Friday, March 9, 2012

Guest Post - Stuart Mawbey (Rest 4)

What can I say about Stuart?  Regular readers of this blog will already be familiar with his encouraging, challenging, and always thoughtful comments.  Without Stu's contribution, there would often be little discussion going on.  Stuart and I met via the blogosphere some years ago, now, and over the course of time he has become a valued friend.

One of Stuart's passions is Haiku, and he has created a beautiful Haiku collection, encapsulating his thoughts and feelings on "rest".  I suspect one of the reasons Stuart loves this form so much, is that it is never didactic.  Each haiku gives a momentary glimpse of something much larger, and requires the reader to immerse themselves in that moment, in order to feel its wider reverberations and import for themselves.  In other words, nothing is spelled out - you, dear reader, will need to imagine yourself in Stuart's haiku "moments" and let them to speak to you.  It is worth taking pause to do!

Enough from me.

Haiku Meditation
- Stuart Mawbey -

Image Credit:

Nimbin waterfall
agate sapphire, neon shrimp
nibbles toes, crystal creek

river melding rest
mystic flow sacred nature
water wash wicked

tick rests, sucks my blood
feeding eggs, it wants babies
And I eat fresh lamb

I'm just a fat tick
living, breeding, resting, dead
flicker of star dust

universe begins
I am one, a spark, then gone
fade cold entropy

faithful and faithless
their death the ultimate rest
sleep perchance to dream

wondrous and cruel life
we never really know God
so we tell some lies

count back from twenty
flow breathe let pass all vision
seek dark sweet nothing

birth death and rebirth?
nirvana is ageless rest
me a hungry ghost?

wizard dreams light sleep
summer scented flower field
imagery of bees

My professional work is as an emergency management planner for four isolated local councils in the Flinders Ranges of South Australia. I was bought up in a working class Australian, churchgoing family in the Methodist denomination. However, university education helped me to base my thinking on evidence and reason. It does not hurt a human to have some faith, but I have found, too much faith leads to madness.

As a person with a disability, I have seen Australian society from the bottom up. It isn't a good view. I spent long periods of time without work, despite my best efforts, but spent a lot of my time as an Emergency Service Volunteer. I have seen people at their very worst and at their very best. I have seen some communities shattered, then helped them rebuild.

I have a pragmatic philosophy, it comes from being a farmer. Working in animal faeces nails one to the earth. I am not a materialist, and I think that fundamentalist scientism blocks a person from experiencing a whole range of very human feelings. I regard militant atheism and Abrahamaic fundamentalism as both blockages to freedom of spirit.

Having said that, I have been taught a lot by atheists, some priests, witches, wizards, poets, rabbis and just plain humans.  I was taught to meditate by Therevada Buddhist monks.

I am a Freemason. I live by the square.


  1. I'm reluctant to comment, because I don't want to break the spell of your poetry, Stuart.

    There's one thought about rest, though, that comes through to me clearly in your haiku... and that is "ceasing from struggle". You did say to me, prior to the post, that "Death is the ultimate rest" - and I guess this is the same thought.

    I suspect this is an important aspect of truly resting - accepting the way things are, allowing yourself to go with the flow... Stu, do you feel this is something that also leads to refreshment, and re-energising? How do those concepts fit with your idea of 'rest' as part of the cycle of birth and death?

    1. Hi Kerry. Refreshing and reenergising for me comes from a number of facets, which is why I liked your river meld drawing so much. I find singing very energizing I find walking in the forest energizing, art is energizing. If I am confused, tired of life, have some angst I find meditation as a method of letting go. All these to me are part of life. I also find some rituals very energizing and refreshing. The cycle of birth and death are natural phenomena to me and thus should be embraced. I have a tiny little hope, maybe a faith that I will be reborn to be better, but it doesn't matter really, as long as I made some positive difference.

    2. Stu, I suppose I was wondering how these aspects fit in with the idea of rest as a kind of "death". Its more a philosophical question than a practical one.

      Refreshing and re-energising are things that seem to me, to be connected to purpose. Acceptance of birth/death/entropy in some ways doesn't seem to fit with this. If you have a purpose, you struggle against entropy, and try to direct your own life course. If you merely see yourself as part of a bigger cycle, and accept your course, rather than trying, in some ways, to direct it... where does purpose and the need for refreshment fit in?

      There is certainly a lot of wisdom needed, to know what to accept, and what to struggle against. I do think "letting go" is an important part of rest - yet somehow, for me, there is more to the picture. Perhaps times of quiet and "letting go" are a means of deciding what then to pick up and fight for. But why do this, if *all* there is, is an endless cycle we cannot change?

