Monday, 30 July 2012

Paradox or hypocrisy?

The ability of the human mind to hold two conflicting beliefs at the same time is simply an excuse for hypocrisy.

The ability of the human mind to hold two conflicting beliefs at one and the same time is well known. This becomes more of a problem when it comes to the basic principles which form the foundation of a civilized world.

If we believe in a principle which opposes occupation and colonisation then that principle must be applied to everyone. Clearly nations which claim to be democracies who indulge in this will be condemned more powerfully than those who make no such claim. But the universal principle needs to be applied.

If we believe in human rights and rule of law then we should apply that principle everywhere and at all times. If apartheid is wrong on one count, it is wrong on all counts. If holding people under occupation and denying them freedom is wrong on one count, it is wrong on all counts. That is the point and power of principle.

Where we selectively apply principles because of personal prejudice sourced in race, religion, nationality, gender, age or any separative criteria, then we betray the principle itself and its place as part of the foundation of our modern, civilized and enlightened world.

Everyone hates to be discriminated against and that is what apartheid did in South Africa in the past and does in Israel today. Everyone hates to be occupied by another and that is the case in many places around the world today, including Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Tibet, Kashmir, East Papua, Chechnya and others. Most people take the view that if they were imprisoned in an apartheid State or held under occupation, that they would fight against it. And yet many of those who see it this way, also hold the conflicting belief that some do not have the same right.

Most people oppose invasion and occupation and yet too many supported America's invasion and occupation of Iraq in which nearly one and a half million have died. They supported the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and they support the continued occupation and colonisation of many countries. And yet, in principle, they oppose both occupation and colonisation and no intelligent, reasonably educated person could ever support apartheid. But they do!

South African Jews were in the forefront of the fight against apartheid in their country, although many also supported it; and yet most appear to support apartheid in Israel, not because it is just, decent or necessary; but because of religious prejudice. Israelis support it because of racial prejudice, just as white South Africans did.

Who would countenance occupation without resistance? Very few. The same people who glorified the British and Europeans as they fought against German occupation, are just as likely to demonise the Palestinians, Iraqis and Afghans for fighting against their occupiers. Double standards? Certainly. Irrational? Absolutely.

Americans defend their occupations as examples of fighting for freedom; so did the Germans as anyone studying the history of the Second World War could see. But one is wrong and the other is right? When it comes to principle that is not possible. Either there is a principle that invasion and occupation of other countries is wrong - particularly when they make no threat and are no threat - or it is not. In this day and age we say that it is,  so why the selectivity? Do people really not see the egregious hypocrisy of their position.

And apartheid in Israel. South Africans do seem to be fighting against this but ironically, Jewish South Africans are not. In fact quite the opposite. And yet most of them would say they support absolutely the principle of ending apartheid in South Africa. But not in Israel which occupies all of Palestine. Is there cognitive dissonance at work when people take such irrational and hypocritical positions? Probably. Because trying to point out the ludicrous paradox of their position in regard to a basis principle does not seem to get anything but a heated and even more irrational response.

In the modern age we no long believe that dispossession and colonisation is just or legal. But the world has supported Israel in doing just that for decades. If China invaded and sought to colonise Japan would we support that? Absolutely not. But somehow the principle is not applied to the Palestinians - nor in any truth to the Tibetans.

So how important is it to fight for and defend principles when they are so easily betrayed and ignored? Very important. As important as it always has been because there are some things which if not 'set right' will corrupt, corrode and debase.

Some things as a matter of principle are simply wrong. Followers of Judaism would argue that they have certain rights because of past suffering and that is why it is okay for them to commit war crimes and human rights abuses in a bid to maintain their occupation, colonisation and apartheid State. But even if one accepted this premise, that is like saying, the person who murders can be set free because he or she had a 'bad childhood.'

