Killing the Time?

One of the questions frequently put to me following retirement is “what do you do to kill the time?”.  The question suggests that retirement represents a threshold beyond which we are expected to sit back and resignedly wait for the end.  I respond by saying that there are not sufficient hours in the day or days in the week to allow me to do all the things that I want to do especially with my increasing awareness of the fact that time is passing at a rate previously not realised.

One of the projects I have just completed is a course in Funeral Celebrancy which I undertook with the Irish Institute of Celebrants here in Dublin.  Having passed  the test I am now qualified to conduct civil funeral ceremonies.

You might well ask “why would someone want to do that?”  The answer is quite simple.  There are people who do not adhere to the practice of any religion.  For people in that category, having a funeral in a church to which they do not belong in fact or in spirit lacks honesty and simply does not make sense.   The simple alternative of having a purely humanist service is equally unattractive.  There are many people who neither subscribe to the tenets nor fit into the constraints which attach to a particular religious faith.  Nevertheless they have not rejected the fundamental search for meaning and a spiritual dimension to existence that has been the basis of various faiths and philosophies stretching back through millennia of time.

And hence the need for personalised funeral ceremonies which express thanks for the life of the person and celebrate that life by means of a ceremony which reflects the lived life of the individual concerned in accordance with the wishes of the family.

That ceremony may include readings from a wide variety of sources including prayers and readings from a wide spectrum of religious, philosophical or secular texts all depending upon the wishes of the family in question.

The ceremony can be held almost anywhere one wishes, most usually in a crematorium or cemetery, but also at home or in a funeral home, all in accordance with the wishes of the person charged with making the arrangements.

As a civil funeral celebrant I will arrange to come and and hear about the the life, hopes, dreams, achievements and philosophy of a deceased. This will enable me to prepare, for approval, a meaningful ceremony which celebrates the life of the person whose loss is mourned. The ceremony may include music, readings, prayers or poetry which have special significance for the person concerned

The choice of music is particularly important. When you reflect back on this ceremony, which is a tribute to a loved one, you will not want to recall the playing of some piece of music which fails to reflect the significance of the occasion. The music need not be solemn but neither should it be undistinguished and lightweight. “Music is therapy. Music moves people. It connects people in ways that no other medium can. It pulls heart strings. It acts as medicine” says Benjamin Hammond Haggerty, known by his stage name, Macklemore.

It is a harrowing time for a family when a loved one dies. In a short period of time, and at an emotionally distressing time, the next of kin are faced with making many choices and decisions about the funeral arrangements. It is possible in this situation to allow the ceremony itself to fall into routine which does not particularly reflect the lived life that we wish to celebrate. My aim is to put together a service that will be a fitting and memorable tribute to the unique individual life that has now come to an  end.

So since you have held in there to the end of this explanation can I ask you to please let your friends and contacts know that this personalised funeral service is available.  Further details can be found at www.civil-funerals-dublin.com and the service is also listed under civil funerals dublin in rip.ie

And on a lighter note can  add that I can also arrange the celebration of other important milestone events in life. These can be conducted in any place of your choice.

Examples:

Baby naming ceremonies where a baby, the cause of so much joy, is simply, warmly and meaningfully given a name and welcomed into the community of life on earth.

Moving on ceremonies where a person is turning a corner and beginning a new phase of life. This might be the passing of an exam, the taking on of a new career, the setting up of a new home

Even the quiet marking of the amicable ending of a relationship, what you might call a Separation with Civility, Symbolism and Goodwill.

These important life events can be marked by symbolism and ceremony which have meaning for the individuals involved.

Renewal of Vows ceremonies either private or public

Re-dedication ceremonies (usually private) marking a formal change in direction and a re-dedication to new life purposes and goals

“This is your life” type events marking a significant birthday.

Please let me know what it is you wish to have celebrated and we will work together to make the occasion a meaningful and memorable life event.

“Life should not only be lived, it should be celebrated” – Osho

Tony

Civil Funerals Dublin Card

 

 

Share Button

Thoughts on an Irish Funeral

I never cease to be amazed by the warmth and support offered by neighbours, friends and families at Irish funerals. My appreciation of this warmth was brought back to the forefront of my mind when I very recently undertook the sad journey to the home of a man who had tragically died in a farm accident.

As we neared the house we were greeted by a small army of volunteers, clad in reflective gear, and directing traffic into a nearby field which had been offered as a space where visitors could safely park their cars.  Outside the house, a sturdy temporary shelter had been constructed with scaffolding supports to protect arriving visitors from any harsh weather that might occur during the two days when the body of the deceased person was reposing in the house.

Another army of volunteers provided tea, sandwiches, biscuits and cakes for the very many hundreds of neighbours and friends who streamed through the small premises during this period in advance of the funeral proper. In ireland, this time of waiting, visiting, praying and offering comfort to the relatives of a deceased is called a “wake”.

The tragic circumstances of this man’s death did not add to the number of visitors nor did it distinguish the procedure from what is the normal custom in rural Ireland.  Some years ago,  on the death of my own mother in law, the same care, attention and consolation were lavished upon her family by all comers on just the same scale.  On that occasion, one of the most moving sights on the way to the house where “Gran”, as we all lovingly called her, was laid out, was the sight of her neighbours digging her grave in the nearby cemetery, a tradition that is still common in rural Ireland, a meaningful tribute of love paid to a deceased neighbour.

Nor is this comforting confined to rural areas. My brother in law died in a large Irish town some years ago and his death was accompanied by a huge outpouring of support and grief from the many people who knew and loved him.

This natural friendliness and support offered to a grieving family is something to be treasured in a world where death and its formalities tend to be anaesthetised.   The final departure of any of us is a time when warmth and support is required, clinical attention to the removal process is just not sufficient.  Long may these traditions last as a comfort to families who have lost loved ones.

Tony Brady – Dublin – 1 October 2016

Share Button

Gratitude for Jobs Well Done

I am overwhelmed time and again by the sight of people doing a good job.

You might ask “Well isn’t it only right that they would do a good job? Are they not being paid?” Yes, of course, that is the case, but the skill and efficiency of people at their work is a constant source of amazement to me.

