St. Peter and the Sign of the Fish

As one who left the Catholic Church over fifty years ago, I understand why there is such a strong divergence in reactions to the coming visit of the Pope to Ireland. At a simplistic level perhaps, but nevertheless grammatically and respectfully correct, I use Pope for a specific holder of that office, and pope for the office in general. I have also investigated other religions as part of my life’s journey, I have walked many spiritual paths alone and with others and now I tell this story. I have prayed with Christians, Muslims, with Russian Orthodox, with Quakers, and discussed the Infinite with atheists and agnostics, as well as conversing with other spiritually committed individuals and tribes. That experience also colours my response to the points raised in this article by Fintan O’Toole, writing in the “Guardian” newspaper. I suggest that we need to clarify our attitudes on some of the issues raised therein. There is a proverb that comes to mind now and seems to apply to the current situation, namely “a fish rots from the head down”. A quick “trawl” through the many references to “fish” (pun intended!) has set me thinking and I would like to share those thoughts with you.

In 1768, Sir James Porter wrote about the religion, law, government, and manners of the Turks, in which he said: The Turks have a homely proverb applied on such occasions. They say “the fish stinks first at the head”, meaning that if the servant is disorderly, it is because the master is so. In recent years and probably reflecting the confusion creating in general around the world caused by the comments and behaviour of some prominent leaders in business as well as in politics, it has been applied when organisations got into trouble. It suggests that the blame should be put on the ‘head’ that leads an organisation.

Two fish
Two fish

Now before I get into hot water (ouch, again) with fishermen (and again) and anglers (oh no, not again!) in general, I should emphasise that the old proverb was not based upon the biology of fish and one should not take the saying literally. In fact, and as it were to balance the scales (!!!) the allusion is just not true. As is the case with any other living creature, after death, the decomposition of a fish can begin anywhere and and proceed at about the same rate. Nevertheless, since it first appeared, users of the saying have tended to accept the saying literally.

 

taijitu
More  apt for the topic?

Let me draw your attention now, to the many times in recent years when, even though the allusion to the fish’s head was not specifically alleged, it has been inferred. Think of the many corporate scandals, political debacles, and show business improprieties that have implied that the stink came initially from the head. And in support of that belief, many chief executives, board members, and senior managers were either unable or unwilling to speak out or even to admit the existence of the alleged problems.

 

Now in trying to understand the rationale of such situations, the accusation does make sense at certain levels. Imagine a business in which the top man or woman is tough and driven and makes heavy demands on subordinates, staff members irrespective of their personal views and standards will probably behave defensively to protect their jobs and try to avoid the limelight. When leaders of institutions are outgoing and supportive of more democratic practices, the staff will find it easier to show those qualities themselves.

Nevertheless, there are other facets to this that must be taken into account. It seems to suggest that in every organisation or movement, the top person’s wishes are primary and must be obeyed. In all honesty it should be said that there are weaknesses in even the best of organisations. Bosses are only in a position to influence their direct subordinates. I remember on one particular occasion, when I was working as a consultant on an organisation change programme with a State body, I drew the attention of my counterpart in the organisation to certain issues that I felt needed to be dealt with. He told me that he agreed one hundred per cent with me but asked me to leave it with him and he would sort it out at the next level, his manager being an assistant general manager. I waited for a reply for a few months and when I got no feedback, I asked for a meeting with the Assistant General Manager. He, in turn, assured me that I was right but requested that I leave it with him because the General Manager might be difficult to convince. You can, at this stage, guess the rest. A few months later, I had a similar meeting with the General Manager, followed finally by an accidental meeting with the Chairman at an outside function. After enquiring how the project was going and my giving a fairly neutral summary, he said to me: “You know, I feel that they are keeping something from me and I have a good idea what it is, but what can I do when they won’t tell me!” It is clear that there are more sides to these stories than the simple blaming of the person at the top.

There are, however, some other relevant issues to consider. Does the culture of the organisation (“The way we do things around here”) encourage or allow staff members to question the validity of decisions of senior members? On top of that are there other members of the organisation who agree with the toxic behaviour of their seniors and are only too willing to support them because of the benefits it brings to them. And, of course, there is also the structure of the organisation itself; is it flexible and adaptable to changes in the external environment or is it “arthritic” and with “limited flexibility” to respond to external demands?

Cow in Val di Scalve, Alps mountains, Italy

For a little light relief and a whiff of methane at this stage, follow this link

These are not problems that have only now cropped up in our modern technology driven, goals orientated, secular society. A quick check on the history of organisations, large and small, down through history, will show that these problems have not, and do not, arise suddenly, nor are they caused by just one individual. The rot started almost unnoticed and developed and spread over time. It is a phenomenon that has been there since Adam was knee-high to a grasshopper. It has been the cause of the decline and fall of empires and petty chieftains. If you don’t have a long memory or a large library to consult, then just let your mind wander over the troubled areas of our world and ask “how did these situations get so out of control that they now threaten our very existence?” And I bet you thought I had fallen off my trolley when I offered you “the light relief and sniff of methane”. I was just softening you up, wasn’t I?

That is why we must, at all costs, achieve two main goals. Firstly, we must cultivate at all levels of society in all global cultures the principle of “transparency”. When a parent tells a child that they may not have something they want, or go to a place where their friends are gathering, the prohibition should be accompanied by a simple and open answer containing the word “because” when asked the inevitable question: “why?”. If they can’t find that answer, then perhaps they need to examine their own personal and inherited beliefs and check the relevance of their childhood to today’s children. Similar situations arise for managers of organisations, for head teachers in schools, for members of parliaments, for government ministers., but also for you and for me. Most certainly, this change will not, and indeed, could not be achieved overnight. But remember, the situations that call now for transparency were not developed over night.

For transparency to work and be used, another imponderable mystery has to be addressed. Why is our Ego so unwilling to allow us access to our Unconscious Mind, at both the individual and the collective level. Why are we so fearful about images and the ancient knowledge embedded in our DNA and so tightly guarded that we treat it like Pandora’s box and fear that the amassed knowledge and understanding of untold experiences of our ancestors must be kept out of awareness and dismissed as dreams, and fantasy, and even madness? G.K. Chesterton once wrote: “The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason.” That is why I believe that we must introduce more, hitherto unconventional, yet effective methods such as community art projects, “town hall” meetings with local and regional representatives of government to encourage direct dialogue between the general public and their representative and not leave that interaction until elections and door-to-door canvassing allow it.

I know, I know, transparency and openness will take a very long time to be developed and installed in our society. It will, most certainly, be a journey of more than the proverbial One Thousand Miles. So, isn’t it time we put on our walking shoes and took the First Step? For this reason, I would hope that during the upcoming Papal Visit, people are allowed to express their pain, their anger, their enthusiasm or their commitment but tempered with respect for the views of others. I hope especially that those who have no direct personal experience of the controversial and upsetting issues now under scrutiny contain their outbursts and not indulge in throwing accusations based upon hearsay or anger, or shower fawning greetings that turn a blind eye to the facts of life. Even though Ireland, the Island of Saints and Scholars, may have a somewhat tarnished image today, let us also remember that Ireland is also Ireland of the Welcomes. We are human, and we must come to terms with the two conflicting images.

P.S. If you would like more information on the topics raised in this blog, try a web search using some of the key words, as I did! You will be pleasantly surprised how much information is available. In particular, I would recommend this link.

Why do I want to blog? …

… Don’t I have enough problems in my life as it is?

I remember one particular incident from my childhood that has left an indelible mark on my awareness. In 5th class in National School (i.e., Primary School) in the harbour town of Cobh (formerly Queenstown) on the South coast of Ireland, I was at the age when young Catholic boys and girls were prepared for the religious rite of passage known as “Confirmation“. This meant, according to the Church, that we were now of an age to be classified as “strong and perfect Christians”, ready to take responsibility for our own lives. It also meant that we had to face an examination on religious doctrine based upon our knowledge of the little book called the “Catechism“. It cost about three pence and was the cheapest and smallest book on our prescribed list of school books. In this Age of Austerity and Financial Chaos, three pence was the price of a small bag of toffee sweets. In today’s parlance we would say it was “as cheap as a fiddler’s fart”, meaning that it was noticeable but commonplace.

