Archive for the ‘Spiritual’ Category

Depression Is Not What People Say It Is.

May 10, 2017

 

 

When I was in my late teens my dad said to me, “You were such a happy kid. What happened to you?” I had no idea he even noticed me in that way and this deeply personal query came as a surprise and caused me to pause and consider.

The events that lead him to this question might have arisen from the sudden death of my sister in an accident in 1972. Ten months separated us and we were close. That was a bruising shock that came at the end of rather excellent day.

I remember thinking that this must be how it works – bad things follow good things. It took me decades to shake that feeling but it is problematic blaming all of life’s quirks and complications on one thing when there are probably other factors at play.

I also my remember dad saying once or twice that I was overly sensitive. I felt a bit punch-drunk a lot of the time and my emotions were like a wild beast that I was seldom able to contain. Those words were representative of the kind of reception I was becoming used to. It made me feel nervous about who I was underneath, deep down and within.

 

 

I spent a lot of time with Cath and Bob (my maternal grandparents) as a kid and while he was off at work she stayed in bed, often until early afternoon. I learned to move silently as she hated and kind of disturbance, especially noise. Otherwise the most she ever said to me was “move” or “shift” if I was in her way and I tried not to be. I didn’t feel good around her.

That she was depressed is obvious now especially in light of my own mother who was of similar disposition. Their rage was the worst of it and indicative of their deeper suffering. From the lofty position of age, wisdom and experience I can see the clear line of accession but there is more.

That would be my Dad. His two sisters described him as a moody sibling, one prone to silence and isolation. I worked for him for many years and learned he was obsessive and obstructive (though not without redeeming qualities). He was beset of complexities that when combined with mums have made for interesting genetic outcomes.

 

 

When people talk about depression they wax lyrical about ‘the darkness’ and ‘hopelessness’ and ‘the void’ and ‘the black hole swallowing you up’. I guess that’s why I never recognised it. Knowing what I know now I would say depression is also emotional pain, anger, confusion, lack of equilibrium, grinding physical and mental exhaustion, apathy, helplessness and abiding unhappiness.

There might also be some obsessiveness and anxiety as well as some of the poetical ‘black hole’ stuff and an uncomfortable sensitivity to outside stimuli especially noise. I just knew it as an unbidden thing that would rise up out of nowhere take a hold of my psyche and shake me about until I didn’t know if I was Arthur or Martha. Sometimes I thought I was losing my mind.

 

 

 

Mum and I were out in Hamilton in a department store called DIC one morning. She handed me some clothes and told me to go and try them on. The attendant took me down to the changing rooms in the basement and I shut the door and suddenly there I was alone in this silent and dimly lit cubicle and it felt good, really good. I wondered what it might be like to stay here forever.

From then on I sought out dark quiet places. It was here away from people and noise that I was able to experience some sort of liberty. As the years passed I finagled ways and means to live like this but always felt the pull of the outside world – I needed to make a living of course and I felt compelled to join in, for the usual reasons of wanting to fit in and belong. It was exhausting and behind my façade I felt like a drowning man. Still do.

 

 

 

 

I overcompensated like Cath and my Mum who by all appearances were otherwise gregarious and charismatic. I turned it on in order to appear normal and suffered acutely from the effort. Eventually I just gave up on that as I gave up trying to explain myself. I have grown wary of the uninformed and well meaning and out of self-respect have learned to keep myself to myself. This is why I never spoke about the ‘eating thing’ until 2015.

I stopped eating normally when I was fifteen after seeing my naked torso reflected in the bathroom mirror at boarding school. It was a distorted reflection and typical of the way visual messages were scrambled as they travelled between my eye and brain (as I learned later). I felt something had to be done and decided on a course of weight loss even though I was a skinny as a rake.

This was long before anorexia was on the radar. When the word finally entered my lexicon it was as a female complaint and I felt doubly stupid about the mess I had gotten myself into. After twenty-five odd years of struggle I eventually I found a way out though you never fully recover it seems.

