… a thousand words?

Johannes Gumpp, painting his self-portrait

I was reading an article that tells how much a picture can attract our attention. The inclusion of a single image can increase the likelihood of someone stopping to read an article, sharing it or, indeed, making it go viral. It isn’t difficult to understand why… an image needs no words to convey a message. It has no language barrier…. And, in this day when we all read onscreen, skimming most of the content, according to all the research, rather than carefully reading each word, images appeal to our need for speed. Interesting enough on its own, but as usual, it got me thinking. In itself the words called up images in my own mind that sparked of a whole other train of thought.

In one of those random moments, I realised that if I were but an image of myself, I would hate to live in a photo frame, no more than a two-dimensional representation, bounded by straight edges and right angles of rigidity. I’d rather be a movie. Even that lacks the extraordinary depth of life. Yet it is through images that we learn about our world… visual representations registered by our own eyes, non-visual ‘images’ formed by our other senses, or even those scenes painted by imagination on the screen of the mind..

I take a lot of pictures… I am not alone in that. The digital age has made photography accessible to all. We take them for many reasons… perhaps to capture a magical memory, document a trip, or to share the wonder we feel in this beautiful world. Sometimes we film videos… sweeping panoramas, or the antics of a small dog, maybe… yet neither photograph nor film can ever truly catch the essence of a moment. They lack the depth, the dimensions brought to an instant by emotion. They do not catch the scent of a rose or the subliminal buzzing of life in a meadow. They cannot capture the taste of salt spray on your lips or the wind in your hair… or the warmth of a baby’s fingers clutching yours.

Professionals, and those gifted amateurs who have a real feel for photography, can capture something that conveys the idea of those feelings, often so sublimely that they evoke a deep response. A smile for the cute kitten whose fur looks so soft… a yearning for a much-loved place… the tenderness known only by the heart. They evoke, beautifully, poignantly, but they can only be an impression of experience.

Some of those images though can change the world. Few who recall the BBC images from Biafra in the 60s will ever forget them. They brought home to us, quite literally as we sat down to dinner with the TV in the corner, the plight of children starved to little more than skin and bone. It changed the way we thought. It changed the way we chose to believe in the world.

Adverts… Shots of movie stars that change fashions. The Earthrise picture taken from the moon… Mother Theresa, Churchill, Picasso… iconic figures and defining moments, both good and tragic, that delight, shock or move the world to action. Images of beauty and destruction have altered our view and our stance on ecology, far faster than a mere governmental report or two could do.

Images can unite us. Princess Diana, Kennedy, 9/11… when the world stood still and watched… People and governments have been galvanised to respond to tragedy worldwide. Images change things.

In the same way, our governments have always used imagery to change public opinion, a legal technique of mass manipulation…propaganda or censorship, often imposed ‘for our own protection’. I think of the images of the bombing of Hiroshima. My mother had an old film projector and footage of the Enola Gay and the mushroom cloud. I remember watching it when I was young and being told of the destruction. Yet, for a quarter of a century the full picture was hidden and we were only permitted to see the material devastation, not the human horror of atomic warfare. Why? Because it was too horrific… and besides, they were still making atomic weapons… Such footage could change our minds. Yet the Allied governments felt able to show newsreel footage of the atrocities perpetrated by our enemies in that same war. The history we were shown was the truth, perhaps… but not the whole truth. But images ensured we felt the way we ‘should’.

At the other end of the scale there are the less warlike pursuits. Meditation techniques, like those we use in the Silent Eye, that draw images in the mind, bringing an understanding that is experiential, even though it is lived only in the mind. The symbolism of our varied faiths sustains us on a personal level.. from the dove to the star; the statue of Buddha, the pentagram or an icon of the Madonna… Not in themselves objects of worship, but images of something too great to constrain in physical form, but which we can understand when imagination speaks to the heart. Such things use imagery to bring peace to the individual…and yet can be misappropriated to inflame a nation to war.

