Archive for October, 2007

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As Mature as a Newt

October 13, 2007

Last night we had the pleasure of having dinner with a group of people who un-school their children. One of the father’s was an Italian guy who mentioned something about children drinking wine with their meals over in Italy. There was a kind of surprised pause in the conversation at this point. (There would have been outright shock within other circles of people I can think of in this country).

He then went on to explain that despite, or maybe because of this, people where he grew up never get drunk. If someone does get drunk it’s big news and people remember it for a long time. It’s like – ‘oh you’re the guy that got drunk that time 5 years ago’.

Contrast that with the New Zealand (and generally Anglo-Saxon) approach which is that there is something soft about a person who isn’t a hard drinker. They’re a bit of a girl’s-blouse as we’d say here.

This guy, Ricardo, said that the first time he saw someone drunk was when he was 27 and had just shifted to a university in Wales. It was at a party which he thought was very boring because people were turning up with six-packs and were only interested in getting drunk. He also said that there were no events or games planned for the party which had clearly surprised him.

He said that students in Italy do not get drunk but that they still have a lot of fun, we all looked enquiringly at him so he explained that they often play games like Hide and Seek.
If it weren’t for the fact that I was in a large armchair I’m sure I would have fallen off my seat! This seemed extraordinary. “Do you mean university age people?” I asked in a state of bewilderment.

He insisted this was the other case before describing another game which he clearly had enjoyed playing. I couldn’t figure out how to explain what the New Zealand Student’s attitude to this would be without being insulting. Students here would think it was incredibly childish and immature to play hide and seek and would prefer the much more adult pastime of getting blind drunk, vomiting on the couch and waking up the next morning next to a person they didn’t recognise. Err…

I proceeded to quiz Ricardo about what life is like for Italian children in an attempt to find some explanation for this. He added the observation, based from his experience as a university lecturer in New Zealand, that students here are incredibly self conscious, always checking what everyone else is doing to make sure they’re fitting in and insisting that ‘Hey, I’m cool’.

To be clear this attitude never quite goes away as our own attempts to live outside the mainstream have shown us. People just don’t know how to cope when they’re confronted with people who don’t take care to remain in lockstep with their neighbours, especially as we’re neither apologetic nor aggressive about it like younger people tend to be.

Anyway I seem to remember a disparaging comment I once read (in English since that’s the only language we New Zealander’s can speak) about how young Italian men are so close to their mothers, preferring to live at home rather than move out into the flatting type situation we have here. I have to assume that in Italy it’s normal for parent’s to not separate themselves from their children as much as we Anglo-Saxon’s do and perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised. It is our cultural group that has dominated the world for the last two centuries at least, and we should probably expect to find strong civilised traits like separation and emotional numbness the closer we get to centers of power. As well as the concurrent coping mechanisms of drinking, risk taking and general stupidity.

I think it’s pretty well known that Southern Europeans are much more emotionally expressive – able to have steaming arguments and then leave them behind – and someone at this gathering last night mentioned how our own culture is so uptight that it’s virtually impossible to have a social gathering with out also having some alcohol there to loosen people up.

Maybe things are changing though, our gathering last night wasn’t like that and I remember when Karen and I got married, we considered having the wedding reception at a venue that didn’t have a liquor license. We thought it would be no problem because none of our friends would care either way but a few members of our parent’s generation were so upset that in the end we had to change the venue to accommodate their desperate plea’s.

On the other hand maybe things won’t change until we learn to emotionally loosen up as a culture. Getting drunk is a coping mechanism that undoubtedly provides those moments of living purely in the moment that I talked about in my last post. I wouldn’t necessarily describe it as healing but it’s probably no coincidence that young people here often talk about getting ‘out of it’ at parties and drinking sessions.

