Public Affairs Council's 2015 Public Affairs Pulse Survey. The organization reports that "while people think big businesses provide useful products and services and serve customers well, they are critical of companies for paying high executive salaries and not doing enough to protect the environment, create jobs and support communities."
Dear People, for much of my life, I regarded the phrase “Good Business” as an oxymoron. I researched the origins of the “Corporation Concept” from its foundation in the 1700s to its rapid, predatory evolution after the Second World War.
I knew more about corporate law than some corporate lawyers and used this knowledge to inform legal campaigns designed to rein in the uncontrolled power of the corporations.
I attended many demonstrations protesting against the conditions of workers, the environmental record, the salaries paid to executives, and the deliberate avoidance of taxation by corporations.
In my later life, somewhat ironically, I became an ethical consultant to several large corporations and to a major industry group. I did years of research, wrote long documents, attended conferences and had privileged access to corporate leaders. I can claim a few modest changes here and there that the leaders I consulted with adopted, but by and large, nothing substantive changed.
For most of my life, I’d been talking, arguing, and sometimes shouting at the corporations, but always from the outside, looking in.
When years of dedicated work only brought minimal change, I stepped back from consultancy and gave the whole situation a rethink.
I started by asking myself what I am.
What am I?
I’m an artist, creating writing, painting, collage, sculpture and music art.
But I also sell that work in an open market, dealing with corporate publishers, record, television and movie companies [almost always corporations] and bookstore chains, quite often also owned or controlled by a corporation.
So, in fact I’m a businessperson: a person involved in business.
It was the first time that I saw that clearly. Most artists will tell you that the “business” side of their work is not their strong suit. Most of us have had negative experiences at the business end of what we do. And because we’re so focused on our work, sometimes obsessively, we tend to let the business side shift to the margins of our attention, hand it over to someone else, and we don’t think of ourselves as businesspeople.
But we are. We’re up to our necks in it. We can’t absolve ourselves from our participation in the Babylon Business Machine with our creation of critical, radical, progressive or iconoclastic art: we take Caesar’s coin in Caesar’s marketplace, and we render to Caesar, whether we admit it to ourselves or not.
Seeing that clearly, and facing it, made me reassess what it was that I’d wanted to achieve in working to make corporations more ethical, and how that might be gained.
I decided that it might be more effective if I stopped shouting at the corporations and took a place at the table, instead.
Rather than arguing for change, I decided to be the change that I wanted to see in the world.
So, I founded a company in my home city in Switzerland, and registered it technically as a corporation.
Before going live with the company, we spent a year developing the articles of association for the business: the DNA of the company that would give it a constant direction.
And before anything else, we searched for and found an ethical company lawyer.
For anyone starting a company, having a lawyer who shares the same ethical compass is essential. This ensures that any contracts you create will be fair to both sides. That simple step eliminates most of the disputes and legal issues that shadow many corporations.
As an ethical compass for the organization, we employed the 4Keys Principle:
Fair, Honest, Positive & Creative: this means that anything we do must tick all 4 boxes.
If one of the boxes can’t be ticked, we don’t move on until we’re sure that it is Fair, Honest, Positive & Creative. It also means signing on to the 4Keys Minute, where anyone in the company, or among our suppliers, clients or contractual partners, can tell the boss [me] that they need a 4Keys Minute with me, because they think something that we’re doing is not Fair, Honest, Positive or Creative.
We set out from the start to include all of our collaborators in supply chains and contractual partners in the 4Keys Principle, to ensure ethical practices at every extent of our company.
Next, we established clean, green systems.
Sustainability means putting the Planet first, so we did the research and found an ethical Carbon Offset Program to make sure that our corporation’s Carbon Footprint was net zero.
We engaged an independent green auditing firm to ensure that our environmental processes were sound, and that we haven’t missed anything.
We established a 95% paperless office, use energy saving equipment, have a clean-green waste disposal service, limit travel to essential purposes, have most meetings in teleconference format, and drive most of our work into digital arenas, such as eBooks.
When we publish physical books, we’re committed to the Cradle-to-Cradle Principle. Our books are fully biodegradable. If you don’t like them, you can throw them in the compost.
Next, we established work practices for our employees, matching world best practices outlined by the United Nations and International Labor Organization conventions and declarations, and with the company paying for Union membership where desired.
We work in accordance with all applicable Union rules and invite Union participation in key production projects.
Our non-executive board has an open seat reserved for Union representation whenever so requested by a relevant Union body.
We also made a 2-way exchange over Key Performance Indicators, meaning that it isn’t just the boss assessing the performance of the staff, but also the staff assessing the performance of the boss.
We made it a company provision that the boss, or CEO, can only receive twice the salary of the lowest paid employee.
We limited bonuses for the CEO to 2 per year, capped at $US50k, and contingent upon delivery of commercial product, such as books, songs, sculptures and so on.
I had always advised corporations to come out from hiding in their floating, international tax-haven status, locate in one territory of choice, and pay the full measure of company tax in that territory.
We located in Switzerland, my home base, and we pay the full measure of company taxation as our commitment to the nation that hosts us, and as CEO, I pay the full measure of personal taxation.
These are considerable sums. I can understand why corporations don’t want to pay it, and why many CEOs avoid paying 40% or more from their salaries.
But when corporations can move unhindered from one low taxation district to another, countries have no choice but to lower their corporate tax rate, and this becomes a race to the bottom for desperately constrained nations.
The logical extension is that a country will establish a corporate tax rate of 1% and all the corporations will locate there, and no one will have any tax money.
In my humble view, it’s not only an obligation for corporations to pay their fair measure of tax, like working people do, it’s an honor.
I’ve heard corporate leader friends argue that even if we compelled all corporations to pay full measures of tax, it wouldn’t shift the needle enough to alleviate poverty.
Maybe so, but that still doesn’t make it right, in my view, for international corporations to pay pennies in tax when working people have no such option.
I’ve had corporate friends remind me that many billionaires are philanthropists, giving hundreds of millions to charities.
Maybe so, but if they avoid paying taxes, it isn’t their money in the first place: it’s the people’s tax money that they didn’t pay. Secondly, the people probably have a better idea of where and how that money should be spent than the billionaire. And thirdly, if you’re using money that you gained by avoiding tax it’s not philanthropy, it’s money laundering.
So, we pay our taxes.
One thing I discovered when we tried to make a provision to help young artists with small grants, is that it’s very difficult for a company to give even small amounts of money away, because of concerns over money laundering and illicit transfers.
This is one reason why so many corporations establish foundations.
So, we set up a company foundation, and we’ve already committed our young artist support program with small grants for the next 4 years, such was the demand. And we established an Outreach Program, which has been helping a distressed community of 300 people in rural Jamaica during the Covid-19 pandemic.
There are many other aspects of what we did in setting up, and how we work with colleagues and production partners, but I think you get the idea. We wanted to show that it’s possible to set up and run a corporation ethically, pay the full measure of tax, and still make a profit.
So far, it has cost us a great deal and will continue to do so, but we are in a modest profit position and we sleep well at night.
Am I in the Machine? Yes, but I always was, and didn’t admit it. I could’ve dropped out and lived by bartering vegetables and chickens, and might’ve been happy doing that, but I didn’t, and I couldn’t. I’m an artist. I write books and compose songs, and like most artists I’m compelled to offer that creative work to others in some way. In fact, in just about any way: I printed out my short stories and gave them away on a street corner one time, while I was on the run as a fugitive and had no way to publish. I just had to have someone read my work, and I think most writers and readers will relate to that.
