Last Night I Dreamed I Went to Gilead Again…

OH and I have been catching up with The Handmaid’s Tale (series 3), that dystopian Biblical Black Mirror where patriarchy reasserts itself viciously and mercilessly, forcing women to assume one of three roles: wife, servant (‘Martha’) or handmaid. The crisis which spawns this is a critical fall in fertility rates and the grotesque solution is to bring a ‘handmaid’ – a fertile woman – into each family to breed for them. The Handmaid’s Tale is the story of one such woman, June (known as Offred and then Ofjoseph as they take the names of their owners) forced to reproduce for Commander Waterford and his family. This is brutal slavery with a Biblical varnish and unsurprisingly the thoughts of many, if not most, women turn to escape. Canada is just across the border.

No matter how plausible, The Handmaid’s Tale is of course fiction. Or so I thought… but it turns out Gilead is alive and thriving in a tiny corner of the US. I kind of wish I hadn’t come across The Transformed Wife’s blog but I did, and its vision of ‘Biblical Womanhood’ is basically Gilead minus the rape and violence. St Paul looms large in this scenario (whenever I go to a church which emphasises St Paul I run for cover) and is little more than unreconstructed dogma. This woman is not only against abortion – which is to be expected – but also against contraception. God is in charge of your womb apparently; no matter that the planet can’t afford more people, nor that there aren’t the resources to go around, you must keep having as many children as you can conceive. But don’t worry about the planet – I expect God has all that in hand too.*

The concept that God equals the patriarchal vision set out in the Bible is one feminists (and Quakers) have spent generations countering but here it is again. It reminds me of bindweed; no matter how many times you root it out, back it comes again. Ah well.

I will say one thing for the Transformed Wife though – unlike many people on the internet, she knows how to debate respectfully.

Kirk out

*as it happens I agree; I just think the plan might involve the extinction of our race (if we don’t reform). People’s notions of God are much to anthropocentric in my view.

Advertisements

What It Ain’t

This week I have been focussing on the practice of patience and I thought it would be useful to focus on what it ain’t. What isn’t patience – or rather, what isn’t a salutary practice to develop?

First, it isn’t resignation. Hopelessness, apathy, despair, none of these have any part in patience. Just as santosh doesn’t mean accepting that things will never chance, so patience doesn’t imply a belief that your goal will never come. Often impatience is driven by fear – if I don’t get this now it may never arrive. Patience is born of the knowledge that all things have a time and in that time they come.

Take gardening. Of late I’ve been going out in the garden and wishing my plants would get a move-on. Why? Because I’m afraid they may never flourish; that if I don’t rush around fertilising and weeding and watering and what-have-you, they’ll just give up and die. Patience implies a faith in the future; that things will come. You just have to wait.

Of course, there’s always the hope deferred thing, which means you should always take advantage of opportunities when they arise; that as well as being patient we should ask ourselves ‘is there anything I should be doing here that I’m not doing? Can I actually get this thing I want right now instead of waiting?’ Marcus Aurelius said ‘Everything I want in life I can have right now if I don’t deny it to myself.’ that’s a statement I’ve been wrestling with ever since I first read it. Stoicism is not a grim-faced resignation, a sort of Hilda-Ogden heaving yourself into the kitchen after a death like Victoria Wood said (I can’t find the routine but it’s quoted here) but a refusal to give up, even in the face of despair. And there’s a lot to despair about right now – but as OH and I keep saying, even if the worst happens and the Tories are stupid enough to saddle us with BoJo, he may not last long. Perhaps he will blow himself out like a storm at sea. In any case there doesn’t seem to be much we can do right now to prevent it.

Stoicism is a useful philosophy and a forerunner of Christianity. It’s useful because it helps you to accept what is and to think of everything as contributing to your highest good. Let us consult the oracle on stoicism:

Me: how would you define stoicism in twenty words or less?

OH: We can’t control the world but we can control our emotional reactions to it.

Brilliant. So there we have it. I may not be able to influence the result of the leadership elections but I can ask myself ‘what would Marcus Aurelius do?’ As an Emperor who considered his duty to be the happiness and welfare of the people, he would deplore BoJo’s self-serving and duplicitous nature but he would say these things are sent to teach us something. And I suggest one thing to be learnt from this process is how better to campaign and organise to defeat what I can only call the forces of evil. I don’t think Boris is evil per se but I do think the consequences of having such a person as our leader would be.

Kirk out

Prosper and Live Long?

I’ve been catching up with a series on death and dying presented by Miriam Margolyes (that’s Mar-go-lees, not something that rhymes with gargoyles).  She’s a very entertaining presenter, seemingly unconcerned with image and reacting genuinely and spontaneously as she tours care homes and other facilities to discover different attitudes to death.  She visits a brilliant place where song and laughter are used to facilitate good mental health and hops across the pond to encounter a group of whacky folk who believe it’s possible to live forever if you just find the right formula.  I’m highly sceptical about this: all things are subject to age and decay (though OH annoyingly had to point out some exceptions to this; creatures with long telemeres apparently) but there are other objections.  First, this ‘therapy’ is available only to the rich, and in conversation some practitioners expressed views dangerously close to eugenics, suggesting that the poor and criminal classes would die out leaving only the worthy surviving.  Right after this Margolyes visits a poor area where the homeless hang out and most people die young; the contrast could not be greater.  Frankly I found the picture of the youthful elderly utterly repellent; most of them looked more grotesque than Mick Jagger and altogether they were such an unnatural bunch that I’d rather die tomorrow than resemble them.  But there are other, deeper objections to this philosophy.

