Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Surprising Harvests

Living in a Buddhist Centre – Life Happens II
I finally summoned up my courage (after weeks of procrastination) and uprooted a mystery plant, that had self-seeded and grown, to Triffid-like proportions, in the corner of my basement garden.  For most of its life, I had assumed that it was a sunflower – the leaves were big and pear-shaped, mid-green, with lighter veins, slightly furry and gently serrated at the edges, the stem was thick, woody and hairy...But then it had developed side shoots (like small branches) and grown really bushy...
Odd, I thought, this plant has ambitions to become a small tropical forest all by itself, whereas sunflowers are usually single stemmed, tall and leggy... Then it grew more side stems, and strong sturdy suckers...I thought it may be protesting about the lack of light by growing more and more sideways, upwards, outwards, across...  It grew to about four metres (16 feet), high: tall enough to reach the sunlight over the top of the basement.  I tied the now leaning, top heavy, stems up to the inside of our cast iron railings.  But what was it?  But then I thought – relax – let it flower.  Let it have its moment of glory as any self-respecting sunflower should!
The flowers came and were anti-climatical.  Tiny.  It was so disappointing. The flower heads were just bigger than the bottom of teacups, there were seven of them.  And, whilst the petals were yellow, so were the centres, with small stigma and tiny, undeveloped, seeds.  Sunflowers usually have those lovely dark, often chocolate brown, stigma and anthers at first, followed by the beautifully geometric Fibonacci spirals of plump seed cases, so this was a disappointment.
This giant plant came out surprisingly easily when I pulled, only to reveal dozens of white, muddy tubers attached to the roots.  It was almost surreal.  I was working in twilight, so at first I couldn’t see properly what these bumpy protuberances were, or where they were coming from.  I hadn’t expected such an abundance of what almost looked like button mushrooms: spherical, bulbous, asymmetrical and round, earth-covered, glowing, phosphorescent fruit.  I gathered a carrier bag full, of these surprising creamy, muddy, fungus-like Jerusalem artichokes, underground critters that had grown all by themselves, beneath the concrete pavements of Bermondsey, without anyone knowing or caring that they were there.  And how good they were, boiled, with butter and garlic for my supper!

Later that evening, my own seemingly stubborn and untamed mind did just the same as the plant.  I was sitting in my room, letting my mind go and just watching my thoughts.  I hadn’t got the energy to go and sit on my meditation mat, but I believe it’s OK to not force yourself to formally meditate if you don’t want to.  A friend of mine at our parent monastery, Samye Ling, recommends:  ‘Just sit, and relax and watch where your mind goes.  Avoid all that Buddhist flim-flam’.  No pressure.  Nothing fancy, just let yourself be.  No sitting in uncomfortable positions, no special room to be in.  It’s a do-nothing, pro-idleness stance. 
So I was sitting, reflecting, in my comfy chair, but actually feeling utterly depressed and miserable and my mind was racing.  I was thinking about how unforgiving and angry I am towards those who I feel have deliberately and unfairly hurt me. (And I was feeling merciless even though, in more tolerant states, I know that those who have been brutal act this way because of the brutalisation that they have suffered).  I was having all sorts of negative hate-filled thoughts.  Then I thought, if I was in the religious tradition I was brought up in, I would be blaming myself for these thoughts.  I would say I was sinning.  But, I thought, I am in the Buddhist tradition now and I can be kind to myself.  I can accept all this negatively in myself.  I don’t have to try to be lofty and repress my misery.  So, for once, I tried to stop trying to not have these thoughts.  Instead, I tried to think what are these feelings of hatred like?  Can I be kind to myself even though I am doing what I am not proud of?  Can I stay with these emotions I despise and feel ashamed of, and not blame myself for having them?
As usual, I didn’t get very far, or stay in that soothing mode for long, because my mind likes to flit. But then I became conscious of just breathing.  I was suddenly aware of sitting and breathing, having let go of identifying with my thinking.  What a release that felt like!  What was different was that I hadn’t consciously willed getting to that place, but maybe because I have practised meditating, where I have trained myself to come back to my breath, again and again, and that moment of release just came.  I would normally have stayed, hooked into negative thoughts.  