So, now, weirdly, I’m a corporate leader of sorts myself, although I’m generally underwhelmed by the concept of “leaders” in most fields. The world is packed to the treetops with leaders. Every time you turn around there’s another leader saying something. They appear on TV shows. They come from TV shows. We have to check under the bed at night to make sure there isn’t a leader under there, armed with a fabulously useless platitude.
And yet, things are still in a mess.
I think the world needs Great Cooperators, rather than Great Leaders.
The history of our civilizations since we domesticated ourselves is predicated on the axiom that The End Justifies The Means, within a culture of Compete & Consume.
We should reverse this.
The only logical and reasonable way forward is predicated on the axiom that The Means Justify The End, in a culture of Cooperate & Conserve.
If we keep on consuming and competing in this way, we will consume and compete ourselves into extinction. And the sustainable way we make things has to justify whether we make them at all.
The Means Justify The End.
Cooperate & Conserve.
In our company, our tiny corporation, we’re trying to do just that.
I haven’t given the name of my company, Dear People, because this isn’t advertising. I’m just offering a few of the lessons learned when I tried to be the change, rather than just ranting about it. I’m trying to take the oxymoron out, and make a good business, committed to doing good: something that the world is better for having, not worse; an attempt at a solution, rather than another part of the problem.
If you can suggest any way that I can improve the company, please let me, and others, know. All these little things we do can add up to a big change.
And if there’s anything in this that’s useful to you, please fell free to copy and paste or adapt to your requirements and aspirations, and may good fortune accompany you.
Love and faith,
Dear People, for most of our history, smiling was a reward for doing something good. A parent smiles at a child’s first attempts at copying the parent’s smile, and a feedback loop of appreciation and validation begins that carries all the way through first words, first steps, first day at school and first grown up responsibilities.
But with the advent of live-to-air television there was a new, frequently present smile: the smile on the screen, rewarding and validating us for simply being there.
Presenters chosen for their attractive, non-threatening appearance smiled at TV viewers from the earliest broadcasts.
Those big, bright, rewarding, validating smiles accompanied phrases such as: Welcome back! and It’s great to be with you! And Don’t go away! We’ll be right back! all designed to suggest a “real” connection that didn’t exist.
Where for the most part we’d watched movies as spectators, looking on at the depiction of life’s comedy and drama much as audiences in ancient Greece may have done, television burned down the theatrical fourth wall. We were suddenly in the room, so to speak, and being addressed directly, by someone appearing to stare into our eyes with a radiant smile of approval.
Of course, the presenter was always staring at the lens of a camera, and not at us. The presenter was pretending. And we were pretending, going along, knowing that the presenter wasn’t actually talking to us personally.
But that’s only the rational mind speaking.
Meanwhile, the unconscious was hard at work, picking up direct and latent cues.
The mind may draw a line, but the unconscious will still make a tiny reflexive smile happen in response to a consistent smile on a television screen.
Our pupils are dilating and contracting in response to smile stimuli, whether the mind thinks it’s logical or not.
Those of us born with television are the first generations to be rewarded with smiling, remotely and constantly, for nothing at all.
Whether this has left an impression on us culturally is to be determined, but a current feature of the smile phenomenon is that it’s decreasing in presented television programs.
Today’s presenters are generally more somber in tone, frown more frequently and often relegate the smile to an uplifting end-of-segment story, accompanied by a stiff, hopeful, comradely version of a smile.
Is that having an effect on those of us who still watch any television? Is it significant that the digital interface with Netflix, Amazon and any of the other silicon data miners is a smile-free experience, when we were raised with constant, smiling attention?
Is it meaningful that an icon has replaced the real thing to such an extent that some people will not think a posted photo of a smile is genuine unless it is accompanied by the validating smile emoji?
Time, that striding god, will tell.
A sincere smile is the way the heart offers a blessing, before the mind can summon the words.
Though many animals have their smile response – just ask any dog or cat lover – we humans definitely perfected it, and some nations, such as India and Jamaica, are such spectacular proponents of the unforced, sincere, well-intentioned smile that people visit those countries for the smiles as much as for the cultural and recreational attractions.
And now, most of us are wearing masks, concealing the most peaceful, gentle and universally understood gesture of social cohesion, the simple smile.
And weirdly, until the crisis has passed, if someone’s smile is visible because they’re not wearing a mask, we might think: Hey, that’s a lovely smile, but this is a small, enclosed space and you’re not wearing a mask, so the naked smiling is actually kinda creepy …
From the essential reward for good that links parent to child, to a reward for simply being there, to concealed from strangers by a mask, and now to being considered potentially creepy, the smile has taken a beating.
A photo of the lower half of the face on a mask can work in a hospital PPE scenario but if the photo-mouth is a constant smile, before long the creepy factor is back.
So, the eyes have it, for a while.
We all have to smile way more with our eyes until our lips can take over again.
Perhaps it was too easy for us in the pre-mask world to muster a hasty smile with everything except our eyes and pass it off as the real thing. Now, the smile is hibernating, and we have to work a little harder by getting those captivating eyes back on their A-game.
This is also the moment for eyebrows to rise, so to speak. One of the reasons why officers wear peaked caps is to hide the most expressive feature on their face – their eyebrows – which are also the expressive feature that painters discern from the greatest distance.
Eyebrows, your time has come.
Each peril fashions its own hazardous romance.
In these days when a kiss can kill, revealing the lips by lowering a mask is not just forbidden in some situations and potentially dangerous, it’s also suddenly a choice whether to reveal or not, where none existed before.
Covid-19, this taker of life and ravager of lives, has sent us all whirling in a deadly masked ball for a while, and the smile in our eyes has rarely been as enlivening, or as essential to surviving the dance.
Blessings, Love and Faith, GDR
Dear People, I was asked about some beautiful places that I’ve seen across the world, and I’ll talk about some of them in these posts.
I’ll start with the place that opened my “third eye" to Nature, the Waipoua State Forest in New Zealand, north of Auckland City. This astounding area between Aranga and Waimamaku hosts the largest Kauri tree forest in New Zealand. The Kauri trees are giants, like the American Sequoias, reaching to 50 meters high and 18 meters around.
Walking among them, we step around harmless giant snails as big as a wrestler's fist, and luxurious, fantail beds of ferns. Our voices are hushed, as if we're in a Cathedral.
And in fact, that forest in New Zealand is a cathedral of sorts. The trees are so immense that their peaks are lost in the leaf canopy far overhead. We are so tiny beside them. There is a sense that this is what the world was like in the time of the dinosaurs. Things that live here should be bigger, somehow, to match this fantastical forest.
Presiding over the forest is the tallest tree, called Tane Mahuta, Lord Of The Forest. The age of this colossal giant is estimated to be about 2,000 years. This tree was alive when Jesus walked in Galilee. Standing before it fills the heart with awe and humility.
As a city boy, raised on asphalt among tall buildings, I had no affinity with Nature. I was at home on the streets, and any trip to the country was an irritating distraction from the real stuff happening back there in the city.
Then I stood before the Tane Mahuta, and my Kiwi friends who lived in the area took me back there at night, when there was no one around.
I got it, at last. What others responded to when they were in a natural place. The connection, fo a few hours, with the world that made us, and that will still exist when we are gone.