The Catechism was divided into two parts. The first part occupied the initial third of the booklet and was in the format of Questions and Answers on essential religious topics; essential, that is, in the post-War years of the late 1940s/early 1950s.  It was printed in scary bold print and, as far as my memory now goes back over 78 years, it dealt with such basic questions as:

  • Q. “Who made the world?”
    A. “God”
  • Q. “List the Ten Commandments”
    A. …. and so on.

I must admit now, to my eternal shame, that I have forgotten the First Commandment. That is because we learned all those things by rote in those days. That meant, one had to take a deep breath and list them mindlessly and at speed. Nevertheless, you will probably have already got the gist of the level of theological knowledge required of those of us desirous to be “strong and faithful Christians”. The boldly printed Qs and As represented 99% of the content of our half-hour religious instruction classes.

The other two-thirds of the Catechism was printed in faded grey, visually unthreatening, print. It followed the same format as the first one-third but the Questions were longer and so were the Answers. This part occupied 1% of class time during the year. And as we had learned in our Mathematics classes, numbers like 99.74  could sensibly be rounded up to 100% and welcomed with a satisfied release of breath because nobody with any sense would notice the difference anyway. Essentially it meant that it was required to justify the printing of the Catechism and charging thruppence, but could safely be ignored. Ignored, that is, by 99.99% of the indocrinees. [Editor’s note: “Is there such a word as “indoctrinee” and if so, what does it mean? My reply: “I know what it means to me and 99.999% of my readers will know instinctively what it means”]. And, as I was saying, it could be ignored by 99.99% … but not by me. Perhaps I wasn’t properly potty-trained in those baby years, and taught the essential rule in life, that is, to know when enough is enough, or else, to learn “to shit or get off the pot”. Wherever the instinct came from, I always wanted to know What and Why and When and How and Where and Who. And so, I read the entire Catechism from beginning to end. I was prepared for the Great Day!

The Great Day arrived and all the boys (we were a “boys only” school, but I shall return to that traumatic experience later, don’t worry) in my class and those from Sixth Class were rounded up and marched into Mr. Sullivan’s classroom which was the only room big enough to accommodate all those little boys, plus the teachers of those classes, plus the Bishop, the Parish Priest, the local Canon, the Diocesan Administrator,and one or two other priestly supporters. We were arraigned, standing stiffly upright, along three walls of the classroom, whilst the Bishop, an elderly cleric who wore a formal black coat, with black trousers, gaiters and buttoned-up boots, a formal purple shirt, and a big signet ring which townspeople kissed when they bobbed courteously on meeting His Lordship on his daily trip from the Bishop’s Palace to St Colman’s Cathedral and back again. You see, we in Cobh Boys National School were privileged to live in the town which was the epicentre of the Diocese of Cloyne. I was never sure why the centre of the Diocese of Cloyne was located in Cobh and not in the village of Cloyne on the Eastern end of Cork Harbour. But more about that later if I find an explanation.

After a few words of grovelling welcome from the School Principal the Bishop started with the first boy on his left and asked a question chosen randomly from the Catechism. The boy answered with the word-perfect answer from the first third of the Catechism. A slightly perceptible communal release of breath and communal tension could be felt. We were off to a flying start. Teachers’ faces allowed a slight sign of relief.; a slight nod of heads to one another suggested perhaps more than relief was felt. With a plodding determination the Bishop moved on, each boy answered with almost military precision. The authority figures around His Lordships chair and small table relaxed and even smiled with approbation. I was standing in the corner of the back of the class on the left, so I could not see those answering before it came to my turn. As it did. A slight quickening of the pulse, increased focus on the sequence of the content of the questions, a little lick of the lips and three long, deep breaths and exhalation, a trick taught to me by my mother who was a singer, contralto with the local Gilbert and Sullivan and light opera groups in Cobh; she assured me that it worked every time for her as she waited in the wings to make her entrance on stage. I was as relaxed as I could be and prepared. The bishop looked up from his list of boys, and stern-faced, ask me my question. I couldn’t believe my luck! God and the heavenly hosts of Angels, Archangels, Saints, Martyrs (both male and female) were smiling on me. I felt and dimly perceived the Cone of Heavenly light shining on me. The question he asked wasn’t exactly straight out of the grey, forgotten two-thirds of the Catechism but I saw the connection and I answered with confidence.

“Wrong answer”, said the Bishop; and turned his attention to the next boy. It was then I heard The Voice saying: “I’m sorry, my Lord, but I think I am right”.

I have heard a recording of the Golden Gate Quartet, sing “Joshua fit the Battle of Jericho, Jericho, and them Walls came a-tumblin’ down”. I realised immediately that The Voice was actually My Voice. In the shocked silence that followed I almost expected the school walls to tumble down. But no, they didn’t. I suppose you will have noticed at certain times in your own life, that Time, our perceived time, seems to speed up and at other times it slows down. Like in a dream when you run for your life through a bog that holds your feet in its grasp and everything is in slow motion, Or as in Shaolin meditation where you meditate to the regular beat of a brick being tapped with a wooden mallet. By focusing on the “click … click … click …” of the beat, the mind goes into meditative contemplation of the Cosmic Oneness and Time stands still as the meditator enters into the sublime Cosmic Oneness. Modesty stops me making such cosmic comparisons in that instance. But everything stood still and then in slow motion I remember the assembled aides and supporters gathering in a huddle around the Bishop. And I didn’t pee or shit myself with fright either!

His entourage relaxed a little and dispersed to their positions in the tableau. The Bishop removed his spectacles and fixing his rheumy eyes unblinkingly on me. he said: “You didn’t speak loudly enough, boy, so I misheard what you said. You should learn to speak up. Next boy, please.” Have you noticed in your own life, that those in authority rarely, if ever, apologise but always imply that their mistake was your fault?

excelsior
A banner with the strange device, Excelsior

The experience has burned a banner with a strange device into my conscious awareness. It has become my mantra over the years. It has bolstered my confidence in difficult times and re-assured  me with its consolation when everything around me has been falling apart. The flaming letters of the mantra spell out “QUESTION AUTHORITY”. It is the underlying principle of free humans, it is the foundation stone of democracy, and my goodness, does it screw up the plans and tilt the table when those same authorities are imposing their will. If nothing else, it signals to would-be dictators that it’s time to shit or get off the pot.

Oh Joy! Oh Bliss! Oh Rapture! Let Happiness now hap!

As you know, we all have our own little ways of making a house a home and I assumed that worms operating in a different sphere to me would most likely prefer to do it their way.

Oh Joy! Oh Bliss! Oh Rapture! Let Happiness now hap!

Today is another positive step in my efforts to develop a sustainable, independent way of life and living? “So what?” you may well chorus. Indeed so. But I am now equipped with a compost heap (five in fact!), a warm and healthy  wormery, and the crowning jewel, or jewels rather, two Bokashi Buckets. This means that from now on, I have no need to waste money on refuse collection services and no corresponding “opportunity” to finance the State or Local Authority for collecting my (and your) waste to compost it centrally and then to sell the compost back to me to feed my garden. My next target is (hopefully) to get a few SEAI grants to insulate my cottage and conserve heat, to add solar panels to provide free electricity and then finally to go off-grid. Freedom and Fun!

 

wormeryIt has to be admitted though that it has also been a painful learning experience. I have a confession to make. I have been using a wormery for a few years now and gradually learning how make effective use of it. Unfortunately, the wormery developed a crack in the base just where one of the legs joins the bottom “floor” and started to leak the fluid which is a very valuable bye-product and plant food. I stopped using it and bought another wormery … as I thought.

My Silver Palace Composter
My Silver Palace Wormery

This was a metal construction, very sturdy and impressive. It was described on the company’s web site as being a wormery. In my untutored eyes it was the Harley Davidson of wormeries. I also invested in 1 kg of Tiger worms because those from the previous wormery had by now escaped into the wilderness that is my front garden. I hasten to add that my garden is a wilderness by choice because I have been following a course in permaculture design and I am learning to read the strengths and weaknesses of my small holding as part of preparing my overall plan and map for my 2 hectare holding.

