Friday, 4 May 2018


A friend once made me laugh when she remarked how her telly's nothing like mine! 
It was by mere chance that, while flipping channels, I caught a glimpse of a guy with dishevelled hair and a worn grey t-shirt: he had a look in his eyes I instantly recognised. Behind his 'mad genius glasses', his gaze revealed a deep, dark well of pain. 

Those eyes belonged to James Rhodes, a concerto pianist of international fame. He was about to begin his 3-minute slot on Viewsnight, a small window of individuality graciously offered by Newsnight on BBC2. As he pronounced the title of his piece, I put the remote down, compelled to listen. And when it was all over, I thought that such scary, profound, simple, naked, honest and hopeful words should be shared.

I dedicate them to someone who spent years fighting for the vulnerable, then chose to become vulnerable himself in order to tell the naked truth. Please don't change, my friend: hurt is only fleeting, sincerity and hope are forever. And if you do change, remain proud of what you did.

 by James Rhodes

The pursuit of happiness seems like such a noble one... 
And yet it's fundamentally flowed. 
Happiness is not something to pursue any more than sadness, anger, hope or love. 
It is simply a state of being which is fluid, occasionally fleeting, sometimes unfindable, 
which is why self-help books are little more than a tax on our fragility.
We live in an age of unprecedented pace 
where our "always-on" mentality has created an unworkable and unsustainable environment.
We are in trouble.
And perfectly curated instagram selfies,
unattainable physical perfection seen all over the media - photoshopped to death,
anonymous social media outlets for our pent-up rage,
they are not helping.
Mental illness needs to be reframed.
Even the phrase must change.
Surely there is enough evidence by now to replace that phrase simply with
the Human Condition.
We are all by turn anxious, in low mood, peaceful, grieving, content.
Occasionally some of us may stray further down the continuum
into depression, PTSD, suicidal ideation.
But I can't help feeling 
that when we talk about life's rich tapestry,
this is exactly what we mean: 
that life is filled with messy, challenging, difficult feelings and situations,
and denying them, 
apologising for them,
pretending they do not exist,
is counterproductive.
Just because we are not happy doesn't mean we are unhappy.
There are times when I despise myself,
I want to hurt myself,
when I want to die.
And then there are times when I feel quite comfortable with the world.
And all of those things are natural for me.
Perhaps we can aim to celebrate our individual messiness,
and by doing so unite us all
in a more honest way.

James Rhodes was repeatedly raped by one of his teachers from the age of 6. His spine was badly damaged (he had to have pins inserted to keep it together) but obviously his psyche suffered far more than his little body. In his 2 books James tells us how he's still unable to trust those who are supposed to care for him, he tells us about the intrinsic shame he feels and how the elusiveness of happiness became an instrument of torture (hence the need to self-harm and the multiple suicide attempts).
James has a huge reason for feeling 'lost' and terribly hurt, yet he has chosen to acknowledge who he is, bravely abandoning the "what ifs" that often become life's stumbling blocks. 
The human emotions and impulses we show the world define our public personality: cheerful, easy-going, moody, miserable, timid, vulnerable, greedy, sly. The list goes on. In private, what happens when one becomes fully exposed to life's traumas (no matter whether small or severe: it's all relative to individual sensitivity)? Like many others, James found a powerful saviour in music, but it is obvious that his inner battle could find respite if all of us would seriously rethink the derogatory, stigmatising - yet all too vague - old way of categorising the vulnerable. In fact, of judging ALL those who do not fit in with our sclerotic society models based on backward information or plain ignorance.

It seriously puzzles me how in this day and age most people are still blind to what constitutes the actual nature of us human beings and all which surrounds us. Like everything else in nature, we are a mind-blowing, fluid aggregate of chemical reactions, so incredible and powerful that - in our hopeful ignorance - we learned to call it Soul, thus establishing an idealistic connection with the Divine perfection we so naively crave. 
Just like we are too capable to create new biological lives, our complex biochemical make-up gives us an extraordinary variety of sensations, thoughts and moods which enable us to create inspiring material and intellectual constructions, such as, for example, Art. In my opinion, nothing defines us better than our boundless creativity. And this is what helped me to accept my extreme (at times difficult to manage) emotions as a dangerous but formidable tool through which to explore myself and the world, as something which describes me and determines that I am alive. I have accepted that the more stressful a negative emotion is (fear, hurt, injustice), the more sickly my body becomes. I have finally accepted that happiness is entirely transient, just like hurt is... When one thinks about it, such conclusions seem like the most obvious thing in the word (at least for those familiar with the Zen way of thinking). And yet things are not that simple.

And yet James is right. The pursuit of Happiness, Perfection and Oder has been at the core of our western 'civilisation' for more than 2000 years. Such feat has been proven impossible to reach time and time again, hence our resigned willingness to subscribe to consoling imaginary concepts such as the after-life. We still at large tend to identify Happiness with either Holiness or Money, stubbornly persisting in giving credit to failed religious, philosophical and economic systems constructed to take care of our flawed anxieties and needs. 

Freeing ourselves from the falsehoods which mislead and confuse our ways of life would be a beautiful thing, yet this can only be achieved by becoming reacquainted with our own true nature in a truly honest, fearless way. To seek solutions by shifting back to an idealised past and mythological illusions is what most resort to, because it's EASIER: we are the masters of Delusion, after all. Conversely, we should rejoice each time we manage to challenge our ideas and beliefs head on in our individual daily life, in our very own little microcosm. Because, like small pond clusters hidden in the depths of a mountain forest, every little microcosm within us brims with the seeds of a better future. 

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