Saturday, 24 August 2013

What is the Imaginal Realm

Yesterday I watched an amazing movie called The House of Cards – not the BBC’s political box set trilogy, reengineered by Kevin Spacey for an American audience. This is an old (1993) movie starring Kathleen Turner and Tommy Lee Jones.  It brought me back to the theme of mental health and the differently abled.  It underlined how we tend to be in the world, afraid of what we do not understand.

In the movie the father of a young child dies and she is told that he has gone to the moon. This sends the child into trauma, which forces her into the imaginal realm where her consciousness expands and she can do extraordinary things. It also means that she is not in an ‘attachment’ relationship with the physical world. But that makes her differently abled or autistic as she is labelled by a psychiatrist who then tries to extricate her from the family home, in order to 'normalize' her. 

Why is it so difficult to co~exist with those who are differently abled and who, in many cases, are more ‘able’ than we are.

The imaginal kingdom is the natural domain of poets, mystics and the magical child, the one who inhabits an imaginary world and believes that everything is possible, as the 6~year old in the movie did. Some may dismiss the imaginal realm as mere day dream – a short term escape from the ‘real’ world – at best frivolous and mostly a waste of time. For the artist however, in all its many guises, the imaginal world is an undeniable reality, a place of unbounded imagination and inspiration.

Those accustomed to thinking in terms of more than one reality – metaphysicists, shamanic practitioners and mystics, have moved beyond superstition to embrace the ordinariness of the extraordinary.

Albert Einstein, one of the great thinkers of our time, inhabited both worlds. He believed that the most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mystical. Living on the boundary of inner and outer, this world and ‘other’ worlds, Einstein had the ability to decode and then transmute his imaginal insights into practical applications that dramatically changed the course of human life.

But journeyers beware: the imaginal realm is the space ‘between worlds’, an ‘edge’ place where boundaries blur and that fluidity causes worlds to merge. We require the skill and prowess of the shapeshifter to navigate these different states of consciousness.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Stopped on "Sus"

Technicians with a Polish theatre group putting on a show at a local London venue were working late into the evening one day last week, getting the performance space prepared when someone inadvertently set off the burglar alarm.

This of course triggered an alert at the local police station and a cop duly turned up to see what was going on. The Curator for the performance noted that the response of one of the Poles was quite telling; the appearance of a policeman seemed to invoke distress and a little fear. That probably says something about his memory of Polish history. 

I have no doubt that there are at least one or two in the Police ‘Service’ (not ‘Force’) in this country who would probably enjoy being feared. But if the police are really there to ‘protect and serve’, and need ‘intelligence’ to do this effectively, then being ‘feared’ does not really work.

Even as a woman, albeit a black one, I have so many horror stories of growing up with the Police ‘Force’ in South London during the 60s and 70s. Often the faces of many male friends were bruised and swollen after being picked up by the Special Patrol Group (SPG ~ now disbanded) under the notorious ‘sus’ (suspect, suspicious) laws. Not that this has gone away.

Last year I was incensed and almost driven to apoplexy when a policeman decided that he would stop and search my 14~year~old granddaughter on her way home from school one afternoon. Apparently he only lifted up the topmost book in her bag – but what was he hoping to find? A gun, a machete or class ‘A’ drugs? Unfortunately innocence was unaware of her rights and how she should respond to such an experience, why would she at that age? But she does now.

Needless to say an incendiary letter was fired off to the Home Secretary, which elicited a ‘this is not an issue for the Home Secretary's attention; she is too busy and important to respond to the likes this sort of thing' brush off. Well, that got me is her issue and the bucks stops with her as she sets the tone for policing.

The response to my second letter came from someone else, this time suggesting that I should approach the Police Complaints Commission (that ‘reporting the Romans to Caesar’ organisation).

The third letter, copy and attachments sent to the local MP, elicited a response from the Home Secretary’s private office, apologising for my granddaughter’s experience and suggesting that I should take the matter up directly with Scotland Yard and as well as Caesar, and hoped I would receive an appropriate response. During a time of Coalition Government with a meagre majority, every vote counts.

In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” Eighteen months on, and I hope after thousands of such complaints, the Home Secretary proposes to amend the stop and search laws, ‘suss’ by another name.