 

I read the instructions carefully. In all modesty I can say that I am an eager reader of instructions and I follow them assiduously. Especially those originating abroad and which were translated into English by a junior secretary or office gopher to help their boss and save on the expense of a professional translator. I soaked the coir block overnight in water to provide the initial base for the wormery and laid newspaper over the screen at the bottom so that the worms would not slip through the drainage holes and be lost. And then, in a touching private ceremony, I introduced the worms to their new home. As a shamanic practitioner I dedicated their work and mine to the good of all our relatives on the planet, human, animal, plant, natural resources, rocks, you name it. I could feel the love of Mother Earth and Father Sky enveloping us. As advised I gave the worms time to settle for a few day and get their living conditions sorted out. As you know, we all have our own little ways of making a house a home and I assumed that worms operating in a different sphere to me would most likely prefer to do it their way. A few days later when I opened their Silver Palace I was shattered to discover that a seeming massacre had taken place. There were black streaks tarnishing the inside walls of the wormery but not a worm in sight or on site. I couldn’t understand how they could have escaped and was puzzled by their apparent “break-out” … until last week, that is.

I had by now decided to try my hand with a Bokashi bucket. I was driven to that by having undergone ten days without electricity during the recent heat wave as a result of a bureaucratic stand-off and bungle which pincered me in the grip of a Wifi supplier and a State utility. As a result I had to empty my fridge and freezer and clean it out completely. I haven’t needed to use the refuse bin for several months now being, as I try to be, an almost-Vegan and 90% Vegetarian who is also religion averse. But the waste collectors would not accept my rotting meat, fish, and veggies in the recycle bin for composting. They slapped a big sticker on the blue bin labelling it “contaminated”. That is when I decided to step into Bokashi buckets, figuratively that is, of course. A quick search on the theme of recycling contaminated food and I found my way via “composting toilets” (which are also on my list, but further down) to Bokashi Buckets. I thought it odd when I saw a picture of my above-mentioned Silver Palace wormery, but now masquerading as a BB. I didn’t ponder deeply on it because it seemed to be the immediate answer to my problem of recycling rotten food before the health authorities stepped in.

Bokashi Kitchen Bucket
Bokashi Kitchen Bucket

So, when earlier today a courier delivered my new Bokashi Kitchen Bucket,  I settled down to read the instructions carefully and began to assemble it. Smaller than the silver wormery I have described above, it soon became obvious to me that the components were the same in each. Interesting! Then I read the words “anaerobic environment” and the scales fell from my eyes. To be honest, it felt more like slates being ripped off the roof of my house in a hurricane. I now had to admit to myself that unintentially but with ignorance guiding me I had committed genocide on a kilogram of Tiger worms, a whole city full of Nature’s hardest, unheralded and undemanding workers. The awful truth now screamed at me: “Worms need air to breathe and therefore cannot exist in anaerobic conditions. You, ya eejit, signed their death warrants when you sealed them up for three days in a coir bed in an air-tight container.”

 

There now, I’ve gotten it off my chest. I am a changed person. I now know what not to do. Tomorrow a new adventure starts. Not a worm will be put in the Bokashi Kitchen Bucket and a new coir block will herald a new era of wormery. I think that a different launch ceremony will be necessary to convince the worms that they are safe and that they will be needed for their skill elsewhere than in a bucket. The philosopher (unqualified) in me is even beginning to think that this experience might, as a metaphor, have relevance in the Middle East.

Filming an Owl at Night

Democracy wishes to elevate mankind to teach it to think, to set it free. It seeks to set it free. It seeks to remove from culture the stamp of privilege and disseminate it among the people

Dateline: Sunday June 3 2018 13.00h

Shillelagh, Co. Wicklow, Ireland

When I checked my mail and incoming messages this morning, I found a post from my friend and translation guru, #Antain_ Mac_Lochlainn

Mick and thoul

This is it!

Why is today’s Google Doodle an image of Mick McCarthy filming an owl?

Ever the one for the smart-arse reply, I penned the following and went about my day.

i think that th’oul owl is holding the prompt sheet for Mick while he is operating a concealed but very sophisticated ballistic missile guidance system of North Korean origin to assassinate the woodpecker, who, as every Irish Soccer supporter knows, is a symbol representing our renowned Keano (nudge, nudge) Cork hit-man, who was always pecking away at poor Mick and making his life a misery as manager of the national team. The image of the stag in the background is a literary allusion to the words of the German poet who wrote that “the Irish will always drag down a noble stag”.

Introduction:

I admit, after that response, I felt a nagging regret that I couldn’t remember the name of the German poet who made that remark. Perhaps the reader would get the impression that the quote was composed by me and think I was initiating an assault on the people of Ireland. I get enough abuse as it is for some of my sharper comments about Irish life, so I did a Google search to see if I could get evidence to clarify the origin. And I did.

I got a real shock when I followed the thread of the search. I then purchased an online e-book (referenced below) to confirm the details and got further information. C.J. Jung was right. There is such a thing as coincidence. But there is also synchronicity. I will let Jung speak for himself and when you finish reading come back here and see what it means in practice: Link <http://www.thinking-minds.net/carl-jung-synchronicity/>

It reaches parts of the brain that ordinary thinking hasn’t reached.

Reference:

“Blood Kindred – W.B.Yeats – “The Life, the Death, the Politics”

by W.J. McCormack

Publisher Pimlico 2005

Epub ISBN 9781446444245This link will take you to the book I refer to in the blog


And so the story begins … … tread softly, and all that jazz!

In Ireland in the late 1920s and early 1930s, after the Civil War, there was a period of unsettled ideas during which there were attempts made to re-orientate an emerging Irish national identity. Think: de Valera and comely maidens dancing at the cross-roads whilst lusty young men were batin’ the tar out of one another in the field over the ditch. At the same time a younger Sean Lemass was dreaming determinedly of clouds of smoke from industrial activity over the Lakes of Killarney, bringing pollution (what’s that) and prosperity (yes, please) to a fairly poverty afflicted country. Around the same period, anti-Semites were also emerging as a result of World War 1. In the ferment of ideas, attempts were made to create links between Irish aspirations and the developing ideas in Europe concerning nationhood. And the names of many that are known to us and revered by us now, such as, W.B.Yeats were caught up in that debate. There was also, Maud Gonne who was one of Yeats’ “intimate” friends who also, it appears, had anti-Semitic leanings. Incidentally, one of the first files opened on a citizen by G2, the Irish Army Intelligence Unit, was opened on said Maud Gonne. The celebrity list is long so try googling a few other names that come to your mind.

Links were being identified between anti-Semitism and the rise of totalitarianism in Europe in the first half of the 20th century. The poets Ezra Pound (America) and T.S.Eliot (England) expressed strong views on Fascism in general. Yeats joined with them but he was more interested in events developing in Italy under Mussolini. Pound and Eliot commented on the threats posed by Jews and Judaism to what Ezra Pound regarded as a “civilised society”, e.g., his own America and Eliot’s England. In Germany Karl von Ossietsky was committed to a Nazi concentration camp in the late 1930s because he was a Gentile who defended the Jews from the anti-Semites. His supporters petitioned the Nobel Peace Prize Committee to award their peace prize to Ossietsky. Yeats’ friend, Ethel Mannin also supported their petition. Yeats wrote to her: “If the Nobel Society did what you want, it would seem to the majority of the German people that the Society hated their Government for its politics not because it was inhuman”. This refusal by Yeats to offer public support for a Gentile victim of Nazism has led some people to suggest that Yeats was a supporter of Nazism. But the story was not clearly black and white regarding Yeats. The emerging information of implied friendship between Yeats and notable Jews he met in Ireland was seen by some as evidence of a vague kind of affinity between the two nations, the Irish and the Jews, because they were both perceived to be victims of history and of persecution.

While Yeats was touring in the United States in 1920 he publicly supported the Palestine Restoration Fund (PRF). This should NOT be confused with today’s Palestine Liberation Front! The PRF was an initiative of the Zionist movement which had been launched to establish a permanent Jewish homeland. This seemed to raise doubts about where Yeats really stood on the situation. How could he support the promotion of a Jewish homeland and at the same time fail to confront a German State that was publicly hostile to the Jews. Truth is we do not know for sure whom he was supporting.

The Balfour Declaration (1926 and 1930) was not clear in its intentions. Was it actually supporting the creation of a new homeland for the Jewish diaspora? Was it part of Britain’s imperial policy for expansion including the Middle East? Or did it owe something to the apparently parallel histories of the Irish and the Jews? Don’t forget also that W.T. Cosgrave, President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State, was an official representative of the new Irish State at that meeting so the views of the Irish Government were being expressed also! Or, indeed, was the aim of the founding and establishing of a “home” for the Chosen People (i.e., the Jews) a conspiracy to get the Jews out of Europe and dump them on some other part of the world. Uganda and Alaska had been mooted as alternative sites where they might find room and be removed from their problematic presence in a Europe which was divided about their presence!

