The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes. MARCEL PROUST

If the doors of perception were cleansed, every thing would appear to man as it is: Infinite. WILLIAM BLAKE

Wanderer, there is no way; the way is made by walking. ANTONIO MACHADO

Monday, 2 March 2015

Low Pike And Scandale Beck

A visit to my mother-in-law in the Lake District last week gave me the chance to spend a day on the fells. Years ago I'd set out from Ambleside to walk the Fairfield Horseshoe via Heron Pike and Great Rigg, but had taken the wrong path off Fairfield's misty summit and ended up in Patterdale after scrambling over Cofa Pike and reaching the lofty viewpoint of St Sunday Crag (a spectacular route, I might add). This time my vague plan was to complete the second half of the horseshoe by taking in Low Pike, High Pike, Dove Crag and Hart Crag, then return to Ambleside on a clear track along the eastern flank of Scandale. I really wasn't sure how much of this ambitious route I'd manage to do, as it was a raw winter's day and there was snow on the tops. But it didn't matter: plans should always be flexible and able to adjust to circumstance, and anyhow, I was delighted simply to be out in the hills and the fresh air. And the air was certainly fresh, though I felt quite comfortable wearing two fleeces, hat, gloves and neck warmer, and a body-hugging base layer. The photo of Scandale Beck was taken from Low Sweden Bridge.      

My daypack felt good and snug on my back. I hadn't done anything like this for a few months, and I glowed in the familiar feelings you experience at the start of a walk: excitement, anticipation and a strong sense of release from the usual bonds of habit and routine which fetter so much of our life. These feelings can sometimes border on ecstasy. As I climbed, the views opened up; here I'm looking west towards the Langdale Pikes . . . 

. . . and to Loughrigg across the valley of the river Rothay.

Ambleside . . .

. . . and Lake Windermere . . .

. . . receded behind me as I hit the snow line.

Eating lunch on the summit cairn of Low Pike (508m, 1667 ft), I considered my options. Half the day had gone and I was only a quarter-way round my route. It was turning colder and the weather was deteriorating. The snow was getting deeper and the path increasingly harder to trace; in some places my boots were sinking in up to six inches of snow. Off the path the wet and grassy slopes — patchily blanketed with an unstable covering of snow — were treacherous. For me it would have been foolish, and physically and mentally challenging, to go on, although a well-equipped couple — the only hillwalkers I saw all day — did pass me, intending to complete the whole horseshoe. This is the view of High Pike from Low Pike . . .    

. . . and this is the bleak trough of Scandale. Scandale Beck has its source on Bakestones Moss high up at the valley head.

I turned back the way I'd come and quickly regained the easier slopes. Halfway down I branched off along a slabbed path which led to the valley bottom, where I found this beautiful packhorse bridge spanning the beck. A well-made track followed the tumbling stream through woodland and back to Ambleside.

Monday, 23 February 2015

The River Of Words (4): Krishnamurti

I must have been around twenty years old when I discovered Krishnamurti and experienced one of those literary-spiritual shocks which are so transformative and life-changing. Here was a sensible, practical, calming and soul-nourishing philosophy that seemed to give a solution to all those religious, political, social and family issues I was struggling with at the time — though Krishnamurti himself would have rejected any notion of promoting a 'philosophy', just as he disowned any role as all-knowing sage or disciple-seeking guru. His teaching — gentle, simple, loving and humane — was centred on unity, wholeness and self-reliance. It helped you free yourself from the constricting bonds of ideology and received opinion, from the tyranny of both mind and body. Based on Eastern thought, his ideas were truly revolutionary in the West — but this was a peaceful revolution, a revolution of one's complete comprehension of and attitude to the world and how one lives in it. It is difficult to quote adequately from Krishnamurti without quoting whole pieces, as he is not given to attention-grabbing soundbites and hollow aphorisms (good, I say). However, in The Second Penguin Krishnamurti Reader he talks a lot about meditation, and these extracts are taken from the first few pages:

Meditation is not an escape from the world; it is not an isolating, self-enclosing activity, but rather the comprehension of the world and its ways. The world has little to offer apart from food, clothes and shelter, and pleasure with its great sorrows.