That return to my breath felt like a blessing, (isn’t it strange how we need to use theological language, even though we don’t necessarily have a theist perspective, to try and explain what these magical moments are like?)  It seemed that all that time I had spent on a mat, trying to meditate, had paid dividends.  I escaped some sort of entrapping cycle of negativity without really trying to.  This was equivalent to the miracle of my unexpected crop of artichokes.  My meditation practice has worked (to some extent)!  My mind was beginning to change!  And even though I don’t meditate in order to achieve any specific benefits, I was glowing.
Amanda Root was an academic at Oxford University and now lives and works at Kagyu Samye Dzong Tibetan Buddhist Centre, Bermondsey, London. Her article Life Happens was published on the Resurgence website. 

Photograph: Franckreporter, www.istockphoto.com

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Our Future on the Line

The last two weeks have been crazy. I’ve been here at the UN climate negotiations in Durban, South Africa, with 10 other delegates from the UK Youth Climate Coalition. We’ve been working with the international youth climate movement to try to get a good deal for young people; it’s our future on the line, and we were determined to remind negotiators of this.

In the early hours of Sunday morning – 36 hours late – the conference reached its dramatic conclusion. With impassioned speeches and frantic huddles, the outcomes that we’d been waiting all year for were literally hammered into reality. As I sat at the back of that plenary hall at 5 am, and the Chair rattled through the decisions, banging her gavel after each one, I reflected on my time in Durban.

The job of young people at these conferences is to inject positivity and hope into a process that is often painfully slow and dull. We’re here to outline the vision of the future we need, but when the process seems destined to obliterate that vision, it’s really hard to stay positive. So, in the last few days of the conference, we found our collective voice, and the conference sat up and took notice.

On Wednesday, six young Canadians turned their backs on their environment minister while he was making his speech. For this, they were loudly applauded by delegates, but were led out of the conference and stripped of their accreditation.

The next day, my friend Abigail from the US stood up and interrupted her lead negotiator’s speech with the voice of American youth, and told those gathered that he could not speak for her or the millions of others like her who want a safe future. She too received an ovation and was escorted from the conference centre.

On Friday, my friend Anjali delivered an impassioned intervention that again received loud applause, and later, hundreds of young people satdown in protest outside the plenary hall and demanded that their voices be heard.

So were our voices heard? Well, undoubtedly, we made an impact. Richard Blackfrom the BBC, wrote that “Outside the halls of government, it was a very good meeting for the youth. Unfailingly charming, youth delegates brought a freshness, a ‘Yes-we-can’-ness, to the often jaundiced proceedings”.

Are we pleased with the outcomes? It depends who you ask, and what their expectations for this conference were. For me (and I don’t speak for the rest of the delegation on this), it could have been a lot worse. A month ago, we were talking about the entire process unravelling here in Durban, and that didn’t happen. Instead, we saved the Kyoto Protocol, which was vital for continued international cooperation on emissions reductions. We also got a timetable for a new global deal, and the ‘Green Climate Fund’ was born, which will help get money flowing to poorer countries to help them deal with the impact of climate change.

However, the world is still very much on course for catastrophe. While we may be one year closer to that catastrophe, we’ve kept open the possibility of changing course to avoid it. The best way I can sum up my feelings right now is that we’re fighting a fight for my generation’s future. We could have completely lost that fight this weekend, but we didn’t. And for that, I’m glad.

Blogs at un.ukycc.org

Following us @ukyccdelegation http://twitter.com/ukyccdelegation or

Email your thoughts and hopes delegation.enquiries@ukycc.org

Matt Williams, UKYCC Youth Delegate to the UN climate talks.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

The Ancient Art of Meditation

A potent symbol for peace in an ailing modern world
With stress on the rise and Flash Mob meditation gatherings spreading across the UK to galvanise a better world, the British School of Meditation prepares to launch at the Isbourne Holistic Centre in Cheltenham in response to the mass growth in meditation in the UK.
Amid all the pressures and strains of the current financial crisis and growing dissatisfaction with an outmoded material society, the ancient art of meditation is emerging as a potent symbol for peace and calm in an ailing modern world.

“In today’s frantic world more and more people are turning to meditation as a way to calm their busy minds,” says renowned meditation teacher Mary Pearson, author of Meditation the Stress Solution, who co-founded the British School of Meditation with Helen Galpin.  “Stress is a huge problem and many people are looking for a way to reduce their stress and live happier lives.”