Other information adduced about Yeats’ attitudes were based upon the occasion in August 1928 when he was accused of being very rude to Erich Gottgetram, a Jew, when they both were house guests at Coole Park, Maud Gonne’s family home in Sligo. The evidence is slim and the interpretations many! But in McCormack’s book referenced above he suggests that Maud Gonne was in contact with the German spy, Oscar Pfaus, who was chosen to contact the IRA early in 1939. And don’t overlook the fact that Roger Casement had earlier been in contact with the German Government soliciting their aid for the Irish rising in 1916.

Pfaus was the Hamburg chief of an organisation called “Fichte Bund”, whose motto was “Union for World Veracity”. According to McCormack “… they debated Jewish responsibility for the partition of Ireland with Pfaus insisting that ‘most of the British propaganda which is flooding Éire is coming from British-Jewish sources in Belfast’ and (Maud) Gonne in return (was) seeking evidence of ‘Jewish interference in this matter.”

In February 1934, Yeats was awarded the Goethe-Plakette because his plays and poetry with their mystical and folklore interests were clearly compatible with the ideology they were proclaiming. Yeats’ plays in particular had been translated into German and were popular with the Government and its supporters. But not all Germans were of the same opinion.

Thomas Mann, the German writer and winner of the 1929 Nobel Prize for Literature, wrote about a different future for Germany. His concerns were about “democracy considered as thought”. He wrote: “Democracy wishes to elevate mankind to teach it to think, to set it free. It seeks to set it free. It seeks to remove from culture the stamp of privilege and disseminate it among the people – in a word it aims at education”. I suggest that Mann’s views are as relevant today, perhaps even more relevant, in an Austerity Era where education and art and music and culture, need to be made available to all. Instead they are being withdrawn from the reach of those who need them most. These are not luxury items to be reserved for one group only. They are essential to enable all citizens to participate fully in the development of their own society. These so-called finer things of life are also the building blocks of a free society. They are part of the very soul of democracy.

My trawl through the back streets and quaint resources of the Internet this afternoon gave me the opportunity to browse through those nuggets of information, telling me about the role of Irish leaders in the early development of our State. But all those described above fade into the background, yet provide the base upon which I can display the treasure of my random rummaging of information. And in a happy “coincidental” manner it provides a tantalising background to the final item. In all honesty, this one frightens the life out of me.

In a pamphlet produced by Terramare Publications of Berlin in 1937, two years and two months before I was born and two years before World War II started, Rudolf Frerds’s “Population Papers” iwere published as a pamphlet under the title “Germany Speaks”. He wrote “… [this paper] addresses the problem of the falling birth rate among ‘families hereditarily endowed with the highest qualities’ and the rising rate among ‘families with a large number of social inadaptable elements’.”  Nazi laws had been introduced in July 1933, the year in which my paternal grandfather, Rudolf Pratschke, gave my father, František Mořic Anton Pratschke (known in Cobh as “Tony”) a copy of Hitler’s “Mein Kampf”.  He told him to read it and protect himself.

My Dad had Austro-Hungarian citizenship up until 1933 and if, as was the fear when the war started, that with the help and support of the IRA and the Irish people, Hitler might invade Ireland from the Atlantic side and create a pincer movement on England, then my father could have been drafted into the German Army. Can you imagine a man who spoke Irish, a member of Connradh na Gaeilge where he met my mother, who was an athlete with Ballymore Athletic club, who played hurling with Carrigtwohill and coached young hurlers in the Cobh Hurling Club, suddenly sucked into the vortex of war and death and destruction. The fears and anxieties that I experienced as a child in my pre-verbal years left an indelible mark on my psyche that only now I am beginning to evaluate and try to understand?!

In 1938, Joachim von Ribbentrop was appointed Hitler’s Foreign Minister. In the National Library of Ireland in Dublin there is preserved a copy of that book which came from Yeats’ personal book collection. Von Ribbentrop liked Yeats’ plays and felt that they resonated well with Nazi Germany’s efforts to integrate their mythological Teutonic past, just as Yeats integrated our mythical Celtic heroes into his vision of Ireland. There is another article in that book, “Germany Speaks”. It is titled “The Prevention of Hereditary Diseased Offspring” and it includes reference to the provision (28 June 1935) abolishing “the maxim according to which no offence can be punished unless it is specifically in the existing code of law”. In other words, if it’s not listed as an offence then there is no offence.

My thoughts now, as I review my afternoon’s exposure to this flow of “coincidental” (sic!) incidents from Ireland’s history are focusing on the central question. What Pandora’s Box have we now opened as a result of the recent Referendum on the Eighth Amendment? I would ask you to consider that question and try to imagine what might happen over the next several years if we fail, again, to identify the legal framework required to enhance the lives of Irish people as civilised human beings who are concerned with ultimate questions for which we struggle to reach a consensus decision. How sure are we that we will always be able to elect a Dáil with the competence, the intelligence, and the courage to appoint a Taoiseach and Ministers who can and will lead our people and protect them from the evils that flow from failure to understand the issues facing us, and an unwillingness to face and discuss our shared perceptions of reality?

And to finish, I am glad to say that I identified the quotation source. Yeats had repeated a remark made by the German poet, Goethe who had written: “The Irish seem to me to be like a pack of hounds, always dragging down some noble stag”. Think about it. Please.

Footnotes:

I was unable to find a direct reference to this article by Frerd, but I stumbled on this item which is of related interest. It is an onine (available free) copy of Deirdre Toomey’s “Yeats and Women: Yeats Annual No. 9” which contains a lot of information relating to Yeats and eugenics.

ii The web site linked to the “German Voices” will have brought you to a German language site. It is not necessary to understand German because I just wished to draw your attention to the fact that W.B. Yeats is the only one on that list of winners in the era concerned who does not have a German name. He appears to have been the only foreign winner over that period.

Taking the “dum(b)” out of Referendum

The democratic process in Ireland has shown a new face, a new vigour, a renewed belief in the power of One-ness. We should now, in gratitude, turn to face the rising Sun of change.

In the lead-up to the Referendum, I had struggled with how I might vote. Neither “Yes” nor “No” in itself would or could solve the problems we face. The public debate and commentary was too rigid but I sensed an energy and a movement that was hard to pin down. The same old self-satisfied and smug posturings seemed to dominate the media. For the first time in my life, I deliberately abstained from voting, because even though my sympathies were with the “Yes” campaign I found the public arguments too simplistic and I feared that some of the allegedly “feminist” rhetoric was too phobic towards men. I do not believe in the mythology of virgin birth so how could I support a cause that was apparently excluding men from the solution as well as implicitly vilifying them as being part of the cause?

I am Irish, I live in Ireland and we have just voted in a referendum that has shattered the old political structures and brought world-wide attention to the Emerald Isle. Nostalgia for an old romantic view of Ireland has been dispersed by a wind of change and a new confident electorate is emerging from the chrysalis of romantic Celtic dreams. I needn’t have worried, This convincing win for the “Yes” vote was not carried by the old politics no matter how hard they may try to convince themselves. This battle for a new Ireland was not planned nor fought in the old “smoke-filled” environment of political parties. It was fought hand-to-hand, doorstep-to-doorstep, street-by-street with courage and conviction by people who must be trusted.

The impetus came from a groundswell of grass-roots activism, dominated by younger people and by some new women and men who were not shackled by the old political system or personal religious convictions, but who brought a vigorous and vibrant force to bear. “A terrible beauty is born” (W.B.Yeats). It has brought activism to the fore and relegated old fashioned revisionist politics to “crying the catch cries of the clown”. It has gone further than the now-hackneyed phrase of “new politics” dared to go.

The democratic process in Ireland has shown a new face, a new vigour, a renewed belief in the power of One-ness. We should now, in gratitude, turn to face the rising Sun of change.

The Russian Soul is like a Dark Forest!

Should we not withhold all judgment and jumping to conclusions until we know the facts?

