Be The Change…

I went into Manchester the other day, on the Metrolink, while the car was being serviced. Now Manchester is certainly not the most beautiful city in the world. It was a leader in the industrial revolution, and there is an air of functionality about the place, although the Victorians did put up quite a few beautiful buildings.

There is much modern development going on, so I kept losing my way as I went in search of Manchester Cathedral, although I was once quite familiar with the central area of the city. Eventually I found it. The thing is, the cathedral is usually quite easy to find in most cathedral cities, but here it is hidden away, dwarfed by its surroundings. Here is a photograph of the cathedral, with a bronze statue of Mahatma Gandhi in the foreground.

This is a bit of a cheat, as I applied perspective correction to the original wide angle shot from my phone (see featured image). With so many tall buildings around, it is difficult to get a complete framing from street level without using a wide angle lens.

The cathedral is not the grandest building in Manchester, which is probably the Town Hall, larger and more impressive. Manchester’s priorities are clear.

The Gandhi statue was put up in 2019, in memory of the 150th anniversary of the birthday of this great man of peace. A plaque includes the quote “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

An important reminder to each of us. If we want a world of love and peace we have to create it day by day, acting ‘as if’, and it shall happen… But maybe not in our own lifetime

Southport Pier and Clwyd

As the sun was going down there was sure to be something spectacular going on after a sunny day in Southport, despite gathering cloud. I had never really noticed this particular feature before – the Clwydian Hills of North Wales, emphasised by back lighting from the setting sun, framed by the picturesque structures of the Victorian pier.

Just wait for the walker to reach the centre and shoot… Shame about the bin.

Southport pier is the second longest in England, after Southend-on-Sea.

Runaway Rant: The New Definition of the “Good” is “Obsequiousness”

Eric Wayne’s runaway rant is very thought-provoking on the state of the world today. He shows the neverending need to protect open societies and individual freedoms from the predations of the powerful and of governments seeking to force particular narratives on their populations.
And the purpose of that freedom is not a life of watching Netflix, pleasant as that may be. It is the becoming of better human beings, along the lines of Maslow’s hierarchy.

Art & Crit by Eric Wayne

Are people still reading the classics? Are the great thoughts of humankind that have endured for thousands of years still relevant? Antigone is a play written by Sophocles in 441 BCE, or 2,463 years ago. I read it a couple decades ago, and never forgot its core message.

I find it odd that there is such great thought before the birth of Christ. This is just a byproduct of my passive education via the media and dominant culture, whereby I generally think of the Greeks, and the great philosopher Socrates (who died in 399 BC), as having more advanced ideas, and as coming later. While I did manage to earn an “A” in my college level year of history, I found the instruction deadly boring, and mostly rote memorized facts that I promptly forgot the day after whichever exam. Fortunately, I greatly appreciated literature, and learned a thing or two…

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Letting Go

Approaching the later years of life, I realise more and more that life is all about letting go. We spend the first part of life building up an ego, a bank of experiences, attitudes, habits, patterns of behaviour, traumas, relationships, material things. Over the second half of life, essentially we have to let go of our attachment to all of these, as we go through the process of preparing for our approaching death. If we do not, the ego dies with the sudden traumatic loss of all those attachments – surely the reason why death is so feared by many.

Why do I come up with this theme at this point in time? Because I have been touched by the experiences of those going through this very process, suffering illness, problems with memory, suffering from attachment to past relationships, suffering from anger, suffering from stress ‘because of’ the behaviour of others…

Of course, Letting Go is not just about dying, it’s about living life in the present, here and now, unencumbered by the past. This is the essence of life.

A little bit of web research came up with the following useful links.

In this post, Paula Stephens gives a Buddhist perspective on Letting Go – for this is an essential Buddhist teaching. Letting go of attachments is a necessary precursor to Presence – living in the present moment.

“Don’t let the darkness from your past block the light of joy in your present. What happened is done. Stop giving time to things which no longer exist, when there is so much joy to be found here and now.” ~Karen Salmansohn

Jack Kornfeld points out that the question of Letting Go is at the heart of spiritual practice, and compassion, forgiveness, grace are its handmaidens:

“These simple questions go to the very center of spiritual life. When we consider loving well and living fully, we can see the ways our attachments and fears have limited us, and we can see the many opportunities for our hearts to open. Have we let ourselves love the people around us, our family, our community, the earth upon which we live? And, did we also learn to let go? Did we learn to live through the changes of life with grace, wisdom, and compassion? Have we learned to forgive and live from the spirit of the heart instead of the spirit of judgment?”

