Dear Alcohol,

Posted: January 3, 2018 in Uncategorized

You pander for my attention after all this time – and lo! You have it. But I’ve rewritten the terms of our engagement. How now can I forget all those erroneous moments in time, when we held each other tight, carousing through the night like demagogues, talking night into day at a swig, and day into night at another? You were the luminous stars I held in my hand and the raging fire in my gut, as I spluttered in the sewer, and reached for another.

It’s true, when I’m lonesome I think of you still, for a troubled moment or two. And I’ll ask, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we could dance again?” But everything’s been stripped bare now. The chasm that you used to fill, is no longer there for you. Times are a changin’. I’m stepping up, claiming me. Filling the spaces with particles of beautiful reality. Watch the show, you’ll see. I’m reaching for the light, and the darkness of negation you seduced and smothered me with no longer serves this holy plight.

Alcohol, you hurt me so. Yet you always said, “Here I am, join with me, let’s run from the hurt and the rules – rules are for bending, or protesting against. We can turn the world upside down.” If only. What a horrible world this can be; perfectly horrible people running amok, seemingly running the show. But we’re not going to make it better in flight, or salvage a scintilla of reason and peace from this unholy mess in desertion of duty. Best to know one’s ground, then hold it, then fight the good fight. So I shall fight, and burnish the light of this life I have. It’s all I have and all I’ll ever have. My light, kindled by God’s.

But I thank you for our many engagements. It was er… An education. Yes I learnt things. About illusions, chasing shadows and chasing my own tail. Sometimes we get to know the substance through the shadow. The reality through the multitudinous dissimulations. What ‘is’ is all that remains when all that is not has been rendered transparent to sight. You have taught me that there is only spirit that can fill this vessel and make me truly Me. God’s indwelling Spirit and Presence in my thoughts and feelings, words and deeds.

Yours sincerely,

StephenBottle Trash Dump Garbage Waste Ecology Recycling

#thedemondrink #fillingthevoid #thegoodfight #realityinnegation #groundofbeing #spiritofgod


Reconnecting to life as it is

Posted: September 21, 2017 in Uncategorized


Sun above clouds

Life as it really, REALLY is – the bigger, veridical picture as it were – is liable not to be emphatically evident in how things appear. Appearances very often contrive to deceive and distort our sense of how things actually are. Obscured by clouds, the sun is lost in sight for a time, its warmth on our skin diminished temporarily. But of course the sun’s existence and power is no less real, its life-giving rays no less certain. Everyday, I am reluctantly obliged – as a denizen of planet Earth – to confront and resist and sometimes fight hostile misrepresentations of what is the case: narratives to do with identity and possibility. And what is at stake in this is all that really matters: my ability to register and realise my truest and (w)holiest revelations pertaining to my place in the world. Ultimately, we alone are the guardians of our reality – of who we are, why we are here and what is deeply resonant and meaningful for us. And in all that we choose to say and think and do – we reify or occlude the centrifugal sun at the heart of our living truth.

#biggerpicture #reality #appearances #deception #identity #possibility

The Tale of Father Brook

Posted: September 10, 2017 in Uncategorized

I shall never forget a sermon I once listened to, delivered by the enigmatic Father Brook at St. Mary-on-the-Quay in Bristol. As sermons go, it was a little out of the ordinary I suppose – no direct quotations from the Bible for example. But for me, it did just what a sermon should do – it spoke, clearly and directly, to the spirit of humanity in the minds and hearts of those assembled. Father Brook then – over twenty years ago now – was an old man, around eighty I guess, but very lucid, affable, witty, and grounded in the best sense of the word.

The sermon took the form of an informal and rather amusing anecdote. Father Brook related how he had received a telephone call from a woman, a regular parishioner, who had called to complain that a particular Service had not been held when scheduled. Apparently she had turned up only to find the church door locked. The complaint then broadened, or perhaps degenerated, into a more general tirade and lament about how things weren’t working properly and standards were slipping.

“She was very angry!”

Father Brook let those words linger a resonating moment. Then he told how – when he could get a word in edgeways – he then calmly informed the woman that the Service in question had in fact taken place, but not at the time she had been expecting. It turns out the woman had simply misread or muddled the Service times.

One has to read between the lines for this homily to be appreciated. Father Brook was addressing the subject of anger, and the readiness of many to express this emotion in the absence of all relevant facts pertaining to the perceived ‘wrong’ at the root of that anger. The way in which this woman’s anger then grew into a more general angriness is also illuminating; anger is liable to spread like wildfire, with situations soon spiralling out of control and descending into disorder and acrimony. There is also a nod toward our more general sensibility today – in a consumerist milieu, we are encouraged in our impatience and want things NOW! Instant gratification; instant justice; instant retribution. We have become lazy and complacent, and when things don’t work out as planned, we are often far too quick to point the finger of blame. I think we also live in a milieu in which the tabloid news media encourages gratuitous angriness – scapegoating ‘easy targets’ for blame: the unemployed, disabled, immigrants, Muslims, single mothers, etcetera. But the moral outrage so incited, is in fact the real outrage. There are so many people angry today, about things they barely understand. Anger is addictive too – perhaps in the midst of a verbal tirade life suddenly seems meaningful again, as we imagine we’re setting the world’s wrongs to right.


My own father, with whom I attended that Mass, looked blank and uncomprehending throughout. At its conclusion he repeated the same words he uttered prior to it: “Mind, he gives sermons like I’ve never heard before.”

#anger #homily #consumerism #quickfix #massmedia #tabloids #moraloutrage #addiction #scapegoating


This is a taut and edgy murder-mystery which had me fastened to my seat – alternately wincing, furrowing a perplexed brow and blithely speculating – right up until the final ‘Screw you!’ denouement. It’s a whodunnit? of sorts, only for much of the film the chief suspect is our central character, Rachel Watson (Emily Blunt), who we’re also supposed to be empathising with. Indeed, Rachel isn’t entirely sure she isn’t responsible, given her alcohol blackouts and feelings of ire towards the, initially missing person, then murder victim. On top of that, she can’t explain the bloodied and bruised state she awakes to one morning. On one level the film works as an engrossing suspense-thriller, but it also addresses and explores themes of alcoholism, trauma and loss, deceit and infidelity. Finally, it’s about redemption and renewal in truth and justice.

