Tag Archives: Religion

Christopher

When the men hammered the head of the fish, the boy screamed, crying. In the short time it had lived in his bathtub, he had grown fond of the big swimming creature. He’d named it Christopher. It’s understandable that the boy loathed the act of his uncles. But our Christmas meal was at stake and the young emotional bond had been destined to be ignored.

It’s a Buddhist belief that if you give someone or something a name, you make a claim to that which you name. It means that young parents who, out of duty, name their newborn Pete, immediately make it their possession. But it also means that if you give your partner a nickname, this person or the aspect you named, becomes your property.

Adversely, when you give someone your name, you give that person ownership over you. And every time this person calls it, he or she summons your attention. Have you felt that? It’s an excellent sales technique and a good way to get yourself liked to call another by his name. The other way around: creating a name for yourself or your organisation, makes you graspable to the audience and by that less threatening.

It would be an act of liberty, in this perspective, to invent a new name for yourself and keep it secret. That would give you a claim to yourself that no one else has. A different approach would be to behave in a way that is not expected from your personal or family name. But the freest is he or she who detaches from all names that are given to him or her. The one who doesn’t have a name.

I would take this idea a step further and say that any judgement people make of each other is an attempt to seize something. Calling another by his or her profession, for example, or by a political preference, or cultural background has this same effect of occupation, even if you don’t attach a value to it. Even thinking it has that effect. We allow each other a certain degree of possession over ourselves by sharing who we are, but set limits as well. And by conceptualizing, we are determining our place in a hierarchy.

You could say that the idea of ‘not being understood by anyone’, something we all have to a certain degree, is a result of being judged in an inacurate way. It could be solved by giving your loved ones the names you secretly hold for youself. Yet while we give these names away and create a space for trust through which we can bond, we also hand over part of our autonomy.

As we could see in the case of the death of Christopher the fish and the reaction of his young friend, these things can have enormous emotional implications. ‘You never call me honey anymore’ means that you’re no longer taking your claim of this aspect of her that you once shared. Changing your official name is a deliberate act of breaking out from the property of your parents. The name switch of women after marriage is comparable.

A friend once called me ‘joyful sailor of dreams’. This blog is a tribute to something she observed in me. Reappropriated, as you can see, but I’m still thankful. By that simple act, she called something into life. This is what the boy did with Christopher. It’s no more than a memory now, but who knows what that will grow into?

It’s probably because I agree with this Buddhist theory that I have become a writer.

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Mental life

If you’d start a religion today, would you ban or allow violent video games?

The reason why I ask, is that my sister gave me Grand Theft Auto V for my birthday. Playing it brought me back to my teenage years, when a big part of my worries could be narrowed down to the question: “how can I beat the next boss and get into the next level?”. It also helped me see this game for what it really is: a piece of art.

GTA V, not unlike earlier versions, has so many facets that it is hard to know where to begin talking about it. The game holds a tremendous amount of possibilities: you can shoot down people in the street, do some yoga, blow up busses in a drive by, play tennis with a real or virtual friend or you can just light up a joint and enter in a fist fight with one of the innumerable clowns that materialize from the smoke. GTA V has storylines in which you make choices and feel the consequences of your actions and characters that support you or fuck you over. All of it happens in a world full of detail which would take you about half an hour to drive around in one of the faster cars, stolen or bought.

The game comes with an excellent package of sarcastic jokes about all aspects of western society, in particular media manipulation, New Age gurus and consumerism.  The in-game equivalent of Facebook, for example, is called Lifeinvader. It has its own office building in Los Santos, which you can enter to mess with the technology. Another example: the day you steal nerve gas from a lab somewhere in the mountains, the presenter of the news on the radio wonders why “the criminals went to great lengths to get their hands on a formula for cheap perfume”. Afterwards, the same radio channel broadcasts a commercial on why “Flow”, with its great packaging and advertisements by famous people, is far better for you and your self-esteem than tap water.

The game has the perfect combination of qualities to suck you out of your daily trouble into a dream where you are the ruler of your destiny and that of the imaginary other. It has doubtlessly had more attention than the Mona Lisa – during the phases of crafting as well as appreciation -, has brought in more money than most blockbusters and has probably made more people happy than Jesus.