I am someone who finds it trouble to put a nail into a wall, who requires all kinds of gadgetry to enable me to horizontally attach a shelf to a wall. I would need excavation equipment just to lay down a simple path, and I have succeeded in putting together a TV stand from Ikea and finding myself with an alarming number of screws and bolts left over. I caution against sitting on the edge of this gravity defying construction.

So, when I look out my window these days and see workmen arriving before 7.30am at a house across the road to carry out extensive renovations as efficiently as they appear to do, it is a source of wonder. And in our own house, we have been blessed with plumbers who make plumbing seem like child’s play, tilers who make tiling a dawdle, carpenters who make the re-alignment of locks and doors not just a game of chance.

Quite a few of the people who are the objects of my praise and admiration are from abroad, sometimes referred to as “non-nationals” or, more disparagingly, “foreigners”. Without myself falling into the racism trap, I have to add that the work ethic I have seen demonstrated by people who have come to Ireland from abroad to seek a living, is an example to any of us born here on our green island. Then again, people who tear themselves way from home so as to build a new and better life abroad have a motivation that the easy-going and less ambitious among us can often lack. Fair play to them for packing their lives into their suitcases and setting out in search of better prospects. We are all the inhabitants of one world, and every one of us is, thankfully, very different from every other.

So today I give thanks for all good work and for all good workers who amaze me by their skill.

Tony – Dublin 20 September 2016

Share Button

Thank Your Lucky Stars

If you have the technology to listen to or read meditations such this you are among the most privileged people ever to have walked on the face of the earth and among the most privileged people alive today.  T

”Life is not a problem. It is a miracle, a gift, a teaching, a celebration. Thanksgiving acknowledges the miracle of life –  It says that we live in a world of beautifully interacting thankfulness” – Daphne Rose Kingma

So what have we to be thankful for today?

If we take a moment to think back on countless thousands of years of human history, it is hard to find what might be accurately called “the good old days” for the average woman or man in the street.   Life might have been bearable for the few people at the top. But even kings, queens, emperors and persons whose every wish was obeyed would stand in awe at the opportunities with which anyone reading this is blessed today.

Cynthia Ozick tells us ”We often take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude.”

So let’s take a little time out for reflection on all the good things with which we are surrounded and which, in the hurry of our busy lives, we may have failed to notice.

Think of people, talents, good fortune, reasonable health, sufficient belongings.  Just look around, pause, think.

So here we are, surrounded by so many reasons for contentment in a world which is still so unequally divided.  This thought will and should unsettle us.   Meditation is not a comfortable sit on a cushion for a lucky minority living in a world which, for them, is a world of plenty.  Meditation helps us to see things as they really are and sometimes what we see is a need for action to put things right.   In Buddhism, the term you find is “engaged Buddhism”.  Engaged Buddhism calls us to look at how we spend our lives and how our lives have an effect on others.  You don’t need to be a Buddhist in order to see this idea arising as the consequence of reflection.

Let’s think about the ways in which we might help to make this world a better place. How can we live so that our lives will have made some little difference? Can we live a life that might leave the world a little better than we found it?

This does not mean running for political office (perhaps it does for some!) but it does mean all of us looking at our daily choices. How can we share what we have in talents or in material goods with the less well off?   Can we offer people an opportunity to get on their feet?  Can we think about what we buy, how far has it travelled and what about the working condition of those who toil, in sometimes awful circumstances, so that we can have what we want when we go out to buy?

The call is not that you or I should change the world but that you and I can each change our own world.

We each just have to make a difference to the life of even one person.

It is like that vary familiar story about the boy on the shore rescuing a starfish. There are multiple versions of this story floating around but the original idea comes from “The Star Thrower” published in 1969 by Loren Eiseley.

This is one of the variations:

Early one morning, a man was walking along the shore after a big storm had passed and he found the vast beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see, stretching in both directions.

Off in the distance, the old man noticed a small boy approaching.  As the boy walked, he paused every so often and as he grew closer, the man could see that the boy was occasionally bending down to pick up an object and throw it into the sea.  As the boy came closer the man called out, “Good morning!  May I ask what it is you are doing?”

The young boy paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves.” The young man continued  “When the sun gets high, they will die unless I throw them back into the water.”

The old man replied, “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.”

The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled and said to the old man “It made a difference to that one!”

So we should never doubt our ability to make a difference.

And never forget that our good fortune and the gratitude that follows from it urges us to make that difference.

Never doubt  that every ordinary person, people just like you and me, can make that difference.

A closing thought, like our opening reflection, is also from Daphne Rose Kingma.

“Saying “you’re welcome” affirms that we live in a world awash with treasures, with miracles and blessings, that we are blessed with an endless array of people, moments, experiences, surprises, magic, curiosities, and beautiful coincidences to which our only delighted, ecstatic, and unchanging response should be thanksgiving.”

May each of our lives be filled with endless reasons for gratitude and may gratitude inspire us to make a difference to the people around us.

Tony – Dublin 8th September 2016

Share Button

Please give up this seat if an elderly or disabled person needs it

It causes me some sadness to see that there appears to be in our time a real need for the placing of signs like this in our buses and public transport systems. It is seen side by side with notices to the effect that “seats are not for feet” this latter injunction accompanied by an audible reminder to the same effect frequently repeated across the public address system of our trains. And we have warnings not to drop our litter, or dump our waste, as well as reminders clean up after our dogs (since obviously our canine friends cannot look after this piece of public responsibility themselves).

What a pity that people have to be reminded of behaviour which should be a matter of simple courtesy, decency, responsibility, thoughtfulness and common sense. Holding a door, getting up to let someone else sit down, not expecting other to sit where you have placed your feet, not expecting others to lift up the litter that you have dropped, or expecting someone else to clean the unpleasant mess that your dog has excreted on the public footpath, these are all common sense behaviours that should be second nature to any thinking person.

I am reminded of all this today when listening to an audio book The Meaning of Life: Perspectives from the World’s Great Intellectual Traditions, a book in The Great Courses series, and captivatingly narrated by Professor Jay L. Garfield.

The book is a captivating tour through the great philosophical and religious traditions of the world.

