Articles for various publications
Star Wars, the force awakens and looking for fathers
Unpublished article January 2016
There was a part of me that wanted to see the new Star Wars film, however there was also another part of me that didn’t. It was the Saturday before Christmas in South East England and that uptight corner of my brain was providing a running commentary of things that I should be doing over the next couple of hours instead of sitting in a cinema with my son and niece to watch a film that I wasn’t particularly sure I wanted to see.
As the film started I also became aware that there was a part of me that didn’t want to like this film. The original Star Wars trilogy (parts IV, v and VI) were an integral part of my youth and I still believe that both it and I were let down by the films that followed, I wondered if the same would happen again.
However as the film progressed, the references and characters I encountered felt so familiar and comforting. When I saw the ‘Millennium Falcon’ a part of me smiled and sighed at the same time. Yes, this was familiar territory. I was also reminded that we’d both aged and neither of us were as young or innocent as we’d once been.
This film was also familiar territory in another way and one that perhaps ‘me’ of thirty years ago may not have recognised. There was a feeling of myth about the film in a way that Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung and others would have recognised immediately however it took me a while. From the outset the alien landscapes invite us to leave behind the mundane, the everyday and embark on a journey to the magical. I’m sure others will pick up on references to what Campbell called “the hero’s journey”.
For me, more than anything, ‘the force awakens’ was about relationships and specifically relationships with our fathers. Fathers who seem to be absent both in the film and at times, in life. There seemed to be two types of father:
The good father as portrayed by Luke Skywalker. Even though he is absent for most of the film everyone believes that Luke’s return will ‘make everything alright’. In some ways it feels as if this film is about searching for the good father and at the end when he is found. There is hope that things will change for the better. Rey kneels and offers him a light sabre in an act that represents respect, trust, loyalty and hope. However, I wonder if I was the only one who felt a moment of fear and anger? What had Luke done to deserve this loyalty and hope, he hadn’t been there for most of the film. Perhaps it is as much about the relationship as it is about the father.
Han Solo on the other hand is present for most of the film. However his relationship with his son is just as distant. For reasons that aren’t explained Han has left his family to go ‘gallivanting about the galaxy’ and this has had a negative effect on his son. It felt as if separated from his father Kylo Ren reaches back to his past and his ancestors by connecting with the only masculine presence he knows his grandfather, Darth Vader, and we can all imagine how that will turn out. My fears were realised when Kylo kills Han at the end of the film. I wondered if this was the fate of all distant fathers to be not just killed, but rejected by our offspring.
I can imagine that like me, a lot of men took their youngsters to see this new chapter in the saga as a way of connecting. I wonder how many of them noticed that good and present fathers weren’t an integral theme.
When I saw “A new hope”, the first part of the Star Wars saga. Like Luke I was young, full of hope and I was at the beginning of life’s journey. However now, nearly 40 years later with my own son becoming a teenager I wonder how my parenting will be judged.
Unpublished article Winter 2014:
Regarding Robin Williams
The death of Robin Williams took me to a familiar place. A place that I hadn’t visited in a long time, it also made me re-examine my thoughts and beliefs around life and someone’s choice to end it.
Ever since I can remember I’ve heard and believed that the taking of one’s life, suicide is an act of desperation. I’d believed that suicide was a coward’s way out, I’d judged people who committed suicide to be weak. What if that wasn’t the case, what if there’s another way to see this significant act? One that has been supressed by those who perpetuate the propaganda around the sanctity of life. I’m amused that those people are only interested in the sacredness of the beginning and ending of life and seem to carry very little about what happens between these two moments.
The beginning of the poem ‘You Were Brave in that Holy War’ translated by Daniel Ladinsky says
“You have done well
In the contest of madness
You were brave in that holy war.
You have all the honourable wounds …”
What if this is how your life feels, a contest of madness. Every day a battle that needs to be joined and fought, you’ve been brave and carry all the wounds. The contest will be repeated again and again until there is a victor. I believe the Ladinsky translation of Hafez goes on to offer hope, but what if the only hope, the only surcease one can find is to risk everything on a throw of the dice that is so extreme it doesn’t bear thinking about in everyday situations. What if you get into a space where you believe that the victor won’t be you and all that is left to you is one final brave act which most other people would shudder at? This isn’t a decision you take lightly, however the contest seems to be endless, the wounds never ending and the hope of victory diminishing every day.
Like others I believed that suicide was an act of weakness. People who committed suicide should be reviled for their cowardice or pitied for their weakness. Maybe it’s time to re-think that and start honouring people who take their own lives. Maybe what was seen as an act of desperation should be seen as a risk taking exercise that may lead to something different.
Offering someone the choice as to how and when they end their life may lead to conversations around what is lacking in a life that its end should be contemplated or how it could be changed. This could be a wonderful gift to someone who feels that life is something that should be endured. What if we asked them why and how instead of telling them no and why not? The prospect of ending a life could be the very thing that permits it to begin.
Have we been so brainwashed into seeing the ending of one’s life as a failure on someone’s part. What if that’s the only viable option at the time?
As I get older I believe more and more that the important thing is the quality of someone’s life rather than the length of it. Modern medicine is conquering more and more physical maladies and illnesses, however I believe that where the psyche is concerned we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg.
What if we could offer someone the choice of a ritual like Seppuku or Harakiri, the opportunity to end their life with honour and dignity rather than the circus of judgements and condemnations that the taking of one’s life becomes in modern society. Would doing so enhance or lessen our society?