Meditation is also becoming widely recognised as a tool for positive change and wellbeing, for bringing people together as a community and for generating a major shift towards more conscious and sustainable living. To this end, hundreds of thousands of people have been gathering in open urban spaces around the globe for Flash Mob meditation sessions in recent months, including several in London as well as in other UK cities – from Bristol and Brighton in the South to Aberdeen in North Scotland.
The many benefits of meditation include stress and anxiety reduction, calmness, enhanced clarity and focus, better sleep, lower blood pressure, weight loss, looking younger, and a boost to the immune system.
“We are really thrilled to be hosting the British School of Meditation courses at the Isbourne,” says Janie Whittemore, Centre Manager of the Isbourne Holistic Centre. “We’ve seen a major rise in interest in meditation here at the Centre in recent months, it’s a fantastic tool for maintaining calm and focus amid the stresses of busy modern life and there’s a clearly a real need now for more qualified teachers to take it out to the masses.”
While meditation is becoming increasingly popular, Mary Pearson and fellow meditation teacher Helen Galpin looked at the existing provision for training meditation teachers and discovered a distinct lack of face to face training available. They duly founded the British School of Meditation to supply this demand, providing OCN accredited courses, and playing their part in spreading peace in the world.
“Teaching meditation has helped both Mary and myself find peace and happiness in our lives,” says Helen Galpin, who is also director of The Nutrition Centre chain of shops in Gloucestershire.  “It’s a great joy to be able to help people find time to ‘just be’ and switch off from the daily grind.”

The British School of Meditation runs an introductory day for its first teacher training course on Saturday 14th January in response to the unprecedented demand for teachers.
Meditation Teacher Training course details
Introductory First Training Day on Saturday 14th January 2011 (10am-4.30pm)
Part One: Saturday 25th February 2012 & Sunday 26th February 2012 (10.00am-4.30pm)
Part Two: Saturday 21st April 2012 & Sunday 22nd April 2012 (10.00am-4.30pm)
For bookings/further information visit: British School of Meditation

Will Gethin has worked as a holistic explorer and travel writer since 2004, writing articles for the Independent, the Evening Standard and various conscious living magazines. He has worked as a communications consultant, promoting humanitarian and intercultural organisations like IT Schools Africa, The Makhad Trust and Tribe of Doris.
Will Gethin founded a Guest Speaker programme at the Isbourne Holistic Centre, bringing leading edge spiritual authors and presenters such as Peter Owen Jones and Satish Kumar to Cheltenham to present educational talks and workshops.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

A lifetime’s journey

Sharing a passion for tackling climate change

I’m in the middle of COY. For those not used to United Nations jargon, this is the International Conference of Youth, or to break it down even more, it’s an event for young people from all over the world to meet before the international climate change talks.

We come together to share our personal stories of what we’ve all been doing in our own countries, to discuss the future, and to have fun. In a word: awesome.

The Conference of Youth is entirely run by, and run for young people. It’s a place where activity is constantly happening; the vibe is electric as people share their passions for tackling climate change. And what’s best is that it’s all young people, with all the liveliness and energy they bring.

I’ve met a Durban footballer who plans to talk to people about climate change at all of his matches. I’ve met Americans and Canadians who fought, and won, the Tar Sands campaign. Most of all, I’ve met the amazing climate caravan of young people who have travelled 4,400 km, overland, all the way down from Nairobi in Kenya to here in Durban. On their journey they danced, sang and energised people to fight climate change. Here’s the moment <http://www.twitvid.com/63TPL> when the caravan arrived at the Conference of Youth. We’re in there somewhere, dancing badly as only the British can, we promise.

I’ve learnt so much here and made some amazing friends. The message I’ve taken away from it, is that this isn’t just a weekend, but the beginning of a lifetime’s journey!

You can follow our progress in South Africa by reading our blogs at un.ukycc.org, following us @ukyccdelegation http://twitter.com/ukyccdelegation or emailing us your thoughts and hopes delegation.enquiries@ukycc.org

Helen Markides, UKYCC Youth Delegate to the UN climate talks.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Securing our Future, Saving the Planet

Young people at the UN climate talks
A few evenings ago I watched “A Time to Kill”, a film set in the American Deep South starring my favourite two actors, Kevin Spacey and Morgan Freeman. In this film the rape of 10-year old black girl precipitates alarming scenes of racial hatred and the revival of the local Klu Klux Klan. It struck me that this film, set in 1996, implies that such events were to some small degree plausible at that time.

Little to my knowledge – I was 7 years old in 1996 – the concept of racial supremacy and gross injustices such as those depicted apparently persisted in the public consciousness, or at least that of American film directors. But today, Barack Obama is in the White House, Nelson Mandela is free and we have achieved racial freedom in South Africa – all things that might have seemed impossible a few decades ago. And if such huge and seemingly insurmountable challenges can be overcome, I hope that the next challenge to be overcome will be climate change.