Today the part I listened to referred to Taoism, also known as Daoism, a religious or philosophical tradition of Chinese origin arising some four centuries before the birth of Jesus. The Tao Te Ching text in that tradition offers some thoughts which we in the 21st century might beneficially take to heart:

“When the way is lost, virtue appears; when virtue is lost, kindness appears; when kindness is lost, justice appears, when justice is lost, ritual appears. Ritual marks the waning of belief and the onset of confusion.”

Put simply it talks in the first instance about simply living a good life as understood by the individual.

When that decent living commitment is lost a set of prescribed virtues are developed and urged for practice.

When those virtues fail to be applied people are urged to at least fall back on the idea of showing simple kindness to others, not stealing, not doing to others what you would not wish done to yourself.

Only when basic kindness and consideration fails to work then justice is applied – the law is set out and is to be obeyed and enforced.

As respect for law is lost society falls into confusion.

Today we are inclined to look upon law and rules and enforcement as the cement which binds society together.  We build our society on these foundations.

But in the Taoist view the creation and enforcement of law is the final step in trying to hold things together when kindness, virtue and common goodness have failed.

Our way of encouraging good behaviour is directly and vertically the opposite of what would be the best way for humanity to work in harmony.

So, for example, anti social behaviour should simply be a no no for thinking people. In the Taoist ideal rules relating to this should be unnecessary. Laws and enforcement would be a very last resort and not the cement that basically binds.

Could we begin to teach our children basic respect for the rights of others and hope for the day when it would not be necessary for them to see (and pay attention to) a sign on a bus before standing up let a less able person sit down? It can be more like that if we teach a basic civil responsibility, and maybe a little bit of Taoism.

Tony – Dublin 15 August 2016

Share Button

Nice Truck incident is not terror, this is murder

Words fail when attempting to express the horror inflicted on men women and children going about their happy celebrations in Nice on the evening of the 14th July 2016.

 

We have grown accustomed to incidents of this kind. France has had its share, Charlie Hebdo, The Bataclan, and now Nice can be added to the woeful list. But so also have communities across the world.  We in the west are naturally inclined to pay more attention when these acts occur in our own part of the world, most of us have been to these places, we have walked the streets, relaxed in the cafes, we know people there, but horror of this sort is almost daily inflicted upon innocent people somewhere in the world and it must be deplored whenever and wherever it occurs and whatever the purported justification.http://news.sky.com/story/truck-massacre-in-nice-84-dead-52-critical-10502068

To call misguided deeds like these “acts of terrorism” gives them some cloak of common identity which tends to set them in a class apart.  It is not that terrorism, whatever its basis, can ever hide its ugly activities under anything resembling a cloak of respectability.  But the use of the word “terrorism” suggests a cause, however misguided, and, under the cloak of a cause, misguided people can be persuaded to embark upon the most dreadful actions which, left to their own devices, they might never even contemplate.

It is time to name this barbarism for what it is, murder, slaughter, massacre, butchery, carnage, mayhem, anarchy, bedlam, turmoil, chaos, pandemonium, hatred, violence, viciousness, and to treat the people who act in this way, not as terrorists acting under some imagined banner, but as the simple murderers which they are.

 

Every one of these awful events challenges all to redouble our efforts to create a world which honours and celebrates our common humanity.  The maxim “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is a rule of behaviour common to people of all philosophical persuasions, a golden rule running though all religions and breaking down all superficial differences.   We need to work to promote that golden rule, beginning with the daily actions of each one of us and working especially to make this golden rule a motto that is understood and agreed by all, above all by the young people upon whom the greater good of our world so much depends.

 

Tony

Share Button

The Chilling Chilcot Report

And we ask why extremists hijack planes and fly them into our western towers, why suicide bombers blow themselves, and us, to kingdom come as we travel in our buses and on our metro systems.

Seven and a half years in the making, six and a half million words, a damning indictment of UK military action against Iraq

Apologies to the distraught relatives of 200 UK military killed in the operation and rightly so. But for every UK death you see a hundred or more Iraqis dead, many, most of them,  civilians. And for every Iraqi casualty of this misguided intervention another terrorist sympathiser born.

We see the imperial power temporarily glow in the recall of its former glory and unquestioningly tie itself to the shoestrings of a world policeman intent on a “war on terror” but never asking the question “Why do these people hate us so much?”

Imperialism breeds resentment and hatred and produces a response which we call terror.  Every bomb dropped leaves people remembering and many of them determined to seek revenge.

And remembrance can be long, so very long.  You only have to look at the inscriptions our western war graves “From the rising of the sun to its setting we will remember them” to realise how long it will take before people forget and forgive.

And it is not as if the public did not try to call a halt before this disastrous war was unleashed.  Recall the marches, worldwide, the millions of people who cried “halt” and who were ignored.

And what now?  A heartfelt apology, to say the least, unconditional compensation in terms of rebuilding lost lives.  But how long and how much will it take before a devastated people forgive?

When will we in the West learn to allow other people to select their own leaders and political systems and to sort out their own issues about “regime change”?  For too long we have attempted to rule and exploit the world for our own purposes.

Above all, we need a determination “Never again” and written large the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson “Peace cannot be achieved through violence, it can only be attained through understanding”

Tony – 7 July 2016

 

 

Share Button

Brexit – What Next? – a view from Ireland

The vote in the UK, by a small majority, to leave the European Union appears to have taken even the leave camp by surprise.

It is a source of amazement that people can have led such a crusade without thinking of how a decision in their favour might be implemented.

The campaign in Britain to leave the UK has unleashed restless forces of primitive nationalism. Furthermore, it has given comfort to a dangerous segment of the UK population, xenophobic in outlook, and caught up in some time warp even in this 21st century.

And what about that poster on the Leave side? An illustration unworthy of anyone who purported to argue a rational case, showing a throng of unfortunate refugees and implying that aid to suffering humanity would break the nation.  Shame on anyone who had any part in the production of that piece of misleading and fear-inducing propaganda.

Is there any good news in all this?

Well the UK has never been a comfortable and enthusiastic member of the European Union.  If now, rational consideration of the economic and social fallout resulting from going it alone, has brought home the wisdom of European co-operation, then this fiasco might indeed produce some good.  Certainly, a vote by a small majority to remain would have left UKIP and the Leave side snapping at the heels of any future UK government and holding them hostage for years to come.

So now what?

