Monday, 25 February 2013

The past and the ultimate present - history in Krakow

One way of letting go of the headlong rush through life, ears blocked against The News (which is that Life Ends...) can be a spot of history. The long perspective. Does this work for you? I find it does, whether it's on a geological timescale, or simply, our human history.

The Long-Suffering One and I are off to Krakow for a short break. I understand it to be a lovely old town, full of fine buildings. It was the capital of Poland in late medieval times. It is stuffed with history, big history and little stories too.

Poland, I have discovered (shameful ignorance about it until now) has just a bit more history than it might have wanted. Read it for yourselves, if you are interested. I'll just mention the Tartar hordes, Napoleon's plans for the nation - they died at the gates of Moscow - the peace settlement of 1815 that obliterated Poland (nation states, who'd trust 'em, eh?) and of course the truly unbearable horrors of the Second World War. Schindler's Ark. 

I don't think I shall go to Auschwitz, which is nearby. I know what happened. I've seen the photos. My generation was very much brought up under the shadow of WW 2. I don't think I want to visit even the tidied-up remains of hell on earth, ultimate desolation. 

I shall certainly go to Kasimierz, the Jewish quarter that was emptied into a ghetto not far away. Which in turn was emptied....

One has, somewhere, to honour the ghosts and the echoes, and give thanks.

Poland feels now, I hope, that it is in the middle of a tremendous renaissance, because for 30 years or so it's been a truly independent country, only the second time(1919-1939) for centuries it's been a nation.

Despite the horrors and the complexities, just acknowledging the generations rolling through a city that is visibly medieval will, I hope, yield that framing, proportionalising effect that can help us live in the now. 

This next picture includes the bags and bundles the Jewish inhabitants of the ghetto were forced to leave behind as it was emptied.

We have been so lucky. Let's treasure this moment of ours.

Memento Mori: Shirley & Dolly Collins - Death & The Lady

Not exactly a song for a funeral, more like the ultimate memento mori. Over on the Good Funeral Guide recently they posted the version by Norma Waterson and Martin Carthy. Splendid though that is (lovely sensitive guitar playing interweaving beautifully with powerful voice - go and have a listen) I find this stranger, more unsettling.

And I love her voice - many don't, they say it's an acquired taste, bit like Richard Thompson's voice. But a voice can't only be seen as a stand-alone object of aesthetic scrutiny, it's what the singer does with it that surely  connects.

This connects. Carpe diem, friends.

Friday, 8 February 2013

A Mindful Bear and a Rocker

Bit of a jump from Wilko Johnson (my previous post) to Winnie the Pooh - but maybe not as big as it seems.

Hat-tip to Karen for reminding me of a couple of gems from the bear/unwitting philosopher:

"Sometimes, if you stand on the bottom rail of a bridge and lean over to watch the river slipping slowly away beneath you, you will suddenly know everything there is to be known."

"I used to believe in "forever," but "forever" is too good to be true."

"Don't underestimate the value of doing nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can't hear, and not bothering."

Side-stepping the whole Pooh industry and its Disneyfication, here is a mindful view of the world, I think. A mindful moment on the bridge, an acceptance of the transitory nature of all things, an emphasis on the here and now in order to avoid the tyranny of The Next Thing...this Bear has more Brain than he realises, or rather, simply more insight into the flow of life.

And Wilko, facing a life-shortening illness, tells us how precious every moment is. After he was diagnosed and given a prognosis:

"And now, suddenly, nothing mattered...and I realised: you are alive and you are existing in the moment. You're not worried about the tax return. And it's a bloody good feeling, being alive. Sometimes this feeling is almost ecstatic, and I can say that I haven't plunged into despair at all."

(from the Guardian's  interview with Wilko, published last Saturday, here:

I salute the bear and the rocker, with thanks for their insights. I hope that, as he watches Orion and looks for Saturn through his rooftop telescope, Wilko enters the state of being which he knows everything there is to be known. I think we all do, if we give it a chance.

(It must, however, be said that Pooh was a pretty useless guitar player, whereas Wilko's the business!)

Monday, 4 February 2013

Decluttering, focusing, letting go

OK, Bill Hicks wasn't always everyone's cup of tea, what? But there were times when he just sang out with truths. One of his favourite cries, uttered when confronted with some of the more dangerous absurdities of our times, was "Is it me? Is it me?"

Maybe everyone gets that feeling- is the rest of the world mad, or just me?

So: is it me, or are we just muddling ourselves into a dangerous state with the multiplicity of "inputs" into our lives? I've got a Facebook page, which is entirely the fault of assorted German philosophers who left us with the idea of a zeitgeist, the spirit of the times, and the idea that if you don't keep up with it, it'll trundle over you and squash you flat. E.g. I guess, old people (i.e. people even older than me) who can't handle the internet.

Because I don't like being unfriendly or unkind, I collected many a Facebook friend, who then filled my page with photos and comments that actually meant very little to me, and perhaps to them also. Why would someone you've met twice in forty years be interested in photos of your grandchildren?

Then there's all the fatuous adverts, then there's....

And there's "people who bought what you've just bought also had a look at these..." Interesting enough, but they are also time sinks, energy traps.

Being mindful, living in  the moment, seems to me the reverse of dashing in a semi-involuntary way after every Tweet, blogpost, related ad and Facebook entry. We need to calm it down, exercise control, filter and focus, use these things and not let them use us. We need to de-clutter. Let it go.

The driving force behind a huge proportion of the clutter is marketing, sales. We fill our houses with Stuff we don't much use or need, our screens with twitterings; the marketing psychologists and sales people want our minds. Every inch of a printable surface is printed, usually with garbage: shampoo bottles, cereal packets...

Maybe this blog is part of your clutter. In which case, lose it, friend, and earn at least a few minutes of p&q!

You may have seen the live clip of Bill Hicks telling marketing people in his audience to go and kill themselves, because they are ruining our world and our lives. I wouldn't go quite that far...probably....