Life After Me; Me After Life

Today a phrase came to me: I don’t believe there is “me” after life, but I do believe there is life after “me”.

Everything is impermanent. Everything is subject to change. Everything. That’s a lesson I took away from Buddhism, and I applied the idea to everything. In the end even to the afterlife. If if there is a personal soul that survives the body, it too is impermanent, like the body, and will one day perish. Meaning that I’d still have to come to terms with mortality. “I”, as body or soul, will cease to exist. Whatever is left is food for worms (perhaps there are spirit-worms that will help my soul decompose?).

But since ideas of the afterlife are varied, abundant and remain a subject of belief and speculation, its more fruitful and relevant to deal with the here-and-now-life, the thing we can know immediately about.

Perspectives and priorities change; I’m not sure that I will continue existing after I die, but I’m extremely sure that life in the universe will continue long after I’ve gone, and this continuity of life deserves my consideration more than personal survival after bodily existence.

Patchy Veg Patch and Random Lettuces

How did it get there? I don't remember sowing seeds THERE!

How did it get there? I don’t remember sowing seeds THERE!

My experiment with the semi-wild veg patch hasn’t worked out as I’d hoped, but it has had some interesting results. It’s always been experimental, and I’ve been open to any result, because any result can teach me about how to develop the system in this location with its climate and soil.

I learnt the idea from a book written by a Japanese farmer (Masanobu Fukuoka’s The One-straw Revolution), which could give ideas about how to experiment, but couldn’t tell me how it worked because, well, different climate, soil, weather patterns et al mean that what works there won’t work here exactly the same way. This meant I had to start from scratch and experiment with what I had.

In the end out of all the different seeds I sowed aming the grass, not much grew. I had beans, peas, rocket, radish, spinach and garlic, including two courgette plants. Not all of these produced anything significant, so I left them to self-seed. One very surprising part were the lettuces: none of them grew up where I planted them, appearing outside the veg patch or amongst the radishes and rocket. Enough for a couple of salads when they’re  big enough.

That's a weird radish... wait, it's a lettuce!

That’s a weird radish… wait, it’s a lettuce!

In the future I can concentrate on what worked this year and improve the conditions, like not putting so much mulch on top or sowing at more suitable times of year (I was very enthusiastic at the beginning, throwing seeds down earlier than I should). Alongside this I can continue experimenting sowing new things. And who knows, maybe some of the seeds I’ve planted are just laying dormant, waiting for the right moment to surprise me!

Training Reactions, Disciplining Instincts

I’ve spent a few years training my dogs and applying what I’ve learnt from the Cesar Millan aka Dog Whisperer, and I’ve realised just how much I’ve been training myself. Dog training isn’t just a way to “program” your dogs to get them to behave how you want; dogs reflect the energy of their owners, so if you want them to behave in a certain way you have to modify your own energy (i.e. reactions and instincts) so they have something different to reflect off of. And it has nothing to with physical superiority, it’s psychological. As you can see with the elephant tamers in India, giant animals that could easily overwhelm the humans in charge of them, but that actually cooperate. A few years ago I learn to ride horses the “horse whispering” way, earning their trust and cooperation rather than dominating them and controling them. Their own reactions reflecting the reactions of their rider. This requires discipline and consistency and an insight into how you react in certain situations and how you can train your reactions into other, more constructive directions.

And this is something I’ve been observing in Aikido, and is true of many martial arts. Any martial art is about training your reactions. When we’re attacked our reaction is to defend ourselves in whatever way. With martial arts we learn to refine our reactions so we can defend ourselves in quick and efficient ways. Aikido goes one further: we learn to refine our reactions so we can defend ourselves in quick efficient ways AND without hurting the attacker. You “accept” their attack, their aggression, to direct it yourself and neutralise it.

This requires discipline and consistency, the same discipline and consistency for training your dogs, i.e. training your own instincts. There is detailed etiquette involved which focuses the mind to the task at hand; there are behaviours my dogs have to observe, which in turn obliges me to behave in a certain way. And we all get what we want and need.

But this discipline or aikido and dog/horse/elephant whispering is not aimed towards mechanical control but an energetic and harmonious cooperation. We have an animal within us that needs expression and exercise, and is often reflected in the relationships we have with animals around us, and they can help us in this relationship, to establish an inner harmony.

 

A Unitarian Druid

The Flaming Chalice

Some years ago, when I lived in England, I went to a Unitarian church, a church of “religious liberals”. I even led a couple of services introducing Pagan ritual (one for Imbolc, 1st Feb, and another for Beltane, 1st May) and I remember the time fondly. It was a small congregation, but very welcoming and active. I was a member for a couple of years, attending most Sundays,

There’s not many congregations in Spain (one in Barcelona and another in Madrid) and it can’t be recognised as a religion here because “it lacks creeds”. Individuals may come from a variety of faiths: Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Atheist, Pagan, Buddhist and so on. The lack of any single creed is integral to it. We can’t really talk of “believers” but “seekers”.