As a matter of principle and freedom, rule of law, human rights and justice are matters of principle, we betray at our peril. Just as it was a matter of principle that we have universal suffrage; female suffrage; gender equality; universal education; an end to slavery - there are times when the principle must be applied for its own sake and for ours, no matter how upset people may get, how much they may oppose it, and how extreme they may become in defending their betrayal of principle.

When it comes to principle it is like 'white lies.' There are no 'white lies' there are just lies. You can tell yourself it is a small lie or a small betrayal of principle but it is not; it is a lie first and last and it is a betrayal of principle which weakens the foundation on which that principle stands.

From the moment that we become selective about basic principles of a civilized world, we squander the rights for which our ancestors fought and died and we betray our descendants who will inherit the world we have created. Either that is a world of principle to protect them and their descendants; or it is not. The choice is ours.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Feeding the wolves

At one level I relate to this and at another I don't. There is a message here which appears spiritual and healthy but which is actually neither wise, nor sensible and is potentially destructive.

The trouble with black and white, good and evil, is that it splits us up and splits the world. All is polarity and as Khalil Gibran says so wisely about Joy and Sorrow:

Some of you say, "Joy is greater than sorrow," and others say, "Nay, sorrow is the greater."
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits, alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.

So too anger, jealousy, greed, resentment, lies, inferiority and ego are  part of opposites and will always be 'asleep in the bed' even as joy, peace, love, hope, humility, kindness, empathy are awake.

It is in being human that we experience all of these feelings and emotions and learn all that we may be. It is only when we divide things up as good or evil that we create a 'wolf' which must win while the other loses.

Anger does not have to be bad or destructive; jealousy can be something which reveals how much we care and wisely used will teach us that; greed can reveal our neediness, which, if ignored will  push us to excess;  resentment can reveal our woundedness and desire to succeed; lies our capacity for honesty; inferiority our capacity for superiority of body, mind or spirit and what has been damaged in us and ego at its best is our companion, guide, teacher and sometimes saviour in this material world.

Just as night and day are not better than each other; just as summer and winter are opposites but not good or evil; so too is everything we experience part of a continuum and a polarity which, when honoured and embraced, create wholeness.

There is only one 'wolf' and if we do not 'feed' - honour, respect and love - all that it is, it will feed on us. We live in a world of polarity but we have a choice not to divide it into good and bad but to seek the heiros gamos - the sacred marriage - to unite all of the opposites in Love, and to respect that they can live their own polarities.

We will never and can never be only those things which we define as good for if we seek to be, we will simply send the other 'wolves' into the shadow which will feed itself and spring forth to feed on us and others when it chooses. That which we call Evil lives in that which we call Good and vice-versa; in every gift there is a curse and in every curse there is a gift.

That which we would 'starve to death' does not die, it simply takes shelter and finds other ways to 'feed' itself of which we will remain unconscious. Surely if we care for and nourish (for that is feeding) for all that we are, we create one healthy, balanced being; one healthy, loved, accepted 'Wolf.'

We do not and cannot offer literal 'food' to a child, adult, animal, organism or plant on the condition that only those 'parts' of which we approve can receive nourishment and likewise, we cannot offer emotional, psychological or spiritual 'food' or nourishment only to those parts of Self of which we approve. If we are to be whole then everything must be offered nourishment and love.

Monday, 23 July 2012

God's true work

 Watercolour, Earth and Sky, Roslyn Ross, 2012.

Through coloured folds of earth and sky,
the world unrolls through time,
and drapes itself across our minds,
in ways that dreams inspire.
Through visioned life becoming,
the tableau is unfurled,
embracing all creation;
revealing God's true work.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

A conversation on the difference between Fear and fear.

I capitalise Fear to indicate that it is in a sense an entity and that it has become in our world Fear, not simply fear. Obviously there are exceptions  and some people live their lives with what could be called normal fears but many, perhaps even most, have a lot of Fear/s in their lives.

