Solitary Confinement

Could 'living in the moment' be a terrible error?

On 9th September 2007 my world turned upside down. It was early evening after a sunny day, when I received the phone call from my father telling me that my mother was in hospital. I could hear the tremble of fear in his voice. I jumped in a cab and an hour and half later arrived at the hospital to find my mother had suffered a massive haemorrhage. She was pronounced brain-dead fifteen minutes after it occurred.

A few weeks after the death of my mother I received a letter from Albert Woodfox, the longest surviving solitary confinement prisoner in the world. He has been locked in solitary confinement in Loisiana State Penitentiary since April 1972. He wrote to ask if I would like to take my mother’s place on his prison visitors list. I had always been fascinated with the friendship between my mother and Woodfox, so I agreed and travelled to Louisiana, USA, to meet him.

I believe that Albert is innocent. As a member of the Black Panthers, he is a political pris

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Peter 27 August 2015

As mindfulness has become more accepted so it becomes variously interpreted, as do all things in our culture where we have varying perspectives and degrees of insight into something. It seems that many people are watering down the nature and understanding of mindfulness to something which the 'self' 'experiences' or helps it to escape difficulty; something which helps 'us' maintain a tightrope walk in present tense between two poles of past and future. But presence in the mindful sense is more about a shift in our relationship to our 'sense' of self, which Buddha regarded as a 'kind' of illusion. Mindfulness is more about 'being' than being 'someone'. As our personality and its shaping and defining story follows us from the past and is often maintained by its projection into some hopefully better future we miss the reality of the timeless present. Our culture, for political, economic, social and commercial reasons, reinforces the egocentric self beyond its developmental, temporary usefulness and into adulthood and beyond. As one meditator put it: "Meditation doesn't get rid of suffering, it gets rid of the sufferer". This is subversive to an organised society of selves. Mindfulness is only a quality of meditation, which ultimately has the potential to rid us of a false sense of self - the same false self which seeks enlightenment, as if 'it', that is, 'we', 'become enlightened', much like achieving some aspiration, goal, qualification or status. This self actually obscures and delays it, 'it' being simply the nature of being itself without thinking and definition, simply the present, non-judging awareness - not a me that emerges in the field of awareness and expects to learn mindfulness. We could say we don't learn mindfulness, like some kind of technique, but are either mindful or else we are a self. Difficulties arise in assuming non-self is annihilation, but it is simply not an abstract concept that can be defined by the discursive intellect, which is why demands for explanation - which require abstraction - are futile and counter-productive. Spirituality concerns the nature of transformation - the singular criteria that should be the central purpose of any genuine religion that points 'beyond itself' and does not include the variety of wacky ideas that hitch their wagon onto the term. If science could appreciate this notion of spirituality and religion could uphold its transformational power without adding conditions of membership and adherence to particular behaviours and beliefs then there would perhaps be no conflict or problem between them, but secularising aspects of religion and forcing religious dogma onto society simply continue to muddy a simple and clear understanding of the necessity of both - both properly considered and appreciated, that is. Mindfulness is perhaps the beginnings of a genuine bridge of understanding between the two. So long as we don't meander in our own invented concepts of what mindfulness is. This is a monumental task, to be sure, but looking around the world it could be the single most essential and relevant task to begin with. One problem, which is difficult to surpass, is that too much is being desired and too little is being grasped. So many people want to be a 'somebody' - how do you let that go when social media is providing tools to magnify it and capitalism is happy to feed and profit from it...?

Peter 27 August 2015

As mindfulness has become more accepted so it becomes variously interpreted, as do all things in our culture where we have varying perspectives and degrees of insight into something. It seems that many people are watering down the nature and understanding of mindfulness to something which the 'self' experiences or helps it to escape difficulty.