plight of those who don’t belong


Like it or not the election campaign is in full swing and its hard to ignore or avoid it completely. It’s everywhere; on the TV, the radio, knocks on your door, waiting at train stations to suddenly wanting to shake your hand to unwanted flyers shoved through your letterbox!

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This year I am not ignoring the election and am all organised to vote ❎. What’s different is that I am in that place in life where I feel passionately about what’s right, what justice needs to look like and a more acute sense of awareness and compassion for some of my fellow beings. I cannot just sit by and do nothing. It’s not me, never has been, come to think of it. I have always fought and challenged (even to my own detriment) what’s unfair, for the underdog, for those who remain unseen, unheard, ignored, abused, left, hurt and neglected. I guess I do this because to a large extent I am all of these things too and in my own life I have experienced my own share of injustice. And as life progresses in terms of time I see more and more of what shouldn’t be continuing to exist in the universe and getting away with it. Regardless of all that’s wrong in this world, there is, I’d like to believe at least, good things and good intentions are around; they exist too.

I feel strongly about the recent deaths at sea, the ongoing no time limit for those held in detention, the so-called “rehabilitation” of prisons and the continuing madness of doing things as a means to an end without heart ♥, without compassion, without kindness. When will our selfishness and sense of self righteousness end?

Today I read an article written by Mark Haddon in 2008 in the Guardian.

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Photo is of Miriam, who fled from Ethiopia, talking to Mark Haddon at the Migrants Resource Centre in west London. Photograph: Sophia Evans Sophia Evans/Sophia Evans

Here’s an excerpt of what he had say in 2008:

We bellyache about the abuse of human rights overseas. But there are thousands of people living here, right now, in one of the richest countries in the world, forced to live in poverty. They are denied basic rights and services which the rest of us take for granted. And this is not an accident. This is government policy. And we should be ashamed of it. Imagine what it must be like to live this kind of life, to leave everything behind, your job, your family, your home. To travel to Stuttgart in the back of a truck. Or Oslo. Or Rotterdam. Any place where you don’t speak the language. You have no friends. You sleep in the street, or share a house with strangers who speak yet another language. Imagine living on £35 of Asda vouchers a week. Imagine not being able to see your family. Then ask yourself what kind of experience would make this kind of life preferable to going home?

It is now 2015. Seven years have now passed and are we closer to living more harmoniously with each other? Are we removing our blinkers and seeing each other and the world 🌍 in which we live as we should? Or are we continuing to mess things up, create more despair, do more wrong, cause more pain and concentrate solely on our own gains and what makes us comfortable?

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I hope you don’t but next time if you happen to see a van or a poster that says “go home you bloody foreigners”, I urge you to reflect that we are all connected and harm done to one affects us all, collectively.

Many of us are looking for our home, a sense of belonging, a little peace and to feel safe again. It’s not much to ask but it does seem to be that way.

So if you are voting soon ❎ please spare a thought about the plight of many of our fellow human beings who suffer, mostly quietly, and do what you can to make things better.

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the panther


panther2

His gaze, forever blocked by bars,
is so exhausted it takes in nothing else.
All that exists for him are a thousand
bars.
Beyond the thousand bars, no world.

The strong, supple pacing
moves in narrowing circles.
It is a dance at whose centre
a great will is imprisoned.

Now and again the veil over his pupils
silently lifts.  An image enters,
pierces the numbness,
and dies away in his heart.

The Panther (subtitled: In Jardin des Plantes, Paris) is a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke written on 6 November 1902.[1] It describes a captured panther behind bars, as it was exhibited in the Jardin des Plantes in Paris. It is one of Rilke’s most famous poems.

This poem made me feel quite emotional for some reason.

I’m drawn to the image of the panther, its strength, its prowess, its power.  I’m also drawn to the ‘bars’ Rilke talks about which reminds me of actual bars on a person’s window such as that found in prisons or immigration removal detention centres.  The bars could also be seen to be invisible but existing nevertheless — bars that surround us all in everyday lives (our golden hand-cuffs).

When the poem is read from the perspective of the panther, we are able to feel the panther’s imprisonment and the endless helplessness that he feels within the cage he has been locked. The empty void that lies beyond the cage is emphasized along with the stagnancy of the beast. Rilke writes, “a mighty will stands paralyzed”, indicating the great abilities of the panther but his utter inability to escape the environment into which he has been placed.  I see it from the point of view of a person who is in prison feeling trapped, occasionally pacing the square metres of his confinement and thinking about his situation in life.  Sometimes, a memory or a thought akin to that of the ‘panther’ will flood his brain and stab his heart.  The memory or thought is almost like a curse, a cruel joke.

