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Tuesday, 28 December 2010

The Eternal Return

My little christmas tree to you.        
So I´m a little late…I got caught up in rushing around before Christmas…but I´m in time to wish you a Happy New Year!

I had an unusual Christmas this year.  It was very nice, with excellent foods, and good company but it wasn´t Christmassy... There was no going down the pub to see faces you haven´t seen for a minimum of a year or decade, and in Catalunya cranberry sauce is unheard of. No mistletoe, no sitting around with the ceremony of who opens which present when, and shockingly not even a hint of drunkenness…I did slurr my words, but it was more due to the eternal struggle with foreign languages.

Mircea Eliade writes that all cultures have ceremonies that allow the individual to leave his daily life, if only momentarily, to enter into “that world” where all is exactly the same as the last time, where time stops ticking, all becomes eternal. It is an ethereal, sacred place where the spirit is renewed, the old is thrown out, and the experience gives a sort of reset. Like taking the battery out of the back of your Blackberry.

It is the same place maybe that Henri Corbin talks about, where the material is spiritualised and the spirit is materialised.

I am sure that we have all felt this, when a certain date of the year we do exactly the same as the last time, as the time before that, since we can remember. When we forget ourselves and in so doing re-find ourselves. For, why else would Catalans get so excited about eating a soup for their Xmas meal? And how come stuffing takes you back to when you were a child and Uncle Maurice said that if you imagine strong enough, stuffing tastes of whatever you want it to? And it did. And it does. It tastes of Christmas, it tastes of a connection with my ageless self that I renew through stuffing ceremonies every year.

And this year I didn´t get it through food. I didn´t manage to get into that agelessness on Xmas day where all is the same, where the brain gives way to the heart. Xmas day isn´t a day I expect to do a bit of graffiti with Enric´s grandchildren. But I did (and I loved it...).

But do not fret, I did get that feeling, I was transported back to being my ageless musical self, playing carols with Dan the Man. It is something that as a child and teenager I have done every year, and since have listened to nearly every year. And god-damn, though they are not exactly top of the pops, I love ‘em! They give me the same emotions as when I was me before. They take me half way to that place.

On Xmas day I listened to a TV programme talking about the symbology of Father Christmas. I found it super interesting and want to share it.

Papa Noel was originally dressed in green, because he represented being connected with the earth, with nature, with trees. He is helped by little elves, or tree dwellers, who if you are worthy, if you have worked on yourself, give gifts. The programme talked of gifts as in talents, such as the gift of creativity. If you passed through the material darkness with dignity, with connection to the light of being, then you were given more gifts-talents.

Santa Claus, being attached-connected in this way to the heavens by a very fine golden thread (in Norse mythology), descends from the heavens down through the chimney, which the programme mentioned is related with the spinal cord, with the chakras. He tumbles down to the root chakra and if you have been good, he leaves gifts under the tree.

Here the tree is a symbol of life. We humans are suspended between the roots that go into the lower worlds and the branches that reach up to the higher worlds. The lower world is represented by black, the chaos of material, the instinctual world, and we grow organically up towards the white of the heavens, where there is the possibility of reaching an entelechial connection with the stars (with the star or angel, who sits at the top of the tree smiling angelically, even though the tree has been rammed up her flowing robes).

The tree is decorated, and in the past with candles, which I would like to think are the little lights of consciousness that help us along our individual paths to the final goal - but begs the question of how did the tree not burn down…?

If you are unworthy here in Spain, if you are a naughty and have been acting up, you receive a piece of coal, which is black and represents a regression to the world of material chaos. The smiling white angel has to wait.

But if we´ve been worthy, can the experience of connecting with the angel, be the same that Mircea Eliade and Henri Corbin speak of? Where, as Hermes Trismegistus said, chiselling in the Emerald Tablet: "That which is Below corresponds to that which is Above, and that which is Above corresponds to that which is Below, to accomplish the miracle of the One Thing"?

So, you see I was very happy eating my dinner on my lap, in the privacy of our home, listening to the idea that Papa Noel too represents, in this time of the Winter Solstice, the idea of going into the dark depths with the light of our souls, to come out of the dark chaos with grace, having learnt more about ourselves, enabling us to receive gifts that allow us to live a little wiser, somewhat more universal, with more pleasing order. With each cycle let´s hope we are a little more in unison with our true selves.

Have a Great New Year.

Alchemy and Mysticism from The Hermetic Museum
Author: Heinrich Khunrath
Work: Amhitheatrum sapientae aeternae
Date: 1606

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Happy doing the things you do.

So recently Enric sent me this video ...

It made me think...and of course being someone to jump into the shoes, or shoe in this case, of another....I imagined myself the man with the one leg...and contemplated how would I feel at the end of the performance, seeing that I had moved an audience to tears. 

I did a theatre course a couple of years ago with our beloved teacher Jose Vásquez, titled, "Contact with the Shadow"....the idea was to go into ourselves...and through a particular difficult exercise, I realised that no matter what happens to us, even if we have all of the physical problems in the world imaginable, we are still, believe it or not, us. 

Some days I wish I could just have a rest.  But alas! I must always be with me.  No escape.  So, after the video I imagined myself, in the position of the man with one leg, and imagined how I would react (all half unconsciously - you know that internet half-in-half-out approach...) and came quickly to the conclusion that I would probably react like this:

"What the f am I doing here?....making audiences cry just cos I´m dancing with one leg....What am I here on this planet for?....What is my existence worth?....Why should I not just kill myself?..." and on and on....

The sensitive reader will discern that I had, emotionally wise, a rather difficult November.  Again.

But at that moment of hundimiento....of falling in on myself....into and far away from my imagined one legged body....a little voice came into my head.... not strong but small and gently wise....and said "You are right.  It´s no good dancing just to make an audience look at you admiringly be moved to tears"  It continued "....you would only get the satisfaction, the fulfilment you are looking for, if you danced because it is what most you wanted to do in that moment, because it is what you LOVE to do."

And I would say, humbly, that that little wise voice inside of me is actually quite wise....

