Pearls and Gold

Despite everything, here I stand, weak, strong, wobbly and firm

Chapel Carn Brea, the first and last hill in Britain, where the national beacon light-ups start from. That’s a bronze age chambered cairn on top.

One of the best books I ever wrote, ten years ago now, I couldn’t publish. It concerned a plot I helped uncover, involving American financiers funding settlement building in the West Bank, a well-known international meditation organisation making a big error and rogue elements in the Israeli and Palestinian intelligence services. I had to get out of the country pretty quick after dishing up that lot!

The story was quite sensational, though I didn’t publish it because it could endanger people’s lives, many issues would be twisted and misinterpreted in the West, American lawyers would have had a field day, some people would seek revenge, and my friends back home would ask me why I bother risking my life for a few darned Palestinians. Well, it has happened again, except it’s Africans this time. If I told you the story that’s happening now, you’d have difficulty believing it’s for real.

That’s one reason I’ve been rather quiet. It has been difficult knowing what to say. Telling the story can endanger lives, sabotage others, and much of it would, again, be misinterpreted. The number of seriously incorrect diagnoses of the situation that I have received recently has been disturbing, particularly because of their implied racist undertones. Many friends believe I’ve been scammed by West Africans, but the problem comes from a whiteskin company in the rich world, not from Africans. We have been stuck between Western corporate negligence and a crime gang’s violence. Meanwhile, people were getting murdered by the gang, whose market for cocaine, crack, people-smuggling and prostitution is in Britain and Europe. If we want to change the world, we need to end this turning away.

In the last few months I have gained an adopted granddaughter, Phyllis, whose life I have now saved several times. Looks like we might lose her now. She is on the edge of dying, due to a drug overdose and having had two fingers on her left hand cut off by the crime gang. Her mother, Felicia, was gang-raped. The bastards. Felicia is Liberian in origin: when she was young, civil war broke out around her and she was forced to watch her parents and three sisters being shot. When Phyllis’ fingers were being cut off Felicia cried out to me, online, “Why, dear God, is this happening to me AGAIN?”. Phyllis is all she has left.

So while I have a cracker of a story, I cannot tell it. I feel bottled up, but it is safest for those involved that I do not say more. Some good book sales would have been really useful though. This nightmare has cost me a lot and, until the company honours its multiple promises to pay me, I’m seriously in debt. They promised to compensate Felicia for all she has been through, and Felicia is now destitute. This has set me back a lot, affecting my plans for the coming year. But my conscience is as clear as it can be in such a gruesome situation, and I am glad I have not obeyed the advice of many friends to look after my own interests and, in effect, abandon these people to let them die. If I lose friends over this, then so be it.

Bridging gaps. Porthmoina Cove, West Penwith, Cornwall

Last year was a testy year. It wasn’t just the hair-raising story I’ve been involved with. It started a year ago. I was unwell and down, in a mess. My partner suddenly left me – she had her reasons – and I lost another adopted grandchild in the process. Gaining and losing grandchildren is a theme for me at present. Looking back, I was unconsciously picking up forewarnings for nine months beforehand, feeling insecure but unable to figure out why. Something needed to change between us, but I wasn’t ready for total, enforced relationship destruction. I got the blame, though whatever crime I truly committed, in the final analysis, has been far outclassed by the response. I miss her still, and her family. Giving myself a year to get over it, I’ve partially succeeded and also I haven’t. I believed we would go through to the end of my life. But no, I had a big lesson to learn there.

So, I wish her good fortune and many blessings for all that we had together. She is free, and I sincerely hope she finds rebirth and flowering in her new life. She deserves it – she saved my life in my worst cancer days. I am so grateful for our time together. Now a free man with mixed feelings, I’m not managing very well alone. But that’s my problem. It has its plus side though: I’ve used the pain of loss to fire up my creativity, rebirth myself and give the rest of my life, if I can, to starting something new. Or it’s starting me. It concerns a world-healing project. There’s a feeling of rightness to it, like a little seed currently hiding under the snow, awaiting its moment.

In the last year my cancer process has changed. Medically I am more or less stable, and the focus has turned to relationships and the psycho-emotional side of living with cancer. Cancer strips a layer off you and the shields come down. Issues get amplified. A last-chance-saloon feeling takes over. You suddenly find friends and loved ones committing micro-aggressions they didn’t know they were doing. Life becomes raw and unprotected. You get hurt. It has changed my capacity to relate and slowed my capacity to process things through, emotionally. While I’m kinda managing, being on my own means that, if I deteriorate, I have little or no fallback. Sometimes I just need someone to hold me. Sometimes I just want someone around.