There is pronounced sadness and loss in this poem.  For me it talks about the world we live in, the artificiality that exists in our day to day; that which is fake.  In many ways we are all chained and locked in behind the bars of social collective agreed upon self-conditioning, stripped clean of the wild and free spirit that we were born with. There is also the “sheeple-effect” i.e. where one follows blindly the current trends, like sheep, without questioning or worse still, without thinking.

There are many “sheeples” in London.  But also many panthers.

So in essence, this panther can be seen to represent us.

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This is why for some the depth of feeling brought about by Rilke’s poem is not only for caged animals (a reason why I hate zoos), but for all us, in our own ‘imprisonment’. Very little is truly ‘lived’ anymore.  In so many ways we are like Sisyphus, condemned forever to pushing his rock up the hill.  Like the panther, what desires to live and run free, has now been chained and controlled behind the ‘thousand bars’ akin to the thousand closed doors, the thousand disappointments in life.

During Medieval times, the panther typifies Christ, who stays in the cave for three days, emerging from the darkness with a sweet breath.

The ancient Greeks believed the panther was one of the favoured mounts of the god Dionysus.

The Native Americans regard the panther as the Protector of the universe. It is interesting that Rilke selected this powerful totem, the panther at the Paris Zoo, for his object of contemplation.

A Panther is a creature out of ancient myth that resembles a big cat with a multicoloured hide. Under medieval belief after feasting the panther will sleep in a cave for a total of three days. After this period ends, the panther roars, in the process emiting a sweet smelling odour. This odour draws in any creatures who smell it (the dragon being the only creature immune) and the cycle begins again. The ancient Greeks believed the panther was one of the favoured mounts of the god Dionysus. In Germany, the panther is often depicted in heraldry as a creature with four horns, cow’s ears and a fiery red tongue. The coat-of-arms of the city of Cres, Croatia shows a panther with a fiery tongue. This form is known as the Panther Incensed with flames coming from its mouth and ears, representing the panther’s sweet odour.

Panther Totem
As to Indian myth, which most of the totems are taken from, Panther is feared and respected, and in some is regarded as the Protector of the universe. The Zuni believed that he ancient ones wanted the world to be guarded by those keen of sight and scent. The puma (the greatest of them) was the sentinel of the north (the most important position). The Miwoks believed him to be the ideal hunter, while the Apaches and Hualapais thought her wailing was the omen of death. In Navajo myth a hero was wounded by witch objects shot into his body. Puma extracts them and save his life. They also thought that the Puma benefited them by leaving the better part of the portion of its kill for the people to eat. Conversely the Papago and the later white settlers considered the cougar a flesh eating beast. The Inca hunted many animals in great round-ups where they would hunt the hunter. They found it much easier to catch bear and deer in the rounds-ups then panthers. To many Indian societies it was both a Totem and a source of help for hunting and warfare. In fact the Hopi and Zuni took carved mountain lions when hunting deer in hopes that they would be as good at it as the mountain lion was. In many cultures the puma was often deified for its ability to hunt.
(http://dana.ucc.nau.edu/djw2/panther.html)

Panther as a Totem
The panther is a very powerful and ancient totem. It is generally associated with a particular species of leopard or jaguar although the cougar is also referred to as panther. As with most of the large cats, the panther is a symbol of ferocity and valor. It embodies aggressiveness and power, but without the solar significance. In the case of the Black Panther, there is definitely a lunar significance. The panther has over 500 voluntary muscles that they can use at will. This reflects a lot about an individual who has such animals as totems. It reflects an ability to do a variety of tasks as he or she wills. It is simply a matter of deciding and putting to use those particular “muscles” – be they physical, mental, psychic, or spiritual. As a whole panthers are loners (solitary) although they do associate with others, they are most comfortable by themselves or within their own marked territory. They are drawn to those individuals who are likewise often solitary.

Of all the panthers, probably the Black Panther has the greatest mysticism associated with it. It is the symbol of the feminine, the dark mother, the dark of the moon. It is the symbol for the life and power of the night. It is a symbol of the feminine energies manifest upon the earth. It is often a symbol of darkness, death, and rebirth from out of it. There still exists in humanity a primitive fear of the dark and of death. The Black Panther helps us to understand the dark and death and the inherent powers of them; and thus by acknowledging them, eliminate our fears and

Nietzsche once said that “that which does not kill us makes us stronger.” (I disagree with this but that’s a story for another day).  But one can see that it is this same idea that is awakened in the lives of those who open to the power of the panther totem. Those things of childhood and beyond that created suffering and which caused a loss of innate power and creativity are about to be reawakened, confronted and transmuted. The panther marks a new turn in the heroic path of those to whom it comes. It truly reflects more than just coming into one’s own power. Rather it reflects a reclaiming of that which was lost and an intimate connection with the great archetypal force behind it. It gives an ability to go beyond what has been imagined, with opportunity to do so with discipline and control. It is the spirit of imminent rebirth.”
(Ted Andrews, “Animal Speak”: http://www.greatdreams.com/panther.htm)