I Ching says: 

  • When a man is dissatisfied with modest circumstances, he is restless and ambitious and tries to advance, not for the sake of accomplishing anything worth while, but merely in order to escape from lowliness and poverty by dint of his conduct. Once his purpose is achieved, he is certain to become arrogant and luxury-loving. Therefore blame attaches to his progress. On the other hand, a man who is good at his work is content to behave simply. He wishes to make progress in order to accomplish something. When he attains his goal, he does something worth while, and all is well. (Hexagram 10, 9 at the beginning)

Maybe this is all so simple and obvious to others, but to me it was a sort of breakthrough.  So I apologise if this would seem ridiculously simple, but I realised how important it is to listen to your heart, and do what makes you enjoy life, what makes you happy just to be.  If people see you doing it, and themselves are moved to do what their heart whispers to them, (which also makes them happy doing something, with a love of the action-result to want to show others too), well, that is just beautiful...and if no one sees, or they do but don´t applaud, well, just by having done the action itself brings the feeling of it being totally worthwhile.  Personal fulfilment is gained by simply living with a balance between the desire of our heart and the possibilities of our mind.

I would hazard a guess that what we are innately trying to acheive is Beauty.  It is what fills us with fulment.  Beauty, according to François Cheng is what manifests between yin and yang, between the femininine (in all of us) and the masculine (in all of us), between the right and left brains, between performer and audience.  Between the polarities of life manifests Beauty like an end of a rainbow.  We cannot create it....we can only do our bestest in expressing our part, in the way in which we feel most purity, most harmony with who we are, in the hope that Beauty manifests. 

In her wonderful talk Elizabeth Gilbert talks at one point about the Moors who invaded the south of Spain.  Their dancers would dance night after night, dancing, dancing....but once in a while a dancer would "click in", would tranform and in so doing would seem to float in the harmony of their movements, they would appear more than just human as if a light were shining through them...and the audience would shout "¡Olé! ¡Ole!" which was "Allah! Allah!"....the divine shining through.  And that, I guess, is Beauty.

But we cannot dance in life if we are not dancers, just to achieve what someone else really liked and got fulfilment from, and got audiences shouting "¡Olé" at them....for as Oscar Wilde put succintly "Be Yourself, everyone else is taken". 

And so I realise that I have been moved by the ballet of the two people in the video…moved to think about myself, to think about my actions, my motivations, to think about Beauty….I have been moved to write, to play with words….but I´m telling you, even with two legs, if I were to dance for you, you´d all fall about laughing.  

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Joan Melé - Money and Consciousness

I have just watched a marvellous video of Joan Melé, the subdirector of Triodos Bank, an Ethical Bank (YES they exist!) talking in Castellaño about Money and Consciousness.

Joan Melé giving his talk "Dinero y Consciencia"

He begins by saying that it is impossible to come out of this present crisis if we are only going to think about coming out of the crisis. We need a change of paradigm, we need to see that the earth is not just in a crisis, such as climate change, but is in a far far worse state, the world is sick. And we, living together on it, are too.

Joan Melé explains the difference between mechanic and organic systems. He says mechanic systems are a sum of its parts. However organic systems, which we undoubtedly are, are a reflection of the whole. Each cell affects the whole and each cell needs the whole for its existence.

Cancer is a rapid growth of cells, explains Joan (on first name terms now), that have no concept of the whole, that grow at the expense of the other cells around them, and eventually kill the system itself. He then, cleverly, explains how money is working in a cancerous way as someone pays millions for a Picasso painting, with the plans to spend billions on the extension of Camp Nou or how millions are spent on a formula one car or thousands on a piece of jewellery...open the newspapers for more examples…my brain has gone dry.

And then listen to this loveliness! The heart governs the blood flow, that flows through every single cell in our bodies. It goes through a small conical pouch that projects from each atruim of the heart called an “auricle”.  The word stems from "auris", as in "ear"…the heart listens to the body, to the information coming back through the blood and redistributes the blood that goes through every single cell, and prioritises. If you are studying it goes to the head, which I hope is where your blood is now reading this, if you are eating it goes to the stomach, if you are running up the road mine attempts to get into my legs and sprints into to my face cheeks…The heart (with help from the brain) has the global vision of the body and distributes the oxygenated blood, which is life, in function of the necessities. It is not mechanical, pumping uniformly, but listens, responds, modifies.  Banks, in Joan´s idea, should have the mission of circulating the money, the economic blood of our communities, like a heart.  They should connect those who have ideas and are without money, to those with money and without ideas, sending life to where it is needed in each of the cells of the whole. It is the original idea of banking in his opinion. But we don’t seem to allow that. We go for making money from money. But I´m not going to get into that. We all have our opinions about speculating.

The world is sick. The world has cancer. We are all cells in the whole. Are we healthy cells? Erm…what an embarrassing question. But we must answer it.

My dense knowledge of Biology may be summed up in one word…none. But I am trying to think how a body naturally deals with cancer, and anyone who knows, please, I would appreciate, stroke need, your opinion. But logically, there must be an area where there are cells having a ball, multiplying like crazy, celebrating the cell stock market highs, frenzies of cocktail party growth, while around them there must be cells who are still healthy, who are so tempted to get into all that action and multiply, but don´t. Why? How? There must be a wall of healthy cells that are strong enough inside “themselves” to maintain their vision of the whole.

I know, I know, it is just not scientific at all, but how else can it be?

Joan says that we cannot let decisions be made any more by others. He cried a little on the inside with the election based on the hope that Obama is going to save us. We have to save ourselves. Kant said a similar thing, we have to take the responsibility off external authorities and internalise it. We have to raise our consciousness so that we can learn to make decisions.

Are we strong enough to stand up in a sick world, and maintain our principles? Can we be strong healthy cells besides those who are having a good time multiplying endlessly in self glory. Can we be healthy enough with the hope that the present craziness will not spread to every single cell? As we see our environment amusing itself to death, are we strong enough to act differently to our surroundings?  Can we maintain internal strength springing from the sense of life, without falling into the temptation of easy wins at the expense of someone else who we don’t even know (another cell)?  It is so easy just to buy the cheapest, to buy fruit out of season without thinking about the implications, to put our money into high interest rate accounts (did you know 95% of money´s movement (the blood) is pure speculation that doesn´t create wealth?). I guess it´s time that we begin to be aware of what we do everyday.

