Monday, December 28, 2009

FEATURE 40 - Fever Ray

After the success of their third album 'Silent Shout', The Knife have taken time out, presumably to take a creative break from each other. Though they've recently been commissioned to write an opera. What Olof Dreijer has been individually doing we know not, but his sister Karin Dreijer Andersson, newly married, gave birth, and has followed that major life event with this solo project - Fever Ray. This impressive debut album bears some of the hallmarks of what Karin Dreijer Andersson brought to 'The Knife', an introspective, and distinctly North European electronic ambiance. Though there is something altogether more earthly and pagan going on here, as if you're hearing a shaman's incantations carried to you by an arctic wind, barely visible in the bleak Swedish half light. Quite what the subjects of the songs are, is not always lyrically clear, it works more on the level of a sequence of moods, these collectively explore a musical landscape that is isolated, with an all pervading sense of an individual alone with her personal demons, internal and external.

Dreijer distorts her voice to create a mood of underlying menace, her altered vocal tone bringing an edginess to it. You can rarely sit easily with a song, never mindlessly hum along. She appears to be using the sense of gender ambiguity this creates ( is this voice masculine or feminine? ) in a similar manner to the performance artist Laurie Anderson. In fact Anderson is one of Fever Ray's nearest musical antecedents, particularly on tracks like, Concrete Walls and Coconut. Search out Anderson's 'United States' mega performance piece from the eighties (its available on Spotify) and hear for yourself. The Knife, have often crossed over into what is performance art territory, with some distinctly Lynchian aspects appearing in the videos to their songs. Fever Ray,however, have an even more accentuated sombre tone, the humour is darker, it moves from the mundane to the sublime within the space of a sentence. As on the track 'Seven', where Dreijer sings:-

'I leave home at seven. Under a heavy sky, I ride my bike up, I ride my bike down.' - 'Accompany me by the kitchen sink. We talk about love, we talk about dishwasher tablets, illness, and we dream about heaven.'

Anderson and Dreijer are somewhat kindred, both exploring the different ways we experience alienation within modern urban life. For all our improved means of communication and hi-tec gadgetry, our closeness becoming more attenuated, our remoteness from each other to only grow worse. On 'Concrete Walls', even becoming a mother seems to have isolated Dreijer, abandoned to the demands of her child, with whom she cannot yet converse, her own young child is not always the sort of stimulation she seeks or needs:-

'I live between concrete walls. when I took her up she was so warm. I live between concrete walls. In my arms she was so warm. Eyes are open and mouth cries. Haven't slept since summer. Oh how I try. I leave the TV on, and the radio.'

But then we are contrary beings, we want individual autonomy, yet wonder why we feel lonely. The more we spend our lives on our own, the harder it becomes to accommodate other people into it. The crowds in the streets, become a nightmare, a threat, we wish everyone would just go away, so we can remain untroubled by the presence of others. Dreijer's lyrics hint at an underlying fear lurking in the existential core of this:-

'Whispering. morning keep the streets empty for me. Uncover our heads and reveal our souls. We were hungry before we were born.'

We are starving, we crave food, yet refuse to eat what's offered to us. It's as though a subtle fever, slowly overtaking us, has suppressed our appetite for everything that provides human sustenance. Fever Ray explores this alienated split in human nature, it can be quite a moving experience to listen to. It displays a maturity and breadth very few artists are able, or would dare, to attempt on their first outing.

'This will never end cause I want more. More give me more give me more.'

Sunday, December 06, 2009

FEATURE 38 - The Knife

You know when Amazon 'recommends for you,' well, just occasionally they prove to be correct and highlight something which is right up your street. Hence how I stumble across The Knife, a Swedish electro combo. Not your common or garden Swedish electro combo, but a decidedly quirky and unique one. Part Bjork, part Native Hipsters, part something altogether more dark or brooding, more Munch than Munchausen. If John Peel were alive today, I feel sure he'd be a fan. Of all my great 'enthusiasms' distinctive popular music remains an enduring one. This duo are terrific.

These three videos go with tracks from their most recent album from 2006 - Silent Shout - they show that their colourful, unnerving streak extends into their visual world too - the tracks are - Like a Pen - Marble House - We Share our Mother's Health.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

DIARY 119 - The path through the wood

This week I've felt overwhelmed, as if dense undergrowth and knotted branch spirits of an old folk wood have sprung up around me. My hip and back have been acting up more than usual, I guess largely psycho-physical in origin. A combination of physical, mental and spiritual dukkha, has, not unsurprisingly, dragged my spirits down into the leaf mold of my psyche. It made more acute a general dullness that's been hanging around my experience since Jnanasalins's return from Ghuyaloka, and I began working in the Warehouse at the end of July. There have been moments when a clearing has opened up in the wood, or peaks have thrust themselves out like mountain cordillera to bask in the high altitude sunlight. But these were brief periods and unsustained.

Whilst Jnanasalin was away getting ordained I was doing a less physically taxing job, it was clear to me what I wanted to achieve in those four months; to focus on meditation practice; painting my ordination gifts; and getting physically fitter in preparation for working in the warehouse. I planned ahead, and used my time well. I had some sense of renewed purpose as an Order Member too, to get myself back up to speed. I didn't want to feel myself as a spiritually laggard anymore.

Since July, I've not found it easy maintaining that momentum, its been hard work. I began experiencing periods of exhaustion, and persistent low level weariness early on through working in the warehouse. This was accompanied by lethargy blocking any creative work at home. This reluctance has been frustrating, but five months down the line its still been hanging around. My practice has consisted in letting go of any expectations I have of myself, being more humble, and cliche though it is, staying more in the moment and going with the day to day flow. This has created a moderate level of contentment, though it feels flimsy and incomplete, its just the letter, not quite the living spirit of it. Something has been shifting around ever since, like a theater set being rearranged for the next act, moved invisibly by black clad stage hands.

Previously the discontent I've experienced, arose out of desires for creative fulfillment being in some way thwarted. As my future work pattern looks like being largely unchanged in 2010, so this shift in my attitude has not only to continue, but go deeper. To further relax the tight grasp of this underlying aspirational archetype - to be creatively fulfilled. But if I'm not to be this type of person then who exactly was I to be - was being a simple warehouse worker ever going to be enough?

My osteopath, of all people, once said of me, that he imagined me as being like a specialist shop filled with highly precious objects carefully arranged in it, where only one thing had to be out of place for the whole presentation to be ruined. I'm afraid this seems very true of me. If only one thing appears flawed in my life, I'm unable to feel grateful or appreciative for anything else that's going well, or is good. I am beginning to see that the problem is not what I'm holding onto, but how I'm holding onto it - the preciousness. Too much depends on that long sought for fulfillment for it to be healthy.

Keturaja reminded me on Tuesday, that I'm a person of great enthusiasms. This has been so since I was a child. What has been worthy of remark about the last few months has been the lack of these enthusiasms. It's slowly becoming clearer that I can't motivate myself purely by doing things that are solely for my own benefit. I can't paint and write just for me, I just don't see the point of that anymore. The dilemma for me this week has centred around how I engage with my enthusiasms without them becoming precious self-intoxicating obsessions, ones I must do to the exclusion of everything else, that inevitable become embroiled in unrealistic and thwarted desires to achieve an ultimate fulfillment through them. I don't want to get caught up in that self-orientated tangle anymore.

