Saturday, 28 August 2010

The headlong rush towards insanity

In the past 46 years, the human race has consumed as many goods and services as all previous generations combined. Unsustainable consumption is quickly becoming the root cause of our planet’s most pressing problems, resulting in global deforestation, depletion of our oceans, loss of biodiversity, and increased pollution from a growing reliance on fossil fuels. Earth Communications Office (

The above quote is but one example of how mankind has plundered his inheritance that is planet earth. Dwelling upon the likely consequences of our actions, has lead me to wonder if there is anything at all, we can do to stop this headlong rush to cement, build, deforest, mine, pollute, eradicate, bomb and generally cause untold havoc, until we have conquered, raped, plundered and stripped every last inch of earth bare, in what we laughingly call 'progress.'

In battles, armies will often use a tactic called a Pincer Movement, to bring a battle to a swift conclusion. According to Wikipedia, the Pincer Movement is defined as when, 'The flanks of the opponent are attacked simultaneously in a pinching motion after the opponent has advanced towards the centre of an army which is responding by moving its outside forces to the enemy's flanks, in order to surround it. At the same time, a second layer of pincers attacks on the more extreme flanks, so as to prevent any attempts to reinforce the target unit.

You know, this is how I am now beginning to view the wholesale destruction of our earth, it's been attacked on two fronts, in a classic pincher movement, by two different forces which are interacting as one, and gradually squashing the life out of the planet. These twin forces are over population and rampant capitalism

There are too many of us on the earth, and the majority either want to continue the lifestyle they have become accustomed to, or those not yet aboard, want to jump onto the gravy train of consumerism. There has been a fierce debate amongst Ecologists and Greens in the past few years, as to the merits or otherwise of bringing populations under control; forced sterilisations, such as is practiced in China may be very effective in lowering numbers, but the costs of such measures often come at too high a price in terms of the misery and heartache suffered by those forced to undergo such procedures.

But of course with more people, more dwellings are needed to house them, more food is needed to feed them and they need access to basic health and sanitary facilities. Not to mention fuel they require to keep warm. These are just the basic conditions people need to exist. This is even before we come to the beast of multi dimensional materialistic monster. All of which have to be created out of the ever dwindling resources the earth provides

The other twin in this Pincer movement I talked about is our old friend Capitalism. Capitalism feeds upon large populations, for without large numbers of people continuously buying into the capitalist ‘dream,’ developers, manufacturers, bankers and speculators would be out of work! Capitalism depends on the mantra of ‘growth,’ to keep it afloat. Growth is the be all and end of this world, for without constant growth there can be no more expansion of the beasts tentacles, the money will run out, so less offices, factories or roads get built, mines cannot be developed, and forests can’t be cut down. All of which depend on the constant erosion of nature; the factories need places to be built, the roads need to be carved out of somewhere. More farms are needed to feed more people. And people, flora and fauna need to be dislodged and removed, so the developers, miners, manufacturers et al, can move in.

Do we really need more roads and bridges, offices and factories? Can we sustain them all, and more of the industrial economy that goes with it? No. of course we can't, but if we stop developing, then capitals very existence is called into question. And that would be bad news indeed for all of those involved within the machine who profit from continued growth.

As Charles Eisenstein so elegantly puts it, “The continuation of capitalism as we know it depends on an infinite supply of these new industries, which essentially must convert infinite new realms of social, natural, cultural, and spiritual capital into money. The problem is, these resources are finite, and the closer they come to exhaustion, the more painful their extraction becomes. Therefore, contemporaneous with the financial crisis we have an ecological crisis and a health crisis. They are intimately interlinked. We cannot convert much more of the earth into money, or much more of our health into money, before the basis of life itself is threatened.”

I just can’t see how things could be different; the human psyche gravitates towards accumulation by attachment and desire. Attachment and desire can, if understood, be overcome of course, but this needs a profound shift of consciousness,and not many of us are truly prepared for such an undertaking. Every time I delve into the media, I read about or view, the steady march of this Pincer movement; a new mine opened here, a forest hacked down there, a new road built over there, a spanking new industrial complex up there. Or another species placed on the endangered list. And despite all of the efforts of those who understand the implications of the path we are all hurtling along. Desire, greed and unintelligence will, I sadly sense, win the day.

Friday, 20 August 2010

A weighty issue: Signs of a neurotic culture!

I wrote this piece some time ago, on my original blog. Anyway, I felt that this subject needs to be addressed properly, if we are to value people for who they are rather then the size and shape of their body, so here is a revised article.

I took the above photo from the web site of one of our more trashy tabloids. Those papers love to carry endless features on women’s bodily issues. But, I like this image as it really puts into perspective the fact that no matter what shape a woman is, she can still be radiant and beautiful.

