Friday, August 7, 2009

Layer 178 Four Headings and a Funeral

The Funeral

The funeral was fine, and in fact really well done. I left the building feeling positive, and uplifted. There was no mention of God, Jesus, or heaven. There were no holy songs. There was no religion whatsoever. In fact the piece of music that played us out was John Lennon's best known song - “Imagine there's no heaven . . . and no religion too . . .”

The focus of the gathering was entirely on dear B, and the good life she'd lived. Which is as it should be. Amongst other things she was a loving mother, a gifted teacher, an inspirational headteacher, a long-serving trustee of a children's charity, and a good musician. There were two points during the proceedings at which music was played, and allowed time for us to sit in silent meditation. It was during those moments that the Christian cross at the head of the room caught my attention.

Was it fixed in place? And if so, why? And if not, then why hadn't it been removed prior to this gathering that was obviously intended to be secular? Is it ignorance, or arrogance, or sheer determination on someone's part that causes this to happen? On the other hand, maybe the family had been told they could have the cross removed, if they desired, but had said it wasn't necessary. No need to make a big deal of it. Maybe.

On returning to the car I pressed the play button on the stereo, and the very next song that came up was this wonderful Tracey Chapman number:

Heaven's Here on Earth

You can look to the stars in search of the answers
Look for God and life on distant planets
Have your faith in the ever after
While each of us holds inside the map to the labyrinth
And heaven's here on earth

We are the spirit, the collective conscience
We create the pain and the suffering and the beauty in this world

Heaven's here on earth
In our faith in humankind
In our respect for what is earthly
In our unfaltering belief in peace and love and understanding

I've seen and met angels wearing the disguise
Of ordinary people leading ordinary lives
Filled with love, compassion, forgiveness and sacrifice:

Heaven's in our hearts
In our faith in humankind
In our respect for what is earthly
In our unfaltering belief in peace and love and understanding

Look around
Believe in what you see
The kingdom is at hand
The promised land is at your feet
We can and will become what we aspire to be

If Heaven's here on earth
If we have faith in humankind
And respect for what is earthly
And an unfaltering belief that truth is divinity
And heaven's here on earth

I've seen spirits
I've met angels
Touched creations beautiful and wondrous
I've been places where I question all I think I know
But I believe, I believe, I believe this could be heaven

We are born inside the gates with the power to create life
And to take it away
The world is our temple
The world is our church
Heaven's here on earth

If we have faith in human kind
And respect for what is earthly
And an unfaltering belief
In peace and love and understanding
This could be heaven here on earth.


Now that's what I call spiritual intelligence.


Whilst I was in Spain I had an interesting conversation with my friend T, who has many images and figures of the Buddha in and around his house. He's spent a lot of time working and traveling in Buddhist countries. We spoke about the benefits of meditation, and he revealed to me that he thinks it's impossible for him to really meditate because he has an over-active mind that simply won't switch off, so as to allow itself to become still, calm, and contemplative. I guess lots of people feel this way.



Whilst in Spain I finished reading "Bushido - The Soul of Japan", by Inazo Nitobe.

William Elliot Griffis says this in his Introduction:

"This little book on Bushido is more than a weighty message to the Anglo-Saxon nations. It is a notable contribution to the solution to this century's grandest problem - the reconciliation and unity of the East and the West."

This was published in 1905, and of course things didn't quite go that way. If only such reconciliation had been the major problem facing the planet in the 20th Century.

As things turned out, quite a lot of stuff got in the way of such leisurely and worthwhile pursuits. Things like the wars against fascism and nationalism, the Cold War, Korea and Vietnam, America's espousal of the Shock Doctrine and its attempt to impose its will on the rest of the planet, globalisation, anti-liberalism, neo-conservatism, etc, etc. Not to mention little things messing up the beginning of the 21st Century such as Bush2, the Twin Towers, Afghanistan, Iraq2, global warming, the collapse of the world's financial system, etc.

In the meantime, any attempt to understand the philosophy of Bushido might indeed help the West to gain a better perspective on its own problems. Griffis was right to say that Japan and China needed to get wise to the materialistic, scientific and capitalistic ways of the West, and they've done that to a remarkable degree. The West, however, for the most part arrogantly assumes it has nothing to learn from the ancient wisdom, ideas and philosophies of the East.


Walking Meditation

Whilst in Spain I spent some time taking photos and shooting video of the sun rising above the hills to the east of T's place, enjoying, as ever, the quality of the light, the peace and the stillness of the dawn.

There was time to take walks up and around the mountain on the little roads that wind their way up into the campo. “Walking meditation” is brilliant for re-acquainting yourself with your body and its state of fitness, or unfitness. Also for focusing on your breathing. These are essential components of the process of meditation, which seems to me to be the process of gaining self-knowledge and self-understanding.

For instance, how can I claim to be enlightened, or even part-enlightened, if I don't even know the degree to which I'm fit or unfit, whether my body's strong or weak, and to what extent I can walk and climb easily?

Hill walking and climbing can therefore be a continuous reminder of the need to take care of our bodies and address our levels of health and fitness.

And then there's our emotional and spiritual health to deal with, assess, and take care of. What do we teach our children about these things? Very little, on the whole.

We need to learn self-assessment techniques and dedicate time to using them regularly. How well do we know ourselves and our inner workings in reality? In most cases, not well at all. Our culture and our education don't encourage these things.

