Tired out after a hard day at work, or just enjoying a lazy weekend doss? Snuggle up on the couch in your favourite blankie, with a hot drink, an optional teddy bear or a cat/dog, and break out a classic movie. ‘What Ever Happened To Baby Jane’ is one of my favourite old movies, with the always spectacular Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. If you have never seen it, it’s a real treat, an over-the-top, full on psychological drama directed in 1962 by Robert Aldrich,
It’s Karl Marx’s 200th birthday today, apparently. I just wanted to say ‘Happy birthday, and no happy returns, thanks.’ I’m glad you’re dead, to be quite honest. Here’s ‘Infowars” David Knight to explain why he’s glad too.
This is a podcast from Irish Radio 1’s 2nd May programme, featuring Sean O’Rourke’s Guest Dr. Harry Barry, on the importance of developing emotional resilience in childhood. Click on the book cover image to hear the 13 minute interview. The author makes a compelling argument that kids need to develop social skills by playing, socialising, and doing things with their hands. He points out something which is starting to be a conversation which the whole of Ireland is currently having about the future of their children.
When we were kids, it was still possible to play in the streets without getting creamed by a passing car or lorry. When it was raining fun was still had, with card or board games in the house.
Felt pens and drawing pictures and cutting out things to put in scrap books, or hobbies like bird-watching or reading passed the free time. At the weekend the family, if they were lucky enough to have a car, could head out into the countryside and the parents could admire nature while the kids walked about hitting things with sticks (if you were a boy, or catching butterflies to look at or collecting flowers to press (if you were a girl). At school there were sports and activities. I learned Irish dancing and gymnastics when I was at primary school; sports and exercise are now avoided almost entirely in schools because of insurance costs being prohibitive, and sport coming last on the school spending list as a result. Now, by the time children reach secondary school, sports are discouraged in deference to the perception that passing exams should be the main focus of all a child’s energies.
Ireland was still, even in the 1960s, a largely rural and agricultural society, which set great store on being able to do things with your hands, as being handy was a necessary skill whether you wanted to tie a knot which would hold properly in something in the farmyard, or just wanted to recycle your own shoelace for the umpteenth time.
There was still a lot of poverty around in the cities, although the grinding poverty experienced by the lower classes in Victorian Dublin had been largely eradicated, and persisted largely in the inner city.
Consumer goods were expensive, and many mothers chose to make as much clothing for the family as was practical because it was cheaper than buying off the rack, and meals were made from scratch, as fast food wasn’t even a thing back then. Interestingly, nowadays, some problems are resurfacing that had been fixed, we thought, many years ago in Irish society, such as, it is being discovered, malnourishment, which is again a health issue for kids, though this time around, it is accompanied by obesity. The fast food so widely available and popular with mums for its time-saving qualities, and beloved by kids because of advertising and cheap plastic toysthat come with the cheap plastic meal, is having huge health consequences for children that will last throughout their lives. They might live longer than earlier generations, but they will have more chronic conditions, many directly connected to modern lifestyles, which they will have to take more drugs for, and spend more time going in and out of hospitals than earlier generations.
As for illegal drug use, that seems to be growing in popularity as a pastime as children progress to adulthood, and there is a huge epidemic of drugs in Irish cities, with drug deaths estimated at three times the rate of the rest of Europe. The clip shown above is a short documentary from 2013, and gives some background. The situation is much worse than that by now, and a walk down Dublin’s main street, O’Connell Street, is like walking through a take of a zombie movie.
Desperate measures are being taken by some to address some of the issues, before the next generation goes down the tubes in the way the earlier one has; the signs are already bad, but where there are signs of problems, there may also lie the seeds of the answers. One school in Traleehas made national headlines by getting together with parents to ban smartphones for their primary school age (5-12 year old) children. The campaign is picking up speed, as there has in recent months been a national debate raging about the malevolent influences of social media platforms on the mental health of Irish children.
As for development of inter-personal skills, as most of us know on an intellectual level, but perhaps don’t really get on an emotional level, online and offline are quite a different kettle of fish. One involves the tactile and sensory (perhaps the distinction will be blurred radically when virtual reality technology goes more mainstream), and the other is mainly about virtual hugs, or hate.
Our sense of self-worth is vital to our development as a human being, and to our happiness as individuals, and contributors to a harmonious society. Self-worth, as Dr. Harry Barry points out, can be taught, and there are a range of skills, some of which we discussed here, which are vital to pass on to subsequent generations, if we are to give them the tools to live well, and not just live like rats in a cage. Or at least, we might be crowded together like rats, but we can still care.
What is it supposed to feel like when you’re meditating? We might have some ideas about what meditation is, based on something we’ve read, or seen in a film, or something a friend (if you hang out with hippies this is quite likely) or acquaintance who meditates told us (if you’re not a hippie, maybe you were stuck beside this person on a bus, or at the juice bar after a pilates class ).
Mental images like these come to mind, of patchouli-smelling spaces inhabited by baggy-trousered, joint-smoking, perma-smiling dreadlocked hairy-underarmed kafir eating hippies living the life of leisure, usually sponsored by rich parents somewhere in the background, without a care in the world, while the rest of us plod our way responsibly through life, with hardly enough time left over after the daily grind to wipe our noses, or other end, let alone spending hours every daywhiling away our time without a care in the world. Or maybe not, anymore, since meditation is becoming a much more mainstream thing since it first came to the West and exploded into Western consciousness in the last two centuries, introduced by people like the Theosophists, and of course the hippies of the 1960s.
So, it seems we have lots of preconceptions about what meditation is (some of the reasons for our preconceptions about everything we encounter in our existence are discussed in another post where I talked about meditation, over here), but have we got much of an idea about what goes on in the mind or body during a meditation session, or sitting ( or sesshin if you wanna get all Zenny about it).
Well, first off, there’s this idea about bliss. Samadhiis just one of the names used for the state of concentration that can arise during a meditation session. The theory is that if you don’t have too many mental hindrances getting in the way of it, a state of deep concentration will arise, and that state is experienced as a very pleasant one. It is our base state of consciousness, according to many esotericphilosophical systemswhich use meditation as a tool to train the mind to observe dispassionately and live in the moment. The point of doing that it makes life so much nicer for you and everyone else in your life, cos you tend to be a nicer person, when you get truthful with yourself and those around you, and stop creating wars in your head because of the stories you tell yourself about who you are.
Whew. That’s a lot of baggage for a little bit of breathing (breathing is used as a way into a state of concentration in many meditations). But, I don’t want to give the impression that meditation is all about feeling nice all the time. One of the most powerful meditations I know is all about opening up oneself to other people’s pain and distress, in order to develop compassion and loving-kindness in yourself, without which, meditators might argue, you aren’t really living well at all. It is called ‘Tonglen‘ and one of its other purposes is to help free you from the fear of other people, and yourself, that often accompanies the human predicament. This meditation is led by Pema Chodron, a lady I like to think of as ‘Auntie Pema’, ‘cos I’m so fond of her, and grateful for her instruction in meditation practise.
A movie I would highly recommend is ‘Crazy Wisdom‘. It’s about the teacher Chogyam Trungpa, one of my favourite meditation go-to guys ever, and it’s a fascinating movie. Here’s the trailer for you, plus a short taste of his excellent book, ‘Training The Mind And Cultivating Loving-Kindness’ for you to read. Chogyam Trungpa, in this book, says that our hearts should be open and tender, like a deer’s new-grown horns, as it is in this rawness that we discover our compassion. I love that image, and I hope you will make a little time to investigate for yourself some of the things that meditation has to offer for living well. And it feels good to live well.