The Oneness is the Greatest – #SanctumBristol

Every time I have read about spirituality, and usually when I am reading anything vaguely self-help-y, and sometimes when I am trawling through the Internet, there is a message that keeps coming back. That we are one. All of life, all of the Universe is, or is part of, the same organism, essence, energy.

I’m not too interested in debating or justifying this though I’ll happily discuss it, and often do, when someone is willing to engage with the idea. But without any religion, I have always believed that somehow we are all connected. I don’t know why, and I can’t really explain it. I don’t need to.

My best friend believes that we are imbued with the Holy Spirit, the same spirit of her God; my other best friend is an atheist, but does believes that we each have a soul, or spirit of some kind, and that we are connected to each other through mutual dependence and a moral responsibility to each other, simply by being alive and in proximity.

I’m not sure I can describe my experience of ‘oneness’, other than to say that at times I feel a connection, an emotional mirroring, and a rush and pull so visceral that it’s frightening, as though the soul I haven’t yet decided whether or not I have is being clamped and dragged from my body. I often shut that feeling down, especially since this happens most often when I am faced with the pain of others. Pain I’d rather not feel with no power to act on it, that’s not mine to fully grasp anyway, that’s distorted and egged on by my imagination and my adrenal glands.

This oneness, connection, is both physical and mental. My partner believes that those two things are one and the same. Billions of us believe billions of things; and thus, we are all potentially as different, and potentially as similar, as we can be. Our consciousness, and the oneness, are Schroedinger’s Cats.

Last Sunday, I arrived to see my friend Sara perform at #SanctumBristol. For an hour, every single day, throughout the entirety of the installation, she has been singing, in Arabic, a call to prayer. Sara wrote the translation of her prayer on the chalkboard for us, and asked everyone to face the back right-hand corner of the structure; in the direction of Iran, her country of heritage. The chalkboard read:

The Oneness is the Greatest

I testify that there is no God greater than the Oneness

Come to Sanctuary

Come to prayer

The Oneness is the Greatest

There is no God greater than the Oneness.

It was bright and early in the morning. There was cold wintery sunlight eking everywhere and showing us everything it possibly could. I sat in the newest and most beautiful structure in my city, holding a hot cup of tea, sheltered from the damp outside and swaddled in a large scarf, and felt lucky and happy. I listened to Sara’s strong and worn voice, a vocal offering of connection with the Oneness; with anyone who cared to listen; with anyone who happened to turn up that morning; with Iran; with you; with me. As she began and continued to sing I felt a rush, an impact. A connection with so much and so many that overwhelmed me in its torrent – but for a second, an instant. A collision of whatever that fist inside my chest is that punches up and out and forces me to breathe deeper than before and open my eyes with the hope of seeing something. I see nothing out of the ordinary, simply what was there the second before, and the second before that, but I feel so many tiny fingers and roots and cracks of life surging in one single snap through every neuron and each bronchi. Between my consciousness and others’ spirits must be so much recognition, so much obscurity and all at once and altogether and if only we could have it. Hold it. And actually know each other. In all our generosity. In all our violence. In all our carefree and carelessness.

The connections, the Oneness, was, as always, too quick for me to comprehend. As I faced the feelings of fear that gathered from my seat and crowned over my head I breathed and listened to the river of Sara’s voice. So much possibility and so much pain, so much potential for downfall and excitement and creation and admission and revelation, and the only limitation that will exist will be the boundaries that I put up, as healthy as they are, to fend off the onslaught of life. It was terrifying, exhilarating and I felt the luck and the happiness and the nausea and the hatred and the absolute bewilderment and everything else contained in my life so far, to the fullest.

emotional at sanctum bristol during Sara's call to prayer

This is what that looks like. I think it feels better than it looks. Photo by Max McClure, courtesy of Situations.

I’d never felt lucky or happy until recently. As I’ve grown I’ve stood and faced the Oneness whenever I could, but most often it’s thrown me to the ground, and I’ve knelt, head bowed, pleading, tempering myself and waiting sheepishly while it ticks, silently, potentially sinister. But whilst there, with a good view of the foundations beneath me I’ve gathered my blessings, my connections, my feet and my sight and I’ve waited again. And each time stood to face the Oneness. And last Sunday I sat and soaked up Sara’s singing it to me.