Still, people world-wide fight a battle against the virtual violence in such games which has little more consequences than getting some virtual cops on your virtual ass. Easy to shake off once you have some experience. Opposers of the GTA franchise argue that the violence promoted rewires the back of the players’ brains. They believe that shooting people in a virtual world will alter the subjects perception of life and death in the real world, reducing the barrier to shoot people in real life. Personally, I have to admit that after playing GTA for several consecutive hours, when going to the almost closing supermarket for a beer and a pizza, the thought of blowing someone’s brains out may occasionally cross my mind when a random bastard walks in my way. Of course, it wouldn’t easily happen: I don’t usually carry a minigun around.

The discussion raises an interesting series of questions about the perception of the real versus the illusory, quite relevant in a society where virtual and casual reality overlap more and more. How big is the influence of actions in virtual worlds on our actions in real life? Can the power we feel while playing such games settle inside us as a day-to-day desire? Or could such games satisfy desires we already have, and thus make us live our normal lives in a calmer way? Would that just be a superficial thing, or could virtual lives be deeply nurturing?

Mankind has made fantasy more tangible. Young generations are growing up alternating between real and virtual worlds. From a young age onwards, we learn to discern the two from each other. I do believe that being in touch with virtual worlds helps us relativize our own lives, by making us accustomed to be view things from a distance. I’d guess that rather than having us irrationally import behaviour from one world to the other, games help us see things in their contexts and act according to the circumstances. So next to being masterpieces, I believe they might have educational value.

As long as we still eat, sleep and jump around from time to time in real life. Let’s not forget that.

Wielding Attention

Do you own your attention? Do I have it? Are you giving it to this text? Am I luring it?

I’m on the final two pages of my booklet. The first text, ‘Revolution’ was written in 2012. I kept it close for all that time. These papers have grown dear to me. They are turning from a living presence in my life into an artifact on a shelf. End of an era. To make our final union count, I’d like to write on a subject that matters.

Attention is our most intimate tool of perception. Think about it. A nagging pain in your knee disappears if you have a good meal. Worldly troubles fade when we fall in love. An ugly face turns beautiful once we get to know the person behind it. Our attention, more than anything else, determines who we are. And yet we are so unaware of it. So limited in our capacity to use it.

Knowledge. Beliefs. Habits. Patterns the attention follows over and over again. Until bolts of insight pierce them. Seduce the attention to flow over their borders, see them from another side. Some patterns of belief do never crack. Dissolve, at most, when their container treads the grave.

Can you watch your attention? Can you see where it goes? Can you direct it? Redirect it to a place it never went before?

If I’m frustrated in life, it is because I see how many people are not free. And don’t want to be, either. Most believe they already are. There are so few who dedicate themselves to their attention. So many just wave it around, letting it spill on places where others do before them. People in the modern world waste so much of their precious, limited attention on worthless things. If I call myself a freedom activist, it is because even if I don’t know how, I need to break that chain.

Whether something is painful or beautiful, attention will see it. Jew, muslim, atheist? Attention will be with you. We blame ourselves for looking at midgets on the street. Our attention did not judge. It just travelled, as it would, if we didn’t pull that leash. ‘Stay away from that midget’. ‘Run from the weak’. If we let it be, our attention will go where it is needed.

By giving attention to the world around, senses sharpen. They become receptive. If you give attention to your garden, it will flourish. By listening to another with care, two souls will shine brighter. Attention is our pathway to bring the world to life.

Do you sometimes hold your attention in your mind’s hands? Pet it gently? Does it stay with you?

By giving my heart to this booklet one last time, I imbue it, one last time with a desire that does not sleep. I see the scratches of my previous words, I feel my booklet push my pen, I see the black ink stick here, on this paper, for as long as it will. From a far away conceptual world, I bring down images, experiences, meaning which, when I close it, will keep living as a part of me. I try, I have to try, to testify of this potential. It’s an urge that reveals itself in the interaction with this last page.

Of course, attention is meaningless. It’s a concept, like all others. Elusive, uncontrollable. Tell another he is not free, and he’ll present to you his freedom to hit you in the face. You’re a prisoner of your own mind. Hit me. But break the wall between our cells. I want them to crumble.

Have you cleaned your attention today? Thanked it? Let it wander for a bit? Did you follow? Did it come back to you? Did it bring you something?

My last words in this booklet, better make them count. A final kiss. A final breath of us together. In a few short lines, can I still imbue it with something meaningful?

How much charge can you contain before the charge contains you? How much pain do you need, before you accept this responsibility?

Do you charge your attention with love?

