Thursday, July 29, 2010
Very seldom can a thought process of mine begin with, One of the good things about my tepidly Catholic upbringing, but here goes: one of the good things about my tepidly Catholic upbringing is the scepticism with which I respond to the great recycle bin of what used to be religion and is now known as ‘spirituality’. I said I had lost my faith, not my self-respect, the young Joyce snapped when accused of forsaking Catholicism for a rival creed. I was reminded of this today reading Stuart Jeffries’ Guardian piece on the search for silence in our noisy world. Some inconsiderate people babble on in the quiet carriage of a train. Mobile phone conversations are had. Ipods are used as aural prophylactics, perhaps with John Cage’s 4’33” turned up to eleven. But help is at hand. He hies himself to a Self Realization Meditation Healing Centre in Somerset, where he learns how to sit still and just ‘be’. He gets in a swimming pool, as I did this morning, except his is a ‘therapy pool’ and mine was just a large hole with some water in it. He does some breathing, as I too have been doing today, except he practises the ‘I am Peace’ breath, whereas I have merely been dilating my nostrils a bit and filling my lungs. Someone comes to his room to take his tray and points to the words ‘I’ve come for the tray’ on a notebook. I’m sure I’m far too quick to quote Slavoj Žižek at moments like this, but here is the Slovenian provocateur on what he terms ‘Western Buddhism’:
It confronts us with the fact that the cause of our suffering is not objective reality—there is no such thing—but rather our Desire, our craving for material things. All one has to do then, after ridding oneself of the false notion of a substantial reality, is simply renounce desire itself and adopt an attitude of inner peace and distance. No wonder Buddhism can function as the perfect ideological supplement to virtual capitalism: It allows us to participate in it with an inner distance, keeping our fingers crossed, and our hands clean, as it were.
In the same way what the peace-breathing retreaters are doing, it seems to me, is participating in the privatisation of meaningful experience. Do you spend your working day flipping burgers and listening to Moron FM? Does the craving for material things such as a roof over your head which ties you to this low-paid job prevent you from taking the train to Somerset to go on a retreat with the spiritually enlightened? Then maybe you should confine your self-healing to a couple of pints of lager down the pub or the Rugby League. Unless of course you live in the Third World, in which case I can come and squat in your hut for a few minutes and admire your wonderful transcendence of material things, such as the aeroplane that brought me to your country. But, really, what could be more confirming of our City jobs, our second homes, our middle-class cuntishness, than sitting in a healing pool somewhere on ‘retreat’ then resuming our wretched lives all topped-up with the knowledge of our inner rectitude? The screeching spiritual feedback from Jeffries’ adventures with Self Realization drowns out any amount of idiotic mobile phone conversations on the morning commuter train or at the checkouts in Asda. Which is why, in the interests of spiritual decuntification, I have decided to start a series of retreats on morning trains and in an Asda branch near you ( booking form and B&B rates to follow). And ps: Zen Buddhist he may have been, but surely Jeffries like just about everyone else has misunderstood John Cage’s 4’33”. It’s about the fact that silence is unobtainable. If you ‘play’ the piece in a concert hall you will be rewarded with the sound of coughing, sweet-papers, nervously shifting audience members etc, and if you go into an anechoic chamber, as Cage did, you will hear the thumping noise of your own pulse and heart. So best just emit a loud guffaw and have done with it. Which would be my suggested response to the spiritual fraudulence of ‘Self Realization’ and all it stands for.