I particularly like this post by LonerWolf on 42 Powerful Ways of Letting Go – full of examples and techniques for letting go. You will probably find your own bugbears within this list; we each have our own cross to bear. The material is grouped under the following headings, so something there is probably relevant for any reader:

  • letting go of anger,
  • letting go of anxiety and stress,
  • letting go of toxic relationships,
  • letting go of frustration and impatience,
  • letting go of depression and grief.

This post also gives sixty quotes related to Letting Go. Here are a couple with particular meaning for me.

“In the process of letting go you will lose many things from the past, but you will find yourself.” – Deepak Chopra

“The truth is, unless you let go, unless you forgive yourself, unless you forgive the situation, unless you realize that the situation is over, you cannot move forward.” – Steve Maraboli

Letting Go – essential for the good life and for the good death.

People of the Lie 2

“…the uncanny game of hide and seek in the obscurity of the soul, in which it, the single human soul, evades itself, avoids itself, hides from itself.”

Martin Buber

Recent direct encounter with evil has led me to republish this post, first published in 2017, with minor changes. The problem of evil and people of the lie is ever present in human societies, and we need to be aware of it. The original post was essentially a short review of psychotherapist M.Scott Peck’s book People of the Lie: The hope for healing human evil, published 1983, which I read many years ago now.

Peck’s book is actually about the psychology of evil. He gives a useful definition of evil:

  • Evil is that which kills or suppresses life or the life force.
  • Goodness is its opposite – that which promotes life and liveliness.

There is an element of such evil in all of us, but what matters is how we respond and evolve. If we invoke the mask of self righteousness, a self-image of perfection, and are not open to the evil that might be within then we deceive ourselves – the biggest lie.

I picked out three major characteristics which give warning signs of evil:

  • refusal to face the evil within, denial of one’s own guilt, often means projecting onto others and scapegoating or gaslighting.
  • an extreme narcissism, termed malignant narcissism by Erich Fromm.
  • a strong will to control others, leading to manipulative behaviours, demanding loyalty,…

Remind you of anyone?

Interestingly, Peck suggests that the most evil people are not found in prisons – these are mild cases compared to the ‘professionals’ around in society itself.

The most typical victim of evil is a child, thus evil can be conditioned onto the next generation. One task of education should be to raise the level of self awareness to provide a societal counter to this. Another victim would be the relative innocent who is not sufficiently aware of their own intuition and their manipulation by others.

In other terms, evil is driven by the rational ego and lack of empathy, left brain dominating over right brain, masculine over feminine.

Evil is real and anti-life. It can be conquered by confrontation, loving compassion, acceptance and growth. Paradoxically, evil can in some cases be the spur to psychological and even spiritual growth in its victims.

In the case of apparently entirely evil persons, they need to be opposed and confronted by the good – the strong will opposed by the good will, with love at its side.

Compassion is Great Intelligence

Beaautiful post by Tom on compassion, with superb photograph and ee cummings poem. Compassion – a symptom reflecting wholeness.

Tom's Nature-up-close Photography and Mindfulness Blog

One may ask, “Is compassion very significant in life?” Yes, compassion is immensely significant because it reflects and is a wonderful radiation of the whole. That whole has its own intrinsic, organic intelligence (of which compassion is a very big component). A fragmented, isolated consciousness, that merely perceives with self-idolizing boundaries and cold distance is, unfortunately, not of compassion. Such a debilitated mind is distorted and is not of the whole. Such a mind is isolated and apart. It may be intelligent in a very mechanical, crude, and limited way, but it is not intelligent in a living and wonderfully dynamic way. The isolated mind’s intelligence is — being limited — like that of a programmed, mechanical, robotic computer.

A mindful consciousness is of the whole. Such a dynamic, living mind sees beyond “learned distance” and learned isolating patterns. It is not like a left hand that is attacking the…

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Gaslighting

Although gas lighting was used in China 1700 years ago, the first gas lighting in England was on Westminster Bridge in 1813 (Wikipedia). By the 20th century gas street lighting was ubiqitous in England. We even still had gas street lamps in Lincoln when I was growing up in the 1950s – I remember each lamp cast a small circle of light, and there were huge gaps of darkness in between them. Today, gas street lamps no longer significantly exist and gaslighting has a totally new meaning.

In 1938, Alfred Hitchcock made the film Gas Light, where a manipulative husband makes his wife think she’s losing her mind by making subtle changes in her environment, including slowly dimming the flame on a gas lamp. He disrupts her environment, making her believe she’s insane, and controls her by cutting her off from family and friends.

Flash forward to the 2010s, and a new term ‘gaslighting’ starts to appear, inspired by this film. Here’s a good summary of its psychology. Basically this is emotional manipulation to control and undermine another person. It can be quite hard to spot, once sucked into its orbit – particularly in a relationship with strong positives as well as strong negatives.

