Monthly Archives: May 2014

Mindfulness Course

mind-full

 

 

 

 

 

 

Enthused by my Massage Day experience, I recently completed an 8 week Mindfulness Course.

I’m hoping to teach it in schools, which I generally scope out when I’m shouting at the kids.

If you don’t know what Mindfulness is by now, Facebook furnishes daily aphoristic reminders next to pictures of flowers and the Dalai Lama sharing a burger with Russell Brand.

It’s the cultivation of total attention to the here and now, unsullied by the memory of making a tit out of yourself last Saturday night, and your plans to do the same every weekend for the rest of your life.

Naturally, that’s not how our former-monk teacher phrased it. He’d trained at a school that measures the gap in between words, then tasers you for inconsistencies. Even his invitation to leave the building for a coffee break felt like the pathway to a one-hundred year coma.

Every participant comment was welcomed with a congratulations for sharing, no matter how moronic and lacking in any quality whatsoever that might make it a valuable contribution to the public space.

‘I found meditating more effective after eating a bowl of Rice Krispies.’

‘How in Thor’s name is that going to advance the cause of the other human beings here?’ is something he never said.

As always, you (I) can’t resist judging fellow learners and jumping to conclusions that pleasingly activate the story-making area of the brain.

‘Staying with the breath’ invariably meant guessing Jo’s partner’s glad she’s out of the house for an afternoon picking up tips on being less of a psycho. Or wondering if anyone has ever told Kathy her laugh evokes antipathy. Or Tess that what she’s actually doing is having a nervous breakdown and locating the tingling sensation in her toes ain’t going to cover it.

Languorous Steve had an unintentionally funny turn of phrase. I particularly enjoyed the regaling of his new habit of nipping into the loos at work to focus when a colleague is pissing him off, so now they all think he’s crap at his job AND has IBS. Memorably, he also got carried away on a problems analogy that involved the nuking of ants sneaking in through his kitchen door with a glue gun to ‘stop the buggers coming back once and for all’.

At each of the four fortnightly sessions we delved more deeply into the moment, whingeing prodigiously along the way about how difficult/ boring/ fruitless/ annoying it was, no-one voicing the obvious that we were the ones who’d signed up for the privilege.

We heard that minds are essentially naughty, errant children you have to keep calling back, forcing to make eye contact, and encouraging to calm the hell down.

Home practice involved a series of CD’s on which Mr Monk called variously for attention to the body, the breath, sounds, and even thoughts, which many were using as a highly effective sleep tool.

Reporting back on it was an exercise in skilled lying, whereby one took the rule of dividing by a quarter the units of alcohol one consumes in a day in order to render one’s alcoholism palatable to one’s GP, and inverted it.

In other words, purported hours spent meditating were wildly over-calculated for public absorption, though it’s likely the upswell of group emotional anxiety greater than or equal to the week prior, made this fairly suss-able.

(Apart from chilled-out Audrey who, quite frankly, was ruining the beauty of this reflected misery.)

I love courses. I feel all Whoop-Whoop!-TED-motivational about them but this was a slow burner, like figuring out the tiny dots over time to get the big 3-D picture reveal at the end (though I never did get those).

Mindfulness is a life-long muscle you need to flex- an intention to nurture- more like learning the piano than an apple-falling-on-head epiphany.

You are training yourself to see, really see, what might be great; to put space in-between reactions and responses to what might not; to allow more and judge less; to sit with the uncomfortable.

But mostly to frustrate the living fibre out of person B who is losing the plot, as you smooth the creases out of your face with an oleaginous mental mixture of milk and honey.

The last session was a whole morning of meditations, of which my favourite was the Mindfulness of Walking.

A lost scene from Last Year at Marienbad, it featured every participant’s attempt to reconcile an urgency to reach the airy balcony area, with the task of putting one foot in front of the other in silent, slow motion.

In the end, it was the lost souls who’d taken a wrong turn on the way back to ‘Furniture Polishing Techniques’ in Room B who deserved our sympathy the most, destined as they are to spend the rest of their lives with a vague sense of unease, without ever being able to pinpoint why.

Post-course I realised I had been hoping for a game-changing perspective: deliciousness without the cream cake; transcendence pre-Enlightenment; ecstasy without the pill.

Turns out you have to start with the washing up, so I’ve got my Marigolds on for the long-haul.

Though I’d still pay good money to see our gentle monk freak out enough for him to feel just a tiny bit ashamed.

 

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under Mumbo Life, Mumbo Obsessions, Mumbojumbosheepism, Uncategorized

Woody Allen and Art’s exposing risk

The apple of art doesn’t fall too far from the tree.

Ideas may be universal but squeeze them through the sausage-making machine of the artist and they take on a unique shape. That’s the whole point.

This doesn’t mean that the writer has to hold the same views as his/her creations but, when all’s said and done, a sensibility shines through their representation.

