I’m on an astrological transit called Neptune opposition Saturn, and one symptom of this is aloneness. This is a life-pattern of mine, both a blessing and a bane. Much of my greatest work, in terms of studies and writing, has emerged during times of isolation and adversity – as if I’ve been given a perverse gift of extended time in which the only thing I can do is the work.
Kinda serving time – but there’s a double-entendre to that term. I’m a saturnine type, and that’s what it’s about – fulfilling the agreement, the covenant, as best I can. And Saturn says to each and every one of us, each in our own way: you can do it now and there will be consequences, or you can do it later with other consequences, but you will do it – and the easier path is to take what appears to be the harder path (though it isn’t harder in the end).
Writing a book, building a website or doing research… most other options become mysteriously unavailable when it’s time to do one of these. But not forever, and the window shuts if I don’t seize the time, even when I just have potatoes to eat.
But then, that’s one of my best contributions and people benefit from it, and if I sat around chatting, socialising or treading the money-mill I wouldn’t be doing it and it wouldn’t happen. Cos it takes hours, days, months and years, and a life’s work takes a life to do (sometimes longer).
So the current fiddly operation I’m on right now is tweaks to the ancient sites maps of Cornwall that I’ve been doing for the last six years. This time I’m looking at ancient site alignments coming from Dartmoor and Exmoor in Devon into Cornwall. Bodmin Moor acts as a kind of hub for incoming alignments, though some pass through it. It’s amazing, the accuracy with which these alignments cross quite long distances of up to 100km, hitting ancient sites within just a few metres.
One remarkable thing is this. I was reluctant to get involved with Devon (too much work), but I chose a few sites, such as Berry Head and Start Point, and found some amazing alignments. More recently I decided (after procrastinating) to add key sites in Dartmoor to the map (takes about 5-10 minutes per site) – and fascinatingly, some of those sites appeared exactly on the alignments I had already found. Amazing. How they did this without satellites, I do not know (though I have a few theories).
It’s in gradual progress – but (if you wish) check out those alignments from Berry Head, Torbay, and Start Point – one goes all the way to Bartinney Castle, just on the other side of the valley and visible when I look up from my desk. As I write in my forthcoming book, if you wanted to land a mothership in West Penwith, that’d be the place.
I have to do the uploads from a non-public ‘sandbox’ map of Cornwall to the public maps late at night, since many people will (hopefully) be in bed, and their visits to the maps won’t get disrupted as the maps blink on and off, one layer at a time as each layer is replaced, tweaked and twooked. Well, that’s how it gets late at night… it takes about three hours.
The latest upload happened last night. I was buzzing on Dexamethasone at the time – a legal and free cancer drug, just like meditation, but fundamentally different and prescribed by different sources). But Dex helps me get a few things done, in the two days I’m taking it.
So you’ll find the current stage of this research here:
There’s one more thing… no one can take away your life’s work from you. If you feel they are doing that, then you have a short-term, not a longterm problem and the value of the experience is to confirm that it’s right to get on with it somehow, and to oblige you to get right behind it.
Whatever is going on in your life, your life’s work goes with you on a somewhat separate track, fed by and feeding through to things that happen to you, or books you read, or people who deliver prompts and clues. Withholding and hanging back on our life’s work is one of the great causes of the global problems we have today. It’s also a cause of future illness.
I’m not a great withholder, but cancer put the cards on the table and told me: there’s more, and it’s time. Part of me doesn’t care so much about how my ideas and initiatives are received any more – though of course I do care a lot, but not for the same reasons as before. So I’m getting down many of the threads I’ve pursued in life, for the record, because I’ve been privileged to live through a pretty exciting and edgy time, and I’ve shared this with so many good people. It’s worth leaving tracks, whether or not future generations know or care whose shoulders they’re standing on. Because human history and the passing of the generations simply eats us for breakfast and dissolves us into nothingness.
Even those of whom history thinks well are often remembered for weird and often incorrect reasons. Once upon a time, on Iona, I had an inner dialogue with the soul of St Columba, a founder of monasteries and evangelist for the faith, looked on as a shining light of former times. Not so – he was a murderer and completely screwed up in Ulster, got out, saw the light, and did all that from guilt and a sense of penance. He disliked the way he is remembered.
Similarly with Salah-ad-Din, regarded as a great and just Kurdish ruler of Syria and Egypt. He had offered a power-sharing arrangement in Palestine that would have changed future history, and the Crusaders (Richard the Lionheart) didn’t take it. (It wasn’t helped by the fact that his son and a rich European lady, who would be required to marry to guarantee the treaty, didn’t want to.) He didn’t like that. He got the Crusaders out of Jerusalem and penned them up in Acre, but then, tired of campaigning against assholes and wanting to complete the job, he made a fatal error, causing many deaths. He died, heartbroken, not long after. What he remembers of that life is not the same as what many remember today.
Paldywan shares his thoughts about living on an organic farm
Here’s my next podcast from the Far Beyond. This time it’s about farming, happy cattle, feeding the badgers, self-fertilising fields resilience and… well, you know, I usually range around loads of things…
Don’t worry, it takes only 16 minutes. Free, no strings, no ads, no sign-up. Phew.
A new series of occasional podcasts from down’ere in Cornwall
It has taken a while, but I’ve just completed the first of an occasional series of podcasts, and you’re welcome to use up eighteen minutes lending it your ears!
This blog will remain my cancer-and-life blog, while the podcasts will cover interesting things that come up as the zeitgeist rolls on, my antennae twitch and the right day comes for putting together another podcast.
The first pod is all about an ancient trackway and what it means for the future.
This isn’t really a question of politics or ideology any more. The word ‘crisis’ comes from ancient Greek. It means a situation prompting us to distinguish, choose and decide.
Lynne and I went adventuring, visiting a 2,000 year old iron age settlement here in West Penwith. What I love about these places is that it’s possible to get a feeling of the lives of people who once lived there, long ago – of grandparents sitting by the fire, children playing, grown-ups coming and going, busying themselves with tasks and chores.
This settlement, Goldherring, had a workplace feeling: it looked as if many of the buildings were functional workshops and stores while only some seemed to be residential.
There was a chill, rather cutting springtime wind, even in the milky sunshine, so we squatted down in the sheltered remains of a roofless iron age building, erected about a hundred generations past. Out came the tea flask and biscuits – necessary ingredients in antiquarian investigations – and we sat there chatting about life two millennia ago and life as it is now.
Goldherring was occupied in three or so phases in the late iron age, the Roman period and early medieval times. Apparently the first lot came from abroad, since items from Brittany were found in the lower archaeological layers. Later on the place seems to have been a forge, the home and workplace of a specialist craftsman. The Romans didn’t have a great impact down here, since they never invaded Cornwall – stopping at Exeter – though they influenced the place, rather like USA or China influence us now, here in Europe.
Like many people I’ve been quite shut away and mostly alone for what seems like a very long time, so when Lynne comes to stay it’s A Big Event, and when she leaves there’s rather a large gap. We aren’t unused to it: over the last five years we’ve had a hundred-ish long weekends together and we’ve developed strategies for dealing with it, but there’s still a gap, and sometimes it yawns vulnerably.
