Thursday, 29 January 2009

honour the protesters

Although I’ve given up reading and watching the news for the time being I was tempted to read about the announcement of the third runway at Heathrow last week. Partly because my two oldest daughters have been protesting against it, dressing up as suffragettes, flashmobbing with T shirts, dancing the conga in Terminal 1 and so on, bless them. I’m especially fascinated by Geoff Hoon, transport minister. How can this intelligent man use such weak arguments that are clearly against the climate targets that Britain has fought so hard to pioneer? He does seem keen to engage in a discussion about the matter, however, and in an interview in the Guardian, made the point that since people want increasingly to take cheap flights, the government should provide more runway capacity. He is right, in a way, although such free market behaviour is also one of the problems. And though it’s great that the rich and famous such as Emma Thompson are adding their weight to the debate, as Geoff Hoon points out, if they continue to fly with abandon, as the wealthy do nowadays, this only adds to the sense of confusion, cynicism, despair and lack of empowerment from ordinary people.

It boils down to a kind of stalemate, where neither the leaders nor the people want to make a stand that says, we have to fly less, we have to consume less. We have to care enough about the rest of the life on the planet to each, willingly, change our lives.

It’s two years since I took a flight pledge and it continues to be one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Right now, I’d love to be in Cuba, just walking through the streets and absorbing all that is a foreign culture. The warmth, the sounds, the smells, the food, the music. The way people treat each other, the human and plant culture, every tiny, subtle detail. This is food for my being. I can afford it; nobody is stopping me, except a little voice that is just telling me to be one of those people that draws the line.

At his inauguration on Tuesday Barak Obama called on Americans to become less self indulgent. His position was celebrated as being hard won by the Civil Rights movement decades before, where people agitated (mainly peacefully) with passion for equal rights that only seemed obvious and right to them at the time. Although climate protesters these days are being arrested, belittled and ignored, I see a future where the many courageous people who decide to make a stand today for the future of the planet will be celebrated and honoured.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

a curious lightness of being

A friend of mine who is recovering from cancer commented recently that the illness tends to bring on enlightenment. It's a funny thing to say, but it does stand to reason. Facing the possibility of premature death tends to throw one's whole life into perspective. ‘Am I ready to die?’ is a question that springs to mind. For a spiritual being, it should be a question we ask ourselves daily anyway.

It's like that conversation I used to have at dinner parties that started: if you had a year to live and had no money or health worries, what would you do? Laurence LeShan poses it in his workbook in Cancer as a Turning Point. He found that even terminally ill cancer patients, when encouraged to find their deep passion and zest for a vocation, often stifled, made remarkable recoveries from cancer, or at least had a more fulfilling end to their life. Personally, I've always just tended to do what I wanted to do in life anyway, so there's not much I regret not doing. But I managed to come up with a short list and plan to add to it over time. MORE OF: laughing, happiness, intimacy, friendship, adventures, food growing, holistic beekeeping, dancing, travel to exotic places (well, that will have to be by freighter). START: reading about Einstein, learning to play the cello. LESS OF: chores. It seems like such a sparse, undemanding list, given the opportunity to have my dreams come true. But it is what it is.

If it is possible to be frog-marched down the road to enlightenment, I suspect it might go something like this. Gratitude: As I wrote last week, whatever time remains appears more intense. Little details seem like tailor-made miracles. Judgement and reactions: So what? Life really might be too short. Even those nasty people who are trashing my planet are, to me now, simply ignorant; let it all go. Bad habits: Stuff that; I want to live my remaining days to the full, not lost in a cloud. Forgiveness: It's physically much easier to say sorry than to bear a grudge. Living in the moment: More than ever, so much of the busy-ness we call life and where we put our energies seems rather a waste of time. I can't even work myself up into a lather about the credit crunch; faced with possible death, both the voice of the news and even the voices in my head seem tedious. What remains are the core values that we all live with; love, truth, hope, happiness, which, like the vegan-esque diet I've been on, contributes to a rather curious lightness of being.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

The fierce heat of living

I write from my bed, feverish with the mistletoe injected to help repel the cancer. Mistletoe is the most frequently prescribed therapy in German outpatient cancer clinics; it's said to strengthen the immune system while minimizing the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Our ancestors laced ale with it during winter orgies – hence the provenance of kissing under the mistletoe. My fever started at Park Attwood, the anthroposophical clinic in Worcestershire, where I retreated for a week and was fed fantastic food and given foot compresses, massages and hot water bottles. I'll continue with the injections weekly or so for the next couple of years while I recover. Mistletoe is said to support the 'etheric body' – or life force during chemotherapy, which starts next week.

In between fevers I spent last weekend here in Lewes with my family and felt as happy as I've ever felt in my life. God – and not the devil - is in the details. The slam of the door as the children return home. The toot and parp of Dirk tuning his instruments. The crackle and glow of the fire. The sun moving across the sky and casting its light on the buildings around us. People dropping by, chatting outside in the street, organic carrots fresh out of a nearby field making a rainbow winter salad. It's been said a million times, that facing death makes us truly value what we have. But why stop at cancer? Life itself is terminal. Why not fall into love with ourselves and melt in to that fierce heat of living, right now and at every moment?