I think part of my affinity with Unitarianism is that it has a Christian past, like me, and recognises that as an important part of its history. However, the Church and/or the Bible are not seen as the ultimate authorities on religion, but that we have it within us to work it out for ourselves (conscience, reason, life experience, intuition, etc., “gifts from God” we might say). I grew up visiting Baptist and Anglican churches, and considered myself Christian until my early teens, but later my curiosity just “spilled” over the cup of Christian theology. I had my doubts, I prayed to God about it, and He gave me a very definite answer: this is the way I made you! Or as Jesus said in the Bible “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” – I reckon that includes any religious belief or practice.

I may not participate in a congregation but I still feel “Unitarian” (or Unitarian Universalist as it is in the US). My beliefs aren’t a fixed set of prescribed beliefs, they are subject to change and plenty of updates, so the idea of a church that not only tolerates but encourages this is extremely appealing. As one Odinist friend of mine put it “It’s seems very futuristic”.

Here’s a description of Unitarianism from the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches’s website:

We believe that:

  • Everyone has the right to seek truth and meaning for themselves.
  • The fundamental tools for doing this are your life experiences, your reflection upon it, your intuitive understanding and the promptings of your own conscience.
  • The best setting for this is a community that welcomes you for who you are, complete with your beliefs, doubts and questions.
  • In the spirit of civil and religious liberty, equality of respect and opportunity is for everyone.

We can be called religious ‘liberals’:

  • Religious because we unite to celebrate and affirm values that embrace and reflect a greater reality than self.
  • Liberal because we claim no exclusive revelation or status for ourselves.
  • We afford respect and toleration to those who follow different paths of faith.

We are called ‘Unitarians’:

  • Because of our traditional insistence on divine unity, the oneness of God.
  • Because we affirm the essential unity of humankind and of creation.

Daily Life Democracy

What follows is revolutionary, but it is a revolution that has already happened, is happening and will continue to happen, though it is perhaps realised by too few. It is a bit subversive because it undermines the System, yet it celebrates the very thing that the System (supposedly) stands for.

In ideal terms, democracy is a way for all eligible citizens to make collective decisions. In practice this is rarely the case. We cannot trust that the electorate is making conscious and educated decisions about the direction of a society (being comprised of rational reflection, irrational reaction, knowledge, ignorance, insight, misdirection and prejudice), and also most democracies delegate their decisions to a small class of politicians that, we can safely say, don’t always have the bests interests of everyone, but are influenced by a mixture of personal ambition, party loyalties, ideological convictions and, finally, the interests of the people they represent.

But democracy’s practical effect neutralises the political extremes of a society, thereby allowing a free and safe space for a diverse and democratic society. Partisan politics is a perfect example of this: by embodying a society’s collection of ideologies in parties and including them within the same political system, these “loose ends” are tied up so they don’t interfere with the basic functioning of a society, i.e. the lives of the people (not completely foolproof, but it does work somewhat like that).

Within this “democratic” context, a more grassroots democracy takes place. We are given a safe space within which we can practice a more personally directed democracy, experimenting with and choosing from a wide range of options for our lives, wider than the conventional or political models that we are presented with. The choices we make every day are more powerful than the ones we make in the poll booth.

Democratically elected governments are not what create a democratic society; they are the litmus test for the quality of a democratic society. We cannot rely on our democratic government to change things (no “top down”). The change comes from the space created by the democratic government that, for the most part, protects our rights to think and choose as we see fit. It comes from the choices or non-choices we make in our daily lives.

Put another way, democracy is what happens when our politicians aren’t looking; the life and choices of the People cannot be constrained to the poll booth.

Eco-Thought X

My trip to England was interesting. It outlined the nostalgia I have for a greener, wetter climate. In Spain, I live in the midst of nature, and I love it, but it’s not the one I grew up with. Here, it is dry and covered with pines, a result of heavy deforestation that left only the quick growing trees to recover. I grew up with an abundance of green and deciduous trees.

We visited several parks, and I had the sensation of an inner thirst being quenched, and the song birds seemed to sing a richer song here, too, or perhaps evoked something more familiar in me. The birds there are more trusting because there’s less history of hunting songbirds.

On the other hand I’m aware that England (specifically the South East) is “tamed” nature. I might miss it, but I know that living there can feel oppressive in another sense because, although there is a lot of nature, it lacks a “wild” quality. It’s all contained by human activity; every corner feels civilised and inhabited by humans. SE England feels cared for and nature is given a sympathetic space to grow and express itself, but it can be cloying. Spain feels ruined and abandoned, scarred by centuries of misuse and little care or sympathy, but this also means that there are corners that have escaped the human gaze (the “benefits” of negligence, you might say), and where really wild creatures can flourish. Spain can (just about) boast of wolves, bears, lynxes and wild boar, which have inhabited the British Isles but have since seen extinction there because of human intervention.

I’m reminded by the expression “grass is always greener on the other side.” There are pros and cons to either argument. Living in either, I can find things to be dissatisfied by. But this is outweighed by the benefits. I have nostalgia for my native England, and it’s good to have a “top-up” now and then, but I don’t think I could limit myself to it.

Eco-Thought IX

Meditation is usually done by “shutting out” interference from the world around us in order to concentrate on and see what is within us. But to discover and have this same effect even in contact with other people and nature is incredible!