Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Domesticating my primordial experience

Writer's questions - on 31st October ....
Writer Friend: ‘Why aren’t you blogging – are you too busy?’
Me: ‘Mmmm - too busy dealing with karma’.
Writer Friend: ‘What exactly is karma?.

Me: ‘To be truthful I'm not sure – maybe the time has come to find out’.

Once upon a time I went on the shamanic journey.  I was told I was a portal for the family karma. I didn’t know what that meant except that it sounded right and it didn’t sound good.

So - ignore stuff at one's peril?

It seems now, the time has come to get deadly serious about this topic - and I’m turning to a podcast by Tibetan Buddhist teacher Reggie Ray to find out what karma is. 

Reggie Ray goes as far as to say that to understand the purpose of sitting with the breath - to fully understand the purpose and the process of breath work in the body - we need to understand the principle of karma.

So – what is it?

Karma, apparently, is the second noble truth.  It refers to the structures and processes by which we create suffering for ourselves and others.

Reggie Ray says there are two types.

1: The karma of result.

Stuff that arises internally and externally that relates to conditions of an earlier life or to conditions previously in this life.

2. The karma of cause

When we react in a self-serving or ego-directed fashion -  when we do not meet our life directly – but seek to slide off to the side and manipulate or ignore – we create more karma towards the future that is later going to arise as the karma of result.

The body is a neutral experiencer.

Reggie Ray goes on to explain that the basis of the second noble truth, the cause of our suffering, is that we approach our experience with what is called thirst. By thirsting in relation to our experience we create karma, a thirst that is ingrown, self-absorbed, and solipsistic. We yearn to be something definite and continuous. We have built a concept of self that we thirst to perpetuate, augment, aggrandise – our ego-self accepts and rejects experience according to this concept. However, the body is a much more neutral experiencer. Things that arise are known initially by the body directly in an unmediated and unfiltered way.

What happens when our body knows the other is lying?

Healers know all this I suppose.  I have become very fond, for example, of Amatsu – and I’m guessing this is very probably the territory of Amatsu?

Anyway - Reggie Ray goes on to tell us that our body reads a situation in a very objective and unsentimental fashion – for example our ego self may want to believe the other while our body knows they are lying - we may find out later what the body knows through dreams, flashes of insight, Illness, tension

In fact, he explains, it’s only because the body knows first that we can react with an attitude of passion, aggression or ignorance towards the experience.

In fact, he explains, the natural state is the energy of experience. The ego mind is constantly reacting to domesticate that primordial experience.

So – my dear Writer Friend I have my answer and now so do you  – I have not been blogging because I have been too busy trying to domesticate my primordial experience.

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Another mahout of the feminine

One of my new year resolutions is to pay more attention to writers and artists - and now monks! In my last post I wrote about a Claire Byrne RTE radio interview I enjoyed with a Glenstal monk called Simon Sleeman. 

An itch to hear more led me to another RTE radio interview with another Glenstal monk.  Listen here to Mark Patrick Hederman talking to Marian Finucane about his new book the ‘Opal and the Pearl’. 

If you don’t want to listen here’s my potted eavesdropped version.
It seems the ‘Opal and the Pearl’ was written by Hederman partly as a response to our President Higgin's suggestion that we need a new ethics. The flow of their conversation goes something like this.
We should listen to writers and artists. We are living in a state of chaos. We need rules and ethics now that those of the church have disappeared. When we had a catechism - when many people thought it was wonderful to be Catholic in Ireland - we didn't have to ask questions – but now we do.

Bullyboys have always run the world. 

Hederman believes the problem is not about men or women it's about the denial of the feminine – even perhaps war against the feminine

Homophobics, he says, are terrified of the feminine in self or in other. We are no longer a fascist regime that determines the type of toy or colour that our children have or wear. We are entering a new world. So we have to work out new rules and standards. Marriage can be a prison rather than a liberation. Before, when it was an institution, your big day could well be the end of your life. He finds it strange that gay people want to get married. We should have more imagination. He hates referenda.  They are, he says, more like hate fests than debates.
Religion, he says, is something we associate with freedom and should never be forced. If you want me to believe in your Redeemer you'd want to look a bit more redeemed yourself.   (He quoting Friedrich Nietzsche here).  If people find your way of life attractive then….  

