Old School Meditation 2

Blogs inspired by the material taught at the School of Meditation, Holland Park Avenue, London; these notes are taken from the material taught at groups during early 2019…

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Infinite Source

There is a level of being which is the same for us all regardless of our social and economic circumstances, ethnicity, age and the other categories we regularly have to tick boxes for. The School of Meditation teaches the Advaita Vedanta philosophy, which sees an infinite source of everything that exists in creation.

This idea is a mystery to the conceptualising mind; but the practice of meditation can offer a direct experience of this infinity.

The material tells us to: Become still, be quiet and experience your very being, the very fact that you exist…

Let go of any sense of a separate existence.

Let go of desire.

Advaita teaches us that this practice of meditation will bring equanimity. The individual self (or Atman in Hindu parlance) merges with the Universal Self (Paramatman). The School of Meditation teaches that the practice prepares the mind to receive subtle truths that we would otherwise miss.

Two Aspects of Existence

On the surface level, everything is in constant flux. But the real Self does not change, despite the turbulence. Subtle truths are experienced at a deeper level. Advaita encourages students to identify with the deeper Self rather than the activities on the surface of life. It encourages people to return, with regular reminders, to this deeper Self.

To identify with a passing state on the surface is to invite suffering. Like a teenager seeking status in a group, with the two extremes of being puffed-up with pride and certainty when they are accepted but becoming bitterly depressed and lost when they are met with rejection.

“Come to know the One in the Presence before you and everything hidden from you will be revealed”

The Gospel of St Thomas

The Shankaracharya (Shri Shantananda Saraswati) described two aspects of existence: the mobile and the immobile. The mobile refers to creation; all the action we see and do. Immobile refers to ‘the Absolute’ (what is more commonly labelled God and was called the Paramatman earlier in this blog).

The Shankaracharya explains more: that the Absolute contains everything, that all creation is a manifestation of the Absolute.

When most people want to end their suffering, they yearn for an end to movement and yearn for the presence of stillness. The Advaita tradition teaches that the stillness is already there, always within us, where we are already – eternally in the presence of the Absolute.

When we suffer, we seek to escape the pain, and we may develop a happy knack of connecting with the stillness of a deeper experience. Unfortunately, we cannot reside in that peace forever – our eyes open and then life moves us along to the next thing.

But we can remember, and that is something worth dwelling on for a while. Remember who you are. Are you the movement or the stillness?

You can see the movement, 

But you cannot see the stillness – that is because it is the stillness that is doing the observing…

 

 

By Tom Charles @tomhcharles

 

The material in this blog was inspired by the teachings at the School of Meditation, Holland Park Avenue, London, W11 4UH. The school opened in 1961 and was taken under the wing of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the Beatles’ meditation teacher, who introduced the school’s founders to Shri Shantananda Saraswati, Shankaracharya of Northern India. In a series of Q & As, the Shankaracharya provided answers to the questions of the visitors from London. These answers formed the basis of the school’s teaching material.

Old School Meditation 1

Blogs inspired by the material taught at the School of Meditation on Holland Park Avenue; The school teaches a philosophy called Advaita Vedanta, literally One without a second. These notes are taken from the material taught at groups early in 2019…

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2019’s first session was about letting go and desiring nothing. This, apparently, is the way to contentment.

The advice in the material was: ‘don’t be driven by desire’.

If I pause and think about it, I find that my mind is filled with desire: for material things, for situations to be different in the world, for a different government, for money, for pleasure, for knowledge, to be accepted and loved.

It’s easy to say ‘don’t be driven by desire’ but surely that desire helps me to get the things I need to stay alive and thrive. The point of the teaching is not that I should try to abandon desire, but it is a warning against being driven by it.

As desire falls, contentment rises. It appears to be a more natural state.

Contentment also comes from connecting with other people. The material explains that this phenomenon occurs because the people making the connection are enjoying a shared experience of the Self. The Self with a capital S is a frequently-used phrase in spiritual books and teachings. It means the same thing as Soul might to a Christian or Muslim, Neshama to a Jew, or Atman to a Hindu. Different words, same impossible-to-define thing. If it even is a thing.

