Memoirs with Upeksha
Looking back with 2020 vision (almost !)
So where to continue? How about having a look at how this early life has impacted my more recent experience. 'Give me a boy at 7 years old - and I shall show you the man......' say the Jesuits - is this true in my case ?
The first thing to say is that there were a number of factors at my birth which clearly impacted on my later life. Firstly I was born with an eye problem - a weak left eye - which meant that I could not perceive depth of field, as can most people. This means that I tend to perceive the world as if projected onto a flat screen - a bit like a movie. In recent years I have wondered about this, it meant that in a way I was literally not living in the same perceived reality as most people. I think this condition effects something like one in fifty people so it is not really that uncommon. One effect of this was a gerneral lack of engagement in most sports, especially ball games like football, cricket and tennis. Although I was able to play badminton and volleyball reasonably well - the latter I think because it basically involves knocking the approaching ball away from you, something of a reflex response in me ! But how much did this influence my interractions with other people ? I now believe it subtley did, for one thing not being able to judge distance in the normal way I had less a sense of people being close or distant. So in a sense maybe physically distant people were perceived by me as vividly as those close by ? Interestingly I have recently purchased a home cinema set up which can show 3D movies. The one I have seen so far definitely did look significantly 3D to me at times, making the experience of watching it very vivid inspite of my somewhat impaired vision with both eyes not now fully functional. Interestingly during, and after, viewing it I could literally feel twinges occuring in the left hand side of my brain. I also noticed my general vision after the film was much more three dimensional. Could this suggest possible alteration of brain pathways connected with all this, both previously and due to watching the film ?
Another important factor at my birth was the date - I was born towards the end of the summer holidays - which meant just before the start of the new academic year. The upshot of this was that I was almost a year younger than several people in my year (and class) in both school and later college. I think this had the general effect of making me feel somewhat out of my depth during my time at school, especially earlier on. in the long run this meant I probably had to work harder to keep up with the rest of the class. A situation that in recent years has become a recognised phenomenon affecting the development of many people. On the plus side this also meant that I became accustomed to having to make this extra effort from early on. Maybe in the long run giving me a greater ability to focus on my schoolwork and other things ?
Next looking at my wider family situation I had to grow up in a relatively hard up, but close knit family. With not much money coming in especially during my first few years. My mother was also partially deaf, causing her to be seriously lacking in confidence especially in social situations. On the plus side my mother did her best to bring my sister and me up well. While my dad encouraged my mental development from an early age - encouraging the development of my memory with a memory card game when I was very young and later buying me extravagant and educational presents up into adolescence. This included a quality older children's encyclopedia for Christmas 1968 (when I was 8 years old) which fascinated me from then on. I also remember several construction sets including a significant amount of the Meccano construction components and plastic assembly kits of boats and planes in particular. He also stimulated my imagination with an expanding train set and a weekly 'Look and learn' magazine, again aimed at somewhat older children. As a result of all this by the age of ten I had a reading age of 14. I passed the 'Eleven plus' Junior school exam (possibly in the last year that it ran in London) putting me into the top stream at secondary school and developed a talent for both art and design. The latter was partially inspired I think by my father's skill at carpentry and general cleverness at fixing things. Thus by the time I left school I had nine 'Ordinary' levels and three Advanced level passes (including grade A in Art at both levels) and could embark on a science degree at a college in East London.
So how about my current interest in 'Spiritual' things ? Well as I mentioned before my near drowning had a huge impact on me and is clearly something of an influence with all of this. Also I had joined the Boys' Brigade - a Christian boy's movement - at the age of eight. This followed me attending the local Sunday School for a year where I discovered stories and songs about a strange person called Jesus. I continued with the BB for almost ten years - finally leaving the senior section in 1978 at the age of 17 to concentrate on my advanced level exams. Prior to this involvement I can remember many strange experiences when I was very young. Including awareness of what could be called the 'LIttle people' in some parts of the house and even outside. Experiences that would seem to fade particularly once I learned to read. However this kind of experience may well later have influenced my artistic imagination. This could also have been fed later on by my teenage fascination in reading (adult) Science fiction and fantasy novels. This would also develop later on into a general interest in literature.
So I would say that these and a number of other factors from my early life, as described in my first memoir with Karuna, clearly did influence later my life in both good and maybe some more challenging ways. In this at least the Jesuits seem to have got it right.
40 minutes words.
For next memoir click on this link: second memoir with karuna
1960 to 1970 1971 to 1977 1978 to 1984
1985 to 1989 1990 to 1994
Note: Above menu dates may not exactly coincide with all details in that specific memoir.
