Thursday, 31 January 2013

The Politics of Fear

            I sit happily on a stool in my local corner shop chatting away to Mem while munching through a packet of ‘tangy’ dorritos (which I really shouldn't be doing). But the dorritos police – who know who they are – cannot see me and I can munch away to my heart's content.  
          Why no dorritos?  Sodium and gluten are strictly verboten nowadays as part of a radical lifelong healing programme.  No such thing as a 'free' lunch...but just one packet won't hurt....? Well, actually yes it will, and it does. But what the heck, life is much too short to deny oneself the occasional dubious pleasure. The problem occurs when 'occasional' becomes 'frequently'.
           But back to the corner shop: for the last fifteen years or so Mem (who is Turkish, Muslim and the proprietor of the corner shop) and I regularly engage in what he calls political discourses. Yesterday we dissected the Malian ‘War on Terror’.  I said Mali makes it less Muslim and more African in a way that Libya did not. Well, that’s about tribe says Mem, you obviously consider yourself more African and less Muslim. 
           I smile at Mem.  Muslim friends and colleagues often say that "we are all Muslims".  I agree. Ultimately we are all everything because at the end of the day there is only one of us...out of many one people, one world, and one universe. And there is only one God; surely people of 'faith' can agree about that? The only thing I dispute is that this God is invaribly male and presumably has a penis.
          The conversation turns to consideration of what must exist as a precondition in order to trigger the level of atrocity, including gratuitous torture, and indignity that one human being is prepared to heap on another.  We came up with a short list: lust for power, lust for vengeance, severe mental illness and the grand daddy of them all, fear.  When the four meet that must be be what Armageddon looks like; or might they be the Four Horsemen.

Fear of Annihiliation
            In the last week a very senior UK politician referred to the "existentialist threat" to the West posed by 'Islamist' militants in different parts of the world.  I am intrigued by the use of the word 'existentialist'.  What the heck does it mean?    
          Those late 19th/early 20th Century European philosophers - Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Sartre et al - who had something to say about existentialism, seem to be seeking reason or purpose concerning their existence, and for meaning in a world of absurdity.  I really don't want to second guess the politician's meaning, but I do believe his is talking about fear, the fear of annihilation.
          Human behaviour stem from both conscious intent and unconscious motive. Often our fears – of flying, of birds, of open spaces etc – the source of which are unknown or are deeply repressed, can seem irrational.  But we feel propelled to act in a particular way without truly understanding what is motivating that behaviour. 
           We say that a particular thing ‘pushes our button’ or 'make us see red'.  Psychologists call it a ‘complex’ when certain events and situations or trigger words stimulate a specific response. These 'complexes' or external images and/or patterns of thought activate an emotional reaction or physical response. They usually develop out of traumatic experiences, family interactions in early life and patterns of cultural conditioning.
These hidden inner complexes have much to do with fear of the unknown; with the need for survival and the satisfaction of desires.  A complex is like a probe inserted into the farthest reaches of the mind-brain, or subconscious, such that it is totally inaccessible to the conscious mind until certain trigger words elicit a specific response.
     The modeling of this idea is portrayed by spy movies and novels where a ‘sleeper’ is ‘inserted’ into a community or organization. The ‘sleeper’ integrates him or herself into that community until certain trigger words are spoken which activate the embedded response. 
     The ‘world views’ of different cultures are so deeply entrenched, such that certain words trigger an automatic response.  When Barack Obama’s former pastor used the word ‘whitey’, it caused furore and stoked a deep fear at the heart of the American psyche; its the same fear that stalks white South Africa. For some Americans, the word ‘whitey’ has become a complex.  
For most in the Middle East or the Arab and Muslim world it is the word ‘crusade’; for the peoples of Africa it is ‘colonialism’. For most of us in the West the words ‘Islamist’ and ‘Taleban’ have become complexes, and will therefore elicit an automatic, and by now predictable, response. 

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Shadow of the Vampire

Last week one of the UK's most prominent regional political leaders was expressing his doubts about the climate science (presumably whether the planet is warming) because temperatures had plummeted so drastically recently.

Its a shame because he is a clever fellow; knows classical Greek and Latin but apparently not so hot on rocket science. A little mosey around some very basic quantum physics would be good. One problem is of course that we do not really get that the planet is a living, self-maintaining, self-managing entity (not just some rock inhabited by classical scholars and other Masters of the Universe) so when it's core overheats it will cool down by any means necessary. Ok, now I've got that off my chest, back to the matter under consideration: Vampires.

