Category Archives: 01 – new Posts: January 2015 onwards

The Neolithic meets the Cosmic: wonderful outdoor art!

Recently we visited the newly-opened Crawick Multiverse, near Sanquhar in Scotland, an outdoor, amazing landscape sculpture created on what had been disused mine workings by landscape artist Charles Jencks. It is an astounding place to visit – and an inspiring one.

We felt that Jencks had managed to create in stone, land and space, a metaphorical Great Circle: from where we began in the Neolithic era to express our physical and intuitive connection to  the universe of which we are part, to where we are now – astounded by the immensity of  the cosmos  as it stands revealed through the technical brilliance of modern science.

Here is the video explaining his concept, by the man himself.

Enjoy the photos – and GO THERE!

Crawick Multiverse Ground Map

Crawick Multiverse Ground Map

Ian - time traveller

Ian – time traveller

From the Multiverse...

From the Multiverse…

Yours Truly - on Andromeda...

Yours Truly – on Andromeda…

Mosaic Multiverse

Mosaic Multiverse

150 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2015/ Photos copyright Anne Whitaker 2015
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

 

On Life, Death, and Planet Janet…

In last week’s post  I raised the very difficult question of our increasing medically-expedited longevity  – and the ethical, moral and economic issues it is bringing along with it. The post produced some very interesting responses, this one from USA commenter Gaye Mack being one of them:

“When I was in grad school I had to take an ethics course and our single grade was based on a 5 minute presentation. I presented myself as Hippocrates arguing in front of the Supreme Court on this issue pointing out that my oath of ‘first do no harm’ could also be applied to the concept that to extend life beyond a reasonable means for the patient and family– emotionally, physically and FINANCIALLY, was in fact, ‘doing harm’…”

Just as I was facing up to my own and my husband’s demise, and we were about to embark upon completing the relevant medical and legal forms, I  had a conversation on the subject with my dear friend Peggy. In her mid eighties, she is still amazingly active, enjoys life, and continues to be a wonderful support to other people as well as a shining example to those of us coming behind her regarding how we should grow older. Peggy, of course refuses to be complimented – “Away with you!!” is her usual retort.

I recorded our conversation, which is quite short, and have Peggy’s permission to share it. It has the usual mix of Peggy’s and my conversations: a rich mix of grave seriousness, black humour, and sheer irreverence.Here it is. I do hope you can make time to listen, and leave your responses – to continue the dialogue on the topic of how we face and deal with death and dying in the 21st Century.

Anne and Peggy on Life, Death and Planet Janet

Grim Reaper

Grim Reaper

300 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2015
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

 

“…A time to die…”…but when? And how?

Baby Boomers are the first generation in human history to be able to rely on medical advances to prolong their lives considerably. They have, in effect, added on average more than a decade to the traditional, biblical ‘three score years and ten’ as a result of medical advances enabled by technology  – accelerating in particular since the start of the twenty-first century.

However, in the universe we inhabit, light and dark co-exist: one does not come without the other.

The shadow side of this striking gain in longevity is that death can now be put off for a considerable time, often resulting in – on average – eighteen years of deteriorating health with its attendant misery for the individuals involved, their families and friends. The economic realities of this are becoming more and more pressing. Western countries, on average, are dealing with a population as a whole who consume more in health care resources in their final six weeks than in the whole of their preceding lives.

Most of us can now quote several cases from personal experience or from hearsay, of individuals whose lives were painfully prolonged: by those individuals not having made their end of life wishes clear; by families’ general inability to communicate with one another regarding the painful and threatening question of the inevitability of death; and by the medical profession’s increasing focus on the technicalities of technology-expedited care, rather than the humanity, compassion and tough-minded realism required to enable people to have, as well as a good life,  a good death when the time comes that life has no quality left and there is only distress and suffering.

On the latter topic, I highly recommend surgeon  Atul Gawande’s wonderful book Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End”, currently topping the best-seller lists. Here, the author  tackles the hardest challenge of his profession: how medicine can not only improve life but  needs also to address the hard problem of how to assist the process of its inevitable ending: with greater humanity, care and wisdom than is all-too-often practised at the moment.

