Sunday, 11 September 2016

There are many graveyards...

There are many graveyards in this world that house the bones of humanity. These particular places are not, however, the cemeteries of the dead, but of the dying. Here the bones of the poets, the growers, the dreamers, the whistlers and the singers, are ground up and placed into moulds for reshaping. Similarly, traces of the painters, the artists, the actors and the thinkers may be found if you look hard enough … bare traces in the surrounding scrubland.
Listen to the whispering that curls like smoke from the buildings.  Hear the laughter that is not forced by cruelty, the joy that is a celebration of being together, the silence that connects with all that is living. These places are where the powerful coerce the young into conformity: some of these places are made mostly of glass, some of mud, some have no light, some have shade in the fierce glare of the sun. You may come across in these places the hum of electricity, like vast crematoria; others in which can only be heard the dry rustle of paper, enough to light the funeral pyres. Dull eyes watch screens on which endless movement distracts, heads held in invisible clamps, neatly locked by headphones. Whilst in other worlds heads are down and bodies with backs arched on the hard ground, endlessly repeat words in monotonous rhythm; too scared to look up at the sound of a bird, stomachs cramped by inertia and fear.
Meanwhile, in the corridors of the rich there can be heard the clipped footfall of the caretakers of the dying. Trim, and bearing rules and regulations, they are secure in the knowledge of their corrections. Outside they survey the limits that keep the bad guys out and the good guys in, fresh keypads ensuring that the adventurous may only pace around the fence like caged tigers. Thousands of miles away where money is sent to ensure that the standard choking grip of conformity is carefully put to good use, the keepers of the dying threaten the adventurous with their own poverty – starvation is a powerful master.
Dry knowledge crammed into bodies like Tagore’s parrot*; furnaces of wrong and right burn in the minds of embryonic humanity. Nothing is learned except the noise that inhabits the graveyard; for learning is now worth only what can be remembered, dragged from the chatter of the knowledgeable mind and spewed out to demonstrate such cleverness, like the raking vomit of the diseased mind.
It is time, my friends, to add our voices to the quiet stream that is questioning the view of learning that has given rise to current view of what education is, and to question fundamentally how we bring up successive generations of humanity. It is time to, in the words of Roger Waters, ‘tear down the wall’.

*The Parrot’s Training by Rabindranath Tagore

An integral element of this quiet stream of questioning is the film ‘Schooling the World: The White Man’s Last Burden.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

An apology: for the responsibility is ours.

I think that all there is that is left for me to say is ‘I’m sorry.’

You sit there by the window staring out at a world that is barren and colourless, and maybe you’re watching the soft fall of the snow on the road, or the raging of a monsoon breaking the iron heat of a parched land, or perhaps you’re stranded, looking out from your tower to the city below spread out like the entrails of a broken land.

I wish to apologise to you for the world that I will be leaving behind. Not for the Earth and all that grows and lives there. Not for the seas that roar and crash in their darkness and peacefully lap the shores in blue-green clarity. Not for the mountains, the lowlands and the air that you breathe. No, but for the continuing arrogance of my kind; the arrogance of knowing what is right.

Children, we have imprisoned you in your homes; we have made sure our cars can drive anywhere and destroyed your freedom to play; we have built on your playing fields and put fences around your woods. And to keep you quiet we have given you all kinds of entertainment so that you will never need to leave your bedrooms – you can live in a world of images and sounds that entrance, excite and exploit you. But your bodies want to be free to move, to discover and to play.

You are being put in chains by our ideas, by our certainty that we know better than you and we know what is best for you.  We like to dress you up in uniforms so that you look the same as all the others, force you into vast buildings, have you divided by age and coerced into tests and examinations that will determine whether your life will be a success or a failure. I’m sorry that we’ve made you into faceless, disposable, mechanical units. You, with all your beauty, life and energy, will be bound into a colourless book that contains the story of your lives before you’ve had a chance to live it. And we’ve sought to dominate you through fear; fear that divides; fear that paralyses; and fear that makes you fight your fellow beings.

We’ve forced you into thinking that to compare and to compete is the only way to live. So, quickly you will forget to help, to listen and to share, and instead you will be required to lie, to force your opinions, and to take all you can for yourselves.

Have you seen the images of children lying lifeless on the shore, in the bombed ruins of their homes, and the hungry deserts of the world? Have you seen the tidal waves of rubbish that choke our seas and strangle all creatures? Have you seen the scars where once were trees and where all manner of living things moved freely? And have you seen the grinning men and women who tell you that they know the way to make your life better, while they make the money that keeps you in chains in a room with no doors and a screen instead of a window? 

You may not have seen them yet, but they are there, I assure you. And you know what? I put them there; I am sorry.