In a recent post (Obsession and Addiction, December 2012)I highlighted the Addict, one among our many habitual behaviour patterns that play a role in depleting the planet and accelerating climate change. Continuing the theme of the ‘ecology of relationships’, I want to put the spotlight on the shadow Vampire, which unlike the 'true' Alchemist, is a major blight on the planet.

If you think about it, we are all vampires. In fact the earth may be viewed as an encampment of vampires that not only survive on, but also drain Mother Nature’s life force. It is as if we are all under a dark spell, and cannot see our true image, having become soulless and selling out to false values.

The hedonic gene drives our relentless plunder of the planet. We have mined, dammed, bulldozed, bombed and blasted the earth, in the pursuit of pleasure, profit and power. The shadow of the vampire in advanced capitalist nations has had a devastating impact on the individual, society, and environmentally; and the so-called BRIC countries want to follow suit, because they too seek the good life. One of my teachers use to say if you continue to do what you've always done, then you'll get what you've always got.

Shadow Vampires prey on the weak and vulnerable; they breed fear and dependency; they are pleasure seeking and feed on the life force of others. They are those forces in the external world seeking energy on which to survive, whether that energy comes through money, oil, coal, gas, minerals and precious stones, sex, and  people – human trafficking including slavery is alive and well in the 21st Century. This powerful false god includes fundamentalism, economic globalization, and unregulated capitalism – to name a few.

If enlightened leadership or a positive fathering principle is conspicuous by its absence in society and its institutions, then that space provides an opportunity for the rise of the shadow Vampire, which has captured the imagination of a new generation, as demonstrated by its rise in popular culture.

     We all know vampires, they are among our friends. They are energy drains, often chronic complainers and co-dependent. However, don’t focus only on the shadow of the Vampire; the 'true' Vampire wants nothing, all it's needs are already met. I am fortunate to have one or two among my friends. During my illness they sustained me, giving of themselves and bringing the fullness of their resources in every sense of that word to my aid.

     Like the Fool, the Vampire is among one of the higher forms of development, but on the planet it functions mostly in shadow. I unmasked the Fool a while ago (December 2012) but I’ll let you think on the Vampire.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

The Alchemist

I did not intend to post today but after listening to Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese political leader, on BBC Radio 4 Desert Island Discs this morning, the archetypal behaviour pattern of the Alchemist came to mind.

Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist was a modern day parable that brought the concept of alchemy to popular culture.  It gripped many people who could not really articulate why it had such a profound impact on them; the same copy passed from hand to hand.  Even J.K Rowling makes reference to Nicholas Flammel, a 16th Century alchemist, in her Harry Potter books. There is something about the Alchemist that is captivating.

At the global level Aung San Suu Kyi carries the energy of the alchemist; and the Lady is not alone.  Others in our time influenced by the 'true' alchemist include Mandela and Ghandi; a non-violent response was sufficient.  And of course the ultimate alchemist of all time was the Nazarene.

A correspondant attached to The Times newspaper gave a distinct alchemical edge to the present Dalai Lama's auspicious escape on foot out of Tibet in 1959, an improbable journey.  It was a 15-day trek across the Himalayas to safety in Northern India. The correspondant hesitatingly pointed out that the escape had the semblance of a miracle: the mountains had been unseasonably shrouded in mist for the whole journey, which simply rolled away the moment the Dalai Lama reached safety.
Alchemy: the transformation of energy
           The alchemist simply brings an energy into the room, which causes the whole atmosphere to change.  Alchemists are rainmakers; all manner of things shift, grow, flourish and  are healed around them. We all know ordinary people like that; they are members of our family, our friends and neighours as well as complete strangers. There is a hefty price to pay for the ability to be a transformer because that is what alchemists are. There's a lot to say about alchemy and how we use it in our everyday life, but not here now.
            An apocryphal tale often regurgitated in the world of Jungian psychology is that of a village on a remote island, located somewhere in the Indian Ocean.  This village had been devastated by drought for many years. This time it was particularly bad. In desperation the villagers sent for an elder who had the reputation of being a rainmaker.
          The Old Sage duly arrived, sniffed the air and promptly asked to be located at a point far away from the daily life and activities of the islanders. He sensed that something of the atmosphere emanating from the people’s lifestyle was not conducive to well-being and remained outside village boundaries, where his requirements were simple and uncomplicated.                    
          This elder was a being at one with himself and the universe around him; his whole demeanour radiated the purity of his energy.  He remained in complete solitude requiring little more than a small bowl of rice and some water to be brought to him each day. At the end of the third day life-giving rain arrived in the village. 
            The power of the Old Sage's spirit was sufficient to generate an alchemical reaction, enabling the environment to change according to his needs. Many of our modern day alchemists are dark magicians, they generate acid rain.  Authentic rainmakers do not try to manipulate and control, they simply allow.  