Artists of all kinds… writers, photographers and filmmakers, poets, sculptors and musicians…all create images, just as you and I do, all day and every day, within our minds. Such images are born of observation and imagination. That word itself says it all. We have the power to shape reality for those who find our work or are touched by our vision of the world. There is a responsibility that goes with that. Whatever world we shape speaks to the imagination of others. We may seek only to record. Or to entertain and amuse. Perhaps we teach, question or educe. It doesn’t matter. Whatever we create carries something from the deepest levels of our own being out into the world. We cannot take responsibility for what the minds of others do with our work… once it has been set free, our creation responds only to those who look, read or listen. The responsibility we have lies in our own intent and from which part of ourselves we create… and why.

Going viral…

Image: Pixabay lenalindell20

When I was small and faced with a plate piled with the over-boiled cabbage I detested, my grandmother always told me to eat it first… get rid of it… so I could enjoy the rest of the meal… and to save my favourite bits till last. Like many of the things she told me, I never forgot that advice. She was right too; doing it that way means there is always something left to look forward to… even when life gives you cabbage.

When there is something we really don’t want to do there are, on the whole, two ways of handling it… other than simply getting on with it! We either dive in head first or put it off as long as we can. I prefer to dive in. It isn’t always pleasant but it has its moments and at least the worst is out of the way.

But sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I put things off, whether through distaste for the job in hand or fear of the possible unfolding of a train of events I cannot predict… or through the fear that I can foresee all too well the consequences of initiating action. Yet the consequences of action are seldom half as bad as our imaginings, and even the worst task will eventually be over, leaving, hopefully, a sense of satisfaction as we stand back and regard our handiwork.

The trouble is that procrastination of this kind can be contagious, spreading, once begun, like a virus to other areas of our lives. Speaking for myself I know this happens sometimes. I avoid one action, finding, to begin with, perfectly legitimate reasons why I ‘can’t deal with it right now’. There is a letter I have to write, another job to prioritise… I’ll do it later… tomorrow perhaps… And maybe I will. Or maybe I will find yet another reason for ‘later’, reasons that quickly degenerate into excuses. And that is bad enough, but next I may find that my avoidance of the main task has spilled over into a kind of lethargy that infects the rest of the day, or I may manage to remain hugely busy, or so it seems, and yet still achieve nothing of what I know I need to do. I doubt I am alone in that. I hope not anyway…

When I realise what I am doing, I have to stop and think. I need to know why I am allowing the situation to continue without dealing with it. I may simply be feeling lazy or tired and that is okay. But there are a number of other things that can cause us to avoid a task.

What is it that can make us put things off when we know that getting them done and out of the way will lighten the load and make life easier? The longer we delay these things that worry us, the more they snowball, adding pressure to whatever it is that is making us avoid them in the first place, setting up a vicious circle that eventually harries us into anxiety.

Sometimes there are valid reasons; pain, depression, illness, fatigue to name but a few. But often it is simply our imagination that holds us back. We paint a mental picture of the horrors of the job ahead, whether it is cleaning the oven or making that awkward phone call, and then add to it multiple scenarios of what might go wrong or what the possible consequences might be and then fear comes into play, freezing us like rabbits in its headlights of our own imaginings, even if we choose not to call it by that name.

We can, however, use that same faculty to break the stasis and get moving. By imagining the clean oven, for example, quietly sparkling away while we put our feet up… or the relief of having made that phone call we’ve been worrying about that is no longer hanging over us like the fabled sword of Damocles. By doing so we acknowledge the presence of whatever is holding us back, and quietly take the control from its grasp.

With every step we take in our lives, we have the opportunity for growth and change. Change will happen whether we take conscious control, or are blown like a feather on the breeze. How we embrace those changes is always within our control. These days, I am rather fond of cabbage. I think of my grandmother and smile… I still eat the cabbage first, but only so it won’t go cold…

The land of the ‘stone father’

At the heart of an ancient landscape is the Dorset village of Cerne Abbas. The village grew up around a Benedictine Abbey founded there over a thousand years ago and it is still a place where folklore, myth and legend come together…and few of them agree.

The holy spring rose from where St Augustine struck the ground… or where St Edwold saw a vision, depending on which story you prefer, just as the giant on the hillside dates from the Iron Age… or is a seventeenth century political statement. The mysteries here are real… but underpinning them all is the fact that the place was undeniably seen as sacred.

