Everything has led me to this.. The Matrix, Buddhism, Lampposts and the Cookie.

All of my life i’ve been trying to understand the mystery of how our mind works in relation to the imagination, it’s the source of art and creativity but what if it also is the foundation of the way we feel towards everything? What if our imagination was the source of not just good feelings or ideas, but harmful ones like stress and anxiety? Of course our imagination is a great thing, yet I don’t think we fully understand what it is and how it effects us. What if the bad thoughts about yourself, your situations, your past, your future could vanish in an instant if you just stop believing these thoughts to be true. Is there a fact that creates happiness? If so, what is it? Or is it just a thought? What would make you the happiest you could ever be? Do you think that would be it, complete success in being happy? Or would the play of thoughts always create the positive/negative cycle? This essay is about investigating our thoughts, how they affect us which we take at face value, without question. I would argue that most people never even question their thoughts, whether they are true, and what effect this has on your feelings, ideas and values. Maybe our problems are caused by our thoughts, not by the situation. The reason we don’t feel free, whole, and happy isn’t because we aren’t doing good enough, it isn’t because we are missing something, and it isn’t because we haven’t achieved the perfect circumstances. Thoughts. As a child I was quite a loner happy to be in my fantasies of adventure from cowboys to superheroes, as a young adult I wrote screenplays of fantasies, now I create pictures and videos or stories. I didn’t realise the stories in my head were also the foundation to everything i thought about from waking up thinking about work, to how I looked, and every emotion I felt. Children are happy, if in good health etc, but what goes wrong in adults. Eventually, you get to the point where your mind becomes crowded with so many thoughts you very rarely get a break from them. Yes I am an over thinker, I analyse everything from a cup to what to do with my life and how best to be. This is good for academic analysis and art, even in work and everything of life is more logical and whole but there is a downside. Thoughts are often consuming, or I feel I’m in a constant battle of good and bad thoughts, anxiety of how to be, what do do to feel content, successful.

I’ve been discovering a new form of meditation that has helped me deal with the swirling thoughts. At its core is the understanding that stress about work, anxiety of the future, worry about not having enough time, insecurity about ourselves; is all imaginary. Take this situation, If someone off the street told you the world was going to end tomorrow what would you do? Would it stress you out, what would you do about your day in effect of this? Well, probably nothing, why would you believe it? Take it a step further, what if a trusted friend said the world was going to end tomorrow, how would you react? Again, you be more concerned but you still wouldn’t believe it, meaning it wouldn’t affect you. I’m leaning towards the idea of thoughts not affecting us if we don’t believe them. Truths. I’ve always had anxiety, stress and fear about my career, the future, appearances etc, everyone does. But on what basis? Not based on what will happen, I don’t know what’s going to happen. If I fail on my current course I may find something else I enjoy more, earn more. In fact, stress doesn’t make you work harder, it makes everything more difficult as you’re not fully in the moment and want distractions from it.

When we are young, toddlers, nothing is good or bad, things just merely are. We are conditionally nurtured to believe things are either good or bad. These polarisations are stories created by social beliefs but are exactly that, imaginary. To a child things just merely exist, not good or bad, no story or value. The relationship of thoughts in our heads can’t be changed by anyone else, it’s completely internal. People, friends, may make you feel happy or sad for moments but the problem remains the same. You could even perceive good moments as distractions as the bad things inside your head are always there, not dealt with, actually creating anxiety as you know they’ll return. We believe our thoughts to be real because we feel them as emotions. There doesn’t seem to be a connection between them, more part of thought/feeling whole. My idea is that there is a connection, one which is not based on truth. Where is the problem? If you can’t show me, where is it? Does it actually exist? It’s different to Buddhism, which says desire is the source of all suffering. Alan Watts while offering some great alternative thinking misses the idea of thoughts controlling emotions and beliefs, he’s too caught up in Buddhism to think outside his own thoughts. It’s better to think that all the good, bad, negative, positive things are only so within the play of our thoughts based on imaginary stories and beliefs. Buddhists also say there is a disconnection from our mind, body, the outside world, space, all are connected by anxiety as they are all different and create an otherness. Buddhists say that if you look at your hand, even though you know it’s your hand, there is still a part of you that doesn’t recognise it as real, as yours. A better explanation might be that most of those items are physical, where the mind is creating the difference and anxiety. Scientifically we, everything, are all made of the same thing. If someone likes marmite and someone hates it, it doesn’t make the product bad, it just merely is something physical. Take a cookie, you really desire a cookie and believe it’ll satisfy you. Afterwards, you may feel a sugar rush or less hungry but what has it actually done. The cookie is merely an object, like any object, without any ability apart from containing some nutritional value. It’s our idea that the cookie will make us feel better, we have to have it, when really it’s our thoughts suggesting these beliefs. I’m sure some people don’t even like them, so it can’t be the object that is actually doing anything. Its our thoughts convincing us to believe something about this cookie. Meaning we can’t blame the situation, cause, outcome as they are based on feelings created by over active thoughts. My Lamppost 172 story has a part where it doesn’t understand the fascination with people looking at sunsets as it sees objects all the same. Take a sunset, it gives us great peace, tranquility and makes us think beautiful things. We can finally confront our thoughts as they are at peace. But the sunset isn’t actually doing anything, it’s something that merely exists. No different than looking at a dustbin? They just merely are things. Our mind creates either good or bad thoughts giving us emotions, a certain feeling. Sure a sunset is pretty, with colours and lights/darks. But why are these things good or bad? Where did these beliefs come from? In alternative cultures, different things have alternative meanings. For the Indian nation, a cow is sacred, never to be harmed, in most countries is seen as a source of meat. Our idea of beauty changes over time. In tudor times larger women were seen as more attractive, in art, Van gogh was seen as amataur, rubbish. Again, this further proves our thoughts of something create a belief, value, and emotional response. But once we know this isn’t fixed, anything is possible.

