Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Yet Alone I am Nothing.






“ Have you ever heard Brian Cox or any other particle physics genius (they’re ten a penny after all!) describing the vastness of our universe? The likelihood that even beyond its fathomless reach are more and more, likely an infinity, of universes? 

When I, with my blunt intellect, fondle these imponderables I feel suspended between awe and despair. Within the infinite all forms of measurement become meaningless as they can only refer to parochial patterns; time and the laws of physics only local customs in our universal village. 

When I hear Cox speaking of Carl Sagan, however, the giant star of astronomy who inspired the then adolescent scientist, I feel held between awe and hope. Sagan was a mentor to Cox. Although they never met, Sagan functioned as a mental symbol, a target, a role model that the younger man could emulate on his own journey to greatness. 

A hero is an emblem that demonstrates the possibility of inner drives becoming manifest. 

It could be John Lennon, whose journey from ordinariness to greatness, from glamour to domesticity, from grandeur to humility provides coordinates to others who want to undertake a comparable journey. 



It might be Amma, the Indian teacher and mystic whose certainty of God’s love has generated profound social change across Asia. Her devotion has inspired others through philanthropic works to establish schools and build hospitals and homes. 




At first, of course though, she was dismissed as a mad teenage girl in a fishing village in Kerala going into trances and cuddling everyone. 




People thought she was nuts. 

Greatness looks like Madness until it finds its context. 

Mentorship is a thread that runs through my life, now in both directions. I have men and women that I turn to when the way ahead is not clear and younger people that look to me for guidance in their own crazy lives. 

Note that the mentor’s role is not solely as a teacher, although teaching is of course a huge part of it. When Cox talks admiringly about Carl Sagan it is not just because of his academic expertise, it is because he felt personally guided by him. 

Watching Sagan’s emotional take on science in Cosmos, was the trigger that made Cox, at twelve, decide to be a scientist. We choose mentors throughout our lives, sometimes consciously, sometimes not, sometimes wisely, sometimes not. 

The point of this book is to understand this process and to improve it. When selecting a mentor we must be aware of what it is we want from them. When we are selected as a mentor we must know what the role entails. 

One of the unexpected advantages that my drug addiction granted me is that the 12 Step process of recovery that I practise includes a mentorship tradition. When you enter a 12 Step program, you have to ask someone else to guide you through the steps, or ‘sponsor’ you. 

This typically induces an unwitting humility; few people would say ‘Hey, babe, it’s your lucky day–I want you to take me on a spiritual journey.’ Usually one feels a little shy on asking someone to sponsor them, a little meek, a bit like you’re asking them on a date. 

In undertaking this we accept that our previous methods have failed, that we need help, that our own opinions are inferior to the wisdom of the mentor and hopefully the creed that they belong to. 

In 12 Step custom the sponsor teaches the sponsee the method by which they practised the 12 Steps; they replace their own sponsor, and they give to another what they have been given. Whilst it may bear personal inflections, it is sufficiently faithful to the original program to inhere its power. 

The same, I note, is true in martial arts traditions, there’s a lineage and a system that is carried from teacher to student. 

Clearly there are parallels in academia, but anyone who’s been to school knows that mass education can be pretty inconsistent and the average harried educator has too many bureaucratic and financial burdens to mindfully endow more than a handful of pupils with the elixir of mentorship. 

In this book I will talk to you about my mentors, how they have enhanced my life in practical and esoteric, obvious and unusual ways, by showing me that it is possible to become the person I want to be in spite of the inner and outer obstacles I face. 

I will encourage you to find mentors of your own and explain how you may better use the ones you already have. 

Furthermore I will tell you about my experience mentoring others and how invaluable that has been on my ongoing journey to self-acceptance, and how it has helped me to transform from a bewildered and volatile vagabond to a (mostly) present and (usually) focused Husband and Father. 

I have mentors in every area of my life: as a comic, a dad, a recovering drug addict, a spiritual being and as a man who believes that we, as individuals and the great globe itself, are works in progress and that through a chain of mentorship – and the collaborative Evolution of Systems  – we can improve individually and globally, together. 

Sometimes in my live shows I ask the audience if they belong to any groups: a football team, a religious group, a union, a book club, a housing committee, rowing club – I am surprised by how few people have a Tribe. 

Whilst the impact of globalization on national identity cannot yet be fully understood, I can certainly appreciate the reductive appeal of Statist Myth. 

I become ultra English during a World Cup, the last one in particular was like a jolly revival of the ‘death of Diana’ in its ability to pull a nation together in collective hysteria. But soon enough the bunting comes down, the screens in public squares go black and we are atomized once more. The space between us no longer filled with chants, ditties and ‘in jokes’, eyes back on the pavement, attention drawn within. 




















I’m not suggesting the deep alienation that Late Capitalism engenders can be rinsed away by joining a bowling club, but it’s a start, and having a Teacher within The Group to which you belong provides intimacy and purpose. 


















In the guru traditions of India the love between teacher and student surpasses all other forms, for here it is explicit that what is being transferred in this relationship is nothing short of God’s love and how an individual can embody the divine. 

We live in lonely and polarized times, where many of us feel lost and fractured. It is evident in our politics but political events reflect deeper and more personal truths. I’ve been trying for a while now to explain what I feel is happening in the societies that I’m familiar with, by which I mean Europe, Australia, the United States – not that I’m claiming to be a sociologist, I don’t have a clue how to approach whatever the hell may be happening in Pakistan or China, but here, here in our post-secular edge lands where the old ideas are dying and the new ones not yet born, I feel a consistent and recognizable yearning for meaning beyond the dayglow ashes of burnt-out consumerism, lurching dumb zombie nationalism, starchy, corrupt religion and the CGI circus of modern mainstream media. 

I’ve been watching for a long time and I knew before Trump, Brexit, radicalism and the ‘new right’ that something serious was up. You know it too. 

Sometimes we despair and sometimes we distract because it seems like too much for one person to tackle and we’ve forgotten how to collude. 

Yet alone I am nothing. "

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