Although life always has its funny way of testing assumptions about anything, I am an enormously fortunate human being, living in a time and place where I have an opportunity to explore varied possibilities of life and to freely express my thoughts without serious risk of inquisition or persecution.
This blog is intended to consolidate my observations, the
only real conclusion being that experience has somehow shown me what I already
knew but did not understand, as written by many people before.
Throughout history we have behaved like members of ant colonies attacking, destroying and enslaving each other; with the added horrors of sadism and sexual violence, often led by one murderous sociopath after another. History is predominately one of brutalized, traumatized, confused people living in pain and subjugation – we in turn build statues to the monstrous and watch entertainments of the butchery.
Yet young children are joyous, loving, curious, imaginative, creative, alive – everything we as adults should be. Adults generally (despite the facades) are often lost in a mix of anxiety, depression, frustration, regret, vengeance, anger, fear and self-loathing; in varying stages of struggle and confusion.
Something happens along the way that drains the joy and implants the madness. If we are aware of what that is, can we become better adults?
My school up to age of 11 was unusual because I remember doing a lot of arts and crafts, singing, drama and creative writing. This type of education has probably disappeared now under the weight of standard curricula, exams and league tables.
I only really developed a passion for learning again when I had the opportunity later on to study at UCL and Imperial, of which I am very grateful. I think the difference was access to primary sources and the culture of novel enquiry for contributions to knowledge, rather than teaching by numbers, no matter how nominally effective.
A few years ago, out of curiosity and in the hope of encountering some benevolent people, I went to a Buddhist centre in London. I could see the practical benefit in the exercises being taught and listened to some wisdom words, but was far less impressed with the paradigm of shared beliefs being advocated. There were several comments that jarred me, such as hero worshipping and speculating in earnestness as to who was the greatest recent guru; or the retelling of fantastical cosmologies as a matter of fact. My mind was truly decided, however, when music and singing was attempted. No doubt the purpose was to emote joy, but the result was blank for me. Nothing close to truth would create art – the expression of the soul – that uninspiring.
On leaving, the assembly exited the front door past two Buddhist people standing on either side, giving their goodbyes. The first person was everything I hoped to find there – she clearly just radiated a sense of peace, compassion, joy and love. The second, who from the literature seemed to be the leader of the place did not have the same effect on me. I had a feeling of disquiet and, to be honest, slight revulsion.
I never went back. I think the religion is great if it can help a person grow into the state of consciousness of the woman I encountered. Most importantly though the experience lasts in my memory because of the contrast presented to me between the two people: do I want to be more like the one or the other?
Th’ expense of spirit in a waste of shame Is lust in action; and till action, lust Is perjured, murd’rous, bloody, full of blame, Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust, Enjoyed no sooner but despisèd straight, Past reason hunted; and, no sooner had Past reason hated as a swallowed bait On purpose laid to make the taker mad; Mad in pursuit and in possession so, Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme; A bliss in proof and proved, a very woe; Before, a joy proposed; behind, a dream. All this the world well knows; yet none knows well To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.
If I had the choice now to pick how many years to live I think I would choose 10,000 years, although maybe when getting to the limit I might want another quota. I wouldn’t tick the box for a human eternity, as transience feels fundamental to the nature of life.
Watching performers, I appreciate quality but I don’t get particularly excited by even exquisite technical excellence. Looks attract, certainly, but interest is quickly lost if there is nothing real going on beyond the performance. I detach emotionally when there is anything conceited or contrived. What holds me is real lived human experience, with all its perfect imperfections; something genuine that has emerged in the moment and surprised even the performer.