Sunday, 29 May 2011

My Experience with Meditation: Disciplining Your Thoughts

Meditation is, as far as I can tell, about being in the present. Since no two moments are alike, every meditation will be different. And yes, this can be a pain in the backside. I thought I had “cracked it”, that I had found a nice cushy way of meditating and “doing it right”. No such luck. There doesn’t seem to be much in terms of technique, and so you are never going to have the same experience twice, or arrive to the same place. What follows is a type of “framework” for interacting with my thoughts which I found useful at the beginning.

It’s all about seeing your thoughts as children. This may not be such a far stretch as we think. After all, people often refer to their ideas as their “brainchild”. So, imagine every thought you have as a child, tugging on your shirt wanting to be entertained. Except that it’s not one thought-child but many, and instead of tugging on your shirt they are throwing water balloons around the house. And they’ll carry on doing it until you pay attention to them. So you rush to pay attention to one while another is already filling up more water balloons. Pretty soon the house is a mess and you are at your wits ends.

So what do you do? Well, you calmly and politely tell them to wait; you say “not now, I’m busy at the moment”. Your thoughts are like attention seeking little devils who want to have their way now.

That is what I've learned through meditation: how to discipline your thoughts so that they know when it’s right for them to be entertained and when it’s not.

After meditation, you can sit down with a piece of paper and say to your thoughts “ok, I’m ready to listen to you now, what is it that you wanted to say?”. Then you discover that a lot of thoughts just wanted to be acknowledged, so that by looking at them and letting them know you have noticed their presence, they just disappear.  Which can be  disappointing, if, like me, you were hoping for some enriching “ranting”, I mean, “enlightening exchange of ideas”.
See, it takes more effort to have them running around demanding your attention while you try to keep the house from collapsing. If you learn to make space for the thoughts to be listened to when you are ready, then both of you can interact in a way that is of most benefit to everyone.

I feel this approach might be more useful than the traditional Buddhist “thoughts don’t matter, try to disintegrate them, but kindly”. If thoughts don’t matter, then why are they there? Why am I having them? This principle leaves me feeling like a numpty for daring to think what I think. And that’s where I draw the line, because I like my thoughts. That is why I think them. That is why I created them.

What I want is to make them “work for their keep”, in other words, I want to interact with them when I can turn them into political writing. What I don’t want is for them to invade and colonize my mind so that I’m thinking about the merits of my race, and its political implications while I’m having a shower. I don’t want to wax non-lyrically about the bullying tactics of the Right while I’m about to do my meditation.

Because yes, that is what my mind entertains itself with, most of the time.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

My Experience With Meditation: Identifying Your Thoughts

a.k.a.: in which you discover that my mind is actually quite shallow.

After I became aware of the fact that my mind is was of thoughts buzzing on an almost constant basis, I realised something even worse: none of these thoughts had anything to do with me. My mind was busily considering ideas and thoughts that were not related to me or my life in any way.

The first kind of thought I flagged as “non mine” was tv related. This came as a shock, and a very uncomfortable one at that. I realized, painfully, that a lot of my thoughts came straight from things I’ve seen on the telly. Oh, the shame! And here I was thinking my mind was so pure from all the telly-nonsense!

After that one, came the other big type of thought that had nothing to do with me: politics. I realized my mind spends about ninety percent of its time thinking about the system, economics, patriarchy, politicians, the welfare state, the state, property, labour, exploitation, alienation, commodification… I could go on. About ninety percent of the time. Most of my mind used up to think about things that have, again, nothing to do with me.

How did I approach this during meditation? Well, after I managed to create a “gap” between one thought and the other, I could sit on that gap and identify the thoughts before and after.

That gave me a sense of perspective: instead of a mind that kept going, like a ship-engine “politics, politics, politics, tv, politics, internet, politics, politics, bastards at work, politics”, my mind did this: “politics, politics, politics, tv, GAP, politics…”. Once I knew that there was a gap, where no tv, or politics, or anything else went through, I could look back at the rest of the train of thought and flag “tv” as “tv” and later on “politics” as “politics”.

