Posts Tagged ‘spiritual’

the keening

pouring out of me
like song — my limitless grief
exceeds what I know
— a deep, spiritual love
possessing me completely

An extraordinary dream in which I was weeping for the death of a colleague. What an emotionless person I must be in real life, for such richness of emotion as in this dream, to feel so unfamiliar and unwonted! Actually back in the eighties I wept just like this a couple of times when I was very drunk. The colleague who was dead in the dream, figured in a similar dream a couple of years ago, where she was dead because I had been complicit in her murder. In waking life, I told her about that dream and she was quite upset to have been told, and it caused a certain degree of friction between us for a day or two. I guess I can be insensitive. I lack imagination sometimes, to envisage other people’s emotions. Or indeed my own. The word ‘keening’ was a late addition to my vocabulary. I like the dignity of it. I had never heard the word until I was in my forties. I just looked up its origin: it’s from the Irish caoinim ‘I wail’.



a symbol is a
spiritual metaphor
— the material
world in its entirety
strikes me as probably that

I was eating pomegranate seeds in my dream. Then I was trying to decide whether it was advisable or even possible, to explain to people around me, what I believe about extra-terrestrial intelligence(s). This poem is my best effort this morning to do just that. The faculty of consciousness in itself constitutes the most impenetrably mysterious area of the unknown we are ever likely to encounter in our respective journeys through our lives. It may seem like a perfectly arbitrary belief, plucked from nowhere — but I do in fact believe that that unknown region at the very centre of our conscious awareness has to be some kind of portal where, unwittingly, we have the potential to know the cosmic ‘other’. It’s a moot point whether, in encountering our unknown selves, we are caught up in a symbolic enactment of an encounter with aliens — or whether vice versa (as Jung thought) the idea ‘alien’ symbolises ‘self’. Either way, by implication, those huge interstellar distances across the material universe have turned out to be an illusion and also a symbol, both at once. I can’t help wondering if — with so much congruence between on the one hand mystery in the form of ‘consciousness’ and, on the other, mystery in the form of the idea ‘alien’— I might just as well have done with it and claim them both to be identical. Maybe the drama of our lives which seems so human, is actually cosmic not just in a metaphorical sense, but in some literal sense as well. It sounds crazy to say we are aliens, but we just don’t know what we are. It seems quite plausible to me that each individual human drama here on earth could be having repercussions on the other side of the galaxy or universe, among some other race or community of races, where they are aware of each other and of us, mentally, even though we are not aware of them. In that case we would be members of a community of aliens without knowing it. In this I go further than Jung, although he thought seriously about these things. As well as his Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies, I just googled Jung UFO and found a scanned letter to an American in 1957 in which he says:

The problem of the UFOs is, as you rightly say, a very fascinating one, but it is as puzzling as it is fascinating; since, in spite of all observations I know of, there is no certainty about their very nature. On the other side, there is an overwhelming material pointing to their legendary or mythological aspect. As a matter of fact the psychological aspect is so impressive, that one almost must regret that the UFOs seem to be real after all. I have followed up the literature as much as possible and it looks to me as if something were seen and even confirmed by radar, but nobody knows exactly what is seen.

pacificism or extinction

billions displaced —
starvation — extreme weather
— capital cities
submerged — can we deal with it
without killing each other?

