Sunday, 26 July 2020

How much freedom do we have not to wriggle?

I think I developed OCD sometime around 9 years old, although it may have been a little later but not older than 12. So I've lived with this condition as it has waxed and waned for at least 40 years. Over those years it has shifted shape and modulated in magnitude; subsided so as to virtually disappear, returned some times in familiar forms sometimes in changed form, highlighted aspects of its root and moved with the rest of this body-mind as part of the flux that is life. A complex and pernicious condition that one is always recovering from it has flare ups and remissions. And a bit like many other dis-eases the reasons for the ebb and flow, the waxing and waning are obscure. However, the root of this condition is basically an attempt at a bargain with life to be granted certainty. Why attempt this bargain when the very attempt itself sows its own frustration? Because like Alice down the rabbit hole it wasn't clear at the time of following the rabbit that one would end up falling down the hole. And rabbits pop up! And having seen a rabbit it can be very difficult not to follow it, for if we pay no attention to anything then where is the meaning in our experience? We wouldn't ever find the wherewithal to make even so much as a daisy chain. So seeing 'a rabbit off' ie something that seems not quite right, not quite stable it's in our nature to be drawn to investigate. And there is compassion in it, for I would say that at the start of the OCD feeling a glimpse of impermanence was perceived; vulnerability, potential loss and suffering, and with that came the desire to control, to make safe. So we reach for something. But like the jar of orange marmalade which Alice took from the shelf we find it empty. And so begins the search for a suitable place to put the jar... and we are still falling...

OCD is a potent mix of thoughts and emotions. And like any mental health condition the tricky thing about it is that the very tools you need to restore some balance to the situation are the ones affected greatly by the condition. OCD is an addiction. The clue's in the name - Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. The obsession is the fear, the compulsion the trying to fix it, the result is ironically the dis-order where order was sought. Such mind states affect the subtle feelings involved in how situations are perceived. The overall flavour of it is sticky, tight with itchiness.

And so, one learns that from time to time one will find oneself falling down the rabbit hole. And the tricky thing is just what to do with that empty jar... All one can do is to be open to putting it in the cupboard as it passes by. One way or another we're all moving the empty jars from the shelves to the cupboards. Sometimes like Alice we reach out in curiosity at other times we reach out for security.

 I read recently in a blog I follow, that Victor Frankl said:

"The last of the human freedoms: to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way. And there were always choices to make. Every day, every hour, offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom; which determined whether or not you become the plaything to circumstance, renouncing freedom and dignity...”

Well, I'm not so sure about that because it seems to me that what is being assumed here is a stable self, a centred, grounded self able to absorb the situation whilst remaining capacious enough not to be overwhelmed by it. And I'm not sure that such capacity is granted to us except by what might be called grace. Now I'm not saying that it can't be cultivated. I am not saying that one can't acknowledge but not become. Clearly it is possible not to add unhelpful energy to one's experience to just let it be and respond to what is needed without adding or resisting whilst still engaging with the flux of life. It's just that in 40 years of OCD waxing and waning by unfathomable reasons I have seen how the feelings forming choice and which impart one's attitude are not anywhere near as stable as might be sufficient ground to stake a claim for freedom. And the surrender to the falling not so available at times as would be required for freedom. And if such stability of mind and surrender were at all times available to all beings I wonder - what shape meaning? What shape compassion? It seems to me that such freedom as Frankl points to resides in the divinity of our humanity. And, as we span the space between heaven and earth such capacity for absorbing life's vicissitudes from a centred vantage modulates. I'm doubtful I would have survived in a concentration camp. It's possible, but I'm not sure what was available to Frankl's mind would have been available to mine. The modulation of capacity - to what extent is this ours to control?

It takes a great deal of energy to negotiate the rabbit hole of an OCD flare up. Depending upon the intensity and other aspects of one's life the ability to remain centred is affected by the depletion of energy. Beyond this there's a more straight forward seeing emptiness- that there's no separate self to be centred. I am always at the centre of my life yet there's no separate person to grasp and although I say 'my life' in reality it's a much more diffuse experience than 'my' indicates. And so it comes to this- what if anything needs to be done to let the stickiness pass? The difficulty is sitting in the not knowing. And as with quicksand the key is not to wriggle. It's not that I disagree with Frankl, it's that I question what causes the modulation of capacity.