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Healing

October 3, 2007

Coincidences between blogs are always interesting, while I just wrote a piece called Climax Culture the Archdruid was writing one talking about Climax Community. We were of course coming at the issue from very different places and the respective articles don’t look that similar but we were both talking about a more successful way that our culture might operate. The implication of what the Archdruid was saying is that the time is right to be building toward a k-selected culture and that the short term, ‘me-first’ thinking of our current culture is ready to burn out and be usurped by a different approach.

Another implication was that looking back at stone-age or climax cultures is a good place to go to figure out what our future cultures might be like. Stone-age cultures meet the definition of climax community due to their success at maintaining their lifestyle for who-knows-how-long but I’m not sure the Archdruid will like me making that conclusion. I’m not a hard core primitivist though. I’m not interested in actually living in a jungle and nor do I think that I am capable of doing so, at least not on an emotional level. I am however, interested in what I can learn from primitive, climax cultures about how it’s members inter-relate, and of course how they treat their children..

It’s not just theory driving that thought for me either but the observable fact, as evidenced in the likes of The Continuum Concept, that many primitive cultures provide a very happy and joyful life for their individual members.

Also coincidently Ted has been writing about Soul Wholeness and the shamanic process of soul retrieval – I think we’re both agreed that this is verging on new-agey territory but the need to repair ourselves from the trauma of our lives, be it the sort of abuse our culture acknowledges or the ‘normal’ low level abuse that we all suffer as children, is a strong need in members of our society.

One Ted’s posting reminded me of was this fascinating paper Technoshamansim: Spiritual Healing in the Rave Subculture, which took raves, and the people who attended them, seriously enough to investigate claims by participants that they enjoyed ‘meaningful spiritual experiences’ during a rave. The author writes:

References to shamanism and catchphrases about self-empowerment and spiritual healing permeate raver discourse and invite an anthropological perspective similar to that applied to nonbiomedical healing in small scale, non-western societies.

before embarking on an analysis of rave culture from just such a perspective.

Specifically, I argue that the DJ acts much like a shaman who, aided by key symbols, guides the ravers on an ecstatic journey to paradise–a presocial state of nondifferentiation and communitas. It is this return to paradise through altered states of consciousness which brings spiritual ease to ravers facing an anxious and uncertain society

I’m going to tie this back into the same part of The Continuum Concept (Chapter 5, Deprivation of Essential Experiences) that I referred to in my previous posting where the issue of achieving high degrees of serenity was discussed. Jean Liedloff writes:

…it appears that there are two separate contributors to the to the feeling of wrongness that is so general in us. One is the individual’s sense of the continuum in him acting as a gauge of what is up to it’s expectations; the other is an even more primordial one.

That we are so universally subject to a conviction that serenity has been lost to us can not be accounted for solely by the loss, at an early age of , of our place in a continuum of appropriate treatment and surroundings. Even people like the relaxed and joyful Yequana, who have not been deprived of their expected experiences, have a mythology that includes a fall from grace, or bliss, and the notion that they live outside that lost state.

Considering that we have been referring to some primitive cultures as living in an Eden-like, pre-fall state this is a comment that should force us into a major rethink. Perhaps the The Fall was less a metaphor for a decent into civilisation than a descent into self awareness and the ability to worry about the future – and perhaps some of us have fallen further than others. You’ll often hear people around here saying that our current mess became inevitable the day we invented agriculture but maybe agriculture became inevitable the day we acheived self-awareness. Maybe that’s where all this began.

Anyway, despite primitive cultures now appearing to be on the same side of the fence as us they are still a good place to go for pointers on how best to go about healing. In fact they may be an even better place to go than I first thought because not only do they have the same goal in mind as we do but they’re also better placed to do something about it being as they are in a climax culture.