In the last week, the week that followed, were several more terrorist attacks that have become so frequent that they only really rock us if just across the way. More people lost their children, the loves of their lives, the people who cared for them, the people who provided them with their lifelines. Sara texted to ask that we be with her as she carried on, for an hour, every day, performing, rejoicing, calling for us to be One. Asking that we connect with her, as she continued her connection, while life once again seems to repudiate, abandon, and rip our fragile togetherness away from us.

Billions of us believe billions of things. We are all potentially as different and potentially as similar as we can be. Be aware of yourself as a perpetrator. Are you responding, or maintaining our global supply of revenge?

I don’t know what the Oneness is. I only know that we are together, and there is no choice other than to be together. What a threat, what an opportunity. I am thankful that on a Sunday morning I no longer hide under soft duvet barricades, and useless chemical clouds, but rise to connect with a friend, to hear a city, to seek the Oneness.

Come to Sanctuary. There is no God greater than the Oneness. The Oneness is the greatest.

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I wrote this for my Sanctum performance on Mon 16th November 2015. I managed to get a slot directly after Sara – it was a wonderful experience. Many thanks to Situations for having me, there’s only three days left of Sanctum, get down there while it lasts.

performing at sanctum bristol

Theatre West REVIEW – The Islanders

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As the year draws to a close Theatre West have produced a season of new plays, of which The Islanders is the third of five. The setup – a one-act preceded by a short piece by another upcoming writer – not only allows for a showcase of the latest writing by the west’s rising talent, but also for a reflection of the topical issues that theatre’s emerging writers are exploring.

Tory MP Claire is called back to the island on which she grew up – the constituency she now represents in Parliament – where the resident islanders are reeling from the latest in a series of building collapses caused by rising sea levels. Although the many locals – all played by the two supporting actors – spoke in thick west country accents, for some reason I imagined ‘the Isle’ to be in Scotland; perhaps because Claire’s being so far away in London for much of the year was such a foregrounded theme. Bristol was referred to at one point, so we knew we weren’t ‘here’ – but, of course, the vagueness in geography allowed the story to feel simultaneously local and universal.

All the performances were solid and engaging, and the characterisation was particularly enjoyable – Rosanna Miles gave a melodramatic portrayal of a sincerity-chasing career politician, which nicely illustrated an ego-led desperation to appear to be doing the right thing. While I don’t disagree with this reading of political behaviour, I couldn’t decide whether this felt fully three dimensional. However, it did bolster the relentless inabilities of the mentally-, geographically-, and experientially-detached leader focused on placating rather than assisting her constituents.

Joel Parry provided much comic relief in his portrayal of key locals and antagonists; there wasn’t a huge variation in his accent or characterisation – occasionally it was hard to tell whether Bob or The Man Who Wants a License to Shoot Pigeons was speaking – but he performed all with gusto. Claire Sullivan’s recently-home-and-business-less Major was particularly warming, her small frame mimicking that of a frail old man and her thousand-yard stare drawing us into his grief. Similarly, her portrayal of young and eager political aide Anna, whose willingness to admit to the realities of climate change and the subsequent necessity to manipulate the Islanders, was delivered with a frighteningly charming innocence.

The script was tight, the characters well-directed and the story accessible – it is difficult to do behind-the-scenes political dramas following the success of The Thick of It, because everything compares and almost nothing can match it. Indeed, a Tucker-esque character appeared towards the end and swore a lot, and I wished so much that the character had completely diverged from the newly-stereotyped Hardball Spin Doctor. In that vein, there were many ways the story could have been more adventurous and/or perilous, but the real success was in the interaction between characters and the pacing of the story. I was unsure as to whether Claire’s final ‘redemption’ was intended to illustrate the futility of party politics or act as a sincere resolution for the arc of the character – for me, it was certainly the former, and I would’ve liked a clearer, bolder finale.

I’ve seen many plays about climate change recently, and not all of them work. The Islanders fares well as a story about the lack of political will to address the most urgent of society’s needs, and for the company’s next installment I’d simply like a more radical treatment. Ultimately, I’d love to see more from all involved and highly recommend catching it in the last couple of days of its run. It continues until Saturday 14th Nov at PRSC’s The Space on the corner of Jamaica St and Hillgrove St.

Media: Business or Public Service? – my first piece for The Bristol Cable

I recently finished my first feature documentary, and became a co-director of nascent media co-operative The Bristol Cable. This obviously calls for a welded celebration in the form of an article-shaped, self-aggrandizing plug.

