Archives for category: Taoism

Let gravity do its thing
A lot of people view life as some sort of dreary uphill struggle. A steady, monotonous plod towards the distant and ill defined plateau that is death – burdened down, every miserable step of the way, by life’s many sorrows and responsibilities. Personally I’d rather see life as being something closer to falling out of a gigantic tree. Sure you’re going to snag a few branches on the way down, sure you’re going to die on impact when you hit the forest floor, but THE ACT OF FALLING ITSELF IS COMPLETELY WITHOUT EFFORT! And if you’re really chilled out – I mean Lao Tzu, water without ripples, the butterfly is definitely dreaming of the man chilled out – maybe you’ll even be able to enjoy the ultimate liberation of a pure and absolute freefall.

After all, there really is no point in struggling – the outcome is about the only truly obvious and predetermined thing in the known universe. The more you try to grab at the branches as they race by; the more you fight against the process of falling (desperately clambering and pointlessly scrambling and further entangling) the more ragged and battered you’ll find yourself when you finally hit the bottom. Far easier to just let it all go, to roll with the punches, to opt for the path of least resistance; enjoy the views as best you can, appreciate the fresh air, say hello to the sparrows! Hell, maybe you’ll even be blessed with the opportunity to pluck a piece of fruit or two… but only if it works out that way – the second you start throwing yourself into the branches in search of unpicked riches is the second you get your eyes scratched out for the effort. There really is no such thing as a free lunch, unless of course, you stop looking for it!

And as you hurtle towards the ground – those last few moments of freefall can be spent either screaming in fear and desperation at your inability to change a single aspect of the gravitational Master-plan, or enjoying the ride, content in the knowledge that you had some fun along the way. And however many branches you might have smacked on the way down, at least you’ll have the pleasure of knowing that your body will eventually provide a half decent spade or two of compost… will work its way into the earth from which it came… will be drawn into the roots of the very same tree from which you fell… egoless and free, dissipated and unchained… in myriad forms over countless ages… absorbed into the fabric of the infinite freefall.

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“There is no greater illusion than fear” Lao Tzu (Tao Te Ching – Chapter 46)

As with most proverbs, “it takes a village to raise a child” was probably something of a truism at one time or another in the history of human “development”. Indeed, just repeating the phrase brings to mind sepia tinted images of apple-cheeked peasants passing around children like so many bags of potatoes; dandling them on sturdy knees in village squares; clipping them round the ear for stealing cider from the pantry. Today of course, things are different, and as we’re shuttled back and forth in our drab little space pods – soulless commuter belt to sterile grey office, sterile grey office to soulless commuter belt (perhaps, if we’re really lucky, the palliative misery of a designated “consumer experience” in a prefab leisure park) there is no village anymore – even in the “city neighbourhood” sense of the word – and the concept of a communal “child of the village” was buried under the same shopping centre car park as the village itself.

Try speaking to a random 5 year old from the end of your street in a lot of urban environments and you’re likely to end up being chased around the estate by a gang of pitch-fork wielding Sun readers who won’t consider themselves to have performed their civic duty until they’ve bounced your head off the nearest pavement and mailed your severed balls to a testing laboratory in Sweden. Maybe not, maybe that’s too much of an exaggeration… but the fear is real. And it’s the same fear that a man feels when he accidently finds himself walking in the same direction as a lone female on an empty street and his heart sinks into his boots when he sees her make the same turn he’s about to make himself:

“Shit! Maybe I should speed up and overtake her so she knows I’m not a weirdo? But If I speed up she’ll think I’m trying to grab her or something… no don’t cross the street there, that’s where I need to cross the street… bollocks… maybe I should just shout something out to reassure her… but that would look well dodgy… Fuck! She keeps glancing over her shoulder? Maybe I should just turn around and find another route… but then I’m likely to get reported to the cops for being some sort of stalker… man, I’m gonna end up on Crimewatch or something… Wait a minute… I’ve got it! I’ll pretend I need to tie my shoelaces until she’s gone.”

Can there be anything as damned depressing and isolating as living in the grips of such a pandemic of social paranoia?

