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" A good traveller has no fixed plans,

and is not intent on arriving "

Lao Tzu

Honest Stripping Every Day

January 15th, 2008

Riverwolf has just posted this comment to the blog and I think it deserves it’s own post. This medium of blogging can help us, I believe, break through the vicious cycle of self-doubt and self-criticism that can get in the way of developing our creativity. Of course we can make mistakes, go off on ego trips, bore readers (or ourselves!) but it’s all about daring – daring to express our thoughts and feelings, and wanting: to communicate, to share, and ultimately to give. Here’s what he says in response to my post ‘Can Streaking Ever Become a Chore?’:

 I think if we do a little “honest” stripping every day, we will be sharing, giving, entertaining. Whether it’s writing or something else, we need the practice. It’s a little like riding a motorcycle, too. Yes, it’s fun, especially when you start, but then the lure fades a bit. Maybe you feel your bike isn’t powerful enough or your skills aren’t good enough. But if you keep riding, suddenly you realize you’ve improved, you feel more in tune with the bike and the road–and suddenly, the love of the ride returns and you realize there doesn’t have to be some great reward. There’s joy in simply doing and being.

His blog can be found here. Its Home Page finishes with this wonderful verse from Rumi: 

“The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you—don’t go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want—don’t go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill,
where two worlds touch.
The door is round and open—don’t go back to sleep.”

Rumi, 13th century Muslim mystic and poet

Onan the Parrot’s Blog

January 7th, 2008

A friend once got on to a train and found himself sitting opposite a mum with her little girl. The girl stared directly at him and said “Mummy what’s that man for?”

This could have plunged our friend into an identity crisis, but instead he reveled in it as a moment of existential bliss.

Asking the simple question “what is something for?” is so powerful. And I think it’s helpful to question new media too. I’ve been questioning this media of blogging since I started a few months ago. ‘What is it for?’ brings up new answers whenever I contemplate it. A friend told me they thought blogging was ‘wanky’ and I used to think that too. But calling the ‘front-line’ blogs coming out of Iraq or China onanistic is definitely missing the mark. And while some blogs might be self-indulgent, onanistic even, we don’t have to attend to them, and if the writer wants to indulge themselves is that really a problem for us? Let them carry on pleasuring themselves, at least they’re not wandering the streets, and maybe they’re having fun!

Heaven knows what this blog is (let alone what it’s for!), but my father had a nice image for it: a cafe where one drops in to read a paper, look at a  bit of the world go by, or chat with a friend or stranger…

An image that came to me today is that of a microcosm – a blog can reflect the world in some of its richness, silliness, depth and diversity. It doesn’t necessarily have to ‘hang together’, be thematically consistent, or have a ‘structure’.

For someone who has to write within structures for much of their day, the unstructured nature of this medium is sheer joy!

N.B. The title is a reference to the well-worn Dorothy Parker joke: when asked why her parrot was called Onan, she explained it was because he kept spilling his seed on the cage floor.

Blogging, Surfing, Existentialism and a Lion

November 27th, 2007

One of the amusing effects of having a blog is that you can read what terms people use in search engines to get to your blog. To date the oddest is ‘Bart nevermore soundbyte’. That surfer must have arrived as a result of my mentioning the word soundbyte in a post a few days ago. This means that if I now say ‘existentialism’ I should get a bunch of philosophers surfing their way here.

For the philosophers, and everyone else here is something heart-warming to watch:

Spiritual Nakedness and Reductionism

November 15th, 2007

In another post I listed the many reasons for having a blog. I have been amazed at how many of these there actually are. And now it’s time to reveal a deeper, darker, motivation behind many an author’s blogging efforts (and my own though in a minor way I hope) – which is that they are trying to ‘build a platform’. So many books are published, and the competition for contracts and publishers’ attention is so strong, that the more of an audience you have the better. If the publisher thinks people are listening to you, they are more likely to offer you a contract.

So if we are to believe this is of value, creating a blog becomes one of the things an author needs to do – just like creating a website, trying to get reviews and so on. Of course this isn’t news and isn’t really a ‘dark secret’ but I guess it just adds to the idea I’ve been pondering over: the concept of ‘spiritual nakedness’. It shows that some, perhaps many, of our actions have layers of intent and that attempting to be authentic is not as simple as it may appear.

The problem with the concept of spiritual or psychological nakedness is that it easily falls into the trap of reductionism – and worse, of a search for an illusory ‘purity’ – as if we can ‘strip’ away motivations to come to ‘the truth’ which we will discover to be one single thing. The reality is, I suspect, more interesting, more complex, more colourful and confusing. When we undress – psychologically or literally – we do not come to just one version of ourselves – the ‘true self’. Instead there are still a multitude of identities – the same naked person can be coy, calm, proud, appearing as an object or clearly as a subject. Despite our knowing that life, and we ourselves, are complicated and multi-faceted why do we yearn so for the pure and simple?

