Riot police clash with demonstrators outside parliament in Athens, October 2011, as anger breaks out over new austerity measures Photograph: Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP/Getty Images

Riot police clash with demonstrators outside parliament in Athens, October 2011, as anger breaks out over new austerity measures
Photograph: Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP/Getty Images

I read a fascinating piece in the Guardian earlier this month but it somehow slipped through the net without registering on this blog. I need to make up for that lapse right now. It deals with an issue that has teased my imagination for a long time, with the help of Taleb’s The Black Swan, Mason’s Post-Capitalism, Ehrenfeld’s Flourishing along with Kahneman’s book Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow, all of which largely demolished any residual faith I might have had in economics as a science. This article reviews a book written from within the discipline that adduces even more evidence for this kind of scepticism and helps explain part of the reason why experts are currently so discredited. Below is a short extract: for the full post seeks link.

In the autumn of 2011, as the world’s financial system lurched from crash to crisis, the authors of this book began, as undergraduates, to study economics. While their lectures took place at the University of Manchester the eurozone was in flames. The students’ first term would last longer than the Greek government. Banks across the west were still on life support. And David Cameron was imposing on Britons year on year of swingeing spending cuts.

Yet the bushfires those teenagers saw raging each night on the news got barely a mention in the seminars they sat through, they say: the biggest economic catastrophe of our times “wasn’t mentioned in our lectures and what we were learning didn’t seem to have any relevance to understanding it”, they write in The Econocracy. “We were memorising and regurgitating abstract economic models for multiple-choice exams.”

Part of this book describes what happened next: how the economic crisis turned into a crisis of economics. It deserves a good account, since the activities of these Manchester students rank among the most startling protest movements of the decade.

After a year of being force-fed irrelevancies, say the students, they formed the Post-Crash Economics Society, with a sympathetic lecturer giving them evening classes on the events and perspectives they weren’t being taught. They lobbied teachers for new modules, and when that didn’t work, they mobilised hundreds of undergraduates to express their disappointment in the influential National Student Survey. The economics department ended up with the lowest score of any at the university: the professors had been told by their pupils that they could do better.

The protests spread to other economics faculties – in Glasgow, Istanbul, Kolkata. Working at speed, students around the world published a joint letter to their professors calling for nothing less than a reformation of their discipline.

Economics has been challenged by would-be reformers before, but never on this scale. What made the difference was the crash of 2008. Students could now argue that their lecturers hadn’t called the biggest economic event of their lifetimes – so their commandments weren’t worth the stone they were carved on. They could also point to the way in which the economic model in the real world was broken and ask why the models they were using had barely changed.

You’d think that I’d be able to answer that question with a great deal of confidence at the age of 73, nearing 74. And at one level I can.

And by that I don’t mean through detailed knowledge of my ancestry. All I know already (or am likely to know in the future, for that matter) is logged on this blog either tagged as poems or autobiography.

Nor am I talking about my fundamental reality as a spiritual being, something else I have explored at length elsewhere on this blog usually tagged as spirituality.

No. What I am getting at is far more mundane.

It’s that I know I have a tendency towards introversion. I like a fair amount of my own company and devote it to reflection, reading and writing whenever I can. It was in my teens I realised that I needed to disguise this pattern if I was to get anywhere in the world. I have persuaded myself I hide it reasonably successfully now. I may have done quite well in what, in her biographical chapter, Jane Stabler (Reading Douglas Dunn – page 5) claims the poet succeeded at – cultivating ‘an extrovert public profile which deflected attention from his private book-buying self.’

I read Susan Cain’s Quiet with a quiet sense of satisfaction that I had nailed all I needed to pin down in terms of my temperament. So much of what she said fitted me so well.

But not entirely.

There was the pool of pain problem, the inescapable fact that deep inside me there has always been a hurt that does not heal. Apart from my People Not Psychiatry work over the encounter group weekend in the mid-70s, which I have blogged about, there are numerous examples of when this pain gets triggered, of the kind the 2006 diary entry illustrates (see my italics in particular):

I’ve just seen the latest Pride and Prejudice directed by Joe Wright with Keira Knightley, Donald Sutherland, Brenda Blethyn and Matthew MacFadyen. It never fails to move me as a story in a passable rendering, which this was (though not as good as Simon Langton’s with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle).

