Thinking of people living in places like Kharkhiv in Ukraine, and what it’s like to be on the receiving end of war, here’s an article by a young Gazan, called ‘Three Wars Old’, about her experiences as she grew up. What’s remarkable here is that people like the author, Samah, can be far more balanced and accepting of their benighted situation than we would expect, when we see things from our own viewpoint of living in a (largely) safe and comfortable country. Not that it’s easy for her. I’ve learned so much from people like her.
Some years ago I was involved with We Are Not Numbers, an NGO which trained young Gazans to write articles about their lives in English for worldwide consumption. It is so important for people in wars to know that other people round the world know what’s happening to them. They feel isolated, unseen, uncared about. One of the functions I’ve served in the Middle East has been the simple task of ‘witnessing’ – sharing people’s experiences, hearing their stories, letting them express their feelings and feel heard. This is a great healer in itself.
Later, the NGO started training young Gazans in working with video, supplying the necessary equipment and support (smuggled, probably). This bore fruit in the last Gaza war, when young Palestinians communicated freely online on Youtube, letting the world see fully what was happening to them. And the world got it. In a way, they won the propaganda war in that instance. That’s the amazing thing about Palestinians: they get beaten every time, yet they never lose. That’s called resistance.
You hardly ever hear of cholera, widespread starvation or absolute destitution in Gaza: whatever their situation, they act together to deal with whatever comes at them. They’re well organised and have the right attitude. Nevertheless, once upon a time I asked a young friend who had been a male nurse in Gaza, asking him what had been the most difficult thing about nursing there. He said: ‘Holding down a person while we operated on them without anaesthetics’.
This kind of thing is a personal matter too. Warfare arises from the deep belief that other people are different from us, a threat, and they’re hurting us. This happens in everyday life, in our own lives. In recent months, struggling with a deep emotional issue, I’ve been faced with my own self-defensive patterns of falling into this, of thinking badly of others, flailing around in aggrieved resentment and pain which rears its head and grinds around in my psyche when I’m wobbling and grinding my stuff. Then I get a battle between that side and the understanding, empathic, compassionate side of myself, which sees things completely differently. In a way, that’s even worse, with the contrasts of viewpoint and feeling grating and scraping against each other.
I grind and wrestle, sometimes getting lost, sometimes getting found, churning inside over and over, digging in the pain and feeling the pain of the other person or people too, lost in a confusion of exaggerated inner dramas. Yet, like spilt petrol on a wet road, there’s a beauty that emerges, a peace that dawns surreptitiously from underneath. It comes eventually. I come to a smiling peace again, worn out perhaps. So I’m at least making progress. But even then, when I feel I’ve laid something to rest, it can come back with a vengeance later on and I’m back to square one. It’s relentless.
Isn’t it strange? We humans, we make so much more difficulty for ourselves than we need to make. We externalise our grating struggles onto others – talk of crimes against humanity, we’re all at it. Confused mass murderers, us lot. Go on, own up. Look at what you’ve done. Don’t worry though, ‘cos I’m much worse than you, and you can take consolation from that! I’m the worst sinner around, hehe.
Well, that’s a part of us. But there’s another part too. It really is a matter of which part we choose, and how we then deal with the other part that got sidelined. This is what is at stake in wars. We humans create horror and destruction for each other – and even the winners never truly, fully, permanently win, and all that is won is eventually lost. It’s tragic. This seems to be in the nature of things on this planet. We share a home and threaten to blow it up, just to prove that it’s ours, not yours. We do it because we refuse to sort out our differences by other means.
Our fundamental interests are actually shared, and we sit in the same boat. It’s not about you and me, it’s about us. We have a dilemma, and something needs to be worked out.
It’s not just about diplomacy, treaties and cease-fires. It’s about that inner conflict, the feeling that others are out to get us and do us in, and that we’re the best. This will take generations to heal, and this is one of the key areas of focus in the coming decades. It’s a deep emotional issue and, in a way, the wars of today are, with tragic repetition, acting it out.
It’s difficult to believe, but over time there is progress. Regarding Kharkhiv or Gaza or Yemen or Mali, the devastation is exhausting us, taking us up to the fence where humanity has to choose. For, as a Bosnian said in the video from Sarajevo I posted on Facebook a few days ago, ‘In war, who loses? – everyone‘.
Samah in Gaza demonstrates how even those who have had the worst happening to them, grilled by the painful intensity of life, can become remarkable people. I think she has a future.
I grew up in what in the 1960s was a violent and polarised city, Liverpool, learning in my teens that, in any conflict, it always, always takes two to tango – even when one side is the victim and another the oppressor. This can be a difficult issue to see and to own, whether or not one is involved in a conflict, and especially when people suffer horribly. There’s a natural tendency to take sides – and taking sides is important because issues and principles are involved in situations like Ukraine today, or in any conflict, big or small.
It is possible to take sides, or to stand up for one’s own interests, while also acknowledging that it takes two to tango. This is a key element in war strategy too: right now it is not good strategy for Russia and NATO to provoke each other too far, since they risk starting an action-reaction escalation reaching levels that fundamentally self-harm each side and everyone.
This has a restraining influence – deterrence. It can happen in the personal sphere too, in our own arguments, even with ourselves. It is a key element in peacemaking: both sides are in some way responsible – even if the balance is 80-20 or 70-30. We can support one side for entirely valid reasons, while ‘tango’ holds true nonetheless. War is filled with paradoxes.
There’s an ugly reality getting acted out in Ukraine, the ‘theatre of war’ for today: to quote Bertrand Russell, ‘War is not about who is right, it’s about who is left‘. This looks likely to prove true in coming months or years. So a miracle solution is needed here.
Talking of viruses, have you noticed how, when one war (such as Afghanistan) comes to an end, another seemingly unconnected war (such as Ukraine) can quickly start up? The issue here is that we have allowed the war virus to be firmly rooted in the human psyche, such that it becomes default behaviour. When the host population is worn out, the virus hops to another vulnerable population, until we change the default pattern.
So, immunologically, by addressing the factors that feed the war virus and the vectors of its transmission, and giving extra support to ‘medical interventions’ such as peacebuilding, diplomacy, de-traumatisation and citizen contact across the lines over a period of time, so that a new immunity can be built up. But to do this the media need to focus on peacemaking, not the excitement of conflict, and at least half of negotiators and peacemakers should be women, and the voices of the young should be heard.
One of the most dangerous things in our time is polarisation, during a time when, to address the main issues in the world, cooperation is more necessary now than ever – globally and, despite Brexit, Europe-wide. Social consensus, cooperation and human care are so much needed – this was demonstrated during the Covid lockdowns. Environmental, climatic, population, social and justice issues will make little progress without care, pluralism and inclusivity. This means consensus not only amongst our lot, but also with that lot over there – even with banksters, extremists and other demons.
There’s a further thing: when people and nations are getting on with explosions and atrocities, they are not getting on with the essential questions that, in the end, harm us all. They are blasting out the subtle, tender, human aspects of life with noise and violence. War is a tragic diversion, a terrible habit of humanity that is used unconsciously, and by elites, as a way of evading the big questions. It’s ingrained in all of us.
This applies in our personal relationships: each party in an argument might consider the other wrong or flawed, feeling justified in standing up for itself, yet both parties together fail to fulfil the core purpose of their relationship unless their argument progresses toward resolution. This doesn’t mean everything has to be peaceful and smoothed over: differences of position need sorting out at an earlier stage, before they get complex and damaging, in the knowledge that fighting charges a higher price to both parties than reconciliation. Fighting rarely sorts out the fundamental causes of conflict, instead laying down further historic pain and trauma for future eruption and processing. It goes on and on.