A new election and a new pro-EU government might be the excuse to ignore the result of the recent referendum or call another.  (No more giggling at how we in Ireland have a practice of doing just that in order to get the right result)

If the UK trigger Article 50 and proceed to leave the EU it is as clear as day that Scotland will seek full independence in order to re-apply for membership of the union. Bye bye UK and thank you UKIP who will have had the distinction of being remembered as the United Kingdom Independence Party who actually broke up the United Kingdom.

And what about our friends in Northern Ireland?  Are they to be separated from the rest of us on this island by a hard border?  It had best be a hard one and a high one, 300 miles long if the UK is to protect itself from the free-to -travel remaining hundreds of millions of EU citizens. Think of the Berlin Wall or the Trump plan to protect the US from his feared swarming hordes of Mexico.   That is just not a runner.  Imagine the nationist response if this island was to be divided by a wall? The more practical alternative would be to set the UK independent boundary at the mainland of the UK.  But can you imagine Northern Unionists being happy having to show their passports in order to enter the UK mainland?  Neither would they be likely to respond favourably to the misguided and premature idea put out by Sinn Fein calling for a border poll.  We in the south are seeking a warm relationship, and perhaps, in the long run, an eventual mutually agreed happy civil partnership between the peoples of this island, but not a gunshot wedding of the sort believed achievable by Sinn Fein.

Oh, and remember UK, the rule is “no free trade without free movement”, you take it or leave it.

These are indeed interesting times ahead.  There are economic opportunities for us in the midst of this uncertainty as we find ourselves as the only committed members of the EU having English as the everyday spoken language.  Let us make it clear to one and all that, whatever the outcome in the UK, Ireland Inc. is open for business and ready to provide whatever services the people of Europe, or the world, might require.  This continent has been divided for too long. Too many people have died in its wars over centuries, bloodily so on a frightful scale in the lifetime of people still living. We in Ireland who believe in the idea of greater co-operation between the peoples of Europe are not taking part in any effort to break our unity asunder.

Share Button

The Gratitude Response

Gratitude offers you an invitation to open wide the door to happiness and admit more contentment into your life. It encourages you to pause and reflect on the countless reasons for gratefulness that arise from all the supportive people and events of your life.

The Gratitude Response is your opportunity to express thanks for all the numberless gifts of your life. Thankfulness is an antidote to the mistaken belief that we are entitled as of right to everything we might desire. This false sense of entitlement leads to an endless cycle of discontent.

An Attitude of Gratitude gives you an opportunity to break that cycle of restlessness and enjoy the happiness that is the natural reward of gratitude.

So I hope you will forgive a little bit of self-promotion in order to publicise my book The Gratitude Response which is published on Amazon

By going to the Amazon site you can take a look inside, decide to buy it as a paperback of as a Kindle book readable on a kindle or computer or tablet, and if you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited you can even read the entire book for free.

We are surrounded by reasons for gratitude every minute of every day.  This book introduces you to many of those reasons and it encourages you to watch out for more reasons of your own.

I would appreciate if you read The Gratitude Response to please take a minute of two to rate it so that others can see if it might be useful to them in the daily effort to live a happier life.

Thank you very much and may your every day be filled with reasons for gratitude and joy.

Tony Brady – Dublin – 27 June 2016

Share Button

My Friend Paul

My friend Paul was a man who spent a lot of time in meditation, and it was appropriate that he should come to spend his last minutes of life in the very hour when I was listening to a reflection on the theme of transience. The mindfulness teacher I listened to suggested that it would be a good idea to dedicate the sitting for the benefit of someone who was facing change or death as indeed Paul was, and so I did.  Then as I ended the meditation and checked my phone, I saw a message to the effect that, a little while earlier, my friend “had gone to live with the angels”.  Paul’s timing was just about perfect.

The death of someone we know and love gives rise to questions which have been asked by people since the dawn of time.  “What is life all about?” “How did I come to be here?”, “Where do we come from?” “Do we go somewhere else when this life is over?” and of course for finite beings in a vast cosmos, there is no absolute answer.

But the Buddhist monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh, whom Paul and I greatly admire, suggests that something cannot come into existence from nothing. For something like that to happen just does not make any sense.  Neither can something that already exists go out of existence, although its form may change.  And how is it that, surrounded as we are by death and change, none of us can imagine or believe in our personal non-existence? Thoughts along these lines bring me to a conclusion that, in some incomprehensible manner, we do in fact go on and that there is much more to the reality of our being than meets the eye.

I’m sure that in any future life, many people would not particularly wish to see me again, but I doubt if Paul would be one of them.   He was one of the kindest, most reliable, trustworthy people I ever had the good fortune to meet.  He was totally devoted to his wife Anne whom he loved with all his heart.  We made trips to places of meditation, Plum Village in France, Jampa Ling in Cavan, Oxford in England.  Always there was the daily report back to Anne to enquire if she was well.  The words “I love you”  “I love you” were repeated with sincerity in all those conversations. I recall feeling once that we might never safely complete the journey back to Dublin, Paul driving with a dangerously overanxious enthusiasm so as to arrive back in the arms of his beloved.

He idolised his children. He greatly missed Michael, a son whom he had lost a little while before I met him. His children were all “the greatest” in his eyes.   He thought I was great too, but that didn’t give me a swelled head because Paul thought the same about everyone. In his world, the glass was always half full, if not full to overflowing. He had the best doctor, the best hospital, the best advisors, the best friends.  It seems that being the best himself; he was rewarded with and attracted the companionship of people who shared his positive attitude to life.  They say that has something to do with Karma.

Paul’s good life reminds me that we are all here for only a short time, even those of us who manage to hang in long beyond our sell by date.  But the life of each of us is a gift beyond price, inexplicable, incredible. So each of us must try to make the best use of this gift.  My friend Paul never preached about doing good, he just he practised it to the end.

And so the time has come to say goodbye. Sleep well my friend; I’m am sure we will meet again. When? Does it matter? As Thich Nhat Hahn would remind us, we have forever, and forever is a long, long time.

Tony Brady

Share Button

Where were you in 2015?

Now that we are into the first weekend of the new year it might be a suitable time to look back and ask “Where was I in 2015?“. I don’t pose this question in a geographical sense, such as “was I at home?” or “did I get away?” but in the sense of being present in 2015 during 2015.