So working on the Buddhist theory of separation of the Mind, Body, External World. What if there was an additional area just after the mind which is self-recognising. Mind, Mind Awareness, Body, External World. This new Mind Awareness zone recognises that the mind is capable of making us feel anything towards everything else. In recognising this, is it possible to gain a new form of liberation as we know what we think isn’t always real? The truths we automatically accept can change, sometimes quite easily.

We constantly evaluate everything we see, do, did and plan to do. Thoughts racing away. ‘Getting up stressing about getting ready for work on time, how do I look, what should I do to change it, if i do this will i be quicker, what am i doing with my life, how can i change it, what shall i have for breakfast, no i’m not ready for it yet, oh no i look tired, how can i change that, wish i had more time for my art stuff, how can i do that, i feel sad about that, running late, get to work a bit late, have to be polite, look bright and hard working, must get this done on time, what shall i drink, pressure of deadlines, won’t have time’… A constant cascade of anxious spiralling questions leading to getting home feeling physically and mentally tired, wanting to do art fun things but not having motivation. ‘Go on Facebook, what to eat, shower now or tomorrow, time for bed, i’ll be too tired if i don’t sleep now. can’t sleep, have i set my alarm, can’t sleep, how to change my life, it’s morning’… Stop. There is proof only thoughts create negative feelings. When you’re distracted for your thoughts, everything seems ok right? In a moment of a joke, a film, a cookie, laughing with friends or being with a lover. If it only lasts a few seconds, during the time of escape, you feel fine. When we watch something in the cinema, it’s known as the suspension of disbelief as we seemingly forget about everything apart from what we are watching, we believe the film and disbelieve where we are. This is how we enjoy the emotional ride of the film, the same goes for any escapism device such as tv, art. It feels good to escape the spiralling thoughts of our mind, we don’t always want to confront our thoughts not to feel stress. But if we can do it watching a – film, why can’t we do it to our – thoughts. After all, all our thoughts are based on stories we have created about our ambitions, or nurtured into our minds during a child to become so natural, we automatically believe them. In believing them they turn into emotions, often negative ones. Everything we see and experience has an embedded story seemingly fixed on to it. The cookie has a story, we desire it thinking it’ll make us feel great, the sunset, a job, a friend, a lover, all matching our perception of good, what is good for us, a familiarity to confirm our own ideas. Thoughts and stories. All these things exist as objects, people are alive, but the rest we put onto them. This is where I differ from the Matrix’s point, suggesting everything is false physically and mentally, entrapped by the system for someone else’s gain. My idea is that our thoughts are entrapped us by nurturing, what is good, bad, positive, negative. Maybe this epiphany is the red pill, where we can be outside of our thoughts to realise what they are doing to us. This isn’t to say thoughts are our enemy, we just have to realise what they are.

If I asked you to photograph a wedding most people would panic and stress as they don’t know what they’re doing. For me it isn’t stressful as i’ve been doing it for years. The situation isn’t the cause of stress, its subjective. So what if stress, anxiety and worry were the same. In fact, they are even less truthful. Tell me what is stress without the cause or effect of it? As i’ve suggested, the situation of stress is subjective. One person may not find it stressful, where another might. The effect of stress is immediately distracting, causes irritation and can lead to illness yet this is dependant on the person also. It’s only a thought that something is stressful. So therefore stress doesn’t actually exist, it’s nothing physical therefore only exists in thoughts. Can stress be explained with facts? Sure we feel it, as it if does exist but thoughts are based on ideas, beliefs and values of our mind, all imaginary. So called stressful situations, long term anxiety will occur, your mind dances thoughts everywhere, constantly evaluating, but are by no means fixed. Maybe at a workplace when you’re over tasked, rushed, stressed, running out of time, flustered. Stop. Realise your mind is overactive and creating emotions and stop it. If there is a situation where they wanted you to get it done, or you wanted to get it done but didn’t, should you have? You didn’t so it wasn’t possible, how do you know you should have? Plan what you can do, and even if you can’t get everything done then something has to change or make your manager realise it can’t happen. If someone is irate on the phone make them realise you won’t deal with them, what they are sounding like and if not end the call. What is the worst that could happen, you lose you job that over stresses you out and don’t treat you right with contracts etc. You’ll even find a better job with less stress, more pay and job security. Further, just imagine is the irate caller caused no emotional response in you. This can be achieved by merely recognising you thoughts are causing emotions. Don’t be a victim of someone else’s or my own thought tricks. The situation merely existed, we put bad thoughts on it. If you feel bored in an office job, doing the same thing everyday, is this a good job or a bad one? Its neither, its just something you do sometimes, it’s not who you are.

We don’t control where our thoughts go, negative or positive, but we can bring it back to the moment, accepting both. Where is the problem? Unless it’s something physical, where is the fact of the problem? Even the rational thoughts trying to settle the problem are thoughts that are coming and going, It’s not you. Negative thoughts will enter your mind, and try to consume you, it doesn’t mean they are you. When you feel things are bad, say with stress, it feels consuming physically and mentally, sure, maybe the the situation is bad but it does not reflect what you are, it’s a trick. Peace and freedom come from recognising that no experience is bad, because no experience says anything truthful about who you are. Be one step behind your thoughts/feelings to recognise what they are. If it’s a good feeling then embrace it, sure, and now you can fully be in that moment. Your attention will go everywhere but allow it, don’t suppress. Recognise that thoughts have the ability to create emotions, stress, anxiety, and are never based on truths. A cookie is a cookie, it’s not good or bad. Time pressure to complete a task might be a struggle buts its not good or bad. You have to disbelieve the imaginary story in your mind we’ve established over a lifetime. Yes you may be busy, work overloaded or not feeling artistic, but the feeling of the problem doesn’t actually exist. Meditation and calm is created by knowing the truth; it’s just a series of thoughts playing in your head. Stop. The larger the story we have embedded in our minds the tougher it is to realise its falsity and to control it. What is the thing you most want? A good job, to be in love, money, success in art, appreciation, experience life. All these things are based on perception, but they are also based on an eternal anxiety surrounding them. ‘Stress of not having the best job, anxiety of losing it, will my lover accept me, is there a future, will they make me happy, am I happy, how can i get more money to do things, to feel relaxed, is this photo better than my last, will people like it, do i like it, will other people like it, am i good enough, if i do this life will be better.’ Stop. Of course physically we need a reasonable home, a sense of safety and health. But a list of anxious questions could and does go on forever, even questions we don’t realise we are asking, i’m surprised we don’t all turn into Edvard munch’s Scream on that peer. The only time we feel calm is when we distract ourselves with something like having a cookie, or somehow manage to dispel these questions about our life narratives by having hobbies where our thoughts are seemingly not present. When we are in this moment we ignore them. The most convincing way we find calm, peace and true happiness is to disbelieve the thoughts that are making them from something that is not true; recognise these feelings coming from thoughts that are made up in your mind.