And yet this is where we find ourselves, bolted into the confines of a Fritz Lang nightmare – trapped by the geographical inhumanity of the modern city; ever more fragmented by the continual division of space, time, labour, leisure, race and “community”; driven into our own personal wildernesses of alienation and social-disconnect by a capital driven system that places production and consumption before the wellbeing of its own species! Here we are, terrified of our own shadows lest they tie us to a chair and pull out our toenails; the age of omniscient danger, the age of heightened surveillance, the age of magnified fear… and distrust… and intolerance. Clinging to whatever limited forms of familiarity and safety we can find. Panicked into submission by a horror of “the Other” and compliant to the whims and dictates of anything that promises to make it all go away. It’s the same old Hell and redemption racket we’ve always been sold, only this time it invades our living rooms and our earphones, every waking minute of our media augmented reality. This it seems, is where the fantasies of the industrial and technological ages have finally landed us – a naturally sociable and playful mammal (the greatest communicative force in the known universe no less) trapped in a perverse dystopian farce whereby the second we step out of the hermetically sealed safety of our immediate circle, everyone we walk past in the street, or sit next to on a bus, or queue behind in the supermarket, is quite literally (in a manner that would have been utterly incomprehensible to previous generations) a complete and total stranger.

Stranger.

Stranger danger.

“Don’t talk to strangers”

“I don’t know what it is but there’s something very strange about Frank”

“It’s not that we don’t like him dear, it’s just that he’s a bit… y’know… strange…”

Stranger. The very word is loaded with such negative connotations that random man X and random woman Y quickly cease to be neutral unknown quantities in the eye of the scared and alienated observer and morph into a strange amalgam of Jungian archetype, and media fuelled hate figure. The orthodox Muslim with the flowing robes and long black beard could only be a terrorist. The teenager with his hand in his pocket is probably concealing a razor blade. That man over there by the coffee stall has brown skin – very suspicious – better look away quickly. The two ladies with the short skirts, they look Polish. I bet they work in the sex industry. I wonder if they smoke crack? That old lady with the ancient shopping bags and the old world shawl – ten to one she pisses herself, better not get too close, a question of hygiene. Look! The big guy in the overalls who’s dragging his leg! Fuck! Hide the kids! he’ll kill the lot of us! And what about the wino at the bus stop – should I run in terror before he starts breathing his alcohol fumes in my face and babbling about Jesus like the maniac I’ve already written him off as, or should I treat him with the condescension of charity and assume that his addiction requires the infantilism of a clean living citizen such as myself? That way, when he tells me to fuck off… I can shake all over with moral indignation and call the cops because he’s causing a scene. A good citizen. A dutiful citizen. Protecting the world from strangers.

Stranger.

Stranger danger.

Don’t talk to strangers…

…until your world is so fucking narrow that you’re crawling along the length of it like a rat in a drainpipe. Don’t talk to strangers, watch TV instead – it’s safer that way. Don’t look at that beautiful girl with the innocent smile and the honey coloured hair, her boyfriend might stick you with a knife – re-edit the banality of your own existence on facebook instead, it’s safer that way. Don’t go outside, there are homosexuals there, and teenagers, and immigrants, and people that talk to children they don’t know, and all sorts of dangerous strangers – stay in your house and play those little games on your mobile phone until it’s time to go to bed. Seriously, it’s safer that way. Being human is dangerous. Turn yourself off. Turn yourself into a robot. Turn yourself into a square of fucking carpet and lay low for a while. Shoot yourself in the back of the head so that you can resist the temptation to go outside forever. Stay safe.

Forget about freedom, forget about spontaneity, forget about playfulness and creativity and the bird-twittering joy of human contact, just keep your head down and buy more stuff. After all, this is the age of Capitalism, it’s your civic duty to buy more stuff. The economy depends upon it. If you stop buying more stuff the wheels will fall off. Forget about human contact. Focus on consumer goods – bright and shiny bits of plastic, the soothing fishbowl glow of a blue screen; safe and dead and passive. And if you feel bored or lonely, or you’re not quite sure what it is you feel anymore, or maybe you gave up even trying to feel anything a long time ago, then just buy even more stuff… and keep buying it… until you’ve got enough electronic gadgets and gizmos to pacify your consciousness on a more or less permanent basis … or go to the cinema to take your mind off it… but don’t forget to buy the dustbin full of popcorn and the giant tub of coke…it’s your duty… and don’t sit next to anyone if you can help it, they might try and touch you up in the dark… and don’t talk to anyone about how shit you thought the film was on the way out of the theatre in case they turn out to be a bit of a psycho or they’re related to the director… and for god sake don’t get a taxi back home, the drivers are usually foreigners, and what they do is, they drive you out of town to a bit of waste-land and then they execute you like at the end of Kafka’s The Trial so they can steal your wallet and mail your shoes to their relatives over-seas… and don’t get the bus because for some reason the bus is always full of angry drunk white-trash coming back from a night out… make sure you get a friend to drive you home… and if you don’t have any friends left you’ll have to skip the beer and drive yourself… but don’t forget to lock your doors because you go through some pretty dodgy neighbourhoods to get back home… and someone might try to jack the car… and make sure you’ve got your keys ready before you get to the door because of the rapists… and if you make it home, congratulations… you can now go on facebook and tell everyone what a marvelous time you’ve been having, happy in the knowledge that your life is so rich and full with the cacophony of human experience.

