Archive for February, 2009

rivendale-review-taken-down1It’s true: I’ve finally been taken down! If only I could say it was for something controversial, because that might have been less galling than the real reason, which I’m afraid is rather more mundane. It’s frustrating of course, and not for the first time this sort of “technical issue” has got me thinking about the ever more ephemeral nature of the world we are creating. Buddhism teaches us about the impermanent nature of things and I have a good deal of respect for this view but really, these days, some things are so short lived they might as well never have existed in the first place.

I’ll say one thing for the old fashioned way of publishing: paper has a way of lingering for a long time. I can walk into my favourite old bookshop, and lay may hands on any number of  books from the Nineteenth Century, their authors, long gone, and perhaps little suspecting that a hundred twenty years later, someone would still be reading what they had to say. The paper might be a little yellow, mould-specked and musty smelling but the vital essence contained in the text has survived the ravages of time, and still has the power to entertain, uplift and inform.

keramosI’m afraid I can’t say the same for the Rivendale Review, or indeed any other “online” medium, since our web-published ramblings are vulnerable to being deleted – not because they are obscene or they incite others to violence and hatred, but more because the format in which they have been expressed eventually becomes incompatible with the metaverse in which they reside. It’s nothing personal, you see? It’s  just a “technical issue”. You can store a book for centuries in a cardboard box, or on a shelf, but the metaverse requires a format, and formats change as the metaverse changes. So old stuff disappears, literally overnight and all because its domain name no longer has its dots in all the right places.  When Michael Graeme finally shuffles off into the void between the stars and is no longer able to ask of his ISP provider: “where’s my flipping site gone this time?”, or alternatively when his bank account starts firing back errors to his ISP provider seeking their annual fee, the plug will be pulled and everything he’s ever written will disappear. I’d back it all up on CD and bury it in the garden for posterity, except I doubt a hundred years from now there’ll be anything capable of reading such an antiquated medium as a CD.

I was adding up my written output recently and reckon it must be getting on for a million words. In Victorian times the hand-written manuscripts constituting that much work would have filled a writer’s study and been vulnerable only to the careless use of matches. Nowadays it barely registers on an XD memory card and has to be duplicated all over the place if only to guard against those million words being lost by falling between a crack in the floorboards.

But anyway, back to the Rivendale Review. It’s been unavailable since Thursday evening, and when I questioned my ISP provider as to the reason why, I was told the address http://www.mgraeme.ic24.net was sinply “incorrect”.  It’s been correct for nearly ten years and in that time has built up a respectable hitcount, but is now “incorrect” and all searches for it direct potential readers and returning fans into a metaversical black hole. I apologise to my readers for this inconvenience. I’m currently in discussions with the “help desk” and The Rivendale Review will return though I suspect not in the same place it was before.

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rye1Everything changes – it’s perhaps the most fundamental law of the cosmos. In human terms its workings are most easily observable in our ever changing environment and anyone of a philosophical bent can understand that things must change, that in a sense this is the only way time can make its presence known, but what is less clear to me is why change, and in particular human driven change, must always manifest itself in the transformation of potent beauty into soulless crap.

I visited my mother today. She’s recently turned eighty and continues to live in the same little semi she moved into when she married in 1959. Growing up there, I remember all the gardens in the street being well kept and my mother, struggling now with arthritis, still battles gamely with the little patch of earth she calls her own. Our neighbour’s garden too was a thing of great beauty – neatly clipped privet hedges, green velvet lawns and a line of the most magnificent cherry trees. Alas no more. The old guy passed on some years ago and, after going to seed for a bit, the house was bought by a property developer who, with an eye for the market, set about doubling its size. The privet hedges were replaced by brick walls and the grass and the cherry trees have long since been replaced by concrete. A four by four pick up truck was sitting there this weekend with all the grace of a carbuncle. There are security lights and cameras, but not a blade of grass, not a bush, not a border, not a bit of colour – summer or winter – just bland brick. It ticks all the right boxes on the estate agent’s spread-sheet and, though it’s ugly as sin, it’s probably worth a lot of money. In a similar way the gardens up and down the street are winking out one by one, to be replaced by concrete or limestone chippings for people to park their unsubtle status symbols on.

