In praise of sentimentality

Sentimentality is a simple, obvious, unashamed, direct and unembarrassed expression of basic emotions. It is often viewed by ‘sophisticated’, middle class, educated, rational, stiff upper lip, British people especially, as fake or demonstrative, but perhaps it is just honest, real, uncensored by the rational, conscious mind, in fact more real and less ostentatious than much of our intellectual cleverness. It is innocent and pure like the feelings of a child. We are supposed to grow out of it, and not express those feelings, especially in public, and we find the songs or writings ‘slushy’, ‘sickly’ or embarrassing – the product of an immature, unsophisticated, uneducated mind and aimed at the masses with the same temperament – i.e. uneducated, ‘simple souls’, emotional rather than rational, intelligent people.

And yet, these are often the emotions that ignite the greatest force for good in human beings – compassion, empathy, generosity and charity. Perhaps this is why they are tolerated, often expressed and probably deliberately encouraged in more emotionally driven, Christian (especially American style Christian) communities. The rational, intellectual mind, which frowns on all forms of sentimentality is in danger of becoming cold, unfeeling, self-centred and cynical, perfectly suited to running multi-national companies or political parties perhaps!

However, this distaste for sentimentality runs deeper and wider in our society than the intellectual, sceptical elite. It is also an important element of youth culture, for example in popular and especially alternative music. Perhaps this is simply because the youth are reacting against their former childhood mentality as they carve out their new identities, however this is not so with anger. While sentimentality is often seen as immature or child-like, music with anger at its core is cool. This could also be described as honest, pure, uncensored by the conscious mind, innocent and even child-like, although it is usually a more directed anger, masked by anti-establishment rationality or teenage, sexual frustration – all perfectly acceptable and cool. At its best, it is a call to action to change things for the better using strength in numbers, subversive sabotage, mass protests, movements, occupations etc., but at its worst, it leads to self-obsessed, nihilistic depression and violence.

Anger is as real or fake and positive or negative as sweet sentimentality and it always works most powerfully when guided and tempered by love and compassion. So I say, allow a little sentimentality into your life. You might find your heart opens a little and your anger is a more constructive and powerful force as a result. You may feel more rounded, more generous, more contented and even more mature, because maturity is not denying all things child-like, but rather experiencing our true nature as a child, yet filtered through the knowledge, wisdom and life experience of a still curious and questioning adult.

I recommend the most sentimental song I can think of – Tammy Wynette singing ‘No Charge’. See if you can listen to that song with an open mind and heart, putting yourself right there in the story and not be moved by it!



Junk Collecters

Modern society makes junkies of us all. Economic growth is dependent on making us perpetually dissatisfied and craving for more junk/stuff/things. It keeps us spending, keeps us working and keeps us distracted, numb to the reality of life and ourselves. We are all addicts and some of us will steal to feed this addiction, some of us will even kill. Ironically, it is sometimes the ones who see through this and take a different route through life, that end up becoming addicted to other things such as alcohol or other drugs. They are the most dissatisfied, making numbness deliberate and seeking obliteration. Sometimes the causes are more specific, but generally, one way or another, the underlying cause is the very fuel of capitalist society, dissatisfaction itself. Apart from small numbers of off-grid idealists and monks, drug addicts and beggars are probably the only people who do not fuel capitalism, they are lost to the market and society hates them. After all, they have chosen to buy drugs and pay the dealers, rather than consumer goods and pay the taxes, failing to live up to society’s expectations and the reinforcing effects of conformity. Yet it seems to me, it is that very society, which has made them addicts in the first place.

So how does capitalism maintain this level of dissatisfaction? Well, we all know about the powers of advertising, branding and marketing, the dream of winning the lottery, the cult of celebrity and obsession with the lives of the very rich and famous, but the other powerful weapon is choice. Governments of capitalist countries are obsessed with choice, and promote it with the idea that it is good for individual freedom and expression. This may be true, but it has also been shown to be directly opposed to happiness. Freedom is correlated with happiness, because it encourages a state of mind which is flexible and good at adapting to circumstances when life does not go as planned, but freedom of choice is not. In an experiment by Dan Gilbert et al at Harvard university,    when people were given a choice between two photographs they had made, if they thought they had to stick with that choice, they ended up liking the picture they had chosen more, but when they were told they could change their mind, they did not. They were left wondering if they had made the right choice, whichever one they ended up choosing. This reflects so many real situations in life. We often feel this way after weighing up all the 5000 different mobile phones or computers to choose from, or it could be our job, our lover, where we went for our holidays, anything. If we think we could have chosen differently and maybe still can, we are less likely to be content with our decisions and less likely to stick with them. This leads to a perpetual cycle of dissatisfaction and consumption – a marketer’s dream feeding the addiction, like gambling. In a supermarket, where the shelves are crammed full of twenty or thirty varieties of the same product, albeit thinly disguised, we like to think we are making an informed choice on what we buy, but mostly, we are following sub-consciously manipulated desires and the whole experience takes longer than it should, creates low-level anxiety and is far too complicated, when all we really want is a loaf of bread, some rice or pasta and a few vegetables!

