer what you would refuse?

 

Image result for broken button

 

Image: pinoydental.com

Stimulus: WordPress Daily Prompt Patience

Our Complaints Desk is Closed

                                                A long rant followed by a short poem.

I find it harder and harder to cope with big ideas. They loom above me like giant unstable airships, making me want to let go and run. Instead I hang on like grim death, risking imminent immolation or a sudden short flight ending in a very long drop.

Even worse is that big ideas force me into using metaphors which lumber out of control like maddened elephants into crowds of innocent and slightly bemused bloggers who … well, you get the picture.

This, in case you hadn’t noticed, is one of my pour-myself-a-drink-and-see-what-comes-out posts. (I just poured it and noticed it was Guinness … )

Believe it or not, this post has a subject and it may be that all this frantic jocularity is a way of ducking it. It’s a big idea, you see, and there could be a touch of stage fright before launching into a heavy monologue. But if I don’t get going soon, I will soon be talking to an audience of three … me, myself and I.

Oh well, anything’s better than being in two minds about something. At least a three-way split offers a chance of adjudication …

OK, enough wisecracking, already! Big ideas need big build-ups … just hit play!

I’ve just poured another Guinness in the hope that I’ll hit my stride soon … ah, begorra*, I’m talking about the bloody mess we’ve left the next generations to clear up – more specifically, the ecosystem. It’s the elephant in the room, all right, and like the blind men in the old story we can’t even agree what it looks like. It doesn’t appear in economic models and it doesn’t get discussed at cocktail parties.

( * that was quick, maybe Guinness is good for you … )

We just don’t seem to have the language, do we? There is climate science, of course, but for too long governments have been playing divide-and-rule when it comes to results. Pure science is systematically underfunded and the self-interested opinions of corporate science – biased almost by definition – are taken far too seriously. Money, alas, talks louder than morality.

Image result for Shut Up and Take My Money

And don’t get me started on the creationist idea that we’re all part of a master-plan to improve the universe. In my bleaker moments I’m with Bill Hicks that we’re a virus in shoes.

The trouble is that the more miserable you make people about this stuff, the more they retreat into denial and comfort-eating … meant in the broadest sense (no pun intended!) as consumption, much of it conspicuous. In the absence of meaningful community, two killer syndromes loom like giant airships, etcetera … (a) our self-esteem comes from the way our lives look to others and (b) self-gratification takes centre stage.

It doesn’t help that we’re dragooned into nation-states. Countries who’ve had the cream aren’t about to set an example to countries who haven’t by switching to low-fat yoghurt … oh, these blasted metaphors! What I mean is, our bling and binge culture may be the death of us.

Says he, polishing up his post and swigging down stout … ah, but let me tell you, it’s an agonising business tackling big ideas!

Oh sausages, I’m going to cut to the chase! We need a blessed miracle to get out of this hole and I don’t mean the one in the blinking ozone layer – concerted action on that, by the way, shows what we can do when we have a mind to get together. As a non-believer I’m not holding my breath for any manna from heaven (or pie in the sky, for that matter) but I do admire the liturgy and litany of religion, so here is my attempt to graft it on to a more pagan life-focussed viewpoint in sonnet form … something of a hymn, as it turns out.

It’s worth remembering, I do believe, that the word ‘ecology’ has an ancient root. It comes from Okologie – Greek oikos “house, dwelling place, habitation” + -logia “study of”.

 

        Noah's new age prayer

o Gaia hold us rapt within your arms
that life be one with love and one with all
let sense be always open to your charms
and spirit never falter at your call
o Gaia keep our step upon the way
that leads to wild places sacred shrines
where pilgrims catch a glimpse of yesterday
and dream of leaving children cryptic signs
o Gaia turn our thoughts to simple joys
and tune our hearts to nature's steady beat
that we might hear the hush beneath our noise
and feel the dance begin to move our feet
for only celebration stirs the blood
enough to build an ark against this flood

 

 

From the Archives

Over the years, whenever I came across a wise saying I wrote it down. I have lists as long as your arm and the other day I blew the dust off and started to read through them.

