Friday 22 February 2013

Feeding Each Other

DC and I have had a lovely sociable time of late with friends coming round for dinner; I've done some lovely meals if I do say so my self! I am due to return to Scotland for an unspecified time and I'll miss being here with DC. Last night with friends we were talking about the terrible direction the ConDem coalition government have taken and the dreadful effects of thirty odd years of neoliberalism. It's depressing and frightening; we are being driven back to the way things were (in terms of social care) before WWII. And I am convinced that this and NOT any so called balancing of the budget is the motive of this (Tory for that is what it is) government. We all agreed that everywhere is fear and that seems to be what the government want. I commented that there is a general agreement in 'spiritual' traditions that an axis exists with love at one end and fear at the other. To generate conditions which fuel fear is to generate conditions which reduce love and that is evil. I don't want to start listing the catalogue of crazy and harmful policies this government have pursued. It was bad enough watching Tony Blair and New Labour continue down the neoliberal path but this head long smash and grab charge is something else! At a time when the world so needs to look towards collective care we are being driven in the opposite direction. The majority of people are finding it harder to feed (in the broadest terms) themselves let alone feed others and that is a recipe for disaster. We have to move in the direction of love not competition.

Sunday 10 February 2013

Fire and Brimstone Zen

I couldn't resist this title! This morning putting on my T shirt:

'I like this T-shirt; I've had it for years and it has lasted very well'. I commented to DC.

'And we never tire of seeing you you in it.' He returned.

'I'd wear the same things all the time...' I started.

'No you wouldn't, we wouldn't let you.' He returned. He probably could see I was slipping into an anti fashion rant.

'There is just a fetish for change. The universe is changing all the time, there is no need to seek change for its own sake. It's about two different types of desire; the universe's natural desire for things to happen, which is the desire that makes trees grow way up there and the kind of desire which is like chasing a carrot on a stick' I said.

'That's your fire and brimstone Zen' DC said.

Now, I stopped and reflected on that. Because for me 'fire and brimstone' has a negative connotation. Negative because it is judgmental and more often than not preached by those with a fragile, maladjusted egoistic self lacking in compassion. Or to put it an other way, those who in one way or an other are chasing some kind of a carrot; a carrot promising salvation by being better than others. Was I coming from some unwholesome attachment and if so to what? Two risks come to mind; 1) propping up a self by being better than those 'less spiritual' - spiritual materialism and 2) lack of engagement with pleasurable things (as they naturally arise) in order not to have to deal with the subsequent loss when they go. In all honesty I think I can answer no to both of these. I like the things I like to stay the same; I don't want a different version just for the change, I find that sort of change tiresome. This is the attachment for me; I like consistency, I am averse to a lot of change. And this was my point; things change all the time, we don't need to press the accelerator and fuel it with carrot chasing desire. Too much of life has been steered by the belief that we do and I would argue that the whole financial crisis we are all now facing is as a result of this. I put on more clothes. I like the feeling of thinking I look good in some item of clothing. I like my T-shirt, blue 501 jeans, and trainers look. I know it's a bit dated but I like to think it's also a bit timeless; the sort of look that actually still looks viable in photos ten, twenty, thirty years later. This I think is the mark of good aesthetics; the test of time. Fashion by its very nature dates.

Of the three poisons (which in Buddhism are ignorance, attachment and aversion,) aversion is probably the one that gets a hold over (the ignorant self of) me! Recently I've realised that a lot of my difficulties have come from what might be seen as a lack of desire and an excess of aversion. A lack of desire? Can that be right? No; it's not lack of desire it's probably more lack of interest. More specifically lack of interest in what seems to be on offer and lack of imagination to do something about it. Which is to judge that I am not making the most of life. Umm... that sounds like a trap... And one without much self compassion. Judgmental and lacking in compassion... fire and brimstone. It seems I might be coming from some unwholesome place after all...! The mirror having no stand and no place for dust to land is still there waiting to be dusted!

Tuesday 5 February 2013

Is That All There Is?

Soul music on Radio 4 featured the song 'Is that all there is?' this week. If you are reading this post close to today's date then listen to the program on iPlayer. Here on youtube is a recording of Peggy Lee singing this wonderful song. There is great acceptance and warmth in the lyrics and music and Peggy Lee's performance is perfect. Life is bitter sweet, full of disappointment yet also full of meaning and depth. It might not be at times all we would wish for, yet also for the most not as awful as we might fear. We can accept what is, we can keep dancing. What else is there? There is no need to despair, no need to haste our exit from this life. And those final lines of the song go on to remind us that when the time comes to face it, even death may well be one more experience for which the response is - 'is that all there is [to death] then lets keep dancing'. In a less playful way Adorno would remind us - ‘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.) But let's not end with a negative note, no, lets keep dancing. Keep facing the koan, keep breathing, keep dancing. And, supported by a 'spiritual perspective' we can keep dancing with awareness (we need not break out the booze). We are all connected in one big mixed bag of a dance, remembering that can save a lot of suffering and bring a lot of fun. For me, in its own way the song 'Is that all there is?' goes some way to pointing to the four noble truths and remembering the koan which inspired the title of this blog (case 5 Mumonkan) it reminds me that the only way to give an answer when hanging in a tree by your mouth is to keep dancing, but dance with compassion.