Sometimes it gets tested too. During the first lockdown in 2020 Lynne couldn’t visit for quite a while. It activated that ‘distance makes the heart grow fonder’ experience you can sometimes get when you’re a human on a planet, locked into time, geography and circumstance. This might happen again too, now. Covid has hit Lynne’s business (she’s mainly an astrologer), she’s been bumping along fending off the wolves from the door, and now her car has suddenly failed its MOT test, needing big repairs or replacement. And Covid has drained her money-pot. Uh-oh, looks like we might miss some weekends!
This is a small, personal part of an incremental, degenerative social and economic hollowing out, as the cascading impacts of Covid work their way through. We look a little too closely at the pandemic to see clearly what’s going on. In the end, the pandemic will be forgotten – it was a catalyst of a bigger process of change – and what the longterm future will reveal is that in 2020 we crossed a tipping point – though really this tilting of history started perhaps in 2008-12. Or around 1989-93. Or perhaps around 1965-70.
It concerns the scaling down of an overinflated economy running on coffee, cocaine, excess and shady dealings, the power of people to have agency and influence in that economy, the hearts and minds of crowds and publics worldwide, the willingness and consent of society to go through changes we know to be urgent and necessary, and the relationship between the world’s ecosystems and human behaviour. Big questions – quite bottomless societal, environmental and psycho-spiritual questions. We’ve gone too far, something fundamental needs to change, and there’s something very factual about that.
This isn’t really a question of politics or ideology any more. The word crisis comes from ancient Greek. It means a situation prompting us to distinguish, choose and decide. We spend a lot of our lives engaging in avoidance strategies, and of course crises are uncomfortable, threatening, often painful and cruelly indiscriminate. They present truth and facts, whether or not we like it – there’s no stopping an earthquake, hurricane or an advancing army. But a crisis is also an opportunity, an integral part of the pattern of change. There can be unpremeditated, instinct-led possibilities available, and sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes you get a tragedy, sometimes a miracle. For better or worse, crises tend to force and resolve multiple issues at the same time. Crunch, bang, that’s it.
I personally am not in an immediate crisis right now – I’m kinda chugging along – though I’m in an ongoing one as a cancer patient. Since I was diagnosed in Nov 2019 I’ve had three crunchy crises and others will follow, and one will cut me down one day. But it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that my own problems are bigger than other people’s, since they involve confronting death and quite high levels of difficulty and pain. Yet, looking at Lynne and the bill-paying concerns and daily-life complications she’s labouring through, I find myself wondering what’s genuinely harder – a long, hard grind like hers or a red-flashing-lights crisis like I sometimes get?
Two thousand years ago in Goldherring they didn’t have money worries – they didn’t have money! They bartered, gifted and negotiated, and a large part of that negotiation was with nature itself. A bad harvest or a cold winter made a big difference. An Atlantic gale could rip the thatch off your roundhut roof, at the wrong season for replacing it. They faced the tough realities of living on Earth, just like we do.
But they didn’t live in our particular kind of civilisation, with its copious discontents and MOT tests. Living in their own culture and just outside the big-booted Roman empire will have had its own issues, but perhaps those issues were a little more real than ours. Not least because, in our day, simulated realities seem to be replacing manifest reality: belief seems to be overriding what’s standing in front of us. This isn’t new in human history, but the scale of it is new. There are more souls alive today than ever before, experiencing that simulation and, unfortunately, believing that it’s reality.
Philosopher Teilhard de Chardin invented the idea of the noosphere (pronounced no-osphere), the constructed world of human belief – what we think is going on. It becomes a self-programming mega-algorithm that then defines our collective reality as we perceive it. Early in prehistory the ecosphere largely conditioned people’s beliefs and behaviours, and human history since then has been one long story of the development of an ascendant cultural consensus, the noosphere. It has replicated to a point where, in our globalised, urban-industrial-digital society, it shouts louder than the ecosphere, especially to city-dwellers, who also tend to make the decisions on everyone’s behalf.
Nowadays, if the ecospheric world impacts on the noospheric world, we dynamite and bulldoze it, setting scientists, doctors, engineers and politicians on it to chase it away. But the noosphere increasingly resembles a house of cards, resting on shaky dependencies and rising so high that its foundations have cracked, and the ecosphere is impinging on us anyway.
The pennyworts were poking up into the sun and a buzzard wheeled overhead as Lynne and I sat there, huddling together in the iron age with our tea and Nairn’s biscuits, reflecting on life. For the plain fact is, while Lynne is scraping along to pay the bills and my pension is modest, as inhabitants of the rich world we are still in the top 25% of wealthy people. For many people worldwide, Covid means not illness but hunger, and many of these people – farmers, favelistas, enterepreneurs, employees – were doing alright enough before Covid came along.
Yet within our own sphere of reality, each of us has our problems. Some are really dire (think of many Syrians or Yemenis, or of people keeling over with Covid in Brazil) while many people are confronting ‘grindstone mentality’, the uncomfortable feeling that we’re not doing enough to solve our problems and we must do more, setting aside our main priorities to do so – yet again. Then we worry about our ‘mental health’ when many of us, and society as a whole, are having a spiritual crisis. WTF are we here for, and is this the world we really want?
I’m psychologically quite self-sufficient but Lynne nevertheless makes a big difference in my life. She’s one of those who is willing to prioritise things that aren’t in her immediate self-interest, doing so with a lot of love and care – not only for me but for lots of people. And for the plants and microbes in her garden.
It rests on this kind of person to save the world: this has been demonstrated during the Covid crisis. It has been a case of ‘amateurs built the Ark and professionals built the Titanic’. Society has leaned heavily on dedicated people who have an altruistic bent and the skills of service. It has leaned especially on non-professionals acting out of goodwill, service and commitment – in the rich world social care and healthcare have been over-professionalised, while family and community support systems have been asphyxiated by ‘progress’ and the busyness of a demanding modern life. Lynne is one of those non-professionals, a quiet supertrooper. Though some professionals have done a heroic job too: I’ve seen this with the doctors and nurses I’ve met, and through the eyes of my son, who’s in the air ambulance business.
It’s also a joy, as a disabled cancer patient, to get up in the morning, light the stove and bring Lynne tea in bed. For in truth there is no such thing as helping: it’s an energy-exchange. Lynne brings so much goodness into my life yet mercifully she seems to feel that it’s reciprocated.
By healing we become healed. By giving what we can, even when we have limited possibilities, we do receive. It is possible for a whole economy to work like this – and I’ve seen such principles at work in Palestine, where officially there is high unemployment and a lot of destitution yet everyone is busy and more or less catered for, even under the duress of living under longterm military occupation. Sometimes, when we need help, the best thing to do is to help someone else. Help the world.
One awkward question we need to face in the coming time concerns social roles and their tendency to get fixed: whether we’re a net helper or a net recipient, male or female, black or white, progressive or resister, we mustn’t get too attached to any positions in the spectrum. Because help and support flow around society in the most miraculous and amazing of ways. If we permit it. For this to work, everyone, no matter how helpless or seemingly useless, has something to give and we need to give it. Withholding our humanity and creativity holds the world back.
