The Most Beautiful Death.

Letters of Note has a letter from Laura Huxley describing her husband’s death.

“the breathing became slower and slower, and there was absolutely not the slightest indication of contraction, of struggle. it was just that the breathing became slower – and slower – and slower, and at five-twenty the breathing stopped.

I had been warned in the morning that there might be some up-setting convulsions towards the end, or some sort of contraction of the lungs, and noises. People had been trying to prepare me for some horrible physical reaction that would probably occur. None of this happened, actually the ceasing of the breathing was not a drama at all, because it was done so slowly, so gently, like a piece of music just finishing in a sempre piu piano dolcemente. I had the feeling actually that the last hour of breathing was only the conditioned reflex of the body that had been used to doing this for 69 years, millions and millions of times. There was not the feeling that with the last breath, the spirit left. It had just been gently leaving for the last four hours.”

insignificance is liberating.

I understand that people, melodramatically, may consider life something one has to survive. But you’re alive, that’s what life is, you are surviving. It plays into this idea that people’s lives are narratives – that it’s a film or book and you have to survive all this craziness. I think it’s a disservice, ultimately, because it makes others feel like their lives aren’t crazy enough. In my mind, life is not a war – although human beings create conditions that make it feel that way – and I think that navigation is a fairer term. I see life essentially as an empty field.

This recent Ian Mackaye interview speaks so much to me I don’t know where to begin quoting. It’s wall to wall wisdom. It has the feeling of a Dharma talk – much of what Ian says vibes with my own thoughts as influenced by Buddhism.

We only wake up for a limited number of days. Although, ironically, I would say life is eternal, because I don’t think there’s any comprehension before or after it. So, if all we know is this, then it’s eternal.

He touches on success, life and technology…. Very much worth your time reading.

Society is our extended mind and body.

We seldom to realize, for example, that our most private thoughts and emotions are not actually our own. For we think in terms of languages and images which we did not invent, but which were given to us by our society. We copy emotional reactions from our parents, learning from them that excrement is supposed to have a disgusting smell and that vomiting is supposed to be an unpleasant sensation. The dread of death is also learned from their anxieties about sickness and from their attitudes to funerals and corpses. Our social environment has this power just because we do not exist apart from a society. Society is our extended mind and body. Yet the very society from which the individual is inseparable is using its whole irresistible force to persuade the individual that he is indeed separate! Society as we now know is therefore playing a game with self-contradictory rules.

-Alan Watts

Public Service Announcement.

I’ve started a new blog on Tumblr. It’s here. The first post is about soup. It is not a replacement for Prickly Goo, just something new. This blog has rotted, as many blogs are apt to do, and I think the problem is I don’t have the inclination for longer posts at the moment, but I do want to say stuff. So I’ve set up a new one to get me rolling again. Expect: shorter, much more vague posts, more photos, some quotes etc.
Prickly Goo is not dead.

The sun doesn’t go down

Do you realize that you have the most beautiful face?
Do you realize we’re floating in space?
Do you realize that happiness makes you cry?
Do you realize that everyone you know someday will die?

And instead of saying all of your goodbyes, let them know
You realize that life goes fast
It’s hard to make the good things last
You realize the sun doesn’t go down
It’s just an illusion caused by the world spinning round

A Binge By Any Other Name Would Smell Just As Bad

This article by Dr. Ciara Kelly in the Irish Independent about alcohol consumption in Ireland featured once sentence which leaped out at me.

Binge-drinking is defined as more than six units of alcohol – that’s three pints. That’s fact.

What’s interesting to me is the sentence “That’s fact”. Because on one reading it can be considered to say that it’s fact that three pints is binge-drinking, but what it really says is that three pints is defined as binge drinking. And that’s fine, but I find it odd the author stresses that this definition is fact, as if that strengthens the argument. It is a fact that in this country, at this time, some people define the word binge as meaning three pints. This is true, but what is so important about it?