So, I’m participating in this story of which you are part, a story consisting of conversations from the past and the present; a story that is not just made up of words. It’s probable that I will not see much of it, but you will. And the first few words of this story are: ‘Does it have to be like this?’... Our lives will be the answer.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

Division, Unity and a Fox.

The fox comes towards the kitchen window on its walk down the drive, oblivious of the watcher. Its sharp muzzle and bright eyes feel out the surroundings. The setting sun emphasises the red, russet brown and dark sleekness of its body trotting undisturbed over the tarmac towards the grass. The shape of animal intensity and intelligence exudes a kind of youthful freshness that may belie its age – ageless and sexless embodiment of a life.
The watcher, on the other hand, represents the grey/white hair of the of the turning year; his beard a determination of fatherhood and more in a world that stumbles towards the self -destruction of humanity like lemmings trying to find the nearest cliff to jump from, eyes tight shut and jabbering away. This watcher is unable to join the crowd, his eyes, though blurred by tears, are still open and he is aware of his connection with all humanity.  He, like many, regardless of gender, sexuality, wealth, education, nationality does not recognise separation in a world that is desperate to divide and destroy.
You are the watcher – an individual that is indivisible from humanity, from all that lives on this extraordinary Earth. You do not live in isolation either inwardly or outwardly, and this connection does not exist in ideas, thoughts or language. You are held in a web of life and death that exposes the ebb and flow of the tide of relationship.
However, we continue to cling onto the belief that we are involved in some kind of competition; comparing ourselves to others, desperately seeking signs of superiority and clambering over the bloodied and burnt bodies to reach the top, the summit of decay. So many global institutions are founded upon this way of being; not least schooling – that bastion of exploitation and brainwashing. 
So you are stepping out of the entertainment and acknowledging that there are no ‘others’; calmly and quietly you are stepping from the tracks that hold the speeding vastness of the runaway train. You are living as a creative human being, not self-consciously clever, not clamouring for power or status. You may dig the garden, paint pictures, film the ugliness and beauty of your surroundings. You may write words, sing songs and dance the dances. And with it you are bringing the light that can be glimpsed through the crack in the darkness of our collective misery.

The fox continues on its journey, but hesitates for a second and meets the gaze of the watcher. Its dark eyes are not reflected in the blue, for it is unaware of the watcher. Sleekly it makes a right turn and disappears under the tree, its burnished tail a flick of final copper light.  And the watcher is overwhelmed by the memory of the tiny hand of the child in its mother’s arms opening and closing, as if feeling out for the shape of this new life.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Connecting with Death

Grey-black against the sky, broad-winged, long-necked and legs trailing like sticks, the heron beats over the long remembered wood.  The house, its windows misted by neglect and the leaves of spring spreading into the peeling wooden frames, seems solid enough from the outside.  Inside the smell of disorder and decay expose the loss of routine, the continuity that held sway for nearly sixty years and ceased some time ago.

Cold, dark north-easterly rain held the backdrop of the previous day when the coffin was lowered into the ground, woven bamboo bright against the newly dug earth.  Maybe she did not want such a cradle at the end, perhaps preferring the deep mahogany gloom and Victorian brass handles. Its brightness eased the path to her resting place and held her empty body in a gentleness that reflected her final days.  The eldest grandchild stood tall in the church she occasionally took him to as a child; he read his poem
 ‘When I knew you were leaving us,
my memory spun in a hiss of gravel,
rustled through the trees, ….’

His voice uncovering the years as he read on, his eyes revealing the light of childhood, and the eyes of the congregation wet with the recognition of time passing.

When I last saw her the shock of her withered face, sparse hair, and eyes that seemed to have watered down the blue to a greying incomprehension, had disappeared and was replaced by the understanding that what lay in the bed was the body of a human not long before its passing.  To sit there by her bed in silence and watch the flitting of such a murmuration of thoughts: shaping, pulling apart and then reshaping, enabled communication that could not be tethered to words or rationality.  Fingers delve into the past as if searching in mud for something that had been lost and find that all that has gone before no longer has any form.  Just to be there was enough and to say goodbye to the person who brought you into the earth, brings an end to it all.  In the opening of those eyes there is recognition and in their closing there is also liberation; in a gesture of thanks and the quiet turning away - a new freedom. 

Life has its own movement in its circular form with time measured in years, a small part is an individual existence.  As the winter holds old bones and frail bodies allowing the opportunity for some to gently take their leave, and spring begins the transition from sleep to an awakening, there is an ancient rhythm.  To watch this closely, observing the falling of leaves and the emerging of delicate green shoots, is to learn to be part of this movement; not to be a casual observer, nor to be some commentator – explaining away all that has gone before in a comfortable phrase or glib statement.  To be aware of the deep pulse of life and death and watch the response of emotion without the sense of what should be felt, is to be connected.  And after all this, is it possible to be alive to death?