The way forward, at present, seems encapsulated in the Tibetan aphorism 'if you can't do something for yourself, then do something for others'. To shift my focus away from egregious self-fulfillment, to what will benefit others. If I paint, to do so as a gift to an individual, Windhorse or Buddhist Centre. I had no problem painting seed syllable designs for Maitrigosha and Jnanasalin, it only foundered once I was doing one for myself. Quite how I move my writing in this direction, I need to give further thought too - perhaps preparing talks to actually give? I mentioned previously, after the National Order Weekend in early November, that I wanted to focus my dharma practice more in this 'other regarding' direction, I just need to settle on how I want to do this. This would appear to be where the path through the wood is currently leading me.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

RANT - N.O.M - Anti-Gay Marriage.

I often feel as though I've nothing particularly against Christianity, and I'm reluctant to rub excrement in its face. But seeing adverts like this make it difficult to restrain ones bile.

The whole gay threat to marriage,has never made much sense. This advert, however, substantially shifts the territory of the argument to a 'your lifestyle is impinging on mine' territory. In a curious way this marks a victory for the 'gay community.' The balance has shifted, away from a conventional marriage lifestyle being openly used to oppress gay lifestyles, to one that is more a level playing field. That's what they're complaining about in this advert - we're not getting our own way anymore - we feel the oppression of you. I doubt whether it really is oppression, but more that they're being asked to be tolerant, which they might find a tad difficult. But having to share this field is obviously too close for comfort for some. As a gay man this advert makes uneasy viewing, it seems all too sane,reasonable and normal. Ordinary 'decent' folks will be alarmed! Anyway, comic help is at hand. Theres' a whole raft of parodies on You Tube, taking the Michael(its easy to do)to various degrees of success. This is one of the best.

A giant gay repellent umbrella sounds....colourful?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

DIARY 118 - Life's Flummery

Another week without being overcome by extinction - we lead charmed lives it would seem. Sleeping much better, simply by making sure I stick to an approximate bedtime. Though I am aware of a fuzz of tiredness still loitering in the background. I'm taking multi-vitamins as insurance against any gaps, plus a protein powder drink in the morning, to see what difference, if any, these make. Still won't stop me having nightmares though. I had a bad one midweek, in which ghosts raised up my bedsheets, flapped them in my face, and tickled the souls of my feet. It felt so real I had to check with Jnanasalin whether he'd been tickling my feet to wake me up - and no he hadn't! Spooky!!

I've started doing dumbbell squats in an attempt to strengthen the muscles around my hips. Hip discomfort is another thing that has arisen into my consciousness of how my ageing bodily form is responding to the warehouse work I do. So far the 'squats' seem only to aggravate, making the discomfort mildly worse. Well, lets give my body a bit of time to settle and adjust, only a wee bit mind! All the extra time and effort I put into just keeping fit enough to do this job, makes me question how sustainable it'll be in the long term. The job has a mundane simplicity to it, that I can see has potential to be a personally insightful spiritual practice. However, when the physical dukkha becomes too prominent, its hard to feel it doing anything but wearing me out. Any insightful potential then seems a fanciful palliative only.

Broke the back of the Christmas shopping Saturday. Jnanasalin and I nipped into town early, to hit Boots for their 3 for 2 offers, and I came away duly satisfied. They're all wrapped up, cards written, just a couple of small things to buy from work and the mission is accomplished. Next comes the second wave - buying the ingredients for the communities Christmas fare,making puddings, cakes, mince pies and nut loaf. The two of us are also going to make a little hamper of goodies for our respective parents, like we did last year. Plus buying Twinkle 5 (a real Christmas tree).

For decades I eschewed engaging with X's commercialism, sometimes due to the misguided fervour of Buddhist idealism - 'its not my festive season, mum'. But also working in retail for twenty odd years, made the craven, mad, unseemliness of it all,unbearable, it just rubbed road salt into my tits. I found ways to avoid X ; I made sure I went on retreat over the X season; refused to call it X (I think I called it Yuletide); gave money to charity instead of presents. It was all very high minded, worthy, but mean in spirit, and on occasions sanctimonious as hell. You either put in a lot of anger energy trying to avoid X, or a lot of anxious energy engaging with it. Energy will be expended regardless, its either tightly self-regarding, as in the former, or coercive but other regarding,as in the latter. At least 'other regarding' is moving you in a moderately positive direction. As a Buddhist, my view of X has shifted over the years, and I've come to a relationship with it as something I need to have a creative engagement with, however limited.

These days my participation in X is quietly moderate. Some of my earlier unwillingness to engage still lingers on, in that I visit my parents, either before or just after, but never at X. In previous X's I've spent X with Jnanasalin,with friends, or whoever was left in whatever community I was in. I buy modest presents for my close relatives, though I never know quite what to get them, often resorting to the impersonal gift card. I send few X cards, if I only contact people at this time and no other it doesn't feel like a meaningful communication, not improved by sending a Xeroxed letter to them either. I stuff myself to busting with food, and treat X as an opportunity for some generosity and appreciation. The Christian stuff? well, that's still mildly irritating, in the way someone else's music heard muffled through a floorboard is. Though really its flummery of little consequence to me. Christ these days, has a tinsel crown of thorns, a Christmas Tree bauble in the shape of a bleeding heart, and Wizzard playing non-stop from inside his head. Even his virtue has become vacuous and vulgarised.

Friday, November 27, 2009

FEATURE 37 - Muppet - Bohemian Rhapsody

I don't need to say anything about this, just watch it and enjoy.

FEATURE 36 - Lego Matrix

Very cleverly done Lego version of a famous scene from the first Matrix film. Theres more like this if you look it up on You Tube.

FEATURE 35 - Cousins - Vampire Weekend

'Cousins' is a fabulous new song from Vampire Weekend. If you haven't come across them by now, where have you been? I'll give endless hours of ear time to their successful mix of a whole barrel full of musical forms. But for all their many influences and borrowings it remains an unfussy clean, bright sound, backed up with accomplished musicianship. This makes this chirpy combo from the US simply unbeatable. I'm a sucker for simple embellished flourishes on a descending scale, played on chime toned guitars. So positive and upbeat, you can't resist a smile.
They should be made available on the National Health.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

DIARY 117 - And the ego's getting fat....

I've generally slept better this week, though I woke up on Thursday morning feeling like I had slept very soundly, but spent the rest of the day with my body completely drained of energy. I can see so many conditioning factors at play here, though its hard to pin down what the decisive one was - storms, wind and rain - literal or subconscious. Practically speaking, deviating from my usual sleep regime (asleep before 10, up before 6) appears never to do me any favours. A series of late nights watching DVD's, going to the cinema, or spent glued to I-Player, can have an accumulative effect that I rarely make a speedy recovery from. Though I don't wish to seem like an inflexible old foggy who can't abide changes to his routines, I need to bare in mind what the practical limitations are. Otherwise I end up like I did this week, leaving work after lunch because I'm so tired I could hardly think straight, let alone pick orders.

