Thursday, 8 December 2016

an inward revolution and Rowan Williams' eyebrows

Rowan Williams, 'To learn contemplative practice is to learn what we need to live truthfully, honestly and lovingly - and is therefore a deeply revolutionary matter'.

Always the danger that because he was the Arch B of C,  those not of a Christian persuasion, or those who are but didn't care for his leadership, will pop that statement into a neat and dismissive box. 

Or socialists might see him as leading a religious grouping, and all such are irrational, and oppressive morally, psychologically, and materially. Or they may object to a non-Marxist idea of a revolution. 

Conservatives might see him as too liberal, and "wishy-washy."

I'm increasingly prepared to take him exactly at his word on this. 
In fact, let's leave him and his splendid eyebrows alone, and just look at those words.

I take contemplatives practice to refer to meditation (Buddhist or otherwise), deep contemplation, and prayer, particularly of the wordless variety as, for example, practised by Quakers and Christian or Sufi mystics. 

Praying for the name of the Derby winner or for your bunions to stop aching or even for peace in Syria is not a deep contemplative practice, because it involves the ego wanting things and making narratives about it. One-way narratives, I'd say because I don't think it works, but that is another story.

To jump to the other end of the statement, let's consider revolutionary practice that is not in the usual sphere of political and military action. It seems to me that the people who, historically, always suffer the most in violent revolutions, be they of the right or of the left, are the poor. I think we're too tightly interrelated now for a traditional "storming of the winter palace" - type revolution to be particularly beneficial, in the long term, to the majority. We need, urgently, a reallocation of wealth in our society, but spare us the Bolsheviki.

And yet we surely need massive revolutions across the planet in the ways that we live and interact. Whether climate change is or is not significantly caused by human action, it is surely happening, and so is the depletion of what we see as global resources (in terms of fuel, food, medicines and so on) 

That is, the resources people sometimes say that we need to "save the planet." Well, that phrase is misleading. The planet will be fine for many more millions of millions of years. The question for us is surely how long will we survive as a species, and, more narrowly, as a civilisation and a set of cultures? 

Maybe some people will be surviving somehow in a few hundred years' time, even if we don't stave off disaster. But we all know that sea level rises, if they come to the extent that the majority of scientists agree is possible/likely, will have catastrophic implications for cities such as London, Sydney, New York -  you complete your own list of cities that would be threatened by inundation, whether from the sea or from rivers. And that doesn't even touch the question of food shortages and animal and plant extinctions that could also threaten our cultures.

Oh, enough of all that, I'm not naturally pessimistic, I just want to establish that there is an urgent need for huge change in how we live. Most of the answers that you could call "we'll be okay if we carry on just as we are, but with a few changes" won't make much difference. For example, electric cars, which people refer to as if they didn't put out huge amounts of carbon in being manufactured, and as if their motive power, if it's not from solar panels, didn't come from power stations of one kind or another.

So we surely need to consume less and differently on our paths through life. We surely have to live less selfishly; any sense of species survival surely runs contrary to economic systems that generate a tiny minority to own, directly or indirectly, such a huge proportion of the planet's assets. 

If we follow a historical model, seize all those people's wealth and no doubt shoot them, then surely history tells us that inevitably, a new elite will take their place and that elite is unlikely to be happy living with much less power, influence and wealth than the previous lot. Few are the leaders anywhere who want to live, in material and ideological terms, like the more modest of those they rule.

How could contemplative practice possibly help?

Because it can change so much about what we are, how live.  More next time.
 (He's looking dubious because I'm not entirely one of his flock. Hang in there, Rowie, I'll get to the point eventually.)

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