Taking a Journey…

… into the human condition. Into our own individual conditions. Observing without bias, judgement, or prior conclusion. Just to be able to watch ourselves in the moment. Not a little while after, not even a second after, not predicting beforehand, but NOW. Observing now. Inwardly and outwardly. What is actually happening? Is it possible to truly discern this? Without conditioning, direction, without any kind of motive, idea, or interference from thought? Just pure observation in the moment, in silence. In beauty. Free from any kind of desire, need, or wish. A window into oneself, a window without stain, smear, smudge or dirt. Just clear looking. Perceiving of what is, now.

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This is intelligence. And it is freedom from suffering. One could say that it is enlightenment. It is love.

“Where there is love, the self is not.” Jiddu Krishnamurti.

Ox Herding is Now an Amazon Giveaway

You can enter a free raffle (sweepstake, if you’re American) for a chance to win a copy of my philosophical novel, ‘Ox Herding: A Secular Pilgrimage,’ by clicking this link:

Amazing Ox Herding Giveaway!  :-)

I’m giving away three copies on Amazon.com. Every 120th person who enters is a winner. Fantastic! I’m using the hashtag #AmazonGiveaway on Twitter. Do join in if you’d like a chance to win.

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Please note that the competition is only open to residents of America, in other words as Amazon puts it, ‘residents of the fifty U.S. states or District of Columbia.’

Good luck!

Just When You Think He’s Banished

Watch out! Turn round
be aware
He’s always lurking
malevolently there

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Ox Herding Wins Quagga Prize

The Quagga Prize for Literary Fiction is a new award established in 2014 given out for quality literary fiction from small, independent publishers. Earlier this month, I was delighted to receive the Quagga Prize for Genre Fiction (fantasy) for ‘Ox Herding’ at an awards ceremony in London’s Piccadilly.

Jackie Griffiths receiving the Quagga Prize, November 2015

Jackie Griffiths receiving the Quagga Prize, November 2015

The Wolf

(a poem for #NationalPoetryDay)

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Before you appear, your reputation filters through
You’re a pervert, a menace, a contamination to females
You take whatever you can without licence or leave.
You please yourself with sly brushes, stealthy touches
and unwanted pinches. I have been warned.

I stare at the washing up when you suddenly scratch my neck
You bite my arm as I consider the newspaper
When you look at me I feel as if something’s being
taken from me without my permission.
You’re reviled in this community, and I detest you.

They want you to go, to take your eyes off them
They avoid being near you in case you reach out with your nails
I push you away with my mouth and mind
Get off me you disgusting wolf!

But you just smirk and squeeze your palms.
You offend me by sight, smell, and deed.
I won’t tell you again: don’t stop.

 

Jae and Chloe Talk About Death

My new short story ‘The Ladybird’ can be read in issue no. 110 of Philosophy Now magazine.

Ladybirdjpg

It looks at how a young child might first come to realise the concept of death, and explores a way to address her questions and fears without referring to the notions of God or Heaven.

Tiny

I propose that the first time a child comes to understand the concept of death – that it could happen to their family, their parents, even to themselves – is the moment the door to a previously innocent life is permanently shut behind them; as if they’ve been rudely propelled out of the Garden of Eden and the gates slammed shut offering no possible way back.

Closed Gates2)

How can we bear to tell a child that yes, one day, they too will die?

Read how I deal with this heart-breaking topic in my short story ‘The Ladybird.’

Facebook Discussion: Atheism on Trial

In issue number 109 of ‘Philosophy Now’ magazine, Stephen Anderson writes that atheism should be put under as much scrutiny as theism. Anderson argues that atheism cannot be rationally defended unlike agnosticism which does not have the same limitations. So, why is atheism so popular today? Have your say in the lively discussion on my Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=1487978541495245&id=100008493395046&pnref=story

Ancient_Egyptian

You and Me

“And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one.” (Gospel of John 17:22, King James Bible).

Are modern day cosmologists about to prove that this simple line from the Gospel of John is the literal truth?

We can now see that the universe extends to the furthest point from which light has had time to reach us since the beginning of time 13.82 billion years ago, the event which we simply call ‘the Big Bang.’ But what is beyond the edge of this observable universe?