If it had the “politics” flag, I would draw back to the breath and say to myself, “that is not about me”. That was the start of what I now think of as “disciplining the thoughts”.

You may wonder, why should we bother disciplining the thoughts? Simple: because it gives you clarity, it helps you think better.

In one aspect, this is somewhat instinctive: we know that if we spend time with one thought only we are going to get further than if we spend that same amount of time going backwards and forwards with dozens of different thoughts.

But it’s more than that. It’s about knowing when to think about something, and when not to. When it’s time to engage with a thought because it will be productive and when it’s time to keep a thought, or even all thoughts, at bay because you need to take a moment to just “be there”.

This is how I learnt in the first person what “mindfulness” was all about even before I had found the concept. I’ll describe it in more detail in the future, it is really important. But in short: mindfulness is about being aware of the present moment.

For now, try to think of your thoughts as children.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

SlutWalk: The Media's Song and the Feminists' Dance

The SlutWalk debate may have been doomed from the start, but that hasn't stopped people from talking about it, endlessly. By "doomed" I mean this: it's circular, it's unsolvable and above all, it's boring. I've been trying to write down my thoughts on it, but I struggle to find an agle interesting enough to hold my attention.

I don't like circular, pointless arguments. In this case, they seem to go like this:
"It's good because it's raising awareness on victim blaming"
"It's bad because forchrissake, you are referring to yourselves as sluts"
You can argue back and forth between these two points, and never ever arrive at a resolution. So really, why bother? It drains people's energy and makes a mockery of the potential that political ideas have.

I tried to resist mentally engaging with the SlutWalk debate because of that. But it got to the point where things turned nasty. I began to feel alienated from the feminist movement. Suddenly what we thought to be "right" didn't matter, because there was "Big Media" in the picture, and of course we have to please them.

Now, I like compromising as much as the next radical dissident (HA!), but what I don't like is being called names, being accused of "not getting it", being told that I must accept it because, unlike many feminists' protests and marches campaigning against boring things like violence against women, this one actually caught on.

Since I'm no Machiavellian and don't happen to think that "the end justifies the means", I've had to go and read and think and write, just to put my mind at ease.

First and foremost, the feminists who get it. Feminist Frequency (who happens to have the best header I've seen so far on a feminist website) has a handy link of all the feminist critiques of SlutWalk. Make sure you check out Megan's posts on The F Word, because she's awesome: "We're Sluts, Not Feminists", Her response to SlutWalk holding a fundraiser in a stripclub, and her last Coverage of criticism.

And now, for some rambled thoughts...

The Media's Song and the Feminists' Dance

This SlutWalk thing? It's dancing to the media's tune. The media loves nothing more than to create controversy and outrage, especially if it leads to internal conflict. It keeps people talking because there is no resolution to the conflict, and it creates fanatics like nothing else, people who will swear by on the “no” or on the “yes” and defend themselves to death.

SlutWalk may not be a success in feminism, but it surely is a success in marketing.
Here’s why.
Most people with five wits will be outraged by the idea of a slut walk, because people are outraged at the idea of sluts, and more so at the idea of anyone wanting to identify with the word. So, appealing to the pseudo-moralistic feelings of the population, SlutWalk is something people would be willing to oppose.
But hang on a minute! You can’t oppose this, because the intentions behind the slutwalk are actually good. Most people with five wits will be outraged by the idea of victim blaming, and will be willing to support any campaign against it.
There you have it, the recipe for internal conflict. And the media loves endless internal conflict because it keeps everyone outraged, confused and, above all, talking.
The media is mostly made of controversy. This SlutWalk dealio became so popular precisely because it is made of controversy. And the media loves dressing up something which society deems morally wrong with layers of acceptability. It gives things an “edgier” look. It’s not the “old slut”, this is the new thing.
Meet the new thing, same as the old thing.

