Quote of the Day

Growth for the sake of growth is the philosophy of the cancer cell. PHiLOSOPHY and LiFE blog

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Word Allergies: No.1 The Environment

I am a Prince Charles fan. It takes courage to speak as he has done today in The Telegraph, to risk reputation with the likelihood of ridicule and controversy. It's made me think about the use of the words the environment.

There are certain words and phrases to which I have developed a rather nasty allergic reaction. I shall be delivering a number of posts on these allergies. The environment is one such. The very use of these words suggests a kind of separation: here is us, the humans; over there, the environment that has (is) a problem that is vexatious to us. It suggests that we are somehow separate from Nature (another word that gets me sneezing). The thing is, there is no here and there; there is only us, where us = humans, whales, CO2, cod, ants, the Amazon Rainforest, and the whole rest of the caboodle. We are the environment; we are nature: there is no environment; in fact, it's all environment. I wish that every time someone said the environment, e.g. we must care for the environment, they would simply replace this with some kind of first person pronoun, i.e. we must care for all of us.

I've been reading David Loy: Loving the World as Our Own Body: The Nondualist Ethics of Taoism, Buddhism and Deep Ecology, which says much better and much more comprehensively what I so inadequately try to say here. Read it!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

My half century

I am 50 today. It's strange. There is a feeling of having arrived – solid, adult, an achievement. I am a work-in-progress: who am I? who/what am I for? And, inevitably, there is death around the bend in the road. Somehow the now, the not-yet and the no more are held together. It beats me.

Early morning it rained; the sun shone for a brief burst and there was this rainbow.

Monday, August 11, 2008

F. Couperin Les barricades mystérieuses by Fix Nicolet

This has been one of my favourite pieces of music for many years, having first recorded it from Radio 3 onto a cassette tape when a student. It was on the radio again this morning played beautifully on the piano. Here it is in a sweet rendition on the guitar. Thank you, thank you, thank you Fix Nicolet.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Failure of Memory


In the last few days I have sat with two people with failing memories. One could not remember that their spouse had died in the last few hours, could not remember being there, the time and place, the last conversation. The other, who plaintively, anxiously asks for a sibling who visits every afternoon with a friend, thinks that no one ever comes. I repeat every few minutes that it is not visiting time yet, there's 30 seconds relief, then it's back to the question. Over and over I am met with my failure to make an impression, to make them see. Nothing I say sticks around.

Memory is fundamental to our conception of the human person. What chance for psycho-spiritual movement, growth, journeying and coming to new understandings of life if a person has no memory of an occurrence and their changing relationship to that occurrence over time? How can I grieve if I can't remember that my love has died?

One of my all-time favourite films is Memento. A man, suffering from short-term memory loss, uses notes and tattoos to hunt for the man he thinks killed his wife. He is prey to self-and-other deception. It is a commentary on the postmodern world with no metanarrative: if we have no story to live in, then we have no story to live from, and we go round in ever-decreasing peregrinations, making the same old, or increasingly disastrous mistakes. We're like the Israelites having forgotten Babylon: lost without knowing the fact.

Goundhog DayHow then meaningfully to be with two people lost in their own Groundhog Day who, unlike Phil Connors, cannot remember yesterday and so cannot make today different and, just maybe, better. How am I to let go of the desire to offer the opportunity to think and feel through the consequences of life's happenings? I know that when I leave it will be as if I had never walked through the door: nothing has changed, nor can it.

I am constitutionally unable to believe that God is anything other than good – so God unavoidably, ineluctably is with and for us whatever, whether or not we can remember, whether or not we can pray. I have to believe in the fragile, fleeting and blessed present moment where my being there and my prayer are communion and a relief for loneliness. I have to let go of that modern illusion of progress, and the satisfaction of making something happen. I have to be silent before my failure.

Thursday, August 07, 2008


I spent the day at St Michael's Convent, Ham Common. I have come to view it as one of my favourite places. I spent the day alone and prayed, pottered and read some more of Into the Silent Land by Martin Laird. It is a wonderful book that brings together strands I am passionate about: body-centred spiritual practice, contemplation and Focusing.

While eating my lunch, I noticed the spectre of emptiness creeping up on me. I cast about looking for something interesting to do – a diversion. I have a kind of anxious feeling in my upper chest, where there can also be a kind of hardness, like a shell, to keep things at bay.

Behind all my addictive behaviours – behind watching TV, buying books, playing on the computer, eating too much, and many other distractions (these are just the ones I am more ready to admit to) – behind them all is emptiness and the fear that I am empty. But, so what if I am? Then what? Why does this bother me? Why not just be empty? Empty of what? Isn't everything in the end empty – of solidity, of permanence, of significance, of being able to hold itself in being. Aren't we all just like the clouds?

And then a flow of words: impermanent, gaseous, soft, transparent, insubstantial, evanescent, temporary, ephemeral, like the morning mist. Really, there is nothing here to defend, nothing to strive to hold on to. Emptiness is the nature of everything.

It is the anticipation of being nothing that is so terrible, such suffering. In truth, being empty is a relief, a freedom from always trying to be something.