Into the cauldron of Samhain!

October 25th, 2007

Three weeks into this blog experience and the festival of Samhain approaches. This is traditionally a time of chaos, confusion, a letting-go, an acceptance of death and endings over a period of 3 days from October 31st to November 2nd and a chance to enter a new cycle from November 3rd.

So into the Samhain cauldron I am going to put my thoughts and feelings about this venture, to see what will emerge after Samhain. A part of me is still uneasy with the distraction the internet and computer screens bring into my life which is already filled to the brim with demands. And yet the potential of blogging fascinates me.

I thought a blog was simply a template for an electronic diary, but I’ve realised it can be:

1. A common-place or scrap book that can archive movies, sound clips, photos, quotes and so on.

2. A ranting platform

3. For those of us who work to deadlines, it can be a medium to develop the ability to write under pressure, and a medium to help loosen up one’s writing style and develop expressiveness.

4. A ‘museum’ – in the classical sense, where there can be a group discussion (as yesterday) but which is focussed or which has a primary speaker.

5. A form of sharing journaling in an attempt to follow the ‘naked way’ as discussed – the Transcendentalist’s use.

Maybe an old hand at blogging can add more ways in which a blog can be used, but for the moment I wonder whether one can combine all these goals in one blog. I suspect that to use it effectively I should choose one theme or function. Already I find myself concerned that I am boring readers! So I feel a pressure to be interesting! This must stop! I am off to the Samhain camp and will see what emerges by November 3rd. Over and Out until then!

My intention is to undress

October 22nd, 2007

Yesterday I decided that there was at least one good thing that Judaeo-Christianity has given us: the concept of a ‘day of rest’ once a week. Do other religions offer this arrangement that frees up one seventh of your time from drudgery or thrilling work? If anyone knows do please tell me. And also why witches call their festivals Sabbats, which must come from ‘Sabbath’ surely? So I’ve introduced a new rule to control my relationship with this ‘entity’ that is a blog. Leave it alone on Sunday! But all rules are made to be broken of course…

Now back to Zil’s comment last week. Our relationship to technology is so age-dependent I’ve decided. If you’re under 30 or so no-one would question having a blog or facebook/myspace page. It’s just part of living in the 21st century for many First World people as far as I can see. But for those of us who are older we have a different approach. When Zil asked herself if it was ‘worthy’ of me to have a blog I understood exactly what she meant. She & Myrddhin, her husband and excellent harpist too, had emailed me a while back to announce their MySpace pages and I had caught myself having the same thought as if somehow to have these things is ‘vulgar’ or ‘self-promotion’ or if you’re into psychology ‘narcissistic’ or into eastern approaches ‘egoic’.

I wonder if it is cultural too – perhaps it is a European attitude. I notice my American friends, who are in a similar position (authors, running spiritual groups etc) have been writing blogs for years. Maybe no-one in the States would question it, but in England and France (perhaps more than any other European culture) we are still quite attached to ideas of ‘high culture’ and sophistication, and the concept of vulgarity. So starting a blog or myspace page for us can feel like ‘mutton dressing as lamb’ – a 50+ year-old trying to ease into skin-tight leather trousers and go out on the town, chewing gum and wearing shades.

My desire however is to do quite the reverse. I intend to undress! This may sound trivial, attention-seeking, even ‘vulgar’ (!) but no – it touches upon the most central questions in philosophy, religion, psychology and politics. ‘Surely not!” I can hear you thinking. Over the next few months I may be using this as a recurring theme, because after Samhain (November 1st) I’m beginning work on a book for Reaktion/University of Chicago Press called ‘A Brief History of Nakedness’ , which will deal with precisely these issues.

The challenge in using a blog in this way is the challenge suggested by the Transcendentalists, like Thoreau and Emerson, who suggested sharing journaling as a way of self-cultivation and as a tool for spiritual progress.

If I get undressed now – by myself with no-one around – it may have some value (especially if it’s too hot for clothes). But if I do this in the company of others then there is a real potential for change:

First: you are confronted by your fears. Do I look ugly? What will people think of my pale skin?

Then when you actually do it the gain is tremendous. You realise things you should have grasped years ago: that (a) no-one cares! People are far more preoccupied with themselves than with you! (b) If you don’t look perfect they will be pleased, because they don’t look perfect either! And if they do happen to look perfect (and this has only happened to me a few times – once when a suntanned Princess Diana look-alike climbed into our hut tub at the OBOD Summer Camp in NY) then it’s so interesting you don’t care about anything else!

