Sunday, 15 November 2015

What your ability to love says about you

The latest attacks in Paris are a perfect example of  those filled with hatred instead of love. In a world where every news item is literally about death and destruction, it is hard to imagine John Lennon's world 'living as one'. The opposite of hatred is love, not self love but an altogether altruistic type of love. Love of others and their well being, doing things out of love and not expecting reward, being a person whose actions are always an expression of love. Romantic love is what we see in the movies but we forget that  love is a verb - to love- not a noun- self-love.

When people do bad things they are metaphorically screaming at the top of their lungs that they hate life and everyone in it. It is easy to become bitter, twisted and spiteful when things don't go our way or when others hurt and offend us but the truth is human beings are born with an innate ability to love. We smile unlike other species and we laugh. We feel things emotionally which we express verbally and physically but the process of deciphering thoughts and emotion is again unique to humans. Our brains are wired to experience sensory pleasure- food, sex, even titillating the brain through humour. Our make up enables us to love and hate in equal measure but choosing love over hatred takes wisdom and understanding. It is also surprisingly simple. Have you smiled recently at a complete stranger? Have you offered to help someone find their lost dog? Have you asked the disabled gentleman in a wheelchair wanting to cross the road if you can help him? Have you stopped to ask that young lady weeping on a park bench if she's OK? In other words, have you extended yourself to others out of love for your fellow human beings?

Although loving is simple, having the courage to do so is harder. We are all dancing as fast as we can while juggling the requirements of being employee, boss, mother, father, lover, mentor, tutor, friend, the list goes on. Many times, we hurry on past others claiming we are too busy to stop- the word 'busy' a convenient excuse for not caring enough to enquire after another or even spend five minutes exchanging pleasantries however pointless they might seem. Just chatting about the weather may be the only conversation that little old lady has had all day. Twenty-first century living has turned us into selfish egomaniacs where we place ourselves at the center of the universe. We are the axis on which the world turns and we treat everyone as a convenience who we discard at will like the packaging of our ready-made pizza. The rank disregard that we show others is why hatred has taken prime position on a world scale. We have grown so used to dispatching each other as we prioritise what we consider important that along the way, the cancer of hatred has metastasised. There will come a time when we may not even remember what love is. Those people already exist and they're making a very sick point by hurting others: that they don't care enough to stop, that they have forgotten how to love.

When we stop being able to love we abandon what it is to be human.We are already becoming dehumanised as we are already essentially desensitised to perversity and violence: television and feature films are becoming more explicit in an excess of everything in order to satiate audiences worldwide. What was once taboo is now the norm. Makers of commercial films know their audiences and what they want to see. Is it any wonder that some of the highest grossing movie franchises in recent years that none of them is about love? Look at the stratospheric popularity of violent video games, for example, beloved by lonely, young men the world over.  Children freely watch pornography which has replaced cartoons before the school run. There is a certain inevitability from using TV to control a restless child and for that child to equate an absence of independent thought with real life. Not only is our lust for instant gratification a form of hunger, the more we give in to it, the more we crave it.

If we want a better world, we need to re-learn how to carry out random acts of love. Smile. Say nice things only. Say hello and thank you as if it were the mantra to change the world. Offer to help even if the stress and inconvenience will mess up our plans. Extend ourselves beyond our personal bubble. Let others in. Listen to their stories. To love is to admire and marvel at every human experience, to see past ourselves for once. In the process of acting out of love, we can strike gold- that perfect balance borne out of love is peace. The whole world needs love now and more than ever. So what are we waiting for?

The sweetest irony in offering love is that we find ourselves in the process. A calmness and refusal to be enslaved by strong emotions, gimmickry, harmful ideology or false prophets overwhelms a peaceful mind- the utopia that we seek our entire lives is actually who we were always meant to be.

 Woldingham, Surrey. A most perfect place. Photo copyright SvD.

Friday, 6 November 2015

Why social media is helping terrorists

Think back to the Great War in 1914-1918. News of victories, or the advance of invading armies was relayed by word of mouth or newspapers. A son, father, uncle, lover could have been killed and their loved ones would not know for several weeks, perhaps even months. The war was conducted far enough for the wives, sisters, children and elderly parents to carry on at least a semblance to their old lives. Today, war is a very different animal. Insidious and concealed behind a veil of religion where the interpretation of faith is not the wisest or most erudite. And the impulsiveness of today's fast food generation who want everything immediately is demonstrated by the way terrorists and war mongers use social media. They brag about their brutal and hideous 'achievements' and find a receptive audience with the least effort imaginable.

