We’re Here Because We’re Here Because You’re There Because We’re Here

The older I get and the more I look at unjust societies (which is practically every society) it occurs to me that oppression is based on nothing at all.  The ways in which women were held to be inferior were myriad: from the size of our brains to the predominance of our hormones, no matter which way we turned reasons were advanced as to why we must advance no further.

But suppose a woman did show evidence of superior intellect; suppose one or more women demonstrated their ability to keep a cool head under pressure, what then?  Would the men admit they were wrong?  Of course not!  The women would be demonised, labelled as ‘not proper women.’  Because women can’t do these things.  Why can’t they?  Because they can’t – and if they can, they’re not real women.  So there.  QED.

Someone recently told me about a car journey they’d taken with a male driver, someone they didn’t know very well.  He got lost, so she dug out the road atlas.  ‘Women can’t read maps,’ he said.  He kept on saying it with the frequency of little white lines in the road.  ‘Women can’t read maps.  Women can’t read maps.’  She persisted in reading the map and got them to their destination, folding the map in triumph as they pulled in.  ‘Well, you mustn’t be a woman,’ he said. 

There you have it, in a nutshell – and that was only a few years ago.

The absurdity of these ‘arguments’ is so clear from a distance, you wonder how anyone could possibly be taken in by them.  But the oppressors don’t just rely on argument: the status quo is maintained by force or the threat of force.  This can be physical but often it’s mental (I won’t list the ways and means because they’ve been covered thoroughly in recent decades.)  The trump card in this scenario, however, is religion.  Why wouldn’t it be?  If you can claim that you rule by divine right it doesn’t matter whether you’re a monarch or a husband or a white man or a priest, you hold the trump card now and for eternity.

It doesn’t matter whether the landscape is gender or race or sexuality or something else, the game’s the same.  1. Things are the way they are because they’re the way they are.  2. If they weren’t the way they were they’d be wrong.  3. This is the right way for things to be and 4. if you want further proof read the Bible.  Or Koran.  Or whatever.

So there.  We’re here because we’re here and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Kirk out

 

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A Senior Moment?

IMG_0870

OK I’ll be honest: I qualified for a Senior Railcard more than a year ago but didn’t get one.  I resisted; I put it off, partly I wondered whether I used the trains enough to justify the expense but mainly, if I’m honest, it was seeing that ‘S’ word that stopped me filling in the form and stumping up my thirty quid.  But now I guess the sting of hitting sixty has faded a little (life in the fast lane, eh?) plus I’ve made a conscious decision to drive less and take the train more, so here we are: yesterday I filled in the form, stumped up the cash and received confirmation which seemed to be competing to get the most repetitions of the word ‘Senior’ in one email.  Dear SENIOR citizen, thank you for applying for your SENIOR railcard now that you are a SENIOR person.  Get all the SENIOR benefits from you SENIOR card… OK, I get it!  I am now Senior.  I am having a Senior Moment and will go on having one for quite some time.

When I was young the elderly used to be called Senior Citizens if you were being polite and old people if you weren’t, but nowadays nobody is actually ‘old’ because being ‘old’ is next-door to being dead and no-one wants to talk about that.  Death has long since replaced sex as the great taboo; we postpone it for as long as possible (no death before seventy, please) and most of us never see it happen.  Death is tucked away in clinical environments, hidden from view: even accidental or criminal death is very soon hidden behind forensic tents and crime-scene tape and few of us actually witness the death of a loved one.  My sister and I insisted on staying with our mother when she died (she’d been unconscious for ages) and though it was hard, I’m glad we did.  It was peaceful and I’m sure it helped the grieving process.

In the midst of life we are in death.  Oo look, I’ve gone all biblical now: but I think that’s something we tend to ignore.  We have an uneasy relationship with the dead, being unsure how to commemorate their passing (do we dress in black and look sad?  Do we wear bright colours and celebrate?) and funeral corteges go at quite a clip compared to when I was a child, so as not to hold up the traffic; after all we can’t have the dead inconveniencing the living, can we?

I have to confess, I’m not a fan of the ‘wear bright colours and celebrate’ trend.  I dislike being told to ‘wear bright colours’ (though to be fair, I dislike being told what to wear in general) because there’s an implication that one is being told how to feel – and I may not feel like being glad and celebrating: the mourning gets squeezed out, somehow, in these events.  But then I’m not a huge fan of everyone wearing black and being deadly serious.  There should be laughter and joy as well as mourning.

It’s hard ain’t it?