Universe

The latest theories of cosmology say that actually there isn’t just one single universe – ours – but an infinite number of universes, each about 90 billion light years across, and each containing a finite number of particles. Throughout these infinite universes the particles inside them are arranged in every possible way, meaning that there will eventually be two (or more) exactly the same. In other words, according to mathematics there is an identical universe to this one, with an identical earth in it, as well as countless variations of this earth where things are similar but different. This is the theory of the multiverse.

The Multiverse

So in answer to the question, ‘what is at the edge of space?’ or ‘what is there outside of our universe?’ the answer could be: other universes.

Images gained via telescopes of the cosmic microwave background radiation illustrate what the universe was like just a couple of hundred thousand years after it first came into existence. They show that all the matter in the universe was very evenly distributed – suggesting to cosmologists that it was the process of ‘inflation’ that made it that way. Early on in the life of the universe it didn’t just expand, it expanded incredibly quickly, repeatedly doubling in volume and size within a fraction of a second. In this way, a tiny pattern was stretched over the entire observable universe. The argument goes that if inflation happened once there is no reason why it didn’t happen over and over – ‘eternal inflation.’

How Is The Multiverse Possible?

To explain how the multiverse might work, cosmologists often refer to the ‘Double Slit’ experiment.

Double Slit Experiment

This is where you shoot two single electrons through two slits and see what pattern they make on a board the other side. You expect to see two vertical stripes. But in actual fact there are three vertical stripes. This is only possible if each individual electron acts as a wave and passes through both slits at the same time. This means that at the moment of passing through the slits, each single electron is in both places (slits) at once. This state of splitting and simultaneously existing in different places is how the multiverse can be explained: many versions of our earth can exist, with ourselves on it, at the same time both identical and with gradations of difference – the ‘parallel universes.’

The Multiverse Explained Scientifically

Imagine an endless patchwork quilt. Each patch is another universe the same size as our own, and each contains a finite number of particles (approximately ten to the power of 80 atoms). These atoms can only be arranged in a finite number of ways, until, as mentioned above, the same arrangement occurs. So in the multiverse, every single possibility is played out. Cosmologists suggest that the maths show that there are infinite copies of earth – some familiar and others where history took an entirely different course. In this way, we could image that on an infinite number of earths each of our lives took every conceivable direction, as we experienced and became, every conceivable human being. If we see this through the lens of quantum physics, which states that the multiverse is not separated from us by distance but that they all exist now, in parallel, then you could look at it that every single person on this earth is in fact: you. And why would you extend anything other than love and compassion towards the multiple forms and copies of yourself?

The most complex science and deepest cosmological theory could indeed very soon be about to prove the age-old saying: we are one.

249a31604a7b86ceb3a1faa92ee4d6a3 (320 x 320)

The Fruits of a Writer’s Labour

It’s a strange phenomenon with writing: you work hard and intensely; struggle, wrestle and sweat over a book for up to a year or more… and then nothing much happens for months on end while you work on advertising, promotion, and exposure campaigns.

fall-asleep-at-desk-due-to-snoring

Then, when you’re feeling calm and ready to move on and your thoughts start to focus on something completely different, the previous work gains momentum, picks up publicity and attention and you have to rewind.

The fruits of a writer’s labour are often several seasons delayed… but taste sweet nonetheless.

blackberries

An Introduction to Ox Herding

My philosophical novel, ‘Ox Herding: A Secular Pilgrimage’ is a written interpretation of The Ten Ox Herding Pictures, a Zen Buddhist philosophical classic that depicts the journey to enlightenment through ten distinct and progressive stages of spiritual development. I write this introduction with great trepidation, acknowledging that I’m running the risk of attracting attention to the finger pointing at the moon, rather than to the moon itself. Painters, sculptors, artists of all types tend to resist making explanations of their work, preferring instead that the observer draws his or her own conclusions and takes from it an interpretation personal to them. However, in this case, and because many readers have asked for it, I am attempting a mission statement for this book. Sometimes signposts can be helpful.

Sign

The story unfolds in the form of a fantastical, Carrollesque adventure told from the point of view of Jae, who, like Alice, one day crosses over from reality into a strange dream-like world, where, perhaps unlike Alice, she progresses from confusion to a state of profound wisdom.