One or two friends have suggested that I move upcountry to England, to be closer to people. But I’m electrosensitive and I can’t hobnob in parties and groups or walk down the street without getting zapped and needing to retreat back home – it can take 48 hours to get over it. In effect, to be with friends and loved ones I have to permit them to harm me with radiation. So I could be just as isolated there as I am here. Folks up in England are all very wired-up, busy keeping timetables and treading mills, and that is the central cause of the care crisis we have today – we don’t have time and space to be human, and people in situations like mine demand too much of it. Meanwhile, Cornwall feeds my soul, and the movements of my soul and its expressions seem to be valued nowadays, by you lot. So this seems to be the right place for me. I’m happy doing forays into England, or even elsewhere, but I’d need a lot of persuading to move because I would lose my taproot.

I haven’t been doing well on the family front either. That’s a complex story – another I won’t tell. What with my disability and their busy family lives, it’s difficult for us to meet up, and online relationships don’t really work for me. Mercifully though, all of my offspring get on really well, though they have three different mothers and live in two Brexit-sundered countries. They’re a lovely bunch, and their husbands and children too. In many people’s judgement I’ve been a useless father, and I guess I’m supposed to feel bad about it. Or perhaps I have had Mandela’s dilemma: a conflict between ‘my people’ and ‘my family’, which I have not been able to integrate – and neither did he. However, as an Aspie and weirdo in late life, I’m tired of apologising for being who I am, and I’m not as wrong as I’m often judged to be. It’s time for a change.

In the distance, Kilgooth Ust or Cape Cornwall, as seen from the Boscregan Cairns, one of my favourite haunts

My health is kinda okay, though my back is slowly deteriorating, as if gravitation were increasing. My cancer, Multiple Myeloma, affects blood and bones – will-to-live (blood) and capacity to be active in the world (bones). That’s a wee bit fundamental. Even so, my haematologist is surprised I’ve lasted so long on my current cancer drug, Daratumamab. But, to me, it makes sense that I would do well with it. Dara isn’t a form of ‘chemo’ designed to kill cancer cells. It works by flagging up cancer cells as they emerge so that my immune system can deal with them itself – that’s a brilliant approach, and it’s just right for me. So I’m doing well with Dara. My immune system is in pretty good nick too.

Here’s an observation. I think there are two kinds of immunity: one is to do with the nutrients we take in on a daily basis, which can provide fight-back if our immune system is under pressure or feeling low. Whenever I get the slightest sign of an infection, such as a sneeze, I take a gram of Vit C straight away – and it works. But there’s a deeper immunity level I’d call resilience. If you’ve done immunity-boosting things for a decade or more – good vits, good oils, good everything, though not too fanatical about it – then you’re in a different league. If you’re dabbling with veganism or health-awareness, take note: it truly works if you stay with it for decades, allowing your body-psyche to go through deeper structural changes. Combine this with inner growth, and your cells and genes become transformed. I can verify this from experience.

Longterm resilience has been a life-saver for me, now I have cancer. At root, it lies in attitude. When I’m having a hard time, I look for the gift that’s available. Sometimes I’m forced to lie in bed, watching the buzzards wheeling around over the fields. Sometimes I’m being given a gift of pain to teach me how to move through it and out the other side. Recently I’ve been given a loneliness that has allowed me to spend a lot of time reflecting on life, writing and recording things from my eyrie out here in West Penwith, the Far Beyond.

Immunity is intimately connected with psychic protection too, and right now I’m working on that. Whenever we feel down and got at by life, we have both a protection and an immunity issue. If you want to work positively with cancer or any other adversity, work positively with your protection. This isn’t about throwing up barriers around you – it’s about working on the fears, shame and guilt that grind away underneath, undermining the integrity of your being and giving an opening that outside interference can hook into, draining your power. Sometimes it’s like having fleas, getting nibbled at by lots of small things, and sometimes it’s like a big thump in the stomach. Protection is about the light within us and the degree to which we withhold ourselves behind our shame, guilt and fear.

When I first went into cancer treatment, I hadn’t had pharmaceutical drugs for many years. Suddenly I was getting pumped with chemicals. I called on my inner doctors. “Let it be. We’ll fix it, and follow your instincts on what else will help“. I don’t get it in words like that, but that’s what the message was. I decided to trust, deeply. I started on things like CBD, carefully selected supplements, received healing from many wonderful people, and worked on generating an attitude of yielding and acceptance. On the whole it worked. I’ve balked at a few of the drugs given me, but not many, and in some cases I’ve dosed myself more sensitively to my own actual needs. But I’ve had fewer side-effects than many other people seem to get. That’s resilience: it’s all about strengthening our capacity to handle whatever life throws at us.

Pendeeen Watch, a neolithic cliff sanctuary looking out toward Ireland over the Celtic Sea

At some point, when I can restore my finances, I’ll start doing some events. A monthly online ‘magic circle’ is shaping up, and I’ll be doing some live Magic Circles or talks sometime, though I don’t have it in me to organise them myself. The capacity to handle life’s details and intricacies is one thing that chemo and cancer have taken away – though I’ve gained a widened and deepened understanding of life instead. The only booking I have at present is the Legends Conference in Glastonbury on 8th-10th April, and I shall announce other events when they get fixed.