          Perhaps the collective power of the human spirit will, in time, when we are all a bit more conscious, engage with the energy flow that tempers and 'resolves' climate change. 

Friday, 25 January 2013

The Ecology of Relationships

In six posts this month, from Gaia: Living Earth to Mother Nature's Digestive System, I have been making the connections between the health of human beings and that of the earth.  The intention is to show that our relationship with the planet is one of symbiosis or co-dependence such that when one gets sick and diseased so does the other. This is not just about the physical but also emotional and psychological health. That is not a new concept, various people have written about the link between human health and that of the planet for decades.
A World of Heart-centred Relationships 

A chapter in one of my favourite books on the subject, discusses and compares the ‘eco-psychology’ of relationships and the link between, as the author puts it, “the non-sustainability of person-to-person relationships with that of our human-to-planet relationship”; both of which we simply tolerate.

During my time as a mental health professional many individuals, both men and women, have spoken about the control, denial, and torment, tantamount to domestic abuse that they have endured in relationship. They came seeking a non-judgmental space to talk openly and frankly, and then leave with a semblance of peace, at least for a while, having offloaded something troubling. 

Many had been literally crippled - emotionally, psychologically and, worse of all, spiritually – by their experience. Usually, the whole tenor of the conversation was that the individual was resigned to accepting the status quo and making the best of a bad situation. More often than not they felt unable to leave because of children, but sometimes because they had fallen into a pattern difficult to break, one of co-dependency. The truth was their very life force was being drained and at one level they were slowly dying.

When appropriate I referred them to the writing of psychiatric social worker, Terrance O’Connor. This is what he says about simply accepting the ‘status quo’ of an abusive relationship:

“The status quo is that the hole in the ozone layer is [getting] bigger…The status quo is that some scientists are predicting that by the middle of the [21st] Century global warming will result in most coastal cities…being below sea level…

The status quo is that acid rain, besides destroying the lakes and forests, is now considered to be the leading cause of lung cancer after cigarette smoke. The status quo is that 35,000 people die of starvation every day…every day, two or more species become extinct, not due to natural selection but due to deforestation and pollution...

What does this say to you?

To me it says that the status quo is the planet is dying! The planet is dying because we are satisfied with our limited relationships in which control, denial and abuse are tolerated. The status quo is that we have these [types] of relationships with each other, between nations, with ourselves and the natural world. Why should we bother? Because a healthy relationship is not an esoteric goal. It is a matter of our very survival and the survival of most of life upon this earth”.[1]

[1] Terrance O’Connor, Therapy for a Dying Planet [In Eco-psychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind; Ed. Theodore Roszak]

Related Post: Reflections in a Global Mirror (February 2013)

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Tough Love in Winter

Yesterday I talked about ‘Big Mama’s’ tough love (The Shape-shifter Reloaded). Today I wanted to share just a snapshot of such an experience, which began at a point when I had just arrived at the foothills of healing.  As the years went on – 5 of them to be precise – I understood that this process will continue for the rest of my life because temptation is with me everyday.  I have to be vigilant because I simply cannot afford to go back to the old ways. Whenever I do slip, I simply observe and acknowledge it; tomorrow is another day.
      But that's not all. Mother Nature's healing also confers gifts as an expression of her gratitude, because when we heal ourselves, we also heal the earth; and when we heal the earth we heal others.  So watch out for Gifts of Healing, might be the title of a book I can feel emerging.

       The big freeze of the last week or so reminds me of another January, about four years ago when the UK was in the midst of its coldest winter for 30 years.  By then I had been through the first year of the breakdown of my health; I’d been forced to give up my job, and the bank had my number on speed dial (see Mortgaging My Life Force, December 2012).  It was at this precise time that my boiler decided to give up the ghost.

          Okay, I said to the gods, my health has completely broken down, life sucks, and now I have to spend a winter on the North face of the Eiger. Well bring it on, I can take it; I’m up for the challenge. The truth was I really had little choice; I was too ill and near destitute to do anything else. The beggar, my nemesis, had come to live in my house.
            Each day I had a 3-minute speed date with the independent electric shower in my bathroom, before dashing back to a pre-heated kitchen. It was the only place that gave me some respite from the intense cold, as the oven and hobs provided the only heat in the house.
            I spent that winter and the next mostly in bed with thick socks on, a hat, scarf, gloves and two hot water bottles – one at my feet and one to hug.  Until that is, my own personal global warming syndrome put paid to all that. (And that is another story).  Sometimes we arrive at a place where there is little choice but to surrender. It is said that through surrender we come to recognize a force greater than ourselves.