Whenever I visit my mother I  take the opportunity also to visit the valley of the river Rye, where, as a child, I did all of my exploring. The Rye is not it’s real name, and you must forgive me for that, because this is a sensitive environment, on the delicate urban fringe and already under threat. You walk out of the village and descend a stony little track, past the grand old house that used to be admired by all – 1920’s style, white rendered, big French doors, letting out onto terraced gardens. There used to be a dove-cote fixed up under its eaves, a beautiful triangular thing with the doves flying in and out cooing and adding a civilised grace to the scene. When the old gentle-folks who lived there passed on some years ago it was bought by a property developer who virtually demolished the old place and had constructed in its place a dull monstrosity of ubiquitous bland brick, surrounded by tall railings, security lights, and cameras. There’s plenty of money there, obviously, but to my mind he seems to have constructed for himself a kind of prison. It is now a property that shouts of ego and success – shouts also that we passer’s by should keep the hell out, or else. As I pass by I wonder what he thinks he’s got that any right minded person would envy?

And then you’re in the valley of the Rye. This really is a special place, and rare, being one of the largest tracts of unspoiled natural woodland left in Lancashire, but, like anywhere else in this overcrowded island of ours, its being slowly nibbled away by time and progress and the inexorable urge of a certain class of mankind who seeks always to “improve” upon his environment by digging it up and building houses on it. In the 1970’s the steeply wooded vale of the Rye was a very quiet place to be, surrounded by rolling farmland. I learned to hunt in it. You could get lost in it, not see a soul all day. But now the urban sprawl encroaches, the meadows succumbing one by one to development, the flags of the house sellers fluttering like the banners of an invading army.

One could never hope to hunt there now. You have only to sit still for a moment, trying perhaps to tune in to the quiet of the woods, for the energy to be disrupted by the passage of a dog-walker. Little bags of dog-poo fester in the places where I might once have lain in wait for hours with the gun, hopeful of a rabbit or a wood pigeon. Really, of all insults to the dignity of the land, these little bags of dog-poo, mystify me. To my mind the dog owner has already undergone the most cringe-making ordeal of picking up his pet pooch’s crap and bagging it, so why not follow through and take it home? Why toss it aside, so that the fetid product of his pet’s toilet can be preserved for years? Is it some kind of statement? A marking of territory? Really, I do not understand! And besides the poo, of course there are beer-cans everywhere, scattered by the same feral brats who see no wrong in breaking off the boughs of the oaks and sycamores and the beech trees, for no other reason than they can, and who’s going to stop them anyway and what does it matter because life is shit and then you die innit? – or some other nihilistic nonsense that our ever more educated yet ever more disconnected youngsters seem to insist upon as being the only valid reality.

rye2I’ve been watching a meadow here, overlooking the valley of the Rye, for the past ten years, knowing that it would fall one day. And this weekend I found that it had. It’s at the far end of my circuit, and was purchased some time ago, I suspect, by a sophisticated breed of developers: speculators who would snap up relatively worthless agricultural land and gamble on their ability to push though planning permission for houses. Indeed for ten long years I’ve feared houses, but instead, today, I found the meadow had been replaced by a peculiar kind of parkland – the fallow land excavated back to bare earth, the stoney track replaced with quaint little gravel walkways. Trees had been planted, benches had been spread about, and there were litter bins. Heaven preserve us – the mother of all disasters! Litter bins!

It’s hard to explain to anyone who had not walked through that meadow, before this train wreck of a transformation was wrought, what that meadow felt like all the years of my life. There was something uplifting about it – the light, the run of the path by the old thorn hedgerow. It was simple, effortless, like a case study in Zen – if there can ever be such a thing. But now its gone and it looks like – I don’t know – like all these attempts at planned prettification do, where no prettification is needed: like a garden of remembrance. The benches will bring the carrier-bag toting gawpers, who will leave their carrier bags behind, they will spray graffiti, and leave little bags of dog-poo on the paths. The litter bins will overflow and the sloppy leavings of these urbanised muppets will blow down into the Rye like a toxic waste, further dissipating what magical energy there remains.

