On the train from Aberdeen to Oxford this morning, in seated accomodation as they call it. Better than a coach, and I’m tall enough so that the beds (which cost £50/night at best) are a bit too short for comfort. After Preston, where the various we in seated all sat up unsure, most everyone slumped back into sleep. Opposite me was an older man, khakis, navy blazer, and regimental tie who’d got on with his wife at Arbroath. Somehow he maintained dignity even when asleep. I stayed half-in, half-out. The train was running late and I didn’t want to miss my connection at Crewe. We escaped the grim Lancashire houses and found ourselves meeting goods trains in misty farmland. Being summer in the north of the world, the sun was somewhere below the horizon but the sky was lightening, and then there emerged the bowlegs of a morning rainbow in the mist. Amazing.
Category Archives: Uncategorized
Like most folks, I suppose, I’ve been alternately amazed and horrified at the way in which the rapid present-day connections that emerge from tools like Linked In and Facebook may thwart years of careful effort at compartmentalization. To me, my life is a series of chambers through which I have passed, and each chamber is tightly sealed off from the others. Very few indeed are the friends who have come with me from one period to the next, in part because quite often I find that the sign of moving from one period to the next is that all my friends are still each other’s friends, but I no longer have enough in common with any of them.
In my bleaker moments it feels something like the watertight hatches that one might slam shut in order to prevent a submarine from sinking. Down there, below that hatch, are the connections and memories of a place I have left. That place, in turn, was made by closing the doors on a prior, past. And all the time, the water keeps seeping in.
That seems a Bad Way To Do Things, a form of dishonesty that I regret. As an alternative, I would like to think in terms of the banyan: a tree that grows up within another tree, sends down its own roots, creates a trunk, then beings to spread; and as it widens, sends down alternative trunks until, if it’s lucky enough to grow to a grand old age, it becomes a maze of trunks and spaces between them. Each of those newer trunks is a different point of contact with the earth, and the spreading geometry of trunks is particular to just that banyan tree. So each trunk is distinct; but the tree is a whole.
To return to Facebook and all that: the effect of these find-a-friend technologies is to present me as having one undifferentiated network to which all my ‘friends’ belong. That may be fine for an 18 year old student who has just discovered their First Real Friends; but actually, I don’t actually want my work buddies to know who my old school buddies are, nor my university friends to know who my geek friends are. That compartmentalization is a vital social strategy for me as an ordinary social person with a long social history and multiple social lives.
Facebook, of course, works on the idea that it’s a desirable experience to go snooping around in other people’s friend sets looking for interesting people—indeed, to judge people by their friends. I really value Facebook’s ability to help find lost folks—I have discovered some folks long lost who I’m saving for a rainy day, others whom I am rather shy to contact. I dislike, intensely, the fact that any of my friends can either see all of my friends, or none, without my being able to conceal or reveal those connections as I see fit. There must be some happy medium in this, a way to search (related to what Linked In does) the cloud of people in 2nd and 3rd order links around, but not to specify through whom those links are made.
In any case, here’s a link to my own past that I discovered while looking for something else: me as absurdist actor in a Latino theatre company. Look under Douglas; I was’t married then.
Of course, the whole question of being forced to stare at adverts and be targetted for adverts as one sets about having a social life is utterly disgusting—the worst kind of pornography. I am greatly cheered by the prospect of Diaspora and the anti-Facebook movment. Bhawana, my wise and sometimes edgy wife, finally decided she couldn’t stand all the stupidity of Facebook and deleted her account. As she put it: in Buddhism, repeating rumours is against the precepts yet that’s exactly what Facebook is for— and I might add, building on criticism I made in my article about technology for the journal of Buddhist Ethics, it’s also about deliberately becoming unmindful.
Sadly, I need Facebook’s connections to keep in touch with colleagues for now, as much as I dislike it.
‘No unions, no building codes, no gravity’. Thus spake an architect about why they preferred designing virtual buildings to real ones. It was part of part of an interview about business in 2L by the BBC. Architects, I suppose, are accustomed to thinking of their buildings as built for a client or a social group of clients. Yet in rejecting unions, building codes and gravity this architect is asking for a context-free design environment where there are no workers, where there are no legal traditions and their interpreters, where there is no natureculture at all aside from that which he choses. No animals, feminists or temples in his ideal world, either, I suspect. Sounds like a lonely place. Guess I’ll visit.
Now that life has been rather stable for a while—we’ve been living in the same house for four years, Eleanor’s in school, and we haven’t had to negotiate burning barricades or tear gas for a little while—I thought I’d take advantage of the calm to undertake a proper rohatsu for the first time in a few years. The Rules: no food after noon, no television or music, no alcohol, and of course no meat, and as much meditation as I could manage in the morning, middle-of-the-day and late night slots.
Well, in a house with a small child, the no television rule meant hiding upstairs sometimes; and Bhāwanā felt obliged to give me huge bowls of broth at dinnertime. Fair enough. Most days I managed to put in two or three hours of meditation, sometimes waking early and sometimes after dinner. Two mornings, my daughter found me asleep across my zafu in some quiet corner of the house.
As it got closer to the 8th I tried, and failed, to step up the pace. I opened up Chodo Cross’s translation of the Zazengi. I made sure that I went out for long walks or runs every day. Because it’s December in Aberdeen, that meant running in the dark, which I find completely delightful even if I do fall over sometimes. One night I found myself running along the beach at high tide in a raging storm, plowing my way through runoff streams and getting slapped by waves that reached overfar. Sometimes the meditation went luminously well, sometimes it was just marking time. On the last night I found I had to help someone with a crisis rather than sit: well, an education in attachment, I suppose, and perhaps a reason to take robes someday. When I could finally sit I looked at the Zazengi: ‘Great Teacher Bodhidharma sat facing the wall for nine years.’ Then it was over; I woke up on Monday morning, read, and ate breakfast with my family. Nobody I talked to knew about rohatsu; for Bhāwanā’s family the full moon of Vaiṣākh is the important Buddhist holiday, not some Japanese holiday in December. Fair enough.
That day, a colleague walked by and when I asked him what he was up to, he said, ‘I’m wandering around. It’s one of the privileges of my job that I have to wander around.’ I told him it was an important day for Zen practitioners and that he had said something Zen people would enjoy. Two mature Japanese students talked to me for a while and we agreed we would talk some more about the relative merits of Shingon-shu and Soto-shu.
Tonight I went out for a run again. The tides have shifted, and the weather is calmer, though still cold. On the homeward stretch, coming down the beach, the sea had retreated and I could run for kilometre after kilometre along flat, open sand with the waves growling gently next to me. To the south Jupiter and Venus were up. I looked at the morning star and ran forever until the dog and I met the Don River, turned and went home.
Wonderful, wonderful evidence of the antiquity of human-bat inter-relations in an Australian Aboriginal Bradhsaw painting from at least 17.5Kbp. It doesn’t really matter whether they were eaten to extinction in this case; what’s fascinating is that the artist thought they were worth painting. How lifelike!
Parent (wilting somewhat): ‘Aren’t you tired?’
Child (leaping around room): ‘No! I can sleep and play at the same time. Do you know why? Because I play in my dreams!’