surfsensei

Reflections and observations on life in general.

Category: ethics and society

Just one day?

It’s a bit late in the day, literally, I am referring to International Women’s Day, to post something on this subject but here’s my bit anyway.

I’ve been busy taking my car to a specialist garage on the edge of Glasgow and, while they were dealing with it (successfully I might add), I made use of the time to get some art materials and then visit Kelvinhall Art Gallery and Museum to see the exhibition of drawings by Leonardo da Vinci.  It’s a small exhibition but worth the visit, especially as it is easy to combine with time amongst other superb items: Dutch paintings from several Scottish collections, including beautifully precise paintings by one of the few Dutch women of that time, around the 18th Century, able to become professional artists; paintings by “The Glasgow Boys”; the Diplodocus skeleton from the Natural History Museum and more.

I went outside to eat a sandwich before taking the bus back to retrieve my car and sheltered from the drizzle behind an impressive statue of three figures; an aging man with instruments that I guess represented the scientific pursuits, a woman reading from a large book and in the centre, an imposing priest clad in heavy robes and his hand raised in a two-fingered gesture of blessing.

It was the woman’s figure that reminded me of International Women’s Day and got me thinking of how important it has been, and remains, for women/girls to have access to literacy and education to break out of the restrictions imposed by traditions and rigid views on people’s roles and abilities and, more subtly, men’s fear of losing power and privilege.

2019 kelvinhall lesende vrouw

I started to wonder why, when we have things like Black History Month, there is only one day set aside for remembering/celebrating/commemorating women.  One day….

Not enough time, considering …

 

 

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Balloons, post-script.

Looking back just over a year through previous posts, I found the post linked below, (Balloons, EBI) which I’ve updated with a postscript.  I’m in a better place, now, but see much of the same thing going on.  Even in a small circle of influence, I am doing what I can to leave things better than I found them and to leave the seeds of improvement in the minds of others I work with.

white and red plastic heart balloon on sky during daytime

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Photo: David E. Gurniewicz, https://balloonsblow.org/impacts-on-wildlife-and-environment/

I would like to be planting, metaphorically in this context, a forest of oaks and beech and ash trees, interventions that lead to a big shift in how things are being done, that leave a lasting result. Unrealistic aspiration, grandiose self-delusion?

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In reality I am probably sowing smaller seeds, in the hope that they give rise to plants that can thrive in devastated land, like the Willow-Herb that is abundant in this part of Scotland, and produce flowers that feed many insects… less spectacular but possibly more widespread benefits…  I will never really know, but it helps prevent cynicism.

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If none of this makes sense, have a look at the original post, I don’t feel articulate enough this evening to labour the point.  I’m off now to make another cup of tea and continue work on turning old scaffolding planks into a dining table.

Balloons – EBI

Despite everything, I think it is still worth it.

Thank you for putting your trash in a bin.  It does make a difference.

————

https://balloonsblow.org/impacts-on-wildlife-and-environment/

Alternatives to Balloon releases.

On the buses..

From where I live now I have three realistic modes of transport to and from work: cycling, driving and a combination of bus and, in Stirling, one of the hire bikes. Last week I decided to take the third option, as I am a member of the hiring scheme and the first half-hour of rental is free. I could combine trying out the bikes with testing this route and, perhaps, enjoy a more relaxed commute at the end of the week.

Both journeys went smoothly, the hire bikes were free of serious faults and the buses on time. Stirling Council has put in place some pretty good cycling routes in the city that are useful for my journey and I could allow my mind to play a little, with the cares and demands of driving in the hands of our shared chauffeur.

I noticed in my stream of mental chatter the usual turbulence of ideas, observations, shifting awareness of bodily sensations, memories and plans, emotions and so on, all arising and fading like glittering fishes and assorted treasures and detritus emerging briefly from the muddy eddies before sinking back out of view into the depths.

Occasionally there were longer-lasting impressions and insights. This time it came as I noticed familiar patterns and prejudices appear almost as childlike crayon graphic overlays between my general awareness and the appearance of people around me on the bus.

It was a striking moment of clarity that was neither shocking nor surprising – I have become aware of this before – but it felt fresher and more vivid this time. A background chatter of judgement and opinions, of sorting and categorisation, like a suspicious and short-tempered receptionist trying to decide who gets in and whom to turn away, unaware that the boss is wise to his old employee’s tricks and is spending more time sitting in reception himself.

The terms “stereotype ” and “prejudice ” are heavy with negative associations these days, used as they are in mostly negative context; to admit to their presence in one’s mind is seen as an admission of a shameful guilt, of heretical thought-crime.