All this reminds me of this article I’ve read on the subject of padded bras for young girls. The author, a young feminist, clearly wanted to give her piece a “controversial” take, for the heck of it. So while most people in society with any pretence of morality would argue that padded bras for young girls are “wrong”, this feminist tried to argue that, no, they are “right”. She was clutching at straws to make her point, arguing that girls have a sexuality and whatnot, but it didn’t matter, because it kept the comments rolling in. A feminist? Arguing in favour of this consumerist monstrosity? W00T?

Truth is the first thing sacrificed in the name of profit, and nothing shows this better than the media. Arguing against the very few moral “noes” that society has left is a sure way to create controversy and become famous and wealthy. It’s been a long time since advertisers discovered the power of causing outrage to sell stuff. This is the same thing.

Friday, 13 May 2011

The Problem With Choosing To Take Your Clothes Off

Note: I wasn't going to write about this experience because, well, it happens so often that I've kind of learned to live with it. But then I read the fantastically titled blog post "The Trouble With Choosing Your Choice" by the fantastically talented Meghan Murphy, and I got "inspired". WARNING: That link containst feministically-triggering material. Approach with care if, like me, you turn into a raging lunatic at the sight of sexism in action.

I went to a club on Saturday. It wasn’t really my cup of tea, because there were no cups and even less tea. But I went because The Boyfriend really wanted to.
It may have been a less than remarkable experience had it not been because of some turd assuming it would be a great idea if they projected softcore pr0n images on the wall while everyone, men and women, danced their butts off.
So while everyone, Boyfriend included, danced their butts off, I was left with no option but to remain in a corner, hiding away from the blaring misogyny shouting at my face.
It didn’t make me nearly as angry as it would have 5 years ago. I am mellowing with age, and I’m also realising that the world doesn’t seem to give a shit about how shit everything is, so really, why should I.

So, here are some of the thoughts I tried my best to keep at bay, so I could occupy the same space as these images without going barmy.

a) Mainstream seriously means mainstream. Women carry on uncomplaining about pr0n, and the amount of pr0n invading our lives increases in amount and degree. I bet my pink feathered flowery hat that the turd who thought this projection was a good idea didn’t think for a minute that it would alienate the women attendees.

b) No other woman seems to be hiding in a corner. I hate you all for being cool with this. I may have to rot in Hell while living on this planet, but so will you and your daughters. Har Har.

c) These images must come from the 50s or before. The women are skinny and have really tiny boobs. Which goes to show how much the proliferation of plastic surgery and pr0n has changed our perception of what normal boobs look like. So much for “it doesn’t have an impact on your life”.

d) I bet these women were “choosing”. I bet that if anyone dared question their “choices” they would claim that they should be free to choose their choice.

I don’t have to bet about this because I’m sure of it. Here is the killer argument against how “choosing your choice” is the justification for somebody’s actions.

Everybody’s choices affects everyone else. Period. So nobody gets to choose what they want just because it works for them, because chances are their “choice” is screwing up someone else.

Long time ago, in a land far far away, a few women thought they could make some good money by waitressing in bathing suits with a bunny tail attached or even more money by posing without their bras on.
Fast forward to 2011, not only do women not make a penny for doing similar things, but even bathing suits have been forced out of fashion in favour of more “revealing” clothing. That is the effect of "mainstream-isation".
Nowadays, if a woman wants to make a similar amount of money (accounting for inflation), she has to engage in far more degrading, painful, humiliating, dangerous practices which I will not describe.
Sure, taking off their bras for the camera may have made the lives of a few women a bit better.
But it has effed up the lives of women today, who have to resort to more, shall we say, “drastic” measures if they want to sell their bodies.
Not to mention grab their male partner’s attention.

And now, for a really depressing thought: if today women who want to make themselves some money have to engage in these degrading, painful, humiliating, dangerous practices… what do you reckon women will have to do in the future to earn a similar amount of money (accounting for inflation)?

Once more, with feeling (and in purple): everybody's choices affect everyone else.