The questions Joan poses are:

How do we consume? What are the effects of our purchases? Who has made them, how have they been treated, how has the production affected the world?  Has transport and its pollution really been necessary?
Why do we consume? The psychological biggie which needs more than just a ten day silent retreat.
How do we save? And where is that saved money going to? Joan explains his experience of the irony of ironies: Often NGOs are fighting on one side for peace while putting their money in banks who invest in arms.  That more than $1.5 trillion spent on the military worldwide (according to SIPRI figures for 2009) is a very tempting market and has great interest.  And if not war, big companies often squash out the smaller in the "survival of the fittest".  Are your principles and your saving in harmony?
Joan remarks quite simply that money doesn’t just make money, as much as we may try to fool ourselves. Anyone who puts their mind to it will see it is impossible…someone, somewhere loses. Cancer´s temptation has spread.

He too is for the idea that we are human and beings. We have a higher and a lower self. Fear, not exactly of the present but of the present´s future, is making us behave like animals. And as much as we may be told we are animals (it is a great excuse for all kinds of behaviour) Joan persuades us we are not. An animal, such as a lion, is uniform. They all act the same way. Humans do not. But we are competing and living like animals in an absurd survival of the fittest, pissing on the less adapted to survive. Even the survivors aren´t happy. The education system is uniform, offices around the world are impossible to place outside ubiquitous land, we are bashing ourselves into uniformism, else people wouldn´t be so grossed out by my hairy legs. We are not promoting difference (please no-one else grow the hairs out for so long - it is a failed experiment).  We don´t allow ourselves liberty or creativity, which is what gives us our sense of being. We are selling cheap our sense of being a higher entity rather than a mere human animal, just for credit card points.

Ken Robinson on http://www.ted.com/ says Schools Kill Creativity

Ken Robinson, with his fine name, said in his TED talk that someone said: If all insects were to disappear from this planet, within 50 years all life on earth would end.  If human beings were to disappear from the earth, within 50 years all forms of life would flourish. Are we really so cancerous?

With freedom and creativity comes responsibility. We are in a moment of time of the greatest richness in history, it is simply that our heart is not working correctly, we are not distributing the riches to all of the cells. We all know there are people starving while we tuck into our three meals a day.

But, I shout, what can I do? Well, we can stay healthy, and not fall into temptations of the easy something for nothing living. It is not easy to stand erect (so I´m told) when everyone around is laying in hammocks and saying what can I do?

Joan put a good spin on meditation…he says in modern life we are anorexic of internal life. That we need to create space in our lives for silence, to reconnect with ourselves and nature of life. He recaps each night the day he has led, and tries to think of all that he has done, both well and that which was a mistake. He´s not into flagellation, he isn´t out to judge, instead to become aware so that the next day he can try and be better, which he says we will almost certainly fail at! But Rome was not built in one day, a coach potato does not become a marathon runner in one day...

Being on our own in our own silence is not easy. It like being in a big sports hall alone with no where to run. It is a contact with nothingness as the rug is pulled from under our idea of our own existence…but it also starts to bring into focus an idea of the greater picture, of who we are, of where we are, of the importance our relationships with ourselves, with others, and that which what we jointly create (which we each call as we will).
We need to raise our consciousnesses of the whole, and really what a wonderful job. At first so scary, seeing our nothingness, our fragility, our shadows…but if we are strong enough to withstand the real image of ourselves, we can also begin to see beauty too. For there is no light without a shadow and vice versa.

We cannot change the world or politics and really we have absolutely no right to tell people to change, says Joan. We can only change ourselves, and this in itself influences others.  Can we be honest with ourselves and break through the fantasy mirror of our self image, to see how we act? To realise the consequences of our own actions?

Joan, having been a Director of a bank for 30 years, says that most people at the end of the month, now that money is electronic, have no idea how much they have spent nor what they have spent their money on. The credit card monthly slip is always a surprise. I unfortunately belong to this group. I have no idea.

As well as our money, we must be fairly oblivious to our actions and their consequences - they are even more invisible than our shopping…if only we would take some time each day to consider ourselves (latin: con sidus – to be with the constellations) to become aware of what we are doing, how we are acting and the consequences of us simply being. From realising the pollution going into buying a cherry out of season, to sensing the consequences of our words on others, understanding the impact of our work to comprehending our no action...we can become more aware.  We can make ourselves into healthy cells just by sitting down and considering ourselves, by taking responsibility for our actions, and not falling into the tempting trap of thinking that the more we have, and the easier it is, the happier we will be.

And that was based on the first 30 minutes, Joan spoke for an hour an a half. 

Friday, 29 October 2010

Living Deeply

I just watched a lovely silly little film, the Saturday afternoon types, where “Einstein” in a group of four friends, all of whom are super brains, have fun and make light of their genius-ness trying to get his niece to use her heart instead of her head and fall in love with a mechanic. My fish brain has processed the name of the film which is now floating in no-idea land. It wasn´t a deep film, to say the least but I did wonder if maybe geniuses who combine their knowledge with their hearts in unision really do end up laughing at the end of their lives, enjoying the moments of living.

Dan the Man is my terrific trumpet teacher. I´m learning more than just how to play the trumpet with him. I´m learning to learn again.  Dan told me something about the natural course of a trumpeter that got my mental valve oil squirting: A trumpet player has to, of course, first learn to play the god-damn thing. He (or she of course) has to learn to read music, to learn scales, to learn to make a noise through the instrument, to memorize the fingerings of the notes…then once a trumpet player has learnt the basics, he begins to learn to play less crudely with more technique, and to begin to be able to play for longer with stronger lip muscles without talking after half an hour of practise like a survivor of a head on truck crash. Then of course comes the increasingly complicated music, which gets more technical as time goes on, faster fingerings, difficult scales, sharps, flats, flying out of the horn as if it were a note tamer in the circus. People come and listen and comment on how talented the trumpet player is, how well he plays, how fast his fingers move as his notes go up through the skies. What a solo! He is at the apex of technical ability.

But then comes, says Dan the Man, the vintage years. As the wine grows into the oak, so does the music into the soul. The beauty, the pristine joy of music comes from a trumpet player, such as Doc Cheatham, who created his best work after the age of 70 - music that is technically more simple, but with a depth of feeling, with a profundity of velvetness, that only a true hearted virtuoso can do. Pure expression. He didn´t need to show off his evident expertise, which is what we all aspire to as we begin to learn, but he put the music before the musician. His technique allowed his music to be pure: he enfolded his soul into the music with simplicity and ease. It is when audiences are moved. When e-motions flower. It is when heart touches heart. The music is freed and flows, heals, comes to life.