Sometime during 2015 I was preparing to interview a big pop star. During the research I learned that he had been treated for anorexia. He clammed up at the very mention. Realising the sensitivity of the line I had just crossed I took a deep breath I told what I had never told anyone, that I suffered from it too.

Relaxing somewhat he explained that his public confession had resulted in a lot of negative commentary and he was now guarded on the subject. He went onto say that for him it became a way of having some control in a life that was otherwise out of control. I had never thought of it like that and I decided that same explanation could work for me but realised eventually that there was more to it than that.

Sometimes things were good, really, really good, then too good then the like lightening ‘good’ feeling would be gone and I’d be a castaway on a barren and bereft shore suitably gasping for breath. What had happened, what had gone wrong, how did I get to here from there?

I was seeking out ritual acts that might make it right and I took it all a wee bit too far is all, like eating only the things I ate when I was feeling good This and lots of other repetitive and compulsive stuff that went around and around and around. This is OCD at work and anorexia is part of that family. So is anxiety.

Anxiety is: A feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about life.

Anxiety is: Worry, concern, apprehension, consternation, unease, fear, disquietude, perturbation, fretfulness, agitation and angst. It is nervousness, tension, stress, misgiving and foreboding.

Anxiety is: overwhelming, exhausting, depressing and isolating. Acute anxiety immobilises, suffocates and drowns the afflicted. So does depression and OCD.

 

 

 

 

I have loved Glen Campbell’s music since I first heard his mega-hit Try A Little Kindness ringing out of over Dad’s little transistor radio in 1970. We were out the back by the garage and he was washing the car and I was dicking about with the hose and I stopped and listened, really listened.

You got to try a little kindness/yes show a little kindness/shine your light for everyone to see/and if you try a little kindness/then you’ll overlook the blindness/of the narrow-minded people/walking narrow- minded streets.

It struck a chord and in later years I could have used a little more kindness and broad mindedness but I don’t think anyone really realised what was going on except for mum. She figured it out but and did what she could but dealing with these things is not easy. Not for anyone.

I have to ask myself if I was kind enough to her and others? Sometimes I was but mostly I wasn’t. I had lost sight of myself in my own plight. Key to finding a way out I learned, was to give of yourself, just like the song said. Little things like a smile or a heartfelt compliment, some words of encouragement, an act of generosity. To lift others is to lift ones self. It is a self-serving but effective method that cures nothing but it does make life sparkle a little more.

 

 

 

We were driving along the Hautapu Straight and were stuck behind a meandering tractor. “Gah” said Dad in frustration, “Look at this bugger driving all about the road like a lost soul.” It hit me like a sledgehammer. That was what I was. Lost. I felt all at once shame, confusion and wonderment that the truth should be that obvious. Later I thought of myself as a ghost, a shadow, a passing cloud and wondered why I was and what purpose I served.

Later I concluded that life in its truest sense was meaningless, a by-product of a blind creative process called nature of whose origins we know nothing. All is a mystery yet here we are and like all in nature we are profuse and diverse. In order for species to flourish multiplicity is required and variety in brain function is especially important to a species success.

Sometimes that genetic quest for distinctive minds that might enable the group in unusual ways throws up failures and dead ends. This is how it goes and I came to the conclusion that it was less a case of ‘why me’ and more a case of ‘why not me’.

Dyslexic, depressed, anxious, and obsessed – my wiring is skewiff and I have given up trying to fix it. Anti-Depressants help a little but are not a panacea, unlike the meds for OCD. They worked a treat though I gave them up after five years. I felt it was time to go it alone and an unexpected and difficult with-drawl followed.

 

Prescription pills can be can be addictive too. One must approach the conclusion with care and consideration. Since I stopped I have never looked back. These meds did their job well.

Otherwise I like a little codeine. It makes me feel warm and alive. Pot is also nice in a similar way. I have also tried micro dosing with LSD after reading about the benefits. I can confirm that it helped though I did not much like the effect. I would prefer to be ‘fine as I am’ but that is not going to happen.

 

There is a kind of beauty that comes with ageing and its mostly about ‘coming to terms’ with ones self (if you are lucky –some never do). I know my limits and accept that certain proclivities will ever stalk me like a bad night without reprieve.