In the UK, as the assisted dying debate rages on, with around 75% of the population supposed to be in favour of some form of assisted dying being legalised, increasing numbers of people are choosing to take matters into their own hands. For example, at the end of July 2015, a healthy 75-year-old former nurse took her life at a Swiss suicide clinic after saying she could not bear growing old. Gill Pharaoh – who had specialised in nursing the elderly – said old age was not ‘fun’ and that she preferred euthanasia to becoming ‘an old lady hobbling up the road with a trolley’. Only this evening, I found in my email inbox the following from the UK’s Dignity in Dying campaign:

“Today, Bob Cole had an assisted death at Dignitas in Switzerland and his story has been covered by almost every major media outlet in the country, including a front page in The Sun newspaper.”

I would be most interested to know where my readers are on this crucial issue. My husband and I have completed Advance Directives, stating clearly in writing what our wishes are – and are not– regarding medical care at the end of our lives. To this we have added Power of Attorney documents which give added weight to our Advance Directives. The latter at present have legal force in England but not in Scotland.

I also persuaded our GP to obtain Do Not Resuscitate forms, normally kept in hospitals, which we have included, signed by him. Copies of all these are now with us, our GP and geographically closest next of kin.

All this, of course, may not be enough if either of us is painfully and terminally ill and palliative care,  which in theory should be fully available to everyone but regarding which anecdotal evidence –sadly– is building to show where such measures have failed or are inadequate. What would one, other, or both of us do then? I have to admit that, at present, I do not know the answer to that….I’ve also lived long enough to know that, often, you really can not know what you would do in a very tough situation until you are actually there….

Anne and Peggy

Anne and Peggy

A year or so ago, before my husband and I had sorted out what we would do in terms of advance wishes, I had a discussion on the topic of what one does at the end of life with my dear friend Peggy. In her mid eighties, she is still amazingly active, enjoys life, and continues to be a wonderful support to other people as well as a shining example to those of us coming behind her regarding how we should grow older. Peggy, of course refuses to be complimented – “Away with you!!’ is her usual retort.

I recorded our conversation, which is quite short, and have Peggy’s permission to share it. It has the usual mix of Peggy’s and my conversations: a rich mix of grave seriousness, black humour, and sheer irreverence. I hope to post this conversation next week, to continue the dialogue on the topic of how we face and deal with death and dying in the 21st Century.

In the meantime, do let me know what your thoughts are on this, one of the most important issues of our era.

**********

900 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2015
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

 

As summer loses hold…a melancholy musing…

I have always loved August, that month where a particular coolness in the morning air on stepping out, a papery rustle tingeing the wind blowing through the trees, intimates that Summer is losing its hold upon the year, that Autumn is ascending…

August is my birth month. There is an almost, a poised melancholy about it which fits my temperament well. From a very young age I have been very aware of the transience of Life: for all its challenge, turmoil, joy, grief and seemingly endless possibility, its manifold excitements, loves and pleasures, it is soon gone: a frail leaf drifting down to the river of Time which carries everything mortal to the great Universal Sea.

Whilst in a pleasingly melancholy August mood today, I dipped into a favourite inspirational book and found this gem, which I thought I’d share, from Katherine Mansfield…

Death of a Rose…

“…It is a sensation that can never be forgotten, to sit in solitude, in semi-darkness, and to watch the slow, sweet, shadowful death of a Rose.

Oh, to see the perfection of the perfumed petals being changed ever so slightly, as though a thin flame had kissed each with hot breath, and where the wounds bled the colour is savagely intense . . . I have before me such a Rose, in a thin, clear glass, and behind it a little spray of scarlet leaves. Yesterday it was beautiful with a certain serene, tearful, virginal beauty, it was strong and wholesome, and the scent was fresh and invigorating.

To-day it is heavy and languid . . . So now it dies . . . And I listen . . . for under each petal fold there lies the ghost of a dead melody, as frail and as full a as a ray of light upon a shadowed pool. Oh divine sweet Rose. Oh, exotic and elusive and deliciously vague Death..”. Katherine Mansfield: The Death of a Rose (from The Virago Book of Spirituality, Edited by Sarah Anderson, published 1996,  p276 )

One fallen leaf....

One fallen leaf….

350 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2015
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

 

Do you like seeing community green space covered in concrete? If not, please read on!

You would think, wouldn’t you, that our local City Council – which likes to promote Glasgow’s “Dear Green Place” image – would be proud of having such an impressive green community initiative in our local, much loved and used Children’s Wood.

