Friday 30 June 2017

#200 The rascal gurus

For about five years now, I've taken some interest in the teachings of a handful of spiritual leaders, most but not all of whom have either departed from mainstream religion, or augmented their interpretation of it through physical, verbal or written meditations. 

When one comes across an individual behaving like a leader, who is not a priest or a bishop, for example, they can seem to be an enemy of a faith such as Christianity. Ironically, many guru's practices are compatible with the work of the church. Some compliment it. Afterall, Jesus' message was to love one another. To do that, requires the cultivation of peace within ourselves and to do that, many people choose to meditate.

Then there's the theory. Rascal gurus tend to be big on universality, which again is fine for Christians, who believe God is everywhere. You can't get more universal than that.

Religious and spiritual leaders always look lazy to me. That's because I only ever see them sitting around talking. I know they dedicate a lot of their time to good causes, get up at 5am etc. I'm not saying they are lazy. It just seems like a more chilled lifestyle than say, being a paramedic or a secular teacher. That may or may not be the case.

Like the religious chieftain, a spiritual leader caters for those who believe or otherwise feel that their life needs guidance. In a cult, the intensity of that factor often increases to the point where the guidance is all but absolute. The opposite situation would be where, through guidance, an individual becomes self-actualised and realises they can guide theirself.

In an interdependent world, how could such self-actualisation be possible? The answer, apparently, lies in realising the nature and extent of one's interdependencies. The nature of oneself, the nature of the world and the nature of one's connection to it. 

John 15:5 " I am the vine, you are the branches."

I never liked going to church. I think it was the people. I'm quite cautious around people. I never enjoyed watching football matches for the same reason. A sea of people, chanting with varying degrees of conviction. Getting riled up over something they can't see. Surrendering to a force greater than themselves. 

Have they picked the right team? Is there a right team? Why would there be?

Am I looking for answers or more questions?

Friday 23 June 2017

#199 A glimpse

Behind the roads. Under the shadows of houses and offices throughout London, there run some canals.

As well as hosting a lot of fish and moorhens, the canals contain several hundred boats, which are inhabited by the 0.0001% of Londoners who choose to make their homes upon the water.

The streams are slow-flowing and full of algae. Flies buzz around the water’s edge. Birds sunbathe on the decks and the summer sun slowly bakes the outside paint until it fades and starts to flake.

All manner of people live on the boats. From investment bankers, to poets and painters. Some boats are new and vast, with more space inside than an apartment. Others have been bobbing up and down on the water since the 1970s and are cheerfully decorated, or overgrown with plants.

There’s even a converted orange submarine. It’s particularly small and has only one thick window, some vents and a door.

I first noticed the canals when I walked to the Post Office last year to fetch a package from a friend in Brazil. Now and then I go back and walk along the same route. To see the boats. To get out of the city, without leaving it.

One morning, I noticed a boat I hadn’t seen before. It was black and scruffy, with old junk and appliances littered about the place as though the owner never saw the point in tidying anything up.

Then I saw him, at the front. He was standing completely naked, shaving his face in a mirror. 

The rest of his body was completely bald. His skin, deeply tanned a rich shade of brown like a conker, pulled taught over his muscles. He was facing away from me but for a second I caught his gaze in the mirror. Two bright blue eyes stared at me, with a look I’d only ever seen on wild animals in the forest.

I wanted desperately to stop and continue staring through the windows into his life but being aware that this would have been intruding, I carried on and even took a longer route back home, for fear of disturbing it. Disturbing a scene in which I truly didn’t belong.

Saturday 17 June 2017

#198 Controlling the situation

Apparently the Prime Minister decided not to visit the Grenfell Tower fire victims on Thursday afternoon owing to security concerns. The decision predictably stirred up some already narky members of the public, who tossed around insults like "coward", "murderer" and "Weetab****". Ok I made that last one up.

Ironically, the attitudes of those making the remarks actually support May's fears that a) many people don't want to see her anyway and b) there's a real risk that anger over the incident could be directed at her. Possibly even physically. If it were Arnie or Putin then no problem but Theresa doesn't look like the kind of leader who can take a punch.

It's unfortunate that her TV appearances don't include any emotional engagement. She remains as guarded mentally as she is physically. A destructible, yet inflexible machine-stitched doll, complete with a range of prerecorded messages. Still, she's capable of reciting positive statements and is willing to give interviews, despite knowing that the questions will be tricky.

I got asked to write a post on my reaction to the tragedy for another blog and couldn't help but observe that we first created fire more than a million years ago and yet we still haven't completely mastered it.