Over the last month I’ve been chugging away at completing a five year research project. It’s something I can give to the world, in my reduced capacity. Its value will be appreciated only by a small number of people, but it contributes to society’s cultural capital and it’s a contribution I can make. I’ve just finished it. It’s an online map and database of the thousands of prehistoric sites in Cornwall, providing online resources for use in researching prehistoric sites and their meaning and purpose. It’s here: Map of the Prehistoric Sites of Cornwall.
If you’d like to sample some music I’m enjoying right now, try this – Trance Frendz.
All is as well as can be. Beeee goooood. Lots of love from me. Thanks for reading.
Perhaps I’m spending too much time talking to myself. It’s very quiet around here. People don’t visit because they don’t want to disturb me or kill me with a swarm of life-threatening viruses apparently swirling around them.
I wasn’t aware until a few days ago that Easter was coming. There I was, sailing along through a chemotherapy tunnel, carrying on through thick and thin, and suddenly I was reminded of the relentlessly-rolling machinery of human society out there, happening beyond the bounds of this farm and upcountry from here. Easter was coming – oh yes. Down’ere in furthest Cornwall, all the madness happens in one direction, and we call it ‘upcountry’ or, with a sarky twist of intonation and a subtle roll of the eyes, ‘England’. Which means different things to us than it means to Englanders.
But then, England has just arrived here for its holidays. They’re all down in Tesco, shopping after the frantic journey down the A30, getting ready to stow away in cottages and splatter themselves in plastic tents all over the ancient pastures of West Penwith. Fresh-painted ‘campsite’ signs are sitting at roadside field gates, attempting to capture business, the machinery of the Cornish tourist industry grinds again into action, and the scenic single-track north coast road past Zennor will get suitably blocked up with queues of SUVs and campervans. The Cornish have mixed feelings about all that, and those feelings are growing bigger. Times are changing.
But it’s lovely too, hosting people for a break-out. Yes, there’s that sickening consumption aspect of holidaymaking – the kind that kills lovely places by extending urban tentacles over the land to trash the very landscape people come here to enjoy. But there’s also that aspect where people genuinely seek healing and release, the joy of waking up in a birdsong-soaked field, of paddling in the waves or stretching auras on the high cliffs, with the isles of Scilly shimmering in the distance…
Back in the 1980s when I used to organise holistic camps, I tried hard to get black and Asian people to come and join us, but it just didn’t work. After all, why should these folks, most of whom come from a much better climate than ours, sit outside freezing their asses off in the rain, wind and dew, just because crazy pink-skinned Brits like to do it? But things change. Last year Lynne and I went to Porthcurno beach, crammed with people, and the majority were not ‘typical’ Brits at all – they were the new Brits, the second- and third-generation sprogs born of ‘rivers of blood’ immigrants, and Poles, French, Hong Kongers and Latinos, with no shortage of burkinis and saris, lapping it up and loving it, and I was so happy to be amongst them all. But then, I’ve always felt rather a stranger in my own country.
And this isn’t uniquely about Brits – it’s about humans and the way we create our collective realities, our nations, social tribes, cultures and identity-boundaries. Without sorting this out, we won’t progress with today’s big environmental, economic, political, immunological and military issues. The deeper aspect of international relations has been a core theme throughout my life, and I have a few things to say about this before I go.
When I was diagnosed with cancer and stared at death in late 2019, I became acutely aware of those things in my life that are unfinished but are still doable, in my newly disabled condition. What emerged were issues and possibilities I just hadn’t previously seen to be likely. One of those was to write a book about my understanding of prehistoric civilisation in the isles of Britain. So, when able, and whenever my brains were functioning sufficiently, I set about writing ‘Shining Land – megalithic civilisation and the ancient sites of West Penwith’. It’s now finished and seeking a publisher (no, I can’t self-publish it), but this is tricky because many publishers are cash-strapped and not in a risk-taking mood and, as usual for me, the book doesn’t sit neatly in a convenient marketing niche. Having myself worked two decades as an editor in book-publishing, and having myself rejected quite a number of good books for similar market-based reasons (we couldn’t publish anything and everything), this is rather ironic. What goes around comes around. But the book will come out somehow: it awaits a magic solution.
There’s another book or project starting to ferment, deep down – a re-work of my 2003 book about nations, cultures, beliefs and international relations. ‘Healing the Hurts of Nations – the human side of globalisation’ looked at the psycho-social and geopolitical issues that obstruct concerted planetary action to resolve its biggest global threats and challenges. Twenty years ago this was a little ahead of its time – and my spiritually-rooted approach was too far outside the box for many people, especially professionals and the commentariat. So I’m going to work over this subject again, either as a book or as a serialised online blog. Times come when ideas come into their time.
But first I must complete the prehistoric work – not far to go now. On chemotherapy, my constrained brain capacity cannot manage certain stretches of thinking. So I’ve been getting on with mind-numbing drudge – in this case, completing a detailed map of the ancient sites of Cornwall (there are thousands of them). I started it in 2015 and it’s nearly finished. Aaaah, relief. Then I can put it to bed and have done with it. Here’s the current version – and click on any site on the map to see what happens next.
The psycho-geopolitics project is fermenting underneath in the murky depths, taking shape at its own rate. I’m not really thinking it through, but the thoughts are brewing underneath and I can feel it. It involves an orientation and focusing of my thoughts and attention on the subject, and a ferreting out of pathways by which it best can be explored. These projects, these preoccupations, are like beings with a life of their own, and I sometimes there’s a discomfiting sense that I’m being used. There have even been times when I’ve been too busy with things like this to do things like earning an income! In another time of history I might have earned my income by doing it.
It sounds like I’m ready to return to work and ‘get normal’ again – re-join the humanoid rat-race. I do need somehow to supplement my modestly adequate income, but I’m not ready for that – I’d make a mess of it. I might sound clear and resolute but actually I’m useless at making decisions, figuring things out and sorting through details. It’ll take me a day to get over the effort of writing this blog! But I’m making progress, as long as I can work when my energy and brains are cranked up. That’s difficult to predict, so arrangements and appointments are not doable, and fitting into the coffee-driven swirl of needs, complexities and timetables of the wider world doesn’t work well.
Or perhaps I’m spending too much time talking to myself. It’s very quiet around here. People don’t visit because they don’t want to disturb me or kill me with a swarm of life-threatening viruses apparently swirling around them. But I’m on Dexamethasone and probably better protected from Covid symptoms than most people. So Lynne’s fortnightly visits are so welcome – and I’m sure that if she chronicled the things we jibber about, it would land up quite encyclopaedic. Both of us being astrologers, we have a multidimensional language to yatter with that’s unavailable to most people – it ought to be taught to teenagers at school. It’s the same when Penny comes along on Wednesdays to clean up – she comes with issues and questions and leaves with a stack of lightbulb moments, sufficient to last until next week. But she doesn’t speak astrologese, so we’re limited to English. And Karen, who comes along with my shopping on Thursdays, tells me tales of events down in Penzance or at Treliske hospital (she’s a cancer patient too). That’s my main human contact with the outside world! Otherwise, my main company is the birds – there are a few dunnets that I really like. The swallows haven’t arrived yet though.
