spirituality

Lightening up the dark side

I was there at midnight to see The Force Awakens with all the other generations of Star Wars fans. I remember 1977 (just) – Paeroa, 5 years old and being awestruck with the story jolting some philosophical curiosity lose. Returning in my 40’s with my storm trooper t-shirt I felt right at home, like my tribe had converged from all walks of life. The approving nods, one liners that offer a secret hand shake of sorts. My expectations were muted and whilst I enjoyed the sense of nostalgia my heart wasn’t moved, it was a little too deja vu. No spoilers here but perhaps what I do feel sad about is the mystery of The Force. I’m also a bit perplexed about this galaxy far far away and it’s parenting practices. If there were social services of any kind they should have targeted that skywalker line and done some serious family therapy. Perhaps a family group conference for the Solo/Skywalker clan is needed with a few ghostly ring ins – Qui Gon, Obi-Wan, Yoda, and maybe Anakin – if he is over his whining. Hollywood could do with ending its dependence on Freudian psychoanalysis to develop its plots and character development. Actually there was a character played by Max von Sydow who looked remarkably like Freud…but he was shafted by a blade of light.

It’s a bit of a romp down memory lane, like a high school reunion of sorts. Where memories of the past are jumbled with the present but the familiarity is comforting to a degree. But here are a couple of strengths of star wars that are worth mentioning:

  • Diversity is the norm – people don’t question each other if they seem to be able to understand another species or even a droid/robot.
  • Age is a relative thing – some live thousands of years others much shorter and there aren’t long winded lectures to young’uns about it.
  • Difference is expected but if you are at the pub – respect the rules and the patrons or you will be out on your ass – or asses.
  • Technology hand-me-downs are ok – light sabres for example seem to be fine – no-one says ‘are you kidding? I’m not taking that old thing’.

 

My new hope is to recapture that mysterious wonder for The Force but maybe it will be about awakening my own senses and perhaps returning to my inner Jedi.

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Spaced Out

People have stared up at the sky and wondered for millennia about our place in the universe. We seem to be torn as a species between wanting to claim some exclusive specialness of being the only ‘intelligent’ life and hoping we are not alone. Of course we’ve made up plenty of stories to reassure ourselves of what makes us special along with enough rules to spend our short lives living in fear of getting it wrong.

With telescopes moving from simple lenses in the 17th century to the monster of Hale in the early 20th century, onto Hubble and soon the James Webb, our eyes have opened to the possibility of other planets existing beyond our solar system. It was always only a matter of time (and space) that science and maths would collide in an epic mind job. The numbers are staggering, the Drake equation is starting to look a bit like the homunculus theory of reproduction. Regardless of the formula the probabilities range in the billions of earth like planets in our solar system. Now of course that doesn’t necessarily mean with advanced life (I’d caution using humans as a yardstick). But someone else has done some number crunching that goes something like this:

  • For every star in our galaxy there is another galaxy in the universe. For every grain of sand on earth there are 10 000 stars
  • If 5% of those are like our sun – that is 500 billion, billion suns like ours
  • At least 1% of all stars in universe have earth like planet = 100 billion billion earth like planets
  • So, there are 100 earth like planets for every grain of sand
  • If we assume only 1% have intelligent life – (advanced civilisation), 10 million billion intelligent civilizations in the universe
  • Scaled down for our galaxy that becomes one billion earth like planets and 100 000 advanced intelligent civilizations – just in our galaxy.

 

Humans are a sad contradiction – afraid to die, and too afraid to truly live. Life is the rule in the universe not the exception. Science has eaten humble pie before although it tends to be laced with amnesia (on a brain that apparently isn’t quite as gendered as first thought).

I kind of imagine with 100 000 advanced civilisations we are well past little-green-men.

Broken sleep open mind

I haven’t had a lot of sleep the last few nights and it’s having a curious effect on my body and awareness. My senses seem dulled and strangely sensitive and I’m not sure why I am finding my piles of washing amusing. Noises and smells seem to move through me triggering cascading thoughts memories and ideas that seem impossible to guide or shape into anything coherent. I’m out of it but what is it that I am out of?

Had I taken something to get into this state I might be judged as irresponsible or reckless and warned against the dangers of messing with brain chemistry. We sanction the body and its uses in so many ways including what we are allowed to perceive through our physical and non-physical selves. The policing of consciousness, pleasure and desire is not always obvious and although we might know instinctively that there could be more to experience or want to learn more through experience, the fear of being ostracised, ridiculed, judged or excluded by others pulls us into line and so we publically agree ‘drugs are bad’ or if we want to take up a resisting position we must do it within the acceptable discourses available – such as legitimisation via scientific research or medicine.

