Duration: 02:15 | Bitrate: 128kbps
The N Word
I had a great night last night in a nicely converted warehouse north of Lea Bridge. Sweetly debauched and a bit decadent - and I used to feel like such an arsehole partying on that scene. Western decadence can seem shamelessly proud of its unapologetic, bloodthirsty opulence most of the time anyway, but when you're from a place like Swansea the worst that you see are the franchises and fat, slow, lazy, brain-dead twats - so when you come to London and discover Camden Town and Portobello Road and the (comparatively) more cultured people, you both love it but are also conscious that maybe this is even worse...
What I'm saying is I used to be a pretty reactionary working class guy. It's shitty to meet interesting people you'd like to trust but find that you are alienated by the sheer difference in your income and what you're prepared to spend on living well.
Anyway, getting off my face in a posh fetish club for the first time a couple of years ago, amongst strangers fucking other strangers, with people who (when you talk to them) positively glorify decadence - I found the typical stigma, taboo and question of morality when it comes to drugs and sex and a good night out not really being about sex and sexuality but rather a fear of the participants self-honesty about what the culture they live in is. Because should you go to a really decadent place and abstain from anything sexually exhibitionist but then feel a bit 'dirty' afterwards anyway it's clearly not as if you've had the feeling imposed on you, it's more like because you've realised what culture you're a part of and you don't know how to process it - it is scary knowing what we are, and I can't pretend that I'm that conscious myself most of the time. So what are we?
I wasn't wondering about this at all last night when I started talking with this girl about greek literature and found that we shared a common fascination with Socrates (mine being pretty underdeveloped seeing as I've only read a couple of Plato's short Socratic works). Anyway, I said something about how to be in a constant state of questioning accepted values and beliefs, a 'Socratic' state, seemed to be the closest thing to nirvana I can think of. No way, she said, don't ever confuse those states, they're nothing to do with one another. When I asked her why what followed was a really eye-opening torrent of erudite perspectives on the differences betwen the core values of seperate cultures. Jehovah and Allah are from the desert, and the Greek gods are from the mountains.
That's what seems really disgusting about western culture, that we live one way, opulent and educated, and appear to have arrived via a spiritual route which is in fact entirely alien. We're decadent ancient Greeks, our rich culture is dependent on slavery not only to exist but to be sustained - this is how we attain all we consume and this is in deed how we live. Fat, fucked up, sick of cosuming, we start to pine for an awakening that will free us from our addiction to consumption and a spiritual gateway to discipline appeals to us as our new heroin. And there are several - Christianity was fashionable once, now it's not, but what was really succesful about it is that the disciplines of the bible, for example the commandments, are a simple handbook for those too rich to any longer have access to the ethics they never knew they needed to retain to be healthy, happy humans. They are like a message from one culture to another, the people of an arid landscape to those from a plush one. To put it in a coldly objective or even Darwinistic way, when the crops dry up, those with a tendency to generosity and belief in common wealth survive. The bible is a kind of messy manifesto based on just such a soul-founding realisation and understanding, conceived on the arid border between the east and the west, at the height of the Roman empire. A great many rich and influential people in Europe will have found it as their saviour.
Personally I've kind of been doing the same myself - shopping for spiritual discipline like it's a pair of fucking shoes. I've been going to the London Buddhist Centre regularly for drop-in meditation, not that I've been investigating the idea committing to Buddhism, but I'm sick of consuming, smoking in particular but in fact of all my unnecessary and suffocating impulses. Meditation has been a tool to realise what I do and don't need and allows me to be objective and consider maybe I could do something else (like read a book or run about). But there are a number of things which have really appealed to me about Buddhism itself - such as the pursuit of enlightenment, reincarnation (at least as an analogy for our spiritual regeneration in our own lifetime), and the arrival at the state of nirvana.
These were the first spiritual beliefs I ever encountered that I didn't feel forbidden to consider, my parents being aggressively agnostic - I was about fourteen (I'd first come across the concept through music) and I attended a couple of meditation rituals at Swansea's Dharmavajra centre. I've by no means become at all committed or maintained a deep interest until recently but my inner belief in an achievable state of ultimate and sustained enlightenment has always been there. Hallucinogens and the states you touch on during the experience have probably played a big part in this, but that didn't make my belief any less real. Anyway, regardless of how well founded my convictions were, there have been times in the last couple of years when I've got into really fucking serious trouble spiritually. The fruit of that journey was the realisation, gradually ever more vivid but never more so than during that conversation last night, that the pursuit of enlightment exists for sure, but the state of enlightenment is nothing more than a fleeting moment during pursuit, not to be arrived at but passed through - not 'achieved' (I hear Buddhists use that word and it's often struck a dull chord recently) but visited. What a twat I feel.
I had an experience once after meeting someone and finding them amazing when for weeks afterwards I saw everyone as a light of differing brightnesses, depending on the person or their mood - and I guess those at the healthiest and most outwardly focused peak of pursuit shone brightly. What's not so appealing about the concept of nirvana is that it appears to the lay observer as something to achieve. It's like a carrot for chasing to get people moving in the first place, in order that once you've got up to chase it enough times you stop getting disappointed that the carrot doesn't really exist because you're happy on your feet. There's a kind of momentum you can reach of realising and wishing to realise which to the outside can appear as a constant state of greater brightness - I know it does because I've stood still before. So nirvana could be the dynamic state of enlightenment that appears elsewhere as comparitively static, and that's about as entirely as I'm willing to embrace the concept now. It seems otherwise dangerous to see it any other way, kind of like re-starting a heroin habit, as entering into any religion undoubtedly is.
I suppose it's possibly the case that the otherwise sound belief in universal truth becomes obscured when you use your belief to pursue spiritual enlightenment as a means to an end rather than to pass through it as you pursue the truth. To pursue the truth effectively you can't make assumptions about what it'll be like to find it and pursue that instead. That's fucking silly.
Anyway, that's a whole other story I can't be bothered to write and it's getting late :-)
|Tue, 01 Aug 2006 01:08:23 GMT