from freedom to knowledge


freedom1   freedom 1 freedom2 freedom3 freedom 4 Break-Through-From-Your-Mold-By-Zenos-Frudakis-Philadelphia-Pennsylvania-USA

I live in London and ideas of “self-mastery” and “you can be all that you wanna be” is less accepted in these territories than say across the pond.

Today, however, I am thinking about limitations, our own self-imposed shackles, golden handcuffs and what binds us within the moulds we set ourselves in and then say that this is my life.  I guess I am thinking about my own prison.

This morning I saw this picture of a sculpture and it moved me deeply.  It captured what I am currently feeling — the tearing away and the breaking from. Some days this feeling is more pronounced than others, more annoyingly persistent.  Some days I am less able to tolerate it.  And maybe this is a good thing despite how uncomfortable it feels.

The sculpture is one by Zenos Frudakis and is simply called ‘Freedom (from) to Knowledge’.

It depicts a human in four movements; extracting himself from the shackles of the exterior wall.

Sartre once said “Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.  It is up to you to give [life] a meaning.”

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no surprises; good things work


Two Saturdays ago, I managed somehow to drag myself out from under my snug, warm duvet and cosy bed, had a quick breakfast, showered and changed into my track suit, trainers and socks. I was all set and on my way to a nearby park to partake in a Bootcamp Outdoor Training!

broomfieldNow for those of you who don’t know, I have not done any rigorous physical training outdoors for a while,apart from the odd yoga class, here and there.  I often join such classes and then fall off the band-wagon. So when I saw that there was a training session every Saturday morning in the wonderful outdoors and in a nearby park I thought I’d try it out. I do want to get fit, feel stronger and tone all the right places. But more than that I want to feel myself moving again; moving all those muscles that have been neglected over the years. After all, there is only so much muscles that one actually uses in the course of daily working life especially at a desk job and the commute to and from work in London!  I love parks and being outdoors so this felt like a right fit. This particular training organisation offers a free trial session so I took them up on their offer and proceeded, rather nervously, to the park.

There were about 20 others or so, some obviously training for a while and a couple of newbies like myself. It was freezing that morning; temperatures not higher than 0 degrees and just to make things a little easier, it started to snow lightly!  But I stayed. Perseverance power and all that. And the trainer was wonderful. She welcomed all of us and did not make anyone feel like they were really unfit and trust me, I know I was (and still am).

We did quite a few things for that one, whole, very loooooong hour! We did many, MANY, too many squats.  We threw heavy sand-filled rubber ball (I only found out how heavy it was when it was being thrown to/at me!).  We ran (I hobbled) around the pitch, jumped up steps (I just stood paralysed in fear) did some (or one) planks, sit-ups and press-ups.  By the end of it I was drenched, exhausted, sore, in pain (which became worse the next day and lasted for three days), muddy but HAPPY! 🙂  I was glad I went and last Saturday I went again for more punishment!

Yesterday I even made the trek all the way to West London after a long day at work to get myself a new pair of Asics Gore-Tex trainers, in Black!  So I know this is a new band-wagon that I’ve just jumped on but I’m hoping I’ll stay on this for a little while at least, long enough to feel the positive  difference that I know it can make.

I thought of my former clients whilst jumping around in the park, the many clients who were stuck in themselves emotionally and how I wanted to tell them how much physical movement can help you feel so much better in yourself.  I’ve always heard that it does, but I’ve only just found out it is true.  The outdoors can be truly transformative.

I know too of people who have found great benefits from horticulture and avid gardeners would know first-hand how gardening is a wonderfully flexible medium that can transform lives and more importantly, your emotional and mental well-being.

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All life is here: the positive power of being in the garden affects young and old alike – which is why horticultural therapy is becoming increasingly popular  Photo: Getty Images

A session in the garden may leave you feeling exhausted like a training session in the park, but you may also feel strangely renewed. In the plant world, regeneration is a matter of course, but psychological repair does not come so naturally to us. While we have an innate capacity to form strong attachments, we are less well equipped to deal with trauma and loss. In the world we live in today, some of us have lost touch with many of the rituals that can help us navigate our way through life. As Freud once said: “Flowers are restful to look at. They have neither emotions nor conflicts.”

