Another Brick in the Wall

”In 1968 I was fifteen and I spent many hours inspecting the faces of Eric, Jack and Ginger staring back at me from the squirly colourscape of Disraeli Gears. For me the music and the art were one, a strange brew that promised ecstatic adventure. The album was a window to another world into which I would peer through the smoke of a quid deal”.

    disraeli gears
    Dear Anthony

    Firstly, thank you. I had forgotten the story but it is such a good one: so singular, so stapled to its time it can only be true. You and I laughed out loud at your retelling because we could smell the cannabis, taste the papery joint (look this one has fins), and experience the spluttering heft of a Camberwell Carrot. We heard again the stoned roadie mumbling lovingly of his new bike, his ease at shifting through its new slant parallelogram derailleur gears, someone’s super stoned realisation (heeeeey), the croak (holding the good smoke down, down in the lungs) ”that’s it man, yeah….we call the album disraeli gears”.

    In 1968 I was fifteen and I spent many hours inspecting at the faces of Eric, Jack and Ginger staring back at me from the squirly colourscape of Disraeli Gears. For me the music and the art were one, a strange brew that promised ecstatic adventure. The album was a window to another world into which I would peer through the smoke of a quid deal. Most weekends we would steal around the Cathedral, into the secret garden that was Winchester town and score. Excitedly we would heat the nugget, then with a scalpel pair black flakes onto spilt tobacco. Richard called it ”carving the Sunday joint”. I thought it drole and arch in the manner of Mr. Norris ( ”Dear Boy, we live in stirring times…tea stirring times”). I was inside the penitentiary that was Winchester College and I resented the parents (who put me there) and the teachers (who kept me there). If I was happy in my unhappiness – and I now think I was – it was because I had my friends, and I had my dreams.

    I didn’t like teachers then and I don’t like them today. Out of the dozens who taught me I overcame my hostility perhaps three times. Of Starkey, Gwyn, and Dowdeswell I grew fond. Something important passed across and I felt it. (I thrilled to it). I notice my children do not much like their teachers either. I do not tell them they are wrong (how could I?) although I do ask them to look out, to be open to the possibility that one or two might have something special for them. I ask them to be alert to any unusual rate of exchange. At my I wedding party I reprised a karaoke favourite with my oldest son. We wanted Wish You Were Here but settled for Another Brick In The Wall. ”Hey. Teacher. Leave those kids alone”. Jejune? Unfair? Yup, that’s me. Sometimes I wonder why I left my marriage and I experience instantly an overheated house full of homework. The home had the reach of teachers within it and I wanted out.

    Alain is a teacher and that makes things tricky because immediately I dislike him. The fault arises not in the teacher but the teachee (and admitting it does not waive it). The teachee resists teaching, most especially he dislikes lessons. The teachee dislikes a straight backed authority before him, he dislikes being told how to sit or what to do, he dislikes being talked at for any length of time, he dislikes not being able to talk if he wants to, he dislikes being reminded of his lack of knowledge, he is hurt by criticism. He can be won round – temporarily at least – by praise, by having his curiosity awakened, by wanting something of what his teacher has. The sessions with Alain had a lot of the former but little of the latter.

    A Most Unusual School

    I am a seeker after knowledge but I don’t like teachers. I like to learn but I don’t like lectures. And I know this now as I did not know it before. Something has happened (some thing is happening).

    A few years ago I began a most unusual part-time course of instruction. I began going to evening classes (with morning classes most weekends). Enrolment in this curious college is so demanding that on arrival every one is accorded the status of Fellow. There are no other ranks although some Fellows can also become Trusted Servants. In this school there are no teachers, no lecturers, instead we must learn exclusively from one another. In random rotation (so far as I can determine) a Fellow is asked to address a class. There is only one Rule: they must offer no opinions, quote no sources, proffer no advice, but draw honestly on their own experiences. Once one Fellow has opened others respond in similar fashion. Writing is confined to outside assignments, and is frowned upon in class. We are at all times encouraged to assist our fellows but again the Rule must be borne in mind. Often times the Rule is not followed but no penalty follows on from this. Fees are extremely modest and entirely voluntary. There is no support from the State or private benefactors.

    It would appear to be a school for the Telling of True Stories. (It is in fact a course on How To Live). To this end the school imbues a curious kind of knowledge. It is a self-knowledge and it accumulates in a manner quite unlike learning say, physics or French, where a hierarchy of knowledge arises in a sequential and predictable manner. Instead this knowledge arives more as a kind of awareness, as a picture painted by numbers, and is powerful but fragile like the construction of a crystal radio set. It is perhaps more a way of seeing than of knowing. The knowledge requires the exercise of only simple thinking skills (primarily listening and recollection, over analysis is emphatically discouraged) and the ability to feel what others feel. It involves both head and heart but the engine of change is empathy.

    Other People

    Other people are absolutely critical to the acquisition of this knowledge. Other people who hurt, who know pain, who laugh, who cry, who are bewildered, who have shame, who are selfish, who transgress . Other flawed people are critical. We are asked to seek the similarities not the differences, we see the ways in which we are joined and thereby- astonishingly – we come to see the ways in which we are unique.