Marion is reading Hillary Clinton's book - she remembers Clinton saying at one point that she could no longer put her arms around America. Hederman remarks that de Valera put his arms around Ireland in a paternal way that worked for 100 years for a percentage of the people. 
They went on to discuss how robots now run hotels and soon will run supermarkets. Hederman says that should be a wonderful thing because everybody would be at leisure - but not so - because we have become obsessed by the notion that your dignity has become aligned to your work. At one point 2/3 of the world’s population were slaves so that one third could live in the kind of leisure that we associate with aristocracy.
He referred to the President of another nation as the last bastion of male chauvinism and patriarchy. The undercurrent to all this, he says, is that at the archetypal level of the unconscious – thousands of years of male domination has ended and there is now a feminine backlash.
He hates the term parity of esteem. This seems to him to mean that we believe that we are entitled to have a 500 seater bus pulled up outside our home regardless of where we live. There is an anger out there that's to do with unreal desire.

We are told lies all the time he say. Politicians are not in charge it's money that's in charge. He spoke about Chuck Feeney the financier.  Feeney told him once that every single person that is born on this earth could be given $1 million when they start.  This is perfectly possible with all the trillions that are in various foundations. But within 10 years all that money would be back in the hands of the five percent who know how to deal with money.

Hederman had his first computer in his 40s. He’s aware that now children of three are perfectly conversant with how to work your iPad. Parents have no capacity to prevent them from seeing things they shouldn't. There is instantaneous awareness of everything that's going on. Democracy, while it may be better than any alternatives, is still a crude instrument. 
A listener texted (among the many who were enthralled) to ask why, if he hates the church, doesn't he leave.
Dancing with Dinosaurs

He doesn't hate the church. He wrote a book called ‘Dancing with Dinosaurs’.  Every institution has to become a huge corporate/amalgam or it disappears he says. Seventy percent of every small business dies in the first five years. Of that 70 percent 40 percent go within 10 years. So the fact that Christianity has endured for 2000 years is a miracle - it should be gone long ago. But the mahout of the dinosaur is the Holy Spirit….

But it is also an institution that is made of human hands and has been guilty of the most heinous crimes during the 2000 years of its existence. That is the principle of the incarnation he says. The Trinity want to work with us as partners. It's an amalgam - and unfortunately we have been as much use to them as a hole in the head and the result is that most of what happens is our fault.
He believes the church is as good as you get. He was born a Catholic. He’s studied a lot of other religions and he believes this is the best one if you go deeply enough to find where the nuggets are. There is, he says, a heap about it that he disapproves of and finds completely unacceptable - but basically speaking he doesn't have the energy or the time or the desire to use any other technology for what he regards as the most important thing - his personal connection with God.  This is as good away as he has found - especially the Eucharist.  The liturgy of the church, for him, is the best possible way of making that connection and so that's why he doesn’t want to become or study another religion. But he says the same thing can be said about democracy.  Just now it seems to be the best possible way because it is human and it's appealing.  It is also appalling when you go down through history to see what happens you wonder how on earth it ever did survive.

Marion returns to Hederman’s choice of jewels of beauty. He explains that the pearl get its beauty by keeping out every other elements – by remaining spotless like your first Holy Communion dress.  This is one kind of beauty.  Most people find it impossible to become pearls. But there is another kind of jewel that gets its beauty from its imperfection and from the invasion from outside of other elements like water and air and sand.
The Catholic Church, he says, has imagined that perfection has to do with chastity. Ireland was an island of purity surrounded by a sea of vice. It was important to keep out dirty books coming from England and especially from the USA – to stay the evangelisation that would've come through cinema - so there was an attempt to censor and to keep Ireland a Pearl. We also censored our own writers and yet they are of a reflection of the truth.
There is the truth we call Catholic truth, he says, and the truth of human beings. Those were meant to be brought together - the orthodoxy of the church mirrored by the orthodoxy of humanity. We are living very human lives and if God doesn't want that humanity then he doesn't want us at all. So if were talking about partnership - incarnation - we've got to listen to all these wonderful people who were banned. We have to have that conversation now with their intestines.
Asked if he would ever retire the interview concluded by Hederman saying he can imagine 10 more years ex Abbot as a wild old wicked man.
These monks must never retire! 
Eavesdropping on this intestinal conversation cost me my sleep – but gave enough pointers about the creative process for maybe the whole of 2018. 

