Friday, 28 March 2014

Living on the Edge

Climate change sceptics are going to have a field day on Monday 3lst March when a UN report will say some pretty stark things about global warming/climate change. Watch out for arch sceptic Nigel (father of the Domestic Goddess) Lawson on your radio and TV screens the whole day long. It’s all so predictable and just a tad boring.

The potential for climate change to take humanity to unknown and scary places as Mother Nature seeks to generate what British scientist James Lovelock referred to as the ‘preferred homeostasis for life on planet earth’[1] has already been experienced by many communities around the world; and the global landscape is shifting annually.

This winter an exceptional run of severe storms and high winds not only overwhelmed communities in the South West of England but also transfigured coastal landscapes, as ancient landmarks were simply demolished by a raging sea.  

In 2009 the President of the Maldives and his ministers convened an underwater cabinet meeting, a stunt to highlight the threat posed to the island by rising sea levels. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has projected that a rise of just seven inches could make the 400,000 inhabitants of the Maldives the first environmental refugees.

In 2006 Lohachara Island in India’s part of the Sundarbans, and home to 10,000 people, was literally washed off the face of the Earth. The event was described as marking ‘the moment when one of the most apocalyptic predictions of environmentalists and climate scientists had started coming true’. Rising seas caused by global warming had claimed its first casualty. Did the island not pop up elsewhere a couple years later? Spooky. 

Lovelock believes that by 2040 the world population of more than seven billion will be dramatically reduced through floods, drought and famine; that the earth’s self-regulatory impulses will likely prevent any extraordinary runaway effects that will wipe out life itself, but the parts of humanity which survives will be "culled and…refined."

There is a possibility, he claims, that parts of the earth will become a massive extension of tropical deserts…“and catch a morbid fever that may last as long as 100,000 years”.[2]
Wild fires in California

Whilst Lovelock’s use of hyperbole gives the subject an absurd edge, and he has since admitted to being alarmist, there is acceptance among climate scientists of the real possibility that parts of the earth will become uninhabitable for human and other life forms. Indeed, the United Nations estimates that by the middle of the century there could be as many as 150 million environmental refugees at any one time.

Extreme weather patterns - predicted to hit Asia the hardest - may have taken a swipe at the USA, UK and Australia, in recent times but the scale of disaster in developed countries has not yet reached cataclysmic proportions. Hence the status quo on action around climate change remains at a kind of ‘dead man walking’ tempo.

Terrance O’Connor, a psychiatric social worker, relates a story perhaps apocryphal, about an incident that occurred in psychiatrist Frieda Reichmann-Fromm’s practice in Germany. A patient who presented with numerous and irrational fears was successfully treated after three years. A few weeks after the treatment ended, the patient, a young Jewish woman, was picked up by the Gestapo and sent to a concentration camp.[3]

We don’t need experts to tell us that something in our atmosphere is poisonous and not conducive to wellbeing; that something is going on with the earth that is not in our long term best interest. Like Reichmann-Fromm’s patient we know; we feel it in our bones.



[1] Lovelock, James. Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth. Oxford University Press, Oxford 1989
[2] Independent Newspaper 2006
[3] Terrance O’Connor, Therapy for a Dying Planet, IN Roszak et al’s Ecopsychology

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Mysterious and Unsettling

Mysterious
Few stories have the power to captivate us more than those that remain unresolved. This month much of the world as well as my ‘local community forum for political discourse’ (Mem’s corner shop just off the square) has been mesmerized by the riddle of Flight MH370, which simply vanished into thin air sometime after taking off from Kuala Lumpur on 8 March on its way to Beijing.

For weeks Mem has been asking: What do you think happened to that plane? He continues without waiting for an answer. How can a plane vanish without a trace? This is followed by a buzz of conversation:

Was the aircraft high-jacked by terrorists? Did it crash as a result of pilot error or mechanical malfunction?  Or did the aircraft fly into some atmospheric black hole equivalent of the Bermuda Triangle? The latter is the favourite theory. The media has generated a certain amount of frenzied speculation.

