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Derek Best has contributed to several publications, including Macleans Magazine Canada, and Omni Magazine, USA. He is has also produced many documentary films for Television. For many years, he has been interested in A Course in Miracles, a metaphysical thought system, and maintains the official website for that organization. "ACIM", he says "is central to my personal way of seeing the world." This site is strictly personal however. Derek has an eclectic range of interests, and writes about them here as the mood strikes him.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Great Wall

When I was in China I still had to update the Course website weekly. This was a challenge because the Chinese apparently consider the Course to be seditious material. I was completely unable to access the website from anywhere inside China; I would simply receive a polite notice on my screen (in Chinese) saying that web page was "unavailable". I suppose all that discussion of love and forgiveness must seem pretty threatening. Two thousand years ago they built the Great Wall to keep the outside world -- outside. Today they are completing its modern day equivalent -- the Great Firewall. They are spending huge amounts in manpower to try and ensure that freedom of information is not a feature of everyday life. I don't know if they will succeed; as long as there are proxy servers in the world, people will just log on and surf freely, (as I did.) Still it is thought-provoking to know the Course is in the same forbidden league as Falun-Gong, BBC News, the Dalai Lama, the Massachussetts Institute of Technology, Columbia University, the country of Taiwan, and about 19,000 other websites, at last count.
But before we rush in waving flags and handing out gum, let us remember China's culture is far older than our own. Is it not neoconservatism to assume that what we revere in the west is applicable and desirable globally? That the Chinese "deserve" free access to information? Could we not look at our own recent history of suspicion and censorship, paranoia and possible eavesdropping, and mutter - very quietly - "mea culpa". Anyone who believes there is no internet censorship in our homeland might want to try logging on to the Course website using the free wi-fi at any of the 900 U.S. locations of Panera Bread. You will see a screen telling you that you have tried to access "occult" material, and your request has been blocked. (Fortunately the sandwiches aren't bad.) That old stand-by of Cultural Relativism suggests we should leave other countries well-enough alone. China will get to wherever it is going with or without our opinions or values. Napoleon is reputed to have said "Let China sleep. When she awakens the world will be sorry", which was itself a kind of laissez faire relativism. The classical objection to Cultural Relativism is that non-interference can prevent moral progess... as manifested in this case by the alleged suppression of freedoms. However no one can deny the huge de-facto influence of Western culture on the East already, and what moral progress has that accomplished? If having an entire generation of Chinese women craving Britney Spears' wardrobe is moral progress, perhaps it might be better not to spread our values quite so zealously.
Anyway, no one can possibly suppress the truth forever. Nor need they. We all do an excellent job of burying it ourselves.


Anonymous marian said...

nicely said.

10:02 AM  
Anonymous Annalisa said...

Dear Derek,
Great to see your photo. Thank you for helping me with the concordance a few years ago. (I live in Canberra, Australia). It has saved me lots of time.
You are often in or on my mind with sincere gratitude.
Any chance to pass on my gratitude to Ken for the many insights I have received through his work? I would like to see a way to send appreciation, both for the Facim website as well as the books.
Much love in Jesus
And best wished for ahwever season you may wish to celebrate

12:25 AM  


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Tuesday, July 18, 2006

No title

Still traveling. I have now reached a vast and torrid land, devoid of life; where overweight natives line the landscape with sad flags and crosses, to ward off the arid emptiness. To live here is to be in isolation, hoping for private pockets of meaning.


Anonymous Javier Cuñarro said...

I attended the Holy instant shared with John and Lois and the people present then here in Montevideo, and was by then undergoing deep trouble, financially, emotionally, and in many other aspects in me.

John said I had a mind like his, for some comments I made then and my understanding of the spiritual aspects being treated.

I am very enthusiastic about the course, but since my spiritual experiences were misunderstood as I was a young teenager, I received undue egotherapy and medication that, although I see the purpose in it, which was my understanding of such kind of treatment experience, rendered me too critical from the ego, though never made me abandon the path.

I have a better understanding now, having set aside all the ego critical judgement that projected to other people the apparent failure into developing as I would have willed, since I retain the will, can resort to atonement, forgivance, and true empathy through which I can truly respond to reality with the help of the Holy Spirit, not endlessly falling into the kind of symbolic loop interpretation of words and circumstances I trapped myself in all the time.

I want to thank you and state that some day I wish, if it is God´s will, to collaborate in the atonement, teaching and learning of forgivance, and opening divine revelation to all anywhere in any time-space-circumstance-ideology setting, in direct cooperation with you.