So when it works, Naturism is fabulous because it frees you of this incessant preoccupation we can have with what we think the other person thinks about us. Our mass-media world makes us so conscious of image, perception, surface that we can be trapped in a web of projections based upon unconscious calculations of others’ perceptions. A web of illusion at the heart of which is the spider of ‘Poor Self Image’.

So the act of undressing in this conscious, deliberate, fundamentally spiritual way, is an attempt to call the spider’s bluff. If it works, the web and the spider disappear. I fully recognise that it is not always that easy, and that it is a complex issue, but I believe there is truth in this approach.

Occultists know the maxim ‘as above, so below’. If you can do something on the physical level, it has effects on the supra-physical/mental level. Behaviour affects consciousness. Take off your clothes now and you change your mind.

Conversely, make changes at the mental/spiritual level and you can affect behaviour and the body – ie health. So now – in the interests of health (and research) – I am going to use this blog to psychically undress with the goal of freeing myself from the web of ‘identity’ spun, partly by my conscious or unconscious fears and beliefs about what others think about me, and partly by the circumstances of this life, which are not of course illusion, but which even so can conspire to create an illusory sense of limitation:

How? I’ll begin by taking all those labels that describe ‘me’:

English, pantheistic, naturist, mostly pisco-vegetarian, Conditional Pacifist, heterosexual, liberal, middle-class, intellectual, Druid, Taoist, writer, psychotherapist, leader of a Druid group, father, grandfather, husband, brother, son, uncle, nephew…

….and peel them off, one by one.

None of them , individually or collectively, describes the ‘core self’ of this Being tapping away at these keys.

It all depends on your philosophy – your beliefs about the Nature of Being. I believe that beyond all these labels is the ‘Real Me’. But someone else might believe that is all he is. As I peel away all these labels do I come to some ‘radiant Being’ – some soul that exists beyond all those definitions – or do I come to nothing, like that old TV Series ‘The Invisible Man”? If he was asked to undress you would find, once the pants were removed, there was nothing to see…

To get physically undressed doesn’t take that long. Whisk, whisk and the clothes are off. With this psycho-spiritual approach it will take longer. We are familiar with the psychobabble term ‘baggage’ to denote unwanted or unprocessed psychic content. Well we could just as easily use the image of clothing, and most of us are staggering through life wearing layers and layers of clothes – many of which were worn by our grandparents, and their parents!

The spiritual and psychotherapeutic journey could be characterised as the journey of discovering how we can take these clothes off to live more fully and effectively in the world.

A mistake every day…

October 20th, 2007

I made a mistake yesterday in saying that I would comment on Zil’s interesting query about the value of doing something like this. Why do I never learn? It’s the weekend, the sun is shining and it all seems too introspective for a lovely autumn day like this. So instead here is some entertainment – in which an old friend (really old – she’s 90) when asked if she is a saint, replies that she makes a mistake every day so can’t be!

In pasting this in, I actually partially answer Zil’s question. Part of the value in creating a blog, I have discovered, is that it can act like a scrap book, a multi-media album that you can turn to in later years to reminisce. Better than a photo album because you can add movies and sound clips and jottings. And you can’t lose it quite so easily (perhaps!). Takes up no space too! So this clip is to amuse anyone watching, but it is really here so that it can become part of a personal album. I spent nine months or so living in a wonderful crumbling castle in Ireland when I was 18, and it turned out to be one of the most formative periods of my life. An eccentric inhabitant of the castle was Olivia Robertson, who taught me how to meditate in a particular way, and who went on to form The Fellowship of Isis.

I caught up with her this summer and she was as sprightly as ever. She has an infectious wit and such a lively mind you can see the frustration on her face as the interviewer rather ponderously pauses between each question which is delivered in a portentous tone by a man who used to broadcast for ‘telepathic radio’. Now there’s an idea! When Olivia heard how much trouble we go to to send out the druid courses by mail, she said “Why not do what we do, and broadcast the lessons telepathically each month?”

The Middle Way of Relaxed Discipline

October 19th, 2007

A friend from Brittany, the multi-talented Zil, who is the harpist you can see in the photo in an earlier post on opera, has written a comment on another post which strikes at the heart of the process I am trying to work with through this blog, and which I referred to in this blog’s opening post – ‘It’s like taking off your clothes.’

