Is that an intriguing title or what? Let me explain:
This little café is in an unlikely setting for a retreat. It’s on the busiest street in Sihanoukville, is usually crowded and with little parking space, it’s often hard to get into, much less park my motorbike or even my bicycle in front of. Nevertheless, it’s one of my “magic” spots in Sihanoukville. Maybe it has something to do with the great fresh baked bread and pastries or the friendly and efficient staff or maybe it’s just magic, plain and simple. All I know is that every time I come here, I feel respite from the world.
click image for source
This morning I really needed respite and as soon as I sat down, it happened again: I felt at peace with the world and was content to set my mental and emotional baggage down and just ‘be’ for awhile. Then something weird happened: the words, “nearer my God to thee” popped into my head out of nowhere.
I knew they came from somewhere and that they were Christian in origin. I also knew that under other circumstances I would have found them annoying, like something a Jesus Freak, evangelical preacher or devout grandmother might say. Under these circumstances, though, they were quite comforting and reminded me of a day back in 1972 when similarly “Biblical” words popped into my head. That memory inspired me to do what I’ve been promising myself and others to do for ages and continue my Guru Who isn’t My Guru series of articles and that’s exactly what I’ve done this afternoon. Although it’s third on my list, it’s the chapter I’ve written first, about the time when Neem Karoli Baba told me to “go home and read the Bible.”
Neem Karoli Baba Kainchi ashram (click image for source)
As you can see, that was in a decidedly more appropriate setting for a spiritual experience, but then again, the setting should be incidental. At any rate, I’m all blogged out now and just wanted to grab your attention. Just click the link above and read about what happened after I did what Neem Karoli Baba told me to do.
The past few weeks haven’t exactly been good ones for me. They haven’t been all that bad, either, but they’ve been bad enough for me to come up with the title of this blog, My Slough of Despond.
Christian in the Slough of Despond by William Blake
It started with a flu that happened to coincide with a downturn in work. At the same time my flu degenerated into a reasonably bad case of bronchitis, members of my family started falling ill and a neighbour suddenly died. All of these events put an enormous strain on my limited income and made me wonder, once again, how I’m ever going to be able to provide for my Cambodian family indefinitely.
On a more global scale, I read about how the fallout from Fukushima is much worse than has been reported and have watched the rhetoric for war in Syria, Iran and Central Africa pick up speed. Here in Cambodia, a Chinese company is turning a large chunk of virgin rainforest and turning it into a city sized resort/casino and a Cambodian rubber baron is destroying another swathe of land in Ratanakiri.
I didn’t write a post last week because I was just too depressed. On Sunday, my title came to me, but stuck in the slough as I was, I couldn’t get beyond it. Looking for inspiration this morning, I googled ‘slough of despond’ and discovered that I’m not the only one who is feeling or has felt this way.
My first search took me to the transcript of a podcast written in 2006 on a blog simply called Shane’s Pages. This is how it begins:
Do you still listen to or watch the news or have you given up in despair? Do you often have a real sense of foreboding and unease? Do you find yourself staring off into space wondering what our world is becoming? If you do, you’re not alone.
A little further along, Shane says:
We hear, read or watch the suffering of innocent civilians caught up in somebody else’s war and identify with them. We cheer on the aid workers and medical and relief teams as they do their work in trying to alleviate the suffering. At the same time we watch, read or hear about the importation of more weapons at another port that will, in a few short hours, be used to inflict more carnage in the innocents. All this is information is thrown at us and in some way we try and cope.
Had the page title not simply been August 2006 #1, I would have thought it had been written yesterday.
Shane, who sounds like a really interesting guy, by the way, went on to say something spookily relevant to my personal slough of despond.
While waking up to the news of a child who will forever wear the scars of her ripped face due to some bullshit masculinity which deems keeping animals bred to kill in your backyard as a rational thing to do, you overhear the waking whimper of your own children and wonder if its luck, genetics or just good timing that separates you from parent of the other child.
Fortunately, the story is not quite as tragic here, but another source of frustration and despondency for me and my neighbours has been the pit bull some idiot brought over from America. After killing two street dogs, the neighbours asked him to destroy his dog before it attacked a child, but he refused on the grounds that it was an expensive dog.
That story has a “happy” ending. Even though he promised to keep it enclosed or on a lead, he continued to take it out for exercise and it was hit by a car the other day.
The next place I looked for the slough of despond was in images. I found this one by Wm. Blake on a blog called this Public Address. Interestingly (to me), the author is also a woodworker as I was and still am inside and also likes Stickley furniture. There was no text with the image, but on the home page, I came across an excerpt from an interview with artist Jim Dine, who says:
Yes, that’s the running thread—the alchemical aspect of it—turning shit into gold, hopefully. That’s always been my intention.
Last week, my daughter Chloe brought my attention to Kony 2012, a documentary about the atrocities committed by Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda. The documentary has gone viral and has brought Kony into the public spotlight for the first time. However, Kony and his army have not been active for years and it’s only recently that the United States has decided to do something about it. Is it a case of “better late than never” or is there something sinister behind it?
Edward Bernays believed that society could not be trusted to make rational and informed decisions on their own, and that guiding public opinion was essential within a democratic society. Bernays founded the Council on Public Relations and his 1928 book, Propaganda cites the methodology used in the application of effective emotional communication.