          With hindsight, I came to appreciate that simply surrendering to and accepting my artic living conditions actually saved my life.  But I honestly do not know how I survived those months of extreme cold except that for many years I had practiced a type of meditation which teaches one to simply observe life as it flows by, without getting caught up in aversion or craving, however unpleasant or enjoyable the experience – just observing life as it is. It is as it is.

          Well this particular artic experience fell into the ‘grossly unpleasant’ category but the old monk’s teaching served me well.  At a deep level I understood that the life force was acting to prolong itself within my own body, and I was going to co-operate with it; but that would be far more difficult than I envisaged. I would have to contend with many more ‘tough love’ challenges.

There was nothing I could do except to go with the flow. My lifestyle was now simple and kept tightly within budget: frugality by necessity. There was no excess consumption of energy either through what I ate, or utilized in the home beyond that which was absolutely vital for my daily needs.  Big Mama had me by the short and curlies.

During this period of illness, the enforced changes in my very existence resulted in a dramatic reduction in my personal carbon footprint. A high degree of authenticity was an integral part of this healing journey. There could be no half measures; I was required to walk the talk in every sense.  

     At this time Mother Nature is generating her own healing process, and many of us, in one way or another and not necessarily through our physical health, are being asked to accompany her on that journey back to equilibrium.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

The Shapeshifter Reloaded

The Shape-Shifter is a popular motif weaving through movies (such as The Matrix) and fairy tales. It appeared as an asylum seeker, begging the rich young prince for food and shelter. Subjected to his lack of compassion, haughty and dismissive arrogance, she exposed him for what he was: beastly.
Luckily, in time, the prince’s steadfast and faithful Soul Companion otherwise known as Belle or Beauty – or what Carl Jung would call his anima or ‘feeling function’ and popularly described nowadays as emotional intelligence – came along to redeem and set him free.
             Whether we behave as heroes or cowards, in our own self-interest or with compassion towards others, the shape-shifter is emerging in extraordinary ways to restore balance.  I know, I have personal experience of Big Mama’s tough love.  And let me tell you, you need to find a backbone, hold the line, and take her medicine. She don’t joke when it’s time for her children to grow in consciousness.
             My own shape-shifter appeared as a critical illness – a silent killer.  I could either have buried my head in the sand, take allopathic drugs and succumb to a posthumous existence because that is the norm response, or I could chose to face an inconvenient truth, acknowledge my culpability and seek to change a particular way of being that had brought me here, and live.
    A young woman very dear to me met the shapeshifter on the motorway one day. She lived to tell the tale. This was no mere accident, the symbolism and metaphors were up in her face; there was no ignoring the message. This was about life change. A couple years later she asked me to accompany her to the precise spot of the encounter so she could leave an appropriate libation in gratitude.  
         It is very difficult to carry on business as usual when the very foundations of life as we know it is being shaken to the core.  Eventually, we are forced to come to terms with the fact that the structures we have erected, which we believe are essential for holding our world together, are dysfunctional and have to be re-engineered or they will  fall on top of us and crush us to death. This is true at both the personal and global level.
           Fundamental change requires a 180-degree shift such that we are no longer able to live with ‘business as usual’, but it takes enormous courage and a disengagement from what I call the matrix of collective thought which is forged by what the majority of people accept and acquiesce to as the ‘norm’, even when this ‘norm’ does not actually deliver what we want. 
          But apart from shifting some of our habitual and ingrained patterns of behaviour which no longer serve us, such as the shadow addict, victim, rescuer, hedonist, vampire, we might also cultivate some new patterns expressed in the light – such as the benign alchemist and magical child – in order to have a positive impact on our world, and especially on those we care about. 
               When the planet is ready to take an evolutionary step, climate change, the supreme re-creator, is one of Mother Nature's modus operandi.  As I said in an earlier post (Obsession and Addiction, December 2012) we may well be part of a civilization that is wiped out by that shift; or we are part of a civilization that gets to re-imagine life on earth, once some of us arrive on the other side of the tipping point.  Or, we are part of a generation that finds a way to simply flow with and survive climate change AND re-imagine a different way of being on the planet.
              In the final analysis Mother Nature just is – beautiful, bestowing, nurturing as well as destroying of a way of life no longer fit for purpose.

