Showing posts from May, 2015

Human rights on an aeroplane

Travelling back from Nicaragua yesterday, separated by fitful sleep, I watched two films that focused on the struggle for rights or, more simply, human dignity.

The first was Selma that tells the story of the march on Montgomery, the struggle over which finally persuaded LBJ to propose, and pass, the Voting Rights Act. Johnson is played by the brilliant (English) actor Tom Wilkinson as an all too human figure, a machine politician, hyper aware of the complexities of office and constrained by disparate forces who finally seizes the opportunity to do the right thing. The opportunity was constructed by the flawed moral crusader that was Martin Luther King. Flawed because equally all too human, though his weakness was for the opposite sex, and who, like LBJ, had to navigate the complexities of the possible.

In order to 'win' he needed a confrontation - and there is a great moment in the film when a prior failure to find confrontation had led to the abandonment of the struggle in …

Island of attention

'Attention' 'Attention' are the words that the mynahs of Pala are trained to call out, recalling the island's population to its core task: to being present to reality, just as it presents itself, right now, in all its dimensions.

They are the first words that Will Farnaby hears on his arrival on the island after being washed ashore after a storm. However, his arrival is not accidental though he is a journalist by profession, his employer, as well as being a newspaper tycoon, is in oil and Pala is presumed to have lots of it.

The Palanese, however, are uninterested in their putative wealth for their development has taken a different path. The fortuitous fusion of a Scottish doctor and the Buddhist raja have placed it on the path of pursuing 'gross national happiness' as its mission. Interestingly though Aldous Huxley was writing 'Island' his utopian counterpoint to 'Brave New World' in the late 1950s, this 'label' from the current Ki…

The Valley Spirit

Lindsey Wei is a young woman of mixed race who embarks, at eighteen, on a traditional Daoist training with her master, Li Shi Fu, at Wudung Mountain in China.

What unfolds is a moving account of graced honesty as she seeks to balance the draw of becoming a renunciant, wholly dedicated to the practices of the Way and a woman balanced (and often imbalanced) between this and the life of the householder - filled with desire - for a man, for children, for a validating career.

What does a path of Daoist cultivation look like for a contemporary woman and does it differ, in any essential, from that which faces a man? What does a path of Daoist cultivation look like when poised between two worlds - a China in which Daoist tradition is slowly emerging from under the approbation and assault of the Cultural Revolution into a modernising maelstrom that may prove differently indifferent and the America of your birthplace - a place of equal, if different, restlessness?

All of this is navigated thro…

The Perennial Philosophy

If it was not already obvious that Aldous Huxley had taken a spiritual turn, it became thumpingly so with the publication of his 'anthology' - The Perennial Philosophy in 1945. Here is an account of what Huxley saw as the spiritual core of religion - an unitive experience with the ground of Reality that was transformative, where one's selfness was dissolved and 'you' became 'at one' with all that is, and revealed the heart of compassion. The true core of any religion is it mystics or realised saints and though all are called, few choose the arduous path of self-surrender. However, their testimonies of the path are, in Huxley's view, strikingly similar - each one a point of entry into the being that was fully truthful.

It might be argued that the study of mysticism has 'moved on' - and in the academic context this is certainly true. Up popped Stephen Katz to argue that all experience is conditioned by language (and culture) and, therefore, the c…

The Razor's Edge

It is perhaps only Somerset Maugham who would manage to write a novel with sharp satire on the ultimately sad life of a classic expatriate snob and a young man's search for enlightenment, telling both with remarkable empathy. Like the doctor, he trained to be, he enters the lives of others with detached caring and an observant eye.

Yet the novel was a departure because of its underlying theme of spiritual quest and discovery and ultimately it is Larry, the young American seeker, who holds your attention. Twenty years before a 'journey to the East' became popular in the Anglo-American world, here is Maugham charting its course with great delicacy and real insight.

Not least because Larry is not a dewy eyed hippy, enamoured of a rebellious counter-culture, who, the revolt over, settles down, for good or ill, into baby boomer suburban normality, but an agnostic seeker, testing every encountered view against the reality of his experience, not least that of an airman in the Fi…

Aldous Huxley - the thinker

Dana Sawyer's "Aldous Huxley: A Biography' is fine accounting of Huxley seen through the lens of his developing thought (rather than either the everyday, unfolding of his life or his undoubted literary achievement). It is brisk and lucid and helpfully anchors Huxley in his dual inheritance of gifted ancestors - the scientific, probing scepticism of T.H. Huxley and the high minded belief in the morally transformative nature of serious culture of Matthew Arnold. Huxley combined both but added a third dimension - the anchoring of all reality in a unity that could be encountered experientially by the individual, transforming them into a loving, compassionate being, alert to their unfolding place in the world, able to relate to everything as a unique particular within the whole.
And that "...this sense that in spite of everything which of course is, I suppose, the ultimate mystical conviction, in spite of pain, in spite of death, in spite of horror, the universe in some my…

The Heart of the World

I remember seeing the documentary film when it was first released by the BBC. Made by the accomplished film maker, Alan Ereira, it allowed the Kogi, an indigenous people, living on the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in Colombia, to speak. They see themselves as the 'elder brother', custodians of the original tradition and of the task of world conservation, of maintaining ecological balance and harmony. They see 'us' as the 'younger brother' who is dangerously failing to understand the importance of that balance and is, through their actions, systematically dismantling the world, making it unviable for life. They represent one of the pre-Colombian civilizations that retreated to the remote Sierra in the face of the European invasion of Conquistadors and Christianity, resisting both.

They decided to speak now, having lived consciously separated lives, because the signs of dissolution were all around them (for example, the glaciers on their mountain tops were in re…