Thank you with all my heart, spirit and mind for the effects of the course in me, which have brought me closer to what I am, and so to realize what I have, and now allow me to share in a closer way to what has always been my will.

3:53 PM  


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Sunday, July 09, 2006

Mama Mia.

I humbly retract everything I previously said about large groups of people sharing a common purpose. You should try being on the streets of London the night after Italy just won the world cup!

Saturday, July 08, 2006

The Timeless Sea

"Brought together in a common purpose." I am always accused of cynicism when talking about our reactions to terrorism. I always felt we were falsely united in our hatred of a common enemy. Somewhere I remember reading the words; "Nowhere do we bond more deeply than in our wounds." The Course teaches that we have created a world of adversity and death so we can proclaim our own innocence in suffering. "Brother behold me, for at your hand I die." When something "terrible" occurs like 9/11 or like the London bombings of exactly one year ago today, we can all feel like victims of a common victimizer, which is a powerful unifying force. The trouble is - it only seems to unify us by solidifying our mutual belief in an illusion. It does not help us escape from it.

Yesterday at 12:00 noon I was riding the London tube (subway) when the announcement was made that the entire transportation system was going to observe a 2-minute silence for those killed in the attacks a year ago. The trains kept moving but the carriage went deathly quiet. Everyone sat lost in private thought. You could feel the silent camaraderie. A few score strangers thrown together in a tunnel who normally would scarcely give a hoot about each other, were suddenly a community of brothers with a comon purpose. Everyone was intensely aware of everyone else. I do not want to belittle the strong need to understand and somehow deal with the shock and the outrage. Everyone was just doing the best they could in terms they understood. The sense of bonding, though perhaps misguided, is a comfort. "Yea though I walk through the shadow of the valley of death ... thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me." I just want to remind myself on this day that there is no common enemy, there are no fellow victims, and there is no valley of death. All these things appear to exist because we have forgotten who we really are. Feeling silent sorrow in a subway will not really change things on any level that is important. I remind myself of this - but I still observed the silence.

Last night I attended a concert of Beethoven's sixth played by St Martin in the Fields. Some musicologists hold that all Beethoven's even numbered symphonies were lightweights, while the first, third, fifth, seventh and ninth were the masterpieces. That said, you have to wonder if even a lightweight piece by a giant is not still a masterpiece on any scale. The Academy orchestra was not that large (I counted 45 musicians) but they played a finely-honed and sensitive piece at a medium-fast clip, and managed to produce a large dynamic range without effort. Twelve years ago on the same stage at the Barbican I heard the same piece and it seemed mechanical and lifeless. Last night was a different story. Conductor Carlo Rizzi was highly animated and looked at times to be almost fencing with the first violinist, but his energy was infectious and the musicians gave 110%. That moment of epiphany came when one realized all awareness that this was a performance and we were separate beings had been lost. It became a universe of pure music, and you lived and breathed inside it. The big auditorium was full, and as hushed - awash in the timeless sea - and still as statues. I think everyone felt suspended outside of themselves for a while, lost in a beautiful place ...

Seems to me that is being brought together in a common purpose.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

In like a lamb, out like a lion.

Still on the subject of film and its ability to move us. What makes a moment in a film or book, poem or song - into a great moment? Even the most "pop"-ular culture has its epiphanies. Some, like "I'll be back," may seem like just catch-phrases to be sure. But a catch-phrase only catches because it has an element of universal truth that makes it stick. On the surface, "I'll be back" seems neither true nor false: just boastful. However the "truth" of it lies not in the specific context in which it was uttered, but in the more general way it symbolizes the universal resilience of the human spirit. Extrapolating this larger meaning was the function of a generation of movie-goers. Now there is hardly a defeated sportsman or politician who does not mouth the words - to instant recognition.

Should we minimize its significance because it came wrapped in a package of popular entertainment? Best to remember that Shakespeare Chaucer, Dickens, even Mozart were once just “popular” entertainment. Everyday we are deluged with a chaotic shower of words and images: some random, some accidental, some carefully crafted. It does not seem to matter where they come from, or why. It does not matter if they are fact or fiction. What matters is what universal truth we can extract from them. "These are the times that try men's souls," "We have nothing to fear but fear itself," "We have nothing to offer but blood, sweat, toil, and tears," "The meek shall inherit the earth," "To be, or not to be?” even -- "May the force be with you." Who cannot feel some connection to a common humanity in ideas like these?