I suspect that it is not the tough-minded observation of moeurs nor the positive resolutions that does the trick each time. It’s that Jane Austen has plumbed the very depths of unfulfilment, of unrequitable passion, of thwarted intensity. She knew what yearning was. Though she uses tales of manners satirically dressed with wicked accuracy, it is the undertow of sadness and longing that gives them power to move me so profoundly. Yes, I love her needle-sharp deflation of pomposity and hypocrisy. It makes me roar with pleasure. I admire her moral sense that probes the cracks even in the endearing Mr Bennet. But it is the pain as Elizabeth believes she is watching the man she has come to love and respect walk out of her life forever that touches my soul. Always for me it is the longing that is most real. There is some longing in me that has never been assuaged. Marriage, fatherhood, literature, religion, work and nature never do more than palliate the pain for a brief moment. There is a beauty always out of reach that my heart keens after. Most people seem not to feel it. They find effective anodynes it seems or maybe never feel this pain at all, plain and simple.

I am still inventing ambitions – to think and write about spirituality and psychology for instance when I retire – to convince me that life still has some hope. But all I really see is a future of exits – valued beings and things leaving me.


When I was blogging about transliminality recently someone stopped by to comment. She wrote:

I just stumbled upon your post in looking for images on transliminality, and I think your diagram is right on. I just finished a PhD in Religion, Psychology, & Culture at Vanderbilt University and wrote my dissertation on Transliminality & Transcendence: An Exploration of the Connections among Creativity, Mystical Experience, and Psychopathology — I felt very fortunate to have found institutional support for this topic.

She offered to send me a copy. I leapt at the chance.

And now I come to what has triggered this recent burst of introspection.

As I read with keen interest through the first sections of her thesis I came across the following:

What does it mean to be an HSP, a highly sensitive person? Such persons are part of the 15-20% of (not only humans but) every animal population studied so far that is characterized by greater sensory awareness, responsiveness, and caution than the other 80-85% (Aron 1997, p. 12). Evolutionary psychologists speculate that this variation develops in all known species because its traits are advantageous in certain circumstances—like hiding from predators, or refraining from starting wars—while the majority’s less-cautious and less-reactive tendencies are better at things like adjusting to new conditions and bringing home the bacon.

In people, sensory processing sensitivity (SPS) entails four qualities that can be summarized with the acronym BEDS: Behavioral inhibition, Emotional reactivity, Depth of processing, and Sensitivity to subtle stimuli (Aron et al. 2012, p. 7-11).65 Highly sensitive persons tend to hold back and inhibit their actions until they have “paused to check” out the situation at hand; their emotions are stronger or more extreme versions (both “positive” and “negative”) of what others tend to experience; they tend to, and need to, process (think about, introspect, assimilate) their experiences, feelings, relationships, thoughts, and circumstances more thoroughly than do others; they can easily become overaroused and anxious from sensory and situational stimulation that the majority of people would find comfortable; and they pick up on subtle sensory and emotional stimuli that most people do not notice. Additionally, in Aron’s initial three- to four-hour interviews with HSPs, “persons across all categories volunteered early that their particular form of spirituality (e.g., ‘seeing God in everything,’ long meditation retreats, a religious vocation) was central to their lives” (Aron et al. 2012, p. 11).

In less academic terms and with a different acronym Sezin Koehler in an article on the Huffington Post website summarises it neatly:

‘In Sensitive: The Untold Story Dr. Aron breaks down the four major traits of a highly sensitive individual into the acronym DOES: depth of processing, overstimulation, empathy and emotional responsiveness, and sensitivity to subtleties. . . . . Because of this above-average depth of processing, the highly sensitive person is easily overstimulated — aka overwhelmed — by events going on around them, and especially chaotic, loud, or crowded situations. The highly sensitive require a great deal of downtime in order to decompress after overstimulation. . . . . . . The highly sensitive show more brain activity in the insula — also known as the brain’s seat of consciousness, which helps integrate an individual’s inner and outer experiences into usable data for survival. The highly sensitive are easier to cry than others because they are emotionally tending to everything around them in a deeper way, which is not a bad thing. Dr Aron notes, “Emotions generally lead to better thinking, because we only think thoroughly about something we care about.” . . . . . In an interview in the film highly sensitive person Alanis Morrissette says, “I spent most of my life thinking that how I was was a problem for people.” I certainly relate to that sentiment. And Dr. Aron, herself a highly sensitive person, reveals, “I think I went into clinical psychology because I didn’t know what was the matter with me.”’