Meditation is wandering away from this world; one has to be a total outsider. Then the world has a meaning, and the beauty of the heavens and the earth is constant. Then love is not pleasure. From this all action begins that is not the outcome of tension, contradiction, the search for self-fulfilment or the conceit of power.

What is important in meditation is the quality of the mind and the heart. It is not what you achieve, or what you say you attain, but rather the quality of a mind that is innocent and vulnerable. Through negation there is the positive state. Merely to gather, or to live in, experience, denies the purity of meditation. Meditation is not a means to an end. It is both the means and the end. The mind can never be made innocent through experience. It is the negation of experience that brings about that positive state of innocency which cannot be cultivated by thought. Thought is never innocent. Meditation is the ending of thought, not by the meditator, for the meditator is the meditation. If there is no meditation, then you are like a bind man in a world of great beauty, light and colour.

Wander by the seashore and let this meditative quality come upon you. If it does, don't pursue it. What you pursue will be the memory of what it was — and what was is the death of what is. Or when you wander among the hills, let everything tell you the beauty and the pain of life, so that you awaken to your own sorrow and to the ending of it. Meditation is the root, the plant, the flower and the fruit. It is words that divide the fruit, the flower, the plant and the root. In this separation action does not bring about goodness: virtue is the total perception.

Despite all the Oshos and Tolles and Kabat-Zinns, and the many other enlightened, spiritual, self-help facilitators of the world, I always come back to Krishnamurti in the end; for me, he said it the first and the best, the most humbly and the most beautifully. There is so much contained in the above few paragraphs; they alone could form the basis of a meditation which might last a hundred years.

Meditation is the root, the plant, the flower and the fruit. It is words that divide the fruit, the flower, the plant and the root. In this separation action does not bring about goodness: virtue is the total perception . . .

Sunday, 22 February 2015

The River Of Words (3): The Lost Art Of Hitchhiking

Where was I going? What was I doing? I'd soon find out. JACK KEROUAC On The Road

You rarely see hitchhikers any more, but back in the 1960s and 70s it was much more common. To get around I hitchhiked regularly from the age of seventeen until well into my twenties. Few young people owned their own car in those days, and trains, even buses, were normally outside your budget, unless your parents had coughed up the fare in an untypically generous mood. Besides, I liked hitchhiking. I thought it was a pretty cool thing to do. I liked the freedom and the unpredictability of it. I liked its air of unconventionality and whiff of danger. I liked pretending I was some kind of outlaw on the edge of society. And I liked the intoxicating romance of the road.

My bible was The Hitchhiker's Guide to Europe by Ken Welsh, which I stuffed into my rucksack along with Jack Kerouac's On the Road and Michael Horovitz's Children of Albion: Poetry of the Underground in Britain. (These last two books I have still, but sadly Ken Welsh fell apart on an autobahn slipway near Düsseldorf.) Ken was full of bright and breezy comments . . .

Hitch-hiking is a game of chance. In this world where we expect things to run on time or to be in a certain place by three o'clock, it is a refreshing experience. Just because the ninth car doesn't stop doesn't mean the tenth will; nor the hundredth, nor the thousandth. But you'll get there.

 . . . and sensible advice . . . 

Look keen and friendly and try to smile at each vehicle, even when they pass by at high speed. The key is to look like you really want to get somewhere. While you might get a lift lying in the grass by the roadside, nonchalantly waving a thumb in the air while swigging from a bottle of French red wine, frankly, it's unlikely.

Occasionally I hitched with a companion, but mostly I travelled alone. One of my best trips was a one-day, two-lift journey from Frankfurt to Paris — first in a smart Mercedes, then in a beat-up old van driven by two French hippies, who picked up every hitchhiker en route. My worst trip was an exhilarating but scary ride with a couple who were stoned out of their minds. I did eventually get them to slow down and stop, whereupon I almost fell out of the car with relief.

When I was seventeen I hitchhiked to the South of France with a friend called Nick. The photos below tell some of the story . . . 

