Posts Tagged ‘money’

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On Being An Empath (part two)

May 30, 2012

Part Two – The Delights

Empathy: the state of identification of personalities in which one person feels into the other as temporarily to lose his or her own identity. It is in this profound and somewhat mysterious process of empathy that understanding, influence, and the other significant relations between persons take place.  – Rollo May

In part one of “On Being An Empath” we examined the difficulties of being an empath. In this second part, we’ll now explore how to take care of yourself once you’ve recognised you’re an empath, and the delights which being an empath can bring.

TAKE GOOD CARE OF YOURSELF

Now you’ve recognised that you’re an empath, the most important change you can make is to take care of yourself by minimising the number of negative influences in your life. As discussed in part one, as an empath you are susceptible to the detrimental effects of negative energy, whether it’s surrounding energy or your own.

This susceptibility affects your life in a number of ways. Firstly, you will be unable to tolerate an unhealthy relationship at any level. Some people are able to exist in such a relationship for many years, perhaps by operating as though it were simply a business arrangement, but as an empath you are unable to do this. Indeed, if you do attempt to follow this course of action, you will end up becoming physically, emotionally or mentally sick – I have know more than one empath who has become suicidal when stuck in a loveless marriage. I have also known other empaths who have ended up becoming completely numb – unable to cope with the negative energy, they simply cut themselves off from ALL energy and feel nothing at all. What a horrible (non) existence. Consequently, the aware empath would rather remain single than be in a negative relationship.

You will also be unable to tolerate work which is meaningless – what Barry Jaeger in Making Work Work for the Highly Sensitive Person calls ‘Drudgery’. Though many people are able to tolerate a dull job purely for the money, you are not one of them and if you make such a sacrifice, you will ultimately pay for it with your emotional, spiritual and physical health. The aware empath values their time, their well-being and meaningful work far more than they value money and consumer goods. Sadly, our society revolves around the masculine principles of economics whilst the more feminine attribute of empathy is often derided and neglected. And whoever dreamt up the work ethic certainly did not have people like us in mind – and was definitely not an empath.

The empath’s preference for meaningful work means that you will find many of us working in creative fields – the writer, the musician and the artist will often have this trait to some degree. Creativity is food for the soul for the empath and I personally find it vital to my well-being to use creativity in my work. I’ve done many jobs over the years but this is the only work I’ve truly enjoyed – even the more stressful and tedious aspects are easier to cope with when your work means something more to you than just a way of paying the bills.

As an empath, you will also benefit from periods of solitude to recuperate after any energy bombardment. In part one I discussed the difficulties for the empath of being in an urban environment. As I’ve got older (and empaths often become more sensitive to energies the older they become) I find that if I spend the day in a nearby town, I can only last a few hours before I have to get the hell out of there.

I also used to have what I call ‘brain in the jar’ moments. Before I recognised my trait, I would spend too much time amongst other people and become so overwhelmed, that it literally felt as if my head would explode. I would also find myself becoming overwhelmed by stressful situations or issues in my life. Whenever I felt like this, I would comment that I wished I could ‘take my brain out of my head and put it in a jar’, as a way of giving myself a break. At some subconscious level, obviously I knew what I needed – complete and utter sensory rest.

Fortunately I eventually recognised this need so I now make sure that I regularly recharge my own energy by spending time alone, meeting my need for time to contemplate, read, write and generally take care of myself – and my ‘brain in the jar’ moments no longer occur. I also realised that, for the same reasons, empaths need more sleep than most people. If you have commitments such as work and family, this can be easier said than done, but at least try and take half an hour to nap or lie in a dark, quiet room during the course of the day to revitalise yourself.  Some empaths are so unable to cope with energy onslaughts that they become recluses or hermits, but for most of us there is no need to go to this extreme, although time spent in retreat for a few days can be a positive thing now and again. This can be particularly useful for urban empaths, as time out in a tranquil rural environment can really give you a boost as well as indulge your passion for nature, which occurs naturally for many empaths.

Finding a pastime which absorbs you is also a good way of giving yourself a break. My personal favourite used to be jigsaws – you’ll find that  ‘geeky’ pastimes like model-making or stamp collecting are particularly good for this, as are creative pursuits such as gardening, painting, sculpting, or cookery. So long as it takes you out of your conscious mind for a while to give you time to balance your energy, any pastime you choose will do.

Basically then, the rule is to be your own best friend – take care of yourself, eat and sleep well and give yourself little treats now and again. Time spent relaxing with a good book in a local friendly coffee shop is my idea of bliss and is a really cheap and simple way to give yourself a lift and recharge your batteries. And remember to talk kindly to yourself – empaths tend to analyse everything and can end up being hypercritical of themselves. Whenever you catch yourself judging yourself harshly, ask yourself ‘Would I speak like this to my best friend? Would I tolerate my best friend saying this stuff to me?’ If not, then perhaps you need to reconsider.

Ultimately, self care is crucial. The more you nurture yourself, the more you will be open to the following benefits of being an empath.

 UNIVERSAL KNOWLEDGE – TELEPATHY, SYNCHRONICITIES AND DREAMS

Because of your high level of resonance, you will probably be tuned into the ‘universal energies’ or what Jung called the collective unconscious. This gives you a deep sense of knowing – you just ‘know’ things despite there being no rational explanation as to how you know – as well as a strong feeling of connection, which can lead to the spiritual belief that separation is an illusion and ‘we are all one’. This connection and knowing also opens us up to the ‘universal guidance’ which is contained within these energies, which is why many empaths are natural problem solvers, able to resolve any issue which they put their hearts, souls and minds into.