Yet this feature of our minds serves a purpose, not least to enable us to navigate the complex world of our experience quickly enough to keep up with events and, most of the time, avoid serious trouble. If everything appeared completely fresh and new in our minds, we would have long ago been eaten by lions or bears who simply saw us as “lunch”. We need to learn quickly to compare our perceptions with pre-formed models, stereotypes, simply in order to move around and sit down; “dog” not= “chair”.

“Life’s easy, seen from here…”

It’s a matter of awareness, keeping an eye on the mental processes that filter the flow of phenomena and noticing when they are useful, keeping us out of trouble and assisting rapid decision making, and when they are unhelpful or even harmful, triggering defensive and ill-considered reactions that, in the end, harm us all. This isn’t easy, especially in a culture that is itself ambiguous about self-awareness and restraint and that circulates prejudice and simplistic, stereotypical thinking at many levels; it does make life feel simpler, after all.

All I can do, for myself, is to keep observing, practice noticing when my mind is distracted and judgement clouded by the cartoon vision of that metaphorical old receptionist, the moments when the boss has retreated to the office and shut the door, leaving control to the subordinates. It takes an effort, repetition, acceptance of failures too; self-punishment is unhelpful and doesn’t foster the compassion needed to share with others.

The bus journey was uneventful, the other passengers chatted with each other, listening to the fragments of conversation helped me remind myself that every one was another story, another centre of the universe, a constellation of myriad untold tales.

Perhaps it’s this that draws me to sit in cafés, airports, buses, trains, listening, sketching, writing; human stargazing through the scudding clouds and distorting lenses of my own mental activities. Looking for a clearer view.

It’s time to go. The coffee and cake were good, time now to go home and plan for a few days of holiday. Happy travelling!

#SharingMySanctuary

#SharingMySanctuary
This is my bed.

Photo of a simple wooden bed.
I have been lucky enough to be able to sleep in it peacefully,
confident that I will be safe and warm enough,
free from fear of sudden assault,
by strangers with no reason to hurt me or,
worse,
somebody I thought I could trust.
Free, too, from fear of a night visit from
police or army, come to take me or my family away,
for “questioning”, or worse.
So far, at least;
let’s not get too complacent and believe that
“it couldn’t happen here”.
The trouble is, it does,
especially if you have lost your opportunities
to earn enough to keep paying the rent, or mortgage, or
if your mind just wouldn’t stay on track enough to get by
and handle all the stuff like bills and job and relationships, or
if you had to put whatever you could grab,
in the dark,
and the shock of approaching fire and explosions,
and the children hysterical and wetting themselves,
to run to the last taxi,
which only waited for you because the driver
is married to your cousin,
and leave everything,
EVERY
thing,
and get to the border, the children still unwashed and exhausted,
no papers, no ID,
you dropped it as you picked up the youngest,
and finally,
after a story you still cannot tell without shaking uncontrollably,
by a series of very small miracles,
arriving in the country where they say
“it couldn’t happen here”,
as they go to safe beds, while
you look for a bed, for room at the inn,
and find that the first thing somebody says to you,
it must be a customary welcome here,
is:
“why don’t you FUCK OFF back where you came from”.

This is my bed,

Photo of a simple wooden bed.
I am #SharingMySanctuary
in a very small way.
I want to see the people whose decisions can make it happen
understand this,
not just know about it,
understand this,
understand how great a sanctuary is
a safe place to sleep,
and make it happen for those who need sanctuary too,
which, really, is EVERY one of us.

I hope that you can be free from fear tonight, and have a safe, sound, refreshing sleep.

(Among others, these people are doing something about this.)

 

The causes of raspberries

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I’m due to move at the end of the week, so I’ve been dismantling shelving and re-packing the few things I unpacked on arrival up here in Scotland last year. This time it’s a shorter move, about 6 or 7 miles closer to work, which will take about 40min off my cycle commute (I’m not a fast cyclist), and to a more self contained cottage, a welcome change from living in flats for the last few years.

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I took some relaxing time out at the end of the afternoon, to walk through the birdsong-resonant Callendar Woods and down to the lochan by the house. It has been one of those overcast, warm, still days that mute the light and makes for a soporific , timeless feeling in the air. Leaves have sprung from nearly all the trees, blossoms are out, insects buzz around and a lot of birds have already begun to lay their eggs. I found empty blackbird eggshells and one duck egg that a crow or similar had evidently robbed and partly eaten, by the paths.

egg
Most people had gone home but there were still some families out as well as a couple of small groups of youths, sitting and muttering quietly to each other. A few younger children were out and running around, one adult, one of their parents, close by. The children were shouting at each other, only when I drew a bit closer did I hear more clearly them telling each other, in a playful tone of voice, to fuck off, repeatedly… the parent seemed unconcerned …. but then yesterday by the shopping mall in town I heard several parents swearing profusely at and in front of their young children…. the seeds of another abusive and angry generation are sown. Causes and effects, I see some of the fruits of this in school.