Looking back at the seventies
Sitting here now how do I feel about my puberty and teenage years ? How might they have affected my later life ? First of all I would say that growing up in the nineteen seventies had its upside and downside. The upside was a sense, at least earlier on, of progress in society particularly in overall standards of living. This was paticularly indicated by the greater availability of increasingly sophisticated technology such as modern telephones, stereo music centres, fridge freezers and automatic washing machines etc. The growth of access to colour television for example was definitely an advance on what we had in the sixties. Also 'pop' and 'rock' music became to some extent more sophisticated and interesting - one thinks of David Bowie and some later 'New Wave' artists. It was also a golden age of cinema with a strong European influence leading to many more grown up and sophisticated films. While for families like mine the standard of living definitely improved during this period. However the downside of the decade was huge, mainly relating to a growing sense of violence and lawlessness in society. This coincided with political crises at home and abroad following one after another, frequent power cuts especially after 1972 and steadily rising unemployment which particularly hit my generation. All of this coincided with a widespread sense of collapsing social values. This was reflected in decreasing numbers going to church and a soaring divorce rate plus a general rise in promiscuity and sexual permisiveness. The latter was evidenced by a steadily growing 'Porn' industry and increasingly explicit films and even TV. I also remember towards the end of the decade, with the growth of Video cassette player ownership, ultra violent so called 'Video Nasties' began to appear in some shops.
Looking back now I think I can see how so much of seventies life was dominated by a kind of escapism with people seeking relief from the problems of everyday life by retreating into various hobbies, interests and obsessions. From general consumerism and 'Keeping up with the Joneses' to focus on hobbies and sports. In my case such interests included making models, art and a growing interest in Science Fiction books and films. The Sci Fi boom of this period - led by popular TV series like Dr Who and Star Trek and the large number of science fiction novels published each year - ranged from sophisticated works by authors like J G Ballard to the eventual 'Star Wars' craze. The latter film inspiring a new wave of Science Fiction epics of the juvenile 'Space Opera' variety. This again seemed to reflect a general desire for escapism. Even growing drug use and teenage music crazes - beginning in 1976 with the Punk Rock phenomenon - could be seen to some extent as another aspect of this tendency.
My own life was no exception to this. However certain other activities, particularly my ongoing engagement with the BB, my academic ability and model making and artistic creativity, even my Yoga practice, gave me a focus and self - discipline which definitely stood me in good stead for later life. Indeed other interests such as listening to music and reading Science Fiction and even 'esoterica' like books on UFOs all helped to feed my developing creativity, helping my success in this field. On top of all this my ongoing 'Spiritual awareness' even if in the background, kept me aligned to a sense of life purpose which many others clearly lacked. Thus reducing in me the need for greater escapism, although our general lack of financial resources was also a definite limiting factor while helping to keep my feet planted firmly on the ground. Clearly this latter awareness was a direct result particularly of those two formative experiences - my near drowning at the start of the decade - followed four years later by my initiation by 'King Neptune' into expanded consciousness (possibly with the help of a small dose of LSD in that drink I was given beforehand).
The decade would conclude for me with a number of new significant experiences, particularly in the autumn and winter of 1978 during my first term at North East London Polytechnic. But I feel these are topics for my next series of remeniscences. And so my Schooldays (but not my adolescence) were concluded; and an unexpected future beckoned.
35 minutes 664 words.
For next memoir click on this link: Third memoir with karuna
Looking back at my life in the early 80s
Looking back to these events of around forty years ago the first thing that strikes me is how far I have moved on from that time in so many ways. Generally I have regarded this period, especially the two years following my degree course as the least happy time of my adult life. I remember going to the doctor at the beginning of 1982 and informing him that I felt depressed, he gave me a prescription for some tonic and advised me to try not to worry - this did not seem to be particularly useful advice at the time. But considering the times I was living in I now think I didn't do too bad overall (interesting to note how the two lowpoints of my life - the other being around my 15th birthday - corresponded to particularly low points in the country as a whole). I had successfully passed my degree and also my driving test the following year, at the first attempt. I had something of a social life with Guy and Vince and their friends etc. At the same time my parents were reasonably supporting of my situation.
It was probably humbling for me - after securing my degree - to work at the succession of jobs I did at this time. This included, following on from my five months at the warehouse, leaflet delivery, working in a lumber yard, doing washing up and cleaning at council offices in central London and a brief stint at McDonalds. I was sacked from the latter after ten days for 'lack of keenness' and I suspect they sent a rather poor reference to the next job I applied for: working as a security guard for Group 4. I have lately wondered what would have happened if they had given me a good reference, might I have ended up working for Group 4 for the rest of my working life ? A thought that now fills me with great relief when I look at how it all turned out !
It is also interesting how my interest in music led me to join a brass band and actually have the opportunity to perform music for the public. Something I would never have dreamed of doing before it actually happened. At school I had never regarded myself as at all 'musical', having focused very much on Art and Science. How much of an impact did this later have on my ability to stand infront of a class and teach ? Another thing I wouldn't have dreamed of doing before I actually did it and clearly a skill that stood me in good stead later on when setting up my own meditation classes.
Looking back I do seem to have had numerous lucky breaks at this time which were likely to have had a profound effect on shaping my later life, including the following:
1) Reading the Structure of Scientific Revolutions and Tao of Physics and even seeing Eraserhead during my first term at the Polytechnic, opening my mind to new possibilities and beginning my interest in Buddhism.
2) Meeting Peter Wong which gave me an early experience of an 'exotic' culture and also an early opportunity to teach someone else, especially in developing the patience to do this.