Rachel commutes into Manhattan by train, wandering hither and thither like a lost soul – she is – invariably inebriated, and then commuting back to her shared flat in the evening. This has been her life for about one year since she lost her job and her marriage hit the rocks due to her sterility and then husband’s (Tom Watson; Justin Theroux) infidelity. Every day she peers out from the train window – at one house in particular where, in her mind, the ideal couple reside, apparently hopelessly in love. She’s obsessed by the couple because they represent something she thought she had but lost and still yearns for. Until one day, to her dismay, she sees the woman on her balcony apparently in a passionate embrace with another man. This perturbs her greatly, believing that the woman is recklessly destroying a very precious marriage. From here on in, things get very murky and convoluted. It turns out that the woman on the balcony is Megan (Haley Bennett), nanny to Rachel’s divorced husband’s child with his new wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson). Then, Megan goes missing and suspicion falls on Rachel because she was seen in the vicinity on the night in question. Megan’s husband Scott (Luke Evans) however, is volatile and violent, but has alibis for that night. I could go on, but I’m not going to spoil it for whoever happens to be reading this.

Suffice to say, the plot twists serpentine and turns at perpendicular angles. Rachel’s investigations, motivated by her desire to prove her innocence as well as her personal feelings, and aided in no small measure by the return of veridical memories due to alcohol abstinence, drive tawdry and sinister truths to the surface. I must say, Emily Blunt delivers a mesmeric performance as a pitiable, alcohol-drenched unfortunate. This was a characterisation, along with its contextual narrative lineaments, that was of particular interest to me. I believe that extreme alcoholism as is portrayed here doesn’t just happen because of a faulty gene or some mysterious allergy. Behind the outward manifestations of addiction and irrational and self-destructive behaviour, there is inevitably some unresolved psycho-emotional disturbance. And truth and coming to terms with the truth is always the light at the end of the tunnel.




Stephen J. Oram: 19th November, 2016

Friday Night

Posted: April 5, 2015 in Uncategorized

The scene creeps in so slow,
Like a reluctant fog,
Now the reckoning and woe.
Desperate measures,
As the sleepy village of this mind
Comes alive in ice cold sun.
The darling of savage grace,
Wallowing in his pathos,
Bellowing for his bride.
Next time Mr. Moonshine,
It’ll all be fine…
Eating away the hours,
And rescued for a plunder,
Kiss curl hanging dear,
Welcoming smile so near –
‘Forget me not,
In your Byzantine perambulations.’
Black the scream,
At the Edenic apple seen,
So she told –
Oh pure bizarro gold.
Maybe then I need more,
Than just a little grace and understanding,
If I’m to make this endless mile,
Touch that vaunted smile.
Solitary confinement now,
Eking out the milliseconds,
The shame and the strain:
And loving you,
More than can be true.
And hoping beyond hope.



This poem was written in the aftermath of one of my infamous and decidedly dangerous drinking binges. It went on for about ten days – about usual, and started on a Friday night. I was feeling very, very sorry for myself – I’d just turned 45 (I’m now officially middle-aged) and was contemplating my great love interest of the past six months or so, who I’d been in close and intense communication with: she’d severed all lines of communication with me…

Maybe it was the right thing to do. But all those many times she’d assured me she loved me. And the many times I’d told her I loved her – she was the first woman I’d said those words to. Didn’t our words mean anything anymore? Was it all make believe? We didn’t even make it to a face-to-face meeting – she would find excuses from somewhere to put it off. For a time I was the beloved, her twin flame – we talked of having a child and living together in blissful concubinage. But towards the end, I had morphed into a ‘pitiful wretch’, and a lying, vicious misogynistic bastard to boot. I was the Serpent in her Garden of Eden, and she wasted little time in conveying to all and sundry just how bad and sad I was. Yet she seemed blind to the things she’d said and done which really hurt me, and blind to her double standards. But I was willing to work through these things with her – our shortcomings, our mistakes, our skeletons in the closet – such was the esteem I held her in. Then I was expunged from her life just like that – all lines of communication severed. How could she do that after all that time? After all the emotional and psychical investments we’d made? All the dreams we’d woven? We’d declared our love for one another many times. Was it all just make believe? Were we just in love with the ideal of love, hastily fastening that ideal to one another until reality ruptured the mutual fantasy? Perhaps, but when have there been roses without thorns? Isn’t there always a price to pay for love? I thought she knew that, had accounted for it. I still believe I love something essential I beheld in her. But I’m falling into a perennial trap – blaming the other for the breakup. I was guilty of much. Said things that should never have been said. Relationships require constant tenderness and this can only come from being and staying in empathy.

Anyway, such was my mental perturbation and downheartedness as I set about a second bottle of wine that Friday evening. Things could have been a lot worse that night. But whether it was mere coincidence or something more – like synchronicity – a stranger turned up out of the blue and befriended me. I was made to feel someone again, plus I was introduced to Joni Mitchell – singer, songwriter, and poet extraordinaire. Despite this, I continued drinking hard for the next few days. I’ve had a self-destruct button for as long as I can remember. Perhaps I’m just addicted to pain? Or taking things to the brink? Things go wrong, or not according to plan or what I’d hoped for, and I feel that I have to make it that much more worse. And then of course I feel ashamed and at loggerheads with myself.

© Stephen. J. Oram

Knowledge is power; power tends to corrupt.

As the General Election approaches you might do worse than to ask where your preferred party or candidate stands in relation to the ubiquitous surveillance that now pervades UK society – a lot worse in my view. Indeed, perhaps you should ask yourself where you stand on the subject of surveillance and Big Brother. There are more CCTV cameras per square mile in the UK than any other nation on earth. And evidence is mounting sky-high that the comforting notion that ‘If you’ve done nothing wrong you’ve nothing to fear’ is and has been for some time a fanciful fiction. Today, the extensive powers of surveillance (enabled through cutting-edge sophisticated technology) at the disposal of the police and security agencies, are – as the near continual stream of stories in the news media indicate – being routinely abused, or at least being used for purposes other than those many would like to believe. There may be legislation in place which is supposed to curb the abuse of these powers, but it’s clearly not being enforced properly. There should be stringent and effective checks and controls on the use of surveillance powers – for example the surveillance of individuals’ internet usage – but there aren’t quite simply. Legislation is fine, but what if there’s an agenda that you and I are not supposed to know about to allow certain individuals to operate in breach of that legislation with impunity? I do believe that this is the case, and I can assure you I am not a rabid conspiracy theory enthusiast.

In truth, what is happening – and it’s pretty much what Orwell feared and prognosticated – is that these powers are being routinely employed to keep tabs on and stymie the activities and aspirations of individuals and groups exercising their lawful and perfectly legitimate rights and freedoms, but who happen to be regarded as ‘a problem’ for the vested controlling interests of other members of society who want to protect their privileges, power and influence. Usually, what it boils down to is that the interests of those invested with social authority and power, who are either extremely wealthy or in the pay of the very wealthy, trump the interests of people like me – the hoi polloi, the great unwashed. The police are paid first and foremost to serve a wealthy controlling elite and their state apparatus (see The Socialist Worker ‘Police serve the state and the rich’), some would say. Unruly, that is to say enlightened, members of the hoi polloi are smeared as ‘subversive’ and surveillance in its now manifold forms is being used as a weapon to quell the possibility of widespread social consciousness breaking out. You are really in danger today of being pigeonholed as subversive for simply being involved in honest social activism. But the freedom to protest and be involved in such activities is what people died and fought for in two world wars.