Christmas feels like its descending upon me with undue haste and voraciousness. Like the 'exterminating angels' in the Grand Arcade in Cambridge (shown in the picture) its returned to suck out the remaining life blood of all souls and purses. I'm personally as unprepared as ever, and a trifle disinterested when faced with the amount of shopping involved. I can often feel myself mentally bailing out before I've even begun. However, yesterday Jnanasalin's Mum , Sister, Niece & Nephew came down to Cambridge for the day. We had a great time shopping together. I bought Jnanasalin's Christmas present; some Ben Sherman jeans and jumper in Debenham's half price sale. Regular input of fresh textile into Js's wardrobe is always appreciated, or he's not a contented bunny. Bought myself a grey cardigan too for £11, though I've not yet decided what needs to be thrown out in order to make room for it.

I'm rarely around young children much these days. So, spending most of the day in the company of a lively girl, nearly three years old and a ten month old boy, who seemed to do nothing but eat, smile and eat, was enjoyable, fascinating, and had moments of insightfulness. At their age children do demand so much attention, no one else can get a look in. I can't quite believe how there ever could be time for a meditation practice, let alone attaining Enlightenment, within a family context. I think this idea can only be categorised as 'theoretically possible', as even the Buddha had to walk away from family life and child rearing!!!

So, the day was swept along on a bubbly tide of child management, containing, directing, nurturing and instructing. This is not to say this wasn't also delightful and fun, because it was. I certainly enjoyed the day. But, it was a glimpse into a way of life I'm not liable ever to personally encounter on a daily basis, other than vicariously. I can see how child rearing successfully plugs the gap in the meaning and direction to ones life for a couple of decades or so. Women, in particular, I understand, can feel their lives as being empty or over once their children have flown the nest, having put so much of themselves into them. They then spend the next few years of their new found liberation, discovering or rediscovering who they are - sans kids.

Meanwhile, I'm still exploring, somewhat trepidaciously, who I am sans a permanent role or defining responsibility. This 'gap year' in the meaning and direction of my life, might have the flattering external appearance of sunyata with a strong light behind it, but I continue experiencing it as an anxiety filled void I'm perpetually on the verge of filling with any old rhubarb I can get hold of. My ego constantly grasps onto things to make into yet another vehicle for self-inflation. Even spreading the Dharma, or my status in the Order, can become poisoned by it - with what a wonderful speaker, teacher and Kalyana Mitra I might be, given the recognition, opportunity and space, for people to see how truly wonderful I am - etc, etc, ad infinitum. It can get thoroughly exhausting just trying to off set, wrong step or restrain it. But, when stepped down from the over inflated heights of these fantasies, there are ongoing issues concealed beneath them - what direction is my life going in at the moment? - what are my talents (humble as they may be), and how can they best be used? So I can't just ignore these as the pumped up folly of my ego. One needs to feel positively useful, however humbly.

Its an tantalising word 'humble', it definitely has a strong appeal conceptually, but the practicalities of it don't keep an 'egos' boat afloat. Humility is thankfully not easily corrupted by an ego. Though there is false humility done for the sake of good appearance and the spiritual kudos it brings. I'm not interested in such false humility here, but in a humility born from a genuine sense of who I am and my small place in the world. Humility in this case would be an expression of contentment with things just as they are, let alone a 'vision of things as they really are', though these two sources for humility 'relative' and 'absolute' are probably only a nudge apart. Most of the time I put enormous amounts of mental effort into expanding my small place in the world, to make it a bigger island, one more noticeable from space, a unique or significant place in the human archipelago. Dogen constantly uses the phrase of his Master Ru-jing, about the 'dropping away of your body and mind, and the body and mind of the external world' It gives you a sense that its a humble, equanimous space that one should fall into, once you drop your own, and the worlds, ego driven compulsions. Though I am no where near knowing what that is for real, as yet.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

FEATURE 34 - Shiny Suds Advert

A campaigning advert that turns out to be a superb parody, makes its point with humour, and also is a tad creepy. Loofah ! Loofah !! Loofah !!!

Saturday, November 14, 2009


Well, what can I say? Some films are well worth the wait, and some are not. Though 2012 is bound to be in the Top 10 grossing movies of 2009, it hardly justifies it. The films premise is based on a Mayan astronomical apocalyptic prophesy, to be triggered by a once in 6,500 year alignment of the planets in 2012. Around this the director Roland Emmerich spins a high octane, but essentially dodgy storyline, so full of holes it would be easy to make more by taking pot shots at it. Emmerich seems to like 'end of the world as we know it' story lines, using them in both his previous movies. 2012, like its predecessor - The day after tomorrow - is built around a Father trying to do the best to save/rescue his family, from the ensuing deluge of special effects. The early car chase through the collapsing airports, roads, buildings and boulevards, propelled you along with a level of CGI that is, undoubtedly, jaw dropping. At times these effects were reminiscent of the huge apocalyptic paintings of the nineteenth century painter John Martin, and indeed there was the inevitable biblical undertow to this movie too. As large chunks of the landscape cleaved off and sank into a volcanic abyss, and the mother of all waves deluges the Himalayas, one couldn't help feeling that Emmerich was a tad overstating the case, just so he could show off, big time.

John Cusack, plays the lead in his usual affable bloke manner, but he's no Dennis Quaid, he isn't a born action man. He's playing a loser, an unsuccessful writer who works as a chauffeur for a Russian billionaire. Separated from his wife and children, they treat him as the waste of space he is. But from this no-hoper, something truly small, but heroic grows. Even the wife's impressed. Her current husband, who has barely passed his pilots license, ends up flying escalating sizes of airplane, until he's lost in the final reel, minced and mangled between some rather large cogs. The wife recovers from this ghastly loss with quite unseemly haste. He was a nerd anyway, it seems to say. But then there was another rather super special effect building up off screen, that you wouldn't want to miss. This is only one of a number of quite tastelessly executed moments. The other honker being when the director of the Louvre is assassinated by a car crash, in the self same tunnel as was Lady Diana!

The film is way way too long at two and a half hours. I lost interest about two thirds of the way through, as I was compelled to watch the umpteenth nail biting cliffhanger. One did become exhausted with the heavy handed nature of Emmerich's never ending series of emotional upheavals. Also, as the apocalypse progressed the storyline began to take on an increasingly ludicrous tone. I remember precisely when I emotionally checked out, and surrendered to my disbelief. It was when the helicopters towing giraffes and elephants under them, heaved themselves into view across the snow swept Tibetan Himalayas. I mean come on, those animals would be either frozen to death, or traumatised for life, if you did that to them. But there were things still more improbable yet to come. 2012 was a bit like being forced to have all night sex,with a person you no longer love, after a while you just can't get it up any more.

DIARY 116 - The Force of Urgency.

