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Are we heading for divorce?

 Photo of Alex Salmond courtesy of the SNP’s photostream.

This week, on Burns Night, Scotland’s First Minister and leader of the Scottish National Party, Alex Salmond, set out the process through which Scotland could end its 305-year union with England. This, somewhat unaccountably, got me reflecting on my experience of separation and divorce.

After rehearsing the same argument again and again, my ex- and I finally realised we were never going to find a solution. We kept returning to a bedrock of difference that never seemed to weaken or crack. We split, instead. The potential sticking point was ‘my’ flat in Kilburn – when we married, she had sold hers to move there. Now she wanted to stay. How could I have found myself in this situation? What was I to do?

The breakthrough came for me on an intensive meditation retreat for men. It was in Umbria in Italy, where I had also been on honeymoon. Not only did the retreat provide a turning point in my marriage – or my separation, rather – it was a turning point, more broadly, for my life. It enabled me to see through, momentarily, my sense of myself and my attachments. And it enabled me to let go, more fully, of my pre-existing identity as a husband and homeowner; I seemed to let go of any self-identification whatsoever, in fact, and glimpse, for the first time, who, or what, I could become.

Now I’m not saying that this vision of my potential lasted very long. It was fleeting, in fact, though no less powerful or life-changing for that. And I’m certainly not saying it was anything special – I think many of us have these ‘peak moments’, and not only on Buddhist retreats (although retreat conditions are particularly conducive, I think). Nor am I saying that I can always rise to the personal challenges that life throws up following this experience: I’m currently in the middle of a (hopefully minor) disagreement with someone in the residential Buddhist community that I moved into from my marital home following the retreat.

But what I do know, now, is how when things fall apart, we are given a precious opportunity: we can try to cling on to what we have and who we think we are, even as these slip away, or we can use disintegration as a means of seeing ourselves more clearly – of seeing through to what connects us more deeply and fully to whom or what we are separating from.

What an opportunity Alex Salmond is providing us, then, as a nation! The SNP is now held up, by many, as “the last effective defender of a UK postwar settlement which has been systematically undermined in England over the past 30 years… Free prescriptions, free university education, free long-term care for the elderly…” (Guardian). Could Scotland be a model – and independence a catalyst – for bringing about a better, more connected society in England, after decades of individualism and fragmentation?

My hope is that our brothers and sisters (or perhaps I should now say friendly neighbours?) in Scotland have, and vote for, the ‘devo max‘ option in 2014. I hope that this peaceful revolution helps us in England to bring all of the many positive aspects of our self-identity back into focus which, judging by this report, also published this week, is already starting to happen. And I hope that we will start to see what it is, in our Englishness, that truly unites us in the face of challenges ahead: those sustainable, communal values that, in a disintegrating world, provide the only reliable guide. Share

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2 Responses to “Are we heading for divorce?”

  1. Tom Dickie says:

    As a Scot I suggest that the drive for separation is born out of an over inflated sense of nationalist pride and a mistaken belief of an identity separate from others, that is, in a buddhist sense, a belief that is the antithesis of the concept of no-self. The whole idea of a national identity in my opinion is not only a throw-back from the feudalistic need to create a unified false identity/self in order to motivate the tribe to hoard and protect what is considered theirs/ours (Eg Oil).

    I suggest that the most appropriate approach that reflects an interdependent approach to life and society is to drop the notions of Scottish and English in favour of Brtions. This would perhaps in our small island bring about a true sense of untity that could perhaps be a benchmark for true European unity and beyond ?

  2. Manjusiha says:

    Interesting comments Tom – thanks. There are so many conditions at work all these historical processes, aren’t there, like tectonic plates shifting, almost without us noticing. It will be interesting to see what happens between now and the vote in 2014, and whether ‘Britain’ will survive. I’ve also found it interesting to watch developments with Plaid Cymru’s leader Leanne Wood and the situation in Wales.

    For me, the only two labels I feel completely comfortable with are ‘Londoner’ and ‘Buddhist’, because both are so all-encompassing!

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