Through human connections, often referred to through the ages as Satsang, but at the school called Good Company, the shared experience of the Self allows the feeling of separation to evaporate. That’s why I sometimes feel so refreshed when I leave the school – after a day of separating myself from my fellow beings around London, I connect again.

Pathless Paths

The Advaita teaching at the school presents what appears to be a path to contentment. Except that it isn’t a path. According to Vedanta teachers, we already are that contentment – we cannot travel a path that we already are. Instead of a long, complex and strenuous journey, we just come to realise that we already are everything.

Mind-bend, but it’s identified a pathless path and I’ll go with that. At this point a Zen saying appears in the material to help clarify things further:

“Paths cannot be taught. They can only be taken”

Followed by another quote, from Spanish poet Antonio Machado:

“Traveller, there is no path,

Paths are made by walking”

…copycat.

What a double-edged sword life is. The two quotes suggest liberation from looking for a way to live, but they also open us up to the chaos of there being no set course. It’s a pathless path for us all, chaos and stark realities, where pain and contentment vie.

This can be exciting or terrifying, depending on our state of mind, mood, circumstances and so on. What is a total rip-off is the idea that we have to travel somewhere or do something to be validated.  Here, Advaita provides a useful reminder that what we already are is already enough, that there is nowhere to go, and that the Kingdom is all inside.

As the school’s material teaches, all is contained in one being (you) – a oneness which emerged from stillness and remains in stillness, the basis of every thing. But more of that next time…

 

By Tom Charles @tomhcharles

 

The material in this blog was inspired by the teachings at the School of Meditation, Holland Park Avenue, London, W11 4UH. The school opened in 1961 and was taken under the wing of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the Beatles’ meditation teacher, who introduced the school’s founders to Shri Shantananda Saraswati, Shankaracharya of Northern India. In a series of Q & As, the Shankaracharya provided answers to the questions of the visitors from London. These answers formed the basis of the school’s teaching material.

Night Daleks

I felt the anger

Saw hatred in your eyes

Slowly walking towards us –

like a couple of Western gunslingers…

Watching my movements

Waiting for a careless word

to justify your extreme violence

Yet there was only silence

As we passed each other like ghosts

taking our tension to another dimension

knowing I am everything you despise

my mixed race daughter by my side

the ultimate racial traitor

must be exterminated!

 

Agents of the right

daleks of the night

What was that all about Dad?

Are those men truly bad?

these times really sad?

Pulling her close – tight – tight – tighter

would have made a stand

like an old prize fighter

but I am no Tyson Fury,

Judge, or their jury!

Understood the stares – glares – unfounded fears

which will end with us all drowning

under a waterfall of tears…………

 

movie-daleks
Image from here

© M.C. Bolton, April 2019

 

Business Profile: Seeds for Kids

This feature was written for, and first published at, Portobello Business Centre – Success Stories

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Raffaella Cappello is the founder of Seeds For Kids, a unique Kensington-based company specialising in healthy food education for children.

Sitting down with her in her kitchen, amid bowls of glorious-looking fruit and vegetables, Raffaella explained that the name Seeds For Kids holds a double meaning: ‘Most of my food is plant based, so it comes from seeds: and to plant a seed is to grow something that lasts.’

What does Seeds For Kids do?

‘We provide food education for children and families. This can be through one-to-one bespoke lessons in a private nutrition consultation, looking at medical and dietary requirements. I design bespoke menu plans, starting with people’s likes and dislikes. This approach takes six months and I see the client at least twice a week. If I see something is missing, I provide bespoke nutritional courses. Continue reading

Rainy Tuesday with a Migraine

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Legs laid low on the sofa – what a gift, I can cancel and cancel,

Clear the diary, simplify the day – simplify life,

Losing the detail instead of being lost in the detail,

Just the throb in my temples.

Eyes closed – physical disorientation but mental clarity. I’m brought to a tender halt of gentleness and clarity,

From this sofa I know what’s important and I let go of what isn’t.

