C is for Chill

It has been a difficult week at EBL Towers. I had taken a lengthy break over Christmas and New Year so I thought I was ready to go back to work. It was with some surprise that I found myself on my first day at the desk sitting and having a minor panic attack. I was tearful and felt sick and couldn’t concentrate. I girded my loins and by the end of the day I had wrangled that inbox into submission and felt like the very gods. The next day I had to go to Head Office and while I was there had a catch up with my boss. I confessed how I had felt and she said she was already concerned I was not really right so I am taking a few days off to try and chill.

It seems appropriate to include this post under the alphabet project because for my last post I wrote somewhat from my heart about being Busy. I think I was already feeling the strain so today I am going to talk to you about chilling. There are times in our lives when we need to do so. In the past I have pushed on, feeling that stopping for exhaustion was a sign of weakness. Looking at that from the outside I have to say it seems an extraordinarily short-sighted attitude. Certainly if one of my team suggested it to me I would tell them not to be so foolish and to take a break. So now I am allowing myself the same luxury. Go me.

The thing about being busy is that it is value loaded. The Puritan work ethic means that sitting idly is synonymous with sin. So I see taking a break following a period of extreme busyness at work as a failure. In society we brand the unemployed as scroungers. Retired people are a drain because they do not “contribute”. Parents who work part time or stay at home are not committed enough or are not actually working: although I think a moment’s reflection will confirm that childcare is hardly a relaxing option. As Quakers we often feel guilty at not doing our bit, at failing to change the world, at being human. We are not alone in this. It is pre-programmed into our culture.

So I am taking a few days out.

At least I thought I was.

I got home from a site visit on Friday evening to find a letter from the hospital to say they had a slot for me next Wednesday for my shoulder operation (the one that was cancelled before Christmas because they were caught by surprise when more people got ill in winter).

Having spent a couple of days convincing myself it was acceptable to take time out and relax with some knitting and reading and films, I am now irritated to find my time is cut short and I have to sort out blood tests and arrange transport and complete various jobs in quite a limited timeframe. Well, woe is me.

I also have to admit to being a little anxious about the operation and worried about how I will manage in the immediate aftermath. Sigoth is of course primed and ready; when is he not? He will take me to the hospital at the crack of dawn and collect me the next day. He will look after me if I need help for as long as it takes (hopefully only a day or two before I can manage most things). He will be amazing.

I, on the other hand, will be a pain in the neck. I am a terrible patient, in that I am not patient at all. I will moan about the discomfort and try to do things I shouldn’t and whinge. I will get frustrated that I can’t turn somersaults and lift weights and conduct the London Symphony Orchestra with vigorous waves of my baton. I will discover a yen to practise semaphore and to walk on my hands as a matter of extreme urgency. I will generally complain and be even more unpleasant than usual to be around. Sigoth will manage perfectly well and tell me off when I get too silly and eventually the soreness will subside and all will be well.

Meanwhile tomorrow I have to clerk Preparative Meeting. It’s a Quaker thing, this business meeting, and a thing of beauty. I am not going to write about it here and now, but the Quaker business method is one of the things most worthwhile about the whole enterprise in my opinion. Nevertheless, preparing for it, doing it, and following it up are all potentially demanding tasks when one is not feeling completely on top of one’s game. Yet it needs to be done. It is another thing I have promised to do. Quakers are very keen on your yes being yes, and you no being no. So I will do this job at least.

None of this is chilled. None of it is reducing stress. It is teaching me that I have to slow down more emphatically. Rather than letting me get away with a week at home reading Neil Gaiman and knitting, all of which are things on a To-do list, I will learn enforced stillness, enforced patience, enforced gratitude for help and support. I have spent a half century learning the lesson of being busy and valuing activity. Now I have to learn dependency and patience and slowness.

It may make me a better person, if I am lucky and manage to take the lesson on board.

May you find times to be busy and times to be quiet.

Namaste.