hspWhat was both amusing and irritating when I read about Aron was that I immediately recollected that I had started her 1997 book on iBooks two years or more ago but had given up halfway through. My highlights and notes indicated that I had got the point that what she was saying might apply to me but had failed to register that it might matter.

So, I’ve gone back to her book and finished it. I think what put me off before was partly her tone rather than the content of what she said. There was a touch too much American hyperbole for my understating English palate.

There is clearly enough of an overlap between my perception of myself and the other aspects of this trait to make me suspect that sensitivity might be the missing piece in my jigsaw. Introverts can also display this trait it seems, so it doesn’t negate that aspect of my personality.

What this realisation might do, after I have reflected on it for a bit longer (I can’t help myself – I must be an HSP!), is convince me that I do not need to uncover some forgotten loss, above and beyond those I have already explored, to explain why I am prone to bursting into tears and feeling so deeply sad at times. It’s just how I am. I’m more intense than I thought was reasonable, and this is apparently not unusual for HSPs, who tend to see themselves as inadequate when they needn’t do.

It also possibly explains two other disquieting tendencies I have, apart from my habit of trying to read their state of mind from the faces, postures and gestures of everyone that comes within eye-shot on the street, in cafes and just about everywhere else as well.


First, I have always felt pathetic about my performance anxiety, which is also a correlate of the trait, it seems. I can remember once I was playing really well and comfortably winning a game of squash. Then I noticed that someone was watching the game from the glass window overhead and staying there, not just moving on as most people did. My game crashed and I went to a humiliating defeat.

Secondly, Aron’s research indicates that ‘hunger has an especially strong effect on HSPs.’ Maybe that’s why I have always found the Bahá’í Fast so difficult.

This was obvious right from the start.

I had been dreading the first day of my first Bahá’í Fast – no food, no drink between sunrise and sunset in March. For someone who had never missed lunch in his life, this was a daunting prospect.

I had a long two-and-a-half hour commute at that time. So, I got up at just before my usual time and prepared a bowl of porridge for myself as the most sustaining breakfast I could think of. I sat down with the porridge and a cup of tea. I had ten minutes to finish my breakfast. That was no problem as I have always been a fast eater (no paradoxical pun intended).

As I sat down I felt an agonising pain in my gut and passed out. I later speculated whether it must’ve been some form of colic, probably brought on by my extreme anxiety at the prospect of the impending fast.

When I came round it was too late to eat. The sun had risen. I paused and wondered what I should do. I made the wrong decision. I left my tea and porridge untouched, got ready for work and headed for the tube.

To cut a long story short I spent the day with a slowly rising temperature and an increasing headache, until I ended up waiting on Guilford Station to head home to Hendon. I had a sandwich and a can of Coke in my bag. The train came, I boarded and found a seat.

Still not time to break the fast!

The other passengers must have found it weird to see someone peering at their watch every few seconds with a sandwich on their lap and a drink in their hand. At last the hour struck. I wrenched at the ring on the top of the can. It didn’t budge. With my hands shaking by this stage I wrenched harder. The top came off and cut me as it did so and the blood poured out.

The final irony!

I had to fidget with a handkerchief to staunch the blood I could ill afford to spill before I was able drink my Coke.

The following two days I phased myself slowly into the fast with water and salad in the middle of the day before I attempted a full day’s fasting again.

Even now my wife comments if we’re out and I start to get irritable, ‘Let’s find a cafe and sit down. You’re hungry, I can tell.’

Now I think I know why that is too.

Time will tell whether this explanation for my well of tears, my performance anxiety, my reaction to hunger pangs, my dithering and my people-watching holds good. I hope it does.