 

The constant hum of the Westway reminds me of the breakneck world out there,

But I’ve got permission to not move

Meeting – cancelled

Work – abandoned

Plans – scratched

I’m not in a state of ecstasy, just in a state of contented beingness and timelessness,

My body has brought me to meekness, 

And here I am on the sofa on a Tuesday afternoon, blessed and inheriting the earth

 

Memories of days off from school – Pigeon Street, my mother bringing me snacks,

Wooly-headed boy,

Now an experience of Being that would have been out of reach had my working day gone to plan.

What is this migraine? A whisper from the beloved:

This migraine came to tell me one thing: “I love you”

 

Tom Charles @tomhcharles

Monochrome Dystopia

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From Georges Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon (Le Voyage dans la lune) 1902

 

Words run through my head

like a freight train

everything looks like a Fritz Lang film

or Georges Méliès’ Le Voyage Dans la Lume

 

It’s all in black and white

the moon has a rocket in its eye…

smoke and rushing…

Caps, ties, shirts with removable collars

shoe shine boys – paper sellers

non-playable characters

Forever trapped in a Peaky Blinders video game…

 

Yet I cannot form a sentence

grasp an idea – formulate a first line

to hang my literary clothing upon to dry…

Dead relatives flirt with modern day girlfriends!

over soup and tea…

I’m shocked by their candour

Felix the Cat purrs

as it entangles its legs

inside my mind

Its claws scratching my skull

 

Oh! Just to grasp the tangible-secure

to tie this drifting ship

floating on a lake

without water or shore

Feeling so lost – but so amazed

astonished within my own imagination

without need for chemicals or alcohol…

Petrol to the poetic cause

Many destroyed who chose this path

of angst and anguish!

 

Forever falling deeper into despair

that washes up yesterday’s hopes – dreams

like the ebbing tide of Father Thames

exposing without pity the weakness

of those that don’t fit into any jig-saw

Completing a picture of damnation

 

Like an eel I slither back into the river

lost in its depths with old bikes

destined never to be ridden again!

drifting further out to sea

knowing not purpose or destiny

Forever grateful I drowned not in the ocean of bland

 

© Mark Bolton

Change at RBKC? Case Study 3: The Curve

This article contains information about the Grenfell Tower fire that readers might find distressing.

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Change is essential in North Kensington, an area of London still reeling from the Grenfell Tower fire, where 72 people were killed on June 14th, 2017. The trauma inflicted is only now starting to manifest in residents. On becoming leader of Kensington and Chelsea council (RBKC) a month after the fire, Elizabeth Campbell promised “change”, invoking the word eleven times during a brief speech to survivors. She had the right idea – people wanted change – but has her council delivered? Of all the opportunities RBKC has had to make good on its promises, surely its own Grenfell recovery site, the Curve, is one where it would not dare to fail. But have they failed? It is a complex case study, and one in which I am personally involved.

What is RBKC’s Change Policy?

For years prior to the Grenfell Tower fire, people in North Kensington were routinely ignored, even when attempting to raise serious concerns about fire safety. Previously, to assess whether any tangible change to this pattern of willful neglect had been made, Urban Dandy used RBKC’s official policy, 12 Principles of Good Governance, as the yardstick. In the cases of Canalside House and Lancaster Youth Centre, it was clear that the policy had not translated from theory to practice. You can read about the two examples and the twelve principles here and here.

Facing widespread criticism and calls for commissioners to replace them in 2017, RBKC hired the Centre for Public Scrutiny (CfPS) to carry out an independent review of the council. RBKC welcomed CfPS’s subsequent report and adopted “12 principles of good governance we should embed in the council.” The 12 Principles were bespoke, designed specifically for RBKC to act on its claims to want to “change” following the fire. The council’s leadership were to be held to account on this by its Executive and Corporate Services Scrutiny Committee. Papers to date reveal talk about listening forums and citizens panels, but nothing in the way of challenge or scrutiny from the Labour-led committee. 

What is The Curve?

The Curve Community Centre is a building rented at commercial rates by Kensington and Chelsea council. It was obtained shortly after the fire at Grenfell Tower. The Curve replaced the Westway Sports Centre as the focal point of the council’s response. It still provides essential services for survivors and the bereaved including housing support, post delivery and counselling. Additionally, it hosts workshops and classes and offers space for community cooking and other gatherings. The Curve has three principal sets of users: survivors and the bereaved; residents of Lancaster West estate and the wider North Kensington community.