My Syrian tantrum

I have been struggling since I learned of the chemical attack in Damascus. Struggling with the images and the rhetoric and the desire in myself to do something violent and pain-inducing and retributive to whoever made that attack happen. I wanted to see deadly force used against those responsible.

It’s easy being a pacifist when the biggest challenge is dealing with the supermarket running out of my preferred yoghurt, or a colleague disagreeing about how to resolve a problem or a n able-bodied individual sitting in the disabled seat on the train leaving a wobbly, walking-sticked pensioner to stand. Then I can take a deep breath and try to contain my irritation and think loving thoughts until everything falls into perspective. (I’m not saying I always manage to do it, but I try.)

Chemical weapons, any weapons, are not a source of irritation though. They are far more. They are unforgivable.

No, wait, aren’t I supposed to forgive?

It makes my brain hurt to try and understand why people would use them. And I certainly wanted to go storming over to Syria and send them to their room to think about what they had done.I tworked with our children who have become sensible adults.

Yet these are people who have very clearly thought long and hard about what they planned to do, and then did it. In fact they are dangerous, mad-as-a-bag-of-frogs bullies. Bullies need to be removed from the situation and dealt with, patiently and exhaustingly, but crucially removed until they are safe to be around others.

Then I realised I was being sucked in to all the nonsense about crossing lines and standing up for whatever good word came to mind: freedom, justice, peace.

If before I thought it was wrong to kill people, why was I even giving it time of day now? Because the cold, hard truth is that pacifism is not easy. It means dealing in the long term, not the immediate, knee-jerk present.

In my primitive brain I had a fight or flight response to danger: shall I kill someone or run away and hide? I want to be a more sophisticated life form than that. I want to use thoughtfulness, and compassion. Yet that means not rushing in to save the day as if I know best. It means, with awful certainty, waiting. Waiting for more deaths but working to remove the cause of future deaths, rather than stepping in and introducing new reasons to hate and fight and murder other people. It means being unfashionable and unpopular with those suffering. It means taking the hard path.

Today in meeting for worship at my local Quaker meeting we shared our pain and sense of powerlessness and, indeed, our joint struggle to adhere to our core values. This is what our corporate response to the crisis says; it was published last week just ahead of the Commons vote.

Today in meeting for worship we shared that statement and also asked ourselves through our Advices and Queries to think about how we respond as individuals. Advices and Queries is a document used by Quakers and Quaker meetings in Britain as guidance, prompts and challenges to the issues we confront in the wider world. They are not a call to increased activity by each individual Friend but a reminder of the insights of the Society. We are all asked to consider how far the advices and queries affect us personally and where our own service lies.

The Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain. Advices & queries.

The Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain. Advices & queries.

I know I have to take the hard path. I hope to have your company along the way.

Namaste.

One with everything

My dears, last week I acted completely selfishly and took the opportunity of having a training course in London on a Friday to grab a weekend with a friend whom I had not seen for a while. I abandoned you all, but such is life. Now I’m back from melting in her garden over a jug of Pimms and sharing the latest of the highbrow jokes in The Independent.

From British Classic Comedy website

For example: A Buddhist monk approaches a hotdog stand and says: “Make me one with everything”.

Boom, as Basil Brush would say, boom. The old ones are the best.

Possibly the heat melted more of my brain than I realised. It’s hotter than the Med for goodness’ sake. I blame the Government. Seriously, I do. If they had manned up and dealt with climate change we would be enjoying the usual drizzle and English hobby of muttering about the weather. Now we have to go around saying things like “Well, it was never this hot when I was young!” which is completely not how it should be. I’m not confusing weather with climate; don’t get me wrong. But too many weather exceptions have been achieved over the last few years to make me comfortable.

So anyway,  I drank Pimms, came home, and packed immediately to go to work away for the week.

Now I am back home again after a week from hell, where I have had to pass on some brutal truth and try to pick up the pieces of both the thing that was wrong and the impact on the person in question. Which is a convoluted way of saying I got to play Bad Cop because no one else would do it. It’s my speciality. I’m good at the Headteacher Voice: you’ve let the school down, you’ve let your teacher down, but most of all you’ve let yourself down…

Sigh.