Is that true?

Is it the fire we haven't mastered? Or is it something else? We can, almost all of us, create fire at will. My poor parents found that out when I was very young and they left me alone for several minutes with the sofa and a box of matches. What's more, there has never been a man-made fire which humanity has failed to eventually extinguish. So what's the answer? Better hoses?

What about our own behaviour? Now we're getting somewhere and at the same time, we're getting nowhere fast. In those million years, or at least the most recent ones, we've been able to do remarkable things with fire. We've powered steam engines. Lit the streets. Cooked meat. What've we done with human nature? Has it improved? I like to think it has. We're less violent. We might even be happier. We're still pretty darn careless though.

Disasters won't stop happening just because there's a change in government or a change in the law. It might be of some help in specific cases but ultimately we are a careless species. What this means is, it isn't just the government's responsibility to ensure we live safely. It's yours and mine and everyone else's. Did you visit Grenfell Tower when you heard the news? Did I?

Friday 9 June 2017

#197 Getting the basics wrong

Razor blades are one of the biggest scams in the developed world. I have no idea how the market isn't more competitive. Are they difficult to make? Opting for the supermarkets' brands might be an option if they did anything more than slice my face up but it seems that after more than a decade of selling its own razors, Tesco hasn't quite got round to making one that will actually shave hairs.

Thank Gillette, the only razors a man can get that actually work. Except most of them cost more than the GDP of Bulgaria. The margins make any other business look daft to get into. When the supermarket recently ran out of Blue II's for the second week in a row, I wasn't annoyed. I just felt that sort of deep, unsettling nausea representing the accumulation of all my suspicion since I started to approach age thirty, that real life might in some ways be different than it looks on TV.

Then again, we've entered an age where even those being filmed can't be bothered to get it right. Politicians should be banned from making live TV appearances until they can do a decent job of it. It's embarrassing for all of us. Just have them write a script, get it checked three times and then let someone more attractive read it to the camera.

If our country's leaders do decide to appear on screen, they should be allowed to do so alongside several members of the rest of their team. Afterall, rarely in the private sector would a company send a single employee to pitch for the biggest deal it's ever done. Even in a panel debate, I see nothing wrong with bringing a colleague, or a well-organised stack of notes. They can write their policies and budgets on their forearms in biro for all I care.

Monday 5 June 2017

#196 Polyamory

When I used to use Tinder, I'd sometimes match with someone who had a boyfriend. In their pictures. They were usually upfront about it, explaining that they were in an open relationship. Sometimes they'd proceed to describe a fantasy they were looking to act out but often they'd just be looking to meet someone. It didn't interest me personally but like it or not, I'd keep coming across it.

In an effort to learn more about navigating human connections in general, I recently finished The Truth: An Uncomfortable Book About Relationships by Neill Strauss. 

The following will spoil the book if you intend on reading it and have not yet done so.

From the title, I'd expected it to land all the right punches. Experts advising humans aren't meant to be monogamous. The evolution of religion. The importance of commitment when raising a family. The purpose of a relationship, which as everyone knows is mutual spiritual growth. As it happened, the book only focussed on the last of those points. What a first-rate job it did though.

Over the course of 420 pages, the author described his own experiences in almost every kind of heterosexual structure imaginable. The traditional exclusive duo. A poly triad. A hareem. A commune. Swinging. From a cursory peek at a review, I first thought Mr. Strauss was either carrying out a research study or a marketing campaign. It was only through closer examination of the text that I discovered the earnestness of his journey.

Here was a man desperately searching for a dynamic in which he could feel happy. After participating fully in an expensive and hideously restrictive year-long programme of sex addiction therapy, he realised that even when he did everything "right", he was still miserable. So he went and did everything "wrong" instead but he was still miserable. It was only at that point that he realised one of the main requirements of a successful relationship, which as we all know is that its constituents have achieved and are able to maintain a basic level of happiness independently of one another.

The naughtiness and intensity of the story would be enough for some readers but Strauss' ability to see the hilarity in even his most genuinely difficult moments helped to humanise his experiences. It was clear from very early on, that whatever happened to him, he'd keep the tone entertaining and he did, right through to the end.

An open relationship still isn't something I'd consider but my week-long literary canter through various alternative loving arrangements was well worth the trip to the library and back. After what the author went through to arrive at a conclusion worth ending on, I will be distraught if I ever see another book about relationships by him again. If that day does come though, I'll definitely be picking up a copy.