Welcome to Life in 361˚. This blog is an 'open journal' - a space where I keep notes on bits & pieces I come across day-to-day - including books and articles I've read that I feel are worth sharing, interesting pictures and photos (I'm a visual learner, you see), random musings - and anything else that happens to catch my eye or ear. It also acts as a kind of 'open experiment' in terms of developing my views and writing skills - and networking with other people of a like-mind.

If you've stumbled upon here randomly, then I suggest you check out my biography and other pages.

Please Note: This site, and the social networking profile pages connected with it, reflect my personal interests & views which do not necessarily represent those of organisations I am affiliated / associated with.


History, non-liberal

Once upon a time I was a history student, at masters degree level no less. Whilst I have not devoured lots of history books and documentaries over the years since then, it certainly did sharpen my mind and gave me skills, in terms evidence-gathering and evidence-processing, which have served me well in other areas. This includes one standout occasion where I resoundingly beat a cheap 'claims for you' lawyer in court on behalf of some family members he had victimised - I often think I did the masters really just for that, for the ability to pursue justice.

Whilst studying history, I also enjoyed the study of historical theory and discourse analysis - alongside studying actual events of the 20th century. This article I happened upon today, on the frontpage of the very readable 'Spiked Online', has taken be back to those 'glory years':

- www.spiked-online.com/spiked-review/article/history-begins/19149#.WIe3rlOLTIU

I was chided and condemned by some of my liberal friends for voting for Britain to leave the EU - so much so that I no longer call myself a 'liberal'. I have come to consider the term 'liberal' - in this day and age - as largely an inadvertent class-based label on the one hand, and on the other a deliberate label used to signify apparent intellect and a set of political positions masquerading as higher virtues. It inadvertently signifies a level of wealth and comfort, although those using the label make great play of speaking for the worker and the poor.

I stand by my vote and those millions of others who voted 'Brexit' because, for the reasons Brendan O'Neill highlights, having seen the social, economic and political situation apparently 'sewn up' with Blairism, it awoke humanity up. I don't agree one bit with Donald Trump but his election has similar hallmarks in America - the vanquishing of a deadening hegemony.

And for me - remembering the words of one of my esteemed tutors on the masters programme - the 'victory' will not be found in the short term news of Article 50 or Trump but what hopefully comes afterwards, for 'history is rarely if ever written in months and years but in decades...' I hope we are seeing the early shoots of a re-engagement of ordinary people in politics and the longer-term possibility of genuinely new leadership in the West...


Silent Love

I happened upon this today and found it to be moving. I wonder if the 'you' depends on the reader - a lost loved one, someone you admire (not necessarily romantically) or maybe even God?

“I choose to love you in silence…
For in silence I find no rejection,

I choose to love you in loneliness…
For in loneliness no one owns you but me,

I choose to adore you from a distance…
For distance will shield me from pain,

I choose to kiss you in the wind…
For the wind is gentler than my lips,

I choose to hold you in my dreams…
For in my dreams, you have no end.” 

― Jalaluddin Rumi


Giving Up The Ghost

I mentioned recently how I had embarked on studies back at university - a doctorate to be precise. It's been a positive experience in the sense the doctorate programme I joined was really well-designed and well-supported. I also briefly met some great colleagues and fellow-researchers. I also enjoyed the content... it was technical, challenging, mind-bending even - but nothing to fear.

But I am now admittedly talking about this adventure in the past tense rather than present or future. This is because I have faced a growing 'reality check' regarding how much workload, in terms of hours of the day, that I can take on. This is in the full light of my day job and family life - and the need for good mental health.

To reach this difficult decision - this acceptance I cannot practically do something I really wanted to do - I have sought the advice of a few trusted people in my life. In particular, I have spoken with one person I consider to be a soul friend, over a chinese buffet meal funnily enough. 

I also consulted 'Imitation of Christ' by Thomas Aquinas - or, arguably, it consulted at me in that I flicked through it casually one day and arrived at a section that seemed to speak directly to me and rebuke me in one fair swoop. The passage reads as follows - with the most cutting bits highlighted:


'HE who follows Me shall not walk in darkness,' says Our Lord. (John 8:2)

In these words Christ counsels us to follow His life and way if we desire true enlightenment and freedom from all blindness of heart (Mark 3:5). Let the life of Jesus Christ, then, be our first consideration.

The teaching of Jesus far transcends all the teachings of the Saints, and whosoever has His spirit will discover concealed in it heavenly manna (Rev. 2: 17) But many people, although they often hear the Gospel, feel little desire to follow it, because they lack the spirit of Christ (Rom 8:9). Whoever desires to understand and take delight in the words of Christ must strive to conform his whole life to Him.

Of what use is it to discourse learnedly on the Trinity, if you lack humility and therefore displease the Trinity? Lofty words do not make a man just or holy; but a good life makes him dear to God. I would far rather feel contrition than be able to define it. If you knew the whole Bible by heart, and all the teachings of the philosophers, how would this help you without the grace and love of God? `Vanity of vanities, and all is vanity,'(Eccles. I: 2) except to love God and serve Him alone (Deut. 6:13). And this is supreme wisdom - to despise the world, and draw daily nearer the kingdom of heaven.

