Happy Gregorians, everyone.
Though really, I’m not greatly concerned about new year.
You see, one of the problems with our calendar is that it has no particular basis in natural energy. As a dating system it has managed to get itself used worldwide, renamed the ‘Common Era’. But it is European, instituted by Pope Gregory Thirteenth in 1582, as a correction to the foregoing Julian calendar, which was even more useless than our current one.
Luckily, the Gregorian New Year’s Day is near enough to the winter solstice and, if anything in a cycle can be called its beginning, solstice qualifies as the beginning or the root-point of a year. So New Year’s Day is close enough to the solstice to fool our underlying perceptions into believing that New Year is solsticial in flavour. But the thing is, New Year’s resolutions would probably work better if they were resolved at winter solstice.
There’s an interesting flavour to this New Year of 2023. It feels like we’re tipping into a long slide, a growing cascade of accelerating, compounding events, all scrunching up against each other. There’s that stomach-churning anticipatory feeling that you get just before doing a high-dive or heading down a slalom run. It’s too late to back out now, and the stage is set for a cliffhanger, the full plot of which nobody knows.
In the end, wobbliness isn’t such a bad thing, because this intensification is by necessity loosening things up, and we need that. The world has been held in a state of denial for at least fifty years, and reality is dawning. At last. Yes, the shit is hitting the fan in myriad ways throughout society and, globally, and this is very difficult for large numbers of people, and some are buckling – especially those at the bottom of the pile. But that’s a question of economic justice, not just the bad luck of a tough world. This fan-hitting is necessary because things have been held in arrest for too long. We’ve been burning up the world. This is a planetary emergency. We have to get real. It’s happening.
But a paradox comes with the pending avalanche of events we’re likely to see in the mid-to-late 2020s. As acceptance and mobilisation increase, things will in some respects get easier, even when they’re getting more difficult. At present we are burning up so much energy trying to keep an obsolete show on the road, trying to resist facing the fullness of our situation. That uses up a lot of energy and it creates a lot of friction. It concerns a simple rule of car-driving: before you depress the accelerator, release the hand-brake – otherwise you wear out the engine. But also, you wear out the brakes – and that’s what’s happening now, in 2023. The brakes are wearing thin.
In some respects the grating, grinding prelude to a crisis is worse than the peak of a crisis. During an actual crisis, real, cathartic change happens – positions shift, facts emerge, stuff happens and the consequences of old problems become the starting place for the new. Like it or not, that’s the way it is.
I’ve had a tendency in life to gravitate toward edgy, dodgy situations. We humans are quickly stripped down and, to survive, we have to pull out everything we have. We have to cooperate like never before, often with people we’ve never met, and do things we never thought we’d land up doing. This is an amazing process and, throughout life, some of the most profound relationships I’ve had have been in situations like this – short yet intense, a sharing of mutual risk, adversity or insecurity.
It bonds you. It calls upon abilities you didn’t think you had, or you didn’t think were useful. But when necessity and urgency are tugging at you, you just do what’s necessary, as best you can, with what you have. It’s full-on. Very alert. At times miracles happen amidst the tragedies, against the odds. One reason I started the camps in the 1980s is that camping takes us out of our comfort-zones, making us available to new things – it’s a form of positively-induced suffering that suddenly morphs into the best time you had in your life.
Of the camps I ran in the 1980s, some of the best had the worst weather. At one camp, in 1987, we had a force eight gale on the first night. We brought down the marquees, people had to abandon their tents and everyone piled into the geodesic domes, the soundest structures in a gale. I lived in a small dome and thirteen people joined me, huddled together, all privacy and comfort lost, waiting out what seemed like an endless nightmare. Morning came. We crept out slowly, blinking. The morning was sunny, dripping and quiet. The storm had gone.
A new camper came to me, saying that she had to leave – she couldn’t manage this. She looked wan and shellshocked. At that very moment, a member of the site crew came down the field with a big tray filled with mugs of tea, nonchalantly calling out “Tea, anyone?“. The lady burst out crying. She accepted her tea, and a biscuit… and she stayed. Fifteen years later she was still with us, by then doing world-healing work in the Flying Squad. Moments like that are really touching. When you tread the edge and cross the threshold, change happens. Comfort zones aren’t the best place for finding a new life.
Over the decades I’ve come upon heart-wrenching moral choice-points where the options have been playing safe, being sensible and putting my own wellbeing first, or making a big, sometimes decisive, occasionally life-saving difference in the lives of people by taking a risk. There’s often an unbridgeable gulf between them. I’ve tended toward taking the second option. This has happened again recently. It gives me a feeling of ‘this is what I’m here for’.
In late life, I’m happy about people I’ve helped or saved. It has charged a heavy price, not only to me, yet it was worth it in the end. For better or worse, it has been my choice and, in some people’s view, an avoidable pathology they’d have preferred me not to live out. That’s difficult. I seem to have spent my life apologising for being myself. But I did it anyway.
Sadly I have not been able to tell some of my best stories because they can endanger people or lead to unwanted outcomes. You might have noticed that I’ve gone quiet about the story I was recounting to you recently. Well, it’s now one of those. It’s a real test of my mettle. If you’re so inclined, please do keep praying. Apart from that, I’m going to rabbit on about other things for a while.
