Thinking of Going to Calais?

Thinking of going to Calais? I’ve just got back and would like to share some thoughts with you.

It appears that a large wave of European citizens are in the process of taking ‘aid’ to Calais and other areas in Europe where migrants and refugees are camped or travelling.

People in the UK and across Europe who are distressed to see pictures of drowned children want to help. I am glad to see this response, but would like to add a few points to the debate, as I think that we are in danger of perpetuating the problem by framing the situation through the political lens of those who created it.

Why is it happening?

Firstly, we must remember that people are fleeing countries which our government has helped to destabilise and make uninhabitable. Britain’s ‘special relationship’ with the US, and the policies of other rich governments, have forced this population movement via climate disaster, global financial abuse and racist wars.

Afghan area in Calais Jungle refugee camp
Afghan area in Calais Jungle refugee camp

To address this, we need to take action at home by building a broad, grassroots movement powerful enough to challenge the neoliberal regime and foster self-organisation as a fundamental principle of our communities.

Refugees? Migrants?

Regarding the debate about whether we should call people forced to flee ‘migrants’ or’ refugees’, and whether we are creating with that conversation a ‘good refugee/bad migrant’ binary which undermines the basic truth that all people should be free and have rights: Instead, let’s focus our language on the elites who force others to leave their homelands and families. Words such as white supremacist, capitalist, neoliberal and patriarchal are all on point.

Charity?

Well-meaning Brits are going to Calais and running into the limitations of the charity model. Confused, upset donators are arriving in vans and attempting to give items they have collected to exhausted refugees and migrants, and sometimes chaos ensues during distribution. The true source of this chaos is the global power balance as described above, and much more the responsibility of any ‘white saviours’ come to offer benevolence than black and brown people in flight.

Truth is, anyone visiting is the guest of the people at the camp and has much more to learn that to give. Taking shoes, blankets, sleeping bags etc on solidarity missions is helpful but limited. What is important is that we also challenge the racism and imperialism that is fuelling this ongoing tragedy.

What should I do when I get there?

On the heated question of whether it is best to donate to charities working on the ground, drive your own supplies over or simply step back, I would like to offer this:

If you are going to Calais, take stuff, that’s fine, and contact local distribution centres in advance of your trip as they have more experience than you in distributing it on the ground and require notice. Then go to the camp if you want to, and offer your good wishes to those who have arrived there – these human conversations and sharing basic humanity and love with those who wish to connect are vital to building new friendships and can be vehicles of revolutionary change. But most importantly think deeply about how you can join the people in Calais or elsewhere in directly challenging the border.  Nobody wants to be stuck – people want to travel to their destination.

Graffiti from the Calais Jungle Refugee camp
Graffiti from the Calais Jungle Refugee camp

How the people defying borders are showing Europeans what we must do:

The people who are moving into and across Europe from North Africa and the Middle East have no choice but to take a mass direct action to tear down the borders of Fortress Europe – to survive they have to get in. Their freedom is bound up with ours – we in Europe are subject to the same threats as they are, but as yet insulated by privileges not enjoyed by people from countries our countries have robbed and bombed. We must support their action for our own future survival, as much as for theirs. The successes of peoples’ movements to take power away from the global elite are the very same acts that will ensure the survival of the planet, of the human race. We either take this planet back from those who would corral and destroy it, or we lose it.

Any idea that we are ‘helping the migrants’ because they are deserving of our ‘charity’ or ‘pity’ is misguided: we must support their mass direct action of defying borders as they lead the global fight for survival – ours, theirs and that of the planet.

(Thanks to Mitch, Samir, Mark and Andy for support/input on this article.)

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Suffering Means You Have Shit Karma and Deserve it?

I adore my family but we’re all fucking nuts.

If you are a member of my family or know us well, you will know that we are often pretty dynamic which can be very exciting and fun – and we all love a good drama, often not in a good way. Apparently, this applies to many other families and groups as well, to differing degrees.

The sheer volume of moment-to-moment perpetuated crises in our family is pretty impressive. No wonder I sometimes feel paralysingly exhausted. I have various theories on how we manage to be so consistent, including:

‘Catastrophising’ – a continual sense that every moment contains potential disaster and a vital, climactic, world-ending or saving decision. This comes fundamentally from a kind wish to help and protect the self and others, but gets polluted by habitual negativity and lack of self-esteem. It’s a combination of self-importance and self-pity at our vulnerable state (denial of true personal power) and is a symptom of unconsciousness that fuels mental ill-health and the inability to relax.

It originates in addictive behaviour and addicted thought, as I blogged previously.

