You know how you can get those things to plug into your computer – an external hard drive - that significantly extend its memory and also enable you to take everything you’re working on from place to place without lugging actual laptops back and forth?
Well I have a notebook that fulfils a not dissimilar function. It was Kathy gave me the idea. We were having coffee together at Waterfalls café and something of interest wafted through our conversation that caused her to whip out a very small pocket note book and either jot something down or look something up (I forget which). Watching her do this I resolved to equip myself with just such a little notebook. So I have one, and in it is pretty much everything occupying my mind. It's become the external hard drive of my brain. If I need to mail something off to anyone I jot their address down there. If I’m contacted to undertake some kind of pastoral ministry for someone their basic info and contact details are noted there. If an idea passes through my head I write it down there – in fact I had just the best idea for the opening of a novel while in the shower the other day, and I thought “That’s it! That’s it! It’s on its way!” But I didn’t write it down and it’s gone now. That’s why I need the notebook – though of course it’s still no use if I don’t actually write the thing in it. I keep occasional tally of accounts in there, and add notes to self. If there’s something I’m puzzling through I think aloud in there – you can tell I’ll have to burn this small book once it’s full. And I write down wise words quoted from other people there, to consider later.
In the last couple of days I wrote down Katrina’s address that she kindly emailed me, to send some bits and pieces off to her in the post, and this quotation from Thich Nhat Hanh:
“In Buddhism all views are wrong views. When you get in touch with reality you no longer have views.”
Such an interesting and thought-provoking observation. But wait? Is that a view? I mean, what I just said. Am I expressing a view about . . . er . . . his view . . . or the view of Buddhism? I mean isn’t “When you get in touch with reality you no longer have views” what in normal parlance we call a view? That is to say, it’s an opinion (I think) about the way things are. Reality, surely is too large and too kind of dense for any one human being’s mind to encompass it – surely? Isn’t this the old fable of the blind men describing the elephant? Each one experiencing but a part of one massive objective reality. Because of that, is not the way we see life bound to be our view?
Of course Thich Nhat Hanh is further up the mountain than I am by a tidy number of miles but even so – doesn’t that just mean he has a better view than I do, rather than no view at all? Maybe this is a semantics problem and he means something different from what I think.
Be that as it may, his words brought to mind something Michael Lorence (co-inhabitant with his wife Diana of Innermost House) said about his parents: that he never knew them to express an opinion. Which concept arrested me completely. Stopped me dead in my tracks. Two people who passed through life without expressing an opinion? Are you sure? Of course as they are now deceased and lived in America anyway I have no way of verifying this or checking if he and I might define things differently. But I was very surprised, and intrigued. [Sorry, I've done my darnedest to find the Innermost House Facebook post in which this was said - I think it was probably March or April, not sure - but the introduction of Facebook Timeline has caused problems in accessing all the earlier posts so I can't get to it]
And these two things, all views are wrong views and when you get in touch with reality you no longer have views, and not having an opinion, have been jiggling around in my mind and asking me questions.
You see, my beautiful mama says I am very opinionated, and I cannot say she’s wrong. It’s true, I do have opinions about almost everything. I thought you had to, to form a life, to get anything done. Otherwise you’d just go with the flow, wouldn’t you – reflect the mainstream.
For example, Thich Nhat Hanh himself did some research a year or two back and established that consuming animal products was a bad thing for the wellbeing of the Earth – taking up grain that would have fed the hungry and water that could have been more compassionately and responsibly shared etc. But there you go! That’s an opinion – it’s a view – I know it is because I’ve been nosing around this inconclusively all my adult life. It’s not as simple as an objective fact. Eg, if a pheasant is killed by a car on the road, how do I benefit the poor if I don’t eat it? How is the State of the World affected if I have rescued ex-battery three hens in my back garden eating kitchen scraps or not? But if Thich Nhat Hanh had not taken the view that the view the vegans promote is correct, his community at Plum Village would never have gone vegan, under his direction.
