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man strolling in a wooded landscape - detail - A A MillsThere is a danger in holding on too tightly to the rational senses that we close ourselves off to more subtle life experiences, experiences that cannot be measured or explained by reference to the material sciences. But equally there is a danger in letting go, of assigning mystical, magical properties to things that have more mundane explanations, we risk simply making fools of ourselves.

So, which is it to be? Holding on or letting go? There is a middle way of course, but it’s difficult to discern unaided. Training in the esoteric disciplines can help, as can self-styled teachers and writers of books, but it’s difficult to know who to trust, who among the gurus is truly wise, or simply on an ego-trip. Fortunately for the layman there are also spontaneous experiences of the mind – mystical experiences – which reveal the subtle, psychological, spiritual dimensions of reality, experiences that blur the boundary between what we think of as our selves and the reality we inhabit.

It’s also apparent from the observation of human behaviour, most of us are born preprogrammed to overlook this subtle aspect of our nature even though, paradoxically, the journey of our lives is richly seeded with opportunities for recognising it. What also hampers us is we cannot think our way to the mystical experience, even if we want to. The mind is so fogged up with thinking it misses the point. Mystical experiences are most commonly triggered in meditative states when thinking is subdued, or they can happen unexpectedly, for no apparent reason at all, but we cannot “think” our way into them. However we manage it, the Mystical experience is a sudden and inexplicable falling through into a state of mind that is impossible to imagine beforehand, or adequately describe afterwards, but one that is nevertheless impossible to ignore.

But having been presented with the subtle nature of reality, it raises more questions, chief among them being the nature of our place in that reality. The mystical experience is a visionary and expansive state and, once experienced, the rational mind must allow it, though it may at first try to explain it away as a mental aberration. Only when dissatisfied with the more mundane explanations will it finally come round to an acceptance of something missing in our understanding of nature. But here again the problem is we fall back on rational thinking for explanations of what that missing understanding might be.

The mystical state suggests the underlying nature of things is one of infinite possibility, that thinking along certain lines collapses our potential experience of reality to within the limits of what our thoughts allow. We grant a pattern of our own imagining to the universe, and our reality takes that form, but this is not to explain the totality of our potential experience,  it is only to limit it to within bounds that are psychologically acceptable or permissible, given our inherent limitations.

At the ground level the mystical experience is therefore best reflected upon, and lived in spirit rather than too deeply probed, or pursued, or we risk simply losing ourselves in an infinite and ultimately unknowable void, or we restrict its potential to either a collective or a personal myth by weaving a descriptive story around it. The experience however, does grant us the sense of an intimate connection with all there is, even if we can no longer explain it or feel it with the clarity of the initial experience. And to live in the spirit of that experience raises our perspective of life, sets us on a journey that deflects the ego from its more destructive habits – chiefly the imposition of our own will over that of others.

When we see the universe as infinitely interconnected, we see the intimate relations between things, people, events, dreams. By contrast, living the purely rational life, the connections are severed and we see nothing. To live life blind to the connections is to risk being insensitive to those situations where our actions cut across the fate of others, whether we mean to or not – insensitive also to the idea that to act in certain ways, deliberately, at the expense of others, is to diminish both them and ourselves. Therefore the only wise course open to us in any situation is that which enriches the universe as a whole, or at the very least gains nothing for ourselves that comes at the expense of any thing or any one else.

mazda southportFull moon and a Spring tide draws me to the coast. The coast for me is Southport, North West England, a place you rarely catch the sea – at least not splashing up against the promenade, even at high tide, so the opportunity is not to be missed. I have in mind an hour’s stroll along the front, and some sea air, but I am an hour late in arriving and the tide is already on its way out, a slow peeling back of muddy foreshore puncturing my boyish optimism.

Instead I am faced with a dilemma. To park on the promenade for just an hour now is over a pound. I fumble for change, but it seems an extravagance given the receding tide and the all pervading mood of “Austerity”. Do I stay, or do I just go home? I split the difference and drive to the Ocean Plaza instead where it’s free to park so long as you intend buying something.

I buy coffee.

Two pounds buys a medium Americano at the Pausa Cafe  in Dunelm Mill. Luck gets you a balcony table overlooking fabrics and curtains. The coffee is really good.  I come here a lot on wet weekends – for the coffee, not the fabrics.

When I sit down I’m thinking about the work in progress, a novel that seems intent, as usual, on self destruction about three quarters of the way in. Such single minded preoccupation is irrational when it doesn’t matter a damn if it’s ever finished or not, and will in any case never make me a bean. It’s just a vast puzzle to be solved, something satisfying only to my convoluted psyche, the end result being something I have made and can post online. And it gets me out of bed.

A couple of overnight pings in response to a sample posted on the blog have revealed potential avenues for exploration, and I’m thinking about those. My thanks to elmonoyd on Wattpad, and Steve on WordPress. I make notes, add them to the mix, let them stew. Then I fall back on the secondary preoccupation: the apparently perilous state of Western Civilisation, its dearth of progressive leadership, its alarmingly retrograde motions this past twelve months, and its lack of answers to the most pressing questions of our times.

What now after the collapse of Capital?

The world is disintegrating on so many levels, and no one knows what to make of it, let alone what to do. The best us Brits can come up with is Brexit, God help us, but that’s like sawing off the branch we’re sitting on. Me? I’m done. All I have in mind now is a little cabin in my back garden, so when retirement comes, soon I hope, I can sit in it and make writing the sole purpose of my life, instead of just a hobby.