These days I live in a tiny room. Buried deep with a concrete high rise it has no window and is otherwise deathly silent. I leave it only as necessary and in the silence I have discovered equilibrium and the art of maintaining it.

* I wrote all this down not to glean sympathy or ask for understanding but for someone who is of similar disposition and is just setting out on the path of life and in the reading I hope she might benefit from knowing that she is not alone. Some of us are just made this way though you can be sure that those who aren’t will assure you it is all a matter of attitude. Be careful of these folk for they know not what what they say.

 

Morris and the Comportment of a Good Heart.

April 11, 2017

 

 

Morris was not long married and father of one when he signed on with the British Army as a Chaplin in 1939. He would not see his family again for five and a half years.

“I feel asleep in a trench in the Burmese jungle and woke up to find myself surrounded by Japanese soldiers. They must have thought I was dead because they were taking no notice of me so I stayed dead for a few hours. Suddenly there were shots and two Jap’s fell down about me and the rest fled. A moment later members of my unit piled into the trench and one said ‘we got about five miles down the line and we realised we had lost you Padre’. They fixed me some food and a hot drink and off we went”.

About two months before he died he grabbed my hand and said he had a confession to make and needed absolution. I looked about like a startled hare and wondered if I was the right person for the job but he wasn’t hearing any of it. “I have never told anyone this but I need to get it off my chest. I had two affairs during the war. Once with an Indian nurse while on leave in India and once with a Chinese schoolteacher while on leave in South Africa. “You have to understand I was young and lonely and sure that I was going to die out there and I was looking for warmth and connection”. He paused for a moment then asked me if I thought he was a bad man? I didn’t and told him so. He seemed relieved.

 

Morris was an Anglican vicar who had felt the call to serve ‘the loving Jesus’ since he was a child. “I never rose through the ranks because I refused to play the game.” The game he was referring to was politics. Morris didn’t care about being seen to do the right thing, he did as he felt and this included tending to the needs of homosexual parishioners in a time when homosexuality was not only a mortal sin but also illegal with it. This did not make him popular with his peers nor did his acceptance of other faiths including Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism. “At their best they are all paths to love” he confirmed.

It was his open mindedness that bought him and his wife to New Zealand, that and a daughter who had married a Kiwi and had moved out here several years earlier. She sent him a clipping from the NZ Herald about an iconic Anglican church in the heart of a major NZ city that was falling on hard times and in need of a vicar who could make a difference. Morris got the job and in 1967 he and his wife made the big move and began life afresh.

I wished I had of asked him more about these times because as I am writing I am only beginning to realise how spare my knowledge of him is. I am recalling snippets about how he revitalised the parish by organising dances for single Christians wanting to meet other single Christians and putting on special services for Gay Christians. They retired in 1979 and moved to the Central Waikato to be near their daughter.

Morris flirted with my then wife, a pretty and vibrant young woman of considerable charm while reassuring me that it was all a game. “I am a eunuch you see old boy so I am no competition to you.” He had contracted testicular cancer a few years before I met him and they had been removed. Not long after he had lost his beloved wife to illness. This last one was real blow and he staggered back to life determined to find new meaning. “I lost interest in the Church of England. It was moribund and had forgotten the essential Christian message of love”. Like me his searching had bought him to the Rosicrucian Lectorium, a Gnostic Christian sect based at Karapiro just outside of Cambridge.

The Rosicrucians suited Morris to a tee. They were Christian but they also borrowed heavily from the Eastern spirituality that had long impressed him. He liked their egalitarian attitude and enjoyed their fellowship though he couldn’t cope with their vegetarianism. He was part Basque and carried that peculiar Basque genetic profile that meant his body could not absorb iron from plant food. He needed flesh.

Otherwise he saw through their more pretentious allusions and made a great deal of fun at their expense. These Rosicrucians, (or as he liked to call them: The Rosy Crustaceans) were of Dutch origin and being typically dour were ripe for the picking. He referred to their founding figure Jan van Rijckenborgh as J Rickenfuhrer or Rickenburger as the mood took him all in honor of Rijckenborgh’s instruction that the leader should never be exalted. Of course they exalted him, at every turn, but Morris was always there waving the satirical flag to remind them of their obligations.