It may not be obvious to start with but if you know what you’re looking for, you’ll pick up a trail.

Like trying to pen a Valentine’s card in a stranger’s handwriting, or forging the numerical receipts of cab drivers as realistically as possible*, the ‘you’ (or that part of ‘you’ being put to that use) is the common denominator: it can be found. (*I never do this)

When beautiful things come from people with un-beautiful histories, we are posed with a problem. From Wagner to Michael Jackson, we get all morally twisty-pants.

Is it right to hum along in your leisure time to the music created by a Nazi sympathizer? Does it endorse him, or encourage his views by complicity?

More, how COULD something so transcendent come from such a character in the first place? (Fine, maybe not Heal the World; Liberian Girl‘s bloody genius.)

I bet a good consideration of that subject could yield interesting insight, alongside the more obvious stuff about the drive to escape from personal demons, or the demons spawning that very escape, maybe in a redemptive bid.

For now, suffice to say we are no one definition. We are ‘good’ and ‘bad’, or actually neither. We like ice-cream and playing the guitar and making chutney.

Sometimes we need to be judged. But, for me, it must be in relation to that specific charge- otherwise we’d all be in for the chop.

So, Woody Allen.

Woody roused me 5 years ago, with Vicky Cristina Barcelona: http://wp.me/pfnZ7-iO

I love his films because they are about dialogue, relationships, social interaction, trad jazz, intimate restaurants, frolics, humour, apartments with thin corridors, large beds, large lamps, tall book walls, and literary agents.

They’re also about permissiveness, which is why they often lack high drama and have puffy endings. Everything’s OK if you spill it on your therapist: affairs, divorce, cancer. It’s all part of life’s farce- let’s just talk it out and move on to a new marriage.

It’s probably what happens when comedians write feature films without Owen Wilson and a boisterous dog: even if some pretty heavy life shit’s been going on between the opening and closing credits, all’s well that end’s well.

Woody married his ex-wife’s teenage step-daughter. You don’t have to be Columbo to deduce he’s not a granny grabber. It doesn’t mean he’s a paedophile either, though the allegations are there.

When I watched Manhattan again recently, some elements popped up- the interpretation of some elements popped up, it’s fairer to say.

So we’ve got four characters. Woody is Isaac (although really he’s Woody) and he’s in a jumble because he’s dating a 17 year old ‘kid’, Tracy.

Isaac spends the entire film telling his friend Yale, Yale’s wife, his soon-to-be replacement lover Mary and Tracy herself, that the relationship isn’t right because she’s just a child.

He is reassured by them all that it’s OK; she’s a legitimate date, there-there, don’t worry, you’re not doing anything wrong.

Tracy is played by gentle Mariel Hemingway but a broom might have filled the role satisfactorily.

She has no opinions, apart from to say that she’s old enough to have opinions. She has no wit, no voice, no discernible personality. She’s a stooge for his self-revelatory stand-up. She is talked at by Isaac, who tells her on a loop that she shouldn’t really be sleeping with him.

Meanwhile Yale, his friend, is the handsome man Woody would like to be deep-down (Isaac’s his best shot at being who he is). Yale introduces Isaac to his mistress Mary, Diane Keaton.

Now, Mary is a real woman. She has outspoken views and says funny stuff and, at first, Isaac’s not at all sure about this 3-D female proposition that’s going on.

However, she’s attractive and tells Yale she finds Isaac attractive. Plus she slips past the post because she’s also emotionally screwy so Woody- sorry Isaac- can relate.

Isaac leaves the ‘kid’ Tracy. He breaks up with her like you’d break up with a broom: ‘I’m breaking up with you, Broom. Don’t be sad.’

He says she needs to go to London to Drama School because she’s wasting her time on a 42 year-old man like him and should see life. Tracy is heartbroken and later we learn Isaac ignores her phone-calls. He’s got a new gal; it becomes Tracy Who?

So Isaac and Mary have a crack at a grown-up relationship. They go to galleries and on walks and discuss things, like people born within a quarter of a century of each other might.

Mary talks incessantly about her incredible former husband, Jeremiah, and Isaac is disconcerted until they bump into him and he’s a runt who makes Isaac look like Brad Pitt.

There’s hope for Isaac, it seems. Allure comes in all shapes and sizes. You don’t have to be a Yale to hook a Mary.

Only, do you?

Isaac’s happy. Yes, his beautiful ex-wife Jill (Meryl Streep, or Meryl Streep’s long blond hair with Meryl attached) has left him for another woman but that’s OK because it suggests that sexuality has a spectrum and is fluid (contentious this, but who knows where else this sort of acceptable fluidity might trickle into?)

He’s got a smart, successful journalist who’s crazy about him and all’s good.

Turns out the smart journalist is still in love with handsome Yale. He’s going to ride the alimony pony and shack up with Mary.

So where does this leave Isaac? Will he be devastated? Will he have a breakdown and take time to recover until one day down the line, mature love finds him again?

