Monthly Archives: December 2014

The Trouble With Christmas

I’m awful glad that we don’t believe the same stuff as each other. It’s the differences of thinking which is one of the features of life that make it very interesting. I’m somebody who has changed his world view in a very substantial way. I used to be a Christian and all my Christmas’s used to be  white. And now I’m not, and they aren’t. But I am still happy that there are different kinds of belief in this space. I’m even happy that certain aspects of each our world views will make next to no sense to one or the other of us. Because if we spent all of our time amongst an enclave of like minded people who seldom disagreed with us then I don’t  believe we would have the chance to grow very much as human beans.

As an Introvert , who get’s more energy from being alone than from being with others, and as a Conflict Hater, who would really like to avoid fights if at all possible, I yearn for peace. But as a Truth Seeker and a Large-Family Member I couldn’t help myself noticing, over the years, that the road to Peace, Real Peace, leads through the Valley of Noisy Explosions. And that seemed to be the case whether or not I ate my brussel sprouts with my Christmas turkey. And although I’ve hated that valley with avengeance, and although I’ve tried to settle, at times, when possible, for the oh so polite Peace of Avoidance, I simply can’t do it. I can’t settle for pretend.

And now I’m trying to be more pro-active. Because if the road to true peace does lead through the valley of noisy explosions, I better not wait to be dragged there screaming and kicking by Circumstance. I better not just sit around waiting for someone else to get me there. I better embrace, and make a habit of embracing, the noise. The problems. The conflicts. The different points of view. And wrestling with them. And learning to enjoy it.

And you know I kind of am. The song goes “nobody’s knows the troubles I (or you) have seen” and though I believe that we should do everything in our power to be kind to ourselves and each other, and to make all our paths easier to follow if possible…still…I do kinda wanna start looking for trouble just a little bit more. Because even if it makes my life harder, it is possible to enjoy the challenge, and for many of the places worth going in life, it really isn’t possible to get there any other way.

So, when I wish you a Peaceful Christmas, I hope you catch my drift.

David Fee

ps My turn to apologise for lateness and also the hastily written uneditedness of this weeks bloggings.
pps And here’s a festive song I recorded last year called Stuffed. If you ever happen to squeeze down my chimney this time of year, I’ll play it for you live!

David’s Songs

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A Small Christmas Reflection

This will only be brief but I think still worthy of your time Gentle Readers.

First I’d like to say to Abner that I am entirely jealous of his coming two weeks in Patagonia, that is one of my dream destinations.  Much joy and delight to you brother.  Maybe I will pick your brains when you return to us and get some hints about enjoying Patagonia.

I was reminded today of something that I never noticed when I was a child and which I probably only really appreciate properly now.

My parents had very little money when I was a kid, due to their work being high demand but poorly paid.  They accepted this poor pay because they believed that it was a necessary part of providing care and support to the disadvantaged in Australian society.

I never felt poor.

I didn’t feel poor because my parents kept those financial struggles out of my sphere of awareness, they saw it as an adult responsibility and protected me from any feeling of insecurity about our financial situation.

So, what about being poor at Christmas?

I never noticed that either, because my Mother was a genius at budgeting and saving money, bit by bit over a long timetable.  So I remember many happy Christmas times with good food and nice gifts that put a big smile on my face.

My Mother also planned festivities at Christmas time, special enriching moments that have left a strong and joyful deposit with me to this day.

I’m not at all sure what this has to do with a “blog of global connections” but maybe one of my blogging companions here will make a connection across the planet and I’ll go “ahaaaaaa” happily.

Peace,

Mikel.

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The end of the year

I am wrapping up all the marking and submitting grades that the end of the semester represents. On friday, I’ll be going to Chile to spend 2 weeks with friends and hiking the National Park of Torres del Paine in Patagonia. I’m really looking forward to it. I was planning to write a happy-mood entry with regards to Christmas and and all the festivity time. However, after reading Mikel’s latest entry, I share his sadness.

After living in London, I have many friends from a Muslim background. I’m fully aware of the type of story that Michael mentions and the implications that they have in local communities. Here in Ecuador, society in general is not really aware of these tensions. We have multi-culturalism but not in terms of religion. Nothing like in Europe, USA or Australia. Catholicism is the main religion, and apart of Evangelicals, who are still under the Christianity realm, there is no other representative religious group. Somehow, this ignorance and isolation is a blessing.

