Friday, 31 January 2014

31/01/14 Heaven and Hell

The closer you get to the meaning
The sooner you'll know that you're dreaming
(from Heaven and Hell by Black Sabbath)

Let me tell you about a couple of dreams I have had. The first was when I had a bad reaction to Prozac, following the death of my parents. In one nightmare night, punctuated by frequent violent awakenings that felt like electric shocks, I dreamt I went to Hell.

I felt myself being dragged at speed by an unseen hand across a black scorched landscape towards a precipice. At the last moment I was roughly pulled back from the edge and I was shown what lay beyond. I saw, far, far down, another even darker plain, a land of infinite blackness, a land from which there could be no return. I was permitted only a few moments to take this in before being forcibly taken back the way I came. I awoke with another wrenching spasm, cold and perspiring.

The other dream was a few years ago, after my first career had hit the rocks, and my second was about to crash. It was a three-part dream. In the first part I was killed while trying to escape urban warfare. In the second, I was making contact with something that looked rather like one of a number of distant moving dots. In the final part I awoke to find myself on a bench positioned on what seemed to be a quay which curved gently out to sea, although the sea was only guessed at. When I stood up I saw that someone had been quietly waiting for me. All I could see in the middle and far distance was suffused in white light, which gave everything a misty appearance, and I realised I was in Heaven. "Ah" I said to the other, "so it's true, there really is a heaven". It's hard to describe the scene because I experienced it in ways beyond my five senses. There was an infinite peace, but not a dead silence, more a matrix of infinite possibilities. Night no longer followed day; day would last as long as I wanted it to. The peace was all around and the peace was in me.
I didn't know what to say next, so I started to thank my host, but at that point the dream dissolved.

What do I make of all this? Do I believe in Heaven and Hell? I have often pondered this question, but I still can't bring myself to believe in Hell, even having seen it with my own dreaming eyes. I think on both occasions I was shown what I needed to see. I had needed to confront the depth of my despair in order to overcome it. I had needed to be reminded that there was more to life than just my career.

My own view is that, if there is an afterlife, it will be in the place we have prepared in this life. So it won't be a shock; it will be exactly what we expected. I think the Kingdom of Heaven starts here and now, it is within touching distance as Jesus said.
By the way, if you click on the Harry Potter picture you will be taken to another blog. Click on the link "The Head Project", and on the page that comes up there is a video, which I recommend you watch.

Thursday, 30 January 2014


  • 1 million people across the globe die by suicide each year. That’s one suicide every 40 seconds.
  • More people die by suicide each year than by murder and war combined.
  • It’s estimated that approximately 5% of people attempt suicide at least once in their life.
  • Between 10% and 14% of the general population have suicidal thinking throughout their lifetime.
  • Suicide is the second biggest cause of death worldwide among 15-19 year olds.
  • 100,000 adolescents die by suicide every year.

"Don't kill yourself" Fat said. "Move in with me. I'm all alone"...
"It would really make me feel terrible" Fat said. "For the rest of my life, if you did away with yourself". Thereby, as he later realized, he presented her with all the wrong reasons for living. She would be doing it as a favour to others. He could not have found a worse reason to give had he looked for years. Better to back the VW over her. This is why suicide hotlines are not manned by nitwits.
Valis by Philip K. Dick

"Everybody hurts, sometimes" R.E.M.



  • 08457 90 90 90 * (UK)
  • 1850 60 90 90 * (ROI)

Monday, 27 January 2014

27/01/14 Not so much a program, more a way of life

Ubuntu is a computer operating system derived from Linux, which is a variant of Unix. Microsoft is going to withdraw support from its popular XP operating system later this year, forcing the millions of XP users to buy Windows 7 (querky) or worse still, Windows 8 (a complete disaster). Ubuntu on the other hand is free.

Ubuntu is also a socio-political philosophy with its origins in Southern Africa. The name roughly translated means "humanness". At its core is the idea that our lives are not our own. Rather they are built up from the reflections we see in other members of our community. This is nicely expressed in the book "Cloud Atlas": 
Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb we are bound to others past and present, and by each crime and every kindness we birth our future.
The ramifications of this are many, from the idea of sharing and the common good, to the practice of restorative, rather than retributive, justice. I see Ubuntu as a timely counterweight to the rampant individualism and materialism we now live with.