This said, I honour, respect and support the choice of Ukrainians to resist, now that we are where we are. I would too, in their situation. I’ve spent years working with Palestinians, and I feel their resistance is justified, not because I believe Israelis are wrong but because, ultimately, what the Israeli state has been doing is not right for Palestinians, Israelis or anyone. If I were in Ukraine, I’d be in the resistance – in my case, doing furtive and dangerous things in the background (I have Mars in Scorpio).
Would you keep your head down, be a refugee or join the resistance? It’s quite important to be honest with ourselves about questions like this, at this time.
One strange thing about war situations is this: it gives people a tremendous, if tragic, opportunity to discover their true gifts. It’s a free-for-all in many different senses, and some of the acts of humanity I’ve seen in conflict situations are unforgettable. And people quickly find out what they’re really good at.
Polarisation, a virus of the psyche, has no simple vaccination. It oversimplifies things when a conflict escalates and breaks out, even if it is but a conflict of ideas or values. Conflicts are a complex calculus, often going way back into histories and threads that otherwise have been forgotten. When they break out, the rules change drastically and damage and pain escalate horrendously as a result. Referring to the past to justify one’s position becomes less and less relevant because, in war, the past few days’ damaging events can override them.
In the end, apart from fighting to exhaustion, the only way to resolve a conflict is to focus on the present and future needs of all concerned parties, because that’s what’s being forged and the outcome is longterm or permanent. To some extent, everyone is right and everyone is wrong, and this needs recognising. If we cannot establish these as global norms, we will not really resolve the bigger issues we face in the 21st Century. It’s that simple.
Ideas and sentiments replicate virally and, although some folk, and some countries like Britain, see themselves as scions of freedom, they can also be obedient carriers and sufferers of the polarisation virus without really knowing or owning up to it. The same applies to people who buy into conventional public groupthink, which settles so easily around simple catchphrases, formulae, heroes or villains, denying wider perspectives, tending to see things one-sidedly and seeking to pre-decide issues. Driven by an urge for comfort in numbers, individuals can suspend consideration, subscribing instead to verified and authorised rationales made official by the loudest pundits, or by convention, or by authorities or corporates with the power to persuade or control, both in the foreground or the background.
When social control mechanisms rear their heads, as we’ve seen in recent years, we tend to blame governments, corporations, Big Brother, Reptilians, foreigners or whatever, yet thereby we confirm our own infection by the virus, helping to replicate it. People accused of wrongs are too easily demonised, stripping them of humanity, so that others can feel they’re right. Poor thinking, often befogged by reverberating public sentiment, is so easily captured and trained, and our media and social media excel in it.
The virus arises from a kind of separation trauma deep in the heart of humanity. It emerged as competitiveness, warlordism, stratified social power, a sense that others are a threat and that nature is there for conquest, accompanied by an increasingly cultish elevation of self-interest. In Britain I think it took hold around 1200 BCE, at the end of the megalithic era. Different people are differently affected by the polarisation and groupthink, and to step outside their thralldom can be quite traumatic because all our beliefs, our world, can disintegrate – which is why many people don’t do it. Best done in youth, though it’s a struggle then, too.
In this respect, I recommend spending time outside the developed world, not as a tourist but in the villages and streets, and not just for a week, and running on economy – things look and feel very different. Learn how to sleep on the ground, cook with one pan on a fire or how to accept the generosity of quite poor people.
I’m writing all this not only as a geopolitics and history buff, but because I’m personally in a deep and moving conflict of my own in my life right now, and the challenge is to remember all the above in my dealings. This is difficult – stepping outside myself sufficiently to be as objective and fair as possible, yet standing up for and successfully communicating my own position and terms at the same time. It’s a matter of feeling my pain, guilt and fear while, as much as possible, not being dominated by them. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I don’t, and when I fail it adds to the hurt I cause.
It’s strange too since, as a cancer patient, I have to be more attentive to my needs and interests than ever before, and I’m in new territory. It presents a dilemma. I need others’ support like never before, though I’m not up for playing the victim cancer sufferer either – an attitude that has a downward bearing on my health and spirits. I have no right to expect others to make sacrifices for me, only a hope. I’m at risk of getting mashed even by others’ often quite normal, acceptable actions and ways, bless them, and particularly by their non-actions or omissions. Yet, up to the right level at least, I do need my minimum needs met, without lapsing into a stuck constellation of relationships where I’m asking favours and demanding support of a time-pressed circle of rushed helpers, neighbours, friends and family, most of whom are doing their very best, and for whose inputs I’m genuinely grateful.
Yet in our society helping others is seen as a choice, carried out when we have time or inclination, when in many societies it is a natural obligation and priority. In war, it’s all hands on deck or get out of the way. Indeed, it’s likely to be all hands on deck in coming decades, though not necessarily because of war. Evolving a balance between freedom and obligation is one of the great tasks of coming decades: the balance of private preference and wider benefit, local and global, and human needs and ecosystem priorities. And it has to work, otherwise it’s hard times.
So in my heart, the war in Ukraine (also in Sahel and Palestine) and the difficult personal conflict I am in, are digging over similar ground. It’s literally heart-rending. In moments of despair, part of me even wants to go to Ukraine, not to fight, but to weigh in on making people happier and doing some backchannel work – I have the experience, and an old cripple on sticks like me is quite good cover when hobbling through checkpoints and handling scrapes. I’m likely to die before too long anyway, which means that, though I do have fear, it doesn’t impact quite the same as it usually would – and you gotta go somehow.
But I don’t have it in me to go, really, physically and financially. My time for that is past, and sometimes I go through pangs about that. So, I’m doing what I can from here, re-engaging in a new level of psychic work, from my eyrie here on the farm, and from occasional hilltops and headlands in West Penwith. I find the Kremlin is psychically not as well guarded as the White House or even Number Ten.
This confluence of personal feeling and war in Ukraine is interesting because, while currently experiencing my own pain and loss patterns, my geopolitical inner efforts are able to come from a more deep and feelingful place, and both are somehow inwardly connected. Many Ukrainians, like cancer patients, have death hovering close to them, and there’s a deep vulnerability and a bizarre openness to that. This is what part of me has deeply sought, in my involvement in conflicts in the past – a sensitivity and emotional permeability that makes me more human, and it comes up in risky, edgy situations.
I’ve sought this in loving and caring relationships too, only to come up against my own limitations, pain and switched-downness. I’ve made some progress, but in truth I can’t say I’ve resolved the matter at all. I look and sound pretty sussed out, but really, I’m both happy and unhappy with the way I’ve handled life and its ins and outs. I haven’t fitted easily into the world. It’s good to be honest about that because, when we come to dying, the whole story of our lives show themselves in a new and different way, and it’s better facing awkward truths beforehand. It’s not self-pity, it’s straight old reality-as-it-is being revealed, and ultimately that’s relieving, helping with karmic untangling.
And life goes on. In health I am kinda okay, with room for improvement and a few problem issues that trouble me, but I’ll get there. In spirits I am soldiering on and holding up, and I’ve been having some lovely adventures out in nature – and I keep looking for the gift in situations. Astrologically I’m on a few big Saturn transits, so whaddya expect?
Springtime is coming here in Cornwall, and some bonny days have appeared since newmoon, and the plants are yawning open, and the geese will probably head north soon, and the tweety birds are chomping birdseed and fatballs at a rate of knots, and it’s no longer dark when I wake up, and Saturday was the first day I didn’t light my woodstove in the morning. And I enjoy blueberry porage for breakfast.