When I was a teenager, like all teen-aged lads, I found myself desperately and hopelessly in love with a very beautiful girl. I didn’t stand a chance with her, and I knew it. At such times a simple circuit of the Rye was of great comfort to me, and I remember walking up towards this meadow from the shadow of the wood. It was a humid summer’s evening, a hint of thunder in the air. The girl in question would be in town that night, and I was wondering about putting myself within her careless sphere, so I could gaze puppy eyed at her and wait for her to make the first move, which of course she never would because she didn’t even know my name.

Coming up to the meadow, I was looking at the outline of a grand old beech tree. It had stood there for centuries, its shape tilted back against the prevailing wind. The air was still and the sky beyond was turning pink. It was a perfect moment, a moment burned deep into memory. I decided not to go into town. I didn’t need her. I was okay – the earth had restored my sense of self worth, sobered me, granted me the gift of a higher perspective. The houses were a long way off in those days, a good ten or fifteen minute’s walk. Now they’re within spitting distance and walking up to that same meadow now all you see is that line of park benches, and I feel like someone’s fouled my memory, hurled bags of dog-poo at it.

I cannot bring back that evening, nor the sense of transcendence, but so long as the land had remained in possession of its spirit, its energy, its ghosts, there was nothing to prevent it from rendering similar service again some day. I may feel differently about this in the years to come and certainly park benches are a better fate than houses, but as usual I have more the sense of something precious that’s been lost.

rye3A muddy path winds its way through the curving meadow. The morning mist rises from the Rye and spills over in pale wreaths that spread over the green. It requires nothing more complicated than that to give rise to the most profound, heart wrenching beauty. To take advantage of what that path has to offer, you have only to put your feet upon it and walk its length. You do not need to replace the muddy path with compacted gravel walkways, and you do not need to scrape away the rough green pasture of our grandfathers, in order to plant fledgling ornamental trees that the yobs will break long before they ever see a bud, and you do not plant park benches upon it, for suddenly the very thing that made the place so special has gone – obliterated by its apparent improvement.

Am I a fool to feel this way? Or am I the only one with eyes to see?

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scope endIt was the summer of 2002, I think.  I was walking in the English Lakes, in a beautiful area called the Newlands Valley. I’d recently extricated myself from a peculiar episode of neurotic anxiety that had lasted for a year. It had left me inwardly changed in some way I couldn’t define, but for now all I knew is that whatever shadow had been stalking me was gone and I could go about my business like an ordinary human being again, instead of a potential basket-case.

I’d completed a longish walk called the Dale Head round and was on the homeward leg, barely a mile from the car and a hot cup of tea. My feet were burning, my legs were aching but otherwise I felt okay. It had been a good walk, a good day. Then I happened to look up at the view, and what had begun as a successful hike was transformed suddenly into one of the most remarkable experiences of my life.

I was looking at the shapely cone of a hill called Scope End, except I wasn’t exactly looking at it. What seemed to have happened was that although I was still aware of myself on the road, still aware of this bag of bones looking at Scope end, my perception had widened to the extent that my consciousness now included both my self and what I was looking at.

Scope End and me, or for that matter the whole of that beautiful scene, that beautiful day, were one and the same thing. There was also the sense of a bigger mind behind my mind, a mind that was really my authentic self, a self that had known all along there was no difference between me and what I was looking at. It was only my smaller, every day self that had forgotten this or, perhaps more accurately, was incapable of remembering it.

It was like waking from a deep sleep to the realisation of who you really are. What I felt at this moment was the most profound and all pervading sense of love. I was wrapped in it, carried aloft in it. It was a love I’d spent my whole life searching for and knowing was out there somewhere, yet had never quite succeeded in experiencing.

