Diana Durham – Coherent Self, Coherent World – Review

In a lecture called ‘Imagining Otherwise’, included in his book Green Man Dreaming (2018), Lindsay Clarke deploys a diagram of two intersecting circles to illustrate the relationship between our inner and outer worlds. The shape made by their overlap is the ‘mandorla’, a shape that in Christian art commonly encloses Christ to represent the gateway between the mortal and the divine, and that resembles the vulva, another gateway between worlds. Clarke argues that the mandorla in his diagram represents the creative imagination, the tool by which inner and outer – and other opposing pairs such as feminine and masculine – may be reconciled. In her new book, Coherent Self, Coherent World, Diana Durham uses a similar set of diagrams to explain how ‘intuitive mind’ (equivalent to Clarke’s ‘imagination’) mediates between the ‘implicate’ and ‘explicate’ orders of being. These terms come from the physicist David Bohm and provide a more science-friendly way of talking about what one might otherwise think of as spiritual experience.

Intuitive mind facilitates the expression into the explicate (the manifest external world) of patterns of coherence emergent from the implicate (or what in spiritual terms we might think of as divine consciousness). The process is most easily understood in the case of an inspired maker’s fashioning of beautiful art. But Durham emphasizes also its operation in the dynamics of organizations or groups and the production, say, of policies that work effectively, in contrast to the incoherent policies that result from the absence of connection with inner wisdom. (Not hard to think of a few big examples of that right now!) The principle equally extends to the condition of the physical environment under our care.

Much of the book is taken up with explaining the theory of this dynamic. The big question, though, is how do you actually produce such coherence in practice? Durham briefly acknowledges the key elements of personal practice – some form of meditation, and some form of teacher or guide – but her crucial contribution here draws upon her experience of ‘Dialogue’ groups that Bohm helped to develop. The principle here is that through free-flowing conversation, in which people’s presence to each other is facilitated by sitting in a circle and ideally a leader who is already habituated to the implicate, participants collectively open to that inner consciousness which transcends their separate individuality and thereby forges a powerful connectedness between them. People may experience resistance to this. Some may remain so attached to their individual identity that they will drop out of the group rather than go with the process. Particularly topical right now, in a time of ever more strident identity politics, is Durham’s observation that when people have no connection with their inner self, no awareness that the implicate even exists, then their entire sense of self is invested in an externally constructed identity, which may include their sense of nationality, race, sexuality, class, and/or religion.

This book speaks to a fundamental issue of being which is at the same time an issue profoundly relevant to the cascading crises of our time. It is carefully argued, and the exposition of theory is leavened with stories from history and mythic literature. I have one lingering question, about the privileging of ‘coherence’ itself. Is it possible, I wonder, that some things emergent from the inner to the outer world might take a more chaotic form and yet still be productive of beauty and love?

Advertisements
Posted in Spirituality | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Voyage Intemporel – Timeless Voyage – Buddhism in Space?

You can’t say it’s not imaginative. Voyage Intemporel is an early BD (1982) of Sergio Macedo’s that depicts a realm of celestial beings who take an interest in the spiritual evolution of life on Earth and become alarmed when humankind deviates off the plot down pathways of tyranny, war, and black magic. They intervene by facilitating the conception of a messianic individual, Yogan, who experiences enlightenment as a young man and becomes the leader of a cult of enlightened young hippies whose destiny ultimately lies beyond the earth. The English edition of the album is called Timeless Voyage.

Macedo’s visuals depicting the celestial realm are a weird mixture of Buddhist-style imagery – lotus flowers, stupas, radiant beings with glowing chakras – and science fiction: galaxies, asteroids, dinosaurs, spaceships. Moreover, Appel Guery’s text is laden with technobabble, especially the discourse of the celestial beings, who communicate in the tones of computer programs. In the early 1980s computers were just starting to become part of everyday life, so I suppose it rides the wave of the zeitgeist at that time to interpret a cosmic spirituality in quasi-materialist terms, i.e. as science fiction. For me the combination is pretty jarring.

I do wonder if there’s a clash of sensibility between writer and illustrator. Macedo’s other BDs are written by him as well as illustrated by him. They contain none of the science fiction apparatus of Voyage Intemporel and express a consistently spiritual interpretation of the world, in which he gives free rein to his delight in sensual images of paradise. The stories in those works are also more redemptive, if less ambitious in scale, than Guery’s dystopian vision of the future in which salvation must ultimately be reached via a flying saucer.