The name is interesting in itself in that respect; ‘Cerne’ is believed to come from a Celtic word for ‘stone’ and ‘Abbas’ is the Medieval Latin ‘abbot’, which means ‘father’. Does the name refer to the Abbey, or did the abbey take its name from the chalk-cut Giant? If so, would that make him the ‘Stone Father’? Some have likened the image to that of Hercules, and there are traces of what could have been a lion skin draped over his arm. In Arabic, ‘abbas’ means not only ‘father’ but can be used to speak of the lion, while in French, ‘cerne’ means circle… and the imagery of the golden-maned lion as the sun is present in many cultures.

Add to the mix that Cernunnos is the name of a Celtic god of fertility, and even the name of the village itself becomes an intriguing mystery. But…if all the tales point to the ‘father’ in the landscape… where do we look to find the Mother? Perhaps we must first look for the Maiden? And what other secrets does this landscape hold?

It is at the heart of this land of wildflowers, myth and mystery that the Silent Eye will be holding its June workshop weekend. Join us this summer on our pre-solstice event for an interactive excursion into the Living Land of Dorset…

The Giant and the Sun
Cerne Abbas, Dorset
Friday 15th – Sunday 17th June 2018

The weekend is informal and open to all, no previous knowledge or experience is required. We ask only that you bring your own presence and thoughts to the moment.

Workshop costs £50 per person. Accommodation and meals are not included and bed and breakfast/hotel in Cerne Abbas should be booked separately by all attendees. Lunch and dinner are usually shared meals.

Click below to
Download our Events Booking Form – pdf

For further details or to reserve your place: rivingtide@gmail.com

Frankenstein, Gollum and the unseen will…

“I’m re-reading Tolkien,” said my son.
“Cool. How far have you got?”
“The riddles in the dark bit.” That made me smile, as we’d taken inspiration from that chapter for the December workshop.
“What do you reckon… when Gollum says ‘my precious’, is he talking to the ring or himself?”
“I asked myself the same question when I first heard that story.”  Our teacher, Miss Bedford, had read The Hobbit to a class full of ten-year-olds, sitting silent and enrapt on the library floor. I remember quite vividly being struck by that anomaly, even then. “Both.”
“Hmm…” said my son, settling back with his morning tea. “Elaborate…”

The character of Gollum is a moral tale all on its own. Greed and desire cost him his home and his place amongst his people. He murders his best friend to obtain the ring and is driven to slink away invisible, into the roots of the mountain. There, under the cloak of darkness, his only company is the ring and himself; his personality fragments, with the Gollum aspect taking precedence over the lonely Sméagol. Falling ever further away from his origins, he feeds on raw fish…or whoever else he can catch… and considers the more civilised idea of frying fish as ‘spoiling’ it. He is, in every way, an outcast from his own kind… and from himself, for deep down, Sméagol remembers another way of living.

The name, Gollum, always intrigued me. Given the magical background against which I was raised, I was already aware of the Jewish tradition of the golem… a man-form made of clay, animated and controlled by another will, usually via a magical charm. There is a theory that Mary Shelley drew upon this tradition when she created Frankenstein and the monster… and I have often wondered whether Tolkien too found inspiration in the tale. The tradition carries echoes of the biblical creation of Adam and it is not dissimilar from our own earth-born state, animated by the living soul via the intermediary of heart and mind.

It is an interesting concept. Some see the creation of a golem as representing hubris; bypassing both the natural process of generation and the spiritual aspect of creation. Some have seen it as an attempt to eradicate the role of Woman… though they still cannot dispense with Mother Earth if clay is needed. Others see it as Man setting himself as equal to his God. While Dr Frankenstein uses a more scientific method for the creation of his monster, he still robs the earth of her dead for the components of his creation. The role of the mother may be disguised, but She still plays an integral part in the generation of life. And while science seeks to deny the role of deity, even Frankenstein relied upon an unseen force to animate his creation… a force whose effects are known but whose nature remains a mystery.