First, what matters is not the amount of time you have but what you do with it.  We all know the problem of procrastination when a deadline is far away; but give most of us an imminent cut-off date and we’ll crack on.  It’s salutary in many ways to act as if death is just around the corner (though not like this).  History is full of examples of people who died young but achieved lots: Mozart only lived 35 years but he composed so many works that they are referred to by a Kochel number (after the guy who classified them.)  In fact he wrote 68 symphonies, 27 concertos for piano alone and so many other compositions that I can’t begin to list them; more than six hundred in all and most composed over a 24-year period.  Keats also died young but managed a significant body of work; Hendrix didn’t see 30 but changed the face of guitar music; and though it’s tempting to wonder what they might have achieved had they lived, maybe they wouldn’t have achieved much more.  I’d rather have a short, fulfilled life than sit twenty years in a reclining chair (though I think that ship may already have sailed.*)

I think the acceptance of death is a necessary check to the ego; the knowledge that there will come a point where ‘I’ am no more is a salutary one.  In any case the way to prolong life is not to postpone death, it is to live every moment.  In every moment there is the possibility of interacting with eternity, and when we do that we are in every real sense outside time.

*the short life ship, not the twenty years in a chair ship

Kirk out

 

Today I Shall Be Mostly Practising…

Sometimes life can seem like a merry-go-round.  I don’t mean that it’s horribly busy, though it is for many people; what I mean is that insights which are very clear one moment can be lost in the next, and only recovered when you ‘come round’ to them again.  Life seems to swoop like a waltzer-ride, causing us to lurch from one reality to another, one set of people to another, one lot of viewpoints to another.  In a globalised world where values are relative and every second person you meet has a different outlook, it’s hard to know exactly what and where you are.  The temptation is to build a wall of prejudices and lob missiles over the top.

Enough with the metaphors.  It came to me today that since I blogged about it a few months ago, I haven’t really practised santosh much.  I’ve thought about it fleetingly, as a face glimpsed fleetingly from a bus (is that another metaphor?) but decided, for whatever reason, not to go there.  But today it has come to me that I need this more than ever.

So let’s skip the what and the why, since those are dealt with in that previous post, and go straight to the how.  How precisely is one supposed to practise this thing?  Can you download a course?  Are there exercises?  Well, perhaps; but my method is to begin by reminding myself of what I’m practising, often just by simply repeating mentally the word santosh.  It’s about noticing when the mind gets a little manic; when there’s a tendency to be perfectionist and to practise end-gaining, and telling yourself: Wait.  Practise santosh.  Be content.

In addition you can bring this awareness to everything you do.  For example, this morning I decided to vacuum the living-room.  There wasn’t time to do it ‘properly’ so instead of feeling dissatisfied and making a mental note to go over it again soon, I decided to be content.

But how do you be content?  If it doesn’t come easily to you this can seem like an inaccessible mountain.  There are some good suggestions in this blog including practising gratitude and not being judgmental.  As Paul McKenna points out in ‘I Can Make You Rich’ there’s no point in being a millionaire if it just makes you want even more money: he calls this ‘wealth dysmorphia’, a very apt phrase.  It’s a hard lesson to learn, particularly when there’s something you want very badly, but contentment doesn’t mean resignation.  It doesn’t mean accepting that you’ll never have whatever-it-is; just accepting that right here and now you don’t have it: it’s the spiritual equivalent of geo-positioning:* knowing where you are.  Because if you don’t start from here, where can you start from?  So every time I look at the garden and think about what’s left to be done; every time I look at the washing-up, every time I consider that I am still not celebrated as a writer, I tell myself ‘I am content.  I am content.  I am content.’

And for your own contemplation here’s an OM symbol inside a mandala:

https://galleryofgod.files.wordpress.com/2014/03/wpid-om-symbol-hd-wallpaper.jpg

I am going to get around to blogging about the McKenna book, I just haven’t got to it yet (I am very content with this…)

Kirk out

*I would call it ‘ego-positioning’ which would be nicely anagrammatical, except that it’s not about the ego.

 

 

 

 

Should I Fast Faster?

Since I’ve not been well the last couple of weeks my fasting plan has been derailed.  No matter, things happen as they must; but the question is what to do with the remaining weeks.  I think I should make sure I’m fully recovered before I start so I’m going to leave any action till next week, but the question remains: should I fast faster or just begin at the beginning and go at the same pace?

