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?
Sunday, November 29, 2009
Saturday, November 28, 2009
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
'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
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
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.
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!