When I die I shall have no money or property to leave, but I do hope to leave a legacy. We shall see if it works in real life, if I can keep going long enough. When I was young I was heading for a career in diplomacy or government, but then around age 21 I went through an awakening and changed course. I began treading a spiritual-political alternative path. In starting the camps movement in the 1980s I attempted working with the heart and soul of Britain, to transform it from within – with limited success (it was the Thatcher period, after all). In the Hundredth Monkey Project in the 1990s, we attempted direct spiritual work with world events, with some success. With the Flying Squad that followed, we developed the techniques, ethics and practices of such work, forging a synergistic unity and a group bonding that compensated for our lower numbers. This built up a body of experience. There’s further to go, and the world has a need for it.

When cancer came along in 2019, I thought that was it with the world-healing work but, no, reviving last spring from the enormous emotional hit I had a year ago, I got the message, “Ah, there’s one more thing, before you can come home…“. I realised that no one else really had the experience and capacity to take the world-healing work one stage further. In a way it was incumbent on me to do it. I now have a plan, and it’s now a matter of finding out whether and how it will work in real life. It has already started with the Sunday evening meditations, and we’ll let things develop from there.

It involves a group process for which I can prepare the ground, plant seeds and help them germinate, but that’s all. I don’t have much time left, and the events of the last year have shown me how beat up and worn out I am. You see, what decides things for me is not medical prognoses but how long I can keep going, in heart and soul, pushing the limits and remotivating myself to face another day. My current aloneness has tested me profoundly and, while I’m holding up, it has been a big systems check on what I can and cannot do. Overloaded with issues, I’ve been trying hard not to fuck up but only just managing. But then, this is my life, I’ve created it this way, that’s my karmic pattern, and it is as it is. Mashallah – thus has it been ordained. This next chapter is my last dance, and I’m going to give it what I can.

Wolf Rock lighthouse, 11 miles or 17km out to sea, as seen from St Levan, Penwith

But first, there’s business. I want the company to right some wrongs, financially, and I want to get Felicia and Isaac and their remaining children safe and stabilised in a new life. True heroes, they have paid a high price for being good people. Even as a tottering old man, I choose to stand by them, whatever anyone says. Then there’s that gang, who have deprived at least seven people of their lives. This included an Akan native healer, Okomfo Ayensuwaa, with whom I had close miracle-working dealings for a week or so just before Christmas. Killed for protecting Felicia and Isaac and their families, she has decided to work with us on the world healing project, from the other side. She is with us now, in our meditations. A strong, big and good-hearted lady she was, and the river spirits she worked with miss her.

I have shed so many tears over these unjust tragedies, and several times I have been faced with a painful moral choice I would not wish upon any of my readers: the choice between playing safe, prioritising my own interests and security, and standing by my principles in order to keep some good people alive and to stand up for what is good and right. I’ve made that choice, I’m paying that price and, despite everything, I am glad to have done so. The bravery of these people has been a big lesson for me, and my standing by them has been a big lesson for them. Whitemen have a way of walking off. The fates have now separated Felicia and Isaac, and they struggle on alone. I’m still with them, supporting them even though I can’t send money.

Please pray for them, for their safety, healing and relief from their trauma and misfortune – they, and Phyllis, and Isaac’s one remaining child, Adjoa, aged about 6-7, truly need it. They are struggling, materially, emotionally and spiritually. Please be with them in spirit.

One of my missions in life has been to do with righting some of the wrongs committed by the British empire. One grandfather was in Allenby’s invasion of Iraq and Palestine in WW1 and the other was in the Battle of the Somme. My father fought in Egypt in WW2. Northern Ireland started me off on this path, fifty years ago, and I seem to be at it still. Interestingly, it was the Akan, the Ashanti, who, together with the Maoris of New Zealand, were the only peoples who successfully stood up against the empire – at least until the amoral Brits tricked both of them into losing. The empire had its merits and demerits and, while we should forget neither, we do need to own up to the demerits we forced on so many millions of people. For the world cannot progress while unredeemed shadows such as these hang over us all. Every country has its shadow to face.

This has been a difficult time. I’m still here though! As I write, Felicia is watching her only child Phyllis die slowly, in a coma, in hospital, unable to afford treatment. They’re stranded with nothing in a foreign country. That’s the score today. That’s life, as it presents itself. This has been a difficult and risky blog to write – I hope to goodness that I’ve done it right. Meanwhile, I’ll be there as usual at the meditation on Sunday evenings. Bless you all for being my friends, especially the ones closer to me. We all need each other.

Helen, my peerless homoeopath, gave me Pearl last year (beauty out of pain) and Gold this year (lighting up darkness) – spot on. She’s brilliant. If you happen to need an inspired homoeopath who can do it remotely from Cornwall, try her.

Lots of love from me, Palden.

Podcasts: www.palden.co.uk/podcasts.html
Meditations: www.palden.co.uk/meditations.html

The path goes ever on and on… Zennor Head, West Penwith, Cornwall

It’s Coming

Though it is a question of ‘What?’