Amidst the hurricane of flying crap happening now, above all hold steady – and I shall too. This is the second of quite a few big crises in the 2020s, and it’s best to forget ‘normal’ and to develop new ways to find our ground. Here’s a re-tweet: I sense that the future is having an increasingly causative effect on the present – the past is getting wiped away faster than we would like. We’re getting sucked forward into successive cliffhanger situations where we, as humans, are obliged to make bottom-line decisions – kinda last-chance saloon stuff. Perhaps this applies to my personal affairs too, or perhaps to yours. Such brinkmanship is a way to prepare us for change, because guaranteeing the future involves making a quantum leap where absolutely everything is up for review and change, and we’re all involved. It’s hair-raising and gives no security, and it’s what we’re being confronted with now, in the 2020s.
This is about using our intelligence more deeply. Putting instinct and intuition to work.
I’ve hovered around the edges of the intel world in my humanitarian, peace-activist and consciousness work, and here I tell a few tales of things that happened, some of the ways I’ve done it, and some of the lessons learned. Might be useful to some of you.
This and the podcast that follows soon are also both about ‘higher intelligence’ – drawing on sources far beyond our normal reach.
But first, the waves of Kilgooth Ust or Cape Cornwall, on a mighty-rollers day…
Makes one wonder where the power really lies.
You can find my podcasts on Spotify, Apple and Google Podcasts, as well as here on my own site:
In the 1300s-1400s, when Europe was reeling and depressed after the Black Death, Mali was the richest place in the world – the source of much of the gold that eventually financed the rise of Europe (and eventually its takeover of Africa in the 1800s). It isn’t like that any more.
Those of you who have been following me for some years will be aware that I have been helping and supporting a small village of desert-dwelling Tuareg people called Tinzibitane. The village is roughly 60km west of the historic town of Timbuktu, in the desert.
The Tuareg are an ancient people, formerly the camel-truckers of the Sahara. They’re different from other West Africans, and they aren’t treated well. They’re Muslims yet they have their own ancient traditions, with Goddess roots to them going back millennia. Some Tuareg have become jihadis, further north in the desert, but this village is not involved with that – and you’ll notice they’re educating girls and boys equally. The women of the village are strong.
In Tinzibitane they have a wise chief, around my age (71), and my contact, Anim Touareg, a Millennial in his thirties, is likely to become the next chief. He’s a good man, and a single father (his wife died some years ago in childbirth – we tried to save her but it came too late). In my illness, with cancer, the chief prays for me, and I pray for him too.
Over the years, various of us have been helping finance the re-stocking of their camels and goats, the sinking of a new well in the village, and the building of a school there, after a time of devastation (drought and war) around 2012. They are educating their kids in a Tuareg way. The alternative is to send the kids to the towns for education – and, this way, the young people are lost, heading for the cities and for Europe when they grow up. We are seeking to change this, to help the villagers meet the 21st Century while retaining their traditional desert life – and this means helping the kids stay in the village by educating them in a Tuareg way.
I am no longer able to run fundraising campaigns fully on their behalf and I need some help with crowdfunding and similar things. I’m good at writing material and liaising with the villagers but I can’t deal with the necessary details around crowdfunding and the necessary networking. I’m not fast enough and my memory for details isn’t as it was.
So I am looking for one or two people who might help me with this, willing to do the necessaries that I cannot do and to stick with it for perhaps a few months, working online with me. It needs some focus, work and commitment, but not too much, plus some necessary support-raising skills. This is a really good cause. The aim is to raise money to pay the teachers, who come from other parts of Mali to stay in the village and teach the kids. They are dedicated teachers but they cannot keep their own families alive and happy without pay.
If anyone is interested, please contact me. This is a people-sized, small-scale enlightened-development project. The Tuareg of Tinzibitane are a self-sufficient people who don’t like to ask for help, but they do need support in dealing with money-interactions with modernity and the outside world. It has felt good working with them over the last seven or so years – they’re good people, with integrity, and they’re taking life in their own hands. I need some assistance in helping them.
Anyone interested? If so, please contact me. They also make remarkable handmade crafts, which you can see on Anim‘s FB page.
Recently I haven’t been in the best of health and spirits and I shall write a blog about that soon, when my energy is right. But if you want clues, listen to my last podcast Popping Clogs and Kicking Buckets.
Meanwhile, I’ve begun a kind of preliminary goodbyeing process, and in the last 24 hours I’ve been wishing I could be back in Palestine, with friends and ‘family’ there. So I was moved this morning to post a chapter from Pictures of Palestine, to share this feeling with you.
(If you like this chapter, you can download a free PDF or e-book version on the site, or order the print version.)
It was written in 2009 but, while details in Palestine have changed, the situation has not, and this chapter in essence has not dated.
The Back-Roads of Palestine – arriving in Bethlehem
“Where you want go?” “Beit Lahem”.
“Where you from?” “Britaniyya.”
“Ah, my son, he in Leicester, doctor in hospital.” I’m never sure whether to be happy or sad when they say things like this, but most Palestinians seem quite happy that at least someone in the family is chasing a future abroad. It’s their family insurance policy.
I was the first to the yellow eight-seater VW service bus, so I would have to wait for more passengers to appear. That was fine – I wanted to assimilate being in Jericho again. Everyone was friendly. If ever you come to Palestine, be ready to be overwhelmed with hospitality – it’s quite moving and takes a while to get used to. It’s not a front. People come up and shake your hand, saying “Wilcome, wilcome to Falastin”, and they really mean it. They know it takes some resolve to get here.
I went off and found some Egyptian mango juice and Jericho springwater to guzzle. The dense Jordan valley heat was like an engulfing blanket but, being thin, I’m fine with that – it’s chilly, damp British weather I have a problem with! I went over to some guys standing around talking. The usual friendly questions. Where you from? What your name? Where you going? How many children you have? What you doing here? They’re often interested in my age, and eyebrows raise when I tell them – Palestinian men of my age often look older and more worn than I do.
I took photos of some of them – they seemed to love it. But some didn’t want it, gesticulating ‘No’ with a quick wave of the finger, and I knew why. It’s politics and security: they or their family have had trouble with the Israelis, or they supported Hamas or another faction, or they had a history, or their brother was in jail, or… Long ago I had been in similar straits and I know what it’s like: it’s not just that you want to avoid the gaze of the powers that be, but also that you don’t want to keep reminding your friends or even yourself that, rightly or wrongly, you’re toxic property.
Eventually the service taxi-van was full and we were off through the streets of Jericho, an ancient city with an 8,000 year history. We left the town, driving some miles up to the main Jerusalem highway and then turning right, following the road as it ascends through the Judean desert hills. It sweeps through the valleys, climbing up and up just to reach sea level, marked by a sign in Hebrew, Arabic and English. After making good progress, still uphill, we suddenly slowed down and pulled off near the Ma’ale Adumim interchange onto a bumpy, crowded road and into a scrappy Palestinian township near Al Azariya.
Ma’ale Adumim is one of the biggest Israeli West Bank settlements, a Jerusalem orbital town and an asset Israel is unlikely to abandon, whatever foreign politicians want. This new town and the roads servicing it, built on confiscated Palestinian land, split the West Bank into northern and southern halves, rendering Palestine territorially sub-functional as a nation.
But we were not going to Ma’ale Adumim. Instead, we hit a bumpy side-road which, for Palestinians, is a key trunk road linking the northern and southern West Bank. It weaves through a small town, then weaving along valleys and up and down the high hills, with sharp switchbacks, steep inclines and loads of traffic. In Britain we’d regard it as a back-country ‘B’ road, but actually it is ‘Palestine Route One’. Nowadays it is being modernised but in 2009 the only sign of its trunk road status was the density of traffic.
Some of the areas it drives through are poor and dilapidated, the houses quite scrappy, the land stony and dry. Garbage, wrecks and piles of rubble are heaped here and there – an alienated landscape where the locals have lost their care and pride. They’re probably rural refugees, thrown off land the Israelis have taken, such as at Ma’ale Adumim. It’s one of the tragic aspects of this country. But then, many Palestinians harbour little hope, so they’re unlikely to invest in longterm improvements. They half-expect the Israelis to come in some day, wreck everything again or drive them out, and they do have reason to anticipate that.