Doc Cheatham

They say the same about Miró. I mean how many people have looked at his paintings and said “It looks like a child´s done that?” and indeed when you see your little nephew painting you are tempted to put it in an art shop for a couple of thousand. But there is a difference. Do not be tempted! The child does not have the necessary consciousness to be able to transmit the profundity of their soul. Miró learnt to paint, learnt technique, developed his vision and in the end expressed from a similar place to where a child expresses from, but with consciousness, with knowledgeable experience. It is a different drawing board…

Joan Miró. Mujer ante el sol.

So, I guess we cannot all be geniuses, but I think we can all begin to be wise. In the masters course, a profesora explained that life is a curve, not a lineal process.  She used the word curve to make simpler for description but later talked about a spiral from center out followed by a spiral back in to center. Spirals within spirals.  We are born into the world; we are unconscious of ourselves as identities. When a child around the age of 2-ish draws a circle for the first time, when they connect the beginning with the end, it is when the child begins to be conscious of their separate existence to their mother and to others. It´s curious isn´t it? At this stage we are children, coming out of the unconsciousness and the world of fantasy mixed with reality. Then we reach adolescence. We begin to define ourselves as a separate identity to our parents, we finish school, become adults and begin to work and build up our lives. We learn “technique”, we learn to get on in life, to decide what we want in the exterior world, and go get it - until we get to our mid life crisis.  Ahhhhh....slow down!!!!!  Scrreeeeacchhhh!!!!

This is a time of change, like in adolescence when we go from childhood to adulthood, but this time it is a step change of direction. We have reached our apex, our domination of the exterior world, and we begin to cave in, in a positive way - we go into ourselves. We turn under and begin to head back towards the mysteries of life. We skip, or drag ourselves, to the secrets. They are esoteric (belong to an inner circle) because they are unexplainable in logical language, and therefore impossible to make exoteric (outside). That´s why it is secret. We explore the unconscious, the mythical part of ourselves. It is somewhat magic - from which the word “wise” stems according to my New Penguin English dictionary. We go towards the place where we begin to end and a universal spreads before. It’s the place maybe where we were as baby children, but totally innocent, without any knowledge, without any individuality to experience it consciously. As adults we go into ourselves with knowledge of who we are. And the Mirós of this world paint meditatively, as if they were children, trumpet players play simply with all of the heart in the world, and geniuses (if they have comprehended their knowledge having the wisdom to combine their minds with their hearts) begin to live in peace with the world, laughing over silly things like a laughing Buddha, and or eating ice cream with gusto.

Or so the Hollywood comedy love film would have me believe.

And somehow I do. I do believe that there is a way to see if someone gets to the end of their life “successfully” (succedere "come after". Meaning "accomplishment of desired end") you see it in their faces, in their air, they are chuckling and at peace, compared to those tight wrinkled complainers who cry over the price of cabbages and disrespectful children. The wise ones allow themselves to enjoy life like the children.

Krishna was childlike. Matthew says in the Bible “I assure you that unless you change and become like little children, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 18:1-5.10.12-14). But let us not confuse childish with childlike! We all were childlike once. We all possessed wondrous qualities like unconditional love, trust, playfulness and simplicity. And decide for yourselves what the “kingdom of heaven” is…I think it is us in our truest expression, which being so personal transcends into the Universal.

I know a man who is a silent sabio (wise man). His name is Señor Huguet. He is 84. He does yoga that he recently discovered, he reads books on religion and science and anything that takes his interest. He is constantly learning. He enjoys tasting new knowledge (the root of sabiduria (wisdom) is “savouring” says my Rodriguez-Navas Diccionario Completo de la Lengua Española). He savours his experiences. He would not say a bad thing about low down criminals. He sees well in all. But the thing that makes me realise that he has had a successful life, is that he has developed himself and can truly express himself silently, without a hint of ego. The “proof” that he has delved into his heart and mind, in my opinion, is the feeling he leaves me with. It is impossible to describe. It is esoteric. It is a deep down feeling of still joyous waters, that all is right with the world, that love exists because I am feeling it. I leave him smiling, feeling high on life and I can never work out why. I hardly know him, we don´t ever talk about anything personal. And in the end I conclude, it is simply being beside Señor Huguet and his still deep clear waters of peace and joy. He holds internal harmony. He embraces the good with the bad, the light with the dark. Somehow somewhere his mystical, mythical, unconscious world envelops you in amorous beauty.

I wonder what the secret is? Could it be as simple and clear as a beautiful trumpet solo played from the heart, so that as life unfolds, as we question life, the answer seems to come back humbly, wherever you are, whoever you are becoming, simply to learn to love to live?

In any combination.

Raimon Panikkar who died recently, aged 91, in August 2010.
A great Catalan wise man.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Mary Oliver

While I was writing the last blog, I wanted to add this poem.  My brain worked as usual and forgot.   So here it is.  It is called The Journey, and it is by my favourite poetress Mary Oliver who hardly ever writes about people and is possibly the poet who writes the most about being human.

The Journey
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Walking Naked

Not really what my friend meant by walk naked, but you know... it´s like truths on different levels.

“Learn to walk naked in life” said a little old man who I suddenly found myself talking to after somehow finding myself in a choir concert in the University Cloister. I had followed my nose with the lingering notes. He was not a dirty old man…it was all in context. To be honest I had egged him on by letting loose and telling him about my views for 2012 and the cosmic morning. He was really interested, I could tell cos he kept twitching his left eye.

I declared as if I were some insider, the imminent collapse of the church, and all external authority structures and then he said his line. Afterwards as we were walking like old friends down the impressive sweeping stone steps of the University posh bit, he said quietly, looking around to make sure that nobody could hear such indecency, that he had been a priest. He had been used to being on the opposite side of the confessional box…he left because it had become too difficult, he said, to hear confessions of “sins” that he did not consider sins, such as being gay, of enjoying sex, of non catholic ideas, developing unique ideas, etc.