So much of our present seems to be spent in needless worry about the future and pointless regret about the past. Looking to the past we think “if only I had said or done this”, “if only I had not done that”. Looking to the future we worry about things that might never come to pass, we prepare answers to questions that will never be asked and smart retorts to insults that will never be offered.

Mark Twain is credited with the statement “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened” but words to that effect have been offered by the wise throughout history. The Roman philosopher Seneca the Younger who lived between 4 BCE and 65 CE said in his letter number 98 to Lucilius: “There is nothing so wretched or foolish as to anticipate misfortunes. What madness it is in your expecting evil before it arrives!”

In the present we need to make plans and perform actions that we believe will help lead to the future that we desire, for the most part we reap what we sow. But pointless daydreaming achieves nothing and an undue proportion of our time can be whittled away in that valueless activity.

The past cannot be undone. Is there one of us alive who would not do things differently with the benefit of hindsight or with the advantage of the wisdom that sometimes accompanies older age? Who, with a mouthful of fillings, crowns, bridges implants and dentures would not take better care of his or her young teeth the second time round? Who would not immerse himself enthusiastically in the acquisition of skills so easily acquired in youth if only youth could be grasped once more? How many times have we failed to do the good deed or succumbed to the attraction of something we later have cause to regret?

We cannot change the past but the present gives us the opportunity to change the future. So we have to develop the skill to live in awareness of the present moment as it arrives. We can practice this by stopping for a minute or two and seeing if we can concentrate on our breath or on the sounds around us. Try this and notice the tendency to start thinking of something else arising so often and so quickly. When someone is speaking to us, really listen to what is being said. Notice how often we only half listen as we prepare our response. When going from A to B pay attention to the journey. Life happens on the way to our destination.

So in 2016 let’s see, day by day, if we can be present even just a little bit more than we were in 2015. That will make it a good year, one for which we can be satisfied when we take a quick look back at its end.

Happy New Year. In 2016 may you be well, may you be happy, may you be peaceful, may you be loved.

Tony

Share Button

Our effect upon others

It is sobering to stand back for a time and consider the effect which our actions and words can have on other people.

We are all aware of the Butterfly Effect, a title given by Edward Lorenz, mathematician and meteorologist, upon discovering though repeatedly running his weather models, that each tiny change in the initial conditions would produce a significantly different outcome.  The name Butterfly Effect refers to how a butterfly flapping its wings in Asia could drastically alter the weather in New York City.

The cumulative effect of minor changes mean that, even today, weather forecasting is a science which can only accurately predict outcomes a few days ahead.  Chaos theory means that the further in time the attempted prediction the less accurate the prediction will be.  Even with all the sources of information which we have today, countless ground, sea and air based weather monitors and satellite observations, and with the benefit of formidable computing power as never before, we cannot accurately predict weather long in advance. A build up of small variations has the potential to set any prediction widely off course.

In the same way our day to day behaviour can have an effect which is altogether out of proportion to what we might expect.  A simple good deed performed today or a helpful word spoken can trigger similar action of the part of others, rippling out from one person, affecting other people and ultimately cascading in a totally unpredictable variety of beneficial results.  One good deed or one motivating good word issued at the right time has the potential to change the world.

We have to be aware too that our less skilful deeds and words can work their way into the communal consciousness and have devastating effects further down the chain of cause and effect. 

A simple example is bad humour, few things are more infectious, and starting from one person, especially from one in authority, bad humour can quickly devastate a whole body.  But in our day to life bad humour would be considered a rather trivial failing.  What about violence, even to the point of killing, abuse, physical and mental, and all the many attitudes and acts of evil of which every one of us is, given the right circumstances, all too capable?  Look at the effect of war and terrorism, even the effects of what might be considered a just war and what might be considered to be justified acts of violence in response to oppression. 

Everyone who is the victim of subjection, violence, war, terror and atrocity has the potential to give back in kind, or worse, what he or she has received and so add to the world’s reservoir of hatred.

So having thought about these things what can we do?  Simply remember this: that each of us, the best and the worst, has within us, seeds of goodness and the opposite.  The seeds that we water will be ones that will grow.  When faced with unfairness try as far as possible to avoid watering the seeds of retribution and revenge.  Try every day to water the seeds of goodness that lie within.  These can be done by any simple good deed, a good thought, a kind word of encouragement.  These things cost nothing and every one of them adds to humanity’s store of goodness. 

Each new day will give all of us many opportunities for a decent and honourable response to what is offered to us.   When the opportunity arises opt for the good side.  It could change the world. 

Share Button

A New Day

Waking up

We wake up each morning, mostly feeling fine. We open our eyes, we hear the first sounds of day, we stretch, emerge from a warm bed to a warm room, go to the bathroom for a morning pee, flush the toilet, find clean water on tap, wash, clean our teeth, dress ourselves, enter the kitchen, press a switch, make a cup of tea or coffee, have breakfast.

 

What we receive and what we give in life are like entries in a bank account. We look at all today’s income with amazement and see little or no outgoings. It makes us realise that world owes us naught. It is we who owe so much to the world. Can we try today to reduce the debit balance in life’s books?

 

The everyday morning ritual provides us with an ideal opportunity to notice the benefits that we so often take for granted, rest and shelter, the comforts of a home, light and heat, drinking water, sanitation, clothing, footwear, food for breakfast, refrigeration, power, and all this before we have hardly begun the day. Have we even noticed the air that we breathe, have we been aware of our lungs working though the night, without any intervention on our part, another unnoticed wonder, bringing us to the gift of this new day?

 

If we can open our eyes to the simple things that every new morning unfailingly brings it will inform our attitude and affect for the better our relationship with the people we will meet in the course of the day.   An attitude of gratitude is a positive beginning to any day and a positive focus in any life.