Don’t try to think positively. There is nothing good about you! Sounds silly but being positive can only exist with negative drawbacks. They are one and the same. If you have a positive negative mind frame, you’ll be fearing the negative, creating anxiety. There is nothing good about you but there is also nothing bad about you. It’s just a thought in your mind. Trying to be positive can only take you back to the negative eventually. If you think positive about your art, or work, you think it’ll be better but it can’t, as you’ll live in fear of not being your best only creating anxiety again. The ultimate positive was directly connected to the negative. Anyway, you can’t think positively all the time, we’re not made that way. When you try not to think about something you can’t, it’s impossible. Don’t think of a cookie. whatever you do, Don’t think of a cookie. I’m assuming all you can think about is a cookie, what it looks like, taste etc. Don’t think of work!.. You can’t, it’s impossible. This is what negativity is. Whenever you feel there could be a better of worse outcome you’ll live in fear. Instead, accept positive and negative situations will exist together, step back from this polarisation knowing it’s your thoughts playing with these, and actually, just like someone telling you the world is going to end, it can’t affect you. You don’t believe it. Let our thoughts be anything, only realise its a play of thoughts, nothing true. Art is often said to be a way of dealing with our troubles. Though I would like to think it’s our way of finding truths about ourselves, the world and the universe around us. We may never reach conclusions yet the journey and experience is richly rewarding as we glimpse enlightenment. A person that is free is able to experience everything to its most. A sunset, a cloud, a kiss, an embrace. Know that they are thoughts creating emotions. Just imagine an interview, at home you can verse coherently your skills perfectly as you’re generally without pressure and anxiety. When you’re in the interview you may sound completely differently due to the anxieties swirling questions of inadequacy, how do I look, what’s the best way to put it, my body language, what if i don’t get the job, what if i do.. STOP. This shows stress clouds the experience, making an individual nowhere near their best. Instead of it being an interview, how about thinking it’s your life. What if our whole lives are juggling these stress and constant questions inevitably creating a lesser experience of existence. Nothing or no one can change the relationship of thoughts in our minds. They simply are. We shouldn’t stop them, just know what they are. What we can do is realise they are thoughts often not based on something that isn’t true. There is no such thing as bad about me, good about me, it’s all imaginary. Things just exist, it’s all a story in our heads. Am I stressed? No it’s just a thought. Another idea pops in your head. It’ll be good if this happens! No, it’s just a thought. If we discover that our problems are caused by thoughts, not by anything that’s true, gives us peace. We are phenomenal living things, we should aspire to become closer to the wonder of existence and our creative imagination and in doing so reach higher levels of tranquility, happiness.

After reading this step outside into the garden, take a walk. If this essay has made sense to you, you’ll see the world, yourself, very differently. Once you realise thoughts are causing the problems, not the situation, you are free. As you disbelieve more and more of the thoughts that create your suffering, which are often based on fiction, you will be happier in more and increasing situations, the more you will be living in the moment, at peace, be able to fully love, laugh, feel whole, be enthusiastic, and appreciate every experience in your life. Everything you enjoy now, music, art, sunsets, cookies, friends, family, you’ll enjoy more. Anything making you sad in a moment or over time will fade and become redundant. Let go of those imaginary hindrances of the mind holding you back. You are at a distinct advantage of questioning your own thoughts. Nothing in particular can make you happy, nothing missing can make you happy or sad. There is nothing good about you, there is nothing bad either. You exist. They are not you. If you get the dream job, the ideal house, the perfect partner; none of these things can change your play of positive/negative thoughts. No fact creates happiness, it’s our thoughts. You’ll still have anxiety about the future, stress about keeping it. Worry about being the best partner, fear losing your looks etc etc. Stop. You now realise it’s your play of thoughts deciding these things. Imagination. No external events can make you truly happy. The distractions of life provide proof thoughts are the only thing causing suffering. Ask yourself what story are you telling yourself? A story of being lonely, sad, anxious about the future, stressed. Ask yourself what is missing at this very moment? Notice your imagination tries to find these things when you ask these questions. It’s exciting to realise the stories we aspire for in life are no longer valid. We’ll no longer believe what we should be, what we should do, how we should be! Instead, bask in sunlight to feel the wind across your face, delve into music and science. Be free to enjoy everything. You are free! What journey in life can we achieve with this revelation? This is my red pill epiphany.

Life is beautiful.

This idea was inspired by my life’s experience and education, and Noah Elkrief on youtube. He has guides on everything from work to meditation.