After nearly 3 weeks a British satellite firm claims to have pinpointed broadly where MH370 might be found. A type of investigative analysis never used before was employed to shed light on the plane's possible location - in the Southern Indian Ocean somewhere West of Perth, Australia. This is a remote spot, far from any possible landing sites.

The Chinese don’t believe it.
                                                    
How odd that we have state of the art technology that can land men on the moon, but have not really begun to chart the vastness of the planet’s oceans. With unfathomable depth that can reach 5,000m in places, our oceans are a mirror image of the human psyche.

There are some things in the universe, even with cutting edge technology, string theory and the rest, remain unfathomable. The spookiest and most mystifying of them all is the human psyche, described by Carl Jung as “a mystery that challenged the adventuresome with the prospect of rich discovery and frightened the timid with the threat of insanity”.

Unsettling:
One is left with a sense of unease when -

First, after Iraq, the annexation of part of a nation state occurs in broad daylight (boldly wrong and strong) right on one’s doorstep. What happened to article 5 of the NATO charter about the defence and security of member states, and especially Europe after WWII?

Secondly, a hillside (or half a mountain as one resident described it) comes cascading down forming a massive 20ft deep mudslide that engulfed an entire little community. A tenor of quiet and disbelieving incredulity infused the female voice speaking to the 911 operator as she explained what she had just witnessed: the house next door had simply been shunted down the hill to come to rest on the highway below. 

Somehow it feels a little unsettling when our vulnerability is exposed in such a manner; it feels a bit like pompeii.

Monday, 24 March 2014

A Life on Purpose

This morning I was listening to the BBC Radio 4 interview with that young woman who had acid thrown in her face by a friend. It was quite difficult to hear her distress and to also feel her isolation. That was such a barbaric thing to do to another human being, but barbaric things happen, like the hacking to death of that soldier on a South East London street.

Yesterday I sat observing Neville Lawrence, father of Stephen who was also murdered on a South East London street over 20 years ago[1]. Neville was offering words of comfort to a mother who had recently also lost a son; my friend Dean who died in January.

I was a little startled to note that the grief and sadness is still visibly etched on Neville’s face; it is like a cloak that surrounds him, and apparently impossible to put down. I am not surprised in a way because of the controversy that followed Stephen’s death and which resonates and reverberates up to this very day.[2]

In the late 1990s I was briefly involved in the establishment of the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust –  Although Neville no longer lives in the UK he returns regularly, in part to deal with the reverberations.

Neville is extraordinarily effective in his ability to relate to parents who have lost their child, and are struggling with the tsunami of emotions and turmoil it must unleash, and in a way it might be his way of responding to a community anguished by the  overt racism that surrounded Stephen’s death.

A very senior person in the Blair Government once told me that part of my job, in the role I occupied then, was to impress on Black and Asian people that they should be  more like African Americans, and ‘own’ and ‘act’ their ‘British- ness’. This was the New Labour version of Tebbit's cricket loyalty test 


That individual would wait a lifetime for a response of any kind from me because as far as I was concerned, if in fact this was a problem then it was hers, not mine. But Stephen’s death had a major impact.


I hold two perspectives on Stephen’s death: first, it can never be acceptable in the manner it happened, but significantly second, it seems to me that in a number of different ways his life served a purpose. It made an enormous contribution to how the British legal system now deals with institutionalised discrimination whether that is towards women, the gay/lesbian, and differently abled communities, or people whose skin colour is other than white; it played a role in enabling the society, especially the police, to come to terms with its multicultural inheritance.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

No Need to Talk

I leapt out of bed at 0600 this morning feeling happy, and ready to spring (or is that sprint) down the road to Sainsburys, when I remembered that the store does not open until 0700. The Tesco Express up the road will be but they have limited stock and definitely not the FREE FROM section that has become vital to my daily existence.