This week, I’m travelling to Durban, South Africa to the climate negotiations, as part of the UK Youth Climate Coalition's delegation, to join with other young people from around the world to show leaders that we need a solution to climate change, that we won’t cease in our ambition and won’t stop asking for one. We will get to a solution no matter how hard the path, because young people aren’t the bystanders in this process; we’re the ones who’ll be dealing with the consequences of the decisions which can jeopardise our future, or secure it, can gamble with our planet, or save it.

Nor do we lack the tools to deal with this problem and to create the wide, grassroots movement asking for change that must be at the core of any transition to a better society. A few days ago, I came across this Facebook post by a friend:

Just sorting through my old school exercise books and have found an I.T. exercise to explain the advantages and disadvantages of computers vs. filing cabinets. Computers apparently lose: they can get viruses; they use power; you need training to use them; they can crash; and they're more expensive. How things have changed?”

How things have changed – computers now feature daily in the lives of people throughout the world and are increasingly deployed in the fight against climate change. This is just one tool at our disposal and we arguably have all the other necessary tools to fight climate change: the technical knowledge and skills; the finances – all that is missing is the political will. In the coming weeks, I and the rest of the UK youth delegation will be putting everything into the United Nations process at the 17th round of the UN climate negotiations in Durban, lobbying, advocating and campaigning for a fair and ambitious solution.

Hopefully in South Africa (no stranger to change) we can demonstrate the urgency and strength of feeling that our generation holds, and motivate politicians to take up their tools and get to work on this grossest of injustices.

You can follow our progress in South Africa by reading our blogs at un.ukycc.org, following us @ukyccdelegation http://twitter.com/ukyccdelegation or emailing us your thoughts and hopes delegation.enquiries@ukycc.org

Cat Stace, Youth Delegation to the UN Climate Talks, UK Youth Climate Coalition.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Inside Occupy Wall Street

Stefan Simanowitz spends a week with the protesters in New York

“You know, deep down I never believed that this movement could change anything” Shaun Bickard admits as we march along Broadway last week with 15,000 noisy demonstrators. “But after today I’m beginning to think it can.” Bickard, a 41 year-old electrician from the Bronx has never regarded himself as an activist. He visited Zuccotti Park, the heart of the Occupy Wall Street protest, after seeing footage online of four women pepper sprayed by a policeman. “At first I just came to check it out. Then I came back and I joined the march on Brooklyn Bridge where I ended up getting up being one of the 700 arrested,” he explains. “When I stepped out of jail I found that my support for the movement had turned into full-on commitment.” And it is stories like this that have transformed Occupy Wall Street from a small protest of into a significant nationwide movement in the space of four short weeks.
Last Wednesday’s march from Zuccotti Park to Foley Square was a high-water mark in terms of mobilization for the movement as workers from fifteen of New York's biggest unions came out in solidarity. Up until then, the protestors had confined themselves to Zuccotti Park, the concrete plaza in the centre of New York’s financial district that has provided a permanent base for the protest since 17th September. Whilst the park provides a crucial practical and symbolic focal point for the movement it cannot accommodate the numbers that turned out for the march. Indeed on Saturday afternoon, expecting a large turnout, Occupy Wall Street held its 3 o’clock general assembly in the larger Washington Park. But these are the type of logistical difficulties the movement relishes.
Occupy Wall Street is attracting increasingly large numbers of people of all ages and from all backgrounds. The mood is upbeat and the festive atmosphere has been aided by a spell of the unseasonably warm weather which topped 80 degrees last weekend. But despite the positivity there is also a strong undercurrent of anger. “Damn right I’m angry” says 48-year old Lawrence English. “I’ve got three kids and haven’t worked for over two years. Our government cares more about corporations than it does about people. This ain’t just an occupation, it’s a hostile takeover.”

Despite their anger the protesters are committed to non-violence and determined not to allow themselves to be portrayed in the media as an unruly, destructive mob. Even in the face of well-documented incidents of police brutality the protesters have remained peaceful. Following widespread criticism of the police’s strong-arm tactics – particularly the mass arrests on Brooklyn Bridge - it seems that the NYPD have been ordered to take a more restrained approach.
In Zuccotti Park – nicknamed Liberty Plaza – several hundred protesters congregate day and night, their numbers swelling in the afternoons and early evenings as people gather for the two daily General Assemblies. Described as “a horizontal, autonomous, leaderless, consensus-based system” the General Assembly is modelled on the assemblies that have driven recent social movements in Tahrir Square and Madrid’s Puerta del Sol. Anyone present at the assembly can propose an idea or express an opinion and decisions are reached by a show of hands. The method does not make for quick decision-making and is slowed down considerably by the fact that New York City has not granted the protesters a permit to use “amplified sound”. This means microphones, speakers and even hand-held megaphones are banned and the General Assembly has had to adopt an innovative system dubbed the “human mic” whereby each sentence is repeated by those around the speaker and then repeated again by the next ring of people until the sentence ripples across the park.