My weekends have been busy recently, with two weekend retreats at Padmaloka one after the other,first a Men's Event,then second a National Order Weekend. Both were quietly significant. The Men's Event on the Sutra of Golden Light was a first in many respects;the first Men's Event in the ten years since I became an Order Member;my first time being on retreat with Jnanasalin. I'd forgotten how full the programme can be, like stepping onto a steeply ramped roller-coaster. The Sutra of Golden Light plugs you into the infinite power of sraddha,if you'll let it,an essential, but elusive spiritual faculty. At least I find it elusive, but weekends like these help reconnect me. We were encouraged to look at what personal demons holds us back from being more receptive to the influence of the Golden Light. Myself, well, I have a strong sense of the urgency to practice, whilst simultaneously feeling a spiritual lethargy, that can't be arsed with all that effort. Frequently caught frustratedly in the middle of these two opposing pulls, I can respond by becoming despondent. Lethargy is undoubtedly a crude form of resistance, one that equally matches the energy of my urgency, creating the sense of a sulky stand off. So there is a lesson for me here about steady equanimity and applied effort. Urgency can create an atmosphere of tense angst, two things not particularly conducive to practice.

The National Order Weekend, was also a first, my first for an unmentionable number of years. So long in fact, I can not remember exactly how many, but something like four or five. I really enjoyed reconnecting once more. It was good to chat with my good friend Nandaketu, who I haven't seen for a couple of years. The theme of the weekend was Spreading the Dharma. There were three talks, an introductory one by Ratnaghosha, and one each from Danapriya and Saddharaja, which each exemplified the topic, and inspired and moved me in quite different ways. Both demonstrated how they'd personally gained so much more than they put into spreading the Dharma. This has led to me looking at my own efforts in this area. I know I 'do Kalyana Mitrata' well, but there is so much than that I could do. I've felt this strongly in recent months, but have not quite known how to step this one up. It became clear to me over the weekend that the activity of my spiritual practice is often far too self-regarding in focus. The missing link, is this other regarding effort, of working to spread the Dharma for the benefit of all sentient beings . What I do next, in response to this,is not yet clear. There are plenty of classes I could support at the Buddhist Centre or outreach groups, run study days/weekends, train up to do Mitra Study etc. etc. Its probably not advisable to start anything new now, as the warehouse Juggernaut powers its way on towards Christmas. But 2010, who knows what small steps I might find myself making?

After the recent discussions about what I might be doing post Christmas, work wise, and my emotional reactions to that. I've entered a period of reconfiguration, a readjusting of my attitude towards myself, in relation to work and pretty much everything else I do. The heat having been taken out of my 'creative endeavours,' its become more important to relax and actually enjoy my spare time, rather than linger frustratedly over unrealistic creative aspirations of what I should be doing, if I only had the time. I could easily channel more effort and energy in the direction of the Dharma, and less on these personal neurotic 'needs'. Consequently I'm currently feeling less internally conflicted and strained. I'm beginning to realise that the much desired 'simple life' is , surpris, surprise! - one consisting of fewer needs or desires - things being pretty good as they are. I've spent more time than is good for me inhabiting an empty mental space, self-preoccupied with this sense of profound lack. For decades I've endeavoured to find something that would permanently fill that space up. Once again, the force of my urgency appears to have inhibited the very thing I most want - peace of mind, through stillness, simplicity and contentment. How paradoxical and contrary can you get!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

FEATURE 33 - Novy God

They make boy bands very different in Eastern Europe. Playing down the glamour and going for the gap toothed gormless boy next door look. Dig those jumpers, and slap your thighs in time.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009


Creating a pond,
do not wait for the moon.

When you have built a pond,
naturally the moon will come


Sunday, October 25, 2009

DIARY 115 - Booking in my Face

Well, I've finally relented, persuaded by Janasalin, I've signed on to Facebook. From a distance it did all look quite superficial, and certainly can be treated that way. Some people seem rather too avidly in pursuit of clocking up a high number of 'friends.' So far I'm trying to stick to 'friending' people I have some form of connection with, ranging from light acquaintance to ardent buddies.

What I'm really enjoying is the simple networking aspect, hearing about others enthusiasms, or what's going on for them, what they're doing in the moment. It also means I can stay connected online with folks I sometimes don't see that often, like my Private Preceptor for instance. I'm not sure whether its meant to be used for anything other than this really,and that is fine by me.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

FEATURE 32 - Yoko Ono - Walking on Thin Ice

Yoko Ono's finest recorded moment, largely made prior to Lennon's assassination, it was polished up afterwards and released within weeks of his death. It is famous first for being Lennon's last ever recording, he plays the groaning shattering guitar that contributes to the songs brilliant fragility. It sounds like another universe is struggling to break through and be heard. This is one of the musical highlights of the Eighties, mostly overlooked at the time because it was Yoko Ono ( she who'll never be forgiven....), and the undoubted edginess to its sound and vocals. Though its danceable it doesn't create a comfortable ambiance, you wouldn't want to lose yourself in this landscape. Its far too cold and perilous a place to stay in.

There are a number of later dance remixes of this song available, one by The Pet Shop Boys, but all somewhat miss the point. Sure it has elements of a dance record, but it pushes the sonic barriers too, all that yelping, whispering slurred vocals, she knew what she was doing and its wasn't about producing pop pap. This video, however, isn't quite sure what it wants to be, part artless home video, part a memorial to a life cut short, part tender recollection, or clips of Yoko wandering aimlessly around the streets of New York. Compiled in the aftermath of the shooting, one can forgive herfor the maudlin sentimentality it exudes. But hey!! the music is still a gem.

FEATURE 31 - RuPaul's Drag Race

If you've not caught this yet, I recommend it to you. It's a competition to find the next Drag Superstar, from a draggle of hopefuls. The final is next week,but you can catch up on 4OD, if you feel inclined. I'm not usually one for reality based competitions, but this one has been real fun to watch, and also an object lesson in group dynamics. The bitchiness between Shannel and Rebbeca Glasscocks, where each projected their own base competiveness and shallowness onto the other. The often stunning costumes these guys conjure up. Moving moments such as Ongina breaking down in tears on winning a competition segment, and confessed her HIV Positive status. Of the final three - Rebbeca Glasscocks, Nina Flowers and Bebe, its really between the latter two. Nina Flowers is my personal favorite, because her style and appearance is just so startling and unique. But there is still all to play for in this Drag Race.

Friday, October 23, 2009

DIARY 114 - Abandoning Covetousness

After a few weekends of being frustrated with myself for not being in the mood to be creative in any way shape or form, last week I decided to try not trying to do anything in particular. I spent the entire weekend doing small domestic things, nothing of any great note, and felt somehow all the better for it. It may be that my previous self-enforced pressure was freezing the bollocks off my artistic juices. My meditation practice that weekend responded accordingly, with concentration going deeper than it has for sometime.

This morning during my early morning Puja, I found myself responding to a line from the Precepts about - 'abandoning covetousness for tranquility'. I've been turning this phrase over in my mind. What it means 'to covet', its a form of craving, but even that doesn't quite capture the full depths of it. Its about wanting to imbibe and take something completely into ones possession, it could be materially, but I'm thinking more along the lines of into one's Self - possession, absorbing something completely into ones Self-identity.