The pic top left shows an overnight camp (note the improvised fireplace! — not bad, huh?) on a rough patch of land above the Roman town of Vienne (which lies just south of Lyon). Continuing clockwise, that's me with the hat, the long hair and the naked chest (gosh, was I really that thin?) next to a makeshift table we'd constructed, and there I am again with Louie, the owner of the field and a mobile knife grinder by trade. He gave us a lift down to Orange in his camionette, from where we hiked to Tarascon and camped by the river Rhône. Next we have Nick making roll-ups next to our tent, and then you can see the two rather lovely French girls we were pursuing — trying to escape, not from us I hasten to add, but from the Camargue bulls which were terrorising the streets during a traditional bull running festival. The last shot is of Nick and I saying goodbye; we both went our separate ways back to Britain. 
I was surprised, as always, at how easy the act of leaving was, and how good it felt. The world was suddenly rich with possibility. JACK KEROUAC On the Road

Friday, 20 February 2015

The River Of Words (2): Fons Et Origo

I have loved poetry from an early age — partly, I think, because it was one of my mother's passions. I clearly remember many of the poems of which she was fond: Robert Browning's Home Thoughts, from Abroad, Thomas Hood's I Remember, I Remember, Rudyard Kipling's If, Rupert Brooke's The Soldier and The Old Vicarage, Grantchester, all of John Betjeman. Her taste was nostalgic and traditional, typical of a generation which grew up during the war and the post-war years of austerity, and which looked back romantically at the perceived stability of the past: a colonial England where everyone knew their place, an idyllic, semi-mythical England of cricket matches, country churchyards and village greens. She lived first in London, then in Doncaster — both big railway centres (her father was a draughtsman for the LNER — indeed, he helped design the coaches for the famous locomotive, The Flying Scotsman). An only child, her heart lay, not in the smoky town or city, but in rural Bedfordshire and Huntingdonshire, where her cousins lived. As a young woman, she joined the Searchlight Regiment; then, after the war, worked in a bank, cared for her mother who had breast cancer, and met and married my father, becoming a partner in his milling business. But I digress.

Where was I? Ah, yes — books, books . . . Somehow the memories of books become entwined with all sorts of other memories: memories of childhood, of school, of holidays, of adolescence. As I've related before on this blog, my mother used to keep diaries and commonplace books, and folders full of poems, aphorisms and other quotations she'd written out in a neat hand. Her character was quite serene and philosophical — and she had a quiet sense of humour too. Recently I found this, which she'd copied from The Dalesman magazine (my family was steeped in religion, agriculture and country living):

A farmer knocked at the pearly gate,
His face was scarred and old.
He stood before the man of fate
For admission to the fold.
'What have you done' St Peter asked
'To gain admission here?'
'I've been a farmer, sir', he said
'For many and many a year.'
The pearly gate swung open wide
As St Peter touched the bell.
'Come in' he said, 'and choose your harp,
You've had your taste of hell!'

I also came across this wry piece by Spike Milligan:

The Dog Lovers

So they bought you
And kept you in a 
Very good home
Central heating
A deep freeze
A very good home.
No one to take you
For that lovely long run —
But otherwise
A very good home.
They fed you Pal and Chum
But not that lovely long run
Until, mad with energy and boredom,
You escaped — and ran and ran and ran
Under a car.
Today they will cry for you —
Tomorrow they will buy another dog.

In my mind I can hear my mother reading these out loud as though it were yesterday.

My mother, Joan, as a young woman.

Thursday, 19 February 2015


Spring passes and one remembers one's innocence.
Summer passes and one remembers one's exuberance.
Autumn passes and one remembers one's reverence.
Winter passes and one remembers one's perseverance. 


It is spring again. The earth is like a child that knows poems by heart. 


Today, in England, the snowdrops, crocuses and hellebores are flowering, the daffodils and tulips are pushing up, the quince is budding, the first delicate petals of cherry blossom are shyly testing the air, the first bee flies over the grass and the first beetle skates over the pond . . . 