I mentioned in part one how my daughter and I are so close that as soon as we’re in each others energy range, I start to feel her physical symptoms. This energetic connection with others, often referred to as telepathy, is one of the fun aspects of being an empath. As well as those little tricks which many of us do such as thinking about someone just as they call you, or bumping into someone you haven’t seen in years the day after you thought about them, you may also find yourself connecting energetically with people in other less obvious ways. I find that I often tune into people I’m close to through my dreams, perhaps because my mind is more relaxed and therefore more receptive. For instance, if my daughter wakes before me in the morning and reads a book, I often have a dream which reflects the contents of that book in some way. A recent example was a dream I had about Glastonbury music festival one morning shortly before I woke. When I asked P what she had been reading, it turned out that there was a character in her book that had the nick-name ‘Glastonbury’! Even more bizarrely, I have even on occasion had the same dream as my daughter or my partner.

I also have prophetic dreams which you can read about in my blog entry The Magical World of Dreams. Empaths are often fascinated by dreams and we are natural dream analysts, due to our ability to see the deeper meaning in things and make lateral links using subtle details. This ability also works in the waking world too and helps us to interpret signs, symbols and archtypes, as well as synchronicities. Aware empaths delight in synchronicities and as our understanding of ourselves and our connection to the universe grows, we find that the universal guidance which appears in the form of synchronicities becomes ever more fluent and clear. You can read more about synchronicities in my blog entry So What Is Synchronicity?

PEOPLE AND OTHER ANIMALS

The aware empath is often described by others as ‘a beacon of light’. You will find that people are drawn to you and babies in particular will adore you – I often notice little children staring and smiling at me from their pushchairs when I’m out and about.

A similar thing can happen with animals. Empaths have a deep connection to animals and love to be around their energies. You may even find you prefer their company to that of people, as you feel animals – and their energies – are simpler and don’t have an agenda. Perhaps those ‘crazy cat ladies’ who prefer to live alone surrounded by felines are actually misunderstood empaths.

As an empath, you will also be able to resonate with the emotions of animals and unlike most people, you will view them as sentient beings who should have the same rights as humans. Because of this, many empaths become vegetarian or vegan at some point in their lives.

As far as people go, the empath makes a great friend for life, as we are loyal, warm and, humorous as well as very loving and affectionate. We are also good listeners, who are unembarrassed by strong emotion as well as being pretty much unshockable. However a healthy empath will have no tolerance for drama queens who seek attention through emotional behaviour. Though we are highly expressive about our feelings and ourselves, with the ability to share openly and honestly, we are also natural peacemakers, so prefer calm discussions to overwrought emotional spectacles or aggressive confrontations.

If you befriend an empath, then they will probably be your greatest champion. Empaths recognise your inner potential, so are able to identify your positive attributes and will remind you of your strengths when you forget you have them. (Paradoxically though, they often find it hard to take a compliment themselves.) They may also subtly alert you to any negative patterns in your life in a helpful and non-patronising way, as your empath friend has the ability to sift through all the confusing emotions you are experiencing which may be clouding the issue, to help you achieve clarity and find the root cause of your problem. And should they ever feel angry with you, you can rest assured that they will express this without attacking you personally – empaths are not judgmental and they recognise that just because a particular behaviour is bad, it does not mean that the person is bad too.

YOUR BODY SPEAKS YOUR MIND

Being an empath means you have the ability to sense the truth behind someone’s facade. You intuitively know when someone is attempting to mask a negative emotion. One theory is that when we are in the presence of an emotion we have personally experienced, we recognise it and feel it within ourselves, due to our high level of internal resonance. The empath is also able to read body language, mostly at a subconscious level – you will pick up on things like tone of voice, body movements, the words people choose when they speak, the words they avoid, the logic they use – all factors which help you to tune into others and know things about them which other people probably miss. This also makes you very difficult to lie to! Not only are you able to detect a lie, you can also tell whether the intent behind that lie is malicious and selfish, or whether it’s a white lie, told in an attempt to protect someone else.

Empaths are also highly expressive themselves. They project an incredible amount of energy releasing their emotions, with many gesticulations, and as they are so open about themselves, the empath is usually the person of whom it is said that you can ‘read them like a book’. We also delight in using our bodies in a sensual way – empaths can literally become ‘lost in music’ when they dance, their bodies becoming one with the music to create one wonderful mass of  flowing, sensual energy.

NATURAL HEALERS

As you become aware of your empathy, you will recognise more and more how sensitive this makes you to the energies around you. The fact is that as an empath, energy is literally absorbed by you far more easily than more thick-skinned folk (hence the expression) so by increasing your awareness, you will be able to be more selective about which energies you allow yourself to absorb. This also means you will be able to experience a high level of resonance with another, without being overwhelmed by a multitude of outside influences.

When you have achieved this level of balance and awareness, you will find that all your empathic qualities as discussed above – your deep inner knowing, your connection to the universal energies and so on – make you a natural healer and counsellor. Indeed, for an empath a good way of sublimating the energy we talked about in part one – which attracts the energy vampires and lame ducks – and drawing boundaries around your own propensity to give of yourself to others, is to channel it into training in a helping or healing profession.

Being counselled by an empath is an amazing and life-changing experience. After just a few hours of conversation, you will feel as if the empath knows you inside out. This is due to the afore-mentioned ability for high emotional resonance, which allows the empath to tune into your energy and emotional state, giving them an uncanny ability to pinpoint what you most need and want. They will also ask the questions others may be afraid to ask – if you’re willing to face up to some possibly uncomfortable truths about yourself and your life and recognise your negative self-destructive patterns in order to grow and be true to the real you, then working with an empath will change your life.  An empath will not shy away from talking about feelings of loss either, and will help you to gain perspective on your issue as well as heal from emotional wounds, past and present.