The whole thing lasted for no more than a few seconds. It was just a glimpse of something, but in the end I was afraid of it and at the first rippling of that fear, like a pebble tossed into the calm waters of an infinite lake, the clarity, the vision was lost and  I was delivered back into my old self and my old sense of separateness restored.

Now, there are many rational explanations for what might have happened. Part of me dismissed it as nothing more than a bit of a “funny do”. More technical explanations might include the possibility I had experienced a sudden overdose of adrenaline, a kind of runner’s high. I’ve never indulged in recreational drugs so I cannot say it was like being “stoned” but there were certain elements of euphoria and a sense of the limitlessness of my own consciousness that others, more familiar with these substances have described.

What do you do after an experience like that?

Well, strange as it might sound, you do your best to  convince yourself you imagined it, that it was not real. To some extent this is easy: you go home, you clean the mud off your boots, you wash the dishes, take out the dustbin, and you mow the lawn. Our daily lives require a certain pragmatism if we’re not to go completely off the rails, and amid the grind it’s possible to dismiss the most remarkable of things as being of little account.


It may be a coincidence, but around the time of that experience my attitudes began to shift decidedly to the left. Up to that point I’d measure my life in strictly rational terms, searching for meaning in the mathematics of Newton, which was a fairly forlorn hope, but as an engineer with a mechanical background, Newton was considered perfectly capable of solving any of the problems I was likely to encounter. Things were changing though – maybe it was my last near crack up, pre-millennium, a seismic shift in my unconscious manifesting itself now as a tsunami, washing though my mind, and laying waste to a lot of the ideas I’d formerly held in such high regard.

I began to read Jung. I began to study the I Ching, and was gradually seduced by various eastern philosophies. None of these were rational things, and I had to keep quiet about them because I was still, on the surface at least, a rational kind of guy. In my reading of eastern ideas, I came upon descriptions that fitted perfectly my experience with Scope End that day. It was what certain sects of Buddhism might have called “one taste” and all of this began to confirm to my own satisfaction that what had occurred was indeed what it had felt like at the time: a direct experience of something greater than my own self. Moreover, I learned that these states are common and accessible to all human beings. They can be reached systematically by long years of dedicated practice in the meditative arts, or, every now and then, they can be blundered into by chance, by anybody. And that’s what had happened to me.

It did not make the experience any easier to understand or even to accept. How anyone can be both what they are and what they are looking at requires a transcendent leap quite beyond the everyday.

So, what do you do with it? Well, not very much because it turns out that no matter how much you manage to convince yourself it was real, there’s always at least a grain of doubt that keeps you grounded. Was it “one taste” or was it just the natural “adrenaline high” of a guy who’d walked too far that day? At the most, what it does is loosen up your grip a little. It makes you begin to doubt most of what you’ve ever trusted to be real. You still need to get up at 7:00 am to go to work, the dinner things still need washing up, and the lawn still needs mowing, but between these things you sit down and you begin to wonder just what it is that’s holding it all together.

Eventually the works of Carl Jung lead to the works of those who followed him, to the Humanist Psychologists, to present day Transpersonal Psychology, which leads to people like Ken Wilber, who, like Jung, I understand perhaps about one word in every ten, but the tone of him resonates with a singular sweetness. Trans-personal Psychology tempts you into sampling all manner of weird stuff, like channelling for example, and so you discover the work of supposed discarnate entities like Seth who tell you that you tend to attract those things that reinforce your own preconceptions of the world.

So maybe I’m only attracted to Wilber because he seems to talk sense in terms of my own distorted vision of things. And then some genius invented this thing called the Internet where another thing called Google lives and Google can find you information on absolutely anything that anyone on the planet has ever thought about and you quickly realise there are more ideas about the nature of reality than you can possibly take in, and where your only filter for authority is in the quality of the spelling and the grammar.

So you turn back on yourself, on your own experience of life, which is all anyone really has to go on, and you remind yourself that your dreams have revealed a strangeness to the meaning of space time. Although you do your best to overlook this fact, you know you have dreamed of events that have subsequently happened – suggesting you must have known all along these things were going to happen but had somehow forgotten, in the same way you forgot that you’re the same as whatever it is you’re looking at.