Sunday, 31 December 2017

Natality – a good theme for 2018

One of the best things about being human is to get to participate in good conversation or debate. Next best surely is to eavesdrop. 

A new word kept cropping up for me in conversation in the last quarter of 2017. 


Imagine my surprise when I heard this word, so unusual to me, come up on RTE Claire Byrne’s last radio show of the year. 

The ham was boiling and so was I. I decided it was a ‘sign’ so I dropped tools, made a cuppa and retreated from the kitchen to listen. If you want to put on the kettle listen directly here – Claire Byrne talking to Simon Sleeman (a monk from Glenstal Abbey). 

Or if you prefer here is my potted eavesdropped version.

Sleeman on Natality

Sleeman is saying we should seize this season to think about change and rebirth. He first heard about the concept of natality from Hannah Arendt a German Jewish philosopher.  According to Sleeman we have over emphasised death in philosophy and religion and not put enough emphasis on birth. He seems to be describing us as natals born to live rather than mortals born to die. Arendt, he says, is asking us to celebrate life - this life.  This invitation gives Sleeman energy and vitality. He spoke about his mother who is in her 80s. She has told him that when she dies she wants to be described as somebody who lived until… not died at … 

Sleeman describes all these things as metaphors about how we live. If we live out of a concept of natality, he says, several things happen. 

For one thing we realise that this moment is not an audition, this is a moment to celebrate to get the most out of.  We become focused on a beautiful landscape rather than facing a gloomy cloud in the foreground.

For another it gets us to reconnect with nature.  If we don't value nature we don’t recognise this is our common home with other creatures.

Natality emphasises the importance of the feminine - the balance of the feminine. We develop the capacity to begin again – he says - new politics even!

He recognises that we all speak out of a story – but a story into which we can implant this natality position - rather than inevitable death mortality one. Claire Byrne pointed out the church focus on death and afterlife.  That’s one version, he said, but he believes there is another version.

Sleeman gives a fascinating description of Gregorian chant.

‘When advent comes around the chant all changes and somehow it leads me over the lintel of ordinary time into this advent experience. It changes how I feel. That is what liturgy is meant to do to us – we are meant to go in there and come out feeling different. Ritual is transformational - helping our vitality and natality. Life will bring you to the ground at some stage and you will inevitably ask - what is this all about. People are hungry for what is real and sustaining’.

Meister Eckhart

Sleeman says God comes to birth in us at Christmas. He quotes Meister Eckhart.

'What does it avail me that the birth is always happening, if it does not happen to me?

Sleeman says it's not just locked into a single being Jesus - we are meant to become it. And we don't even have to project manage it. There is a divine artist who will work on us if we if we agree. It's an invitation. It's not mandatory.

Claire Byrne talked about the pressures of the season that they might perhaps be inured to in Glenstal Abbey and wonders what his take is on shopping and present buying.  He talks about fun, that presents are ways of connecting with people so long as we don't mistake it for something that is going to sustain us at a deeper level. Consumerism pretends that it can fill us up and is dependent on us remaining empty. It doesn't work and we know it doesn't work.

Byrne went on to discuss with him the British army career that he almost had in the footsteps of his father.  He described time spent in Belize.  He described coming back to visit Glenstal and in his legs he felt something happening - through the ground he felt an invitation.

She asked him did he ever feel like leaving and he says of course he has many times but something always brings him back.  He doesn’t make Glenstal Abbey sound remotely inured from the stresses of life. He tells her that living with 30 men in a fake mediaeval castle trying to keep the whole thing going is not easy.

In the rush to the finish of the interview this engaging man seems to be describing that his overall objective is to get himself out of the way so that God can operate.

an itch to hear more….

It’s funny how much more interesting all this becomes when it is not mandatory. For the rest of the day, despite the Christmas mayhem, I had an itch to google and hear more.  Late that night I went on a trail that led to another RTE presenter Marian Finucane interviewing another eminent Glenstal monk Mark Patrick Hederman early in 2017 about his latest book ‘The Opal and the Pearl’. 

In the book he analyses the creative process in James Joyce, Iris Murdoch W B Yeats and Seamus Heaney.  If you want to take a break and listen - here is Hederman’s chat with Marian.

Or if you prefer, go to my next post in for my potted eavesdropped version.

Nollaig Shona daoibh go léir

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Why is bogland so hypnotic?

I've been searching for the perfect bogland picture all November, the month of souls, the month that particularly calls us to cherish the memory of our dead. 