In general, it’s a happier time. Two days ago, the “Novena del Niño” (The Boy’s Ninth) started. This is a nightly mass/meeting that Catholic churches/ households have nine nights before Christmas day. They pray, read the Bible, have some liturgic elements such as kissing the head of the doll that represents baby Jesus, and also have some games for the kids. Traditional families and neighbourhoods share some food after the meeting. I’ve never been part of it because my family comes from an Evangelical background and we used to do completely different things. Now, as a fervent atheist, I try to feed my spirit of Christmas differently.

I want to wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy New 2015. I don’t think I’ll be able to write again until my return in January. Regardless of all the crazy, sick and sad things that can happen during these days, I hope you can find, see and feel, somehow, all the positive, inspiring and goodness of humanity. Dear David, Mikel, Amanda, Maz and Neale: Thanks for being one of the most positive aspects of my 2014.

Feliz Navidad.

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Hatred Brings Sorrow. by Mikel Azure.

Tuesday 16 2014.

There is only one story in Australia today.

A criminal took hostages yesterday and overnight his actions caused the death of two Australians.

The criminal had a past history of repeated violence, particularly against women.

Most criminals find some way to justify their inhumanity and this one was no different. In the past this criminal had repeatedly justified his violence and hatred as being based in religion.

As a general rule we all recognise that murders try to explain away their behaviour, they try to blame something or someone else for their violent actions.

We generally would not believe any excuse a murder gives for their crime, we recognise that murders are generally also liars – wanting to avoid responsibility for their own actions.

Murders who blame their religion for their violence are no different from murders who blame alcohol for their violence or who blame gang affiliations for their violence.

Only one person is responsible for this man’s violence – him.

Two families have unnecessarily lost loved ones today. That is a tragedy of infinite scale. The deaths were public but the grieving of the families will be mostly private and I hope we (Australians) respect that privacy.

This murder used the religion of Islam as his excuse, just as most white racists use Christianity as their excuse for their violence and hatred. In both cases it is a convenient lie. Hatred does not come out of a religion, hatred comes out of individual human hearts.

Because of this murder’s lie there have been many Australian Muslims who have felt insecure in the last 24 hours, particularly the most visible on the streets – women wearing the hiijab.

The Aussie response to this concern? – a twitter tag ‘Illridewithyou’ – 90 000 people have offered to accompany women wearing the hiijab to help them feel safer during this immediate post crisis period.

There are other hatred motivated racists in Australia who might use this situation as an excuse to be violent towards Muslim women on the streets. Most Australians consider this possible behaviour disgusting and cowardly – ninety thousand of us are willing to stand with our Muslim sisters to ensure they continue to enjoy the same safety that every person has a right to experience on the streets of their hometown.

I feel sad today.

A huge amount of pain and sorrow has been poured out into human lives from the violently selfish actions of one malignant man.

I simply feel sad.

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Pressing Our Buttons by David Fee

So, Mikel’s idea: “What do you think would be four or five things that people in EVERY country would really like or enjoy?   Five universal likes”.

I jotted the very first things that came into my head and I got: Music, Food, Fresh Air, Hope, Peace.

Music isn’t a surprise as it is such a big part of my life. But there are definitely people who don’t like music. So it’s perhaps not really a univeral like. Although the people who say that they don’t like music, might like birdsong. Or other sounds. Music doesn’t have to be human in origin. And even the deaf can feel sound. I bet everybody likes the feel of sound.

Food is clearly a universal need. It’s probably not far short of a universal love. I’m sure that even people who eat purely for survival must have foods that they REALLY like to eat. “Really Like” is only a tiny step from Love. Isn’t it? Anyhow, I love food, and would like to be able to cook better. To spend more time cooking. To eat food that really good cooks have cooked. I’m not really bothered much about the appearance of food, it has to be said. It’s all about the taste for this boy.

And fresh air? Fresh. Air. Odd that the word “fresh” came to mind in addition to the word “air”. I’m lucky to live close to the eastern edge of the atlantic  with a straight run across to Newfoundland or thereabouts. Our prevailing winds have three or four thousand miles of open sea before they reach my  lungs. We’re not close to any major connurbations either. I don’t take it for granted, and I think, in my head, fresh air has a big association with freedom. The idea of living in a cramped, noisy, polluted, sweaty city (as billions do) isn’t one that fills me with joy. I think everybody should be able to get some fresh air into their lungs, at least now and again.

Hope surprised me. It surprised me that I thought of it as a universal like. There is a quote, which I can’t remember properly, which finishes…”but it’s the hope that kills”. The idea being, I think, that hope actually contributes to inaction and futility because it is aimed at things which are outside of our control. Like the hope that an estranged daughter will visit at Christmas. Or that it won’t rain tomorrow. What can we do about it? If we can’t do anything, then better not put any energy into hoping for an unpredictable outcome. Easier said than done of course. Perhaps Hope is universal only in the sense that we all do it in spite of ourselves.