Blimey, as that great cockney music-hall star Ian Dury used to sing, There Ain’t Half Been Some Clever Bastards!

Hmm, not sure about all of those but here are some sayings that really struck me second time around, loosely organised by theme …

Who am I kidding? It was like trying to herd cats!

I haven’t credited the authors but if you want to know any and can’t find them on Google, let me know and I’ll try to oblige.

  1. Honesty, courage, kindness, humour, wonder – the essentials. In laughter all evil is present, but sanctified and absolved through its own happiness. Active successful natures act, not according to the dictum ‘know thyself’, but ‘will a self and thou shalt become a self’. Become what you are. Invent new values. Re-enchant the world. Seek apotheosis.
  2. What then? No then.
  3. The cause of death is not disease, but birth. Where death is, you are not; where you are, death is not. Death has no place in all the meanings of an enclosed, circular world. Be faithful to the earth. Live each day for the common good as if it is your last. A life lived in fear is a life half lived. Life is neither good or bad – it is original. Nothing is true – everything is permitted.
  4. If not now, when?
  5. I is another. As if each illumination was a waking dream, as though the vision were in the beholder and the beholder in the vision. We know more than we can tell. First thought, best thought. Liberty is the mother, not the daughter, of order. Life is an art form. No artist tolerates reality.
  6. Don’t just do something. Sit there.
  7. Never criticise a man until you’ve walked two miles in his moccasins. Unity – the two that is not two. A true team is greater than the sum of its parts. I, we, all together in you. Unity in diversity. Only connect. Life is a series of successful mistakes. Compose into one and bring together what is fragment and riddle and dreadful chance. Each of us bringing himself together unites the world.
  8. If not you, who?
  9. Thought shall be the harder, heart the keener, courage the greater as our might grows smaller. In dark times the eye begins to see. The owl of Minerva flies at dusk. When the heart weeps at what it has lost, the spirit laughs at what it has found.
  10. Love is all you need.

terpsichore in time

                       “It is necessary to be absolutely modern” – Arthur Rimbaud

 

what’s gone?

nothing
the past is not dead
it is not even past
for you are now
and always now
and what is gone
from light
remains insight

what then?

no then
for you are now
and only now
what comes will come
when it is now
and not before

and me?

a spotlight moving
through the dark
for you are now
and always now
a steady point of life
where dark is not

and death?

no part of life
your dead live yet
where you are now
and only now
as those who follow
carry you
forever now

what now?

o you are now
and always only ever now
so dance

 

 

 

In cahoots!

Nothing beats the thrill of hitting Publish to send your next carefully-composed post out to cyberspace. You wait on tenterhooks at Mission Control, hoping with crossed fingers that your probe makes connection with its target audience. Success is positive feedback.  Failure is radio silence. Global communication validates us, bestowing an identity we might otherwise lack. It draws us from our little boxes and broadens our horizons. The world turns out to be round, after all!

Readers of my previous posts will know that I hate labels. Putting the human species in pigeonholes isn’t my idea of fun, whether it’s gender or nation or class or race or colour. These are all passive descriptors. You can’t help what you are but you can take responsibility for what you do. And here I’ll break my rule and suggest two active descriptors: we are all either bridge-builders or wall-builders.

Sounds good, don’t it? Actually, it’s rubbish. We’re both. It all depends on the circumstances. Bad times breed walls, good times grow bridges. In the real world at present – and perhaps for the foreseeable future – walls are winning. Yeah, talk to the hand ‘cos the face ain’t listening …

And wall-building isn’t active, of course, it’s passive-aggressive. Building a bridge takes energy, courage, imagination. Above all, it’s an act of faith. It starts with empathy, a belief in the other side which creates the improbable miracle of meeting in the middle. I may be stretching the metaphor to breaking point but when common ground is hard to find, connection must be made in mid-air.

