BLAME, BLAME, BUT NO GAIN WITH BLAME

         As we shuffle towards the US General Election with our eyes closed and half open, fearing the worst… not to mention sliding down the chair with our face in our hands as a British Government refuses to feed its own children, it’s time to open our eyes and look at blame, and avoid it from many angles.

         Blame is not lovely, but sometimes we all feel as though we need to do it. The gruesome Trump has no policies, no intelligence and no ideas, but he does do blame really, really, really well. He trumps in the language of blame. He blares on blame, and he blames Biden, the Chinese, losers, war heroes, journos, polls, immigrants from Mexico, Muslims, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, presidential debates, Covid-19 and on and on… he does blame so well. And now… if you want to take a look at our own watered-down version of that odious dude, think about Bojo’s capacity for blame as he lies and whines at Keir Starmer, over and over again accusing him of non-cooperation, doing hindsight, complicity with the IRA and other ugly stuff. And then there’s the list of innocents he likes to throw brickbats at – the European Union, tank-topped bumboys (his words), women, piccaninnies (his words), single mothers and on and on.

         And thus, I do blame as well. Do you? I hate blame, but I do it alright. I blame Bojo’s weakness for Dom for the breakdown of confidence in the Government’s handling of Covid, I blame privatisation and the greedy rich for widespread financial despair, I blame short term gluttony and long-term stupidity for the degradation of the environment, I blame Jeremy Corbyn for his narcissism for losing the election and on and on and on. I do blame, but I hate it. But the trouble is… blame is just an idea. It isn’t real. It doesn’t exist. People who do blame, who use it as an argument are not logical, because blame is an abstract construct like self-pity or mindless prejudice. The ancient Chinese philosophers often said “No blame” and when I kept reading this, I wondered what the hell they meant… but later… when I realised that balance, harmony, acceptance and understanding rule ones perception of the world, there’s no place for blame… 

There is a numinous [mind] naturally residing within [有神自在身]; 
One moment it goes, the next it comes, 
And no one is able to conceive of it. 
If you lose it you are inevitably disordered; 
If you attain it you are inevitably well ordered. 
Diligently clean out its lodging place [敬除其舍] 
And its vital essence will naturally arrive [精將自來]. 
Still your attempts to imagine and conceive of it. 
Relax your efforts to reflect on and control it. 
Be reverent and diligent 
And its vital essence will naturally stabilize. 
Grasp it and don’t let go 
Then the eyes and ears won’t overflow 
And the mind will have nothing else to seek. 
When a properly aligned mind resides within you [正心在中], 
The myriad things will be seen in their proper perspective.

And this is how one gets balance into its rightful place… and this is why there is no place for blame. Yippee!

Friends… What a good thing… what a perfect thing… particularly now

I love this blog, but who would believe it? The picture with the view of the pier, the feeling of freedom that one can just about write about anything (other than one’s hatred of the Government, which must not be done, otherwise there’ll be tears before bed-time). The last blog I wrote was two months ago, I was younger, lovelier, and life was different… I lie… but only in part. With such thoughts in mind, I think anyone who has decided to read this blog, deserves a prize, and so I would like you to award yourself one… so after you’ve read this… make yourself a cup of tea, your most favourite variety, and have a biscuit as well, and class yourself as a friend.

It must be said that if you are reading this, you must be a friend, because we all want to talk, or sing, or make a noise, but only a very few of us want to actually take the time to sit down and read something, and it seems to me that only a friend would actually do this. Thank you.

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to friends, because every week I do a blog (another blog) called Words of Connection — which I suspect is one of the reasons why I’ve neglected Antbeat. This week the Words of Connection was dedicated to the theme of friendship, for the simple reason that we need our friends so much now. The pandemic has been cruel, and our leaders have been more than incompetent. We live in times of such uncertainty that one cannot begin to list the uncertainties – just to say that the most powerful world leader appeared on TV last night and screamed and screamed until he was nearly sick, behaving like a three-year-old. Meanwhile we (in the so-called UK) had the privilege of hearing from our own leader, saying very carefully – “Piffle, wiffle, sniffle, six pillars of pifflers with a shloppy, floppy, acuity and inter-continental vacuity. Northern Pifflers do it too.” And so, you and I have the privilege of being able to appreciate that our lives, and the lives of those we love, are in the hands of some of the most self-absorbed, inane, talentless, blobby white creatures on the planet. Bear up… And don’t be afraid. As Teresa of Avila said “Let nothing disturb you, let nothing frighten you, all things will pass…”

That’s why we all need our friends.

