It Ain't Tosh, it's Santosh

I know I’m bombarding you with posts at the moment but the brain is very fertile right now and who am I to resist? So as a companion piece or riposte, if you will, to the last post here is a tried-and-tested method of dealing with perfectionism, called Santosh.

It’s a Sanskrit word meaning ‘contentment’ (the very sound of it is comforting, and that’s no coincidence, as I’ll explain) but not the lying-on-the-sofa-watching-TV kind of contentment, if indeed that is contentment at all. No, it’s the contentment that consists in being satisfied with what you’ve achieved, no matter where you might end up. To paraphrase Kipling, it’s meeting with triumph and disaster and treating those two impostors just the same (Kipling was born in India and was very influenced by ‘Eastern’ thought.) Anyway, leaving Kipling on one side for a moment, contentment or santosh is the practice of being content in the moment with what one has achieved. It does not imply self-satisfaction, nor does it prevent future progress; in fact I would suggest that without santosh there is no real progress.

Consider the case of someone (I know wherof I speak) who is overweight and desires to be slim. Their life may be dominated by self-disgust and thoughts of how they would like to look. But far from being a spur to achievement this is an obstacle because acceptance is lacking. Unless you can accept where you are – however briefly – you can’t move on: it’s like trying to find your way somewhere by putting the wrong postcode into your satnav.

Sanskrit is an ancient and astonishing language, and one in which sound and sense work closely together. This can be seen more clearly in the practice of mantra where a word or phrase has a meaning, a sound and an appearance, each of which can be used for meditation.

T-t-t-t-t-that’s all folks!

I miss seeing cartoons on telly.

Kirk out

Two Steps Forward, One Sideways, One Pirouette with Half-Pike and Turn, a Demi-Step Back and Then…

If I were any good at drawing I’d be able to do you the perfect diagram of what progress is like for me. It’s pretty much like the above: just when you think you’re getting somewhere and start to go ‘Aha! I see where this is leading!’ you find yourself not so much on a conveyor belt as a waltzer-cum-trapeze swing which lurches you in unpredictable directions, up and down and round and across and through… and my theory is that, in the immortal words of Chicken Run, this is about all of us. There are aspects of the self which lie hidden and forgotten until they surface, and in order for a person to progress, the whole self must move – which in my case involves the amalgam of complicated twists and turns detailed above. And so it is of late: for some reason over the last few days I’ve come on by leaps and bounds; I’m like the child at the head of the group who rushes on and keeps yelling to the others to catch up. But the others take their time. They need to explore a bit more, they have to be sure we’re going in the right direction. They consult maps and compasses and take a long, tedious time discussing it.

In the end I suspect that the self is not one person but legion, and that at any one time we happen to choose whichever part of us suits the situation we’re in and forget about the others for a while. But they will not be left behind; sooner or later they’ll make their presence known and we’ll have to let them catch up. It’s very trying, when you want to be cool and famous, to have to accommodate the legion of ruminating Quakers that live in your underclothes; you begin to feel like the young and sprightly leader of a coach party of shambling octogenarians. Yet there is nothing to be gained by chivvying them along; they will go at their own pace no matter what you say.

Actually I’ve no idea where I’m going with this post. But I’m sure one of the guys back there will have an idea. Hey, you guys! Where am I going with this? Anyone?

Aha! I sought inspiration from Proust and came across this, a questionnaire which he filled in twice in his life. I’ve missed out some of the questions but here are my answers. You might like to do it for yourself – it’s much better than those silly Facebook questionnaires.

My favourite virtue – compassion

My favourite qualities in a friend – sense of humour

My chief characteristic – complexity

My main fault – lack of physical courage

My favourite occupation – writing or socialising in the pub

My idea of happiness – it’s better not to have ideas but take happiness where you find it

My idea of misery – losing my family and friends

My favourite hero/ines in fiction – Pierre Bezuhov and Elizabeth Bennett

Try it for yourself. And don’t forget my 500th follower will get a FREE ebook of poetry or, if you prefer, a guest blog spot.

Kirk out

We're All Editors

Lately as I have two projects waiting to be edited, my thoughts are on that process; what it means, what I’m aiming for, how to go about it, what to put in, what to take out and when to stop (always a problem as I can’t help going through taking out commas and putting them back again.) But whether or not we write, we are all editors of our lives: we edit our thoughts, our speech, our actions and our memories. This is not necessarily done with malicious intent – it may often be necessary – but sometimes like spring cleaning it’s good to take out the mind, give it a good deep clean and see what’s lurking at the back of the cupboard.