I don’t know if I would recommend sleep deprivation, it’s pretty hard to sell. Maybe it could be a gateway phenomenon that leads to other natural highs like laughing lots or taking in a concert or potentially the most dangerous of both dance festivals! Oh what might the world come to if we danced all night outside in limestone sink holes to pumping music and glorious night skies.

Better stick to something safe and legal like alcohol.

Cramping my style

There is nothing quite like the vice like grip and pain of muscle cramp. The gradual and relentless contracting of fibres and a desperate knowing there is not much you can do once full tetanus has set in. I’ve had some fairly intense take overs by cramp, usually during endurance events and there is just no way to ignore it. You know it is inevitable and the warning twitches are setting in. I once had cramp from me feet up to my chest. At the 41.2 km mark in the marathon in my first Ironman I literally stood frozen to the spot hoping it wouldn’t or couldn’t creep any higher. People were cheering me on but it was like a bad dream where I had lost more than my pants but the bottom half of me. A guy shuffled past like he had no knees or ankles literally running from his armpits. He could see I was in the same state and encouraged me to just ‘do what he was doing’. No thanks, I didn’t come this far to cross the line looking like that. So I waited and eventually my body caught up and I was able to shuffle gingerly down the carpet and across the line, twitching all the way.

I like to ‘play’ with cramp, curl my toes until the familiar clench grabs then carefully wait and see if I can stop it just in time. I like the feeling and the sensation if I can control it. That moment when the tension hurts but if you gently move in opposite direction there is relaxation and a return. Although cramp is a generally associated with muscles, I wonder if the idea or concept of paralysis creeping in to draw attention to something, could it apply to other aspects of experience? When we encounter fatigue or a sense of strain of other kinds. Could spiritual cramp for example be possible or described in similar ways – a slow or sudden loss or gain of movement. Or emotionally, when something unfamiliar moves us from comfortably uncomfortable to painfully uncomfortable which can sometimes induce somatic pain. Functioning as usual isn’t possible. So it could be a chance to pause, go slow, get support, adjust an approach. Using energy differently or creating space to massage the tension before it seizes. I suppose writing like this implies there is a separation or distinction between the physical and non-physical aspects of ourselves. The similarities and ways subtle energies work and flow in our bodies, awareness, consciousness, stirring and stimulating impulses that might necessitate a pause or create an opportunity to notice fibres that have remained detached, still free. When we are ‘locked in’ a particular way of thinking, being, the urge could be to push against it and to keep going. This might work if there is enough flexibility but it can also pull things in tighter. Stopping us dead in our tracks or sending us searching for instant relief.

So maybe feeling a bit ‘twitchy’ signals there is something worth paying attention to? Is there some other form of intensity or overly repetitive movement in life creating a form of fatigue? Can experiencing ‘cramp’ enable careful noticing and observation or gaining the ability to move differently through the world. If readying for a major ‘life event’ it might help to develop an ability to recognise the social/psychological/spiritual (for want of some new language) ache. Then simply be kind, gentle and patient. It will pass.

Home Grown

Turning over the garden, turning over thoughts and memories of growing up in a hunter growing family I noticed the accumulation and intersections of meanings unfold. There was also the realisation that there is a purpose for crocs, they are in the garden – socks optional. So while I have been reading and immersing myself in some rich philosophical texts I still feel a need to ground my thinking in familiar activities and metaphors. However it isn’t the growing ideas I want to go with, it is the process of gardening itself, of cultivating, deciding how to plant seeds and the ways this reveals some of the cultural and historical practices of knowledge.

My Dad grew up in the 50’s, hunting and fishing were part of the Man as provider story emerged out of other philosophical discourses about nature (woman) needing to be tamed, dominated, conquered, brought under Mans control. Gardening was a big part of my childhood as was fishing and a bit of hunting and I feel enriched by these experiences. Dad’s garden and style of gardening reflected the values and self sufficiency of an age where industrial production of food was still in it’s infancy. The post–war generation learnt how to take care of themselves, it wasn’t a fashion statement it was born out of a genuine experience of hardship. But my goodness as a kid in the 70’s, it was like a religion with Eion Scarrow being our own green saviour. Yates bibles filled the shelves and anything that got in the way of producing perfect tomatoes, silverbeet, etc was annihilated. Chemical warfare was absolutely legit practice, he was Mr “Spray and walk away”. If things weren’t growing you just put more fertiliser on – more, more, more. Bugs didn’t stand a chance, neither did weeds, neither did birds – nature had no business in nature. Being alongside it and respecting the natural world wasn’t the kind of relationship being modelled at the time (things did change). But we ate well (let’s just side step the chemical bit) – no shortage of greens. And I learned about generosity and sharing. Because there really are only so many grapefruit and tomatoes you can eat juice, freeze, pulp. Looking after your neighbours was part of it and a good way to practice your fishy story telling (probably where I learned the art of hyperbole). People swapped seeds, shared tips and tools and connected over their successes and failures, learning from each other.