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I know I run the risk of sounding like a blithering paranoiac on a steady diet of dodgy mushroom omelettes but ever since I first moved into this house six years ago, I’ve been utterly convinced that the place emanates some seriously bad vibrations. Up until yesterday, it really wouldn’t have surprised me to have discovered that we lived on the exact same spot where the locals used to hold witch burning parties in the early 1700s, or that the foundations of the place were laid over a Roman fortress decimated by smallpox. Now however, after finally dipping my fingers into the fascinating world of feng shui, I can confirm (though not with any great relish) that all of our property woes are the direct result of a near apocalyptic series of feng shui disasters. Seriously, this place could have been set up as an experiment in how to ruin your own life through the attraction of negative energy… and if we were ever to invite around a feng shui consultant to help us re-arrange the coffee tables, I doubt they’d even make it through the front door before they collapsed in a writhing, screaming heap and started frothing at the mouth.

Ten seconds into my online research and I start coming across lines like “Do you live in a cul-de-sac?” (Yes actually I do…) and “Is your backyard sloped?” (Yes actually it is…), and then other, altogether less encouraging lines like “these houses will have challenging Feng Shui that needs to be taken care of.” And it’s so painfully obvious that the word “challenging” is just a polite way of saying “seriously and irredeemably fucked” that I have to curb the compulsion to bundle my family into the car and check indefinitely into the nearest Travelodge. In contexts like this, “Challenging” is a serious word indeed, it hints at dark and disturbing truths that are too hideous to be faced in their naked form. “Challenging” is the word that teachers use in the school reports of their most criminally deranged pupils: “Johnny’s recent experiments with a chainsaw in the playground raised some challenging behavioural concerns”… or politicians trot out whenever they get busted: “a Government spokesperson conceded earlier today that the photos of the prime minister dressed as Mussolini whilst snorting cocaine off the naked breasts of a Thai prostitute have created a challenging PR situation.” Let’s face it, “challenging” is bad… and nobody in their right mind would want to get home from a tiring day at work to be “challenged” by the very existence of their property on the spot where it currently resides. There really is no escaping the fact that what we’re dealing with here is a remarkably concrete problem. A cul-de-sac is a cul-de-sac… a hill is a hill… and no amount of online feng shui hints or tips are ever going to amount to anything more than a second rate palliative care programme unless I call in the bulldozers and destroy the entire street, or convince the council to shift a few hundred thousand tonnes of top soil.

And if it’s depressing to fall at the first hurdle, imagine how it feels to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and then slap the tarmac at the second hurdle as well. It seems that a good feng shui house requires “a smooth, strong and clear energy flow to its front door”. A nice, simple, gently curved pathway is the thing you’re after – something that imparts an air of cheerfulness and calm, maybe a couple of moderately proportioned bushes and a water feature to finish things off. “Big trees, old pots and recycling bins” blocking the way to the front door are (not unreasonably) frowned upon, whilst weeds, dead flowers and any other inauspicious signs of decay should be promptly removed from the scene. Needless to say, the path to my own front door deviates catastrophically from this feng shui blue-print. Picture instead a hideous procession of vomit yellow slabs (with some sort of fungal infection) lurching aggressively away from the front of the house like a drunk being ejected from a nightclub. Then picture this path taking a completely insane right angle about a third of the way down a decidedly patchy lawn before stumbling to the left for a few feet and then abruptly terminating at a narrow driveway of black tarmac. Throw in a few dandelions prising their way through the cracks in the slabs and finish off with a pair of ornamental cement tortoises – one of whom was sadly decapitated by the lawn-mower a few years back – and you get a good sense of the place.