People are being spied on for wholly the wrong reasons. Three examples, off the top of my head,  come to mind. The family of Stephen Lawrence, the murdered black teenager, were spied on for years because the police were obsessed with finding reasons to discredit the family so as to deflect attention away from the inadequacy of the original investigation into Stephen’s murder. Sukhdev Reel, mother of Ricky Reel, who died in mysterious circumstances on October 15, 1997, was shocked to discover that she had been spied on by undercover police for years, simply because she had campaigned for a proper investigation into her son’s death and was vocal in her criticism of the original investigation. Seventeen other families running ‘justice campaigns’, including the family of Jean Charles de Menezes, were also monitored by undercover police. And it’s routine for undercover police to try and infiltrate and sabotage activist/protest groups regarded as ‘subversive’ (see for example The Guardian (Jan 20, 2012) ‘Disclosure likely to intensify controversy over long-running police operation to infiltrate and sabotage protest group’s’). The fact that a number of these undercover police proceeded to have long-term intimate relationships with – even having children with, female activists involved in these groups before disappearing from their lives, reveals the base mentality and appalling lack of moral probity of the individuals involved in these operations. These few examples I’ve provided here only scratch the surface of what is going on today, right now.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against the use of all surveillance powers per se – of course, when used properly and responsibly they can be a great aid in crime prevention and in bringing the perpetrators of crime to justice. I’m just acutely aware (unfortunately I’m drawing on personal experience here in part) that unless there are very rigorous checks and controls, these powers are going to be misused in a society in which all too often ‘might is right’ prevails. Just two Sundays ago I noted the presence of an individual (who I very much suspect was an undercover cop) standing and watching intently from across the road, for at least an hour, whilst three 38 Degrees activists sought signatures from members of the public for an anti-TTIP petition. Was he trying to intimidate? Perhaps he was watching closely for an excuse to move them on? I can only conjecture. And I cannot say that he was an undercover policeman (I would have asked him, but I don’t think he would have appreciated that). But for me, he might as well have been wearing a badge saying TTIP policeman. That’s kind of the point of here, because once the police begin privileging the interests of certain individuals and groups over others, it is no longer a truly public service – it has become a mercenary, purchasable ancillary for the socially powerful. Such is the path to tyranny. Here are some sobering and scary surveillance related facts worth reflecting on*:

  • Of the nearly 3 million surveillance decisions taken by public bodies under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act since 2000, fewer than 0.5% were approved by a judge.
  • The scale of CCTV use in Britain is so unclear estimates of the number of cameras range from 1.8 million to 4.2 million.
  • “The CCTV schemes that have been assessed had little overall effect on crime levels.” Home Office research, 2005.
  • During the 1990s the Home Office spent 78% of its crime prevention budget on installing CCTV.
  • Since 1998 the surveillance of communications in the UK has more than trebled.
  • At least 243 Police Officers and staff received criminal convictions for breaching the Data Protection Act between 2007 and 2010.
  • 19, 551 people have successfully challenged the information disclosed by a CRB check since 2003.
  • 370,000 records from the Police National Computer, Prison records and Drug Interventions programme were lost on a single memory stick by Home Office consultants in 2008.
  • “There is information on the Consulting Association files that I believe could only be supplied by the police or security services.” David Clancy, investigations manager at the ICO, speaking about an alleged construction industry ‘blacklist’, March 2012.
  • The Data Retention and Investigative Powers Act (DRIP) was rushed through Parliament in 2014 and grants broad surveillance powers ruled unlawful by the European Court of Justice (ECO).

* Most of these stats are now a little dated, but I can assure you things have worsened since 2012.

Main source for factual data:


“To thine own self be true; and as sure as night follows day, thou canst not then be false to any man.” ~ William Shakespeare

Last year I attended an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and listened intently as the member delivering their share (the share is the focal point of these meetings, it’s where a seasoned AA member recounts how alcohol addiction affected their lives – usually harrowing listening, and how through engaging with AA and working diligently through the twelve-step programme for recovery their life has been transformed) earnestly admonished, “You are only as sick as your secrets.” I was intrigued by this statement and soon thereafter discovered that it was tantamount to an article of faith in the AA canon, reflecting the rigorous honesty and self-exposition which is considered integral to the success of the twelve-steps and a successful life beyond recovery – life imbued with meaning, purpose and a real sense of achievement. Subsequently, I resolved to spend some time reflecting on the truth of this revered admonition; here then, are some of those reflections.

What does it really mean to be sick? Sick, that is, in the heart and mind – the soul. That sickness, I believe, is inevitable when the finest expressions of the soul are bound, twisted and gagged; when our luminosities are blighted by the tears and scars of their obfuscation and distorted guises. There’s a pandemic of this kind of sickness, and it began with the history of humankind. Knowing and pursuing what we really or most desire has always been fraught with difficulty, not least with regard to who and how we shall be. Yet, this question of who and how we shall be is central to our lives, and clearly, if we are to succeed in fulfilling our desires pertaining to potential identity and being, we must be open and honest with ourselves. Many people are like closed books, not just to others but to themselves – pages unread for fear of understanding or trying to understand; other pages are read, and the book abruptly closed again, the information encountered secreted away into a dark corner of the mind. It is secreted away thus, because it hurts – perhaps because challenges who and how we think we are, or our present outlook or worldview, or our present mode of existence. Yet if we secret away information like this – refusing to hold it up to the light of reasoned analysis and evaluation – we obscure who and how we really are, and the meanings and values we really hold. How then are we to know and pursue our true desire and expression? And how are we to be authentic in our relations with others and in the world at large? We will be burdened with having to wear counterfeit guises – disguises – through which others can relate to us only partially and inadequately. How then can we love and be loved?

The soul desires above all to love and be loved. In the folds of love in its variegated forms, the soul finds its succour and exaltation. But love must have an object, a reality to behold and enfold; marriages breakdown, careers crumble and lives falter because secrets and lies (alternate sides of the same coin) are exposed which reveal a reality inimical to the one in which love sought to root and grow. And yet, we can feel tempted to secret and misrepresent reality because of our overwhelming desire to be loved. When we misrepresent reality and truth however we are obliged to act and order our affairs in such a way that those misrepresentations are perceived as veracious reality by others; in the endeavour to protect an original concealment and hence misrepresentation, we can end up having to live its falsity burdened with having to conjure a myriad of buttressing distortions: otherwise known as having to ‘live a lie’. This is liable to foster chronic anxiety because we are continually in fear of the truth coming to light and the consequent withdrawal of love, and liable also to foster a sullying sense of guilt and shame because we cannot help but be continually reminded that we are betraying the trust implicit in the love and acceptance others are investing in us and the manufactured reality in which we have situated ourselves in their eyes.