The problem is not really understanding the impact of such ideas, but understanding how they become heard in the first place above the daily random noise. Consider if "On the Waterfront" were a ninety minute documentary about fishing, with one lament by a fisherman in the middle about how "I coulda been a contender" because some big fish got away from him. Would it still be a part of the American lexicon? I submit that it would not, because with few exceptions, the packaging and the presentation of the ideas are as critically important as the ideas themselves.
In other words, if we hope to teach and inspire, we must accept that for most people, form plays a greater role than content. Is this not, after all, the world of forms? Style – if not more important than substance – is at least of equal importance when attempting to heal the mind. And what is art but style? And what is great art but great truth wrapped up in great style.
A catch phrase is really inspiration presented with the subtle sleight of hand of style. In my opinion, it only succeeds if it can be interpreted on more than one level. The lower level is consistent with the illusion or the plot or the story. In this context it can be accepted without objection because the ego’s guard is down (the willing suspension of disbelief) So “I’ll be back” is just Arnie being cool, and that’s funny! But “I’ll be back” as a universal declaration of human indomitability is more profound, more heavyweight, and more threatening because it requires more thought. Normally the ego, with its propensity to move rapidly from “suspicion to viciousness” would reject such an idea, tainted as it is with the scent of a power greater than itself But wrap it in science-fiction, or patriotism, or soap-opera, and it is allowed to enter. Once in the human psyche it can take root and flower.

We can see exactly the same pattern in “May the Force be with you.” In order for Lucas to succeed with “Star Wars” it had to communicate on more than one level. The ego can ignore comic-book and fairy-tale truisms as nothing but modern nursery-rhymes. The “Force” in question can be accepted without question if it is no more than ancient mythobabble. But once instilled in popular culture it becomes modern mythobabble, and that can be dangerous, for what is the whole illusion if not just a hugely complex and universally accepted myth? Counter-myths or “movements” represent a real threat to the ego.

So the artist, to be successful has to practice cunningness of style. Perhaps this is a more apt definition of the word “craft”. His craft is to package healing medicine in a sugar coating. Not until we have innocently swallowed it do we realize its greater powers. With "I coulda been a contender" suddenly we are not just listening to some washed-up boxer lamenting wasted opportunities, but to humankind itself – to the anguished cry of the collective human psyche – admitting to life’s ultimate lack of purpose.

In like a lamb, out like a lion” is how great ideas are conveyed. We cannot be force-fed, for we will spit them out. In Robert Frost’s poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” the line “Miles to go before I sleep” is just a folksy little estimate of time and distance. No problem. We can accept that, so into the mind it goes. But it is repeated – “Miles to go before I sleep” Now we are disconcerted. We cannot spit it out for we have already swallowed it. But the sugar coating is off and the true meaning is apparent. We are mortal, and the distance we all must traverse before the final sleep may be great, but it is finite, and we are all getting there. The end may be closer than we think.
Frost’s truth may not be the truth of course. Those of us who view all life as an illusion are perhaps less concerned about the end of illusion. But getting to that point is – to say the least – difficult. A Course in Miracles tries to give us a framework, but be that as it may, most artists struggle with the insoluble paradoxes of the grand illusion. However those struggles inspire us, making inspiration the function of the artist.

The highest purpose of art is to inspire. What else can you do? What else can you do for anyone but inspire them? - Bob Dylan.

In a sense, all successful healing must be presented as a double entendre. If you think about it, another word for this is parable. Jesus of Nazareth, if he existed, must have been master of this craft. All of his healing messages were sugar-coated. They were wrapped up as everyday messages about everyday folks and happenings: sons who ran away and came home, strangers helping injured strangers on the street, servants investing their masters’ money, and so on. According to the gospels, most people readily accepted these stories because of their simple-homely content and format. Only after did the more universal truths begin to thrive and grow from the deceptively simple seeds.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the cliche of the classic movie line provides life in American society. What would Americia be without catchy lines? Our four fathers built a nation on catch phrases. It is the zest and zeal of being able to sum up meanings in only a few words such as, "you had me from hello" that makes something so short and sweat become huge and flavorful! I believe we go through life searching for the perfect phrase to sum our own reasons for being. The question is what will be yours?

9:19 AM  
Anonymous marian said...

Style is a big concern for me. I feel like I have a bit to say, but I want it to be said it a way that makes it easy to hear. Makes it non-threatening to whatever extent that's possible. Lately I've been taking a few more risks and trying to be a bit more direct. But, you know, the medium is the message.

10:16 AM  


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