The gorgeous splendor of striving Nature, each living thing constantly working to be the most effective and beautiful expression of their existence.
I felt connected for the first time. And respectful. And protective. I didn’t want anything to happen to that magnificent, living thing, The Lord of the Forest, or to any of the beautiful giants around me.
My city boy’s third eye for Nature opened up, and I became an environmentalist.
It was also a spiritual awakening.
Being in the presence of that forest giant at night, alone and safe for hours because there are no dangerous predators in New Zealand (no small thing for an Aussie, accustomed to a colorful variety of deadly threats) I felt myself letting go, and listening to the creaks and moans of the tree, and for a little while it made more sense than philosophy or poetry.
For a little while, it made more sense than anything else.
The cherry on the transformative cake, when you visit the Waipoua forest, is the New Zealanders themselves. Kiwis are kind, fair, generous, self-reliant, ingenious and tremendously warm.
The people completed my little moment of connection, adding their living example of a nicer way to be, to the spiritual awakening provoked by the living trees.
It still lives within me in precious and sacred memory, and still ranks as one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited.
Love and Faith,
We Can’t Breathe
“Justice in any process is when all of those affected may sincerely say that it was fair, and none may sincerely say that it was unfair." GDR
Mr. Floyd’s killing hit me so hard that I couldn’t work for a couple of days, and I just circled around the subject with the martyrs quote.
Writing this forced me to work through it. It was cathartic writing it, and helped me to deal with the flashbacks.
Vale, Mr. George Floyd. May the utterance of your name bring blessings.
I rarely comment on current social or political matters, preferring to listen and talk about the spiritual.
But the film of Mr. Floyd’s martyrdom and murder cries out that silence is complicity in violence.
And this is the first day I made it through, so far, without crying like a helpless kid, and the first time I can respond to readers’ requests for a comment without breaking down every time I think of Mr. Floyd calling out to his Mother.
Dear People, 3 times during my 10 years in prison I had guards pile on top of me, crushing my chest to the floor so that I couldn’t inflate my lungs.
Each time I thought I would die, and felt the panic rushing upwards in me as my breathing became weaker and weaker and the weight grew heavier and heavier.
Each time I squeezed the same words from my constricted throat again and again, hoping that some flash of humanity would make them relent: I can’t breathe …
I was lucky. They let me up. But others, in every prison I’ve graduated from, died. And even after Inquests and investigations were held, nothing changed and we all knew that it would happen again.
Do I hate prison guards?
No. I love prison guards.
Do I hate the Indian cop who hit me with a whip, leaving scars that lasted for 20 years, or the cops who kicked me while I was handcuffed to a radiator?
No. I love cops.
What was that?
One of the arresting officers, way back when I was a junkie and committing cowardly robberies, became a very close friend decades later, and that’s because he was one of the most decent, honorable men I’ve ever known. He just happened to be the cop who busted me, and later in my life I just happened to be worthy of his friendship.
The prison officers I witnessed who insisted on valuing the dignity of every prisoner, despite the angry hatred of prisoners themselves and the enmity of their fellow guards, who called them “Crime Lovers,” are among the true heroes I’ve known personally.
It may sound strange for someone who spent 10 years at the mercy of prison officers to say that some of them are my heroes, or for someone who was hunted for 10 years by police officers, and eventually captured by them, to list some cops as among the finest people I’ve had the privilege to know. It’s simply true.
Of course, it’s very hard to love a man who has a whip in his hand or his knee on your back. But within the darkness of a dark Injustice System, the shining of empathy and integrity in other officers is all the brighter, and a genuine cause for hope.
They are the ones who would've saved Mr. Floyd: the ones who say: No! Stop! This isn’t right!
Just as they did for me.
One prison officer who saved me during a savage beating by a small crew of sadistic guards, was later challenged to a fist fight in the staff car park, for having the temerity to stop their torture.
And he came to work the next day, suffered the eternal abuse of new prisoners and continued to save people, every day that he worked there, he was a hero.
When that kind and courageous man announced to us that he was thinking of leaving the prison service, we pleaded with him to stay. And he did. Because he knew that just by being there, he made a difference.
Why am I saying this?
I’m no expert on crime. I was generally rubbish as a criminal. Despite that, people often ask me what I would do to change things in the Injustice System.
For what it’s worth, here are my humble observations.
First, about cops, we have to be honest.
The police force is an army of the poor, enlisted to keep the poor under control.
They are low-paid, and their job takes them into the worst nightmares that human beings can devise in the material world.
They attend motor vehicle and industrial accidents that rip human bodies into mangled heaps. They attend hangings, child drownings, shootings, knifings, machete attacks, acid-throwing, horrific scenes of child abuse, sexual slavery and violence against women.
The kinds of things that cops experience are virtually identical to the worst experiences of war that leave veterans with PTSD.
Where soldiers may serve between 1 and 4 years in traumatic conditions, cops do it all their lives.
That, in itself, is more than we can ask of anyone we care about.
But in addition, they are routinely abused by the people they've attended to help, spat on and subjected to physical attacks, including murder.
So, what’s wrong?
The question of racism in America is an American agony for Americans to resolve.
The question of American civil disorder is an American fire for Americans to douse.
But the American policing experience intersects with those of many other countries in regard to police recruitment and training, especially in the use of lethal force, or killing, and to the Social Contract made with society by serving police officers.
Let’s look at the unwritten Social Contract.
Here’s the deal: cops will be low-paid workers, but you get the brotherhood and sisterhood of fellow officers and a gun.
You also get practical immunity from prosecution if you shoot someone, because we know you won’t do the job without that protection.
No one says this, but that’s the deal. You guys go out there and risk your lives for low pay, and we’ve got your back if something goes down.
Just about every city, everywhere, has the same deal.
And that's the heart of it, for both sides.
If I were a young man considering applying for a place at the Police Academy, and I thought I could end up behind bars with the very people I was arresting, I would think twice.
How do we fix the Social Contract?
More justice, more money.
The average salary of a police officer in the USA about $60,000.
The average salary of a CEO is 15 times that.
Establish a true financial remuneration tribunal for police officers and first responders, looking at every aspect of their work, valuing all that they do, and begin by doubling the pay of every serving officer.
I know, I know, in today’s America in Mace-to-Face confrontations with the police, that sounds weird, or just downright offensive: double police pay?
Please hear me out. Or, if this is distressing you in any way, please just stop now.
The same principle of More Justice, More Money, applies to prisons, in my experience.
How to improve prisons? Double the number of prison officers, and double their pay. That would improve prisons overnight.
With the police force, make this double-pay increase contingent upon an exemplary record.
Make those with complaints on their records enter a 1-year clean-record probation period, at the completion of which their pay is also doubled.
Next, announce further yearly increases based on exemplary records of public service.
Invite the best colleges in the nation to reserve places for serving police officers, with assistance provided to all officers who wish to pursue further education, regardless of current education status.
Make it a goal to have every officer who wishes further education to have the opportunity to gain a college degree.
Give all serving officers access to a State-supported fund, offering zero-interest loans with managed repayment plans. Provide full medical and dental cover and life-sustaining pension plans. 90% of crimes solved by the police forces in many jurisdictions are the result of information received. Massively increase community outreach to maximize good relations and the flow of information. Provide the best legal defenders, equal to or above the level of the prosecution, free of cost, if charges occur.
Establish purpose-built prisons, exclusively for ex-police officers to serve their sentences in safety, if they are convicted of a crime.