But this remains one of my favourite funeral scenes, containing as it does both laughter and sadness, joy and grief – and of course, poetry:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bPgkl2dPqGw

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

Zen + Zen = Zen

I’ve been reading a book of Japanese Death Poems lent to me by my son.  I was quite ignorant of the Japanese tradition of writing a poem at the point of death: it seems very strange to us that someone can not only know when they are about to die but stop to write a poem before they go; but I found these poems to be a great source of peace: all of us in the West need to learn to confront our own mortality instead of running away from it and trying to prolong our lives as much as possible.

https://bit.ly/2EcHWiG

I’ve also been watching a film about the Tamil mathematician Ramanujan.  Played by Dev Patel, Ramanujan is an untutored genius with a brilliant intuitive mind who regards mathematics as a sort of worship and does his calculations in the sand of the temple floor.  He has a mind as beautiful as Nash’s but without any opportunity to share his insights; however a friend takes his papers to show the local British bigwig and he gets an opportunity to go to Cambridge and study under Hardy:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G._H._Hardy

Jeremy Irons (how I love that man) is perfect as the atheist Hardy, a man fighting on more fronts than the War which forms the backdrop to this narrative.  Prejudice is ingrained and Trinity College refuses to acknowledge that ‘an Indian’ could be brainier than they are.  But Hardy is also fighting Ramanujan himself, who cannot understand his insistence on ‘proving’ the arguments which he intuitively ‘sees’.  Intuition, in the West, is not enough: there must be proof, especially if Ramanujan is to be elected as a Fellow.  An opportunity to explore these cultural differences is missed; in fact missed opportunities are a feature of this film.  Stephen Fry has a cameo as British bigwig Sir Francis Spring who abruptly changes his mind about supporting Ramanujan (another opportunity for drama missed) and other supporting roles are underexploited, such as Toby Jones as Hardy’s friend and co-conspirator and Jeremy Northam as Bertrand Russell; a man sympathetic to racial equality but realistic about Ramanujan’s chances of Fellow-ship.

A sad sub-plot involves Ramanujan’s young wife, separated from him by his relocation to England.  Their separation is cruelly compounded by his jealous mother who hides their letters, so that each thinks the other has forgotten them.  But once again the opportunity for drama is missed; the wife finds the letters and we fast-forward to a reconciliation, though sadly they have only two more years together before he dies of TB.

I’m very interested in the subject of multicultural maths.  Arabic cultures were fluent in maths and much of their art is based on patterns of numbers: I wonder if we are still as arrogant today as those Trinity scholars who thought the way of the West was the only way?

The film’s on Netflix now if you want to watch it:

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0787524/?ref_=nm_flmg_act_7

And I have a sneaking suspicion that in Zen mathematics 1+1=1…

Kirk out

What a Load of Old Santosh

There’s not a lot of the old Santosh sloshing around these days: the practice of contentment is so far off the radar that most of us don’t even see it, and even those of us who practise are liable to forget it just at the crucial moment.  Though it stands at our elbow and nudges, we push it away.  Only let me have this, we say, then I’ll be content.  I just need this one thing to be happy.  But Santosh is a wily old bird, and she knows better.  ‘You come along-a me,’ she says, ‘and then you’ll have everything you need.’  You know she’s right but you resist, you delay; because you’re afraid that following santosh will mean accepting that you can never have the Thing.  And you really really want The Thing.  The Thing is what your whole life has been pointing at, and you can’t give up The Thing.

Give me the Thing!

Santosh is one of the practices of Hinduism and hence of yoga.  What with Eastern traditions being non-dualistic they don’t have Cardinal Virtues and Deadly Sins: even though the concept is roughly the same (as you’ll see in a minute) the approach is much more gentle.  Rather than choosing between heaven and hell, you arrive at different levels (as it were) and are reincarnated accordingly.  I don’t believe in actual reincarnation but the principle makes a lot more sense to me than an arbitrary ‘on-off’ switch where you’re going down a chute and God flips the switch to send you up to heaven or down to hell.  There are ten of these ‘practices’; five things to do and five to avoid.

Here are the niyamas, or things to practice:

Santosh

Saucha, or cleanliness,

Tapas, or discipline (primarily self-discipline)

Svadhyaya, study of self and of texts

Ishvara-pranidhana, acceptance of a higher power (a bit like the practice in Alcoholics Anonymous, and susceptible of many interpretations).

But before you get to these there are five yamas, or things to avoid:

Ahimsa, non-violence (the corner-stone of Gandhi’s philosophy)

Satya, truth-telling (Gandhi also spoke of satyagraha, or ‘truth-power’)

Asteya, non-stealing

Aparigraha, non-greed

Brahmacharya, either celibacy or the right direction of sexual energy (this does not necessarily imply homophobia but a focussing on sexual energy to foster relationships rather than on personal gratification.)

https://www.ekhartyoga.com/articles/practice/the-yamas-and-niyamas

The thing about these is they all work together; and it occurred to me this morning that santosh and aparigraha, or the avoidance of greed, are very much in tandem.  If you are satisfied with what you have you do not crave more (this does not apply to those whose basic needs are not met) so it could be said that the constant striving after achievement is a kind of greed.  That sounds a little harsh, I know, but in an age where being driven is seen as some sort of virtue, it might help to see it in that way.