3) Getting interested in Jazz music which led directly to my friendships with Guy and Vince, thus gaining a 'mentor' and knowing someone I could hang out with at a particularly low ebb in my life. Also developing an interest in local history leading to other things later on and also allowing me to meet Sandra and all that led to.
4) Something I only just remembered: The Spanish family next door asking me to give private lessons to their young son for a small payment. Thus showing me the possibility of teaching others as a livelihood.
5) MacDonalds possibly sending that bad reference for the Group 4 security job - a lucky escape for me !
6) My mum happening to work for someone whose friend told her about the teacher training course at Garnett College for adult education. Something I had not considered doing previously that would subsequently turn my life around.
7) During my first year of teaching at Southwark College noticing a classroom full of BBC micro computers and realising this was the way to go. Having learned the barest minimum of computer programming skills in the first year of my degree course.
So inspite of my increasing sense of social alienation during the latter part of my degree course, my depression after it ended and seemingly wasted years of off and on employment and lack of direction, I can now look back at this time as including many blessings for me. Even though it often certainly did not feel like that at the time.
To be continued.....................
30 minutes 808 words
For next memoir click on this link: Fourth memoir with mudita
Looking back now at my teaching years
Well - I must admit that looking back now on those years of the late 1980s, having just before this session been typing up the last bit of my previous memoir including details of the attack, I do not feel very happy about it all. Of course it was not all bad and I definitely made some marked progress during this time. But, particularly bringing to mind the attack in 1989 and also what the world around me was like back then, plus my recollections of how I believe others saw me - I am not happy. I can now see why I decided to throw my lot in with the Buddhists from mid 1992 onwards. I think now a lot of this has something to do with my view of the prevailing attitude back then, which was generally self - serving and relatively indifferent to others. This general hardening of attitudes can even be traced back to the late 1960s with the reactions of the older generations to the 'drop - outs' and youth culture and even television in general at that time. I feel now that people were to some extent in effect being forced into a certain way of living and towards a prevailing attitude, whether they liked it or not. This tendency would become particularly prevalent in the '80s and after with the growth of a much more competitive and hard nosed attitude to life, which ultimately did not agree with me at all. So I remember a certain sense of relief, even though I was also aware that there may have been some issues with the Buddhist movement from fairly early on, but nevertheless relief at not having to engage with this kind of 'rat race' any longer.
In many ways I have since seen my 20s as my period of trying to 'fit in' with conventional life, which ultimately of course failed. It is interesting to reflect here on how little of my experience of teaching during these years can even be recalled by me now. I think this is suggestive of a basic lack of inner integration and awareness back then, with me almost operating on 'automatic pilot' for much of the time. Indeed when I recall my first few attempts at meditation in the spring of 1992 it strikes me how shockingly chaotic my mind was once I focused on it. I would say it took another two or three years at least before I was to experience any deeper sense of mental integration and inner balance. And so, even with my recollections of the numerous positive experiences of that period, I can truly say I am now very glad it is all behind me and I can finally lay it to rest.
For next memoir click on this link: Fifth memoir with karuna
Reflections on my life back then.
So looking back on this period now how do I feel about it ? Firstly I would say that the years from 1990 to 1994 do represent a fairly adventurous period in my life, from my solo travels abroad to my entering into a new kind of life at the Buddhist community and giftshop. I remember my first day behind the counter at the latter, how strange it felt to be doing a job where I would be directly handling money and even taking it off people ! To say nothing of being trusted with the hundred plus pounds in the till of the cash register !
Here is a list of most of my new experiences from these years: Solo foreign travel; staying at foreign hotels etc. ordering food in foreign restaurants; having to speak in another language - however badly - to get by; crossing the former Iron Curtain; travelling at over 200 miles an hour on a passenger train (the fastest in the world at this time); seeing 'proper' mountains from a distance - still the largest objects I have ever seen; visiting a world famous pilgrimage site; becoming a self - employed trainer earning around £2,000 in a month; learning meditation and seeing how chaotic my mind really was; going on retreat; having bizarre meditation experiences including visual hallucinations and strange effects on my breathing; engaging in traditional Buddhist worship - Puja; chanting mantras; living and working with Buddhists; going to Glastonbury and other festivals for the first time - a real blast ! Becoming a mitra or official FWBO member; asking to be ordained as a Buddhist; teaching meditation for the first time at a class in a strange new agey arts centre in Brixton; working in a giftshop during the Christmas and New Year periods.
These are all stand out memories of this time.
I wonder how my life might have turned out if I hadn't taken the plunge ? Maybe marrying a student in this period and becoming manager of the probably soon to be closed centre, while bringing up a family and being commited to working in jobs I probably wouldn't have really wanted to be doing. Its possible I might have ended up by going along to some kind of Buddhist or meditation classes, but surely it would only be possible to engage with them in a relatively superficial way. In short it would entail living a much more conventional life as I had to some extent tried to do throughout the '80s. Instead of this I took a few years to get over the alienation that had developed over the previous dozen years or so by immersing myself in a Buddhist life - the right choice I now think.
25 mins approx. 434 words