I made a new friend this week. A day or two ago, when I went for my early morning walk, a pretty young fox followed me down the road, and she did something similar the next day. I offered her a piece of cheese, and since then we’ve become the best of friends. I suppose this is another way to make friends. Fancy a piece of cheese?

Thank-you, friend, for reading this blog. Let’s blog again soon.

Light in the Lockdown: The Faith Response to Covid-19 in our City

For well over 20 years, the Interfaith Contact Group of Brighton and Hove (which I chair) has been serving our City, bringing all the various faiths together to share ideas, and events and generally find common causes we can talk about. A couple of years back we ran a competition to find The Angel of Brighton & Hove, which was a fun exercise that proved a big success with adults and children alike. Last year we ran a Tree of Life event that also revealed the spiritual wisdom that comes from different faiths and the importance of the tree as a spiritual symbol.

This year we set off singing and dancing, intending to celebrate the year on the theme of light. With the help of Brighton Museum and its curators, we planned to hold a family day celebrating light with music, talks, games and all manner of jolly activities. We also planned to draw attention to religious festivals like Diwali and Hanukka where light plays an inspirational part in the lives of people from the Hindu and Jewish faiths.

But, of course, it was not to be. When the Coronavirus struck, and we went into lockdown, everything came to an abrupt halt. We responded to the crisis as best we could, staying in contact with members and friends. We set up a weekly poetry, prayer and reading service called Words of Connection which features topical items alongside historical and related topics. The feedback was amazing, and thanks to the help of various supporters we were able to present Words of Connection in different formats – as a weekly email, and also as a blog on our Website.

But the greatest record of the faith’s response to Covid-19 came from a brilliant documentary film made by Sarah West of West Creative. Entitled Light in the Lockdown, it lasts just 17 minutes, and tells the story about how the people in our City are looking after each other, in every sense, both physically and spiritually. I urge you to look at it. It is both compassionate and moving. 

New Lessons in Walking Round Things

I would never have thought that to go out I would need little or no cash, a phone and a mask as essential items to travel with. But thus it has come to be. Today I have to walk into town, and this is the weird shopping list I have strapped to my mind, as I contemplate dancing around all and sundry.

Also… I would never have though that my age would single me out in some way, because like so many older people I have not, as yet got used to the idea of being old ; I was always a late starter. But Covid and our glorious Government say that older people must be careful, so I am following the rules. I follow the rules for the benefit of people working in the NHS, and nice people, not those broken by non-electable non-ministers in charge of everything.

In fact, the pandemic has made me fitter. I have taken to walking every day. The tedium of having to avoid people in the street has driven me out at 5.30 every morning to walk alone, if possible without the interruption of dancing warily around sweaty joggers or dog walkers. The solitude of the park in the early morning is a treat and an education. I have come to know the local fox that hangs around. He is a sad, solitary and mangy young thing who is constantly having arguments with the local bird population. Meanwhile all the beasts in the park fight over the stuff left by humans – the bits of bread and pizza, and over the weekends this is spread far and wide for all to see, but during the week the park is good and clean.

Maybe the most lovely part about haunting the park at the crack of dawn is the reaction of the wildlife. Originally all the birds and squirrels would scatter, sometimes warning each other of a stranger’s impending arrival. Now they just can’t be bothered. I reckon they say to each other “Oh it’s her again, don’t bother,” and I find myself having to walk around them while they forage. One way or another, it looks as though from now on I’m always going to be walking round a human, or a bird or some wild beasty thing.  The only birds that still fly off hysterically (as though they’ve never seen me before) are the blobby woodpigeons, but I was always thought of them as bird brains.

The Wild Will Win

All the good poets I know are having terrible problems. Everything they write comes out sounding angry. Anger at the UK government, anger at the US president, anger at the lack of value of black lives, old lives, carers, front-line workers, people… And there’s anger about what is happening to nature after the respite created by Covid 19. The Government will soon give billions away to support the polluting industries. It looks like we’re back to Square One. Where we might have had guidance and clarity, we have a vacuum. The empty rhetoric goes on… and on… an on… from strong and stable to oven-ready deal, from Get Brexit done, to send the virus packing, wash your hands, Led by science,  to stay alert …

Today it’s “The Great Economic Reform Bill”. Nothing is great until history and time prove it to be, and history and time will judge BoJo and Trump… but don’t despair. There is always another day. There is always hope. Nature, divinity, that which is, will come back… or as Dylan Thomas said “And Death Shall have no Dominion.”