I have become hypnotised. 

Why is bogland so hypnotic?

'The ground itself is kind, black butter'

pic courtesy m flynn    . 

'The bogholes might be Atlantic seepage.
The wet centre is bottomless.'

As with everything, the great poets know the answer.....


by Seamus Heaney

We have no prairies
To slice a big sun at evening--
Everywhere the eye concedes to
Encrouching horizon,

Is wooed into the cyclops' eye
Of a tarn. Our unfenced country
Is bog that keeps crusting
Between the sights of the sun.

They've taken the skeleton
Of the Great Irish Elk
Out of the peat, set it up
An astounding crate full of air.

Butter sunk under
More than a hundred years
Was recovered salty and white.
The ground itself is kind, black butter

Melting and opening underfoot,
Missing its last definition
By millions of years.
They'll never dig coal here,

Only the waterlogged trunks
Of great firs, soft as pulp.
Our pioneers keep striking
Inwards and downwards,

Every layer they strip
Seems camped on before.
The bogholes might be Atlantic seepage.
The wet centre is bottomless.

pic courtesy l deery

Saturday, 7 October 2017

I have digital indigestion.

If you have graduated into the workforce since 2009 academics refer to you as a digital native.  From your earliest memories you have been online.  You move effortlessly between your real world and your on-line world.  You have been liberated from the didacticism that the rest of us suffer. You are democratic. You are not constrained by geography or budget.  You listen, engage and share.  Your approach is open.

digital immigrant at Castletown House, Celbridge

Academics refer to the rest of us as digital immigrants. We make traditional presentations.  We tell, explain, elaborate or instruct.  We retain the power and the influence.   We demand up front commitment from you.   We are inflexible. 

We want to get attention.  You want to give attention. We want to broadcast.  You want to interact.  We monologue.  You dialogue.

Of course there are many more that two types of me’s and you’s – and I like to make stuff up - so let’s create another category of person that lies between the digital immigrant and the digital native. 
digital inbetweenie at Castletown House, Celbridge

Let’s call this person the excitable digital inbetweenie.

If the traditionalist, the digital immigrant, wants to share stories with you, they create a magazine. They spend time writing and editing and coaxing contributors.  They follow a format that has grown over time and it familiar to you. They use graphic design and illustration to make it beautiful.  They print it.  They post it to your home or deliver it to your workplace in an envelope.  They want you to touch it, to own it, to show it to your family and friends, even to write on it.  This process is time consuming and expensive.  They can’t prove that you’ve read it. Is seems that they are using a format that is doomed.

If the excitable digital inbetweenie wants to share stories with you they will create an e-zine.  They will bomb their e-zine out to everyone in their database.  Gadgets excite them.  They want to broadcast. They don’t care about the writing.  They don’t notice if their CEOs face is stretched or elongated or if their logo is positioned correctly.  They don’t care if it’s full of unexplained acronyms or boring. They want to GET IT OUT.  They haven’t really figured out how to use analytics.  If the reader has opened it – that’ll do – that’s the same as having read it.
fully fledged at Castletown House, Celbridge

The fully-fledged digital native, however, is different.  These guys combine traditional methods with digital aproaches.  And - they won’t send their e-zine to everyone in their database.  They will give the reader an opportunity to opt in or out.  They would prefer to talk to 1,000 people who are listening than to bomb it out to 10,000.  They can afford to do this because they know where each and every one of us is in their sales cycle.  Their plan is to get their readers/customers to become advocates and they know how to do it. They know that if we give them permission to communicate with us - and if they do it well and give us value – they can communicate with us for life – for FREE.


I am a naïve digital geriatric. 

Recently I asked Pinterest to show me minimalist dresses – shift style. Up they came and for ages I was absorbed.  The nicest were on Victoria Beckham and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge.  It was an enjoyable exercise.

Over the coming days I noticed that Ms Beckham and Middleton and other women wearing shift dresses were everywhere I turned. When I searched YouTube they appeared on video. When I read the news online there they were in the margins, on the banners, in the middle of articles. 

‘Funny how the shift dresses I like are suddenly all the rage’, I thought as I sat on the bus scanning the news channels on Twitter before settling into the Irish Times. And then the penny dropped.  The man beside me was also reading the Irish Times on his mobile device - but was he getting adverts about shift dresses?  No.  His were for Haemorrhoid cream. 