In exchange for such a raft of benefits and disincentives to corruption, the police unions would agree to lift the unspoken but rarely broken immunity from prosecution that is central to the current social outrage.
Would it cost plenty? Yes, but how much is inaction on injustice costing now?
A sadistic killing in a public street is horrifying, but the thought that the perpetrators of such iniquity may go unpunished is the maddening, unendurable agony of it.
The immunity must go.
And perhaps if cops could see their job as a true profession with significant rewards and benefits and pathways of advancement into private industry and other branches of public service, and with security of tenure, security in their jobs and security for their lives in the event that they face imprisonment, their unions may be convinced to surrender their unspoken, unbroken immunity.
I can't think of any other way that they might even consider it, and until they do, there is no forward discussion.
Secondly, when it comes to the culture of police forces in many countries, they often reflect the same empathy-crushing structures.
I know a young cop who has been told again and again: You’re too soft for this job. You care too much.
We can have some understanding of this attitude when life and death are questions every day, as they are with cops. We can understand that a cop will want to be sure that her partner will have her back if the shooting starts.
But the same mentality applies across many professions.
One friend was told by her hospital Registrar that she would never make it as a doctor, because she cared for the patients too much.
Teachers are told the same thing: You have to stop caring so much, or you’ll burn out.
I have friends who are traders in stocks, and they tell me that they hide their empathy from colleagues, because they will be perceived as weak if they express their feelings.
A recent survey cited a majority of women in business positions who frequently mask their empathy, so as to appear as “strong" and "forceful" as the men in the echelons above them; or in other words, as lacking in empathy as the men above them.
Wall Street is built on the selective eradication of empathy.
What happens within such a workplace culture is that very often those with the least visible empathy are rewarded with promotion, and those with the most visible empathy are pushed out of the job.
As a prisoner, on the rare occasions when I encountered a highly empathetic Governor or Warden of a prison, there were very few violent incidents, the suicide and self-mutilation rates dropped, and there were no attacks on the guards.
Any job that gives us power over others will attract some few who are cruel and sadistic. Their primary intention in joining the force is to exert cruel power over others. I’ve been under the heel of men like that.
Identifying such people, taking them off the force and sending them for the long therapeutic help they need, is critical to the effective and humane operation of any police force.
This can only occur in a culture of empathy, where individuals of extraordinary integrity and empathy are rewarded with promotion, and use their positions of power to deter and eventually eliminate the cruel, thuggish element.
A senior retired cop friend told me once that he had to fight his way up the ladder in the force, and he wished it had been different. He wished he’d made true friends, rather than allies, and enemies.
I’ve been tortured a few times, if torture means being chained up and beat up, sometimes for information they wanted and sometimes for their fun.
There was always one twisted soul in the middle of it, drawing others into its hurricane of hatred. And it always stopped when that one soul was transferred to another prison: the others just stopped doing it after a while.
And it was always fear that drove those tormented tormentors.
I never met a confident, courageous cop or prison officer, or convict for that matter, who was cruel to others: only the fearful ones preyed on others.
Hatred is a combination of fear and self-loathing. Confident people who have good self-esteem don’t hate anyone. They may hate injustice, but they don’t hate people.
I forgive, where I could never ask others to forgive. But I’m forgiving human beings, not systems, and no amount of forgiveness can improve systems.
The toleration of bullies within their ranks and their insistence on immunity from prosecution are what make us see police officers as enemies, rather than the true, blue friends and protectors of all law-abiding citizens that they should be.
I’ve been in a car driven by an off-duty cop friend, who saw a police car in his rear view mirror and said: Oh, shit! It’s the cops!
And he was a cop.
The police have a serious image problem. They know. They face it every day. But they can’t bring themselves to give up the one thing that would or could begin to make it right: immunity.
I’ve lived on the other side of the line as a workaday criminal. I know what exists on that side. I don’t want to live in a world where there’s no thin, blue line preventing that side from getting cosy over on this side.
I live on this side of the law, in Switzerland, in a city with a well-paid, well-educated and highly respected police force, where complaints are investigated and prosecuted by an independent unit of the justice department.
When I see a police car in the rear view mirror, I hope it stays there, protecting me all the way home.
When I meet police officers from my city socially, I’m honored to thank them for their service.
It should be that way everywhere.
It can be.
A heinous crime.
A tragic and indelible death.
A world in tears at a mountain of injustice peaked in a black man’s agony, beneath a white lawman’s knee.
A fact more horrible than fiction.
Is this what it takes to end immunity?
If not, the police unions should declare what it will take, because immunity must end.
Until then, we can't breathe.
Blessings, love and faith,
It always used to strike me as strange when people talked about being grateful, no matter what happened to you in life.
A car runs a red light and smashes into your car, trashing it completely, and leaving you with a stiff neck for years to come.
It made no sense to me that someone should be thankful for such an event.
And saying that someone should be thankful that it wasn’t much worse doesn’t help, because you could say that about any minute in which you live except your last.
A lot of the material I’ve read and heard about gratitude mixes up various concepts associated with being thankful. Even the clinical studies of the endorphin and serotonin effects during expressions of “gratitude” don’t adequately define the word, nor do the major studies agree on their partial definitions.
In short, the studies show neurological benefits from regular expressions of gratitude, but they don’t actually explain to us what gratitude is.
Various examinations of the word take us back to the root word in the Latin language, Gratus, meaning pleasing; welcome; agreeable.
The word Gratus is also the root of the word Grace.
Gratus itself comes from the ancient root word Gwere, meaning to celebrate or be in contact with the Divine.
In none of these meanings is there a quasi-masochistic sense of welcome for harm or calamity.
There’s nothing in there that instructs us to say: Gee, thanks for the ankle injury and the toothache.
In fact, I think it’s counter-productive to tell people to be thankful for things they’re definitely not thankful about.
I’ve been in a few tight spots, and I remember hearing my squeaky voice begging for Divine intervention, but it wouldn’t have made sense to sayor squeak: Thank you so much for this violent, disturbed convict who’s trying to kill me with a knife, because he thinks I’m his uncle Stan, who apparently was no avuncular hero.
You can’t be sincerely thankful for situations like that.
I tried. It didn’t work. No matter how I looked at it, my afternoon would have been much more thankful without the homicidal attack.
I think there are at least 2 important kinds of gratitude.
One is the kind of gratitude we exchange every day; the gratitude we might expect from someone when we do them a good turn, and vice versa.
This, it seems to me, goes back to the meanings of the Latin root word, Gratus: pleasing; welcome; agreeable. This is the agreeable way that we acknowledge one another with welcome, pleasing recognition.
Then there’s the other important kind of gratitude, spiritual gratitude, which is closer to the even older root word Gwere, meaning Grace.
It seems to me that spiritual gratitude is thankful for 2 things: my existence itself, no matter what form that takes, and the chance to be worthy of the challenge.
Wow, God, that was close, but thank you for this chance to be worthy. I won’t hurt the disturbed convict. I’ll seek to get him help. I’ll rise above this situation in the knowledge that it, too, shall pass. And I’ll be more mindful of the disturbed energies of others in future, both as a lesson from this challenge and as a good end in itself. I have Faith.
And that second kind of gratitude makes sense to me in the spiritual context: the chance to be worthy; the chance to rise to a plateau inside yourself that you didn’t even know was there; the chance to show what Faith looks like, in triumph or terror; the chance to walk the talk and be the change that you want to see in the world.