I’m not very good at it really, not in a constructive, caring, development opportunity way. I’m just good at the Voice which makes people stop and hear, rather than ignore and carry on doing what they were doing. It’s not pleasant, either as a Voice or as a recognised ability.

More sighs. Not many jokes there, I can tell you.

If we are all one with everything, my Voice, the special capital letter one, is either the equivalent of self-harming, or it’s the immune system fighting off infection. I’m not sure which at the moment but I hate upsetting people. Really I do. I know people may think I don’t because I am always the Bad Cop, but I do.

One with everything, though. It’s come up a few times over the week. Firstly in the jokes in The Independent, most of which I understand but not all. Then thinking about the project which is having problems – well, we need to get it right for the good of the company and the customers. Finally today, a friend was talking about a bereavement. Sharing the memories of a person we have lost and the grief of those left behind is important for everyone. We are all one.

I keep thinking of the point made by Stephen Jay Gould about the miracle of Life. He talks about how Life has been constant on this world for so many billion years from the first bacteria and single-celled organisms up to the complexity of today. There has not been, in all those countless eons, a single break. Not for one fraction of a nanosecond has Life ceased to beat; if it did it would have to start all over again from the beginning.

It’s not like a heartbeat which can stop and then be restarted (Defibrillator, nurse! Clear!) and return the person to their whole, gloriously complicated self. If Life stopped that would be the end of it. To start again it would go back to first principles. It’s more like a soap bubble, expanding and expanding, reflecting the light in rainbows (and possibly unicorns for all I know). Once it bursts you can take the raw material and create a new one but it’s completely new and different in its own complex, wonderful way.

For us to exist, there has been a pre-requisite of soapy water if you will (and I can stretch a metaphor until it screams, people), stars have been born and died. We stretch back to the immeasurable past and into the immeasurable future.

We are one with everything.

Namaste.

Together we are stronger

This month’s Bloggers for Peace topic asks us to consider our relationships. My brain ferments such questions. Today I uncork for you some early brewings.

You know how it goes: one minute in the privacy of your head you are thinking deep and meaningful thoughts; the next, someone else, outside your bony skull echoes them in public. It happened today.

To start at the very beginning: I am reading a book. I know, who’d have thought it? It’s about the Civil War, by which I mean the English Civil War in the 17th century. The book itself is a peculiar mix of history text book and historic fiction. It’s a bit peculiar but fascinating.

As you will no doubt be aware, there is nothing civil about a Civil War, and the English variety was no exception. It tore apart the country, respecting no person, destroying trade, harvests and cities, families and friendships. It was as uncivilised as war can get, with civilians being used as human shields or hostages, or just target practice. Your immediate neighbours, with whom you had lived cheek by jowl all your life, might suddenly mutate into the Opposition. One man was for the King, his brother for Parliament, and they were followed for better or worse by daughters, wives and children. Both armies, and their camp followers, slogged through ice and snow, rain, sun and mud, starved, died of fever, disease and trench foot (this war was fought in trenches in some cases, just like the calamity in the Somme in the early 20th century), as well as wounds and quaint medical practice.

At the end of it all we, the people, killed the King for treason. We had a contract, you see, where in return for his life of privilege and riches, we could expect his service through good governance and a dedication to our collective welfare. He believed he had a Divine Right, but it turned out he was mistaken, fatally so.

The execution of the reigning monarch would have sent shock waves through an already fractured society and across the Channel throughout Europe. As everyone returned wearily from the years of war to try and rebuild their lives, it would have been hard to trust their neighbours again. During this period a number of extravagant and radical religious groups flourished, in part by offering to replace the lost trust and sense of community desired by a shocked and stricken populace. Among them were Quakers.

It didn’t last, of course. In the end we brought back the king, a new one, whom we held to account. Well, it was that or give up Christmas, and as Narnians will tell you, that is not much fun. The English reserve as their inalienable right the opportunity to celebrate a mid-winter festival. It’s the long, dark nights, you see. You have to take your mind off them, preferably with alcohol.

