Letter: Looking beyond the Bellingen Bubble

Sixteen: that's the number of flyers on one community noticeboard in Bellingen advertising various forms of yoga, meditation or 'mindfulness' ... or some other self-indulgent, first world escapism that will make very little long-term difference to the already pampered bodies and psyches of those who undertake it. All in a town of fewer than 2000 souls; a bubble of affluence and egocentrism in an otherwise brutal and exploitative world.

When I look at stuff like the flyers on that board, I don't vision up some Sharman sitting cross-legged in an airy, mystical ashram in the foothills of the Himalayas, or a Swami poised elegantly over a lotus pond. I see instead a newborn baby wrapped in plastic and left to die in the heat of Dili because his family couldn't afford to raise him; or the corpses of a mother and foetal child, still connected in death, floating on the black waters of the Timor Sea after their boat, ignored and abandoned by the Australian government, sunk on a desperate journey to Australia.

This isn't bleeding heart stuff; it's the reality of what goes on just off our shores, closer than the distance from Perth to the Northern Territory. It's more real, in a sense, than the cloistered bounds of this small rural community we live in. It's the reason why, through the looking glass of life in neighbouring countries, there's so much hostility towards us, and so much contempt.

Such antipathy isn't just envy, as some might claim; it's a well-founded resentment that - in a nation born out of exploitation, expropriation and greed - there's so little inclination to share what we have and relieve the plight of kindred human beings. Our neighbours aren't heartless. Even though life, of necessity, might be more expendable in their lands, the bonds of family and culture are no weaker or otherwise inferior to our own, and often considerably stronger. It's only when we begin to genuinely accept this, and acknowledge the affinities of our common human condition, that some kind of global peace - or at least rapprochement - will be achieved among people and nations.

Hippies and Rightists alike, we're pretty good at making excuses for the way things are. Saying we "can't do anything about it" is simply a cop-out. "Act locally, think globally", another popular mantra, often comes down to preaching to ourselves and failing to challenge the forces that keep the current social and global order as it is. And while we gaze at our navels inside the Bellingen Bubble, the suffering and desperation of the world outside grows ever more critical, and the demands of our neighbours for fair treatment grow ever louder.

So what's the answer? What can we do to bring about a better world for everyone, a genuine change on the national and world stage: a commitment to international peace, to sustainability rather than growth, to purposeful action on environmental issues and to universal social justice?

The laws of our time provide little latitude to allow meaningful engagement for change; we can protest, yes - as long as we keep it peaceful, orderly and - by that means - largely ineffectual.

I've seen too many seasons come and go to suppose that changes of the magnitude I'm suggesting are likely to come about soon or quickly; but I've also seen enough to gain a bit of insight and reach a few conclusions: large-scale social changes don't come from within the established political order, but outside it - and often in spite of it; they usually come after long periods of socially retrogressive government, of the order we're experiencing now; and they come because enough people - a 'critical mass', if you like - can no longer passively tolerate the conditions under which they and their kindred human beings live.

The last of these points is the crucial one; as long as we remain politically inert, preoccupied with ourselves in the Bellingen Bubble (and in all the other similar enclaves around), nothing will change. But we can educate ourselves and others in the mechanics and necessity for change, and we can form networks with others of similar persuasion and work collectively to bring it about. Mindfulness, meditation and introspective practices won't do it in themselves; if we're going to join hands around the table, let's do it for some purpose worth fighting for.

Rob Simpson