from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Friday, 18 March 2011

the ragbag blog: cargo cults, mindfulness, still not qualia

Hello from my sickbed. Yes am feeling very sorry for self, especially as work piling up; and then I remember Japan. Like most people I guess I find it hard to know how to respond to the scale and number of humanitarian crises over the last year. Anything one can say leans towards the trite, generic, platitudinous; one can't not acknowledge what's happening; and it also seems callous to simply carry on – life as usual for the privileged. (Yet what else is there to do?) So apart from not feeling well myself that may be why my blogging style has seemed limited the last week. (If you don't naturally incline towards poetry, especially so I guess.)

At the risk of this seeming fragmented – which is pretty much how I feel at the moment! – I want to try and plait up some loose ends here. And also pay attention to my present moment:

Cargo cult
Every day the courtyard is filled with wings. The birds are coming in in flocks, but pairs within those flocks now. The nuthatch has brought a mate. The woodpeckers arrive in a twosome. The single shy greenfinch now comes a deux. I notice that though the males are fiercely territorial, the females get to feed first and determine who else (ie no-one) joins them on the feeder! I guess they're gearing up for breeding and brooding.
  'You're creating a cargo cult,' says The Man. 'As in the Pacific Islands, where trading vessels arrived to empty abundance onto the shoreline, and the islanders had no context; saw it as an almost mystical manna-from-heaven experience. What'll happen when you go off to the Hebrides in 10 days time if I forget to fill the feeders? They'll forget how to forage...'
   I remind him that the RSPB (I think it was) says that householders (actually it said housewives but we shall not dwell on that) are responsible for keeping alive tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of birds in the UK each winter.
  Then I try to think of a pithier wittier reply along the lines of being a minor deity to birds as well as to dog (see 'inner city Totnes and the Shamen' post; January I think) as opposed to worshipping a cat, but a) can't get braincell to work sufficiently and b) it wouldn't be kind, true (he doesn't actually elevate the cat to godheaddom, quite) or fair (and probably not very funny either), and c) am trying very hard not to fall into this whole polarising thing we all do: self/other, right/wrong, good/bad, rich/poor, urban/rural, nation/nation, sacred/secular, man/woman, doglover/catlover... OK I shan't start. Another day. But:

see how the world
cracks open
along these faultlines
we falsely draw

And that leads me on to mindfulness. (Sort of; in that it's connected with the non-dual thinking that characterises Zen.) One or two of you have asked about it. I'll say more another time, but if you are interested, in brief a good description is Jon Kabat-Zinn's: 'Paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally'.  Living in this way frees us up to participate more fully in our own lives, as we're not losing the only time we have – this moment – in fears and hopes for the future, or longings and regrets in relation to the past. It also means we try not to bring habitual ways of perceiving and reacting to each experience, instead receiving it freshly. And of course it's a way of healing some of the fragmentation so many of us feel in our hectic C21st lifestyles.
   This, you will realise, is all good theory – and after all the years between my teenage self first enquiring into Zen and the present day still I lose myself all the time. But hey how good it feels when I remember! And it's simple – peeling this orange, washing up, writing this blog, walking, listening to this friend, sitting by the fire with my partner – all done with full attention and as few preconceptions as possible makes such a difference to the quality of that experience.
   And I think I posted before something on the 'two arrows' teachings from Buddhism? The first arrow is what happens, and there's little if anything at all I can do about that. But the pain of the second arrow is avertable: is entirely a result of how I experience each experience – and therefore how I relate to and experience the world, moment by moment. How I react entirely conditions that experience, and subsequent experiences too. This I do have some control over. (Yes, OK, the theory's easy!)
  And that brings me onto a definition of qualia - and that too will wait.

These are the days
The poem I posted the other day, since two of you have asked: no, I don't understand it entirely, either. Well, I do, but I can't really offer a context, except current affairs. Nor do I know who it's about. It came complete from a dream!

And so, my friends, back to bed for me; rain at the window; birds in the little weeping willow outside, just waiting for that trading vessel to sail by...

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