On a personal note: I couldn’t noticing that as Yogan gets older, and more spiritually empowered, his receding hairline exposes an ever more prominent frontal part of his cranium. It caught my attention because something similar has been happening to me the last couple of years, though I doubt that it possesses the same spiritual significance!

Posted in Comics, fantasy, science fiction | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Arran Stibbe – Ecolinguistics – Review

Arran Stibbe is the founder of the International Ecolinguistics Association. On this subject of ecolinguistics he, quite literally, wrote the book. The subject, and this superb book, is all about applying the tools of linguistics to the service of a better world.

Stibbe’s method is to analyse the language of texts, of many different kinds, to reveal the ‘stories we live by’. By ‘stories’ he doesn’t mean stories in the usual sense of narratives; he means, rather, the mental models that people carry – or, to put it more simply, beliefs. For example, analysis of economics textbooks uncovers the belief, or ‘story’, that ‘Consumers maximise their own satisfaction through purchase’. The ecolinguist then evaluates these ‘stories’ according to an ‘ecosophy’, a set of (ecological) values he or she has decided upon. The ecosophy Stibbe deploys in Ecolinguistics can be summed up as ‘Living!’ – which means valuing the flourishing of living organisms, including human beings. The particular ‘story’ I mentioned above, about consumers’ satisfaction, would fail to measure up to the requirements Stibbe spells out for this ‘Living!’ ecosophy.

The book examines in detail eight different categories of ‘stories’ (Stibbe acknowledges there are others he hasn’t covered). These categories are: ideologies and discourses; frames and framing; metaphors; evaluations and appraisal patterns; identities; convictions and facticity patterns; erasure; salience and re-minding. The texts he analyses under these headings are very varied, including not only textbooks, but journalism, advertising, broadcasting, policy documents, industry documents, political rhetoric, websites, and literature. His analysis is mainly of language, but does include the use of images too, for example by animal welfare campaigns.

Stibbe’s presentation of the relentless prevalence of many of the ‘stories’ he exposes is powerfully persuasive that they really are ‘stories we live by’; in other words, that the use of language in published texts really does influence, or even determine, what people believe and therefore what happens in the world. The book pre-dates the Brexit crisis, but it strikes me that Brexit is an excellent example of the way that the fostering, through rhetoric and journalism, of a set of beliefs can massively impact on our lives, irrespective of what the facts of the matter may be.

Very many of Stibbe’s examples reveal ‘stories’ that badly fail to satisfy his ecosophy, or probably any ecosophy that serves the common good. His own deadpan turn of phrase can make his skewering of the texts in question quite amusing. In his analysis of Men’s Health, for example, he writes that ‘if the cover states “Build a V Shape Back” or “ADD 3IN TO YOUR ARMS” then the reader is positioned as viewing these goals as desirable, whether or not they had previously thought that a V shaped back or enormous arms was a necessity in life’. The same directness can also be harrowing, as when he dissects documents from the poultry industry: ‘birds … “are slaughtered” … “are pasteurised” … “are transported” … “are hung upside-down” … “are shackled” … “are exposed to steam” … “are weighed individually” … “are inspected visually” … “are packed in plastic bags” … and “are sold” … This not only erases the birds as living, feeling, sensing beings, it also erases the human beings who are harming them.’

Although Ecolinguistics is marketed as an academic book, the simplicity of Stibbe’s style makes it accessible to any inquisitive reader. It should certainly be read by those involved in campaigns for the environment, animal rights, or social justice. But not just by them: I wish that everyone could acquire these skills to discern the values and assumptions embedded in the texts that make up our cultural landscape.

Texts from green campaigning groups, unsurprisingly, tend to fare better in meeting the requirements of Stibbe’s ecosophy. But the examples presented most affirmingly come from literary genres, in particular ‘New Nature Writing’ (books by the likes of Richard Mabey and Kathleen Jamie) and Japanese haiku, where language is used in more sophisticated ways to affirm the flourishing of nature.

I found Stibbe’s discussion of haiku the most uplifting part of the book, yet it seems to me that a whiff of the spirit of haiku pervades the whole book. Although the book is written with academic rigour, and addresses matters of such grave concern as climate change and factory farming, the honesty, lightness, and humanity of Stibbe’s prose make it a pleasure to read. These qualities are themselves an expression of a greatness of heart that ultimately underpins his work.