Meanwhile, the chemo process is working, and I’ve stabilised after the crisis I had a few weeks ago – was it just a few eeeks ago? My results are good, and I just have to keep on going until I reach a safe level that will last me for another period of time. I’m on a ‘management’ programme of periodic adjustments that keep my levels right and stop my bones from hollowing out – that’s what happens with myeloma if it isn’t managed. The haematologist is suitably surprised at my results, though I told her this would be so – having been a wholefood vegetarian meditator for half a century and subject to slightly different rules. But the medical profession has a strange kind of racial profiling that assumes that, if you’re white and you speak English, then you should be measured against a yardstick of ‘normal’, based on the way the ‘normal’ population operates. But then, a doctor once said that in Britain I’m underweight, while in India I’d be normal. Aged hippies like me should be treated more like an ethnic group because our psyche, metabolism and anatomy have changed quite radically as a result of the life-choices we’ve made, and the passage of time.
But there we go – this is a strange world, and none of us is here by accident. All will come well in the end. Because the sun keeps rising every day, and the Atlantic rollers keep ripping at the rocks and the cliffs, and time wanders unceasingly through the labyrinths of the present moment, and it’s time to put the kettle on.
Stay on the case, and do the best you can with what you have and what you are. I’ll do my best at my end too.
In our rich, safe countries where too much, not too little, is the problem, we live with life’s settings at three or four, but outside it the settings are pretty full-volume and tonally rich. Relationships are deeper, life is more intense, risky, edgy, uncertain and alive.
In this blog I seek to share some of the things that come up for me, as a cancer patient. This one was written while I was on the amphetamine cancer drug Dexamethasone, and perhaps it demonstrates the scatty mindset it generates – though hopefully not as disastrously as what happened with Donald Trump when he was on it. So here we go…
I was thinking back to a time thirtyish years ago when a number of us were cooking up an idea and designs for a complex in an old, deserted industrial estate outside Glastonbury, including a holistic hospital, conference centre and university. I also worked on a campaign to change Glastonbury into a county borough with special planning status – one idea was to initiate a ten-year programme to make Glastonbury into Britain’s first totally traffic-free town.
All this didn’t happen. It couldn’t. It was far too big a stretch for British people to encompass, and it grated with the politics, media-manias and vested interests of the 1990s. But I need that holistic hospital now. It doesn’t exist. I cannot resort to holistic healthcare because there is no all-round system for supporting a cancer patient – not something I can afford, that is within my limited travel range, including availability of an ambulance, paramedic or nurse if I had a need.
The best chance for this was killed off thirtyish years ago when the Bristol Cancer Help Centre was discredited, defunded and closed, for entirely political reasons. There are a few options further away (such as the Care Oncology Clinic), but these are just not doable, for me, in the state I’m in. Besides, these options didn’t appear quickly enough at the moment I needed them, when I had to make urgent life-or-death, next-day choices.
As I wrote this I was sitting once again in the cancer unit at Treliske hospital. The tea lady came round. The guy sitting next to me, with his arm hooked up to a chemo drip, requested strong coffee with three sugars in. It’s amazing that this is permitted in a cancer unit. I was sitting there surrounded by cancer patients getting pumped up with drugs, some at £1,000 per shot, and most were sitting with their mobile phone radiation-generators held just one foot from their prostate, stomach or breast, irradiating themselves.
Somehow, they don’t feel it. Somehow, the medical profession studiously ignores this, even though the figures for epilepsy, headaches, anxiety, depression, alcoholism and domestic violence have risen sharply in the last year, thanks partially to all the wi-fi radiation generated by the video-streaming so many people are doing, for hours on end.
A nurse came round who was there last week. We had had a conversation about humanitarian work – she had a wish to do something like that. Good on her. Many believe they would have to be taken on by a big NGO, and I encouraged her to think and act independently, to go as a freelance volunteer humanitarian to a country she felt drawn to in her heart. I think she was rather stirred by that conversation. As has happened so many times, I found myself appearing in a person’s life to act as a magical prompt, a timely whisper from the soul, giving a jog from The Fates.
I also mentioned to her that you don’t have to completely change your life for this: do three months every year or two and you will serve optimally as a humanitarian. Keep part of your life anchored and normal so that you can handle stirring, chaotic and emotionally challenging stuff more easily, and so that you can bring a certain calm and openness to the people you’re mixing with. Above all, follow your heart: you will fall in love with these people and they with you.
So this week I brought her a copy of Pictures of Palestine – a humanitarian blogging from Bethelehem that I wrote ten years ago. It reads like a travel book, telling of a three-month stay in 2009, talking of ordinary life in Palestine’s West Bank and the daily life of an activist humanitarian. (You can get a free online copy here.).
Such a life is not as excitingly romantic as you might imagine: there’s a lot of waiting, drudge, complexity, chaos, broken plans, roadblocks, funding problems, form-filling and plenty of assholes to deal with. You land up wondering whether you’re actually helping, whether you’re making just minuscule ripples in a vast, turbulent ocean of need, or even whether you’re part of their problem. After all, we Brits have given the world loads of problems: my own maternal grandfather was in General Allenby’s army invading Iraq and Palestine in WW1.
Working in conflict and disaster zones is deeply rewarding: life is lived more fully and intensively. In our rich, safe countries where too much, not too little, is the problem, we live with life’s settings at three or four, but outside it the settings are pretty full-volume and tonally rich. Relationships are deeper, life is more intense, risky, edgy, uncertain and alive. This said, an old friend from Devon, Gillian, was killed not in Bosnia or Palestine but in a taxi-crash in Luton, near London, on the way home from the airport – life takes strange twists.
Here am I, stuck in Britain, homesick for Bethlehem. Missing old friends there, and missing its amplified humanity. In Palestine I would not have access to the cancer medication I’m receiving here but I would be under all-embracing human care because Bethlehem has pretty fully-functioning clans, communities and families – a family of forty can take in a cancer patient without great difficulty. The warm, dry climate of the Judaean Desert would be better for the aching arthritis I’ve acquired through my cancer treatment – a side-effect of violent pharmaceuticals I might not have needed if that holistic hospital had come into being in the 1990s.
This is why I like living at the far end of Cornwall: the people here understand the frailness of life – sometimes the storms here can be frightening, and Cornwall has long traditions of marine rescue, mining accidents and self-sufficiency. Living here is more edgy, a bit more alive, and we’re all in it together. Except we live under English colonial governance – Boris and his cronies.
Out here in the ‘Celtic Fringe’, during 2020 we left the UK in our hearts: we have better governance and more social solidarity, and Covid and Brexit have accentuated it. When Covid came along, we looked after each other. My shopping lady, Karen, who has breast cancer and osteoporosis, and who knows nothing about meditation or all the cosmic stuff I’m into, is nevertheless an amazing walking angel: she knows what it’s like being human and she’ll do anything she can to save souls while she’s still alive. She’s a good example. If she went to Palestine she’d quickly be taken in and made an ‘honorary Palestinian’.
