Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Layer 276 . . . Going Forward, Easter Weekend, Spiritual Intelligence, Christian Brothers, a Zen Son, and Vincent Van Gogh

Going Forward

I hate people using the expression "going forward" when they mean "in future". Where did this bollocks come from? NO regular person says "going forward". It's management-speak, think-tank speak, government speak, and I fucking hate it.

Some jerk on the radio just now said, "We need to have all of this in our policy going forward" - which is a sentence that needs neither "going forward" nor "in future" - unless someone means it's something that we should NOT have in our policy right now, but WILL need it to be policy at some future date. In either case, nothing and nobody is "going forward".



Easter came and went quite pleasantly, with some decent sunshine and warmer weather towards the end. The first of the flowering cherries out in the street is in full blossom - well ahead of the others. The neighbours' magnolia is just starting to open out. The forsythias are still at their peak of yellowness.

Feeling motivated by the sunshine yesterday I managed to re-pot a number of houseplants, and sowed several packets of seeds in various trays and containers. Hopefully this will be a good year for sunflowers. Hopefully it'll be a good year for sun.

Good Friday

There was an item on the Today programme that began with the question, "Will you be going to a church this Easter weekend?" No. Obviously.

It led into a discussion about the "wider place of spirituality in society . . . a sense of the divine . . . the place of particular institutions in society . . . a general loss of faith in the old imperial God . . . belief in a 'higher power'".

There was a consideration of "something else going on . . . belief in 'a god' without membership of a particular institution . . . a sense of the divine that's more subtle than the church version".

Some geezer from the "Institute of Social Change" (David Voas?) reckons that two thirds of us believe in a higher power of some kind, but don't belong to a religious institution. There are only one million regular church attenders in Britain, and only one sixth of us have a firm belief in God. However, most people think there's "something out there" - "something powerful that can't be ignored". The new 'post-Christian' spirituality movement includes non-godbotherers such as Buddhists and paganists.

Many people have a new kind of "faith", but reject a "simplistic, authoritarian teaching that no longer appeals". Something new may be emerging - something that sees connections between different faith traditions.

All of which I find quite encouraging - if EVEN the people of Britain are starting to sense the existence of a spiritual intelligence that connects all people all of the time.



I forgot to mention in the last blog that Emma Thompson spoke very movingly about the loss of her father, in terms of missing his warmth, his generosity, his wit, his calming influence . . . "

Clearly he was an extremely spiritually intelligent individual. A giver and not a taker.


The teaching unions have their annual conferences at this time of the year, and they've been talking about boycotting SATs again. Why? I thought they'd agreed last year that they shouldn't have anything more to do with the damnable things.

On the Today programme Alan Smithers and also someone from the Sutton Trust (Lee Elliott-Major? Lee Elliott (major)?) talked about the need to sort out our Early Years education and "exam overload". Smithers talked about the government running schools centrally as "franchise factories".

Sutton Trust man concluded that we need to "radically re-think education".

Clearly, however, neither of these guys has any idea about what to DO. Knowing the way Smithers leans politically - he of the private "University of Buckingham" - you have to assume that when he talks about radical changes in the Early Years he's probably wanting 'formal' learning (phonics, etc) to begin even earlier, in order to try to boost attainment.

Why does a flagship programme like Today insist of wheeling on such know-nothing pundits who clearly have no recent or relevant experience of children, teachers or schools, let alone any coherent ideas about the kind of revolution in education we really need, for the sake of all our children.



Easter Monday

Start The Week - Radio 4

Three cheers for the Archbishop Rowan Williams - for blurting out that the Catholic church (in Ireland?) is now an institution that has "suddenly lost all credibility".

["Suddenly"? Well done all of us atheists and non-believers who realised this a long time ago!

How typical of Blair to convert to RC just as all this shit hit the fan.

But how come nobody's talking about the church's Christian Brothers sect and their decades-long involvement in child abuse of all sorts, including beatings, humiliation and sexual assaults? I first heard about these people about 30 years ago from someone who'd had personal experience of what the priests and nuns got up to in their schools. 30 years down the line I've recently realised that by no means everybody has even heard of the so-called Christian Brothers.]

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Congregation_of_Christian_Brothers   -   see section on 'Scandals'.



Williams talked on the programme about honesty and truthfulness as being necessary if Christianity is going to survive. So even the Archbish has his doubts about the survival of Christianity!

Phillip Pullman, the well-known author and atheist, was also on the programme, talking about his new book which praises "Jesus - the man", but condemns "Christ - the church - the institutionalisation of a 'spiritual vision' ". Large bureaucratic structures do it no justice, especially when they betray the real teachings of Jesus.

Professor Mona Siddiqui pointed out that Sunni Islam doesn't have any bureaucracy.

Williams mentioned that the Quakers don't either. But he was concerned about "ensuring consistency down the centuries", and therefore the need for a bureaucracy. Sounds like some kind of C of E inspectorate - Offgod.

He also said the life of Jesus created an 'explosion of ideas', and therefore there was a need for an organised Christian bureaucracy to package and market what it saw as the key ideas.

Mona Siddiqui spoke about the Davos meetings of the World Economic Forum in which many of the most powerful business leaders have said their businesses don't have an "ethical framework". Apparently they would like one!

However, the majority of those businessmen, whilst they're apparently keen to give money to "good works" after they're made their fortune, don't really want to switch to an ethical business framework which might inhibit their ability to accumulate scandalous levels of profits and salaries.

Philip Pullman pointed out that the profit motive will continue to dominate above all other considerations, besides which, the directors of companies are legally constrained NOT to 'do good' - and only to maximise profits for shareholders.