Thirty years ago when my generation was still typing letters on carbon copies and telex was considered rapid communication, it was wholly unimaginable to conceive of the carnage that the internet and social media would facilitate. While the arrival of the internet opened up vistas and growth possibilities to companies and enabled communication to become more or less instantaneous, no one could have known then how a technological innovation could become a deadly Medusa. There is a debate to be had on whether Twitter, You Tube, Facebook, should be shut down in order to stop the madder species literally dead in their tracks. Without an audience how could they boast about blowing up priceless relics or beheading their zillionth victim or bringing down a passenger jet full of families and children?

Sadly, social media and the internet also serves the purpose of the powers that be, to disseminate information in order to wag the dog. Not to mention the lefties who will march through the streets complaining about their rights to have their ego massaged - who would they be after all, without a selfie? What is the worth of a man or woman these days who doesn't desperately require attention without which they would simply not exist. My point exactly.

Photo copyright SvD.

How what could have been ruins the present

There are moments in our lives when we reflect whimsically upon the past- some are more prone than others to reminisce ad nauseum about a time when everything was better and to dwell on gilded, embellished memories. The truth is, the past is a wildly foreign place- one where our recollection of the things we did and the rules we lived by are seen badly through the dense fog of time. The question of what could have been is a more obtuse but interesting idea to explore.

Forget that old question of whether we would change anything we did in the past of if we regret what we did. Let's concentrate instead on what could have been. Part of the process of getting old is becoming wiser and I would argue that any part of our lives where we wallow in grief about the past is not only obviously futile but also shows a distinct lack of understanding. Furthermore what could have been is essentially what we wished we had done but our desires then and in the very real present, the now, are completely different. For example, there were men who wanted to marry me in my youth but I rejected them. There are moments now when I regret having been so capricious because as women up and down the land will tell you, it's hard to find an intelligent, sane, available man these days.  (Women my age have a better chance of being abducted by aliens.)

As we look behind us did our lives turn out the way we thought they would? And if we were able to revisit our past would we return as we are now or at the age we were then? I'd definitely want to go back in my current mental state; in other words I'd look like the twenty-something year old I was then but with the sabre-like clarity of mind I have now. Had I been this wise at twenty-five, my life would have been very different. I would have been a lot more ruthless and self-serving in the decisions I made. I would have put myself first and toppled all the other pieces on life's chessboard around me to the ground. I would have been more ambitious and single-minded about my future. Ironically, what could have been is not about ruing the chance to become more loving or kinder but about the self and its ego; when we look back, the centre of our vision is what we could have done to make our lives easier and eradicate the obstacles and challenges (and pain) we had to endure.  Yet and in spite of all the 'bad' things we have had to experience, it is what could have been and what was which made us who we are. For example, it is because of the immense sadness I have faced in my life that I laugh easily. That may sound like a contradiction but one can choose to be miserable or to laugh in the face of adversity. Always. And so it should be that the past will forever remain a distant land where what could have been never happened and we're grateful it didn't.

Photo copyright SvD.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Sympathy for the Devil

Two friends died recently- one by drowning, the other by a massive stroke- and if there is any blessing in either of their demises, it certainly must be that both were swift. I watched both my parents linger in ill health for years, at the mercy of doctors who plied them with legal drugs by the truckload. In my view, patients become enslaved by their physicians who cannot promise a return to full health but instead torment their charges by offering a salvo for each individual symptom in the hope that some small improvement, usually by trial and error, is enough to dupe the invalid into thinking they are actually getting better.

There is no doubt that doctors perform amazing feats on a daily basis and to save the life of another is surely the most commendable act of all but the opposite is also true. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) an average of fifty people die in the US every day from overdosing on prescription painkillers. And also according to the WHO more people abuse prescription drugs worldwide than either cocaine or heroin combined. We all know someone who as soon as they catch a bad cold or flu complains about the doctor NOT giving them antibiotics. We suddenly become health experts when we visit the doctor fully versed in a) what's wrong with us and b) exactly the medication we need. Worse yet, it appears to be a badge of honour to actually have some physical ailment. An underactive thyroid, ovarian cysts, allergies, Crohn's Disease, etc. I'm not belittling anyone who is suffering but the prevalence of sickness and being ill has, in my view, replaced self-awareness. I know of one lady who speaks literally of nothing else apart from her and her family's visits to the doctor. Not just her immediate family mind you, but cousins, aunts, uncles too. I also know of another lady who self-medicates and is the defacto physician to her friends and family always handing out prescription medication. Hypochondria and self-medication can be a deadly combination (as attested by the WHO statistic above).

Voltaire summed up our obsession with doctors and sickness thus:
A physician is one who pours drugs of which he knows little into a body of which he knows less.