The gift of cancer is that you start valuing life in a new way. If you so choose. You have to get straight with people too. It’s amazing how many people think they know what’s right for you. The people who don’t do that become your true friends and helpers. The English do have a habit of marking their own homework, assuming they’re right and telling everyone else what they ought to think – and this is why they are losing the Celtic Fringe.
I have this right now with a dear old English friend and brother who wanted to come and visit for some time and space in Cornwall. But while I’m on chemo, taking immuno-suppressant drugs, I can be seriously affected by the slightest infection of any kind, even a common cold. I’ve had to tell him straight that he has more likelihood of killing me than I have of killing him, and that’s not equal or true friendship, so please modify his behaviour when he comes. He’s welcome though: we’re soul-brothers.
I don’t take the same stand on Covid as many people do. I can relate to anti-maskers and anti-vaxx types. People are free to follow their conscience. But there’s something far greater here than individual freedom: you are not free to impose your values on others. You may not harm others because of your beliefs. Social and transnational solidarity is a key issue for the whole 21st Century: we will not survive the future unless we all work together.
So it is imcumbent on people who are unhappy about masks and vaccinations to take extra measures to protect their fellow humans, to avoid imposing on the vulnerable and to recognise that freedom applies to all of us. This means behavioural change, such as social distancing and emphasised thoughtful behaviour.
“Who wants change?” – and everyone shouts Yes! “Who wants to change?” – silence. This attitude undermines humanity.
This pandemic is the beginning of a big, long, total, global process of social change, and every pandemic in history has lasted 30-40 years. There are more crises and crunches coming – Covid has uncorked a formerly stoppered bottle and the genie is now out. We have an intelligent virus in our midst that has come to change us because we’re reluctant to change ourselves. It’s faster than us – nature’s answer to artificial intelligence. And it raises many other questions, such as that of social control – and Covid dissenters are at least partially right on this point.
The 1920s pursuit of individual freedom, understandably born out of a legitimate breakout-reaction to the Spanish flu pandemic and WW1, brought about a political disunity that allowed Nazism to gain power by 1930 in Germany. Take a lesson from this. Today, overblown individualism is helping the rise of a privatised form of totalitarian control called Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon, now becoming embedded in governments too – the Stalinists’ dream come true – and few people really notice.
For the triumph of evil it is necessary only that good people do nothing. That’s a quote from 18th C philosopher Edmund Burke.
As a lifelong dissenter I have exercised my personal freedom, and this has brought blessings and it has also charged a price to me and to others. I had to learn to stop being a male crusader and to wait for people to come, of their own choice, toward my way of seeing things – and only a few actually did. Who wants to learn astrology when there’s a mortgage to pay? That’s a big lesson in itself. Visiting cultures outside the rich world changed me: I saw societies that were economically deprived yet socially richer than in the materially rich world, with communities that work better, in real terms of mutual support.
This was blatantly obvious in Israel and Palestine: Israelis are by nature individualists while, as one Palestinian put it, “We have each other, but they just have themselves“. Though the Palestinians have repeatedly lost the battle, when you cross through the checkpoints from Israel to Palestine you’re entering a society that, despite everything, is strangely happier, more secure and more free. Despite everything. By social consensus.
In Israel, many people would say to me, “Why do you come here to interfere when your own country has plenty of problems?“. In Palestine people would say, “Willcome in Falastin, and why you not bring your children too?“.
Now the Celtic countries are pulling away from England, our former colonial master. We have each other, relatively speaking, while the English have themselves, and many prefer things that way. Seen from here, England seems to care more about money than people, yet in so doing they lose economically in the longterm. Brexit, born of an eruption of English exceptionalism and media-owning offshore tycoons’ profit margins, is now demonstrating the point.
I’m half-English and half-Welsh, but I have become one of the ‘new Cornish’. This isn’t just a matter of moving here and bringing English ways with you: it’s necessary to change, to become Cornish. Besides, the Cornish winter gets rid of people who think it’s a holiday paradise that’s here for their leisure. Celtic nationalism welcomes anyone who is truly here, in body and in heart – your bloodline is secondary. The Cornish are a European minority respected more by Brussels than by London.
So these issues are personal to me, as an English-Welsh new-Cornishman living closer to Dublin than to London. When I visit others’ countries I sit on the floor with them and pray with them in their mosques and temples – when invited. I’m not a big-booted Englishman, and one of my underlying purposes has been to help redeem the shadow of the British Empire.
There’s still an Englishman in me though, and here I wish to honour the human side of the English, that decent, fair-minded, broader-thinking aspect of Englishness that the rest of the world loves and respects. You find a lot of these amongst humanitarians abroad, and the carers, nurses and charitably-driven people here in Britain. The people who, when all is said and done, hold this world up. My partner Lynne is one.
She sobbed deep tears last weekend because of a new wave of realisation that, when I die, she’ll have a yawning gap in her life. She was feeling it in her heart, in advance of the event. This wasn’t self-pity – it was far deeper. After passing away I shall be with her in spirit but that will just not be the same, whatever anyone says. It has something to do with that special quality of love we humans can generate, here in this benighted world, stuck between a rock and a hard place – a kind of love that doesn’t exist up in heaven, where love and soul-melding come more naturally and easily.
We have a tremendous power to love despite everything. Paradoxically, those who have gone through it, feeling the full power of the pain and the joy of earthly life, tackling life’s questions instead of avoiding them, seem to love in a profoundly real way. It’s rather like the wise maturity that some ex-criminals, terrorists, druggies and alcoholics can gain when they pull back from the brink – a benefit gained from having visited hell and returned, much the wiser. Some of these people are the most principled, human, courageous people around. By their actions, not their words and beliefs, you will know them. And there are lots of words and beliefs flying round nowadays, including mine.
Bless you all. Be yourself. Have your beliefs. Be willing to review them and consider everyone else too, for none of us is free until we all are free. From now on, personal freedom has to balance with collective needs, worldwide, and Westerners are not the only people with big ideas on this front. We’re just 15% of the world’s population.
I went really deep and I was totally ‘gone’ for perhaps twenty minutes. I was consciously yielding to the drugs and my healing angels, who presumably needed me to hand over control so that they could manage the process. It was one of the deepest inner journeys I’ve had for a few weeks.
I knew everything was going to be okay when I reached reception at the haematology department, gave my details and received a ticket. On it was the number nine. Those of you who know me well will guess what this signals.
Have you ever observed day signs? I’ve been an intel gatherer for yonks and over the years many people have asked me where I get my information. Apart from being a knowledgeable geopolitical and historical big-head with an Aspie’s feel for hidden agendas, one answer is observing day-signs (omens), a magical way of information-gathering. Another is intuition/instinct, another is use of the pendulum and another is horary astrology (doing a chart for the moment when a matter arises or a question is asked). Of course, if I said this to many people I’d lose credibility or get accused of superstition, blasphemy, devil-worship or any other handily available accusation. But attentiveness to day-signs answers otherwise unanswerable questions. I was given a sign and it said ‘Nine’. I knew all would be well.