The organisation in Zuccotti Park is impressive. There are no leaders or governing body but smaller working groups have been set up to support specific initiatives ranging from food, medical, and legal committees to arts and culture and direct action. ‘Stations’ around the park provide information and services including sleeping bags, clothing and toothpaste. A generator provides power to ensure all events in the Park are filmed and ‘livestreamed’ and a charging station enables protestors to recharge their i-phones, cameras and computers.
Volunteers circulate picking up rubbish and there is even a library and a broadsheet newspaper – the Occupied Wall Street Journal. An open-air canteen serves up free food, its menu constantly replenished with donations from local shops or well-wisher or bought with donations. As well as a variety of staples such as peanut butter-jelly sandwiches and rice and beans it can offer surprises such as sushi and ice-cream.
One of the main criticisms levelled at the movement is that it lacks focus and concrete goals. Indeed ask each person in Zuccotti Park why they are there and you will get a different answer. You will hear talk about unemployment and welfare cuts, healthcare costs and environmental destruction, cuts to public education and unfair taxation. But despite the multiplicity of issues raised there is an underlying cohesive sense of anger at corporate greed, government mismanagement and inequality.

So far the movement has not attempted to offer a clear set solutions or concrete list of demands. Whilst these may emerge there is no sense of urgency to focus on anything other than growing the movement. Addressing the General Assembly on Sunday the political philosopher Slavoj Zizek acknowledged that “[t]here are truly difficult questions that confront us. We know what we do not want. But what do we want?” But for Zizek the central message of is a clear one: “We are allowed to think about alternatives.”
For those involved these early stages of the movement the mood is intoxicating and contagious. But as the warm October weather slips away and tactical differences become more pronounced there are dangers. “Don’t fall in love with yourselves” warns Zizek. “We have a nice time here. But remember: carnivals come cheap. What matters is the day after.” There is much discussion around the question of what a “win” would look like for Occupy Wall Street. Some think that they have already won whilst others believe that the movement has only just begun. In some ways both are true. Over the past month Occupy Wall Street has succeeded in permanently altering the political topography of America. How much more it achieves in the coming months remains to be seen.

“I’m here because I remember the Great Depression” eighty-year old Joan Davis tells me, her voice breaking with emotion. “My sister and I would often go to bed hungry and I still remember the look on my dad’s face the day he was forced to sell our farm. Things in America have needed changing for a long while and just maybe these people and others across the country can make a real difference.”
Stefan Simanowitz is a writer, journalist and broadcaster. He writes on politics and culture for publications including the Guardian, Independent, Washington Times, New Statesman, Financial Times, Metro, In These Times, Huffington Post, Global Post, New Internationalist, and Mail & Guardian.
Photographs courtesy: Stefan Simanowitz

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

V&A Press Conference

Rabindranath Tagore: Poet and Painter

A pleasant start to the day – I went to The Nehru Centre in central London for the press conference on the forthcoming Rabindranath Tagore display at the V&A.
To celebrate the 150th anniversary of the birth of Tagore, the V&A’s display on this poet, playwright and social reformer will run from 12 December 2011 until 4 March 2012. It will focus on the four themes of Tagore’s work: animals and imaginary creatures; landscapes; human figures and human faces and characters.
On display will be approximately 50 of his paintings from the period 1928 to 1939, several of which have never before been displayed outside India. All of the works are on loan from the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi or the Visva-Bharati University of India, the university founded by Tagore.
The display is curated by Professor Raman Siva Kumar of the Visva-Bharati University and organised in collaboration with the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi, with the support of the Ministry of Culture, Government of India.
I am particularly looking forward to visiting the display as I am aware of Tagore’s tremendous achievements and impact, particularly on Resurgence. I am also looking forward to a lunchtime lecture on Tagore by Resurgence’s editor-in-chief Satish Kumar on 25 January from 1pm – 1.45pm. Entitled, ‘An Artist Activist’, the event should paint a picture of the man who continues to influence so many.
For further information, please visit the Victoria and Albert Museum on http://www.vam.ac.uk/
Sharon Garkinkel is the PR & Marketing Executive at Resurgence magazine.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