Sunday, 15 December 2019

Election Result

I find the landslide win at the recent UK general election by the Conservative Party depressing not just because of the direction they will take and the things they will do but because it says a great deal about both the political system we have and the people of the nation. Without going into reams of detail what I think we are witnessing is a huge failure by all of us to address the very issues which brought this government to power. Disenfranchised communities who backed Brexit and then voted for the Conservatives are those that have been hurt the most by the neoliberal processes which this government will now supercharge. Our political system is failing to address the need for detail, clarity, fairness and transparency. At a time when it is clear that as a species we are killing life on this planet at a frightening rate; loss of flora and fauna and changes to the atmosphere and climate are now well established facts, we are heading further and further down a separatist road. In a time when we need holistic global analysis and action to deal with the problems we face we are isolating ourselves and perpetrating the very economic folly which has fuelled this awful mess. On the world stage similar stories are playing out and international climate summits fail to make effective inroads as the world's politicians lack the statesmanship and vision to see that a paradigm shift is needed let alone to know what that shift is. Economists continue to talk about technology solving the problems while they talk of continued economic growth. Nowhere is there serious talk of what it is we as a species actually need to be happy let alone to even consider for one moment spiritual questions around the very nature of our being. This is the real darkness in all of this; we are going to go further and further down a selfish, narrow minded, me first road where the basic delusion of a separate self that can have whatever it wants with no care for the consequences is hailed as the only truth. When we could have come together in recognition of the basic human paradox; that we are both separate and absolutely one with everyone and everything, we have instead decided to take more of the same fruitless steps that have brought us to the edge of the precipice.

Across the ages and around the globe various cultures have understood that we are part of nature and have looked into the nature of man. The various philosophical, psychological, and religious traditions have taught ways to know and control the self. The mystics have pointed to experience between the individual and the unknowable ground of being. The arts have revealed windows and vistas through prose, poetry, music, painting, dance, theatre etc. etc. through which we expand our consciousness and come to know our nature. I suppose that I'm essentially working here with the belief that The Unborn (The Source, God, Oneness) through the illusion of separation gives rise to form that it may come to know its self. What I think the depressing feeling prompted by recent political events is about is a feeling that the majesty of the human experience, the warmth of compassion and the joy of creativity is diminished and that we may even run out of time and cease as a life form to exist within the very near future. And yet I must recognise my own projections in all this; the sense of my own mortality colouring my understanding. I simply don't know where we as a nation and indeed as a species are going. All I have is this moment. And it is good; I am very fortunate. All there is to do as ever, is take each step with as much integrity as possible. Joy is not precluded, nothing is certain, there is meaning and purpose. And I am reminded once more:

‘Grayness could not fill us with despair if our minds did not harbor the concept of different colors, scattered traces of which are not absent from the negative whole.’
(Adorno, Negative Dialectics, 377–8.)

‘Peace is the state of distinctness without domination, with the distinct participating in each other.’
(Adorno, ‘Subject and object’, in The Essential Frankfurt School Reader, ed. Andrew Arato 
and Eike Gebhardt (Oxford: Blackwell, 1978), 497–511 (p. 500).)

That I have the above quotes is due to my wonderful partner DC. That we have each other is so amazing and rich that nothing in these apparently dark times should make us abandon the colours and the peace, the warmth and the culture of the best of all of us.

As we find ourselves surrounded by the festivities of Christmas may we all connect with the Christ energy, the awareness of our true (Buddha) nature, the beauty of our paradox, the warmth of our humanity. And in the coming term of this government's office may we remember our true (Buddha) nature.

Monday, 2 December 2019

Dead Tooth

Long story short - I've cracked a back tooth, not that there's much at all to see, it's died and I'm in the process of consulting with specialist dental surgeons to see if it can be saved or will need to come out. I'm finding the whole business rather frustrating and upsetting. So much for non-attachment!

