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Archive for March, 2007

Time. Friend, or Fow?

We have just come back from a lovely holiday in
Brussels, so I am well rested, but more to the point, I was able to come up with a post that seemed relevant at the time…
I was fortunate enough to be born with parents of different cultures: my mother is French, and my father is British (a mix of English, Scottish, Welsh, and Irish).  With this prospective, I have come to notice specific differences between both English and European cultures (I use these terms in the general meanings of English (British and US) and European being
France, and any other European Country I’ve been to).  The most striking of differences was that of time, which I observed on our
Holiday.
We went out for diner, and were seated at a lovely little restaurant table, in the back, so I had a good view of the whole restaurant (just the way I like it, I enjoy watching people).  As it was relatively late, most people were leaving, paying the bills at the till on the way out.  One group of people waited at the counter for the waiter to pay.  Unfortunately, it seams the waiter was short staffed, as he was running the restaurant on his own, short of cooking the meals (and doing an excellent job too).  As the seconds ticked passed, and the waiter went about fetching drinks, collecting plates, taking orders etc, I could clearly see the English group (especially the man waiting to pay) getting rather restless.  Eventually, the waiter got round to serving him, and he was on his merry way soon enough (about 3-4 minutes).  To be fare, maybe he had somewhere else to be, but it did highlight for me the way English and Europeans see time.I used to work for one of the
UK’s high street bank (not my favourite job so far, it must be said).  On Saturday mornings, some branches close at 12, others a little later.  We would regularly get people walk in at 11:50 with huge “problems” that they expected to be sorted straight away.  Most of the time, they were told to come back on Monday morning, purely because we didn’t have the time.  What had these people been doing?  Sleeping in…  In contrast, I noticed that in
Belgium (and to my surprise) the banks close for an hour at lunch.  This is something rarely done any more in Europe, and almost unthinkable in
England.  I think the reason is because people in
Europe don’t see time the way English do.  For the English, it seams to be something to beat, or race or reverse.  Look at all the skincare products there are on the shelf to help you look “Younger in weeks/days/minutes”.  I this obsession with trying not to live?  In
Europe, I believe time is seen as more of a presence.  Like the wind: they know it’s there, but there’s not much they can do about it.  As our gardener would say “Boff!” which means pretty much what it sounds like: almost a complete resignation to something that can’t be helped.  I personally see the European view as a much healthier approach.  If we’re constantly against the clock, we’re constantly tense for a thing we can’t control.  I have a colleague at work, who is constantly buzzing with an energy that seams to run him, like he’s had WAY to much coffee.  He wants to go off and do a round within ten minutes of walking through the door.  I often have to stop him, reminding him we’re going to be there for 12 hours, there’s no rush!

From what I understand, Buddhism sees time as an ally.  It can give us the space we need between birth and death to achieve enlightenment.  And if you want to get really technical, what is time?  An outside force, created by some supernatural being? Possibly.  Or how about a name, a distinction we have given the moments that pass until our next rebirth?  After all, if you don’t think about it, it doesn’t seam to be there, it flies by…

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My wife recently watched a program about Louise Redknapp going through the horrors of becoming an American size 0 (UK size 4). She started by having some photos taken pre diet, and then again four weeks later. Without going into to much detail, the poor girl looked absolutely awful by the end of the four weeks (in my opinion at any rate). She was moody, tired, and emotional, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t concentrate and was constantly hungry (obviously). I think it is a stark reminder to people who are constantly trying to loose weight because “Fashion” says they should, that just because someone in New York, Milan or Paris says it’s fashionable, doesn’t make it so. This was also recently bought to the light in the film “the Devil Wears Prada”, where Anne Hathaway’s character is criticised for being too fat, when she was clearly in good shape. She wasn’t even a model, and yet she forced herself to slim down to fit in with the “trend”. I personally think this is very sad, as I love a girl who has some meat on her.
Going back to the Louise, being a desirable person, she regularly goes for photo shoots, where the photographs are digitally altered, to make the girls look slim, tall and buxom. When she had her pre-diet photos taken, she was surprised at the result, and admitted she looked like she needed to loose weight, compared to what she looked like in the magazines. This is a sad reality that most people are faced on a daily basis (me included once upon a time). I used to look in the mirror and think I looked awful. I felt I needed to put on weight, because I looked “out of shape”. I tried everything I could to pile on the pounds, but unfortunately, nothing worked… I stayed at my usual weight of 9St. This would depress me, thinking I would never get a girl friend till I looked like the rest of my classmates. Fortunately, I did get a girlfriend (who has since become my wife) and I have now come to realise that my figure is what it is. The Buddhist teaching of Impermanence also comforts me, by making me realise, I won’t be this shape and size for ever; as I grow older, my weight will rise, and this I look forward to. But also, I’ve come to realise that my appearance (inner or outer) really isn’t the big issue here. I should concentrate on achieving enlightenment to help others, and progress on the path to liberation, whether in this life or the next.