“Judge not, that you be not judged”

For the past ten years I have wondered: why do religious and spiritual groups unanimously condemn the act of judgement? What is so fundamentally bad about it that we all tell ourselves and each other to stop? And if it really is so bad, why do we keep doing it? What is judgment in the first place?

In a recent bright moment I understood that judgment is bad at the point where our thoughts create reality. For example: if I believe that homeless people are losers, I will subconsciously express this while talking to them. With my tone and behaviour, I will impose the thought of their inferiority upon them. At the same time, my surroundings will see how I behave towards homeless people and whether they want it or not, be influenced by it. This way, people collectively turn their back on the homeless, and such a person will find reason to believe in their nature as an outsider. The surroundings don’t see their role in it, because they stopped paying attention. Consequently, the very word homeless and all its connotations act as a mental net, limiting the possibilities of those it has caught.

Politicians and activists use judgement as a discursive tool for control. They justify this behaviour by calling it “framing”. Even if the act often affects minorities in the same way as man-to-man judgement does, it is seldom frowned upon, let alone condemned or punished. It is sometimes even used as a way to take away power of those who stand out, meaning it can restore the power balance somewhat. Yet even then, it probably does damage to people who don’t necessarily deserve it. Think for example of the ingenious declaration “bankers are wankers”. As if all bankers are men.

This question becomes more interesting at the point where you genuinely ask what is true about a certain judgement. Some bankers, for example, have played a vital role in the way their guild are currently perceived, and some homeless people may indeed have called their situation upon themselves. But others didn’t. Curious beings as we are, we don’t necessarily need to judge ourselves for trying to make sense of the cosmic blob of information that surrounds us, but we should remain aware of our weakness.

Somewhere on the way between our sensorial perceptions and our mental interpretations of them, our desire to be in touch with our surroundings turns into an attempt to dominate it. We place ourselves on the sideline  of the same existence we so deeply want to belong to. I think that what religions want to say is not that judging is something to avoid; that idea is confusing. What I think is meant is that we should spend time in making an effort to distinguish our illusions from reality. Otherwise they might invade it.

Passing

“She’s dead.”
“It’s what she deserved” said Maximilian gravely.
“The witch betrayed us all.”

Sixty three years since the war began. The useless position of men caused by Eggtech® had turned them hostile upon wombbearers. The tension had begun to rise as women gradually outnumbered men. They started to raise political and religious questions on the utility of mens existence. It had escalated when Arina the Zych had publically slaughtered a rapist on Madaleina square. She had walked away freely. Female political leaders had vanished, only to be found back dead months later, often mutilated, sometimes together with a starved baby girl. Men, too, had found their ways to breed. Soon afterwards you were no longer safe among a member of the other sex.

Young girls were taught to fear the predatory beasts outside the city walls. Humanity, teachers said, had made the necessary step to evolve: making men inutile. Eggtech® – fertilization by another egg cell – allowed them to emancipate from the destructive behaviour of man. They had once been crucial to survival, but now they held civilization back. They were to be wiped out to make the evolutionary step complete. All there was to do, was to keep them out.

Boys’ class was different. They learned that their existence depended on prey. They were taught to hunt without the kill. Women left their settlements every now and then. They travelled in groups, protected by warladies, often fiercer than men themselves. Those had to be killed from a distance, while the protected ones were captured and brought back to a men’s camp. The fate of the prisoners depended on how they acted. Resistant ones often had limbs cut of, so that they could not interfere with the bearing. Some women were cooperative. They kept their legs and arms and were treated gently, sometimes even after they had given birth to a son. But no matter how big the trust that grew, all women would eventually make an attempt to escape. They’d find themselves caught somewhere in the wilderness. Sooner or later, every man had to learn for himself that women could not be trusted. According to the law, he then had to take revenge in the cruellest of ways.

But hidden within valleys, deserts and densely grown jungles laid settlements where men and women still freely enjoyed each others’ grace. Common laws and beliefs had no importance there. They were secret rebels. The inhabitants had to be vigilant of both men and women, who, upon discovery of their fragile co-existence, would be ready to slaughter or imprison them without a second thought.