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Other causes and conditions are coming together to create new phenomena too, the flower buds are forming on the raspberry plants that grow profusely in the woods. I could buy raspberries now in the supermarkets if I wanted but, for several reasons, I resist this to wait for the local, wild, harvest. The wild ones taste better too, perhaps they arise from healthier causes and conditions, less stressed and pressurised, able to take their own time to become ready.

raspberry plants with buds

Salvation… ?

It’s a “drych” Sunday morning, misty and wet, not a day for hillwalking, fewer distractions for me today then. I’ve slept well in a bed I appreciate every time I lie down in it, not just for its inherent comfort but also because I made the frame myself, another story, and because I am reminded frequently in the city centres that there are many people who don’t have the luxury of even a safe place to sleep, let alone a bed; luxury is a fragile and ephemeral thing, I try to remember that.

From my flat I can look down to the Salvation Army church hall opposite, where Sunday morning worshippers are making their way in for the service, it’s a fair range of people, mostly older but not all, a few families too, this one is busy and well-attended as far as I can see. It’s also active as a social assistance centre, providing cheap, possibly free, meals to people who need them, company too, other useful and constructive events. It reminded me of a few things I’ve heard in conversations, sometimes agreed with, at least in part.

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I’ve heard people dismissing the variety of Christian churches, indeed all religions, as promoters of blind and superstitious faith, root causes of discord, persecution, prejudice and war, social & political tools of manipulation to keep people tolerating unjust and oppressive worldly conditions for now in the hope of future reward in an afterlife and meanwhile accepting the authority of a few, legitimising abuse of power and more. There are some truths in this, all religions, indeed all human organisations, have the traps that can tempt people to follow these harmful courses of action, as we see from the news on a regular basis in the continuing revelations of long term abuse of children in the care of nuns, behaviour of a number of film producers, business leaders in a London club, the list is endless and active. These problems have been evident since the early days of Christianity and very likely the other religions too, before and since. The common thread I see running through it all is the question of human problems, the real extent of some of which is only now becoming apparent and acknowledged. The pressing need now, I believe, is to examine the underlying causes of these problems, not to be diverted into the easy option of demonising either individual perpetrators or institutions, and to act on those causes.

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What I see too, though, as I look down at the last of the congregation going in to the warm and convivial hall, is the very positive aspect of this place and activity for many people, indeed I’ve had a closer experience of this in the past, in relation to a Christian family I knew and used to visit, and recently, in a Buddhist setting, though I’m thinking here about the Christian context as they receive a lot of unfair criticism and ridicule.
I saw people having a very positive, uplifting and hope-filled shared social experience, even if it gave only respite, we all need a break from our problems and I’ve seen people gather strength and stamina from this, whatever their level of commitment to or belief in the doctrines. I’ve seen something of the wider social support and networks that can be available and accessible through meeting regularly in a setting in which the focus is, mostly and explicitly, positive. I’ve seen the way people, especially young people, can feel that they are capable of achieving and that they do have real potential, due to the encouragement and wider support and contacts that they have, leading to confident, clear-thinking and healthily active young adults able to make and maintain good relationships and pursue constructive livelihoods based on sound and compassionate values. I’ve seen genuine community developing around these things, all-too-rare islands of constructive social support and interdependence in a sea of fragmented and relatively isolated individuals, clinging to assorted and often toxic flotsam to stay afloat.

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I’ve also heard, first hand, from people who have found the sense of a greater presence and possibility in the world helping them to endure deprivation, abuse, despair, imprisonment and torture; at school we had an inspiring talk from an East German preacher who had been imprisoned and interrogated for a long time by Stazi and Soviet police, as well as other persecution due to being an active Christian. My point is that there are very useful and desirable aspects to these activities and beliefs, as well as potential traps for those who do not examine critically the dogmas, rituals, creeds and actual behaviour of the followers.

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I am not a Christian, I find the theology doesn’t fit with how I experience the world inside and outside my head, though the core values as exemplified by the teachings of Jesus are very good ones. My forced exposure to Church of England Christianity at school served to reinforce my negative perceptions of it, the sense that I still get if i sit in (rarely) on a service, a feeling that somebody is trying to stuff cotton wool into my head to stop me asking questions and seeing behind the scenery.
I have found myself drawn steadily towards the teachings of the Buddha in large part because I am explicitly encouraged to examine and question it and find the evidence of whether it works for myself, not just to accept it all on “faith”, a word I associate too much with “accept that this is true and don’t ever ask why”, or in other words, wilful delusion. Mostly I find it to be consistent with what I observe and I experience real benefits from the practices and teachings I have encountered so far; those that don’t fit or seem to work I leave aside for now, I’m responsible for my own “salvation”, or not, fair enough.