In addition to helping you to heal, the empath will point out strengths and abilities you perhaps never realised you had. Personal empowerment is very important to the empath so they will always respect your courage and sense of determination to survive and will trust in your ability to heal and take care of yourself. All this creates a very safe environment with a high level of trust and a strong intimacy. The relationship between an empath and their client is more than just a business transaction – an authentic and caring relationship will be formed between you as the empath helps you to be your best self and to live the truth of who that best self is.

Empaths may also find themselves being drawn to other types of healing work directly involving energy, such as Reiki. With our natural ability to tune into the universal energy, learning to channel this energy through ourselves to help others is a path which many empaths naturally gravitate towards.

I do hope this article has helped you to understand your trait a little better. If you feel that anything here resonates with you, do please leave a comment – I would love to hear from you!

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Wake up! Why our education system isn’t working

April 4, 2012

In my work, I talk a lot about ‘waking up’ and in this post I’m going to discuss how we end up becoming one of the ‘asleeple’  in the first place. Because the fact is, we’re not born ‘asleep’ – it’s a lifelong process of ‘training’ also known as ‘socialisation’, beginning as soon as we’re able to reasonably function in ‘civilised’ society. All young children are intellectually free and emotionally alive. But in our so-called developed world, it’s impossible to be an adult and retain the creativity and spontaneity of a three year old without being labelled mad or personality disordered – unless you’re employed as an artist of some kind. In fact, these childlike attributes are the cornerstone of mental well-being but instead, as soon as you can walk, talk and adequately use a toilet, these traits are beaten out of you and you’re indoctrinated into becoming a useful tool in our economic system.

‘Education’ is not really about teaching the things that you really need and want to know. What you’re learning is the stuff that the people who control everything ie the people with the most money, want you to know. These big business people who control our economy need a few highly educated people to do the brain work and a larger number of less well-educated people to do the grunt work. Therefore the system is geared towards churning out these two types, rather than catering for each person’s individual needs.

Look up ‘school’ in the dictionary and the definition will inevitably begin with the word ‘institution’. And this is exactly what school is – an institution, much like a prison or a children’s home, governed by a strict set of rules. (Whenever I refer to my school years, I talk about having ‘done my time’ because this is exactly how it felt – forced to attend the same place, day in, day out, and resigned to suffering bullying and boredom for years on end.) The rules are designed to make life simpler for the authorities by imposing their ideas of conformity on you – stand in line, no talking, short hair and other dress codes – and to teach you to unquestioningly obey authority. Teachers are given a lot of power over you and you are taught to obey them and all your ‘elders and betters’. The word ‘respect’ is used a lot – the teachers are apparently teaching you ‘respect’ rather than ‘obedience’ – but how can you truly respect someone who is showing little or no respect for you?

The problem with most teachers of course is that they too are ‘asleep’. Being asleep, they believe in the idea that everything is separate and have long since lost touch with their real selves. The focus is on competition – who is the best, who’s getting the highest grades – and the belief that true worth consists of being better and having more than the separate ‘other’. Consequently, children lose their intrinsic sense of the universal and their community values and learn instead to play the game of differentiation and dissociation, the punishment for refusing to play being abandonment and rejection. Their true self recedes into the shadow where it goes to sleep, often for the rest of their lives, and is replaced by a false self, developed to fit in with what others need you to be, but leaving you with a feeling of disconnection and dissatisfaction which can only be temporarily assuaged by external trappings, rewards for playing the game.

In school, these trappings take the form of grades and exams. Grades are used as a bribe to get you to do the things you don’t want to do – you work for the good grades and not because you’re interested in what you’re doing. Grades become an end in themselves, much like money in the outside world. The people with the best grades (or the most money) are perceived as the best people, regardless of the methods used to gain them and what they’re really like as people. In a similar fashion, exams don’t show how creative or intelligent you actually are – all they demonstrate is who is good at exams ie capable of trotting out parrot-fashion the information which has been drilled into them. During my time at school, I did many exams and received good grades in them all – and cannot remember a single thing that I supposedly ‘learned’.

And then of course, there is the ‘lower hierarchy’ – the one which develops amongst the pupils themselves. Here the trappings are social and psychological and the winners of this game are the ones who have learned to play the other game – the game of differentiation – the best. The children who have the least empathy – who are therefore more ‘separate’ – are the ones who will race to the top of this particular hierarchy. The less you care – or appear to care – about others, the more popular you will be. And the more you conform to the standards our society ascribes to be the best – for example, the more glamorous you are as a girl or the more sporty you are as a boy – the better your chances of being perceived as ‘popular’. Anyone who fails to play the game properly by being ‘too sensitive’ or ‘too different’ must be prepared to suffer the consequences. I am never surprised when I hear of yet another high school shooting. Doug Stanhope summed this up best in one of his stand-up routines:

“High school is horrible. I quit in ninth grade and it was the best thing I ever did. After every school shooting, parents come on television and say: `Rap music is the problem. And drugs. And the lack of metal detectors.’ No. The problem is that a lot of your kids are aggressive dicks and you won’t do shit about it. That’s the problem. You never hear these parents say: `It’s terrible that Andy Williams shot up Santana High School, but I accept it was also our boy Ethan’s fault, because he was a sadistic prick to that kid. Tell that to the cameras, Ethan. Tell them how you pulled Andy’s pants down, then pushed his head down the toilet.’ I never hear that on the news.
Williams was this frail little kid who was bullied, and shot up his school. George W Bush came on the news and called it `the ultimate act of cowardice’. “Cowardice? The ultimate act of cowardice is the fat-headed wrestling guy sitting behind the frail kid in math class, clipping him on the ear, saying: `What are you going to do about that, faggot?’ That is cowardice. When the bullets start flying past that jock’s saucer-shaped ears, that’s not cowardice. That’s payback.”