Sméagol, through his own actions and desires, is all but consumed by the Gollum aspect of himself and, in turn, Gollum becomes little more than a golem… animated by the will of the Dark Lord through the medium of the ring. He no longer sees himself as independent of the ring… calling both himself and the golden shackle his ‘precious’. He identifies with the ring and in doing so, he is lost.

Identification, in the psychological sense, means to be transformed by taking on qualities, property or attributes from another. As we grow from infancy, through childhood and into adulthood, this kind of identification contributes to how our personalities are formed. We observe, learn from and emulate those around us and react to circumstance. It is a natural process, though it is easy to see how a dominant character or traumatic event may skew what we absorb and change the way we are growing. When the ring called out to Sméagol, something within him was ripe to answer…but we do not know the story of his early years or what made his character fertile ground for corruption. Knowing that would not excuse his actions…but it might explain them; bullies are usually weak characters who have themselves been damaged by the actions of others.

We can identify too with inanimate things… like the roles, the labels, the societal expectations that are imposed upon us, or which we choose to impose upon ourselves. If we define ourselves by our roles, we become subservient to them and, like Sméagol, we are lost to ourselves.

Yet, by the end of the story… when the ring must be destroyed, it is not the apparent hero of the tale who is able to act. Although he knows best the destructive power of desire, he too has fallen prey to the lure of the ring. Even the best can be corrupted and twisted by the illusion of power. It is a battle of wills, the triumph of despair, that inadvertently saves the day. Gollum’s life is forfeit… as is Frodo’s ring-finger; an interesting bit of symbolism in itself.

And the Dark Lord? So complete was his identification with, and investment in the ring that its destruction brings about his utter annihilation.

The real hero, I have always thought, was Sam… the simple gardener whose loyalty and quiet courage cared for Frodo, every step of the way. At the end of the tale, it is he who, exhausted, carries both Frodo and the ring the final steps of the journey… and he who comes home to heal the ravaged Shire. Sam had no desire for the ring, though he had both witnessed and felt its power. His heart was in the green earth and the woods of the Shire. Love for another set his feet on the road… and love carried him home.

Saving for a rainy day …

The fish need feeding… their food cannisters need refilling too. The bird feeder needs completely restocking…and it is freezing outside. Not only is it cold enough to make a snowman shiver, it is raining… the kind of rain that falls as stinging darts making the presence of each drop sharp and immediate. I shiver, watching the blood withdraw from my fingertips, feeling them shrink and stiffen with the cold and I wrestle with the frozen metal of the lock. Raindrops trickle across my scalp, slithering down my neck. It is not a day to be outdoors… but the fish and the birds need to be fed, regardless of my misery.

Opening the shed, I squeeze past my son’s wheelchair to reach the feed. I remember, just for a moment, coming onto the hospital ward one day and seeing the longing on his face as he watched the raindrops on the window pane. I’d give anything to be out there, he had said. To feel the rain on my face again. Back then, we had no idea if he would ever be able to do so…at least, not without help.

What if, I wondered, this were the last time I ever felt the rain? I know, all too acutely, how life can change between one moment and the next. How normality, freedom…even life itself… can be snuffed out without warning. Such thoughts may seem morbid to some, but I have found that an awareness of the finite nature of the life we know only enhances our ability to appreciate its beauty. Yet, here I was complaining.

I asked myself the question once again. What if this were to be the last time I ever felt the cold of winter or the rain on my skin? Would I really want to remember it through a veil of misery? Or would I want to remember the clarity of the moment? The sparkle of rain on the first, burgeoning leaves of a nascent spring… the ever-expanding circles drawn by the raindrops on the silver surface of the pond… the aliveness of my skin, tingling beneath the touch of winter… the freshness of the rain-soaked garden and the smell of wet earth…

Some ‘last times’ we are aware of… we know they will be the last. We see them coming and they make an indelible impression on memory. I will never forget my last, tear-blurred glimpse of the Sacré-Cœur as we left Paris, thirty years ago. I didn’t know then that it would be the very last time… I still do not yet know if it was, for that matter… but it was the end of a chapter in my life and the beginning of a new story. I remember the final hug shared with a friend and his final words to me, hours before he died, as clearly as I recall the last time I closed the door on the family home.