You might even think, mightn’t you, if they were savvy politicians, that they could be claiming some of the credit for this world-class initiative, using its success to attract positive interest – maybe even money – in promoting their Glasgow’s Green Year 2015 campaign?

Not a bit of it!!! No interest whatsoever has been shown. The council persist in describing our vibrant piece of community land as “disused football pitches”.

Followers of this blog, and supporters on Facebook and Twitter, have been really helpful in publicising this local campaign to keep our green space for community use. We need your help again as the struggle moves into a new stage. Please sign this new petition, Share on Facebook and Twitter and anywhere else you think might help us. Thank you !

childrens-wood-protest

childrens-wood-protest

The Children's Wood and North Kelvin Meadow

Our objections to the designation of the meadow and wood as housing land have been unreasonably ignored by the planning authority. The Local Development Plan has now gone for review to the Scottish Government with the recommendation to zone as housing. Our voice must now be heard by the Reporter in charge of this review. Please sign and share our petition to show the strength of opinion that the meadow and wood should be zoned as greenspace.

SIGN PETITION

More information

In the Glasgow City Local Development Plan, the Meadow and Wood have been designated as housing supply land, under issue H023. The local community has written numerous objections to this designation, arguing for H023 to be removed and the land designated as green space. The planning authority has responded to these objections, recommending no change to their designation. The summary below explains in brief the case for changing the…

View original post 1,774 more words

How NOT to teach either science or religion…

She was so electrified by religious fervour that her wiry red hair almost stood on end. I was fourteen, she was enraged.

“ Miss Anne Whitaker, how dare you ask me if I believe in the theory of evolution. If  YOU believe in the theory of evolution, you will be damned to hell everlasting !!”

I believe that was the last time I asked a question in R.E.

****

Ardmore beach, during the summer holidays a few weeks later. I was just beginning to develop my pilgrimages, being at an age where I could slip away for a bike ride without attracting too much parental protectiveness and restriction. I had such a deep need to be alone, quite often. Sharing a room with my six year old sister, I had no private space in my parents’ home.

Here at Ardmore it was usually deserted. There was a rumour that World War Two mines lay buried in the sand. This may have been propaganda designed to keep people from wandering around the perimeter of  the nearby airport. I didn’t believe the story about the mines; moreover, there was a great place between the dunes to leave my bike where it would not be seen.

The beach was about a mile long, approached through dunes spiked with marram grass and patrolled by terns. Here, I could walk, forage for interesting objects cast up by the tide, have solitude. The endless timeless rhythm of sea breaking and ebbing on the shore hypnotised me.

The sound I heard would have been the same a million years ago – would probably be the same a million years hence. This realisation was too big and awesome for my mind to hold for long. As I strolled, finding a slow rhythm, the tensions and tightness in my body generated by the lack of peace at home began to unwind.

I now understand that I would fall into a meditiative state on these walks, taken as often as possible from that summer until I left home at seventeen. In that state I felt just like a grain of sand on the beach – minute, but an integral part of a great Wholeness.

In those days as puberty began to thrust my body, mind and spirit from the cocoon of childhood, I found the Holy Spirit in the wildness and expansiveness of sand, sea and sky. It was certainly not present in my  secondary school Religious Education class on the religion-obsessed island on which I grew up…

******************

450 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2015
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

******************

What do we know, anyway? Not a lot…

In my view, we all need to be humble in measuring what little we actually know against the vastness of what we contemplate. We need all the help we can get in our attempts to make sense of a vastness which a great and respected scientist has not long ago admitted may be beyond our comprehension. (He could be wrong, of course!) We need to co-operate with one another, as we all go about honing and sharpening the particular lenses through which we look out at mystery.

Reaching for the Moon...

Reaching for the Moon…

We need the perspectives of rationalist, reductionist science. But we also need the perspectives of those non-rational dimensions of the ceaseless human journey towards understanding where we came from, why we are here, and what, if anything, it all means. The great myths, the great religions, the arts – all these also give us a partial glimpse of  The Big Why.

So my Really Big Why is this:

WHY can we not learn to respect each other’s different lenses/disciplines, instead of – as so often happens – descending irrationally to the primitive level of the tribal carnivores from which we have slowly evolved over the last 100,000 years, and taking up fundamentalist, tribal positions – in which the futile attempt to declare only one lens right and all others wrong, is doomed forever to utter failure?