This is not a christmas card. This is Kvikkjokk in the north of Sweden, north of the polar circle, last year. It’s where my daughter Maya lives. It was -30C there last night.

There’s one robin that comes from the thicket above my cabin, and another who lives in the brambles down below the barn.

Problem is, being male robins, and with breeding season coming, they’re doing their territoriality trip – much to the consternation of the tits and the blackie, who also want to get to the feeder just outside my door.

When you spend much of your time alone, issues like this do matter! But it’s a welcome diversion too because, as you might imagine, my thumbs haven’t exactly been twiddling very much recently, and I’ll welcome an off-duty break one day.

It hasn’t snowed here in Penwith, though it went sub-zero and icy in the last few nights. Stuck out in the Atlantic and bathed in water that not too long ago passed Miami Beach, we’ve been about 5 degrees warmer than most of Britain. But then, though Brits love to complain, whatever the weather, up where my daughter Maya lives, north of the polar circle in northern Sweden, it was -30C last night – and the sun won’t rise until mid-January. Welcome to Planet Earth, dear friends – this is what you get on this world, and this is what you chose when you decided to come here.

I get cold feet. I’ve got this weird thing called Peripheral Neuropathy – a side-effect of chemo drugs where your nerve-endings die off. So I can feel the inner feelings in my feet but not the outer ones – and I never knew there was a difference until the Good Lord (or whoever) gave me cancer. This also means I don’t feel the cold in my feet very much – which goes to show how, in life, you win some and you lose some, and that’s the deal. I still have warm double socks on though.

An Indonesian Christian rock band in Bethlehem

One of the narratives of my life has been about dealing with paradox. My mother did love and care for me but she didn’t have the time and presence to mother me in the way I needed – that kind of thing. But that’s alright: it gave me some mother patterns to work with. Or this: my Tibetan name means ‘radiant merit’, my Arabic name ‘servant of the light’ and my Brahmin name is god of the sun, but there’s a shady side to me too, who gets involved in gritty, underworldy, heavy stuff. I’ve been exposing this side of me in the last month, with the strange thriller I’ve found myself in.

It goes to show, I’m not a holyholy meditation teacher at all, but a lawbreaking aged hippy charlatan who does nasty things, corrupts dishy young ladies, leads people astray and ought to be locked up forthwith – a danger to civilised society. Be warned.

I’ve been breaking the law recently, paying bribes. In West Africa, if you don’t pay enablement payments, nothing gets done. However, as my late senior barrister friend Keith used to say, in his endearingly bombastic Leo kind of way, “I, dear boy, am a purveyor of the Law of Man, but you, sir, are a purveyor of the Law of God”. Well, that’s a bit over the top, but there’s truth in it too, and sometimes divine will does need to prevail, whatever anyone thinks. So I’ve paid some bribes because, actually, it’s usually just to pay the guy’s phone bill or taxi fare so that he can do what you’re asking for and perhaps take a few bob home to his missus.

Well, if they want to arrest me for that, I’m over here. It’s a professional expense, and not the least of the sins I’ve committed. I’ve been a traitor, consorted with terrorists, smuggled tofu though Israeli checkpoints (they think it’s Semtex), taken on false guises and a few other things I’d better not mention.

But on the other hand, bad as I am, my life-saving stats measure well against any doctor or paramedic, and I’ve had the pleasure of uplifting thousands of people, and many of the bad things I once did, or decidedly didn’t do, are now, a few decades later, strangely approved of. It took a while. Some people think I’m brave, though my rather naive Aspie response is simply, ‘But why is that unusual?’.

Manger Square, Bethlehem, full of people

I have another weird Aspie thing too. I have an aversion to Christmas. I don’t do it. I’ve always felt unhappy feeling obligated to be happy and congenial when, at the time, I’m feeling contemplative and quiet. So I have a no-compromise approach that, before Xmas, is frowned on and, after Xmas, is envied.

On Xmas Day, if the weather allows, I’ll be out on the moors or the cliffs with a flask and a pie, attending to the top of my head and a few related matters, and if the weather is bad I’ll be huddled round the woodstove, propped in my chair or inner journeying in bed, busy not drinking sherry. Unless I find another person who would delight in an utter non-Xmas with me, I’ll be on my own, and that’ll be alright. You might wonder why.

Well, it’s a time for wrapping up the past and looking toward the future, and I have rather a lot of both at present. That’s solstice, the turning of a tide.

But it’s also a time when, rarely, the Christian and Westernised elements in the world suddenly get excited about peace and goodwill for a day or two. This is really good. My only reservation is that it suddenly ends around lunchtime on Xmas Day, when everyone starts blotting themselves out with food and booze, only to regret it afterwards.

Manger Square, Bethlehem, Palestine, at Christmas

Nevertheless, as a guerrilla planet-fixer with an esoteric style, I find it’s worth scooping up some of this goodwill for good use. After all, there are at least a billion people on Earth who really need some peace and goodwill to be shoved their way right now. If not, truth be told, the whole eight billion of us.