Enjoy!

http://thebristolcable.org/2015/04/media-business-or-public-service/

Be the food you wish to see in the world.

I’ve never spoken about this publicly before.

After a month of feeling ambivalent towards my health, my work, and whether or not it would actually be preferable for the crash of civilisation to just hurry up and happen so whoever was left could start again, I read something that made me feel a bit better. I wrote the writer a letter because maybe someone else’s writing could make her feel sane, too.

PS: while we’re on food, we really need to sort out the food and agricultural industries. Have you seen them?! They’re completely fucked. If anyone works out how, please email me. No wonder I find it so hard to eat properly, when they make it so difficult. – Ed.

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Caroline –

I just read your article on Adios Barbie. You might have just saved me from a long road back, or at least helped nudge my tunnel vision off track.

I have had various, and almost constant, eating disorders since I was twelve, and they came to a head about three years ago. At that point, I sought therapy and at the same time went to the library to read up – I found a book called ‘When Women Stop Hating Their Bodies‘, which was a mouthful to keep repeating to my Mum when I frequently enthused about it, and which outlined the ideas of both emotional and intuitive eating (which I’d never heard of before.) It helped me to dedicate myself to the beautifully messy art of eating whatever I needed and whenever I wanted, and I even became a sometimes happy and joyful person in the process (which you should be impressed by, because I’m a neurotic, middle-class anxious person by nature, down to having glasses very similar to Woody Allen’s [I was prescribed those, they aren’t natural.])

My weight subsequently levelled out by itself, a few times – in the latest of these level-ings last month, I didn’t even notice. I’ve just fallen quickly into a new relationship with a man I might well love forever, and to discuss all the fear that comes with being happy because someone else temporarily exists, I went to see an old friend I needed to catch up with. She quickly noted my recent weight loss (she is one of the few who I told of my eating disorder when it got really bad, and is often attentive to changes in my appearance [not always helpful – though, of course, well-intentioned]) and almost immediately I was thrown into a hyper-vigilant state of weighing myself ‘just to check’ and ‘out of curiosity’, privately adamant I would not put anything back on because ‘this is how much I weigh now’, accompanied by the physical sensation of sugar coursing through my veins any time I ate anything wheat-based.

The most perverse part of this turn in the last few weeks has been the genuine belief that eating small amounts of very healthy food (the bare minimum I need to stop my heart from palpitating and my mood spiralling, of course) will protect me from freaking out about putting on weight, and having to fully restrict.

I’m dieting to ‘protect’ myself from having to diet.

One half of my brain watches all this pain unravel from the luxury box seats in my psyche, knowing it’s all bullshit, feeling superior, facilitating it all the while; the other really desperately wants to feel ok again, and doesn’t understand why that feeling suddenly left me, and craves sugar, and uses my eyes to stare at the mirror while using my hands to hide remaining body fat to see what I could look like if I ate and exercised ‘properly’, and knows I’m not emotionally exhausted I’m just lazy, and craves sugar, and so bakes loads but then can’t bring itself to allow any eating of the cake. God I crave sugar. Maybe I WILL have a cake or five. And maybe then, in desperation, get rid of the four of them my stomach hasn’t digested yet.

Then I read your article, and remembered some things I’d forgotten.

I’ve just completed my first feature film (zero-budget, quite an achievement), I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been physically and mentally, I’ve just fallen in love, and I’m doing some really important work right now both personally and professionally. All of this potential for massive failure (sorry, I mean, really good things happening to me THAT ARE COMPLETELY OUT OF MY CONTROL, *breathes*) is terrifying, and each day it’s uncertain whether my confidence is going to drive me at speed to exactly where I need to go, or crash around my face in that far-too-real and embarrassingly visible way it does.

I love the Cherokee tale of the two wolves, the lesson being ‘the one that wins will be the one you feed.’ Guess I’m going to have to feed myself if I want to win.

(That sentence looks as though it’s written with resignation. I feel it needs an addendum:)

Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm! Victoria sponge cakeEgg and pastaRoast dinner Thank you. Good luck. Elizabeth

Why Expressing Myself is Like Throwing Paint Over Someone’s Money

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The Papergirl exhibition has come to Bristol, and the organiser (who happens to be a good friend) asked me to submit something for it. Because I cannot draw, I decided to write some art instead. It’s about having feelings and emotions and hating what other people believe. Hope you like it.

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