We all live in societies, and these societies make certain basic demands of us; that we behave in a certain way towards each other and avoid certain words and phrases. At best these are reasonable, such as the demand that we should not run another car off the road or barge into other shoppers in the mall or steal an old woman’s purse. Those who flout these rules are punished (yes, even Prince Phillip was forced to give up driving.) At worst the rules are oppressive, but in every case, as Orwell observed, we learn to edit our thoughts as well as our behaviour.

Then there’s the editing of memories. I know I do this a lot and it’s quite disturbing: for example, when I’ve had a terrible evening out I may well edit it the next day and replay it as ‘not too bad.’ Is that dishonest or is it merely a wish not to dwell on the negative? On the other hand I’ve had experience of editing a positive experience to make it so-so – and why would I do that? Is elation too hard to cope with? Is it easier to have a homogenised life?

Editing the memory is something we all do but it can be terribly dangerous. We wonder how those concentration camp guards can live with themselves – well that’s how. They just don’t remember it like it happened. And don’t even get me started on Donald Trump. I could say that the invention of videotape means people can’t get away with false memories, but as we know, videotape can also be edited. Not to mention faked. Hey, ho.

As for us ordinary, non-Nazi mortals, we probably can’t help editing our memories but we can stand back and observe; notice that it’s happening and ask ourselves why.

Today’s editing is that I shall be cutting the p-word out of my life. I shall be forgetting all about p*l*t*c* for the day and going to Leicester where I shall enjoy the shops and cafes, go to the Mothercare closing down sale and visit a friend in hospital.

But first I have to edit this post…

Kirk out

50,000 Words? And the Rest…

One of the great obstacles to writing is Thinking You’re On The Wrong Tack. You bimble along and then suddenly stop, putting a hand to your mouth. ‘This isn’t what I wanted to write at all!’ you cry. So you try to get back to the original vision but of course it’s faded, so the temptation at this point is to Give Up – and if you’re new to the terrible business of writing you may think ‘I can’t do this. I’m not a writer; a real writer would know what they’re doing…’ But sticking to one idea is like canalising a running stream; as Blake says, ‘expect poison from the standing water.’ You have to go with the flow, even if the flow seems to be taking you somewhere else entirely.

But the flow is one thing; a flood is another, and what we see is that in Nano as in sport, overachievement is now a virtue; pushing yourself to the limit ‘and beyond’ is the new normal. For example; someone on the Nano Facebook group has already done 50,000 words. Just let that sink in for a moment: after only three days (or if they’re on the other side of the world, four) this person has written 50,000 words. That’s nearly 17,000 words a day, more than a thousand words an hour which I think counts as hypergraphia. And are they happy with their achievement? Are they satisfied? Content? Kicking back to enjoy the rest of the month? Nope – in fact they’re planning on doing 500,000 words in November. Five hundred thousand words. In one month. That’s more than sixteen thousand words a day or – assuming you work ten hours a day – about 1700 words an hour.

When do people rest?

What’s lost in this treadmill of constant production and achievement is not only rest but reflection. Nothing in nature produces continuously (or if so, it’s very short-lived) everything has its time and there are always periods of dormancy when nothing seems to be happening.

But in this society you are what you do. And we can’t allow that, can we?

Kirk out

PS if you’re interested I’ve written 720 words so far today.

Just When You Think It’s Safe…

Just when you think it’s safe to get back in the murky blue waters of the Facebook NaNo group; just when you’re thinking that folk cannot get any more manic or driven, along comes the phenomenon of ‘rapid release‘. I’d never heard of this but it’s basically the triathlon of writing: instead of writing one novel in a month you write three in three months and edit and then release them!!!This is a self-publishing phenomenon linked to Amazon (reason enough on its own to avoid it) but am I alone in thinking it’s bananas? When I’ve finished NaNo I need a complete break from novel writing and the thing I’ve produced needs to gestate for a while. I sometimes wonder about where our culture has got to: I used to think running a marathon was bizarre and inexplicable, yet now we have quite ordinary people running triathlons. But even that’s not enough and so you find otherwise totally benign and inoffensive folk signing up to do Iron Man (or Woman) challenges. Am I the only person in the world to howl Why???????????????? I simply don’t understand the urge to do crazier and crazier things to your body. And I can’t help thinking that it’s all just a little bit Driven.