So I spend my solstice-to-Xmas doing consciousness work. It’s secret – don’t tell anyone. It’s a good time for doing some gentle infiltration of the collective psyche, to strengthen that thought: goodwill. If you’re on your own this Christmas, then, wherever you are, stick up your antennae and see whether you can find me in that ‘reality-field’ and come join me. Try 11am and 2pm GMT, Xmas Day.

I’m always there on Sunday evenings at 7pm GMT too, for half an hour.

Ten years ago I was in Bethlehem at Christmas. The slightly sad thing is that Christian numbers for the Christmas Pilgrimage are much diminished nowadays, so Muslims make up the numbers – Palestinians do appreciate Bethlehem’s global name-recognition in such a forgotten land, and Jesus is also one of the prophets of Islam.

The Catholic Xmas is a bit like ours in NW Europe, with a lot of the jingle-jangle, and big concerts in Manger Square with Christian singers and bands from Germany, Indonesia and Nigeria, and a few Papal delegates thrown in. And why on earth do they import Father Christmas to Bethlehem, already replete with Christ Mass primacy, when most Palestinians have no idea where Estonia is or what slieghbells are?

Then comes the Orthodox Xmas, which is a bit more sedate, very ornate and quite delightful to a jaded old heathen like me. The chanting is done with deep faith and mystique, and the archangels and cherubim really do seem to hover around.

Then in mid-January comes the Armenian Xmas, which actually, if I were Christian, is the kind of Christmas I’d prefer – ruminative and richly calm. Either way, they’re all resplendent with candles, incense, chant and reverence – that’s very different to the mosques, where there’s nearly no ceremony or pizazz, just quiet prayer. They both have their virtues, but give me an ocean clifftop or a desert outcrop anyday, and I’ll be happy.

It looks like I’ll still be on duty over Christmas, monitoring the West Africa situation daily. Here’s the latest news from there.

Phyllis, now three, some time ago

Phyllis, the child, is happy and in good shape. She underwent an amazing turnaround last week, going from fever and coughing blood to wanting an ice cream in two days flat. I think you lot, with your prayers, played a key part in that. She is now staying with Dr Isaac and his family. Phyllis seems to be a great kid, easy to have around, and everyone loves her. I’m so happy about that. She’s special, that one.

Felicia… well, she’s improving, but we hit a setback two days ago. She has been reviving, and three days ago we moved her out of hospital into accommodation near the doctor and his wife. She was awake and becoming able to function, but she fell over, and it was bad. She needed two blood transfusions, a drip and medication. I’ve managed to finance that. So, it’s tenuous with her at present.

Those of you who have been giving your prayers, healing and positive thoughts to Felicia… may I ask for another round? Please hold her and raise her up. She has brain injuries from the ‘accident’ two weeks ago (they were rammed, actually). We think she’ll be alright, and she’s in good care, though she isn’t out of danger yet.

I want to put in a word for Dr Isaac and his partner Millicent and their children. They have taken in Felicia and Phyllis. They live simply and have their own family concerns, but they care a lot, and they’re definitely not in it for the money.

One of the greatest benefits I’ve had from my humanitarian work has been meeting simple, good-hearted folk like these who are the real saviours of our planet. They just get on with it and hold the world up. They do so much of the mopping up of the world’s mess.

Here’s Dr Isaac

The people I’m involved with in West Africa, and also my handler with the fraud investigation company, are all good and remarkable people. In this business, you develop ways of finding out who you can and cannot trust, and everyone depends on each other, and there’s a certain implicit code of behaviour, and you bond closely with people you encounter when sharing intense situations with them.

The Syrian Orthodox church, Bethlehem, Palestine

In something like this, to use an old sexist term, it sorts out the men from the boys. The people who hang with you through thick and thin are often amazing people. Dr Isaac is like that. He lost his job for us (though I think he’ll get it back). He risked his and his family’s lives. He’s gone several extra miles. He’s a man of faith and a good doctor who deserves more than a one-room home for his family.

I’ve met many remarkable people, and he ranks high, a true server, a doctor of whom Hippocrates would be proud. We’ve known each other for three rather long weeks. God bless you, Isaac. People like you convince me that this world will survive. My daughters, son and grandchildren do that too.

I guess I’m a sucker for crisis situations because it brings out the best in many people, and I like working with them, and it brings out the best in me. I’m not good at normality, you see. I’ve always felt I’m there to help the helpers, the social healers and the frontline people, and it’s an area of deep late-life satisfaction now.

Here’s the Mosque of Omar on the other side of the square. Sensibly, when they invaded, the Muslims under Caliph Omar didn’t take over and convert the church. Bethlehem has had very good Christian-Muslim relations throughout history. I wonder why?

As an independent ‘freelance humanitarian’, for want of a better term, I’ve held to certain principles I feel are important such as: ‘don’t give a person a fish, but teach them how to fish’, and ‘teach a man and you teach a man, but teach a woman and you teach a generation’. There’s even William Blake’s statement: ‘the path of excess leads to the palace of wisdom’ – and war is excess to human need, in my judgement.