Yet there are some pretty nice houses along the road too, in other locations. Palestinians who are go-getters or beneficiaries of the PA or foreign agencies take great pride in their new-builds, many of which have a fine vista and attractive courtyards with flowering trees and bushes. It’s as if their optimism compensates for their others’ lack of it. It also reveals an emerging class divide between those who benefit from foreign subsidies and advantages and those who do not. Palestine has its haves and have-nots and they nowadays live in quite distinct economies.
The road is exciting to travel as it climbs up steep hills and tips into deep valleys, weaving through an impressive limestone upland landscape, passing through hilltop villages with prominent mosques and affording views stretching many miles. Yes, this is a trunk road – but it’s heartbreaking too. Privileged Israelis drive along their fast, wide highways while Palestinians have to heave up, down and around on side-roads like this: transportation apartheid. Although the West Bank is occupied by Israel, its cars have different number-plates from those of Israelis, conferring different driving and access rights. Go up the wrong road and you could, on a bad day, experience a sudden hail of bullets at worst, or interrogation at best.
We passed through only one checkpoint, which today was open. The Israeli soldiers leaned against their booths and bollards, talking to each other and idly gazing at passing traffic. Poor guys – what a job. There they stood sweating, posted in an unfriendly spot next to a Palestinian hilltop village, perpetually on guard against a foe who nowadays rarely materialises and might hardly exist.
In the distance I could see the Herodeon, near Bethlehem, a prominent conical hill and ancient site going back millennia. It looks like a volcano but it was shape-enhanced in ancient times and contains, allegedly, the tomb of Herod the king. Naturally, we didn’t head straight toward it – our route was still sinuous and tortuous. After another twenty minutes we pulled into Beit Sahour – Shepherds’ Fields, referring to the Christmas story – near Bethlehem. The family that made up most of the passengers in the bus was dropped off right outside their gate. The remaining woman asked me, on behalf of the driver, where I wanted to be dropped. I decided to go to Manger Square in central Bethlehem to catch some food, take a rest and ascertain where Ibrahim Issa was to be found.
There I bundled out of the bus dragging my wheeled bag, my precious technology bag over my shoulder. Containing a netbook computer, camera and lenses, digital sound recording equipment, DVD and card readers, cables, plugs and adaptors, with room for travel papers, passport and a bottle of water, this technology bag is neat – but rather a wrench on the shoulder muscles.
The Christian taxi-drivers near the Nativity Church, seeing a Westerner – who of course must be rich – started hollering at me for my custom. You learn how to gesticulate ‘No’. One bright young driver with a pleasant face got my attention, though I still said no to him. I wanted to sit down and have something to eat. He shepherded me to a nearby café and within seconds a pitta stuffed with salad and falafel was set in front of me, along with fresh carrot juice. What a relief! All the taxi-drivers stood round asking questions and smiling, all very amiable once they’d realised I was no source of business for them right now.
I rang Ibrahim, but no answer. Did I have the right number? Hmmm, what next? Leaving my bag at the café, I went wandering. As I returned, the young taxi-driver signalled me: “I help you. What your name?”
He took me to the Hope Flowers School at the far end of Al Khader, west of Bethlehem, but it was locked and deserted. On the way I noticed that the town was in visibly better shape than on my last trip in 2005, just after the second intifada, during which the Israelis had wrecked Bethlehem and still then staged periodic incursions and searches. But now the separation wall had been built and Bethlehem, imprisoned behind it, was safer and more relaxed. The security wall protects Palestinians from Israelis as well as vice versa. This relaxation of tension was visible on the streets. Another sign of progress was the condition of the trees in the central reservation of the Hebron road leading to Al Khader.
These trees, planted in 2005 by the Earth Stewards, were all intact and growing! I had joined them – mostly Dutch, German and Austrian green activists – in a tree-planting project organised by Hope Flowers. Ibrahim had known the Earth Stewards when he lived in Holland in the 1990s and he had organised PeaceTrees as a joint project with them in Bethlehem, not just as an ecological but also as a social empowerment project. The trees’ continued existence showed that something had worked – the locals had got the message.
During the intifada people had lost hope. It had followed a period in the 1990s when peace and progress came close and then ebbed away, prompting the uprising, a mass expression of sheer frustration. Israeli measures taken against Palestinians were terrible and Bethlehem had been an epicentre of conflict – remember the shoot-out at the Church of the Nativity in 2002? By 2005, when the intifada had subsided, the locals needed jump-starting with initiatives to help them improve their lives and encourage them to invest energy in the future. The regular experience of seeing houses demolished, parts of town wrecked, buildings shelled and people carted off had given Bethlehemites a feeling of futility and pointlessness.
By planting a large number of trees in a very visible place – the main road’s central reservation – we caused mild fascination at first, followed by interest and questions. Then people joined in, then energy and enthusiasm grew. We wrapped up the project by saying, “If you don’t look after these trees, they will die, so it’s up to you” – and we left. The trees survived: someone had made sure they were watered and cared for. PeaceTrees had worked.
As the young taxi-driver and I returned to central Bethlehem, he told me that he was a student of accountancy in Hebron and drove his uncle’s taxi to pay his way. He wanted to be my friend and I promised I would find him again. Subsequently I had a number of lifts with him, and only half the time did he charge me. He dropped me off and I headed up to Manger Square, standing there awhile, taking it all in. A wide, large square, milling with people.
A man approached, asking in quite good English whether he could help me. Adnan took me to his shop near the square, where he sold souvenirs – olive-wood religious objects, Arabic dresses, Bedouin rugs, decorative inlaid boxes and allsorts. Some of the woodwork was exquisitely carved and the rugs and clothing came in lovely colours, all with a very hand-made feel to them. Mint tea appeared and people came and went as we talked. Adnan discovered I was a webmaster and asked if I would help him make a website – I said I would consider it. He rang a friend who knew Ibrahim – an answer would come soon about where to find him.
I got out my computer and skyped my cousin, then my son and then my ladyfriend back in England, to tell them I’d got here. I wanted to share it with them. A small crowd gathered round, goggling at this visitor’s neat technology, and they said hello on Skype, all very thrilled. My son just said, “Cool”, and carried on tapping on his computer. Then he looked up and suddenly saw several faces looking at him through the screen.
“Who’re they?” “I’ve finally got to Bethlehem, and these are some of the kids here”. “Cool”, he repeated, in his perpetually unfazed way, still tapping keys.
My ladyfriend was dumbstruck at talking live to some real Palestinians. Palestinians are people you hear about on the news, you don’t expect to talk personally with them on Skype. Everyone helloed, and she helloed back. While I was talking to her, the calling to prayers started up – really loud, since we were right next to the Omar Mosque. She was visibly moved at the sound, as it hit her that I was really there. She and my cousin were serving as ‘ground control’ back in England, and it was fitting to share with them my first taste of returning.
Eventually the grapevine worked and Ibrahim Issa came to fetch me. I’d last seen him five months earlier in England during one of his speaking tours. He had looked tired, not really wanting to stand on stages giving speeches, and I was concerned about him, wondering whether he was burning out. But today he was his sprightly self, at ease, smiling. He’s rotund, like a cuddly bear, with a character-filled face and a bright countenance.
I feel brotherly toward him, as if we had made some mutual contract way back in the mists of time, yet I’m old enough to be his father. We hugged in the middle of the street – much to the interest of onlookers – and looked at each other for a long moment. I knew he felt some relief that I was back and had probably wondered whether he would see me here again. Foreigners come and go, saying they will return, but only a few reappear.