Prosperity tests character; adversity tests Faith.
In each case, it seems, the only way to insulate the spiritual self is to surround it with gratitude for the chance to be worthy: to face success or failure and remain in a state worthy of offering Devotion.
I think the formula is something like this:
I want to offer Devotion to the Divine Perfection,
and in order to do that I should be worthy of offering,
which means that I have to clean up my Ego and my Intentions,
and I should stay energized in that state of Grace,
by facing everything that happens with gratitude
for the chance to develop my character and to strengthen my Faith.
And in that sense, Dear People, I’m truly so grateful for each day, and all its lovely minutes.
Blessings, Love and Faith, GDR
Loss & Grieving
Dear People, a while ago when we were recording in Jamaica, we had a long, late-night discussion about friends who couldn’t let go of lost loved ones, and were suffering because of it.
We knew of one girl who’d had a fight with her boyfriend, resulting in him shouting and insulting her angrily, which was totally out of character, and slamming the door. He died minutes later. A car jumped the curb and struck him as he walked the pavement. She couldn’t forgive herself, and it took decades for her to learn to let go.
Another close friend missed being at his Mother’s bedside by hours, through no fault but a difference in flights. He, too, plunged into the despair of guilt and remorse, and never found a way to let go.
I wrote a song for those who can’t let go, hoping to release some of them, somehow. But loss and grieving come from such a deep place in the heart of our common humanity, That they’re often beyond the reach of music, words and most other sources of solace.
With so much loss and grieving around us now in the pandemic fallout, we still try to comfort one another, and to inspire one another never to give up.
Both my Parents passed away in the same 6-month period, 2 years ago. My grieving will go on for a long while yet, but for the first time in a lifetime marked by many lost lives, I have the means to deal with it.
These are the few humble lessons I learned about Loss and Grieving, and if you find anything useful here, please add it to your kit of help and advice for others.
GRIEVING IS HUMANE
Grieving is not only natural, it’s one of the things that makes us who and what we are, and actually defines us as fully recognizable modern human beings.
Although ways of disposing of the dead in caves date to very early in our ancestral record, burying the dead with ceremony and the inclusion of jewelry, shells, tools and other personal objects is a “line in the sand” between the animal and human worlds.
Burial and grieving require highly sophisticated abstract thought, purposeful sacrifice of goods and a theoretical commitment beyond the definitive moment of death.
So, grieving for lost loved ones is just a natural thing that we do, since we became us.
And we’re not alone. Geese, elephants and other animals will pine for a lost partner.
So, it’s okay to grieve.
And we humans grieve very well.
We grieve magnificently, because we grieve from both personal loss and also from the huge understanding that all things, everywhere, even the stars themselves, must die.
Consequently, there’s no creature on the Planet like us for grieving.
Not even close.
All art, science, philosophy and wealth accumulation is in some way an expression of grief and its twin, Hope.
THE SPIRITUAL PERSPECTIVE
Here’s an imaginary exchange between imaginary people, which might give an idea of the spiritual perspective on grieving:
Person Q: I suddenly broke down in tears today. I had such a powerful memory of Mum, and I remembered things I didn’t do and things I should’ve done and things I did that I wish I hadn’t done, and I cried for half an hour.
Person A: How wonderful! You’re so fortunate to have experienced that rich connection. And well done You for going into it and through it. When you’ve considered it for a while, please share with me what you learned. And now that your Mum is so strongly with us, let’s light a candle for her and think of the things about her that give us cause to be grateful.
From the spiritual perspective, everything we experience is an opportunity for transformations, sometimes imperceptibly small and sometimes very significant.
Grieving is an opportunity to go back and see things that strike at the spiritual sky inside of us like lightning, to learn from them, and to transform.
If we don’t take that opportunity, the lightning will strike anyway, and we’ll have no way to deal with it.
So, it’s better to get to grips with grieving on your terms, and not the storm’s.
THE TWO SPIRITUAL QUESTIONS
We can always ask the two spiritual questions to find out where we are spiritually in a given situation:
AM I WORTHY?
HOW MUCH GIVING IS IN MY INTENTION?
So, that becomes:
Am I worthy of this grief?
How much giving is in my Intention as I’m grieving?
Answering those questions shows me where I am spiritually, and where I may need more focus.
NOTHING IS EVER LOST
I carried my Parents’ ashes to India in my carry-on case and followed the 9 days and nights of rituals involved in the immersion of the ashes in a sacred river to achieve liberation from the cycle of reincarnation.
The bodies I’d hugged and loved and cared for were small enough to fit in the Urn, and then that last trace became a white swirl on the current of forever’s river.
But even when burned and dispersed in a river, they’re not truly gone, in the sense of not existing at all.
There are atoms of them all over the place.
My Mum’s DNA is still active and recoverable in a lock of hair.
And those atoms take a very, very long time to achieve proton decay, if ever. And even that incredibly long time is not the end, because there are always emissions of energy, and that stuff goes on for bazillions of years.
They’re still here, at least in molecule and atom form.
And so will we be, when we die: bits of us will still be here for a long time because they’re pretty much indestructible.
It means that when I want to reach out to my Mum, I’m reaching out to tiny bits of her that are still as much here as my tiny bits are, and that will still be here when I’m tiny bits as well.
They’re not lost: they’re dispersed.
THE LOSS WE FEEL IS REAL
When humans form connections, they exchange their energies.
When the connections are very close, humans blend energies with one another.
That’s one other reason why couples tend to resemble one another over time in feature and gesture, and why they often speak with one mind: their energies are blending harmoniously.
The sudden rupture of that energy link is analogous to the loss of a limb.
A phantom connection still exists for quite some time, waiting to be restored to full energetic function.
This is a real phenomenon, and one of the main causes of sadness: in spiritual terms, a twin has suddenly been ripped from the world, leaving a gaping energy wound.
Moreover, the ways in which we blend energies with one another are unique, so no one else can close that energy circle again in the same way.
My experience was this:
a) embrace the ruptured feeling as natural
b) accept that there was an energy breach in my life
c) alert friends that there’s a breach in my energy sphere
d) ask for patience in the event of outbursts through the breach
e) ask friends for their best advice on patching the breach
f) ask the departed to help completely seal the breach
g) connect safely with loved ones to fully recharge
It’s so normal and common for our daydreaming minds to turn around one day and make a remark to someone who has departed – Hey, you remember that day when? – before the conscious mind can remind us that no one is there. It happens all the time: reaching out to an energy connection that was once a part of us.
We’re not just missing them; we’re missing what their energy became within us.
Knowing that helped me, and showed me where to begin my own healing.
REMORSE & GUILT
At first, after bereavement, things are too hectic and painful and blurred through tears to be truly coherent.
But when the commitments to funerals and family are met, the self-interrogation and digging through dusty resentment and recrimination files begins.
Remorse and Guilt and are the
Good Cop and Bad Cop of forensic grieving, and they come knocking when Grieving lights a lamp in sorrow’s window.
Guilt, the Bad Cop, is really small.
About as small as an alert button on a phone.
When it pings the phrase: You’re Guilty: and you press ACKNOWLEDGE, it’s work is done.
And by itself, Guilt isn’t much. A person can acknowledge guilt and then blithely keep on doing the same thing.
But we tend to let Guilt puff itself up inside until it’s choking us, and way past its latest security update.