I would not only concur with the subliminal message of knowing ourselves less but add to that our fear of dying. I've been thinking a lot about smoking recently, for example. When I turned forty I felt more and more repulsed by my nicotine habit. Why? Because my father was gravely ill and I felt that anything that would hasten me to my grave was a bad thing. My father then died and I kicked the habit overnight. I literally did not even suffer withdrawal, such was my disgust for smoking.

Then I turned fifty and my mother died and around the same time friends and acquaintances also began to keel over. Suddenly not smoking began to seem kind of irrelevant and pointless. And having to choose between years of suffering and losing all of one's dignity by a slow, painful death (as was the case of my parents), dropping dead suddenly of a nicotine-induced stroke or heart attack began to look like a better option altogether.

Of course people will be jumping up and down the country screeching that smoking kills and only a severe dimwit would inhale but I can also attest to this- cigarettes were friends to me, a support when my life was pretty sad and miserable. And as an artist, cigarettes have helped me write and paint. The absolute in the non-smoking argument is that cigarettes kill. Well, walking my hound along a busy road today, my lungs weren't exactly feeling fine and dandy as I consumed vast amounts of diesel and petrol fumes. In fact I felt positively ill. I felt as sick as if the car exhaust pipes were actually stuck in my throat. Yet we can't live without our cars and therefore try not to think about what those fumes are really doing to us. Mobile phone technology, electrical pylons, microwaves, the list goes on. There are so many proven and unproven risks to our health that if we were to dwell on them we could go stark, raving mad. In order to avoid the hidden threats of our modern-day lifestyle we would have to retreat to a cave and deprogram our brains completely (and have the courage to admit that our lust for convenience is wholly to blame).

But what about self-awareness? Can a smoker knowing the risks be self aware? There's a very interesting philosophical debate to be had in the response to that question. I would argue that knowing oneself is of greater value than having the power (or ability to choose). Our actions invariably mirror a fear linked to dying. We don't smoke because we don't want to get cancer and die. A wise man does not suffer fear of anything. If one makes choices based on one's life journey towards the sole purpose of becoming a better human being, then within that context, let us ask the question again. Can a smoker be truly self aware? Smoking has been demonised to such a point that smokers are persona non grata everywhere. Someone once said that they decided to believe in neither God nor the Devil because they knew that they'd probably get on better with the Devil and like him more. That person was truly self-aware. And I bet he smoked too (he did).

Photo copyright SvD. The Magnificent British Countryside.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Christen Monge

I have only just learned of the passing of Christen Monge with whom I had the privilege of working on Art Souffle The Art Festival. Christen was a true professional and we took a huge gamble staging an international art festival in a vineyard. I was shocked and saddened to hear of Christen's passing and wish to offer my sincere condolences to his wife Alison and four children. Christen was also an award-winning winemaker and he possessed vision and the courage to match it- rare attributes indeed.

Christen Monge and Dennis Locorriere of Dr. Hook fame who performed at Art Souffle.
Photo copyright SvD.

Friday, 9 October 2015

The Great BRITISH Bake Off

A number of articles have appeared since Nadiya Hussain won the popular TV show. I'd just like to add my two cents worth. I watched the final on BBCiPLayer (as I don't own a TV) and got caught up like most by shedding a few tears at the end. However permit me to say the following:

I was amazed watching the show that contestants were using recipe cards. Surely that shouldn't be allowed if one is testing their ability to bake? But moving on to the winner. I think that the media underestimates the average Brit who is kind, good humoured and very welcoming to everyone. All that Brits ask in return is that when in Rome, please do as we do. I found the public reaction to the lovely Nadiya to be genuine and heart warming but not necessarily surprising. I do have one criticism- I disagree with considering oneself British and wearing a headscarf. That scarf essentially defines Nadiya more than anything else. Britain is completely multicultural and seeing ladies with veils, hijabs etc. is quite normal these days but I can't help thinking that the symbolism of covering one's head renders the woman subservient because she feels she has to. Having to do anything is the contrary of independent free thinking. But the argument goes further- how does one define Britishness these days? Well, Nadiya answered that with her wonderful mix of blending her roots- although she was born in the UK so what roots are those?- and traditional British ways- self-deprecating wit being one of them. I agree up to a point that she is a marvellous example but I retain a cautious view when I see anyone who has one foot in a cultural past and one in the present. A friend once remarked that having a mistress always proved too difficult as he could not sleep in two beds at the same time. The same analogy applies to being an immigrant- the best way in my view to become fully assimilated into any country is to remove the identifying factors that can only be interpreted that they wish they were somewhere else.

 Photo copyright SvD.