We can all live on this merry-go-round of fetishising today’s ‘problems’ as if they were even more crucial and cataclysmic than yesterday’s or we can take a step back and think: what the fuck is actually going on here?

Again, people who know me well will be familiar with my habit of responding to unfolding seemingly disastrous events with comments like, “This is the best thing that ever happened, it will be the making of us/me/you.”

It’s not that I don’t believe that tragedy is painful or that solidarity and empathy should be available to us in crisis, the opposite in fact, service and compassion being fundamental principles of life, but it’s a constantly reinforced conviction that

suffering is grace

and a very useful path to enlightenment.

This sometimes seems opposite to the truth when feeling shut down and desensitized by suffering, but without it we could just mozy along and not need to seek for greater truths. What a way to transform it – to be grateful. It might not always feel possible but my experience is that just a tiny crack in the armour of non-acceptance can let in a disproportionate amount of relief.

There is often a misunderstanding of karma, to my mind. If something ‘bad’ happens, then we are ‘punished’ with bad karma. Karma in this interpretation suggests that bad things happen to bad people because they deserve it. Does Palestine ‘deserve’ to live under terrible oppression? Obviously not.

Challenge is a gift that constantly asks us to awaken. Experience is like sun and rain and wind on a flower – the elements give us what we need to grow. When I think of stunningly lovely people in my life who have lived through some terrible suffering, I can feel grateful and respectful of their learned potential for compassion and strength as well as grief stricken.

Ultimately, many of us seek to be challenged as deeply as life feels fit to offer. (And are also afraid of such.) With practice, this can happen not in a tense, forced way but as an offer to learn to relax and open through the inevitable changes of life. And to sit down with the true self which is one of infinite love and power.

We cannot control what is outside of us, and attempting to will deepen our frustration. When we accept that we cannot control the outside world, and often even the inside world, a sense of peace begins to grow that paradoxically enables effectiveness. What’s on the inside reflects what’s on the outside: frustration and frustration….love and love…calm and calm….usually a big, jumbled up mix.

We can input into the world and truly change things for the better when our self-esteem and anxiety is not riding on outcomes. Let go and it will come, and all that.

The trick for me is getting as much space and air as possible into addicted suffering and thought. And relating the concepts to behaviour and day-to-day life. Which day is the right day to not be totally identified with ‘my problems’?

It’s always today.

So today my practice is:

Stop complaining and being surprised when unexpected or unwanted outcomes happen, these things are inevitable. We are not small and weak, but expansive and flexible.

Accept. It is as it is.

Allow acceptance to release calm and flow.

Input economically from a place of peace.

Be the change.

Addiction

Yesterday, as I stood in the shower at the local pool, a very little girl gleefully chattered away next to me, “I am drying my own hair…now I am drying my legs…my crocs are wet.”

And I thought, “Good work, little one.” Because she had reminded me to come back to reality…feel the water hit my skin…notice my feet on the warm floor… and get out of the state of unconscious addiction that is habituated thought.

I have been on Vipassana meditation retreat all of eight times in the last few years. As well as spending each ten day period practicing sitting still, the time has proved useful for thinking up good shit: making detailed lists in my head, mentally sorting my life out, devising parts of plays, poems and articles, architecting the comeuppance of the odd disappointing patriarchal stronghold etc. The long, equable ‘noble silence’ creates a seductive clarity of thought, the contents of which I NEED to write down as soon as the silence, and its troublesome ban on writing materials, is lifted. In case I forget. Because I’m coming from lack.

Lack being a position of scarcity, a need to defend myself against injury or insult and accumulate ‘stuff’ of all kinds – love, money, attention, respect. Because I don’t have enough.

However,

Leaving (the highly recommended) Dhamma Dipa retreat centre recently, I found I had only one thing to write down, and it was something that hadn’t passed through my head until the moment came to notate it:

I don’t have to live in insanity and addiction. I can make myself free. One choice at a time.

Having dislodged a few surface-level addictions – or numbing factors erroneously contrived to tackle existential dread and unsettling emotions – over the last few years, I am now a little more in my skin and in contact with the bare bones of addiction. The bones that shape and support the surface body of addictions: drugs, ambition, work, sex, the internet, food, the physical body, attention, impatience, change, worry, suffering, self-image etc.

And these bones appear to be thought.

Re-running conversations in my head, craving, planning.

Living inside the drama of lack from moment to moment.

Any prison of addiction is stiflingly painful and crushing yet this one is so hard to actually feel, to catch the context of, having always lived immersed in it. Working out how to be free of it is like blindly feeling towards light.

If thoughts are the clouds, but we are the sky, or the ocean roiled by surface waves, how do we feel into the ocean?..