Not surprising that Mikel and I had one universal like in common…peace. It’s a little word with a big history. A big connection to our souls. I heard somewhere that, as time passes, we are killing each other less and less. Must admit it doesn’t feel that way, but then again we do hear every crack of every gun these days. Direct to youtube. I live 60 miles as the crow flies from Faslane (in Scotland) where are based our (that is the United Kingdom’s) nuclear warheads. Or are they America’s nuclear warhead’s? It’s sometimes hard to know. Anyway, regardless of proximity, anything that can kill millions of people in a oner has got to be bad. I don’t put much value on the claim that nuclear weapons have kept the peace for the last 50 years. That will look a rather stupid thesis when, yes when, one get’s fired. In anger. Or hatred. Or stupidity. Or simply by accident. People say that it would be a “rogue” country or terrorist group that will be the source of such a horror. Don’t believe it. “Great” Britain and the “U”SA are the most war-like nations in the world, and most likely to be the ones who press the button first.

Peace.

David Fee

My Songs

UNIVERSALS ANYONE? by Mikel Azure

Dear, sweet, kind, busy and creative fellow itsasmallword bloggers – before you read the rest of this blog, please do a small exercise with a peace of paper or your tablet device.

Quickly note down, without too much thought, the top four or five things you immediately think of when I ask my next question.

Ready?

What do you think would be four or five things that people in EVERY country would really like or enjoy?   Five universal likes.

Go!

Scribble, scribble, jot, jot, jot……

I’m leaving a big space so that you won’t see my answers and have them influence your own answers.

big space.

Big space.

Bigger space.

Space is growing.

Even bigger space.

Larger and larger space.

Growing and expanding space.

Both space and sentences are getting bigger.

Is this enough space for the purpose I originally aimed at?

……..

…….

Now that you have yours, here’s mine in the order they occurred to me when I had this question pop into my head five minutes ago.

Icecream

Love

Family

Fun

Peace

I know the question was vague, your brain could have taken off in all kinds of directions, deep or light.

I’m curious to see what happens next.  🙂

It would be fantastic if you could blog your handful of “Universal Likes” and any thoughts that flow from this little mind game.

Peace,

Mikel.

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How Does Your Year Flow? ——by—— Mikel Azure

On my first trip to the US the thing which caught me off guard was that the school year in Boston was out of sync with Australia’s school year.

In Oz the big holiday break is the summer break, over Christmas holiday and most of January, which is also when most of the country is at its hottest and driest.  (Wet season up North is a different story.)

In Boston, Massachusetts the school year ends in the middle of the year because (I presume.) THAT is the summer period, winter and Christmas is cold and snowy.

I never really did get my head around having Christmas half way thru the school year.

For Ozzie kids we’d get to Christmas, and the heat, and know that we were going to get all the thrills of Christmas time and then a great long four week holiday before having to go back to school, starting a new year in a new grade.

Kiwis (Those lovely folk from Middle Earth (New Zealand)), sometimes call Australia “The Land of the Long Weekend”, because we do love ourselves a long weekend and the first half of each years has quite a few long weekends stuffed into it.   On rare lucky occasions two long weekends can occur consecutively and in that situation the clever ones among us work out how to swindle the days between the two weekends off, then you loose three days from your holidays but when you add the two long weekends at each end of the three day, you get a nine or ten day holiday!  Neat, if you can pull it off.

Anyway, back to the larger idea of how a year flows.

I would say that in Australian public culture over the year there are three “peak” points –  Christmas/New Year, Easter long weekend and Anzac Day which also usually has a long weekend associated with it.

Christmas and Easter are not significant for any religious reason, most of us are irreligious.

Christmas is significant because we gather together in families, share gifts, eat too much and pretty much have a distilled “Aussie Lifestyle” moment, by which I mean it is hot, super bright sun beating down,  we wear lots of shorts, bikinis, flipflops and sunscreen and sunglasses abound,  we gather on patios, decks and porches, bbq,  muck around with water, the pool if you have one, otherwise the backyard hose will do to get everyone wet and briefly cooler, sit around talking about sport, or the latest family news, or maybe some of us might sneak inside to watch the five day Cricket Test Match on tv.  (Mmmmm  I might write a post about cricket in Australia at some point, note to self….)   A fair amount of cold “bitter” beer will be consumed.  These days also a lot of cold white wine also.

We have made more and more of a fuss about New Year’s Eve over the last twenty years, which is why something like Sydney’s NYE fireworks display has turned into such a big deal.   NYE is kind of like “the other big party at Christmas time.”