This seems to be a family pattern: my aunt was not permitted to talk about what she did in WW2 until 1988, poor woman, and she received a medal for it only in 2008. She worked with Alan Turing at Bletchley Park. After that, she was probably the world’s first government UFO investigator, without really knowing it – on debriefing bomber pilots returning from Germany in WW2, she was logging their encounters with ‘foo fighters’. At first they thought it was the enemy’s secret weapon, until they found out that the enemy thought the same thing. I don’t work at that level, though I do have a few eyebrow-raisers to tell. But it isn’t wise or right to do so.
There are some good stories too. I happened to follow the Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem through a checkpoint, entering Israel from the West Bank. Guns go up. Oh shite. They’re all aimed at the Patriarch, but I’m standing a few yards behind him. “Do you have any weapons?“. Now that’s a silly thing to ask a Patriarch, but lots of silly things do happen in that benighted land… Silence. “Yes“, says the Patriarch. Uh-oh. More guns go up. “Reach down slowly and get it out.” Right now I’m wondering whether I ought to move. Nope, better stay there, Palden. Don’t lift a finger.
The Patriarch, not exactly young and sprightly, reaches down slowly, pulls out and holds up… his Bible. Quite a few of us were trying hard not to crack up laughing, including a few of the soldiers. He had fifteen soldiers by the short and curlies. They’ll remember that for the rest of their days. That’s an example of psycho-spiritual peacebuilding through the teaching of pertinent lessons.
It was a hot day in Al Khader, near Bethlehem, and a new squad of Israeli soldiers was taking over in our area (they changed every couple of months). Eight or so were standing around down the hill, where the boundary lies, sweating in their uniforms. I moseyed down slowly, deliberately relaxed, to see if I could do some bridgebuilding. I had a bottle of water. One, with a French accent, asked where they could get some. I said there was a shop 200 metres back. Pushing my luck, I said I could take one or two of them there – they’d be alright. They weighed it up. They seemed to like me. I told them to keep their guns down and just relax – Israelis get really nervous and edgy in Palestinian areas, because of course all Palestinians are terrorists – and we walked slowly up and along to the shop. You could feel eyes watching.
We went into the shop, they got some things, the shopkeeper was quite friendly and chatty, and we walked back. There was a moment of connection where we all saw the ridiculousness of the situation we were in. When we got back to their mates, I said, “These people in Al Khader are alright if you’re alright with them. They won’t give you trouble if you let them be. You’ve just had a demonstration“. I think they got it. In the coming days it seemed to work. Besides, the soldiers weren’t really bothered. They were probably rather relieved to have an easy posting.
People sometimes ask me who or what I work for. I work for good-hearted humanness, however best I can judge it at the time. If I am financially supported, which is unusual, I accept contributions only if the sole requirement is that I use the money well – if there are any other strings, I say No.
I had to learn this the hard way. Shortly after the intifada, I went to Bethlehem with some financial backing and a list of nine tasks, then to spend the next month learning that it would be possible to achieve only one of those tasks – the circumstances just weren’t right. I got nervous: how would I explain that? One day, not long before leaving for home, I gave up, accepting my fate. An hour later, in rolls a van and, lo behold, every person I had needed and failed to see during the last month was inside. It was all sorted within hours. Phew. Magic.
But that made me decide to free myself from such concerns in future, because in high-chaos situations, improvisational freedom of action is absolutely necessary. Going into a chaos zone with plans, as too many Westerners do, is like trying to swim with a weighed-down straitjacket on, and it causes everyone else too much run-around. Yet strangely, high-chaos zones do allow magic to happen.
Magic happened there. But there’s one problem with trusting that magic will happen, because it doesn’t happen just because you want it to, or because you believe your agenda should be everyone else’s agenda. It happens when it is in line with the Universe’s bigger chess game. We get occasional glimpses of this but, quite often, we don’t – not at the time. Quite often we just have to make a choice and do our best. And remember: not doing something also has consequences. In our time we are getting lots of consequences from things not done, in recent decades and throughout history. We live in a time of consequences.
We are more free now to get things right than ever we have been in human history. Life is asking us not to give up on the brink of a miracle. Well, that’s one of the big lessons I seem to be learning at present. Don’t give up just because everything seems to be against you. Though sometimes we must change tactics in order to progress with our overall strategy. In the end, if you’re trying to move a mountain, it’s all about ‘Thy Will be Done’ and ‘the highest good’.
In the Middle East, whenever they make a statement about something yet to happen, they tack the word ‘inshallah’ into the sentence – ‘If it is the will of God’. In English we say ‘All things being well’, or ‘With luck’. We need a neat new word like ‘inshallah’. It would help us get over the arrogant belief that we are masters of destiny. Which we aren’t. At times The Great Cosmic Steamroller hoves into view, and woe betide us if we’re moving slower than it does.
Now that’s a pleasant thought for the new Gregorian year! But there’s truth in it. The more we’re willing to shake things up, the easier it gets in the long run. In the next year or two we’re moving from a time of rules to a time of crowds.
I saw a joke yesterday. It went…
Breaking News: aliens now implementing a points system for people who want to be abducted. Too many requests.
If you’re on your own this New Year’s Eve, so am I, so we can be together in the ethers.
Here’s a hug to everyone, with love from me, Palden.
An interesting radio programme on BBC World Service about the current state of people on humanity’s frontlines: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w3ct380b