In it she says  that her initial reaction on being told I had a blog, was  ‘Surely such a thing is not worthy of him?’ – a kind of dismay that I had sunk to the populist level. But she then found herself amused by the ‘That’s so 2005’ entry and read it out to her family. She then went on to say, ‘How can you avoid this being yet another reason to be glued to the computer?’ To be fair to Zil I am translating – her comments are splendidly in French and my translation is rough.

That second point is one I struggle with daily. Now for example the sun is shining, the garden is looking lovely. Why am I here at all? I have a love-hate relationship with these computers and technology. I think it is just marvellous that, as in yesterday’s post, I can quote a reader from Ohio of my father’s book, give a link to where you can buy it for one click for 70 cents, and link to his article somewhere else on the web. Or that movie clip of the ball-passing game that shows most of us how easy it is to not see the glaringly obvious. And yet, and yet…. as the Haiku poet Basho wrote! It’s like many things I suspect – love, power, sex, money, magic – neutral in itself, and capable of being destructive of our time and sanity or inspiring and capable of bringing joy, education and entertainment.

When my son Matthew suggested email to me I remember being unconvinced that it would be useful. Now, of course, it is indispensable and it is both wonderful in helping me connect with friends all over the world, and work all over the world, but also has become yet another job to be done, yet another reason to be away from the garden.

And as with money, sex, love and so on, the path leads from experimentation, indulgence, making mistakes, getting hurt, to hopefully finding some Middle Way that for me is a sort of ‘relaxed discipline’. Relaxed because then you are happy and ‘in the flow’ and are feeling good. Discipline because being relaxed isn’t enough – like Love without Will.  And the only way to deal with the lure of the computer is discipline! Like this blog. Just ten minutes a day. So Zil’s first point will have to wait till tomorrow – but it’s such an interesting point, because it comes right back to core issues of perception, identity, roles, purpose in the world, the ego and more.

It is a call to the idea of nakedness once again.

Getting past the committee…

October 13th, 2007

Imagine a rugby pitch with a player dodging his way past the opposing team and touching the ball down behind the line. Well writing this blog is like that for me. I give myself ten minutes at the start of each day and my job is to get past these guys to post this message.

My opposing team is, however, a little unusual. There is a lawyer in his city suit, an aesthete with a bow tie and glasses (a cross between the camp art critic Brian Sewell and that man with a bowtie and glasses who used to be on television – Robin Day?) and a rare breed – a grammarian (a schoolmistressy type with a bun and glasses again). These are my ‘inner critics’ who screen everything I write usually. The lawyer says “Is this statement true? How do you know? Can you prove it?” The school ma’am says “You can’t write that – look at all those split infinitives!” and finally Brian Sewell-Day surveys the sentence and says “Oh for heaven’s sake how clumsy – where’s the art, the style, the beauty in this? Can’t you write something more uplifting, more beautiful?”

So when I write about Bishops and actresses it may seem trivial (which it is!) but it represents a triumph at another level. It got past the committee! So I’m experimenting with this medium as a way of stimulating spontaneity, encouraging flow and ease of expression.

Now here’s the twist: it might seem like these critics are just a nuisance and I should attempt to fire them – eliminate them with intense therapy or something, but instead I’ve realised that they’re really on my side. We’re work colleagues and we just need to learn how to work together well – and we’re playing this game for fun and to improve our working style.  I’m going into the shower room with them now!

The Dalai Lama and Monica Lewinsky

October 9th, 2007

I’m a bit slow about things, and it’s taken me this long to realise that a blog can also be a ‘Commonplace Book’. I was concerned that dropping in interesting stuff I find along the way was ‘cheating’ – avoiding the serious task of ‘deep articulation’ (sounds ghastly doesn’t it? Like some sort of dentistry…) But this morning walking the dog on the Downs I had a flash-back to a previous life as a Victorian. There was Aunt Matilda playing the piano, which had doylies on its legs so that we wouldn’t be embarrassed by seeing its ankles. And there I was on the settee sharing my Commonplace Book with my sister…

Yesterday I was researching the Potala Palace for a book I am writing on sacred places, and I found this story which I’m sticking into my book with this pot of glue:

The day I interviewed the Dalai Lama happened to be the day after President Clinton admitted to having an improper relationship with Monica Lewinsky. This was before the U.S. had split down the middle, before the partisanship, the hatred, the petty slandering and questioning and distrust. We knew only that the news had reached even the mountaintop in Dharamsala and that we felt betrayed and disappointed and hurt by our president. In my second question, I’d begun with Clinton, intending to ask about his visit to China. Before I could finish, the Dalai Lama drew his head back in surprise and looked at me incredulously. “You mean with Lewinsky?” he shouted. Read more