The Celts Of The Poetic Isles: Makers, Not Destroyers

I've just finished reading Graham Robb's The Ancient Paths: Discovering the Lost Map of Celtic Europe and feel a mixture of satisfaction and frustration. Sure, the book is magnificently researched and compellingly written in the main — though I kept getting bogged down in a mass of astronomical and mathematical detail which never seemed fully comprehensible to the layman (or to this layman, at any rate). However, his thesis — that the Celts were far more sophisticated than we think — appeals to me. I've always had a sneaking desire to identify with some kind of 'Celtic' ancestry, though, of course, the line has been tangled over the centuries by all kinds of other settlers and invaders, such as the Romans, the Jutes, the Angles, the Saxons, the Vikings and the Normans.

Wikimedia Commons
Our view of this ragbag assortment of tribes we call the Celts (who colonised Europe between 600 BC until they were conquered by the Romans 400 years later) is coloured by the Romans' opinion of them as 'hairy barbarians'. True, they left no written records or durable architecture, were violently quarrelsome — resulting in much tribal warfare — and overindulged in orgies of human sacrifice. However their cultural artefacts — all that gold, silver and bronze metalwork, decorated with swirling spirals and geometric patterns — are exquisite. Robb believes passionately that their ruling spiritual leaders, the Druids, were scientists as well as shamans, and were able to survey and map the land using a combination of Pythagorean mathematics and geomancy. With manic dedication he gradually lays bare an impressive, seemingly convincing grid of intersecting latitudes, meridians and solar pathways, which connect up Gallic and British sacred sites (nemetons) and hill-top settlements (oppida). These sites and settlements, he argues, were intentionally aligned like this — on a bearing aimed at sunrise during the summer and winter solstices and the spring and autumn equinoxes — in order to propitiate the sun god, which he identifies as Herakles.

Wikimedia Commons
How much real historical truth there is in all this I'm not qualified to say, though I've noticed that, on a trawl through the internet, endorsements by professional archaeologists are hard to find. But, hey, who cares? The book is a detective story or treasure hunt, told with enthusiasm and humour, and relies necessarily on myth and scant historical record to produce a theory which is artistically satisfying and almost intellectually convincing.

One fact I'd forgotten is that the name 'Britain' derives from 'Prettanike', the name used by the Greek geographer and explorer Pytheas of Massalia (present-day Marseille) to call our country. (Pytheas explored northwest Europe, circumnavigating and visiting 'Prettanike', as astonishingly early as 325 BC.) The Britains themselves were known as the 'Pritani'. Robb writes:

Some Celtic tribes, like the 'painted' Pictones or Pictavi of Gaul, were named for their visible attributes. Many others had names that referred to religious ritual: the People of the Dance (Lingones), of the Sanctuary (Nemetes), of the Cauldron (Parisii); the Shining Ones (Leuci), the Bright Ones (Glanici). The Pritani of Britannia probably belonged to the latter group. The name is often found, as Prito, Pritto, Pritillius, or Pritmanus, on fragments of Iron Age and Gallo-Roman pottery from Gaul and northern Germania. Like 'Mason' or 'Smith', the name was the mark of a profession. In ancient Celtic, 'pritios' had the same dual meaning as the Greek 'poietes': a creator, a craftsman, an enchanter and a poet.

The protohistoric inhabitants of Britain were not, by name, the face-painted belligerents beloved of British nationalists. They were makers, not destroyers. They excelled in the arts of verse and incantation. The name 'Prettanike' belongs to the distant age when an early form of Druidism existed in the British Isles. The scientific traditions of the Druids may have been Hellenistic, but their bardic and religious heritage belonged to the ancient land that should now be reimagined as the Poetic Isles.

The British Celts as creators, craftsmen, enchanters, poets; makers, not destroyers. The British Isles as the Poetic Isles. I like the idea of that artistic heritage, whether half-imagined or not.

Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

The River Of Words (1): Childhood

Peter Rabbit
I love pictures and paintings, I'm seduced by film, I couldn't live without music; yet I suppose it's the power and beauty of the word, in poetry and prose, that excites and moves me the most. I'm lucky to have been born into a bookish household — well, on my mother's side at least. My father was a much more workaday and practical man. But both my parents were keen on reading to me, encouraging me to read and providing me with books. As a young child, there were always books to look forward to as birthday gifts and Christmas stocking (or pillow case) items.