    3. The endless cycle is there i have no doubt, but is not *all* there is. There is a lot more to life, and ways that we can make life and this earth better for everyone. Human rights, democracy, good policy, caring for others, caring for the earth, the trees, even knowing that bacteria has an important job to do. Teaching children right from wrong, and to love and be compassionate. Teaching them good science, but moderating it with a sense of ethics. Knowing how to garden, draw, do maths, sing, hum, laugh over a botle of wine. There is so much we can do to increase the sum of love and compassion, the list is almost endless. Does this answer the question?

    4. Most people dismiss how important our kindy and primary teachers are. They are vital for the future of humanity. People also are far too dismissive of how much a Parent can teach love and compassion.

    5. Stu, I agree that all these things are important and fulfilling (especially the school teachers, hehe! ;) but no, it doesn't exactly answer the question.

      I'm asking WHY these things matter. Why do we value justice and compassion? Why is love so important we die without it? Why is it, that most people who say they have found a "deeper purpose" in life are pursuing one or all of these things?

      I think pure evolutionists would say that community is adaptive, and these things are part of the complexity of being in community - but I don't think that really cuts it as an explanation. The law of the jungle and survival of the strongest are adaptive. Control and submission are great ways to get people cooperating and functioning in groups... look at all the controlling religious sects around!! Yet something in our humanity rebels against that. We want something more. Most of the atheists I know are deeply concerned with justice and ethics. Why?

      I had a great chat with Andrew (my Buddhist friend who will hopefully be doing the next part of this series), about the "problem of suffering". If we are just part of a cycle, I don't think pain really matters - learn to accept it. full stop. He and I both agreed that there is no freedom without the possibility of evil, and no joy without the possibility of pain. And that love is the only solution (and here I am giving away tomorrow's blog post, a little - but I've been wrestling with this, so it's where my head's at right now)

      And I think I have travelled all over the existential universe with this meandering comment... but so much of what makes us truly alive and human is wayyy beyond an endless, physical cycle. (I think Andrew would agree with that too... there is definitely *more*.

    6. There may be more Kerry, i think there is *more*, but it is terribly hard to define.

      I dont think we fully understand all human motivations yet. There is in biology, ecology, such notions of symbiosis, including mutualism, biology is more complex than just a notion of the survival of the fittest. Survival of the fittest is a kind of corruption of Darwin's complex, nuanced argument.

      Some atheists I know, are committed to justice, others couldn't care less. Others still are just interested in getting on with life. There is diversity of thought.I hypothsize that anyone committed to justice, whether atheist or believer is committed to his or her species. People often go further, and are committed to planet and all life upon it as a whole.

      Life is precious

    7. Kerry asks I'm asking WHY these things matter. Why do we value justice and compassion? Why is love so important we die without it? Why is it, that most people who say they have found a "deeper purpose" in life are pursuing one or all of these things?

      I think if you understand how serving these ideas affects us individually in positive ways, you will better understand why causing these effects matters.

      As Stuart accurately points out, we don't really understand all the various and oftentimes competing motivations. The umbrella term 'motivations' itself is very tricky to accurately define in reality. But we do have a very good indication that our actions are determined long before we assume we decide to act. That's why there's a raging debate about whether or not there is really anything close to resembling 'free will' in reality within the gnu atheist community these days. I suspect not... in the sense that we could not have acted differently than how we did act... not in a general description but in the very detailed sequence of chemical and physical interactions culminating in an expressed behaviour. I'm sure can begin to appreciate what this may mean in regards to, say, one of the central planks of christianity: if we do not have free will, then all the theistic arguments about moral laws necessitating a moral law giver fall to the wayside as so much metaphysical bunk and we're back to inquiring into our biology. You hint as much when you mention evolution, intuitively giving a nod to the role our biological development over time may play.

      So the answers to your questions are loaded with meaning and important implications. It's vital we get them right, we understand them accurately, not to support our theologies, philosophies, and ethical arguments but to reflect the brute fact of reality. (Just imagine the impact, for example, that a rejection of free will in fact could have on law and child development (parenting) practices to name but two!)

      In addition, I think the problem of suffering is fatal to the belief in a caring, compassionate, and personal god.

  2. The openess and depth of your post Stuart is what I find inspiring. I shy away from idle chatter and empty talk. It seems such a distraction and a waste to wipe the surface of life when it can be so complex and meaningful. In saying that I love humour and value a light take on things in that way.

    I am a practicing Buddhist but that is simply the path I have chosen. One of my earliest contacts with spirituality and compassion and generosity came from my father who was an athiest. It was his firm belief, but he was always gentle and accepting and open. A nun once told me he was one of the most spiritual people she had met. Gandhi was a Muslim / Hindu and he found incredible wisdom and compassion on that path. A friend of mine who I value and admire very much for his spiritual practice is a Mason. As you say Stuart we can learn from so many sources. So it is more the destination than the method that I aim for and I have far, far to go.