In this context he referred to their bi-monthly magazine The Pentagram as The Penthouse. To their credit they put up with up with it possibly because he was creakingly old and to protest would just be wrong headed. Still, for those of us less inclined toward unswerving fealty he was fresh air blowing out the bull dust.

Once he decided to surprise his daughter and her husband by going out to their farm with the idea of completing the renovations underway on their house while they were on holiday. He managed to pull the roof in on their living room while inadvertently setting their entire winters wood supply alight. That story followed him about like a bad smell and any mention of it were the only times I ever saw him look displeased.

Halfway through his ninety-third year his body shut down and he went fast. It was a peaceful death at home in his own bed surrounded by friends and family. The Anglican Bishop of the Waikato officiated at the funeral and stood before us all in his finery and waxed lyrical about Morris’s eccentricities (his Gnostic faith) and suggested that god would take into account all Morris’s good work and forgive him for his aberrations. Seriously, I wanted to kick the smug bastard where it hurt the most and regret that I didn’t. I have seldom before or since met a person with a truer heart than Morris’s. A man who judged no one but himself, he didn’t deserve to go out on a snipe like that.

 

 

 

 

Van Morrison, Mike Nesmith and the Road to Enlightenment.

April 11, 2017

 

 

From 1977 through to 1982 Van Morrison had a neat run of radio hits in New Zealand that included Wavelength, Cleaning Windows, Full Force Gale and Bright Side of the Road. I liked them all, especially the last one and decided to add some Van to my album collection. I was going through a heady Flying Nun thing at the time so musically this was quite a departure.

Before I go on I should acknowledge the apparent paucity of my Van choices. I became friends with an avid Morrison fan a few years back and said over a beer “Oh! I like Van too”. His interest piqued he asked what my favourites were and as I listed the aforementioned songs his falling expression said it all – I had it wrong. Very wrong. “What? No Moondance, Brown Eyed Girl, Astral Weeks, Gloria………..” (It was a long list).

He decided I needed educating and over the next weeks proceeded to play me some ‘proper’ Van. His pot was good and he had a fridge full of Mac’s Gold so who was I to complain. Did he change me? No, he had missed the point. The thing that had connected me to Van had less to do with music than with the message.

I look back on those years and a series of albums that include Beautiful Vision, Inarticulate Speech of the Heart, A Sense of Wonder, Into the Mystic, Enlightenment and No Guru, No Method No Teacher and it’s all about the artist searching for meaning – something to explain himself to himself while exploring the overarching mystery of existence that was drawing me in.

If I were to sum up the overall mood of this loose collection it would be ‘reaching for the transcendent’. Through these years Van was a seeking spiritual truth/enlightenment and his songs were asking to similar questions to the ones that were swirling about my psyche. While I liked Van’s tunefulness it was in his lyrics that struck a chord with me, a kid who was in the process of casting aside the Catholicism of his youth and embarking upon new adventures of the mind and spirit.

At this juncture I should pause for a moment to consider what it is I mean by enlightenment and after some thought I have settled on a series of words: perspective, knowledge, informed understanding, insight, clarity. In a classic spiritual sense, someone who is seeking ‘enlightenment’ is exploring the workings of the mind in order to better understand suffering and unhappiness.

The literature tells us that that desire, attachment to worldly things (including inherited tradition and possessions), expectation and ambition imprison and limit us. Enlightenment is the liberation of oneself from this psychological imprisonment. Once free of our cultural programming we are able to experience life in unique and exciting new ways.

I purchased No Guru, No Method, No Teacher on the title alone. It was ‘Guru’ that caught my attention. Except for some Beatle references as regard their passing flirtation with Indian spirituality I knew little else about the term but felt that there might be something worth exploring here. My first task was trying to figure what it was Van was trying to say with this title and this being pre-internet days it meant scouring whatever music magazines on offer at the library looking for information via reviews and interviews.

