Sunday, 28 November 2010

The Other Hand

The frost has been so incredibly beautiful the last couple of days. This morning it was so intense it spread not only across grass and fallen leaves, but up the bushes and hedgerows to the very tops of the trees.  All was white and crisp. When nature is so beautiful, so magical, does it not feel as if there is the hand of something else? It is superlative.  So breathtakingly glorious, that there is something other-worldly to it all, not explained by our functional, prosaic existence.

I don't think it matters what you call this Other Hand. To some it will be God or Allah, to some it will be Spirit or Light, to some it will be the comforting Mother Nature. I don't think it matters what you call it, or whether you call it anything at all. You don't need to label it. Things don't always need a label. Lack of labels doesn't diminish understanding...they just help the verbal communication from person to person, but woe betide you if you understand something different by the label. Then where has it got you? Further misunderstanding!

Why is there so much beauty in what we call the 'natural world'? But there is, have you noticed it? Just as my spirits may be lowering, or my mind is occupied with thoughts that absorb me, nature gives me a little jolt. Suddenly I spot something, or smell something, or hear something, and I am pulled out of my egotistical little world. This morning it was the sight of the heavy frost, the hard feel of the frozen earth beneath my boots, the smell of ice, wood and smoke and the sound of a still world bolstering itself for Winter. And I forgot myself. Which I think was what was intended.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Who Am I?

When I was twelve years old we were given a little assignment at school, I suspect because there was free wall space and they needed to fill it. We were given a lined sheet of paper with a box in which to answer the question 'Who Am I?'  With hindsight, I realise that what they were after was a nice paragraph or two along the lines of 'my name is...I have one/two/three* brothers/sisters* (delete as applicable)....I like ice-cream and chocolate....I don't like....' You get the idea.

Despite supposing to be one of the clever ones, I made a big mistake. A mistake so big, I was sent to the headmaster.  What was my mistake? I answered the damn question.  It was a lesson early on in my school career, that it was only the exceptional teachers that really wanted you to answer (or try to answer) their question... Apparently my answer was so alarming, that they were concerned about me, and so much so that they couldn't deal with it and the headmaster's intervention was needed.

So what did I say? What made them anxious about my psychological well-being?

Well, the fledgling philosopher in me took the question literally, and I rather assumed at the time that that is what everyone was doing.  I wish I had a copy now of what I wrote, because I rather suspect it would make a nice little introduction to an essay on Personal Identity. I will come back to this question, probably repeatedly, because it is a fascinating one...what do we mean, to what do we refer when we say 'I'? Age twelve, I could use the word, but I had absolutely no idea what 'I' actually meant, and I simply said so, with a twelve year old's honest reasoning. Whoops. Call in the Social Services.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Having a Cause

Having a 'cause' reminds me of those science experiments all those years ago at school...the kind where you'd have the hypothesis given to you by the teacher, the outline of a method, and you knew, despite all the 'dressing up' of the task as a real 'experiment' that you would fail if you had not proved your hypothesis by the time you came to conclude the experiment.  So, in other words, there was no experimental or ideological freedom.  Having a Cause from the beginning, knobbled you at every stage.
People who have 'causes' as adults are similarly blinkered and one-track in their direction and ideas. They have their Cause and so there is no room for anything else.  At the end of this scale are the Extremists or Fundamentalists, not necessarily religious. Their view and views are so honed, so refined, so narrowed, they exist rather than live.  It is a living death because their life's work is done, they know everything; they need entertain no doubt, no questions.

They are everywhere.  I suspect just as common at the school gate as in government, and both frighten me. Every one of us has influence, a politician may have influence over policies, and a managing director over his employees, but is this any less insidious than the teacher over their class of young minds, the parent over the child, the chatterbox in the corner shop, or the chap vocal in the pub with his friends? We know the idea about the however-many-degrees of separation between every one of us, is it not reasonable to suspect that a person's influence over just one other can have unimaginable and far-reaching consequences?

If you have no Cause, you don't know where you're going, you can't pre-empt, and you don't know what might and might not be important, so you quietly pay attention to everything.

If you have a Cause, you risk knowing where you are going, knowing what you are going to say and conclude, before you even begin to speak, and that, my friends, is at best just an ignorant, uninteresting shadow existence, and at worst, a very dangerous thing.  

Tuesday, 23 November 2010


I feel sick.  I feel sick because I have to have a difficult conversation with the man I love.  I have to tell him that how things are is not okay.  If he deals with it, we can carry on.  If he does nothing, we will have to separate.  There is not a single bit of me that wants to separate from him.  If we do separate it will not be because we do not have a deep and loving connection.  Sometimes circumstances are just not right.  Damn them.  I feel sick because as much as we love each other, our time may be over.

I look for integrity in others, I try and ask integrity of myself.  I see integrity as a wholeness or harmony of the self.  It is honesty, but it is honesty with oneself, it is the knowledge that if one did various things, those acts would somehow violate that harmony.  One would let oneself down.  In that sense, it is an internal construct, an internal rule by which to measure our actions.  It is possible that sometimes no one else would know one was acting without integrity.  But you would know.  As with all our behaviour and actions, our integrity is our own responsibility.

We had the conversation.  We talked together, not 'to' or 'at' each other, but together.  It was only the anticipation that made me feel sick.  The moment we began to talk, the sickness vanished, because then it became the simple expression of how one feels, no expectations, no machinations to achieve a particular outcome.  Just: here we are, this is how I feel, what do you think? I don't know what he will do, and when.  I don't know what the result will be for us.  But I spoke with love and honesty about the only thing I really know: how I feel and what I am thinking.  The thoughts and feelings of others, and thus their actions, belong to them, and we can assume no authority.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Cartesian beginnings...

Thoughts are my pleasure, my excitement, my motivation, my work.  After a childhood of relentless questioning, I studied Philosophy at one of the best universities in the world.  I was taught by some of the greatest minds in the field, and my pulse still races when I think of the intellectual excitement of those years. 

There, I began to realise how little I knew.  Now, after many more years of listening, reading, studying, inquiring, maturing, experiencing, living and feeling, I am just as excited by the world around me, and what possibly lies beyond, but my realisation is how little anybody knows.  We believe a lot of things.  We know next to nothing.  Does it matter? I know I think.  That'll do nicely.  It is fascinating, it is full of wonder.

I know something else too:  I feel.  I have a mind, but I have a heart too.

I had the most brilliant of tutors (a brilliant tutor and a brilliant philosopher - the two don't always come together) who encouraged all thought, all ideas as equally valuable.  No thought, no idea, no feeling is irrelevant, however simple or mundane it may seem.  You might discard its argument along the way, but you must always entertain all possibilities.

From our thoughts and feelings comes the action and emotions of our lives; they determine our behaviour, our words and our deeds.  We can work out how we choose to live our particular lives, or just that particular moment, even if there is little of which we can be certain.  It's not scary, it's thrilling.  

The philosopher is still in me now, but I am also a woman, a mother, a lover, a friend and a human being.  I offer you my juicy human quotidian thoughts, you never know what we may bump into along the way...

Please feel free to post relevant comments.  Keep the pulse racing.