The little Match-girl.

It was New Year’s Eve and dreadfully cold. Down the darkening road, all covered with icy slush, came a young girl, bare headed and bare footed. She had her mother’s slippers when she set off but now they were lost. She staggered along, blue lips beyond shivering, a useless shawl clasped about her thin shoulders with one hand and the matches she’d been trying to sell at the market all day in the other.

Eventually she collapsed into a snow drift beside a fine house, unable to go on. Perhaps if she lit a match she might be warmed a little? So she hesitantly drew one out and struck it against the wall. Whoosh, it suddenly seemed as if she were beside the most wonderful iron stove with brass feet and a bronze ornament on top. She was just about to stretch out her feet when… fizzz, the match expired.

So she struck another. The wall became translucent and upon it she saw the vision of a grand table, groaning with piles of all the most wonderful food. A plump goose, cooked to perfection danced towards her but just as she reached for it,… fizzz, the match went out.

Another, and a great Christmas tree rose up covered with a thousand twinkling lights until they seemed like the stars of heaven, one of which fell….

‘Someone has just died’, thought the girl, for so her late grandmother had taught her.

A final match and there stood Grandmother, more beautiful than she had ever been. ‘Grandmother, take me with you,’ she cried and rubbed all the matches against the wall in a great blaze to help keep Grandmother near….

In the cold dawn, sat the poor child, rosy cheeks and upturned smile, frozen in death.

So what is the story about? Some much needed counterpoint to, ‘they all lived happily ever after.’? Little girl wants to join her grandmother in the afterlife and gets her wish? Cautionary tale for ungrateful brats?

Or is it, dreamlike, offering us a scenario to compensate one sided consciousness? C G Jung had a dream once, of craning his neck to look up at a patient. He apologised to her the next time they met, told her the dream and confessed it made him realise that he looked down on her.

Dreams and fairytales balance conscious perspective. They have a self regulating function and correct matters if it gets lopsided or seduced by how mighty fine it is.

What could such a story be compensating?

It was first published in 1845, a time when the powers of Europe were carving up the third world just like the plump and succulent goose in our story, when child slavery was at its most chilling height, when Western belief in its hegemony justified the rape, pillage and genocide of entire nations and got fat from the profit, a state of affairs which had been unfolding as part and parcel of a patriarchal legacy for centuries during which the divine feminine had been cast out into the cold…

The pursuit of happiness as a right, our mouthy insistence on endless choice, way more than we ever need, speaks of the need to try and fill an icy abyss of emptiness. We even have more nuclear bombs than Earth to blow it up with. The frozen plight of the match-girl depicts the inner world of the West’s endemic, malignant narcissism which is not only tolerated but openly encouraged and aspired to.

A dog eat dog mentality is regarded as normal, even strong and successful, as though your worth in the world could only be measured by how many people you had to tread on to get there. But beneath it all is the chill of the snow drift, the inner feeling of being without resources, the constant dragging exhaustion of having to wear someone else’s shoes, of following a destiny not your own, of wanting to be what you are not, of feeling woefully inadequate to life’s challenges.

But then we are saved! The magical matches! Whatever your aspirations are, imbued with..

the Prospect of Atonement.

such that it becomes… Holy Stuff.

The car that will get the girl, that will create the lifestyle, that will land the contract, that will secure the portfolio, that will improve the leverage, that will be the magical, idyllic house that Jack built.

And there is more…

We cling to what we are not allowed, like a threadbare shift that sustains us not one jot from the cold. Despite the compensatory tsunami of gadgets, toys and entire aisles of chocolates in Sainsbury’s, the thin shawl of living for today, something we mostly have such a prejudice about that we equate it with vagrancy and yet..

‘consider the lilies of the field, they toil not, neither do they spin.. be not anxious for the morrow for the morrow will be anxious for itself.’ Mat 6;29.

In fact it’s virtually taboo to live according to such values. People don’t like it. Why? Because it is politically effective. Here and Now is where stuff gets done and we can’t have that. Rather, shake your fist at me and threaten me with tommorrow’s ballot. Satisfy yourself that you’ll do something big, when you next get the chance. Make a flourish… at some point in the future. When you’re not busy. Clutch with pride your freedom to be a political animal… at the next convenient opportunity. Coming soon to an armchair near you…

They say that the Devil’s greatest trick is to pretend he doesn’t exist. We mostly feel that organised religion is on the wane and doesn’t really affect us anymore as a driving force and yet the castrating insistence that future redemption is where it is at, has infiltrated and pervaded the secular world to the extent that it has become a naturalised citizen. The billowing admonishments of priestly classes promising salvation…at some point, becomes the seduction of billboards and advertising jingles, luring the pregnant moment with promises of pain-free gratification once you’ve mortgaged yourself to the hilt and spent the rest on insurance policies to make sure the future does what it says on the tin and coughs your soul back up just in time for death bed wisdoms.

The luminous promise of future spiritual rewards in Heaven, apparently repleat in virgins, has been supplanted by the even more alluring appeal of shiny things which you too might have one day if you press your nose to the grindstone hard enough in the meanwhile and pay into that pension plan….

which you may or may not get to enjoy.