Which brings me to the blogosphere. Sceptics are doubtful about its potential to break down barriers and heal divisions, often dismissing it as ‘preaching to the converted’. Well, yes, bloggers are bridge-builders by definition but we also have real lives and our urge to fly may begin in the cages we have built for ourselves. As the prescient hostess in the Eagles’ Hotel California says, ‘We are all prisoners here/Of our own device’.

In a sadly crowded field my nomination for Most Dangerous Book Ever would have to be ‘1001 Places To See Before You Die’. Do the math, as my American friends would say. Times 1001 by 7 billion to come up with the number of trips. Factor in air miles and you have a recipe for turning the atmosphere into toxic soup. Travel broadens the mind, they say, but jetting around to tick 1001 boxes … each box containing a subset of tourist must-sees … holy relics, just thinking about it triggers my travel-sickness!

A viable alternative is to go to a few places, stay longer and soak up the culture. Comparison is the key to self-discovery in this poem by Philip Larkin:

The Importance of Elsewhere

Lonely in Ireland, since it was not home,
Strangeness made sense. The salt rebuff of speech,
Insisting so on difference, made me welcome:
Once that was recognised, we were in touch.

Their draughty streets, end-on to hills, the faint
Archaic smell of dockland, like a stable,
The herring-hawker’s cry, dwindling, went
To prove me separate, not unworkable.

Living in England has no such excuse:
These are my customs and establishments
It would be much more serious to refuse.
Here no elsewhere underwrites my existence.

Another viable alternative is to travel in cyberspace. That may sound rather nerdy, but bear with me. Every single day 2,000,000 posts like this are sent. Each one is a window on the world, even the ones you can’t be bothered to read.

Two recent attempts at co-writing poems with fellow bloggers were like little holidays from myself. Grappling with several viewpoints took me outside my customary subjective bubble towards something more objective. It was like looking for buried treasure. It felt like a childhood game of Consequences where each person adds a new detail to create a story nobody sees until the end, when the paper concertina unfolds its serendipitous surrealism.

It set me thinking about collaboration. When it works, the whole is mysteriously greater than the sum of its parts. The best live bands sometimes say it’s as if an extra member was up there playing alongside them. Song-writing duos compose songs of magical quality – Lennon/McCartney, Jagger/Richards, John/Taupin, Goffin/King, Bacharach/David, Rogers/Hammerstein, Gilbert/Sullivan, the list goes on. Many of the UK’s favourite sit-coms are the product of two brains – Hancock’s Half Hour, Steptoe and Son, Dad’s Army, The Good Life, Fawlty Towers and The Office are just some that spring to mind.

Winning teams have esprit de corps but this doesn’t stop them disagreeing. Healthy argument is essential for success. In relationships opposites attract. The most revealing interviews are those where two people talk freely as equals. The best teachers say they learn as much from their pupils as their pupils learn from them. Hierarchy stifles creativity, although Basil would never admit it …

A question I often ask in the vain hope of a sensible answer runs as follows … Why do CEOs get paid so much for running organisations which are so bad they need people on huge salaries to run them? It’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg question, I admit, but why is nobody prepared to answer it?

And don’t get me started on why we need financial speculation! Since when did money become a commodity in its own right and not just a means of exchanging goods and services, huh?

Well, I told you not to get me started! Besides, I’ve got bigger fish to fry.

If I have a religion it’s a belief in the sacred triad of freedom, equality and fellowship. They are interdependent. They underpin human creativity by enabling partnership. Two minds are better than one. We do better to build bridges rather than walls.

If my religion has demons, they are rapacious consumerism and rampant fundamentalism. On the face of it, however, these couldn’t be more different: material and immaterial, natural and supernatural, here and elsewhere.

Yet both of them are heretics in my religion, if I have a religion. Both of them deny that we live in the spaces between one another and that souls is just a fancy word for relationships. Both of them say, Look after Number One and Devil take the Hindmost. Their crazed obsession with individual success and personal salvation are the twin scourges of our modern age, fuelling egoism and undermining a full engagement with the world. They make our heaven a living hell.