References for further reading:
Panther: Christian: The panther was said to save people from the dragon or Evil One.
As supposed to have sweet breath, it typified the sweet influence of Christ.
Heraldic: The panther is usually incensed and signifies fierceness;
fury; impetuosity; remorselessness.
— J. C. Cooper, An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Traditional Symbols,
Thames & Hudson, London, 1978, p. 126

Panther: The panther (or leopard) was a totemic symbol of Dionysis,
whose priests wore panther-skins. Its name in Greek meant “All-beast” referring
to the god as “the All” which was also another beast version of divinity, Pan.
Panthers were much admired in Rome, and were imported from Africa for public
displays and games in the arena.
— Barbara G. Walker, The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects,
HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 1988, p. 385

Panther Skin: A symbol signifying the overcoming of the lower desires.
“The iron which is the ceiling of heaven opens itself before Pepi, and he passes
through it with his panther skin upon him, and his staff and whip in his hand.”
— E.A. Wallis Budge, Book of the Dead, Vol. I, p. lxiii.
The higher mind, which is the firmament below the buddhic plane, is receptive
of the consciousness of the purified soul which has overcome the desires,
and actively aspires to that which is above.
— G. A. Gaskell, The Dictionary of All Scriptures and Myth,
Avenel Books, NY, 1981 (original: Julian Press, 1960), p. 559

this thing called Christmas…


Today is my final day at work for the year before I return in January 2015.  In the recent weeks I have been reminded of the nightmare and madness of the so-called ‘festive’ period, this thing called Christmas. I work in the heart of London so am surrounded on a daily basis by the lovely delights of shoppers, tourists and those who insist on walking and kept mesmerised by their mobile/tablet/kindle at the same time paying no heed whatsoever to the traffic behind them.  At the best of times, these folk test my somewhat limited patience but over the last few weeks they’ve drained every last every bit of it away from me.  I cannot wait for the madness of Christmas to be over with and for normality to resume. At the moment it’s impossible to just nip into your local M&S to get a sandwich for lunch if you want to do so in the usual 15 minutes or so.  No. Be prepared to be standing behind hoards of people in a queue with trolleys and baskets piled high with food.  For lest we forget, the shops will be closed for all of ONE day.  We will starve if we do NOT stock up. People.  You will not starve.  Have you heard of the thousands living in poverty and facing poverty during Christmas?  Young adults?  Children??

Perspective, please.

You do not need even half the stuff you have in your trolleys.  You know most of it will be sitting in bin bags come new year’s day. Next to your no-longer required Christmas trees.   And you’ll be back in M&S or Waitrose or wherever you shop, this time stocking up on the alcohol for seeing in 2015. I will be volunteering at a homeless overnight shelter over Christmas in the heart of London.  I am not doing this because it is seen as a ‘good’ thing to do. No act is ever truly altruistic anyway.  I am aware of my own selfish motives but they are healthy ones I tell myself as they benefit both me, the volunteer, and the ones I volunteer with.  I am reaching out because I feel that there is a lot of pain, loneliness and isolation 365 days a year. And this is felt even more acutely over the festive period.  So Christmas is exactly the time of year when a little bit of kindness towards those who have little or nothing, may save someone another year of heartbreak; of feeling alone while others seem to have  a place to go, family to be with, friends to share warmth and joy and companionship, or a Home (a concept that people who have never been homeless are so quick to dismiss).

And it is not just the homeless.

There is hidden homelessness too. And not just those who are sofa-surfing.

Think about the ones locked up, in prisons, in immigration detention centres, behind four walls that close down on a person every day. I invite you, if you can, to suspend judgment for a moment and just reflect on those separated by force and not by choice from those they love. Think about how being locked-up changes a person, how they may choose to disconnect because it may be easier for them to do so (but not necessarily for the ones affected down the line) and the ripple effects of this choice, cascading down over and over again in waterfalls of pain, to all those connected and involved.

Think about how we all are vulnerable and become products of our environment, like it or not. And the damage this does. Feel all this. Let it sink it. Don’t brush it away. It matters. So there is a lot to think about! And maybe the next time you load a trolley and your basket for things you do not need, pause and reflect?   Think about your friends who may be on their own pretending to be all OK and strong. Perhaps you could ring them? Or ask if you could come over, for a chat or a chocolate digestive? Or both?

You never know, your kindness may just save someone.

Take care.

Be kind to yourselves.

Quaker Homeless Action
http://www.qha.org.uk

Detention Action
http://www.detentionaction.org.uk

Prisoners’ Families and Friends Service
http://www.pffs.org.uk