Who knows why David Miranda, the partner of Guardian journalist who wrote about US and British securities services, was stopped and held at Heathrow for 9 hours under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act? It’s good to see that one of my elected representatives is checking on the justification for Miranda’s detention.[1]

Yes the advent of terrorism actually does mean that we have to change the way we live and even be prepared to give up certain freedoms but that does not mean that certain communities and people with a particular complexion must be targeted, harassed and intimidated. Why did the ‘authorities’ not go direct to the journalist in question, rather than detaining his Brazilian partner?

Over 200 years ago Thomas Jefferson, the third US President said...when people fear their government there is tyranny …and that is never a good thing, especially in a democracy. We need to constantly speak out against tyranny in all its forms in case (to paraphrase the words of Pastor Martin Niemoller during the Nazi era in Germany)...when they come for you, there will be no one left to speak for you. 

Monday, 19 August 2013

What is Community?

Having led a very solitary life – by necessity, design and preference – over the last nearly 6~years, I found myself venturing into full on and in my face “community” over the last three weeks.

First I had a holiday~in~the~community in rural Devon, Southern England, where the central attraction of daily life was the pub, especially on quiz night and accessed after dark by torch light. The Tesco, or is it Sainsbury’s, van will bring your shopping to the end of the lane and you can just back~up the car boot. Fresh farm produce is up the road. Everybody knows everyone else’s business intimately, and can give you chapter and verse. The annual highlight is the village fete.
Dartmoor National Park

Living in the hamlets of Devon I was ‘in’ the community ~ which seemed welcoming and is probably 'tolerant' ~ but was not ‘part’ of it. The moors provided respite from both 'community' and the usual touristy attractions.

By contrast, over the last six days I have been observing and participating ‘in community’ in Barking in cosmopolitan East London, during a six~day volunteering stint on behalf of my dear friend Jazzi and her Jasmine Street emporium. This is not a large retail store selling a wide variety of goods you understand, but a business establishment that specialises in providing services, in part, in and for the community. I particularly love the idea of being able to simply ‘drop~in’ and brainstorm your creative ideas, or even to generate one!

The word on the street is that the Icehouse Quarter in Barking will soon rival Shoreditch, which in recent years has been revitalized by new ‘tech’, retail and creative industries. There’s even a women’s erotic emporium at the heart of it all. Oh my days. Go for it Barking, your turn!

But back to ‘community’.

Does the Polish or Somali community in Barking feel as I did in Devon - on the outside looking the community but not part of it? How long does it take to belong?

There are of course all sorts of ‘communities’. The ‘black community’ is a shorthand description for an extraordinarily diverse group of peoples who happen to share skin colour, and whose cultural inheritance and contemporary experiences intersect at various points. There are vast areas of sameness and similarity, but also significant areas of ‘difference’; one size definitely does not fit all, and nor should it.

Unlike Devon, I felt very much ‘part’ of community in Barking although I did not ‘belong’ to it. For an area of London to which the xenophobic British National Party (BNP) is attracted, this very diverse community seems to be quite cohesive. The UK Independence Party’s obsession with immigration is simply a euphemism for a nostalgic hankering after the ‘good old days’ of empire and ‘Britishness’ whatever that means, but probably a white 'mono~culture' that never was of course, but that is the way of nostalgia.

How long does it take to become integrated into community? A speech made by Roy Jenkins, a British Home Secretary during the 1960s, is even more pertinent today than it was then. Jenkins saw integration thus:

not as a flattening process of assimilation but as equal opportunity, accompanied by cultural diversity, in an atmosphere of mutual tolerance.

[what does that say for what is going on in Egypt and elsewhere in the world?]

Jenkins asked:

Where in the world is there a university which could preserve its fame, or a cultural centre which could keep its eminence, or a metropolis which could hold its drawing power, if it were to turn inwards and serve only its own hinterland and its own racial group?

The sense I took away of ‘community’ in Barking, and I realise that it was just a snapshot in time and place, was not one of a shared and common past, far from it; and not even necessarily shared common values in the sense that this is bandied about especially by right~wing politicians, but community more in terms of a human eco~system, based on tolerance, respect, kindness, interrelationships and interdependence, that acts to sustain the wellbeing of the whole. That is the kind of community I wish to be a part of, wherever it is in the world.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Freedom to 'Be'

The Polish Cultural Institute's  write~up about the "Ball at Hawking's" by Teatr Arka at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival... (now in Barking ~ see below) said that the play is merely a pretext for a broader discussion about the cultural and social status of people with disabilities (and that includes mental health issues in its broadest sense).