Sometimes we only realise it was a ‘last time’ once the moment has passed… and those memories too entrench themselves, kept alive by emotion. But most ‘last times’ only become clear in retrospect… we will not know until it is too late to give them our attention and store them up in memory.

As we grow older, any farewell, no matter how temporary, takes on a new layer of meaning; as the years pass, the chances that some of these farewells will be ‘last times’ cannot help but increase. I would not wish to waste such moments in sentimentality, regret or in the imagining of some dire future… I want to enjoy them, storing them up in a treasure house of memory where life, love and laughter are the true riches of living.

There is a reason we are here, in this life, in these bodies and with these senses. Our lives are short… seconds, minutes and hours tick by, heading towards an unknown point, for few know the span of their days. For any one of us the world can change at any moment… yet we live our lives taking so much for granted or, as I was doing, railing against the downside instead of carrying away with us all the moment has to offer.

Living in England, the chances are that I will see and feel more rain than I could possibly wish for… but I do not know what the future holds. Would I really wish to be stuck behind glass watching the rain fall beyond my reach… and knowing I had wasted my ‘last time’ grumbling?

I fed the fish and the birds, smiled at the Indian airline label still attached to my son’s wheelchair… and went out to enjoy the rain.

All images in this post were taken in India by my son…where he felt the rain.

Walking the line…

“… so fear was originally there to help us survive.”
“Yep… and with not many sabre-tooth tigers roaming the suburbs, we found other things to fear. And fear is intimately linked to how we judge people.”
“How so?”

It was one of those early morning conversations over coffee and from the nature of fear we had progressed to how we unconsciously judge the people that we meet. It is all very well to say that we should not judge…but we do. At least to a certain degree. Sitting in moral judgement upon someone’s actions is a slightly different matter, but we do seem to be programmed to make judgements about the people who arrive in our lives. It comes from the same primitive survival instinct as fear and is part of the same process. If a hunter comes face to face with another spear-wielding man, that snap judgement would be the deciding factor; does he run from a foe, throw his own spear, or welcome a fellow hunter to the chase?

stickman-310590_1280

Our need for such judgements may not be so acute these days, but the instinct remains. We just use it in a more abstract way. A new person arrives on the scene… a new colleague, perhaps… and an immediate reaction determines what we see as our best approach. How we judge them then determines, rightly or wrongly, what we expect of them too.

But how do we make that judgement? Against what measure are we holding them? We only have our own normality, our own world view, with which to work… and that, of necessity, becomes our median line. Some people will quickly climb high in our estimation, others will let us down.  People will either surpass our expectations or fall below them…and hopefully we can rejoice at the one and learn from the other.

The problem here is that if we let the uncontrolled ego have its way, by setting ourselves as the median line, we may also be setting ourselves in a position of unconscious superiority. If that happens, then everyone else starts at a disadvantage… the people we meet will start from a ‘lower’ place than that which the ego sees itself as occupying. This means that before anyone can begin to meet our expectations, they have a steep climb ahead of them before they can hope to meet us on an even playing field.

The higher our ego sets us on that scale, the lower are the chances of people fulfilling or exceeding our expectations. If someone does manage to climb above our median line, the chances are that the owner of a ‘superior’ ego, instead of applauding that success, will feel themselves weighed down by it… and look for ways in which they can bring that person back down to, or below, the median line of ‘normality’…at least in their own mind.

The ‘superior’ ego fears being overshadowed by the success of others and reacts to any inkling of such success with resentment and prejudice. The higher the other person is perceived to climb… and it may be no more than a perception… the more the ‘superior’ ego looks for them to fall. These are such destructive emotions that, while the other person continues with the normal ups and downs of life, embracing both successes and failures, the ‘superior’ ego finds itself on a slippery slope of its own creation.

We cannot abstain from judging altogether…it is an instinctive function of our safety mechanism. We should not have to lower our hopes for people either… for in trusting and hoping for their success we help ensure it. Imposing our expectations, though is a different matter… expectations breed disappointment.