In my more old-fogeyish moments I sometimes feel we are experiencing similar upheaval today, as communities fracture under the pressures of modern life. There seems to be a lack of connectedness which, I think, can result in the total lack of love for others evidenced by bankers, care workers and certain celebrities. Obviously, many bankers, care workers and celebrities are kind, nurturing people; it’s just we hear about the others. Equally these behaviours are not new.

Whatever the causes, or not, and whether it’s true, or not, people do like to feel part of a community. Some communities may be closer than others, but no one likes to feel alone always and forever.

So there I was, sitting in Quaker meeting and thinking about how we are the same as those distant forebears of the 17th century, when someone stood up and said:

How can we make the meeting a community in which each person is accepted and nurtured, and strangers are welcome? Seek to know one another in the things which are eternal, bear the burden of each other’s failings and pray for one another. As we enter with tender sympathy into the joys and sorrows of each other’s lives, ready to give help and to receive it, our meeting can be a channel for God’s love and forgiveness.

Well now! There’s a thing. Because I had been brooding over Isaac Penington’s letter from 1667, which begins like this:

Our life is love, and peace, and tenderness; and bearing one with another, and forgiving one another, and not laying accusations one against another; but praying one for another, and helping one another up with a tender hand, if there has been any slip or fall

Isaac lived through a terrible period of history and he, like others, wanted to leave behind all war and occasion for war. He was a religious man, and saw love and peace and tenderness as a calling from God.

These times are not as religious as then, although it seems superstition is rife instead. We have learned so much and most of it is magnificent, as Professor Brian Cox likes to point out in excited tones.

Reason is a mighty instrument, but reason without love is empty. Reason does not soothe tears or smooth away bad dreams. Compassion and wisdom, as some might say, are the way to enlightenment. Or as Bill and / or Ted would have it:

Be excellent to one another

Namaste.

 

Stardust

I quite enjoy a good pop-science documentary. I love science because I love how the world all fits together and does its stuff in such an amazing, clever, jaw-dropping way. I love David Attenborough whispering next to wild Mountain Gorillas or explaining how duck-billed platypuses (platypi? platypodes? whatever!) sense electric currents. I love the literally gasp-aloud wildlife photography produced by the BBC in support of his documentaries. I love serious and not-so-serious attempts to explain quantum to me, or relativity, or the Big Bang. I love Stephen Jay Gould writing about evolution, or Dara O’Briain enthusing over mathematics and astronomy.

I admit it. My name is EBL and I love Stargazing Live.

Stargazing Live is one of the craziest notions for a TV show I have ever come across. It involves getting people to be excited about maths and physics, live on air, using technology that goes wrong all the time, to demonstrate brain-boggling facts, figures and concepts, while trying to look at stars in Britain, still live on air, regardless of the weather. It is invariably cloudy. And then doing it all over again for two more nights, usually prefacing the start of the next programme with “well, it finally cleared up beautifully in North Lanarkshire at 3 am so you could catch the tail end of the Pleiades shower”. Actually I love Stargazing Live and I love the BBC for producing it.

The main host is Brian Cox, with Dara supporting him because Brian needs someone who can (a) think on his feet in front of a camera, (b) knows how to present live and without a safety net, and (c) has the “common touch”. Brian Cox sets pulses racing with his combination of good looks, northern accent and boyish charm, allegedly. This all works very well when scripted and set to dramatic orchestration but he is less agile in a live environment and only really comfortable talking to other scientists – when his good qualities do really shine out across the universe. Dara, on the other hand, can put everyone at ease, be funny but also incredibly knowledgeable, and is keen as mustard in a less academic way. Both of them just fizz with enthusiasm. It is wonderful.