It occurred to me that if our lives are not our own, then it follows that our deaths are not ours alone either. I was very moved when I read recently that after the death of Lawrence Anthony,who bravely rescued wildlife and rehabilitated elephants all over the globe from human atrocities, a total of 31 elephants patiently walked over 12 miles to get to his South African house. They stayed for two days and nights without eating. Then one morning, they left, making their long journey back home.

It has often been said that when someone we know dies, a part of us dies with them. But the converse is equally true: as long as we live and remember them together, the one we knew still lives among us. Jesus said "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them."

I think I might get Ubuntu, but I wouldn't want to keep it to myself.

Saturday, 25 January 2014


Written 12th September 2006, Jimena, Andalucia

This is the snapshot of the moment.

I'm sitting on the tiled roof, a few shirts listlessly rocking in the quiet air.

Above and on my left, the old Moorish castle walls crumbling defiantly while chickens cluck and cocks crow.

Below me and on my right the jig-saw pieces of mottled tiles and white walls lie strewn and seemingly forgotten down the hillside to the centre, where the church tower clangs mechanically to an absent audience.

Beyond the town, fields and trees, green and tawny gold, barking dogs, snoring cars sleepily following some distant purpose of their own, reduced to the scale of ants by the mountains which rise is a grey-blue haze to the white-whisped blue warm sky.

This is a snapshot of me in chains. For as long as I strive to capture the moment, to have it and hold it, to freeze it and dry it, to pin it on the wall and admire it, for as long as I try to own the view, I shall never be a part of it. Every line I write is a line drawn between me and my desire. All my snapshots are scenes seen from the bars of my cell.

Just as your true-love can never truly love you until you give her freedom, so no picture, no music, no moment can be saved for a rainy day; it will fall through a hole in your pocket; it will turn sour. Love is shown in the letting go. So let these times sing for you, dance for you, then let them leave the stage. Drink the wine while it is warm and drink ye all of it. Gather the manna while it is fresh and save none for later. God is in the downs as well as the ups; he is in the valley of the shadow of death and on the banks of Sheol. He is on the mountain top. The moment sits like a dandelion seed in the palm of your hand then you blow it away with a wish and it is gone over the wall and out of sight.

How can you have a holiday that lasts forever? How many sights do you have to see before you can sleep in the sand? How many postcards to buy, how many sangrias to sink? One morning you wake to find yourself at home though you have not moved, and you cannot think a clear thought for the confetti of casual acquaintances, and you cannot see out for all the sights you have taken in.

First then, for the holiday of a lifetime, you must give away the holiday and then go. Enjoy the flight out; enjoy the flight back; enjoy the sun; enjoy the rain. Enjoy the friendship of others; enjoy the friendship of yourself. Find peace in the noise; find a poem in a drop of water.


Now I am in the garden. Pen in one hand, beer in the other. It's warmer now. Water clatters into the pool while the fountain motor whirls. I sit in the dappled shade of an orange tree, my feet on the cool cobbles. Curious friendly ants explore my arms and feet. A fly fidgets forgetfully before flying off. I look down the dusty red-flagged steps to the dark cool of the house, where, out of sight on the couch, a guest ginger cat sleeps insouciant, head back, eyes narrowed to a smile of bliss. I immerse myself in the moment, screw it up and throw it away; a moment later it comes back, having freshened up. Such is the grace of God.

Friday, 24 January 2014

24/01/14 Breathe

Well that was exciting. 

18/12/13 Moved into house.
25/12/13 Christmas
11/01/14 Sale of boat finalised
12/01/14 Still living out of boxes
21/01/14 Bought a desk from Ikea. Assembled by half past midnight
22/01/14 Started research for Assignment 3.

That's the abbreviated history anyway. I haven't yet had any further feedback on the length of Assignment 2. This is a problem because if you discuss six purposes, then how they apply to a good funeral, then how they apply to a bad funeral, it leaves you with 50 words per purpose / funeral with little room for anything else.

Now I need to expand the shifting mood of a ceremony into 1500 words with reference to a funeral I have been to. The last suitable funeral I went to was about five years ago and I have pretty much forgotten it. Oh well.

When my mother died, one day I was talking to her, a week later she had vanished from history. After the house was sold, nothing remained to testify that she had ever existed. The only trace was in my not very reliable memory and a few old photos. Each day the crem shows a list of names of those who were cremated on that day. Big deal. What about the rest of the year? If I want, I can go to the spot where her ashes were scattered, but what's the point? It's just a bit of grass. There's nothing there. I can stay at home and look at grass.
Photos kindly supplied by Geograph, and may be reused subject to this creative commons usage licence.