Easter is significant not because of its Christian tradition but because it is a four day long weekend!  Whoohooo. A long enough break that you can travel away from the city for a couple of days, you can take an extra day off before the weekend and if you leave early the day before that, you end up with five whole days of holiday to play around with and none of it comes out of your annual leave!  (Are you starting to see why Kiwis call us The Land of the Long Weekend?  hehe.)   The traditional use of those days would be to get yourself and your loved ones down to a camping site, near a beach or a river, take lots of meat and beer and wine and have a kind of “christmas without christmas and without the house” kind of experience.

Then comes Anzac Day long weekend.  Anzac Day basically being our memorial day for dead soldiers and past wars.  A sociologist might suggest that if Australia has a “civil religion” it would be the whole Anzac mythology and Anzac Day would be the religion’s “high holy day”.    Anzac Day does not remember our victories in war, it is a very solemn occasion where we recognise the cost of going to war, the price paid by those who died and the role those soldiers play in showing the rest of us what is potentially good in the Australian values, if there are such things.  Australia is such a young country (White Australia that is, not the First Australians.), only 200 years old,  we are not really sure yet what “Australian” means, we often FEEL that something is “Australian” but when we put it into words, it turns out to be a value most other countries might also celebrate.  Abner might be yelling “AHAA!”  about now.  🙂

After Anzac Day  nothing much happens until Christmas comes around again.

We do have an “Australia Day” (I almost forgot about it, which tells you something.) and we are starting to make more of celebration of that, but we all know, even if we won’t all admit it, that celebrating the Day in 1788 that the First Fleet of mostly English convicts arrived in Australia is a bit ambiguous.   Rejects from England arrived here and started to use force to dispossess the ancient Aboriginal cultures that were here already – hard to be fully cool with celebrating THAT.

Now, it would be fair to say that alongside the yearly flow I just described there are many other cultural patterns co-existing and if you lived in an area where a particular ethnic community has a large presence you might be fully aware of their yearly celebrations and even enjoy them and join in with them, after all, the more reasons to have a bbq, chill some beer or wine, kick back with friends and feel contented, the better, right?

So, how does the year flow in your country?

Peace,

Mikel.

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It is finals week

That is my only excuse for not writing more right now.

Also, it has been a very heavy past couple of weeks in the US and in the Bay Area.

My heart and my schedule are full to overflowing in a way that might be more than I can handle.

More on all of this soon. I promise.

In the meantime, I think of you often.

Amanda

Heavy Paddling – by David Fee

I fell over this morning trying to carry a big lump of cast iron radiator that was undoubtedly a two man job. End result: dodgy knee, painful lower back, skin off shins. But nothing broken. Moral learnt (or possibly not)…don’t try and be the macho guy in the presence of builder fellas. And. Cast Iron is very heavy. And. Very hard.

... Heating » Cast Iron Radiators » The Churchill Cast Iron Radiator

In the above situation I divorced my brain from my body and emotions. That holy trinity should always be allowed to work in unison. Otherwise trouble will ensue. In one way or another. That’s a fact you can have for free.

Most of the time it’s just a matter of slowing down. ‘Least it is if you’re a rusher like me. Being instinctive, spontaneous and moving has it’s benefits, except when the time comes for careful deliberation and taking stock. Then you’re better off making like a rock. I’ve always been very envious of those whose path through the world is slow and steady. It’s why opposites attract. We see the qualities in others that appear to be lacking in ourselves. So if I hadn’t married Ineke (who is a kind of opposite from me), and if I was gay, I would have probably gone for the strong, silent, steady type with emotions that moved through the waves of life like a graceful ocean liner, a methodical brain that worked  problems out without diving in the deep end first, and a body that, ahem…well, it would definitely need breasts, hence the not being gay bit I think.

And there I’ve gone and done it again. Plunge in that is. I started this blog, like I usually start them, without having much of a clue as to where it might be heading. I had, as I usually have, a rough idea of linking up with what previous bloggers had been talking about. After that…it’s basically a mad dash through the rapids of  white-water words trying my best to avoid the submerged rocks of writer’s  block and readers incomprehension.

So I arrived at the “not being gay” sentence and suddenly found that I had lost all forward momentum. But I’ve been there before. Like the seasoned kayaker that I am, I knew what to do. I put all of my shoulder strength into that paddle and got myself going. But now I was heading away from the mainstream and into a backwater. Hey, why should that matter. I mean the thrill of the ride is great, but why not drift in this quiet, shady pool under the overhanging cliff and simply BE for a while.