We had made friends because in the middle of one of the choir pieces my telephone decided to join in. God damn! They are hard buggers to shut up surrounded by so much public, big clumsy hands groping around in a cosmic black hole that is normally my bag. He smiled encouragement and at the end of the piece, my face fading from burning scarlet, he explained the poem that had been sung, had been written by Antonio Machado. The verses are from "Proverbios y Cantares" in Campos de Castilla.

Caminante, son tus huellas     Wanderer, your footsteps are
el camino y nada más;           the road and nothing more;
Caminante, no hay camino,   Wanderer, there is no path,
se hace camino al andar.       The path is made by walking.
Al andar se hace el camino,  By walking one makes the path
y al volver la vista atrás        and turning to look back
se ve la senda que nunca      a path is seen that never
se ha de volver a pisar.        one should re-tread.
Caminante no hay camino    Wanderer, there is no path,
sino estelas en la mar.          Only wakes upon the sea.

I am sure that most of you will have heard me rumbling on about the theory where I suddenly become an expert on astrology because I know two things…and they are:  Every 2150 years the earth comes under the influence of a new sign…and that soonish a new one is coming.

Around 4000 years ago as Aries (the Ram) came in, coincidentally (some would say coincidences don´t exist) Moses came into our history. He was said to have horns coming out of his head, and now to honour Moses, Jews blow a ram´s horn. The shofar was used to bring down the walls of Jericho and may symbolise the waking of the soul (once we have broken down our inner walls) and to repent (I guess from our instinctual behaviour). Don´t take my word for it, I am being imaginative. This is my made up theory, keep your right to make up your own!

Then 2000 years ago, when our time system began, Taurus moved into Pisces, and Jesus also coincidentally appeared in the lime light, represented also by two fish flowing in different directions. Which to resume super fast (from my vast no-ledge) represents the first fish swimming in a smooth path and the second in a problematic path, of which we are coming to the end…(and helps explain things like our consummate interest in absolute trash, the present state of the world etc).

With my breadth of knowledge of astrology I can say with the minimum of authority that Pisces, the fish, the Age of Jesus, is an age of external Authority…when we need-needed external direction to understand who we are, where we are going, what we are. We needed and had priests to tell us what to believe, doctors to tell us how to communicate with our bodies, schools to tell us what to learn, legal systems to tell us what is fair, politicians to tell us…whatever it was they used to do…we were not ready to think, feel, act for ourselves. Just as a child needs her father.
The disciples preparing the last supper (Jesus dies 3 days after) are directed by Jesus, “Behold, when ye are entered into the city, there shall a man meet you, bearing a pitcher of water; follow him into the house where he entereth in.” Luke 22:10.

It´s all very tenuous. Around now Aquarius may be in the side lines muttering his lines, ready to come on to stage, but no body knows really for sure. The Mayan Long Count Calendar has an end-date of December 21, 2012 and is associated, my friend wikipedia tells me, with the precession of the equinoxes and therefore can provide an important demarcation for the Age of Aquarius. Though astrologers can´t agree and vary wildly in their time estimates, now-ish could be the time that Pisces goes into Aquarius. So why don´t we have a look around for some of that water? It will do us no harm.


As we go into the cosmic morning (I pause here as if I know a lot more…) we are ready to take responsibility that in Pisces was too much for us. Aquarius is an age when we come into our own. Wikipedia has a whole section describing the qualities of the age of Aquarius, which I have super ultra reduced and chosen the ones I most like (meaning it is totally warped to my ideas - there were a couple of totally negative war mongering, capital controlling, nightmare visions that I would prefer, thank you very muchy, to simply ignore):

Qualities of Aquarius:

Revelation of truth and increased consciousness (Vera Reid)
Fellowship of Humankind (David Williams)
People becoming more impersonal (detached), yet more altruistic and humane (Marcia Moore and Mark Douglas)
Inventions, machines, worldwide organizations, international collaboration, and the fellowship of humankind. Culture, civilization, and intelligence. (Louis MacNeice)

(Cut and pasted) Ray Grasse believes the transition is like travelling into a foreign land, and suggests that if you want help navigating through the Aquarian Age, you should leave room for silence in your life; create a centre in your life (preferably involving a connection to the Absolute); resist the deadening of your world, so instead of filling up your life with manufactured goods or artificiality, bring living organic things into your life. He also says we need to maintain a compassionate heart; be involved in a network or group; become more self-reliant; avoid being hypnotized by the "group trance"; and take control of our everyday attitudes so not to be dependant upon external events for inner fulfilment.

Kant, the Philosopher (1724 – 1804), argued that evolution will occur when we take the responsibility for ourselves from the outside, from authority, as we internalise it. We make our own decisions. This is really not easy, especially in an age where morality is confused with almost non existent ethics. It is almost like learning our own language and having no one to talk to in it. But with time we will learn others lexicons, we will learn to listen.

I have been a walking bundle of questions this summer. Trying to work out who I am, what I am, what I want. It is not easy. And I have come to no conclusions. Like that lovely quote (again) of Rainer Maria Rilke “Try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms or like books written in a remote foreign language. Do not search now for answers that cannot be given to you because you would not be able to live them. And every thing has to be lived. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually live your way, without noticing, into the answer some day.”

Living the questions is changing my perspectives, of myself. I have done it on my own, without an authoritative help. Like a child learning to play their own game. My internal image of myself is changing, secretly on my inside, I am discovering a new me. And it is somewhat different to who I thought I was, what I thought I wanted. It is actually quite difficult to accept, but also quite liberating. I have no idea where I am going, who I am, what I am, want I want…but….like the quote from Sacha Guitry (a French film director, writer, actor):

“Wisdom comes from experience, and experience comes from foolishness”

I am becoming more confident in my foolishness, rather than being foolishly confident. I am learning that we do not need to know everything, we do not need the security of an authority structure stuck in a single truth based on a time that has now changed…It is like saying someone on the Camino de Santiago is closer to “enlightenment” at Pamplona that someone starting at Roncesvalles. There is no path, we make it by walking.

All wisemen say something like, whoever thinks they know all, knows nothing. We are specks in the universe. We as a summation of millions of human minds know only 5% of the universe…all we can do is walk our walk into the unknown, into ourselves.