Hope Flowers had started as a kindergarten in 1984 and by the late 1990s it was a school with 500 pupils. It shrank after 2000 during the second intifada, as the Palestinian economy tanked and hardship set in, but now the school is growing again and a community development centre was started in 2004. I’d been working with the school from Britain, running its website, writing and editing grant proposals, newsletters and outreach material. Now, one aim of my trip to the school was to re-work the website, then perhaps to edit some teacher-training manuals, possibly even help Ibrahim start writing a book about peace education. That was the idea.
The story of the Issa family and Hope Flowers is poignant. Ibrahim’s father Hussein, an advocate of non-violence, found himself in a dilemma some years ago when Ibrahim narrowly escaped paralysis, shot through the back by Israeli soldiers. Later, Ibrahim saw Palestinian radicals accuse his father of treason because of his commitment to reconciliation. The family was under attack from both Israeli troops and Palestinian radicals. Ibrahim knew the situation was complex but, to quote him, “The most painful thing for me as a child was that I couldn’t recognise the difference between a peace activist and a collaborator – it took years until I did. Palestinian radical groups also couldn’t recognise it. When I grew up I started to see the difference”. But some Palestinian radicals and Israeli Zionists still don’t see that difference, and this makes life risky for people who work for reconciliation.
In 1991 Ibrahim moved to Holland to get out of harm’s way. He studied engineering, got a job and became a permanent émigré. He attended courses on ecology, non-violence, community-building and psychotherapy too, mixing with interesting people, some of whom later came to do stints as volunteers at the school in Palestine. Then his father died unexpectedly in 1999 and Ibrahim was asked to return. This involved leaving a secure, promising Dutch life to jump back into the Palestinian frying pan, taking on a burden most sane people would turn down flat. I greatly admire his steadfastness.
Returning to Bethlehem in the midst of the second intifada, Ibrahim joined his sister and his mother in running the school. Later another sister, a teacher, joined them, as did Ibrahim’s new wife, once a kid at the kindergarten. They run the school with a remarkable team of teachers, managers and supporters. It felt right to work with these people – I like them all very much.
Now Ibrahim and I went to a café, had a drink and munched nuts, smoking apple-flavoured hubble-bubble from an ornate water pipe. We discussed what I would do during my three months’ stay. There was certainly a lot to be done and three months might not be long enough.
Ibrahim told me of difficulties he currently had with a faction in the Palestine Authority (PA). It was the product of an awkward public debate concerning the value of negotiating with the Israelis. Ibrahim, a committed peacemaker and bridge-builder who had had regular contact with peace-oriented Israelis, was under suspicion as a collaborator, and this was complex. The PA, seeking to establish control over an ungoverned non-country, had applied a mixture of Western regulations and Arabic bureaucracy, with not a few personal fiefdom issues thrown in, making life difficult for ordinary people. A peacemaker in a conflict-polarised society is susceptible to accusations of collaboration.
The discussion in Palestine about how to relate to the Israelis was heated and ongoing. Palestinians had bent over backwards to comply with international agreements as part of the 1990s peace process, and yet in Palestinians’ perception the Israelis hadn’t budged an inch on crucial issues such as settlement-building, land-seizures, Jerusalem or refugees. The result had been continued losses for Palestinians and a growing number of them were now convinced that negotiation and accommodation were pointless, even though very few wanted any return to conflict. Negotiation had been worth trying in the 1990s, but it had not delivered. It’s a tragic predicament: if you neither want to negotiate nor to fight, what do you do?
Hope Flowers had been teaching the kids Hebrew to help them understand the Israeli mindset. When the kids were older, this would help them deal with Israeli people and officials. The school set out to help the kids understand the perspectives of the very people who had killed or jailed their own fathers, uncles and relatives. This was not a matter of agreeing with or sucking up to the Israelis, as some suspected. It was a matter of following the old military adage, ‘know your enemy’. It was a key issue in preparing Palestinian children for a time when the nightmare of conflict ends – which it shall and must do one day. But in 2009 that day was receding and there was simmering frustration in the air.
Some Palestinian officials didn’t like what the school was doing and didn’t want Palestinians having connections with Israelis. Ibrahim, who had learned to be patient with Israeli arbitrariness and obstructionism, even having been arrested by them for allegedly harbouring terrorists, understood this viewpoint well. But as an educationalist and peace-builder, he stood up for dialogue with people on the other side just as his father had done.
Westerners, with a tendency to see things in black-and-white terms, oversimplify the intricacies of this situation, failing to understand such sharp dilemmas. “Why don’t Israelis and Palestinians just make peace?” Well, as Rabbi Lerner, a Jewish-American thinker, once pointed out, both sides suffer from PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder – they’re super-touchy, super-reactive and suspicious – and untangling this mess isn’t as simple as outsiders would like it to be.
It had taken me some 20 years to understand the intricacies of the Israel-Palestine situation, and only visiting the place had brought better comprehension. I started as a peacemaker working on both sides, with the best of neutral intents, but found myself gravitating to the Palestinian cause. I was not turning against Israel, but I felt that they shot themselves in the foot by the hostile attitude they took toward Palestinians. I work where I can most assist, and while Palestinians seemed to appreciate my input many Israelis didn’t seem to think there was a need for me to be there. So I ended up working with Hope Flowers.
That’s also why I had sobbed from the soul when I arrived in Jericho earlier that day – there was something personal and emotional about all this. As a British dissident, I had had nonsensical and painful experiences that would shock many people, so I could empathise with the Palestinians’ dilemma. I saw Ibrahim’s dilemma too – that of a peace-bringer whose work is regularly screwed up, not just by Israelis but also by the double-standards of Westerners and the militancy of some Palestinians.
Perhaps Palestinians embody something that exists within many of us when we are repeatedly let down by forces beyond our control, when Murphy’s Law applies itself over and over, or when the narrow interests of the powerful few prevail incessantly over the needs of the majority. It’s a futile feeling that, whatever one does, nothing will really progress. This kind of thing happens everywhere but, in Palestine, people have internalised it and adapted to it more than is healthy for them.
I stayed at the Issa family’s place that night and next day Ibrahim took me to the school, where I was to stay in the volunteers’ accommodation on the top floor. Back again – and now to work.
Things don’t change a lot in Palestine, but one good thing that has changed is that Hope Flowers’ methods and philosophy is now being replicated across the Palestinian school system in the West Bank – this was a major breakthrough a few years ago. However, the school still struggles on financially under, as always, difficult constraints.
I was in hospital yesterday, Monday. I’ve been ill for two weeks, and four days ago it got a lot worse. I was exhausted, in pain, fatigued and raked out. My stalwart helper Penny took me down to Penzance hospital on Sunday evening where, after the customary endurance test of waiting too long, a rather brilliant young doctor prescribed me antibiotics. Although I really dislike antibiotics, and have had to rebuild my biotic system over the last year since the last load, I knew I was in real danger, and it would be necessary to nuke it. Modern medicine is good in crises.
For me, it’s a matter of strength of spirit too. Recently I’ve been getting worn out, and my survival capacity has been flagging. In recent months I’ve been struggling somewhat with circumstances around me, and when the illness started I wasn’t strong. As the two weeks of illness progressed, I was getting exhausted. As it happened, Lynne was ill at her home too (much from overwork, and if there were a proper allowance for family and friend carers, such as £500 per month, down from the £1,500 that professional care would cost, it would make such a difference for her and for me).
In post-lockdown Britain we’ve gone back to the ‘no time’ syndrome – the basic psychosocial cause of the care crisis – which, for many people needing care and support, means we just have to sort ourselves out quite a lot, whether or not we actually can or should.