New Green Deal for Israel

What a great start to the day... breakfast briefing at the Big Green Jewish’s offices in London with Sagit Porat speaking on ‘a New Green Deal for Israel’.
Participants came from a number of Jewish organisations including the Union of Jewish Students and the JCC for London.
Interestingly, in her talk, Sagit, who is a member of the Israeli Green Movement, spoke about how Schumacher’s  influential “Small is Beautiful” has been a guiding inspiration for her and others. Before joining Resurgence, when I thought about ‘small’ and ‘beautiful’ in one sentence, my taste buds awakened and I automatically thought of a wonderful restaurant on the Kilburn High Road. That’s another story. Now, I know more about Schumacher’s philosophy and it is refreshing to learn about its influence in Israel, a country where green politics is a key issue.
This summer was a season of protests both in the UK and Israel. We are all familiar with what happened across this country, but the protests in Israel were fuelled by something different: social justice.
Sagit told us how Israel’s green party has been leading a team of activists, with the support of the Heinrich Boell Foundation, in creating a new economic programme for the country which would include the concepts of the ‘Green New Deals’ from across the world. The draft of Israel’s proposal: ‘The Economics of Tomorrow’ was released this week. Amongst other things it calls for a total change in Israel’s energy sources.
With two years until the next planned Israeli election, time will tell how much of an impact the new green vision will have in Israel. Still, I left this morning’s event feeling proud of what Jewish people contribute to the environment. A look at the Big Green Jewish website highlights what Jews have done in the past and continue to do for the environment.
David Brown, and his team at the Big Green Jewish website are to be applauded for their efforts in raising awareness of environmental issues across the Jewish and wider communities.
Sharon Garkinkel is the PR & Marketing Executive at Resurgence magazine.
For more information visit the Big Green Jewish website: http://www.biggreenjewish.org/

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Healing the UK Riots

The recent riots in UK cities have prompted concern and outrage, even where I live on the other side of the planet. During the height of the disturbances I was speaking with the genteel executive of a local charity in New Zealand who suddenly lost his cool, clenched his knuckles and exclaimed, “the British police should shoot a few of them! That will stop the riots instantly. They need to know who’s in charge!” 
It struck me that buried deep within this utterance are clues both to how the violence emerged and how it can be transformed. 

Although the causes of this violence are complex, there are key threads. In the UK, many of us have been creating a society of self interest at the expense of a genuine understanding of a ‘we’ for generations. Of course, we do self-interested ‘we’ very well, the ‘we’ of my family, my team, in effect my tribe. But it is rare for us to reach out in altruism to people we don’t know, don’t like or don’t approve of. And this is all that is necessary to feed suspicion, hostility, and an ability to dehumanise our fellow humans. The current framework of wider society is based on self interest, even when this is dressed up in political and economic clothes.
This has led to fragmentation which is the root of violence, and not just the stuff of public disorder. This emphasis on the individual has produced discord deep within our own consciousness. We might think of this discord as a self maintained wounding of our spirit. 
We have become attuned to ‘me’ at the expense of others and this has generated a mindset of deep division that is prepared to grasp and hurt in order to feed the insatiably greedy self focused mind. Taken to extremes this is looting, remove any vestige of empathy and it is violent disorder and assault.  It changes faces according to context but shares the same causes and conditions.  
Self-focused fragmentation is a common condition but is manifested differently depending on the circumstances and amplified by suffering and delusion. There seems to be a prevailing sense of alienation in many of us right now. It’s about time we all took this seriously and asked if this alienation keeps us safe or makes us happy. The answer is surely not.

We have created a veil of excuses in which we hold the causes of fragmentation, including social violence, outside our self and demand that someone else do something to fix them and take responsibility for changing ‘my’ world. This is symptomatic of a fragmented mind, twisted by grasping and self indulgence and missing vital logical links. We must not externalise because it misses the point. We all created the riots, we are all needed to transform the causes and conditions that gave rise to such pain.
The capacity to heal society is alive and well and is to be found deep within each one of us. We can touch this healing every time we smile, every time we appreciate someone, show compassion or help a stranger. In each one of these actions, and all altruistic and heartfelt behaviours, we are healing the riots and preventing them happening again.   
This is an extract from Tim Robert’s article Healing the UK Riots which you can read in full on the Resurgence website.
Tim Roberts served as a British police officer for many years, is a Visiting Fellow at the University of Chester and lives and works in New Zealand as a consultant in Leadership Development.
Follow Tim on twitter @TimRobertsCo