Similarly, when I was in my baby-birthing years I took the view that home births were safer than hospital births, and that birth is primarily not a physical but a spiritual and sacred event. Our hospital consultant obstetrician took a very different view, and he had several other views as well that confirmed my view that my babies would be better off born at home under the care of community midwives not him. That was just an opinion – but it was the opinion that resulted in my taking the actions I did, chipping away at getting a home birth until, by baby No 5, I eventually did. And guess what? It was a better and safer process than in hospital. The care was more consistent and given by more experienced attendants, the risk of infection that goes with a public place with a large transient throughput of people was absent. And, unlike with my previous labours, the last one was done and dusted in three hours rather than continuing interminably because (as any farmer who keeps livestock might have predicted) when I was moved in the middle of labour to a place where I felt exposed, suspicious and tense, the birth process would stop dead and have to be artificially restarted and managed – which is not from any point of view a clinical plus.
So the reality I got in touch with shaped my views and in turn my views informed the reality into which my choices shaped my life. Isn’t that the same for everybody?
But none of that is what I meant to say.
What I meant to say was about the expression of views. In my previous blog post I mused about Scott Savage’s book and the similarity of something spiritual I glimpsed in the faces of Diana Lorence and Daniel Suelo, and I woke up this morning realising I had been thinking aloud.
It’s my belief (here we go again – a view, you see, an opinion) that thinking aloud in a public place is unwise and possibly a sign that the person is becoming unhinged. And the internet is the most public place you can possibly think aloud in. I shouldn’t be letting my private musings evaluating Scott Savage’s writing and Daniel Suelo’s and Diana Lorence’s faces fall out of my head onto a public page! I’ve lost the plot!
And what’s more, here I am again, you see – thinking aloud!
Thinking aloud about what I was thinking aloud about before. Tut.
All this is serving to confirm my view (here we go again – my view, my opinion) that to be in touch with reality is to recognise it’s high time I stopped blogging. I should miss it of course. My beautiful mama is quite right, I’m a very opinionated person and I like airing my views. But, as Oscar Wilde pointed out, “We are not sent into the world to air our moral prejudices.”
It has come to my attention recently that I have no idea at all how I seem to others – not least because opinions expressed to me about myself vary staggeringly from “sick”, “psychotic”, “like the wrath of God”, “born to rattle the cage of the church”, “very left field”, to “calm”, “gentle”, “irenic”, “like a kitten”(!) and “serene”. What’s to be made of that lot? Nothing at all of any use!
And if I can’t tell how I come across I can’t accurately evaluate how to modify my conduct to become a better person.
The principal thing is that I can’t disentangle what I’ve thought and felt from what I’ve said and done – or what I’ve said and done openly from what I’ve said and done privately. And that does make a difference! Keeping those barriers in place is an important aspect of what sanity actually is. If you can’t do that it’s an indication of brain synapses or something. Do you see what I mean? Thinking aloud again!
So I have concluded that if I cannot differentiate to the point where I can be 100% certain of wise discretion, the internet is not a good place for me to be.
What I would like to do, after posting a few pieces more edifying than this, is to leave you my address so that if you wish to stay in touch with me you can do so the old-fashioned way – not by email, by handwritten letter or personal visit. Then after that I could just post if I have something earth-shatteringly wise to say, which obviously wouldn't be often.
Now then, here’s a question to the intelligent. Is there any real reason why I shouldn’t do this? Post my address here so you can write to me, I mean. I know people are absolutely paranoid about their contact details being made public like that, so I’ve never made mine public – but why? Who’s likely to read this blog that would make that a problem? Advice welcome! Your opinions, your views, or – if any of you are in touch with reality and no longer have views – simple objective unarguable truth will do. Thank you.
Posting a couple ahead of time.
Do you know what this is? We’ve had it my whole life.
A meditation cushion. Thich Nhat Hanh, and a whole lot of reviewers on Amazon, said that if I had one of these I’d be able to sit up straight with my legs crossed in a proper meditation position easily. Like a child I believed them. It turned out the reality they were in touch with, that made their words not views or opinions but plain unequivocal truth, was different from mine. This has not actually left the house, but I gave it to Hebe who has abandoned it in the living room, so it may make its way to the charity shop yet.