Ok, so I’m certainly not advocating that every bullied kid should get out there and start shooting the place up. But why are we so shocked when every once in a while someone is pushed over the edge because we’ve brought up our children to believe in differentiation and worship those who conform to our society’s idea of ‘the best’ whilst demeaning and rejecting those who don’t? When the people at the top of these man-made pyramids of power show little respect for those at the bottom, why are they so horrified when the people at the bottom show little respect for them? (You can read more on this in this blog post about last year’s riots in the UK here: https://empathicguidance.wordpress.com/2011/08/08/london-riots-remember-this/)

Home-schooling is on the increase, as is a form of education called ‘unschooling’ where the child’s natural interests are followed and developed. Unlike the school system, these forms of education consider the needs of the individual child, rather than just teaching them what the authorities feel you need to know to join the ‘asleeple’. School is simply a mirror image of our society, a society built on economic power, and a society which is founded on the idea that people exist for the sake of big business, not the other way round. The majority of changes which have taken place in this system are geared towards the people who have the power keeping that power. A recent example of this is the introduction of student loans. By taking on one of these loans, you’re effectively shackling yourself to the economic system before you’ve even dipped a toe into the waters of employment. Interesting, isn’t it, that these loans were introduced round about the same time that property prices zoomed into the stratosphere, making it increasingly difficult for people to be shackled to the system by a mortgage? The powers-that-be will always find a way to get you stuck in that dead-end job, the one that fills their coffers whilst simultaneously depleting yours, with no visible means of escape. Interesting, too, that this system was introduced after the people currently in power had already taken advantage of the ‘free higher education for all’ offered pre-1991.

The majority of degrees these days are not even worth the paper they’re printed on. A degree requires little more than a good memory and an ability to assimilate the academic orthodoxy of the day, which is why employers favour graduates, regardless of the field of study. As you’ve already proved yourself to be biddable and unquestioning, as far as employers are concerned, you’re ideal corporate material. And don’t assume that you’ll be financially rewarded either – graduates now earn only £140,000 more over their lifetime than non-graduates, instead of the £400,000 previously. They also pay back thousands more in tax than their degree will have cost. Furthermore, the higher the education, the cheaper the ‘citizen’ is to the government in terms of benefits (less chance of unemployment) and NHS costs (less illness). Increased levels of student debt, thanks to introduction of  exorbitant fees, also encourage graduates to go for the highest paid available job, rather than going into further study, volunteering or jobs that aren’t necessarily so well remunerated, meaning once again the economic system is the ultimate beneficiary. This introduction of market forces into higher education also results in the selection criteria of universities being based on a student’s bank balance not academic ability. Thanks to the creation of a two-tier education system, the gulf between the haves and the have-nots is widening more and more each day.

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UK riots – remember this?

August 8, 2011

Regular readers will remember that I predicted what would happen this year here: https://empathicguidance.wordpress.com/2010/12/23/talkin-bout-a-revolution-a-prediction-for-2011-and-beyond/

All I’ve heard for the last few months is how there’s no chance of social mobility for today’s youth – priced out of the housing market, made to pay through the nose for an education, widespread unemployment and the  only decent jobs going to the kids whose parents can afford to pay for them to do internships. The government cuts have also affected youth workers and services which made a difference in young people’s lives and the poor have been constantly vilified in our national press as scroungers and layabouts. Our right to protest has also been thwarted with techniques such as kettling and disproportionate prison sentences and lives ruined for young people who attend the marches.

 So what on earth did the powers-that-be think was going to happen? I don’t condone violence but this was always on the cards. The ‘haves’ have the power of wealth, status, media and the law behind them and constantly push a materialist/consumer agenda whilst simultaneously ensuring that this is out of reach for too many members of our society.We’ve sat back and watched as they’ve robbed the poor to feather the nests of the rich and even when they’re proven to have behaved in criminal ways to achieve this, they manage to escape justice. So why the surprise when the ‘have nots’ rise up and use the only power they have – physical power – and go out and take the baubles which are tantalisingly waved in front of them but always just out of reach? Surely what they’re doing is exactly the same as the example which has been set for them by the ‘haves’, by using their power to take what they want, without thought or feeling for the people who are affected by their actions.

In the same way that a parent who abuses their child for years cannot be surprised when that child ends up with severe behavioural issues, so the powers-that-be should have lead by example and shown compassion for all of the citizens of this country instead of simply abusing their power to line the pockets of themselves, their families and their cronies. There is only one solution to this issue and that is empathy. This country is being destroyed by self-serving greed and it’s a behavioural pattern which is being passed down from the top to the bottom.  If the haves begin to show compassion for the have nots instead of using their power to diminish their lifestyles even further for their own benefit, then perhaps we’ll begin to see some lasting change.

We’re not even halfway through the troubles I predicted. Expect to see more of this until a real change takes place.

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Living without money – Native American wisdom

February 24, 2011

Before our white brothers came to civilize us we had no jails. Therefore we had no criminals. You can’t have criminals without a jail. We had no locks or keys, and so we had no thieves. If a man was so poor that he had no horse, tipi or blanket, someone gave him these things. We were too uncivilized to set much value on personal belongings. We wanted to have things only in order to give them away. We had no money, and therefore a man’s worth couldn’t be measured by it. We valued the exchange of love, so we did not deal in fear. We had no written law, no attorney or politicians, therefore we couldn’t cheat. We were in a really bad way before the white man came, and I don’t know how we managed to get along for millenniums without the basic things which, we are told, are absolutely necessary to make a current civilized society.

— Lakota Sage Lame Deer (from John Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions)

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Leave the libraries alone. You don’t understand their value.

January 26, 2011

Even by my standards, this is a rather lengthy post, but one which is well worth reading. The lack of empathy being displayed by our current government towards certain sectors of our society is frankly appalling. This speech by best-selling author Philip Pullman brilliantly describes how the greed of market forces – whose motto seems to be ‘if there’s no profit, there’s no value’ – is destroying all that is good within our society.