The media have an almost neurotic fixation on body size, and through the power of the sick, ‘celebrity,’ culture that predominates these days, many women are lead to believe that only by having a certain look and body appearance, will happiness, success and fame be possible. So we are treated to the ghastly spectacle of images of paper-thin women (and it’s usually women), who look like they have existed on a starvation diet for the past 6 months, paraded before our eyes

When I originally posed this piece, I received an interesting comment from someone who has the opposite problem, she is underweight, and she felt I was criticising thin women in general. I wasn’t of course, and as a ‘thinny,’ myself I know well, the problems those of us who are underweight, can go through. I am saying that weight, not matter what size we are, should never, ever have any bearing on how we perceive someone.

I have not the slightest interest in celebrities, but even I cannot avoid them always. I saw a copy of the Radio Times a few months ago, which carried a photo of the singer Cheryl Cole on its cover. As she appeared so underweight, I thought it was to advertise a programme about women’s health issues, before reading that she was to be featured in an entertainment programme. Many impressionable females will look up to Ms Cole and her like with almost god like reverence.

Here is another photo; its subject is the present holder of the Miss America Beauty (?) Contest. Whatever ones views are on such events, I would hope this photo will induce a feeling of unease within you. Unease that it has to come this, that a human being, who is clearly unwell, could be celebrated and rewarded in such a manner. What this person needs is someone with a kind heart to take her aside and tell her that she doesn’t have to risk her health to such a degree, to gain approval.

Such images of women are a symptom of a society fixated on very limited definitions of beauty; and where celebrity and materialism win out over sanity, compassion and indeed reality. Everywhere we go nowadays, we are assailed by images of thin, bean pole shaped females, who are displayed for their so called ‘sexual appeal.’

The media is full of such images, images that send out all of the wrong messages to young women out there. We’ve all seen and read reports of the problems many girls suffer, with eating disorders. How we, as a so-called mature society, can tolerate such madness, let alone celebrate it, is beyond me!

The fashion industry must shoulder much of the blame for encouraging such negative behaviour amongst women. And for encouraging the notion amongst thousands of vulnerable young girls that thin is good! They excuse their use of anorexic models, by claiming that their clothes hang, so much better on thin women, and that women ‘like looking at images of thinner females.’ I read an article in the Independent newspaper a while ago, where the writer was arguing similar points to those raised here. He went on to suggest that magazines like Vogue should be shut down, on grounds of gross indecency!

It’s time now that we stopped applauding such images of women, that we stopped buying fashion magazines, and that we vocalised our disgust at the way, the female body has been hijacked by popular culture! It isn’t just that such images are responsible for an outbreak of anorexia, amongst a generation of young women, but such emphasis on excessive thinness does nothing for the coincidence of most of the female population. I don’t think I have ever met a single woman who has been 100% happy with her body! I can well understand why. If as men we were subjected to such a narrow defined ideal of what is considered as desirable, then we too would suffer from inferiority complexes. At last these who

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Light at the Edge of the World

I have watched a film produced by Wade Davis, an anthropological who made a spiritual journey to Nepal, seeking solice to calm his hectic mind. The resulting documentary, Light at the Edge of the world is one of the most accessible and vibrant portraits of the essence of Buddhism I have ever seen. As he says in the film, "There’s something about the inherent tolerance of Buddhism that is inherently attractive. It’s totally non-judgmental. There’s no notion of sin, there’s no notion of good and evil, there’s only ignorance and suffering. And, this is the most important thing, the dharma (path), places all emphasis on compassion; you do not embrace negativity. Buddhism asks the fundamental question: What is life and what is the point of existence?

This is a religion that does not demand some act of blind faith. But says, here is a path, a set of practices that you can do, which has 2,500 years of documented and empirical, scientific evidence, to back it. If you follow these practices, you will achieve a transformation of the human heart and gain a lasting serenity.

Everyone has the potential for inner transformation of the mind. We all have our own perfect jewel, buried deep in the earth. All we need are the tools to find it. The dharma is designed to remove everything that obscures our own Buddha nature.

As one of the Lama's said in the documentary, "We spend some 15 years going through education, maybe too, a number of years to train for a professional career. We spend a great amount of time, jogging, or at the gym to get healthy, then spend more time on our appearance, hair, clothes and make up. Now, why don't we spend a few moments each day to see how our mind works? Which, in the end determines our quality of life." 

May all beings have happiness.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Decluttering our minds: Waking up from the dream

The fact that most people on this earth are sleepwalking isn’t an easy fact to put across. Who am I to make such a statement! Who indeed? But, ‘I,’ really am a nobody at all. And if I were to walk around with a head full of thoughts of being any better or more accomplished than anyone else, I would be living the lie of deluded ignorance. Nonetheless, I do know better then most, and asleep most of us are. Caught in the grip of dreams of desire, ignorance and anger.