Finally, I put it to you: Although we have the ability to reject the diets fashion, and be the figure we want to be, it is not entirely our fault. The fashion industry has a responsibility too. Take for example the superstores/shops. My wife finds it hard to find nice clothes to wear, because their just isn’t much on the market. On looking in our local superstore clothes section yesterday, there were more size 4 (US 0) than any other size, and very little for my wife who is at the larger end of the scale (UK 16, considered fat by most, not by me). This makes it close to impossible for my wife to feel comfortable in clothes that don’t fit. The fashion industry should look at the poor example they are setting and start looking at nice clothes for the bigger sizes… Just my two cents.

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Tonight, I am working with a man who seems to have the same daemons I do (well, one of them anyway), and it’s something that has been bought to light in the last couple of shifts…
We are currently having a problem in one part of the building with the drains. They have been blocked and are starting to smell. Badly! It has got to the point where the closest kitchen to reception (where we spend our entire shift) smells so bad, it’s very unpleasant. We would go to another kitchen (located on another floor) but this one has the same problem. Fortunately, the smell hasn’t, currently, drifted into reception, but this is not the point. As my colleague quite rightly said, the situation is unacceptable.
In all due fairness, the sinks have only just started to smell. However, they have been out of action for four days. Although this may sound a lot like whining, it is strange to think that in this day and age what, should, be a straight forward job has taken over four days to fix (more, considering it won’t get done over the week end. I’m not placing the blame entirely on the maintenance team, as I know they are short staffed, and have over fifteen buildings in the area to maintain. What it seems to come down to is a simple blindness to a very simple and obvious precept: that we are all, in one way or another linked together and rely on each other to live.
This was again bought to our attention the other day, when one of the cleaners rang down to reception to report that one of the hot water earns was running hot water everywhere, and that she couldn’t stop it. My colleague went up and stopped it. It seams someone tried to use it, couldn’t turn it off, and left it. This incomprehensible blindness meant that the poor cleaner had to stay behind; taking what could have been precious time to clean someone else’s mess.
Buddhism calls this Universal responsibility and Dependent arising. It was a concept I couldn’t quite grasp until I read His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s latest book, “seeing yourself as you really are”. It simply states, that we each should care for each other (as well as other things) personally, because we depend on these people to survive.
Take for example a cup of tea: to reach our lips, we have completely relied on thousands of people to drink this simple beverage. We depended on the people who prepped the ground the tea was grown, the people who cared for it, who picked it, who weighed it, packed it, shipped it, and sold it to us. Then the water was treated against all sorts of nasty diseases, piped to our homes. The pipes that transported the water to out homes, the kettle that boiled the water, the cup we are using to drink, and possibly, the milk we have added, the sugar… all these ‘tiny’ things have been made by people, for people. And in return, we have given these people a job, a wage (one hopes), a reason to live, even. And yet we never even met these people. It is not a long stretch to say we owe these people at least a thank you. But most of us don’t (with due reason. I’ll admit I never used to think about all these people until it was pointed out). The best thank you we could give is by helping them in return (whether directly or indirectly). I think this, if anything would have a serious impact on the way we live. By thinking of the countless other that we affect on a daily basis, we are in actual fact, helping ourselves.

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