I am still shielding – being on immunosuppressants, I have to avoid infection. Some people don’t respect this, and one person who is most likely to have given me the infection is one of those. But, on the other hand, people who are more mindful of infection tend not to visit at all. Then, some people over-care and want to help too much, and this is awkward, when all I need is friendship – and if I need anything I shall say so. Some people chatter too much, and when they see me get tired they suddenly leave – when really I just need them to slow down, accept my different states of being, and simply be here with me, or even bring their knitting. Much of the time I don’t need fixing, healing or helping – I’d just like some company.
But as an astrologer, I know this is part of my deeper process too. Those of you who are astrologically literate will probably chuckle when you hear the major transit I’m on: Neptune opposition Saturn. It’s a test of spirit, a state of adversity, a loss of control, an uphill grind, and… you’re on your own with it, whether you like it or not. The fascinating thing is that, even though I was quite well set up in my life circumstances, in the end, and at the time I needed help, circumstances had it that I had to go through it alone. And here’s the rub: on a deep level, I manifested this. It’s me, my pattern. Realising this instead of complaining about it, I began to make a turn-around.
Within a day I was in the hands of the young doctor in Penzance, probably Indian, who referred me to the Royal Cornwall hospital at Treliske, Truro, 45 miles away. Yesterday, when I told the doctors at Treliske (one Irish and one Russian) what he had prescribed for me, their eyebrows rose, and they said he’d done exactly the right thing. This is the other side of the Neptune transit: my guardian angels were with me.
Although it was hard (mostly involving waiting, again) at Treliske, some quite remarkable things happened. In hospitals, there are a lot of people in pain or an altered state, and to some extent they are helpless. Some of the conversations I had were remarkable, and I was able to bring some people something to think about, or a smile, or a shift of mood – and they to me. The nurses and doctors were amazing too. The Nigerian x-ray technician was surprised when I asked where in Nigeria he came from. “No one ever asks me that”, he said, pensively, “They just think, ‘Ah, he comes from Africa'”. He came from Kano in the north, so I greeted him in the Islamic way. Here’s this lovely black guy in Cornwall, an overwhelmingly white region, and his face lit up.
There was a guy in the A&E waiting room who was under guard of two police. They’d brought him in for a post-arrest injury check. The guy couldn’t handle it – he was a laddish guy, physically quite powerful, who solves every issue with a fag and a can of beer, or a flailing fist. He was really in difficulty – he couldn’t face himself and his situation. Others moved away but I didn’t. Eventually, after an outburst, I eyeballed him with my rather penetrating eyes and said, “I’m a smoker too”. He was surprised. I had him nailed. “And I’d like a smoke too. But it’s not going to happen.” He went quiet.
Then I said: “I sat in jail once and it was a real shock. But, d’you know what? It was a turning point in my life. It made me make promises to myself about how my future was going to be.” Pause. “And good luck, matey, and I really hope this is a turning point for you.” At that very moment a nurse came out, calling my name, and I hobbled off with her for a walk down a few endless corridors.
Later, one of the police asked me, “So what have you been doing in your life to be able to do that?”. I told him this guy was easy compared to some Israeli settlers. I also said that meditators like me would say this guy had a restless monkey-mind – he couldn’t face himself, couldn’t just sit. So I addressed his monkey-mind and the guy was stunned that this stranger was giving him attention and speaking to him sympathetically. It changes the agenda and shifts the monkey-mind into a different gear. “My wife says things like that – she does yoga”, said the policeman.
So, I’ve been going through another chapter of soul-education. On the one side, life has been really hard, and my batteries were getting low, and I was in danger. On the other, I was being given some really meaningful interactions that lit me up. Particularly concerning one thing: I’m an inbuilt social activist and humanitarian and I’ve been really missing it. I miss the engagement, the interactions, the risks, the full-on challenges. But now I cannot mix with people easily and I cannot travel. I’ve been crying tears over this recently. Yet here I was being reminded that, although in recent years I’ve been focused on Palestine and the Tuareg in Mali, humanity is everywhere in need. In our society, hospitals, police and first-responder situations form the frontline. And from a soul-education viewpoint, the people involved, as victims or as rescuers, are at the deep end of human experience.
And here’s another rub: we all have our stories, but every one of us will visit this frontline personally, sooner or later. This place of vulnerability and dependency. How we deal with it very much affects our experience of it and what we gain from it as an evolving soul. Ultimately, it concerns dying. It concerns facing our stuff. It’s best to do this ahead of need. But if we don’t, when we’re faced with it, it’s good to roll with it and use the experience to clarify something deep and profound – life-secrets that we often don’t get until we’re really flat on our backs and helpless.
So today I am back home, still fatigued, still quite unwell, though something is turning round. I must return to Treliske next Monday for an assessment. The last two weeks have been really hard. You’ll get a sense of this in my next podcast, recorded from bed in the depths of this crisis a few days ago. My hope and intention is to keep blogging and podding until I no longer can. After that, it will depend either on your psychic capacities or on someone doing some blogging and podding for me.
But there’s more life to be lived first. I’ve been reminded that I’m in the lap of the gods, and all plans and statements about the future are provisional. Lynne and I have both been floored and bedded, 100 miles from each other – a strange solidarity of such kindred souls. And Penny has been a star: driving to Truro twice in one day is not the greatest of pleasures. As for me, I seem to have got through another crunch – though there were times I began to wonder.
God bless the doctors and nurses: they’re overstretched and they handle it well, but once they get to your case they can be brilliant. I really liked the Irish doctor. Once he’d done his doctoring duties he voiced concerns over Brexit. I told him that, on behalf of my fellow countrypeople, I wished to apologise to him and his fellow Irishfolk for the way we have seriously let them down. Again. He took it with a smile.
One thing I found interesting was that, though they all practiced due diligence, the doctors and nurses did not seem anxious about Covid. In fact, as I was leaving in the late afternoon, I was asked, almost in passing, whether I’d had the jab or not, and the nurse who asked seemed quite unworried when I said I hadn’t.
As I say in my podcasts: thanks for being with – there’s more to come.
I was awake at 4.30 this morning, listening to the wind rattling in from the Atlantic and wondering which would be better – stay in bed, lost in hypnopompic wanderings, or get up, light the woodstove and start my day? I got up. I’ve been ill this week with a weird infection. Trouble is, when you’re on cancer immunosuppressants, this is to be expected, and I was due to get something sometime. Still shielding after two years, my immune system hasn’t had much exercise. And I’ve been in bed.
But my immune system, though under test, seems to be in good enough shape – I seem not to be under serious threat. I’m so lucky to be able to lie on a raised, built-in bed from which I can look out of my big windows, even though today I’m watching the wind strafing the trees and the birds getting blustered. I’m on Vit C, antioxidants, homoeopathics and allsorts. I lie there with a porage-head, aching body and swollen glands, though I have a normal temperature. I watch the world outside and at times get a feeling as if the folks back home are using my psyche like a camera to get a look at it.
There’s always something to gain from an illness. In the previous weeks I’d been feeling scrambled, dealing with the intricacies of being semi-disabled and mentally constrained in a busy world that has no time for folks in my state. But this illness has zeroed all those concerns. It took the past and future away, dumping me in the moment. And I’ve been travelling again. After all, I’ve lost my driving licence and I’m rather a traveller-soul, so I’ve substituted wings for wheels.
Someone wrote a while ago, asking me to talk more about my meditation methods. Thanks for that, and I’d love to. But there’s a problem. I don’t follow a method. I just follow my well-worn, habituated ways on a pretty spontaneous basis. I do what comes up. That doesn’t answer the question, but in a way it does.
You see, I started exploring consciousness on acid and other psychedelics in the late 1960s. This was a form of direct access to deeper realms, and that’s where I started. My first experience of meditation was when I was sitting in jail (as a student protester), sharing a cell with three Sikh immigrants. I asked them what they were doing when they were praying and muttering to themselves. They taught me something close to Vipassana, mindfulness. Bless them – I never saw them again. They were probably chucked out of Britain.
