Thursday, 14 November 2013

Three Useless People I have known

I have met or known three useless people in my life.

The first I met at a family party back in 1993. I was told that this 2nd cousin had come over from Princeton University in the USA. He was an academic and into maths. When people had gathered, I saw this rather shy and retiring man standing quietly on his own. I've done a maths degree so normally I would have gone up to him and asked questions about all things mathematical. But he seemed to me, without having spoken to him, well, just boring. So, I talked to others instead.

I later found out that it was just a day or so later that he, Andrew Wiles, gave a world famous lecture at Cambridge University where he announced his proof of Fermat's Last Theorem. You can read all about him in Wikipedia here. What I would now give to speak to him, to ask him about his amazing and gargantuan journey to crack a puzzle that had tested mathematicians for centuries and many said could never be solved.

The second useless person I met was in my year at school. He was a singer in a band, and if I remember the name correctly, its name was 'Chaos'. This title, for me, only begins to describe the ear-bendingly awfulness of the music they played. The singer wore a tutu and I really wondered how this strange boy would cope in the wider world after school.

The singer of this band, Neil Gaiman, is now a world famous writer. You can read about him here.

The third useless person I saw was a comedian on TV. To me, he was foul mouthed, lacked anything interesting to say, and above all was not funny. "What a waste of time it is to listen to this man", I thought.

And then I read and heard his commentaries about life, the universe and everything. Amazing stuff. So compassionate. And written or spoken like a true jester, someone who can see things from a fresh perspective. Click here to see a wonderful interview that Russell Brand gave with Jeremy Paxman.

I do not say all of this because these three people are any better than anyone else. Because I believe that everyone has something to contribute, something to say, and is valuable. I say all of this because they are three lessons for me not to judge anyone. To listen, observe and understand. There is always so much more to a person if I take the time to listen and find out their true worth.

Monday, 12 August 2013

A Spanish Trip

I went to Spain on holiday. To a place called Cortijo Romero which is near Malaga in the south of Spain (Andalucia).

At Cortijo Romero there is a swimming pool. You can see the swimming pool in this photo. It's between the 2 palm trees and to the left of the chairs.

To keep my carbon footprint down, I went there and back by train. London-Paris by Eurostar. Paris-Madrid by overnight (sleeper) train. Madrid-Malaga by a high speed train. Door to door time, about 34 hours. I had dreams of lots of reading time, watching the scenery go by and enjoying the adventure....Well, I think I managed to read about 5 pages of my book.

The words in the above photo 'Proximas Salidas' means 'Approximately Salads'. This was confirmed by the meal I bought at the station for about a billion scooby doos. The trip hit an all time low in Paris where I had to use one of those south mediterraen loos which is like a hole in the ground and you have to squat. This is really difficult for me with dodgy knees. What I had to do was.....OK, I'll spare you the details.

Would I go by train again? Yes. 100 percentissimo....Down with carbon, that's wot I say.

The above pool was at the end of our walk on the Tuesday. The water comes from ice melt and is refreshingly cool. All I can say is that I used to skinny dip. Now I chunky dunk.

On the holiday I read the book 'Driving Over Lemons'. A true story about a chap and his wife who left England to live in Andalucia (near where we were staying). It's very readable and humerous in places. He is also an eco-nut so the book gets a thumbs up from me.

The teacher of the 'sort of drama' course we did was the very talented Kinny Gardner.  It was very entertaining and I learnt a good deal. One session was about sign language. Another was a mask workshop. And yet another about the art of stripping (I kid you not). Although it was a 'keep your clothes on' version. Judging by my performance, I am thinking of starting a new a business where people pay me not to strip. I think there might be mileage in that.

Here we all are at the end of the course with our clowing red noses.

A really good crowd of people. We had a lot of fun.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves by Stephen Grosz


Book Review

A surprisingly good book.

This book is full of case studies by the psychoanalyst Stephen Grosz. He uses each case study to make a point about human behaviour and the way people change (or don't change). Three things strike me on reading this book.

The first is how difficult it is to change. He writes: “...change and loss are deeply connected – there cannot be change without loss – loss haunts this book”. And “We resist change. Committing ourselves to a small change, even one that is unmistakably in our best interest, is often more frightening than ignoring a dangerous situation”.

The second is how facing up to, and accepting, reality, however difficult, is (in his own words) “almost always better than the alternative”. He gives an example of a kid who kept spitting at him as the analyst. It was only when the tragedy of the kid's life was fully acknowledged without any need to fix or repair it that the kid was able to, in some way, move on. And it was only then that the kid stopped his spitting at the analyst.

The third is that sometimes, theories just don't help as each case is unique. He recounts an unexpected hidden truth being revealed. An unexpected personal process is recorded. An unexpected consequence for other people is experienced once someone has changed.

If you are interested in understanding human behaviour, I recommend this book.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Postcards from Babylon by Christian de Sousa

 Book Review

On my first glance at this book I felt unsure. It was a big book and it seemed to contain various musings with lots of pictures. I felt like saying "but where is the meaning?"

I was wrong.

This book is full of meaning.

As soon as I read on the first page "what the fuck is going on?" I was hooked.

This book is an authentic, heart-felt journey from a dance and drug fuelled adolescence, moving onto photo journalism, through a spiritual awakening and finally finding unity through connection with the planet and all living beings.

One of the themes of the book is that we are living in a modern day Babylon with disparate languages, cultures, ideas, spiritual traditions. And this can bring with it confusion and disconnection. Christian experiences this with all of its highs and lows and then....

In a moment of devastating epiphany I suddenly see the problem with the core narrative of our civilisation, this now global Western hegemony that is rooted in patriarchal monotheism. Unlike the creation stories of the Nimiipuu and most other indigenous traditions, our myth of origin tells us that we are separate from the earth out of which we came.