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

The Passage of Time.

It is as if the seasons have shifted and the cold that would so often have been associated with the beginning of the year is now spread over the land in the sharp glinting sunlight of an earlier dawn.  Large clusters of snowdrops hang their heads under the trees and beside the hedges.  Sporadic daffodils nod their yellow trumpets, testament to the false spring of a warm winter.  Now there are primroses at the side of the lane, soft colours beneath the tiny, fledgling leaves tentatively appearing in the shorn, stubby hedges.

What is a life?  A period of time between birth and death?  A life is not confined to time though: a baby born dead, a child taken from its parents, a life ‘cut short’, a ‘long and fulfilled existence’, are all lives.  The trees, the animals, the birds and the rocks are all lives – not lived by a human definition, but lived all the same.  So what is the life of a mother that moves from independence to immobility, from the sharp focus of a mind honed on manipulation to vague recollections surrounded by scatterings of the past?

This is her life - slumped in the chair that is the centre of her existence.  Sparse white hair covers her head; it is dropped forward, nodding in a deep sleep.  A huddle of unrecognised clothes, white knitted socks loosely cover her swollen, discoloured legs and there is the unmistakable smell of indignity.  The carer gently shakes the old lady’s legs to alert her to the arrival of two of her sons.  Her head is lifted in a movement that manages to express incomprehension and pain.  Her eyes are red, the right one shows a raw exposure and there are unnatural crimson blemishes creeping down each cheek, violent against the white grey folds of skin.  After a few brief seconds she recognises her sons and greets them in a high forced voice that neither had ever heard before – the voice of an imperious duchess from another age, a caricature of control and superiority.

So the mother is no longer the mother, but has shifted into some kind of creature that exists beyond any attempt to influence, to shape another’s existence; instead she clings with the desperation of the drowning to some semblance of living her own life.  She is profoundly deaf and can only be effectively engaged in communication through writing on cards; though this does not dilute the cascading, unrecognisable sound of her voice – high and penetrating.  Yet she does not seem to be unhappy, the bitterness of a few weeks ago appears to have been superseded by a more childlike connection with what is going on around her; a connection where she is centre of attention.

The slow ebbing of life is visible in the body that deteriorates over the time between each visit.  She eats with some relish and the rose tinted wine is enjoyed, but food spills over her clothes and there is a frustrating mouthful of liquid that cannot be drunk as her head has dropped to a point where she is no longer able to make that final, satisfying tilt to sink those last dregs of wine.  She moves with pain on account of a fall she had two days ago, lifting herself out of the wheelchair is slow with stoic facial expressions and subdued intake of breath.  She is as determined as ever and will not demonstrate any weakness.  As her sons leave there is a look of desolation in her watery eyes, not of anger as there might have been in the past, but of abandonment – a look that may have had its genesis many years ago in her own childhood.

This is the life of an individual, unique as a product of environment, culture and experience; separate, fulfilled or not, independent.  Is it then that a life is the process of individual progression from birth to death?  Or is there something that goes beyond the individual, that division between mother and son: an expression of humanity that is not divided?  Is there life that is indivisible beyond humanity? 

If so, then what is death?

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Walking up the Waterfall

For a while a buzzard has flown down from the nearby trees to stand in the field next to the cottage in which we are currently living.  It stands for some time surrounded by green shoots and surveys the world with sharp inclinations of its head; occasionally it will heavily hop a metre or two to take up a new position.  I have not been able to watch it for all the time that it has been there, but I have, once or twice, seen it lift itself off the ground and with a few strong sweeps of its wings take its next existence back in the trees.  Is it looking for food potential?  Is it just watching?  What does it see from the ground that it cannot see from the trees?  To watch this bird, indeed to watch any living creature, is to connect to a world that is beyond words.

The human being is born into the wild, the uncontrolled; born into fragility; and born into the extraordinary potential that is life.  Unfortunately, much of this life is spent in denial and in direct conflict with all that connects us with that which is more than our individual and collective selves.  As human beings we are nature, indivisible from the animals, plants, and all living things on this earth.  When we die we return to the unknown and our deaths are no different to that of the fly, the elephant, the fish or any other living creature.  So why do we educate our children in enormous regimented mechanical factories?  Why do we create vast towering blocks for people to live in amongst the pollution in the cities?  Why do we produce food that has little or no nutritional value, involves the killing of animals on an industrial scale and the pumping of chemicals into their bodies?  Why have we made the pursuit of money the root of our existence?  Where is it leading to…?  Where are we going…?

So walk up the waterfall with a heart that bangs in the chest almost to breaking.  Watch with care the slight movement beneath the glassy water where the bird is about to rise.  Feel the soft rain fall and the bite of the cold on your cheeks.  In watching life, can you also observe your separation?  Can you see how you have been taught that it is all to be about you?  And how that prevents you seeing. 