I remember going with my mother to the local public library, which she visited religiously on Saturday mornings. She also had a big collection of her own books, which were shelved in utilitarian 1950s-style bookcases (one older, more elegant bookcase had posh, hinged glass doors), some of which she'd inherited from her father, who was clever and literate: Shakespeare and Dickens, Bunyan and Kipling (Puck of Pook's Hill and Just So Stories were her favourites), all kinds of poets including Browning, Masefield and Longfellow, Bible commentaries, thrillers by Alistair MacLean and Hammond Innes, a Brit-centric encyclopaedia from between the wars called The Book of Knowledge, and two volumes of National Gallery reproductions (in black and white!) which, at a certain age, I scoured furtively for naked nymphs and alabaster-breasted goddesses.

I think the books we read and had read to us as children are amongst the most important and influential of our lives; no book read in our adult years ever seems to produce quite the same magical thrill as those early 'boxes of delights'. After Noddy and Big Ears I made friends with Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny, and before long I was following the adventures of Biggles, The Famous Five, and Swallows and Amazons. And every week I eagerly awaited my comic fix — Playhour, then Eagle, then Look and Learn.

Some children's authors I didn't fully appreciate until much older — Kenneth Grahame and Lewis Carroll, for instance. I recall the dizzy delight of joining the adult library as a teenager and discovering murky histories of fenland Lincolnshire (my home county) — full of eel catchers, deep drainage channels and infanticides — and reading George Orwell for the first time. Soon, in my late teens, the floodgates opened, and I found myself swimming in the turbulent, exhilarating and sexy river of real, grown-up world literature — encountering Lawrence and Woolf, Kafka and Hesse, Camus and Sartre, Kerouac and Vonnegut, and a host of other literary guides and enchanters.          

Sunday, 15 February 2015

The Day After Valentine's Day

The experience of loving, that now disappoints so many, can actually change and be transformed from the ground up into the building of a relationship between two human beings, not just a man and a woman. And this more authentic love will be evident in the utterly considerate, gentle, and clear manner of its binding and releasing. It will resemble what we now struggle to prepare: the love that consists of two solitudes which border, protect, and greet each other.

RAINER MARIA RILKE Letters to a Young Poet

I ain’t lookin’ to compete with you / Beat or cheat or mistreat you / Simplify you, classify you / Deny, defy or crucify you / All I really want to do / Is, baby, be friends with you.

BOB DYLAN All I Really Want to Do

Monday you can fall apart / Tuesday Wednesday break my heart / Thursday doesn't even start / It's Friday I'm in love.

ROBERT SMITH (from THE CURE) Friday I'm in Love

Our history books refer to it 
In cryptic little notes, 
It's quite a common topic on
The Transatlantic boats; 
I've found the subject mentioned in
Accounts of suicides, 
And even seen it scribbled on
The backs of railway guides.

Does it howl like a hungry Alsatian, 
Or boom like a military band? 
Could one give a first-rate imitation
On a saw or a Steinway Grand? 
Is its singing at parties a riot? 
Does it only like Classical stuff? 
Will it stop when one wants to be quiet?
O tell me the truth about love.

WH AUDEN Tell Me the Truth about Love

Love is not vain because it is frustrated, but because it is fulfilled. The people we love turn to ashes when we possess them.

MARCEL PROUST  In Search of Lost Time: The Guermantes Way

Sickly-sweet Valentine's Day is now over. Did your relationship survive it? Roselle at Qualia and Other Wildlife has some wise words to say on the subject:

Eleven Things to Give Up in Relationships

Here are some things that commonly block our ability to give and receive love. Giving them up can only make you happier!

The idea that your partner or anyone else is here to make you happy and to meet your needs. Your partner is here for his or her own journey on this earth; if you can support each other in your journeys and adventures then you have a chance of real happiness. 

The view that you and your partner sail in the same boat. You are, always have been and always will be in two boats; the choice is whether you steer side-by-side for the same open sea, or shore, or not. What you have in common is the ocean. 

The need to merge or fuse with your partner. True union isn’t possible except when two individuals are clearly differentiated, knowing themselves and their partner as distinct entities. Work instead on knowing who you are, and seeing clearly who your partner is. That way, there’s a chance of real love and interdependency rather than co-dependency. 