How and when do we assess the quality of our relationships, and our love of life itself? People may love life and want to hold on to it, whilst hating their own lives and the way they live.

How often and when do we set aside time to experience awe and wonder?


The sun rising each day
With impossible brilliance
Clouds changing
From grey to red and orange
To yellow and purest white.

The sky and sea emerging
From black to grey
To brilliant blue.

A billion trees and flowers
Beginnings from small seeds
Growing from darkness and no colour
To every possible shade of brilliance.

The cycle of nature
And cycles within cycles:
Colours and forms appearing
And disappearing
Unbidden, never ending.


Gaining perspective and insight into ourselves, into others, and into the entire universe around us, is surely worthwhile, and necessary if we're to experience life to the full and become the best we can be. Where's the positives in ignorance and failure to perceive the essential reality of ourselves, our relationships, and the universe we inhabit?


And yet . . . too often, it seems, knowledge is forsaken and ignorance seems like bliss. The dark side of our own reality seems like something to be hidden from ourselves, as well as others . . .

Instead of grappling with our own weaknesses and failures we'd rather stay unaware of them, ignore them and dismiss them. Our poor egos can't cope with too much threat to our self-esteem, since they tend to be fragile at the best of times.



And yet . . . I have friends who have chosen The Way of meditation and self-discovery, and find that the pathway to self-knowledge and self-development is challenging – yes – but also exciting, necessary and very worthwhile.

I have other friends who say they cannot meditate – that their minds are too active with never-ending thoughts that refuse to cease. The mistake here is to assume that meditation is solely about calming and emptying the mind. Of course, in the long run, we want to achieve “peace of mind” and “relaxation”.

Surely, however, if we live our lives to the full, as creative and loving beings, adding value to our lives and the lives of others, we of necessity generate hundreds, possibly thousands, of thoughts, ideas, feelings and imaginings each and every day, each of which is worth taking note of, exploring, examining, etc. Who was it said the unexamined life is not worth living?

I need to say this to my friends who say they can't meditate - to be aware of and reflect on our unceasing and sometimes troublesome thoughts and feelings is in some sense to tame them, bring them to order, and perhaps neutralise and banish them. It's all positive. Knowing what we know, what we feel, and what we imagine, is surely worth knowing.

In time our processes of meditation – our mind, soul and spirit cleansing – can lead us to a realm where we can see and feel ourselves to be part of the universal flux, however strong or weak a force within it we may be, and at that point be filled with a state of contentment, peace, joyfulness and satori. Call it grace.

The gift of life is priceless. This morning I overheard my local shopkeeper telling his friend that money is no use to you when you're dead. We should be mindful of life – value it, treasure it, appreciate it, use it well, and enjoy it to the full.

We learn from our mistakes, to be sure, but we also learn from life itself, no matter how simple and uneventful it may be, and we may surely come to value simplicity and freedom from complexity.

What more do we need besides a place to live, food and drink, good friends, an appreciation of nature, and of life itself?

I need to return to the thoughts of the stoics and the epicureans, who also recognised the value of good food and wine, good conversation, laughter and music.


Piano Blues

You've got to hand it to Clint Eastwood. The man knows his blues. All this week, at 23.15, Sky Arts has been showing the series of full-length feature films originally shown on BBC4 on The Blues: Martin Scorsese Presents The Blues. Earlier in the week the films directed by Mike Figgis and Wim Wenders were shown. Last night it was Clint's turn.

Clint sat at a piano with Ray Charles, encouraging him to talk about how he'd got started playing the blues piano. Ray rapped at length about Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson, Mead Lux Lewis, Nat King Cole, Joe Turner, Oscar Peterson, and Art Tatum, whom Ray clearly regards as a genius. And Ray should know.

“My God, man, when you just sit back and listen to Art, you, you, you just don't believe what you're hearing. His left hand was just a symphony on its own. And the closest to him I ever heard was Oscar Peterson.”

“Oscar can play, man. (whispering to Clint) Motherfucker can play his ass off.”
Clint, laughing, to camera, “Can we use motherfucker in this?”

Amazon are selling the Box Set for £33. Also the book, the CD and the DVD for £63.

Clint moved on to interviews with Dr John, Professor Longhair, and many others.

“Urban blues came together in Chicago in the 1950s, which is where the Delta blues were electrified,” said Clint. Shit – 1950. Not so long ago.


Earlier in the evening a documentary on Mick Fleetwood had featured clips of BB King and John Lee Hooker – the absolute masters – who clearly rated Mick as high as it's possible to go as a master of the drum kit - as a keeper of time, as Len would say.

BB was also featured earlier in the week in the Scorsese series, and said this about the British guys who had embraced the blues in the early Sixties:

“They did more than anyone to popularise this 'Race Music' in the country of its origin.”

In that particular programme, directed by Mike Figgis, there were many excellent clips of interviews with the likes of Clapton, Eric Burdon, John Mayall, Van Morrison, Lulu, Tom Jones, Steve Winwood, Chris Farlowe (whom Otis Redding invited to sing with him on Ready Steady Go), Lonnie Donegan, Peter Green and Humphrey Littleton. These were the days of all-nighters at the 100 Club, The Flamingo and The Marquee.

BB also said, “These British guys (including the Beatles and the Stones) opened doors that I don't think would have been opened in my lifetime.”

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