Monday, 21 January 2013

The Shapeshifter

          Yesterday I counted five snowmen in my square; the children are having great fun. But over 30cm of snow brought parts of the UK to a grinding halt this past few days, it is chaotic and just a little absurd. There were power cuts, cancellations of routine operations, supermarket shelves were emptied, stretches of motorways blocked, schools closed and transportation disrupted; and its only the conditions that many other countries would consider ‘normal’ for mid winter. 
     But all over the world different communities are having to adjust to a very pronounced shift in seasonal conditions.  Mother Nature needs to both protect herself from the increasing heat at her core (and ours) while purging and cleansing our human habitat as she breaks free of the constraints constructed by human excesses. Unfortunately during a time when temperatures reached -13 degrees in the UK, three people died, including a postman on his delivery rounds.
     Not only are we currently experiencing the impact of extreme weather conditions, but many of us are also going though major life changes, whether through illness, loss of relationships, status, money and home; even nation states are confronting the challenge of change.  The symbolic messages are clear; they are  signalling that the earth, like the human body, will do everything possible to maintain balance and equilibrium.
                 If I was telling a story about it all I would begin: once upon a time the elements, Mother Nature’s helpers, began to push human beings who lived on the Planet to shift shape, re-order and rethink their relationship with the earth.  To achieve her aims the forces of nature assumed the shape of a wicked old witch. 
              On a regular basis, the witch left her arid barren earthbound coven and travelled abroad flying on a broomstick. In some places she generated howling, twisting winds; at times she spewed either fire or ice across the face of the planet. On other occasions her melting icy fingers threatened the very fabric of the people's well-being and livelihood.  Mother Nature was propelling both humanity and the planet through a process of death and transformation.
                 The death and transformation of civilizations is not new, we know about that from history. The demise of Sumerian and Mayan civilizations came about because of unsustainable agricultural systems and practices, and over-population. That mythic and symbolic island of Atlantis, as described by Plato, was said to be a conquering and colonizing naval power that sank into a ‘sea’ of greed, deceit and competiveness. 
          Today, we face an ecological revolution, a redefinition of our understanding of life on the planet. We can view the current state of the world and the seismic shifts taking place on the environmental, political and economic front, like the recent malfunction in the global architecture of capitalism, as a calamity or as an opportunity.  We always have choice.
At this moment in time we are choosing to avoid taking personal and collective responsibility when the disasters we have recently witnessed and experienced seem not to abate but occur with greater frequency. The most urgent question we face today is not will the planet survive, but how long will global leaders - governments and big business - continue to either deny or ignore the planetary stress indicators, and the impact this is having on people's lives.
      That illustrious group of world leaders who term themselves the World Economic Forum now meeting in Davos, Switzerland this week will, according to news reports, consider every possible topic you can think of in their stated aim of 'creating a better world'. Top of the agenda though will be the so called crisis of the Euro-zone and the massive shadow cast by America's debt ceiling.
        If my favourite development specialist and environmental activist was there (unfortunately Wangari Maathai* died in 2011) she would remind them that the economy cannot and will not flourish in a decimated and decaying environment; and that should above all else be their first priority. Maathai said:
     “Today we are faced with a challenge that calls for a shift in our thinking, so that humanity stops threatening its life-support system. We are called to assist the Earth to heal her wounds and in the process heal our own - indeed to embrace the whole of creation in all its diversity, beauty and wonder. Recognizing that sustainable development, democracy and peace are indivisible is an idea whose time has come”.
            The time has come to promote an optimal way on being on the planet in order to support human life; to shift our way thinking, and work with the forces of change by re-engineering and restructuring the way we live away from ‘business as usual’.       

 *The Kenyan environmentalist was the first African woman to win the coveted Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. Sometimes described as the "Tree Lady," the 71-year-old was at the forefront in empowering rural women through her Green Belt Movement to plant trees to save the planet.    

Friday, 18 January 2013

Of Many Names and No Name

Woke up this morning feeling the chill of Britain’s Artic ‘white out’, but my friend up in the American North West tells me it simply does not compare with her ‘white out’.

My mood is lightened, as it always is, by a long conversation with a Hindu friend about reincarnation. Hindus believe in all that don’t they, and so do I. That’s because I am Hindu, and Buddhist, and Sufi and Christian.

I was baptised Roman Catholic, taught to meditate by Buddhist monks, attended a Sufi Centre every week for over six years, and make an annual pilgrimage for a 10-day silent retreat mainly with Hindus and Buddhists, but with people of all faiths.