So there was I, later sitting in the Headland Unit at Treliske hospital. I’d had blood samples taken twice, I’d been ECG’d, weighed, measured, interviewed and briefed, I’d signed the assent form, taken four different pills plus ten of Dex (Dexamethasone), and then I had to wait an hour before they were to shoot me up with Dara (Daratumamab) and Velcade.
Well, at least these drugs are legal – that’s a change. It might sound strange, but I’ve had an issue coming up over this last year and, for me, it’s quite profound. It’s a tiredness with things not changing, even after a long time. One example is the ‘war on drugs’ which, to me as an aged hippy, has meant 55 long years of enforced criminality. Yes, me.
For half a century I’ve been living a very different life to the average Westerner but, despite all the talk nowadays about minority rights, things have not changed fundamentally, after all these years.
When I was 21 I stood on top of a mountain and made a vow to contribute significantly to world change, and while I knew it would take a long time, I so much wanted to see the world tip irreversibly into positive change before I was to die. But it looks like I’ll have to commute that joy and sense of relief to my next life. That’s quite a big let-go, but I made it last year. As I often say, history takes a long time. And we teach best what we ourselves are learning.
Anyway, back to the cancer unit: the journey had begun. It was a bit like the feeling I’d get on one of my humanitarian tours of duty, when the plane would take off from Heathrow on the way to the Middle East – I’d have gone through all the anticipations I could dredge up in the preceding days and weeks, and now it was business and I was dead calm and collected.
Some people think I’m brave, facing cancer treatment in the way I do, but there’s a simple answer to that: I’m not getting bombed or shot at, so cancer treatment is relatively easy when you see things from that viewpoint. Yes, I was getting nuked with EM radiation at Treliske (I’m electrosensitive) and bombarded with pharma-chemicals. And, amazingly, they didn’t even have any gluten-free biscuits or soya milk for my tea in the cancer unit, but this is peanuts.
Get upset with things like that and you’ll be useless getting shot at. This was a real problem in Syria, in the earlier days of the conflict in 2014. You couldn’t tell who was shooting at you or for what reason, because there were then about seven sides to the battle. They could shoot at you from any direction. At least in most wars it’s ‘the other side’ doing it, and you know roughly why and from which direction.
Anyway, that’s not the case here. My life is being saved, and for this I am grateful – without chemo treatment last year I would already be dead. Here I was, installed in an armchair, well out of it on drugs, and it felt okay. The main problem was not the chemo, it was my neurological system and brains squealing with EM radiation. Few people realise how discriminatory, insensitive and oppressive it is when they spray radiation from their mobile phone over an electrosensitive person like me, commonly regarded as an awkward person making an unnecessary fuss over nothing in particular. Yet radiation exposure is a direct cause of the particular cancer I have (myeloma). It’s a bit like being vegan 20-50 years ago – looked on as bloody awkward and deluded, and these people need to get a grip and get a proper job.
The nurses were keeping me in to observe how I reacted to the Dara. Fair enough. But there was just one problem: the doctors and nurses have little experience of people like me and they use ‘normal’ as their standard for judging everything. But I’m not normal. I have the benefit of having had a good diet, a growthful and meaningful life and, as a result, a more robust immune system and attitudes than the majority of people, and I can inwardly supercharge any therapies applied to me with consciousness work. Last year, my chemo treatment was cut from eight to six to five cycles of treatment – I did really well.
Inshallah, perhaps I’ll bring them a few surprises this time round. I had done a lot of inner preparation in the preceding days and, once the Chinese-Filipino male nurse, a nice chap, had shot me up with chemo drugs, I went straight into meditation, cross-legged in my chair, breathing myself down, modulating my energy-field to accommodate to the drugs and calm my heart which, in response to the Dex, an amphetamine, and the radiation, was pumping quite hard.
After doing this I went really deep and I was totally ‘gone’ for perhaps twenty minutes. I was consciously yielding to the drugs and my healing angels, who presumably needed me to hand over control so that they could manage the process. It was one of the deepest inner journeys I’ve had for a few weeks. When eventually I came to, I looked at the other cancer patients sat in their armchairs and hooked up to their drips, and the nurses going around doing their duties… experiencing all this with the perspective of an ET getting a look into this strange world through my eyes.
God bless these cancer patients, busy ingesting chemicals and most of them sitting fiddling with their phones, communicating with anxious daughters and neighbours to fix pickups. They’re all nice people, all facing cancer and reduced life-chances. They must wonder who this old guy dressed in his copper-coloured Arabic jalabiya was – a foreigner or a weirdo? But then, in Cornwall, it’s not like England, and this isn’t so strange, and when they hear I come from West Penwith, stacked full of oddbods and veterans of the revolution, they just nod, aha, okay.
God bless my nurse, who had been so worried about hurting me because I had so little subcutanous fat on my stomach to shove his needles into. No fat – not normal. But then, I’m not getting shot at, only shot up, so it was no worry – he was just being a bit over-conscientious. Later he came by and said, “Have you met the Dalai Lama?”. Yes, I had, though I’d mainly been involved with the Sixteenth Karmapa and his own amazing squad of lamas back in the 1970s. The nurse wanted to talk about the Tibetans, Uighurs, Hong Kong and Taiwan – he’d figured I understood these issues. He was deeply concerned about China – like so many emigrant Chinese, many of whom have lived outside the Middle Kingdom for generations, he still cared deeply about his country and people.
He said that, when I’d gone into meditation I had gone deeply quiet and the whole room had changed. I became aware that, although most of these people will have read and heard about meditation, few will actually have felt the darshan, the vibrational radiation, that can arise. There they were, stuck in their armchairs with nothing to do, while this guy at one side of the room was going somewhere that, on some level deep in their psyches, they knew they needed themselves to visit – faced as they too were the with threat of death.
The nurses were being overcautious with me though. I was supposed to leave by 4pm but someone had come in insisting I be kept there till 6.30, just in case. I told them this would not be necessary. But they could not go against authority. I showed them the places where I had been injected, which weren’t bruised or swelling, and reminded them that I had just hobbled all the way to the surprisingly well-stocked W H Smith’s at the main entrance and back, to get some gluten-free snacks which, astoundingly, they did not have available even in a cancer ward when they dished out refreshments. Eventually they ran out of excuses and I left at 6pm.
When I got to the main corridor, the guard, who had seen me go past on the way to the shop, now decided I couldn’t go that way to the main entrance. “But I’ve just walked 90% of the way there and you allowed me to do that”. “It’s the Covid regs – sorry it’s a pain in the ass”. He was a nice chap. “Well, I understand that, but it’s not a pain in the ass I’ll get but a wet bum, because I’ll need to sit down on the way and, as you can see, it’s raining…”. Nevertheless, old peg-leg had to walk round the hospital to get to the car park to find Lynne, who was going to take me home.