It is absolutely important that medical experts advise us on how much alcohol consumption is dangerous to our health, but I wonder how important it is to define it in a word such as ‘binge’. I think it is an emotive word that immediately puts people on the defensive. People who are, possibly, in denial about their own levels of drinking, do not want to be told they are ‘binging’.

Dr. Ciara Kelly explains that:

It’s considered a binge because more than six units causes adverse physical effects.

This is a fact that can be observed. This is important. But what follows is a somewhat arbitrary and definitely subjective choice to then label this amount a ‘binge’. The problem is then that your definition of ‘binge’, as Dr. Kelly points out, is at odds with much of the publics understanding of that word. In this gap then arises doubt, and rejection. I have talked to people who have heard doctors warn about Irish people and binge drinking, who reject it saying “that’s not a binge”. Maybe the point is to be emotive, to shock people into realising that what they are doing is ‘binging’ – but if they don’t consider what you define as a binge to be the same thing, you lose them.

And what’s lost is the really important stuff – the medical advise about levels of alcohol and health, in an argument over semantics. Dr. Kelly makes a very strong, clear argument for the Irish to reconsider our drinking, but I fear she loses people at the B-word.

Your mind is fertile soil

“It’s simply time to use our potential and overpower all this negative shit. Love can be the source of all things for you. Enough with the greed, enough racism. Stop being a little bitch that needs a force field of machismo, starting fights at dingy-ass clubs. Be kind to people. Respect the earth and the universe and all of its principles. Realize that we are all kin. The same energy that birthed the plants, animals and elements, gave you YOUR existence.

Check it, your mind is fertile soil, your thoughts are seeds and your actions are the sunlight and water that can bring all things into fruition. Plant that positive seed; think the most glorious thoughts that you can possibly imagine. Your next instinct will be to see if you can make those thoughts reality.

For example, if dudes keep saying that the world is going to end, then people start to believe it and then it slowly becomes reality. But if we all start saying that the human race will thrive and harmonize, then that’ll soon become the consensus and the next step will be to act on it and make it happen. I’m just saying, your thoughts are powerful seeds, so try to plant some good ones in there before you go and do some bullshit.”

Edan drops knowledge

Goodbye to meat

image

So for over a year now I’ve been giving serious thought to giving up meat, something I wrote about before. The initial spur was when I became Buddhist. Not that all Buddhists are vegetarian, nor is there a rule that says you must become vegetarian. But if you study and follow Mahayana Buddhism, it becomes increasingly difficult (I think) to align eating meat with a commitment to not harm sentient beings, and many teachings I encountered suggest this, including those from the head of my lineage.

If a Mahayana practitioner, who considers all sentient beings to be like their father or mother, eats the flesh of another being out of carelessness and without any compassion, that is not good. So we need to think about this and pay attention to it. All of us Mahayana practitioners, who accept that all sentient beings have been our mothers and fathers, need to think about this. For that reason, it would be good to decrease the amount of meat that we eat.

This was coupled with seeing some documentary footage on how animals are treated for food etc. and the idea of eating meat became increasingly unpalatable (pun intended).

So I reduced my meat intake a lot, cutting out red meat completely, and limiting meat to weekends only, sometimes going a month at a time. My intention has been for some time to cut it out completely, my only real hurdles being that I don’t eat cheese or eggs, and many vegetarian options (when eating out) feature those. But increasingly this has improved and i’ve found more and more alternative options. What was only holding me back really was the idea i’d never get to enjoy meat again. I kept saying to myself “i’ll start in August”, or “September”. Or for a long period I decided I would never formally swear off meat, and simply avoid it as much as possible. But as I went for longer and longer stretches without meat, I became less and less comfortable with ‘breaking’, and it dawned on me I’d only be satisfied if I completely stopped.

This week was the anniversary of Leo Tolstoy’s birthday and I discovered that he was vegetarian and had written on the topic. One quote in particular jumped out at me:

This is dreadful! Not the suffering and death of the animals, but that people suppress in themselves, unnecessarily, the highest spiritual capacity – that of sympathy and pity towards living creatures like themselves – and by violating their own feelings, become cruel. And how deeply seated in the human heart is the injunction not to take life.