I see Fear as the opposite of Love and that is why I capitalise both.  I see Love as the more powerful energy or entity or force. But, in this world, because of what we believe, and our belief will make anything less powerful or more powerful, Fear is the force which is most often, most powerfully at work.

 I am struck by the connectedness of this world, as described by physics, science and spirituality and it seems to me that Love, in its purest spiritual essence is absolute connectedness. And this is why Fear is its opposite because Fear disconnects or separates us from ourselves and from others and from experiences - and from this life.

Love and hate are two ends of a continuum. We live in a world of opposites. On this basis love and hate or even Love and Fear are opposite expressions of the same thing. I have long thought that one cannot hate unless one also loves. Those who hate their ex-partners, or even parents, can only do so because there is also deep love. Where there is Love there is no Fear, and I suppose, one could use the word God instead of Love, except for the fact that the word has so many connotations which distort meaning. But if the source of this world is conscious connectedness; intelligence at work, then that is the ultimate in expression of connectedness and what we desire and seek to make manifest in this material world; and what we call love.

The concept of love and hate as being two opposites of the same thing fits with an ancient Hermetic teaching regarding The cosmic Law of Polarity - everything is one of a pair of opposites. This is well described in The Kybalion, by William Walker Atkinson, first published in the first half of last century. The teaching has been written about and published many times but Atkinson's is one of the most lucid and concise. As he writes:

'The Law of Polarity is expressed in the axiom that 'Polarity is that condition of a body by virtue of which it exhibits contrasted powers or properties in opposite directions.' Love and hate, life and death, health and disease are part of the same thing.  This system of pairs of opposites is a part of nature's demand for balance. 'Opposites' are identical or 'the pairs of opposites may be reconciled; ' extremes meet;' ' everything is not at the same time;' and, there are 'two sides to everything.'

Hegel, the renowned philosopher said: ' the opposite of a thing must be known before the thing itself could be fully known. So you cannot know love without knowing hate.

And I would use lower case for love and hate as opposed to Love and Fear. And that is because there are varying forms of what we call love, and various expressions perhaps of what we call Love and the love we know gets mixed up with the Love which I perceive as the most powerful force in this world. It is all in essence, about connectedness and a matter of degree.

Love, as connectedness, as the source of all stands, as a power which is in all and Fear is something which we experience in this material world, in order to teach us about Love. In essence it equates with the most ancient spiritual/religious belief of all; that of the division been darkness and light, or what religions came to call Good and Evil. And in that magical way of words, in Good we have God and Evil is Live backwards, or the opposite of Life.

Love is absolute connectedness; love is partial connectedness; hate is partial connectedness at the other end of the spectrum,  and Fear is absolute disconnectedness. At least that is how I see it. Love and Fear are the same things in the way that love and hate are. Love has no fear and connects to all; Fear has no love and separates from all. What we call love is more passion and desire, and often demand, which believes it has connectedness but often does not. What we call hate is another way of remaining connected, as so many who divorce discover, and it too is about passion and desire.

Fear is only opposite to connectedness and certainly, when we feel connected with ourselves or with others or with our world then we do feel more sure, we do have more confidence and in that state we are without fear or Fear.

Fear isn't just akin to excitement it is the same physiological reaction. We have no way of knowing if a baby, or small child reacts with 'fear' or 'excitement' to threat. There is little doubt that we teach children to fear certain things and we divide the two for them despite the fact that physiologically they are the same. The hunter facing the tiger has the same response as the climber facing the mountain except that the hunter has probably been taught to call what he or she feels is fear and the climber that what he or she feels is excitement. The body can provide the adrenalin and hormonal experiences we need without us ever being afraid of anything.

So if Love in the cosmic sense is the opposite polarity to Fear in the sense of connectedness or disconnectedness, then perhaps in our world of Fear and fears, what we call love should have another name, and in fact there are many already, and its polarity is hate. In understanding hate we can reach a better understanding of love. In understanding Fear we can reach a better understanding of Love.