So I went on-line and looked at what real people had to say. I went to a forum for bereaved mothers.
When my daughter Hope died I was afraid to go but I was drawn to her grave because I couldn't let go. A friend set me up with a friend who lost her daughter to a fire. She helped me with going on her birthday and I release balloons with messages from my friends and family. Then we come home and have a birthday cake and I donate toys in her honor. I also go alone and read the first book I ever bought for her. It helps me because now my kids who never got to know their sister also feel connected and I don't feel quiet (sic) so lonely. Also know it takes time !
I'll spare you the ten or so others like this one.

The point is - we are human beings, not productivity engines. We can't just flick a mental switch and carry on. Caring for our loved ones is what marks us out as humans, and we can't just stop because they are inconveniently dead. But love cannot exist in a vacuum; it has to be expressed. There has to be a ritual. This can be visiting a grave and talking to the person buried there, or leaving flowers or toys. It may make a mess but it is not 'wrong'. This is being human at its best.

A written marker testifies to the physical existence of a person, when all other traces are gone. It is like the teleporting telephones in The Matrix. It is a touchstone, a point of contact. In the same way that you need the right number, so you need a marker with the right name or it will be meaningless.

A memorial transcends time. Future generations will journey across the world to visit the gravestone of a long dead ancestor. Bath Abbey receives a regular trickle of visitors seeking records of their ancestors' burials. As a society, we belittle these things at our great peril.

We need permanent anchor points that connect us to our loved ones and ancestors. The form these take is a matter for our sensitivity and ingenuity.

See also:

6/12/13 Blowin' in the wind

I was reading the course notes, and a news story from the USA about the trend away from 'production line' funerals, towards a more person-centred procedure.

And then I realised that this is not just about funerals. For example there is home education and Small Schools ("more like a family, less like a factory"); there is the trend away from hospital births to home births; then there are self-build homes. But running directly counter to this is central government and the Establishment. I wondered how long it would be until our lives were governed more by community councils and less by central bureaucracies.

Bath Small School: More like a family, less like a factory.
The small school exists to provide a holistic education for 10-16 year-olds in a human-scale environment.
Because classes are small the curriculum can be adapted to suit the needs of the students.
Lessons are not confined to the classroom; visits to exhibitions, the theatre, ecological projects and adventure training form an important part of the curriculum.
Students learn in an atmosphere of friendliness and mutual respect that allows their individuality room to grow.

3/12/13 This is it

So. This is my journal.

It's now nine days since I left Dart Mills. The three days there were extraordinary. The sun shone, the scenery glowed gold and green and blue. I felt exhilarated.

The people I met, I would be happy to call them my friends for life. I felt engaged with the learning with an intensity that I have rarely experienced before.

It took me at least two days after returning to come back down to planet Earth.

Since then I have completed the Eulogy. I was surprised at how, when I actually put pen to paper, the words flowed and the piece took shape. I had expected to go through several revisions but in fact I had to make fairly few changes to the first draft.

It was harder for me to maintain a sufficiently sensitive tone in my dialogue with the student whose uncle I was describing. This was a salutary reminder to me that it was she who 'owned' her uncle, not me. In the end though, we were both happy with what I'd written.

Now I would like to concentrate on the course and follow up lines of research that I find interesting. Instead I will have to devote much of my time to selling the boat. I now have an interested buyer as well as an interested renter. All I need now is to seal a deal. So we are at the negotiation stage.

Selling the boat is part of the strategy of becoming a celebrant, which began last April when I started to give  the boat a face-lift. Since the logistics of boating make it difficult even to pursue the celebrants course, let alone enter upon a new career, I have to sell up. This is a good time in my life to move on, as I am getting older and the rigours of boat life are harder on me than before. The proceeds of the sale will also enable me to fund the start-up phase of my self-employment.

I have also been able to raise the course fees by taking a cash lump sum from an old pension fund.

This is however all a vexation and a distraction from focusing on the funeral  work, and the sooner it is all behind me the better.

As a new starter I'm finding the course structure - in terms of assignments and activities - rather bewildering. I trust it will all become clear as I go along.

I am particularly interested in the idea of so-called DIY funerals and would like to find out more about this area, and about how my services might possibly fit in with it.