Christian then goes on a journey to find an Earth based spirituality; for him, Babylon is transformed into planetary unity. And 5 rhythms dancing is something that helps with his transformation.

This book is written with insight and understanding, by someone who has really thought about who he is and his response to the world. A key personal insight was a quote from someone called Adam who said to him: "You are not a journalist, you are looking for the soul".

In our left brained world we sometimes look for simple, clear answers to issues. And I don't believe this always helps when we look at spiritual journeys and meaning. Each of us are a smorgasbord of instincts, feelings, ideas, background, experiences and more, all coming together to produce our own unique meaning. And this is book is Christian's meaning.

Dance on.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

The Scots – A Genetic Journey by Alistair Moffat and James F. Wilson

Book Review

This book traces the genetic origins of the Scots. The science around genetic research has leapt ahead in recent years and there is probably a lot more to come as the costs of identifying genes comes down and computer analysis improves. Anyone can send off a saliva sample these days and have it analysed.

The book starts right at the very beginning, before there were any humans in Scotland. And then traces the waves of immigration mainly from Europe and Scandinavia into Scotland. The book is written with both scientific underpinning and fascinating historical details about the changing nature of Scottish society over the millennia.

Lots of the history is very interesting, particularly the history up to the middle ages which I knew very little about. But I would have liked a bit more about the English/Scottish conflicts – these were passed over in just a few lines. And the impact that Scots have had on the world. In Andrew Marr’s wonderful history of Britain, he points out how big an impact Scotland, or more particularly Edinburgh, had on the world during the 1800 and 1900 hundreds with such people as Adam Smith, Michael Faraday and James Maxwell. Edinburgh was not constrained by the educational and backward looking conservatism of Oxford and Cambridge during these times.

Being almost half Scottish (both directly and via New Zealand) I found this book interesting. But the simple summary of this book is that modern humans came from a small tribe in Africa approximately 100,000 years ago, moved out of Africa about 70,000 years ago into the Middle East and then Europe and finally into Scotland.

So, there you are. If you want a short, concise summary of the history of humans on this planet, we are all one tribe and we came out of Africa. I’m going back to my roots….

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Spirit of Fire: The Life and Vision of Teilhard de Chardin by Ursula King


Book Review


Why are we here? What is the meaning of life? What is for lunch? And why do biros keep disappearing?

These questions (or at least the first 3...) have haunted people down through the millennia. This book is about Teilhard de Chardin (1881 – 1955) who was a pioneer in integrating spirituality and evolution. He was a Catholic Priest, part of the Jesuits and was born in France.

In essence, he saw humans as part of, and embedded in, the ongoing evolutionary process of our planet.

Whilst I find fascinating ideas and belief systems, I am just as interested in the person expressing those ideas. In the western world, we sometimes separate people and ideas as if they are different entities. But I think a more helpful way is to see the ideas and person as an integrated whole, one without the other is meaningless.

And this is why I like this book so much as I got a real feeling for who he was as a person. Teilhard de Chardin fought in the First World War as a stretcher bearer - gaining recognition for his courage and bravery. He was a prominent scientist with geology being one of his key passions. He read widely and travelled around the world. And, most of all, despite all of the suffering he went through in the First World War and the fact that his ideas and activities were suppressed by a suspicious Catholic Church, he still believed profoundly in what he would describe as the love of God and I would frame as the love of the spirit of the Universe.

People I read - Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme, amongst others, have taken up the batten of his ideas and have further developed the ideas of evolutionary spirituality; creating something that is deeply relevant for today.....or at least a spirituality in which I feel very much at home. And as the world creates different peoples and religions, this evolutionary spirituality is for me, a helpful framework to accept people of all faiths and none, as equals.

Possibly his most famous quote is "We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience". And here is another quote from him that I like: "Love alone is capable of uniting living beings in such a way as to complete and fulfill them, for it alone takes them and joins them by what is deepest in themselves".

I cannot add anything more than that.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Wild: An Elemental Journey by Jay Griffiths

Book Review

This book is awesome! 75 million stars out of 5!

Jay Griffiths goes on a journey meeting people from indigenous cultures including: people from the Amazon, the Eskimos and those living in West Papau New Guinea.

Her constant theme throughout the book is the call of the wild and the passion aroused by the wilderness. A passion that does not wait on convention or ask for a place to sit. But a firey passion that leaps up and scorches its way through politeness and civility to find the truth. A passion that burns its way to the core of the soul and reveals its depths; with both joys and sorrows.

She talks about the injustices done to indigenous cultures. By the mining corporations, missionaries and the greed of western un-civilisation. She talks about her battles with depression and her searches with shamans to release her from her prison. All written with searing honesty, colourful writing and compassionate understanding. She says "if you are really lost, it is only love that can find you".

Just one thought to gain an eagle eyed view of the territory covered by Jay. Her passion highlights the inhuman way that defenceless indigenous cultures have been treated by western 'progress'. That is invaluable. And yet western civilisation has its part to play in our great Earth drama. If we humans can learn from, and respect each other, across cultural divides, then there are riches to be had.

The last chapter was the best. About comedy, passion and the joker in the pack. Finally, here are my favourite lines from the book:

If you want to play it safe, you should never have come up here, for this is the freedom of rebels and outcasts, the mad and manic and misunderstood, the misfits and artists, anarchists and poets, the metaphysically alone, the suicidal comics and all those who sat at the back of the classroom, tipped back their chairs and blew smoke rings to lasso the teacher who tried to tame them.

So, if you want to play it safe, don't read this book.