Only we can discover who we are, by our ourselves, on our own. And as we do, ironically we become more universal.

We are moving away from the old energy, of everyone being the same and following authority (even if it is the inner authority figure sat on a throne of judgement) and moving towards something more sensitive, more flexible to the constantly changing, dancing life…as everything arises and passes away…

Instead of putting ourselves or others on a pedestal, I would like to think that we as a whole, are beginning to learn to accept ourselves as unique in all our differences, in our merits and difficulties, our light side and dark, knowing that they change, evolve, as we are moving towards our inner core…and learning that what someone called Ralph Waldo Emerson (Philosopher, Poet, Lecturer who also led the Transcendental movement of mid 19th century) said much better than I could express "What lies behind us, and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us."

Guitry being foolish with his wife

Monday, 31 May 2010

Helping or Hindering: the Hitch to Heroes' Ego Heaven.

A couple of weeks back I made a big mistake.  I wanted to help someone and instead of being a hero it all blew up in my face and hurt others.  A far cry from helping.  Why so? I hear you ask.  Well…  I think I could blame my ego packing its swimsuit and plastic armbands into a suitcase and swaddling off on an “all inclusive holiday to paradise”.  Ego trip galore.  I wanted to go there and get the t-shirt.  Super me.

I heard a story from my friend, Toni, at the Direct Help Foundation in Nepal years back that shocked me.  He wanted to help a woman who lived with her three children in a tiny bathroom.  He wanted to help her get out of such an indignant situation.  But she was having nothing of it.  Better the devil you know that the devil you are petrified of.

Another one that my Toni told me is of a project he was doing.  He bought cheap rice for the women in the neighbourhood.  Meanwhile in his orphanage they were all enjoying the expensive rice.  There´s a big difference when rice is the main thing you are eating.  You really do notice the difference between shifting through tiny stones before boiling a bland, rough rice, and good rice that isn’t just stone-less but also creamy and delicious.   I guess every time Toni ate his good rice he was imaging the cheap rice he was giving to his neighbours and it just didn’t seem right.  So he changed the rice so everyone had good rice. A neighbour dropped in and said she didn’t want the good stuff, please just give her the normal stony rice.  “Why?” a perplexed Toni asked, “Because,” she answered softly “my children will get used to this, and if this free rice stops, I won´t be able to give my children good rice and they will complain”.   

Which teaches us two things, first: we can´t impose our idealism of our perfect garden (previous blog) on others - they have different conditions to us, our prized plants will not grow in their soil.  Every other person apart from us has a life different to ours, different perspectives, different needs and values.  Even people who are twins have their own individual garden.   

And the second: adolescents all over the world are difficult.

There is something that I think we all do too easily (at least I do), and that is to think that everyone thinks and feels like us.  My good taste, I believe, must be seen as good taste to all the world.  Surprisingly (at least to me) it isn´t.  Jack Sprat and all that (he scoffed out on the fat while his wife picked the lean).  We all have our own paths to tread and we can´t assume that others will learn as much as us, be as happy as us or be as fulfilled, frog marched along our particular path.

I guess the only thing we can do, if we see that someone could be in need of a helping hand, is to say to them we´re here if they need us. Making people feel not lonely anymore and supported is perhaps the best work we ever do. 

Montse my mate, is on a roll at the moment with the idea that when we do get a chance to help, we should do things to help the person along their own path, instead of doing things for them and taking over. It´s that old nut again: fish a man a dinner, he has a dinner, teach him to fish, he has all the fish he may need…let´s hope he can cook.

So, the conclusion is, people have to want help before we run to them with our super hero attitude and we have to wait for them to ask for our help.  This can be verbally or otherwise.  We can nudge them a tiny bit maybe, hint, encourage, but essentially all we can do is wait and be there.

Easy conclusion.

Well done.  Lets go home and have a cup of tea.

But wait a moment…does that not also imply that we ourselves, when we yearn for help and advice, also have to ask for it? 

Instead of moaning how cruel the world is?



I find it hard, for many reasons; not wanting to admit a weakness, not wanting to disturb others, not feeling worthy, not wanting to feel inferior, fear of pay back time.  Bah bah bah I say, but geez they are tough cookies to crack.  

But if we are honest we are all in “a situation” in certain aspects of our lives like the Nepalese woman in the bathroom, better the devil you know…else we would be Buddhas growing a big pot bellies by now.  We feel clever staying in our cages even though the door is open.  We find ourselves in a situation in which people can help us out, but we are having none of it…

The biggie, the big biggie, is admitting to ourselves that we may indeed have a problem.  Pulling our heads out from the comfortable sand to realise that we are not, after all, a perfect being, and that we need help.  And before that seemingly insurmountable hurdle is hurdled, we will not listen to anyone.  Because they just sound daft.  

Or worse still, insulting.

The thing is that most people LOVE helping others when they can and know how to.  Enric has developed over the years an impressive internal map of Barcelona.  He´s a veritable walking GPS.  When there are tourists wavering, ripped map in hand, he walks a little more slowly, swerving towards them, hoping they will ask him directions.  He loves being able to use what he has created.  It is so satisfying. 

We all have mental structures that we have created, and they are magnificent.  They are our “gardens”.  We have all sorts of understandings in those flowerbeds.  Even my 2 year old nephew knows how to turn off Adrian’s super TV.  I´ve already asked him for help, we contracted.  So I’ll leave that to him.

We all know stuff that others don´t.  And using that info with others (helping) is quite titillating...Isn’t it?  Cos if not, it´s like having the car of your dreams without any petrol. It´s getting you no-where.

And as to that idea of not wanting to disturb people…I muse and feel assured by the idea, that people these days don´t really do things that they aren´t prepared to do.  Let´s face it, if a friend phones and asks for help, I would love to…after class.  We all have our priorities, and normally nothing is too urgent that we can´t fit it in easily around our schedules.   

So I say, be generous, let someone help us.  Help them get that special feeling from helping.  Sharing is two-fold. As you give you receive as you receive you give.  Buddha said “If you knew as I did about giving and receiving you wouldn´t let a meal pass without giving some of it away”

So, I reckon if we need help, ask for it.  And if we want to help others, wait for them to ask us in their own way.  And when we help, the first thing (and often the only thing) we have to do is listen, because what we want or need is not necessary want they would want or need.  With our own mental structure we can listen and ask questions about theirs that help throw the light on a solution of their own that is compatible with their garden structure, and in the meantime probably teaches us a thing or two.

