Don's diary: enlightenment and kneecapping

February 28, 2003

I am walking through Knightsbridge to see U. G. Krishnamurti, an independent philosopher with a reputation for being nihilistic, as well as enlightened. U. G. has six people with him and seems to talk tirelessly for hours. But is he for real? Is there such a thing as enlightenment? He is lively and utterly iconoclastic. I am impressed and depressed simultaneously. The trouble is that you can never know if someone is authentically and permanently enlightened, and it makes no difference anyway to your own state.

In the evening I join my family for dinner and we watch Mike Leigh's Life Is Sweet . This feels closer to my roots than the views of an Indian anti-guru and it confirms my sense of ordinary, everyday tragicomedy.

Visit Darwin's Down House. I love this place and envy such an existence. Independently wealthy, Darwin could afford to study and write.

He was not reliant on a university and not crushed by modern university bureaucracy and constraints. Many of the liveliest and incisive minds are found outside universities.

A meeting with my line manager leaves me feeling depressed.

Meetings have an altogether unconscious function, whereby our souls call futilely to each other beneath the endless bureau-babble. Promotion owing to my many books and papers on counselling has propelled me into the weird world of university management systems. Spend the day immersed in electronic and paper quicksands. Notice there is to be a research conference next year. My interest subsides when I realise that it is all about chasing money.

A class on therapeutic relationship factors goes well, but I feel jaded. One or two students express admiration, which is embarrassing since I am acutely aware of not being enlightened, liberated or even happy.

In the evening, I pick up an email message from the Primal Institute in Los Angeles. My primal therapy there in 1978-79 did not really work. The reply to my query seems whitewash-like and suggests I might have failed to confront something painful in myself, maybe it is time for more therapy?

Spend a little of the evening on my unpublishable book on anthropathology, on the pervasiveness and origins of everyday suffering. It is neither academic nor popular enough but it just about keeps me (arguably) sane.

Attend my first meeting as an external examiner at the University of Ulster, so a day's leave is included to see Belfast.

Impressive civic architecture and trouble-scarred streets are not far apart.

The examination board goes well. There is time to explore a little more of Belfast. I like the cafe culture around Queens. Bookshops are not plentiful but in one I dally over whether to buy John Calder's book on Samuel Beckett; but one can overdose on purposelessness.

I later read that there was a kneecapping and a crucifixion in Northern Ireland around the time of my visit. It seems a long way from U.

G. Krishnamurti and the question of enlightenment, and a long way from Down House. But the worlds of learning, evolution, violence, bureaucracy, therapy and Godot are ultimately one.

Colin Feltham is reader in counselling, Sheffield Hallam University.

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