 

Instead of complaining when the breakfast cereal runs out we would benefit greatly by reminding ourselves of all the days when the supply has not run out.   Just consider for a moment where our breakfast has come from.   Think of the ingredients, the planting, the careful cultivation, harvesting, packaging and transporting of this everyday commodity before it finally lands in the shop where we select it from an astounding variety of different possibilities offered to us in this amazingly beneficent world.   Reflect for a moment on all the people whose dedicated and co-operative work has been involved in bringing this first meal of the day to us.  Not only have we the cereal but we have it packed with the benefit of quality control standards, best before date calculated, vitamin content shown and dietary advice offered on the pack.   Yet this breakfast, product of so much labour and loving effort can be eaten mindlessly, even munched on the hoof as we direct our attention to the TV, the newspaper, electronic devices and while planning “other things to be done”

 

Many people believe in God, others do not, but whatever our attempt at understanding this wondrous reality in which we live and move, this awakening to a new day and the receipt of such benefits even before the day’s work begins is a cause for pause and a reason for profound thankfulness and constant gratitude.

 

We might usefully turn around a phrase of G. K . Chesterton and exclaim “Here begins another day, yesterday I had eyes, ears, hands and the great world around me. Why am I allowed yet another day?”
With metta

 

Tony

Share Button

Place names and other controversies

 

Unionists in Northern Ireland have expressed understandable annoyance following the decision by Derry City and Strabane District Council to vote in favour of changing the official name of the city of Londonderry to Derry.

 

The vote on Thursday last at the Guildhall on the controversial name change was passed with support from Sinn Fein, the SDLP and independent councillors. Understandably the proposal was opposed by the minority unionist group on the nationalist-controlled council.

 

Why, in the name of all that is good and reasonable, cause needless tension and dispute by tinkering with the city name? The name Derry/Londonderry has been in common use for some time and that seems, to an outsider like me ay least, to be an acceptable solution in a place where opinions are still strongly divided along nationalist/unionist lines. Derry/Londonderry seems to be a peace-bridge type of name which accommodates two traditions living side by side in one recently very troubled place.

 

Raising sectarian disputes by proposing what was clearly going to be a controversial vote on a name change is just as de-stabilising to peaceful relations as the wearisome regular call by Sinn Fein for a plebiscite on the question of whether Northern Ireland wishes to be united with the Republic of Ireland.   Do Sinn Fein really believe that if a day dawns when (a) nationalists in the north slightly outnumber unionists and (b) vote en masse for unification, that the new slender minority of unionists will be happy to unquestioningly throw in their lot with the people south of the border?  Is this simple majority rule the Sinn Fein idea of democracy?

 

The Good Friday agreement has been a wonderful, and rather amazing, resting point along the road to better relations, north and south, east and west between the diverse traditions on these islands. If, as a follow up to that agreement, friendship and co-operation can be fostered in the very many areas where it make sense to work together, that will be good job, a wonderful job and, for now, a sufficient job. Marriage proposals can be left until both parties are truly in love. The pain of recent events on all sides requires time and careful attention in order to heal. The flower of co-operation requires time and careful attention in order to bloom.

 

We have to learn to celebrate diversity and not to fear it.  The two main traditions on this island have much to offer each other.   It is painful to see sectarian views expressed in relation to flags and symbols, parades and celebrations, the wearing and non wearing of poppies, the use of words in church.   I happen, by good fortune, to belong to a church, the Unitarian Church in Dublin, where diversity is celebrated.   If a survey was to be taken in our church I expect that no two of us would hold the same views and yet week by week we worship together to seek meaning and celebrate the wonder of existence. I pray that unionists and nationalists, inspired by progressive, patient and far seeing leaders will one day be happy to celebrate their differences and live together in that peace which is the entitlement and hope of all people.

 

Tony  10 November 2015

 

 

 

 

Share Button

Care of the Earth

100 words on: Care of the Earth

Our planet is an awe inspiring blue and white ball floating in the vastness of space.

As sentient beings we have a responsibility to care for our earthly home and to consider the effect of our actions on the sustainability of our planet.

Human activities have already had a devastating effect upon other species and our reckless exploitation, consumption and emissions threaten even the future of our own species.

We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors. We borrow it from our children.

We have a moral obligation to work to sustain the natural balance.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Restore.

Climate Change Word Cloud

Share Button

The barbarity of the death penalty

Early on Wednesday 30th September 2015, Kelly Gissendaner, convicted of orchestrating her husband’s 1997 murder, was put to death at a state prison in Jackson, southeast of Atlanta.   Pleas for clemency including an appeal by Pope Francis were of no avail in Kelly’s case.  The state execution machine grinds painfully on.

In Oklahoma, Richard Glossip, who has always protested his innocence of a 1997 murder, and who was due to be executed on the same day, Wednesday 30th September, has been granted a 37 day stay of execution.

It is beyond belief that in this 21st century, an advanced country such as the US continues to permit capital punishment.   How can a society hope to discourage violence and claim to place a value on human life if its judicial system has recourse to violence, subjecting convicted persons to the torture that is the death penalty?   If a society truly values human life then it must not follow the example of those of its members who have been convicted of ending the life of another.   Our degree of civilisation can be measured by the restraint which we execrcise in the face of extreme provocation.   Violence in attitude and deed only breeds more violence dragging more and more people down in an unending spiral of pain.

And there is the question of erroneous convictions.   A postumous pardon is of no benefit to a person wrongly accused and wrongly convicted of a capital offence.

In the US the execution process itself has descended into a state of near anarchy with too frequent reports of drawn out botched executions carried out painfully with a mish mash of drugs when (rightfully) the EU prohibit the export to the US of drugs required for the purpose of facilitating capital punishment.

In making use of this primitive form of punishment the US finds itself in the company of the most unlightened and regressive of regimes.  We really do expect more from the US than to see that country grouped with states where unhappy victims find themselves flung from buildings, subjected to judicial rape and torture, or stoned to death in public displays of barbarity that belong in the darkest pages of human history.

What can we do?

One idea: Befriend someone on death row – join www.humanwrites.org

Another: Most important – keep yourself advised of these forthcoming punishments. Write to the governor of the state or the president of the country, as the case may be, let your voice be heard in social media.  People pay attention (eventually) to the persuasive power of overwhelming public and world opinion.  Your opinion counts, express it. Don’t leave it to others.

Tony – 1 October 2015

 

 

 

 

 

Share Button

The Scandal of Food Waste

While 870 million people go hungry in the world a third of all food produced in the world is never eaten. According to the Guardian this wasted food is valued at more than £259bn per year. It is estimated that the amount of food discarded by retailers and consumers could more than feed all the hungry people in the world.