The Curve sits on Bard Road, just behind Freston Road, by what was once the self-declared Republic of Frestonia. Nowadays the area is characterised by poverty, a high density of social housing and large national business’ headquarters; the Westway flyover runs nearby, and from the Curve’s windows visitors can look across the A3220 to Westfield and the old BBC Television Studios.

 

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From the outset, and probably inevitably, the Curve has been a controversial issue. Being council-run, it has naturally been scrutinised by local residents who have lived through the Grenfell atrocity and its aftermath. RBKC’s actions at the Curve can be taken as approximate indicators of where the council is, politically.

2018

In early 2018, RBKC decided to appoint an independent Board of Governors “to ensure that the Curve is accountable to the local community” and to be “critical friends” of the Curve’s management team as well as “to contribute critically and substantially to the public’s perception of the Curve” (The Role of Governor of the Curve, 26th February 2018).

I was appointed governor in May 2018, and quit in February 2019, but will try to give the public some perspective on the Curve: its place in North Kensington, the council’s approach to it and why I had to leave.

Governors’ Vision

From a North Kensington perspective, the Board of Governors has been notable mainly for its silence, a point of frustration to many local people wondering what has been going on at the Curve. The building is, after all, for the public and the Board is supposed to represent them. The Board spent its collective time and energy over the winter devising an alternative vision for the community centre, one that would take control of the building away from RBKC.

The governors’ vision was of the Curve being transformed into a fitting legacy for North Kensington, a space that would be congruent with the rich and diverse culture of the local area. Specifically, the governors proposed the Curve to be split into three areas of work: high quality, expert trauma therapy; skills training for jobs of the future for young people (in the technology, gaming, sports and culture industries) and a welcoming, safe living room environment for those wanting to drop in. Something roughly akin to the Tabernacle but for the West end of the borough. The plan initially called for the Curve to operate separately from RBKC as a charity, although the council would be expected to do its bit by providing the rent, which it could secure long-term and at a discounted rate.

If the vision was adopted, obvious issues would remain, including the Curve’s location, which is considered unattractive and unsafe by some residents. The building, its lighting and signage would need to be beautified if the Curve were to be transitioned from a community centre run by a distrusted local authority to a beacon of recovery, culture and opportunity. Challenges, certainly, but not insurmountable ones, if RBKC could grasp the potential of both the building and the local population and make resources available to help something happen.

My perspective was that North Kensington is in desperate need of public spaces and we should keep the Curve and make it work for the community. The poverty of the area is compounded by a scarcity of space. Many children live in appallingly overcrowded accommodation, with no space to do homework or relax, let alone learn new skills or prepare for success in their adult lives. One 11-year-old I have worked with lives in a two bedroom flat occupied by 11 (eleven) people of ages ranging from toddler to pensioner. Why? Because the council does not build the housing that would enable people to live in dignity. Community centres offer these children what they need: space. To RBKC, such public spaces are wasted opportunities better handed over to property speculators or private schools. I hoped I could help to secure another public space for the area…

RBKC’s Vision

The council has its own visions for the Curve and none of them are expansive. One RBKC vision sees budget cuts that would be applied to staffing, services or both; another sees the Curve closed, possibly as early as July 2019. RBKC has indicated there is some scope for changing what is on offer to the public at the Curve, but budget cuts are not conducive to transforming people’s life chances.

Such is the political landscape in early 2019. RBKC are no longer feeling the pressure from Downing Street and there is no appetite to push forward and invest in North Kensington’s potential. Austerity, the euphemism for impoverishment, is the real legacy, and North Kensington is the last place in Britain it should be imposed. It was RBKC’s devotion to austerity that led to them ignoring North Kensington’s residents for so long.

Last year, Philip Alston, the UN rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, after a fact-finding mission to the UK, said that child poverty levels were “not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster” in the world’s fifth largest economy. He said the government had caused “great misery” with its “punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous” austerity policies. Projected figures suggest that the number of additional deaths caused by austerity policies in the UK between 2009 and 2020 will be 152,141.