I am not sure, as some believe, that we do fear love per se: because there are many definitions of Love. I can believe that some of us fear connectedness in any absolute sense because that involves a relinquishing of power; a surrendering of Self and control whether it be to one's Self, to another, or to what we would call God. Many if not most of us live with the illusion that we are in control of our world when the reality is that we are not and we only have some control over what we do with what happens to us, depending on our nature and the skills with which we have been born.

Why do we not revel, enjoy, embrace in Love?  I think because the first thing we must do, before we can do that, is love ourselves and that is the hardest thing of all and requires enormous courage, time and persistence to work through the layers of Self; to come to know the Me and the I, and to face the nastiest, darkest and most terrifying corners of psyche. Some have no choice and as an ancient maxim says: 'those who will the Fates guide; those who won't the Fates drag.'

But I do believe that some are called to be dragged and others are not. And the more we come to know ourselves the better we will be at knowing what our Path is meant to be. Some people are highly intuitive and know anyway. Some people have forgotten that they are highly intuitive. And some people seek ways which will guide them to this knowledge. But the truly crucial thing, to my mind, is accepting that none of us walk the same Path or walk in the same way.

 If we are fortunate we find others who are heading in the same direction and taking the same route but we all see in our own way, hear in our own way, feel in our own way and can only offer and receive companionship. Someone to laugh with along the way. Someone who understands why you are on the journey. But as often or not it is a solitary journey and that makes the moments of connection, moments so precious because in truth, they are so rare.

Fear has pushed me to learn, to change, to know as much as I can about myself, others and the world in which we live. It has both driven and dragged me in fine Saturnian style. But that is my spiritual inheritance as my astrological chart so clearly shows and as my life has consistently demonstrated. I remember when I went to my second reading in Adelaide, with a woman who is one of the world's top astrologers and she now teaches and practises in Bath, UK, Bernadette Brady, and I asked her if my life would get 'easier' as time went on - if the challenges would diminish - and she laughed and said, No. And she showed me why. It was up to me how much I learned from what I was destined to experience. But she also said that my learning would involve a healing and releasing not just for me but at karmic levels for my family - both past and future. I liked that idea and I still do. Everything is easier if we can find a sense of meaning or purpose in what we experience.

We must stare into the maw of Fear and fears in order to  change what we are or what we have. Sometimes we need the pain in order to change and to grow, not that I would ever want to see it inflicted on purpose - but by it's nature, pain is a part of things whether we like it or not. It is not that we wish pain for ourselves or for others but when pain comes, it is important to remember that it can serve good purpose. It is also a reminder that as much as we focus on our own pain, we need to remember that we are not alone and if the source of the pain is seen as another, then that other will also find in us, consciously or unconsciously, the source of pain.

Marriage is one place where such pain seems almost inevitable.  And instinctively we want to take sides, our own, and want others to do the same, and put the blame out there, on the other. We quickly demand a victim and a villain. During my most painful time I was cast in the role of victim not villain although in the seven years it took me to work through it I learned that there are no such things - there are two people in every relationship and while one may 'act out' the role of villain, both are, in that way of the continuum, both victim and both villain.

 In coming to understand the part I played in what happened and recognising and accepting that 'blame' belonged also to me, I found a place of freedom I had never known quite so clearly. I found the freedom of taking full responsibility for everything which happened to me and not putting the blame on others.  I was barely in my thirties at the time and those years were some of the deepest, blackest and most terrible I have known - and yet, as you say, out of it came the greatest treasures.

And those treasures remain with us permanently. They are gifts on the path of life and we may choose to carry them with us, or leave them behind.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Power and the prison of poverty

The more things change, the more they stay the same…..well, here we are another month on and while some things have improved somewhat in Malawi, there are indications that things may not have changed as much as one might have hoped.