I judge that people who take their own lives are seen as failures because they won’t be earning a wage, paying taxes, spending money, watching TV or raising the next generation. Perhaps it’s time that as a society who claims to protect the rights of the individual we should look at what seems to be one of the last remaining taboos and allow people to make their own choices and by their choices enable other to examine and improve their own lives.
Maybe we shouldn’t judge someone who takes their lives as failures for doing so and those around them as failures for allowing them to do so. Maybe we should honour their decision to do so. If life is sacred then surely someone’s choice to end it should be equally sacred. It feels important to be having these conversations so that we can start to lift the veils of shame around the choice to end one’s life so that we can support people to live.
Spearhead (newsletter for Mankind Project UK) Autumn 2010:
Fear of Living the dream
I never thought it would be easy, but to hit the wall so close to the end feels almost laughable. I could use; metaphors, similes and stories to share where I am, however I think for once I’ll try and use my own words and keep the stories to a minimum.
For years I’ve been on a journey or perhaps it’s more a series of journeys.
At first it was owning and dealing with the realisation that something in my life didn’t feel right. The old ways of keeping score (nice house, nice car, well paid job, lots of gadgets) didn’t feel relevant; it doesn’t matter if the house has thirty bedrooms or three there’s still only three of us; it doesn’t matter if I drive a Ferrari or a Ford the local speed limit is still only 30 miles an hour and as for all those gadgets that I evidently ‘had to have’ I spent more time looking for them than I did using them. I realised with the help of MKP that there was some transference going on. I was using a variety of things to cover my unhappiness. Some I had achieved and others I aspired to...
For me the saddest thing was the realisation that I was sad. All that energy and money being spent by me to deny myself a basic truth. Lots of activity at the surface of the lake to displace a monster that was hidden in the depths and I judge laughing at me (so perhaps it’s sadness and shame).
The next journey was ‘if what I’m doing doesn’t make me happy, what will?’ I started to look at the burden of message and responsibilities (both imposed by myself and others) that I carried and began to own how many of them weren’t relevant or true anymore. I would, I believed, be slicker, smoother, smarter and lots of other words beginning with ‘s’ as I did this work. Me being me I didn’t realise how long it would take me to heal from some of this work and the hardest part was (and still is) giving myself patience, compassion and time to heal. I never realised how many messages I carried (and to some extent carry) and how little space I had for me on that pedestal created for me by others and a unconcious me.
Fearfully, tentatively, I started to dream my own dreams and that pedestal didn’t feel such a lonely place as I prepared to unfurl my shining angel wings and fly.
Bam! Then it hits me and once again they have hold of me; the fear, the sadness and the shame (I name them with the hope and belief that in doing so weakens their hold over me). “Who am I, what right do I have to dream these dreams, what if I make a fool of myself, what if the dreams I dream are just an illusion, or just wrong ? Once again, I sit with anger, sadness and shame (a familiar trinity). For the first time I can own those feelings and the fact that I really don’t know what to do or what I really want to do. What if taking off from that pedestal I fall and hit the ground or more scarilly, what if I take off from the pedestal and FLY....
I really don’t know which I want, one is so familiar and I now realise not serving me. The other, oh, the other new, exciting and oh so very scary. Which is a more enticing thought the fear of living trapped on a pedestal not of my own making, taking the risk and falling off the pedestal in an attempt to fly or flying free?
Spearhead (newsletter for Mankind Project UK) Spring 2011:
Lost on the way to the City of Joy
Whenever I thought about joy, bliss, ecstasy or any of its other synonyms the image I had was of a golden city in the distance and I was on my way there. I felt as if joy was something that was missing in my life. I believed that everyone else, apart from me was if not full of joy then happy, was it me, what was I missing, or not doing something right?
Whenever I was at the top of a hill on my journey I was filled with hope and joy as a goal didn’t seem far away. When I hit rock bottom at first I’d be lost in the shadows. Then as my journey continued I was sustained by the hope that I had a destination in sight and mind.
As I’ve continued on my journey, I came to realise that I’d become so focused on my destination that I’d forgotten about my reasons for making the journey and also myself, the traveller. What is so important about joy, who was I and how would I be different once I reached the city of joy? I’d always thought that everything would be good, full of bliss, joyful once I reached my destination. However, what would have changed and how would reaching the city of joy change me so that I was more joyful or living in constant ecstasy?
Looking back I can see the paths that I have followed. Along the paths are mementos to mark my passing, scattered objects that at the time I had to have because they would make me a happier man, complete me, give me joy and after a while sites of battles where I’d overcome my personal adversaries.
Looking forward I can see my destination. I am in between what was and what will be and I realise that another question for me is what am I travelling to and why? For possibly the first time I look at myself and realise that just by undertaking my journey I have changed and am in some ways closer to joy. I’d started my journey wanting to be; different, improved, a better man, happier and I’d believed that entry to the city of joy would give me these things. Once again, focusing on something outside me to give me joy, happiness, bliss.
I’ve come to see that I have changed and some of the things that I’d set off in search of I now have and others like the city of joy are getting closer. Looking at myself I can see along with the shadows that I’ve carried the light reflected from the city shining on my face. Perhaps it isn’t as far as I thought and maybe I am stronger than I thought; ready to walk another day, ready to do battle with another adversary until I turn a corner and realise that the city of joy has been there all along I just wasn’t ready to enter its gates. A happy man at home in the city of joy!