Pullman also reminded listeners that values, morality and ethics have NO direct link with religion, as such.

David Baddiel, also an atheist, was also on the programme, chipping in some thoughts about relativity, truth and sources of empathy.

The Archbish had the last word, claiming that the universe comes from God. So there.



A Third Way?

Why can't these Christians and Muslims (and atheists) understand the concept of spiritual intelligence, the importance of pursuing enlightenment through direct experience and meditation, seeking inner truth, and developing lovingkindness?

Which would they rather have - a planet without any religion but with all the people holding peace and lovingkindness in their hearts and souls, just as Jesus and Muhammad urged - or a planet full of people who believe in 'God' but who go around killing and abusing one another?

The idea of a God and a Supreme Being is completely useless. So are popes and archbishops who claim to speak with and on behalf of 'God'.

Why was there no Buddhist on the programme? Is it just a numbers game - like, we have very few Buddhists in this country and therefore the Buddhist viewpoint can be completely ignored, no matter how useful, logical and sane it may be?

No - let's just focus on the useless, the illogical and the plain insane, and we'll call it "faith". We're all quite familiar, comfortable and secure with that.


How many parents in this quaint little country can say they're blessed with a child who quotes them the sayings of the Zen masters? Like mine said to me yesterday - "One often meets his destiny on a path he takes to avoid it."

He also told me I shouldn't make a habit of thinking about worst-case scenarios when considering options and actions. Dat's ma boy!



There was a fabulous programme on BBC1 yesterday  - Vincent Van Gogh: Painted With Words. Every word spoken by the characters or the voice over was written either by Vincent himself, or his brother Theo, or another contemporary.

Many years ago I bought and read a book of the correspondence between Vincent and his brother, but having it brought to life so vividly on the screen, accompanied by close-ups of the paintings and drawings, was mesmerising. Catch it on iPlayer.


I hadn't realised that in his determination to "make himself useful to those he saw suffering around him" he'd tried to become both a teacher's assistant and a church minister. Having failed at both, by the age of 30, he poured his spiritual intelligence and energy into his art, which he realised was truly his vocation. A man of the people, he identified strongly with peasants, working people and outcasts. The works of Dickens, and his descriptions of the squalor and poverty of the working classes, made a huge impression on him. He also read Zola - "The supreme chronicler of the oppressed and tormented working classes".

He wrote to Theo, "In art one must give one's heart and soul"

He had a passion for Japanese prints, which was also shared by Gauguin and Monet. He loved their colour and their compositions.

In February 1888 he moved to Arles, and reveled in the vivid colours and the quality of light.

"I revel in the heat - like a cicada! I don't need Japanese prints here!"

Soon, however, it became clear he was suffering from bipolar disorder.

"So many days pass without me saying a word to anyone. It worries me to spend so much time on my own."

He fantasised about starting an artists' colony in the south. He painted pictures of sunflowers to decorate his rooms and his studio, anticipating the arrival of Gauguin.

He said, "Let me quietly continue my work. If it's that of a madman, then too bad."

However, he discovered that working and "screwing" were incompatible!

In October 1888 he took off a slice of his ear, which he presented to a prostitute.

"I wouldn't exactly have chosen madness, had there been a choice."

By May 1889 he'd more or less come to terms with his 'madness', and was alternating periods of 'extreme excitability' and 'amazing creativity' with being completely unable to work.

He did several paintings of The Reaper working in a cornfield, having visions of Death cutting down humanity.

Eventually he went to live in an asylum - the St Remy sanatorium - where he became calm and lucid, and passionately devoted to his painting. Most of the time.

In July 1890 he went to Paris to see his brother, who had a new child. He suddenly felt like a liability. "Living at your expense, I feel the pointlessness of my life."

His final works were of black crows, flying above cornfields. They were possibly an attempt to express sadness, and extreme loneliness. He then walked out into the fields and shot himself in the chest. He was 37.

Theo wrote, "There was nothing anyone could do. Life weighed so heavily upon him."

Barely 6 months later Theo died of syphilis, at the age of 33. Could it be that Vincent knew that his brother was terminally ill?



Given that Vincent was simply a brilliant artist, and had no idea how to go about selling his work, how much effort had his brother really made to sell the paintings on Vincent's behalf?

What's it mean to say that life "weighs heavily" upon someone?

Maybe great artists are those who truly apprehend the human condition, in all its brilliance, and all its joy, and also in all its misery and pain. Such sensitivity, such capacity to feel incredible amounts of loneliness and isolation, for example, in oneself and also in other people, as Vincent certainly did, must surely be unbearable from time to time.

Vincent's real tragedy, I reckon, was needing to rely on his brother for funds, and the feeling of being a burden that came with that. He surely lacked - bizarrely - self-respect and self-esteem. He didn't see himself as "successful". He didn't have close friends or a partner who could care for him through his periods of depression, who could tell him how wonderful his art was. Lacking friendship, close family, intimacy, laughter, and ordinary day to day joys in life, no wonder he came to feel that life was pointless.


I think what we now know about depression and bipolar disorder is that there's no way to properly address the inability to feel any joie de vivre if one's brain isn't regulating its production of serotonin properly. Perhaps bipolar disease simply means that production of serotonin swings wildly between under- and over-production, whereas straightforward chronic clinical depression is simply due to a long-term failure to produce sufficient serotonin.

It seems pretty obvious that such conditions - such chemical imbalances - are exacerbated if for any reason we also fail to produce any of the pleasure chemical endorphin.

These things are becoming maybe less of a mystery, but are none the less problems that are difficult to address for a whole lot of people.

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