Yep, that’s what I think I’ll do. It’s what I WANT to do. Enjoy the moment whether I be on my own, or performing a wordy turn in front of millions (sic) of readers. And now I’m approaching the roughly 500 words that I tend to aim for. And for a change I haven’t managed to rescue a conclusion from this little stretch of rapids.

Don’t think I’ll be transporting bloody radiators in a canoe from now on though…

David Fee

My Songs

EMBODIMENT and EXCUSES by Mikel Azure

Maybe time flies at different speeds in different countries?

Would that explain how I missed my usual posting day?  Again.  Astonishing how quickly the week goes by.  I think our posting regime is getting nicely organic and chaotic around about now, which suits my creative flow.

Neale wrote about the human foible of giving what is effectively an excuse for our choices rather than simply saying, “I felt like doing this…so I did it.”

I liked his observation and I feel like chewing it over in a slightly different way, so that’s what I shall do.

Seems to me that most of our decisions come out of our emotional processes rather than our cognitive processes.

Having written that sentence I would like to entirely reject the notion that there is actually any divide between feeling and thinking – there is no divide between them but they are not the same either.

Thoughts and feelings both run on the same network, the neuro-chemical system in our bodies.  I’m not going to bother you with details of that system here, just pointing out that there is not a network of nerves that are used for “thinking” and another network used for “feeling”.

We really need one word to change how we organise this reality – the Western tradition has, thanks to the Greek Philosophers, valued “thinking” and demonized “feeling” as if they were two entirely different processes.

We are trapped by our language here – if I keep using “thinking” and “feeling” even as I say they are part of a whole, if there is no name for that whole, then our language arranges the whole as two separate realities regardless of what sentences I construct.

I’m not settling on this as my lifetime choice for a term but for this post I shall use ‘processing’ to refer to the whole.

We process the information that is available to us in multiple ways, all of the processing happens in our bodies.  I am including “mind” in my concept of “body” even though no-one has yet been able to adequately describe or define “mind” or establish clearly how ‘mind’ is connected to ‘body’.   As an Existentialist thinker I am happy to take our shared experience of Being as a sufficient ground to continue the conversation – we all think of ourselves has having body and mind even if none of us can actually define both of those realities with settled certainty.

We process information that comes into our bodies from outside, we add our “self” to that processing, it is always MY processing.

My processing always includes my body chemistry, my history (One form of context.), my surroundings (Another form of context.), my sensation state (What you could call the “weather” in your body – aches and pains, muscle tensions and relaxations, heart rate, blood oxygenation….etc etc), my current sense of identity, the patterns of interpretation I favour, the patterns given to me by my language, the patterns given to me by my culture and by my family –  you getting the picture?    There is a MASS of information being melded together with the information my senses bring into my body –  my processing is a subtle, profound, chaotic, focused and complex dynamic and my whole body is always involved.

All my processing happens in all my body all the time. Sensations, emotions and cognitions are all elements in all decisions, they are part of the melange from which decisions emerge.

That’s what is actually going on as I write this and as you “think” about what you are reading.

Western view says you are “thinking” about what I’m writing, as if that is a cool, linear, controlled process only happening in your brain.  Total nonsense.

You are having a whole body engagement of these words and that whole body engagement includes a whole of your history engagement as well.  We carry our history/life in our body.  Parts of our history are processed and integrated and balanced, other parts are still wild and disconnected and full of loose ends that keep snagging on other people’s loose ends.  Maybe something in what I am writing will snag one or more of your loose ends and you’ll feel a strong “reaction” to this post without even knowing why.   That’s our actual reality – our whole body and our whole history is always involved and present in our processing of everything coming to us from outside us.

The Western way radically alienates us from our bodies, we are in fact, ashamed of our bodies, not in the simplistic sense of sexual shame, in the deeper, sadder alienation that we don’t even recognise our bodies for what they are, we deny that our actions flow from what we “feel” in our body, we make excuses for our actions, pretending, even to our self, that we “thought” our way to a decision or an action, we offer others a “good REASON” why we did this thing or that thing.

In reality decisions don’t come out of our “head”.  Our decisions come out of our entire self, all of you is in every decision, all of you is involved in ‘making’ every decision, though I think I might prefer to say that all of you is involved in you FINDING your decision, but that would be another entire post.

“I wanted to do it.”

“It felt right to me.”

“It is the decision I made because it is the decision I made”

These are not egotistical explanations.

They are the actual reality.

When it comes to decisions we are making about our own bodies, our own selves, no other explanation is needed, or accurate.

Neale’s reflection on this thing we do was far more fun than mine and surely our two posts are a pretty good illustration of how subjective and individual each human being is, even when processing the same human reality.

Peace,

Mikel Azure