My advice, for what it’s worth, is, find a few things you like and stick to them, cut down on choice, go to smaller local shops, don’t watch any advertisements, or at least mute the sound when they come on the television ( you’d be surprised how much that simple act reduces their power), really take time to appreciate the things you have in your life already, learn to enjoy commitment, instead of comparing everything with others, (especially important for partners and spouses), forget about what other people have and just think about what you actually need, along with the needs of others and those of the planet. Don’t be a junkie all your life, in fact try giving some of that junk away (it feels good), like the alcoholic pouring his drink down the sink. Break the cycle of addiction. The only choice we really need to make is happiness itself, which we are remarkably capable of doing, once we stop overrating one imagined future over another and exaggerating the effects of the things we fear. It is not circumstance that makes us happy, but our own acceptance of whatever circumstance we find ourselves in, if it cannot be changed.

The Cycle Of Abuse:

Once bitten, once tasted,

Twice bitten, it’s complicated.

Thrice bitten, a habit is formed,

Four times bitten, it becomes the norm.

Five times, it’s gone too far,

Six times, how deep the scars.

Seven times, you want to run,

Eight times, you think you’re the only one.

Nine times, it must be love,

Ten times, you pass it on.


It is now time to flush away the little imp that has been inhabiting and assuming control of this body for so long, the creature I happily called ‘I’. For he is nothing but an imposter, the ego-consciousness, who tricks us all into a false perception of a separate, fixed, decision-making personality, using what little he knows of the past and fantasies of the future to create the illusion of a continuous identity. Now Nataraj will stamp on this fiend as he dances merrily to the sound of His thunder drum, and something else will be heard as it calls from the depths, the awakened mind, awakened existence, always there, but silenced by this aggressive imposter. Its voice is faint at first, but impossible now to ignore, and growing in volume.

This ego will fight back. For years it is all we have known, and we have grown very fond of him, strongly attached. He claims to have our best interests at heart because he is the one who strives for our continued survival. He is the manifestation of the life force and as such will fight for any opportunity to preserve it, whether through eating, sexual encounters, money-making or the grabbing of power, but in reality he has no concern for our well-being but only serves his own interests, without looking at the consequences of these actions. He has even tricked us into believing he is the very source of our compassion, outraged by injustice, ready to fight for others, when in reality his limited role in such things is merely the power he receives from belonging to the group of his extended false identity, pitted against ‘the other’, whatever that may be.

When he feels ignored or threatened in some way, he has all kinds of tricks up his sleeve; he can push us into drug-taking or drinking alcohol, ensuring the inner voice is silenced and demanding attention for himself. He can bombard the senses with massive doses of external stimulation: lights, music, visuals, pornography, food treats, even information; for another of his tools is the reasoning intellect, increasing his power when he feels clever. But today he is angry, drowned out by the drum and the awakening voice within. A deeper truth is revealed as this individual ‘I’ (we even credit it with a capital letter), moves slowly from a sense of ‘I’ to a sense of ‘we’: not the small universe of family, tribe, nation, race or opinion, the ‘us and them’ ‘we’, which strengthens the ego with its smug sense of self-righteousness, but the universal ‘we’; not the universe of humanity against other species, then seen merely as food, tools or entertainment, but the universal ‘we’; not even the universe of life against matter, the very source of all our power and creativity, but the universal ‘We’, which is also the ‘Not-we’, the unmanifested, the energy, which, through arrangement into incredibly complex patterns, gives the universe eyes and ears, by means of which it can observe itself and know itself. This is the true self, within us all, exposed when the ego is silenced, breath by breath, step by step. This very real unity and interconnectedness of all things is the true source of our compassion, empathy and love.

You may well think these are the ramblings of a madman, the ego will try to tell you so, and you can choose to ignore them, but you cannot hide from yourself. There will come a time, possibly when you are close to death, when the inner voice calls to you and the ego knows its time has come to give way, to surrender to the inevitable dissolution. Until then, you may choose to live your life in service of the ego and get on quite well with it, but if it leaves you unfulfilled and unsatisfied, frustrated, bitter or angry, then it may be time to seek out the silence and just listen for a while.

Jonathan Livingston Seal


Yesterday I met a traveller, a real adventurer, resting on the river bank. She had travelled far, on her own steam, without money or possessions, finding food as she went. She had fearlessly crossed all frontiers, with no regard for society’s norms and no need for company or comfort, and now she found herself in a place where very few of her kind had ever been. She was well-fed, contented and curious, taking it all in, enjoying new encounters with all types of strangers like me. When I met her she was enjoying a well-earned rest, lying down in the warm, spring sunshine and sheltered from the cool breeze that I was feeling, as I walked along the opposite bank. I stopped and she lifted her head to look at me. It was one of those special moments in my life, all too rare – an unexpected encounter with another species, for she was a seal eighty kilometres inland!