Although it has happened for millennia, it’s simply unimaginable to me that anyone would travel across the world to kill others simply because they were of a different religious persuasion or referred to the Divine by another name. How absurd. There’s something distinctly ‘not well in the head’ about that.

I’ll stick to the West African version of a Supreme Creator:

There was once a Supreme Creator who had many names and no name, who freely interacted with humankind and with whom it was possible to be in direct communication.  Everyone honoured the sacred, participated in daily worship which included the pouring of libations as an offering to both the ancestors who are buried in the land and to the spirits that are everywhere.

Alas, the Supreme Creator had to split after being continually struck by the pestle of an old woman pounding fufu[1].The Spirit aspect of the Oneness moved far up into the sky, while the Soul nature descended into the world but remained largely invisible to the people. However, although very present and accessible to the people at all times, the ‘fallen’ Divine Feminine remained largely invisible. But the people honoured the earth seen as a female deity, the Mother Goddess, directly connected to fertility, fecundity and wellbeing.

Unfortunately the space between the Great Spirit and the Mother Goddess created an opportunity for lesser gods to emerge acting as intermediaries between the Supreme Creator and the people. Some of these lesser gods were false prophets who abused the people and taught them false doctrines. 

Many believed that they needed a mediator to intercede with the Creator on their behalf. As the people’s value system changed, what they believed so they became. After long years many of the people began to forget who they were and descended into madness. But the Supreme Creator continued to speak directly to those who had ears to hear and eyes to see.

I love this version of the Divine, a god with many names and no name. I have no idea where all that came from today, but there it is.

[1] In Western and Central Africa, ‘fufu’ or ‘banku’ is usually made from yams, sometimes combined with plantains and cassava flour. Making ‘fufu’ or ‘banku’ involves boiling and either pounding the ingredients together; or vigorously stirring the mixture until it is thick and smooth.  Africans captured and exported as slaves to the Caribbean islands continued the tradition of ‘pound’ food known variously as ‘funji’ or ‘ku-ku’ and a host of other names.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

The Economic Migrant and the Bag Lady

Some years ago I was telling someone about my bag lady experience. She looked at me with astonishment and disbelief.

The Bag Lady
Many years later this person, who had by then become a friend, also had her own bag lady experience. She had gone from place to place, not quite sleeping on a park bench but near enough, with only the barest essentials – a toothbrush and change of clothes in a bag – not enough to merit a supermarket trolley!

The economic migrant and bag lady experience are etched into my DNA. I was born on the Caribbean island of Dominica nestled between Guadeloupe and Martinique, two French colonies. Dominica was itself fought over by the French and British for centuries. The French eventually lost. I could so easily have been a French citizen sitting in Paris writing this. In fact my mother's maiden name is the same as her family's French slaveowners of yester-year.

locator map of DominicaA SNAPSHOT OF HISTORY: In 1635, France claimed Dominica along with all the other 'Petite Antilles'.  As part of the 1763 Treaty of Paris, Dominica became a British possession. In 1778, during the American Revolutionary War, the French mounted a successful invation with the active cooperation of the population. The 1783 Treaty of Paris ended the war and returned the island to Britain. French invasions in 1795 and 1805 ended in failure.*

My parents were economic migrants. While one travelled to another more economically developed Caribbean island, the other came to the UK bringing me, as an eight year old.

In between Dominica and England I lived in Guadeloupe, and since in South Africa. For me the bag lady experience was about searching – for identity, for belonging, for home. There is nothing like a peripatetic existence to focus the mind on who you are, what you need and where you belong.

The whole bag lady experience brought enormous benefits to my life; it also brought a certain amount of resolution to my friend’s life. I smile every time this successful middle class lady says she now understands what it means to be a bag lady. I have to tell her I seriously doubt that. But it is an experience every citizen of the rich capitalist North should have; it might 'enable' what Carl Jung referred to as the 'feeling function'.

A recent newspaper article told the story of yet another economic migrant, an unknown young African male whose decision to seek a better life in Europe ended with a 2,000 feet drop through the sky near Heathrow. His broken body lay on the pavement where he fell from the undercarriage of a passenger jet as it prepared to land - a dreadful death as a result of a voluntary 21st Century Middle Passage journey. What exactly is it that drives people to risk their life like that?

Donor aid
Even if he had made it alive,conditions for asylum seekers in the 'new world' they seek have dropped below the level of human decency.

