Category Archives: Current Affairs

Crisis of Conscience

The current case of Asia Bibi’s unsuccessful appeal for asylum in the UK is a blatant example of the tragic consequences of abandoning our heart-felt truth and individually held principles of compassion in favour of pragmatic, fear-based ‘damage limitation’.

Asia Bibi is a Pakistani Christian woman persecuted for blasphemy in her home country, having quarreled with some Muslim women who then brought allegations against her. As a result she was imprisoned and placed on death row. Eventually, after eight years, she was pardoned, but this very act triggered rioting in Pakistan as radical Muslims continued to call for her punishment. To escape with her life she is seeking asylum in the Christian nations of the West, but the UK authorities have declined her appeal, on the basis that it would cause civil unrest among our own Islamic population.

Writers such as Douglas Murray and Melanie Phillips dedicate themselves to highlighting the increasing regularity of this kind of politicking  on our shores. They articulate the issues far better than me, so I’m not going to even try to embellish their argument.

Instead, I’m going to express the thing that really angers me about this whole issue – namely the careless abandonment of our own courage and conviction in the face of religious and political dogma and ideology.

How can we continue to allow our individually held heart-felt knowing of what is right to be drowned out by the external moralising conscience of fanaticism?

We each have our own conscience, our own still small voice which whispers to our heart to guide us and set us right. The trouble is we do not learn to listen to it keenly enough. We do not know how to tune in to it. It is therefore vulnerable to the cacophonous rantings of ideological groups.

It is easier to follow the mob than to pay close attention to our own consciousness. It is easier to adopt the conscience of our society than to speak up for ourselves. We do not learn how to interact with our own inner voice of conscience.

When we think of conscience as morality, or as the teachings of dogmatic religion, our own interaction with its voice becomes limited. We curb our courage to question those teachings, and our conscience becomes the voice of others’ expectations around us rather than the truth of our own heart.

All along the desperate arc of Asia Bibi’s plight there are points at which the true conscience of individuals has been denied and drowned out by dogmatic moralising and ideologies. Religion and politics and media echo chambers drive out our awareness and acknowledgement of individual experiences – and paradoxically as a result we end up aggravating multiple collectives in society, rather than appealing wholeheartedly to other individuals’ sense of what is right.

It’s difficult to argue in truth that it is better to leave an innocent person to a cruel fate than to do the right thing and offer them safe haven. National authorities have abandoned the principles of compassion and justice in favour of keeping the peace among ideologues and religious fanaticists. This is yet again a huge international crisis of conscience.

The antidote to this is first to learn better how to differentiate between the individually perceived voice of kindness and the loud drumming of dogma, and then to choose to act from individual courage rather than the so-called conscience of the mob.

I fervently believe that reflective writing in a journal contributes to this nurturing of our own individual awareness of truth and possibility and what is right.

This is not a political post. This is an appeal for us all to connect more deeply and consciously with our own courageous truth.

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Filed under Compassion, Current Affairs

Time for self-authoring

My son has been helping me format The Journal Writer’s Handbook for publication on Amazon. Flicking through some of the exercises included in the book he remarked particularly on the ones called “Playing with Metaphor”; “Taking Responsibility”; “Hidden Voices”, and “Absolute Truths”.

These are themes and explorations he has been enjoying through the work of Dr Jordan Peterson, the guy who is taking the young male adult world by storm with his relentless intellectual honesty and dedication to individual self-improvement, through self-authoring, the study of mythological archetypes, and his tirade against the identity politics of post-modern neo-Marxism (Guardian readers look away now).

His recent interview by Cathy Newman on Channel 4 news may be the only thing you’ve seen by him. If so you’re missing a treasure trove of mind-boggling polymathic research and psychological commentary by Dr Peterson on youtube and his own website.

Personally I celebrate Jordan Peterson’s ability to engage such an impenetrable audience as 20 year old men. Even more I applaud his recommendations to use reflective writing as a great tool for self-improvement, and for setting oneself up with integrity and discipline.