The snow on the mountains cuts into the cracks and feels for the solid base to gather and stretch.  Blasts of wind take flesh and bone and play at throwing it down the hill – a good game!  If taken solely with sedentary logic and the pontification of the armchair, then your skeleton will gather dust in a room with no windows.  And the light of the slow revolution is appearing now through the spaces in the floorboards whilst the awful, destructive sense of those in authority is creeping like suffocating smoke into your thinking. 

You may be dividing yourself from others through sex, through age, through your cleverness – climbing the ladder of superiority; but you cannot hear the song, see the colours, feel the joy and touch the pain.  You are lost and already dead.  Others may also be lost, but they vibrate with a life that has come knocking unexpectedly at their door.

The buzzard is there again today.  It is cold and it shakes its feathers against the chill wind.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

So the killing continues...

I wrote this blog about eighteen months ago and the only response I feel I can have to recent events is to post it again.  For the passage that begins ‘This week has seen...’, I now write - the massacre of innocent people in Paris, the state killing of an individual by use of a drone, the continuing aftermath of the bombing of a Russian passenger plane, the almost daily atrocities taking place in Syria, Iraq and many other places.  The politicians will call for greater security, the military will call for reprisals, the media will look for blame, and all will fuel the flames of fear.  So the endless circle of violence rolls on as the individual cowers in tears for the human race.  Soon the politicians will meet in Paris to discuss climate change.  Will they make the connection between the devastation of the earth and the devastation of humanity? Will they see that peace and sustainable living are intricately linked?  Or will they bow yet again to the forces of greed and callous cruelty?

Last night the moon rose from the Albanian hills, a ghost of what it was to become.  As it gained form and substance it filled with an extraordinary gold/silver light, sending a pathway across the sea towards the tiny village on the coast of the island of Corfu.  Today the sunlight dances on the water against the background of the blue, misty hills and the pale early morning sky.  The beauty takes the breath away, not in some sentimental moment, but in the realisation this is the natural world of which all humanity is part.  It exists, untouched by human thought. 

The killings go on, justified in the name of security by men on television in their impenetrable grey/black funeral suits; whilst for their 'enemies' murder is carried out by men dressed as plastic action men dolls.  Flesh and bone are torn apart to make room for ideas: there is nothing sacred about a life which does not agree with you, may threaten you, might defy you.  Sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, sisters brothers; indiscriminate lives, indiscriminate tears, lost smiles and all tenderness exposed as bloodied flesh in the explosion of bomb and bullet....

This week has seen what human thought does at its most vicious: the attack on the Palestinians in Gaza and the shooting down of a civil aeroplane as it was flying over Ukraine.  Both these events have seen the violent deaths of innocent people caught up in the desperate fighting of other human beings, who appear not to care who they kill as long as their goal is achieved.  Elsewhere bombings and killings continue, the number of refugees rise and those who suffer most are women and children – the powerless.  As a species we seem to be addicted to violence, to the cruelty and greed that drives aggression.  We lack sensitivity and are dominated by fear, which leads us to seek security in ways that make us all much less secure.  We are divided by nation, by ideology, by religion; by the way we define ourselves; by the images we create; and we use these divisions to give meaning to our lives, whilst we cut short the lives of others.  One wonders sometimes how we, who are so destructive, continue to live on this planet that contains so much beauty; and, if we continue as we are, it would seem likely that we will not survive much longer.

What can be done amid such apparent callousness and ignorance?  Can a new generation be brought into being where violence, anger and selfishness are not seen as the way to be? At the moment we live in a world of separation and we teach our children through this separation; humanity is separate from nature; I am separate from you.  So we compete instead of collaborate; we exploit instead of care; we are individuals standing out from the crowd – who we despise.  We compare so we might feel superior, but all too often we feel inferior.   The continuation of war takes place in our families, in our classrooms, in our entertainment, in our media and ultimately in ourselves.

Do we really want to live without war?  Are we prepared to face the reality of how we live; in conflict with ourselves and in conflict with others?  Or will we continue to wring our hands in horror at the photographs of bloodied, broken bodies?  Cry our tears of outraged hypocrisy at the carnage, call for revenge upon the perpetrators and carry on the madness that underpins our so-called sane society.

We have to look at what life is, without sentiment, without judgement, and observe exactly where our behaviour is leading us.  So come to understand what is happening, without justification and without condemnation.  And then that understanding leads to a change in this way of being, not through the creation of a new ideology or system, but through taking care of humanity through pure observation.  Taking care in the sense of learning what it means to be human in this world, not separated, but unified through our common consciousness.

This has tremendous implications as to how we bring up our children – this is where the road to sanity begins.

(I have reverted to the original blog title for reasons of simplicity and due to my technical incompetence!)