It was in one such settlements, hidden in the woods of Anzara, where Maximilian had poisoned Silena for conjuring dark dreams upon the minds of the tribe.
“What makes you think that?”
“I can not tell you now” answered Maximilian. “If I would, she’d have you too…”

“Look …” whispered Zinnia.
“What?”
“In the bush… Halt the caravan. Keep quiet.”
Something was wrong. Was it a trap? Men wouldn’t leave such traces. She scanned the area. She felt her heart beat in her throat. Her breathing was quick and out of control. She’d been a caravan frontwife for over a year now, but still found it very hard to cope with threats. She had to act strong. Whatever came, she would have to lead the protection front. It was well-known that small caravans only survived two out of three attacks. She looked into the eyes of Feline, her second, and saw the same fear. Fear was a guarantee for defeat.

“Take your positions” she ordered the other four. In a swift, silent motion, they closed in on the merchands’ chart. All gazed sharply into the darkness that lied hidden among the trees. A breeze gently pulled their senses. It intensified, then vanished. A rush of blood shot through Zinnias temples. She was dizzy, and had a strong urge to run. She couldn’t. They counted on her.

With a gun in her shaking hand, pointing towards the bush, she took a step to the place where she had seen the movement. Something shiny lay on the leaves of the forest bed. Distraction, she was sure, and ordered two others to follow. Every step closer strengthened a sensation of being pulled by her shoulder-blades. Her hands were tingling. She could not feel her lips or her nipples. A little further and she would go numb.

The next moment she relaxed. As if the depths of her soul released comfort. It did not matter. Calmness was around. It was a substance she walked through. Step by step. She could now see that the shiny thing was round. Its beauty compelled her. It was transparent, but at the same time it gently shone a light of many colours. She stroke it. Then she slowly picked it up.

“Oh…” thought Jacky, as she watched the frontwife grab Selinas motionate gift. “It’s lost…”. She understood why Anzarians had warned her to stay close. Why they said that it’s dangerous out here. Jacky had never seen such heavy armament. Still, she smelled fear. She had to sit motionless and wait for them to leave. The thought that they would take the orb terrified her.

“You two, search the area.” Zinnia felt back in control. The warladies dived into the bushes, looking for signs of something they’d rather avoid. It did not seem to be men who had put this here. The orb was too valuable to put at stake in a trap. Zinnia was quite sure that it possessed magic properties.

Would Jacky move, they’d hear her. Staying meant risking to be found, and heaving to explain what a twelve-year-old was doing in the jungle all alone, holding a ball of unfathomable value, unafraid of men in the wild. Jacky was glad she was not a boy. She’d have to make something up. The bushes could not hide her much longer. They were coming close. What to do? Run? Get caught? She’d have to decide. They were merely a few hedges away. What to do?

Jacky stood up and ran. She knew this place better than them. She’d outrun them. Go to spaces where her pursuers would not fit. A bit further to the left would be a good way. She jumped, she hopped, she ran as fast as she could. They caught her.

“A kid?”
“What are you doing here all alone, girl? Haven’t you paid attention at school? It is dangerous outside. You’ll soon be fertile. Rapists can catch you. You’re putting us all in danger.”
Jacky did not know what to answer.
“She must be a witch”. The warladies lifted her up and put her in the chart. In the distance, she saw her favourite old oak. His entangled branches comforted her. She thought she would never see him again.

Maximilian stood alone in a dark hut. A single candle flickered. Its flame pale blue. “Cold”. He said out loud, but his voice was a woman’s. He recognized it, but could not place it. He felt danger. He started to cite words he did not understand. With every word he spoke, the voice seemed to come closer. The flame grew. Bigger and bigger. The voice, louder and louder. They mesmerized Maximilian. Surrounding him, the light and the sound slowly took hold. Flames danced to the serene rhythm of the voice, that had now come closer than his own had ever been. Inside him, surrounding him. The hut caught fire. Maximilian kept singing. He called them. He did not want to. Outside, far away, he could see their cities. He sensed their imprisoning rage. Blue flames instantly turned red and hot. They burned him from within. He kept singing. They saw him now. They shot, and hit him in the throat. Once more in the chest. The singing stopped. He remembered. The voice had been Silenas. She had called them.

Jacky followed Silena out of the village. They crossed fields full of flowers that waved at them. Jacky adored their colours. She saw tall trees reaching their branches into the sky. It seemed as if through her strides, Silena sang to them. Jacky was full of joy when they arrived at a cave. Silena entered without slowing down. She was the most beautiful lady Jacky’d ever seen. Her light meandering robes subtly revealed some of her curves. In her long, dark hair, she wore red parrot’s feathers. Jacky wanted to touch it, but she knew she’d never dare.