Stickman, Handshake, Gun, Aiming, SmileWhat we can do is remember than our own median line is not a straight path, but meanders with every step we take, and we can fall or climb just as easily, and as often, as anyone else. No matter where we stand in terms of our social position, educational achievements, affiliations, beliefs or ethnicity, we are equal partners in the human family. Our median line should not be drawn by the ego, but from the one thing we all share… our humanity. We are each as fragile, as fallible, and as capable of reaching the heights as each other… and regardless of the judgements passed upon us, we share a gift of possibility that allows us to walk our own path.

Just desserts…

No…! Really? That’s terrible…” It may well have been, but I doubt the subject of their gossip would have appreciated the evident relish with which the two women were discussing her misfortunes. I wasn’t eavesdropping, the strident voices were inescapable in the waiting room.

“Must be karma…” She folded her hands on her bag and sat back, nodding sagely.

“Yeah,” the lady almost licked her lips, “She must have done something really awful in a past life to deserve all that…” Here we go again, I thought, itching, as always, to jump into the conversation on that one subject, at least. Then, I suppose they would say the same of me… 

It is no secret that I have fulfilled the criteria of the infamous ‘Chinese curse’ and lived in ‘interesting times’. What with one thing and another, life has never had chance to become monotonous, though some manifestations of ‘interesting’ I could well have lived without.  Except, that I couldn’t, as to do so would have removed essential elements of the story that has shaped me and brought me to this moment. Without those ‘interesting times’, the person I think of as ‘me’, would not be me.

Have I ‘deserved all that’ as the two ladies were asserting about their absent friend? In all honesty, for a good proportion of it, I must accept the blame. Not necessarily through any conscious actions or omissions, but simply because life is a learning curve and we learn best from our mistakes…and of those, I have made plenty. Until we have made them for ourselves, we have little or no chance of ‘knowing better’ or behaving any differently, in spite of anything our elders may try and teach us. In that respect, our mistakes and errors of judgement can be seen as life’s opportunities for growth.

Some things, though, are out of our control and simply descend upon our lives unheralded and unavoidable.  All we can do is deal with them as best we know how. The scenarios are many and varied….and can be devastating. We can learn from such events too, and grow… but do we deserve them? Not necessarily.

I do not believe that karma works that way. It is not an ‘eye for an eye’ scenario, where what we do is ‘paid back’ in full measure. I see it more as a that pair of scales that features in the iconography of almost every culture throughout history. In one pan, the good that we do…in the other, the ill that we cause. Finding the balance, in this case, is literal… and making sure that better pan outweighs the other is our goal. Karma kicks in, life upon life, to even up the balance…or allow us to do so.

Imagine, for a moment, that A hits B over the head with a brick. In the next life, does B have the right to hit A in exactly the same way? Possibly in the classic misconception of karma… but would that not simply perpetuate violence? Would it not be better for A to learn regret and allow it to change his behaviour, while B learns forgiveness and compassion, forgoing such a negative emotion as revenge? Both could learn and grow by that.

What if A had lived a life doing nothing but good, and hit B, for example, in defence of a child? Or by accident? Would he deserve an exact retribution? Circumstances can mitigate the apparent facts. Intent counts for a good deal… and I believe intent may weigh heavier than action in the pan of the fabled scales.

Karma can be used as a good excuse for the events that befall us, just as we occasionally blame some predestined and nebulous fate. The concept that is missing here is that of personal responsibility. My belief is that, at the end of one life the nature of the balance we have achieved determines the circumstances we need for a future life in order to grow. We are responsible for our own thoughts and deeds, and for the consequences of our actions. Should we blame or thank ourselves for the opportunities for growth that then arise, in this life or another? What we deserve and what we need may be worlds apart… or not so very different at all.

Under the sun…

Image: panayota via Pixabay

“Thirteen thousand miles… How is that even possible???”