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You’ll find me at a table

At the start and end of everyday. I could say during though my job is not at a table most the time. You’ll find me at a table thinking, discovering, catching up, snooping, trying to get people to like something, creating a digital self and impotently communicating with the people not at my table. I communicate with myself most the time, all the time in a delirium of bouncing whirling thoughts of the usual things such as dealing with the eternal problem of whys. Why haven’t I got a ‘proper’ job, as in a higher paid ‘respectable’ job. Why don’t I ever feel thirsty though always dehydrated. Why does electricity make stuff light up or why am I always tired. Why is my dirty coffee cup round and why am I always tired. Why despite the greatest togetherness of communications and knowledge does exploitation and persecution still exist. Why did my ideas and many rehearsals of becoming a real life Tom Cruise lead me to sit at this table. Despite eating greedily like a pig and exercising hard do I always look gaunt and ill. The only thing that makes me look healthy is a tan which I know is slowly making me look older. Why am I getting slower and achy despite drinking green tea. Why do I flip from one art to another trying to find an answer. I play and sing the guitar trying to be Bob Dylan. I write to be James Joyce. I take pictures to be William Klein. I even think about painting to be Edvard Munch though know I can’t paint, write, sing. Asking why will make me crazy, not asking why will make me crazy. Why after a time, after repetition, after a routine does everything become mundane. We always want what we don’t have and of course we don’t know what we’ve got till its gone just like a big yellow taxi. What makes something beautiful or moreover what makes us find such solace in it. Beauty is not fixed, its forever in a perpetual motion just like boredom. Beauty and boredom are one and all as opposites and intertwined in each other. Something is always not boring to some one, just as beauty diminishes becoming bland. You can only look at Monet or Bridget Bardot for so long. You’ll find me at a table bored certainly not beautiful. I’ll be searching for an honesty, honest in beauty for liberty of the mind and body. You’ll find me at a table just as i’ll find you at a table, working and wondering. Not daring to ask why too often. Forget it you don’t have time or energy. Go on distract yourself with working, marrying, children, providing until you sit another table.

Why

As a child I only had interest in instinctive drives such as food and play. An animal intention without thinking of cause or reason. It was something I did and must be done. I am well aware that we are animals although we regard ourselves differently due to one evolutionary vice. Somewhere in our history, between being wild and creating space ships we somehow thought about why. Why don’t I use this club to hit something and it will be more effective than a fist; led to great advances on humanity to our current limit of devastation; nuclear power. In the moment of childhood when we realise ‘why’ might not be very obvious. Some say it’s when we look in the mirror and discover our self. Schooling is the institute or whys and what if’s. We are nurtured to think outside of our understanding in a proposed hope of bettering ourselves to become more useful or successful, more at peace with eradicating the anxiety of the unknown. ‘Why’ is irreparable, insatiable, leading to question ourselves of the reason are we doing this? Why does it happen? Why not? Philosophy is born from the condition of why. Forever attempting to orientate normalities of the way we live. This is our greatest ability yet also our greatest vice. We are forever desiring, imagining something else. Something more than what we have as we have been not only nurtured from growing up, yet will perpetually continue to and is irreversible. As a child it’s easy to think I was completely happy playing and eating until I wanted what the other kid had. This is an animalistic instinct such as being bigger or better. When the question of why can’t I have it, or why is it like this becomes apparent we become philosophers. One of my earliest memories was when I climbed a bookshelf inevitably destroying things. It would have to be the case that I climbed because it was instinctive, not contemplative. It couldn’t have been why would I climb this, it would be I’m climbing it. The moment we think about why is the moment we lose our loss of innocence. The transition from child to adult where we cannot be so naive. From this moment, we question every thing from nature to technology, from how can I get that to the very reason we exist at all. This is also the beginning of anxiety. If we don’t know something we have to! If there is a something better how do we get it! These haves have driven us to spectacular heights and will always do so yet the vice of questioning, the polar opposite is yearning, desire and dealing with not having. The American dream is the owner of can do, can be, and why not! Though a fundamental flaw is this very basis of anxiety; that if we all achieved our desires society and civilisation will be unable to operate. Once our basic freedoms and previsions are obtained, such as working for food and shelter and an acceptable level of choice and liberty is obtained; questioning and anxiety prevail. Those without basic liberties and amenities will always be bemused by someone’s subtle despair of thinking about the whys. Those born into comfort with know this but will not be able to escape it. We know that many suffer without food and water yet we gauge in it. This is not to say we are all unhappy and depressed, I’m suggesting that we are designed from an evolutionary and social basis to eternally question and desire without limits making us anxious, as we can never know everything, because we don’t have it. I am not only referring to consumerist society of tangibility, it was well understood in modern advertising that lifestyle desire represented in products is much more effective. We long to be something that we are not; we lust for experiencing things, which seem out of reach though possible. We lead busy lives of work to earn, to buy food, shelter and some entertainment, which will also never end.  Of course there are distractions to our questioning. Having children defers all thoughts to the routine of looking after them. We have little time or energy to think about why. Some would say that breeding is our purpose, a biological preservation of race. When children leave home it could well be that our questioning anxiety returns though by that time familiarity and that lust for life is diminished. We wake up and work the best part of the day, get home tired to eat, watch TV then it’s time to rest to do it again. During this life long routine there are small moments of bliss. You could be busy and stressed without thinking of anything else when you hear a piece of music. Music that seems to dive deepest into your rhetorical self bringing a calm euphoric meditative moment of self-awareness. Art attempts to decipher our unanswerable questions. Pleasure such as bathing in the smothering warmth and shine of the sun on a hot day. Gorging into a fat greasy burger. Getting drunk. Getting high. Laughing with friends or finding peace and affection in the arms of a lover. These moments are distractions from our why questions or some would say are the answers to them. But all these things have a limited appeal. In the sun we get burnt. A burger, a joke, a lover has limited lifespan and appeal to us. We always want something else. Something more. We turn that club into a spaceship.

Written by Russell Whitehead..

 