Why does this strike me so strongly now? Well, its been quite a physically and emotionally demanding week. On Tuesday I met with Keturaja, to discuss what the likely possibilities were for work at windhorse, post Christmas. The options were no surprise. But the next day I found my emotional mood darkening, and fell to reflecting rather pessimistically upon these future prospects - is this what its come to? - unsurprisingly I became somewhat despondent. Though I've known the range of options and my degree of choice have narrowed now I'm in my Fifties, I believe emotionally I'd not really clocked it fully. Well this week I think I clocked it 100%. Not at all comfortably, I didn't want to accept it, at all. I raged against the dieing of the light, the light of possibilities. When i discussed this with Janasalin and Saddharaja, they both put it to me quite bluntly and clearly - the work situation I'm in at windhorse is the best I'm gonna get. Previously I been unconsciously living in an imaginary world where everything might still be possible, given the intervention of a Fairy Godmother. Always coveting something else, that's much better than what I currently have, more satisfying, less exhausting, ultimately creatively fulfilling. Being a warehouse picker and part-time kitchen assistant is not what I covet, it doesn't boost my ego, butter up my self- esteem or self- identity. This sort of coveting has never led to tranquility or contentment, only its opposite.

At this stage in my reflections I don't believe this means abandoning writing or painting, but more re-framing the expectations I have of them, what I believe they can provide for me. The simple life, that thing I still aspire to, seems free of such internal conflicts and expectant waiting. What can make life so tangled and complicated to unravel are the conflicting emotional responses we have, when one covets but does not get. Personal fulfillment, or vocation are highly prized things in the materialist and nihilistic world we live in, the ultimate aim of life. All I will say is, that the from the moment I started contemplating on 'abandoning covetousness', its felt like this is something of much truer value.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

BOOK REVIEW - Margaret Atwood - Oryx & Crake - The Year of the Flood

It's a long time since I opened a book by Margaret Atwood, in fact eighteen years since I read 'Cats Eyes'. My memory of that, was of a not particularly enjoyable experience. I remember becoming intensely frustrated with her emotional coolness, and the distancing effect of the way she wrote. There she was writing about the bullying and abuse of a central female character, but she might as well have been reporting on someone doing their laundry. This may, in retrospect, have been a 'Brechtian' style of literary device where the larger moral and sexual politics of the story, took precedence over any personal identification or empathy with a characters plight. This would leave it up to you how you should respond, and in my case it was with indifference. 'Cat's Eyes' was therefore my one and only delving into the world of an Atwood novel until I read - Oryx & Crake (2003) & The Year of the Flood (2009)

Though separated by six years, these two books both explore the same pre and post apocalyptic world and share some characters. Each could easily be thought of as Atwood writing in a Science Fiction genre, though she is reluctant to have them so consigned. She is, after all, a prolific and critically lauded, Booker winning writer. Science Fiction, shamefully, rarely wins you literary plaudits. Of the two, 'Oryx & Crake' could best be described as an extensive allegorical satire. Its crammed with witty ideas, linguistic puns and cultural in-jokes. The world she is sending up is set in the none too distant future, and shares many contemporary obsessions and concerns - genetic manipulation, cross breeding and generally meddling with 'god's creation. The world both before and after the catastrophe is seen through the eyes and erratic recollections of a pitiful character- Jimmy/Snowman. This device allows Atwood to feed you small tit-bits of information, slowly revealing how the world could become so chronically ruined. It is a novel about the logical and unforeseen consequences of certain types of social and scientific manipulations. The politics of personal choice in a world where every desire can be met, at whatever cost. In this way 'Oryx & Crake' cannot help but captivate your attention, as she drags you through the dystopian wreck of this future world. It is all quite plausible.

Still, the narrative elegantly unfolds these consequences in marked preference to any strong identification with a character. In 'Oryx & Crake' this works well. Science Fiction and satire rarely need emotional truth in quite that way, the world just has to be well realised, believable and to hit its targets well. We don't need to deeply understand motivations, so explicatory internal dialogue is largely absent. The emotional distance here is invaluable, it works to the benefit of this style of allegorical tale. You are forced to remain absorbed with the ideas and the points she is making. The subtlety and fluency with which she's structured this story amply demonstrate why she's been nominated for, and won, so many writing awards. The execution is so assured and sophisticated, its easy to overlook quite how scathing about human tendencies her authorial perspective actually is.

Quite why she decided to return for a second visit, to write 'The Year of the Flood' is not that clear, even after reading it. She takes two new characters - Ren and Toby, who are each stranded or isolated in situations that have arisen because of 'the waterless flood', the disease that has wiped out the majority of the worlds population. I have to admit. I got a little confused as the storyline emerged through a series of short flashbacks, and in the early chapters I wasn't entirely certain which character I was with - Ren or Toby, they seemed barely distinguishable initially. I got quite lost.

Here the world of 'God's Gardener's' 'MaddAddam' and the 'pleebland', that were referred too only in passing in 'Oryx & Crake' are more realised. 'The God's Gardener's' are a group of 'eco evangelists' who eschew the materialist concerns of their world, and warn about imminent environmental catastrophe. Their religious philosophy is a well meaning, but naive attempt, to spin a spiritual intent and purpose around what is happening to mankind. As their world begins to crumble, surrounded by increasing levels of brutality, survival becomes paramount, and their actions drift from non-violent to more pro-active violent defence.

'The Year of the Flood' shows us the underbelly, the under-privileged, the alternative side of this society, one that is raw, animalistic and grossly inhuman. As the book progresses, the links between Ren And Toby and characters from 'Oryx & Crake' slowly begin to build up. It becomes clear before we actually get there, that we'll inevitable be returning to the concluding scene of 'Oryx & Crake', as if Atwood was conscious of a need to finish off some unfinished business. It was satisfying to read, absorbing even, because it does join up a few more dots and loose ends. Though I'm still not entirely convinced this was essential for her to do. Reading the novel doesn't provide the full justification one would expect for her return to this subject matter.

She's chosen this time to write in a less cutting or cryptic way, its less broadly satirical in its manner, more character led and descriptive. Because we now are seeing the crises of this world through the eyes of two more solidly realised female characters, not a male caricature, one comes to realise how unreliable the recollections and explanations of Jimmy/Snowman were in 'Oryx & Crake'. All was not as he portrayed it, but then any man who hangs around in trees dressed only in a blanket can't really be trusted, can they? Putting any quarms about 'why' aside, I would recommend both these books simply because there execution is so superb, and the subject matter itself still so prescient.

Sunday, October 11, 2009


Chains are of our own making.

However heavy these may be they will never feel as irksome as limitations placed on us by others. We have to have a system and that begins with each of us trying to decide what it is that makes him the way he is.

It involves a journey to the interior - not an altogether pleasant experience because as well as totting up what you consider to be your assets you also have to take a long look at what your friends call 'the trouble with you' and the synthesis between these two opposite opinions will be your identity


DIARY 113 - The Trouble With Me..........