He then goes on to examine why the video may be part of a propaganda campaign aimed towards garnering “mainstream acceptance of US presence in Africa through a proposed archipelago of AFRICOM military bases in the region.” He questions the necessity of such bases with lines like this:
According to Invisible Children’s own LRA Crisis Tracker, not a single case of LRA activity has been reported in Uganda since 2006.
I’ll leave it to you to read the article if you choose to do so. I definitely recommend reading it before or after watching Kony 2012.
I like to wrap up my posts with something positive, but I’m still in the slough of despond and nothing’s coming to me. How do you turn the “shit” that’s happening in the world into gold? I suppose you can get all your information from CNN and CNBC and believe that the world’s only superpower and its allies are engaging in “humanitarian intervention” and that an “economy recovery” is occurring. Maybe you can pin your hopes on the outcome of the next election or the one after that. I can’t, but maybe you can.
Right now, I’m pinning my hopes on karma. The man’s pit bull was killed by the car and no longer threatens our neighbourhood. Was it a random accident, divine intervention or karma?
Christian dragged out of the slough of despond by Help - Wm Blake
Of course, seeking karmic vengeance when you feel otherwise hopeless is a pretty pathetic way to feel hope, but right now it’s hard for me to “love everybody” as Neem Karoli Baba suggested we do. I think I’ll take my readers’ advice and finish My Guru Who is Not My Guru pages and see what happens. Thanks for your words of encouragement, everyone. That’s a story that’s worth telling and one of the few that only I can tell. I promise, I’ll do it this week.
In the meantime, this cover of Nirvana’s Come as You Are by Malaysian artist Yuna definitely helped restore my faith in some parts of humanity. Thanks, Chloe, for helping me out of the slough by recommending it.
I was planning on writing a lengthy post about the mysterious energy healing technique I’ve been alluding to in my past couple of posts. I got as far as dusting off my old workbook and placing it in a convenient location for reading, but life intervened and it hasn’t budged since. Just as well, because now I can write about Neil Slade‘s new book, Tickle Your Amygdala.
Neil very kindly sent me an advance copy. Although I still haven’t had the opportunity to read the book in depth, it doesn’t matter too much because the amygdala tickling techniques he tirelessly promotes for no other reason than they work are scattered throughout the book in easily digestible nuggets: perfect for today’s busy people.
Since I’m an amygdala tickling aficionado already, I was less interested in the techniques and the parts of the book that explain in simple language why it works than I was with the interviews. Imagine my surprise when the first one I came across was a snippet from mine. This is what it says:
RS: “…But anyway, one day I was driving along, thoroughly depressed, and I did a little amygdala click and became completely blissed out.
NS: (laughs) “You weren’t taking any drugs, correct?”
RS: “No- no drugs whatsoever, but it was as if I had taken a very strong one- it was that big a change. That feeling persisted for a good six or eight months I guess. A permanent high. Every time I clicked forward I’d get on a big high. It was simply that flip, that simple little flip of the amygdala. This is what is so extraordinary to me, that it happened, and that there wasn’t anything subtle about it. It was just a complete change of outlook.”
Neil interviewed people who are a lot more famous, talented and/or creative than I, but I have to agree that my dramatic example was an appropriate one to highlight, especially since I’m a “nobody.” The beauty of amygdala tickling is that if you have a brain, you can benefit from it, no matter who you are, where you are or what you’re doing. I was working in a boat building factory at the time. It was the worst job of my life, but the magic of amygdala tickling made it not only tolerable, but interesting.
Just below that snippet was Neil’s first amygdala tickling “technique”:
Imagine you have a feather inside your brain.
Use it to directly tickle your brain’s Pleasure Spot.
That’s really all there is to it, but in order for it to sink in, it helps to read about it first and know exactly where to tickle. You can get a lesson here, but I urge you to read Neil’s book. I’ve just received notice that he is going to release it on Monday. As soon as I get the link, I’ll provide it and advertise it here, but I’m not going to advertise the Amazon version in hopes of getting a commission, nor will I ask Neil for one. I want people to read it because I want people to read it: it’s as simple as that. At $16.95 plus shipping for a signed first edition, it’s already a deal and ereader editions are coming soon. You can find the print version here.
Aside from the amygdala tickling “lessons” and interviews, there’s a ton of other fascinating information in the book. Take this for example:
Perhaps an even more compelling case has been documented over the course of fourteen years by Nancy Talbot, who heads a team of a dozen professional university and business scientific investigators at B.L.T. Research in Cambridge Massachusetts. Among other notable cases she has studied are the astonishing abilities of thirty-two year old Robert van den Broeke.
Among recent tests given to Robert was a double-blind test in which he could duplicate a hand-drawn image such as a boat or other scene or a random set of numbers drawn around on a sheet of paper. Further, his drawn facsimile was not vague or approximate- it was an exact duplicate in which he reproduced every element in exactly the right size and shape to the source image.
He then goes on to interview Nancy Talbot. It’s one thing to read stuff second hand. It’s quite another to go directly to the source, as Neil Slade does.
Okay, I hope you’re convinced. If not, don’t worry. I’m sure I’ll be quoting from Tickle Your Amygdala regularly, so you’ll get more reminders to check it out.