Why do people gaslight others? The above website gives a good summary:

“The typical goal of the gaslighter is not just manipulation, but power and control—typically with the misguided cooperation of the manipulated victim.”

If you’re being gaslighted the website identifies steps you can take to protect yourself, including gaining distance, keeping a record, setting boundaries, getting an outside perspective, and ending the relationship. Of course, ending the relationship can lead to further problems, such as harassment and stalking, but that’s another story.

Gaslighting not just a person-to-person thing. You may have noticed that we’re being gaslighted by some of our politicians on a regular basis – for instance those who tell us the country cannot afford to provide support for a healthy life for each of its people, particularly those who have little, yet it can afford to be extremely generous to those people who have a lot. Indeed, it seems like party leaders in a democracy increasingly resort to gaslighting by conflicting narratives, rather than doing their real job of addressing real world problems in the most effective way for all concerned.

Gaslighting – worth knowing about.

Picture of gas lamp by Tulane Public Relations, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Techno-fog

The other day I spent half an hour working out how to connect my WiFi repeater into the home mesh. Why? I got an email saying that the mesh was not fully operational and had to search out the instructions on the web, after it became apparent that trial-and-error was not going to fix it. During that time I needed the password for the router, the password for the repeater and the password for my account with the provider, some of which were remembered by ‘the system,’.

Then, in a bid to save fuel, we had a British Gas Hive thermostat installed. Wonderful, we can now control the heating from a smartphone, by time, by degree, as many time slots as we want, rather than the ‘on 1, off 1, on 2, off 2’ of out previous central heating controller, which was rather venerable, it seems. Except that it stopped working after less than 24 hours, while I was fitting the thermostat to a stand. There is no manual; it’s all online or in the app. Fortunately, I find instructions on the web to reset and get it working again, and then reprogramme the heating schedule.

And the all-singing, all-dancing Norton virus checker on my laptop keeps telling me all the wonderful options it offers that I am not taking advantage of. Does it really matter? Who knows? And can I really trust Microsoft’s OneDrive to not lose a vital file or two from the cloud, when I accidentally do the ‘wrong’ thing?

All this web-connecting technology really makes a lot of things easy in modern living. Yet more and more, I find myself confronted by a mystery when something goes wrong and the answer lies beyond my limited understanding of how it all works. Because you only need to know when it goes wrong. How to fix it, where are the instructions, where are the passwords, how did you ever get it going in the first place? A search engine usually gives an answer for the technology, who knows if it is the best one?

So what happens when there’s a power cut? What happens when the web goes down? Both of which will happen sometime, especially in these uncertain times. Then it’ll be back to the temporary brain fog while I try to recall where are the instructions, how to get everything going again – assuming the power and the broadband eventually do come back. It all feels rather precarious.

All this angst, and I have always been interested in, and involved in tech. What about those who aren’t, and those whose memories are fading with age?

Are we making a world that is just too complicated and vulnerable? But maybe that’s my age speaking. It will all come naturally to the grandchildren, assisted by so-called intelligent technology!

At Llandudno Pier

It is August 1877, and the newly constructed pier at Llandudno is opened, replacing an earlier wooden pier from 1858. The next year, steamboats ply their way between Llangollen and ports in North Wales, the North West of England and the Isle of Man. The venture proves so successful that the pier is widened and extended (1910), with a pavilion and a tramway. Throngs of people pay to enter and walk/ride up and down the pier, and attend concerts in the pavilion. Even in 1969, when the landing stage was rebuilt in concrete, Landudno was still known for its ferry trips to the Isle of Man.

The modern pier with the Little Orme in the background

Llandudno was one of many seaside resorts established in England and Wales with the coming of the railways. At 700 m in length, this is the longest pier in Wales and the fifth longest in England and Wales.

A walk down the pier to the pavilion is still popular today (featured image). The tramway, concerts and steamers are long gone. The ironwork and decking show signs of wear, but the structure is still sound, and the ‘entertainment’ is now mostly rather loud bars, ice cream and amusement arcades. But the air is fresh as ever, and the views stupendous.

The pavilion

On the way back you see the Grand Hotel silhouetted like an enormous pleasure liner against the mountains of Snowdonia.

The largest hotel in Wales opened in 1902, replacing an earlier hotel alongside the pier, an adjunct to the 1855 bath house. The evidently once-grand bath house is now just a skeleton ruin. The hotel is still in business, despite a period of ownership by Butlins (1981-1998).

And the pier is but one of the many attractions of Llandudno!