There was an interview on the radio recently with a young man who had been addicted to viewing internet pornography. Whilst subsumed in this addiction, he kept its reality under wraps, but constantly lived in fear that it would be discovered. And he felt guilty, ashamed and diffident because the persona he continually presented to others, a persona which he really wanted to believe in himself, was at odds with how he really felt about and saw himself. His communicative engagements with others and pursuits and activities more generally were marred and diminished by the schism in his consciousness pertaining to self-identity. His addiction belonged to an identity with which he wasn’t comfortable with and dared not disclose to others: he was nurturing and protecting, albeit misgivingly, a Mr. Hyde. His perception of women in particular was schismatic – on the one hand viewing them as sexual objects void of any real humanity, and on the other as complete human beings on an equal footing with himself. Resolution came about for this young man through rigorously honest self-examination; he had to be clearer about the organic loving contexts in which meaningful and fulfilling sexual expression takes place. His addiction was a substitute for genuine human engagement, and as a consequence he felt unable to love or be loved. Honesty and openness with himself opened the door to honesty and openness with others – as evinced by his talking on public radio; I think overcoming our inhibitions and fears to share and talk about our inner conflicts encourages the process of catharsis through which we are able to identify our organic needs and expressions. As something of a meaningful aside, according to research 80% of internet activity is porn related – I wonder what percentage of that monumental mass of individuals is openly honest about its viewing activities?

I think it’s critically important that we interrogate our motivations for our secrets. There are, I believe, times when concealment serves the greater good – one can speak of ‘white’ lies, and secrets can be viewed in that light too. Again, whether or not a secret is justified depends on our motivation and the outcome sought. As a matter of common sense, we know for example that there are appropriate and inappropriate times to disclose certain facts and truths to others – timing is an important consideration, because we must be mindful of the effect the information disclosed is likely to have. Will the recipient of that information properly understand its significance? Children, for example, are generally taught the facts of life pertaining to procreation only when they’re ready and able to digest that information. Always, we should consider the contexts around what we communicate. What we choose to disclose to the less understanding and morally compromised, may come back to bite us. If you won a large amount of money, for example, wouldn’t you be circumspect in whom, how and when you chose to disclose that to others? We belong to a broken world, a world in which it is too often necessary, as a pragmatic matter of self-preservation, to veil our true thoughts, feelings and circumstances. And then there is the delicate matter of how we feel about revealing certain matters pertaining to us and our lives. I met a lovely lady recently who used to attend AA meetings; she was eventually persuaded to give a share, but told me that she felt very exposed and uncomfortable in this. I can certainly understand and relate to that; I believe that there is a sense of when and with whom it is propitious to share information with others; in a sense I’m repeating the previous point made, but here the emphasis is on our sensitive and subjective feelings about other people. There are things that I would prefer not to share with many people, not because I fear any immediate deleterious consequences but because I simply don’t feel it’s right and proper that I open a window onto my soul for others who haven’t earned my trust and respect. It’s perfectly natural and normal however to want to share the nature of our very particular journey through life with those with whom we’ve established a strong empathetic bond.

Despite the inhumanity that exists in the world, and consequently the mistrust and suspicion of our fellow brothers and sisters, there is an innate desire to want to believe in our humanity and in this place our trust in others. It doesn’t matter how many times we are lied to, kept in the dark about the true motivations and purposes of others, and betrayed, there is a yearning to behold a common humanity we can trust in that will never go away. If we cannot believe and trust in the good that exists, however obfuscated and repressed, in the human soul, how can we trust in ourselves? How can we trust in love or a universe that is loving? Does life itself secret away its true meaning from us? So, if we are to believe in a common humanity – and I believe we have no real choice in this, for to believe otherwise entails that nothing in life, including life itself, makes sense, and this is an untenable and impossible position for us to adopt – we have but one choice: do we fulfill our humanity, or participate in its negation? The answer should be obvious, and we start by opening our minds and hearts to the reality of all that we are, uncomfortable though that can be: to lie to and secret the truth from ourselves is to participate in our negation, and ultimately humanity’s. If we are not honest and open with ourselves, how can we be with others? And how can others know us as we are, and where they stand with us, if we don’t know ourselves? Who we really are and desire to be is veiled behind all the misrepresenting narratives that we tell ourselves about ourselves and the world, narratives that construct a false persona in order to confirm the veracity of what is not, a persona which we can mistakenly believe in however, and enlist the aid of others to confirm this mistake; as secrets to ourselves, we are certainly sick.

If we are to flourish and flower we must continually learn and grow through a deepening engagement with the lived – our experiential journey. There is always the temptation to stymie our progression in this through repressing and suppressing those experiences and the narrative structures they invoke, which challenge the veracity and coherence of our existing structures of understanding. It’s par the journey to encounter structures of understanding we find difficult to integrate into the matrix of our current beliefs, values, feelings, attitudes, expectations and investments in life. It can be daunting and disorientating when we have to confront narratives of knowing which implicitly or explicitly challenge and undermine our existing structures. ‘I’m an alcoholic/drug addict’; ‘My marriage is on the rocks’; ‘The career I’ve been pursuing for years is the wrong one’; ‘The policies of the political party I’ve supported for years are fundamentally at odds with my core beliefs and values’; ‘My long-held conception of God conflicts with the truths implicit in what I have experienced’ – these thoughts posit truths that we probably feel a desire to repress and suppress – secret away into a dark corner of the mind, because to accept them often entails a fundamental overhaul of our structures of understanding, and the lives we have constructed and known around them. But if we choose to believe flowers grow where choking weeds reside, we renounce what is most integral to our humanity – the ability to respond mindfully to the lived. The more we propagate weeds conceiving them as flowers, the deeper we sink into a netherworld of denial and illusion, becoming progressively more enmeshed in and betrothed to a life that is counterfeit. To live mindfully is also to live authentically, being fully present in the world; only in this authenticity of presence can the world be made authentically, fully present for us; in an open and honest communion with the lived we are emancipated to be all that we can be.