Two final questions: 

  1.  Can the blogosphere save the biosphere?
  2.  Does anyone know the title and/or author of a short story about a space rocket which makes an emergency landing on a planet because of a failed engine?  The other parts of the ship locate a new engine which turns out to be an inhabitant of the planet. They kidnap him and he learns about his real destiny, which is to power the ship. The story is clearly an allegory about teamwork – right up my street, as you can imagine! – and I would dance with delight if I found it again.

 

 

 

Just poured myself a beer …

It’s time I let rip. Most of my posts are composed like school essays, plenty of notes and constant editing to achieve A* and all that stuff. This one comes straight from the black hole somewhere deep down. First thought, best thought … Alan Ginsberg had it right. DH Lawrence too, he never edited anything he wrote and you sure in hell couldn’t uninvent him! DHL was a great admirer of Walt Whitman, another literary berserker. Anyway …

A bottle of beer by my side, JB Hutto’s Stompin at Mother Blues on the hi-fi … real music, check it out! … and a solid determination to let everything I type stand, no matter what! Deep breath, here goes!

We are an evolved species. We share that with every other species on the planet. That means we are as good as it gets. We know how to survive. It shouldn’t be beyond our collective wit to create a sustainable world for future generations of all species. Make no mistake, we find ourselves with a hell of a past – much of it recent – to expunge. In my lifetime, on my watch, we have even entered a new era named after ourselves – the Anthropocene.

But for most of our history we were in partnership with nature. We knew how to play her with finesse, living off her without taking too much. We only took as much as we needed to survive. Honourable, you might say. Something happened – the jury is out on the what and why of it – to make us want a cushion, an excess of protection against what nature often in the form of other humans threw at us. We created money, property, secure investments and whatever took us through the night …

Panama is the outcome, Panama and all the other so-called tax havens in the world that separate humanity more than any bogus division that has been devised – and devised by whom, one might ask, but isn’t that a whole other question? – bogus divisions such as race, creed, class or colour. Modern science has proved we’re all the same under the skin so get used to it. Everything you read is propaganda of one sort or another – this excepted, of course! – and most of us are pretty good at spotting spin. Hemingway said the most important thing a writer needed – and which of us isn’t a writer? – is a built-in crap detector. I know when I’m talking shit and so do you.

That’s what I mean. We’re an evolved species. We been around a long time. Strip aware the bullshit culture we’re all immersed in – me included, I’m not pulling rank – and we’re left with inherited instinct coupled with an awareness of the instinctive sense still alive in others. I look at the reproductions on my wall – may science be praised! – and see the art of Monet, Turner, Japanese prints, Van Gogh. Coming out of my speakers – the JB Hutto ended – is Boo Boo Davis, erstwhile harp player turned drummer with Muddy Waters, singing along in Howling Wolf style with a superb Dutch band. This was another random choice from my CD collection. Anything I don’t like goes in the bag for Oxfam. This is a stayer. It connects with history.

We are here to fulfil the hopes of our ancestors. We live the life they imagined. They weren’t all struggling in the mud. Our own idealism didn’t spring from nowhere. We may have been lucky to encounter idealists in our own lives – I cite my granddad and his daughter, my mum, as personal examples – but all they did was strike a chord in our inherited potentiality for this stuff. We are primed for hope and mad optimism, like it or not. Depression is a stupid cultural imposition. The human brain is hardwired for happiness.

I speak as one whose glass is half full. If you’re interested, it’s Hobson’s Rich Ruby Porter aka Postman’s Knock 4.8% Vol. Never mind half full, it’s nearly empty. What say I open a bottle of something else? You’ll have to shout, my internet is kinda slow … OK, we’re agreed on another beer, or is that just me?

Right, glass refreshed, onwards! Only connect, said EM Forster. Great … the question is, what to what? Duh, you’d have to be stupid not to know the answer … everything to everything else. We can do this stuff. The elephant in the room is death … and who doesn’t love elephants, with their long memories and touching graveyards? Pun intended …

Our awareness of the Grim Reaper is universal. It binds us together. Birth, taxes, death. Get used to it. Unless you tried to buck the common trend in Panama, or wherever. My dad was a tax inspector. He was proud that he helped shift the burden from poor to rich. To live in a land was to accept its rules, to feel honoured that you could contribute to the fairness that made your nation great. To honour the spirit of the law as well as its letter.