On the superficial surface, there is nothing to be disquieted and unhappy about. I have a great community to live in, a lovely appreciative boyfriend, and I work for a uniquely wonderful Buddhist business. My spiritual practice, though not astounding, is stable and substantial. None of this is perfect of course, they all have their unsatisfactory elements, this is Samsara after all. However,it feels currently as though I'm an origami boat floating on the surface of all this, not touching any depths and purposelessly drifting with the idling of the stream. This directionless state, is accompanied by a disillusioned antipathy, if not boredom, with the usual options or ways out of this impasse. The countless ways I traditionally have extracted myself from such existential lethargy. Why put in all this effort, if you'll just end up back at this self same point eventually?

I saw this week how, for me anyway, dissatisfaction is not primarily a mental event. Though it may become one afterwards by how I respond in my thinking. I experience it first physically, through my whole body being existentially out of sorts, embodying a sense of rebellion, a flesh and bone rejection of the way the world is. I want the world to either change itself for the better, or simply to go away. Sometimes I sense a exasperated, if not frustrated, desire to remove myself from it. By which I don't mean suicide, but more a wanting to permanently isolate or cut myself off from it. Yet the weightiness of this way of being can assume a very dark mantle, and I often need to find a way to throw it off my scent for a while, otherwise I begin to feel I'm likely to implode (or is it explode?) with the bleakness of it.

Normally I try to distract my attention. Even a sense of purpose, or creativity, through bringing a sense of meaning, however transitory, can also distract from this painful sense of being. It doesn't resolve the essential existential state, just makes it more bearable for a while. Until those moments arise when the streams of invention dry up, or are impeded in some way. Like they have over the last few weeks. No magic incantations, chants or spells, can heal this sore, this way of bearing with being. In a way I just near to cheer up and chill, to take a broader kinder perspective on it. I look around at my world, and I see pain of one sort or another on the faces of most people. We all bear it, or distract ourselves from it, in different ways - using whatever the preferred drug is that deadens the sensation for a while, whether it be shopping, food, drink, sex,TV, DVD's, or the Dharma.

Such things aside, my travail with the physical demands of warehouse work, continues to dominate my weekly experience. Every week things seem to slightly improve, though the discomforting aspects continue to shift around. This week I pulled a muscle in my right knee which was tender and needed nursing for a few days. I no longer feeling utterly exhausted, as I've worked out what was largely causing this. My hip pain flares up occasionally becoming uncomfortable for half an hour or so, then strangely disappears again. I can't quite work out what is going on. I recognise the early signs - I get this cold burning sensation from my hip bone down to my thigh, which turns to in an inflamed hip joint sensation, that can then become painful. It feels as though energy is getting blocked, it might be a trapped nerve, who knows. Such is the nature of my neurotic self-preoccupations with my body at the moment. Not to mention the pain in my little finger joints that maybe incipient rheumatoid arthritis.... ah! I could talk for ages about my minor ailments...but I'll spare you the further dreary recounting of them.

In this state of tiredness, my patience and forbearance is tested, finding myself becoming easily irritated. Recently its been with an individual who appears to want the last word on everything, who, in my perception, seemingly thinks everything I say needs to be corrected or qualified in someway. I've been trying not to cultivate paranoia around this, as I can see it is very much a manifestation of my own, as well as that persons own accumulated negativity. I have, however, started self-censoring what I say when I'm in their company. I seem to have developed a perspective on it, at least so I've overcome the acuteness of my sensitivity. It has, however, heightened awareness of my own behaviour in this area. I've observed how I too can often want to have my personal opinion prevail over someone else's judgement, or want to be the holder of the definitive viewpoint. So I've been practicing keeping my mouth shut much more. It doesn't really matter if my view prevails or not. Its just my subjective opinion. I need, as Sangharashita puts it, to beware of turning my own value judgements into incontrovertible facts.

Weekends have been quite busy recently - a visit to see the parents last week, and a day out at Holkham Bay with the community the weekend before. The latter day was fortunate in that the weather was the last real glimmer of Summer, and was ideal for a picnic and general hanging out together with the chaps. The parental visit, was mostly done out of a sense of dutiful concern that they see me regularly, I don't get much personal satisfaction or enjoyment from it. Though I do get to relax and update myself on the Coronation Street storyline, watch Strictly Come Dancing and Casualty, whether I want to or not.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

BOOK REVIEW - Norah Vincent - Self-Made Man

This book is a rare find, a book written by a woman, that empathises with and tries to get underneath the car bonnet of the masculine predicament. Often discussions in this area are so reductive and lazy, relying on upholding existing feminist shibboleths or respecting PC no go areas. It invariably becomes hedge bound by a generalised view of man as brute oppressor and woman as the innocent oppressed victim. This pattern, has always felt to me, as a man, to be an infuriatingly incomplete outline, largely ignoring how both sexes are subject to social self limiting constraints. The way things are between the sexes is co-produced and co-conditioned. Each sex living in states of dependence upon, and recrimination towards, the other. The prevailing view of relationships between men and women, is that men as the holders of power are advantaged by this, making them the primary cause of the disfunctionality within society. Whilst this may be true in the general picture it paints, its executed with rather a broad brush stroke. Its similar to describing water as being only wet, when its manifestations can be so different depending on context and circumstance.

Norah Vincent, decided, as research for a future book, to explore the different contexts, circumstances and manifestations of masculinity by spending a year disguised as a man. She worked out how to bluff externally being a man, and then set about bravely joining bowling clubs, getting a job in sales, going to lap dancing clubs, monasteries and men's groups. Though externally male, internally her feminine perspective and an acute sensitivity are brought to bare on her experience. Firstly, she notices how mens gaze differs, she's used to being an object of desire, but was now being assessed as a potential threat. When trying to pick up a women, she recounts the teasing defensive games women play with men, the mocking and often derisory behaviour, and then gives you the male experience of it, the ever present fear of being humiliated or rejected. Though initially finding her prejudices strongly reinforced, she remained open to what she was actually experiencing, and noticing when this diverged from her first view. The way men actually think, speak and behave, when not taken literally on face value, begins to confound, contradict, or simply fail to fit the stereotype. A man who frequents strip clubs could simply be seen as sexually powerful, voracious, exploitative, amoral even, but why then do those same males extol the virtues and love of their wives, and faithfully follow their partners injunctions. What is going on here has a lot more too it than the masculine libido?

I found myself resonating with her descriptions of the contemporary masculine predicament. The games and poses men are expected to hold, to simultaneously be stoical, stable and strong, whilst, these days, also being expected to be broadly expressive of our feelings and emotionally sensitive. It's little wonder if some of us don't know which to do for the best. Most of the time we get it wrong. Its clear some of the men she meets are confused, fucked up and sometimes angry and pissed off. The language may sometimes be crude unsophisticated in vocabulary, but these men are all suffering. They can't truly be themselves because they are afraid, afraid that other men, women, or society will in some way no longer find them acceptable. Most gay men, like all men, learn to pretend, put on an acceptable mask. we skate along the edge of a precipice, knowing we'll never quite fit the conventional male stereotype, this can be nerve wracking. Being a woman, dressed as a man, is the ultimate mask. What would happen if anyone found out? In some, but not all, of the places she goes, she does reveal herself to the men she's deceived, and this process proves almost more revealing about masculinity than the deception. By the end she realises that the dominant response of the men to her deception, wasn't anger - but embarrassment.