It is vanity to solicit honors, or to raise oneself to high station. It is vanity to be a slave to bodily desires,'(Gal.5:16) and to crave for things which bring certain retribution. It is vanity to wish for long life, if you care little for a good life. It is vanity to give thought only to this present life, and to care nothing for the life to come. It is vanity to love things that so swiftly pass away, and not to hasten onwards to that place where everlasting joy abides.

Keep constantly in mind the saying, `The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. '(Eccles. 1:8). Strive to withdraw your heart from the love of visible things, and direct your affections to things invisible. For those who follow only their natural inclinations defile their conscience, and lose the grace of God."

On Personal Humility

Everyone naturally desires knowledge, (Aristotle, Metaphysics I,1.) but of what use is knowledge itself without the fear of God? A humble countryman who serves God is more pleasing to Him than a conceited intellectual who knows the course of the stars, but neglects his own soul (Ecclus.19:22). A man who truly knows himself realizes his own worthlessness, and takes no pleasure in the praises of men. Did I possess all knowledge in the world, but had no loves how would this help me before God, who will judge me by my deeds?

Restrain an inordinate desire for knowledge, in which is found much anxiety and deception. Learned men always wish to appear so, and desire recognition of their wisdom. But there are many matters, knowledge of which brings little or no advantage to the soul. Indeed, a man is unwise if he occupies himself with any things save those that further his salvation. A spate of words does nothing to satisfy the soul, but a good life refreshes the mind, and a clean conscience (I Tim 3:9), brings great confidence in God.

The more complete and excellent your knowledge, the more severe will be God's judgement on you, unless your life be the more holy. Therefore, do not be conceited of any skill or knowledge you may possess, but respect the knowledge that is entrusted to you. If it seems to you that you know a great deal and have wide experience in many fields, yet remember that there are many matters of which you are ignorant. So do not be conceited,(Rom 11:20) but confess your ignorance. Why do you wish to esteem yourself above others, when there are many who are wiser and more perfect in the Law of God? If you desire to know or learn anything to your advantage, then take delight in being unknown and unregarded.

A true understanding and humble estimate of oneself is the highest and most valuable of all lessons. To take no account of oneself, but always to think well and highly of others is the highest wisdom and perfection. Should you see another person openly doing evil, or carrying out a wicked purpose, do not on that account consider yourself better than him, for you cannot tell how long you will remain in a state of grace We are all frail; consider none more frail than yourself."

Funnily enough, I had this inclination of heading along the wrong path, having read Ernest Hemingway's 'The Old Man and The Sea' (which I wrote about this summer) - the image of the fisherman returning with a worthless carcass after a gigantic struggle, his life-force arguably misspent, has hung with me these past few months. But perhaps I needed more than a metaphor and that's where 'Old Tom' stepped in!

I could go into a long-winded analysis about this chapter of my life - my various motivations for it in particular. But there is no need really - I have no regrets about embarking on this short-lived journey and maybe one day I will return to it.


Peace of mind?

"There seems to be something close to a peace of mind industry out there, complete with its own sales force. Nothing makes me want to cancel my life insurance like those smug inhabitants of magazine adverts and billboards, lying back in hammocks or staring out at the ocean, at peace with themselves because they have the right kind of insurance policy, or pension scheme, or investment fund."

I listened to a great piece on Radio 4 today, by chance, on 'Peace of Mind' by Michael Symmons Roberts - above is one of the cutting opening lines. He explores the different aspects of 'peace of mind' and, as far as I understood, settled on the idea that to be at peace is to be living constructively both for yourself and others - though not necessarily conflict-free or noise-free. 


To be free-range

I recently read the book 'Why look at animals?' by John Berger (available free online if you look around hard enough). It's a fascinating read but also one that, to use a term I've recently encountered in academia, creates 'disturbance'. It has certainly left me considering certain aspects of my lifestyle - particularly my consumption of meat, but also how I cultivate the garden, how I look after my two pet cats, how I approach my work with educating young people via my day job.

This write-up more or less sums up much of what I took from the book:
In a roundabout way, the book taps into a conversation that I have started with a friend, someone with the same longstanding affiliation to Unitarian Christianity, about the experience we both share of being wanderers - of somehow being 'free range' in our mentality, a mentality that never really allows us to become too immersed (or excuse the pun - 'cooped up') in churches, societies, political parties and so on.

It is a restlessness that is both potentially creative and destructive. And I have found, both in recent times and as I cast my mind backwards to events over the years, it can be a threatening position for those who have built their nests (another pun!), be that the self-declared conservative types or those who go under labels such as 'liberal' (yet nevertheless exhibit similar traits).

Hopefully I'll be able to write more about this later, but for now this blog post and this little book - this point in time - marks the start of what might be a new conversation, an exploration that might lead me, and quite possibly my good friend, in new directions.