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Photo of a wayside flower

Politics and the wayside flower

Newsletter: October 2019

Dear Web friends

Greetings again as we travel to hell in a handcart – or maybe to heaven in a hansom cab. Sometimes it is hard to tell, as the political waves lift us up and then down. Prorogation… Supreme Court decision… Impeachment moves in America… Fury in the Commons… Jaw-droppingly destabalising rhetoric from the right. Brendan Cox – husband of the murdered MP Jo Cox – calls it ‘the bear pit of polarisation’... and nuance, where truth lives, is the first fatality.

As the debate gets increasingly hysterical, and taunts and jibes more acidic, we best be careful, of course: ‘the defenders of good’ are sometimes in danger of looking very like ‘the promoters of hate’ they despise. (It’s the ‘I’m so glad I’m not a Pharisee’ syndrome.) But such swirling times! In a climate made possible by Trump, traitors and surrender, twisted truth, dismantled reality, furious offence and brass-necked denial abound. As I tweeted recently, using a little Aristotle:

Strangely, I note that the effect of this external hysteria on me is the desire for interior calm. It is to ponder outward things less and to consider the internal more, which, on the face of it – yes, I know, I know – appears a sure path to irrelevance. (I used to have a business card which said, ‘Never knowingly relevant.’)

After all, the action is all on the outside, surely, as one impossible day of events follows another. Dusted-down constitutional experts are the new sexy! And political correspondents, the new gods! What unbelievable thing has happened now? They will bring understanding. To re-work an Alex Ferguson quote: ‘Politics, eh? Bloody hell!’

And with this comes the huge pressure to be topical, to join in with the intoxicated hysteria, to be carried by its tide, the only show in town… though, as the outward clamour increases, increasing in me is the desire to ponder the wayside flower. It’s mad, of course, but I need it. I crave it because in the pursuit of hopefulness and restoration, we need stay close to the sight and scent of beauty; make time for it every day.

As Jacob Needleman has said, the whole of what is known as ‘progress’ in the modern world may be broadly characterised as the imbalance of attention to the outward-directed force of life, combined with the false identification of the ‘inner life’ as the realm of thought and emotion. For as these days so clearly reveal, the thoughts and emotions that are given the name ‘inwardness’, as wind serves a wild fire, actually serve the outward movement, offering a degraded and dangerous psychic energy.

In Christian terms, this is ‘the flesh’, unexamined and toxic inner energy. Thoughts and emotions are not the soul; they are often just fuel for the external noise, for unexamined and egoic action.

Outward-directed progress, with so many remarkable discoveries to its credit, has sadly not been balanced by inward-directed discovery. And the edifice of progress is creaking.

So while inwardness may not be topical, in that it doesn’t ride the social media surf, it may be surprisingly relevant, as we seek to re-balance; to seek the inner space beyond thought and feeling, which alone can hold the forces of my own untidy human nature and those of my neighbours. It is from here that my best voice and best action arises. If we stray too far from calm and beauty, our egos are liable to become dull echoes of the prevailing hysterias. We become team players (‘My team, your team!’) of the worst possible sort.

I blogged recently about the dangers of seeing life through just one prism here…

Prism life

I also blogged about that secret room inside us that so many of our unexamined thoughts and feelings strive to keep us away from…

This secret room

For now though – and I apologise for going on so long – wherever you are and however you feel about these unfolding events, look after your undoubted and particular genius by looking after your soul. Keep the balance between inner and outer.

And life will arise within and around you; in my experience, hope is delightfully agile and strong.

With such gratitude for your company in this mystery world,


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