At Chester

Chester is one of England’s most historic cities, established as a Roman port on the Dee Estuary in the 1st century AD, and very prosperous in the Middle Ages. The Roman walls have been largely maintained over the centuries, providing a scenic walk around the central city and its modern shopping centre although the port silted up many years ago now. The large number of historic buildings makes for a fine High Street, photographed here from the central pedestrian bridge on the wall walk.

The 11C Chester cathedral has a chequered history as Saxon Minster and Benedictine Abbey. The sandstone used in its construction is characteristic of many religious buildings in the area.

Chester – one of our favourite days out.

The guide from beyond

I just came across this poem by the 13C Persian poet Jalāl al-Dīn Muḥammad Rūmī, giving inspiration on meeting the unnexpected – appropriate for these uncertain times. The effect is to raise the response from the level of ego to that of the Higher Self.

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Quoted from Muehsam, Patricia A.. Beyond Medicine (pp. ix-x). New World Library.

Image composite of Milky Way centre by NASA/JPL-Caltech/ESA/CXC/STScI, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Modern and indigenous cultures

I commend to you Andrew’s recent post on Indigenous Knowledge: A Roadmap to Belonging Again, which gives a succinct and clear message about how the modern world has departed from the wisdom of those more closely connected to the earth.

I quote two paragraphs from his post. One is about each of us being but part of a system, a greater whole:

“The core tenet of Indigenous knowledge systems is the need to cultivate a sense of kinship with others and the environment. Relationships are the core aspect of existence. We are shaped and molded through our connections to our family, friends and place. Humans are not viewed as separate or isolated individuals but intertwined in a vast array of different living systems. Thus, we are just one component of the greater whole.”

And the second is about the need for balance and harmony:

“What Indigenous cultures understood is the importance of a developing a sense of reverence for the gifts provided by nature. Indigenous Peoples aim to maintain a sense of balance and harmony with the natural world.  Natural resources and other species are not to be exploited but respected and carefully preserved… The goal is to establish a healthy and reciprocal relationship between us humans and the world around us.”

Yes, there’s a danger in viewing ‘the past’ as some sort of idyll, and by comparison denigrating modernity. Each era has its positives. And yet we have moved so far from that interconnection, way too far, and the natural world is paying back our negligence in its many ‘environmental’ crises, which are really crises of our own collective psyche.

Featured image of Amazon rainforest on the Urubu river, Amazonas State, Brazil.
By Andre Deak, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Prize parasol

The featured image above illustrates the size of this magnificent parasol mushroom recently spotted in Knutsford’s Tatton Park.

The dog refused to stand by said mushroom and pointedly looked the other way. Using him as a measure, the height and diameter must be something like 10 inches.

They’re said to be edible and make a good pizza base, but you’d have to really know what you’re doing, as similar fungi are poisonous.

Eymet decorated

Last summer there was a flower festival at Eymet (pronounced as French ‘aimer’), one of the Dordogne area’s picturesque bastide (fortified) towns. We thought the decorations were quite striking against the background of the old buildings.

Crossing feature

Limeuil is just one of those pretty little Dordogne villages. notable for its dramatic location overlooking the confluence of the rivers Dordogne and Vézère. The bridge over the river Dordogne was asking for something to feature crossing over. The cyclists were first to appear. (Featured image.)

Next came the walkers.

And finally, a horse and rider.

I wasn’t quick enough to capture the 2CV!

Chatellerault abstract

On a long journey by French autoroute, we’d detoured into Chatellerault to eat lunch by the river Vienne. Something about the pattern of weeds under the water surface caught my eye, resulting in this photograph, taken quickly but long forgotten, until I eventually caught up with the backlog.

At least, I think that’s what it was!

Playing Favorites Leahy

Not often I blog music, but these pieces by the Canadian family group Leahy (from Older Eyes blog) are quite refreshing!

Older Eyes

leahytooYears ago my wife Muri and I used to take a mini-vacation every Valentine’s Day.  I’d pick a place that wasn’t too far from home then search the web for things to do there: museums, concerts, tours … and, of course, restaurants.  This all stopped when our first grandson, Reed, was born on Valentine’s Day and Valentine’s Day became Reed’s Birthday.   The year before Reed was born, we spent a long weekend in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  In searching for entertainment for Saturday night, I found a group named Leahy performing at the Lensic Performing Arts Center.  I’d never heard of the group, so I navigated to their website to find that Leahy is a Canadian folk group made up entirely of family members from Lakefield, Ontario.   The eight member band features fiddle-based music that ranges from traditional jigs and reels to their own folk-rock compositions.  All the members…

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Bracket fungi

This rather striking bracket fungus is, I think, a giant polypore, found recently in a wood in Surrey.

Giant polypore

Here are a few more brackets seen recently. Identification is difficult, despite having the Collins Fungi Guide!

Any ideas?