In chapters 1:3 of Genesis, God happened to say “Let there be light” which sounds extremely sensible, even if it wasn’t madly precipitous.
If one lives in the Northern part of the Northern hemisphere and the Southern part of the Southern hemisphere, the request for light is particularly passionate, because when you look at the map which explains SAD, these are the regions where you will find it.
I reckon SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) has a lot to account for this year; it has struck a lot of us very low, and it’s very serious, and very real. I don’t need the NHS and Wikipedia to tell me. It’s real enough to cause extreme depression, and it’s real enough to cause nasty mental and physical symptoms and even suicide. This year I have heard so many of my friends and acquaintances saying things like “Why is it so dark all the time?” ‘It’s not just the rain, it’s the darkness.” “I think I want to hibernate until the spring.” “Will this winter night-time never, ever end?” and other things of this kind.
And yet we are all entranced with gloom and doom of Nordic drama (the poetry of The Killing, Borgen and the The Bridge) where it seems like it rains perpetually, and the sun barely crawls out to say “hallo!” Is this wallowing in suffering and pain and winter darkness like homeopathy, where one treats ‘like with like’? Perhaps while we all fester in a state of SAD, and suffer during these long dark days, we like nothing better than to listen to the lugubrious tones of Leonard Cohen and the sad songs of Dusty Springfield and watch Nordic dramas, and feel utterly miserable. Ho hum. What fun.
Last night my neighbour’s baby screamed for many, many, many hours. Coupled with this, I drank a cup of tea that was stuffed with caffeine, mixed with a small quantity of water, and a nanodotular of tea. And so sleep was a stranger to my body, which although tired, behaved as though it wanted to run round the block, stand on its head, and redesign the Royal Pavilion. So I was awake. At 3am I went upstairs and turned on my computer, and jumped into BBC Iplayer-land. The first thing the BEEB offered me was a tragic documentary Called Project Nim, about a Chimpanzee that communicated using sign language.
Although I hadn’t seen this documentary before, I had seen something almost exactly the same in terms of its moral standpoint, world-view and conclusion… it was a documentary called Blackfish – an incredibly beautiful and terrible film about a Killer Whale called Tilicum. Both films reveal that the rot in the lives of these innocent, beautiful beings begins and ends with human ego, in one case supposed academic aspiration and fame, in the other greed, fame and the wish to make large sums of money. There isn’t a lot of difference at the end of the day; both are about humans exploiting animals in order to advance human ambition.
By the time one has finished seeing these films one wonders what kind of moral wisdom we have that allows us to do such terrible things to highly social animals that have a powerful bond with their mothers and communities, and should be left alone to enjoy life and love in their own free and different way. When we come along we play around with these fabulous creatures, until we get bored then shove them into metal boxes, prod them around a bit, feed them a little, and close the lid. This is pretty well what happened in both cases. Both films show how all the people involved in these tragic stories shift from self-serving stupidity to mega-sentiment and guilt, then shame and sorrow and back to meg-sentiment with tears.
After you see these films you come away hating mankind and its cruelty, stupidity and egotism. Although hate is not wise at the best of times, one can get to disapprove of a brand of American sentimentality expressed by the perpetrators in these sad films that hangs over them like a bad smell. It reminds me of a nice quotation by Norman Mailer: “Sentimentality is the emotional promiscuity of those who have no sentiment.” It’s a great line, and serves to remind me that Hitler was said to be sentimental, particularly about dogs.
I think both films have come out of the USA in one way or another – the mad, conservative, consumerist, meat eating nation that is also full of people working towards changing themselves – creating films and books that examine their own mistakes, and seek to learn lessons from them. By the time China becomes the fully fledged top nation it’s dubious if the spirit that made these films will be allowed to express itself, or even want to, so we have to be grateful to those that create such inspired stories of sadness.
We live in a multi-faith, multi-racial, multi-ideological place where all of us not only have our own agenda, we are encouraged to think for ourselves in order to develop, and sadly in some cases just survive in this old, densely populated and super diverse island. Within this Kingdom ruled by a Queen we have 63.23 million people, and around 50 million adults, many of whom have faith of some kind, but may also have a problem as to where to place it with absolute confidence… and here are a few of the faith questions people ask themselves today…
Can I pray in a church, mosque or a synagogue that reckons women are the inferior sex?
Why do certain religions refuse to accept love between two people of the same sex when nature and nurture do this naturally as well as otherwise?
Do I believe that people of certain faiths are not entitled to go to heaven?
Do I believe that God is an elderly geezer with a beard who sits in judgment on a cloud?
And so we pose these questions, knowing that the harmony of life, love, thought, deed and nature are all proof of something glorious that doesn’t have anything to do with such issues. It’s simply man that asks such questions. The real issues of faith are man-made and are based on opinions and ideas that have nothing to do with the truth and the reality of the world we live in. We just make our lives difficult by asking such questions, and come up with a host of very silly answers.
In the 2003 census 2.1% of the population of Brighton declared their religion to be Jedi (as in Knight) and who can blame them? Being asked to declare ones faith is not always as easy as it sounds. When I get asked what my religion is I put ‘Interfaith’ because I believe that everyone’s faith position works, just as every flower in the world’s garden has the right to be different, even though there may be apparent similarities when we are all clumped together.
It is this acceptance of the glory and diversity in the garden that underlies the need for interfaith ministers. Our society desperately needs priests that see the beauty and validity of many different faiths, people, ideas and creeds. Our society needs ministers that can marry Jews to Muslims – carry out a funeral for a Christian that has Buddhist, atheist and pagan children, and still make the ceremony inclusive. A garden of diverse beauty needs a gardener that appreciates colour, welcomes wild flowers and accepts that the sludge at the bottom of the pond is a perfect and perfectly natural phenomenon. This is why we need interfaith ministers.
I am starting the year by wishing everyone something lovely… for themselves and for everyone else. So tomorrow, on Wednesday, January 8th I shall be doing the Metta (loving kindness) Meditation for an inspired group at The Cornerstone Centre in Hove. It’s a Buddhist practice, and after extensive use in the West has been adapted and adopted as one of the most powerful guided meditations going.
The power of it lies in the structure, which begins with the meditator being guided to direct loving kindness towards him or herself… a process that should be encouraged and developed as much as possible. After awarding oneself love, the meditator is directed to project loving kindness to friends, neighbours, strangers, people one is having difficulty with, and then, more tangibly, the people beside one in the room, and ultimately the world itself. It is a very life-affirming and powerful process.
The power of this contemplation technique lies in the ability of the guide to enable meditators to gain the spiritual power of loving kindness. We have to place a value on ourselves – you and I – it is essential for a harmonious life. The Metta meditation empowers us to make loving judgements built on rational self-value, and that value applies equally to our views of ourselves, our world and our decision-making.
It’s quite weird, but at the beginning of the New Year we always go through a massive process of self-doubt. I most certainly do, and many of my friends make the same noises. We look at ourselves and declare that we are turning into a blob, and something must be done about it. We question everything – our work, our lives, our wardrobe, everything – well, this is a bit of generalisation, but in general I like a generalisation or five.
So this year, it seems like a nice thing to just empower as many people as possible with self-esteem, real confidence, and loving kindness, so that they get a dose of Metta, and go out and give it to everybody else… Happy New Year!