The Man in the Mirror

The mirror was finally thrown out today: a beautiful mirror that used to be attached to a chest of draws, until it was broken: no one could fix it, no one had any use for it so, it was discarded. I found it really hard to make sense of my feelings but noticed my irritation.

I was unable to focus so decided to plan the meditation session I was to facilitate, later. Part of the explanation of mindfulness by Corinne Sweet in The Mindfulness Journal, is “what are you actually feeling this second? Irritable? Happy? Sad? Bored? Relaxed?” Well right now, definitely not the last. It’s actually quite difficult to know how you are feeling sometimes. All that is definite, is that as soon as I noticed the mirror had been discarded, I got irritated and slightly overwhelmed so, had to stop and breathe. I was talking to a friend, recently, about how, like an iceberg, most of our emotions, thoughts and feeling are submerged. What we see is only the tip of our emotions and they can suddenly take us completely by surprise: a bit like a googly.

“The energy of mindfulness is the energy of being present. Body and mind united. When you practice mindful breathing or mindful walking, you become free of the past, free of the future, free of your projects, and you become totally alive and present again.” Thich Nhat Hanh, Anger: Buddhist wisdom for cooling the flames p 44.

This morning I was watching an episode of The Handmaid’s Tale a television series based on the novel by Margaret Atwood. As Offred goes to the Commander’s office, for the first time, she recalls, all those horror movies in which women walk towards what turns out to be the horror, and reflects: “That girl is a fucking moron; please God don’t let me be a fucking moron.”

There has been a lot in the news that feels a little like a horror movie or even science fiction; a lot of Déjà vu or time travel. Aside from the horrors of international violence both human and natural there is the equalities agenda, sexual harassment and abuse.

The Harvey Weinstein case is interesting because, yet again, we are focussing on a public figure as if he, the villain worked alone. Emma Thompson in BBC’s Newsnight (12/10/17) said it’s just the “tip of a very particular iceberg … a predator, … top of a ladder, system of harassment, belittling, bullying, interference, … pestering. This has been part of women’s world for a long time. … What we need to do is start talking about the crisis of extreme masculinity and the fact that it is not only okay but represented by the most powerful man in the world …” (https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b098tq3w/newsnight-12102017).

On 23 July 2017, I wrote “Equal pay for equal work should be a given; but we need to look beyond the actual figure and perhaps the greater opportunities men get to do other work. … Stop focusing on one organisation and address the inequalities etc we have in society.”

In the interview Emma Thompson also acknowledges her good fortune: “I’m lucky, I’m educated, I’m white…” It’s not just women who experience abuse, bullying or harassment in the workplace or elsewhere. (https://www.gov.uk/workplace-bullying-and-harassment)

On her first day as Prime Minister, Theresa May indicated that she would fight against “the burning injustice” and one year on, the government has brought together all the latest figures on race and its impact on Britain. “If your Living with discrimination you will, of course, already know this, the prime minister explained … but her audit on race is intended to show the scale of the challenge to everyone else …” Laudable aims but as David Lammy MP said “I have been in public life now for two decades and time and again, on issues such as race, difference and inequality; it’s show me the data, show me the evidence; ….” (Emily Maitlis, Newsnight 10/10/17 https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b098st2z/newsnight-10102017).

Discrimination, stereotyping and harassment plays its part on a number of levels. My first job in London, involved complaining about a sexist calendar, that our stationary supplier had sent us: at least all the women were fully dressed unlike the posters on some of the walls in other organisations; including an the NHS office. I sat on the Equality and Diversity board in one organisation; most of those in attendance were men and most of the conversations revolved around the production of and analysis of statistics. I recall once, entering the meeting room, where two men were having a conversation about football. I know about football, I thought, so, taking part in the conversation would be a good way to say hello. The men made it clear, however, it was an exclusive conversation. I think, most of us, could think of at least one occasion, when our face did not fit when it came to a promotion.

A friend recently said “We get a lot of calls in our team from companies wanting to sell us their services. Mostly these calls are taken by the two junior administrators on the team, who happen to be male. Sometimes I happen to pick up the phone to follow-up calls. I have lost count of the number of times the salesperson tries to insist they speak to “my boss” who they spoke to last time. And then disbelieve me when I say it would be my decision as to whether to use their service or not.”

I have walked through the “corridors of power”, being ignored by people who were petitioning the organisation. On one occasion I was ignored by all the men in a room, until the Chair, at the end of meeting said, of course, the decision will be made by …. When I worked for the Runnymede Trust, I answered a call, from a man, who was really annoyed at our discussions, on the Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain, particularly when he heard my name: not quite British enough for him. The next day a Welsh man phoned and thanked us for looking at, and reflecting the diversity throughout the UK. https://www.runnymedetrust.org/).

I am unclear how exactly a government that includes some of the most privileged people within our society, can improve discrimination, stereotyping and harassment but this audit will, hopefully, make it harder for us to ignore issues regarding race, place and poverty. It is also hoped, that we will learn the value of all we discard, as they did in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986) when, to save the planet the crew had to repopulate the earth with humpback whales. In the last episode of Star Trek Voyager Admiral Janeway relearns some of the idealism from her “naive younger self” and a child is born. (Johnny Mathis — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZCqhX89WV_0). I may yet learn learn how to discard old lipsticks, electric bulbs, toothbrushes and oyster cards environmentally.

“According to the Buddha … anything embraced by the energy of Mindfulness will undergo a transformation.” Thich Nhat Hanh.

May we all be well, healthy and strong:

May we all be happy.

May we all abide in peace

May we all feel safe and secure

May we all feel loved and cared for.

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