Crafting Gentleness

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Hanging out with the Brahma Kumaris

I'm sitting in the Global Co-operation House of the Brahma Kumaris intentional community in Crickelwood, in London, getting ready to give a talk this afternoon. It's a fascinating place full of wonderful people who are dedicating their lives to peace and kindness.

Someone I know compared the BKs to the Hare Krishnas, but I get the sense that it's quite different. Someone else suggested that there was little persuasive-doctrinal about what they do, in the sense that no one is seeking to convince you of anything, which is pretty much what I've found. There's a lot of talk about God here, which I'm not into, but it has been a very loving experience.

Some of the trappings might suggest something cult-like (the white clothing, the adoration of spiritual leaders), but it seems like it's all very much above board and sincere to the extent that I can make it out. I haven't noticed any of the subtle manipulative techniques that I have encountered in the likes of Elan Vital/Divine Light Mission.

I have been looked after wonderfully, and I am deeply impressed by the gentle dynamics of this community. I hope to have more communication with the people I have met here in the future.

I have been billed as an expert on Celtic Spirituality, which is actually not the case, so I will have to ease into my talk gently. What I intend to do is to offer a critical take on a lot of the stuff that is being sold as 'Celtic' Spirituality, and I'm not sure that's what a lot of people will be here for.

I'm particularly interested in the ways that the feminized characteristics of 'Celtic' spirituality (natural, creative, unhierarchical, anarchic, emotional, and so on) draw heavily on the racial stereotyping of 'Celticness' from the 19th century whereby the 'Celts' were feminized in a way that conveniently rendered them unsuitable for political participation, 'unpolitical' in the most disempowering way (much as women have regularly been rendered irrational and domestic in the face of a rational, public political sphere). Might it not be a little unhelpful to be using unsubstantiable categories along with the specific meanings that were designed to keep people under the thumb?

I'll also be making a plea for people to look closer to home for political (and spiritual?) inspiration, rather than running off to follow the example of people who left very little idea at all about how they thought about anything. Basically, to quote Spinal Tap, we don't know who they were or what they did.

I'll also be talking a bit about a politics of gentleness, and it will be interesting, because I haven't really spoken to an audience before that explicitly espouses gentleness as a way of life. I will also be sharing a stage with Dadi Janki who is recognised by many as a Spiritual Leader, so it's a little humbling to say the least. I suppose I can only speak from where I'm at and see how it goes.


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