Wishful thinking must have been invented in such places for desires often do not get far beyond wishes. There is word that some $8million dollars will be spent on re-furbishing the five palaces in the country and while those palaces may well be in need of a ‘little work’ it seems a strange allocation of funds in a country which remains one of the poorest, if not the poorest in Africa.

I find it hard to get my head around such decisions and can only conclude that I do not understand how people think in this part of the world. Does such expenditure on such issues of ‘image’ and ‘face’ mean things here which they do not in the West? Do the people agree that it is a priority for their President to be housed as magnificently and comfortably as possible, no matter what they lack or suffer? 
Perhaps they do! Perhaps in the same way that people in Africa ‘tug their forelocks’ still at their version of ‘royalty,’ the chiefs and those in power, so too did the masses in the Western world centuries ago. It is hard to see it is much different to India where despite massive poverty and illiteracy and injustice the people appear to support billions of dollars spent on military hardware and nuclear weapons programmes, and, even more ridiculously, on a space programme!

When I have asked about such things I am told: ‘But this makes the people proud and pride is good for those who have little.’

But surely when one can choose between offering people a dose of pride or a roof over their heads and education for their children there are few who would choose ‘pride.’ What those in power really mean is they can sell the ‘pride’ factor to the people because they were never going to get what they deserved anyway so they may as well settle for pride. It’s a ‘warm fuzzy,’ no matter how ephemeral, in a world ‘ of countless ‘cold pricklies.’

But there is one difference! India is in fact a massively wealthy country and always has been. The reality of its poverty is a matter of choice, sourced in what is considered to be priority. Even Ghandhi said that if India wanted flushing toilets for all of its citizens it could have them, but clearly it was not a priority.

I am sure the Hindu religion also plays a major part in keeping people in their place and while Islam is a sizeable minority it remains a minority and those who fear for their future will always ‘toe the line’ more readily. But why does it work in Africa where religion does not teach that one is born into one’s ‘place’ in this world and if that place involves poverty and suffering then that is what you deserve?

Why do people stare into the gaping maw of poverty  which they know is worse than it needs to be because of the actions of those in power …and smile? Metaphorically speaking anyway.  Are they used to poverty? Do they no longer remember that things were better in the past, albeit under colonial rule? Is it better to be free and independent and poor where mistakes are made by your own kind than ruled by others and better off? Probably. Although it really is a ridiculous question because there is no choice.

This is not a rich country by any stretch of the imagination and while it was in better shape under British colonial rule, as were all African nations of that era, it has not been economically sound for most of its history. This is not an argument for a return to colonial rule. Such days have passed and rightly so, but just as in India one still hears people talk about how much better things worked when the British ran the country, so too, there is a memory of how Malawi was and how Malawi might be again, if sound and just government can be maintained.

But something always seems to get in the way of justice and the needs and rights of the people. What is that something which sees ‘self-serving’ rise to the top of the list of even the most intelligent, educated and decent people? I wish I knew but it seems always to be the way of Africa that those who gain power, very quickly, turn that power to their own ends and their own gains.

To add insult to injury this is a seriously religious country – either Muslim or Christian but each preaching the need to help others! But they are empty words and it is more of: ‘Do as I say, not do as I do?’

And I don’t believe it is a legacy of colonisation. If that were the case then any ex-colony would be the same and they most clearly are not. It has to be cultural and it has to be a mentality that one finds more often in places like Africa and India – these being the two where I have personal experience. Indian and African cultures are quite different except for the fact that they seem to accept injustice from those in power more easily. In India one could argue it is the caste system at work and a religious belief in the superiority of others and in Africa one can point the finger at the tribal system – a variation on the theme of caste – where those in power, for whatever reason, are believed to be deserving of honour. Except it isn’t honour; it is acceptance of their actions, however honourable or dishonourable they may be simply because they hold a position.