There is, you tell yourself, a strangeness to the world that was not mentioned in your days at Wigan Tech, when they were telling you about Newton – because it’s such a fickle thing you can’t pin it down and, though it might be true, it’s about as useful in practical terms as the delusion that the skeptics take it for. So does it matter that it’s there when really all you should be thinking of is that  the bills need paying, and the recycling needs sorting, and you still haven’t  got a washer for that leaky tap?

But once you’ve pulled the stopper out of the bottle,  released the genie – it takes a special kind of charm to coax him back in, and I’ve not managed it – don’t want to – because even though this genie is a fickle and oftentimes mischievous character and as substantial as smoke, he tells some interesting tales . So, in between the chores, or maybe even while you’re sitting in the car in a traffic jam, in the half light of dawn on your way to work,  you wonder that if you’d dreamed of yourself having an accident, could you alter the course of things by taking a different route into work next day? You ponder the old “free will” thing and console yourself with the fact that the dream was merely pointing out the probabilities. Some things come true, while others don’t. Your life, you tell yourself, might be spread across an infinite number of possible scenarios. In one scenario you might be married to a Hollywood actress, while in another you might even be that Hollywood actress. You consider how the universe might split itself into any number of possible scenarios every time you have to make a choice, and agree that it would answer a lot of the paradoxes, but boy does it complicate  things!

And then Google tells you about the works of people, like Ron Pearson, who says: hang on: it’s really much simpler than all of that. We really do live in a three dimensional universe that exists in linear time, and you think: Thank God for that because, for a moment there, I thought I was about to go insane, lost in this sea of infinite possibility, of infinite universes, a place where there is no such thing as time where you can be what you think you are and whatever you are looking at, at the same time. But then you come to Dean Radin, and Google links you over to his lectures on You Tube, and you are reminded of the calm, authoritative voice who talked you through Newton’s laws of motion at Wigan Tech, except this same voice is now showing you the experimental data you weren’t shown in Mechanics level 5, that proves things like ESP and precognition are actually true, and not just the figments of a fevered imagination.

Jung said in 1961 that we can sometimes see round corners, that it was perfectly well known, and it was only ignorance that denied these things. Fifty years later we still can’t get a handle on how we do it, or what it means, and the ignorance Jung spoke of seems more organised in its debunking of these facts.

Now the kids are whining because you’ve forgotten to give them their pocket money, and you remember you’ve scratched the glass screen on your iPod and you’re frustrated because it’s still fairly new and you didn’t want the shininess to have rubbed off it yet. And you get the feeling  the people who remain skeptical of the strangeness of life are the ones who are barking mad, and its the calm, quiet, probing, and eminently sensible voices of the Dean Radin’s of this world who are the sane ones. And you wonder for the hundredth time what it means to you, to this, your life that’s ticking slowly towards its only certain conclusion.

And it makes you wonder why that big mind you felt, way back in the summer of 2002, should have wanted to create this particular illusion of separateness for itself – I mean, this simple life, which it seems content simply to watch? What can it possibly learn from me?

When I drove past my local filling station this morning I felt a rising sense of disillusionment, when even though the price of oil on the world market has fallen to an all time low, the fuel companies seem to want to push the price at the pumps back up to the pound a litre mark. Compared with the feeling of big-love that big-mind exudes, the price of petrol is trivial, stupid, banal. What does big-mind learn from that through me? And if, as I was once led to believe, there is no difference between me and the shapely cone of Scope End, there is, by inference, no difference between me and the greasy petrol pump selling its extortionate fuel. Big-mind created both the extortionate scenario and the personal outrage. But to what purpose?

And then you remember it’s Sunday night, you’ve just swigged down the last of the wine, you’re possibly a little tipsy and you’ve got another week of nine to five ahead of you. As you turn out the light and shuffle off to bed you know you’ll never figure it out, and when you settle back onto the pillow and breathe out, you wish you could have your old life back, the one in which there’s no such thing as Big-Mind and where Newton was the only guru you were ever likely to need.

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