You know, the more I think about the layout of that path the more it pisses me off. What kind of a fuckwit building company would force a family to skulk sideways into their own house like they were about to undertake a kidnapping? And I mean seriously, how could a home ever appear warm or inviting when you have to tip-toe down the side of your car and then navigate a series of jarring, unnatural right angles before you even get your God damn keys out? Feng shui… environmental psychology… the physics of light and space… geometrical relationships… common sense… call it what you like, it’s abundantly clear that our builders decided to turn a blind eye to any of these principles… and as a result of which we got well and truly shafted to save the price of a couple of dozen paving slabs. And would it really have cost our builders that much money to put a bit of weed repellent sheeting down? I could easily go off on one about all of this shit but this post is supposed to be about feng shui rather than unscrupulous building developers so I’ll save my wrath for the great day… and besides, the Tao Te Ching (which I always try to consult in times of high dudgeon) clearly states that there is no “greater misfortune than having an enemy.” Wise words indeed… and a difficult point to ignore – I suppose I could ruin the rest of my life tirelessly fighting for the “cause of the curved path” and the building giants would still throw about right angles like fucking hand grenades. Far better to remember yet another line from the Tao Te Ching, “stop thinking and end your problems”. Maybe we should just go off and live in a tent somewhere? A round tent. Like a Mongolian Yurt.

Anyway; once you’ve navigated the negative energy of the topography and the garden path, the next feng shui disaster waiting to throw a spanner into your psyche is the front door itself, which screeches like a stuck pig whenever it’s opened or closed… not to mention the fact that it’s impossible to swing the front door back even a full 90 degrees because of our tunnel-like hallway (for obvious reasons any entrance way worth its salt should be broad and inviting). Oh and then there’s the question of the bathroom located directly above it – which, also for obvious reasons, is a massive feng shui no no. I actually went so far as to check the position of the toilet bowl itself, and now realise that I have the great masochistic pleasure of metaphorically shitting directly over the entrance to my own little fiefdom every single morning! Allow me to quote just one more illustrative example from my friends at fengshui.about.com

What is the first thing you see as your enter your house? Where do you feel the energy (your attention) goes right away? Does it go straight to a bathroom that is close to the front door, or is it pushed right back by a mirror facing the front door? Do you have a staircase facing the front door? Maybe your front door is aligned to the back door, so that most of the good energy that enters the house easily escapes?

No prizes for guessing who has a back door directly lined up with his front door… a “french” backdoor no less, with nice big sheets of seven foot glass to bounce out any wayward positive energy that may have accidently made its way across the threshold. Also no prizes for guessing who has a stairway in his hall… and a downstairs toilet as the very first thing you pass as you walk into the property. I could go on for another ten pages about giant mirrors opposite beds, and hexagonal dining tables throwing off energy streams like killer fucking lazer beams, and sofa’s tucked behind doors, and colour schemes that would kill plant life on contact… but I think the point has been made.

You know, as naive as it sounds, until I read up on all this feng shui stuff I’d never really processed any of these issues. My dissatisfaction with the house was vague and free-floating – the endless tug of a thousand negative spatial arrangements just beneath the water margin of my own consciousness, bubbling away, day in, day out, like a toxic cauldron. Of course, now that I’ve seen the feng shui light as it were, everything about this weird house and it’s flat malevolent vibe is starting to make sense – and maybe as seemingly little a thing as the position of your toilet bowl and the angle of your garden path really does make a difference… it’s that whole death by a thousand pin pricks idea. And hey, why would I ever be arrogant enough to doubt the idea that a bunch of ancient Chinese sages who spent their entire lives living close to nature and contemplating this stuff would have less of an understanding of it than I do myself?

If like me, you’ve ever looked into getting a couple of red eyed tree frogs, you’ll no doubt have read the endless online articles about the need to replicate their natural environment… and that it really isn’t good enough to simply provide them with the necessary heat, light and food for their survival. Being tree frogs they need greenery and foliage and high places… and if you fail to provide as much for their “tree frog-ness” as their biological requirements, you’ll have a couple of very unhappy tree frogs indeed. Maybe they’ll be so pissed off that they’ll go on hunger strike and die. It might sound strange but in many ways I think this is where feng shui can play a part in our lives today. It’s a body of knowledge that is older than this strange world of glass and brick boxes we seem to have built around ourselves… and it’s sensitive enough to the psychology of human needs and environmental requirements to ground us back in nature… where, like all animals, we rightfully belong. Feng shui seems to understand a human’s “human-ness” in the same way that the owner of red eyed tree frogs needs to understand those tree frogs fundamental “frog-ness”. Something your average property developer wouldn’t give a fuck about.

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