I feel also that, as an educated, white, male, privileged Brit whose ancestors built the empire and kept it going, and living through its downfall and seeing its very mixed outcomes, I have a bit of an urge to complete the job. I’m not a great believer in reparations, guilt or sorrow – I just like to get in there and do something to help people have a better life and rise to their full potential. To the extent I can.

People have asked who or what I work with. To my surprise, at present it’s for a big bank – though that’s not my style. One of my PodTalks, The Only Planet of Choosing, gives clues. I’ve worked with all sorts of people, but the bottom line for me is their humanity, and progressing humanity’s evolution. My focus has been community-building, conflicts and crises, and helping social leaders stay on the rails.

You have to have your wits about you. This is strange because, as an Aspie, I can be at times apparently naively open but it’s not exactly that – it’s because I sense people’s hidden motives and agendas, and I often get delayed-action clarity on what’s really happening. So I look blank for a while. Then it all comes. So I’m best working with others, inputting what I’m good at. Such as total attention, hyper-focus. When I’m on form, I’m brilliant, and when I’m not, I’m best back here in Cornwall, out of everyone’s way.

Which is where I am now, on the farm, and it’s a dark and rainy pre-solstice night, and the owls and crows are all tucked under their wings down in the woods and hiding from the feather-ruffly wind. Wherever you are, may all be well with you.

Don’t worry too much about your circumstances, even if they’re tough at present – look at your attitude, and be innovative. Find simple ways to be happy. We all get inner friction and pain, but these are things we can reduce, even if we can’t reduce the adversity. That’s what’ll get us all through.

Well, that’s what I try to learn, anyway.

With love from me, Palden.

Blog: https://penwithbeyond.blog
Podcasts: www.palden.co.uk/podcasts.html
PodTalk | The Only Planet of Choosing (1h 13m):

The Church of the Nativity began as a goddess temple (hence the Virgin Mary came here), then a Greek Apollo temple, and only then did it become a Christian Church. The front entrance is really low and you have to duck to go through – this is to force Crusaders to dismount and it stopped their hunky stallions from entering the church. But the Israelis just roll bombs in. Interestingly, in Bethlehem, I don’t get a feeling of Jesus – it’s Mother Mary’s or Mariam’s town, and the matriarchs there definitely let you know it

Far Beyond Timbuktu

A people-sized aid project in Tinzibitane, Mali

Some of the villagers, in front of the school

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.

Lessons!

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.

The village

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.

The new well, with the school behind

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.

School dinner

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.

Tuareg women of the future

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.

Back Roads

A place I love that I can’t return to

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.

It’s not easy, living under military occupation

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.

Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem

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.

The Old Town of Bethlehem

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.

Hope Flowers

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.

The book’s website is here: www.palden.co.uk/pop

What’s it all about?

A donkey in Bethlehem, Palestine – Jesustown.

What’s it all about?

2020 has brought us all a lot to think about and, for many, a lot of time to think about it. ‘What am I here for?’ and ‘What’s it all about?’. Some folks have had big reveals and pointers, others have had to dig deeper than ever before, and some have made little or no progress, and some have been run off their feet and burned out by it.

I’ve always been rather purpose-driven. When I was about ten I wanted to be prime minister. By 15 I won a big public speaking competition with a notes-free speech about why Britain should join the European Community – seven years before it happened. Does Brexit, 55 years later, mean I’ve failed? By 18 I realised that politics was too dirty for me. So I followed another path and you got Maggie Thatcher and Tony Blair instead.

It took until I was about 34 to acknowledge that I was at last on track (when I started the Glastonbury Camps). It just had that feeling. Before that I felt like a footloose jack of all trades and master of none. When ‘received my instructions’ I quaked and resisted, but then I realised that, if I didn’t do it, it would not happen. And it needed to happen.

God doesn’t come down and say ‘This is your life-purpose‘. It’s not like that. It’s just that, when you’re more or less on it or you’re heading towards it, you feel it – you’re in the right place at the right time doing the right thing, even if others disapprove, discourage or block you. If you aren’t on it, you feel stuck in a blind alley, getting nowhere, with a meaningless life, as if you’ll stay like that forever. Depression and feeling an unfulfilled calling are closely related.

Purpose is programmed within us. It’s already there. Before getting born, we had a discussion with our angels about the purpose, the motivation, for going to the trouble of birthing ourselves, growing up and living a life on earth. Incarnation is hard work, even for people born in privileged circumstances. Two key things were covered in that discussion: what you were to learn and master, and what you were to contribute. Then you signed a contract in your soul, and it still holds.