We seem more and more to make a virtue out of this nowadays. If you’re not producing, you’re nothing. And enough is never enough; we must set harder and harder challenges. Run further, swim the channel backwards and upside down because swimming it normally is not enough. Run a marathon in high heels and an evening gown. Do something different! Prove yourself!!! Isn’t that the goal? If you’re not baking the most extraordinary cake ever or dancing the best dance or pushing your mind and body beyond their ordinary limits, you basically don’t exist. It’s capitalism gone mad.

Back to writing, and the same phenomenon is infecting Nanowrimers, who are proposing to get up at 3 am to write or to set themselves a 70K challenge or – or to do the ‘rapid release’ thing because when you do that you maximise the – what is it, SEO? Search Engine something – in other words, you get more hits. More attention. Which is what it’s all about.I’m not against dedication to your art but there must be balance, there must be rest. Nothing in nature produces without resting, so do your 50 K (or whatever you can) and be satisfied.

Kirk out

The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Martian

It’s sort of fashionable nowadays to be a little bit mad. Sane people are dull but creative people are wild, eccentric, weird; a little bit gipsy, a little bit rock-n-roll, accountant on the outside and hippy on the inside. We ride the train in a suit but in our heads we’re dancing naked at Woodstock. We are all colours of the rainbow. We are free and we are brave and under our vest we have tattoos.

Well, OK. But aside from the fact that having a tattoo is now so normal it’s practically de rigueur (and I still really don’t like them) the emphasis is on the ‘little bit.’ You can dance a chakra dance so long as you do it on your own time and not in the office, and what you do at your mental Woodstock is your own affair. Just so long as you show up for work in the morning and don’t rock the boat.

But what about those of us who might desperately want to fit in and can’t? Some people seem effortlessly to belong – and OH and I just don’t know how they do it. They probably don’t know how they do it either, they just know what to say and how to behave. They talk the talk and walk the walk; they are in the swim. You get the idea.

Where is there a society for those of us who are actually insane, who don’t have tattoos because it wouldn’t make a blind bit of difference and who absolutely must rock the boat because the boat is heading to the rocks and if we don’t rock it the rocks will hole the hull and the ship will sink? Where do we belong?

I guess we belong to ourselves – because let’s face it, no-one else’ll have us.

Kirk out

Who You Think You Are – You Think? Oh, You Are. Are You? Am I?

I’m starting to assemble some Grand Thoughts on the subject of Thought itself. What actually is a thought? Can you separate one thought from another? Or is that like trying to separate droplets in a river? I’ve been reading Chomsky on Anarchism and whilst I didn’t disagree with anything he said, I couldn’t help thinking ‘yes, but. There’s human nature to consider. How do you change the heart?’ and then I came across this: ‘You do not think yourself into a different way of living. You live yourself into a different way of thinking.’ (Richard Rohr.)

Yet it can’t be that simple, can it? Because everything starts with a thought – even split-second decisions involve some kind of thought, albeit a non-reflective kind. Don’t they? Or are they pure reflexes? I guess some things are, like jumping out of the way of a speeding car, and yet even these survival instincts can be changed if you really dig deep. Not that there would be much point in not getting out of the way of a speeding car, but then again, suppose you wanted to lie down in front of a tank in order to save your house from being demolished or (much harder) to stop violence against others? I’d find this an incredibly hard thing to do because every cell in my body would be telling me to get up and run: I’d be overriding my most basic survival instincts.

I have a confession to make: I’m an utter wimp when it comes to demonstrating. I talk the talk but I do not lie down in front of the bulldozer. I sit around (not on) the fence but when the police come I get up and move pronto before they can even think about arresting me. Is this cowardice or is it that I’ve been brought up to do as I’m told and obey the law and I’m overriding that conditioning? Either way it’s not something I’m very happy with.

I guess it’s true about ‘living yourself into a different way of thinking.’ But how to start? Well, laughter seems as good a place as any. God knows we could all use a laugh in these dark times (as Fred and George commented when they set up their joke shop in Diagon Alley). So here’s today’s joke, which is to do with OH having a lovely new pair of DM’s and not ‘getting around to’ wearing them. They languished for months and it drove me crazy. ‘You’ll be dead before you wear those,’ I said, ‘and we’ll bury you in them. And you know what your gravestone will say?’

‘No, what?’

‘CARPE DM!’

You can laugh now…

Kirk out

PS incidentally if you have trouble laughing due to depression or sadness, try saying ‘ha ha ha hee hee hee ho ho ho’ out loud. You’ll be laughing in no time.

Oh, and here’s a delightful picture of The Maze, who is so close to laughing it’s unreal.