Sadness and deep trouble–like a chili bubbling on the stove; a feeling of being out of control and anxious for what might come. We can wish time away, desperate to feel more often. Why else do people risk hurting someone they love with an affair? Sometimes we can desire the pain that made adolescence so vivid, we wish that the feeling of being alive was more common. In a sense it is wishing to feel something out of the ordinary, something that was of spontaneity‘s creation rather than routine’s.
But then comes the second part of the process: the arrival of the feeling one has lusted after. Cognitive behavioural therapy posits that there is an interpretation of danger over depression or sadness. But the perception is the key to the cycle. What is it that one is feeling? Fear of the danger of being weak and in confrontation? Is it a masochistic introspection that generates adrenaline? Does it give us a buzz? A thrill? We watch TV, film and theatre; we get addicted to boxsets and binge watch seasons of shows. But it is not real and whilst this is a truism, it has a profoundness that it is easy to miss: we pay to feel. But realise that the feeling is false! We put our own experiences outside of ourselves and watch from afar. Watch from safety. But life is not safe, and life does not happen at a distance.
Comfort: the antithesis of pain, the sponge of life. As the daylight disappears before 4 o’clock, primal impulses to nestle grow. And in so doing we erect a shield, a buffer or a safety net. If we continue through life with a distance and a moat between ourselves and our experience then we are denying ourselves the joys of the human condition.
What we ought to do, is bring our two eyes into focus: our animal instinct and our abstract awareness. We ought to look through both eyes at the same time, at the same thing, and see the entirety and understand that nothing beyond matters.
Is there a war on liberalism in Great Britain? With mentions of Jeremy Corbyn, or socialism, come what seems to be inevitable sneering and jeering and “lefty liberal” mockery. And it feels like the right hand is spiting the left but forgetting we’re all a part of the same body. It also feels like we’ve been here before and we’re just going around in circles. But then we are, aren’t we? Politics is transparently cyclical and without the great leveller that was the world wars will the “lefties” will have their voices heard? It seems unlikely. Voices of honesty and integrity are bland, it is only the grandstanders and the spinners that take the soapbox and only the sensational that get the headlines. The power of change is left in the hands of the many millions of non-voters, the third of Brits who are apathetic to their own lives, let alone the lives of others, and if they’re not voting now they’re not going to for the unspectacular Jeremy. Or at least that’s the fear. It is not a fear of left-wing defeat, but a fear that reality–truth, is not going to be outed. Without truth we’re just ice skating on jelly and hedonistically splaying apart our country. No one can react, grow or solve when the ground we’re building on isn’t understood. And as for change: proportional representation is never going to happen, it’s not going to be a thing, the Green Party will not be heard, JC will split their 2015 success and the environment will disappear further from the front-pages. The chinese will build their nuclear bonfires and George Osbourne will sell our integrity to whoever finds a way of finally botoxing away the distant bemusement that he can’t seem to hide from his face.
And it’s not new, it’s Thatcher, and its voices of the seventies that I hoped wouldn’t resurface. It’s emphasis placed on businessmen and women; cash-flow over humanity. It’s pretty fucking disgusting and it keeps leading to a question: what’s the point?
One’s relationship with religion can be deeply emotional, even if that is unbeknownst to oneself. Growing up in a 1980s/1990s village in England with friends who were deeply, familially religious yet being of a single-parent home with a complex family structure there, it is obvious, lay many sticky wickets. Many places where an unconventional boy growing up and his friends some of religious families may find conflict amongst themselves. I remember a day when, walking to the village green to play football, we crossed the dirty grassy track through the bush and my best friend asked me not to say the word “damn” around him, because he found it deeply unsettling and/or offensive. I found it offensive that he was censoring me (though I doubt my inner monologue used that term). We were ten.
Alter cross enshrouded for Lent
My mum did humour me on at least one occasion and we came to the Sunday Baptist service. We did not fit in. It was wierd. From that point onwards the weekly youth activities on a Friday night became more tumultuous and the relationship with the leaders and their children – those they were ultimately doing these groups for – became fractured. To the point where it was indirectly suggested that if the attendees did not go to Sunday services then it was not really for them anymore. We were maybe eleven or twelve. That was the first real experience of religious intolerance that I experienced. There were (as far as I could be aware) no Muslims, Sikhs or Jews in our village – the most exotic theology was Catholicism and everyone found that family more than a little strange. Though if you ventured into Cambridge sometimes you would see an actual Buddhist monk wandering around in orange robes. That was like seeing an alien. Really.
The village had a divide – in that divide there were two sects: the builders with their Sunday morning football, weekly sermons at the pub on a Friday and Saturday which felt like something from witch-hunting days – families that seemed to be famous in the village, faces you recognised but you knew would never recognise you. Then there were the religious families, equally as famous, but in more of an old-village, rather than new-village way. Perhaps my outsider status with both groups afforded me clarity of perspective. That was not unique to me, it wasn’t a particularly small village, at least not when I finally left – when I was born it was a three or four hundred homes lighter. Neither side were welcoming, both were intolerant in their own way and so organised religion and old-fashioned village bigots became two sides of the same coin.
Fortunately my mother was deeply open-minded and curious for her children, she brought us up with a deep curiousity in other religions and cultures. She took a stance that was intentionally opposed to village bigotry. She read us stories from the Ramayana, voted Green, practiced yoga and made sure we felt we could be whatever we wanted. It was a great gift. Especially since the village often conditioned us to laugh at those values.
But now, as an established adult, how does one make peace with traditional English religion and values and embrace the good things like Lent – the forty days preceding Easter Sunday whilst being more mindful of their history? Well, when I was a kid I’d often give up sweets for Lent, and then pig out on them after Easter. But I gave up junk food a month or so ago (and have never had more energy in my life) so I need to find something else. I didn’t even have pancakes on Shrove Tuesday (something established to get rid of fatty ingredients in the house before the fasting of Lent). So what can someone who does nor partake in the new British tradition of dieting on junk food give up?
I shall give up negative thinking.
But why? Why do we bother giving anything up for Lent? Penance – absolution before God. Something any good, god-fearing Westerner ought to do, right?
Well, I’m trying to avoid ruining my mental health at the moment – I’m getting my body, mind and soul in shape and I don’t think that I need to berate myself for my sins. In fact, I do not necessarily think that I need to rid myself of them. Yes, for some it may work in the traditional Christian way, but it does not work for me. I’ve done bad things. I’ve been a bad person. We all have. I’m not going to repress it and develop a personality disorder, that just can’t be healthy. So I’m not going to try and self-harm myself into ridding me of negativity, instead I’m going to embrace harnessing negative thinking (and more obviously talking negatively) by what I’ve read in Pema Chödrön’s ‘Start Where You Are’ which described Tonglen meditation. I’m not going to ignore my history and the traditions of my environment, instead I’m going to try and embrace the opportunity. I’m also not going to beat myself around the face repeatedly until my mind falls in line – I’m going to trust what many others have found deeply rewarding and I think it’s going to work really well (see, I’m being positive already!)