Wednesday, October 21, 2009


“You have old hands,” she said. “You don't look old, but your hands do.” I looked down at my hands. It was true. My hands looked like an explorer's map of Africa. I could see ridges and valleys and long winding paths into the interior. My knuckles were mountains and my veins were swollen rivers. There was the journey of a life etched into my hands.
“Don't worry,” she said, “they're just old-looking hands. It's nothing to worry about.”
“Old can be beautiful, can't it?” I said.
“Maybe,” she said, with a teasing smile, “maybe. It all depends.”

The Boat That Rocked

The Boat That Rocked is a new film by Richard Curtis (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, etc) which is, I suppose, a loving tribute to English Pirate Radio, especially Caroline and London, the ships that challenged the government and charged and changed millions of our lives. Music-wise, it's great; nostalgia-wise, it's fun; as a film it doesn't so much lose the plot as not have one. It's not a bad film--it zips along at a fast pace and is entertaining in a juvenile schoolboy way--but it could have been so so good; and it isn't. It's one of those catch-22 situations: I'm glad the film was made, but I'm disappointed with what we've been given.

Paul and the Roshi

In the Coptic Gospel of Thomas, which is a collection of Jesus sayings (many of which predate those we have in our bibles), Jesus appears as an enlightened teacher in the manner of the Buddha. Compare then these two descriptions of what characterises Jesus and Buddha disciples:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, fidelity, gentleness, self-control.” (The apostle Paul, in his Letter to the Galatians.)
“The results of this in terms of the quality of his life are extraordinary—buoyancy, vigour, straightforwardness, simplicity, humility, serenity, joyousness, uncanny perspicacity, and unfathomable compassion.” (Trudy Dixon, in a tribute to the Zen Roshi Shunryu Suzuki.)
And to be disciples of such disciples is to continue the tradition. Every day I awake at 5.00 a.m. and spend at least twenty minutes or so reading and meditating before I continue with my day. I have noticed that my favourite two texts for this early morning read and meditation are chapter 4 of Paul's 'Letter to the Philippians', and Shunryu Suzuki's 'Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind'. This early morning practice has become an essential for me: it's a disciplining, informing, and nurturing beginning to my days, and without it my hours would not work so well.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

(First Version)

Get a life laugh

Most people get so worked up about things: they're so full of anger, frustration, resentment, and jealousy. They think their boss, their spouse, their friends, their parents, their government, their world owes them a living. They're so stressed out. then they take pills or drinks or... whatever... to get them through their days.

It all seems so pointless... and of course it is.

There's no need to live a life of stress. What's the point?

Consider this: we work to educate ourselves, to learn; we study... but one day our brains will literally fall apart. We work to develop a six-pack or a beautiful body... but one day our bodies will literally fall apart. We work hard to 'make it in life', to get the house, the car, the wife/husband, the job, the wealth and fame... knowing that one day we will literally leave it all behind.

What's the point? Life, I tell you, is a cosmic joke. And the best response is simply to laugh. Yes--when you encounter stress--laugh. Laugh loud and laugh long. Don't get serious. Life is a cosmic joke.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Cosmic Laughter

Q: What's the sound of one hand clapping?
A: It's the sound of a river dancing
    It's the sound of a dog smiling
    It's the sound of the moon, watching the river dancing and the dog smiling.

Life's a cosmic joke, isn't it? We spend the best part of our early years learning and cramming to develop our brains so that we can go to university and study some more so that we can become 'experts'; we work hard to shape and develop our bodies so that we men can have bulging biceps and a six-pack, so that we women can look sexy and shapely; we pay atention to our diets and our lifestyles so that we can be and stay 'healthy'; we seek a career and fame and fortune so that we can be 'successful': we do all of these things knowing that we one day our bodies and our physical lives will quite literally fall apart. What is the purpose, what is the point? Our only true response is to laugh.

We should laugh when we take ourselves too seriously--which is most of the time, most days; we should laugh first thing in the morning when we wake up and look at ourselves in the mirror; we should laugh loud and long simply because it's the most appropriate response and it's good for us.

All our dreams for the future are only dreams; all our worries about the past are only worries.
There is no heaven or hell, only now and here.
There is no life or death, only change in form. (Energy--spirit--soul--or whatever name you have for it cannot be created or destroyed.)