Quite often you get clues when you’re about 8-12 years of age – visions of what we want to be when we grow up. Then, during your teenage years, this vision can be clouded and lost (often not helped by parents and careers advisers). These early-life visions can be literal or symbolic. I wanted to be an airline pilot. When I was 15 they ruled that short-sighted ginks like me couldn’t be pilots (that changed back later on, but too late for me). So that door closed. But later in life I realised that I had taken thousands of people on long journeys, up into heaven-worlds and landed them safely at the other end. Mission kinda accomplished.

By 18 I was aiming to become a diplomat, but by 20 I was involved in a life-changing near-revolution at the LSE that ended all that – yet in my adult life I’ve scored some pretty good informal diplomatic hits. So the vision and intention were symbolically correct, but the way things panned out was very different.

As life goes on, our purpose reveals itself through situations that present themselves. We find ourselves doing things we hadn’t foreseen but, when doing it, we feel remarkably fired up, or we make a difference, or we do something really meaningful, sometimes without even realising it. Even washing the dishes or cleaning the toilets can make a big difference in some situations – the chef at a peace conference can save thousands of lives without even knowing it, just by cooking good food for the delegates. So note this and follow it, because there’s your clue – even if it doesn’t make money, look realistic or gain approval, if it fires you up, why aren’t you getting on with it?

We must be willing, if necessary, to tread that path alone. In the Arab revolutions ten years ago, a big issue for people was ‘losing our fear’. Sometimes we must stand up and be counted – and if we hold back we can regret it for the rest of our lives. Like the near-revolution I was a part of fortyish years before, the Arab revolutions failed in the short term yet they started deep changes that will outlast the dictators who tried to stop them.

Here’s an interesting truth: it’s better to fail in something that ultimately will succeed than to succeed in something that ultimately will fail. This concerns posterity and holding out for what is right – and taking a bet that it’ll work, even when you’re not sure, and everyone and everything are against you. Even if you have cerebral palsy. Even if, or perhaps because, you’ve been damaged, disadvantaged and traumatised.

Three things block this coming out process: fear, guilt and shame. Too many people take the safe route in life, to please their family or fit in with the rules, or for fear of loss of security, or fear of being singled out and blamed, or fear of being exposed as unworthy or unable. Human society is riddled with such fears. Our planetary disaster is happening because billions of people are withholding their gifts, setting aside their callings and playing safe. We cook up good reasons to justify this but, in doing so, we are choosing complicity in a collective crime against humanity.

Out of fear, we hold back. This becomes a habit and institution. Then we forget what our instructions were, what the agreement was. Instead, we eat, drink, entertain, worry or work ourselves to death – unless or until a crisis shakes it up, strips our defences, propels us into unknown territory and slams the door shut behind us.

This withholding is dead serious. It means we’re omitting to make our contribution. It’s ours to make, and someone else isn’t going to replace you. Since so many are withholding, there’s a shortage of active server-souls. People have questioned my humanitarian work, believing it is dangerous (yes, occasionally it is) and encouraging me to stop and ‘be responsible’. But then, when I ask them to take my place because the work still needs doing, they wander off.

Charity begins at home‘ – sorry, for me that’s only a half-truth. Charity truly begins where the need is greatest. Need pulls the brilliance out of you.

The world is short of active altruists, and the suffering that arises from that is tremendous. It’s all about that old lady down the road who is alone and unvisited, because everyone was too busy and no one thought, no one imagined what it might be like to be that old lady. The world has a crisis of caring, and it’s all to do with withholding our gifts, callings and missions. Playing safe is a very dangerous planetary neurosis.

This brings us to a key issue. It’s not just our option to pursue our life’s calling: it is our duty. It is an imperative. If we don’t do it now, it won’t go away. This is a choiceless choice. Especially in these parlous times.

This isn’t about great and dramatic things. If you’re gifted at embroidery, do it. If you’re good at ‘just’ raising kids, or ‘only’ growing cabbages, you’re here for that. If you can bring light into the life of a hungry or lonely person, do it. Because, when you’re on your deathbed, these are the things you will remember.

And it changes. Life-purpose presents tasks but it is not a job. You can’t resign. It takes on different shapes, progressing as life goes on. One of my big life-lessons and contributions has been in ‘right leadership’ – something I did better in my fifties than in my twenties. I’ve scored a few goals, brought some benefit and made mistakes too. But I learned. It has gone from home-birth campaigns to organising biggish events to helping burned-out Palestinian social activists.

There are paradoxes. Nelson Mandela once confessed that, in his life, he had faced a deep conflict between serving his family and serving his people. He could only do one of them. After all, if you’re doing things that can endanger your family, should you stop serving your people to protect them? Or will your family also benefit if you can improve things for your people?

One of my gifts has been a capacity to struggle for, uncover and articulate insights that other people don’t quite get. I’ve been a speaker, author, editor, broadcaster and a pretty good contributor to public discourse. It didn’t make me rich or famous but I’m really glad I did it and shall continue till I drop – even possibly afterwards. Since I’ve been about 30 years ahead of the times, my work has not succeeded as much as it otherwise might, but after I’m dead it might lift off – you never know – and I’m leaving an online archive of my work just in case.

