November 2011


Thinking about my upcoming pilgrimage to Brazil, I dug out a master copy of The Man Who Drank the Universe and uploaded it to Vimeo, to replace the grainy, crappy google video copy that’s been around for years.

Here’s the new shiny version:

Went with a small posse of brothers to the THT screening of We Were Here, a new documentary film by David Weissman, the guy who made that genius film about the Cockettes I was so in love with all those years ago.

It’s a film I always wanted to watch – paying tribute to that terrible period in the 80s where the plague descended on the gay community. Literally, like a Biblical plague, people dropping dead in their thousands from an unseen, inexplicable, remorseless disease that killed and mutilated a specific population.

WE WERE HERE (trailer) from David Weissman on Vimeo.

There were so many moments when I welled up. Mostly when the massed faces were shown, or when mass solidarity happened. But one phrase from one of the talking heads really stayed with me. He has lost not one but two partners to the disease and he is left, for the first time suicidal: “All my friends were dead… there just didn’t seem much to stop me checking out.” I imagined for a moment how it would be if all my friends – all the surrogate brothers and family that my gay friends represent – were dying all around me and i was the only one left.

More than 15.000 people died at the height of the epidemic in just the Bay Area. All in the space of four or five years.

What was most moving and most thought provoking was the transformative solidarity and spirit that arose in that carnage. A real community of care – not just of promiscuous fun – emerged and the gay community showed dignity and strength. I wonder whether that strength is still there or now dispersed into a more particulate community?

Most young gay men I know socialise on line, have sex on line and hang out with a heterogenous crowd that is certainly not the one Weissman shows on the Castro in 1977.

We are more mainstream now and have less need for ghettos – but I wonder how an internet generation would deal with the awful trauma of the AIDS epidemic. Has the momentous soul we showed back then become dispersed into the world or has it just faded away?

I left the film feeling more proud of being gay than usual. I missed the horror by a generation but I am immeasurably proud of the gay men and women who passed through it on my behalf. This is the first proper history I’ve seen.

George Monbiot makes an interesting statement in this morning’s Guardian. He points out that there is a myth: that the people at the top of corporations are financial geniuses who got their wealth by merit of their brilliant minds and hard work. This myth is false, he says. It is a self-attribution fallacy, a myth of election. Not only do these people not have superhuman talents but:

they have preyed on the earth’s natural wealth and their workers’ labour and creativity, impoverishing both people and planet. Now they have almost bankrupted us. The wealth creators of neoliberal mythology are some of the most effective wealth destroyers the world has ever seen.

I agree with Monbiot’s politics and I too believe that the unbridled greed of unregulated capitalism has put psychopathy in the driving seat of our culture with disasterous results.

But as I was running around Shoreditch park trying to shake of a turn-of-the-season cold, I was also reflecting on another myth-busting shift that is happening. It’s more subtle and slow-moving than the dynamic Occupy movements that are springing up all over the globe, but it is I believe complementary and phenomenally powerful.

It’s debunking the myth that our thinking self is the central axis of our being in the world.

More and more of the neuroscientific evidence and research in contemporary therapy point to a fallacy which is right at the heart of our psychic version of the Eurozone crisis.

Our thoughts believe they are geniuses. They too suffer from a self-attribution fantasy. Although most thinkers acknoweledge the existence of a body below the neck and are buffeted about by their emotions, the strident voice of our thoughts are like Charlie Chaplin’s great dictator shouting and shouting and shouting.

Yet our ‘being’ goes on quite happily when our thoughts blank out during sleep. While we are thinking furiously about a house we want to buy or an argument we need to win, our body goes on breathing and digesting and blooding quite unconcerned with the strutting voice of the thinking mind.

What made me think about this was that half way round Shoreditch park I found myself stuck in an angry little groove, thinking about a troublesome friend of mine and my anger at him. Round and round: a jumping needle on a record. So then I practised a trick I teach people on meditation courses: flushing. Simply bring all your attention to your senses: to what you can see, smell, feel, hear. Let the images and details and colours and tastes flush through your system and ‘dislodge’ the stuck needle.

A little voice in my head said: ah, but you’re just repressing the thought. And then it struck me: but why is thought more real than the sound of people playing five-aside-football or the colour of those leaves under the sodium street lights? It’s a brainwash to think that thoughts are at the centre of things.

They really aren’t.

Neuroscience shows that most decisions are made and acted upon seconds before the thought “I’m deciding this” shows up. Our emotions, body and energy are all enacting our lives long before we think about acting.

Just as the Arab Spring showed that one illusory system can fall overnight and something new can arise, sustained mindfulness practice can undermine the phoney dictatorship of the thinking mind to such a point that it collapses and, in the aftermath, we realise we were being duped and we’re better off without it.

I’m talking about a Copernican revolution.

We have been gulled to believe that our Being revolves around our conscious thoughts. But this is like Ptolemy’s model of the sun revolving round the Earth. It seemed commonsensical but it causes major, irreconcilable problems because it is not true. If however, we start to entertain the notion that our being radiates out from around our body and that our thoughts are (important but peripheral) satellites then things make a lot more sense. Throw in the energy that radiates out from the Body-Sun and you have a solar system of Being that suddenly functions properly.

Thoughts can be terrible wealth-destroyers when we believe they are the centre of our Being. Allow them their place in the orbit around the energetic Sun of the body and the enormous solar wealth of Being can be fairly distributed again.