    I have been a nurse for 30 years working in areas such as addiction services and palliative care. However I retrained late in life and over the last 5 years I have worked as a torture and trauma counsellor with people who have arrived on humanitarian visas, asylum seekers and more recently people in community detention. I feel so very very lucky to work for an ethical and highly professional organisation and doing work that feels meaningful. I love my job, how good is that! I still nurse at times in the local withdrawal unit. Our society is so judgemental about people (who have often experienced trauma) who have a problem with alcohol or other drugs. They are human beings not 'junkies' who want happiness the same as the rest of us.

    I am a single mum with two teens who have taught me much. I love Permaculture or growing food in the cities but time always seems against me here. Very excited about the large jar of Kalamata olives I harvested yesterday. I do miss having a companion on the path but I feel blessed with beautiful friends and a good life so perhaps this lesson in patience is not a bad thing.

  3. Hi fee thank you so much for your thoughts. I have also learned a lot from some atheists, especially those who have taken an educative, philosophical approach to developing humanity. Most of my atheist teachers were very humanist, very much left wing, and they inspired me.
    I have a predilection to idle chatter and maleness that wants to win arguments. As I understand Buddhism one of the first five tenets are right actions, and right words. I don't always do everything right.
    I certainly admire your work fee. It is so easy to forget humanity and use labels to demean people. I smoke so my feet are of clay to use a biblical metaphor, I can understand how addictive some substances are. Do you teach Buddhist ways to help addiction? Id like to learn. I also admire that you worked with refugees, in Australia there is so much demonization of refugees, by politicians for political purposes pandering to racism and xenophobic majorities it makes me sick at times.

    I also like permaculture and biodynamics and I had a lovely garden that used no pesticides and had lots of wonderful critters in it... I fed myself and my extended families and friends bumper crops of chillies pumpkin and tomatoes. At the moment because of my lease arrangements all I do is Monsanto the weeds.

    Iam learning right actions. As a cattle farmer I while being as compassionate to the cattle as I could, made sure every day that the yearly sales where cattle would be slaughtered, and I.would pocket a bit of the profit. I was a soldier once, and sometimes get carried away by war and killing other people in acts of war. It is also part of my maleness to want to protect, to fight, that needs to be governed by a cool head. I love Thailand, full of wonderful Buddhists, but there they are with their soldiers shooting at Cambodians , who are other Buddhists, over who owns a particular temple on the border. We humans are all pretty silly if you ask me.

  4. Tildeb, you've understood the direction of my thinking, EXACTLY! It's something I've been mulling over. To me, it seems that biology and environment are the things we fight against, when we endeavour to make moral/ethical choices.

    Back to Stuart's post, I don't think he would suggest that there is nothing but the "endless cycle". The aspect of rest as "surrender" or "not struggling against" is also an important one... however it does not complete the picture for me. It seems to me that in life we DO struggle - and not necessariy for things that are biologically obvious - and that this struggle is necessary.

    I'll save further thoughts (such as they are) for my next post... I am struggling to put together something coherent, about exactly this. It's a HUGE topic, though and when I say "struggling" it's an understatement! (Worth getting a headache over, though! :) Look forward to your thoughts on that, too!

  5. I think we have free will, to be able to choose. I also don't think we act against our biology when we choose pro social behavior . Caring for other people like mother Theresa or the atheist Eye surgeon Fred hollows who cured so many of blindness in so many countries for free, is an extension of our higher selves. Yes they fought selfishness and greed. Unlike capitalist economics, we aren't all selfish, we aren't all motivated by greed and material goods, atheist or believer. Our biology is more complex than the banking system.

  6. Haha! Thank GOD for that, Stu! ;-)

    Re Mother Theresa etc. She is a perfect example of "acting against biology", in a way. From what I understand, she lived a life of self-denial in many ways. She did not have children, and her own genetics were not passed on. Her IDEALS certainly were - in a big way - but the link between this and biology is tenuous, I think... It seems to me that people who give their lives in the service of abstract ideals are stepping outside of the limits of heredity and environment, and of biological necessity. Just thoughts off the top of my head (and hey, people who actually know something about this stuff can't agree! :)

    And - what is our "higher self"? What makes *you* think we have one? Where does it reside?

  7. Mother theresa was a good example of pro social behavior . Not everyone is going to want or can pass on their genes, that doesn't make her step out of biology. There are examples of other corporate biota working towards the community as a whole. Not everyone is selfish, I reject the selfish gene theory.
    Our higher self is that part of our brain commonly called the mind, which has been informed and educated and refined to such an extent, that it controls how we act and react to the environment


Feel free to leave comments - I love discussion, & diverse opinions! So comment, add your own thoughts, disagree - you are welcome.

Its okay to comment anonymously if you are shy, but I'd much rather know who you are, & always appreciate it when people "own" their own opinions. Look forward to chatting with you :)