Posted in Ecology, Literary criticism, Review | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Merlin and the Making of Stonehenge

Stonehenge Stone Circle News and Information

The archaeologists have their ideas about how and why Stonehenge was built. The annals of legend have another story, one that involves Merlin the magician plus the uncle and father of King Arthur.

The story begins not in Neolithic times but in the troubled years of the fifth century, after

46739440934_98a8f1b736_z (1) 21st Century Merlin at Stonehenge

the Roman legions had withdrawn from Britain. The Saxons had invaded and were advancing rapidly across the land. The native British sought to resist them and to sustain the remnants of Romano-British civilisation. So there was terrible fighting between Saxon and Briton. So much bloodshed that their respective leaders agreed to meet at a spot on Salisbury Plain to try to negotiate a peace treaty.

The thing is, some people take a more hardball approach to ‘negotiation’ than others do. It had been agreed that the leaders should meet together unarmed, but the Saxon chieftains…

View original post 614 more words

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Alida Gersie’s Earthtales (review)

412eh8b4itl._sx292_bo1204203200_Alida Gersie’s celebrated Earthtales is, in large part, a collection of traditional tales that have to do with the earth and its creatures. Most are from cultures that have been endangered by the imperialism of Western modernity, which by the same token are cultures with a long history of coping with ecological challenges. Thus they come mainly from Africa and indigenous America and Australia, a few from Asia, just four from Europe.

But. as the subtitle – Storytelling in Times of Change – hints, the book is much more than a collection of tales. The introduction and the sequencing of the stories in seven sections frame the material for use with groups of people who are engaging in some process of change. Alida’s approach to the challenge of environmental crisis is distinctively that of an arts therapist who works with groups. She sees the roots and solutions of our ecological problems as existing in the interface between the psychology of individuals and the necessity of cooperating in some form of community. Storytelling, and storymaking, provides a vehicle to address processes of change at a simultaneously personal and collective level.

To that end, each story in Earthtales is followed by a structure of group activities, including talking, writing, movement, painting, and sound-making. These follow the same design that Alida previously introduced in Storymaking in Education and Therapy: the aim is that through following the exact sequence of activities presented in each structure the group undergo a participatory experience that’s therapeutically analogous to the journey of transformation narrated in the story. The group and its members thereby get the opportunity to experience change right there in the groupwork, which may then carry over into their lives and relational dynamics beyond the group.

The introductions to the seven sections of stories, taken together, outline a metanarrative of group change, from the formation all the way through to the final dispersal of the group. At every stage, Alida emphasises, challenges and pain are to be expected. Even when there is progress and accomplishment, there may be power struggles over leadership, or individuals may drop out, or certain people will carry the dark side of a process that to everyone else seems delightful. The stories are selected to match these stages of group transformation. They’re chosen not on the basis of their entertainment value or because they convey a neat, relevant message, but rather for their capacity to provoke thought, feelings, and change. Many are well suited for retelling by ecologically minded storytellers, but some are perhaps too dark to tell outside a therapeutic context.

Earthtales is the only one of Alida’s books currently out of print, but second-hand copies can be found on Amazon and elsewhere. It’s a book of special relevance to those, interested in stories and concerned about today’s intensifying challenges to environment and community, who have the expertise to hold a group of people undertaking a transformative process.

Posted in Ecology, Mythology, Storytelling | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Kevin Crossley-Holland’s The Magic Lands

 

41qcjh1n8jl._sx323_bo1204203200_The Magic Lands is the paperback title of Kevin Crossley-Holland’s British Folk Tales. It’s a better title in that the collection covers Irish tales as well as ones from England, Scotland, and Wales.

The Irish stories do tend to stand out in their quirky strangeness and less tidy structure. Tales like ‘The Piper and the Pooka’, ‘The Dark Horseman’, ‘Monday Tuesday’, and ‘The Changeling’ – all of which are proper fairy stories, in which the fairies actually appear, in a setting that seems to be the world in which we live. This in contrast to the kind of stories that in English we call ‘fairy tales’, which only rarely include fairies and are often set in a timeless neverland.