Elections

With all the salmagundi about UKIP, from fascists to saviours of Britain, I’m struggling to think what the other parties actually stand for, well apart from “i’m in” from the Judas formally known as Nick Clegg. Voting has decreased in the underprivileged  due to the distance people feel from those in power and those with money. Corporations seem above the law of the land as they don’t have to pay proper taxes like we do and then there are the Bankers who get bonuses for creating a loss. It comes down to the separation known as otherness; the super-rich and the rest of us, those in power and the rest of us. Politicians have been making this clear for a long time with their inability to answer a question when asked anything in the news. They always seem to dance around it like a maniac distracting from what is actually going on. The Fraragions which seem to be spreading like a cold, have some justification in that at least they think they know what he stands for! Labour seem to be musing over things, not really sure what to do apart from appealing to people who don’t like the Tories, who, apparently only look after themselves. Though at first you wouldn’t even think they are doing a great job at that with the way things are, though occasionally you are made aware of a devastating stat that says the rich are getting richer and the rest of us getting poorer. So it’s nearly voting time again and I’ll probably vote for the usual Labour as I don’t like Conservatives’s financial limb cutting, or Liberal’s impressive reenactment of Judas. It is often said that people would tick a box that said ‘none of the above’, a vote of no confidence as it were. Maybe then they would have to re-think how they work things. Then there’s UKIP who seem distasteful to those who fear any chance of fascism. The other parties aren’t even worth mentioning as they play on extremes of green or nationalism. The anti-Farrage’s suggest his party is covertly racist and want to go back to a time when we didn’t share with the world, so we only trade with the farm next to us. To be honest it seems backward to “get out”, as we’re financially “tied in”, though I’m not really sure why either. I guess I don’t like the idea of not being part of the world, I’d rather open my doors to someone than close them. Unless they’re trying to sell me something. This is probably the dilemma that Scots are going through at the moment with England. It’s not really financially beneficial, but might do it anyway ‘cus we don’t like them’ so I heard from a radio debate. This is for something that happened a while ago in a history not based around `Braveheart’ apparently. Saying that if we all get independence, I feel sorry for Wales and the other bits of the UK as they don’t seem to have much choice. What has Scotland got against Wales?
Maybe they should join an alliance with Northern Ireland; then England can leave Europe and we all can keep to ourselves. So all these issues begin at what we are and what we’re not, from political parties to countries identity or whatever. If we are different from each other does that mean that we can’t get along or compromise? No, just put a big wall up and be done with it; walls seem to have been popular in history such as China or Berlin. I think they do the same in Israel to keep particular people out too. Comparing Britain to the other less desirable countries and ‘regimes’ we actually seem to be doing alright. Places where   it is law that women can’t walk in the street without a man, where people of other religions kill each other for believing in something different. Even America doesn’t have an NHS, though seems like ours is slowly getting sold. There was always a famous quote flying around at uni that “If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility” (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow) It’ll probably be a popular and therefore redundant ‘Meme’ at some point.  The point is about narrowing the gap between them and us, to eradicate the fear of the unknown, which is mostly contrived by prejudices and myth. Education, making awareness of something other than what you know is the most important quality especially in local politics. Wouldn’t it be good if there had to be an independent leaflet or webpage, mobile friendly of course, that stated, preferably in bullet points, what each of the parties choices are, in a line so we can compare. This may seem a bit simplistic though on TV voxpops people don’t know what the differences are between the parties, but then apparently they all do the same thing in the end anyway. Then again people seem to vote based on the caricature of the party; I mean the leader of party, “not sure about him he has a slightly annoying voice” or “he has a side parting so looks a bit, boring.” I’d rather vote for someone that looked like a broken Picasso who could do a good job, rather than a poster boy who only knows how to dance around questions. I guess there could be a picture of the leader with a movable piece over their face to settle any qualms if people remain undecided.

HG Wells: A Solitary World

A horrible feeling of desolation pinched my heart. I listened rigid but heard nothing but the creep of blood in my ears. Great and shadowy and strange was the world and I drifted solitary through its vast mysteries.

A remote faint question, where I might be, drifted and vanished again in my mind. I found myself standing astonished, my emotions penetrated by something I could not understand.

I felt naked. I felt as perhaps a bird may feel in the clear air knowing the hawk wings above and will swoop. I began to feel the need of fellowship. I wanted to question, wanted to speak, wanted to relate my experience. What is this spirit in man that urges him forever to depart from happiness, to toil and to place himself in danger?

It was this restlessness, this insecurity perhaps that drove me further and further afield in my exploring expedition. As the hush of the evening crept over the world, the sun touched the mountains and became very swiftly a blazing hemisphere of liquid flame, and sank. Then, slow and soft and wrapping the world in fold after fold of deepening blue, came the night. And then, the splendor of the sight — in the sky, one bright planet shone kindly and steadily like the face of an old friend. The full temerity of my voyage suddenly came upon me. At last I began to feel the pull of the earth upon my being, drawing me back again to the life that is real, for men.

Kibera, Kenya…

1052747_612896422062583_1605098060_oKibera, Kenya by Russell James Whitehead.

Peering through the small window of the plane, the eminent yellow sun is low as I arrive in Jomo Kenyatta, Nairobi airport. As this is my first time flying alone, I couldn’t sleep, with either excitement or sitting for nine hours. I’m a tall guy, not great for sleeping in seats. Apparently, the airport has a bad reputation, for corruption and bribery though fortunately, Billy, a friend of the head-teacher is waiting for me. He is a small man who always wears baggy shirts two sizes larger than needed. He is standing with a name board with a big smile. Billy is my driver for the week.

There is a distinct muggy dry heat with the red, orange dust that seems infused everywhere from roadsides to people. Billy and I exchange polite conversation as much as can be interpreted with our localised accents. My reason for being here is to create media for Global Care, a charity that supports children in extreme poverty, in order for them to be sponsored for a better quality of life.

1026255_612890698729822_1579092294_oI’m meeting Kenyanito the school leader in a cafe, which would sit well with the likes of the familiar coffee franchises in the UK. I had a lemon; ginger and honey drink for a cold I developed on the plane, great timing! Seems silly to have a cold in this heat. The drink is served in a large mug with thick natural honey on the side. The small shopping complex was like any other; apart from security everywhere casually cradling AK47′s as protection. In a way, I feel safer knowing they were there, even though I wouldn’t be in the same situation shopping in England. Kenyanito is a towering man with a determined yet kind manner, who welcomes me with humour, though is immersed in determination when discussing the plight of his work. He sometimes quotes Nelsen Mandela, “Education is the key to success, the key to life.” Kenyanito is a school leader, a priest and member of numerous boards, too many to recall.  “We build their self-esteem, and we build their capacities for life.” Kenyanito states. He’s a tall, busy positive man, neatly dressed often in bright shirts and is equally charismatic with his words. He is a successful result of a sponsored child, from abject poverty to community leader. Now and then he stumbles his words, coughs, apologies a few times with a difficult throat. “Sorry, I have a cold” he says.