Hold on though. I may have to contact Elaine Aron to check something out.

She doesn’t mention anything in her sensitivity profile about a tendency to start a book, abandon it halfway through to start another and so on ad nauseam. At present I’m halfway through at least thirteen books that I can remember, never mind the ones I’ve forgotten I started. I think she may have missed something here. I’m definitely not a Completer-Finisher and perhaps this is why. I’m too sensitive.

Anyway, what were you saying about that post I said I’d write about procrastination?

As someone drawn to John Donne’s concept of truth as standing on the top of a ‘huge hill/ Cragged and steep,’ with its implication that all seekers are struggling up different sides of the hill on different paths but all heading in the same direction, it’s no mystery why this article on the Bahá’í Teachings website should appeal to me so strongly. Below is a short extract: for the full post see link

How many paths are there to God? There are as many paths to God as there are souls on the Earth.

– Rumi

Most people would probably agree that we all forge our own paths to God, as Rumi suggested. Also, most would likely agree that many different religious paths have at least some validity.

But not everyone. Some people definitely disagree, saying that their religion or their particular path is the one and only way to achieve salvation or spirituality or any true enlightenment; and that all other paths to God are false.

Which one of those approaches do you believe in?

If you favor Rumi’s approach, you’re what’s now called a religious pluralist. You may not have ever heard the term or thought about yourself this way, but take a look at these definitions of pluralism to see if they resonate with what you already think and believe:

pluˊralˑism: n.  various ethnic, religious, etc. groups existing together in a nation or society

reˑliˊgious pluˊralˑism: n.  an approach to faith usually characterized by humility regarding the level of truth and effectiveness of one’s own religion, as well as the goals of respectful dialogue and mutual understanding with other traditions

Lately, philosophers and theologians increasingly group people of faith into three distinct categories of belief: pluralist; exclusivist; and inclusivist.

The British author, Anglican rector and theologian Alan Race first came up with this three-stage concept in 1983. A well-known advocate of interfaith understanding and activities, he wrote:

Religious studies is healing us of our stereotyped views about other religions; the ethical principle of respect in relationships with our neighbours is demanding that we learn from other religions; dialogue opens the door to further ‘critical communion’ with other religions …

So, before we explore this new idea, let’s define what the two other approaches to faith actually mean:

  • exclusivist: n.  a religious person who believes that only one set of beliefs or practices can ultimately be true or correct, and all others are in error
  • inclusivist: n.  a religious person who believes that one set of beliefs is absolutely true, but that others are at least partially true

To sum up:

  • If you believe your religion is the absolute truth and all others are false, you’re an exclusivist.
  • If you believe your religion is the truest, but others also have some truth, you’re an inclusivist.
  • If you believe your religion is true but not the exclusive source of truth, and that multiple religious beliefs can and should co-exist in the world, you’re a pluralist.

Which one are you?

For Donne’s poem see link lines 76-82

For Donne’s poem see link lines 76-82

As the strains of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here echoed off the stone walls of the remote village church packed to the porch and beyond with friends and well-wishers, I realised for certain I was right in the middle of a heart-expanding experience. I’d been quite anxious about coming, not because I didn’t want to share in this expression of caring for Martin and his family, but because I had a part to play in it before a gathering of more than 150 people, most of whom I’ve never met before.

When the song ceased I would have to read a passage from the Bahá’í writings about the soul, and I wasn’t sure I could do it without cracking up. Given that I had only really begun to get to know Martin in the last couple of years or so, I definitely didn’t want to do that when, compared with his wife, six children and all his closest friends, I had such a light grief to carry.

The battle throughout the church to stifle sobs and subdue sniffles had been almost completely lost after his son had ascended the pulpit to share his memories of his father. He had flown back from Beijing just a few days before. Somehow he managed to describe to us his last contact with his dad – a text exchange just a few days before Martin died. Cass was due to go on stage with his group to perform in a gig in Beijing. Martin was planning to see someone else perform near Hereford, but said the concert he really wanted to be at was the one Cass was in. Martin’s last words were that he would talk to him soon. Cass’s composure cracked for a moment and he couldn’t hold back his sobs.

He was not the only one and he took me with him as well for a moment.