Else it could all blow up in your face and your ego will laugh at you with a bad palm tree shirt on. Trust me, I´ve been there.

Thanks for reading, it really helps!

Thanks to Toni Aguilar for permission to include his stories.  
He set up the Direct Help Foundation (http://tdhf.ibernet.com
and is one of the world´s true experts in Humanitarian Aid.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Happy Saint George´s Day!

Saint George by Paolo Uccelo 1470

There are quite a lot of differences between Catalonia and the North West of England. On the Costa Brava beaches there is a strange absence of people, hands clasped around warm flasks of tea, huddled behind windbreakers; and in Stockport County Council, who have sneakily made use of internet possibilities, eerily doesn´t have queues of people, waiting numbed as time grinds to a halt and the barer of the numbered ticket wonders where they got lost in the matrix.

But do not dispair, there are heart warmingly similar things too. Both like black pudding (but at different times of the day), both have cotton industry backgrounds, and Saint George-Sant Jordi is their patron saint. And Happy Saint Day George! It is today, April the 23rd.

It´s a wonderful day in Catalonia. It is when the true spirit of the kind, tradition loving, big hearted Catalans comes out (rather than those not-to-be-mentioned political ideas). It is the equivalent of Saint Valentine´s day - the day for lovers. Women buy men books and men buy women red roses. The brain and the heart unite. Knowledge is comprehended and all is well on Rambla de Catalunya. 

 Las Ramblas de Catalunya - Diada de Sant Jordi

There must be many different perspectives of the myth of Saint George. We studied it a little in symbology and if you don´t want to know much about it, stop reading now.

…So, my faithful friend ("just you, just you, just you" (an echo) there´s no-one else here), you and I are mystery freaks and instead of getting on in what the others call reality, your heart swells and breath becomes rapid entering into a fantasy world which seems more real that a red double-decker bus. And rightly so!

The prince of the skies, Saint George came down from the air. He fell from paradise, from the Platonic highs of Apollonic order, flew down through intuition and found himself confronted by a double-decker bus. Or rather his earthly reality. He is no longer the prince of the skies but now a (half) human (half) being. He is pulled up flat, to face the dragon.

They say that we are born on earth impure. The Catalans would say malparits, which is literally born badly, figuratively translated as “in a sorry state”. We come out all funny and just not quite how we should. We are not in harmony with the universe (one verse) but we pipe our own out-of-tune song. The cosmos flows around in orderly lines, like a ploughed field, in harmonic unison with each other, like an orchestra with each musician playing in unison creating a beautiful uplifting piece of music. And then we are born and get out those party horn things. And blow it. But it´s not exactly Mozart.

The dragon is a representation of this rather uncoordinated clumsiness. We are all made up of the four elements, everything is. In the perfect heaven, the four elements are equally balanced and working together: Air (intuition), Water (emotions), Fire (thinking) and Earth (sensations). The Ancients, Psychologists, eastern medicine etc all say we need to balance our four elements.  It is the secret of physical and psychological health.  And since non of us (as far as I know) are in a perfect Buddha (or Christ etc) state, we´ve got work to do!

Diagram: Aristotle elemental qualities

The dragon has all of the four elements, he angrily blows fire out from his mouth, his wings allow him to fly clumsily in the air, his claws grip into the earth and he cries big baby crocodile tears. But his elements are all badly born. Clumsy and angry, his elements don´t befit him at all, they are all at odds with each other, like trying to light a fire in the rain or flying through tarmac...

So, Saint George is in a predicament finding this dragon inside, coming down to earth and discovering his instincts. And as all cavaliers, he is faced with one option to save his good name:

Slowly, calmly, he gets out his sword and shield.

He fights nobly from the top of his white horse, just like all of our fantasy boyfriends would do, and with his sophisticated sword work he manages to pierce the reality of himself (like Shiva´s sword) and dominate his dragon. Some stories just go right ahead and kill the dragon off, but how can instincts be killed? Surely it is impossible. It must have been some granddad getting carried away at bedtime story time, and his grandchild happened to be Walt Disney…anyway, the dragon is dominated, Saint George is able to dominate with his mind all the impulses of his instincts.  It is of note he has managed among which to control his sardineta. (The little sardine in Catalan is a euphemism for his todger). Dominating the dragon he has aligned his four elements to be more in harmony. They do not fight so much anymore.

Buddhists say that controlling the breath (air) calms the mind…Saint George finds himself in a more balanced state and as a result, from the mouth of the cave, steps a beautiful maiden now that the dragon is not ferociously guarding the entrance. 

At this point Jungians get all excited and if they haven´t wet themselves already, and shout (ironically impulsively) “His anima, his anima!” which to a normal person is the feminine inner personality within him. His anima influences his interactions with women and his attitudes toward them. It is a more feeling side of him, which needs to be expressed, and if expressed in a harmonious way, while the dragon is comfortable domesticated, it is beauty and truth and purity and all things princess like.

Especially now with internet we have access to any information we may crave in this earthly world. We can be walking dictionaries, with built in GPS systems bluetoothing our dentist. But until we have understood our knowledge through love, it cannot be comprehended.

I don´t know if you´ve had that wonderful feeling of suddenly seeing something clearly with fresh eyes and “clicking”. All at once you´ve really got it.  Before you thought you knew, but now you can “see” it. It is like pealing away an onion skin, or taking off a veil. Normally they are things that are so simple that we wonder actually if we knew all along.

If we only understand our world with our brains, it is dry and unconnected. Comprehension is with our hearts and we connect with our profound memories, with our entire being. This connection of knowledge and heart is represented by the union of Saint George with the beautiful maiden, and how lovely she is. She who allows us to leave those dark depths of Pluto to resurface for fresh air, and to see and smell the roses.  (The Rose is the western equivalent of the eastern Lotus flower). 

The prince and the princess reunite, masculine and feminine come together once more, the sky and the earth rejoin... They have sex (alchemically speaking of course...)