You don’t need me to give you the facts. Everyone here is aware of the situation. The government, in the Dickensian person of Mr Eric Pickles, has cut the money it gives to local government, and passed on the responsibility for making the savings to local authorities. Some of them have responded enthusiastically, some less so; some have decided to protect their library service, others have hacked into theirs like the fanatical Bishop Theophilus in the year 391 laying waste to the Library of Alexandria and its hundreds of thousands of books of learning and scholarship.

Here in Oxfordshire we are threatened with the closure of 20 out of our 43 public libraries. Mr Keith Mitchell, the leader of the county council, said in the Oxford Times last week that the cuts are inevitable, and invites us to suggest what we would do instead. What would we cut? Would we sacrifice care for the elderly? Or would youth services feel the axe?

I don’t think we should accept his invitation. It’s not our job to cut services. It’s his job to protect them.

Nor do I think we should respond to the fatuous idea that libraries can stay open if they’re staffed by volunteers. What patronising nonsense. Does he think the job of a librarian is so simple, so empty of content, that anyone can step up and do it for a thank-you and a cup of tea? Does he think that all a librarian does is to tidy the shelves? And who are these volunteers? Who are these people whose lives are so empty, whose time spreads out in front of them like the limitless steppes of central Asia, who have no families to look after, no jobs to do, no responsibilities of any sort, and yet are so wealthy that they can commit hours of their time every week to working for nothing? Who are these volunteers? Do you know anyone who could volunteer their time in this way? If there’s anyone who has the time and the energy to work for nothing in a good cause, they are probably already working for one of the voluntary sector day centres or running a local football team or helping out with the league of friends in a hospital. What’s going to make them stop doing that and start working in a library instead?

Especially since the council is hoping that the youth service, which by a strange coincidence is also going to lose 20 centres, will be staffed by – guess what – volunteers. Are these the same volunteers, or a different lot of volunteers?

This is the Big Society, you see. It must be big, to contain so many volunteers.

But there’s a prize being dangled in front of these imaginary volunteers. People who want to save their library, we’re told, are going to be “allowed to bid” for some money from a central pot. We must sit up and beg for it, like little dogs, and wag our tails when we get a bit.

The sum first mentioned was £200,000. Divide that between the 20 libraries due for closure and it comes to £10,000 each, which doesn’t seem like very much to me. But of course it’s not going to be equally divided. Some bids will be preferred, others rejected. And then comes the trick: they “generously” increase the amount to be bid for. It’s not £200,000. It’s £600,000. It’s a victory for the volunteers. Hoorah for the Big Society! We’ve “won” some more money!

Oh, but wait a minute. This isn’t £600,000 for the libraries. It turns out that that sum is to be bid for by everyone who runs anything at all. All those volunteers bidding like mad will soon chip away at the £600,000. A day care centre here, a special transport service there, an adult learning course somewhere else, all full of keen-eyed volunteers bidding away like mad, and before you know it the amount available to libraries has suddenly shrunk. Why should libraries have a whole third of all the Big Society money?

But just for the sake of simplicity let’s imagine it’s only libraries. Imagine two communities that have been told their local library is going to be closed. One of them is full of people with generous pension arrangements, plenty of time on their hands, lots of experience of negotiating planning applications and that sort of thing, broadband connections to every household, two cars in every drive, neighbourhood watch schemes in every road, all organised and ready to go. Now I like people like that. They are the backbone of many communities. I approve of them and of their desire to do something for their villages or towns. I’m not knocking them.

But they do have certain advantages that the other community, the second one I’m talking about, does not. There people are out of work, there are a lot of single parent households, young mothers struggling to look after their toddlers, and as for broadband and two cars, they might have a slow old computer if they’re lucky and a beaten-up old van and they dread the MOT test – people for whom a trip to the centre of Oxford takes a lot of time to organise, a lot of energy to negotiate, getting the children into something warm, getting the buggy set up and the baby stuff all organised, and the bus isn’t free, either – you can imagine it. Which of those two communities will get a bid organised to fund their local library?

But one of the few things that make life bearable for the young mother in the second community at the moment is a weekly story session in the local library, the one just down the road. She can go there with the toddler and the baby and sit in the warmth, in a place that’s clean and safe and friendly, a place that makes her and the children welcome. But has she, have any of the mothers or the older people who use the library got all that hinterland of wealth and social confidence and political connections and administrative experience and spare time and energy to enable them to be volunteers on the same basis as the people in the first community? And how many people can volunteer to do this, when they’re already doing so much else?

What I personally hate about this bidding culture is that it sets one community, one group, one school, against another. If one wins, the other loses.

I’ve always hated it. It started coming in when I left the teaching profession 25 years ago, and I could see the way things were going then. In a way it’s an abdication of responsibility. We elect people to decide things, and they don’t really want to decide, so they set up this bidding nonsense and then they aren’t really responsible for the outcome. “Well, if the community really wanted it, they would have put in a better bid … Nothing I can do about it … My hands are tied …”

And it always results in victory for one side and defeat for the other. It’s set up to do that. It’s imported the worst excesses of market fundamentalism into the one arena that used to be safe from them, the one part of our public and social life that used to be free of the commercial pressure to win or to lose, to survive or to die, which is the very essence of the religion of the market. Like all fundamentalists who get their clammy hands on the levers of political power, the market fanatics are going to kill off every humane, life-enhancing, generous, imaginative and decent corner of our public life. I think that little by little we’re waking up to the truth about the market fanatics and their creed. We’re coming to see that old Karl Marx had his finger on the heart of the matter when he pointed out that the market in the end will destroy everything we know, everything we thought was safe and solid. It is the most powerful solvent known to history. “Everything solid melts into air,” he said. “All that is holy is profaned.”