When I first wrote The Journal Writer’s Handbook five years ago I had no idea who Professor Peterson was. Now I’m delighted to listen to him. More so because it’s my son that introduced me.

 

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Filed under Current Affairs, Philosophy, Psychology, Uncategorized

Journaling and the value of inner independence on International Women’s Day 2013

The creaking mechanism of my groping intellect has finally spewed out the following thoughts on independence – did you hear the clunk?

First a little bit of context: for International Women’s Day tomorrow I’m joining the women of Swindon Wiltshire in celebration at Central Library, and delivering a very short journaling taster workshop at 2pm. By way of reflecting on the links that Swindon women have with Nepal, Aghanistan and Pakistan, and with many other nations around the world, I wrote the following intro to my workshop. There are exercises to go with this and I’ll publish these tomorrow. Or, if you can get along to the library in Swindon come and join in for yourself!

“We have many privileges as western women – full and equal access to democratic processes, education, employment, and the right to live outwardly independent lives.

When we reflect on the lives of women in places like Nepal, Afghanistan and Pakistan we are shocked by the cultural norms in those countries that disempower women and prevent them from living as freely and independently as we do.

And yet I suspect that in the face of adversity, and barred from the outward experiences that many of us enjoy, those women have a great clarity and independence of thought. Ironically, although traditionally they have fewer opportunities in life than westerners, it is possible that they have greater mental independence than many of us in our ‘information-overload’ society.

Here in the west so much of what we think these days is subject to what other people want us to think.

When we were growing up we only had to contend with our parents, our schools, our peers, newspapers, magazines, the radio and the TV. These days it’s all that PLUS the internet, social media, websites, forums, 24 hour TV, round the clock shopping – the opportunities to be bombarded by information are endless.

Imagine living in a place where information is forbidden. Is prohibition likely to stop us being hungry for information?

If anything, preventing people from being informed only gives them a greater clarity on what it is they wish to be informed about. This comes across over and over on our news channels which conduct interviews with courageous and driven women living under the Taliban regime, at risk of rape and violence in Pakistan, or being held back from employment in Nepal and other countries.

Personally I greatly admire and am moved by the stories I read and listen to about young women who are standing up for their rights and demanding their voice be heard. For them this is the women’s emancipation movement happening a full half century after it happened for us.

We have a duty to bear witness.

And although there is little we can individually do to help (although coming along to events like this makes a huge difference to our awareness) one thing we can do, in fact we must do, is ensure that we don’t squander our own independence of thought on the altar of emancipation.

So we need to be much more careful to take the time to figure out for ourselves what we think.

One way to do this is to develop a practice of reflective journal writing. Putting our thoughts on paper is a great way to dissect them, to understand ourselves and to gain insights into our unique perspective.

It also helps us recognise our own resilient spirit, as well as enabling us to empathise with others, such as our friends in less emancipated countries.

So while it’s IWD and we’re here to experience reflective journal writing, let’s have a go at a few exercises to help us think about womanhood, and create a reflective meditation on solidarity with our counterparts far away.”

Please check out www.the100womenbookproject.com and www.pashtunwomenvp.com

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Filed under Activism, Current Affairs, Reflective Writing Practice

Rediscovering our natural goodness

Yesterday I was having a fabulous conversation with a journaling friend and colleague. Of the many things we discussed, over our two hour long coffee, one was the way we lose our natural creative and intuitive impulses as we go through life, bowing and succumbing to the conditioning we encounter from our culture and society.

Everything from media advertising, education, industry, what our parents and peers tell us, what our religion tells us, what our own inner critic tells us: gradually, slowly but surely, our individual spark of self-direction and actualisation gets dampened.

My friend explained how she uses her ears not just to hear but also as crap-busters, filtering out the insidious messages that might serve to overturn her positive outlook and oust her from her self-determined path.

She and I agreed whole-heartedly that we each have an inner wisdom, a natural goodness, which we can use as a resource to guide us and keep us mentally and emotionally healthy. In our own chosen fields, we each use our journals to access it.