So what remains once we have lifted our eyes to the distant, misty shore of tommorow’s hopes and dreams, is degraded to the kind of misery personified by the match girl. Inner life is left impoverished, starving, unsustainable. We lose not only the beauty of life but the capacity to help ourselves, to confer with one another, to bus in assistance when you need it.

Everything becomes about the momentary glow, the brief sizzle of endorphins, dopamine and adrenaline that you get every time you sit fantasizing about how life could be different, what it should be like, what you’d do with the lottery or the pick of your mates’ wives.

If that seems indecent you might prefer mortgage endowment portfolios tied into an incremental retirement plan. How wonderful life will be then! But then it fizzles and you’re left in your toenail clippings and dog hair, the nasty spot on your belt line and the stench of muck spreading on the neighbour’s field. Powerless to be Now.

Redemption by future stuff  is an ugly mistress. All the uncertainty that attends the reality of brief and uncertain tomorrows has to go somewhere, and so you wind up feeling paranoid and robbed,… like the real American, to bastardise Bill Maher, whose day is spoilt because he can’t flip around the radio without having to hear Mariachi music.

The way we cling to stuff we’re not allowed has a way of bending it out of shape to the point where it may cease to be useful.

The revolutionary simplicity of just refusing to buy into any system that advocates redemption on the never-never becomes a clinging to life-as-we know- it, as though the only way to be in the moment is to stop the world from turning…

and so, strangely, the quest to live for tomorrow becomes, confusingly,  wanting tomorrow to be another version of today.

About getting back with his ex..

‘things are different this time. Before she was demanding and possesive but now she wants me to do stuff and stay with her all the time’ Fry from Futurama.

Before the toll of twelve o’clock Otherness is threatening, hell really is other people. Everything new disrupts and undermines the single point of veiw, that faith in barricading yourself against anyone with whom you aren’t joined at the hip… all of which may well fizzzle out in a moment, but can still be replaced by another and better stopgap, untill you freeze to death in your designer snow drift.

The matchgirl stumbles at the threshold of the New Year, she can’t quite make it into a new arrangement with the world. She dies because she cannot name her true situation or what is actually happening and so she is powerless to help herself.

Letting in how duped she has been, how miserably treated, how seduced with false hopes and petty dreams as well as all the inevitable contradictions of realizing one’s own complexity, also makes possible the idea that the value of life is not simply surviving it as long as you can or cramming it with goodies you’ll never get to suck at but that I and me can confer about some hare brained scheme and discuss whether its actually a good idea whilst I and thou part company the richer from our parley..

Sometimes space does more than contain. Sometimes it squidges out honey.


Anxiety and Depression.

What are anxiety and depression?

They are how life seems in response to trauma. We regress to where it’s safe, to Mother, even if it costs us our wings.

But what if the trauma itself is loss of Mother? And what if this loss has been eroding human contentment for millenia?

Loss of the Divine Feminine, stripping motherhood of sacred context, is going to damage baby and is bound to give rise to compensatory, narcissistic defences to bulwark raging inner emptiness.

Sincs we can’t (daren’t) blame God for this we blame the Enemy, the rival predatory suckling, the dark brother, a phantasy demon born of deprivation who holds, who must hold, the good stuff.

Our spiritual emptiness is then ameliorated by riteous hate of the rival whom we can then blame for all our ills.

But there is a problem with this. In order to cover over our anxiety and depression we have to be at war. With ourselves and one another.

We go to war so as to afford ourselves the means to smooth an eternal path of prejudice and depersonalisation over our neighbour, the hated rival, whom we must experience as inferior as well as unduly favoured.

This means that prejudice and paranoia are intrinsic to monotheistic culture. It begins with mockery and ends with napalm.

Reducing the divine feminine to a whore riding her beast in Revelations, paraded up and down like a condemned prisoner prior to execution, has resulted in the collective depletion of the Western psyche. It has had consequences that have washed down through the centuries, culminating in alienation, compulsive aggression, instant gratification and the analyst’s couch.

The narcissistic schism this creates in families is not simply that parents are preoccupied with themselves and the nagging sense of their own incompletness. The absence of the Principle of Relatedness means that they struggle to find value in their kids or pleasure in their company.

The ‘me, me, me,’ is a default position resulting from a de facto failure to attribute sufficient significance to one another or to derive real nurture from our relationships.

Without value inherently invested in the Other we become isolated and shut off, compelled to revisit the underlying and unacknowledged horror of Mother’s loss in any number of substitute situations whilst vainly keeping our heads above water by the power that riteous indignation and eternal sabre rattling has to keep the fragmenting psyche together.

Freud observed that people lose their neuroses during times of war. Why? Because, win or lose, they feel vindicated, can band together and have something other than the condition they were born into to feel anxious and depressed about.

I have been to war so I know about this stuff. We were always so upbeat about everything, even when we knew we were losing. Why? Because the issue of an outer victory was a secondary consideration next to the inner need to have others carry our inferior feelings….

even though they won….

yep, just goes to show how non-rational such things really are. The losers can still de-value the victors and collectively identify with one another in lieu of relatedness.

