This site runs on small donations- thanks!
Read these articles
Follow me on Twitter now!
articles by category
More on Polymathics

trust yourself, trust others

I used to go to a corner shop in Oxford all the time. I'd buy milk, biscuits, newspapers- maybe twice a week for months. One day I didn't have enough money- instead of trusting me the shopkeeper said, with the fake appearance of helpfulness, 'I'll put it on one side for you.' He didn't trust me, or, rather, he trusted his 'system' better- his system being 'never give credit'. In Egypt systems are suspect. No one trusts them much. But they trust people. What that means is: they trust themselves to judge whether someone is a good for their money or not.

I used to think trust was like gambling. Some people have nerve- they go for the big pot and sometimes win and sometimes lose. But trust isn't gambling, it's the real form that certainty takes. (There are myriad fake forms of certainty- all various kinds of obsession or monomania). So, in Egypt, you can go into a shop you've never been to before, have not enough change and they'll trust you to come back and pay. They trust themselves, you see, to know what a trustworthy person looks like. It's not so crazy- in the West we trust ourselves to drive fast on motorways without crashing or losing our nerve, we trust ourselves to hit a ball over the net with a tennis racket even though the racket has no 'sights' or aiming mechanism. The problem is that we face many years of schooling that attenuates our natural ability to trust ourselves, and, instead of developing that ability and growing it, education stunts it and shunts it off into trivial areas such as sports and driving...

The West in its current form is largely, in its official capacities, centred around dismantling trust situations and replacing them with machines, systems, ideas, questionaires, 'transparency' and other forms of evading the issue. Which is: learn to trust yourself. It starts small: can you trust yourself to get from A to B with a map? Without a map? Trust yourself to make money from a business? Trust yourself to bring up children? A great traveller, Helena Edwards once told me, 'On every journey there comes a point when you just have to trust.' You have to trust yourself at that point without any help from google, friends comments, ideas, theories- you have to take the plunge and trust. And in those situations it always works. Trust me.

Governments don't trust us? Why? They don't trust themselves. People who want to 'change the world' imagine that if they got a new government things would be better. But who governs us, in the West, is far less significant than learning to trust yourself. This is the beginning of a real world changer- trust yourself, trust others. It's catching.



Freedom, anger and violence

The violent man, meaning, usually, the angry man is a man who has been denied freedom. Or has, through some self destructive urge, propelled himself into places where freedom is denied. Prisons make men angrier, that energy, though negative, spirals back through society- hence the ubiquitous cool of prison garb as a street fashion- sagging belt-less jeans, grey trackie pants- I'm angry, give me space. Lebensraum, camps, the strategic inculcation of violence- all part of the same dynamic. How to break it or use it healthfully?

Anger and its obverse, depression affect the body as inflammation. We become enraged, inflamed. No wonder that inflammation, often cited as an auto-immune disorder is so widespread. what have we got to be angry at- we're living longer than ever, better than ever? Freedom, of course. Our sense of personal freedom is under constant attack - we can go to fewer places without permission, we can say fewer things without offending someone, we need more money just to have a roof over our heads. Many realise there are a great many freedom opportunities out there- more than ever before in some ways. At the weekend I met a man who has walked round Britain- along the beaches- 'It's the freedom, isn't it?' he told me with that urgency that commands attention - yes, he was on to something. Art, too , brings immense vistas of freedom. Making things brings the joy of endless childlike occupation but also great possibility.

So we seek travel and we do art and that helps. But we are forgetting that man is a tool user with a capacity for necessary violence. Chop a tree down, fashion a hand axe, use a bow drill to make fire- all these require a certain measured violence. Percussive bursts where you MEAN it. No shirking, bang. It's why we love chopping when we cook- it's the first thing kids want to do when they see a real chef- chop carrots as fast and well as he, or she, does. It isn't a wholly male thing but through the strange distribution of hormones and brain patterns men seem to need more chopping than women.

At Wigtown festival this year I met Lars a friendly Norwegian who promoted axe work and chopping wood as a universal cure all. He was on to something for sure. I had simultaneously discovered that using a mattock- which looks like an adze- to clear my vegetable garden was far more beneficial in mind and body than using a spade or fork. The adze chops. Not in a crazy aggressive way, in fact if you watch women using axes in the third world they do so with a minimum of fuss and wasted energy, they raise the axe and let it fall. The axe does the work, they add direction and a little committment. That little extra, directed violence, is what has built this overbuilt world we live in. We chop, we pick axe, we break down walls- we escape to freedom and then build those walls all over again.

Every exercise routine needs an element of simple percussive action- chop wood, do karate or aikido, break the soil using a mattock, do press-ups on your fists, chop everything before you cook it. Control and use the violence. Find freedom.


Failure is rare

Failure, as applied to human effort, is rather rare in my experience. Much much more common is simple giving up. A decision taken that it is 'not worth' continuing. People persuade themselves and others to give up. Later they may call it failure, but the only failure involved was the failure to keep going. And that point, when giving up is most attractive, is almost always just before a real breakthrough, an opening that reveals a downhill ride to completion and success.

Hang out with people who forestall and minimise the attractions of giving up, who, when you leave their company, leave behind a verifiable trace of optimism, light, and interest in renewed effort.


which would you rather be?

Someone who never loses their balance; or someone who is quick at regaining their balance when they have lost it?

Much of our education and unconcious 'life training' inclines us always towards the impossible fantasy of never losing one's balance. Yet have you met anyone who has achieved this without becoming a rigid fool who controls their environment in order to avoid appearing foolish?

In order to practise regaining your balance you must also practise losing it. Not all the time, but from time to time.


games on the way

There are many games of distraction along the way...including the game of identifying the many games of distraction along the way...It is not the veil which is interesting, it is removing the veil; what's behind it takes care of itself.


Stop putting yourself out of the way of wisdom  

When we put on our ‘doing good’ head we set ourselves up for a fall or at least a trip or two. The ‘doing good’ head wants to be rewarded. That’s what happens when you put a head on rather than have that transparent sense of observing the self doing stuff, being ‘aware’. You can put on a ‘busy head’ or an ‘action head’- and these tactics work- but you have to pay the piper, you have to reward the head with some kind of obvious non-subtle result. When I put on my ‘production head’ for writing I reward this head by printing out my pages and riffling through the sheets and telling the head- ‘look at that, 3000 words, well done etc etc’. Don’t be subtle with a head. It’s wasted. Subtlety only has value when applied to perceiving things with a ‘transparent head’ on. This is why lots of successful people are really unsubtle, kind of dorky in fact. They have learnt what lots of intellectuals have missed: the various ‘heads’ you wear speak a debased and simplified language of reward and punishment.

But you need to get beyond this. A friend wrote to me the other day about the pitfalls of following a path to some kind of greater understanding. A thought came to me: you have to stop putting yourself out of the way of wisdom. A lot of what we do isn’t ‘wrong’ in the ‘doing good’ sense of wrong, but it puts us out of the way of wisdom. It decreases our necessity – after all, if you live a life that doesn’t need wisdom then where’s the evolutionary pressure to develop it? Of course this doesn’t mean simply turning up the pressure and making life tough and complicated- these things can very easily put us into ‘fight or flight’ mode- pure stress. It actually means something worth contemplating for a while- look at what puts you out of the way of wisdom.


Beginner's mind for writing