I guess it partly depends how I feel.  If I’m animated I might enjoy doing the same plan on – ahem! – fast-forward; if not, maybe I should start slowly and see where I end up.  At the moment I’m feeling quite animated though, so if I went with the fast fast it’d go something like this:

Week 1 – 1st-5th April: Monday/Tuesday 10 am, Wed/Thur 11 am, Fri 12 am

Week 2 – 8th-12th April: Mon/Tues 3 pm, Wed/Thur 4 pm, Fri 5 pm

Week 3 – 22nd-26th April: Mon/Tues 6 pm, Wed/Thur 7 pm, Fri 24 hr fast.

This may be a tall order but we’ll see how it goes.

Kirk out

The Fast Show?

It may well have escaped your notice that the season of Lent is almost upon us.  Lent is a period of fasting, as is Advent; and whereas people used to fast before the feast, now we forget the fast and fast-forward to the feast.*  And how: Easter eggs are already in Sainsbury’s and Easter is not until April 21st.  It’s not even Lent for another three weeks.

*see what I did there?

Not that most Christians actually fast during Lent.  It’s more common to give something up – chocolate, say, or booze.  The last church I went to had a more imaginative approach to this, suggesting that one might give up TV (we did that and ended up getting rid of it for good) or swearing or being critical (I’ve tried that and it’s really hard.  God, I’m so bad at it.  I’m a terrible person…)  This seems more conducive to spiritual growth than a token avoidance of chocolate, though if one is addicted to chocolate it would be beneficial.

What’s interesting is that while these fasting times of Advent and Lent are largely ignored in a frenzy of chocolate and present-wrapping, the emphasis has shifted.  We still have periods of abstinence, only now the emphasis is on physical health rather than spiritual growth.  And the periods have time-shifted: instead of Advent we have Stoptober for giving up the fags and Go Sober for October for giving up jokes (just kidding: I could never do that.)  Then there’s Dry January alongside all the other post-Christmas health kicks – so instead of December we have October and instead of March, January.  Everything has moved back a couple of months.

Hm.

But as for actual fasting as in abstaining from food and drink, I think the only folk to do that are the Muslims.  The difficulty of the Ramadan fast varies according to the country and time of year as it takes place from sunrise to sunset and is compounded in hot countries by the need to abstain from drink.  You are nil by mouth: some more zealous Muslims, so I’ve read, even refrain from swallowing saliva.  As for me, I find fasting extraordinarily difficult.  It’s not only the gnawing hunger that gets me, it’s a deep-seated fear which I can’t quite put my finger on: a fear of fainting, perhaps, or more probably a fear of death.  Anyway, since I’ve failed to lose much of the weight I put on at Christmas and am now borderline overweight, I am going to try OH’s watermelon fast.  This consists of eating watermelon.  Fast.  (Just kidding; if you’re trying to lose weight you should eat as slowly as possible.)

Oh, and the sofa should be being picked up today.  I’ll keep you posted on that as well…

Meanwhile just for a laugh, here’s a clip from the actual Fast Show:

 

 

Kirk out

The Faith That Dare Not Speak Its Name

I was reading an article in the Guardian today about how hard it is to be a Muslim in public life.  You get asked all kinds of questions like, ‘Do you think the state of Israel should exist?  Do you sympathise with terrorists?  What do you think of underage marriage?’  You become the poster-girl or boy for every horrendous act perpetrated in the name of Islam – and in the end you discover, as Nesrine Malik says, that the only way to win the game is not to play.

I can totally sympathise – if not empathise – with this, because it ain’t that easy to come out as a Christian these days either, at least not in Europe.  I would never suggest that Christians get abuse on the level of Muslims – for a start, we’re not easily visible unless we go out looking like these guys (the ones with crucifixes, not the ones with breasts).  Unless we open our mouths and start quoting the Bible, nobody can tell what we are.  But if you want to suck all the atmosphere out of a social occasion and have people edging away from you fast, just try mentioning the G-word.

These days I don’t even say I’m a you-know-what: if anyone asks I tell them I’m a Quaker.  This is partly because it’s more in tune with where I am, and partly because you avoid being blamed by association for everything from colonialism to the inquisition.  Being a Quaker is much more user-friendly because either people don’t know what that means and are interested, or they do know what it means and start talking about chocolate and world peace (usually in that order.)  Being a Quaker is – well, Friendly – and unless your interlocutor is wedded to nuclear weapons or radically opposed to chocolate in all its forms, you’re onto a winner.

Then again, it’s better to stick to the outward actions rather than touching on the inner revelation.  Mention ‘the spirit’ or ‘worship’ or ‘the light’ and people will edge away faster than the tide at Camber Sands (and believe me, that’s fast.)  Why is it so hard to talk about this stuff?  Why are people so hostile to anyone, no matter how tolerant or open-minded, who expresses a faith?  I’m not Billy Graham, for f***’s sake; nor do I think evangelism is a good thing.  Quite the reverse.

Sometimes I can’t help thinking that the evangelists are all atheists now.  Doesn’t Richard Dawkins want to make converts?  Aren’t some of the new atheists more intolerant than the believers?

Discuss.  (Politely, please – rude comments will be deleted.)

Kirk out