 

In America it is estimated that about 60 million metric tonnes of food, with a value of $162 million, is wasted every year. 32 million metric tonnes of this food ends up in municipal landfills at a cost $1.5 million to local governments.

 

In Europe it is estimated there are 47 million tonnes of avoidable food waste. A study in Europe, carried out by Joint Research Centre, found that Europeans waste an average of 123 kilograms of food per capita annually. That equates to 16% of all food reaching consumers. Almost 80% of that waste is avoidable as the food is edible.

 

Perfectly good food is often thrown out based on the expiry date printed on the lid.  The ‘smell/sniff’ test, used by our parents and grandparents can usually supplement the current expiry date system. For the consumer there is an array of dates to be deciphered including best by, use by and sell by http://voiceireland.org/waste/food-waste-waste/is-food-safe/.

 

From an environmental point of view alone we know that food production requires large quantities of water and land. The fuel needed to produce, process, refrigerate and transport food contributes greatly to the environmental cost. Food thrown thoughtlessly in landfills decomposes and emits methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

 

Food waste is a global issue. It is a serious economic, environmental and humanitarian issue.

See more at: New York Times 26 February 2015

 

We can each play our part in bringing this scandal to an end.  It begins with our own choices when we shop and select our food.  We can also draw attention to this in social media and in direct communication with supermarkets who supply a great deal of the food we consume.

 

This issue from Fran Brady – 19 August 2015

Share Button

Finding stillness in an always connected world

“Here though, there are no oppressors. No one’s forcing you to do this. You willingly tie yourself to these leashes. And you willingly become utterly socially autistic. You no longer pick up on basic human communication clues. You’re at a table with three humans, all of whom are looking at you and trying to talk to you, and you’re staring at a screen! Searching for strangers in… Dubai!”
― Dave Eggers, The Circle

We had a broadband interruption in my house some time ago and my discomfort at the fact of being even temporarily disconnected from the wired up world, prompted me to consider the question of Technology Addiction and the idea of a Tech Sabbath. The challenge is finding stillness in an always connected world. In 1922, The French Jesuit philosopher priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a paleontologist and geologist, referred to the “noosphere”in his theory of cosmogenesis. Just as the Earth has an atmosphere and a biosphere, Teilhard referred to the emerging sphere of interconnected thought as the noosphere. The interconnectivity of our planet in Teilhard’s time was primitive by comparison with the web of communication which encircles the globe today.

This interconnectivity has been a boon to humanity, enabling instant global communications, bringing distant peoples together, and giving us something in the nature of a collective planetary consciousness. The benefits have been immense in terms of world education, disease monitoring, transport control and safety, environmental monitoring, weather forecasting and the instant dissemination of news and ideas.  Social media has given us a planetary awareness of human rights concerns and environmental issues.

The benefits have not been without their downsides, particularly the effect which instant access to, and reliance upon, external global sources of information has had upon our ability to concentrate and remember. A 2012 Pew Internet study in the US suggests that, while students coming through the school system in our always-connected world, benefit from having instant access to a wealth of information from numerous sources, their attention span and desire for in depth analysis is diminished.

“Technology can be our best friend, and technology can also be the biggest party pooper of our lives. It interrupts our own story, interrupts our ability to have a thought or a daydream, to imagine something wonderful, because we’re too busy bridging the walk from the cafeteria back to the office on the cell phone.”
– Steven Spielberg

While appreciating the benefits of mobile devices (and the benefits far outweigh the downsides) we need to give mindful consideration to the manner in which we put our mobile devices to use, and the habits by which we tend to allow these devices to fill time which would otherwise be available for the increasingly neglected activities of daydreaming, pondering and reflection.

Many of the sentiments of the poem “If” by British Nobel Laureate Rudyard Kipling, written in 1895 are laudable but the line “if you can fill each unforgiving minute with sixty seconds worth of distance run” seems to have been taken too enthusiastically to heart in the century since its writing, even more so since the advent of the internet and the almost universal availability of mobile technology. We find that inventions which we expected would free up our time have entangled us in a never ending frenzy of activity. Devices connect people umbilically to their work outside traditional working hours and at the same time they create a distracting diversion from real person to person communication when people are in fact physically together.

“Generally we waste our lives, distracted from our true selves, in endless activity. Meditation is the way to bring us back to ourselves, where we can really experience and taste our full being.”
― Sogyal Rinpoche

Can we manage to introduce some order into all of this? What would it be like to go for a day without having your mobile phone with you, or, if it must be with you for emergency use, could it be turned off unless and until an emergency arises?. And could you go comfortably for a day without checking personal email or the social media?  It is not easy when you get used to having a technological umbilical cord.

Going without our mobile devices is easier said than done when these multi purpose devices hold contact information on our friends, keep our appointments, set alarms, keep us entertained, tell us if it will rain, and even give us the real time of arrival of the next bus or train. But the feared loss might be found to be a real gain.

The idea of a Sabbath is well understood in the tradition of the Abrahamic religions. Religious Christians, Jews and Muslims are expected to observe a weekly day of rest. But the idea of a periodic day of rest is not solely the preserve of the monotheistic faiths. Other philosophies and religions recommend and encourage Sabbath. In Buddhism, Sabbath is the Uposatha, The Buddha explained that this day was meant to purify the polluted mind which would in turn lead to inner tranquility and happiness.

“A world without a Sabbath would be like a man without a smile, like summer without flowers, and like a homestead without a garden. It is the most joyous day of the week.”
― Henry Ward Beecher

Would it be pracical to set side one day a week for a Tech Sabbath. Could we can pick one day (not necessarily the same day) each week when we turn off the technology and reboot our lives (I exclude, of course, technology which we must use during working hours as a necessary part of our employment. It seems we all have to live with that)

If a day without connection seems impossible, how about placing a limit on the nature of the connection. Could we confine the likes of Facebook and Twitter to connections with friends rather than have ourselves inundated with suggestions and ideas from anonymous business and the media?   Could we confine our checking of social media to certain hours?

Could we try this for just one period of one day in the week ahead?

A meaningful life requires time for quiet and meaningful reflection.  It is hard to find that space in an always connected world but we need to make the effort if we are to live lives that are other than superfical and distracted.