Norah Vincent makes numerous thought provoking observations, but none more telling than one concerning the gender differences over expressing emotions. Women have the social ability to express and converse about a huge range of feelings and emotions, all except anger, anger is not considered acceptable for a woman to express, and has to be repressed. For men, the situation is almost entirely reversed, anger is the only emotion a man can freely express and no one will think any the worse of him, he might even be admired for it. The expression of a broader range of feelings and emotions is unacceptable masculine behaviour, and is therefore repressed,you might be thought worse of for expressing them. There was the ever present fear of being thought gay, but mostly it was the ever present fear of just not being thought a man. The emotions don't go away, they come to a boil just beneath the surface, emerging often in socially unacceptable or perverted ways.

Her visit to the monastery was quite poignant. These monks, in a situation where they could be more intimate with each other, were still bound by the same masculine conventions, if not more so, because of the chastity. It wasn't easy to encourage intimacy to take place; during their social evenings, the abbot had experimented with introducing a period of hugging. This hadn't lasted long, because most of them were so deeply alienated from emotions they'd either ignored or repressed, that hugging itself became a deeply emotional trauma. This was not the first time whilst reading 'Self Made Man' that I experienced, not the ridiculous or pitiful state of contemporary manhood, but how profoundly sad it was.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

BOOK REVIEW - The Essential Sangharakshita

In my early days of involvement with the FWBO, I read hardly anything outside the Suttas and Sangharakshita's lucid commentaries and explanations of the Dharma. I heard tapes, and watched videos of his talks, and saw him give short ones live, once or twice. But by the time of my involvement the days of his best talks were, even by his own admission, dwindling or past, he had already said so much of what he felt needed to be said. One is often struck in his autobiographies by how energetic and prolific he has been throughout his life. What it must have been like to be around him then, only the disciples who were present then can tell us. I've only really been aware of him in his pre and post-retirement phase, as he was in the process of standing down from being the head of the WBO.

Sangharakshita's written and public style of presentation, I've not always found uniformly accessible, his expression can appear stilted, over formal, old fashioned, even imaginatively dry. Though the content has never been anything other than clear and apt. I was therefore surprised whilst reading this compendium of his writing, by how coherent,visually rich and eloquent his writing can be. Though this may to an extent be down to superb editing, it can't entirely be a result of it. Perhaps some of my own resistances present in those early days of involvement,were coloured by how I heard those trenchant words of exposition and encouragement, not what I heard.

'The Essential Sangharakshita, draws from quite a wide spectrum of his output, from books he wrote, to later transcriptions, or adaptions from his many seminars, which he had some input into the editing of. Vidyadevi, the editor for this project, has over the years worked tirelessly on these seminars turning them into coherently themed books, with his overview and input ever present, of course. So she was,without doubt,the ideal person to be involved in compiling this book. It hss obviously been commissioned by Wisdom Publications, because there is a great respect there for his vision. It is, for those unfamiliar with his work, a comprehensive introduction to the main themes of Sangharakshita's perception and rendition of the Dharma, and its essential practices. One theme logically flows onto the next, and though the source material is disparate, it appears seamless, as if this was originally conceived as an enormous series of carefully thought out lectures spoken over several decades. It is a vivid expression of one mans consistent vision of the Dharma, that you get carried along by. There is a recognisable steadiness to the tone and level of communication, that is very far from inaccessible, or dull. This man remains very alive to the contemporary world, and Western social trends.

He's not afraid to be controversial with his criticisms either, often confronting head on the modern shibboleths of political correctness, relativism, rights and duties etc. This hasn't made his views necessarily popular with some Buddhists in the West, even, a times, within his own order. Though he's clear we need to adapt Buddhism to our own culture, he feels it must never be done by diluting or distorting the message of the Dharma. His writing is frequently an extended critique of modern culture and mores, and how these diverge from Buddhist thought. Even becoming, on occasions, as near as Sangharakshita ever gets to a rant. For when he's on a role about something, such as war and the pursuit of peace in the twentieth century, he becomes something of an unstoppable force - an angel of clarity dispelling the fog of bland statements and sound bites that bedevil our worldly perceptions and expression. This book seems both timely in its appearance, for his own Order to reassess the larger corpus of his legacy, and all too relevant to the world outside it too, because this is what the Dharma should be.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

DIARY 112 - At home with the goldfish

I took this week off work. Originally I wanted to take a weeks solitary retreat in October. But then work restricted October leave, and suggested anyone wanting time off take it in September. After asking around various venues nothing quite fitted the time I had available. I adjusted my expectations, deciding to stay at home, on not quite a holiday, but by no means a solitary either. Jnanasalin was away during this period for about five days, so I had a chance of being alone at least some of the time. The week before, I heard of a vacancy at a solitary retreat venue, but by then I was mentally readjusted to being 'at home'.

Abbey House during the day,at least in my half of it, is relatively quiet, with few phone calls. Theoretically, it seemed it possible to have a degree of undisturbed space for reflection, practice, reading, writing, painting or just generally hanging about. I remained open to it being all, some or none of these. With Jnanasalin's return and adapting to the physical demands of a new job, happening at around the same time, I've found myself operating a lot in a responsive, adaptive mode. I've felt as if I was out of focus, a bit blurred at the edges, spiritually speaking.

As it turned out I did no more meditation practice than I normally do, if anything slightly less. I read daily from the Digha Nikaya. For a few days I was writing a Shabda report ( Shabda is an internal publication of the Western Buddhist Order, where members write in about there lives, thoughts and practice.) Writing this began turning my mind to exactly what my semi-solitary reflections were going to focus on. It was clear I wanted to deepen my understanding and practice of Kalyana Mitrata ( spiritual friendship ) in some way. I couldn't locate a specific Sutta, or commentary, that went into this in any more depth than I'd already imbibed or intuitively grasped.

In the end, I came back to an old favorite -The Four Samgrahavastus - often referred to, perhaps a little too grandly as The Means Of Unification of the Sangha. For four days I spent a few hours each day reflecting and writing on these. I didn't look into the specific detail of my practice, but explored widely how one practices the Samgrahavastus, to understand better how they could benefit both oneself and the Sangha. The Samgrahavastus are - Generosity - Kindly or Affectionate Speech - Beneficial Activity - Exemplification. Through my reflections it became clear how fundamental generosity was, as the essential underpinning to all the other Samgrahvastus'. The other three are either a natural outcome of practicing generosity;in that through practicing generosity you would be kind and affectionate for instance. or the resulting fruit of it; in that others would benefit from it, or would be a quality you would exemplify.