I felt like this was speaking directly to me: that I was suppressing an opinion I held. Which made it even worse. I actually believed eating meat was wrong, but was not being decisive about my role in it.

But later that day I was walking through Dublin and I walked past a restaurant and read this in the window and I almost heard a bell ring in my mind. I just knew instinctively I was going to imminently give up meat. The slogan seemed so horribly cynical.  I wonder who wrote it. If you believed it to be true, if you believed that chickens could indeed be happy, how could you possibly eat them? It’s a self defeating statement.

What it is, of course, trying to say is that their chickens are not treated cruelly, so you can eat them guilt free. But for me, they are replacing one source of guilt, that your food suffered for your enjoyment, with another. Your food didn’t suffer, but was happy. But we killed it anyway so you could have dinner.

That was that. As of today, I plan to not eat meat again.

Calvary (2014)

I was instantly interested in seeing John Michael McDonagh’s “Calvary” the moment I saw the trailer some months ago. This was despite having viscerally disliked the writer/director’s previous collaboration with Brendan Gleeson “The Guard”. I remember watching “The Guard” and being genuinely disturbed by how much acclaim it got. For me it was a tone-deaf mess, not sure of what it was supposed to be and shot through with a streak of nastiness wherein (like McDonagh’s brother Martin’s “In Bruges”) much of the comedic value seems to rest on having gombeenish cartoon Irish men say bigoted offensive slurs. But despite this, “Calvary” seemed to offer something; a compelling story (a priest is threatened with murder and has one week to put his house in order), beautifully shot, with a powerful Brendan Gleeson performance at its centre.

Having now seen the film, I can report that it retains all of those things (trailers can be deceptive) but despite these, the film is an unholy (pun intended) mess. Like “In Bruges” it is tone-deaf, shifting from solemness one moment to slap stick panto acting the next. Gleeson appears to be occupying a different universe than everyone else, like a character from one film has stumbled into a sketch show, or like Bob Hoskin’s grizzled detective wandering into cartoon land in “Who Frames Roger Rabbit?”. Black comedy can be a beautiful thing, but must be handled deftly. Here there is no subtly and it comes apart at the seems.

It is also as subtle as a brick. Clearly a film about a priest in modern Ireland is going to carry a message, and there is something needed to be discussed, but “Calvary” wants to say too much. Almost every scene features a caricature of modern Ireland, many played by skilled actors who have turned their performances to 11, some 20. In Father James Lavelle’s final week he does a greatest hits tour of troubled souls, ticking off many boxes as he goes, including a serial killer, secluded novelist, Celtic Tiger hyper capitalist, and a village idiot type that appears to have been created in a costume shop. One character even remarks about how themselves are cliché, but a knowing self referential wink at the camera does not forgive such laziness. At it’s core it does have something to say about forgiveness, but this is almost drowned in everything else. Only Gleeson’s masterful performance and the films stunning cinematography keep the film in any way ticking along.

I remarked to someone who liked the movie that the characters did not feel real and they retorted that it wasn’t supposed to be reality. That may be so, and I love movies that distort, extend and play with reality. The films of Wes Anderson, for instance, occur in a parallel universe, with people portrayed in an exaggerated way, but they still are relatable. “Calvary” exaggerates, but does it in the most ham fisted way. These characters seem so unreal to the point where I cannot recognise them, or worse still, I cannot sympathise with them. Only Gleeson’s Father James, his daughter Fiona (played by Kelly Reilly ) and David McSavage’s Bishop Montgomery really worked for me.

It has moments of fleeting beauty, mainly between Father James and Fiona, and of the stunning Sligo landscape, and some genuinely funny moments but they are few and fair between in this over cooked movie, which culminates in a montage sequence so prescriptive that it could have come out of an episode of Hollyoaks.