All writers know writing leads you to discover things you didn’t know. I have always resisted labelling myself a pacifist, but this poem brings me close to it. So you could say I didn’t know I was a pacifist. I wrote the poem within a few minutes of finishing Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. What an incredible genius for simplicity Achebe has. Also, I dreamed last night of struggling to survive with Liz my partner, in a post-nuclear-holocaust world. This led to thoughts about climate disaster leading to increased global tension (due to scarcity of resources) leading to nuclear war. The trouble with apocalyptic futures, is cutting through the multiple uncertainties. No serious person doubts the worst climate scenarios are based on watertight science. In the sense that they could happen. Whether they will is the first uncertainty. But what I realised this morning, is that we are only required to hold two uncertainties, two questions. The first is whether the worst scenarios will happen. The second is whether we can learn the necessary spiritual lessons from them. This is totally separate and infinitely more crucial. The worst climate scenarios have a dramatic character which blinds us to how unimportant they are. How we respond psychologically is everything. Nothing else matters. Do we learn quickly enough to stop solving our problems by killing each other? The most obvious way of self-annihilation is with nuclear warheads. But there’s also Cormac McCarthy’s The Road with its vision of a post-apocalyptic society where no-one is safe from marauding gangs of killer-cannibals. There is actually no need to query the details. The point is whether killing each other will lose appeal or gain it, as the difficulties of surviving on the planet become, for ecological reasons, more and more severe and impossible. If we can learn, it will all have been worth it: we will have a better world. If not, it’s cheerio to human beings. What’s that Gandhi quote? When asked what he thought of Western Civilisation, he answered that it would be a good idea. For me, there is little doubt our global civilisation is already committing suicide. And this is happening with the entire population (except a tiny, tiny handful of scientists) in denial: which unfortunately means the chances of a change of heart are currently nil. Therefore the worst climate scenarios aren’t just possible, but highly probable. But if we can redefine our understanding of what it means to be civilised — then finally we can have a ‘civilisation’ worthy of the name instead of whatever this thing is that we have at the moment.


it’s challenging, to
come down safely from a high —
meet that challenge — learn
doing by doing nothing
— what the Taoist calls wu wei

Eastern wisdom gets a bad press in all sorts of ways. From Jung’s dire warnings against trying to mimic a foreign spiritual tradition, to one’s own suspicion that maybe there’s a kind of inverted racism in believing (as I do tend to believe) that Eastern cultures really might be superior, spiritually, to Western ones. I dreamed I was climbing a ladder or gym wall bars, and when I reached the top, had to climb down the other side. ‘Coming down from a high’ describes more or less the problem I had yesterday coming back into the office after most of the day spent delivering a talk about my experiences as a mental health service user, homeless person, and talking about my life and outlook in general. My poem draws a parallel between ‘coming down’ and wu wei, and that was probably suggested by the classic metaphor for wu wei which is ‘the watercourse way’ — in other words, to practice wu wei is to follow the line of least resistance, exactly the way water follows gravity. The title of this poem is probably much too loaded with a ton of personal, idiosyncratic philosophising. It’s meant to touch on the irony of how any feeling of empowerment, enablement or positivity — as for instance ‘I can understand wu wei‘ or ‘I can put it into practice’ — is already the very worst starting point for understanding wu wei or putting it into practice.


the nuclear bomb
explodes like an orgasm
— or like the words I
love you
— terrible beauty —
aching to be understood

Both these symbolic equivalents for a nuclear explosion (orgasm and ‘I love you’) have been part of my private system of symbols for longer than I care to remember. I’m still as bemused as ever, wondering just how many other people would have thought of the same idea, across the world during the last 70 years that we’ve had a nuclear bomb. It seems pretty important, as symbols go.

In my dream last night, a nuclear explosion was imminent, centred on Paddington in London. I was located first of all at the heart of where the bomb was (it seemed to be a secret police facility) and then by the time it went off, I had managed to escape up Edgware Road towards Kilburn. People had received a couple of minutes’ warning and were panicking, trying to get into shop doorways off the street. Piling like sardines into a holding area meant for rubbish.

The thought behind the dream seems to be this: whenever I watch pornography behind Liz’s back, and reach orgasm, the event of orgasm impacts spiritually on Liz like a nuclear shockwave. I don’t know whether this is true or not. But the dream articulates, graphically, a vague notion that is always at the back of my mind.

pencil scribblings #7

Remembering and honouring and preserving the Christian rituals/beliefs I was taught in childhood — is incredibly important. But hang on a minute. If these beliefs are no longer alive and vivid and literal, surely they must resemble museum exhibits. Do I have some kind of inner museum of my own past, which I visit and view with a detachedness which is vaguely disquieting, because there is a lack of connection between the exhibits and the present moment? I think the answer is probably yes. And it goes deeper, because it applies to a good many more aspects of my past than just my Christianity.

So welcome to my ‘museum’ then. Let me roll out an exhibit for you now. Many of my exhibits are dreams, which I still remember from decades ago. I want to display now a dream — about museums — which I had on the morning of 14th May 1985.