We got home, lit the woodstove, had a cuppa and detoxed from the day’s encounter with modern civilisation and its rules, timetables, regs and electrosmog. I was buzzing on Dex, and Lynne had to tolerate my rattling away for hours with my mind on overdrive until eventually we went to bed. She said she could smell the chemicals in my body. I lay there churning until I drifted off.
But I was alright. I seem to be tolerating the Dara (Daratumamab) well – that’s the new drug I’m on. The Velcade my body recognises, and I had had no problems with it last time. The Dex, meanwhile, though it charges its price in side-effects, does work well, and last winter I could feel that it was one of the most effective drugs I was taking. But it’s a bit like a cross between speed and cocaine in its psychoactive effects, and it heightens my Asperger’s symptoms a lot.
I’m on two other drugs too – an antiviral called Aciclovir and a kidney protector called Allopurinol – but I’m on a lot fewer drugs than last year, and that’s a relief. My body-psyche is more familiar and less shocked by the process than it was last year, and I don’t have the excruciating back pain I had then – so in this second round it is different.
So the anticipations I had had were just that: anticipations. Thus far, it is unfolding well. It’s difficult being on chemo, and writing this blog has been hard work, but it’s not as difficult as I thought it might be, and the Dara is easier on me than the Cyclophosphamide I was taking last year, which felt like being hit by an armoured bulldozer.
For the first time I’ve met my doctor and cancer nurses in person. Last year I had been treated at Torbay hospital in Devon, so the people at Treliske didn’t know me. During Covid lockdown I’ve had only phone and video consultations with one person, Liz, my doctor. So I felt quite on my own through much of 2020, as if held at a rather impersonal arm’s length during the Covid crisis. But now we were up close and personal.
I liked John, a fortysomething CNS (clinical nurse specialist). I think he figured me out quite well and had met people like me before. I get the feeling he’d done his fair share of raves and festivals before he had kids and got a ‘responsible’ job, so I was within his range of experience. This was true also for another nurse who, at a slack moment, came to say she too was a vegetarian – but I could tell she kept it quiet amongst her colleagues, rather like it was the 1980s – and to ask me a few questions about meditation.
And if you’re wondering why the number nine was significant to me as a day-sign, well, The Nine, some high beings for whom I wrote a book in the early 1990s, who jokingly used to call me Paladin Saladin, are at the root of my ‘spiritual genetics’. They’re like meta-grandparents who had placed the order for the weaving and construction of my soul. So, to me, they were signalling that they were with me and it would be alright. And they were, and it was. And so it goes.
2020 has brought us all a lot to think about and, for many, a lot of time to think about it. ‘What am I here for?’ and ‘What’s it all about?’. Some folks have had big reveals and pointers, others have had to dig deeper than ever before, and some have made little or no progress, and some have been run off their feet and burned out by it.
I’ve always been rather purpose-driven. When I was about ten I wanted to be prime minister. By 15 I won a big public speaking competition with a notes-free speech about why Britain should join the European Community – seven years before it happened. Does Brexit, 55 years later, mean I’ve failed? By 18 I realised that politics was too dirty for me. So I followed another path and you got Maggie Thatcher and Tony Blair instead.
It took until I was about 34 to acknowledge that I was at last on track (when I started the Glastonbury Camps). It just had that feeling. Before that I felt like a footloose jack of all trades and master of none. When ‘received my instructions’ I quaked and resisted, but then I realised that, if I didn’t do it, it would not happen. And it needed to happen.
God doesn’t come down and say ‘This is your life-purpose‘. It’s not like that. It’s just that, when you’re more or less on it or you’re heading towards it, you feel it – you’re in the right place at the right time doing the right thing, even if others disapprove, discourage or block you. If you aren’t on it, you feel stuck in a blind alley, getting nowhere, with a meaningless life, as if you’ll stay like that forever. Depression and feeling an unfulfilled calling are closely related.
Purpose is programmed within us. It’s already there. Before getting born, we had a discussion with our angels about the purpose, the motivation, for going to the trouble of birthing ourselves, growing up and living a life on earth. Incarnation is hard work, even for people born in privileged circumstances. Two key things were covered in that discussion: what you were to learn and master, and what you were to contribute. Then you signed a contract in your soul, and it still holds.
Quite often you get clues when you’re about 8-12 years of age – visions of what we want to be when we grow up. Then, during your teenage years, this vision can be clouded and lost (often not helped by parents and careers advisers). These early-life visions can be literal or symbolic. I wanted to be an airline pilot. When I was 15 they ruled that short-sighted ginks like me couldn’t be pilots (that changed back later on, but too late for me). So that door closed. But later in life I realised that I had taken thousands of people on long journeys, up into heaven-worlds and landed them safely at the other end. Mission kinda accomplished.
By 18 I was aiming to become a diplomat, but by 20 I was involved in a life-changing near-revolution at the LSE that ended all that – yet in my adult life I’ve scored some pretty good informal diplomatic hits. So the vision and intention were symbolically correct, but the way things panned out was very different.
As life goes on, our purpose reveals itself through situations that present themselves. We find ourselves doing things we hadn’t foreseen but, when doing it, we feel remarkably fired up, or we make a difference, or we do something really meaningful, sometimes without even realising it. Even washing the dishes or cleaning the toilets can make a big difference in some situations – the chef at a peace conference can save thousands of lives without even knowing it, just by cooking good food for the delegates. So note this and follow it, because there’s your clue – even if it doesn’t make money, look realistic or gain approval, if it fires you up, why aren’t you getting on with it?
We must be willing, if necessary, to tread that path alone. In the Arab revolutions ten years ago, a big issue for people was ‘losing our fear’. Sometimes we must stand up and be counted – and if we hold back we can regret it for the rest of our lives. Like the near-revolution I was a part of fortyish years before, the Arab revolutions failed in the short term yet they started deep changes that will outlast the dictators who tried to stop them.
Here’s an interesting truth: it’s better to fail in something that ultimately will succeed than to succeed in something that ultimately will fail. This concerns posterity and holding out for what is right – and taking a bet that it’ll work, even when you’re not sure, and everyone and everything are against you. Even if you have cerebral palsy. Even if, or perhaps because, you’ve been damaged, disadvantaged and traumatised.
Three things block this coming out process: fear, guilt and shame. Too many people take the safe route in life, to please their family or fit in with the rules, or for fear of loss of security, or fear of being singled out and blamed, or fear of being exposed as unworthy or unable. Human society is riddled with such fears. Our planetary disaster is happening because billions of people are withholding their gifts, setting aside their callings and playing safe. We cook up good reasons to justify this but, in doing so, we are choosing complicity in a collective crime against humanity.
Out of fear, we hold back. This becomes a habit and institution. Then we forget what our instructions were, what the agreement was. Instead, we eat, drink, entertain, worry or work ourselves to death – unless or until a crisis shakes it up, strips our defences, propels us into unknown territory and slams the door shut behind us.
This withholding is dead serious. It means we’re omitting to make our contribution. It’s ours to make, and someone else isn’t going to replace you. Since so many are withholding, there’s a shortage of active server-souls. People have questioned my humanitarian work, believing it is dangerous (yes, occasionally it is) and encouraging me to stop and ‘be responsible’. But then, when I ask them to take my place because the work still needs doing, they wander off.