Part One

Dateline Wednesday, March 28, 2018

I am puzzled as to why the U.S. and the U.K., in particular, have now mounted a very aggressive campaign to point the finger at Russia claiming that Mr. Putin and his Government are behind the alleged assassination attempt on the former Russian double agent, Sergei Skripal and his daughter, in Salisbury, England. What is their evidence? On March 26th on the RTÉ news I heard a spokesperson for the Irish Government claiming that they couldn’t share the evidence available to them, primarily one assumes through U.K. sources, because it would undermine our national security! Some other E.U. governments have been more certain in pointing the finger at Russia. Nevertheless on the late news on March 26 it was announced that Ireland was not among the 16 EU countries that announced the expulsion of Russian representatives earlier but that a decision would be taken by Cabinet on Tuesday morning (March 27), amid indications that at least one Russian citizen would be expelled. Unfortunately, our varying versions of democracy across the world reverberate to the words of the Chinese proverb – “The reed that will not bend with the wind, will break”. I presume that the same principle is now being applied by the Irish Government in supporting our neighbour, the U.K. in denouncing Russia, when it is emphasised that we are supporting our nearest neighbour. Mar dhea!

Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, collapsed in a shopping centre in Salisbury, England, on March 4 after being allegedly poisoned with a nerve agent. They remain in critical condition. He had been a double-agent but he was pardoned and sent to the UK as part of a spy swap in 2010, in which Russia released four agents to the US and the UK in exchange for 10 Russian agents in the US. Very shortly after the assassination attempt, Theresa May pointed the finger at Russia in a statement to Parliament, saying it was “highly likely” that Russia ordered the assassination of the double agent Sergei Skripal. Ms. May also said that either Russia ordered the attack or that they had “lost control” of the nerve agent to others. In this way she implied that somebody with access to the Russian-made nerve agent Novichok could have carried out the attack. As she didn’t answer that question herself, we can only presume that this means if Russia didn’t do it then someone else must have! But who? Russia’s foreign ministry dismissed May’s statement as a “fairy tale”.

It appears to me that despite the assertive language used by Ms. May, as Prime Minister, she was very short on facts. It is a fact that Sergei Skripal had been a double agent who after being arrested in Russia had then been released to England as part of a spy swop. It is a fact that his daughter, Yulia, who was visiting him, was also affected by the nerve agent. It has not to my knowledge been stated definitively that it was Novichoc that had been used. If the nerve agent had been stolen or bought from the Russians, how certain is it that the agent used was originally made by Russia. If others now had access to it, is it possible that these unnamed “others” now had the capability to produce it or to produce another version of the same nerve agent? In such a serious international incident as this, it is essential that we deal with the facts and that implies that we should use an evidence-based approach. Emotional reactions, not mediated by reason, are understandable but not to be acted on. Over the past 48 hours it is quite amazing to me that so many countries have fallen into line behind the U.S. and the U.K. leaders, both of whom have been under a lot of pressure recently.

What is the real story, where are the real facts, who is the guilty party, or are we looking at the possibility of “guilty parties”? I know that many will dismiss my comments as crazy, even biased, or as yet another conspiracy theory, but let me put them out there now, admittedly with the health warning attached that we are still in the stage of hypotheses based on partial information, misinformation, possibly on misinterpreted or “false” facts, on opinion, or on mere suspicion!

In such a situation I believe it is right to ask the question: Who is benefiting from this attack? Is it Sergei Skripal and his daughter? Definitely not! The policeman who first found them? Definitely not? Could it be Ms May, Prime Minister of the U.K.? Apparently yes, because overnight she has become the self-appointed but almost unanimously accepted leader of a pack of howling national and international bodies! Could it be President Trump? Definitely yes, if only based on the old adage, “give a dog a bad name …! “ What about President Putin? It appears that he is the guilty party in the eyes of many observers in the Western alliance. He was recently re-elected as President of Russia in an election that was heavily criticised by observers and by the opposition leaders in his own country. That may be so, but Russia is now threatened with even more sanctions and threats of “retaliation” thrown at them. Already half the E.U., plus the U.S, Canada, and Australia are dismissing Russian diplomats from their countries. I can’t see that as a benefit! So what had Mr. Putin to gain?

Taking the U.S, and U.K. first: Note that several U.S. Presidents, Obama, Bush, “Baby” Bush, and others before them and including the present incumbent have had individuals who were opposing them “taken out” by the Pentagon/Secret Service using drones, assassins, spies. We in Ireland know from our own experience and history of the dirty tricks, double agents, undercover military forces that have been used by England to undermine our sovereignty for centuries and right up to today and including the self-same tactic of “removing”, that is, killing individuals who were in their way.

For me, as an Irish observer, there is another very interesting and intriguing parallel between Russia and Ireland, despite the vast difference in size.

  • For centuries Russia was ruled by Tsars who were remote from the ordinary individual who was treated as a peasant with no rights and often owned by the local land-owner. The Tsar was the only authority. When the Communist Revolution of 1917 happened, the new rulers, despite their different and ambitious philosophy, created a society that led to the enslavement of the ordinary citizen. Only 25% of Russian citizens from 1917 to 1989 were ever members of the Communist Party! As a result, the concept of authority over one’s life was remote and virtually non-existent for many Russians over the centuries.

  • For over 800 years, Ireland was subject to rule firstly by the invading Normans and subsequently by England. Over those centuries the Irish people had no authority over their own island, because the ultimate political authority lay with the King/Queen in England and the ultimate religious authority lay with the Pope in Rome. This latter point is interesting because, due to its geographical isolation from an emerging Europe, Christianity in Ireland developed around independent monasteries and related communities ruled by abbots whereas in Europe, in general, Christianity was developed around administrative dioceses and bishops who were subject to the Pope in Rome. This led to Irish Christianity being seen as a threat to Christianity in Europe. For those 800 years, Irish people dealt only with authority that was foreign and based outside the island of Ireland.

Both the average Russian and the average Irish citizen today have inherited a culture where the role of the individual is conceived of as not being linked to the authority figure appointed by a distant ruler. These parallel histories have led to two geographically distant national and cultural entities being predisposed by their inherited conditioning to view a national authority in a similar way which is quite different from that of other nations in Europe.

I was born two months after World War II started, so I was a child during the period 1939 to 1945. I have childhood memories of the fear around me at home in the kitchen when we listened each night to the radio to find out what was happening in those distant places and imagined places called England and Germany. I have memories of food shortages and being given a slice of bread and butter with sugar sprinkled on it as a “nice surprise” after dinner. I remember my early national school and secondary school days during the recovery years of the later 1940s and through the 1950s. My younger self still has memories of the Cold War period and the fears that could erupt at the slightest threat. I remember a Catholic tabloid weekly newspaper carrying the headline story one week-end that “a blue light would shine in the Eastern sky when Russia was converted to Christianity”. We didn’t realise that the Russian people were already Christian and of the Orthodox kind. Many years later I discovered that my father’s earlier status as technically a citizen of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire carried the ever-present danger that if Hitler invaded Ireland to attack England on a second front, then my father ran the risk of being press-ganged into the German Army!  My mother lived in fear throughout those war years. The stand-off over the Bay of Pigs in April 1961 instilled the fear in me that another light of a different colour and toxicity might illuminate our skies bringing nuclear warfare. Most of my weekends in the 1960s were devoted to demonstrations against the Vietnam war, or travelling to Belfast to join in demonstrations led by my comrades in the Peoples’ Democracy movement. Today’s events, following the attack on Sergei Skripal awaken those old fears in me. Should we not withhold all judgment and jumping to conclusions until we know the facts? Isn’t that what diplomacy is supposed to be about? Should we also not be more careful, as a sovereign country, about the friends with whom we align ourselves. The biggest loser in all this will be democracy. Yes, and I repeat that in case you miss my point: The biggest loser in the present confrontation will be democracy.

I have been observing national and international politics for several years and I still see democracy as a very fragile institution. We hear it spoken of as if it has been around since the emergence of early settled human habitations. We see regular references to Greece being the home of democracy starting 2,000 years ago. We overlook the fact, however, that their democracy was confined to land-owning males, while women (unless they owned land in their own right), foreigners, and slaves were excluded. Today the word “democracy” is very much a catch-all concept covering a wide variety of emerging democratic systems. Which of those allegedly established democratic systems are strong enough to survive another period of Cold War hostilities? Will Westminster, the self-styled home of Western democratic government survive Brexit? Why can’t the tribal leaders of the stand-off parties in Northern Ireland not exercise the democratic mandate they were given and form a government? How will the democracies of France and Germany cope with an E.U. that is suffering from a democratic deficit according to so many of the other member countries? Democracy is supposed to be the system that gives a representative voice to every citizen in the running of their own country. But under the pressures of global capitalism and neo-liberal governments, the very fabric of community life has been atomised, communities and local government structures have been undermined and weakened, the links between government and citizen are being eroded and the stability of the “nation state” is being shaken to its foundations. That is why I suggest that the greatest loser in the present crisis will be democracy itself.

