“A human being is a part of a whole, called by us ‘universe’, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest…a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in it’s beauty.”
This blog has been horribly neglected over the last few months. Real life has just been too busy to find time to sit down to write it. This state of affairs doesn’t show any sign of changing over the next while either. However I really wanted to find time to write about a recent experience because its poignancy and relevance are begging to be shared.
I was recently at a conference in Glastonbury on the phenomenon of the ‘orbs’ which have been appearing in people’s digital photographs. During his presentation, William Bloom highlighted an observation that really resonated with me. He said that we humans seem to have (relatively) little difficulty relating to the natural world on the one hand, or the transpersonal dimensions on the other. We could even intellectually appreciate the oneness of humanity. But taking that intellectual appreciation to a feeling level presented the single greatest challenge to us all. At the close of his presentation he led a meditation where we were asked to experience what itfelt like, to the extent we could each allow, to accept the entirety of humanity into ourselves, and allow ourselves to enter into the beings of others. Not just our nearest and dearest, but people we disliked or disagreed with. Groups of people we harboured prejudices against. Victims and oppressors alike. Try it some time. It’s extraordinarily powerful, and to me felt something like being repeatedly punched in the solar plexus as I contemplated accepting the people I’ve happily railed against and ranted about in this blog from time to time.
Being somewhat sceptical and suspecting that the vast majority of ‘orbs’ (though not all) are artifacts of the digital photography process, I took time out from the conference the next morning to visit the Chalice Well.
“I tell you; we are here on earth to fart around; and don’t let anybody tell you different.”
Kurt Vonnegut Jr
The sense of peace, tranquility and the oneness of existence that pervades this amazing garden is incredible and I sat for a while at the well head thinking about William Bloom’s meditation. It was so easy to contemplate accepting humanity in this place, but then, as if to order, the peace of the garden was abruptly shattered by the shouting of a man walking up the path onto Chalice Hill just outside the gardens. Visitors to the garden exchanged frightened glances and communicated in barely audible whispers, eyes constantly roving to see where the shouting was coming from; worried in case the sanctity of the garden itself had been violated.
As a British soldier, the angry man had clearly done a tour or more of duty in Iraq and seemed deeply traumatised by the experience, as well as feeling an immense anger. Whether he’d been drinking or not I don’t know, but his speech was clear and unslurred even if its content was all slur. His anger was directed at the people in Glastonbury and the whole of British society who were “worse than the f—ing Iraqis”. Glastonbury needed “a squad of 500 British soldiers to clean this town up”. (Imagine what it must be like to live life on the edge of death, witness your friends and colleagues lose their lives suddenly, loudly and messily, and come back to a complacent society which seems largely oblivious to the sacrifice you and they have made in its name. How much more unbearable when that same society seems obsessed by the airy fairy, the intangible and immaterial, when it’s blood and gore that haunts your nightmares.) What really came from the heart and conveyed his pain was the exasperated plea “What’s it all for? What’s it all f—ing FOR?”.
Indeed. War, the complete antithesis to the peace of the gardens, in stark and glaring contrast. And what is it all for?
Again it was easy to step back; to intellectualise and rationalise the soldier’s pain and appreciate what he was suffering. Far less easy to feel sympathy and compassion for both him and those who sent him to war when half of you feels frightened and intimidated by his aggression and anger and the other half furious and raging at the inhumanity and arrogance of those who sent him to war on the basis of a lie. The sheer enormity of the task of bringing humanity to accept all of humanity became depressingly clear. I walked away from the gardens and back to the High Street wondering if such a thing could ever be possible.
I wandered into one of the many “new age” shops which was just opening. There was a tape playing of someone speaking. It was a man with an Indian accent. I’ve no idea who. Maybe Deepak Chopra because it sounded like the sort of thing he’d say, but that’s just a wild guess. He said something along the lines of “The only solution to war is for each individual to cease the war in their own hearts. When this happens, war will become impossible.” I was delighted at this bit of synchronicity. Then, as if to doubly underline its profound message, the shopkeeper stopped the tape, rewound it a bit, and played the same section again.
“Years ago I recognized my kinship with all living things, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on the earth. I said then and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it; while there is a criminal element, I am of it; while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.”
Eugene V Debs