Then Wish You Were Here, one of my favourite Pink Floyd tracks, followed hard on his heels. I struggled to keep calm.

I found myself thinking about a story his wife, Ali, had told me earlier of how she was checking his mobile some time after his death and found a lot of text messages from the same number asking Martin to get in touch. Eventually, because the messages kept coming she rang back. It was a woman who was texting Martin because he had fixed her roof one time. She was going on holiday and needed her house redecorating. She wanted to give the work to Martin so that he could be indoors for three weeks while she was away, safe from the exposure of the roofs he usually worked on, out of the winter cold and wet. She clearly wanted to give him something back for his kindness to her in the past.

I remembered the poem, Three Coats, written by a friend, which his daughter had shared almost at the beginning of the service. At first she had found it hard to get calm enough to speak. Somehow she did. Her courage was amazing.

From memory, the poem was triggered by Martin explaining to the writer why he kept three coats in his van. The poem puts it far better but it was because, when the weather was bad, he’d put the first coat on and work until it was soaked through. Then, he’d come down from the roof and change into the next coat and work on that until he was soaked to the skin. At this point again he’d come down to the van and get the last coat. When that too was wet through, he would go home to his family, the reason why he worked in this way to keep them warm and safe.

That didn’t help the campaign to keep calm. I focused on my breathing instead.

As soon as the music stopped I had to stand up and read.

The whole physical creation is perishable. These material bodies are composed of atoms; when these atoms begin to separate decomposition sets in, then comes what we call death. This composition of atoms, which constitutes the body or mortal element of any 91 created being, is temporary. When the power of attraction, which holds these atoms together, is withdrawn, the body, as such, ceases to exist.

With the soul it is different. The soul is not a combination of elements, it is not composed of many atoms, it is of one indivisible substance and therefore eternal. It is entirely out of the order of the physical creation; it is immortal!

(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks – page 90)

Only when I said ‘With the soul it is different’ did I have a catch in my voice. I picked myself up after that, thank goodness.

The service continued in the same way at the same pace, giving all the family members who wished, the opportunity to share their thoughts and memories. Friends also shared their stories.

His wife, showing the same courage as her children, read the words of Kahlil Gibran, from The Prophet, one of Martin’s favourite books:

For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?
And what is it to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?

Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.
And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.
And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.

What was so clear as the service moved towards its conclusion with the Bahá’í Prayer for the Departed was how strongly everyone in that church felt involved in the process. The family’s pain and courage touched us all. The service lasted slightly more than two hours. It had all been designed by the family and close friends. There were no priests involved. There was not even an undertaker. You don’t have to have one. There was no sense of hurry. Everyone who spoke, spoke at their own speed and in their own way. One man even sang a song.

And finally we followed his coffin in the colourful camper van to the burial plot in a green space near a woodland area, where it was lowered into the ground, where prayers were said, where flowers and cypress twigs were thrown into the grave, and where Ali could finally say her last farewell as she knelt to throw her rose onto the coffin.

It was a beautiful moving and authentic experience, which I wouldn’t have missed for the world.  It was the family’s bravery, love and unity that moved me so much.

For days afterwards I couldn’t get another song out of my head, though it was not one they played at the service but it seems filled with exactly the same spirit.

"Refugees Welcome." Photo from Dulles International Airport in Virginia, capturing crowds protesting the Trump administration's executive order on immigration. Photo by Geoff Livingston. CC BY-NC-ND

“Refugees Welcome.” Photo from Dulles International Airport in Virginia, capturing crowds protesting the Trump administration’s executive order on immigration. Photo by Geoff Livingston. CC BY-NC-ND

Almost two years ago now, I read The Woman Who Read Too Much by Bahiyyih Nakhjavani and posted ‘s review of it in the Guardian. I am delighted to find that her next novel is coming out in April. There’s an intriguing intro by Bahiyyih Nakhjavani on the the Stanford University Press Blog website. Below is a brief extract: for the full post see link

I first came across the word “alien” in a non-stellar context when I had to sign a card identifying myself as one, soon after the Immigrants Act of 1962 was passed in the UK. Even though my family had been the only Persians living in Uganda, I had never felt like an alien growing up there. But the sense of being one came home to me forcefully in cozy Rutland. I walked into the local constabulary of the small market town thinking I was a fourteen year old human being; I left, duly registered, feeling as though I had just been dropped out of a flying saucer from outer space.