Kirk out

 

 

Good Morning? If You Say So

I’m feeling rather gloomy and Eeyoreish this morning.  When I feel like this I’m unwilling to foist my Eeyoreishness onto others, because I know what that feels like and it ain’t pretty, so instead I thought, what better time to compose a cheerful blog post?  Because I know that being cheerful outwardly can lead to feeling cheerful inside.  However, before I begin smiling, this requires a caveat.  I think there’s something deeply wrong with enforced cheerfulness: as I said before in the post about Dismaland:

https://lizardyoga.wordpress.com/2018/10/26/exit-pursued-by-a-gift/

enforced ‘happiness’ can be terrible for your mental health because it’s not real.  Before you can begin to be happy you first have to acknowledge your sadness or depression or pain or gloom: otherwise that’s called denial.

But once you’ve done that; once you’ve acknowledged the pain and sadness, there is much to be said for a cheerfulness which is a considered choice: one which looks at the awfulness of a world where Brexit threatens to smash up just about everything; a world where Trump is still President and where Brazilians have just elected (albeit by a narrow margin) a possibly even more repellent leader than DT and where just about the nicest, most generous football club owner ever has just been killed in a helicopter crash:

https://www.leicestermercury.co.uk/news/leicester-news/aaib-investigators-give-update-leicester-2158815

Image result for mourning Leicester city logo

image removed on request

What sort of a world is this?  It’s a bloody awful one.  So give me my parachute because I want to bail out right now.  I don’t want to be here in this place where everywhere you turn there are more and more reasons for despair.  I want to leave, thank you very much.

So, having said all that (and taken cognisance of the fact that there’s nowhere else to go*) you can do one of two things: despair or hope.  And I choose hope.  ‘Strong men know not despair, Arjuna,’ says Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita (let’s be generous and take ‘men’ as including women) and so I choose hope, even in the midst of despair.  Even in the depths of Dante’s hell there is, as Dorothy L Sayers points out, a tra-la of happiness:

Per me si va ne la città dolente,
per me si va ne l’etterno dolore,
per me si va tra la perduta gente.

(Canto III)

Literature is full of such examples: in the land of the dead where there is no hope at all, Lyra refuses to accept the reality she is presented with, insisting instead on finding a way out:

https://www.waterstones.com/book/the-amber-spyglass/philip-pullman/chris-wormell/9781407186122

and, terrible though the Inferno is, Dante eventually finds a way through to Purgatory

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Purgatorio

As for me, when I feel despair I think of a river.  No matter what obstacles a river faces, whether rock or stone or earth or deep chasms, it will find a way through.  It may take time and persistence but the steady drip-drip, the insistent push of water will in the end break down the hardest rock.  Even dams need an outlet – and constant maintenance.

So be the river.  Find a way through, not a way out.

Kirk out

* without either committing suicide or trying to live on Mars, neither of which appeal

 

 

If I’m Bored It Must Be Sunday

When I was a child Sundays were practically synonymous with boredom.  Everyone went to church and the whole thing was an incredible performance; dressing up in your best (and most uncomfortable) clothes, sitting still through hours of excruciating boredom and not being allowed to do anything fun.  When I was a teenager it was hardly less exciting as the pubs were closed most of the day, only the paper shops were open (and with restricted hours) and there was nothing to do.  It is hard to see a connection between all of this conformity and the teachings of Christ.

Religion everywhere is a magnet for those who seek power.  The tragedy is that religions often stem from prophets or messiahs who preach against power – but the lure of getting people under your spell by promising heaven and threatening hell and by aligning yourself with the gods you are supposed to be worshipping, is too great.  One survivor of Catholic abuse said a nun told her ‘I’m God.’  This is the most basic idolatry ever and you can’t understand how they don’t realise it.

But!  Yesterday was an antidote to all that because I went to a brilliant service at All Saints.  The church, so often associated with shaming gays and lesbians and excluding those who don’t fit in (thus directly contravening the teachings of Jesus) has changed – and one small church in Loughborough has taken the brilliant step of having a Pride service.  It was a terrific event, inclusive and welcoming not just to gays and lesbians but to everyone, encouraging us to love ourselves as God made us.

http://www.allsaintsloughborough.org.uk/jml02/

After that I went to the pub and then to another pub and then for lunch and then for a walk along the canal.  That’s what Sundays should be like.

Kirk out