The history of Ch'an, or Zen, is that the Buddha was asked a question and in response he held up a flower. One of his disciples, on seeing this, began to smile. That smile was the beginning of Ch'an/Zen:the smile was transmitted from
patriach to patriach and on and on, down to us. Everyday we build some small issue into a BIG issue that really is microscopic in the scheme of things. We humans take ourselves so
seriously but nothing in our lives--even our physical lives themselves--is
permanent. The purpose of life--if there is a purpose--is only to live it, certainly not to worry about it; perhaps to enjoy it, certainly to celebrate it. We all need to laugh more and more often.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Visual Music

Not just listening to music

Recently at school we've been thinking about the pervasive influence of music on individual and collective lives, how, for example, "Teenagers listen to an average of nearly 2.5 hours of music per day" and what the content of that music is. We all listened to a lot of music when we were teenagers too, but there's a lot more of it now, and with iPods and cellphones it's available everywhere, pretty much most of the time.
   But there's another dimension that I haven't seen anybody write about that's even more crucial: the visual aspect.
   Most teens, these days, don't simply listen to the music on their iPods and cellphones--they replay the music videos in their minds whilst they listen to the music. And those images are much stronger. We even do this ourselves. You do this yourself. Think about it. Maybe you read The Lord Of The Rings or Goblet Of Fire before you saw the film versions. But now? Is it possible to re-read those novels without picturing visuals from the film in your mind? No, I didn't think so.
   I googled 'content music videos teens' and amongst the first articles I found was one that reported, "On
average, music videos contain 93 sexual situations per hour"; and
obviously the videos also influence attitude, style, and other aspects
of world-view.
Recently I overheard some tiny Form Ones discussing a Lady Gaga song; the focus of their conversation was what the artist was wearing in the music video. In fact, very few teens buy albums without having seen a few videos of the music first. It's not the chicken or the egg--it's the chicken and the egg.
   When teens listen to their 2.5 hours of music a day, they are therefore not just listening to music.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009



“You are dangerously pretty,” I said. “Dangerous to all, even yourself. But especially to me. That she was pretty was easy to see but the danger that lurked behind her eyes was dimmed, even in sunlight. It isn't right, I thought, that beauty should present such a risk.
“But you're here,” she said, “you needn't have stayed.”
“You wanted me to,” I replied. It was true; it was in her eyes.
We left the bar; went to the car. Then I drove a way, but not too far.
“I hear you're famous,” she said. “You're dangerous too. And you like pretty women.”
“What man doesn't?” I said, “it's the way we're made.”
The shadows were crawling across the park. We sat and watched them. Then I read the graffiti scrawled large across one corner of the park's perimeter wall. It was more than two years old, acclaim for a once-popular political leader who was now discredited. “Viva X!” it said. That was all.
We sat side-by-side, silently, almost as if we were afraid to breathe. Perhaps we were. We were both waiting for something to happen, waiting for life to intervene.
“Touch me, and I'll scream,” she said. “Don't touch me and I'll die.”
I took a deep breath. And. Touched. Her.

The Tall Grass

The Tall Grass

That tall grass
by the river
that sways in the strong August winds
and shines thick like a spear
when the late sun strikes its back
is what the old women
around here
use to make sleeping mats.

That place there by the river
is where my wife
and I first made love
many seasons ago.

The grass was a bed
for our backs
and a screen
to hide us
from the eyes
of our families.

The grass we lay on
is gone now,
of course,
cut long ago
to make mats
for others to sleep
or make love on.

But on days like this
I still look
and remember,
even though I am now old
and my
love has long gone.

My Problem

My problem

Some people don't have enough money;
some people can't hold down a job;
some people don't act as expected;
some just want someone to rob;

but I pay my bills on time,
deliver assignment when due;
my problem is beyond my control:
honey, my problem is you.

When I reach for you, you're never there,
just the imprint of your underwear;
you say you don't have a phone,
so who should I call when alone?

The light has gone off on my TV,
and I get bored when I've nothing to do;
living alone's never easy:
honey, my problem is you.

The rain outside just keeps falling,
it looks like the sun will not come;
other hearts, other faces, they keep calling:
but, honey, you're still the one.

The light has gone off on my TV,
and I get bored when I've nothing to do;
my problem is beyond my control:
honey, my problem is you.



Paramore are amongst my fave bands, although difficult to get to hear in this part of the world. I loved Riot!, have been playing it for years, so I was at first surprised when I read this morning that their new album had entered the UK chart at the very top--numero uno. But only surprised at first. The reasons came to me quickly:
1. Paramore had a song or two on the 'Twilight' soundtrack. Although fans of the band weren't entirely impressed, the fact that Twilight (book and film) is so big has obviously helped;
2. the UK is a lot more open and 'trendy' than the US. Remember that Kings of Leon (another fave band) have always been huge in the UK, with the US only starting to wake up now.
Rock on, Paramore!

Sakhile Live in Swaziland For me the best South African band of al...