My long experience with Guilt – yeah, I was plenty guilty – led me to finally see it for what it is – an important, necessary admission – but to move on quickly to the really Big One: Remorse.
The thing is, Guilt is passive and Remorse is active.
Guilt is trapped.
Remorse is free.
Guilt moves in circles.
Remorse never repeats the harm.
Guilt makes nothing.
Remorse makes amends.
I found that the fastest way to escape the constant, deadening glitch of Guilt was to move on to real Remorse, and take the Guilt volume down.
I’m still guilty: you can’t erase that, no matter how hard you scrub. But I’m so busy on my remorse program that I haven’t accessed the Guilt App in a long time.
SAY IT LOUD
A lovely friend passed by our table some months ago, and when she departed there were some who frowned at her aloof behavior. She returned an hour later and apologized for her abstraction: she had suffered the loss of her father only days before and was still struggling with grief.
No one knew or could guess at her loss.
Her struggle to mask her suffering made her seem aloof and distant.
Of course, it’s true that no one else can truly understand or help in such agonies of loss, and sometimes we just need to be alone, but it’s always important to communicate that.
Everyone will react to your situation in their own way: some will give you space and some will drive you nuts, but at least they’re reacting to you, the real you, not the Brave Face You.
There’s plenty of good places to bring out Brave Face You, and people will be glad you did, but grieving isn’t one of them.
Grieving is Empathy-ville, and everybody’s a citizen.
And always remember that the words at the heart of grieving, I LOVE YOU, are the finest and most powerful in all our vocabularies.
PAY IT FORWARD
I saved the best for last.
The best advice I ever received in the wretched storm of grieving was from my soul mate A:
WHATEVER YOU’RE FEELING NOW,
MAKE IT A GIFT OF UNDERSTANDING FOR SOMEONE ELSE,
AND PAY IT FORWARD WHEN THEY NEED IT.
I can’t exaggerate how much this helped me.
One of the things it removes is the lacerating self-punishment component of Grieving & Guilting.
Even if you manage to get to grips with guilt, there is still a tendency to punish yourself with negative thoughts about what an absolute swine you are.
As soon as that emotional loop started in me, I switched it to thinking:
What am I feeling?
What’s the essential lesson?
How can I make a positive gift of it?
Okay, now I’ll pay it forward whenever I can.
That allowed me to move on with a positive spirit, where so often in the past I’d allowed myself to be caught in the whirlpool of loss and regret and guilt.
And I guess that’s what I’m doing in these brief notes: paying it forward to you, Dear People.
Love and faith,
I had just finished recording an album and was working with my ridiculously cool co-producer, Dale Dizzle Virgo, on the final mixes when the airports in Jamaica closed. I wasn’t upset. On the contrary, I was very glad to be here when the walls came down.
I wasn’t stuck in Jamaica: I was saved by Jamaica.
I’ve been a pilgrim, of sorts, for most of my life. It has been my life experience to love many places but not completely belong to any of them. Along the way, I’ve often seen the beauty and wonder of places that many locals have forgotten.
I’ve had friends in Mumbai tell me that they began to love their city again after they saw it through my stranger’s eyes.
When I said that “I love Germany, what a great country,” I’ve had German friends tell me that it was the first time they’d heard those words spoken in their lives: it wasn’t “cool” for Germans to talk about the many wonderful aspects of German life, culture and aspiration or to say that they love their country.
And on my many visits to Jamaica I’ve heard sincere, activist friends tell me in detail about the serious problems facing Jamaican society.
Of course, they’re right in what they say because their knowledge comes from working at the ragged edge of desperate need. The deep fissures they speak of are dire, sometimes deadly, and require cultural shifts to resolve harmoniously and beneficially. I’m grateful to them for their candid honesty about their homeland, because these things are not readily apparent to visitors.
But no country is solely defined by the sum of its problems, or by the privileges of its elites.
For every page of problems there is a facing page of beautiful solutions devised by people, working with and helping other people. But sometimes it’s hard to see any page other than the one marked in suffering, unfairness and despair.
For what it’s worth, I love Jamaica.
Recording music with Jamaican singers, musicians and engineers has been among my life’s most rewarding, joyful and spiritual experiences.
I love Jamaican people, and I defy anyone not to love them.
People everywhere come in all kinds, but each culture defines its own contours of connection with travelers, and with frequent visitors like me.
So, too, the Jamaican experience of connection has unique elements that make for warm, sincere interactions.
For example, you Jamaicans don’t gush; at least, not in my experience. You take your time to share who you are and what you hold dear, but when you open up the friendship garden, it’s full of flowers.
I like and respect it that you take your time. I like and respect it that I should be worthy of knowing you more deeply.
You’re not reserved: in my experience, you’ll talk to a giraffe if one happens to be present. But your private life is a private thing, only revealed by trust, and that’s damn cool in my book.
You’re strong people, both physically and mentally, and maybe stronger than you realize. The world has so many who are tragically thin and malnourished, but everywhere I look in Jamaica I see strong people raised on a diet of superb natural foods. Of course, the fast food industry is advancing, but I wonder if you know how tremendously vital, strong and healthy so many of you Jamaicans still are.
In many places people go along with whatever they’re told, but you Jamaicans think, argue, shout and usually reach a consensus. You’re too independent-minded to let anyone push you around, but if someone takes 1 step toward you, you take 2 steps toward them.
You go along with things because you agree, not just because somebody told you to do it.
The glory of Jamaica is its people, and the glory of its people is Jamaica.
Strong, healthy people in a green nation.
For the most part this is the greenest country I’ve ever lived in, with the cleanest air and water.
That you’ve managed to keep so much of your country green and open is a tribute that few nations can earn.
And you Jamaicans are singers and dancers. Oh, yeah.
And music is everywhere.
There are only 2 places I’ve ever been where men and women will join in right away, without prompting or hesitation, if I start dancing for no reason: India and Jamaica.
Dancing doesn’t need a reason in Jamaica.
Dancing is always happy and always good.
And both India and Jamaica are profoundly spiritual places.
If you talk about a spiritual subject, in much of the world, you’ll find someone looking at their watch or the Exit sign.
In Jamaica everyone and anyone, even the atheists I’ve met, is open to a discussion about the spiritual.
You are the only people I know who routinely reply to the question: How are you? with the response: “Giving thanks!”
I hope you know how rare that is in the world.
There was a time when everyone offered a blessing to everyone else whenever they parted, because we knew the power of such sincere wishes for the health and well-being of others.
You still know that simple spiritual truth in Jamaica, and very often you depart with a smiling: “Bless up!”
It’s just lovely.
And speaking of lovely, you Jamaicans are so beautiful. I mean, truly lovely people. Of course, people are lovely everywhere, but each group of us humans is beautiful in our own ways.
There’s a wonderful dignity in Jamaican beauty.
To me, it’s a survivor’s and transformer’s beauty, coming from a clear-eyed look at an agonizing history, and an unshakeable determination to create a new and better way by Jamaicans, for Jamaicans, from the ashes of brutal empire’s fall.
There’s good, healthy pride without arrogance in Jamaican beauty and astonishing variety of expression. No 2 Jamaicans look alike in your personal dress and grooming: you all allow yourselves to be individual, and you all,superbly, are.
You love to talk, as we all do, and loudly, but you’re also good listeners. Every Jamaican I’ve ever conversed with in depth and in person has followed up with relevant comments or insights.