Why do I feel happy? Well, last week after 7 long years of very early mornings and very late nights, creative blocks, despair, frustration, and disappointment, I am ready to 'submit' my manuscript to literary agents. In time, one may just decide that my book is worth pitching to one of the BIG FIVE. No? Well how about the smallest ten? Every debut author believe that their book is worthy of publication and will surely be a bestseller. Although self-publishing might yet beckon when one remembers that J.K Rowling trawled Harry Potter around 400 (have I made that up?) agents before she found the one person in the kingdom who recognised that his ship had come in.

In the submission letter to agents you are invited to tell them what your book is about in not more than one, maybe two paragraphs. Have I done that adequately? The cover letter is key; some use that as an indicator to whether it is even worth reading the synopsis, never mind the one, two or three chapters they tend to ask for. Hopefully I won’t fall at the first hurdle because my most prolific error is that I use “that” and which” in the wrong place.

My friend Jazzi who is now going through the whole manuscript with her English Major's red pen scares me. Jazzi is a theatre director and has what she calls a ‘truth stick’ when rehearsing actors. Her eagle eye does not miss the subtlest or nuanced bodily twitch. She is scary. She has already told me that I overly use the word 'impact' such that it loses currency; that I need to watch my use of gerunds and infinitives – what are those again?

On the plus side, she tells me that she has been engrossed in the storyline and often forgets the red pen because she wants to know what happens next. What is this book about you ask? Is it my version of 50 Shades of Grey; I wish. But I am a good Catholic girl and it would probably be called the Life and Times of St Margaret.

The book is non-fiction and I could have called it The Personal is Planetary, but that would not have been sexy enough. Anyway it begins like this:

Quite unexpectedly, during a prolonged period of chronic illness, my attention was intriguingly drawn to how closely my symptoms, indicating the presence of one of those ‘silent killer’ diseases, seemed to be reflected by the more bizarre weather phenomena occurring around the world; and particularly in my immediate environment. The planet was mirroring what was going on in my inner terrain. Noticing the various visual metaphors that appeared in my surroundings and the ability to utilize symbolic sight was a vital aid in my healing.

I have to thank Susan Jennifer for that opening paragraph because when she read the penultimate 'final draft', well over a year ago she told me she wanted to 'hear my voice up front'. So there you have it SJA.

The book illustrates the mirror imaging going on between ecological and personal health crises, both physical and mental (and yes I do mean that the Planet itself is having a nervous breakdown) blended with the out of left field perspective of transpersonal psychology. I believe that we no longer have to talk about climate change because, to paraphrase Winston Churchill when he called the British people to action just before World War II: a time of procrastination is over; we have entered a period of consequences. 

There is no need to bang on about climate change because actually, we are living through it, but we are only at the tipping point. In climatology a tipping point indicates that the global climate is shifting from one state to another, and at a particular level of warming or cooling, the planet will go through a period of transition. It is at this point scientists warn of dire consequences for parts of the world.

Right now Mother Nature is inviting each and every one of us to feel her pain and discomfort; there is also the joy of wonderful Spring weather in February with the riotous colour of blossom providing a backdrop to the daffodils in my window box, as I look out at my still relatively barren square, and over roof tops to the London Gherkin.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Moving it to Another Level

Dean and the Underworld: The Final Curtain

This morning I wake early to review and amend the sample material I need to send to a literary agent, seeking representation for my book and I find myself dedicating it to Dean’s memory.

Earlier this week I was present with Dean’s family at the inquest into his death. I suppose one has to say the event gave a reasonable answer to the question asked by the family – why did Dean die?

After the Coroner’s verdict on the causes of Dean’s death, we were all left with a sense of disquiet, frustration, and yes, anger. The disquiet comes from the knowledge that the inquest is concerned with little more than a 24-hour snapshot of 14-years of being ‘captured’ in the underworld of psychiatry and the abuses that can go on there. I got a sense of that from the very short time – less than six months – that I found myself alongside Dean in a place that quite frankly felt menacing at times.

With terrible prescience Dean had once said that the only way he would escape his confinement in the dungeons of the mental health service would be in a body bag.