But perhaps it doesn’t matter. We can never fully see the results of our work and the part it has played in others’ lives. ‘Non-attachment to the fruits of our labours’, is how Buddhists see it. The aim is not to have an impact – it is simply to do your best. Once, when I was in Palestine I confessed to a friend that I didn’t feel I was making much of a contribution on that trip, and I might go home and come back later. She looked at me straight and said, simply: “Balden, when you are here we feel safe“. That hit me hard: sometimes, you don’t even need to do anything. I learned that what I thought was happening didn’t match what actually was happening.

Here’s another thing. Often we think this is all about giving. No, it’s all about interchange. It’s arguable that the people I’ve helped have given me so much more. If you wish to experience true generosity, go to poor people’s houses and countries.

Life purpose has its ins and outs. I’m good at thinking clearly in wider situations but I’m useless at articulating personal feelings on my own behalf – though I’ve done decades of work on myself to change this, and I’ve only made a little progress. But there are things that each of us must accept too: in my case, it’s Asperger’s Syndrome (high-function autism), and that’s what Aspies are like and what we’re good for. Greta Thunberg is a good example – and society is more open to her directness than was the case for me and my kind fifty years ago.

I’ve been nailed and hammered by so many people to be different from the way I am, yet I’ve found that trying to be what I believe others want me to be does not end up well. This has been painful – to be judged as a bad father, a failure, a fascist dictator, a goodfornothing, a criminal and even traitor. “When are you going to get a proper job?”. Something in me, rightly or wrongly, has soldiered on. I have regrets, but I don’t regret it.

There is no right or wrong: there are simply outcomes. Write that on your toilet wall. We’re called to create the best outcomes we can, and for everyone. Become an expert in making something good out of disasters. Don’t indulge in your failings, inadequacies and wrongs – they go on forever – but throttle up your gifts, assets and contribution. Don’t leave it till later, because later means never.

In my life I’ve been a philanthropist without money. My wealth has been magical, not material. Sometimes I’ve thought of myself as a healer of perceptions. People outside the rich world see me coming and they think, ‘Ah, a European – he can raise funds for us’ (Christians do this more than Muslims). No, this is not what I’m here for, and I’m not good at it. I’m here to help with magic solutions, to raise people up, and it has been a challenge to hold to that because people and projects do indeed need money, often very legitimately so.

The worst bit is that some people get so fixated on the funding bit that they accuse me of being rich, mean and selfish, and they miss what I actually can contribute. It’s better to teach someone to fish than to give them a fish – a common saying in the humanitarian world. (Another is: teach a man and you teach a man, but teach a woman and you teach a generation.) I’ve had to learn to work for a good cause not just because it’s a good cause, but because it is run by people I can work with, and because it fires me up, providing a context in which to serve and contribute best.

So, if you’re struggling with life-purpose matters, here’s a recommendation. Do whatever lifts you up, and avoid whatever weighs you down. This is radical. It’s also far more practical than you might believe. When I was 50 I had a ‘dark night of the soul’ crisis and this truth emerged from it. It doesn’t mean taking the easy option – often you must take the scariest option. A lifelong peace activist, I realised that I had to head for the heart of darkness, so I committed to working in Palestine, sensing that justice for all, not exactly peace, is the main objective there. Justice brings peace, but peace doesn’t necessarily bring justice – so more conflict will follow. If Palestine and Israel can break through, the world’s conflicts will change – and wars and violence block world progress far more than we understand. So what lifted me up was the challenge to follow a difficult path.

Twenty years later, the Palestine problem continues and assholes still prevail, but this work hasn’t been a failure. Deep historic turn-arounds take time, often longer than a lifetime. Brian Eno once said, “I have a feeling I’m part of something that should be much bigger than it is“. Yes indeed – the last fifty years have been a frustrating time for change-agents. But many of the greatest breakthroughs in history were groundlaid by forgotten people you’ve never heard of – the people who prepared the way for those that history recognises. Without these forgotten heroes, you would not have the freedoms and blessings you have today.

Getting cancer and becoming physically disabled wasn’t part of my plan. But it has given me new purpose. I might live one year or ten, and this uncertainty is an awakener: what can I lay to rest and what am I still dissatisfied with? It has reminded me that, no matter how difficult things are, everything in life is a gift. If you choose to see things that way. So even if you feel you have no purpose or you can’t find it, that’s your gift, your resource, your background, and do your best with it. That’s where it starts.

Or perhaps you’re doing it but you downplay it, or you fail to see what’s happening as a result of your being there, or you feel you’re such a rotten, godforsaken shit that you’re a no-hoper.

When I was twenty I read a book by Alan Watts, a psychedelic guru, that deeply stirred me. It was called The Wisdom of Insecurity. Yes, the wisdom of insecurity. Sorry, folks, but in 2020, normality was suspended and this is what we’re being shown. It’s time to roll up our sleeves and pitch in. Make steps. Do it. And if you don’t do it, stop beating yourself up about it. Good luck.