Then, by age 25 I was doing Buddhist meditation with the Tibetans. This is far more magical than mindfulness meditation, involving visualising the deity sitting on top of your head (in detail), repeating the mantra and making prayer, then letting the deity dissolve into light, which floods into you, so that you become the deity. Then you stay there, in stillness, being the deity. This trained up my inner sensitivities, and the lamas’ blessings, company and teaching really helped. They healed me after the trauma of being in a failed revolution and being hounded and exiled. I had also had a near-death experience at age 24 which had scrubbed much of my memory and identity, and their protection truly saved me. What memory I have of my life before age 24 is reconstructed, not direct – except, interestingly, for glimpses of spiritual and deeply moving experiences earlier in my life. Those memories seemed to have been stored in a different part of memory.
But then, later, one of the Lamas said I was not here in this life to be a Buddhist. This was a shock but, within a few days, I knew this was one of the greatest gifts they had given me. I had always been eclectic, and my psychedelic past had given me a direct experience of the world of spirit. The Lamas had plucked me from the jaws of disaster, put me back on my feet and sent me forth.
By then I had realised I was quite psychic. This isn’t special – any more than, say, making music or cooking food. There’s a burdensome side to it too. Everyone can do it, but some are brilliant at it. I wouldn’t call myself brilliant, but I’ve made deep choices to pay attention to and increasingly trust my inner promptings, funny feelings and periodic inspirations. The more you listen, the more you get it. But here’s the key bit, and this applies to meditation too. You have to choose to give yourself over to it, to learn how to set yourself aside. You have to give permission to energies and entities bigger than you to participate in your life. You have to learn to trust the capacity of your soul to learn, and trust that all will be well. You have to lose your fear. All this happens bit by bit, as you cross various thresholds. It’s a life’s work.
To get back to the question… at present, therefore, I practice a number of things. I do quiet meditation when needed – it’s important to come home to myself, escape the complex spider’s webs of human concern and see things more as they actually stand. As a cancer patient, I do a healing session with my ‘inner doctors’, once every few weeks. I let them examine me and my energy-bodies, and operate on me. I find it really works.
Sometimes I just sit there with booming brains and a never-ending stream of neuroses – though giving proper space to them can also be healing, to a point. Sometimes I do world-healing work, bringing light and healing to other cancer patients worldwide (what Tibetans call tong-len), or to trouble-spots, or I visit crisis places and surround them in light and protection (similar to lightworking), also working to unblock and unconceal things that bring darkness, pain and obstruction to the world.
Sometimes I do inner aid work, where I carry out more specific humanitarian-type work in crisis zones I’m focused on, or I pay attention to a particular issue – mainly global (I tend not to get involved in British politics with this, because of risk of personal bias). Afghanistan has had my attention recently, but I also pay a lot of attention to ignored places such as Yemen, Syria, Myanmar and the Sahel. I do not take my cues from the mass-media. Before this I do some inner prep to get myself in the right state, and if I’m not right, I don’t do it. Afterwards I try to round it up and review it. We used to have a group doing this together, and we’d send in notes of our experiences, so see what common threads were appearing and to observe our work on it.
Sometimes I practice ‘meditative availability’ – I hand myself over to ‘the management’ to let them use my psyche, to give them access to this planet, and to let them do their business through me. Sometimes I go into a stream-of-consciousness, a kind of channelling where I get occasional ‘downloads’ – a bundle of insight that suddenly comes, that sometimes can take weeks or even years to unpack.
And sometimes I sit or lie there feeling utterly useless and uninspired, but I generally keep on with it, because that’s what happens, and it’s part of the game. And sometimes more is going on underneath than we’re aware of. Either way, over a period of years you start notching up loads of inner experience, which interlocks to an extent with daily life, but also it runs independently of it. And there are paradoxes to it: for example, when I’m ill, I sometimes have particularly rich experiences.
Sometimes I scan the consciousness that lies within incoming Atlantic weather systems – in Cornwall we get them full-on, and they carry messages. Sometimes I become aware of old soul-friends, or I spend time with my family, whom I cannot meet in real life. Sometimes I talk with the ancient spirits of West Penwith, the area where I live – sort of inner research. Sometimes I float off, to have completely unexpected experiences. Yesterday, in my illness-delerium, I found myself pulled out and taken back to my home world. That hasn’t happened for a few years. It chirped me up no end to be with my people again – they’re so far away, in consciousness-reality terms.
These are the kinds of things that go on in my so-called, for want of a better word, ‘meditations’.
There’s something important here. When doing innerwork, it is crucial to avoid imposing biases and preferences on others. It’s important also to ask permission – ‘May I?‘ and ‘Can I?‘. If the answer is ‘No’, or ‘Try another approach’, then take note. This isn’t about projecting our own judgements on situations, and it isn’t about ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. The primary orientation is ‘the greatest good’, and sometimes that can mean difficult stuff. For those of you interested in this question, there are two links below that discuss the issues more fully (stuff I wrote in 1994 and 2002).
It’s time to end and I must return to bed before my energy-batteries run down. I’m quite unwell, but it’s funny how the psychoactive component in some illnesses can churn up interesting things. Besides, lying in bed all day isn’t hyper-interesting, so taking a break from it now and then, to dodder around my home doing basic chores, can be welcome. This morning, at 7am, I managed to sort out all my monthly payments – phew. The worst bit is answering those anxious messages asking why I hadn’t answered the previous message. When you read this blog you might get a different impression, but the true and short answer to the inevitable how-are-you messages is, ‘Half dead, and still alive!’. But I did manage to write a blog.
Bless us all. We need it. Then spread it around. Lots of people need it. Especially the people we don’t think of so often.
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.
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 grew up into a teenager who looked at my dad, who had fought in Egypt for our freedom and lost a leg in the process, telling him we weren’t free. We were living in a totalitarian society where, at least for us but not for the Commies over there or for the starving children in Africa, our chains had been coated with carrots and cream.
It’s strange. Everyone is busy angsting about Covid and here am I, as usual focused on something else entirely – in this case, right now, cancer. Or, more precisely, chemotherapy. I feel like I’ve aged ten years in the last week. Dragging myself around, feeling the gravitational weight of living on a dense-gravitational planet, holding up my weak back and gasping at shooting pains in my bones, feeling a deep tiredness with life, a tiredness with its daily routines, with yet another breakfast, yet another day. OMG, not again.
Throughout life I’ve always sought to light up the lives of others around me, with varying degrees of success, sometimes getting confused with the dark shadows in my heart, always picking myself up for another round, another try, another angle… and sometimes, burned out, drooping and flopping into life’s mudbath, the slough of despond, to go down, down into the murky depths of human struggle, the jihad, the holy war of inner conflict, the war with the axis of evil in the human heart… and for what?
Lying in bed in the semi-delerium of chemotherapeutic drudgery, with the BBC World Service bringing the heroic crowds of Yangon, Minsk, Santiago and all stops to Hong Kong to my bedside, ringing around in my night-bedarkened cranium… lying there hearing the complaints of my fellow countrypeople over the time spent queueing to get inoculated against a virus that is too intelligent, too agile to tamp down so that we can all return to normal, return to a comfortable purgatory, a purgatory that all makes perfect sense, expressed in dollars and cents, pounds, shillings and pence…
The normality of democratic freedom, a freedom to choose our own washing powder to dissolve the persistent criminal stains of omission, commission and perpetration that permit us our apparent freedom. A freedom to supply munitions for the bombing of faraway Yemenis so that we can pump up the employment statistics, share values and the great god GDP, just because those Yemenis are less than us, somehow less deserving of the certified serving of chocolate and tax bills that make up our cherished freedom.