The Wild Will Win

Put away your anger…
Mankind
Human greed
Our sorrow
The wild will win

Existence and dis-ease
Made us stop
Turn back
Want tomorrow
So the wild would win

Now the divine earth
Witnesses man at play
Cars, plans, planes, power
Return to follow on
And the wild will win

Lockdown Poem

Every morning I get up and walk, at around 5.30 or 6. If it’s a bad day it’s 8, and the number of people irritate me, and I become quite silly and sulky. One becomes quite strange in this Lockdown. Some friends that live alone are not finding it easy, and I suspect that a few people who find themselves with a partner feel equally alone, in a different way. Others are just having a great time, and I find myself telling them to enjoy themselves, and stop feeling guilty.

So here is a picture of what I see when I go for my walk… and a poem about lockdown:

Lockdown

Freedom went
Didn’t know our luck
Plucked and stuck
Doors closed
Luckdown
Lockdown

Knockdown
Look down
Life down
Life drown
Doors closed
Hearts opened

We gave food 
Queued
Stepped back
Polite and rude
Some clapped
Clapped out
Stepped back
Wept, crept
Paused
Looked back
Lockdown

Isolation
Home alone
Phone home
Alone 
With myself
With another
Melted thoughts
Knockdown

Move aside
Shifting
Sideways on
In parks 
Shuffling
Taking
Talking 
Waking
Walking
Lying
Breaking

Gift of love
Song of life
Bottle of hope
Food for thought
Insight… Lockdown

Entering the Age of The Hanged Man

There are oracles and prophets – some are inscrutable, some efficient, some dicey and some totally illuminating. It’s always a good thing to consult the oracle when you get your metaphoric knickers in a twist. 

I used to read Tarot cards with great enthusiasm in my youth — but after some really unpleasant presages of things that happened to people I loved, I went right off it. This is, of course ridiculous, because life is full of ups and downs, and just because you get a signpost of what’s to happen, there’s no reason to go all wimpy, but I did… so I just don’t read Tarot cards any more.

Recently I realised that the Tarot is also a good indicator of zeitgeist, and I realised that we have now entered the age of The Hanged Man. So who is the Hanged Man? Some people say he has a female face, and is smiling, but the most important thing about him/her is that she hangs upside-down suspended from a wooden gibbet and for all the world looks very calm… but above all things she represents sacrifice, something that we know nothing about. When Margaret Thatcher became prime minister and told the nation that we had the right to have everything we wanted, we forgot about sacrifice. But Thatcher is also a lesson on how being self-serving doesn’t necessarily work. I don’t think she was that happy in the end.

As we all know, we now occupy a crazy world, ruled by the likes of Trump, Johnson and Bolsonaro. Significantly those three have failed their countries conspicuously when it comes to Covid 19. Their creed perpetuates a world where money is the only goal worth pursuing. No wonder they have all fallen at the first hurdle thrown at them by mother nature.

Now we have to learn about sacrifice – it’s the new norm. Sacrifice is such a beautiful thing. The best side of it sees people doing astonishing things for others, risking their lives, taking time to nurture, care for people and think about them… and very sadly, sometimes even die for them. Sacrifice has us all hanging upside down from the gibbet with a smile on our faces knowing all the things we can no longer do, or see, or be, or eat, or achieve. And none of them are that important. But in the knowing of sacrifice we can, if we are lucky, be a great deal happier, wiser and more loving. It can be done.

And here’s a little film from the brilliant Sarah West to remind us of the joy that comes out of sacrifice: 

A Tribute to Carers… Across the World

I come across many carers — gentle people who have nursed men, women and children for days, weeks and sometimes years. At a funeral, it was always evident that they cared so much, and carried out their work with love and tenderness. My heart went out to them. They wore an invisible badge of compassion.

Today carers – including doctors and nurses are in the front line in the fight against the Corona virus, and we find ourselves both revering and celebrating their courage and devotion.

For the past two Thursdays, at 8pm, neighbours have stood in doorways and hung from windows and just applauded, crashed pans, rung bells, shook maracas and beaten drums for a few minutes in heartfelt appreciation for the heroic carers working for us and sometimes dying for us. After the applause had died down and we returned to the house I realised I had tears in my eyes, like millions of other people, everywhere.