The pilgrimage begins with Jae, an average person living an unexceptional life, becoming dissatisfied, troubled, plagued with metaphysical and spiritual questions, to which there appear to be no answers or obvious way forward. These questions rapidly come to dominate her thinking, compelling her to focus on them completely and seek tirelessly for answers in every way she can. In the original drawings and accompanying poems by 12th century Chinese master, Kakuan (translated by Nyogen Senzaki and Paul Reps, as presented in the book, ‘Zen Flesh, Zen Bones’) the seeker is described as being in the following depleted state:

“In the pasture of this world, I endlessly
push aside the tall grasses in search of the bull.
Following unnamed rivers, lost upon the
interpenetrating paths of distant mountains,
My strength failing and my vitality exhausted, I cannot find the bull.
I only hear the locusts chirring through the forest at night.”

Ox1

The poem indicates that it is only when the individual is passionately consumed by questions that search is activated, and she can begin to walk the path of knowledge. Thus is triggered the circular journey to enlightenment, with the seeker passing through each of the ten stages to arrive, finally, at the tenth. A place very similar, if not exactly the same as the original stage but with one vital difference: a fundamental change has taken place in her way of being and thinking. The burning questions have evaporated; the yearned-for answers have vanished; in their place there is only awareness, freedom, love.

“Barefooted and naked of breast,
I mingle with the people of the world.
My clothes are ragged and dust-laden,
and I am ever blissful.
I use no magic to extend my life;
Now, before me, the dead trees become alive.”

Ox10

In the narrative, the ox represents the ego – that ever-present elemental beast within us all. ‘Herding’ the ox is a metaphor for bringing the ego under control. In the beginning, at stage one, the seeker may not even be aware that she is dominated by her ego, and it is only as she reaches stage two that she becomes cognisant of the fact that there is an ox to herd, that the ego needs to be searched for, reined in, and strictly restrained.

Throughout the following ten stages, the seeker gradually rejects the trappings of ego: money, fame, fortune, belief systems, behavioural patterns and all other decoys and distractions – crucially, attachment and clinging. At stage four, the individual begins to battle directly with the ego, never letting it out of her sight for a moment, as she fights hour by hour to master its almost overpoweringly wild impulses. By the time she passes through to stage five, the seeker concludes that she has finally achieved enlightenment, manifested by an urge to teach others and share her new-found wisdom. After further struggle and enquiry, she realises this itself is a practice of ego, a false summit, and the ox is as free as he ever was, ranging unchecked over the fertile pastures of her unsuspecting mind. The next stage of the journey, described in chapter six, involves a painful recognition of this fact; and a necessary abandoning of the need to be in authority over others and herself.

In the seventh stage, the seeker at last experiences a sense of peace, no longer needing to actively control the ego-beast as this now happens automatically. She rests at home, putting her house in order, sorting through amassed belongings and tidying things up. ‘Nothing lacking, nothing extra.’ This is a metaphor for clear thinking and the dawning of true wisdom, a way of living and being, free from habit and conditioning.

Stage eight constitutes a moment of profound realisation where everything is completely merged, and where the limitations of mind and body are transcended. Ego is dead, self has melted away. There is only the sacred emptiness of the silence and death which must be undergone before rebirth, before irreversible fundamental change. In the original illustrations, stage eight is drawn as an empty circle, a place without physical or spiritual limitation, a place of no authority – and in this book it is shown that even the power, influence, and voice of the author over the reader must be called into question. I felt I could only authentically convey this death or absence by a series of blank pages and just one written line. The author writing authoritatively about no authority is obviously a hypocrisy. This is a stage where even language itself fails. However, in the original accompanying poems an attempt is made to express this state of nothing in words:

“Whip, rope, person, and bull –
all merge in No-Thing.
This heaven is so vast no message can stain it.
How may a snowflake exist in a raging fire?
Here are the footprints of the patriarchs.”

Ox8

By the time the seeker has attained stage nine, she knows a blissful, ecstatic state of near-enlightenment, with only the remotest shreds of separation remaining between self and universe. The seeker has become the sought.

At the final, tenth stage, Jae has reached complete enlightenment and is able to resume living in the real, every-day world just as she was before she started the process of search. There is now no enlightenment, no achievement, no seeker! Jae is content, untroubled, and her every action is wisdom and love, a manifestation of God, the very teaching of truth for others to see if they are willing, even as she mingles and blends, living cheek-by-jowl in the bustling marketplace of ordinary life.