My own life experience has taught me that we would be wise to tread carefully in how we respond to this crisis. I would like to offer some personal information in support of what I have written. I am not anyone special in the sense of having a unique insight into politics or into human behaviour. I have, however, worked for nearly forty years on international development aid projects in Russia, Eastern Europe, Africa (East and South), the Middle East, and in South-East Asia, where I had interaction with American, European, and local politics. I have learned from doing and from being involved and then from questioning myself about what has happened, and why it has happened. This has given me an existentialist and “outsider” view of life and living. Because we now take so much for granted about democracy, behaviour such as that surrounding the events in Salisbury, the rise of Fascism in Europe, the tightening grip of global capitalism, are inevitable and threatening.

In my first eight years of working after qualifying as an electrical engineer from University College Cork, I worked as a teacher in Limerick, Ireland. I learned from my life and my work there, the importance of theatre and the arts in society and their role is holding a mirror up to democracy, and the need to fight for what one believed in. I became a very active Socialist and irritant gadfly in the Irish Labour Party. I began to discern the dark shadow behind the tribal politics of Ireland. From there I spent a four year stint in Zambia where I witnessed the tensions between an emerging African democracy and the remaining colonial presence of Rhodesia, which was supported by the apartheid regime of South Africa. I was working in Angola in South-West Africa when the Portuguese revolution happened in 1975 and a civil war broke out in while I was there. I saw at first hand the efforts of the ruling Portuguese authorities to use development and trade to keep the local native population away from the rebel forces. They failed.

Returning to Ireland I trained with the Tavistock Institute as a consultant in group dynamics and organisational behaviour. Running training programmes in companies and workshops for public applicants, I saw at first hand, the underlying dynamics of organisational, institutional and social behaviour in Ireland and how that unconscious behaviour interacted with the established conscious structures and behaviour of those in positions of power and authority.

I worked in the former East Germany in 1989-90 on a contract with the Treuhandanstalt during the efforts to align the institutions and companies coming from the former Communist system with the new requirements of the market economy. I saw the short-lived hopes and expectations of those from the East who told me that their vision had been to build a new Germany and then move forward together with their relations and fellow citizens from the former West Germany. That vision and those hopes were shattered when the “Wessies” just took charge and treated the “Ossies” as second-class citizens in their shared new country. From there I moved to work in Russia for most of the 1990s. I worked as development aid consultant and team leader on some EU TACIS projects and saw at first hand the way in which American and European governments conspired to ensure that Russia would never recover from the mistakes of the Soviet era. I also was witness to the way in which the E.U. bowed to the demands of the Russian President, Boris Yeltsin, to change the nature of the development aid programmes from small-scale interventions to help local communities and institutions to major projects with political rather than developmental aims.

On one occasion, after a year’s work in which we received great praise from our Russian counterparts and the Russian authorities for the ongoing success of our project in rural development, and were regularly “wheeled out” to tell visiting dignitaries about our achievements, the renewal of my contract with the UK Overseas Development Service was blocked by the U.S. dominated International Finance Corporation (IFC). I had asked Boris Efimovich Nemtsov, then my senior contact and Governor of the Nizhny Novgorod Province, to help me to get access to James Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank, when he visited the city on a tour of projects. I had a fifteen minute interview with Mr. Wolfensohn, who was very courteous and positive. He liked the proposal I outlined and initiated a World Bank process whereby his officials worked with us to develop the project scope. As a result a micro-finance project was established three months later to provide financial support for small businesses in Nizhny NovgorodNizhny Novgorod.

My actions were strongly motivated by humanitarian concerns, seeing new Russian farmers being given farms which were already bankrupt when they received them, who were refused finance by the new Russian banks (re-financed from the West) because they had no collateral to offer. I “walked the land” on a number of occasions with farmers who were in the depths of depression and desperate because they literally didn’t know what to do with the rusted machinery, broken equipment, collapsing sheds and outbuildings on their farms and didn’t know how they could cope. They asked for our help and we gave them what we could. But we couldn’t produce miracles in a country where the land had been poisoned by the overuse in Soviet times of fertilisers, pesticides, and chemical sprays and had to be allowed to recover slowly using traditional organic methods. By a strange “co-incidence”, when, years later, Mr. Putin eventually decided to close the IFC office in Moscow, most of the staff, mainly Americans, Poles and Ukrainians were transferred to a new office opened in the Ukraine. Boris Efimovich, Provincial Governor, went on to become a Deputy Prime Minister under the presidency of Boris Yeltsin of the Russian Federation. Sadly, in February 2015, I read that Boris Efimovich was assassinated on a street near the Duma (Russian Parliament building in Moscow). He had always been opposed to Vladimir Putin who, he claimed, was out to kill him. But Nemtsov also represented the New Russian market capitalist system which was causing havoc in their country.

My final big project was in South Africa in 2001, where the “new” South Africa was shedding its apartheid past and was adapting its institutions to meet the demands of a multi-racial, multi-cultural, society. I started with a contract due to last six years. I left after six months when I realised that the Department of Labour, where I was based, was using E.U. funding from our project budget of €43 million to finance work that was already underway within the department while they were delaying in engaging with our project to build a new national industrial training and qualifications system that was targeting the African population. My German superiors promised support but backed down when the local E.U. office made it clear that negotiating new contracts with the South African government for the importation of South African wines into Europe would be jeopardised if the E.U. didn’t comply with the status quo. I left to keep my own conscience clear. It was painful and depressing.

As well as that, I had begun to see a pattern  that was repeated in different countries. I know the effect it had on me, but also I was extremely aware of the implications that pattern had for society in general and for the future. I decided to share my personal experiences rather than quote from the experience of others. I wonder will any of those who read this story detect a pattern? What pattern do you see? How does that pattern affect our society? Is it still being repeated in your country, in your life experience?

There is a saying in Russian that “the Russian Soul is like a Dark Forest”. I fear that we are all now being sucked into a dark forest of misinformation, false news, where nothing is clearly defined and nothing is what it appears to be. What is happening now has the potential to destroy the progress we have made since the end of the Second World War. We face a situation where slow progress is required if we are to succeed but in a situation where instant gratification is the order of the day; where complex arguments have to be compressed into 200 characters or less; where decades of the concentration by media on mind-numbing entertainment where audiences now obsess on boxed sets of TV series portraying a controlled and modulated society where dissent is not allowed or where every problem is resolved by superheroes. We are, indeed, in a dark forest.

As I write this, I have on my desk a photograph that I took one week-end in Russia, when I had the use of my landlady’s dacha, or summer house in the forest outside the city of Nizhny Novgorod. I had left the rural bus that brought me close to my destination and was making my way on foot through the forest to the lodge. It was quite dark in the forest even at midday, but as I came to a turning in the track, I looked to my right and saw a small clearing where the sun shone brightly. It lifted my spirits and now it lifts my spirit again. The Russian forest is dark because the Russian people have suffered and been oppressed. That darkness has also clouded their spirit and taught them to suffer quietly. A Russian colleague who had lost his job as a research scientist when his institution closed down after the collapse of the Soviet Union, now drove our project car. When I greeted him each day at work with the words: “Hello Yuri, how are you today?” he replied “Still alive!” That response was common apparently when Stalin was in power. But the sun rises again and times change and, I believe, that Truth will once again be True. But only if we remember the darkness that is part of our lives and if we deal honestly with reality and question authority.

 

The Hero’s Journey

Remember that each one of us will, at some stage or another or even at many different stages in our life, come to a door or a path or a life option that is closed to us. We have the choice to turn away or to open that door, to travel that path, to make that choice.

theFoolI first heard about the “Hero’s Journey” back in the early 1970s. A colleague of mine, Paddy Walley, mentioned it in passing around the time that I was recruited as a Training Specialist in N.E.T., the fertiliser plant in Arklow. I didn’t know much then about the “Hero’s Journey” other than that occasional references to it appeared in the media dealing with training and organisation development issues. About the same time, I was encouraged by an Irish consultant, a behavioural scientist, the late Pat Quinn, who was working with the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations, based in the U.K., to attend their annual Leicester Working Conference.