Brian’s rather annoying habit, from my point of view, is to refer to anything that is not hard science as “woo-woo”. He flutters his hands and speaks in a silly voice, as if this makes it acceptable. While I am all for having rational debate about the proven scientific theory supporting new discoveries, and while I am not a fan of a number of notions masquerading as science, such as homeopathy and creationism, I take some displeasure in a blanket dismissal of a spiritual interpretation of certain phenomena as if they cannot exist alongside hard science. It’s like saying you can only read the Encyclopedia Britannica and not John Donne, because the latter is speculative and speaks about men as if they were geography which is obviously untrue. Ironically both sources agree that no man is an island…

I admit I would use the EncBrit for some things and Donne for others. The key is knowing which is which. I would be happier of Brian widened his repertoire a little and didn’t take quite such a binary approach.

None of the above will ultimately stop me from watching the world’s most peculiar concept show whenever it is broadcast, taking me to the final frontier. It’s quirky, informative and sufficiently annoying to get me completely hooked.

Namaste.

The Incredible Shrinking Man

When I was little I had one of those candlewick bedspreads. It was pink, obviously, because I am of the chromosomally advantaged gender. I liked to pick out bits of fluff from the pattern to make new patterns so after a while it looked pretty manky.

The other thing I liked to do was pretend the rows of fluff were paths or rivers and that the bedspread was a tiny country with tiny people I could imagine living in the countryside or towns. I would bend my knees to make mountains and marched an army to the top and back down, like the Grand Old Duke of York. That’s what soldiers were for, of course, marching up and down in peacock displays or else meeting mysterious old women by the road and obtaining magic tinder boxes and finding treasure. Otherwise soldiers were pretty useless and just part of the decoration.

The tiny bedspread world was less the result of a god complex than a rather over-active imagination from being read too many stories about cheerful ladybirds or adventurous ants.

When I was slightly older, my friend and I played wild games where the Earth was a living being and we were involved in all kinds of exotic adventures trying to put out forest fires or stop men in suits from building dams or destroying wildlife. Mother Earth would tell us about dolphins needing help somewhere and off we would go to help them. I suspect a teacher had tried to explain the Gaia Hypothesis to us before we were quite ready for it, so we interpreted it in a way that worked for us and rampaged about the playing fields and the riverside, getting muddy and breathless and feeling virtuous for saving the planet.

Meanwhile the miniature worlds I created started to turn into stories for Composition class or more complex games with models made from lego or plasticine (or sometimes, rather messily, both).

My dears, I am sharing this rather bizarre set of memories because they seem to have come to a point recently, as if Life has been leading me here. I know, I‘m a bit slow on the uptake. Bear with a poor old lady.

As I grew older still I discovered fractals. To be fair what actually happened was the kind of odd process by which children often obtain precious knowledge. I watched TV.

My teacher at school had recommended that I watch “Star Trek”. He was officially the Best Teacher Ever and I have written about him before. However, among his many fine qualities was his ability to work out what would inspire a child. For me he chose “Star Trek”. He was so right. I may regale you with my own personal mission to boldly split infinitives one day, but not today. Suffice it to say, I was a science fiction enthusiast for life.

So when good old Auntie Beeb decided to run a series of classic science fiction films later that year I was glued to the television. One of those films was “The Incredible Shrinking Man” and at the end of the film, where the eponymous hero shrinks to a sub-atomic level, I was introduced to the concept of cellular structures replicating macro structures. A cell is a tiny galaxy. Our galaxy might be a tiny cell.

My mind officially exploded. I went to talk to my teacher the next day and he started showing me fractals. Bear in mind I was only about ten at this point, so understanding was limited. What I understood was that the small bits of the universe replicated the big bits, potentially endlessly, like two mirrors reflecting each other.

I imagined the Incredible Shrinking Man falling forever through galaxy after galaxy, seeing civilisations rush past him, appearing as a massive cosmic cloud and reducing to human size over the years and finally dropping down into the next cycle of galaxies. It felt sad and lonely and exciting and thrilling all at once. My imagination kicked into overdrive again.