I look forward to feedback as to how you get on and how you feel you have benefited from this endeavour!

With metta

Tony

Share Button

70 years after Hiroshima

It is painful to look back 70 years today to the huge loss of innocent human life caused by the of dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

War is brutal. It is never a pleasant experience for the military participants.  Witnessing the killing and maiming of one’s comrades must leave marks on a soldier for as long as he or she lives.  The killing and wounding of opposing military personnel must take an equal or greater toll on the personality and psychological well-being of the perpetrator even if what is done is carried out in a moment of on-the-spot self-defence.

But the indiscriminate bombing (and in this case obliteration) of an entire city population can never be justified. Seventy years on the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki must still rank high among the bloodiest and ugliest acts of cruelty in mankind’s long and tragic history of war and conflict.

Two Japanese cities and their people were transformed in two instants of unprecedented horror into clouds of choking dust. Hundreds of thousands of people who happened to be in places more remote from the initial blasts endured long painful illnesses. Many faced slow and difficult deaths caused by the radiation effects of the world’s first (and mercifully only) wartime use of nuclear weapons.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki are not proud moments in the history of the United States or the world.

The 70th anniversary of this outrage should cause us all to press for the elimination of weapons of mass destruction.  We have more than enough weapons and fire power for hand to hand combat than society should ever need.  The leaders of modern warfare never take part in the bloody action on the ground.

The Hiroshima anniversary is also a reminder of the horrors that can be unleased when our technology advances beyond our sense of morality.  Today the power to kill can be delegated to programmable machines.  Drones are already in use delivering payload of destruction under the control of people at computer screens far remote from the target zone and for whom the manipulation of these devices is little more than the equivalent of a video game.  The controller sees nothing but a flash.  He or she does not hear the explosion, does not see the pain on the faces of the unfortunate recipients of this fire from the sky.

Today more than ever we need to heed the call of John F. Kennedy in his inaugural speech when he addressed, as he put it, “those nations who would make themselves our adversary”:

“Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us.

Let both sides, for the first time, formulate serious and precise proposals for the inspection and control of arms and bring the absolute power to destroy other nations under the absolute control of all nations.

Let both sides seek to invoke the wonders of science instead of its terrors. Together let us explore the stars, conquer the deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths and encourage the arts and commerce.”

The earth today faces unparalleled challenges which affect the future of every man woman and child born and to be born on the planet.  Can we work together to face this common threat and concentrate our resources and imagination in ways which will enhance life for everyone?

Can we all work to finally bring into reality the words of Isaiah “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

Tony – 6 August 2015

PS: since publishing the above I have seen on Netflix the BBC TV movie Hiroshima (available on Netflix) and featuring harrowing descriptions by some survivors of the dreadful Hiroshima event.

Share Button

Climate Change Conference Paris 2015 – our last hope?

It is heartening to note a growing consensus on the need for firm action to avert catastrophic climate change which threatens life as we know it on our planet.

For years we have listened to global warming denyers but now the pace of change has been such that even the most stalwart defenders of the status quo are being outnumbered and out argued.

The recent encyclical Laudato si, (On the care of our common home) by Pope Francis has brought the crisis into universal public debate and today the White House, admittedly a late but an important convert to the idea of the need for action, issues what President Obama describes as the biggest, most important step the U.S. has ever taken to combat climate change.

For years the distant treat that rising sea levels would endanger the very existence of remote Pacific islands that hardly anyone could name has fallen on deaf ears in the developed and the developing world. Politicians fiddled and temporised as the planet’s resources burned, spewing their emissions into our atmosphere at ever increasing rates.

The latest UN International Climate Conference takes place in Paris from 30 November to 11 December 2015. This will be the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. In the course of more than 20 years there has been much talk, much disagreement as to who should cut what, and some planning of cuts to take place, but the latter always in the too distant future.

According to the organising committee, the objective of the 2015 conference is to achieve, for the first time, a binding and universal agreement on climate, from all the nations of the world. It is a tall order indeed. Having regard to past performance one would doubt the prospects for urgent and decisive action on this occasion but for the fact that the signs of the climate change crisis are now crystal clear for all to see. The world has seen an increase in Co2 levels, a year by year increase in global average temperature, an accelerating loss of polar ice, an increasing loss of species, and more frequent weather events which now threaten not only distant unnamed islands but places much nearer to the centre of global economic power and decision making. It is clear now that the world’s coastal cities and communities are under serious threat and the cost of keeping the rising oceans at bay is beyond the resources of even the richest countries.

The Native Americans long ago reminded us that we do not inherit the Earth from our parents, instead we borrow it from our children and grandchildren, a thought that each of us could usefully bear in mind as we pull into a petrol station to extract yet another transfusion of mobility from the dwindling and finite resources of Mother Earth. Each and every one of us must do our bit to reduce our carbon footprint but the task must also be taken up with vigour by governments and global corporations. They can and must understand that for us to survive as a species we need to protect the Earth and its creatures and learn to copy nature in the way it takes and gives in a harmony that has held the planet in a natural balance since the dawn of life on earth.

Climate change conferences are taking place across the world in preparation for Paris, among them a conference in Dublin on 28 October 2015 hosted by the Planning for Climate Change Conference Series organisation. The Guardian newspaper has been active in drawing attention to this urgent problem in its Keep it in the Ground series of articles. There appears to be a groundswell of public opinion calling for remedial action, one of the advantages of a globally connected society.

We look forward to Paris with hope. The time for action is now. With forest fires raging in some places and droughts and floods threatening others the Paris conference seems to me to be perhaps the last opportunity for the global community to come together to save our civilisation from man made catastrophe.

Looking back though history we can see that empires and civilisations have come and gone. Our civilisation is no different. If the planet becomes unsustainable for us it will return to its own natural balance in future years when the unfortunate descendants of the survivors of our excesses eke out a primitive existence that we in our comfort cannot even begin to imagine.

But with our resources of information and technology and with a will to co-operate we can and we must work together to reduce our impact on the environment for the common good and for the generations that we hope will follow us. Paris, Pope and President, 3 P’s for the protection of the people, property and prosperity of the planet. May they succeed at last.

Tony – 3 August 2015

Share Button