Thursday, 4 August 2011

The North Atlantic Right Whale

A conversation with researcher and conservationist Laurie Murison

“Most of our knowledge about the North Atlantic right whale has been lost and is only now slowly being re-learned.” This is not surprising considering that this animal is one of the rarest on Earth. Having studied right whales in the Bay of Fundy since 1982, Laurie Murison is certainly qualified to tell the dramatic story of this beautiful and highly endangered animal.
“An amazing property of whale blubber, as far as humans are concerned, is that it becomes oil when cooked and, after cooking, remains an oil rather than reverting back to fat. It also burns extremely well.” These valuable properties may have initially been discovered by accident. Maybe one day a dead whale washed ashore and ‘cooked’ in the sun, turning its blubber into oil, and was later found by a human who had a brilliant idea…
“Commercial whaling began 1,000 years ago in the Bay of Biscay.” The Basque people became efficient hunters. They had stations on shore to spot whales and alert the long boats, the boats men rowed out, killed the whale and towed its body back to shore. Right whales were the ‘right whale to hunt’ (hence their name), for several reasons. They came close to shore, were slow moving, spent time at the surface and, because of the density of their blubber, floated when dead, allowing for easy transportation back to shore. Most importantly, their bodies yielded huge quantities of oil.
In the 1400′s, Europeans began hunting right whales further afield in North American waters. “During the 1500′s and 1600′s, the age of exploration and exploitation of the high seas, oil very quickly became part of European life.” Even by the 1600′s, right whale numbers had plummeted. Whalers began additionally hunting bowheads, humpbacks and sperm whales, but the price for a right whale was exorbitantly high. “One right whale catch could pay for the majority of a whaler’s costs for the entire year, so this incentive only served to accelerate their decline.” Whaling expanded from the North Atlantic into the North Pacific and then the Southern Oceans.
By the 17-1800′s, oil was used in England for lighting and, as the industrial revolution took off, oil was needed to lubricate machine parts and allow longer working days in the darkened winters. “It is an interesting question to ask how differently the industrial revolution would have developed was it not for oil. That explosion of technology got us hooked on the stuff!”
By the late 1800′s, modern whaling was born with the invention of the exploding harpoon head, steamships and new methods for transporting ‘sinking’ whales. This was bad news for many species of whale, but took the pressure off right whales to some degree. In addition, whale oil was by now being replaced by petroleum. “But when the industrial world stopped exploiting whales, the fashion world soon took over. The wonderful, flexible properties of baleen were discovered!” This material was used for such inventions as corsets, hoop skirts, parasols, furniture springs and horse drawn carriages.
In 1935 a decision was made to protect all right whales, no doubt helped by the fact that they were no longer commercially valuable. At this time it was believed the North Atlantic population numbered about 50 individuals, with 400 in the North Pacific and more in the Southern Oceans. In 1937 the protection took effect and this multi-country agreement became a precursor for today’s International Whaling Commission. Illegal whaling still continued unfortunately, for example the North Pacific population fell to about 30 individuals due to illegal whaling by USSR.
It is possible that places such as the Bay of Fundy helped the North Atlantic species survive the whaling years. The bay, with its colossal tides and dense fog, never had a history of whaling and no sightings were made there before research in the 1970′s and 80’s. “It may well be that whales who spent more time in remote areas such as the Bay of Fundy lived long enough to breed, thereby keeping their entire species alive.”
During the 1980′s, North Atlantic right whale numbers increased from approximately 200 to 300. In the 90′s they suffered a decline, probably due to a lack of food and increased accidental mortality. “2001 was a baby boom year with 32 calves being born!” From 2001-2011 an average of 22 calves have been born each year. And that brings their story up to date with an estimated North Atlantic right whale population of 450-500.
But what of the future for right whales, where does their story go from here?
“This is still unknown. We do not know if the North Atlantic right whale has sufficient genetic variation to survive in the long term, let alone the North Pacific species. The Southern right whales have recovered more rapidly. But all right whales face continued threats from other human activities such as ship collisions, entanglement, pollution, climate change and loss of food and habitat. We may be able to control shipping and fishing to some degree, but with the larger and longer term global problems of pollution and climate change, we have no idea what impacts will be felt in the future…”
In another hundred years time, I wonder what the history books and computer applications will have to say about right whales…
Laurie Murison is the executive director of Grand Manan Whale and Seabird Research Station, on Grand Manan Island in the Bay of Fundy, Canada. To find out more about the organisation's work, go to: http://www.gmwsrs.org/main.htm

Amanda Banks is a freelance writer from England, recently engaged in writing about the life and work of cetacean conservationists in North and South America. To read more of her posts about conservationists, go to: http://amandabanks.com/blog/

Copyright in photographs belongs to Grand Manan Whale and Seabird Research Station.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Visual Jazz: Appreciation

The glitterati of Boston and Massachusetts ceramic and art society were there at the opening. In the speeches you would have thought I was as important as Picasso.