This “conference” was unlike anything I had ever experienced up to then. It was (and still is!) an experiential learning event. Unlike most conferences, where there is a lot of socialising and networking contacts, a lot of talks by panels of experts, and a “jolly good time” is had by all, financed usually by the sponsoring employers (think: scaled-down Davos and a rite of passage for aspiring executives), the Working Conference is an intense learning experience driven by the participants themselves, both consciously as a result of their desire to learn, but also unconsciously by their subliminal needs and desires and personal make-up.

A Working Conference as an experiential event is certainly different. There you learn from your own direct experience of interacting with others in the “here-and-now” as you work with them in an emerging organisational structure and struggle to understand what it’s all about. At one level, you are thinking about the work you are trying to do from scratch, while at the same time, you are being encouraged to examine the process in which the group is engaged, communicating, thinking, doing, arguing, agreeing, visualising. That is, you are dealing with the what and the how of the Task but at the same time, struggling to understand the emerging dynamic of the Process of working together.

The conference consultants focus on analysing what the various groups and sub-groups are doing and interject from time to time with their hypotheses about what is happening in the group, as-a-group. They rarely if ever interact with individuals in the group, because their focus is the group as a group, as if it were a separate “animal” and the individuals merely different, but intrinsic, aspects of that “animal”. The focus is on the dynamic way in which the Task and the Process interact, on how that interaction affects and is affected by the individuals in the group, at the level of both conscious and unconscious awareness, thinking, and behaviour.

The group consultant’s only information is what they see and hear and sense around them. From that they develop a working hypothesis as to what might be going on in the psyches of the group members. It is impossible to describe the effect this has on each participant. Suffice it to say that on the morning of the second day (the conference lasted for a fortnight), I spent almost an hour before breakfast, on my knees, in the toilet bringing up what felt like everything I had ever eaten in my life. By the end of the fortnight, I was aware that the world had changed for me and that I had choices to make. In many ways a Working Conference is another example of the Hero’s Journey in a limited time frame. My career took a radically different direction from then on. I would now in retrospect describe my life as surfing from one wave to the next, even from one Working Conference to another, caught up like a small canoe negotiating dangerous but exciting rapids. I have also attended three further working conferences and trained as a group relations consultant with the Tavistock Institute.

I mention all the above, because over the past few years since 2002, when I returned to Ireland, I have been struggling to cope with the consequences, some good, some bad, others yet to be evaluated, of my life in general. But I have learned how to look at these these situations in a more useful way, and most importantly, to accept life as it is rather than wish it were different. As part of this developing scenario, the name of Joseph Campbell arose again and again. He was the originator of the “Hero’s Journey”! In this, his work is invaluable if you struggle at times to make sense of what is happening to you in your own life. The diagram below is just one of many different examples of how the different stages of the Hero’s Journey may occur.

Three-Act-Structure
A schematic diagram showing different stages in the Hero’s Journey.

Joseph Campbell was born in White Plains, New York,[2] the son of Josephine (née Lynch) and Charles William Campbell.[3] He was from an upper-middle-class Irish Catholic family. He was a scholar and was strongly influenced by the work of James Joyce. His book, “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”, gives a good overview of his ideas. His work has influenced many modern writers and film-makers, such as George Lucas and “Star Wars”, “The Matrix”, the Harry Potter series, and many others. The popularity of those films and others like them, including folk tales, mythology, and fairy tales, is in large measure due to those stories being built upon a simple framework that we instinctively recognise and respond to as being rooted in our shared human nature.

herosJourney01
The Hero faces his Nemesis

Today I came upon the film “The Timeless Tale of the Hero’s Journey”. [NOTE: This link will take you to a YouTube video summarising the Hero’s Journey and that is then followed by a one-hour film expanding on the first video and pointing out the implications of the myth]. I have no regrets that it has taken so many years for my life to come full circle since then, with many repeated cycles of the Journey, from Paddy Walley’s reference to it nearly fifty years ago right up to now. You will always find the Hero’s Journey relevant to your search for meaning in your life, as well as helping you to recognise the “Here be Dragons!” sign.

 

The key point for anyone watching this film is to remember that this is not about a pantheon of heroes to be admired from a distance. Every human being since the dawn of our history is unique. We live in a gigantic, multi-dimensional, mind-boggling, cosmic arena that we still struggle to understand, so there is still plenty of room for your and my and his and her uniqueness to emerge and flourish. Remember that each one of us will, at some stage or another or even at many different stages in our life, come to a door or a path or a life option that is closed to us. We have the choice to turn away or to open that door, to travel that path, to make that choice. You don’t have to be famous, or fantastically clever or skilled or wealthy see your life as your Hero’s Journey.

Watch this film and you will understand why!

Heros-Journey-Cartoon

Overcoming the “Me” in Meditation

They didn’t appear to see the edge of the cliff but continued on falling happily into the sea.

I have been following a 21-day course in meditation run by Deepak Chopra and Oprah Winfrey. This is my third or fourth time signing up for their free 21-day meditation course. Each time there is a different focus but the programme is basically the same process, learning to meditate, step by step, to achieve a basic practice of meditation. This is the first time that I have succeeded in keeping up with the weekly assignment and have just two days to go. This time I feel quite exhilarated because it seems that I have made some progress. It’s hard to measure that progress but, for instance, I no longer fall asleep in the middle of the session! I no longer have a utilitarian approach to it, but I see it as a process that is being realised in me rather than an end product I take away with  me. I can see more clearly now how I should approach it. It is not a product to be purchasedi and used, but more a process that helps me to follow a path that unfolds as I move. My greatest hurdle up to now has been looking for an end goal rather than following an unfolding path.

As Lao Tzu said:

“The Way that can be taught is not the Eternal Way.

“The Name that can be named is not the Eternal Name”.

So, what then is the “Way”? What name should I give it? In a strange way, this is one of the threads in my life where, as I explore it, I find increasingly that there is a connection with earlier experiences in my life but with which I have had difficulties in integrating them in a coherent way into Me as I am now. But I now recognise it as a universal theme. Joseph Campbell described it as “The Hero’s Journey”, the Hero being Everyman or as we now stutter and stammer with breathing and grammatical difficulties, Every(wo)man or Everyhuman or Everyperson.

I am now writing this at 4.00 a.m. I went to bed early last night because I have been burning the candle at both ends for too long and I need to re-establish, or should I now say, establish a new regime. I had woken a little earlier, around 3.20 a.m. or so with the remnants of a dream in my head but fast evaporating as dreams do.

unnamedI was standing on a “tulach”, or small hill in the middle of a vast plain. Eager crowds were heading westwards towards the setting Sun. Their eyes were set on the horizon of the descending Sun. As the Sun slipped downwards the pace of the crowd was increasing. They were being egged-on by eager politicians and civil servants and religious leaders and professionals of all descriptions and every one was caught up in the excitement and the happinesss. Even the Dispossessed, the Homeless Families, the Street-sleepers, the Unemployed and the Unemployable, the Rejected, the Dejected, and the Infected, were caught up in the excitement. From my vantage point on the low hill, I could see where the land met the Atlantic Ocean. The crowd was now running. They were all running, cheering and happy as they neared the fulfillment of their plans and their desires. They didn’t appear to see the edge of the cliff but continued on falling happily into the sea.

sunlightoncoralIn the watery depths two fish were hiding from a marauding shark under a rocky outcrop in the cliff. The shark gave up on them when suddenly human manna fell from above. The seas frothed and grew red with blood. The fish found an opportunity to slip away. As they reached the open sea again, one turned to the other and there ensued a bubble of conversation.

“Looks like our ancestors’ little venture onto dry land hasn’t worked”

“Ah sure, didn’t we see that coming for some time now. We better get it right the next time though,” replied his friend, the other fish.

“I’m not so sure,” opined the first fish, “didn’t ye see the way those people had their eyes fixed on the future and lost sight of where they were?”

And Lao Tzu smiled.

And the scales fell from my eyes!