Market fundamentalism, this madness that’s infected the human race, is like a greedy ghost that haunts the boardrooms and council chambers and committee rooms from which the world is run these days.

In the world I know about, the world of books and publishing and bookselling, it used to be the case that a publisher would read a book and like it and publish it. They’d back their judgement on the quality of the book and their feeling about whether the author had more books in him or in her, and sometimes the book would sell lots of copies and sometimes it wouldn’t, but that didn’t much matter because they knew it took three or four books before an author really found his or her voice and got the attention of the public. And there were several successful publishers who knew that some of their authors would never sell a lot of copies, but they kept publishing them because they liked their work. It was a human occupation run by human beings. It was about books, and people were in publishing or bookselling because they believed that books were the expression of the human spirit, vessels of delight or of consolation or enlightenment.

Not any more, because the greedy ghost of market madness has got into the controlling heights of publishing. Publishers are run by money people now, not book people. The greedy ghost whispers into their ears: Why are you publishing that man? He doesn’t sell enough. Stop publishing him. Look at this list of last year’s books: over half of them weren’t bestsellers. This year you must only publish bestsellers. Why are you publishing this woman? She’ll only appeal to a small minority. Minorities are no good to us. We want to double the return we get on each book we publish.

So decisions are made for the wrong reasons. The human joy and pleasure goes out of it; books are published not because they’re good books but because they’re just like the books that are in the bestseller lists now, because the only measure is profit.

The greedy ghost is everywhere. That office block isn’t making enough money: tear it down and put up a block of flats. The flats aren’t making enough money: rip them apart and put up a hotel. The hotel isn’t making enough money: smash it to the ground and put up a multiplex cinema. The cinema isn’t making enough money: demolish it and put up a shopping mall.

The greedy ghost understands profit all right. But that’s all he understands. What he doesn’t understand is enterprises that don’t make a profit, because they’re not set up to do that but to do something different. He doesn’t understand libraries at all, for instance. That branch – how much money did it make last year? Why aren’t you charging higher fines? Why don’t you charge for library cards? Why don’t you charge for every catalogue search? Reserving books – you should charge a lot more for that. Those bookshelves over there – what’s on them? Philosophy? And how many people looked at them last week? Three? Empty those shelves and fill them up with celebrity memoirs.

That’s all the greedy ghost thinks libraries are for.

Now of course I’m not blaming Oxfordshire County Council for the entire collapse of social decency throughout the western world. Its powers are large, its authority is awe-inspiring, but not that awe-inspiring. The blame for our current situation goes further back and higher up even than the majestic office currently held by Mr Keith Mitchell. It even goes higher up and further back than the substantial, not to say monumental, figure of Eric Pickles. To find the true origin you’d have to go on a long journey back in time, and you might do worse than to make your first stop in Chicago, the home of the famous Chicago School of Economics, which argued for the unfettered freedom of the market and as little government as possible.

And you could go a little further back to the end of the nineteenth century and look at the ideas of “scientific management”, as it was called, the idea of Frederick Taylor that you could get more work out of an employee by splitting up his job into tiny parts and timing how long it took to do each one, and so on – the transformation of human craftsmanship into mechanical mass production.

And you could go on, further back in time, way back before recorded history. The ultimate source is probably the tendency in some of us, part of our psychological inheritance from our far-distant ancestors, the tendency to look for extreme solutions, absolute truths, abstract answers. All fanatics and fundamentalists share this tendency, which is so alien and unpleasing to the rest of us. The theory says they must do such-and-such, so they do it, never mind the human consequences, never mind the social cost, never mind the terrible damage to the fabric of everything decent and humane.

I’m afraid these fundamentalists of one sort or another will always be with us. We just have to keep them as far away as possible from the levers of power.

But I’ll finish by coming back to libraries. I want to say something  about my own relationship with libraries. Apparently Mr Mitchell thinks that we authors who defend libraries are only doing it because we have a vested interest – because we’re in it for the money. I thought the general custom of public discourse was to go through the substantial arguments before descending to personal abuse. If he’s doing it so early in the discussion, it’s a sure sign he hasn’t got much faith in the rest of his case.

No, Mr Mitchell, it isn’t for the money. I’m doing it for love.

I still remember the first library ticket I ever had. It must have been about 1957. My mother took me to the public library just off Battersea Park Road and enrolled me. I was thrilled. All those books, and I was allowed to borrow whichever I wanted! And I remember some of the first books I borrowed and fell in love with: the Moomin books by Tove Jansson; a French novel for children called A Hundred Million Francs; why did I like that? Why did I read it over and over again, and borrow it many times? I don’t know. But what a gift to give a child, this chance to discover that you can love a book and the characters in it, you can become their friend and share their adventures in your own imagination.

And the secrecy of it! The blessed privacy! No-one else can get in the way, no-one else can invade it, no-one else even knows what’s going on in that wonderful space that opens up between the reader and the book. That open democratic space full of thrills, full of excitement and fear, full of astonishment, where your own emotions and ideas are given back to you clarified, magnified, purified, valued. You’re a citizen of that great democratic space that opens up between you and the book. And the body that gave it to you is the public library. Can I possibly convey the magnitude of that gift?

Somewhere in Blackbird Leys, somewhere in Berinsfield, somewhere in Botley, somewhere in Benson or in Bampton, to name only the communities beginning with B whose libraries are going to be abolished, somewhere in each of them there is a child right now, there are children, just like me at that age in Battersea, children who only need to make that discovery to learn that they too are citizens of the republic of reading. Only the public library can give them that gift.