Why is so called ‘donor aid’ to under developed countries apparently not having any impact? Fifty years ago television pictures showed African children with bulging bellies, flies in their eyes and mouths, living in makeshift camps. Today the picture is much the same.

To me ‘aid’ means assisting [the continuing] immune deficiency of poorer nations, which at best functions in the interest of the donor nation, with very little consideration of what is in the best interest of the recipients, and at the same time manages to exploit and disempower.

We in the West are yet to fully appreciate that the security of the global family is dependent on advanced nations sharing their wealth and technological know-how with the developing and undeveloped nations, not simply through a process of what often is life deadening aid.

This very week the French and British are collaborating in taking the ‘war on terror’ to West Africa where near destitute subsistence farmers (because they too are there) not only have to contend with the ravages of climate change, but also with war. And of course the land of the Malian Tuaregs, an ancient nomadic tribe, contain what we in the West want above all else, great reserves of oil, gas, uranium and valuable minerals.**

*Dominica: History Dominica, caribbean history, black ... - Itzcaribbean

** See Patrick Cockburn's piece: ‘War on terror’ is a tempting defence, but it isn’t that simple

Monday, 14 January 2013

Death by Warming

It is petrifyingly (is that a word?) cold in London; only my winter Jasmine is thriving. But the latest blast of heat at the heart of Australia has sent the mercury soaring, igniting those dreaded bushfires.

     As huge columns of smoke filled the sky, one resident said "It looked like an atom bomb the way it went up”. In certain parts of the country temperatures reach 48.5C in the shade, among the highest over 100 years of records.

     The level of heat emitting from the earth’s core at any one time has been estimated as being anything from 3,400-7,300 Celsius, obtained by studying earthquake records and their seismic measurements. The increasing heat at the earth’s core is bursting through in spontaneous combustion. Raging and almost uncontrollable fires destroy homes and threaten lives.  

     As part of the earth’s physiology, certain bio-dynamic functions ensure that a level of temperature for sustaining life on the earth’s surface is commensurate with human survival. Among these ‘cooling’ mechanisms are trees, rainforests and grass cover. Like human skin and hair they function as temperature-regulators, absorbing and holding moisture; unlike concrete they act to protect us from the harmful rays of the sun.

However, topsoil erosion, thinning of the ozone layer and the rate of deforestation means that the earth’s absorbent functions are less efficient, but violet rays and excess water have to go somewhere; they now get absorbed by our immediate environment, as well as within our bodies. We too have our own personal 'global warming syndrome'. But more about that another time. 

     It is generally accepted that the average human body temperature is 36.7 degrees Celsius (98.2 degrees Fahrenheit) and will vary depending on individual differences; and to some extent on how efficient the individual's body is at expelling heat.  That inner heat is expelled as perspiration through a porous skin surface which also takes in oxygen from water and from the air.

The most dangerous mirror image between the earth and the human body is that of overheating, with consequences that are already beginning to manifest from very serious diseases to death. For the more fortunate, that heat is held down by unprecedented levels of rainfall and other inconsistent weather patterns including brutally cold snaps.

  Unfortunately, those who choose to reject the notion that the planet is warming at a rate faster than scientists expect, use this as evidence for their posture of denial. Who cares whether human beings have caused global warming. All I know is that the climate is changing, and I'm not sure who is taking a leadership role to safeguard human lives.

 Ah well…at least we are all in it together, even the deniers.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Mother Nature's Digestive System

     Noël Carroll(Beyond Aesthetics)said:

 "With visual metaphors, the image-maker proposes food for thought without stating any determinate proposition.  It is the task of the viewer to use the image for insight".

     In this instance, I am the viewer observing what I perceive to be the earth’s anatomical and physiological make-up. I have shared what I discern as Mother Nature’s lungs, arteries and heart and how they malfunction or become 'diseased' and decay, just like ours. Today I want to unpack what impacts her digestive system and ours.

     For efficient functioning the planet maintains equilibrium between its levels of acidity (expressed as pH –Potential Hydrogen) mainly of the oceans, and alkalinity which is provided by plant-life.
     When the water element becomes acidic and polluted, that contamination filters back to our shores, and into the soil. This depletes vegetables of alkalinity as well as trace minerals, both essential for healthy cell growth. 

    Our digestive system is our prime contact with the produce of the earth, and is simply a long twisting tube – the oesophagus – with a hole at each end, and runs from the mouth to the anus. (Sorry, sounds a bit gross but only telling it as it is)!