I also listened to music on the radio (or “wireless” as it was then) and heard all the hippy tunes, including, memorably, “Woodstock” –

We are stardust, we are golden, we are billion year old carbon…

So I grew up with the firm and clear perception that we were part of the universe not only psychologically and spiritually but also physically. We were all made up from the matter that created stars, and we dissolved back to star-matter after we died. We were immense and tiny all at once, containing cells containing galaxies containing cells….

I never doubted it, I never questioned it. I read about Mandelbrot when I was a teenager, and carried on reading science fiction, exploding my mind again and again with new possibilities.

Now I have started to try to meditate this truth becomes yet more self evident. I can see this erratic, stumbling, drunken meandering from childhood to middle age has led me to an inescapable conclusion.

We are everything and nothing, enormous and tiny, mortal and eternal.

We are legion.

We are one.

Namaste.

Bloggers4Peace: Children

Kozo set the Bloggers4Peace challenge for April to focus on children.I will be honest my dears: I have struggled to write this post this month – because I can’t solve the problem. This is my fourth attempt and I have decided that time is running out so here it is. You see…

I know what I want to say about respect and dignity and broad horizons and love and hope.

I know I want to talk about children observing that the actions of adults are reflected in the words they speak; that my children see me walking the walk, or not; that those of us who claim to be for peace genuinely have to live our testimony to peace and justice and environmental awareness.

I know I want to quote helpful and inspiring people like the Dalai Lama on building world peace by teaching all children to meditate. (I think that’s right – if not, it should be.)

Oh my dears – I so want to say those things. But the hollow truth is that I don’t live up to those ideals, and all I can do is share my struggle. I have no answers to the difficult questions children ask about bullying and hitting and fighting and war. I can only say I don’t agree, and sometimes I can say why, but often I cannot even do that.

While the Offspringses were growing up we focused on peaceful actions and words, and attended Quaker meeting. We read about the awesome Ferdinand the Bull and avoided stories where violence was presented as a solution. We tried to live peace and sseriously explain war when they saw it on the news.

But school and TV and friends intervened. There’s a moment when your child leaves you to go to nursery or school and then returns a different person. Suddenly all the games are good guys vs bad guys and shooting and shouting; parental intervention is boring old news. I was glad of a classical education so that I could compare myself to Sisyphus. There were days it felt that bad.

Of course I don’t have to worry now. They have grown up and left home. Oh, who am I kidding? Of course I still worry; it’s in the job description!

My children do not appear to be psychopaths, so that is a good sign. They are articulate and rational, so that is a good sign. As parents we cling to such signs of hope.

I believe they have to discover their own truths, not just repeat mine, but I have made clear they can pursue any career with my blessing except a military one. It’s my line in the squelchy, North Yorkshire ground. So even my love appears conditional, although I have tried to explain I would still love them if they signed up, yet simultaneously be very, very disappointed. I’d have the kind of disappointed face you see on a small child who discovers Santa is not real and the puppy he thought he was getting for Christmas is actually a pair of socks knitted by Aunty Gertrude, who appears to think he is bilaterally asymmetric. Imagine that face. It would be mine if one of the Offspringses announced their new career in the machine of death. Honestly, they could even be an estate agent, I could cope with that.

So who am I to teach children peace? All I can do is admit it’s hard.

I’m just not sure where that gets us. Read these other posts for more constructive ideas!

Namaste.

Counterintuitive can be Counterproductive

Fiction is a mirror of the collective soul, and so the narratives we choose to tell and to read present an agreed version of reality we decide to share. Our shared version of reality becomes actuality, and we find it uncomfortable and inconvenient when other versions intrude. Sometimes those versions, underpinned by science, become submerged in the groundswell of opinion holding to our selected consensus.

In this week’s Prompt for the Promptless, Rarasaur suggests writing about counterintuition.

Counterintutition is a seemingly simple concept– it represents a truth that is contrary to common sense or the expectations of intuition.

Some examples of counterintuitive situations: You burn calories when you’re sleeping, flailing around is exactly the wrong thing to do when drowning, and beautifully speckled dart frogs can be poisonous to the touch.