Crossley-Holland includes one Irish fairy tale of that kind – ‘Yellow Lily’ – and some classic examples from Britain, such as ‘The Frog Prince’, ‘Tom Tit Tot’, ‘Mossycoat’, ‘The Black Bull of Norway’, ‘Mossycoat’, ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’, and ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears’.

More numerous in British folklore are legends localised in real places. Some good tales of this kind are chosen from Crossley-Holland’s East Anglian home turf, including ‘The Green Children’, ‘The Dauntless Girl’, ‘The Pedlar of Swaffham’, and ‘The Wildman’. Of legends picked from elsewhere, a handful have such sweep and impact as to make them nationally notable: ‘The Lambton Worm’, ‘The Slumber King’, and that celebration of capitalism, ‘Dick Whittington’.

One problem with collections of folktales is that they can be a bit dull on the page, whether because they’ve been put down as transcripts of oral tellings or because they’re written with barebones concision. Crossley-Holland, however, has the good fortune to be a poet. His retellings are invested with a lyrical poise that makes them a delight to read, while remaining simple enough for younger readers. Here’s the first paragraph of the first story in the book, ‘Sea-Woman’: ‘It was an empty, oyster-and-pearl afternoon. The water lipped at the sand and sorted the shingle and lapped round the rock where the girl was sitting.’

A small number of the tales are presented in verse, which helps to vary the texture of the book, but which I found engaged me less. Besides the longer kinds of stories mentioned above, there are short ones, including some that are basically jokes, such as those recounting the deeds of the much-maligned people of Gotham. The Magic Lands concludes with a very simple but profound tale from Ireland, called ‘Butterfly Soul’, which of all the 55 stories in this book is the one I’ve most often retold.

It’s a lovely book. I’d recommend it as the place to start for anyone just beginning to engage with the folktales of the British Isles. And at the back of it you can find all the sources to guide you deeper into the British and Irish legendaria.

Posted in British Isles, Mythology, Storytelling | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cecil Collins and the Holy Fool

9780903880640I have a hazy memory, from my early twenties, of attending an exhibition of work by William Blake and also Cecil Collins at the Tate. It can’t have been an exhibition of major works, because what I remember are works on paper: sketches, notebooks, letters, and the like. I’d never heard of Collins before, but what struck me was the visionary quality the two artists shared, and their propensity for writing as well as drawing and painting.

Flash forward to April Fool’s Day 2000, when at a seasonal event at Rocks East Woodland, Kevan Manwaring read out an extract from Collins’s seminal essay ‘The Vision of the Fool’. The event was memorable because it was there that I met my wife. We didn’t speak much on that occasion; the only thing I remember her saying to me was her one-word reply to my enquiry what the novel she was writing was about: ‘Vampires.’ But Collins’s notion of the Fool remained with me also – an archetype he’d divined as symbolising what it means to really be an artist and a spiritual seeker in a materialist age.

It’s extraordinary that most of the Collins essays gathered in The Vision of the Fool and Other Writings were written in the 1940s (two date from the 1960s, and there’s a long, definitive interview with editor Brian Keeble from 1979). Extraordinary because they are so powerfully prophetic of the situation of culture and spirituality many decades later. Collins fingers materialist society in whatever form – capitalist, fascist, communist – as shutting down the reflective inner life that is the wellspring of artistic creativity and the appreciation of beauty. So you have to be a kind of holy fool to go against the grain.

I’m very wary of the term ‘New Age’ because it serves these days mainly as a pejorative frame with which to dismiss from serious consideration (in a Western context) any kind of spiritual endeavour – except Christianity, which gets dismissed for other reasons. But, long before the New Age vogue in the bookshops in the 1990s, Cecil Collins was proclaiming ‘The Artist in the New Age’ in 1965. The roots of his own mysticism and iconography are manifestly Christian, but whereas he describes David Jones as a great artist evoking the dying of a tradition – Christianity as we have known it – he looks forward in his own visionary painting to a necessary rebirth of spirituality, which is characterised more than anything else by the embrace of the divine feminine.

Reading Collins’s essays, I noticed an inspiring resonance with the thinking of Lindsay Clarke as expressed in his essays collected in Green Man Dreaming, which I had the honour of publishing with Awen late last year. They strike me as men on a similar mission, the one seeking to express his spiritual odyssey through painting, the other through writing stories. I commend both books to you with all my heart.

Posted in Art, Spirituality | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment