Travelling home as things close down

“I imagine you are both enjoying seeing the grandchildren grow up,” said a friend by email, while we were out in Houston with the family. We were, but this was soon curtailed by the developing coronavirus panic on both sides of the pond.

We were due to fly back to Manchester 7th April, but it was becoming clear that we’d have to do so sooner. President Trump stopped people flying in from Europe from Friday 13th March. Maybe we should bring our departure forward by a couple of weeks to Tuesday 24th?Read More »

Auntie Edie

It is the early-to-mid 1950s, I’m around 8 years old. We arrive by train from Lincoln at the old Manchester Exchange Station. Uncle Wilfred meets us; we transfer ourselves into a taxi, cases affixed to the side, and set off. At the first corner the cases take on a life of their own, leave the taxi and slide across the road. After a brief panic, cases are soon retrieved and re-affixed. Wilfred chuckles, my father says ‘crikey’. Wilfred was always chuckling, could always see the funny side of things. My brother and I rather liked him.Read More »

Chris Lyons

It was a shock to learn in early December that Chris was terminally ill and then that he passed away on 9th December 2016. I’d just been rereading the last communication I had from him a year ago, when he was very positive about moving on to a new stage of life in Didsbury. Another contemporary has moved on, from a world that begins to look increasingly strange.

A GP in Horwich, Bolton, Chris turned up at just the right time in 1994, when we had started our New Renaissance lectures in Knutsford, but needed more experience and more hands to keep moving on. Chris was a vital part of the operation from thereon, looking after the finances and playing an increasing role helping to get good speakers as we moved on to the series of Manchester Schumacher Lectures.

In the later years we shared chairing the sessions until waning energies led us to close down the lectures in 2004.

For me personally Chris was a great sounding board and a good friend. It was Chris who got me interested in the work of Ken Wilber, one of the most advanced thinkers of the time. We had many a chat over the phone mixed up between discussing the latest lectures crisis and the most exciting philosophical books and ideas we’d come across.

Chris also introduced me to the Scientific & Medical Network, which I have been glad to have been a member of ever since. He became SciMed Treasurer, a post he held until fairly recently, so he was evidently closely involved in their affairs.

Recently I sensed a certain disillusion in Chris, with SciMed, with the reality of mysticism and non-material phenomena. A great shame that I never got to really explore this with him. The end just appeared out of the blue for me.

Thank you so much, Chris, for helping to spread the light around.

Featured image shows Chris Lyons introducing the afternoon session at Manchester Schumacher Lectures 2002

A Living Manchester Sage

Not I, Not other than I

Review of a book by Russel Williams

A modern sage living modestly in Manchester, UK for many years? How could I not have heard of Russel Williams, living as I do within commuting distance of Manchester and having worked there during much of that time? This essentially humble man has pursued his teaching for many years at the Manchester Buddhist Society, without receiving accolades or wide recognition. Yet he would appear to be the genuine article.

not_i_coverIt is only because Steve Taylor persuaded the now-93-year-old that his tale and teachings should be told that we now have access to them in this fine book Not I, Not other than I, edited by Steve.

The book interweaves the highly improbable-sounding and adventurous early years of Russel Williams’ life with summaries of the realisations and teachings of his later years. The young Williams had a string of perilous experiences, including finding himself in a lion’s cage, living through the London blitz, saving lives from a small boat during the evacuation of Dunkirk, and so on. Improbable but almost certainly true, Williams passed through a rare intensity of experience that was probably necessary for his subsequent spiritual awakening and later undoubted spiritual authenticity.

The essence of his teaching is a simplicity of experience that does not get into verbalisation at all. Steve says in his introduction:

“Russel’s spiritual teachings are very ‘naked’ and pure – that is, they are very free of theories, concepts and categories. This gives his teachings a rare clarity and power. There is no system. There are no rituals or rules to follow, no ideas to take on board. You don’t have to believe anything. You don’t have to accept  anything. You don’t have to become anything. All you have to do is be.”

The teachings are not even actually Buddhist theories, but they are largely consistent with Buddhist teachings about the essential nature of man.

Steve goes on:

“Russel teaches us how to uncover this state – how we can nurture it, and remove  some of the obstacles which stop its expression. He makes it clear that this is our natural state, and that it’s only due to confusion that we have lost access to it. He helps us to remove the confusion, to disentangle our minds from the mess of concepts and thinking habits which cloud them, so that we can become who we really are. In this state, we are naturally one with everything, and with the universe itself…”

This is a fascinating book, which deals well with trying to get over an essentially nonverbal practice. It would be difficult to read it and not come away in some way changed.

Steve Taylor is himself an interesting man who has written a number of books on psychology and spirituality, and is an accomplished poet, so was well qualified to undertake the editing of this book.