The need for that Other to be like you and to agree with you. Showing another who you really are, and engaging with who the other is, is an act of love; needing their agreement and approval before you can be who you are can be narcissistic, egotistical and insecure. 

Controlling, whether by fault-finding, withholding, blame and coercion — or by praise. All are manipulations, and driven by fear. That doesn’t mean to say you can’t appreciate, out loud, who your partner is, nor ever express something that's pissing you off — it's more whether you are co-opting this to serve your fears. (There's an associated issue here: that of self-disclosure. This is a prerequisite for intimacy, but it's important to be aware of whether we use this as a manipulation to have the other reveal him- or herself to us, or as a genuine desire to share who we are with that Other without necessarily expecting reciprocity.) 

The association of love with mind-reading: 'If you really loved me you’d know without my telling you what I need.' Instead, commit to knowing for yourself what you really need, and be willing to show that to your partner. Equally, learn from him or her what s/he needs. 

Expecting the other to always 'be there’ for you'. It’s simply not possible when the other has his or her own life and journey, and s/he is not your mother/father. 

Taking everything another says or does personally. While you may be offering him or her a 'hook' to hang their stuff on, another person's 'stuff' remains their stuff, and probably says more about them than about you. 

Reacting. Instead, learn to respond. What this means is denying yourself the momentary satisfaction of blowing the other out of the water with emotional heat (you might feel it, but that doesn’t inevitably have to lead to exhibiting it), instead seeing clearly what the situation needs from you. You may still find you need to raise it with your partner anyway; if so, it helps if you can give yourself time to calm down so it isn't merely an attack. If you take time out, you may find you don't need to launch anything at him/her, but adjust an expectation of your own, or at least trace the roots of your reaction and its previous baggage (because there usually is some). 

The need to blame — self or other. Instead, take responsibility and change a pattern for the better. We’re all human and we all get it wrong sometimes as we learn, and that is simply how it is. Learn to love yourself; then you can love another. 

Struggling — with yourself or another — to be anything other than who you are/the Other really is. 

But you don't have to believe me; just try it for yourself . . . And no, of course I don't manage it myself all, or even much, of the time!

And this list clearly could go on and on, and no doubt at some stage it will.

ROSELLE ANGWIN Qualia and Other Wildlife

Thursday, 12 February 2015

A Different World (1)

Have you considered the possibility
that everything you believe is wrong,
not merely off a bit, but totally wrong,
nothing like things as they really are?
If you’ve done this, you know how durably fragile
those phantoms we hold in our heads are,
those wisps of thought that people die and kill for,
betray lovers for, give up lifelong friendships for.
If you’ve not done this, you probably don’t understand this poem,
or think it’s not even a poem, but a bit of opaque nonsense,
occupying too much of your day’s time,
so you probably should stop reading it here, now.
But if you’ve arrived at this line,
maybe, just maybe, you’re open to that possibility,
the possibility of being absolutely completely wrong,
about everything that matters.
How different the world seems then:
everyone who was your enemy is your friend,
everything you hated, you now love,
and everything you love slips through your fingers like sand.


(Thanks to Andy at Pilgrimpace for introducing me to this poem.)

The creation of the universe (Wikimedia Commons)
When you think about it, all things — the universe, the world, all inanimate things, all animate things, ourselves, protozoa, electrons — are governed by the law of cause and effect. It's the way it is. In fact, without this expectation we would feel completely disoriented in a surreal, irrational universe, and would probably go mad. The Big Bang was perhaps the very first cause (though what caused that?) — bringing about every effect there has ever been. Each animal and plant, each rock and stone, each configuration of weather and landscape, each slice of history, geography and geology, each thought, deed and action that exists depends on a network of influence and being influenced, of cause and effect, of cooperation and exploitation, of cost and benefit. Look at the food chain, the carbon cycle, the nitrogen cycle, the movement of the stars, the planets and the seasons. Look at the effects of heredity and environment on human beings, on all living creatures. Look at the now-incontravertible Darwinian theory of natural selection (which led, however, to the sinister phrase 'survival of the fittest'). Look how we constantly use conjunctions such as 'if . . . then', 'because', 'so that', 'since', 'consequently' and 'therefore'. Look at everything.