After a meeting a work colleague asked me 'why are you so bothered about them taking a tooth out?' Well, I could answer in all sorts of ways about why anyone wouldn't want to loose a tooth and all that would be true. And I'm also aware that I've been particularly careful with my teeth and really want to get through to death at a reasonable age still with them in good condition. And now at 52 having spent most of my life looking young for my age (oh how that would make me uncomfortable in my youth) I now look middle aged. The tooth thing feeds into this and says MORTALITY! Even though anyone could crack a tooth at any age it feels like an age thing. Somehow the conversation got round to sex. (And of course this tooth issue feels like a loss of erotic capital...) I found myself discussing the different intentions behind sex and the places sex can come from, its relationship with where we're 'at' as individuals; head (mind / idea) sex, heart (emotional) sex, power dynamics in sex, awareness in sex, fetish, tantra, the nature of the little death of orgasm etc. etc... there were some confused looks... Driving to my next meeting after the above meeting I was struck by how glorious the day was. It was bright and after a period of intense cloud and gloom it felt alive and vital. Some music on the radio also felt alive and vital. The joint effect was to create in me a sense of the alive, creative natural desire to be which I feel to be at the very root of all there is; the void's fecundity, the erotic in its widest sense. And for a moment the feeling of the sun lit countryside, the music, the road passing beneath the car all seemed part of a continuum of erotic experience not so different from the sexual expression of the erotic. The prospect of loosing a tooth seems to say all this will collapse; it's back to the void, the bubbles dissipate, the dream passes... And with that arises a flicker of anxiety that as the dream passes perhaps there's only been very limited spiritual awakening, that the void barley saw anything and may even fail to glimpse its self.

Later in the evening I watched a YouTube video of an interview with one of DC's colleagues called Paul. The interview was in connection with Paul's work as a Jungian analyst looking at death and HIV. I was impressed (as I almost always am when listening to Paul) at the breadth and depth of his purview and subsequently it came to me in a txt exchange with Paul how death is at least as big as life and since life is potentially limitless and therefore unknowable in its extreme, death is unknowable not just because as Shakespeare's Hamlet asked 'what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil?' but because we don't fully know what it is that ceases at death's commencement. All of which brought me back to the erotic and the desire both to be and to return home to the Source or at least to know Source.

Last night DC and I went to see the movie 'The Two Popes'. We both enjoyed it and found it moving in parts. A line said by Anthony Hopkins as pope Benedict: 'I first sinned against God as a child when I hid away from his world and sought safety in books' struck a chord with me. Not that I hid in books but I knew the point; life seemed a dangerous and unpredictable affair. Peter Pan's comment that 'to die will be an awfully big adventure' is a reflection of a view of life as much as death. And whilst I dislike the word sin there is a wounding betrayal of the self  in not opening to life. Life and death are inseparable. And I couldn't but think as I watched parts of the movie, that even though I can see how it might be possible to experience the full vitality of the erotic (as perhaps glimpsed above) as a continuum between the obviously sexual and the non-sexual that it's few who might get to such a place.

And so I find my tooth seems to trigger the whole question of vitality.


Sunday, 30 December 2018

Five Years On

Walking on the beach at Lossiemouth over the Christmas holidays with DC we saw this:

and I recalled taking the photos in this post. I assume the sculpture photographed back in 2013 was by the same person as the sculpture pictured above. Someone seems to enjoy collecting the washed up things on the beach and putting them together in this way.