A little later, when we were living in north Wales, there was a mobile library that used to travel around the villages and came to us once a fortnight. I suppose I would have been about sixteen. One day I saw a novel whose cover intrigued me, so I took it out, knowing nothing of the author. It was called Balthazar, by Lawrence Durrell. The Alexandria Quartet – we’re back to Alexandria again – was very big at that time; highly praised, made much fuss of. It’s less highly regarded now, but I’m not in the habit of dissing what I once loved, and I fell for this book and the others, Justine, Mountolive, Clea, which I hastened to read after it. I adored these stories of wealthy cosmopolitan bohemian people having affairs and talking about life and art and things in that beautiful city. Another great gift from the public library.

Then I came to Oxford as an undergraduate, and all the riches of the Bodleian Library, one of the greatest libraries in the world, were open to me – theoretically. In practice I didn’t dare go in. I was intimidated by all that grandeur. I didn’t learn the ropes of the Bodleian till much later, when I was grown up. The library I used as a student was the old public library, round the back of this very building. If there’s anyone as old as I am here, you might remember it. One day I saw a book by someone I’d never heard of, Frances Yates, called Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition. I read it enthralled and amazed.It changed my life, or at least the intellectual direction in which I was going. It certainly changed the novel, my first, that I was tinkering with instead of studying for my final exams. Again, a life-changing discover, only possible because there was a big room with a lot of books and I was allowed to range wherever I liked and borrow any of them.

One final memory, this time from just a couple of years ago: I was trying to find out where all the rivers and streams ran in Oxford, for a book I’m writing called The Book of Dust. I went to the Central Library and there, with the help of a clever member of staff, I managed to find some old maps that showed me exactly what I wanted to know, and I photocopied them, and now they are pinned to my wall where I can see exactly what I want to know.

The public library, again. Yes, I’m writing a book, Mr Mitchell, and yes, I hope it’ll make some money. But I’m not praising the public library service for money. I love the public library service for what it did for me as a child and as a student and as an adult. I love it because its presence in a town or a city reminds us that there are things above profit, things that profit knows nothing about, things that have the power to baffle the greedy ghost of market fundamentalism, things that stand for civic decency and public respect for imagination and knowledge and the value of simple delight.

I love it for that, and so do the citizens of Summertown, Headington, Littlemore, Old Marston, Blackbird Leys, Neithrop, Adderbury, Bampton, Benson, Berinsfield, Botley, Charlbury, Chinnor, Deddington, Grove, Kennington, North Leigh, Sonning Common, Stonesfield, Woodcote.

And Battersea.

And Alexandria.

Leave the libraries alone. You don’t know the value of what you’re looking after. It is too precious to destroy.

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Rage Against The Establishment

December 24, 2009

As regular readers may have noticed, I’m currently taking a sabbatical from my blog writing. The reason for this break is that I’m working on a book which is quite an undertaking to say the least, so rather than scatter my creative energy, I’ve decided to focus the bulk of it on this one particular project. I’m also revamping my website and blog, in conjunction with my web designer, with the aim of relaunching in the New Year, and will be producing a workshop based on the contents of the book once the writing and the new website are completed. I’ll also be taking the Reiki 2nd degree course in February which will enable me to practise Reiki professionally, so as you can see, there’s a busy time ahead for me over the winter months.

However, following the news that the aptly named Rage Against The Machine has beaten the X-Factor offering to the coveted Christmas number one spot, I felt compelled to make some comment. If you haven’t caught any of the huge publicity this story has received, in a nutshell a chap from Essex started a Facebook group encouraging people to buy Killing in The Name (selected, I imagine, for its final refrain of ‘Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me’) between 13-19 December, rather than the single released by the winner of the X-Factor, as a protest against the X-Factor’s stranglehold on the number one Xmas slot over the last four years. The campaign succeeded and a defeated Simon Cowell had to admit that he had been ‘over confident’ and that perhaps ‘not everyone liked the X-Factor’.

I personally despise the X-Factor as for me it represents much of what has gone wrong with our society. Our world is increasingly being controlled by the corporations and the mega-rich, who seem intent on squeezing every last penny out of us to fill their already vastly overflowing coffers. It’s not just the greed, selfishness and ‘I’m alright, Jack’ attitude which angers me though. It’s the patronising, arrogant and frankly insulting belief they seem to have that the masses are easily placated (i.e. fooled) through manipulation (“let’s tell them that the country’s economic problems are caused by the immigrants and the benefit scroungers, that’ll get ‘em off our backs”) and distraction (with whatever bland mass-produced corporate crap they place in front of us) – and the disgusting and horrific fact that if you don’t fall for their spin, their wealth renders them so ludicrously powerful that any protests are easily silenced, thwarted or simply ignored. (There’ll be much more on this in my forthcoming book, with thoughts and ideas about what you can do to promote change on a personal level).

So this is why I was so delighted that RATM succeeded. Though this was small scale stuff, it proved that People Power cannot be underestimated. All it took was one person to stand up and say ‘I’ve had enough of this’ – and now of course, thanks to the Internet, one person with a big idea can reach millions of people in record time. Wouldn’t it be great if we could do this on a larger scale? If all of us could come together and agree to some kind of action which would really sock it to The Man? For example, what if we all decided to boycott the large stores – or even just the supermarkets – for one month? Or not pay any utility bills for one month – or maybe even one quarter? (March/April would be the best time to refuse to pay, when all the big winter bills are flooding in.) There’d be no way they could prosecute everyone or stop everyone’s supply so they’d probably resort to bully-boy scare tactics to try and get us back under their control, but the fact is we’d be hitting them where it hurts – in their overstuffed bank accounts. And talking of banks – maybe all of us with bank accounts could withdraw all our cash and either keep it under a mattress, or if that’s not possible, put all of it in a Post Office account or building society instead. Let the banks know how much we object to their greed through direct action instead of just moaning about it on internet forums or down the pub.