The primary to secondary school, Spurgeons Academy, is in the heart of the Kibera slum, with endless seams of shanty constructions made from metal sheets fastened with numerous threads. As we drive through, the scenes are what I expected, with my only reference being from news or films. There is a voice repeating in my head, “I’m actually here”. I ask Kenyanito for some polite Swahili words to use. “Jambo” means hello, “Habari” means how are you? “Asanti” means thank you. I try and remember the words using some English association; I’ll just have to remember them.

The school first appears like any other, yet much smaller, though consists of several classroom size buildings with windows scattered along. A closer inspection reveals only sufficient construction with broken beams, holes in walls, no glass in windows, crumbling steps and the almost suffocating sand affiliated to everything including my trousers and shoes, camera and shirt. The urinal is a ditch by the building that attempts to stream out of the fence though often ventures into the playground. The other toilets are further away consisting of a sheltered hole in the ground, which you can smell potently from a distance with any slight breeze. I’m not sure where the waste leads. There is a well in the playground that is sealed off as Kenyanito explains they don’t need it anymore as they now have a water pipe. I cannot help think that a British school would never be allowed to open with deep severe steps, broken fences, numerous dangers on every corner. In contrast, the children are constantly upbeat as they burst out the classrooms, a smile on every face, especially seeing me, a new face in their midst.  1015686_612888018730090_1445464751_o

The children gather around in a pool of wondered faces peering up to me with fascination. “Jambo, Jambo”, they repeat with the constant greeting of “high five” with a clasp on hands, which I humbly repeat until the teachers tell them to give me space. The children all wear green jumpers with either a green tartan dress or black trousers respectively. Incredibly they manage to keep them relatively clean despite such a forbidding environment. Again on closer inspection most of the uniforms are tattered with holes and fading materials, though nothing seems to dampen their spirits or enthusiasm. At school they are provided with regular meals and have a great ordered self-hygiene even though it’s through a tap, which may have its own issues. The food is the same everyday which is dried corn and overcooked beans; neither have taste though they relish every bite. I am asked to eat with them, which I humbly accept, though cannot help think how tasteless, hard and almost inedible it is.

I perch in the corner taking video and pictures as the class stare inspiringly at the 965607_612888668730025_1848957076_oteacher who discusses disease awareness and prevention. They learn the national curriculum as any other school in Kenya, giving them a nationally recognised qualification when they graduate. Of course, the school where all these children are sponsored provides much more than education. The provisions of food, cleaner water, and a hope for a future, which they clearly appreciate with every moment. With so many children without this opportunity in Kibera, Kenyanito says “Every student is very lucky to be here”. I guess they know it.

The waste of the slum surrounds the perimeter like a chokehold, a waste fence. Kibera is made of small homes made from sheets of disused metal and stretches on for miles in winding dry muddy paths of litter and waste. In monsoon season the wet mud causes greater concern with disease. Kibera is said to dwell one million people, one of the most densely populated areas in the world, which is also one of the largest slums. Rainbow, my guide or should say bodyguard, sometimes holds my hand as we walk through repeatedly notorious areas of Kibera. Rainbow, who always wears a grey stout hat, may be small in stature, though I soon realise he’s the man about. He seems to know everyone. We walk for miles of mud walkways, mud fastened make shift homes with people in ragged clothes. I attempt to hide my feelings of persistent insecurity with other feelings of humble fascination. Collins carry’s my rucksack with camera inside as it is too dangerous for me to be seen with it. He is a teacher at the school. As a photographer I have desires to capture everything, especially things many people don’t see. Unfortunately, this time caution persists over curiosity. Halfway through is an abandoned rail line with unidentifiable abandoned buildings and discarded machines. Mostly I seem to be unnoticed. Maybe they are used to foreign charity workers coming through, or maybe no outsiders at all, as no one on the outside would want to go in.  Everyone seems busy on their market stalls or getting on with their day.

1048252_612886805396878_1182592367_oMary, one of the sponsored pupils, lives in a very small room, about the same size as my bedroom as a child, with a chair and a bed where she, and her mum reside.  I am given my bag so I can film. Rainbow suggests I don’t waste any time and keep the filming short not to promote my presence. We quickly move on passing hundreds of other homes as tight as beach huts with people selling whatever they can. There is an array of shoes, and often charcoal like substance in small buckets, which is for fuel. Before I came here, people would say how they wouldn’t be able to deal with the scenes of poverty, especially with children. I wondered this myself, though it could well be that I’m hiding these feelings behind my camera, acting professional, or is it that I’m overwhelmed into a state of despondency, I’m unsure.

In the evening I’m taken back to my guesthouse just outside of Kibera.  The guesthouse is guarded like most places with armed guards wearing uniform. The reception is very British regal with pillars and receptionists wearing bright red uniforms. I’m told it’s unsafe for me to wander or be out in the evening. Apparently at night-time the area is a different, dangerous place. Once I went by the pool, which was quite luxurious and had a few people swimming. There always seemed to be vultures or hawks circling overhead, around and around. I felt anxious, uncomfortable and I didn’t bring swimwear anyway. So I spent most of the evenings by my computer trying to stay in touch with the worried ones at home with intermittent Wi-Fi. I checked my footage, yet didn’t work on it too much.

Interviewing the children the next day at Spurgeons Academy was troubled by nearby construction work of new classrooms funded by the charity. I had no alternative but to put the camera and microphone much closer to them which I thought might hinder their natural response. Mary, a pleasant smiley ten year old whose home I visited previously, is a soft faced small girl, living with her widowed mother who has HIV and is struggling. Her father died during the troubled Kenyan elections in 2008. “When the election happened, he went to Mombasa and he’s never come back.” She speaks quite objectively, with elegance as she goes on to tell of her elder brother who also died three years ago, and now Mary and her mother are alone. “When my brother reached class seven, he became sick then died.” They sometimes live in a small shack made of corrugated iron sheets, but frequently get evicted because of rent arrears and have to live with anyone who will take them in. She often nurses her mother and does what she can to support a better lifestyle. As she speaks, her mature life experience is strong and confident though I can see this begins to trouble her, so I ask her questions about school and what is fun, does she like singing? Immediately a wonderful full faced smile shines through, she is a child again as she talks about how much she enjoys dancing and arts. When I ask the children about their future aspirations they seem determined to be supportive to their community. Everything to improve where they are by being doctors, businessmen and teachers. “What I want to do when I grow up is to be a nurse, to help people like my mother.” None of them say they want to leave or be an astronaut or pop star. The interviews continue as it becomes obvious that they are orphans, either through the parents going by choice or disease. Either way they speak quite coherently in English and almost objectively about life in Kibera. Is it that the camera is making them hide their emotions or is it a routine part of life here.