‘Be careful what you wish for’ the elders in my tribe used to say. ‘Be careful what you look up’ they would say now.

In a very interesting article in the Huffington Post Jeff DeGall tells us that we will come full circle.  He tells us that in time children of digital natives will come to act like digital immigrants because ‘generations are simply oppositional in nature’.  Read it HERE.

This all can be confusing, even head wrecking – and there is no doubt, even for natives, that it’s important to take breaks from the digital landscape.

So – for now, maybe the very best remedy for digital indigestion is to curl up, as often as we can, for as long as we have them, with our favourite book or magazine?
Offline at Castletown House, Celbridge

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Dear Mick

I wrote to you in July and promised to post my third and more complex film project for your patient attention.

I also wish to appeal to you, as a good Galway man and neighbour, with a special request. 
Is there any chance you could put in a good word for Mayo? 
I’m writing this before the match and I’m not sure I’ll be able to bear to watch it. 

As you are well aware Mayo has not won an All-Ireland title since 1951.

I know you don’t believe in curses, so if you would consider gathering with all the other formidable wise men and crones from Connaught that have gone before us -to 'cuir bua ar ár mbealach'- we need a bit of waxing down here after all that waning.

Sincerely yours C

PS - and if you care to watch ‘Croneship’  - which is of a duration of 1.34 minutes, you will find it by clicking the link right HERE.

Thursday, 31 August 2017


 ‘It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society’.

So says Ivor Browne, gleefully quoting Krishnamurti in the film ‘Meetings with Ivor’, which was directed by Alan Gilsenan and has now been broadcast on RTE.

This man makes an awful lot of sense.  I watched this film three times for three reasons – well for lots of reasons - but primarily there are three.

This film is about the ground-breaking Irish psychiatrist Ivor Browne. 

I saw it first in the IFI in March when Professor  Browne was himself present for a Q&A session after the screening.  I don’t know how much getting to hear him bear witness in person to his lifetime of learnings drew me to view it a second and third time. 

The film itself is a quirky portrait of the man as guru, creative and sage - often bathing him in white mystical light. But neither the film nor the people whom he ‘meets’ shy away either from his vulnerabilites, flaws or more controversial views.

For someone highly creative, and such an alternative often playful thinker, Ivor Browne has held down some seriously heavyweight mainstream jobs - like chief psychiatrist with the Eastern Health Board and professor of psychiatry at University College Dublin. …

In the film Browne has ‘meetings’ with a variety of people including Mary Coughlan, Tommy Tiernan, Sebastian Barry, Tom Murphy, Nell McCafferty and others.  Brendan Kelly, professor of psychiatry at Trinity College Dublin has a particularly memorable 'meeting with Ivor' which illustrates Browne’s uncanny ability to be part of the establishment and still be its critic.  Philosopher Richard Kearney, who appears briefly, describes him as a ’master of attention’.

Anyway, here, in reverse order, are my three reasons for going back.

Number THREE

Browne spoke throughout the film about ‘Some quare thing in me searching for meaning.’ This man, now in his late-eighties, and full of compassion and energy, is an extraordinary human being.  His overall thesis, after a journey through psychiatry in Ireland that started with treatments like ECT and heavy medication and now includes treatments like talk therapy and meditation, seems to be that most illnesses can be traced back to a trauma that can be unearthed and healed rather than supressed and medicated.  Much of what he describes is moving.  I wanted to watch his search again.

Number TWO

He spoke very movingly too about the importance of finding one’s channel.  He was, he said, entirely lost until he found his first channel – which was the trumpet – and a passion for jazz – and began his lifetime love affair with music.  I wanted to watch again his searching out of channels.

 Number ONE

His mastery of attention. 

My number one reason for watching this film three times was to observe again the way the man LISTENED. (Who was it that said that writing is 90% about listening?).

In the film playwright Tom Murphy’s ‘meeting with Ivor' involved both men being closely filmed listening to Italian tenor Beniamino Gigli. The background to this is that Tom Murphy dedicated his 1983 masterpiece, The Gigli Concert, to his friend Ivor Browne. The play ends with JPW King, a sort of ‘quack’ therapist, being able to sing like the Gigli.  So this what these two men do in their meeting.  They listen to Gigli.

I went back three times to watch that – two blokes listening. 
You should try it. 
It’s on the RTE Player HERE.