A clinical psychologist who is leaving the NHS after 18 years of working inside, wants now to work outside it to ‘promote more emancipatory’ approaches to mental health, expresses my underlying disquiet about what I call the underworld of psychiatry:

How do we escape the confinements of the asylum mentality? The asylum was all about the exclusion and control of those people not mentally in tune enough with society’s values, even if they hadn’t broken any law.
…If you categorize someone with a psychiatric diagnosis it can become a way of trying to control them and shape how they think about themselves. Then we have the heavy-handed use of psychotropic drugs; not just to give someone a temporary break from their difficulties, but for those in power to promote the long-term suppression of challenging thoughts and emotions with the latest profit-making pharmaceutical product.[1]

I am reminded of the time when I acted in the role of advocate on behalf of a client whose psychiatrist had said ‘I won’t section you this time’. When would it be 'that' time? Would there be prior notice of when the anti-psychotic drenched hand would fall or would it be sudden without warning? It was a distinct threat, not founded on any solid, irrefutable evidence that this person was a danger to self or others. The fear this arouses is unimaginable.

This particular Dr Bedlam was simply demonstrating that he had ultimate power over my client; and he was abusing that power. Unfortunately he had left himself exposed to a legitimate charge of ‘unprofessional conduct’ in his dealings with my client, because he had previously sought to avail himself of her professional connections for personal advantage. We were able to ‘fix’ him on the spot right there and then. The upshot was in order to safeguard his position the psychiatrist promptly discharged my client! Now that is beyond unprofessional.

My frustration at the inquest came from the awareness that Dean’s Dr Bedlam – an apparently reasonable, mild-mannered man on the surface – did not tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth; neither did the sour-faced Miss Gradgrind[2], a senior manager with the private company responsible for the ‘managed accommodation’ where Dean was resident. Only Dean's key worker had the decency to express his condolences to the family from the witness box. 

She did not have the courtesy to acknowledge the family, not even by mere eye contact. It was possible for the family’s legal representative to probe the discrepancies in the Gradgrind story to reveal, as the Coroner pointed out, that she had evaded the ‘whole’ truth by omission.

Unfortunately, the same could not be done to Dr Bedlam simply because the procedure in a coroner’s court is investigative not inquisitorial, and his lawyer was already jumping up at intervals with some spurious defensive statement as deflection.

Bedlam's ever so slightly misleading statements and downright half truths were designed to disguise and brush aside the fact that Dean had begun to experience some very serious side-effects from one particular antipsychotic drug he was forced to take over the last few years, and which the pathologist could not categorically deny may have had a role in the ‘multi-factorial’ reasons given for his death.

The surprised expression on Bedlam’s face was apparent when the family indicated to the Coroner, following her questioning, that there was nothing more they wished to hear from him. Bedlam had initially ignored two invitations from the Coroner’s office to attend the inquest but promptly responded at the possibility of facing a subpoena.

All of that left the family with a sense of injustice about what had been swept under the carpet, and the difficulty and probably impossibility, in probing deeper, in order to hold the ‘system’ accountable through civil action, for aspects of Dean’s experience and treatment in the underworld of psychiatry.

I was intent on sending Bedlam a scathing letter designed to puncture his supercilious, self-righteous smugness. How was his constant description of Dean as ‘grandiose’ a contribution to explaining his sudden and unexplained death? And what crass insensitivity towards a family in mourning.

After distancing myself from the inquest for a few days, I can hear the old monk, my former spiritual mentor saying ‘you live in a world of duality but don't have to  engage with either/or scenarios. There is always a middle way. How can you know the purpose for which Dean’s soul incarnated in the physical world this time? If you have a role to play here, then you will know what to do; until then do nothing’.

I've decided that I am too ready to jump into the arena and have a fight, when it is not really my battle. I need to step back. Perhaps Bedlam’s path and mine will cross at another time in another place, for a different purpose. For now, I can move it all to another level and be content.


[1] Hearing Voices Movement Media Watch: Escaping the Asylum Mentality – Rufus May
[2] Gradgrind is the notorious headmaster in Dickens's novel Hard Times who is dedicated to the pursuit of profitable enterprise
See posts in July 2013 for more on Dean in the Underworld

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Who Cries when a Crow Dies

So, that archetypal ‘hero of the working class’, and bete noire of the right wing press, Bob Crow – boss of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union – died this week at the tender of 52.
 