    On the way from one opening to the other, the oesophagus uses rhythmic, wave-like muscle movements (called peristalsis) to push the food along to its various destination points, until it arrives at journey’s end. On the way food is mixed with stomach acids to aid digestion.

     The billions of cells that make up the human body are alkaline by design, while the digestive and urinary tract are acidic for the purpose of breaking down and processing what we consume through the mouth. The stomach lining secretes hydrochloric acid which turns solid food into liquid for easy digestion; that acid also protects the body from any bacteria or microbes swallowed with food.

    But all acids burn; hence the stomach protects itself by secreting a sticky neutralizing mucous that attaches to the stomach walls[1].

    As our oceans become more acidic, their plant life is destroyed as warming occurs from the increased levels of CO2 they now absorb. This has had undesirable consequences for example on corals and marine organisms that build reefs, sometimes called the rainforests of the ocean because of their biodiversity.

     We live and die at the cellular level, and maintaining proper alkalinity is essential for life, health and vitality. Medical science recognises the importance of pH balance for the maintenance of cellular health; but we have not yet attached sufficient importance to maintaining the health of our arterial waterways.
     By the way the Planet has a backbone that functions just like ours; and a top hat and coat...use symbolic sight to work it out. Its all there, if you care to look.

[1] When the body is unable to rid itself of excess acid, this can result in renal failure; treatment range from simple intervention to invasive procedures such as dialysis and surgery.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

The Pumping Heart

The earth’s climatic patterns are governed by a powerful engine known as the ‘ocean conveyor’, where warm surface water and colder currents at the bottom of the ocean link in a huge figure-of-eight shaped loop. It re-distributes heat from the equator to the poles via prevailing winds and ocean currents in a natural and perpetual rhythmic movement.[1] 
     Under normal conditions the two streams of water work in synergy, each pushing and pulling a steady flow of cold salty currents upwards, while warm surface currents, replenished by water flowing into the sea via rivers, is pushed downwards for absorption.

    But conditions are not normal...

     The network of oceans – the planet’s largest heat sink – absorb, store and slowly releases heat. They act as a buffer both against the heat emanating from the earth’s core and C02 in the atmosphere. 

    However,nowadays,as a result of the vastly decreased number of glaciers,90% of the sun’s rays no longer bounce back into space to disperse through the earth’s atmospheric zone. This causes the ice-caps to melt at an increasing pace, and it is the oceans that now absorb the excess heat from the sun’s rays.

    Melting glaciers contribute to the raising of sea levels; our polluted rivers no longer bring fresh water into the oceans, and the increasing level of toxic waste dumped into our arterial waterways pollutes and destroys marine life. Hence the balance of warm and cold currents in the oceans is affected, the activity of the conveyor loop becomes distorted and climatic patterns begin to act and impact on the earth in ways we do not want.
    Exactly like the ‘ocean conveyor’, the heart is the engine that pumps blood plasma, the fluid that sustains our life and contains about 92% water, around the body in a figure-of-eight movement. The human pump pushes oxygenated blood to various organs in one direction and pulls deoxygenated blood away, directing it to the lungs for cleansing and recirculation.

   It all works as one smooth circular flow; when any aspect of the process goes out of balance, the whole body is impacted. 

    Internally, the human body requires balance between its unpolluted, freshly oxygenated blood – the body’s equivalence of clean water – and the effective removal of de-oxygenated or polluted water. Externally the ‘ocean conveyor’, the circulatory engine or power station of the earth, maintains balance between the intake of fresh clean surface water and the dispersal of salty water.

    What is the effect on weather systems as the ocean conveyor belt is swamped with quantities of cholesterol from oil spills, and prevailing winds carry poisonous gases and toxic fumes from burning swathes of crude oil, into the atmosphere?

     How long can the earth’s various eco-systems tolerate that treatment? Is there a tipping point?

    Once our heart – the powerhouse of the human body – gets diseased, radical surgery and a change of lifestyle will buy us more time; but what do we do when the ocean conveyor belt - the arterial pump of the earth, begins to malfunction?  In either case it is only a matter of time before we are on the way out[2].

[1] An Inconvenient Truth, DVD presentation by Al Gore.

[2] According to The British Heart Foundation heart and circulatory diseases cause more than 1 in 3 of all deaths in the UK at an estimated cost of £30 billion to the economy.

Diseases of the heart are the most common form of death in the USA and Australia.

Research conducted at the Eduard Mondlane University in Mozambique indicate that heart failure in sub-Saharan Africa, predominantly caused by hypertension, affects individuals almost 20 years earlier than it does those in industrialized nations.