Wednesday, 31 August 2016

A final home?

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us..."

So, pretty mixed, then - like my school-days, at a boarding school that no longer exists. My brother went there too. (There is a mindfulness/Buddhist point to all this, it won't be just reminiscences!) 

We were down there recently to scatter his ashes, as people say. Not a very accurate phrase, but more of that anon, if you really want it! We stood atop of this noble pile of chalk:

Much has changed since the more-than-half-a-century since I was at school. The top of the Down was quite an important military site during WW2, and had several pill-boxes and large gun emplacements (no guns.) It was all fenced off "WD" (MoD) property, so of course we felt obliged to break in and make dens up there, before getting chased off by the shepherd/caretaker and his dog.

The site is now open, they've built a pub up there, and there are people wandering about at will - it's all National Trust. And there are no sheep. The flora is beautifully varied, the grass is long, it bends and sighs in the breeze, and I nearly trod on a bloody great adder, a thing of great if slightly chilling beauty.

So it's not as exciting or adventurous for me as it was 57 years ago, but it's a much pleasanter, more beautiful place. The view of the school site from the top of the Down and on across the Solent to where my brother was stationed for some his time during his National Service and, much later in life, where he came to live:

Something about a life coming full circle - which might feel like a cliché stated baldly like that, but it certainly didn't at the time. Something about home, about significant places. He had been very much at home in this part of Britain.

It was the right place for us to do this, no question about that. There was no "he" to know this of course, though he had chosen the spot himself, and in any case, symbolic action is of itself powerful for those taking part. 

In one sense the dead have neither opinions nor rights, so that if we felt he had chosen something destructive, dangerous or unpleasant to be done with his ashes, we would probably have not followed his wishes. Yet the impulse to carry out someone's wishes after they have died is strong in most of us; that is surely because it "feels right" to us who still live; the symbolic action worked for us. 

And I think that was because there was a sense of rightness about it, for him, and from what we all knew of his life. It was, to be blunt, the right place, a transitory home, for what was left of him; it is now a location for our thoughts and memories and feelings about him.

"Home" is a huge concept. Many people in the world have been driven from their homes by violence or poverty, so I feel pretty lucky to have the home I live in, a place that helps me live with and bear the sort of sadness and loss this day on the Down might represent. 

But I want to get a bit further in to the idea of home, than merely home as where one lives, however good or bad that may be. 

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Women boxing and "Beginner's Mind"

I don't much like boxing. I don't "object to it" as people like to say, sometimes a little self-importantly. If two people want to hit each other, and risk brain damage, and other people want to pay to watch them do it, then provided there are reasonable safeguards, help yourselves, as far as I'm concerned. I just don't particularly want to see you in action. 

When I was growing up, there was a strong taboo against men htting women (of course it went on, it simply wasn't generally acceptable. Hopefully, it's still generally seen as unacceptable.)  

Coupled with that,  and apart from scratchy/slappy sorts of "cat-fights," women didn't often hit each other, as far as I could tell. (Not in public, anyway...) That's simply how it was.

Recently I caught bit of Olympic women's boxing (between events I would be more likely to enjoy.) It was this sort of thing:

 It turns out a GB female boxer did well in Rio.

I commented to the room at large that I didn't like boxing, and that in particular, it still seems strange to me - unsettling - to see women thumping each other with enthusiasm. A younger member of my family pointed out that this was a sexist comment. Which indeed it was.

There is absolutely no reason why women boxing should be more unsettling than men boxing. But our emotional and psychological make-up is about a lot more than reason.

My feeling came from my upbringing, the cultural context of my early years. It seems to me important to acknowledge the power of one's personal context, the power of the story of years gone by. 

We don't free ourselves by denying the reality of the past, individually or collectively.  It's no use simply disapproving of or denying the existence of where we come from. To do so is destructive of our self-development, it hinders change.

The way to keep growing is surely to acknowledge and integrate where we come from with where we are now. In Jungian terms (I think...) I need to bring together memories and dreams with my present ego, if I am to realise my true Self, a much wider and more profound state of being than my noisy little social ego.

Buddhists sometime speak of approaching the present moment with "beginner's mind." See it new, in the now. Let go of conditioned responses.

TS Eliot (again, sorry..)   

"There is, it seems to us,
At best, only a limited value
In the knowledge derived from experience.
The knowledge imposes a pattern, and falsifies,
For the pattern is new in every moment
And every moment is a new and shocking
Valuation of all we have been. "

I take him to mean knowledge as in knowing things. 

Deriving understanding from acknowledging my past story and integrating it with my present being: that must be how to free off the mind, how to use "beginner's mind." That's how to live in the pattern, "new in every moment."

I can't approach the present with beginner's mind if I ignore or repress my feelings about female boxing, rather than to acknowledge them and have a think about where they come from . 

To ignore or deny such feelings would be phony, it would leave me stuck to the old attitudes more firmly.

So well done you, in Rio:

 But I still don't want to watch you, and if I do, it will probably still make me uneasy!

(We're inconsistent creatures, aren't we? I'm as happy to watch women's judo as men's. Maybe with women's boxing there's something in there about women's faces getting hit? H'mmm. Interesting. But as for taekwondo - whoever's doing it - how boring is that?)