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.


Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Being and Doing

I've not posted for ages. I guess partly it's that I've nothing pressing to say and partly that a full time job takes up so much time and energy that there's not much energy left for yet more time in front of a computer after reading and writing emails etc. Loss of visual accommodation and increasing numbers of floaters etc. don't make staring at a screen any easier either. Since about spring this year I've not been seeing as well as I'd like. The normal age related loss of accommodation, increased floaters contact lenses not settling due to dry and/or sticky eyes and more challenging increased higher order aberrations; it all makes me tense and tired. But there's also something else giving me a drained feeling. I like my job, the type of work, the people, the degree of freedom are all good. The draining aspect about it is probably the constant monitoring, adjusting, checking, questioning and advising without a definite driving to closure and completing. It's just how the role is. And yes, there's Wu Wei to be remembered so letting go of driving is maybe no bad thing. I'd like to have more time for various spiritual practices which would help me with the 'off the cushion' meditation of daily life and the challenges which come aplenty in the course of a working day. Half an hour per day zazen, once or twice a week 5 Rhythms and once a week yoga plus some time at the weekend walking in the countryside or on the beach seem to be all I can manage in respect of steady spiritual nourishment. Spiritual support form friends is there too of course and for that I've very grateful. Any yet I know that there is an axis of experience which I'm not finding the time or opportunity to unfold. When I first started to sit zazen it was a time when I had had the rug pulled from under me and had only just started to rebuild a more healthy sense of self. I had had my sense of who I was and what I might rely upon severely damaged. In many ways that anxious depression, brought on by a lot of stress at work over a long time whilst very painful did served me and in a way I'm very grateful for it. It allowed me one way or another to find a forgotten me, a more truly me, me. In those early days of zazen I was, whilst aware of the contradiction nevertheless pursuing a degree of 'liberation' which would enable any pain to be endured without suffering. I could see that this was but yet one more attachment and a potentially dangerous one. I think I avoided most of the pitfalls and gradually let the desire for some 'deep' meditative experience slip away, not chasing not losing sight of the goalless goal. More than a decade has past and many workshops and life changes have been and gone, the self has shifted and changed and in some ways stayed the same, the Self has been glimpsed to some extent. The axis of form and emptiness has experienced unfolding. A lot of the time it unfolds but the experience seems very much in the world of form and awareness is dim and cloudy; I'm very much lost in delusion. It's this axis of form and emptiness which I feel I'm not exploring consciously. In this feeling there is the usual mixture of desire, fear and confusion. Is it the three poisons; greed, aversion and delusion? To answer that I find I'm back with helpful and unhelpful desire. For me to write off desire as all bad is too simplistic, too life denying; it's not all greed. But separating life's longing to be, the natural birth of each moment from subtle forms of greed... now there's a challenge. And the challenge is accepted, I'm deluded but I accept it as part of clearing that delsion as best each moment permits. No enlightenment outside of daily living. A regular work and home life is fine training. Yes. But like any training there needs to be more than just learning whilst playing the game, there needs to be more focused exploration of ways to be.

During long years without a job there was the uncertainty of where it would all end... would I ever return to a professional job or was all that gone and was I loosing my edge; quickness of wit becoming ever more dull until the day I realised that I was incapable of reading the situation, working out what could and should happen and making it so? In short fear of a loss of agency in the field of doing. This nagging doubt would detract from making the most of just being. Now it's time just to be which seems short at hand. Yes, with more awareness, a change of perception, there is all the time in the world but that takes a lot of awareness and just being seems like a luxury. Contemplation; awareness without adding anything affording access to the ever present Buddha nature or Self and a softening of the sense of inside and outside (of myself), softening of my and self and all that helping to make the everyday myself more straight forward and less maladapted, time for this is short. It's difficult in the world we've created to get a balance of being and doing. I think this is a real problem for our society. It robs us of the chance to see who and what we are. We become ever locked into the realm of form and see emptiness only as entropy. The unknowable fullness of emptiness pregnant with possibility is experienced only as new opportunities to exploit. All this is tiring me greatly. I feel as if I might be spiritually drowning. But, if I review the ten ox herding pictures then well, maybe I'm swimming ok(ish) or maybe not...

And then there's the desire to make the most of one's life... I'm not too troubled by that since in reality me as an unfolding experience just happens and the sense of choice doesn't seem too inflated. But There is a sense that I could 'make a shift'; open a new chapter. I feel this is brewing under the surface and if it is then in time, when conditions are ripe it will unfold. If it's not or if conditions don't ripen then it wont. I know there's not much to be done there. But there is some feeling of frustration.

It's interesting that it can often be easier just to be when with someone close. Being close. Inward connection; just being alone, being close with self/Self or the inward-outward connection of being close with someone; the else of someone else dropping away and leaving a combined sometwo (or more). All this is about Oneness in apparently varying ways. I know that I've explored much of this and its relationship with the creative impulse and have written more than once about what I experience as the universe's desire to know itself in form and emptiness through expansion and merging again and again. I recollect storey about a monk saying he was going to become a monk to find out that he didn't need to become a monk. We don't need to go anywhere or do anything to come home to ourSelf. True in part and not the whole picture. My circle of gay 'spiritual' friends my 'gay sanga' is limited and spread the length of the country. This I experience as disconnection. I guess that you need a city on the scale of London to generate a viable group of 'spiritually' interested gay men. And then one has to be in a space that urban, that busy, with all its demands. How lovely it would be to have a centre for such a group in a semi rural location in the UK. Such a place might afford the kind of rest, recuperation, energisation, connection and 'spiritual nourishment' that I feel I could do with. Even suitable gay retreats at any location in the world are thin on the ground.

This year seems to be going by quickly. That's probably a function of busyness. It definitely feels autumnal now and we have booked a week in a cottage in the lake district for early November. I'm looking forward to the time and space this should provide.