There wasn’t much but I did find a review that suggested Van was a Gnostic Christian though it didn’t elaborate. I learned that Gnosticism referred to a kind of Western esoteric mysticism that emphasised letting go of worldly preoccupations in order to achieve a ‘higher’ form of understanding about life, the universe and everything – yeah, just like Eastern Spirituality. I also learned that within the many wisdom schools (that exist in parallel with most every major world religion) there are numerous ways of seeking enlightenment that do not always include a method or guide.

The no guru, no method, no teacher approach is all about using a combination of self-reflective analysis and research to find your own peaceful accord with the mysteries but it is controversial approach and not popular with those who declare that enlightenment cannot be achieved without assistance. The cynical might suggest that lack of financial gain or institutional control may have a role to play with this perspective. One especially virulent Guru proponent declared, “This way is just anarchy. People require guidance – no ifs or buts about it”. As for Guru, it is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘master teacher’ as opposed to a ‘generalised teacher’.

Christian Gnostics did not believe that Jesus was the Son of God, more an enlightened teacher. This put them swiftly offside with the early Christian church and they were literally rubbed out of existence. The survivors became secretive and hidden – they had to and this is a tradition that has endured to this day. These sects often shroud themselves in mystery and use arcane symbolic language to conceal their message. Check out the situation of the French Cathar’s in 1209 to get a more complete picture of the psychology at work.

Gnosticism is from the Greek word Gnostic meaning ‘knowledge’ and the emphasis is on intuitive knowledge rather than intellectual knowledge. European Gnosticism was probably influenced by ideas picked up from Merchant trains out of the East (Buddhism is another notable influence) and has been at large before the Greek gods were even a twinkle in the historical firmament. Later they grafted the Jesus into their belief system and evolved in new directions though older forms have persisted.

Gnosticism, as I discovered, is no different to other belief systems, fractured into a multitude of parts each claiming pre-eminence over the others. I got in deep for a year or so before waking up to the reality of the situation, that I had swapped one belief system for another and was exactly back where I did not want to be when I had left the Catholic faith of my youth.

But it wasn’t all a loss. The sect I found myself in taught me a few useful things like: “Tear down the mental constructs inside of you and rid yourself of everything you think you ‘know’ and here on the empty landscape of the mind discover your true self”. It has proven a useful method but one has to be very wary of erecting a whole new set of constructs in the place of the old. Otherwise the system of reflective self-analysis they taught has helped me to evolve as a person.

 

Van makes mention of numerous Western esoteric traditions in his music including metaphysical treatise The Golden Dawn and the Theosophical Movement ( Theosophy is mash up of spiritual ideas drawing from diverse sources). Well known spiritual philosopher Alan Watts gets a song, and esoteric Irish poet W.B Yeats is ticked off on the track Rave on John Donne (Inarticulate Speech of the Heart 1983) along with a host of other esoteric luminaries including Walt Whitman.

Then there is the more mundane and less exciting Christian orthodoxy (his ghastly 1989 Christian duet with Cliff Richards – May God Shine his Light was probably the nadir of this period). On his recommendation I explored them all (except for the Jesus love us stuff – had been there and done that) and found value as well as a whole lot of jiggery pokery.

But it wasn’t just Van who was teaching me stuff. In 1977 I wrote to former Monkee Mike Nesmith (remember fan mail) telling him how much I liked his song Rio, which had been a huge hit across Australasia. But more than the song itself was the title of the album it was off: From A Radio Engine to the Photon Wing. Now what was that all about I thought as my mind conjured up strange images of landscapes beyond the confines of space and time? Mike wrote back and with the letter came a box full of records he had made including one called The Prison (he explained nothing but seemed grateful some kid was taking notice).

A book with a soundtrack, The Prison was my first introduction to the album as a conceptual device and I loved it. It was the first vinyl record I wore out. The album opens with the words: ‘Life is the unsuspecting captive of a million dreams, chains of desire bind so vastly to the earth. Seeing the attachment born, of knowing all those things, being alone and at one with the joys of rebirth’ – Opening Theme: Life, the Unsuspecting Captive.

