Monthly Archives: November 2013

Men and Bits of Paper

V1

I’m gearing up for an adventure in consciousness.

For the second time I am about to surrender all my distractions and commit to ten days of silent meditation on a farm in Hereford. The technique is called Vipassana, which means insight. I feel like I am preparing to climb a difficult mountain – again. Hard enough the first time, but infinitely harder the second, knowing what’s coming.

It’s not the silence. I can go days in my shed without talking to a soul. It’s not being woken at 4am by an old-fashioned hand bell. I like getting up early and the bell sounds like it belongs in a Tibetan monastery. It’s not the food, which is simple and vegetarian. It’s not the living quarters, which are spartan but include the rare treat of a hot shower. It’s not the purpose-built, high-ceilinged, wood and glass meditation hall with its piles of cushions and blankets and several hundred other truth-seekers, from both genders, all ages, all walks of life. It’s not even the fierce physical pain of sitting cross-legged on the floor for eleven hours a day.

It’s the knowledge that when the storms hit, the psychological storms of memory and feeling and love and loss and hope and despair and longing, I will have nowhere to go, nowhere to run to, nowhere to hide. No guitar, no pens and paper, no books, no films or wine or joints or cake.

So why do it?

Because on the other side of the storms is mental silence. Nothing more, nothing less, nothing rarer. A break from the incessant noise and clatter and chatter inside my head. A chance to see the world as it really is, without my desperate ego-specs.

There was a patch of woodland next to the meditation hall. It was extraordinarily beautiful, or at least I thought so at the time. The ground was a thick carpet of fallen leaves in a million colours. Hoar frosts pinned naked trees to frozen skies. Moonlit dawns and lonely stars.

With the help of the trees and the moon and the stars I went through a tunnel of darkness and came out of it. By the eighth day I was high as a kite.

In an effort to record my journey, I collected objects from the woods and laid them out on paper towels in my room. As soon as the vow of silence ended, on the tenth day, I made scribbled notes about what the objects represented. Here’s what I wrote. Unabridged.

 

Gong, berry tree, birds etc

Men, men, men, passion, crazy mind, crazy mushroom

Running towards death with my fingers in my ears, screaming.

 

Nettles

Butterflies in stomach, shiver of fear, stab of envy

Sticky ego.

 

PAIN, prickly pain, just pain, nothing but pain

A voice, ‘I can help you, the pain is not pain’

Dead things, some beauty.

 

Apple trees, FOOD, craving

One pine tree among the multitudes of oak and beech

Acceptance of things AS THEY ARE.

 

Everyone looks wild and dishevelled

Glance in the mirror by accident and react to thoughts about myself

Negativity.

 

MOON, HIGH, like I’ve never seen the world before

The hedge, so beautiful

Coming down.

 

And the silver birch is a mind over matter thing

Not using willpower anymore, smiling HELPS, want to pick up some beautiful frost and…

Won’t last, nothing will last.

 

Cold November and all the trees in bud

Equanimity, change, ARISING AND PASSING AWAY

Such a cold and frozen morning.

 

These plants and flowers

Then warmth and sunshine, tea and talking

After Metta, and after crying.

 

(Books:

William Hart – The Art of Living

T.S.Eliot – Burnt Norton)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Money and Art

busking‘Money sucks’ said my friend, a painter, from the depths of my sofa.
We had been talking about the weather. It’s cold. She can’t afford heating.

I understood exactly what she meant. Until I started busking, and learned that people were willing to pay me to do something I loved, money was tainted by the lengths I had to go to in order to get it. Serving endless plates of chips to dickheads who had never been taught any manners, picking daffodills from dawn to wintry dusk in frozen boggy fields for bully-gangers employed by corporate flower farms, cleaning the rooms of my fellow (richer) students at university while I should have been cramming for my finals. Money sucked. Because what I really wanted was time, and money was sucking up all my time.

It wasn’t until I cut out the middle men – banks, job centres, bosses – that I began to see things more clearly. And I saw that I had fallen into a trap. The starving artist trap. I had shot the messenger – money – instead of the message.