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There are things which it is useful to approach with a willingness to have confidence in, a lifejacket, climbing rope, the brakes on my bike or car, the competence of the pilot to land the plane safely or the doctor to remove my appendix without killing or maiming me, the possibility that this set of teachings and meditation practices will be helpful. All of these things I can, if I wish, examine and test and review.

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So when I see the people emerging, now, from the service and gathering (there are usually tea and cakes after, I think), I see something that is mostly positive and life-enhancing, useful in a fragmented society too. The proof, for me, is in the “pudding” in the sense of the observable results of this activity and there is good stuff there that, if it works for you, I’m glad and would encourage. I would also encourage, urgently, examining carefully the list of ingredients to discriminate between those that are genuinely nourishing for the individual and society, those that are innocuous flavourings and colours and those that are bad for your long-term health or even toxic to us all. You don’t need to give up eating cake but the recipe might need adjusting.

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About a kilometer away I can see the steeple or tower of the “Faw Kirk” that gave this town its name, from back in the Middle Ages, beyond that, today’s mist obscures a splendid view to the Ochil Hills. It’s time for a walk through the nearby Callendar Woods and perhaps a welcome coffee, even some cake, in Callendar House, by the remains of the Roman frontier at the Antonine Wall. I shall examine the ingredients of the cake!

Ticking outside the box.

I did Prevent training today,
which, when reading some of the definitions of its scope,
reveals a disturbing degree of room for opening out
the mouth of the net of state attention and intervention
to catch far more than those who are bent on
violence and harm and destruction,
but also those who see a different way forward that
is not the status quo,
does not make the present model of how we should live
“sustainable”,
that would make much of the present system
redundant
without violence
and open a clearing in the forest
in which fresh new and healthy things can grow
from seeds that have always been there.

I ticked a box, concerning noticing signs
of Radicalisation,
there were maybe eight learning objectives;
I learned nine.

This video raises some relevant questions
and is in its own way inspiring,
if you are interested in questions
and not just ticking boxes.

[https://youtu.be/XUwLAvfBCzw]

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Balloons – EBI

I am sending this to my colleagues at the school I work at, today, in the emotional heat of organising and participating in what are often very worthwhile events and activities, it is too easy to forget that whatever we do has consequences.  By the way, WWW means ‘what went well’ and EBI means ‘even better if’, used in our school evaluations with students.

“If you are planning a balloon release, for whatever reason, please watch the linked video [https://www.facebook.com/BalloonsBlow/videos/1074667645876949/] . This sort of activity is contributing to significant harm, both on land, to domesticated and wild animals, and particularly at sea, where many more balloons than people realise end up, adding to the growing and severe problem of plastics and other similar man-made detritus in the oceans. Even genuinely “biodegradable” balloons do a lot of harm to livestock and birds etc before they eventually break down, as shown in the video.

I request that we choose instead activities that at least minimise harm, such as releasing hydrogen-filled soap-bubbles [helium is a finite resource] or that bring actual longer term benefits to our environment and community. This would be more in keeping with our purpose as a school.

Perhaps in this context our evaluation could then read something like this:

WWW: we showed the children how to commemorate/celebrate without causing pollution and harm, we released bubbles….

EBI: we will show the children how to commemorate / celebrate by adding something lasting and beautiful to the area, we plan next time to plant trees.

Sincerely
…”

Postscript: 

That was a year ago.  A few staff emailed me back with supportive comments.  The staff who planned to release balloons did so anyway. There was no discussion of the issue that I was aware of and no response from the Head.  I was not surprised, except perhaps in getting any kind of response at all.

I continue to see what should be shocking levels of ignorance, thoughtlessness and wasteful behaviours among teaching staff and management levels in schools and I do what I can in my role as a technician to avoid or mitigate this.  There are some who are the opposite, of course, but they seem rarely to get into positions of real influence or get disillusioned and leave the profession.

I try not to let these experiences make me cynical, even if my circle of influence shrinks to my own arms’ reach, I can do things differently in my own space.  It does however weaken my motivation and sense of loyalty to organisations and people whose declared purpose I believe in passionately, when I see them behaving in ways that run counter to that.  Dis-illusion perhaps, seeing things as they are…?  I want to use that as the basis for more effective action, a work in progress.