The union of Saint Jordi with his maiden creates a rebirth. This time the birth is a little better. They are transformed into the castle and live happily ever after (according to Walt D). The castle with its perfect four walls is a representation of the four elements in perfect harmony.

And the cycle comes to a close, but not an end. Like any spiral, Saint Jordi is back where he began, at the same point but not the same man. Now he has aligned himself a smidgen to be a little more universal, he has dominated his dragon for a while, and he has incorporated the Beauty of the glimpse of Truth into his self thanks to his inner princess coming out of the cave.

Saint Jordi, of course, is each and everyone of us. So, rest a while and float in the clouds. But surely you wouldn´t want to be in Paradise for ever would you? It gets terribly boring. And there is that windbreaker waiting for us on Blackpool beach to huddle up beside and have real physical contact. Like the gales on our fair shores, Saint Jordi is in constant movement, never getting stale. Soon he´ll find himself freefalling like an autumn leaf back down to earth, birthing in another weird but wonderful way and evolving through love.

Happy Sant Jordi!

Friday, 2 April 2010

Easter Growth

So that chocolate scoffing time of year has come around again.  Breaking open a Cadbury´s Cream Egg even though your stomach´s shouting out “Intoxification!” and your visions begins to blur.  Which is probably exactly what the Hindus mean when they say that the Mundane Egg, in which Brahma gestated, broke its shell in spring.

Easter is the first full moon after the equinox (“equal night”).  This year it was on March 30th.  It is when the masculine and feminine energies are both at their plenitude and create an energy of fertility on earth, depicted by the engraving “The Philosophers Compass”.  Larry Boemler in his book "Asherah and Easter" writes “The Teutonic dawn goddess of fertility [was] known variously as Ostare, Ostara, Ostern, Eostra, Eostre, Eostur, Eastra, Eastur, Austron and Ausos.”  We get the point Larry…

If you´ve a garden, you can´t help but notice how the plants are having their first splurge of growth, of which I´ve proudly attached “fotos” of our first sproutings.  If we were all dependant on the growth of wheat rather than opening up Mars Bars, we´d be pretty damned glad to see it begin to grow.  And wine lovers will smile with wetted lips as they see what looked dead in the winter, spring into life once more, with little buds bursting on the vines.  The full moon gives the plants a complementary light to go for a marathon of energetic growing through all of the night and all the day…it´s quite logical really.

But Easter isn´t just about the nature´s rhythm, but also about the inner life.  Gods who die on the cross around this time (Jesus, Tammuz, Osiris, Dionysus, Orpheus…) represent how we as spiritual beings need to be have “a second birth” into a greater consciousness of ourselves and our world.  In order to just to start, it is necessary to dominate our egos, like in the Puranic allegory, when Viswakarman's daughter Sanjana (spiritual consciousness), complained as wives tend to do, about the natural qualities of their husbands.  After a while no matter how shiny and great and brill they are, they start to irritate.  Her husband was Surya the sun (often linked in astrology to the ego).  She went back to her daddy and complained he was getting all the attention, that he was shining too bright.  Like any loving father would do, he got his sun-in-law by the neck and being a carpenter of high craftsmanship, crucified the sun on his lathe and cut away an eighth part of his rays – creating around him a dark auroela.  A crown of thorns.

Which is basically spiritual initiation: killing all of those fiery passions, and going through hell, facing our demons, before we can rise into new life and be reborn. We become more conscious of ourselves, less reactionary, more responsive.  We´ve all been through it in some way, some emotional crisis which has made us understand ourselves better where at the end we firmly wobble, “I´m glad it happened but I wouldn´t like to go through that again!” 

In the past initiation was intense, people were put through all sorts of, what my father would call, character building situations, and then left exhausted attached to a “cross” (which I reckon must represent the symbolic centre of ourselves, the centre of creation) They lay there in the dark for three days in which their spirit descended into Hades’ underworld, to be reborn again into a new life once back in the light of day.  Initiates were left exhausted in caves and such, to encounter their inner demons, to face fear, and dominate it, to awaken to another perspective of themselves and their world.

Which is not exactly the same as scoffing our faces with Cadbury cream eggs and then getting stabs of stomach ache…

I remember in primary school going into panic staring into the face of my friend who had fiendishly asked “Are you a human being?” because I had no idea what she was on about.  We are both, we are a human and we are a being, we are physical and we are spiritual.  And as we go to the gym to get perfect bodies, so we are challenged with the evolution of our spirits.  Every time we refuse to listen to that spirit, the divine nature within us is “crucified”, but after each crucifixion there has to be a resurrection, else we would end up as a dead physical blob, only to be later recognised by the Ben and Jerry carton stuck on our heads.  There has to be a balance, we can´t just be spiritual, and we can´t just be physical, because, after my experience in primary school, I can say quite confidently now that we are all human beings.  Psychology, and Life, is the idea of balancing both the “light” and the “dark” within us. Such as in Spring and Autumn equinoxes. And we are back to Star Wars again.  Here is the battle plan described by H P Blavatsky:

He who strives to resurrect the Spirit crucified in him by his own terrestrial passions, and buried deep in the "sepulchre" of his sinful flesh; he who has the strength to roll back the stone of matter from the door of his own inner sanctuary, he has the risen Christ in him. The "Son of Man" is no child of the bond-woman—flesh, but verily of the free-woman—Spirit, the child of man's own deeds and the fruit of his own spiritual labour. (H.P.B. Series No. 7, pp. 4-5)

But why why does it have to be so painful, so difficult, so bloody scary at times.  Why can´t we just all be nice and get on so friendly and just evolve picking out the thorns from our innerds with tweezers, like apes deflea each other? Padma-Sambhava, an Indian sage guru, had to say of it:

Although sesame seed is the source of oil, and milk the source of butter, not until the seed be pressed and the milk churned do the oil and butter appear. Although sentient beings are of the Buddha essence itself, not until they realize this can they attain Nirvana.

To achieve spiritual growth we face a difficult path, in which we have to do things in a specific way.  How is something that each of us must search for ourselves…

Easter is a real and symbolic time of growth through death of the old, and resurrection of the new, of our continual becoming.  I think the idea is rounded up nicely in a eggshell, by Anais Nin:

And the day came when the risk it took to remain tight inside the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.

Happy Easter everyone! Egg smashing galore!