The reasons for things and the results of things can be simple or complicated: 'A' followed by 'B' prompts 'C'; we predict the sun will rise each morning because of the earth's self-rotation and orbit round the sun; we throw stones into a pond and watch the ripples; the flap of a butterfly's wings in Brazil may set off a tornado in Texas. All our motions — even the most routine duty or automatic gesture — have causes, many of which are hard to trace unless we involve ourselves in continual self-analysis. All our stirrings — even the tiniest movement or most insignificant thought — have consequences, many of which we will never be aware of.

Despite post-Einsteinian and modern speculative physics, most of us believe that life is a temporal progression, a linear track through space forged by cause and effect, action and result. But supposing it isn't always like that? Supposing there's a different way of seeing things? Supposing everything you believe is wrong, / not merely off a bit, but totally wrong, / nothing like things as they really are?

Cambodian buddha (Wikimedia Commons)
It may seem impossible to challenge, to sidestep even for a moment this eternal line of relentlessly falling dominoes. But I believe it can be done if we use certain Zen tricks and techniques, mind sets and meditative practices. In the Four Noble Truths Buddhism shows us the indisputably hard reality of life, i.e. that life is suffering, and that suffering is caused by greed and desire, ignorance and delusion, hatred and the impulse to destroy — and by our attachment to the mental, physical and sensory world replete with all these negativities. In the final two Truths we are taught how to disentangle ourselves, to liberate ourselves from suffering and the causes of suffering by following the Eightfold Path, or Middle Way, as a route to enlightenment or nirvana (no mystical state somewhere 'out there', but a state attainable in the 'here and now', suffused with deep peace, joy and compassion). The Eightfold Path consists of eight 'steps': Right Understanding, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration — stages which all cultivate independent thought, a positive attitude, empathy, deep awareness and a kind of 'moral' rectitude.

My point here is that it is in our power to change the cycle of desire (cause) - suffering (effect) -  further desire (an abortive attempt to escape suffering) - further suffering if we break the connection between desire and suffering by eliminating desire. In other words, rather than accepting the inevitability of long-established chains of cause and effect, we can disrupt them — break the links. In this and similar acts we assert individual choice and freedom, free will if you like: things don't have to be this way! (I suppose you could argue philosophically that by asserting this free will you are still using the cause and effect principle, i.e. your free will causes your new state of being, but can you go along with me and just call this semantics? I think you understand the gist of what I'm trying to argue.)

To be continued

Sunday, 8 February 2015

1500th Post: Nothing But Shadow And Mist

A quarter way up Ben Nevis in August 2009.

After 1500 posts, if it's possible (it isn't) to distil the essence of this self and this blog, this is it . . .

What ends happily is never the end / the secret is / there's another secret always. DANNIE ABSE

All the way to Heaven is Heaven. ST CATHERINE OF SIENA

Click the links . . .



Love locks on the Pont des Arts, Paris.

Lyrical Paris

We may never get to Paris
And find the café of our dreams
So I’m leaving for Paris
Don’t try to find out where I am

April in Paris
Chestnuts in blossom
Holiday tables under the trees

Sous le ciel de Paris
Marchent des amoureux
Sous le ciel de Paris
Coule un fleuve joyeux

Paris c’est une blonde
Qui plaît à tout le monde

I’ve got nothing to lose
But the hole in my shoes
And small change

The pavement cafés
On the Champs-Élysées
Are deserted
And the trees are so bare
On the Boulevard de la Madeleine

I walk the boulevards
And I ask the moon and the stars to find you
But we don’t exist
We are nothing but shadow and mist
Nothing but shadow and mist

I’m throwing my arms around Paris
Because only stone and steel
Accept my love
Because nobody
Wants my love

Walking along the Via Francigena in France.

Resemblance reproduces the formal aspects of objects but neglects their spirit. CHING HAO

We are acting parts in a play that we have never read and never seen, whose plot we don't know, whose existence we can glimpse, but whose beginning and end are beyond our present imagination and conception. RD LAING

There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountaintop of our desires. NELSON MANDELA