What a shame.

He was the last of the true firebrands and a thorn in the side of those who don’t take care whether the needs of rampant capitalism and the relentless march of technology  crushed ordinary working people underfoot as if they are machine fodder.

In 1957 British Conservative Prime Minister Harold Macmillan declared that “most of our people had never had it so good”. Full employment combined with an unprecedented rise in consumerism meant millions of Britons saw their standard of living rise. Compared to the austerity of the war years, his assessment rang true for many people across the land.

Of course this boom was followed by bust, and boom again, then bust, then boom…..until we arrive at where we are today: an almighty bust and an Age of Austerity that began in 2008, and in spite of what Mac’s progeny say, is not over for most.

When did we last have it so bad?

The rise and rise of payday loans blights the lives of the ‘working poor’. Who cares whether our children arrive at school without any breakfast and go to bed hungry, about the sharp rise in homeless; that the proliferation of food banks is now a normal part of the landscape of one of the richest nations on the planet?

Some facts about UK inequality[1]

  • Income inequalities have been increasing, both recently and over longer time periods. These inequalities have been increasing at both ends of the spectrum.  In other words, the poorest have fallen further behind the average, and the richest have moved further ahead.
  •  
  • Over the last decade, the poorest tenth of the population have, on average, seen a fall in their 'real' incomes after deducting housing costs. In other words, after adjusting for inflation, incomes are, on average, slightly lower than a decade ago.  This is in sharp contrast with the rest of the income distribution, which again on average, has seen substantial rises in their real incomes.
  •  
  • The  richest tenth of the population have seen much bigger proportional rises in their incomes than any other group.
  • The poorest tenth of the population now have, between them, 1.3% of the country's total income. In contrast, the richest tenth have 31%. The income of the richest tenth is more than the income of all those on below-average incomes (i.e. the bottom five tenths) combined.
  •  
  • Inner London (said to be the business capital of the world) has by far the highest proportion of people on low income (29% in the poorest fifth) but also a high proportion of people on a high income (28% in the richest fifth).
Who cares whether the needs of rampant capitalism and the relentless march of technology crush ordinary working people underfoot? Bob Crow did; shame he died.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Spectrum of Difference

Last week the issue of Asperger's syndrome loomed large on my horizon. It began with BBC Radio 4’s programme, Out of the Ordinary, a documentary series uncovering stories from out of left field. Last week’s broadcast focused on why so many women think their men have Asperger’s. One woman even has a daily blog about it.

Said to affect how the brain processes information, people with Asperger’s can find it difficult to form intimate relationships/friendships; feel awkward with social interactions e.g. understanding social rules and body language, and can experience communication difficulties (such as a tendency to take things literally).

It is estimated that one in every 100 people (and I suspect that it is 3 or 4 times higher) in the UK is on the Autism Spectrum which now includes Asperger’s. Instead of the term ‘disorder’ some speak of ‘neurodiverse’, as opposed to ‘neurotypical’. This diversity includes those individuals ascribed as ‘gifted and talented’ and ‘geeks’.

Journalists, as opposed to clinicians, have suggested that individuals such as Obama, Romney, Bill Gates, Warhol, Orwell, Hitler, Einstein, Newton, Shakespeare and Socrates are/were on the ‘spectrum’!

Asperger’s became a mental health disorder when the condition entered into the fourth edition of the American Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM4) – the bible of clinicians. There is now some regret about including Asperger’s in the DSM4 as a mental disorder.

Why does a different wiring of the brain have to be termed a disorder? As in those catch-all diagnoses with their prescribed cures, there is a flaw at the very heart of it all. We are quick to label as ‘abnormal’ that which we do not understand or believe we are not?  Diagnosis can be used to pathologize normal human differences.