Here’s my prayer for carers:

Let’s give thanks
To those that know compassion
Carers, nurses, doctors
Gentle and kind
Volunteers and cleaners
Serving people near and far 
Adults and children 
Young and old
Female and male
Let’s offer up our loving thanks


Let’s honour those
That are fearless
As they walk
Into the valley of death
Sweeping aside dread
Bringing comfort to the timid
And strength to the vulnerable
Envoys of the highest order 

Let’s applaud
Those that support us
And support them 
Across the world
Down your road and mine
Blow whistles –
Clatter and yell –
Broadcast in sound and spirit
Praise and honour all they do
Today, tomorrow and always
As we confront invisible forces…
The daunting unknown
From our place of isolation

Amen

Remembering Claire Shelton-Jones… Mother, Grandmother, Teacher, Guide and Mentor

Today I learned of the death of a great friend, a woman of this City who was a mum, grand mum, teacher – and for me – a spiritual and cultural mentor that not only changed my life, but the lives of hundreds and probably thousands of people, by explaining ways to express ideas, and pass them on.

Claire Shelton-Jones

Only some teachers have this profound ability, and Claire was particularly gifted; she influenced her pupils, of all ages, in subtle and inspirational ways.  I must turn to The Tao to describe the way Claire operated as an educator:

Therefore, the master acts without doing anything, 
and teaches without saying anything.
Things arise and she lets them come;
things disappear and she lets them go.
She has but doesn’t possess,
acts but doesn’t expect.
When her work is done, she forgets it.
That is why it lasts forever.

I met Claire under the most bizarre circumstances, the kind of circumstances that compel one to respect destiny. I was living in Brunswick Square at the time, and a neighbour asked me to find a women’s writing group. I ended up in The Jubilee Library, looking at a hand-written card giving information about a group that met regularly just off the Old Steine. We went and the neighbour soon gave up; it was all about poetry… but for me that group was special… and Claire who ran it, changed my life.

With a core of about five or six writers, and a couple with enormous talent, I found that my life expanded; the group gave me creative and spiritual sustenance of a kind I never knew existed. Claire had the ability to bring out the very best in us all. Apart from her poetry, which was beautiful, I found the writing of Pauline Suett Barbieri and Rikki Hennessey particularly fine, and I read Rikki’s beautiful words to this day.

Every time we met, Claire would give us some homework — a poem to write about and we would read our stuff aloud, listen to Claire and compare and contrast. The subjects chosen were unusual… they varied from umbrellas to ‘the road to hell’. My output varied from blank verse to dreadful doggerel. Before I joined Claire’s group I had a real aversion to poetry. Today, I look at my library and see that there are more poetry books there than anything else, and all thanks to Claire. Not only that, I have just browsed my old ‘homework’ file on my computer and discovered that I wrote 154 poems under her gentle guidance… but 154 is nothing. Today I have an on-line library of over 100 funeral readings (all poems) and a massive library of poetry used for everything from weddings to Mayoral Council Meetings. Thank you, Claire.

Claire was a person with her own views, nearly all of which resonated with my own. When we met recently we bemoaned the current political scenario, and looked at it from many angles. She knew very well what she did and didn’t like; yet in the poetry group she had infinite patience with us if we found things difficult, helping the more anxious students by offering words of kindness, much to the irritation of some of us, who were much less patient. She was compassionate, insightful and always soft spoken. She also taught students with learning disabilities, and I can imagine she was brilliant.

She leaves behind a lovely family – Tim, her delightful husband, who is also a gifted poet, Matthew and Katie, and a grandson.

By opening the door to a skill I didn’t even recognise in myself, Claire empowered me and, I believe many other people. 

Just over a week ago, in my capacity as Chaplain to the Mayor I realised I had to say something about the massive weight of responsibility faced by the Councillors today. Available time was limited, but it was important to let the Councillors know that they were appreciated. I wrote a short poem that (apparently) worked well, across all parties. This poem would never have existed without Claire. Here it is.

In Times of Uncertainty
Dedicated to all the Councillors of Brighton and Hove

In times of uncertainty
Good people happen.
The hungry are fed
The weak nurtured
Gardens are cultivated
But it is not easy

In moments of uncertainty
So much of what you do
Seems indiscernible and yet
It is not; unassuming service
Changes lives for the better
It brings gifts beyond compare
As you put your hand to a small pronouncement
As you touch a household you do not know
A gesture of compassion brings immeasurable change
In times of uncertainty
We need you 
We are your community
This is our City 
I am that street dweller
These children are yours
And so, we are in your hands
Held in your hands… and your heart
Thank you… 

And thank you so much Claire Shelton-Jones…