It's five years since I left Moray but DC and I have returned quite often to see friends there. We both love the landscape and have maintained contact with the people there who became friends during the time I worked with the Findhorn Foundation. This Christmas DC had just returned from a six and a half week trip to India and my dear friend Niels was mourning the loss of one of his friends so the general feel of things was a little subdued as people tried to land in the space of how things were. All this in the general subdued inwardness of mid-winter with its short days. I find Christmas an odd time. We're generally all ready to rest and enjoy a mid-winter festival of light in some form or other and want to connect with friends and loved ones yet often these days those we might spend time with are scattered about the country or even the world. So, there can be a sense of displacement. And of course being displaced or travelling was part of the Christmas story- Mary, Joseph and the trouble finding accommodation... Fortunately our accommodation in Moray was comfortable, in the home of a friend and very familiar to us. I noticed that even though time has passed since our last visit we all just slipped into living together very easily. And yet I found myself feeling that that we were all in our own spaces and not quite able to fully come together for the celebrations and that somehow I was pushing against the grain to maintain connections. This came more into focus as other friends were not able to find time to connect with us. Of course peoples lives are multi-faceted and trying to bring all that we are to meeting in the compressed time frame of a Christmas visit is challenging. What this visit seemed to be saying was that things were changing, the shapes of each of our lives were subtly changing and thus the connections are changing. There was a sense in which the wider geopolitical situation (Brexit, Trump, the environmental crisis...) was also somehow soaking into us. Time passes and our relationships change but they can sustain, the thing is to be open to what is with warmth and affection.

The five years between the two sculptures above have been filled with life and it is good. As we approach the turning of the year I notice that I feel that I do have various creative things happening and that life is good. My intention is to keep putting energy into good connections.

Monday, 21 May 2018


The past few days has seen me looking through some notes, drawings and the like from past workshops. I was looking for something which might be useful to friend. The thing that came to me was that over the years I have absorbed a great deal and softened and relaxed quite a lot. Of course I'm still all too prone to becoming tense! It's very easy for me to get into that place of feeling that I'm wasting my life, not doing enough to be the best me, to have the most rich life possible, that the years will go by and I will look back and think - 'what a waste'. Fortunately, I'm able to see the other side of things - that I have a fairly rich life and a happy one. My tendency to see things as going wrong, falling to bits, being not as 'good' as would like is very easily triggered. And I have deep patterns of feeling like I must be doing something to keep things ok. I know that this comes from events growing up but also from fear of just not being anyone. Even though I know in various ways that none of us are what we seem, not even to ourselves and that the way is just to respond with an open heart to life, I recognise that this can be an enormous ask and our egos in fear grasp at some certain, reliable known self - someone - anyone. It's a work in progress for us all.

Interestingly, I feel a need of some spiritual renewal. The thing that has come up for me time and again is the types of desire - on the one hand there's the desire of life to be, to flower, to come out of the unknowable ground of being to have experience and ultimately to know its self - the void conscious of form and emptiness... etc. etc. and on the other - our little cravings which trap us and take our freedom away. Awareness of which motivation is driving us in this respect takes time. One of the feelings I notice around this is the yearning to be with motivated, aware people. The motivation and awareness geared towards authentic compassionate living. And I also see that at times such people and action is around me and I fail to see it or respond in a harmonious way. I'm grateful for being part of various communities. None of them quite feel like they provide me with what I want. And I can't even articulate exactly what that is. But collectively they provide me with a lot. Maybe the main thing is that even though I can't articulate exactly what it is I crave, I keep working on the question 'is this life's desire to be or my little ego's?'

The death last year of DC's father and this year of his step mother, seeing my own parents become more frail, and noticing the passing of the years has brought an intensity to feeling just how precious life is. I'm sad that my parents and DC's never met. When they were all fit enough to travel between their separate towns we were all still struggling a little to make the whole gay couple thing work with our respective families. Much of this was fear of homophobia rather than homophobia. DC has been going through the belongings of his father and step mother. Things which held meaning and purpose now redundant. And some things capable of being kept to provide new or continuing meaning. Everything is provisional, ephemeral. The wonder is that we can know anything, that we can touch each other deeply even though we are always the only one that can face our life. 

Sunday, 31 December 2017

The Year Turns

I find this an odd time of year; the days are short here in Northeast England, it's between Christmas and New Year, many but not all have stopped working for a week or perhaps two, time is spent with friends and family or perhaps alone... there's both a feeling that this is a time of rest and a feeling that an effort is made to connect and have fun. Whilst there is rest, connection, warmth and love there is also an inbuilt expectation of some kind of fantastic, best there could ever be time of goodness knows what; a mythical Christmas. There's a kind of inbuilt failure in this if one should fall for it. And the commercialism supercharges all this. I take a low key, laid back approach to it and enjoy a time of peace, rest, connection and warmth. Memories of Christmas past come and go. There are walks in nature, time with people I care about, good food, time to reflect and time to feel.