Or just go and start another war…

Korea, Cambodia, Vietnam, Iraq.

And its not for oil, or political ideology. Its the need to aggressively ramp up the projection of the Dark Brother so that the fractured template of our spiritual paradigm can be knit back together just that little bit more than it might if peace broke out.

Our Collective Narcissism is caught in a trap. To get out we have to afford the other with value, or at least validity. All the feelings of deadness and loss then wing their way home across the nomansland that formerly separated us from those fragments of soul which give testament to our inner poverty.

What this means is that the resolution to narcissim is by way of anxiety and depression.

Our only health is the disease,

If we obey the dying nurse-

Whose constant care is not to please,

but to remind of our and Adam’s curse

That to be restored

Our sickness must grow worse. T.S. Eliot   East Coker.

Rather than fixing them or using behavioural techniques of suppression we are challenged to live with our affliction, find meaning in them, to acknowledge that there really is something going on to be anxious and depressed about.

‘We become enlightened, not by imagining beings of light, but by going down into the dark’. Carl Jung

Anxiety and Depression are dirty words for the most part. We spend billions annually combating them, little realising that it is our defensive attitude that exacerbates and causes the very condition we are wanting to diminish.

If we would heal our divided self it is by way of embracing the loss of relatedness and mutuality that our superior, holier-than-thou attitudes have bought us. Being ‘positive’ won’t cut it. We have to find a way of relieving what we consider to be ‘negative’ of the stigma we are so determined to attach to it. Only then will we find the humility and compassion to live peacefully with ourselves and with one another.

At a lover’s death..

Banzan was a famous Zen monk from way back. One day his son died and he was weeping inconsolably by the graveside. One of his pupils asked him,

”Master do you not teach the oneness of Being and Non-being, of remaining unattached from samsara … and wordly illusion. Why then are you crying?”

Banzan replied, ‘he was a very personal illusion.’

My ex died. Cancer. I cried like a baby. Was it the suddenness? Or the horrible randomness of finding out on Facebook? Why didn’t anyone tell me?

We did, on Facebook.

But while she was still alive, so that I..

Listen buster, this is not about you. The dying are not in the habit of thumbing through their address book to gratify yesteryear’s voyeur. Its the living that want to mend fences so that they can continue to do so with good conscience.

And now all those things you left unsaid, your regrets at the part you played, the unexpressed tendernesses…

…remain. The opportunity is passed. You feel sorry for yourself and your tears are for yourself… How absurd that you should feel so upset for someone who faced their end with dignity and courage, that you should cry for her when she did not cry for herself.

Oh, but she was so young!

So, never mind the quality feel the width…?

No, no, its that she did not deserve it!

No-one does. All deserving is about being fairly recompensed for deeds well done, but Death cares nothing for fairness or whether you’ve been good.

But she was so healthy..

We all are at one time or another. It passes. In any case what laughable irony that you, the literary scourge of Consumer Culture’s compulsive living-in-the future and wanting more than it has, should now bewail the span of her alloted years with all this crying about unfairness and wanting… more.

You are too hard. No feeling person can share a bed with another for years without greiving their loss even if you’ve parted company. What would it say if I felt no pang at her passing?

Does her death detract from her contribution to your life?


Then your tears are for yourself.

I loved her!

And always will, which is why love trumps death. What the shock of the unexpected does, which is mostly what life is made of, is to remind you that your own alloted four score years and ten are only an outside bet, and that who’s turn it is next – a roll of the dice.

fair enough.

Not only are we temporary, we are indefinately temporary. It’s only a statistical probability that you’ll make it through the day. The horror of it all is such that you keep it entirely in the wings of Consciousness, busying yourself with a myriad soul-numbing distractions whilst reserving your pity for those who can’t be comforted by it untill it bursts on-stage like a drunk at a kiddies Panto.

Then there is no comfort to be had! If my sorrow for others is impotent and compassion for myself is self indulgent…

I didn’t say that. Its that we are all alone, together. Within the extinguishing blaze of Death is a coal of something that is entirely improbable….

..which is why its a good thing you know so little.

The most difficult part of pain and loss is not enduring it or even searching for meaning in it, but by defending against the loss of each miraculous day should we wish it further from our shoulder and a little less like being kicked by a mule.

‘He who is near to me is near to the fire.’ Thomas logia 82

By coincidence I have been reading Voltaire’s ‘Candide’, about a man to whom befalls every sudden ill you can imagine. He soon discovers that everyone with whom he is associated has an even worse tale to tell. He and his companions hear of a man who has had an easy life. Curious and intrigued they go to find him, anxious to prove that the human condition is not one of inevitable suffering…

..and its true. The pompous ‘Cococurante’ has indeed not suffered in life. But then neither does he love or feel gratitude. Sex bores him. Art and literature no longer divert or amuse. Eveything is drab and tasteless. The troupe cannot wait to escape him.

And so what Voltaire vanages to convey in an afternoon more bloodthirsty than any videogame is that life is not just a vale of tears, it is a vale of Our tears, without which we cannot become fully human or find the compassion it takes to look forward to the Adventure.