My cold seems to be departing, which seems apt in this forty plus heat, which is sometimes stifling. Yet again in the evenings I eat at the guesthouse then remain alone, dwelling on new thoughts and the sights of the day. The sight of children playing in waste, homes made like an unacceptable English garden shed, disease spreading as if intergraded with the gritty red mist that they all breathe. Everyone has red bloodshot eyes. From the teachers to the children. I am well aware that the western way of life is self-indulged. Though a different way of life does not mean a worse one in every respect. I find great strength, spirit and pride in the people I have met here. The children often remain behind after school, as it’s a safe place to be. 1026156_612890395396519_1074254254_oThere athleticism is incredible as they play with the skipping rope with jumps I’ve only dreamed about as a child.

We drive around the perimeter of the slum, which really shows the extensiveness of Kibera. I notice that Billy and the others use phones, which about 10-15 years ago most people in England were using. Same for the cars or anything for that matter. We stop repeatedly to film the best views. If I look one way I see a horizon of shanty homes with snake like paths of mud and squalor. Children playing covered in rags and dust. If I turn directly behind, there is an esteemed professional golf course with large spaces of trimmed bright green grass.

On the last day I travelled into Nairobi. I was immediately ambushed with beggars, sellers and crowding just as any visitor to the city. “You are an obvious target” Billy said. Thankfully I had him with me, who guided me through some tourist spots which were mainly British representations of settlement. Like that of Big Ben, Parliament, train stations, tall buildings etc. We went to the top of one of the city’s tallest building’s, The Kenyatta International Conference Centre, which has a helipad.  The guide tells us about how the city started and developed due to British involvement.  He doesn’t say if it’s a good thing or not. Compared to taller buildings I’ve ventured, including the Eiffel Tower, this isn’t very high, though Billy seems astonished by the scene. He constantly looks puzzled pensively putting his hand to his mouth trying to figure things out, where he comes from. For me, the city looked like most others and felt too hectic.

Everything in England is vividly green. I can taste the moisture, condensation, rain pattering on windows; everything looks new. After relaxing back into my home life, I wrote, “Its possibly stereotypical to announce such things, a distant traveller acquires a new wisdom, or a new perspective of life. Though as my mind wanders to images of my journey, my pre-journey personality, of anxieties, insecurities and self absorbed feelings seem to have departed, and the person I was, seems somewhat unrecognisable.” Then I soon come across crying children in supermarkets begging and screaming for toys or sweets, just as I did as a child. People were cleaning their cars with endless amounts of flowing water. I could no longer take selfies or neglect to be grateful for any home comfort. I was aware of injustice even more than I was prior to my journey and endeavoured for an empathetic perspective. I also believe that until you experience a different way of life, at least in some tangible way, I don’t think it can really affect you. I was thinking of ways to educate, either children or adults in sharing my perspective. I felt like I knew something and that everyone should know. I continued, “I seem to be standing taller, I have more… backbone. I feel like I could take on the world and nothing could stop me!”

Of course my photography desires these artistic educational aims and I was successful in my assignment for the charity, though I hope that media desensitisation isn’t too prominent. A few months later there was a terrorist massacre in the Westgate Mall shopping centre I visited in Nairobi. It was absurd seeing the place being violated in such a way. I also know a past university friend whose brother was killed in the incident.

The months pass, the perpetual struggle for photography work resumes with my regular part time retail job supporting. With each month, I feel my previous self, seep through the cracks in excesses. I find myself looking back at photos and videos attempting to reassert that confidence and appreciating perspective. When I talk about this career achievement to someone new, they often say “it must have been eye opening, incredible experience.” I agree. Though actually, those feelings and grand realisations have passed back into the labyrinthine routine of everyday.

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www.russellwhitehead.co.uk

www.globalcare.org.uk

Footprints of a Strike

Based on the documentary ‘Footprints of a strike’ (2011)

(Photography by Sai Kumar)

The lift door thuds shut into darkness. “Go on” the Wakefield miner shouts. Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 20.46.46With a jolt and a thud, the wheel mechanisms turn descending us deep into the earth. Stephan Oxley, turns his hat light o piercing the darkness. 900 feet down we go. We turn our lights on in response. I’m operating the video camera for a friend and colleague Sai Kumar, who is also taking the photography for this documentary. The lift seems to be descending relatively quickly as we see the variable earth levels like one of those diagrams they use in school showing the progress of soil to the earth’s core. The ducking and diving begins as we reach the bottom through narrow and low archways in pitch black all apart from our headlights and the occasional wall light, which seems ominous in such blackness.

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We are visiting the Wakefield Mining Museum to reflect on the infamous strikes, which began in 1984. The museum was an active mine and the employees were previously miners, who now provide the services of guide and experts mostly to school excursions.

 The further we ventured, the further it felt like an abolition from earth though really we were getting further into it. Stephan guides us through and says how the mine used to operate with various great drilling machines left abandoned, obsolete, yet formidable enough and are still able to break through anything in its path. The absence of light seems to be replaced by tremendous noise as he turns on the generator. In a bleak narrow path we almost have to crawl through he states, “there were 3 union boards, The NUM (National Union of Miners) was the biggest, but the problems started when some went back to work.” His words slightly echo in the narrow tunnel blindness, giving us a focus of sound barely without any vision.  “If we went for consultation, compromise with other unions, rather than conflict, I think we would have saved something of the industry.” “We burn about a million tons of coal per week, vast majority we now get in from abroad. It would only take 20-30 collieries to make that up. Of course supporting industries would also be kept employed.”