Or, will he lie on the sofa thinking about his book and suddenly be caught in the grip of Tracy’s ‘pretty face’?

Will he jump up and run all the way to the girl he hasn’t thought twice about since he sent her back to the broom cupboard in order to have a go at being an adult, and interrupt her on the very day of her departure for London, asking her not to go?

Tracy (now 18, thus MORE than respectable) tells him he’s being unreasonable. She extracts from him an empty declaration of love and reminds him he left her in the lurch and subsequently ignored her, then points out that everything is set up for her new adventure and her parents are awaiting her arrival. And that if their love is true, 6 months is not so long to hold out for her and allow her this freedom.

Isaac’s response?

He wants her. He needs her. He doesn’t want that thing he likes about her to change (her innocence). Don’t go. Mememememememememememememe. Quiet, stompy feet. Puppy face.

Isaac, the child. Woody, the child. Throwing himself at the mercy of the child.

So I’ve built a sort of case but I’m going to stop short of a conclusion; one plus one equals two but it can also make eleven.

Art may expose but what exactly? What exactly?

Manhattan ends with Isaac mid-plea and we don’t know if Tracy will stay or go.

As with most Allen films, the journey- not the destination- is the point. I’ll do the same here.

If you believe one’s duty is to take a moral stance, it’s a cop-out.

If you’re happy to muse, you’ll accept the open ending.

 

4 Comments

Filed under Movie Mumbo, Mumbo Life, Mumbo Obsessions, Uncategorized

Scarlett and the Alien metaphor

Film Review Under the Skin

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aliens aren’t interesting.

They embarrass us, by exposing the limitations of our imagination.

Because we can only define by what we know, the best we come up with is that they’ve got pointy heads and maybe, like, one weird central eye.

What they can do is help us to re-appraise ourselves.

Now let’s think: in whose body might they do this, such that we’ll be more inclined to pay attention?

What about- ooh, I don’t know- say, Scarlett Johansson’s?

Under The Skin is pure atmospheric cinema (probably better consumed after a floatation tank session than ‘two-fer’ doughballs at Pizza Express, to be fair).

It’s sensory, evocative, elusive, and might just be the answer to Jonathan Glazer’s brain tickler as to how he can spend 3 weeks legitimately holed up with Hollywood’s sexiest starlet without having to make gooseberry jam with a hot leading male in tow.

So what behaviours come to us fresh when filtered through alien eyes?

A surprising number, thanks to the emotional dissonance of this strange creature, experienced as a result of its inhabiting of flesh.

The moment it curiously examines Scarlett’s human face at the close of the film is a crystallization of its painful effort to become a socialized animal on planet earth.

This question of empathy is central to the film, to the human condition.

We wince when it’s lacking (the little boy left on the beach); we relate with sensitivity to the craving to be loved, when it is simulated for ulterior motives (the deformed man); we feel the purity of kindness (the man on the bus), of beauty (the man giving her a tour of the castle); of love’s physical expression (the two of them in bed), when it’s experienced for real.

The cutest part is, it’s even evoked in us on behalf of the creature itself when the tables are eventually turned. We just can’t help ourselves.

When the chips are down, compassion is what separates us from computers, and we could all benefit from pondering that with a cafe creme and a bottle of Bud.

Also trundling into view, is the gulf between experience and interpretation.

Scarlett spends 3/4 of the film silently apprehending, as you would if you had no idea why a group of girly slags were escorting you to a night club.

It’s boring and frustrating for the audience.

Why?

Because we want to interpret- for it to mean something.

We’re not used to Directors asking us to listen to windscreen wipers unless the wipers are about to break, or clearing the view for a shot of Adam Sandler mugging for the camera in a Hawaiian shirt.

And we’re not used to doing this in life either. We need a purpose; we want a story.

The fact is, of course, we learn a whole lot more when we experience stuff just as it is.

Conversely, we also do things with little thought at all- like eating black forest gateau, for example.

It’s sweet and it tastes good. So shovel it down! Go on- heart attacks be damned!

Do it slowly and thoughtfully like your wee alien here, meanwhile, and you might come to realise it’s not good for you; it’s going to make you sick.

At a more vital level, we’re presented with the linear, almost childish sex drive of (some) men: ‘You’re pretty. Let’s fuck.’

For these male Scottish victims, it is their carnal instinct that propels them forward. They walk into their fate, literally: upright, full-frontal.

And it’s not ugly.

It’s honest and uncomplicated. It seeks to be sated- nothing more, nothing less.

(Mostly, it takes more than a compliment on her hands to bed a woman: why?)

Aliens are a metaphor for the ‘other’.

They are the foreigners we might fear, the strangers we avoid.

They do more than hold a mirror up to us.

They challenge us to say if we like what we see.

2 Comments

Filed under Movie Mumbo, Mumbo Life, Uncategorized