I have to confess that prior to this I had been somewhat put off by the discussions of shamanism coming out of either primitivist or (sort-of) sixties drug cultures head spaces. I not sure what it says that it’s taken an academic paper and comments from someone who has moved away from primitivism (Ted) to get me to look closer at it, but this healing aspect of shamanism is something that interests me. A lot of healing is, and still will be hard work but the virtues of healing by dancing or merely laughing shouldn’t need any promotion. Jean Liedoff goes on:

It would seem that in the enormously long period…before our antecedents developed an intellect able to reflect on troublesome matters like our mortality and purpose, we did indeed live in the only blissful way: entirely in the present. Like every other animal, we enjoyed the great blessing of being incapable of worry. There were discomforts, hungers, wounds, fears and deprivations to be endured even as beasts, but the fall from grace, invariably described as a choice made the wrong way, would have been impossible to creatures without mind enough to make a choice. Only with the advent of the capacity to choose does the fall become possible.

So perhaps it’s not just civilisation that we need healing from but the even deeper unmet need of being unable to live in the moment. Maybe ignorance really is bliss. Jean Liedloff again:

In the age old pursuit of this sense of unalloyed being… unconditioned by choices or relativities, men have sought and found disciplines and rituals by which to reverse the tendency to think. Ways have been discovered to still the galloping thoughts of man, put him at peace, leave him not to think but only to be. Awareness has been trained by various means to rest upon emptiness or upon some object or word, chant or exercise…

Meditation is the word usually given to the procedure of dethinking [Un-thinking perhaps?]. It is at the centre of many schools of discipline that seek to raise the serenity level. A commonly used technique is the repetition of a mantra, a word or a phrase as an eraser of thoughts of the associative kind that the mind tends to pursue. As the procession of thoughts is slowed and stopped, the physiological state of the subject changes to resemble, in certain ways, that of the infant. Breathing becomes shallower, and recent experiments have shown that brain waves are produced of a sort that are unlike those of either adult wakefulness or adult sleep.

For those who meditate regularly, there is an apparent increase in serenity…which also lends a stabalising influence to the rest of their time….It is as though they were, in the case of the civilised, in-arms deprived persons, filling in the gap in infant experience which would have provided greater serenity, by putting themselves into a state like that which was missed, that which possibly is also attained through the use of opiates. The most deprived people, those of our western cultures, if they meditate, would be putting in a great deal of time moving up to the centredness of a year-old continuum-complete baby. It would take them a vastly greater amount of time to catch up on the missed doses of serenity than people of other cultures whose infancies included a larger proportion of in-arms experience.

When I knew them the Sanema Indians – more than the neighboring Yequana – were engaged in active cultivation of this extra serenity, or spirituality. Their method includes the occasional use of hallucinogenic drugs, but consists mainly of chanting. The chant, begun with the repetition of a single short musical phrase of three or four syllables, is continued, like the mantra in an effortless manner until it commences to elaborate itself with added notes or syllables, with no conscious effort on the part of the chanter.

…With a fulfilled personality based solidly in a sense of his own rightness, the Sanema who reproduces the mindless bliss of the infant in himself with frequency and at length, can build a freedom from the fringe liabilities of the intellect with far greater speed and effect.

And from that point the book continues into the passages I quoted in my previous posting.

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Naturally after reading this I cast about in my own life looking for similar experiences much as I did after I read about the healing nature of true-community. Usually I find music is involved. There is a song by Ben Harper (‘God Fearing Man’ off the album, Fight For Your Mind) which disappears into a dream-like jam state for most of it’s 11 minutes, that has the potential to take my mind away from itself, especially if I am feeling sleepy. I know I found the last U2 concert in New Zealand to have a minor healing quality to it, although I should admit to being a huge fan of theirs, and I have always found that sitting in while friends of mine jam on various musical instruments to be a particularly enjoyable experience. Much better though if I could play and join in myself .

The last thing it kind of reminds me of is rock climbing. There is nothing like clinging to the side of a rock face high above the ground to make your mind focus on the here and now and I’m sure it had a lot to do with my recovery from the somewhat oppressive time I had at Architecture School ten years ago.

They’re all rather fleeting moments and compared to my work in the building industry, which is all about the burden of making decisions (with expensive consequences if you get it wrong) it pales into total insignificance. At the very least I may look at music differently now.