Yesterday evening whilst looking up recipes and cooking times on the internet I had Nina Simone playing on Spotify. A number of songs amongst them 'Ne me quitte pas', brought me to tears. Her voice has the power to embody the deep sadness at the very heart of human life. A voice that seems to walk the tightrope between despair and a joy born of the love of life, the very force of life, it takes me across the precipice of misadventure (perhaps) as adventure, life as journey; an errotic flowering in an ocean of heaven only knows what... Listening to Nina Simone I recall the first time I heard her and liked the song, it was 'My baby just cares for me'. It was in the late 1980's and I was in a pub with a friend. I was still waiting to 'grow out of' my same sex desires and had probably shut down in ways that I still don't fully recall. I didn't know it but I was falling love with this friend and whilst I knew I found him interesting I wouldn't realise that I loved him until he told me (not on the night that song played) that he didn't want to ever spend any more time with me. He wouldn't say why but only that I was 'in a bad way'. That was painful; more or less all at once I realised how much he meant to me, that he didn't think much of me, that I wasn't just turned on by other guys but that I wanted them emotionally too (I'd kind of understood that before since the boys I fancied most at school were the ones who I could imagine connecting with), that yes I probably was in a bad way and that this person who I now realised that I loved (although I don't recall using the word love) didn't actually exist. He didn't exist because the person I thought he was wouldn't be so cruel. Those tears Nina's singing provoked contained her pain, parts of the pains which I've experienced including that unrequited love described above and of course the sadness that comes with life's flowering in an ocean of heaven knows what... that we are at once and at all time interconnected and separate... Just now I'm reading Straight Jacket by Matthew Todd a book about the way LGBT people are adversely affected by being at the margins of society. I'm reading this to see if it's suitable to send to a young gay man I know who will soon go off to university. Because I'm reading this and because Nina Simone is connected in my memory with my struggle to make sense of being gay those tears had that struggle as a bit of a focus but it's the journey across that precipice; life's journey that's the light brought to focus. This is what moves us, the enormity of our, of life's potential and limitations.

The thing I enjoy about this time of year is that I do have time to feel. It's not only at this time of year that I can do this, but the time away from work at midwinter when work lives sort of slow for many facilitates the chance for deeper connection with feeling and being. The feelings are as ever, at times complex  and at others apparently simple and more and more there is the sense of the space that holds them. Spiritual life for me is about awareness. The mirror is without a stand and has nowhere for dust to land yet it still needs to be wiped clean. And it takes a healthy self to forget the self. This brings me to constructions of masculinity. I've seen straight men struggle with that, from machismo to men who seem wet and without direction and I've seen gay men struggle with it. Gay men struggle with it both in relation to straight men and other gay men. What is needed of course is just to respond to life from the heart with the power that is needed, without too much attachment to the outcome but with the care that the situation needs. This requires a lot of awareness and a willingness to act. The two are of course related. Women too have to negotiate constructions of self but as a gay man my energies are naturally directed in terms of masculinities. We often create our selfhood through our work or in our sense of alienation from it. At this time of year if we take a step back from our employment and take time to feel and be then there is the opportunity to consider our life's work as we move into the next year. What are we all about? I feel fortunate in that I've had opportunity in life to explore this question and continue to unfold it. My hope for the young man I'm considering sending the above book to is that he lives a life with balance and flair; that there is depth, understanding, peace, joy and compassion and that he gets these qualities without too much pain yet is creative, engaged and growing. And that's probably what most of us want for ourselves and those we love.

Friday, 29 September 2017


After publishing my last post I see that last autumn I was writing the same thing! It's easy to think 'no progress'. However, I also see change in the broader picture. Things take time.. all is well.