 

 

 

New Renaissance Lectures

unity_houston_lecturesWe were having coffee at the Beans Cafe (again). There in the local free paper was this announcement of public lectures by the Association for Global New Thought, which reminded me of our initiation of lectures in the North West of England from 1993 to 2004.

Our local town of Knutsford in Cheshire, England had just established a new Civic Centre with a then-modern cinema hall. We speculated one day that this space would be ideal for public lectures similar to the Schumacher Lectures that were (and still are) run annually in Bristol by the Schumacher Society. We realised that this would only happen if someone did something about it, so we did, with a couple of local friends. Fortunately the hall was available on suitable evenings.

The first series of six ‘Knutsford Lectures’ was held, one evening per month, in the autumn/spring of 1993/4. We learned the ropes as we went, including booking the hall, arranging speakers, selling tickets, audio recording, and initially primitive publicity – hand-delivering leaflets, informing local media and developing mailing lists.

kl_logo
Our New Renaissance logo

The overall series theme was ‘Visions of a New Renaissance’, which remained the theme for all our lectures. The scope of change necessary in our thinking was indeed of a magnitude that implied the need for a New Renaissance, and vision was needed to set the direction (this is even more true today). Proverb 29:18 “Without vision the people perish” seemed apposite.

Individual speakers chose their own subject within that context. We even had a logo.

Our first speaker was Rt Hon David Ennals, one-time Secretary of State for Social Services in a Labour administration, also known as Baron Ennals – although he was obviously totally disinterested in titles and had a charming personality, as indeed did most of our speakers. Ennals accepted our invitation with alacrity, subsequently explaining that he was delighted to see such an initiative, knew how hard it is to get things off the ground, so wanted to support it. Despite being obviously somewhat handicapped by the ailments of age, he gave an entertaining talk which was much appreciated. Sadly David died a couple of years later.

We eventually ran three seasons of lectures, building up a small organising committee of enthusiasts. I think Polish philosopher Henryk Skolimowski probably hit the nail on the head when he said to me that I was involved in organising the lectures because that was my process of educating myself. I hope it also helped others.

Our speakers included Jonathon Porritt, who gave us a taste of the problems organisers face, when he arrived over twenty minutes late with a ‘full house’ audience waiting. Other speakers included scientist Rupert Sheldrake, the Schumacher Society‘s own Satish Kumar, Stephan Harding from Schumacher College, and Peter Harper from the Centre for Alternative Technology. In conversation, Satish subtlely challenged us with ‘why not set up your own Schumacher Lectures?’, thus planting the seed that led us to start annual Manchester Schumacher Lectures in 1996, where Satish was our first speaker.

The Manchester events took place over a full day, with usually three speakers followed by a panel session, chaired by myself or Chris Lyons. Here we managed to attract sponsors, including the Ecology Building Society, who faithfully supported us throughout. And there was the provision of music, bookstalls, refreshments etc.

Memorable speakers included Alan Watson Featherstone, founder of Trees for Life, Patrick Holden of the Soil Association, novelist Lindsay Clarke, scientists Mae Wan Ho and Brian Goodwin, ex-bishop David Jenkins, activists George Monbiot and Ann Pettifor. Many speakers joined with the organisers in a post-event evening meal, which was usually enjoyed by all.

We also had a fair share of problems. Two well-known international ‘green’ speakers cried off late after committing to come; maybe Manchester was not prestigious enough for them. Fortunately, Herbie Girardet of the Schumacher Society was very helpful in finding late replacements. Also, two well-known UK speakers excused themselves from the agreed panel session, two others behaved in a rather ‘precious’ and demanding way, and there were often problems with the sound/AV systems. It is not always fun organising such events!

I think the stresses and strains eventually took their toll, and the energies of our committee reduced, without the renewing emergence of new blood. Eventually, after the 2004 lectures, we closed down the Manchester Schumacher Lectures, bequeathing our remaining resources to the Schumacher Society. But the spirit did not die; almost immediately new Schumacher events were set up in Leeds, and continue to this day under the banner of Schumacher North.

The need for new ideas showing up the inadequacy of current thinking is ongoing and will never die out – so there will always be the need for initiatives such as this, changing the world’s thinking one person at a time…

So, all good wishes to the organisers of such initiatives, whether run from a more religious perspective, such as the Association for Global New Thought (which I guess is part of the New Thought Movement) or from a more general spiritual or even secular perspective such as the ongoing Schumacher Lectures and the regular events held at Alternatives at St James Church in London.

PS Success of our New Renaissance lectures was dependent on the voluntary energies and good will of many people, but perhaps worth special mention are those who at different times formed the core of our organising committee: Joyce Hopewell, Annabel Burton, Chris Lyons, Mary McGregor, Joan Poulson, Mike Lowe, Esther Austin and Chris Wright.