Nowhere was the 2010 shift to austerity taken up more enthusiastically than Kensington Town Hall and nowhere is the injustice more obvious than here in North Kensington. But this is what the Curve’s Board of Governors are being maneuvered to acquiesce to. The final straw for me was a meeting in February with Robyn Fairman, Executive Director of RBKC’s Grenfell Team, to present the governors’ alternative vision. Fairman seamlessly absorbed the vision into the council’s austerity plan. Not for one moment did RBKC’s representative entertain the idea of a breakaway from the local authority. There was no hint of imagination, no sense that the community might take the lead, that it might know better than senior councillors what the area needs…

Why I Quit

This kind of absorption into the council’s existing plans barely registers as a problem any more; from the massive cuts of the RBKC youth review, to Canalside, to the Curve, RBKC is comfortable and complacent. We have come a long way since summer 2017 when the people of North Kensington responded heroically to the fire at Grenfell and the idea that we would be left powerless was unthinkable. Even a Board of Governors genuinely representative of the diversity of the area has been side-lined, reduced to the role of ‘advisers’ to a service-cutting Tory council, and certainly not ‘governing’ anything.

This was the limit for me and I handed in my resignation the day after the Fairman meeting.

Problems

The problematic dynamic between the governors/wider community and RBKC didn’t appear suddenly at the meeting with Robyn Fairman. Disquiet has simmered since summer 2017, and chaos is to be expected in the aftermath of a disaster so shocking that it made headlines worldwide. In such chaos, serious commitment to principles (of good governance) are needed. But this is lacking with RBKC.

The Curve cannot contain the entropy, as trauma manifests and fights its way out of people in a setting ill-equipped to address it. One drama after another has beset the Curve’s management. At board level, resident steering groups that were promised for us to work alongside on day one still have not been created, undermining the governors’ credibility and effectiveness. Meanwhile, RBKC has sat back, their every move orchestrated by communications officers with their corporate jargon.

Oversight of RBKC is undertaken by Home Secretary Sajid Javid’s independent Grenfell Taskforce who have reported back to Javid in fairly glowing terms regarding the council’s progress towards “change” since the fire. In none of their three reports to date have they used the words austerity or poverty – suggesting less an independent group and more an establishment cover-up. What is omitted is far more revealing than what is included in such reports: no mention of Canalside House, which the disgraced council tried to sell; no mention of Lancaster Youth Centre, left to rot by the council. No library, no college, no context…

Perhaps the idea is to narrow the scope of any scrutiny so that RBKC leaders can convince themselves they are changing. Certainly the long pause in the Grenfell Inquiry does not help. While in legal limbo, pursuing serious change might look like an admission of guilt by RBKC. It is not just business-as-usual with the council, there is a kind of forced joviality to the tone of their communications, inappropriate for a local authority apparently implicated in the Grenfell fire.

The result is an uneasy marriage between RBKC and local people who engage with them. With a functioning inquiry, if the possibility of guilty verdicts being handed to RBKC or TMO staff were less distant, or if the public could hear the evidence and start to understand the political background to the fire, it would curtail the council’s phony change agenda. The imposition of austerity would be harder to get away with and feel-good reality TV shows showing the resilient Grenfell community would be considered in bad taste. With some legal clarity it would not be possible for residents engaging with the RBKC change agenda to remain apolitical.

The council, who claimed to have “no intention of defending anything” at the inquiry, but then did just that in their opening statement, have to maintain the illusion that they are changing. They have to maintain it in their own minds at least, even while every political instinct they possess takes them back to the same policies and same approach as before 2017. Their inability to change has been exposed in all three case studies we have looked at and there is nothing substantial they can use to refute the damning evidence.

Change at RBKC?

There is no change in approach. Over £400 million has been spent on Grenfell ‘recovery’ – but who has recovered? The Conservative leadership. Meanwhile millions in cuts are imposed on North Kensington. As a governor at the main recovery site, using up more public resources, I saw the jig was up – there is no partnership, there is no change. I fear the Curve’s Board of Governors has sleep walked into being a tick box exercise for a highly ideological local authority who hide their true intentions behind well-paid bureaucrats and well-meaning residents.

Change at RBKC? No, they are still committed to austerity, and all that it brings, in North Kensington.

 

Tom Charles @tomhcharles