The response is full-on and enthusiastic. One collector told me she had bought a piece of mine from my last show here and then found the colours of her house did not work, so she bought a new beach house for the pot and designed the d├ęcor around it.

Another collector spent a very long time communing with the pots.  He gazed deep into the vessels, and was stroking them, feeling with his hands where my hands had been in the clay, noting all the thumbprints and fingermarks, and delighting in his visceral connection.

Some people had been following my work for years, and noticed developments and how it is evolving. Considering this is my first solo show in the USA, I wondered how they knew it so well. They said it has been featured in many books here, and over twenty-five years ago I was in a show of British Ceramics in Dallas which people remember. And some had been at a big arts conference, NCECA, three years ago in which I was the International Guest Presenter.

I was truly surprised to find that so many people here know my work well. I had thought that to most of the people at the opening I would be a new artist, but it was certainly not the case.

Lucy introduced me to all these people who seemed like immediate friends. It is a fairly intimate connection for me when people respond to my work so well. I know I am going to like them because they understand the essence of me. (Which is why I have always had a soft spot for Tony Blair as he is on record in a Sunday newspaper holding a piece of mine saying it is one of his favourite things.)  
Red spots were now appearing rapidly.

And then Lucy, myself and some of the guests had dinner in the gallery. It was a lovely gesture and a great way to get to know everyone, to talk, and then in pauses to look up and see the colourful ceramics dancing.

So all of my fears were totally groundless.

Now it is early the next morning and I have been invited to go pilot gig rowing here today with a club in Gloucester, which being America is only ten miles from Manchester and 40 from Weymouth. Bideford is not far either!

It should be a perfect balance to the arty activities in which I am expressing my individuality; in rowing I am in the boat with 6 others and we have to be in perfect harmony otherwise the boat slows. The sun is shining, the weather is warm and lets hope the sea is not too bouncy. I will find out if there are traditional boat builders here too, being kept alive by the resurgence of interest in sea gig rowing as a sport.

Sandy Brown is an internationally renowned ceramicist who lives and works in North Devon. She is the Art Advisor at Resurgence magazine.
Find out more about Sandy Brown http://www.sandybrownarts.com/sandybrownarts.htm

Visual Jazz exhibition takes place at Lacoste Gallery from 16 July to 3 August 2011

Friday, 22 July 2011

Visual Jazz: Communication

As I write this, I must admit to being a little nervous about how the opening will go; part of me dreads being there for fear of not being understood. There will be speeches made by the high-ups of the Boston artworld, and people will want to talk to me about my work and I wont know what to say. My fear is that I will shrivel and mumble and talk gibberish.

Then I tell myself perhaps it wont be that bad; I was anxious before the Harvard day and my fears melted away when I met the people there who said they were honoured to meet me, and that they had admired my work for years.  So maybe it will be OK today, but I am still worried. If Lucy were to telephone and say I am not needed (actually I was told that by one gallery many years ago, that artists just get in the way at openings and invite all their friends, which is partly true I think), I would say “thank you” and go for a walk. But that would be cowardly.

I do this as a way of communicating. I cant sing, I am not much good as a dancer, I have tried to play the piano but struggle, but I can play and improvise and place clay and colour in an original way.  And as it is a way of communicating, then surely I must want to continue the dialogue with those who understand?  “But what if they don’t?” comes the fearful voice.

I will have to trust – just as I trust when I do the work in the first place – that whatever happens will be OK. If I am attached to wanting some sort of particular outcome, then I am just making it hard for myself.  So maybe I can enjoy the opening by not being attached to having to be understood or admired. Yes, I think I can do that, as an observer of the human condition. And I do like my own work myself – I am very pleased indeed with it, so it will be fun to go and see it again and to share a glass of wine with some new friends.

Sandy Brown is an internationally renowned ceramicist who lives and works in North Devon. She is the Art Advisor at Resurgence magazine.
Find out more about Sandy Brown: http://www.sandybrownarts.com/sandybrownarts.htm

Visual Jazz exhibition takes place at Lacoste Gallery from 16 July to 3 August 2011