© Steven J. Oram


I look backwards, because I want to look forwards

I look backwards, because I desire to look forwards

1. Palestine was finally recognised, officially, as an independent state by the United Nations. Long overdue of course, but perhaps here is hope. Because this recognition is really the recognition of a people’s sovereignty, and the rights and freedoms that that signifies. But this recognition has yet to translate into meaningful action, so now, in 2013, we should renew our commitment to the rights and freedoms of the Palestinians, and all oppressed peoples.
2. The austerity agenda. Many remain sceptical, to say the least, about the need for the severe austerity measures, certainly in terms of how they’re being implemented and who they’re targeting. The UK government’s mantra of ‘We’re all in this together’ is obviously a damned lie, and that’s the all-important clue which reveals the Machiavellian interests at the heart of this agenda. I think the whole austerity narrative is a contrivance which the government is using, on behalf of the plutocratic elite they truly represent, to restructure society ideologically and really: it’s about facilitating greater top-down control and pooling yet more power in the hands of a domineering few. But, if their ultimate end is to be achieved, they must win the battle for minds – and they’re not winning. Despite a largely soporous and cahooting mainstream media, Net based campaigning organizations like UK Uncut, and Net based sources of analysis and opinion are steering more and more minds towards the truth. I feel that something’s going to give – is it revolution in the air?
3. The success of Net based campaigning organizations. Net based campaigning organizations such as Avaaz, 38 Degrees and were instrumental in some real successes for people power in 2012: the recognition of Palestine as the world’s 194th state; pressurising the Pakistani government to introduce a stipend programme for 3 million children to ensure that boys and girls receive a proper education; persuading the UK government to backtrack on plans to sell-off public forestry into private hands; helping to stymie legislation that would severely circumscribe Internet freedoms and transform the Net from a tool for personal emancipation and democratic engagement into one which primarily serves a corporate capitalist agenda; the list goes on… Naturally, many politicians are none too happy about these new platforms for exercising a real democratic voice: a fantastic reason to get involved if ever there was one! For too long we’ve been fobbed off with the fable that our governmental systems are democratic – but when election time shambles round the choice is overwhelmingly a choice between rhetorics rather than anything substantial. It’s a clever ruse, this so-called representative democracy; in truth it’s a cunning system that ensures the continued hegemony of plutocratic top-down control, and the last thing that feral elite wants is the proliferation of real democracy. So perhaps the most important service these campaigning organizations provide is their power to facilitate reflection on and participation with things that really matter – and in this foster the real spirit of democracy. Which, needless to say, bodes well – so long as the Internet remains free from repressive political interference.
4. The Hillsborough disaster. At last! The official recognition that families, friends and campaigners fought so long and hard for: behind an obfuscation of lies and clandestine collusion, 96 gross miscarriages of justice ensued. Through 2012 and in recent years there has been a steady stream of exposés revealing the corruption that exists amongst those very people and in those very places that many might not have believed possible. Comforting as it may be for many to believe that those who attain positions of seniority in our institutions somehow stand atop metaphoric moral pedestals, society is not served if the truth is repressed. So in one sense the various unpalatable revelations of recent times might be made to work for the good, if they serve as a reality check and a call to action. There is, in my opinion, quite a discrepancy between how our institutions work in theory, and how they work in practice, and the morally and spiritually wayward all too easily find opportunities to abuse their positions of authority. I want the workings of our institutions made much more transparent, and more efficacious procedures for being held to account by the citizenry. For the Hillsborough victims, the fight for justice is not yet over: let’s hope and pray that the new inquest in 2013 points fingers of blame in the right directions.
5. Iceland. Noteworthy events have been taking place in Iceland in recent times. In the aftermath of the country’s financial crisis in 2008, unorthodox measures were adopted. Members of the banking elite were held to account and jailed, and the ordinary Icelander – not of course responsible for the crisis – was insulated: education, health, social security and policing all being shielded from spending cuts. The focus was on increasing consumption. Now, the Icelandic economy is growing at a pace whilst the eurozone’s is stagnant or shrinking. And on October 20, 2012 the country provided the world with a lesson in democracy when a referendum was held on a bill formulated by its Constitutional Council (its members being elected by the people); voters approved amendments that would mean the country’s constitution would be redefined by the people. If the bill is passed by the Icelandic parliament in 2013, some of the constitutional changes would mean: the votes of the electorate would have equal weighting; a specific proportion of the electorate could call for a national referendum on a specific matter. The bill should be ratified by the country’s parliament in 2013 (there’ll be uproar if it isn’t). All this may well be news to you, because the mainstream media in this country and elsewhere doesn’t exactly spotlight matters pertaining to genuine democratic reform. Real democracy is achievable, especially in the age of the Internet, and Iceland is paving the way.
6. George Galloway, expelled from the Labour Party in 2003 for calling Tony Blair a liar, was elected to parliament as Respect MP for Bradford West. This is the situation we’ve arrived at – any politician belonging to one of three mainstream parties is liable to be expelled if he/she tells it as it is. I’ve long admired George Galloway, and believe that he is one of the few politicians who speaks the truth: says what he means, means what he says. Although I’m a member of the Green Party, I recognise that Galloway’s Respect party is genuinely socialist and progressive – ‘Respect’ is an acronym and stands for Respect, Equality, Socialism, Peace, Environmentalism, Community and Trade unionism. Despite the differences in rhetoric, all three mainstream political parties in England – Conservative, Lib Dem and Labour – advocate the neoliberalist corporate-capitalist agenda. And the continued destruction of society and the environment is assured by this blinkered and benighted agenda. Humanity cannot be understood, celebrated and supported, when looked at through the distorting lens of capital accumulation and the attempted commodification of all that there is. I really hope that in 2013 and beyond more and more people recognise that what is urgently required right now is a renewal of the democratic socialist spirit, translated into 21st century forms of democratic socialism. I think it’s going to happen!
7. My home town of Bristol chose independents for its positions of City Mayor and Police and Crime Commissioner; George Ferguson, now City Mayor, then chose a Green Party councillor, Gus Hoyt, to be in charge of environment and communities in his three member cabinet. Although I, along with the Green Party (I’m a member), think city mayors are in general not to be recommended, the fact that Bristol and other places in the UK chose independents demonstrates I think that people are eager to have new and more faces on the political stage, faces not circumscribed by the three mainstream parties. This is good news because the problem as I see it is that the three main parties are all tethered to neoliberalism, which is the real problem – the straitjacket we need to wriggle free from. I wish George well for 2013, and if Gus Hoyt can deliver in his position, it will be great for raising the profile and standing of the Green Party.
8. I finally switched my energy supplier from one of the UK’s Big Six (corrupt cartel!), to a greener supplier (Ecotricity; other greener energy suppliers are available), and I switched my bank from Barclays to The Co-operative (much more ethical).Oh, and I’m recycling a lot more. We can all do our bit, and it all adds up to real change: ‘Be the change you want to see’, Gandhi said. I aim to use ethical trading outlets much more in 2013.
9. The world’s still spinning, despite the supposed doomsday Mayan predictions for 2012; I’m still here, and if you’re reading this you’re still here. Well, that’s a good start. 2013: bring it on!
10. ‘Hmmm. Number ten, what shall it be?’ I pondered. Nothing immediately came to mind; but then, a sudden shaft of illumination: the unquantifiable good happenings that occurred every day in 2012. Good happenings are manifested every day and every moment, by people who will probably never hit the news headlines. And it’s the good happenings that people manifest in everyday life, that really makes the difference. But good happenings don’t just happen arbitrarily. It’s the people who hold a light to their souls through mindfulness, and see the sufferings and confusions in the world abiding there, these are the people who can make the difference. Only when we are truly present to ourselves, are we truly present in the world as the miraculous creations that we are. And the greatest gift we can offer to the world and ourselves, is all that we are.

