Wednesday 29 May 2013

Living in a sick nation, healing a sick nation.

I am most grateful for having learnt a few things from the medical world. Quite apart from medical systematics, metaphors of wellness and illness extend into the greater sphere of human communication.

Health is a balance. All physiological systems are working aspects of survival and wellness. At any given time an individual is potentially unwell. Action is taken, involuntarily and voluntarily to maintain wellness, by moving, eating, getting out of the way, smiling, shouting a warning, explaining, changing the tyre, hanging up the washing.

Sometimes it doesn't work out. By driving a man-made invention, you crash into another man-made invention. Sometimes a tooth breaks. Sometimes cells lose the plot. When this happens, unless circumstances dictate, you know something is wrong and seek help. Mercifully, medical science can do much to assist.

Political science is not as advanced as medical science. When a nation goes into denial and refuses to acknowledge aches, pains, even crises, the sickness becomes palpable. Whole sections of society may start screaming for attention. The national economy may be flat-lining. National education may have become a cadaver, offering no more than dissection. Yet those responsble dab the face with make-up and paint the toe -nails and finger-nails with self-congratulation.

I can't speak with any authority about countries I don't live in, but I can say that South Africa is a sick nation. It's quite bizarre, because while sections of the population cry out for help of various kinds, the leadership ignores this. In the human body the brain is wired to notice the moment the body goes out of order. In an ideal nation the cabinet and the presidency are there to serve the people. Not in South Africa. It's weird, embarrassing and frightening to live in a country where problems are not solved but actually created for political purposes. I've realised that it's too easy to blame a foolish president, a short-sighted cabinet and an incompetent leadership of state infrastructure.

 The national dynamic is more complicated than that. It's like blaming the ocean for having polluted drops. The answer to national illness is individual activism. This is where the metaphor of physiological repair is so different to social repair. The body's default is to heal. Human social consciousness may yet evolve to that, but it's not there yet. Individual consciousness hasn't learnt how to honour natural connection. Part of human nature is divisive. In The Bond Lynne McTaggart explains how human consciousness is, at bottom, oriented to bond rather than separate. But you have to get there. Louis MacNiece in Autumn Journal writes a line: "where the people are more than a crowd".

South African individuals are a mixed bunch. With them, conscience is not a moral issue but an individualized dashboard. The rule of thumb seems to be "whatever works for me is right". Whereas I might sincerely want to bond with the helpless AIDS orphans in my region, and offer whatever help I can, the taxi-driver who stops right in front of me and gives the finger has limited realization of any kind. No matter how much I want to lead by example in the school, the curriculum reduces my efforts to idiocy, by decree. The social signals, in general, are disempowering. If you allow yourself to be disempowered, your energy is sapped. Living in a sick nation is energy-sapping, soul-destroying.


The first remedy is stick with what's true and what's beautiful. That's a tall order, but look at what Victor Frankl did with turning his experience at Auchwitz into logotherapy. Look at what Nelson Mandela did with his time in jail, The bottom line of that tall order is not what happens to you but what you do with what happens to you.

The second remedy is action. Inaction breeds despair. Acting as a matter of personal discipline easily overlaps with spiritual discipline. Act from the heart. If your heart is overly angry, you will learn much from the consequences. Greater strength produces more incisive gentleness.

The third remedy is presence. Your greater presence in action will produce deft movement and influence. Spirit is a matter of concentration of presence, neither too much nor too little, but apt for the moment. Great moments are about powerful concentrations of expression. Not the loudness of the notes, not the histrionics, but the filling of the moment. Spirit communicates.

The fourth remedy is to practise expansiveness. Whatever diminishes your energy, twists it, contains it, produces illness of the soul and the body. Grow your soul in quiet, concentrated presence and it will pervade the world: there will be no need to invade society with an agenda.

The fifth remedy is to create peace. Whereas peace with God is found, by grace, peace with people is made. The taxi-driver, the curriculum and the thief have no interest in making peace with me: I have to test myself in making peace with these.

The sixth remedy is to lose fear of confrontation. Demonstration, the kind that closes the N1 and the N2 goes beyond confrontation. Confrontation encompasses not only standing against, but also standing for.

The seventh remedy I'm going to leave blank. When people speak from the heart, sooner or later they get onto love. I have no clear understanding of love because I don't know how to begin to word the intensities of my heart. I have the sense of something overwhelming pouring through me, a kind of crossing through history, time and experience: a crazy space occupied by an emerging surprise of materialized spirit: a story the core of which holds a deep ache and a healing presence simultaneously.

I think Alan Paton had a similar experience in writing Cry the Beloved Country. 

There is a mist outside, as I write. In an hour's time, as usual, it will begin to lift. It will lift as individual molecules, it will lift as a mist.

The sick nation will heal insofar as there is enough intention for it to heal. That intention arises individually. It's a choice.

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