    You can now appreciate (should you have had any doubts) what a prickly bastard I am: how prideful and resistant. You can see how this school with no teachers but lots of flawed folk appeals to someone like me. You can sense the difficulty I have with a maitre with few discernible flaws.

    I should say there is a lot I don’t agree with at the School. I don’t believe in God but some of my best friends do (and I never thought I would say that). Many sense the working of a higher power but I don’t. Instead I sense a kind of Human Power. Many hold a strong belief that we live our lives moment by moment, hour by hour, a day at a time. I hold with this belief very much and it may be a major point of contact with Alain’s teachings, that we strive to see life as a set of never returning moments.

    And I want to say that this is new. When I turned up at this school I saw Other People very differently indeed. In June 2000 I had my final session with my psychiatrist. I was hitting him up for anything that meant I could describe my despair with clinical detachment. I was absenting myself from life because I could see no point to it. I was describing this when I was suddenly aware of tears – but they couldn’t be mine. Mike had removed his glasses, ”Don’t you see?” he said quietly ”…the point of life is other people”. That thought was so horrible, so appalling, that thirty days later I was delivered into the ICU of the Cromwell Hospital. I had wanted to get as far away as possible from other people.

    Now I rather think it is everything to do with other people. We are the social animal and I am one of those animals. Fuck it. I am another brick in the wall.

    Wisdom Ancient and Modern

    Alain urged me to practice silence on an empty stomach (I concur but am reluctant), to read his/yours revised text ( I try but it is awkward to understand) and to read the ancient sources of wisdom. He suggested that the latter could release the virus that would attach itself to the ego program on my hard disk and eradicate it. I dip into the old writers and I find them inspiring, elusive, helpful, confusing and often times plain wrong. Many times they offer me ancient wasdon.

    For such a long part of our recorded history we knew so little of how the universe functions that we had to make things up or had to rely on our intuitions. We know now that where our intuitions have not been trained by natural selection they can be wildly off-beam. And we know now that very few of our forebears had the imagination to envisage what is really going on. They were not up to the task because the truth that is emerging is astounding. The passage of time is dependant on my velocity, Quantum Electrodynamics – the best supported theory in all of physics – is an outrage to all that we cherish about causality. My mind, my consciousness, arises solely from the interaction of millions of tiny chemical robots who neither know nor care nor who I am. The evolution of life in its astonishing complexity is a blind mole of algorithm no more sophisticated than ”knit one, pearl one”. I could go on, and on.

    When Alain recounts experiments of monkeys and sea shells and telepathy, when he proposes that our feelings of guilt arise from our arrival out of the birth canal I want to urge him to read some modern wisdom.

    But it is hard to get a word in.

    In Session

    You told me ”I am a plodder” and I smiled and was very fond of you at that moment. I long to be thought fleet of foot (my nickname in the Fellowship catches this exactly, I am FastTrack) but I too am a plodder. ”Like a bird on the wire, like a drunk at a midnight choir.” As I have remarked before for Leonard and for me it’s a lonely, clumsy business. But it has to be done

    I certainly feel obtuse in the sessions. Alain has a rhetoric in which he asks questions that demand the answer: yes. A dozen, maybe twenty times, I was asked:? you understand? you agree? I assented to an obvious assertion and then all kinds of inferences were paraded. Sometimes I wanted to demur. I felt bludgeoned and suspected a primitive psychological technique. Say yes enough times and you believe the things in between the yes-es.

    Alain insisted that I had dealt with anger but was full of fear. I didn’t disagree because I believe anger made me depressed and I am not depressed any more but I wanted to assure him I had to deal with anger many times a day (but there was no time to get in this observation). I still experience anger -hell, I feel rage five times a day but it no longer burrows in as it once did. the anger passes through.

    I also easily fill with fear because I am highly neurotic but this too is getting better. However some of my fears are animalistic, they are grounded in real-life because they affect the well being of my organism and ones dear to it. Today I have many dependants, a lot of borrowing, and very little income. Unless I earn more soon I will have to dismantle much of what I have built. In Alain’s own text I read that financial security is the basis of growth. He goes on about this. And I don’t have it.

    His character cartography of me was brief, noting the above fear and its cause. I was not over impressed, I suspect it comes off me in waves. Alain was good on fear ( ”look at it as interesting feeling in the skin”) and the importance of downsizing it. He wanted me to relax more, for my ego to let go of its grabbing points. Now I kind of get what he is talking about but that is because I am bringing this awareness to the sessions. I don’t feel I am adding to it much in the session.

    Is anything else passing across? Well there is the business of staring and the funny hand movements at the end which leave me non-plussed. I don’t feel anything except a little foolish that I actually passed money across the table for this experience. I do it of course because of your recommendation, my respect for your search, my slight open-ness to such things.

    In the Rooms we say we comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable. I wish I had experienced something either way in the session. I was irritated (and now you know why, you know the what the teachee brings). I don’t like feeling irritated but will I will persevere if there is a chance of it producing something. Irrititants can produce pearls so the question for me is perhaps: am I an Oyster?

    When we discussed the date of the next session and I realised I was looking forward to spending time with my friend on a comfy sofa, but not another session with Alain, I knew I would have to write something like this. I am a terrible teachee. I don’t know what to suggest but maybe you do….

    Love and Fellowship.