Notes:

i This particular 21-day Meditation Programme is free. You can find more information here: <https://www.facebook.com/ChopraMeditation>

The Second Law of Thermodynamics, Modernism, Post-modernism and Me

An Irish Government in Exile – just another English translation for the word Dáil, like Tír na nÓg

Scenario

A large disused garden shed, somewhere in the galaxy. Or maybe in another galaxy.

cosmic-taijitu

The Stage is empty. Entities are scurrying around in the dark. A single overhead spotlight, with green filter, creates a cone of light. An old man enters (stage left), looking slightly out of place and embarrassed. He stands near the cone, occasionally looking up at the spotlight.

Voice (stage right): “Stand directly under the light, please”.

Old Man: “Oh, I see. Thanks. By the way, will they understand that there is no difference between ‘The Tao’ and ‘The Path’?

Voice: “You don’t need to worry about that.”

Old Man: (smiles nervously)

Voice: “Oh, get on with it.”

Beginning

Cow in Val di Scalve, Alps mountains, Italy
Cow in Val di Scalve, Alps mountains, Italy

Imagine that you are assembling a jigsaw puzzle of 4,000 pieces1. You have a picture of what the final assembled jigsaw will look like. Now, why would anyone want to painstakingly and with great difficulty, by trial and error, assemble 4,000 random pieces of colourdy cardboard in order to create a picture that you can stick painstakingly, with glue, and with great difficulty to a large sheet of brown paper, then frame it and hang it over the fireplace in your sitting room, when you could have framed the original picture and just dumped the 4,000 pieces of colourdy cardboard?

Anyway, there you are with the 4,000 pieces finally assembled into a picture that is the same as the one on the box that originally contained the pieces of the jigsaw and you are now carrying that picture on a large sheet of stiff cardboard or plywood into another room to show to your friends what you have achieved , when you trip over the cat, or the dog if you don’t have a cat, and if you have neither just imagine that you tripped somehow and dropped the jigsaw on the floor. As a result, the jigsaw breaks apart into its separate pieces which now lie scattered all over the floor. Get it? OK. Good!

Cow in Val di Scalve, Alps mountains, Italy
Doppelganger Cow in Val di Scalve, Alps mountains, Italy, in  a parallel reality.

Now, imagine that in a parallel reality, someone who looks exactly like you is carrying a box with a lovely picture on the cover, and in the box there are 4,000 similar pieces of colourdy cardboard. Again, for some unknown reason, that someone like you trips over the cat, or as I explained above, trips over a dog, or just trips, dropping the box, which falls open on the floor and all the 4,000 pieces are now scattered over the floor. Get it? OK. Good.

Middle

But why on earth do those two different scenarios end up with the same result? Why, in the second case which is the reverse of the first, do the dropped pieces not assemble into a picture like that on the box when they hit the floor? Why? Because of the Second Law of Thermodynamics2, that’s why. The what? What in the name of all that is good and holy has the Second Law of Thermodynamics got to do with jigsaws? Well, it just does! That’s what every scientist since the Age of Enlightenment will tell you! Get it? O.K. Good!

Now the same scientists from the Enlightenment onwards have checked with one another and compared results and are unanimoniously agreed that the planet we now inhabit was first a cloud of cosmic dust that was set spinning in Space after the Big Bang, and gradually, because of the spinning motion over billions of years , the bits of dust kind of stuck together tightly until it formed a rock. Then drops of water that had become frozen together somewhere else in space after the Big Bang, froze together into one huge, really huge, snowball, or ice ball, flying through space and eventually, accidentally crashed slap, bang, into the stony lump that had been dust.

dreamstime_l_52443973
Smaller lump of rock

Then, later, other bits of debris from the Big Bang, together with other lumps of rock that had been formed elsewhere in Space, crashed into that lump of rock, which now had big, really very big, in fact, ginormously big oceans of water as well as additional lumps of rock that had arrived in the meantime, and caused a relatively smaller but still a very, very big lump of rock to break off and start spinning around the bigger piece, which then became a humungously enormous big rock with oceans with a smaller lump of rock called a Moon spinning around it.

Over the next few billion years, funny things happened on that big lump of rock and water3 which now , due to the Laws of Gravity, was causing teeny, weeny bits of even tinier bits of dust to start sticking on to other teeny weeny , tiny bits of even tinier dust which, over another few billion years, formed atoms and then atoms stuck on to other atoms to form molecules, and then molecules got stuck onto other molecules, until eventually a blob of matter flopped out of the sea somewhere and landed on a dry rock.

220px-Homo_erectus_pekinensis_-_archeaeological
Gouger (Homo dubliniensis)

Incidentally, that dry rock can be seen from the Great Atlantic Way off the West Coast of Ireland and has been nominated by an Irish Government in Exile (just another English translation for the word Dáil, like Tír na nÓg) as another Unesco site worth preserving because we might get a few extra shekels from the E.U. to keep it clean after the gougers from Dublin on holiday in the West wrote inappropriate graffiti on it. Get it? O.K. Good!

And this little blob, over the next few millions years joined with other blobs and formed bigger blobs with blobs attached to them and then, one day, one of those multi-blobs saw its reflection in the water surrounding the rocks

dreamstime_m_28250959
Selfie by blob

and realised that there were other blobs around it that looked just like itself. The He-She-It blob called all the other blobs to view their reflections in the water. Then one blob looked up at the sky and called out in ecstasy: “That’s not Space, that’s the expletive deleted Cosmos”. Whereupon all the other blobs fell to their knees even though it would have been easier for blobs to sit in the Full Lotus Position. Unfortunately, lotususses had not yet become part of the landscape.

And that is how Evolution started.

End

But what puzzles me, after all those billions of years, why didn’t the atoms and molecules and blobs just fall apart like the pieces of the completed jigsaw that you dropped in the second paragraph? Get it? Good. Rrrright! We’re nearly there now. So, what was the difference? You tell me! Because if those blobs and multi-blobs had behaved according to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, then we would never have produced Donald Trump, Theresa May, Ching Duk Qwan (or whatever his name is), or Isis,  or Will-Will, or religion, or atheism or whatever and whoever they are, and our World wouldn’t be in the mess it now is. And what’s more, we would never have arrived at the situation we are now in.

That is why a very wise, really stunningly wise, poly-blob called Lao Tsu4, once wrote:

When the Tao is lost, there is goodness.

When Goodness is lost, there is morality.

When Morality is lost, there is ritual.

Ritual is the husk of True Faith,

The Beginning of Chaos”

Long silence.

Old Man: “Can I go now?”

Voice: “Sure! I’ll turn the voice-over off later”

Some Notes

1 At an earlier stage in life, when I worked as an Organisation Development consultant, I was asked to run a course in Management Skills for a project management team. One of the exercises I designed involved a 4,000 piece jigsaw. I emptied the box of pieces onto the table and told the participants that they had one hour to assemble the picture. They dived into the task immediately, asked no questions, and no one challenged my wisdom. It was clear to me that the participants had been on other management training programmes run by reputable self-sustaining drip-fed institutes that I refer to now as WOT Seminars, where WOT stands for “Ways of Talking”. Content never changes but the way of expressing the eternal truths of management do change to maintain the drip-feed.

An hour later we sat in a circle to discuss the task. After dutifully trotting out the standard answers, they were somewhat taken aback when I asked them to include my role in their discussion of the task. Then the penny dropped and we had quite an interesting discussion about the perceived role versus the actual behaviour of management! This sage advice has nothing to do with the main story here. Or maybe it does.

2The Second Law of Thermodynamics is about the quality of energy. It states that as energy is transferred or transformed, more and more of it is wasted. The Second Law also states that there is a natural tendency of any isolated system to degenerate into a more disordered state. Ergo, our post-modern society now. But this also relates to the intolerance of scientists towards environmental activists, New Age unwashed, anybody who uses the word “Namasté” or practises Yoga, Qigong, Shamanism, or Druidry, because they are always complaining and demanding the we conserve energy.

3I know you can’t have lumps of water – lumps of snow and ice, yes, but not water. But for all purposes, a huge mass of smashed rocks and mind-boggling masses of water, can collectively be referred to as a lump when spinning in Space.

4Caveat! Some people say that Lao Tsu never existed and that it was a few other psycho-blobs who were bored one night and decided to write a very clever book on “How to rule without actually getting blamed by the mob of blobs”.

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