The Four Samgahavastus are sometimes referred to as the altruistic activity of a Bodhisattva ( a being who vows to save all sentient beings before accepting full enlightenment themselves ) This act of delay, to put other peoples needs before your own, is the ultimate generous impulse. So this unsurprisingly brought me back to a central tenet of our Order - The Bodhisattva Ideal, its something I don't always readily recognise that I practice. After all, I'm not, ultimately, practicing Kalyana Mitrata for my benefit at all. In looking at myself, I acknowledge that I'm already willing to drop what I'm doing to make myself available to others, if I'm able. Supporting others seems a central, almost instinctual, practice for me, and even through this recent 'out of focus' period, what I've been doing is being a stable, supportive presence for others benefit. This may largely unconscious competence, but there does appear to be a reliable consistency to how I am, that others appear to find valuable, and have said so on a number of occasions to me.

What resulted from these 'at home' reflections, is that there doesn't appear to be anything I need to specifically add to what I currently do. But, I could get more behind what I do quite naturally, and deepen that purely by making it more consciously a practice. To seize opportunities to be generous, in the moment of them. Though generosity, as an activity, doesn't necessarily have to be seen at all, nor does there have to be an explanation or reason for it, either. It just needs expressing as a natural efflorescence of being human. But once I set out to practice this, the first thing I encounter are the current boundaries, those moments where I stifle the impulse, or self-censor it. So to keep this intention alive, and those boundaries permeable,will be a practice in itself. I'll need to remain alert. I could easily switch off to it and settle back into the usual groove of behaviour. To bring this generosity of spirit more consciously to mind, or my intention will easily evaporate.

By Friday, if I was a broiled chicken, I think I'd be described as a little spiritually overcooked. I began to find myself flagging, if not strongly resisting doing any further practice. A period of absorption was required, if not demanded, of me, so I took my foot off the accelerator and chilled out. As if knowing this, my room in the house was instantly surrounded by external activity and clatter, as numerous people appeared to prepare windows for repair or paint. I was no longer entirely alone during the day. My only way to escape this was to go out, to stroll, shop or cook. Cooking is a great way to be generous towards my community, in my case by preparing more elaborate meals than I would normally do, or making cakes. I can view cooking for the community as simply a duty one does as a member of it, maybe even as a chore at times. Its also an opportunity to give in a very practical way, meeting an obvious need, one which also delights and pleases others.

Its all too easy to become over preoccupied with my apparent needs, my need for time and space, my need to write or paint, as if my enjoyment of life truly depended on it. I often neglect the easy satisfaction to be gained from generosity. There is a fulfillment, a completeness and calm to be gained from it. It's as if all the angst ridden striving for self-expression is far too obsessively driven to really give us what we want - which is to be restfully at peace with ourselves and the world. Rather than settling the mud in the water, it repeatedly stirs it up. Essentially generosity is not an act of self-expression, it moves us away from a completely ego centred existence, in the direction of self-transcendence. The intensity of that self-centred view melts away once one begins responding to desires to help, to give to others in often quite astoundingly simple ways. Generosity doesn't have to be a big deal, in fact its probably better kept low key, otherwise ones ego is likely to want to steal the lifeforce of your new pet goldfish.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

FEATURE 31 - Gyorgy Ligeti

Like much of Ligeti's work 'Poeme Symphonique for 100 Metronomes' has a premise and execution that has such a barmy surreal charm to it, you can't help but smirk as you listen and watch it unravel. He wasn't entirely serious was he? He must have had his tongue firmly in his cheek most of the time, simultaneously goading both serious classicists and serious philistines to fulminate in their respective corners. Whether you consider it music or not, seems kinda irrelevant,as an event it does seem to entertain and engage your attention regardless of however you choose to designate it You gotta admire the sheer gall of the guy.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

FEATURE 30 - 9/11 - The Falling Man

As the anniversary of 9/11 comes around once more there is no more poignant visual reminder than this picture of a man falling from the top of the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Channel 4 chose to rebroadcast a programme called The Falling Man, to mark this sad date, which is well worth viewing. The films of people falling from the tower were so emotionally charged and visceral, they moved me to tears. Imaginatively you place oneself in their position, cut off on the top floor of a burning building, increasingly heat and smoke about to reach you, to cruelly bring your life to an end. You are trapped. At that point what would we decide ? To stay and surrender ourselves to the looming conflagration - or to take what control we have left over how we are to die, jump into the air and fall thousands of feet, hitting the streets, as one person described it, 'with a thudding sound like a sack of potatoes.'

As the 10th Anniversary looms closer, the growing clamor of conspiracy theories are in danger of drowning out how this was fundamentally a human tragedy. Thousands of innocent Americans died in a matter of hours in an horrific manner, which should never be lost sight of. But there is also the tragic background to this event - of the suicide hijackers themselves, who conceived this plan to reek revenge for the suffering their own ordinary people, on the US government and its people, whom they believe are responsible for supporting this oppression. When conspiracy theorists high jack 9/11 for there own purposes, all this gets lost in their aberrant conjecture.

I have been quite disturbed and shocked by some of these theories -that the US government would knowingly sacrifice thousands of their own people in order to bring about a war for geopolitical advantage. It's as if two airplanes hitting two of the tallest towers in the world, causing massive causalities and finally structural collapse, done purely as an act of revenge, is not inhumane and unbelievable enough. We have to give a more reasonable explanation that, bizarrely, becomes even more fantastical. Were it to be true, then two planes hitting the Twin Towers, was the minor abomination against humanity.

We choose to believe what we like. I fundamentally cannot believe, or get a handle on, the Machiavellian nature of these conspiracy theories. I don't believe governments have that much forethought, or the ability to foresee outcomes, or control events in this way. I think they are far too incompetent, and gaff prone to pull this audacious sort of thing off. Governments are usually focused so much on short term popularity, and getting re-elected, they can't think beyond the confines of their current term in power. There may be cause to doubt or be sceptical about the story as they present it to us. But I'll wager that the reasons are more about them, in a panic, trying to hurriedly cover someones back, or the secret services strategic incompetence, than covering up a grand abdominal plan.

The events surrounding the Two Towers are unique, its not normal, it doesn't conform to reason. People do strange, odd, even barmy sounding things in the face of such a cataclysm. The conspiracy theories attempt to give the unreasonableness of this act of violence, a unreasonable reason. There has to be an overarching reason, it can't just remain incomprehensible. Its one way of trying to come to terms with its horror. Some people too readily believe these theories because they reinforce existing prejudices - that the US is the source of all evil - in the face of which we should be vigilant and sceptical, in order to oppose their satanic works. What I find somewhat incompatible with this standpoint, is that folk hear the need to be sceptical, and then abandon their scepticism to believe the sceptics, lock stock and barrel i.e. entirely uncritically. What they say becomes the unvarnished truth, simply because they're defacto -Not The Government - they must be telling it how it is. We don't even know who these conspiracy theorists are,where they are coming from, what private agenda or vested interest they might have. How selective they've been with the evidence, what has been deliberately ignored, or left out? How balanced is their judgement?

In this age of cynicism, yes, we do need to be suspicious about a governments motives, and the spin they put on things, but we also need to remain suspicious about the motives and spin of alternative viewpoints. Otherwise, we'll be making judgements based not on the broad basis of established facts, but on speculative conjecture, suppositions, assumptions, or worse than that blind prejudice. Hitler was once a lone voice of truth.