In the dream, I saw the French novelist Stendhal (real name Henri Beyle) exhibited in a glass case. He had female genitals which were displayed for all to see. He was alive in the sense of existing in some kind of afterlife, and aware of the indignity of it all, but seemed philosophical about it. Awake, it was obvious to me that his physical transgender status in the dream was symbolic of a psychological disposition while he had been alive, towards women, whereby he both studied them and loved them. Women were so supremely important in his life that now, after death, he had become one himself. So his fate — his being here in this museum — had a kind of dignity about it despite everything. Attached to the glass case was a label which bore the Russian word meaning ‘science’: НАУКА

About twelve months earlier, I had read a biography of Stendhal by Joanna Richardson. I had not at that stage read any of his novels. I’d also begun toying with the idea that I might be a reincarnation of Stendhal. This was partly because our respective attitudes towards women were so similar. For example, we both made a big deal of unrequited love, refusing to surrender the loved one spiritually, even though physically there was no possibility of consummation. It was also because of a couple of biographical coincidences. Like me, he had a sister named Pauline. He was born on 23rd January and died on 23rd March. I was born on 23rd March and my sister was born on 23rd July. There were also some parallels with his hating his father, as I did mine (at least during my teenage years), and a certain emotional dependency on his maternal grandfather.

The label НАУКА in the dream, deserves a few words of explanation but it is difficult to know how to begin to convey the depth of felt irony attached to the idea ‘science’ for me, both in the dream and in waking life. There was definitely some kind of notion in the dream, that science was being mocked or at least taken down a peg or two. I felt, in the dream, that I was in a future world, far in the future, when ‘science’ itself would be viewed as a quaint museum exhibit. I regard this with my waking mind as entirely plausible, not to say likely. The explosion of science in the last couple hundred years is a fleeting phenomenon viewed on the timescale of centuries. Science tends to have an inflated view of its own importance, to put it mildly.

I read an interesting article yesterday about the relation between science and the humanities, by Iain McGilchrist. Actually it is not just interesting. It’s brilliant.

the Well

a glass of water —
how does this simplicity
measure side by side
against the whole edifice
of psychoanalysis?

The Well is one of the sixty-four hexagrams of the I Ching (no.48). I dreamed I was enjoying drinking water — the spirituality and purity emphasised by the vessel, a wide-brimmed bowl which felt ritualistic and special, and also by the fact that I was sharing the water with a spiritual brother. The man in question feels somewhat like a spiritual brother in real life, but I’d normally tend to dismiss that feeling. Partly because I don’t know him very well and only come into contact with him occasionally through my work. I also dreamed of a certain stretch of pavement on Kilburn High Rd. In 1994, my mother was living just the other side of Kilburn High Rd, in Brondesbury Rd. I slept one night in a shop doorway opposite the end of her road, and had a very bad nightmare about drinking water from the toilet cistern which was somehow more like hair gel than water. Through the eighties and nineties I used to take a weird pride in my frequent nightmares and in my ability to tolerate them. Arrogantly perhaps, I felt I was someone with a special ability to gaze without flinching into the very worst recesses of the human psyche. On this occasion however (the only such occasion), upon waking I gave way completely to fear. Compelled involuntarily, I ran from where I was sleeping, to my mother’s front door in the middle of the night, and started wildly ringing the bell, seeking some kind of comfort. I had regressed momentarily to childhood. She wasn’t in. Looking back, I feel inclined to suppose I was under the influence of the suggestive power of the idea ‘Oedipus’: I fell headlong into the Oedipal dynamic and acted it out, just by virtue of the suggestion exerted by the geographical location at the end of my mother’s road. Tree-lined Brondesbury Rd often looked to me just a little like a beckoning womb even in broad daylight. The archetypal Well is another womb symbol of course, too. In the preface to Wilhelm’s translation of the I Ching, Jung writes of hexagram 48 The Well. For him, the well symbolises the I Ching itself, and by extension the unconscious itself — and so, by extension perhaps, psychoanalysis itself. Freely available water = freely available wisdom. Just how freely available the wisdom of psychoanalysis actually is, is debatable of course. In practice, it tends to be for the educated middle classes only. It talks their language, and it takes their money.