An example of a body of knowledge which seems to attract such fundamentalist irrationality is the great and ancient art and science of astrology.

It has combined those realms of logos (reason) and mythos (imagination, story-telling, creating of metaphors which help us to live with our deep flaws as humans, as well as celebrating our wonderful creativity) for at least six thousand years, since, in Arthur Koestler’s vivid words from The Sleepwalkers”:

“Six thousand years ago, when the human mind  was still half asleep, Chaldean priests were standing on their watchtowers, scanning the stars.”

So I found it most refreshing, as a life-long appreciator of the wonders of science, to have read Lord Rees’ admission that we may never be able to decode the universe. But let’s pool all our knowledge, shall we, on both sides of the current mythos/logos divide, to enable us to  concentrate on what unites us – rather than what divides us.

Reaching for the Moon....

Please note: comments on this post are welcome, but abuse and ranting have no place on this site and any such comments will be deleted.

***********************

400 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2015
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

Rupert Sheldrake – a persistently open-minded scientist

As those of you dropping by here will know by now, I am as interested in science as I am in esoteric topics – and what I most admire in scientists apart from breadth and depth of knowledge is: open-mindedness, and generosity towards those with whom they may disagree. Rupert Sheldrake is one of those. To his great credit, he has kept up that spirit despite severe testing by diehard reductionists in recent years.

Rupert Sheldrake

Rupert Sheldrake

What I most dislike is dogmatic dismissal of others’ theoretical positions, knowledge bases or viewpoints, especially if that dismissal is rooted in ignorance of the body of knowledge or subject area which is being dismissed.

Astrologers know all about this!

I am putting together a small group of books to re-read over this summer/autumn period, one of them being Rupert Sheldrake’s recent book which I first read in 2012 and which I featured here then. Here is my 2012 introduction both to the book and Rupert Sheldrake’s talk:

“…I’ve now read and very much enjoyed “Science Set Free” (USA) / “The Science Delusion” (UK)  and would highly recommend it. Whom better than the author himself to let you know what it’s about?…”

Enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uD2qScZlvYE

****************************

200 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2012/2015

Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

****************************

 

‘the still, sad music of humanity’….Some thoughts and feelings during an awful week for our world…

Something I have learned – the hard way – is that some of us are more porous to the experiences of others at an intuitive, non-rational level, than others. This hyper-sensitivity is a gift in some contexts: it can ensure an appropriate, compassionate response to one’s fellow beings, thereby enriching one’s own life, as well as being useful to one’s fellows. Having worked all my life in contexts where sensitivity is essential to being an effective teacher and helper, I can personally affirm the value of such a gift.

Prisoners of Conscience window, Salisbury Cathedral

Prisoners of Conscience window, Salisbury Cathedral

photo: Anne Whitaker

But the gift has a dark shadow. It means difficulty in creating the boundaries that are at times necessary to protect oneself from being invaded by others’ pain, others’ woundedness, others’ unconsciously destructive energies…and the pain of the world…

I have been feeling really low since yesterday when the dreadful news of the Tunisian beach massacre burst on us all, following on other horrors this last week. In this, of course, I am not alone.

I feel as though the dark pain at the core of my own being, old long-accepted pain which most of the time just lies there, like rotting old leaves at the bottom of a deep pond, has risen to meet and join with the world’s pain. Normally I keep those feelings to myself, sharing them only with one or two trusted loved ones. But today, I thought I would write about it, and share a personal experience from a long time ago which  also evoked for me  ‘the still, sad music of humanity’, in poet William Wordsworth’s poignant words.

Calais, France, Summer 1990

Twenty five years ago whilst fulfilling our mother’s wish for her seventieth birthday that my brother and I  should take her to visit her older brother’s war grave in Calais, I had a shattering experience of being plugged into the world’s pain which I have never forgotten.

 Le Touret

Le Touret

Le Touret Memorial (Le Touret Military Cemetery)

A radio officer aboard HMS “Achieve”, her brother’s ship was sunk in May 1945, off the French coast, shortly before the end of the Second World War. His was the only body from the “Achieve” ever found. Having managed to swim ashore, he died of hypothermia on the beach before anyone could rescue him.