Like many other adolescents, I wandered in elliptical orbit after that till marriage transformed me from one of “them” into one of “us,” and I graduated from being an Iranian student to becoming a UK-citizen-by-marriage. And my induction into this select club happened once again in Kampala, Uganda, the town of happy childhood, the place where my grandfather would be buried soon afterwards, his Jewish Iraqi bones enriching forever the blood-red soil of the high Kikaaya hill.

But Uganda was to haunt me some years later, as I stood in a queue at Pearson International Airport, waiting to pass through Canadian immigration. By then, although the passport had stuck, the marriage had not, and having entered the US on one visa, I was obliged to leave it to apply for another, as a divorcée. However, as bizarre as American logic seemed to me, even then, it was nothing compared to the Canadian sequel waiting for me on the other side of the border.

By a stroke of fate, my arrival in Toronto coincided with that of some two thousand Indians fleeing Uganda from Idi Amin. And given my links to that country, the immigration officer behind the desk, whose nametag clearly announced Polish ancestry, was understandably suspicious. So I was hauled to one side and subjected to a cross-examination. Who was I? Where was I coming from, and where did I really belong? Was I an illegal immigrant?

At that point I truly did not know. After three hours of interrogation my mind was beginning to wander. All I could register was that my little girl, a proud American citizen of three years old, was progressing quietly around the room, placing tiny palms, blackened by typewriter ribbon, all along the walls. I could have sworn she was writing Anglo-Saxon, inscribing syllable by syllable that old English poem about a solitary exile for me to read:

Swa ic modsefan, minne sceolde, oft earmcearig, eöle bidæled, freomægum feor feterum sælan

So I, often wretched and sorrowful, bereft of my homeland, far from noble kinsmen, have had to bind in fetters my inmost thoughts 

“The Wanderer”


feb-17-death-cafeJust another week to go before the next meeting of the Death Cafe on 15 February from 6-8 pm, so just re-posting this account of the last meeting I attended in January. If you are close by it would be good to see you there.

It took longer than usual to get my coffee at the Courtyard prior to the Death Cafe meeting last Wednesday. There were far more people at the counter than usual, most of them in my age group. The thought crossed my mind that we might be going to get a record attendance at the meeting, though there was no one in the queue I recognised.

I finally got my cappuccino just in time to make it across to the meeting room by a touch after six o’clock. As I approached I could see someone struggling with the wedge to make the door stay open. The room was dark. This did not bode well.

Holding my coffee perilously in my hand I unsuccessfully attempted to help with the wedge. ‘Better sit down before I drop this on the carpet,’ I thought. I switched the light on as I passed.

As I was arranging my coat on the back of the chair someone else came in before promptly disappearing again for a coffee.

By the time I’d sat down and made myself comfortable there were four of us in the room – the smallest number of people so far at any meeting I had attended. Even so, yet again I was energised by the range of issues we dealt with, some of them in considerable depth.

Maybe I was primed to enjoy this meeting whatever the numbers or the topics. I’d had about a fortnight of immersion in the tragic and death-dominated lives of the Brontës. Also within the last week I’ve had news of the deaths of two people I knew quite well – both much younger than me. Memento mori has been the flavour of the year so far.

This time the ground we covered included whether we preferred burial to cremation, whether we would want to be resuscitated or not, what did the idea of our own end make us think about, whether there is an after life or not and did we mind, did it matter what kind of funeral takes place after we have died, where have the supportive communities of old disappeared to, should we feel responsible in some way for creating the conditions that have made possible so-called ISIS and its killings, and how did we feel about the fact that our society is still letting so many people die.

Despite what they sound like, such topics don’t lead to one-foot-in-the-grave-type discussions. Unexpected positives often emerge.

The community question, for example, flagged up the existence of a promising initiative in Sandwell — Compassionate Community:

A Compassionate Community is a community that provides support to someone who is dying. The community could be family, neighbours, local organisations, a faith group, local businesses or people living in a particular area. It could be some or all of these.