In this 5-second world it’s so refreshing to meet and talk with you Jamaicans, who have the time and perhaps the distant perspective to really listen. It’s a precious thing, and you still have it.
Not only that, but you pass on wisdom like shortbreads. Most conversations with Jamaicans will involve an exchange of wisdoms learned and tested by time. So many places have forgotten the value of this exchange of proverbial knowledge, but it’s still vivid and vital in your speech.
And maybe because you don’t have to beat your chest like power player nations or those that want to be seen as power players, your view of world affairs is more nuanced and less binary-choice than it is in those nations.
Your official statements are measured and your regional responses and responsibilities are routinely acknowledged and met to the best of your ability.
You rank 6th out of 180 nations on the Reporters Without Borders Index of Press Freedom. With so little resources and so little money available, this is a testament to your determination not only to have a free press but to continually improve. Jamaica recently rose 2 places on the list, and in the midst of a world climate of partisanship, populism and punitive attacks on the press. Well done you.
What this pandemic has done here, as elsewhere, is to expose the real divides. One divide is between Kingston and the rest of the country: more than a third of the people live in one city, and this can shift both people and resources away from the country areas.
Another divide, the greatest, is between those who exist with difficulty from wage to wage, and those who don’t.
It’s dreadful to think how paycheck-to-paycheck workers are faring without paychecks.
In my own small and humble way, I’m doing what I can to help locally. My little company was involved with a local community Police Youth Club soccer team before Covid-19, and now we’re focusing on masks and food instead of football. I know other foreigners like me who’ve been reaching out to help here and there.
It’s not because of the need: the need is everywhere in the world right now.
It’s because of you, Jamaicans. It’s because of you.
Kindness? So many people with so many problems of their own have reached out in concern to me since the curfews began: Have you got enough food? Do you need any help? I’ll leave a fresh fish for you, and a bag of organic weed. There are some plantains that I left for you. You should eat ginger, so I left a bag of fresh ginger for you. My vegetable guy will call by tomorrow with a box of food. Just checking, are you okay? Do you need anything? You’re alone there, so call any time, day or night, if you’d like to talk , or if things get Duppy…
I’m so grateful and humbled by your concern. You guys are just great. You will rise from this anew, and with yourwonderful principles to inspire the world more than ever:
Out of Many, One People
One Love, One Heart
Fate and music have me here, in the haven and heaven of your beautiful island, to ride out the tsunami of fever that sweeps the world. So far, I have no symptoms and my health has been excellent, thanks in great part to the early diligence and advice given out in my local area. I humbly and happily say Thank You, Jamaicans, and right nowthere is nowhere else in the world that I would rather be than here, in your embrace.
Love and Faith,
Nurses Day, 2020
It has been my honour and privilege to know and love nurses, and to be loved by them in return.
I’ve been a volunteer nurse myself.
And I’ve been in the care of many, many more nurses who cared for me when I had broken bones.
My dear Mum used to say, in a loving way, that she didn’t know if I was 90% clumsy and 10% accident prone, or the other way around. Strangely enough, my rugby coach said pretty much the same thing.
One way and another, pretty often I got upended, and ended up in hospital during my Bang-Your-Head-Against-Things years.
And it was always nurses who got me through the “3 am of the soul” nights, with an agonizingly painful arm or leg in a plaster cast nagging me awake. Always nurses.
And we all know. And we all bless and thank them for their unparalleled service at the most dangerous face of the pandemic.
But on this day of recognition, I’d like to make a personal note to Nurses.
I want to apologize to Nurses everywhere, because I guess it’s too late now to apologize to the ones who tended different injuries during my teenage years: injuries inflicted not in honest sport but in violent street clashes. I’m sorry.
I grew up in what novels call a tough, working class area.
In fact, it was a war zone. This was back in the day when
the bowling alley was called The Colosseum, not euphemistically, because people died there, and the local public bar, called The Blood
House, had sawdust on the floor to soak up the blood spilled by
young, fighting men.
I was one of them.
Fighting was a rite of passage and a key to survival.
Those who had the guts to do it, as we saw it then, were knights of the realm; those who were good at it were lords of the street.
They weren’t, of course, and we weren’t brave to fight.
We were all actors in a movie we didn’t write, and one so small that it disappeared from relevance to anyone but us, just one suburb away from the conflict zone.
We were the poor fighting the poor.
Every journey out of the house meant leaving the Green Zone and entering hostile territory.
Every encounter with another group of teenagers was freighted with threat. Most led to running or fighting, with no dialogue but insults and bravado.
Saturday night often ended in the casualty ward, sometimes with the wounded from both gangs at the same time.
Broken noses, jaws, wrists, fingers, elbows and skulls; cuts and abrasions; blood-clots behind the eyes; organ damage; there was no end to it, and many of us went back again and again, every other Saturday night.
I’m so, so sorry to all the Doctors, Nurses and hospital Staff who attended to me in those foolish, wasted, violent years, for all the unnecessary work and stress that my ignorant selfishness forced on you.
I’m so, so sorry.
Dear Nurses, I look at your Devotion and now I see what “having guts” really means.
I look at the effect that your courage has on all of us and now I see what it means to be elevated in the hearts of others beyond knights and lords to a new, sublime understanding of respect and admiration.
I know now that it didn’t have to be that way.
I know that I can’t blame where I grew up for my own violence and the toll it took in your Emergency Wards.
I know that most of that pain and humiliation was only a beast of my own creation, and I’m so sorry.
I know that instead of learning karate and boxing I could’ve found a dance class somewhere, and that if I did, I might’ve had the time and inspiration to volunteer at my local hospital instead of being a frequent Saturday night casualty.
I’m so sorry, and so grateful to you for all that you did, especially the many stern seed lectures about turning from violence that you planted in my life, and which finally took root.
I hope that in some way my apology will draw attention to the harm that I did to you and your professional environment and that other young men like me in violent situations are still doing, every Saturday night.
Please forgive me for my disrespect, and know that in all I do I’m committed to the inspirational peace, patience, generosity and empathy you shared in caring for me, and that you exemplifyinestimably in this crisis.
Love and Faith, GDR
I’ve never been to New York, so I can only imagine what many friends are going through now, and send my thoughts and prayers. But I lived in Mumbai for a good part of my adult life, and I know from experience what must be going on in the beautiful Island City: a horrifying ordeal that rips and tears at the heart of what it means to belong to Mumbai: to be a Mumbaikar.
Some people are surprised when we Mumbaikars describe our city as beautiful. They point to the endless traffic, the air, water and noise pollution, the vast landscape of inequality, the slums and, for good measure, the frivolous Mumbailifestyle.
We know there is truth in such criticisms but we also know the thousand other truths that make our city beautiful.
We are a city of lovers.
We are a city of singers and song.
We are a city of dancers.
We are a city of saints and sacred places.
We are an Island in the sea, a haven for the hungry and a shelter for the dispossessed of other States.
We are a shrine of Faith in every taxi, a festival on every rooftop, a dream in every footstep and a hope in every heart that we can keep on proving we Mumbaikars can be trusted with the truth and with freedom.
Injustice rides a wild horse and tramples Innocence.
Mumbai knows its share of injustice, as does every other city I’ve lived in and known well.
But I’ve lived on the pavement of the city, destitute, and I know that so long as you have an ounce of Will left, Mumbai will not let you starve or die. Someone among the thousands who pass, often a stranger, will see and sense your desperate need, and will reach out to meet it. The city will hold you up above the water for as long as you keep kicking below.