Over the wall…

Posted: September 18, 2012 in Uncategorized
Longing for life more luminous,
        With manumitted vistas to reconnoitre and vivify,
        I turn for home.
Over the walls that divide,
        Us from ourselves,
        And one another,
        Occluding the stars we are,
        Burning resplendent.

Home - beyond the tear-stained streets,
        Trembling under a canopy of blighted stars,
        And the neighbourhoods at watch,
        Guarding no-fly zones green-eyed,
        And Meccano homes where covert wars rage,
        For the coveted prize,
        Of the mephitic upper hand.
A cacophony of deranging countenances,
Agglomerate before me,
        Clamouring for my diversion and duress,
        Disavowing all transcending visions, 
        Of what might be.
But they are bricks in the wall, 
        Of their own darkening denial,
        Triturating before my unwavering gaze.
And at last: my beloved Arcady!
        Where Love is no foreigner,
        And the font of being springs pure and clear,
        Ah! The peals of laughter – do you hear?
        Echo to the breaking dawn:

Dedicated to Matthew, who sadly died of an overdose in August 2012, aged 32. RIP.

Matt was a mate who lived a few doors down from me. In retrospect it was inevitable we’d meet and get to know one another sooner or later because of our dipsomaniacal cravings, and because, well, he was around and so was I. As a character he was refulgent and beguilingly endearing – but alas, he was a blighted star. Never entirely blighted though – even when he was three sheets to the wind his playful and whimsical nature still murmured. There was something of the sun about Matt, though in truth he was more a creature of the night. Imagine a wayward Peter Pan – Peter Pan with issues and rampant cravings, and you’ll have some idea of Matt. It seems time kind of froze for him at about the age of fifteen or so, and wherever he was then, internally, he carried it with him to the end. A recent tragedy – drug related not surprisingly – hit him hard I know, and his involvement in that sad tale, not to mention his untimely death, it seems to me was a strong indication of the psychoemotional trap he was in – he never reinvented himself. One is tempted to romanticise the reality when speaking about the deceased, but I want to resist that; like many addicts without a substantial income, on occasion he would seek nefarious means of funding – he sneakily purloined a fiver from me once, but that was before we really became mates. Anyway, that’s not the Matt I’m really concerned with: the real Matt was the one whose face lit up with pride when showing me photographs of his family; the real Matt was the one who expressed genuine gratitude that there was someone to just be there with him when suffering his withdrawal torments. I felt so sorry for him watching him at these times, and prayed internally for the right thing to say or do. But, frankly, he never really gave himself much of a chance to climb over his imprisoning walls. Such a shame – he was an amazing and profound artist, and I really wish I could show you some of his work. Had he managed to climb over those walls and gone to art college, had he done this or that – well, we’ll never know. What can you do when you’re in no fit state to engage with the real world effectively for any length of time? Tragically, he knew that too.

Like many native artists of a certain predilection, Matt felt in his element living on the borders of chaos, or apparent chaos – I think he revelled in being seen to be living outside the parameters of normality; there was an intellectual aspect to his rejection of convention however, and I could empathise with that. But fundamentally, I believe he was seeking the door into a greater reality, and I could empathise with that; unfortunately, the keys he relied on – drink and drugs – could only ever open doors into chimerical transcendent experiences. Drugs may offer seductive will-o’-the-wisp experiences – but they don’t help us to ground the transcendent into the everyday. For that, I proffer, a spiritual path coupled with sobriety and earnest dedication is required. People often resort to drugs and other addictive sensational experiences when everyday life is difficult to cope with and provides scarce opportunity for organic self-expression and relating meaningfully and lovingly with others. But inasmuch as the fleeting ‘highs’ of these experiences don’t help one to address the fundamental causes of psychoemotional perturbation, instead offering only temporary and delusive escapes, they can become a dreadful trap. The peculiar thing is, I think Matt was romantically enamoured with the idea of self-combustion. A hardcore Pink Floyd fan – I’ve been a fan too – he seemed particularly fixated with Floyd’s The Wall, the album and film; in the film the main character becomes entrapped in his internal walls * (see below), largely through substance abuse, imprisoning and alienating him from meaningful expression and communication with others. Did this character assume a kind of antihero status for Matt? Because like that character, Matt surrendered to his walls. ‘Why?’, is the obvious question. I’m sure that an abiding anger and profound disconsolation with the world and the card he was dealt in life, fulminated in his soul. Perhaps in choosing, consciously or subconsciously, an early exit as it were, he felt that he was ‘getting back’ at God, the world, certain people in his life, or even his own past.

But where was the help when his walls were closing in? The humanity even? Etched on my memory for life shall be the times I witnessed him crouching on the pavement of our High Street, head in hands, rocking from side to side – obviously suffering the hellish torments of withdrawal. Obviously, he was trying to draw attention to himself and his predicament – it was a cry for help really. Yet, disturbingly, he was barely acknowledged by passersby – as if as long as he didn’t appear to pose a threat, he could be regarded as a novel part of the scenery. Perhaps seeing him there like that induced some to feel better about their own lot in life? Has our society become so soulless and bereft of humanitarian feeling? Matt really required, I believe, psychospiritual treatment, and had this been available for him, he might still be here and the world a better place for it. Because it’s often the troublesome individuals and misfits who, overcoming their difficulties, become the best wayfaring guides for others seeking to overcome their own problems or simply advance their own personal spiritual evolutions. The treatment or help people like Matt need has to be holistic and, in an alternative and more ideal world it would be delivered by the Ministry of Love. But of course there is no such Ministry. What we have instead is mental health service provision which, if it can be accessed at all, is principally concerned with effecting change in individuals and their life situations so as to enable greater conformity, it’s not about the welfare if the unfortunate individuals per se, certainly not from a spiritual perspective anyway. But there’s a fundamental problem here given that it’s ‘normal’ life that is so often the cause of mental health disturbances. One in four people suffer with a debilitating psychiatric condition at some time in their lives, according to a 2001 survey by The Mental Health Foundation; of course, many psychiatric problems are not recognised as such by the individuals afflicted and therefore don’t come to the attention of frontline services. Consequently, I think it’s fair to say the problem is endemic in our way of life, which is also to imply that society doesn’t work as it should or could.