Do we ever just stop and listen to the inner chatter that relentlessly fills our minds, from dawn to dusk. Are we even aware of the constant, overlapping thought processes taking place there? Chances are, that most of us are so preoccupied, that we are not aware of this constant stream of idle chatter that forms a backdrop to our life. It does take some degree of experience and a lot of willpower if we wish to take a deep look into the minds workings, to view the chatter objectively, as it were, and break the stranglehold that thoughts hold us in. Recognising the background thought pollution that is our cnstant companion, is the first step of the process of decluttering the mind, and freeing us up, to reach our full potential as human beings

According to the philosopher Descartes, ‘we are what we think!’ For centuries that old chestnut of a maxim, has formed the basis of our logical understanding of mind. We have all heard it uttered at one time or another. But like many well used sayings and maxims, it is not necessarily based on reality. How absurd you may think, what makes me qualified to pass judgment upon a central tenant of western philosophy!

It may be worthwhile here, to consider what we mean by the term ‘we’ or more explicitly, ‘me.’ If we dig deep we may have a hard time trying to explain what this ‘me,’ really is! Now this is getting even more absurd you may say. After all, why do I need to explain what I am? Isn’t it enough that I am here, that I exist? I have a body, I have sensations, I live in a house, I have a partner, a job and so on!  All of which cements the fact that this is ‘me. I exist, therefore I am! Yet, it has been shown in many of the worlds great religions, that what is actually taking place here, is that we are processing a collection of sense experiences; form, feeling, perception, and concept come together and create a seemingly solid sense of a ‘me.’ I see an object, I then feel that ‘thing,’ I give it a name, i.e. a tree, or a car, from then on, it becomes solid in my view, I have conceptualised it. Without wishing to go too far into the psychology of the mind here, suffice it to say, that, it is just this attempt to solidify objects, that heightens this idea of a ‘me,’ looking out onto a seemingly ‘other,’ solid world.

What is vital though is that we give allow ourselves some inner space, from the never ending thought process and begin to understand the powerful grip our thoughts hold over us. As Karma Tashi Thundrup puts it: “Some reflection upon the nature of our thoughts reveals that much of our conscious reasoning is devoted to the well-being and importance of ourselves, our possessions, our desires and aversions. The average mentality is awash with reasoning's, the conditioned i.e. prejudiced rationalisations of social, cultural, political and ethical opinions, the important property of an equally important 'ME'.”

We are slaves to these thought processes, they wear us down, tear us apart. In our attempt to safeguard and protect what is, in reality, a non - existent self, we create the seeds of our own downfall. That in essence, there is no one to protect, that our attempts to find pleasure only keep us further trapped in ‘the wheel of becoming,’ as our existence is defined in Buddhist literature.

Further more, by taking as real, the constant jabbering of thoughts processes; the opinions, concepts, strategies and plans, that we are always formulating, we become trapped caught up by their power over us, Chime Trunga likens these overlapping thoughts to the notion of a monkey, desperately trying to find its way out of a windowless house, the more it fights the to find a way out, the more solid do the walls become. Similarly, the more we fight to rid our minds of thoughts, the more solid they appear. We take thoughts as reality, their random generalisations of hope, despair, worry and desire, fixing us with their sense of purpose.

Sogyal Rinpoche has eloquently written about the problem of ego, “Lifetimes of ignorance have brought us to identify the whole of our being with ego. Its triumph is to inveigle us into believing its best interests are our best interests, and even identifying our very survival with its own. That is a savage irony, considering that that ego and its grasping, are at the root of all of our suffering. Yet ego is so convincing and we have been its dupe for so long, that the thought that we might even become ego less, terrifies us. To be ego less, ego whispers to us, is to loose all of the rich romance of being human, to be reduced to an empty, colourless robot, or a brain dead vegetable.”

So how to find a way out of the seemingly never-ending grip of thought? First a need a certain amount of dedication and willpower is required. The desire to not let your thoughts any longer rule you, any longer. Every time you think you are getting somewhere, a thought will pop up, telling you how well you are doing! It has been said that the ego, wants to witness its own funeral, it will use every trick at its disposal to attempt to hang onto its territory. Be aware thoughts coming and going; don’t try to cling onto any of them, neither try to rid them. Just observe their comings and goings. By letting them disappear from whence they came, they begin to lose their grip over you. By constant observation of your mind, the effect will be like a pond when a stone has been thrown into its water, after a while, the ripples die back, the water becomes calm again.