Thursday, September 18, 2008

De mortuis nil nisi bonum

Speak only well of the dead. This came to mind today as I read a quite lengthy broadsheet obituary which ended as follows: "At one time he owned a parrot with a penchant for fried eggs and Guinness. His wife Doris died in 1992, and he is survived by his son, Andrew."

That I should ever deserve such such an eloquent summation! "At one time he owned a small knife with a bone handle, a gift from his school-friend Roger, who had bought it on a holiday visit to Switzerland with his father, an industrial glass salesman."

I was at the second meeting recently of the reconstituted "Inner Work School" meeting, held on the second Saturday of each month in Friends House, Euston Road. It was good to meet old friends again under familiar circumstances, albeit a new venue, paid for by the Buddhist Hospice Trust. It was also good to meet up with newcomers, thanks to the efforts of Ben (Bodhiprem) Shapiro and Mick Lewin in publicising the event, and convening the meeting.

By all accounts, the 'mood' of the first meeting was for open discussion to an emergent agenda, and the meeting I attended was carried on in this way too. It's hard to see how, with a fluctuating membership and no chairperson, an agenda could be developed that carried across meetings. But we shall see what emerges over time. For myself, I have enjoyed these gatherings, and got benefit from them, in ways hard to describe.

I know they have contributed to that softening of opinion in me that Buddhist practice produces, so that I can listen to the opinions of other people with something akin to empathy: it's like seeing the world from another point of view, through different eyes, and not in competition with one's own perspective. This is by no means my default position, I am almost if not fully as combative and confrontational and contraversial as I've always been; but there has been a change. Of course I am still always right, but other people have gradually much nearer to my position than they used to be, thus their expressions of dissent are more bearable.

"At one time around 1956 he owned a secondhand collarless Gieves shirt in a narrow blue stripe, which he wore with a white starched collar secured with a stud, loooking very much (as he thought) the fashionable young man-about -town, especially as he carried a rolled umbrella."

Am I alone in sensing a change in the temper of society since the "credit crunch" began? There seems to me to be a sense of sober expectancy amongst my fellows as I move about the town to do a bit of shopping or to pay bills. Do I also sense a "rabbit in the headlamps" paralysis in the unconvincing (and unconvinced) utterances of our national leaders? As if they understand the enormity of the show-down we face in the crisis of capitalism, the imminence of irreversible climate change, the here-and-now inescapability of 'peak oil', but lack the courage to do anything about it. The best thing would be to come clean, to spell out the situation, and to ask us to begin to develop ways of coping with a new reality. Offering structures that would mobilise our efforts for survival or, if we are not to survive, for a dignified extinction, worthy of a noble if flawed species. What might be our epitaph then?

"At one time he owned a portable Olivetti typewriter in a faux pig-skin carrying case, bought on Hire-Purchase terms from a door-to-door salesman who visited his rented flat in Moseley, Birmingham, in the autumnn of 1962."

1 comment:

mick said...

I loved this blog Peter! Welcome back.