The cave was dark. Silena lit a candl, giving some dim light. Jacky saw objects she’d never seen before.
“Unfortunately, Jacky,” she said as if she’d read her mind, “there is no time to introduce you to all of this”
Jacky looked at her big eyes, puzzled.
“Your father has poisoned me”
“What?”
“It is slow poison, but I feel it in my veins. I will die soon”
“But…!”
Silena looked at her and Jackies mind went still. “There is no time to mourn. I don’t know why he did it. He must have his reasons. What’s important is this…” she handed her a little globe that seemed to shine. Blueish. It didn’t reflect the candle.
“By murdering me, your farther has banned witchcraft. He has banned you. You have to go now”.

Serpent

Evil animal, they say. Symbol of health. We have entered the Chinese Year of the Snake. Problems, if we have to believe our Eastern brothers and sisters. But because it’s the water snake, the trouble should be minor. Small meteorites…

Some men are snakes. They creep through little holes in their prey’s mind to find the point where they can have it submit. In their weak spot. It has something to do with fear. It could be money, or love or perfection as well. That’s where they put a little bit of venom.  The experienced snake doesn’t kill his prey; it merely hides his access point in order to slowly keep draining. Until he’s had enough.

The actual snake is a powerful animal. It sees heat and hunts at night. But its own blood is cold.  It bites, and spits poison from the back of its throat. A snake can swim. It mates with the point of its tail. The King Cobra builds a nest.

Snakes play an important role in every religions over the world. Eve got the apple. Buddha was protected. The Mayans, the ancient Greeks and the Norwegians have snake gods. They are the sign of pharmacies. Its angry liquid can kill you, but it can also ignite your travels into different realms. Divine liquid according to some Hindus. A symbol of wisdom.

There’s a snake inside you. Along your spine. Its teeth are your teeth. It hisses with your breath. Its strength is yours to use.

Look for it if you dare.

Back in Vienna

The building is huge. Not tall. Vast. Majestic. It radiates. It facades an infinite place with age old trees. I have no choice but to walk towards it. I sit down puzzled, and will stay here. I chose earlier to take just one picture of Vienna; here is where.

“I’d expected you twenty centimeters smaller and ten years older”. “I expected the same of you”. Thomas is my second host this week. With 1 m 99 he is just a centimeter taller than I am. He is also interested in studying cultures and religion. Does Capoeira. People ask if we are brothers. He is opening a cultural centre. I help him clean the garden. He invites me for diner, I cook for him. He takes me to his friends, I take him to mine. Meanwhile, we talk about many topics and sing the songs of the Flight of the Conchords.

The boy begins to cry, his face red of tears. “What did you do to him?” I ask Thomas. “I told him not to think about an elephant”. “Why are you crying?” asks Sabina to her son, Christopher. “I cannot stop thinking about an elephant.” he laments. We understand.

Green Peace

“Greenpeace!” What do you think about it? A tall man with a long coat and white hair walks on for about five meters. He stops, makes a half turn and looks back from the side of his eye.

The most interesting conversations are those with people of whom you know in advance that they will not sign the donation paper. These are conversations where the purpose is gone. It has been two weeks now that I have worked as a fundraiser for Greenpeace. Cold weeks, I have to say, but they went well and they were much fun. The team we started with consisted of four people. I am the oldest with a few years difference, but I found out later that some team leaders are older than I am, so I fit. I was succesfull in the first week already, and I have kept a steady level of 1 subscription per shift, higher than the average of all fundraisers. I like the team leaders, and even if I’m not a big talker, it feels good to speak with many people on the street. And the ”NO!”s are gone as soon as they are spoken.

“I have transferred some money to Greenpeace at the end of last year. I do that every year. You know? When I clean up.” There is an intriguing look in the man’s eyes. A freedom. The feeling is reciprokal, I can tell. “But to be honest I think that there are just too many people on the planet. We are not allowed to say that nowadays, but it’s true”.

I used to say this when I was younger, but I stopped that. Nowadays I say that all individuals consume too much. I’ll have a conversation about this with a religious guy in half an hour. But this tall white haired man agrees with the idea. We talk about the system. Can it be changed? I seem to be among the few who honestly believe it can. But that doesn’t matter at all. What matters, is that we met. Had a short chat. Changed each other unnoticeably. Left again.

“Sometimes you talk with people for a very long time without subscribing them.” Says my team leader. Zero subscriptions for the three of us today. But he’s right. Sometimes I do.