I had an extended moment of revelation. One of those moments when you see something you’ve long been perfectly aware of but didn’t really dare to look at. I saw how lonely I’d been throughout my life. I was born in 1950 in a baby-boom maternity home that was about to close – the last baby to be born there. All the staff was there, watching. I wasn’t too sure I wanted to be born, to start that long trajectory of landing procedures leading into the tangly web of life and its involvements.
Up in heaven I had known I could do it, but now I was not so sure. There were all these people waiting to celebrate my birth, not because it was me but because I was the last, the last before they all got transferred somewhere else or had to find new jobs. It was the back end of a tragic baby boom when our parents tried so hard to replace the devastation of war with new hope and a constant stream of dirty nappies (diapers). Someone probably had some postwar rationing-busting plonk and munchies for that moment and they celebrated the last baby while I lay there wondering what was to happen next.
Yet I grew up into a teenager who looked at my dad, who had fought in Egypt for our freedom and lost a leg in the process, telling him we weren’t free. We were living in a totalitarian society where, at least for us but not for the Commies over there or for the starving children in Africa, our chains had been coated with carrots and cream. My parents thought something was wrong with me – after all, if I listened to that raucous, long-haired noise of 1960s pop music there must be something wrong. No, Commies weren’t like us, and any sympathy felt for them just showed what betrayal and subversion these youngsters were capable of – perhaps they were enemies in our midst, traitors to the cause, undermining freedom when, really, they ought to be grateful and get a proper job.
Like many in my time and like so many right now, I was struggling for truth. Now, half a century later, here am I, churning in bed with a war in my heart, struggling to plumb the depths of truth. Oh why, oh why do we fail to see? We’d prefer to destroy our planetary nest than to do without the security of chocolate, tax-bills and easy answers – it’s safer, it’s normal. If some dictator, some oligarchy, turns down the screws on another few million people, well, that’s life, and it all makes perfect sense, expressed in dollars and cents, pounds, shillings and pence.
Yes, struggling in a war against cancer that is being fought in the muddy battlefield of my being, in midst of that soup of fears, doubts and shadows that make me human. In that moment of seeing it became so clear how I had created this aloneness pattern myself: my pattern, my incrementally-repeated choice. In the pursuit of my percieved calling, my struggle to help humanity and shift society’s tiller in a new direction, I had walked away from so many. I had shrugged shoulders, let go and moved on. They had paid their price and I had paid mine. I’d shared so much redemptive love, care and awakening with so many people yet, in another way, I’d engaged in a life of struggle to reach across the light-years of distance, to try to reach to another human star-soul in the vastness.
Here I was, an ageing man churning in bed, wading through his demons, missing loved ones near and far, blessed with a seeing, a revelation of fact-sodden truth, a statement of futility, an audit of the enormity of the task of generating light in the muddy morass of earthly life. It’s a light that struggles even now to illuminate the stone walls of that prison of the soul that is me.
Before you rush to assure me it’s alright, send me reiki and pray for me to ‘get better’ – whatever that really is – and before you lapse into the belief that I’m indulging in negativity, please stop. Please sit and look at the phantasmagorical disaster-zone of your heart: sit with it. It’s there, it’s uncomfortable, yet here lies a key, a lost chord, a lump of gold sitting between the dragon’s paws. It invites you take a deep breath, let go of fear and pick up your birthright. It’s lonely and dark down there, but here lies the key.
Today I go into Treliske hospital for another round of pumping up with drugs. As a denizen of a rich country I am privileged to receive this, as if it’s a birthright. The Dara is already giving me the shits and the Dex is dragging me into a place where nightmares transmogrify into explosions of light and back again with bewildering rapidity. This treatment feels foreign to me, but these are times where my own vision of reality fails to accord with that which apparently is believed by the majority. What’s important to me in my own manner of perceiving is not what’s important to the medical system I have resorted – it doesn’t understand it. But this is the dilemma of being on Earth – no, of being in this civilisation at this time on Earth. We all share it. Stuck between a rock and a hard place – all of us. Serving our time. Doing what we feel is best yet making a pig’s ear of it, drowning in the disappointing pointlessness of constructed belief.
But this grinding action, this grating and milling, it generates light. Awakening before dawn, before the crows did their morningtime auditory armada of swoopy crawing in the dawny gloaming out over the farm where I live, and my demons were irking me. But now dawn has come and the sun is up, shining through the big windows of my hovelly palace – it’s called The Lookout because that’s what you do here, look out. The demons are scarpering in the dawning light. Vacating space until they can come again on another haunting mission. Perhaps it all was a nightmare. Or perhaps it’s the truth of my being. At this moment I cannot judge.
But when I was sitting there shivering, having just lit the woodstove, listening to a robin on the dog-rose outside, perkily tweeting hello, I realised, well, better to grind this stuff now than to leave it until the moment of my deathly transitioning. Better to grow while I can, to see clearly without the grey-tinted glasses of daily routine – the one that looks at the clock, telling me to get ready to be picked up for the journey to the cancer unit at Treliske. Yes, it’s now time to get normalised, to keep to the timetable no matter what. Get plugged back in to the matrix. Get ready. Take your pills. Do the business. Be responsible.
For those of you who are familiar with that quackish charlatanry called astrology, you’ve just read an unpremeditated description of a transit called Neptune opposition Saturn. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, well, that was your choice, and that’s okay too – we all have to live with the consequences of our choices, with the particular way we arrange the furniture and wall-hangings in the prison-cell of our souls. We all share this dilemma.
Paradoxically, nearly eight billion people are alive today yet we all face an aloneness that has never in human history been achieved before. We all have our demons, believing they’re unique to us without realising that they are but minuscule variants of the demons we all share – demons to which we give power, with which we’re fully capable of polluting and destroying our planetary home. For the demons out there are demons within us and the redemption of both go hand in hand.
It’s okay, really. Everything is okay in the end, and if it’s not okay, it’s not the end. Some people tell me they’re so sorry I have cancer, but I find myself wondering why truly they feel this, or whether I should be sorry for them instead. It doesn’t matter. In the end it’s all an enormous phantasmagorical Youtube video, an epic production of illusions showing in five dimensions on the custom-made cinema-screen of our psyches. Who needs a subsription to Netflix when we have this? It’s free and it’s right here, with no need for shipping in from China.
Ee, there’s now’t so strange as folk. God must be amazed at us, at the imaginings that we in our billions can cook up. It must be distressing for him to see how we blame the Chinese for what they’re doing to the Uighurs when it is we ourselves who are doing it whenever we buy yet another packaged product in our supermarkets. Or perhaps he laughs when he sees us languishing in our beliefs, including those that construct him into a God that, as John Lennon in one of his own moments of despair, identified as a concept by which we measure our pain.
Now it’s time to put the kettle on, shower my creaky body, dress up in my togs and get my ass to Treliske, for another round of the never-ending Youtube movie that is life. Chemotherapy, sometimes a high, sometimes a low, provided for free on ‘our NHS’ so that we can spend a little more time on Earth struggling with that darkness and light. Is this the life we came for?
Don’t fall for the idea that I’m suffering more than you. This is the life. This is the playground in which we are playing it out. Here’s the ketchup to squirt over it. And there’s the kettle, ready to disgorge its contents into my teapot. Here we are. The oldies amongst us will remember this, from the back of the Whole Earth Catalog: we can’t get it together – it is together. Perfectly together. This is where we stand. All will be well. But to reach that point of calm certainty in your heart, it’s necessary to dig down in the deeps, make love with those demons and live to see another day.
Now for the next bit. Peace, sisters and brothers. Palden.
The picture above is of a lunar eclipse over Bethlehem, Palestine, in 2011 at the time of the Arab revolutions. The Youtube video is a song by Roger Waters called Perfect Sense, from his 1990s album Amused to Death.