Be that as it may, there has never been a society which worked perfectly. All systems of social organisation fail to a greater or lesser extent because of the fallibility inherent in the human condition. Which is not to say that some societies and their organisational structures don’t work better than others. With the relative demise of the influence of organised religion on Western societies concomitant with the rise of Godless paradigms of reality, the status and meaning of right thought, feeling and action has been rendered problematic. The problem of uncertainty in matters pertaining to belief and morality has been compounded by the rise of consumer-capitalism as the ideological and materal bases of societies, which is both symptomatic and causative. Unmitigated consumer-capitalism is a scourge because first, it inevitably produces gross inequalities in wealth distribution, second, fosters a dog-eat-dog mentality whereby ruthless competition between individuals and groups usurps the value of community and fellowship

We need to get to a place where our empathetic ties and obligations with others are recognised and honoured. Regarding others as ends and not merely as means to achieving our own ends, as the second formulation of the Kant’s Categorical Imperative prescribes, is the aim we should be striving for personally and societally. And it is an aim which cannot simply be willed, it has to be lived experientially as an orientation of the heart.

What we have instead, I believe, is mental health service provision which is principally concerned, not with the individual’s psychic wellbeing in any essential and holistic sense, but with effecting change in individuals to bring about greater conformity to normalised behavioral mores and the hegemonic ideological and value laden constructions of reality they’re intwined with. There are vested interests in preserving particular social and cultural configurations, and as a consequence there is an institutionalised tendency to cite problems in the sphere of mental health at the door of sufferers rather than appraise them as symptomatic of dysfunctional and pathogenic socio-environmental conditions. I believe that the majority of mental health maladies are rooted in social-environmental inter-communicative contexts. Sigmund Freud did not say “Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low esteem, first make sure that you are not, in fact, surrounded by assholes”, as was depicted in a cartoon I recently saw, but I’m sure you take the point.

One in four people suffer with a psychiatric illness of one kind or another at some time in their lives, according to a 2001 survey by The Mental Health Foundation; of course, many psychiatric problems are not recognised as such by the individuals afflicted and therefore don’t come to the attention of frontline services. But of those individuals who do recognise a problem and consequent need for treatment, a great many, worryingly, are simply not able to access it. Not that a plethora of services are not being offered – in the private sector, at a considerable cost which renders those services unobtainable for many, and it’s the people on the lowest incomes who need the most help. I’ve been trying for years to persuade my GP to refer me to a psychiatric professional, to no avail, but he’s perfectly happy to ply me with mind altering chemicals – antidepressants; chemical intervention may make the intolerable seem tolerable up to a point, but that’s no answer at all. The essential causes of psychical perturbation have to be addressed, though I accept that chemical intervention may assist in bringing about a stabilisation which allows those causes to be addressed – if indeed they can… Because the pressure to function, largely conflated with patterns of conformity, in a malfunctioning society is the pressure that often unhinges. The consumer-capitalist mode of life and societal organisation is based on an inadequate and distorting representation of the human condition. Between the blinkered pursuit of profit and the banality of consumerist lifestyles, the human spirit struggles for meaningful expression and experience – meaningfulness cannot be commodified and subsumed into a falsifying cash nexus, to be packaged and presented for sale. Fortunately, the human condition is such that fidelity to authenticity in the lived – honouring experiential truth and a deeper understanding of our shared experiences and relations to one another – can never be entirely obfuscated, and there are people out there really trying to open the portal of humanity. People working and volunteering at CAAAD (Community Action Around Alcohol and Drugs) in Bristol, for example – a service Matthew engaged with. Often, it’s grassroots community-based initiatives that make the crucial difference. Of course, being helped requires a degree of trust – often not easy for the psychically traumatised to grant when faith in humanity is in tatters. Which is why it’s important that frontline services in this sphere employ people who can really relate to the service users – and there is no substitute for shared experiences in this regard. But this is not a straightforward matter when those with social adjustment and mental health difficulties (the two are separate, but often closely linked) tend to be unduly defined and stigmatised as deviant, which can greatly increase the likelihood of falling foul of the law, which in turn adds fuel to reactionary prejudicial labelling.

Home is where the heart should find succour and sustenance, but too often it’s where the walls of deceit, denial and delusion begin and continue to be erected. Home and familial life cannot of course be divorced from what is happening in and to society at large. But because of its critical role in the shaping of individuals, equipping them – or not as the case may be – with the mental and emotional facilities required for successful engagement with the world, the home and family has to be a principal focus for anyone interested in individual and collective wellbeing. Parenthood is both a great responsibility and opportunity to shape today’s and tomorrow’s world. There has been some offensive pontification in the political arena recently regarding ‘responsible’ parenting; the focus has been on the financial aspect of parenting – people are being encouraged to ask, “Do I have the financial wherewithal to bring another human being into this world?” All well and good, insofar as it goes, but here we go again – trying to make sense of the wonder of life and contain it in the distorting lens of the cash nexus. Whilst not denying the importance of considerations pertaining to financial means and material conditions for the upbringing of children, isn’t the really important consideration whether or not we can instil in a new person an understanding of what it means to love – how to experience it, give and receive it? I’m sorry if that sounds romanticised and clichéd, but I’m sorrier to conclude that far too many people just don’t seem to understand what love is – that lack of understanding is the root of so many probems in the world. Lessons in love: it’s not on the school curriculum. And I’m sorry too that the depictions of love we so often encounter in popular media entertainment are distorted and distorting. What then is real love? And why aren’t more people asking the question? John Lennon sang ‘Love is real, real is love’, and he was onto something. Love manifests variously of course depending on the object of love, but at root surely love challenges us to truly connect with and cherish that which is – the divine which is at the heart of all things? To love another is to open one’s self to who they really are. Often, the challenge of loving requires us to reach for an enlarged view of life beyond the comfort zone delimited by the current walls of our worldview. We love another when we really endeavor to listen; we love another when we really endeavor to see; we love another when we really endeavor to be, with them.