‘Charity begins at home‘ – sorry, for me that’s only a half-truth. Charity truly begins where the need is greatest. Need pulls the brilliance out of you.
The world is short of active altruists, and the suffering that arises from that is tremendous. It’s all about that old lady down the road who is alone and unvisited, because everyone was too busy and no one thought, no one imagined what it might be like to be that old lady. The world has a crisis of caring, and it’s all to do with withholding our gifts, callings and missions. Playing safe is a very dangerous planetary neurosis.
This brings us to a key issue. It’s not just our option to pursue our life’s calling: it is our duty. It is an imperative. If we don’t do it now, it won’t go away. This is a choiceless choice. Especially in these parlous times.
This isn’t about great and dramatic things. If you’re gifted at embroidery, do it. If you’re good at ‘just’ raising kids, or ‘only’ growing cabbages, you’re here for that. If you can bring light into the life of a hungry or lonely person, do it. Because, when you’re on your deathbed, these are the things you will remember.
And it changes. Life-purpose presents tasks but it is not a job. You can’t resign. It takes on different shapes, progressing as life goes on. One of my big life-lessons and contributions has been in ‘right leadership’ – something I did better in my fifties than in my twenties. I’ve scored a few goals, brought some benefit and made mistakes too. But I learned. It has gone from home-birth campaigns to organising biggish events to helping burned-out Palestinian social activists.
There are paradoxes. Nelson Mandela once confessed that, in his life, he had faced a deep conflict between serving his family and serving his people. He could only do one of them. After all, if you’re doing things that can endanger your family, should you stop serving your people to protect them? Or will your family also benefit if you can improve things for your people?
One of my gifts has been a capacity to struggle for, uncover and articulate insights that other people don’t quite get. I’ve been a speaker, author, editor, broadcaster and a pretty good contributor to public discourse. It didn’t make me rich or famous but I’m really glad I did it and shall continue till I drop – even possibly afterwards. Since I’ve been about 30 years ahead of the times, my work has not succeeded as much as it otherwise might, but after I’m dead it might lift off – you never know – and I’m leaving an online archive of my work just in case.
But perhaps it doesn’t matter. We can never fully see the results of our work and the part it has played in others’ lives. ‘Non-attachment to the fruits of our labours’, is how Buddhists see it. The aim is not to have an impact – it is simply to do your best. Once, when I was in Palestine I confessed to a friend that I didn’t feel I was making much of a contribution on that trip, and I might go home and come back later. She looked at me straight and said, simply: “Balden, when you are here we feel safe“. That hit me hard: sometimes, you don’t even need to do anything. I learned that what I thought was happening didn’t match what actually was happening.
Here’s another thing. Often we think this is all about giving. No, it’s all about interchange. It’s arguable that the people I’ve helped have given me so much more. If you wish to experience true generosity, go to poor people’s houses and countries.
Life purpose has its ins and outs. I’m good at thinking clearly in wider situations but I’m useless at articulating personal feelings on my own behalf – though I’ve done decades of work on myself to change this, and I’ve only made a little progress. But there are things that each of us must accept too: in my case, it’s Asperger’s Syndrome (high-function autism), and that’s what Aspies are like and what we’re good for. Greta Thunberg is a good example – and society is more open to her directness than was the case for me and my kind fifty years ago.
I’ve been nailed and hammered by so many people to be different from the way I am, yet I’ve found that trying to be what I believe others want me to be does not end up well. This has been painful – to be judged as a bad father, a failure, a fascist dictator, a goodfornothing, a criminal and even traitor. “When are you going to get a proper job?”. Something in me, rightly or wrongly, has soldiered on. I have regrets, but I don’t regret it.
There is no right or wrong: there are simply outcomes. Write that on your toilet wall. We’re called to create the best outcomes we can, and for everyone. Become an expert in making something good out of disasters. Don’t indulge in your failings, inadequacies and wrongs – they go on forever – but throttle up your gifts, assets and contribution. Don’t leave it till later, because later means never.
In my life I’ve been a philanthropist without money. My wealth has been magical, not material. Sometimes I’ve thought of myself as a healer of perceptions. People outside the rich world see me coming and they think, ‘Ah, a European – he can raise funds for us’ (Christians do this more than Muslims). No, this is not what I’m here for, and I’m not good at it. I’m here to help with magic solutions, to raise people up, and it has been a challenge to hold to that because people and projects do indeed need money, often very legitimately so.
The worst bit is that some people get so fixated on the funding bit that they accuse me of being rich, mean and selfish, and they miss what I actually can contribute. It’s better to teach someone to fish than to give them a fish – a common saying in the humanitarian world. (Another is: teach a man and you teach a man, but teach a woman and you teach a generation.) I’ve had to learn to work for a good cause not just because it’s a good cause, but because it is run by people I can work with, and because it fires me up, providing a context in which to serve and contribute best.
So, if you’re struggling with life-purpose matters, here’s a recommendation. Do whatever lifts you up, and avoid whatever weighs you down. This is radical. It’s also far more practical than you might believe. When I was 50 I had a ‘dark night of the soul’ crisis and this truth emerged from it. It doesn’t mean taking the easy option – often you must take the scariest option. A lifelong peace activist, I realised that I had to head for the heart of darkness, so I committed to working in Palestine, sensing that justice for all, not exactly peace, is the main objective there. Justice brings peace, but peace doesn’t necessarily bring justice – so more conflict will follow. If Palestine and Israel can break through, the world’s conflicts will change – and wars and violence block world progress far more than we understand. So what lifted me up was the challenge to follow a difficult path.
Twenty years later, the Palestine problem continues and assholes still prevail, but this work hasn’t been a failure. Deep historic turn-arounds take time, often longer than a lifetime. Brian Eno once said, “I have a feeling I’m part of something that should be much bigger than it is“. Yes indeed – the last fifty years have been a frustrating time for change-agents. But many of the greatest breakthroughs in history were groundlaid by forgotten people you’ve never heard of – the people who prepared the way for those that history recognises. Without these forgotten heroes, you would not have the freedoms and blessings you have today.
Getting cancer and becoming physically disabled wasn’t part of my plan. But it has given me new purpose. I might live one year or ten, and this uncertainty is an awakener: what can I lay to rest and what am I still dissatisfied with? It has reminded me that, no matter how difficult things are, everything in life is a gift. If you choose to see things that way. So even if you feel you have no purpose or you can’t find it, that’s your gift, your resource, your background, and do your best with it. That’s where it starts.
Or perhaps you’re doing it but you downplay it, or you fail to see what’s happening as a result of your being there, or you feel you’re such a rotten, godforsaken shit that you’re a no-hoper.
When I was twenty I read a book by Alan Watts, a psychedelic guru, that deeply stirred me. It was called The Wisdom of Insecurity. Yes, the wisdom of insecurity. Sorry, folks, but in 2020, normality was suspended and this is what we’re being shown. It’s time to roll up our sleeves and pitch in. Make steps. Do it. And if you don’t do it, stop beating yourself up about it. Good luck.