Basic law of nature, first violation of the laws of nature that economic models make.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Peremptory University Challenge Addendum: The Left is NOT the Financial Times

And just to add on yesterdays post:

The Left cannot sound like the "Financial Times". This time I'm taking issue with a "post" in a leftist website titled, I kid you not, "latest trade data reveals shock fall in export volumes".

The Hell???

Things someone needs to know to understand that title (nevermind the post):
a) "trade" means "commerce", which in turn means "stuff being bough and sold in the economy".
b) "shock fall" here just means "it's much lower than expected, so everyone got the shock of their lives". As opposed to other types of "shock" which you can find in economic lingo.
c) "export" means "stuff made in this country and sold to other countries".
d) "volumes" means "amount"

Translated into plain English, this title reads "We have just found out that this country is selling even less stuff to other countries than we previously thought".

But while the original title is virtually coded to anyone who hasn't studied economics, my translation is a bit more accesible to the commong mortal.

I'm not trying to imply that normal people don't know the meaning of words like "export" and "volume". But I have some experience with language, and I can guarantee you that if it takes work to grasp the concept of one word, and then it takes work to grasp the concept of the next, and the same thing happens over and over again, you eventually give up reading. That is why I had to put down Hamlet a few years ago. 

If I had been the one writing this piece, I would have titled it "UK sells almost no stuff to other countries. We are screwed".

Because, of course, once you got past the title you have to understand why this country selling less has an impact on anyone (or their dog).

Again, in plain English: if this country sells less it means it makes less. And "making" less means people don't have jobs "making" things and less jobs means we are screwed, because we depend on whatever bankers are up to in "the city". And going by what they've been up to recently, well, it becomes obvious how screwed we are. Because instead of making things, this country is "making money" by playing with imaginary "debt", and stuff. While everyone else has to work for TopShop, or live off benefits. Because that's the other thing: when people "make" things, they are in control of something. When people just assist in the "selling", like they do in TopShop, they have less control over what goes on and can be exploited more.

See? Easy to write. Easy to understand. Easy to read.

I cannot believe it took me so long to get here. Now I only have to go and talk all other leftists to write like human beings. Should be easy to do. I bet they will be really impressed by my ideas.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Peremptory University Challenge

[Note: I wrote this as a gut response to The New Left Project’s “May Day Special” article on Austerity. I really like it. The title is taking the Michael at the word "peremptory".]

Look, I get it. You’re a smart cookie. You have been to Oxford, you have studied politics, you may even have a PhD. So you know some long words. You know so many long words that you can read Das Kapital all the way through without needing the dictionary once. You are educated, you are middle class. Well done.

Now, here’s the thing: the people we are trying to reach? They are not “educated”. They haven’t been to University, they may not even have any A levels (horrors!). “Oxford” and “Cambridge” are something they have heard of, but happens to “other people”, meaning the rich. They don’t know many long words. In fact, the use the word “like” in every sentence, as a kind of substitute for other words they either don’t know or can’t remember. They have never heard of Marx. They have no idea of “economics” other than what school has told them.
They don’t have PhDs.

They don’t holiday in the Caribbean, they go to Newquay if they can afford it. Spain, if they are really lucky and can stretch that far.
They don’t struggle with “careers” because they are stuck in sh*t jobs.
They have no way of feeling “worthy” other than to spend money.
They do their shopping at ASDA, not Waitrose. They may even work there.
“Eating out” means ordering pizza or popping to the Chip Shop.

They are brown, black, and white. They are single parents, young mothers. They are on benefits, they’re mentally ill. They know the police means trouble, because so many people they know have gone to jail.
They’re addicted to something or other because they need to function, but can’t.

And they are suffering. They may not say it, they may not know it. But they are suffering. They are lost, they are hurting.


I have been studying English for, oh, since the age of 5. I have been living in this country for 5 years. I read a lot, and daily.
And I don’t think I’ve ever encountered the word “peremptorily”.
Oh, I can work it out alright, because it’s very similar to the Spanish one. That’s usually the case with long words.

But the “working class”, the unwashed masses? No idea what you’re on about.