Moving through the 80’s – 90’s saw a huge shift economically and as such culturally for the ways we related to food production and what we ‘consumed’ in terms of associating gardening with lifestyle. For me this is where I feel a bit of nostalgic loss for ye old school ‘rip shit and bust’, ‘number 8 wire’, ‘bit of 4 by 2’. DIY grow your own has been reabsorbed as a commodity, a brand. Garden stores are almost like jewellery stores – just going into certain ones gives people a sense of status. Cooking shows dominate our screens, often with ‘fresh home grown’ produce as part of the tag line and ‘looking good’ while doing these activities ensures there are also stylish gumboots to wear. Now it’s not just ‘putting in a garden’ it’s ‘what kind of garden’ with an undertone of assessment of the gardeners ethics or spiritual alignment with the earth – or brand loyalty.

I’m not sure what kind of gardener I am, but I do know the joy and pleasure of eating something you have grown. I don’t mind sharing with the odd snail or white butterfly. I’m unlikely to buy fancy footwear for the garden, isn’t that what old running shoes are for? Dad doesn’t garden so much these days, however the silverbeet self-seeded and is growing wild outside the confines of the neat and tidy cultivated earth, in the hard clay – and it is thriving. Go Nature.

Book Ends

I go through book binges. This summer I managed to get through The Luminaries…on which one does not ‘binge’ rather pick away carefully and take time between courses, but I am already losing the plot. I also read two books in successive weekends that were…well…illuminating.

Waitangi weekend, celebrating the signing of a historical document destined to both unite and divide our identity as a nation, I read Russell Brand’s book Revolution. If someone asked me to describe it I would say it’s a – rant – rehab coach – militant – radical peace – best and worst of conspiracy – consciousness – political commentary – autobiography. Or, a bit like a Billy T James skit colliding with bikram yoga.

The follow weekend was Valentines day, celebrating the cultural signs of commercial coupledom destined to both unite and divide our identity, I read A Short History of Stupid, equally digestible with beer and chips, but a bit of a shift from Russell. It was like listening to philosophy grad students talking at the pub after a shandy showing of their ability to both think and drink and solve the worlds problems.

Both managed to capture an individual and global perspective, albeit with differing emphasis. Much like the concept of yin and yang, complementing interconnected forces with aspects running through each other. It was also an excellent example of polarity and diversity. From simple to complex, personal to global, theory and experience all giving rise to intersections of ideas that evoke some challenges to status quo commentaries. I think the authors of both would liven up a dinner party conversation with some charades or twister, but maybe not trivial pursuit. The common use of humour was strong, particularly the ability to locate the ‘self’ as both an individual and in relation to systemic political, historical, geographical….(you probably get the idea) structures. Occasionally both overly self indulgent but read back to back the interlocking of patterns and meaning was intriguing. In the days in between I read How To Train Your Dragon where a sense of irony curled itself into the ouroboros of meaning. The ongoing reproduction, recycling and reinvention of stories past, present and future are all lived now.

Where do the dragons fit? They are mythical to some and real to others with varying degrees of evidence and belief adding weight to the truth. But in the book they are mischievous and generally difficult to bring under human control. Think I might have some dragon in me, well, I do like to breathe fire from time to time…lots of heat and plenty of light…illuminating.

Just mind the kerosene burps after – hydrocarbons not so palatable.

Shifty Greys Of Shade

I scowl with frustration in the mirrored lenses of my glasses that are smeared with sweat and sun tan lotion. Damp patches growing as the summer heat refuses to surrender its suffocating mask of humidity. My hair pulled back in a pony tail does little to alleviate this. Crawling under the nearest Pohutukawa the dappled light offering a temporary reprieve but my skin aches for the cool caress of a delicate breeze. The temporary disorientation gives way to annoyance as a picnic blanket occupies the private space I had hoped to accommodate. Carnal urges to kick sand all over the place are pushed aside as I move toward another tantalising dark corner of the beach. Fingers already reaching deep inside my bag to fondle the corners of my book in anticipation. I duck under the low slung branches, thick matted aerial roots like hair brush my cheek. The blazing glare behind me I take a moment to orientate myself in the strobing shadows. There it is, the solid outline of sand untouched by the blowtorch outside. The cool sand pushing between my toes and the loamy smells beckoning I need no more seduction. I throw myself onto my towel and grasp the generous mass of literary flesh that is The Luminaries and devour every word. My quiet ecstasy as the words penetrate layers of my consciousness pulling me into a void filled with imagery and mystery. I am between worlds now and letting go, surrendering to the pleasure and delight of my heart and mind no longer being caged. My lips curled in a half smile and a tear of joy moves to the corner of my eye, lashes holding it until the surface tension gives way.

My neck aches, I reach inside for something to rest my head on. There is another book that might do the trick. Fifty…