 

As we arrived that early morning the staffroom is full or numerous walls of Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 20.51.23keys, safety hats and a budgie. The budgie dying is an historical warning of escaping gas. Mick Green sits on the side of desk with his tea ready to put his point across.  “As for the strikes, our principles were that we were fighting for this country and when she dies, when Margret Thatcher dies, I’ve got a bottle whiskey here, and I’m going to have one good drink to celebrate that she’ll be burning somewhere. Evil horrible woman.” All the miners we interview seem to harbour strong feelings against Thatcher, though differ quite considerably when it comes to the unions of the strikes, and in particular Arthur Scargill. Mick continues, “Arthur Scargill is a fantastic brilliant bloke, the only thing wrong was that he didn’t have enough tact to deal with the Government. That’s why people didn’t like him.” This is in direct conflict with Davey Gerndt, a miner we later interview in a museum machine gallery. “There was too big a gulf between Scargill and Thatcher, but we’ve learnt after the unions members seems to have done alright after it all.”

Mick continues, “Thatcher taken out all our natural resources in export until it was gone, then we have to buy it from somewhere else. If we don’t buy locally it’s like taking the plug out. She ought to be done for treason.”  There did seem to be an intention to reduce the unions, which the Government perceived as too powerful. There were previous coal miner’s strikes though this time reserves were accumulated and a lot of home supplies were turning to gas and electric. Unions insisted that media slur campaigns were swaying public opinion. “People were persuaded it was also bad for the environment even though clean coal technology was invented yet brushed under the carpet. It was next to Grimethorpe colliery, it contained all the impurities then could recycle them for further use. Thatcher closed that just before we went on strike. 

Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 20.52.47Davey argues, “Looking back we shouldn’t have gone on strike. We got led into it quite falsely. I picketed as long as I could until I got banned from leaving my home due a police curfew, 12 hours per day I had to stay home… The unions didn’t do much for us either. We lost our houses, we got food hampers from the Russian Miners.” Part of the media slur campaign aligned Scargill with Russian and Libyan terrorist groups. Davey continues, “I got married just before the crisis, then my brother went back to work, I haven’t spoken to him since.” As they think back to memories of that time they talk sombrely in decreasing tones as if in mourning for the things that have passed. My colleague Sai asks him what should they have done looking back? “We should have had a work to rule. But Scargill has done all right hasn’t he. He got paid throughout the strike and now lives in a rich area of London. Bitter pill to swallow.” The division between the miners of what happened and what should have happened is still evident though it is obvious that it was a bleak time of hardship. “I once got arrested 23 times in a week, charged with nothing… What would I change? Well, it’s easy to look back, I know.” Davey finishes.  

Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 20.28.26With Stephan leading, we reach the end of the tunnels when the miners stopped digging all those years ago. We can see the coal in front and the wooden supports in place ready to venture forward. He gives me a piece of coal to take home. I found it strangely fascinating even though I’ve touched coal on the surface before. I said to Stephan that I was already forgetting about sunlight. “Yeah, its kind of peaceful isn’t it.” After a while it did feel like the sun was never going to be seen again, or down here you would never have known that it existed. A strange peace.

 

 

 

 

 

All At Sea

All at Sea – by Russell Whitehead
..

The archboard with fading words ‘Felicia’ adrift in the darkening sea without a notice of land. The small fishing vessel has seen its age in all waters with weathered encrusted barnacles smothering it’s bow. Faded red paint flaking with each voyage as the stern takes beatings against forbidding sea pressures. The crashing of the waves repeatedly thunder under familiar ears. Crushing sways in strenuous motions wherehence the tide drifts.

A great figure, stern at the afore draped in a strong dark green coat, twice his size. His wide over aged eyes, light blue, stare towards the infinite ceasless horizon. His face has the strength of a sea bearer. the spray embraces his tough skin though welcomes it. Nothing can faze this deeply carved barrier which has fought long seasons untamed, hardened indestructible. The apparent wind whirls through the vessel calling it’s ghostly continuous chant knocking his white long hair against his whiter beard. Yet his coat hood remains in place. Only does it stay in place through years of attempt made rigid, unmovable until tide over. His hands are as large as sandpapered clubs, stronger than the helm it keeps steady. He’s fought these moments throughout life, searching hard and fast. Never has he searched for aslyum harbour or yeilded much time among land for seeds to be sown. “Hold avast” Breathing shallow, sighing wearily as he does on land following as the crows fly. Land is to him is too much, unforboding, ceaselessly still, unpredictable.

In the helm there are others remaining in shadows shilloetted against dim lights. Fishing nets hang empty, planks lie worn trodden. Compasses swoon, radars flicker. Some peer back from where they came as if in secret between the devil and the deep blue sea.

There is a younger weathered face further at the fore peering over into the dark black blue. Excesses of white ferocious froth. Innocent eyes that are lighter than the other giant figure that almost over shadows anything fore. His slight hands grasp the edge of the ship less securely, often slipping with wet trepidation. His facial stubble is the dark of his hindesight, his hood often falling revealing his full brown wavey head of hair. The younger constantly forbodes the mal del mer* which is not only from rough tides thrown. He is helpless, eyes staring into the infinitely weighted existence caressing it’s power with tides fluttered, tsunamis thrown.

The stars are breaking through the clearing. Constellations that sea bearers live and desist by, pin holes in black, mirrored by melting erratic reflections below.

*mal de mer – seasickness

Alone

From childhood’s hour I have not been
As others were; I have not seen
As others saw; I could not bring
My passions from a common spring.
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow; I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone;
And all I loved, I loved alone.
Then- in my childhood, in the dawn
Of a most stormy life- was drawn
From every depth of good and ill
The mystery which binds me still:
From the torrent, or the fountain,
From the red cliff of the mountain,
From the sun that round me rolled
In its autumn tint of gold,
From the lightning in the sky
As it passed me flying by,
From the thunder and the storm,
And the cloud that took the form
(When the rest of Heaven was blue)
Of a demon in my view.                              Edgar Allan Poe