I can write like that. There are around 100 posts in my old blog that can bear testament to the fact that I can write like that. The academic, scientific, journalistic voice. The pretentious, bombastic, alienating, unemotional voice.

But the problem is that the people I want to reach don’t understand that language. And the people I want to hang out with? The people whose validation I seem to need so desperately? The “Leftists”, the “educated, middle class, PhD holders”, they aren’t fooled by this language. They know I don’t have a degree from Oxford.
Which is why they don’t give me the time of day. Like Oxford itself, this is a group that is characterised by the number of people it excludes.

They can “tell” my language is a pose because it is used to explain things that are un-conventional. No wallpapering on the old cracks from me!

No, I am here to uncover deeper truths. And here’s a couple of them that I bet you didn’t expect.

First one: this is the language of the “enemy”. Ok, yes, “enemy” is a strong word. What I mean is that this is the language that is used by the powerful to serve their interests. It was created by the powerful to serve their interests.

It is not “neutral”; it is not a tool that can be used for “good or bad”.

It came from a particular political background and it is used to further perpetuate that political background. (See? I can do long words as well.)

So, if the interests of the powerful are diametrically opposed to OUR interests, what does that say about our language?

It says that we should at the very least consider coming up with something different, that’s what.

Second, and more radical. The academic-type of language? Easy peasy to use. Now, writing like a real human being and trying to reach out to real people?
That takes balls guts. Most people do not have them.

Why does it take guts? Because it requires that we create a different language from the kind used by the authorities. And it takes real courage to do anything that doesn’t have the seal of approval from “big daddy”.
Most of us on dissidents are still human after all. And we want to be respected, valued and listened to. That means we have to use the kind of language that people deem worthy of respect, value and attention. 

It also means that, living in a hierarchical system, we want the authorities to “approve” of us. It always seemed fascinating to me that any student from Oxford could turn out a dissident. After all, you don’t get to the most exclusive university in the land by upsetting those in charge, do you?
This is something which I bet Oxford graduates don’t want to own up to: that in order to get to Oxford they had to be really, really good kids for a really long time. That they did really well at following orders. That they did not bring up their dissenting beliefs into school with them.
As for me, it’s a miracle I got anywhere academically. I’ve been upsetting teachers since I was in second grade.

Yes, I am trying to say this: that if you really disliked the system, if you really went against authority, you would have dropped out of school and, most likely, ended up in jail.

All of this leads us to conclude something a tad uncomfortable: that since the only dissidents being listened to are those who have done well academically, and that since those people who do well academically only do so because they have behaved really well and pleased the teachers and professors, any dissident ideas and beliefs that these dissidents may have will be at least suspicious.

This doesn’t mean that they are wrong, of course not. But it does mean that we have to ask questions. And asking them to consider, at least consider, the language they use to communicate their “dissenting” views is a good place to start

A media bubble of middle class, educated, left wing liberals, with their organochav tendencies and Guardian subscriptions don’t represent the working classes, and haven’t done for quite a while. The so called middle classs lefties have helped contribute to demonisation of what was left of working class communities as 'chavs’.


Saturday, 7 May 2011

My Experience with Meditation: What Is It About?

This is how I understand meditation based on my experience. At first, nothing happened. I knew I had to clear my mind, and the first times I tried, I didn’t understand what “clearing your mind” even meant. Now I realise what was happening there: my mind was so full of thoughts, I couldn’t see any space between one thought and the next one

Imagine a very busy motorway with many lanes. Each car is a thought, and the motorway is your mind. The thoughts keep coming and going, one after the other at top speed and with almost no space between them. It’s like a constant stream. After you sit during meditation long enough, all the thoughts that were trying to get through have done so, and they begin to show up less often. Here’s what happens: when you sit down and just let your thoughts come and go, eventually you run out of thoughts.