If power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely then never more so than in such places. Demanding accountability from one’s government or leaders is an absolute if there is ever to be anything approximating justice for all. But people don’t! They complain, they condemn, they criticise and often in the most venal of ways, but they don’t actually seem to do much. Occasionally they riot and sometimes they organise protests but given that nothing ever seems to change it hardly counts as effective.

It took the peasants of what we now call the West centuries to learn how to demand their rights and some nations are better at it than others. But things seem to happen so slowly here that the learning progresses, if at all, at snail’s pace. At some level it is depressing. One can believe, as I do, that all works ultimately to the good and serves a purpose but to see things change and yet not change is disheartening. It is right and just to wish better for people; to want for them the freedoms and justice which exist in the ‘best’ of worlds, not a continuation of the same lack of freedoms and injustice which have dogged them for decades if not centuries.

Is it fear which fuels corruption? A belief that if you do not look after yourself then no-one else will? After all, things have been better and then gotten worse and there are no guarantees. But surely if someone is intelligent, well travelled, educated and responsible they will know that self-serving leads to corruption and leads to slow if not fast social decay? Surely? But they seem not to.

I remember being told in India that if you were in a position of power, any power at all, and you did not make use of it for your family then you were shamed. Perhaps that is also at work here where ‘face’ is all and in many ways, as demonstrated, would put the Asians to shame. So much is about ‘face’ and the demonstration of power from the way one bows before or kneels to a chief and the lavish nature of lifestyle for those at the top of the ladder, not to mention the displays of sometimes epic proportions, shades of Cecil B. DeMille, for official functions and presidential appearances.

To be fair, the British still do the same thing with their Royalty and the Americans do it with their President, but in the main, such displays of pomp, power and presence are less rare in this day and age and have even less place when carried out at the stinking feet of poverty.
But it is what it is and in truth, at the end of the day, whatever I might wish, it is not my problem. I can do my small part and help a few to have a better life and that is it. The rest is up to them. There is a long way to go but people must want to go there and must be prepared to take the first step on that journey no matter the risk.

When you see how people live you cannot imagine them not wanting other but perhaps they do not. Driving down to Mangochie on Lake Malawi the other week, some three hours from Lilongwe, we passed through dozens of small villages. Mud huts with thatched roofs; herds of stupid goats wandering across the road; dry-dust compounds and snaking paths through tall grass and the endless lines of people walking, and sometimes riding bikes, on the sides of the road – this is life in poor Africa. The largest buildings are religious – a mosque here, a Catholic or Evangelical Church there; a Christian school or a Muslim school.

The other reality is that it is not just those in power who spend money on their own ends but the do-gooders, the religious ‘helpers’ of all persuasions, who pour more money into demonstrations of their ‘might’ with their churches and mosques, than they do into villages where the quality of life is basic, if not subsistence.

Perhaps poverty breeds a sense of powerlessness and for those who have dragged themselves from the very depths of it, also a sense of fear that what has been gained might be lost. It takes enormous courage to fight for justice and risk all when one acts as an individual, but perhaps it takes too much courage and far more than courage to fight for justice when you risk the welfare of your children. It is one thing to risk all your own and your life for a cause – but quite another to risk that of those who depend on you.
There is no denying that it takes remarkable people of courage and determination to bring about change but there is also no denying that it is easier to demand accountability and justice when one lives in a nation which can trust both the society, that means others beyond the immediate family, and those in power, as well as the political system which both provides power and protects us.

The stark reality is that when we take to the streets demanding change in the modern world, the Western world, we do not in the main, risk our lives or our security. Most developed nations provide a welfare safety net which will catch us if we fall and a political system which can be held accountable without  risk to our lives or our livelihoods. Sadly that is not how things work in what we call the Third World in general and Africa in particular.

Poverty is its own prison and perhaps those in power know that all too well. And the best way out of poverty is education. Africa would be better served if there was more focus on education and less on spreading religion. But self-serving is a human trait and is not particular to Africa!