Money talks. And what it usually talks about is greed, consumerism, inequality, corrupt politics and environmental desecration in the name of progress. These messages are everywhere. Go shopping, screams the TV. Vote for us! Scream the fracking politicians. But the individuals behind the crass adverts and childish politics also fell into a trap – I’ll call it the fat banker trap – where instead of shooting the messenger, they started stalking him. Which has led us to this desperate situation in which starving artists, having renounced their shares, can only stand by and marvel in helpless horror at ‘…the casual indifference of those willing to sacrifice so much truth, so many people – even the stability of the global climate – for what, in the end, amount to the most trivial, transient baubles of personal wealth, status, comfort and power.’*

No wonder most normal people think money sucks. Only it doesn’t. And we mustn’t.

Money is neutral. Along with being a messenger, money is a facilitator and a resource. It can fund corrupt politicians. It can heighten inequality. It can trumpet propaganda. It can buy plastic shit made in sweatshops by children. It can be hidden in offshore bank accounts (although what the point of that is I’m not entirely sure). Or, it can allow for travel and exploration, leading to a deeper connection with our world. It can be given to people who need it, so they can drink clean water. It can buy land and protect it for future generations. It can be invested in green technologies. It can buy time and talk about truth.

No busking?

Frack off.

*(David Edwards – The Compassionate Revolution; Radical Politics and Buddhism)

 

 

 

All Play and No Work

 resized gate

In the surf the other day somebody called out – ‘Don’t you have a job?’

It was an arrow, aimed at my self-esteem.

I work for myself, mainly on activities that feed my heart and soul, if not my bank balance. This means I can go surfing whenever I like. Which is quite often. Other people have to be present – at least physically – in offices, on shop floors, in banks etc

The comment hurt because from the moment I came down from the mountains and walked through the school gates as a tiny child I was brainwashed, just like everybody else, into separating work and play. Play is self-indulgent and worthless and for children. Work is painful, forms the basis of one’s value as a human being, and is what grown-ups do.

Some people have jobs they love. I am not talking about those people. I am talking about the cultural norm of going out and spending most of one’s waking hours doing something one does not want to do, for no good (meaningful) reason other than to contribute to the big fat mess we call the global economy.

As this popular quote from Charles Bukowski’s Factotum perfectly expresses, it’s not as if anybody could actually enjoy this kind of work – “How in the hell could a man enjoy being awakened at 6.30 am by an alarm clock, leap out of bed, dress, force-feed, shit, piss, brush teeth and hair, and fight traffic to get to a place where essentially you made lots of money for somebody else and were asked to be grateful for the opportunity to do so?”

Not that doing what you love – turning play into work – is easy –

Being awakened long before dawn, by an idea, leap out of bed that is also a sofa, put several thick jumpers on over nightclothes (too cold to dress yet), set kettle to boil on camping stove, go outside to piss under distant stars, wash face with cold flannel, find pieces of coffee pot by the light of the moon, shiver, scrape hair away from eyes, wrap self in blankets, sit down on sofa that is also a bed, think of things that hurt, imagine, re-imagine, feel despair, feel elation, feel sick, feel crushed by the weight of emptiness, stare at the screen, give up, get dressed, go seal watching, imagine, re-imagine, feel crushed by the weight of loneliness, write a song, sing it to the sparrows, suspect everything you have ever done is crap, suspect everything you ever will do is crap, go for a surf….fend off the arrows. Smile. Go home and carry on. No pats on the shoulder, no external validation, no office parties, no sick pay.

Be constantly grateful for the fact that you have somehow remained free, no matter how deep the emptiness and how cold and distant the morning stars.

In the words of Gary Snyder“Practically speaking, a life that is vowed to simplicity, appropriate boldness, good humour, gratitude, unstinting work and play, and lots of walking brings us close to the actually existing world and its wholeness.”

Which happens to be more important to me than contributing to the big fat mess we call the global economy.