People in a Compassionate Community help care for a dying person through small acts of compassion, supporting the dying person during their end of life, often enabling them to die well and, if possible, at home.

Palliative care professionals, such as doctors and care workers, are also a vital part of a Compassionate Community. However, to provide the best possible end of life care to someone they need extra support from the patient’s community, particularly if the patient wishes to die at home.

By working and pulling together a Compassionate Community can help a dying person, and their family and friends, get the support and care they need, helping them to deal with dying and death and the subsequent bereavement and loss of those left behind.

There are plans to test out a pilot project in Hereford apparently.

Even the worst sounding topics can trigger potentially life-enhancing deliberations.

Pondering on what our deaths made us think about, we delved into the problem of how do we decide what are the most important things to spend our time on. Does it have to be something useful? Can’t it just be something joyous and enriching like a trip to the opera? Would watching a murder mystery on television count as worthwhile enough? What about a walk in the country? We all probably felt that the arts and a connection with nature were worthwhile in themselves and that doing things that benefited others definitely qualified as a good use of our last days. Interestingly, in the context of our discussion at that point, no one mentioned using our time to come to terms with death even though that’s what we all have said is a crucially important task in life as a whole. Perhaps we all thought it too obvious to mention!

As usual the time flew by and the meeting was almost over. We found ourselves wondering at the end how we could attract more people to these meetings. I’m still pondering that one.

Death Cafes are held in many places. Maybe there’s one near you. Do you dare to give it a go?


Given my preoccupation with trauma and creativity, amongst other cheerful issues, it will come as no surprise to hear that I am almost certain to buy this book on death and poets. As far as I can tell from the Guardian review its combination of wit and wisdom will be hard for me to resist. Below is a short extract: for the full article see link.

Not the lives of poets, which Dr Johnson wrote about, but their deaths – whether early or late, in bed or in battle, accidental or self-inflicted. It’s a great idea for a book but one that could easily descend into ghoulish sensationalism or slick postmortem psychologising. It helps that the authors are poets themselves, whose agenda isn’t to rubberneck or lecture but to interrogate the Romantic myth “that great poems come at a heavy – ultimately fatal – price”.

If their previous collaboration, Edgelands, in 2011, was a pilgrimage to neglected corners of the English landscape, this one sends them further afield, to wherever it was (Boston, Vienna or Hull) that a poet’s last hours were spent. The hope is that by being there they can learn something – about the life and work, and how the manner of a poet’s death can affect, for better or worse, an understanding of his or her poems.

Henry Wallis’s portrait of the death of Chatterton – splayed body, abandoned drafts, arsenic phial – glamorised the image of the poet as sacrificial victim. Chatterton was just 17. The consumptive Keats (“that drop of blood is my death-warrant”) lasted only eight years longer. As other early casualties followed (Shelley, Byron, Rimbaud, Verlaine), the legend of the poète maudit took hold. Dylan Thomas, dying at 39 in New York after claiming to have drunk “18 straight whiskies”, gave it new vigour. According to his widow Caitlin, his “ridiculous” investment in the idea of the doomed poet was a self-betrayal – what he really liked was warm slippers, pickled onions and checking the cricket scores.

In the 1960s, the myth took an even darker turn, with the idea that personal disaster is necessary for great writing, and that – as John Berryman put it – poets who experience every worst possible ordeal short of suicide are “extremely lucky”’. For most, including Berryman himself, the luck soon ran out: he, Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton all killed themselves. (Randall Jarrell, who walked out in front of a car on a dark road, almost certainly did too.) The poet and critic Al Alvarez articulated the “extremist” thesis in his study The Savage God and was later teased for it by James Fenton (“He tells you, in the sombrest notes, / If poets want to get their oats / The first step is to slit their throats”). In reality, factors unrelated to poetry were often involved: drugs, alcohol, marital breakdown and depression, and in the cases of Plath and Berryman the precedent of a self-destructive father. But the myth lost none of its allure: Edgelife or Ledgelife meant pushing oneself to the limit and beyond in the service of art. Suicidal painters added to the thrill, as did rock stars then and since.