Growing Space, a mental health recovery project in Wales have their participants working in the most secluded parts of the garden. The believe that a walled garden offers a sense of security and protection, a safer space akin to the safe space a counsellor provides a client in a room. This is important because only when one feels safe, can one trust and in trusting let their defences down.

There is another project called Grow2Grow in Kent, is for people aged from 14 to 24 with serious behavioural or mental health problems. Many have been excluded from school. The food they grow is sold to local restaurants; they also cook and eat together. At the end of the two-year programme, which they attend two days a week, an impressive 80 per cent of them are helped into education or work.

Another positive initiative is the Clinks Restaurant set up in a few prisons and managed by the inmates themselves.

clink

The issue of re-offending has become one of the most pressing challenges facing society today.

49% of prisoners released in the UK re-offend within the first year and for those who serve sentences under 12 months this increases to 61%. It is now recognised that the record levels of inmates in prison is not helping to reduce crime.

The sole aim of The Clink Charity is to reduce reoffending rates of ex-offenders by training and placing graduates into employment upon their release.  They offer an opportunity for inmates to change their lives, giving them true-to-life work experience and nationally recognised NVQ City & Guilds food preparation, food service and cleaning qualifications.

Clink restaurants have been set up at HMP High Down, HMP Cardiff and HMP Brixton and a fourth is due to open at HMP Styal in spring 2015.

Fresh food is prepared and cooked in an open plan kitchen enabling diners the opportunity to watch food preparation. Their menus are rotated on a seasonal basis, to view the winter à la carte menu please click here: http://217.199.187.62/theclinkrestaurant.com/clink-admin/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/A-La-Carte-Menu-January-20152.pdf

On 23rd October Clink Events provided the catering for the Centre of Social Justice Awards (CSJ Awards), which was held at The Royal Horticulture Halls. Attended by 400 guests it was an incredible opportunity for the newly launched Clink Events to showcase the incredible food on offer. The inmates training at HMP High Down and HMP Brixton created 4,000 canapés in The Clink kitchens for the awards which were transported to The Royal Horticulture Halls by 3663. Two Clink graduates and two Clink trainers provided service training to 12 Centrepoint clients, who then served the food and drink to guests.

On Thursday 26th February 2015, 6pm to 9.15pm, The Clink Restaurant at HMP Brixton will be celebrating its first year of business with an Indian themed fundraising dinner hosted by chef ambassador Cyrus Todiwala OBE DL.

I have eaten at the restaurant in HMP High Down so I can personally vouch for them and tell you that their food AND service was exceptional!!  I would encourage you to try it out for yourself and see.  The restaurant is open Monday to Friday serving breakfast, 7.15am to 9.15am, and lunch, midday to 2pm. The income generated goes towards the running and operating costs of the restaurant which is supplemented by donations.

So no surprises.

Positive and helpful initiatives, WORK.
Horticultural therapy, WORKS.
Physical training in the park with a group of people, WORKS.
Eating together, WORKS.
Community building, WORKS.
Support to those who need it, WORKS.

Anyone engaged in positive and physically engaging activity be in the gym or in the park, community work, the outdoors, cooking and eating together WILL thrive.  We do so little of this in our world today and we wonder why depression and isolation is on the increase.

So my request to anyone who may be listening is this: let’s do more of the good stuff because the good stuff, well it works, and when it does, it makes us all better people!

As always, be kind to yourselves.

Growing Space Based in Wales, (01633 810718)
Grow2Grow Based in Kent (01732 463255; commonwork.org)
Thrive A national charity whose aim is to enable positive change in the lives of disabled and disadvantaged people through the use of gardening (020 7720 2212; thrive.org.uk)
Clink Restaurant http://theclinkrestaurant.com
North London Fitness http://www.northlondonfitness.co.uk

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.

panther

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