But now, the city’s capacity to heal, comfort and inspire us is also in lockdown.
The spirit of the city exists in the constant connection between people and place. The connection has been severed for some time now, and the city is helpless to help us.
The Island City of Mumbai has saved my life several times. The city would not let me die, and I refuse to believe that anything can defeat the people, the spirit and the city I love.
Mumbai will rise again. Many things will be different. Everyone now knows what is truly important and what is only fool’s gold; who is performing a truly vital service and who among us could contribute more of the same devotion. But the Island City will rise again to its inspirational peak, as a beacon of hope and joyful creativity for all of Mother India.
Love and blessings, GDR
I hope this finds you strong in love and Faith.
It seems weird to me to spend time and space talking about my projects, when so many people are living and dying through this pandemic.
But since I quietly announced that I’m coming back on the grid, many people have asked me to tell them what I was doing during the 6 years of spiritual seclusion, and what new work I’ve written.
So, giving full respect to all the things that are much more important, which is just about everything, I’ll give an update on what I’ve been doing for the last 6 years, and my new projects.
I’ll begin with the new book, The Spiritual Path, which will be coming out in Ebook quite soon.
I went off the Grid to focus as much of my time and energy as possible on researching the Spiritual Reality. I didn’t know then that the research experience would take 6 years and counting, and that it would change my life completely.
After many years of study and searching, I felt in my heart that I wanted to make the leap of Faith and acknowledge the existence of the Divine Perfection, or God, and to offer my Devotion come what may, or come what may not.
To do that sincerely and with total commitment, it was necessary to go off the grid and into a profound spiritual seclusion.
For what turned out to be 6 years I didn’t go to theatres, cinemas, restaurants, events, festivals, conferences, weddings, parties, bars, clubs, functions or just about anywhere else.
I rarely saw people, and spent most of time with my family.
It was remarkably similar to Stay-at-Home Social Distancing, which wasn’t even a concept when I began.
The way that I practiced my Devotion was by blowing a conch shell 7 times in a row, twice a day, with sincerity.
My spiritual teacher had given me the conch shell after I’d watched him blow the conch in rituals for several years.
He assured me that if I could find a place of Innocence within my Self, and offer Devotion from that innocent womb of Intention, I would be able to connect with something beyond this Material Reality.
So, I did it. I put in many hours of practice with the conch until I felt ready to offer Devotion, I put together a Sacred space in my small apartment, and then I began.
I kept notes along the way on my journey of blowing the conch in Devotion, and compiled the notes in a little book called The Spiritual Path.
The book explains my thinking – the logical or philosophical framework that allowed me to make the leap of Faith sincerely – and gives details about what happened, year by year, as I blew the conch in a conscious attempt to connect with the Spiritual Reality.
The Spiritual Path will be released in Ebook format in coming weeks. I’ll post updates here, and let you know when it becomes available.
There’s a saying, When the student is ready, the Teacher appears, and my real instruction in spiritual matters began when I met my spiritual teacher at his temple in Mumbai.
For three years I studied with him, asking a million questions because I was receiving clear, meaningful answers for the first time, and watching the impeccable Devotion he committed to the performance of his rituals.
His wise words were a key, but his active Devotion was the doorway for me.
I’d never seen anything like his strenuous commitment, sometimes blowing the conch shell 30 times during a ceremony, and each time for the longest duration and with the purest sound. All the while he offered Sacred elements, poured liquids, sprinkled powders and showered rose petals on his altar.
Watching him the first time, I was reminded of being a child and attending the Mass in Church on Sunday.
But the arduous, fatiguing strain of my spiritual teacher’s performance and the uncompromising commitment of his energy in every ritual, decade after decade, is unparalleled in my experience. It gave me my first real understanding of the spiritual word charismatic.
The fact that he has lived in a windowless concrete temple in the heart of Mumbai for 40 years and never missed or compromised on his rituals gives me my first real understanding of the spiritual word Penance.
He’s not for everyone. He’s a lion. It may give a sense of him to say that he raised himself as a child on the streets of Kolkata, began working life as a male model, has performed his ceremonies in every major temple in India from the oxygen-deprived peaks of the Himalayas to the most secret caves, is revered by people of every Faith, makes his own money with a successful investor pool he directs on the stock market (he says it helps to know what’s coming), has 12 dogs, 10 cats, 3 parrots, a black rooster, several monkeys and a boa constrictor snake roaming freely in the temple, listens to Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley day and night on huge speakers, and never accepts a penny from anyone. He shouts and curses, and like many a holy man before him he can get very angry, especially when someone insults a woman or offers him money, and smart people run when he does get mad. Not kidding.
I love him. It may sound strange or disrespectful to say it about a spiritual teacher, but I don’t always agree with what he says and I draw my own conclusions about spiritual matters. But from the first time we met he has encouraged me to think for myself, and has constantly instructed me to be my own fully realized person, and not just a copy or follower of his words and way.
I was raised as a Catholic, but I couldn’t bring myself to sincerely believe in God, no matter how hard I tried. Others seemed to find it very easy to believe and commit themselves but I couldn’t join my heart to theirs in sincere prayer. I was saying the words in unison with others but I didn’t feel connected to anything spiritual.
But I never stopped searching.
I learned how to pray in other languages, joined in with believers in their ceremonies whenever invited, and always enjoyed the fellowship of believers. Something always held me back from becoming a believer myself and joining a congregation.
While I was living in India as a fugitive, I met many gurus and teachers.
A lot of gangsters are superstitious, in part because their lifestyle choice is violently dangerous and often ends in imprisonment.
In my time, whenever a young Indian gangster heard about a holy man who could provide a talisman or blessing, he would go there with hashish and mangoes (you can only offer food or hashish to holy men, not money or jewels) and beg to be blessed.
I often tagged along, and sometimes the journeys took us into dense jungle retreats or remote hill country caves. Gangsters will go further than most for a blessing or a good luck charm.
The holy men were all holy, I’m sure, existing as they did with wild Nature in sublimely common, living purpose. But I didn’t find insights, other than those I’d already found in the Sacred texts they were quoting from.
I travelled into science seeking answers and found better questions but no answers that could satisfy my mind and my instincts at the same time.
Then I met my spiritual teacher, and in 6 years of instruction he has still never quoted a teaching or a sentence from anyone else, including Sacred texts.
A scholar asked him once to describe God. My teacher asked him if his Mother was at home. The scholar replied that she was. Go home and stare at your Mother’s face for half an hour, and you will be staring at God, was the reply.
I became committed to offering daily Devotion to the Divine Perfection, or God, but I didn’t join a religion.
My teacher is a Hindu Brahmin, deeply immersed in the mystical, numerological, minute-by-minute Sun, Moon and Planetary-chart wonder of Hinduism, but we would both think it weird if I told him I wanted to become a Hindu.
His instruction has always been about seeking a profound, personal connection with a Spiritual Reality that is available to all, coming from any religious family or from none.
In essence, the teaching is to seek a place of Innocence within the self from which to offer sincere, authentic, active Devotion to the Source of all things. That’s about it.
How we get there is another story, and a different one for each of us.
The Spiritual Path is my story of that journey, and I hope it provides some consolation and inspiration for others finding their way on the Path.
In the next post I’ll talk about the new album, Love&Faith, some of the songs, and the thinking and feeling behind writing and recording them.
Always remember, when we human beings are united, nothing can stand against us.
Love and Faith