My favourite fictional ‘asperge’ (unconfirmed by the show’s creators) is Saga Norén (played by Sofia Helin) the female lead homicide detective in BBC Four - The Bridge, a Scandinavian crime drama series. Saga is highly intelligent and smart; her thinking comes sharply out of left field, which makes her incredibly funny, but she doesn’t know it. Her way of being is the norm to her. She is perplexed by why people cannot simply tell the truth! I wish The Bridge - only on its 2nd series – longevity, it’s such a brilliant production.

My grandson is on the ‘spectrum’. He goes to a school for the differently abled, one that follows the various ‘key stages’ in education up to the age of 16, but where each pupil is allowed, enabled and encouraged to reach their highest potential but at their own pace.

At 12 years old, J is very independent, and has his own ‘for safe-guarding’ mobile phone. He travels to and from school by bus just like any other commuter, which initially disconcerted the school. J knows when he has crossed a line and often allocates himself ‘time out’ or buys his sister chocolates to make amends for any toadishness towards her! His mum tells J that Autism is not an excuse for bad behaviour.

There are areas where my grandson is not as capable as some; in other areas he is more capable than most, just like the rest of us. He is a football ace, swims like a fish underwater, has a passion for cars – no not cars, hot wheels – and is keen to teach me to play chess! Only his sister (described by her school as a G&T - talented and gifted that is) can beat him at Wii games. My grandson is differently abled, as differently abled as I am, as everyone else is.

Apparently more males than females are diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. Some of the more common characteristics of the condition include:
  • Average or above-average intelligence
  • Difficulties with high-level language skills such as verbal reasoning, problem solving, making inferences and predictions
  • Difficulties in empathising with others
  • Problems with understanding another person’s point of view
  • Difficulties engaging in social routines such as engaging in ‘small talk’
  • Problems with controlling feelings such as anger, depression and anxiety
  • A preference for routines and schedules which can result in stress or anxiety if a routine is disrupted
The BBC programme suggested that women push for this diagnosis for their husbands/partners because they want help with their relationships! Men are from Mars are they not? So of course they seem somewhat odd to us women. Sarah Hendrick’s Asperger's Syndrome - A Love Story and Maxine Aston’s  Aspergers in Love describe what to expect when in relationship with someone with the syndrome. So, no need for marriage guidance then.

I had to chuckle when a friend who had also listened to the programme told me a light bulb had gone on for her. She proceeded to do the inventory on line on her husband’s behalf and he, from her answers, scored 39 on a scale of 1-45! Are you going to tell him about it I asked?  ‘No’, she said, ‘better not, but the knowledge explains a lot, and I understand much more about the dynamics in our relationship’.

I did the test too and scored seven. So, some other ‘disorder’ describes my deviation from norm then (or perhaps the stereotype). I am for the positive deviance that challenges the manipulative and abusive power of the tribe.

Friday, 7 March 2014

Life as Self-Image

There is something about Africa, my ancestral homeland, that I find both exciting and repelling. That vital continent breaks my heart, especially the vulnerability of its children, but also because of its exquisite beauty and an undimmed primordial memory.     

Like all the continents (and their peoples) Africa is made up of light and shadow, is full of contrasts and contradictions, attractions and repulsions. The Oscar Pistorius debacle lit the threads of memory of a period in my life in Africa that I describe as a Significant Emotional Experience – otherwise known as a ‘SEE’ – or ‘SEEN’ as the Ras Tafari would say.

Pistorius reminds me of an angry young Afrikaner I encountered in a Johannesburg car park in the late 1990s, followed by a different and quite opposite response from a courteous and gentle African male, each representing the two sides of my own masculine aspect of self - light and shadow, repulsing and attracting.

One morning on my way to work, I stopped off at a shopping mall to pick up a pre-ordered cake for an office party; I was also late for my first meeting.  As the gods would have it, a parking space was just there as I drove in. I jumped out of the car ready to sprint to the cake shop, only to find my way barred by this angry young Afrikaner demanding to know what the hell did I think I was doing? Did I not see that someone had been waiting for that space he asked, gesticulating in the direction of a car parked across the way from where we were standing.