A more striking example of how humanity has drifted away from benefitting from our natural goodness is in the infant malnutrition statistics from the developing world. This month, Feb 2013, Save the Children has published a report emphasising the importance of breast-feeding a baby in its first hour of life, stating that 95 infant lives could be saved every hour if this was the case.

Disturbingly, as countries in Asia and Africa take on more modern and Western practices, the rate of breast-feeding is falling dramatically. This is due, the report states, on cultural pressures, a lack of maternity nursing, and inappropriate marketing by milk formula manufacturers.

Why is it that humanity should turn its back on its innate natural goodness, in this case a mother’s breast milk, in favour of artificial and unsustainable products and attitudes? It doesn’t make sense that women should feel pressured into doing something other than what comes naturally to them, which is completely sustainable, highly beneficial and above all free.

As the world becomes increasingly short of food, energy and financial reserves we need to rely more and more on our own capabilities and resources, be they physical, economic, mental or emotional. We each have an innate natural goodness. It’s high time we each rediscovered it, and started making the most of it. It can save lives.

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Filed under Current Affairs, Self-Awareness

A writer’s intuition

My favourite news story of the past five days has surely been that of the confirmation through DNA testing that the remains unearthed in a Leicester carpark are indeed those of Richard III.

This story appeals to my fascination with archaeology and tangible clues about our history. I get the shivers imagining that the skull and the bones discovered once carried the almost mythical character of one of our most famous kings.

But the aspect of the story I have most enjoyed has been that of Philippa Langley, secretary of the Scottish branch of the Richard III Society and the woman whose knowledge of the last Plantagenet brought her to the site of King Richard’s final resting place. It was however her intuition, as she stood in the carpark, which compelled her to organise the dig. She describes getting goosebumps and chills on a boiling hot day, and even asserts that the former monarch was somehow calling to her.

As a result, the archaeological dig that was scheduled to last weeks made its discovery in days. And Philippa, who is writing a screenplay about the “real” Richard III, having read a gripping biography of him, finally got to meet her king.

To me this is testament to the power of words, read and written, to heighten our intuitive attributes, and, what’s more, give us the courage to act on them. Three cheers for the king. Three cheers for the intuitive hit that has restored him to us.

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Journaling in the face of tragedy

Six days since Sandy Hook.

Throughout the week my mind has periodically reached across to Connecticut to be with the grieving families – the Mums, Dads, brothers, sisters, relatives and friends. Periodically I have felt my own tears fall at the horror of what has happened – the desolation and the unimaginable grief and pain being suffered.

But I’m daring to imagine it. To put myself in the shoes of those who have been so dreadfully affected. To reach out with my thoughts and to say “I hear you, I feel you, I am so sorry, and I promise to tread on with love and conscious awareness in memory of all those that lost their lives, especially the children , so vibrant, innocent and full of promise.”

And I’m doing this in my journal, in order to bear witness, to acknowledge the precariousness of life, its preciousness. Our journals are where we can extend our thoughts to those who are hurting; where we can name and own our own vulnerability, and pledge our intentions and commitments in the name of the victims.

Don’t talk about the end of the world this Winter Solstice. Remember that for 27 families in Newtown this has already happened. And it’s happening all over the world too. In Syria, in Palestine, in Pakistan. Every day the world ends for someone as they lose their most precious loved one to violence, war, disease or poverty. Three out of four of these killers are man-made, and are the result of people not bearing witness, not reaching out with compassion nor admitting and sharing our vulnerability and our precariousness.

This Winter Solstice let’s use our journals to apply ourselves to the particular reality of the last days, months and years of suffering that we have escaped while others haven’t.  Let’s remind ourselves what it is to be grateful, and how we must treat others the way we would like to be treated ourselves. Let’s individually and collectively reflect on what we each might do. And let our shared appalled reaction spur us into making a new resolution for ourselves – to live well in our place, and to turn the horror into compassionate action for those people on our doorsteps.

The world will not come to an end this Winter Solstice. But let’s hope something does. Let’s hope it’s our tendency to sleep-walk through life without paying attention to what’s really needed, nor to the part we each can play.

RIP Sandy Hook victims.

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Filed under Current Affairs, Journal Writing