On the same day, I read a guest post by Elizabeth Bear on Charlie Stross’s blog about how we think we know certain things, but it turns out we don’t. It was a prime example of how we have rewritten reality and made it counterintuitive as a result.

You probably think you know what a nuclear explosion sounds like.

You’re probably wrong.

The first footage released of hydrogen bomb tests was silent. A foley was dubbed in, using a standard explosion or cannon sound effect repeated to form the familiar continuous, ominous rumble. (If you think about this, it’s pretty obvious that the footage most of us are used to is dubbed, because audio and visual are simultaneous–and these films are shot from miles away from the blast site.)

Collectively we have made the world of known scientific learning one of mystery and furious, opinionated debate. It irritates my Inner Pedant that space battles on TV are chock-full of explosions. They claim in space no one can hear you scream, and they are right. They just don’t demonstrate it so everyone carries on thinking space and vacuums transmit noise just like air.

Equally it’s a guilty pleasure to watch a space battle where not all the ships are oriented the same way up.

More importantly though, if we make scientific discovery a matter of opinion instead of an accepted best description of reality (until we get a better theory – because that is how science works), then we end up with creationism and climate change deniers and all kinds of crazy.

Fiction is a fantastic escape. It’s a means of exploring other possibilities, of examining the human condition and sharing emotional connections. It is not a text book for how the world works. Demarcation, people!

So while certain truths may be counterintuitive, that may be nothing more than a failure of current understanding, When it is caused by conscious manipulation of known facts about the  ‘verse then I call it out as fabrication and mythologizing, and demand quality of imagination.

The universe is amazing enough, and has mystery enough, without us compounding our ignorance on purpose.

<Steps down from soap box and shuffles aside>

It’s a beautiful Reality. Enjoy it as it is, without the face paint.

Namaste.

How not to be Wu Wei

The wondrous Rarasaur has created “Prompts for the Promptless” to expand minds, share ideas, and — equally importantly find something about which to blog.

This week, Rara has presented us with Wu Wei as the topic.

Wu wei, or non-doing, is a Taoist practice involving letting one’s action follow the simple and spontaneous course of nature rather than interfering with the harmonious working of universal law by imposing arbitrary and artificial forms.  In other words, it is the action of non-action.

They say, by which I mean someone once said to me, that when you are learning to drive you know you’ve got it when you stop thinking consciously about the gears and the clutch everything, and you just drive. Eventually through perseverance and practice learned behaviours appear natural. They are performed unconsciously. They flow.

I think the definition of Wu Wei is not quite that, though. It’s about being natural. A human being does very little that is natural. Look at a new born baby. It can breathe, excrete, feed, sleep and cry. After a relatively short space of time, once its eyes focus, it smiles unknowingly at anything with dots arranged like the eyes, nose and mouth of a human face.  This reflex assists bonding with the parent and is a reflexive survival instinct. Otherwise humans are pretty much artificial beings.

Trees, now. Trees don’t go through a learning phase where they start with absorbing water and end up catalysing chlorophyll. They don’t, as far as I know, suffer existential anxiety about whether really they should be a shrub  or a daisy or possibly moss. They don’t ask what it’s all about anyway when you get right down to it, or have tantrums or a rebellious teenage phase stomping about the forest, slamming branches or experimenting with fertiliser. They rarely gambol in the fields, although they may whisper breathy tales in  windy, storm-tossed darkness about ghosties and ghoulies and long-leggity beasties and things that go bump in the night, if only to scare the saplings. They do not learn. They simply are. They are natural beings.

You will have spotted at once, my dears, that EBL is equating natural with instinctive, and artificial with learned. This is my distinction, and I am using it for the sake of the post. I am open to new ideas from whatever quarter they may come. My mind is a very field of dreams, with gusts of frantic randomness billowing through it. Different interpretaions can and do apply. Etc.

The principle of Wu Wei then, for me as a non-Taoist and complete novice to the concept, is that we learn to predict a natural response and enact it, without thinking.