My husband Ian’s diary for Friday 5th May 1990 records ‘Annie a bit nervous about trip to France tomorrow’. Had I known just how fraught it would be, I’d have been hysterical…

The overnight return trip from Glasgow to Calais turned out to be pretty harrowing, owing to our time miscalculation based on erroneous information concerning distances provided by the travel agent, whose cheery “it’s just a hop, skip and a jump from Paris to Calais !” turned out to be two and a half hours longer than he had told us. We finally managed to get to the cemetery, stressed and exhausted from our 6 am start, just as a churlish and unfriendly French attendant was slowly pushing the gates shut for the night.

My choosing to burst into tears to evoke his sympathy rather than punch him, accompanied by my miraculous recall of French, probably saved us from being denied entry on what turned out to be our only opportunity. For the cemetery – bizarrely and unexpectedly – was closed on the following morning, a Sunday, only during the weekend of our visit.

But my mother did find her brother’s grave, and we were all shattered by the experience. I will never forget my brother  and I standing at a respectful distance to give her privacy, keeping an eye on the burly, scowling attendant, as she hung the silver celtic cross she had brought with her over the right hand corner of a small, plain gravestone. Head bowed, she wept quietly to herself. She had loved her brother dearly and deeply. 

Fortunately, suspecting we would need privacy, my brother and I had booked us a room each. On retiring to bed after dinner, I began to weep, and simply could not stop until exhaustion eventually brought sleep. It was no ordinary grief: I was aware once again of my personal sorrow becoming a channel  for ‘the still, sad music of humanity’….in Wordsworth’s  poignant phrase: this time, it was for the heartbreak and waste of that terrible war…

It is seventy years since the end of the Second World war, and humanity’s track record on applying restraint to the reptilian part of our brain in order to diminish the impulse to torture, maim and murder those whose values, beliefs, race and gender differ from our own has not appreciably improved as the twenty-first century unfolds. We are unimaginably ingenious, brilliant, when it comes to applying our intelligence for example to the quest  to decode the human genome:  been there, done that! – or to find the Higgs Boson – ditto.

When, oh when, are we going to find a way to stop slaughtering one another?

****************************

800 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2015

Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

The miracle of the living soul: Inspiration from Jung

All my life’s work has been with people: as an adult education teacher in many settings, as a psychiatric social worker, as a private counsellor, trainer and supervisor of counsellors, and writer.

At the core of this apparent vocational diversity has been, I now understand, the same drive. It is that urge to find meaningful contexts for my own tiny, ephemeral spark of life, whilst offering some affirmation to others that their tiny flame matters too: it is worth struggling to get our light to burn with a purer and brighter radiance.

Something ineffable and charged can on occasions arise in deep communication between one person and another – those in the helping professions and their clients are by no means the sole partakers of this context. There is a moment in which the feeling of safety, intimacy, trust, empathy and openness of exchange becomes so intense that the level on which two people are interacting shifts from ‘ordinary’ to numinous.

The Diamond Soul

The Diamond Soul
**********

In that moment, (to my subjective recollection) both souls are held, in a state of grace, in the palm of some vast invisible benevolent Hand. Both sparks of life are suspended in a sense of the sacred….Such a state can never be evoked. It can only be bestowed – fleeting, memorable, perhaps life changing.

Coming across the following quotes recently thus struck a profound chord:

first, from Carl Gustav Jung –

“ That is why I say to any beginner: learn your theories as well as you can, but put them aside when you touch the miracle of the living soul. Not theories but your creative individuality alone must decide.”

Carl Jung from “Contributions to Analytical Psychology” (quoted in Self and Society Vol 27 No 1 March 1999, p 22.)

second, from ‘Gilead’ by Marilynne Robinson, p 51 –

“ When people come to speak to me, whatever they say, I am struck by a kind of incandescence in them, the ‘I’ whose predicate can be ‘love’ or ‘fear’ or ‘want’, and whose object can be ‘someone’ or ‘nothing’ and it won’t really matter, because the loveliness is just in that presence, shaped around ‘I’ like a flame on a wick, emanating itself in grief and guilt and joy and whatever else …. To see this aspect of life is a privilege of the ministry which is seldom mentioned.”

(‘Gilead’, winner of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, is a wonderful novel in which, towards the end of Rev John Ames’ life in 1956, he begins a letter to his young son, setting down all that he wishes to communicate which impending death will otherwise render impossible.)

I urge you to read it for its humanity and its wisdom.

****************************

500 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2015

Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page