We were talking about distances, my son and I, and having established that the Great Wall of China seems impossible, we then discussed the relative distance of the moon from the earth, swiftly progressing to how navigation by the stars actually works when they, and we, are constantly in motion. A relatively minor leap took us to technology and the advances we have seen over the past decades… a conversation, I imagine, that all generations have had since mankind first picked up a stick or stone as a tool.

“Tomorrow’s kids won’t have that same sense of wonder, will they?” No, that wasn’t from me, it was my son… though I have said the self-same words in the past. Thinking of my three year old grandaughter, who calmly snaffles my phone to see pictures of my dog or plays educational games on the tablet she uses at pre-school, it was me that was left wondering…

I am of a generation who watched the men behind the banks of computers during the moon landings. Yes, we had computers back then… though not in domestic situations… Our household didn’t get the first proper, fully functional multimedia PC until the late nineties, though we had ensured the boys had grown up with the ‘new’ technology, recognising its potential. I still have fond memories of the ZX Spectrum and the Commodore 64. They were, apart from the Atari, our first introduction as a family to the world of computer games and titles like Stormlord and Hobgoblin still live in visual memory.

For my son’s generation it was the advent of telecommunications. Mobile phones that made the descent from science fiction to real life. The Nokia seemed to be in every pocket at one point and ‘3210’ became a name, not a number. The internet. Wi-fi… and now we have smartphones and wrist units straight out of science fiction, that do and store everything.

There is more processing power in a modern smartphone than in the Apollo computers, it is said… though that is almost like comparing a camera obscura to a DSLR, given the levels of technological advancement and the rapidity with which they have evolved.

“The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 1:9

Yet stripped back to basics there really is nothing ‘new’. What we have is an evolution in the complexity of a few basic ideas and the development of the technology that puts those ideas into useable form. Once upon a time we simply had movement…man walked and ran. Eventually he worked out that a horse could do that better and quicker and invented transport. Perhaps, from that point onwards interstellar travel became inevitable. In the same way communication developed, from what were probably grunts and body language through speech, writing and messengers, to carrier pigeons, telegraph, telephone…. And how far are we from a brain to brain interface? Well, actually… that’s already been done.

The possibilities are endless, really. What use we choose to make of those possibilities is another matter perhaps. From the first healing herb to a cure for cancer… from the first stone that was thrown to nuclear weapons…

Yet, some things do not change. How much have our basic human needs and their attendant emotions, positive and negative, changed in the couple of million years or so since we became the species we are today? Probably no more than is reflected in the stories we tell of our interactions with each other, the needs of survival, of life, love and death… and the need to seek something beyond the material world.

Fear was born of the simple need to survive. That it is now more often applied in social situations rather than to ensure physical survival is more a reflection on the way our society has evolved. But there is no reason to suppose that the parental instinct of the first humans was any less than that love a mother feels today. No reason to suppose we could not feel tenderness or compassion then as we do now. A hundred thousand years ago we created beauty, we buried gifts with our dead, surely a proof of love or respect. Emotions, it seems do not change much. Cultural differences may colour their expression, time may change the social mores…but although our technologies advance at a truly fantastic rate we, it seems… or at least our emotions… do not.

Will our children and our children’s children still feel that sense of wonder? I used to worry that they would not. Yet the more I think about it, the more I think that yes, how can they not? We did… There will always be a new love to fill the heart with butterflies. A new birth to gaze upon in awe… a new dawn to blaze in glory across the sky… a new advance in technology, a new discovery under the ocean, in outer, or indeed inner space. The world is full of wonders… and perhaps the greatest wonder of all is that, young or old, we can know and feel all of their gifts.

Troubled reflections

Have you ever stopped for a minute to consider how much you do because of other people? Not for others, but because of them? There’s a difference, and it is a big one. Doing ‘for’ can have many motivations; love, duty, obligation, care, to name but a few… But what about the ‘because’? And how easy is it to separate the two? The lines between are often blurred and what we grumble that we have to do because of others, we may be doing for them… while things we think we do for others, or even for ourselves are often motivated by more subtle reasons.

