September 2008

I’ve been watching the American election coverage mainly through blogs and Facebook postings of my friends over there and I’m reminded of a teaching by Ajahn Amaro where he was talking about loving-kindness. Amaro pointed out that if you can’t, for example, hold George W Bush in your heart with love –

yes, Dubbya –

held there with love and understanding and a sincere wish for his happiness… well, then you haven’t really understood it.

I know in these times that seems like heresy – but it’s true. If we descend into hatred then we are losing the battle. Living with hatred in our hearts for Bush or Palin or whoever is only corrosive for ourselves. The Dalai Lama says that being angry at our enemies is just like picking up molten metal to throw at them. The only person to get hurt is you.

True compassion and (I’d argue) happiness comes from having respect and tolerance for everyone. Even those who are politically opposed to us. It certainly feels a whole lot better than being ratcheted up in anxious, poisonous tension.

I feel it when I dip into the coverage of the American elections. I feel it’s corrosive. Democrats with (I’m sure) good hearts start sabre-rattling and calling for blood. Posting doctored pictures of the Republicans and reasoning that ‘playing dirty’ is the only way to win.

I don’t want the Republicans to win in America any more than most of my friends – but ‘playing dirty’ and buying into their whole rhetoric of hate and war makes me feel sad and a bit burnt by the whole thing. I sincerely hope that Obama wins. I think America would be much better place but I hope he doesn’t get into the White House and find it toxic with the fallout from the campaign.

It’s ancient of course, but I just watched ‘The Life of Others’ – the film about life under the Stasi in East Germany.
It’s fairly unprepossessing stuff: the surveillance of a East German author and his actor girlfriend. But what an intelligent film. There was such sympathy for all the characters: for the hardline stasi officer who puts his life at risk; for the actress who becomes an informer; even for the officer’s superior.
The one character that actually comes out of it badly is the rather self-centred writer in the centre of the whole web. He’s charming and complex. In many ways he’s the hero. But at the end he merely dedicates his book to the stasi officer that saved his life. It’s that sort of haughty arrogance of the artist, that somehow writing is enough. How about a paycheck? or an appartment? Or even a word of thanks face-to-face?
There’s a heartbreaking scene where the ex-Stasi man whose career was wiped out for what he did to save the writer, is seen delivering free papers in the post-Unification Germany. He still has nothing. The writer – who presumably has continued living his comfortable aritistic life – drives past him, thinks to speak to him, but drives on. Instead he writes a novel and 2 years later dedicates it anonymously to the ex-officer.
It’s a brilliant, complex and human film. And it reminds me of the central tenet of meditation practice: accept and pay attention to everything because everything is valid. Even the bad, the corrupt, the vile. They all exist and have to be given room. Push then to one side and they become vicious. They eat away at you and corrode. Bring them into the light and they show their 3D colours and human constellation. And from that light place you can move on and become more human not less.


I know I’m starting to seem rather obsessive. But I promise this will be the last posting in a while about Karlheinz Stockhausen. But I just had to blog about the documentary I saw about him last night – Helicopter String Quartet by Frank Shaeffer.

I don’t know why I’m so drawn to Stockhausen. It was wonderful to see and hear him speak. In later age corpulent and rosy cheeked: he looks like a cuddly Bavarian in big white ruffled shirts with red-green braces. And his voice was warm and avuncular. He was friendly and explanatory to the four bemused helicopter pilots who were flying the four members of the Arditti Quartet as they played. He knew the pilots’ first names and worried about their health. With the musicians and technicians he was less indulgent – much more perfectionist. But still with that lovely warm voice that belies the ferociously complicated music he wrote.

And what arose strongly for me was his mysticism. He dreamed the musicians flying up from the concert hall in flying machines and their music being beamed down to four columns of screens that he could control. Everything, he said, that he has tried to do in his music has been about creating the uncreating. Imagining what has never been heard and making it audible.

Mysticism was scrubbed out of me at University.

I had tea with my friend Patrick the other day and he pointed to ‘growing up gay’ and ‘going to Oxbridge’ as the two unintentionally crippling factors of our lives. Neither of these things are intrinsically wrong or bad, of course. But integrating them properly is not easily done by a 6-yr-old or a 18-year-old respectively.

I’ve done lots of work in therapy, ayahuasca and meditation on the first of these. I’m fairly at ease with my sexuality and have shucked off most of the blindsided homophobia I carried around for so long. But the other blindspot: the taboo on mysticism is still there.

Basically, I grew up drawn to the mystical, to the fantastical and the imaginary. By the time I got to University at Cambridge – all that was so much embarassing childish nonsense which had to be quickly shrugged off in the bright, modern light of deconstruction, postmodernism: a sort of intellectual Maoism.

I kept a lifeline to it with choral singing and a love of poetry – but by the time I got to Berlin, the anti-mystical charge had gathered breakneck, blind momentum. Everythign was ironic. Nothing was serious and everything had to be undermined and questioned.

Of course, this was all to do with my psychic landscape too – but what has been most interesting in these last months has been a gradual re-acceptance of the unconscious, the mystic, the – dare I say it – transpersonal.

What to so many people seems like kooky mythology in late Stockhausen, seems like true bravery to me. To dream and give credence to dreams. To go to such extremes to follow a vision – to send four of the worlds finest string players up in helicopters and mix the results live, because you dreamed it. It’s inspriting.

I happened to come across a book of essays by Michael Tippet in a house we were filming today. He was talking about Schoenberg and his musical strictness – the fear of formlessness that drove him to serialize. He contrasts it to Joyce, who never had to have disciples and wrote obsessively, but driven from his inward landscape. In a sort of joyful gush. He quotes Ulysses:

Be on the side of the angels. Be a prism. You have that something within the higher self. [...] Are you all in this vibration?
It’s a life-brightener, sure; the hottest stuff ever was. It’s the whole pie with jam in. It’s just the cutesy, shappiest line out. It’s immense. It’s supersumptuous. It restores.

That voice is all wrong, really. It’s not formal, it’s not ‘correct’ but it gushes and it’s unstoppable. It IS supersumptous. And that’s what attracts me to Stockhausen. He is a prism, he did side with the angels, he was in the vibration.