I had no idea what this all meant but it resonated with me and I sang it to myself over and over trying to get to grips with the ideas at play. Later Van led me to Gnosticism and Gnosticism to the Tao De Ching (our particular sect was very big on the Tao De Ching, a Chinese philosophical text dating back some three thousand years), which led me to the ideas outlined in The Prison. Nesmith was big on the Tao (or ‘the way’) and metaphors alluding to it abound throughout his music catalogue.

Tao is the essential, unnamable process of the universe and The Tao De Ching instructs us in the art of letting go and learning to roll with the nature of things and in the process discovering peace and fulfilment. Resistance it tells is not only futile, it is counterproductive. Nesmith’s potent 1972 contractual obligation album, the ironically titled And The Hit’s Just Keep On Coming even features a track called Roll With The Flow featuring a series of narratives linked by a refrain that goes – I roll with the flow wherever it goes and its rolling out of here. Otherwise filled out with lyrical flourishes like ‘he was a didactic minister’ ‘she was a lacklustre lover’, he also taught me a lot about lyric writing, wordplay and phrasing.

Beyond his pop superstardom, movie production (he was the brains behind classic cult film Repo Man) esoteric mysticism, car racing and business career (he is a successful entrepreneur as was his mother – she who invented Liquid Paper), Nesmith is a progressive thinker dedicated to all manner of causes like The Council of Ideas- a forum dedicated to solving the great problems of our times. He is interested in technology and his ‘Video Ranch’ is a pioneering online shopping and recreational site.

Much like Van, Nesmith has maintained a singular musical career and has been beholden to no one, including The Monkees, sidestepping most of the reunion tours and associated activities. “I am to busy” is his standard reply to questions on this subject. He also refuses to sign autographs. The Prison is an allegory about the cultural constructs that imprison our minds and blind us to the vast potential beyond perceived reality and I will be ever grateful to Nesmith for opening that particular door for me.

 

Eamon, a guy I know from Belfast – Van’s base and hometown, told me that he was selling natural gas for the home on the phone and the next name on the list was a Mr V. Morrison. “Can’t be I thought to myself but the feck it was.” he said. “So what did he say?” I asked. “Told me feck off then thought better of it and asked how much then signed up.” How many people can say they have sold natural gas to Van Morrison?

Another story concerns his father who was doing backstage security the night Belfast threw a big concert to celebrate Van’s 70th birthday back in 2015. “My Da said he was drinking before the show and being a difficult c**t but they got him on-stage in one piece and he was brilliant”. I took everything Eamon said with a pinch of salt because he had a fair share of the blarney about him. Still he was entertaining and played the consummate Irishman abroad well.

In his biography Testament Band guitarist/songwriter Robbie Robertson tells about rehearsing with Van for the concert film The Last Waltz. Nervous, anxious and prickly (and a little drunk) throughout Van turned up late on the night dressed in an Elvis one piece and armed with Elvis style karate style kicks proceeded to knock the roof off the show. Complex, unfathomable but when push comes to shove…….

He often alludes to the difficult aspects of his nature in song and has clearly struggled with life and living at times. But enlightenment, when you distil it down, is mostly about learning to ‘know’ yourself and coming to terms with who and what you are. I get the sense he found his peace with himself and has moved on from his restless searching. Grumpy and contrary are a better fit for the man than smiling over at Cliff Richards while singing about Jesus the lord and saviour.

We are what we are and for many of us the best we can do is recognise the worst about ourselves while keeping a firm eye on the good. So much of human life is bulldust. Eschew the crap, cast aside the clutter of ideas and learn the value of silence and everything will be as it should be. This is enlightenment according to Lao Tzu the composer of the Tao De Ching.

Flowing robes, a serene countenance, adoring devotes – yeah probably not so much. That’s more like cheap perfume. And as for music, sometimes it is nothing more than a catchy tune. Other times it can be a life altering experience. Whatever, as an art form it’s ability to influence should never be underestimated.

‘No guru, no method, no teacher, just you and I and nature, and the father in the garden’ – Van Morrison.