I was discussing the question with Ani as I was tidying up today. She is an intelligent listener and a great leveller of ego. My housework always used to be done first thing in the morning… I’d get up early to make sure it was ready for the day before work, then tidy round before bed, plumping cushions and washing cups. These days it gets done… or it doesn’t… whenever I choose. Why should I bother if no-one is here and no-one is coming? Ani doesn’t care if I have polished today… in fact she would probably rather I didn’t because the polish makes her sneeze and as far as cushion plumping is concerned, there is little point as she immediately rearranges them to suit herself anyway.

But why did I do it? Was I always doing it for the family, to make them comfortable, or was it because I wanted it that way? Maybe I was motivated by the expectations or needs of others to live up to an accepted ideal … or maybe I wanted their tacit approval for being a good housewife. Maybe what I really wanted my own approval. Maybe I felt I was never good enough and had to make the outer show reflect and compensate for an inner need?

The same with getting dressed on a morning. If I am going from here, to my son’s and home again, do I need the hair and make-up immaculately done? Or if I am giving a presentation in public… would I turn up in my scruffs and unwashed? And who would really be behind the decision?

They are all such basic things, but serve as an everyday example of the way we are driven, coaxed and coerced by our own inner needs as much as the requirements of living and the needs of others. When we think we are doing things because of others, we may, in reality, have an underlying motive rooted in our own needs, insecurities or desires.

If I am having visitors I will clean, hoover and polish till the cows come home… I will cook and delight in the opportunity… I will dress better and the hair and make-up will be done. I even look different… oh yes, I made a point of checking that. When there is only me and the dog the masks come off, the barriers come down and the face I see in the mirror is not one many others will see. Only the very closest, the most trusted get to see our private face. Not through choice … it is an acquired habit of self-protection, a reaction to our experience of the world. And we are very good at hiding even from ourselves, whether we consciously want to or not. There is a part of us, the deepest part, however, that knows exactly who and what we are.

The public face we wear is seldom about who we really are, even when we are sincerely determined to be ourselves and have no barriers in place… they close in on us unawares and the presence of others makes us unconsciously assume a role; face, voice and demeanour adapt to how we want others to see us, how we think they want to see us… and critically how we want them to reflect our desired image of self back to us…and this is how we define the ‘rules’ of a relationship of any kind with others. We gravitate towards those who hold what we think is the ‘right’ mirror… until we have grown enough to see that sometimes the right one isn’t always comfortable and soothing. It is the one that does not lie to us.

Pretty much all we do is because of others, in some way, but we forget that we ourselves are ‘others’ also. We are multi-layered beings, from the innermost core to the faces we wear as masks to hide the inner child and all its fragile fears. ‘Not good enough’, ‘not worthy’, ‘could do better’, ‘you don’t deserve..’ the litany of fragility goes on in infinite variety, shaped by our individual and well camouflaged fears and this is the ‘other’ that motivates so much of what we do… The mirror of the soul does not lie, but it must cringe when it sees how many fears we succumb to, how many ways we find to barricade ourselves from the acceptance of the true self.

Fear is a paralysing emotion and stops us from doing so many things. Some fears are rooted in the need to avoid genuine dangers but most of the fears by which we live pertain only to a percieved threat to self.. to our image of self… and we guard ourselves in so many inventive ways that we end up being unable to express who we really are, or bring to life the gifts we have to share.

Yet, until we look, until we find the deep seated wound or canker that has shaped so much of how we try and project ourselves into the world how can we begin to heal it? Until we acknowledge what we already know is there on some level we will shy away from anything that may highlight it to consciousness… like a child with a grazed knee pulls away from the antiseptic that stings, avoiding the short, sharp pain that promotes healing.

We would not berate a child for being a child and afraid…we would teach it with love, understanding and patience, we would reassure it that though its fears were very real, the cause of them was not; the dark doesn’t hide vampires, and nothing lives under the bed that will bite its ankles and drag them under… But we still wouldn’t let a child  indulge in destructive or cruel behaviour unchecked, knowing that some constraints are needed for healthy development. If we look for the child within perhaps we can begin to understand ourselves with similar love and compassion… and apply a similar discipline to our reactions and fears, accepting that while we may fail sometimes, the ‘other’ within is worth everything we can give to help it grow.