Talking yesterday to Teatr Arka’s Director, Renata Jasińska, it is clear that the inspiration for the theatre’s work runs through the veins of this amazing woman, who is passionate and committed to the cause.

Wish I could speak even a little Polish, beyond saying ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’, so we could have a no holds barred conversation about a topic that is close to my heart. The needs of my own physical health have forced me to formally stop working in the mental health sector; but perhaps the various events that have unfolded in my life over the last year are indicating I am being brought back into it all, but from another angle. The thing is I don’t really get it yet, and will simply have to wait on life to be clearer about what it wants from me.

 Writing my book, an interpretation of the Greek Myth of Eros and Psyche (Love and the Soul) I sort of get that “madness” is a prerequisite for being human; that hate is close to a personality disorder, and that the opposite of love is fear. I get that Renata is fearless and is prepared to go where angels fear to tread, as she works to integrate differently abled people into theatre and into wider society, and to create the conditions whereby they can participate actively in social and professional life.

What is it that differently abled people have to teach the rest of us? The truth is humanity in its entirety is differently abled but the vast majority of us can hide, disguise and/or manage our ‘difference’, so that we ‘fit in’.

When my 12~year old grandson, who is on the Asperger’s end of the autistic spectrum is away from home – with friends, even on holiday – within what sometimes seem like minutes he says 'I want to go home’. These were almost the first words he uttered as a toddler, even when at home!  Josh reinforces my appreciation that ‘to go home’ is synonymous to the need to reside in what St Teresa of Avila called The Interior Castle – the soul’s sanctuary – and the freedom to just ‘be’ who you are.
I believe that Renata provides that sense of ‘home’ for her charges and I look forward to speaking to her more about all that in due time…perhaps even in Poland.

Teatr Arka’s The Ball at Stephen Hawking’s, today and tomorrow at The Performance Studio, Icehouse Quarter, Arc Theatre, 1st Floor, the Malthouse, 62~76 Abbey Road, Barking IG11 7BT. Performance at 7.30 p.m; price £13.50. At this stage ring 020 8594 1095 for availability, or take your chance and turn up at the door.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Gloriously Bonkers Day

So here I am totally laid back and rested after 10 days tramping on the high fells, splashing in private coves, hobnobbing with horse whisperers and winning pub quizzes in a gloriously untrammelled part of Southern England – oh and there were the ground hog days at ASDA’s in Newton Abbot – had to be a fly in the ointment.

Back in London I find myself ensconced in the gloriously creative madcap house that is jasminestreetlab I have volunteered to be head cook and bottle washer on the occasion of a 4~day visit by the artistic community Teatr Arka from Wroclaw Poland to Barking and Dagenham, following their very successful appearance at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

We are exiting the roundabout at a right angle approach to the petrol station when an impatient driver decides that this was the precise moment to move from his standing still position on the roundabout, causing us to brake hard to avoid hitting him. The abrupt stop causes the red Volkswagen behind to hit us full on, with poor Anoula in the back getting the worse of it. She is visibly distressed. We wait for a taxi and the hungry Arka players wait for their food and to get into their rooms.

At last we arrive, only to find that I have left two huge pots of rice on the cooker 40 minutes away; and there are three vegetarians not catered. Oh my days; but leave it to the indomitable Animateur of Jasmine Street to simply sail through the chaos.

I wonder what is waiting for me today; but I am looking forward to it with expectations of laughter and enjoyment as I resume my duties of head cook and bottle washer.

If you fancy seeing Teatr Arka’s The Ball at Stephen Hawking’s, played to the Edinburgh Fringe, then you have until Saturday 17 August to head to The Performance Studio at the Icehouse Quarter, Arc Theatre, 1st Floor, the Malthouse, 62~76 Abbey Road, Barking IG11 7BT. Performance at 7.30 p.m; price £13.50. At this stage ring 020 8594 1095 for availability, or take your chance and turn up at the door.