Something unusual happened at Dhamma Dipa that last time, some kind of experience of anatta (non-self); one of those trippy meditation things where your molecules start to blend into the universe and you physically feel the interconnectedness that is the reality of our existence. Flesh and air melt into each other.

It was a scary first. Backing off from the experience when I began to breathe in weird, fuzzy gold shit that connected my organs to my skin and the air outside (!) was a shock as I usually delight in my bigger, better, faster, more, attitude to life. When it actually came to it and I felt I was peeking at the source (of craving, genius, Tao, flow, god, consciousness, whatever you want to call it,) I cut and ran!

At Dhamma Dipa they would call this a ‘game of sensation’. I.e., the point of the practice is to learn equanimity, not to sit there tripping out. (Equanimity: the calmness and space to accept everything pleasant and unpleasant without reacting, therefore dissolving blocks.) Whereas I had a reactive thought stream, or rather a feeling-narrative, throughout this experience. Thinking/feeling: “Oh yeah, rock on, channelling god…” then, “Fuck this,” *shits pants*.

And the experience dies.

“When looking upon the face of god, child, what sayest thou?”
“Err, Fuck RIGHT off!”

Standard.

But it put the Constant Craving in context.

My internal monologue can feel pretty deafening on retreat. The silence allows me to hear with ever greater clarity the gobbledeshyte that I’m usually thinking. The din inside my head. The cheeping of the baby bird looking for the regurgitation of the mother. The refusal.

Previously to this experience the thrill ride of needing was all consuming. Still is in the main…but I have started to feel flashes of something beyond it, beyond thought: the silence that is all around; the light that is the same as love; the ability to find a little ease in discomfort and use pain as an avenue to enlarge attention. Acceptance is change. Acceptance is the change. Giving open and focused attention to states of unease aligns us to flow. Ease in dis-ease; paradoxical, experiential truth.

When I was twelve I noticed the first moment that I ever separated from my thought stream. I had an expanding sensation and then thought, “THIS is happening to ME,” viewing the moment as an observer rather than being absorbed. It was like suddenly seeing brightly out of my eyes; a sickening wrench of waking up, like it feels to repeatedly wake up out of fantasy and thought now.

It seems frustrating when removing a numbing factor to then feel immediately thrown back into panicky addiction. It’s the shape of life and learning: a double helix of DNA, two steps forward and one step back, going and coming back, an expanding pulsation like orgasm – the great big fucking orgasm of life.

For me, there’re still many numb things to bring attention to – things that live and feed off addicted thought. I’m very interested to hear other people’s stories about where they are in this process. It feels like an indication of how we can access our true power and be a channel for good in the world.

How much time is it possible to spend outside of the thought field? Eventually, probably, most of it.

“EMANCIPATE YOURSELF FROM MENTAL SLAVERY, NONE BUT OURSELVES CAN FREE OUR MINDS.”

Feels like good advice.

It’s not about being on retreat and zooming round the cosmos. It’s about attention in day to day life.

One day at a time. One thought at a time. One breath at a time.

(Patience? Oh, ffs.)

There was another tiny girl who impressed me in the swimming showers recently. She came out of the loo with her costume caught up and half on, walked straight up to me, a total stranger and said, “I’m stuck,” breezily expecting that the world would provide her with the necessary means to unwind herself. We untwisted and she ran back into the pool.

A light way to untwist?

A blog all of my own! A brief hello…

Having been blogging away professionally for quite some time now, I thought the time had come to create a blog all of my own…so here it is.

In discussing the point of existence recently with a good friend of mine, he suggested that the fundamentals of life were: 1) Coming ever more immediately into presence, awareness and availability in the moment, 2) Service to others, 3) Joy and pleasure. I said: I’ll take all three. Work hard, play hard, get a bit stressed – that’s my basic modus operandi. But as many of us know we must change from the inside in order to effect any change in the outside world, so I’m spending more and more time meditating and examining my inner world as I grow out into the world at large through art and activism. The journey in and the journey out are proving both long and bumpy, but I’m encouraging myself and am encouraged to seek – no seeking, more allowing – an emphasis on gentleness, kindness and groundedness amongst the maelstrom worlds which are politics and art…not to mention family.

Life feels full of love, excitement and possibility, unless I’m in a foul mood in which case it feels full of twats and bullshit. I tend to write very honestly and to share experiences so this blog is likely to be fairly uncensored – hopefully it will amuse and sometimes inspire. Likely themes: Activism, peace, love, sex, acting, meditation, friendship, money, family…for all my recent gossip and updates take a look at my ABOUT page where I’ve written a little potted history.

Love to all, I hope you enjoy this blog as it develops over the coming months, and please comment away if you feel moved to do so. Love, Ali xxx