To slightly paraphrase Mr Lennon – you may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one. Maybe there’s someone out there with far more charisma than me who can translate this kind of action into reality. Maybe by getting these ideas out there  now, they’ll take root in the collective unconscious and one glorious day enough people will realise that greed and selfishness is ruining our world and that at last it’s time to take a stand and make a difference. It’s certainly more likely to happen at some point over the next couple of decades as the younger generations become increasingly disenchanted with the fact that they’re having to pay through the nose for their education, with little chance of a job at the end of it; and the fact that if they do find a job, the cost of living is so inflated that they barely have a few quid left over for themselves – and certainly no chance of ever owning their own property. Perhaps then the masses will finally wake up and realise that they’ve been sold a lie about what brings you happiness and that the current system is actually geared towards bringing economic riches to a few at the expense of the overall well-being of the many. Here’s hoping.

In the meantime, I wish you all a wonderful Yuletide, with many happy hours spent warm and snug with the people you love. And I’ll see you again soon in what I hope will be a much more empathic, compassionate and selfless New Year for us all. Cheers!

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Recession is a healer

September 8, 2009

family-having-fun

Following on from my Meaning of Life blogs, here’s an article by psychologist Oliver James which I could have almost written myself. More syncs too – before I stumbled across this article, I was working on a re-write of one of my earlier blogs which coincidentally includes the line mentioned near the end of this article ‘You may say I’m a dreamer’ – and over the last few days I’ve not only watched a number of documentaries about the Beatles, but yesterday (no pun intended) I also read a magazine article about them which mentions the classic song from which that line originated.

If you’re interested in reading more of Oliver James’ work on this topic, I’d recommend Affluenza and the follow-up The Selfish Capitalist: Origins of Affluenza.  I particularly resonate with the article below as it correlates with my intuitive feelings about the current recession –  namely that the economic collapse, rather than being the catastrophe our media would have us believe,  actually has the potential to free us from our increasingly oppressive/depressive state and the meaningless pursuit of ‘stuff’, which in turn will give us the opportunity to rediscover  what is really important and enjoy true meaning and fulfilment.  Here’s hoping…

Recession is a healer

By Oliver James

The implosion of the global financial system was as unexpected and rapid as the collapse of the Soviet Union. The good news is that we may be about to feel as liberated from oppression as the swarming crowds who celebrated in the eastern bloc in 1989.

The past 30 years have been a shop-till-you-drop, credit-fuelled consumer binge. Almost all of us caught what I term the Affluenza Virus — placing too high a value on money, possessions, appearances (physical and social) and fame. This virus is very bad for mental health. People with the virus are significantly more likely to suffer depression, anxiety and substance abuse (booze and drugs).

But following the collapse of the old financial system in which both individuals and nations lived on the never-never, our Affluenza habit will no longer be affordable. Time for cold turkey. In the short term, as with any addicts cleaning up their act, there will be pain. At the most extreme, as recession bites there will be unemployment, which will be depressing for hundreds of thousands.

For millions of others there will be anxiety about job security. And yet within quite a short time, as our values begin to change, I predict we will start to feel a whole lot better.

When you stop to think about it, you have learnt to confuse real needs with wants: you do not really need an awful lot of what you buy, you want it. A real need is for things like emotional intimacy or to feel emotionally secure; a new flat-screen TV or a conservatory are wants stimulated in us by advertising and the desire to keep up with the Joneses.

Property is at the heart of our confusion of needs and wants. Take kitchens. Many of us have spent tens of thousands on “improving” ours, yet what do we really need from it? A cooker for cooking, a fridge to keep things cold, clean flat surfaces and somewhere to wash up. Likewise, most of us have houses larger than we truly need and have paid beyond what we can afford to live in more prestigious areas.

Enter the credit crunch and a complete reappraisal. Virus-free, we will start counting our blessings. If property prices plummet, we will not care — rather than living in an investment vehicle, homes are vital components of our existence.

We will also rethink our work lives. Nearly all the increase in family income in the past 30 years came from working longer hours and women joining men in the workforce. At last we will see that if you spend less, you do not need to earn so much, so can work less. Those with small children will start thinking twice about working such long hours, or if one partner is made redundant, think: “Actually, let’s just make do with less money and I will enjoy looking after the nippers.”

Affluenza values will be replaced by the pursuit of intrinsic pleasures. Interest, enjoyment and the stimulation of a real challenge will become paramount: things are done for their own sake, not simply to please anyone else. At work you will put promotion prospects and salary rises second to what you find really interesting. You will be like a child absorbed in imaginary play. Wherever possible, you will be looking for work that improves the state of your mind — not just the state of your bank balance or the index of your professional ambitions.

Cutting down on Having, you focus on Being. As you recover from the virus, your brain and body chemistry will rapidly change for the better. You will no longer be jammed in a permanent state of readiness for fight or flight by high levels of the stress hormone cortisol. As you spend more time with your partner, your children and your intimate friends, your levels of the love hormone oxytocin will rise. Levels of the depression chemical serotonin will normalise.

You may say that I’m a dreamer, but I believe there is good reason to believe this version of our future. It is true that the poor are twice as likely to suffer from mental illness as the rich, but a recent British study proved that having a low income or unemployment does not in itself cause psychiatric problems. What was critical was how much a poor person felt themselves to be badly off relative to others — hard proof, as in many other studies, that if you can stop comparing yourself with others, you can be poor and happy.

Long before the credit crisis, downsizing (working fewer hours, seeking less competitive jobs) was already mushrooming among the middle-aged. Surveys reveal that young people are increasingly likely to reject “greed is good” workaholism.

Remember the title of the Christmas No 1 in 2003? It was Mad World. The truth is that we have been living through a crazy time in our history and we always suspected it. We should be grateful that the credit crunch is going to vaccinate us against the consumerist madness and that, nationally and individually, we are going to replace it with authentic personal fulfilment.

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