I didn’t always get on with my dad. To be honest, he was a bit of a cold fish. His own dad was lost at sea in WW1 … which of us isn’t affected in some way or another by that appalling conflagration? … so without a role model himself, he wasn’t that great a dad. Plus there was that big generation gap in the 60s … we were something new, man! My mum took dad to the musical Hair and he wasn’t comfortable with hippies crawling all over him on their way to the stage although my mum was up for anything. He and mum had their problems and for a while I was piggy-in-the-middle so dad was hard to get on with.

With the benefit of hindsight, though, my dad was spot on when it came to the morality of taxation.

Where was I? Oh yes, death. Our common knowledge of death binds us like nothing else. Some fantasise about an afterlife, but what if this is it? An all-too-brief window of wonderfulness? Doesn’t that make it all the more precious?

I’m 67. Who knows how much longer I’ve got? As they say, I’ve had a good innings. My generation is probably the luckiest ever to have lived. Free cod-liver oil and orange juice on the NHS, no war, no obesity after rationing and before fast-food, the mind-expanding experience of rock’n’roll and all that entailed, full employment, the sexual revolution … I’m starting to bore myself, need I go on?

Waddya mean, pour another drink you old soak? I told you this would be uncensored. A friend of mine once said I had a shopping-bag mind. By this he meant I no sooner made one point than I would answer it myself much as a supermarket shopper would pluck items from here, there and everywhere. Probably comes from the observation of my parents’ incessant arguments … one long argument, as it happens. I’m painfully aware of both sides of every question.

Right, where were we? The CD has ended, time for another. What’s it going to be? I have a big collection. Another random choice. I bet you can hardly wait.

Can. Ego Bamyasi. Life is good, each day borrowed from nowhere, the music continuing as long as it can. Joke, haha. Gallows humour is all we have. Best make the best of it. Seriously, though, the sweet thing about not believing in the sweet hereafter is that here and now is all the sweeter.

Did I just say that out loud? What I crave above all is a natural reverence for life to replace the crazy cults that crave a higher existence beyond. Life can be hard. Keats called it a process of soul-making, envisaging a heaven on earth. Nietzsche said what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Buddhism offers a useful description of what we’re up against to achieve higher consciousness:

Ordered from the least to the most desirable, they are: Hell–a condition of despair in which one is completely overwhelmed by suffering; Hunger–a state dominated by deluded desire that can never be satisfied; Animality–an instinctual state of fearing the strong and bullying the weak; Anger–a state characterized by an unrestrained competitive urge to surpass and dominate others and often a pretence of being good and wise. These four states are referred to as the Four Evil Paths because of the destructive negativity that marks them.

Continuing, Humanity is a tranquil state marked by the ability to reason and make calm judgments. While fundamental to our identity as humans, this state can also represent a fragile balance that yields to one of the lower states when confronted with negative conditions. Rapture is a state of joy typically experienced when desire is fulfilled or suffering escaped.

Which of us hasn’t been there and bought the T shirt? And could Google be the portal to a new stage in human evolution? If so, we need to evolve a way to use it to our advantage. The facts are out there but we need to teach our children how to access them … or perhaps, get them to show us! As I understand it, the higher worlds available to us all here and now are Learning, Realisation and Compassion. These are the escape routes from the lower worlds. Together, they constitute Nirvana.

Or as near vana as you can get. Let’s not get precious about this …

Moral: keep studying, keep your mind open, keep your empathy flowing. As to the last, I’m intrigued by the French poet Rimbaud’s phrase Je est un autre – I is another. For me, this is a cry against the egoism of subjectivity and for a more objective fellow-feeling … I contain multitudes in the words of Walt Whitman … but I’m open to other interpretations.

Anyway, the beer has run out and the CD has ended. The rest is silence …