This may be why I cannot claim, yet, to be a Tao-ist. EBL makes a note to read the Tao of Pooh as soon as possible. When all else fails, a teddy bear may help. It is a sound principle.

“Things just happen in the right way, at the right time. At least when you let them, when you work with circumstances instead of saying, ‘This isn’t supposed to be happening this way,’ and trying harder to make it happen some other way.”
― Benjamin Hoff, The Tao of Pooh

Oh, that makes sense. Thanks, Pooh!

This has been EBL over-thinking like some kind of Anti-Tao-ist. It’s a classic example of how not to be Wu Wei.

Namaste.

Forgiveness – Post for Bloggers for Peace

As a proud member of the Bloggers for Peace Anti-Massacree Movement,  I have committed to posting a blog for peace on a monthly basis. Kozo has provided the theme for each month, and this month it’s Forgiveness.

On boy! That’s a challenge to be sure! My dears, EBL is not of a forgiving nature. I emulate the oak and not the reed. When someone hurts me, then I am hurt and they must pay. It takes a long time for that raw, burning sensation to ease sufficiently for me to shrug it away, accept the scars and conclude that life is life, and we all make mistakes, unintentionally or not, and occasionally with far from hilarious consequences.

I can think of two or three examples where I have not yet quite forgiven. On the other hand, where I have been a bit more grown up about things, I know that feeling of relief in letting go. The lightness, the energy released, the gladness, the smug feeling of superiority…wait, that’s not right, is it?

Because, my dears, there is a teensy little bit of me, a small devil inside, that says when I do forgive and let go, it’s for my benefit and no one else’s. I may feel better but if I don’t or can’t pass that on to the forgive, then they may remain outside a state of grace.

I am thinking of when I am the one in need of forgiveness. There are many occasions where that applies, let me tell you. What does being forgiven feel like? Is it equally light and joyous? Well, I’m not really sure, because most of the times I can think of, those times when I have been badly behaved, no one has ever come back to tell me that I am forgiven. I am left hoist on my own shame, dangling in the wind, chained by remorse and fettered by guilt. No one has freed me. I don’t know if they have forgotten and moved on, or if my evil deed still somehow eats at their soul.

The one person I know who forgives me is Sigoth. I am confident in him. We forgive each other as part of the contract between us. We are safe. It’s just as well, because I am horrible sometimes, but he knows it’s no more than a storm thrashing the waves to a tsunami, and that underneath the strong currents of our relationship will continue to carry us through.

Lucky us. An ongoing relationship allows us to be forgiven and forgiving. Many of my interactions are less permanent in nature. They have less foundation and less of a maintenance programme. They are more like a tent than a temple, and so they can be damaged and worn by carelessness, and founder on the rocks of aggression.

Because at the end of the day, it’s aggression that needs forgiveness. A snide remark, bullying, genocide, theft, dishonesty, cheating, hurtful gossip, physical or mental abuse: they are all rooted in some kind of power play stemming from aggression, from the need to be bigger and stronger, to be the car in front, leader of the pack, in control of another’s life in some small, or large, way. To win at all costs.

Why would anyone feel that need. Why do I feel that need? Every time I am mean, that is what I am doing. It may not be possible for the other person to forgive me, either because they are not in that place psychologically, or because they never see me again (a shop assistant, say).

For me to be released from the self-loathing that realisation later brings, I need to forgive myself too. If I do not despise myself I am less likely (I hope!) to do more mean things later. It’s not about letting myself off the hook, it’s about recognising and loving and holding in the light that weakness and human frailty which belongs to us all. It’s about admitting I am like everyone else, prone to mistakes, that we are all made of the same stardust, and we all can try to make it shine.

I find that when I can do that, it is also easier to see that frailty in others, and so to go on and forgive them too.

I am trying to remember that feeling very clearly so that next time, and already I am sorry that there will be a Next Time, I can move past it more quickly and possibly even head it off at the pass.

Other Bloggers for Peace have already written on Forgiveness, including:

Namaste.