I identified with Matt to an extent in the communicative walls he was struggling to surmount; an obvious wall existed between him and his father, with whom he lived in close proximity. In times of mental and emotional turmoil, sometimes all we really yearn for is a knowing touch or presence to reassure us with a sense that we are not abandoned, and that our pain is not felt by us alone. But this takes a kind of loving which some, sadly, are not able or willing to provide. There are times, I know, when the company and attentions of certain individuals – who may be affecting sympathy and concern – can be quite lethal. I suppose my view of the human condition is quite old fashioned inasmuch as I believe human hearts tend to be orientated either towards the light (truthfulness; superego-centred), or the dark (untruthfulness; ego-centred); souls of the former are moved more by love, and of the latter fear. Communicative walls within the familial context, or the greater human familial context – barriers between peoples; the situation existing between Israel and Palestine is a glaring example – are daubed with the metaphoric graffiti of denial: I cannot not see you; you’re point of view is totally alien to mine; you do not belong to my reality; my reality is the only reality and has not been chosen or constructed. Matt’s father is a colourful and endearing character, and possesses a formidable mind – but I believe he was an important piece in the jigsaw puzzle of Matt’s problems, and can’t help but suspect he was in denial of that. It seems paradoxical that people can be so perspicacious and sagacious, and yet are blind to the really important matters close at hand. I used to listen to Matt’s father reciting reams of profound poetry memorised verbatim, but more often than not I’d take leave of his company feeling somewhat diminished in stature. The words of wisdom he feels obliged to dispense and the tales he tells of the great adventure that has been his life, don’t sit comfortably with the reality one beholds. According to him, he’s done it all, and so at the age of sixty-one he feels he’s earned an early retirement, which apparently means doing little more than drinking throughout the day and making his way to the bookies in the hope of winning big and escaping to some sun drenched island with a bevy of young beauties on hand to cater to his desires. ‘Done it all…’ The irony was not lost on me when I thought of Matt, and Matt’s brother (also an addict). Lamenting his lot, Matt once said, “According to him [his father], he’s gold and everyone else is bronze”. Much as I’m sure his father didn’t consciously intend it, I think he furnished Matt’s feelings of inadequacy as a consequence of not confronting and dismantling his own walls of denial. On the other side of all our walls is a grander vision of ourselves, able to cope with the slings and arrows of life and grow in wisdom, strength and love.

Finally, “What is mental illness, ipso facto mental wellness?” Conformity to pervasive tacit norms of behaviour? Psychologist-philosopher Erich Fromm asserted, “That millions of people share the same forms of mental pathology does not make these people sane.” And Aldous Huxley adopted a similar tack: “The real hopeless victims of mental illness are to be found among those who appear to be most normal.” (Brave New World Revisited) I agree: conformity should not be confused and conflated with soundness of mind; conformity in socio-cultural contexts is relative to those contexts, and contexts are continuously changing – that which is conformity in one place and time can be regarded as abberant and outlandish in another. For me, an adequate conception of psychical wellbeing has to be grounded in a coherent humanistic-ethical framework. Thus, a sane person is one capable of discerning right from wrong and acting on this discernment. But on this reckoning a great many so-called normal people, not least amongst those wielding considerable power and influence in society, are indubitably out of their right minds. In any case, despite the pervasive belief that real democracy exists in the UK and elsewhere, the truth is that policy-making is overwhelmingly shaped by the interests of plutocratic elites, and the neoliberal-capitalist model of socio-economic organisation in which we are situated – Mammon’s epoch – serves to make the wealthy wealthier and encourage and reward selfish, narrow-minded and narcissistic proclivities in general. The individual constructed by and required for this model is a self-interested narcissist, blindly immersed in consumerism and easily manipulated by advertisers and others, such as politicians, who seek to control the proclivities and sensibilities of the masses (see for example The Century of the Self by Adam Curtis). But it’s a model which is inherently flawed and self-combusting. The present financial morass, for example, was instigated in the main by the irresponsibility and rapaciousness of financial speculators, yet our so-called political leaders continue to detract attention away from this and cite spurious causes – the feckless poor and freeloading counterfeit benefit claimants. It’s a measure of the iniquity at the heart of the UK government that those who are unfortunate enough to be out of work or who are disabled mentally or physically have become easy targets to deflect attention away from the real problems and sites of causation. Very soon the wealthiest in our society will be receiving a substantial income tax cut, whilst many living and suffering with physical and mental impairments/challenges are being ruthlessly catigated and hounded and being made to live under the very real shadow of their subsistance benefit incomes being cut or withdrawn. It’s no great surprise then that there has recently been a rise in disabled and ESA (Employment and Support Allowance) claimaints committing or attempting suicide. There was nothing essentially ‘wrong’ with Matt – many individuals with mental health problems and addictions are simply more sensitive or highly-strung than most and consequently encounter difficulties in adjusting to their social environments; by the same token others may have difficulty understanding and adjusting to them. Modernity’s obsession with systemisation, control and efficiency indicts heterodox proclivities as deviance and derangement. But this is the hubristic and complacent folly of attempting to impose a reductionist schema onto the greater and ultimately unfathomable magnitude of what it means to be human. Society will never really function until it finds its heart; people like Matt may need extra help and especially love to flower, but their flowering is our flowering collectively.
Matt shouldn’t have withered and died. But it’s a sick society, and the walls between us and within us are many and high.

* Walls Repressive affective and ideological cognitive structures rooted in pathogenic social relations delimited by dominative impulses and fear. These structures are embedded in tangible socio-environmental contexts: in the wall that partitioned East and West Germany, and the wall that presently partitions Israel and the Palestinian West Bank, we encounter actual and symbolic representations of these repressive structures and concomitant dysfunctional social relations. These structures and relations tend to be replicated and perpetuated over time because they become ingrained in individual and collective psyches as ‘the stories people tell themselves about the world, the lives and identities of others and themselves’. These structures also tend to endure because they become self-enforcing through social and personal investitures in their maintenance; when these structures are challenged or renounced by individuals or groups, those individuals and groups may then be defined as deviant and consequently subject to exclusionary and punitive actions.


I’m slowly crawling out again, bedraggled and bruised, from under one of my infamous dark nights of the soul. Yesterday evening, I sat down with my journal and tried to ascertain what had gone so wrong this time. I did quite well, identifying a number of things which probably collaborated to upset my psycho-emotional state: the insultingly irritated manner in which my Mother spoke to me on the phone; my apparent estrangement from the pulse of life; a lack of warm companionship and the sense that I’m reviled rather than appreciated for me being me; my financial situation; the weather; the result of the recent referendum on whether Bristol should have an elected mayor  (why aren’t people thinking!), and so on. But having compiled this list, it became obvious that I hadn’t really learnt anything of fundamental import that would bolster my defenses against the next dark cloud. So I said a little prayer: “Greater Intelligence, where were you?” I had also prayed more than once I was becoming aware of the dark cloud settling over me – that was when I had needed to be strong, yet found my strength dissipating, and with multitudinous glasses of forgetfulness in hand found myself once again sinking into a familiar quagmire, where escape becomes a mere matter of no more funds. But this particular stick was shot through with an anthem, more audible than usual, and the chorus: inarticulate questions, which I hoped – but knew otherwise – to be answered even whilst the storm raged. I found myself questioning the very existence of God and the fundamental bases of my reality, overshadowed by the fear that I would never really distinguish fact from fiction.

Why do we turn to drink or drugs as a countermeasure to