No, I said, slightly ignoring the angry young man (huge mistake). Instead I walked up to the young woman sitting in the driving seat of the car and apologised that I had not seen her. I explained that I was simply picking up a birthday cake, pointing to the shop clearly visible a few yards away, and would literally be 3-4 minutes. She was pleasant enough, smiled and said she was fine with that; and indicated that she did not know the young man and had no idea what his problem was.

But I recognised the young man, at least my Orphan did; he was incensed by what he perceived as an injustice. I should have taken more notice, in the moment, of what was really going on for that young man. The tone of his voice and his whole manner oozed ‘Mr Angry’. His rage was palpable and I had triggered a pending explosion. From his point of view, approximately 3 years ago, this situation would simply not have occurred. I would have known my place, never mind driving a car into a mall where bleks used to be the servants in their various roles, not citizens. In that moment Mr Angry was being the white knight on behalf of his female compatriot sitting in the car, who had been pushed aside in the New South Africa.

True to my word, I was back in 5 minutes; the young woman and her car had gone, but all four tyres on my car were as flat as a pancake and a match stick had been jammed into each air pressure vent. Angry is as angry does, and the damsel had been avenged. Thank god the avenger did not have a knife or a gun.

There was a petrol station just across the way, and one of the attendants hurriedly came to my aid. Within a few minutes my tyres were pumped and ready to go. My accent told my Good Samaritan I was not a native of his land, and he was keen to know the why and wherefore of my stay in South Africa. This young man was not only kind and friendly, but also apologetic and solicitous about my experience and refused to take any payment.

With philosophic mind, I can see in my car park rage experience, the angry Afrikaner and the kind, helpful African as both aspects of me, shadow and light, repulsing and attracting.  We can meet our many selves every day – whether through a partner, children and other family members, friends and adversaries, or total strangers. They are all our teachers.

We are made in the image of Life, which in turn mirrors how, who and what we are. We may not like it, life may seem unfair and we may perceive ourselves as victim, but those we consider ‘other’ or even ‘enemy’ are merely a reflection.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Farewell in Poetry

After about 4 months in a blog limbo, I awake today to poetry in my soul triggered by thoughts of death and transformation which took me on a voyage through different pieces of prose on the subject matter. Morbid? Nah. But I suppose it depends on how one views and feels about death.  I especially like William Wordsworth’s 'splendour in the grass/glory in the flower' or to give it its rightful name - Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood:

Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind;

In one of those very weird and wonderful weekend seminars of my student days, on the transpersonal tradition in psychology, the facilitator, a Sufi Master, took the group on a creative imagination journey. We were invited to leap on Pegasus, the winged horse in Greek Mythology and fly to where the soul goes when one goes to sleep. Of course, I don’t need any encouragement to enter the imaginal realm, the world of myth and magic; just say the word and I am there. I have not forgotten the images encountered on my Pegasus ride as my very active imagination, powered by the right brain hemisphere, took me on that journey to the soul's home - only one such place or many?  This was a place of restful tranquility and solitude. 

Death must be then one of the portals through which the soul goes home.

My preoccupation with death and dying comes from the unexpected departure of my friend Dean; he with whom I had a short sojourn in the jowls of the mental health system – the underworld – last year. (See series of 7 posts on the theme in July 2013 from Madness and Human Chaos to Shadow of the Wounded Healer plus Psychiatrist, Avenger & Me).  At just 39 years of age, Dean died in his sleep. His journey this time, was complete. Death is such a shock, always, expected or not.  

In sharp contrast to the last few years of Dean’s life, his funeral was, yes, sad and grief-filled but essentially joyful and celebratory.  There was a lot of laughter and a drawing together of his clan.  His nieces played R Kelly’s I Believe I can Fly on steel pans; his sister and favourite cousin read the eulogy which made everyone laugh. Even one of the pastors in attendance made the entire congregation laugh with one of his stories.  

From his perch somewhere in the cosmos, Dean would have loved it all.  And so my tribute to him was and continues to be Mary Elizabeth Frye’s:

Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there, I do not sleep
I am a thousand winds that blow
I am the diamond glints on snow...