This is part of the process, but there’s more. When too many thoughts are running too fast through your mind, you cannot interact with any of them. You are thinking, but only on the surface, because there is another thought coming shortly afterwards and you have to interact with that one as well. Going back to the car metaphor, you cannot see the details of the car, the shape, the people inside it, what they are doing. Now, if only one car shows up every so often, and it is going slowly, you can notice much more about it.

But wait, there’s still more. When you have so many thoughts, you need many lanes. When there’s only one thought every so often, you only need one. So instead of splitting your attention into many places at once, you focus only on one thought at a time.

But there’s more still. If you manage to get the cars to drive really, really slow, you can get much, much closer to them. And here lies the key to changing your life. Or rather, the key to start interacting with your life so that you can change it.

Try and remember this, it’s important. I have to remind myself every day, it is a difficult thing to accept. You can only change things in the present.
And you can only change things when you are really, really aware of the most infinitesimal detail, because you can only change the details.
Thinking about “how to change things” isn’t helping because it’s taking you away from where you are now. And you need to look at the place where you are now in order to understand why you’re there. And most importantly, how to get out.

Yes, I’m in a cell and yes, I want to escape as quickly as possible. But in my case, I locked myself in there. And trying to escape by using a spoon may not be the best way out when I carry the key in my pocket.

This is not the best way to explain the meditation process, I know. And I'm not using a good metaphor, so think about this account as a first draft on the topic.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

The Lies We Believed In – Part Two: “We Will Succeed Because We Have The Internet”

 (and previous generations didn’t, because, look at them, they are, like, really old and wrinkly; they are, like, 50 and stuff and wouldn’t know how to “tweet” if a bird landed on their iPhones and did it for them)

Remember when we thought “the internet will save us”? Remember how confident we were because “social media allows us to communicate instantly” and how that was going to bring the Revolution sooner than you can say “re-tweet that tweet you tweeted”?

Those of us with a few more years on this planet, (in my case, 3 whole years*), raised eyebrows and went “weeeell…”. We were less than eager to, as the Spanish say, “sing victory” because we have been around the block and read our history and were there when Windows 95 launched and internet connection was done through the phone and started off with a “din din” sound. We knew, in short, some basic facts:

a) The internet has been around for a decade now. Mobile phones are just as old. And the Revolution still hasn’t come.

b) The latest technology is available for those wanting a Revolution and for those not wanting it. Yes, we have more “tools” to organize now. But “they” have the exact same tools and more and can stop us just as easily as they did in the past. If we have move forward ten steps, they have moved forward another ten steps so that the distance between them and us is the same. (In fact, it is larger now than it was in the 70s, but for other reasons).

c) This “internet” and “social media” thing? We don’t own it. We don’t control it. We are dependent on servers and websites owned by people who have every vested interest in keeping things the way they are now. (Google’s loyalties lie closer to the FBI than its “customers”. Because we are not, in fact, customers, but the products being sold.)

All of this could have been explained by a passing mention of “the print, baby” or “the radio, baby”. While we owned small printers, they owned newspapers. While we owned independent radio stations, they owned the BBC. And on, and on it goes.  

(This is the problem with thinking that just because you were born yesterday, so did the whole world, dissidents included).

Now it turns out that our beloved FB and Tweeter are *gasp!* turning against us. They are doing the unthinkable: they are siding with those who want to stop our campaigns! Oh noes, what shall we do now?

How about building a stronger movement that doesn’t rely so much on “social media”?

I am the last person to know anything about group logistics, and I may not be the sharpest crayon in the box, but even I can tell that if we rely on corporate-owned media to organize ourselves, it’ll only be a matter of time before we are stopped dead on our tracks.

We need alternative ways of communicating amongst ourselves. And we have to know who “we” are.  

We can use the most popular media available to spread the word far and wide and bring in the masses, and that’s great. But when it comes to taking direct action, say through the use of “civil disobedience”, we need to close ranks. It’s important to remember that there is a movement beyond “raising awareness”. And that taking direct action is a risky business, that it takes real courage. Because when push comes to shove, we can only rely on each other. 

(* that is, I'm 3 whole years older than some people who have been crying that "we will win because we have the internet)