Steam clean – relief from drowning

I am sitting with my head wrapped in a towel breathing steam in temporary relief from intermittent choking on the aftermath and “collateral damage” of a nasty cold that has filled my upper airways and chest with microscopic battle the last few days. I woke out of a dream of some region of England being used for military practice for the bitter Troubles in Ulster, the dream perhaps arising from the resonance of narrow-minded hate-filled comments I read in passing on Facebook not long but too soon before turning in, too tired and late to meditate and release my mind from things I cannot change.

Thinking of those years in the 1970s and early 80s when unrest and murder and hatreds were at their most intense and active in that uneasy land – for me, fortunately, in the news and not my daily life – I recall the relative simplicity of things. A time of fewer channels, when bigotry and binary views of the world were mostly spread in smaller circles – in the pub, works van, watching TV (4 channels), muttering at the tabloid on the train. Respite, release from the feeling of a need to say something, anything, in response to yet another joy or outrage was a little easier; the Forum closed for rest and cleaning in those days, it didn’t chatter on in your pocket, leaving echoes in your head.

So reading the compassion-free comments that captioned an image of more deluded and hopeful and despairing refugees (other adjectives also available according to your views) arriving with the tide in southern Europe I felt no rage towards the commentator, just a realisation of how widespread and deep the poisons of hatred and division are in every part of the world; most worryingly in those nations with the greatest wealth and actual security and established education. There are real problems to be tackled, many we have collectively failed to collaborate to face, his comments arise from things we need to discuss and deal with for sure. It’s the retreat into a blind trench warfare of beliefs that is so unhelpful, worse in its own way, or at least as bad, as the consensus-free committees that leave everybody outside frustrated and reactive.

I have not “unfriended” him, deliberately, I want to keep open even a silent channel of communication through the rising hedges and walls of a social network that resembles a labyrinth of walled gardens, within which people sit isolated with fellow enthusiasts for their particular flower, be it roses, tulips or poison ivy. I await a moment when, like a sniper with one round left for the enemy general, I can conceive and convey a comment to his rants that may actually make him think and reply with a more open view of the situation, a shift, even briefly, from binary to base-ten view of the world, from “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” to seeing that there are other places to stand and go to. Or perhaps I am, like that metaphorical sniper, already surrounded, the general is not one man but is now manifesting in so many heads that his uniformed body is now redundant to the cause he led; hope and some faith in the benefit of helping even one person see something differently sustain me in my hideout, however hopeless.

And, after all, these pervasive media are themselves neutral, facilitating the spread of joy and hope and healing as well as mental poisons; we need to keep the channels open though, at least let poisoned messages sprout but wither un-nourished, rather than just block them to keep the smell of a different flower out of our own garden, to revert to that metaphor.

I let it go at last, switched off devices, went to bed, “to sleep, perchance to dream…” and now, here I am, my mind and airways a little clearer, weary but no longer drowning from within, steam-cleaned for a short while, while the earliest commuters drive by outside and I lie down to rest a little.

Maybe there is value and a wider benefit in simply sending out basic good wishes, if I can’t think of or lack the present skills to do more effective things, even if that just means that I get a better rest and don’t carry the poison to spread on to others, inadvertently, through careless speech or actions. OK, just that then, for now, starting with you, dear reader, and thanks for reading this.

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(Perhaps a a better metaphor: a guerrilla gardener with one seed of a different plant, the compassion tree, that I would plant surreptitiously in the least dark corner of his garden? Too late, go to bed mate!)

Poppies – in memoriam

I saw a link to this article by Robert Fisk, in the Independent, on Facebook this evening, a well-written piece that made me reflect on the issue of the wearing of the red poppies around the UK Remembrance Day (11 November):

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/commentators/fisk/robert-fisk-do-those-who-flaunt-the-poppy-on-their-lapels-know-that-they-mock-the-war-dead-6257416.html

I replied to the post after considering my own thoughts and feelings about this, including my own short and undistinguished military career, fortunately between conventional wars and at the end of the Cold one:

I’m happy to give a donation, even wear a poppy on the day in memory of the “poor bloody infantry” and others who are mostly being told to do the dirty work for politicians who keep well away from the consequences of their actions, particularly in the last generation or two, but I want to see this Remembrance grow to include ALL the casualties of war, such as the 14-year old boy in Aleppo today orphaned by two separate rocket attacks [[BBC radio 4 World Tonight 2200 3 Nov 2016 – grim report from a hospital] and many others …

At 1100, on the 11th, I pause to reflect on those in and out of uniform, all of whom are harmed deeply in many ways by this continuing stupidity.