My solution to the world’s ills then will be to get up at nine in the morning, instead of six, and never have to commute another fucking mile – a sort of wry three fingered salute. Of course there will be no more purpose in this than there is to my writing now. But I feel too old these days, and too muddled to make a difference to anything more worthy. I see my life’s challenge as simply not to waste any more time moaning about stuff I cannot fix.

But there’s a snag, and it’s to do with the energy of reaction. We’re ten years into a recession, though no one’s actually calling it by that name. In the broader picture it is the sudden acceleration of a decline that’s been steadily ongoing since the seventies – in practical terms by this I mean the availability of well paid work for working men, and free education so the sons of working men can aspire to better paid middle class work. Irt is the struggle of the majority against the minority.

But that’s all over now.

Think about it.

Things are no better, ten years on, employment trends being to divest the employers of all responsibility for employees, while driving wages down to Victorian levels that fall short even of subsistence. In the mean time it overhangs everything, like a chest infection, every breath we take a reminder of its cloying presence, that foul delusion of our times: Austerity.

Is my little cabin still a viable proposition? Sure I can build it, but can I really close the door on a world gone mad, retreat into my fantasies? On the one hand I don’t see why not since I can do nothing about any of this. Putting the world to rights is for the pub, and self indulgent blogging, but on the other hand it seems morally bankrupt to turn my back when the generation I have nurtured in hope and optimism is left with no future and no credible leadership of any colour at all, and there is only the turmoil of populism and layer upon layer of toxic social media to inform opinion.

What the hell?

Suddenly I’m aware the old girl at the table behind me is talking too loudly and has nothing nice to say about anyone. Then there’s a sharp mouthed mother shouting abuse at her child for dolloping something on the table. A baby squeals loud for hunger, for comfort, for sleep. It seems my troubled thoughts are sending waves out into the world, unsettling it. Time to move on before I bring the ceiling down as well.

I look in Pound Stretcher and Matalan while I’m passing, further justifying my free parking, but they are drab and uninspiring this afternoon, and I don’t buy anything. I never do. I cannot help but think big out of town shopping centres like this will all be gone soon – nothing to sustain them with the world and his dog on minimum wage. Then all we’ll have will be our threadbare highstreets with their thrift shops, their pawn shops and  their pay-day loan sharks.

And coffee shops, I hope.

I return to the car the long way via the end of Southport Pier. It adds perspective, and a glimpse of emptiness, of infinity.

It begins to rain.

Sixty Six

girl with green eyesThe meaning of things isn’t to be found in studying them, said Carina, nor in thinking about them at all, but more in attaining a state of non-judgemental awareness. Then we see there is no meaning in things themselves, that in seeking their meaning we obscure the formless beauty in them, and through analysis, through over-thinking, we fail to experience love.

“Then there is no meaning?” asked Finn.

“To what?”

“To life. My life. Your life.”

“Of course there is.”

“Then what?”

Carina looked a little dishevelled – her hair uncombed, more voluminous and more fiery red than Finn remembered from when she was working, from those long budget meetings whose only redeeming feature for Finn had been the presence of Carina herself, the knowledge of her kindness, and that she did not hate him.

Her blouse was creased and she wore no bra. Her cream suit looked business-like but too well worn and lived-in comfortable for a hundred quid a head restaurant. Finn had baulked at the idea of dinner in such a place as this, but she’d insisted, claiming her resurrection from the dead, at least in Finn’s eyes, was worth splashing out a little on dinner, and she would pay.

“Love,” she said.

“Love?”

“We find meaning, redemption, salvation, whatever you want to call it,… in love. Not just the kind you’re thinking. I mean not the one-person-bonking-the-other kind. Sometimes we think that’s all there is to love, that it’s merely the permission to bonk. But that’s Eros. I’m meaning more simply love – you know? Kindness, compassion. Agape.”

“Agape?”

“The love of God, Finn. The grace of God. I mean,… without being religious about it. Can you do it? Can you find a way of loving even these tossers in here? Look at them. Given the state of the economy and the number slaving below subsistence levels for tyrannical bastards, many of whom probably frequent pretentious pig troughs like this, there’s much in this well polished porcine crowd to hate. But in doing so, do you not also feel also,… a little cut off? A little less than human? A little diminished?”

“I,…”

Carina had not been drinking, had drunk nothing since the mother of all hangovers some weeks ago. This was Carina sober, incisive, cynical and – for all of her apparent languor – intellectually terrifying.

“I mean, how do we find the love of God in these people, Finn?”

Finn wasn’t sure he wanted to. He found their braying and their preening obnoxious, but felt he had to try, if only because Carina had challenged him to do it, and it was always a pleasure to please Carina.

“Em,… I can make a start, I suppose, by understanding their folly, and forgiving it? After all, I used to be one of them.”

Carina, smiled indulgently, nodded. “Yes, it’s a start. Every couple of generations we make the mistake of worshipping affluence, don’t we? But they’re just people like anybody else – frail, feeble, stupid. They make mistakes. By the way, you were never one of them, Finn,… or I would have seen no point in rescuing you. I’d’ve been doing humanity a service by allowing evolution to take it’s toll on you.”

“That doesn’t sound very,… loving?”

“Didn’t say I was perfect.”

“So, at the risk of fishing for compliments, which is always a dangerous thing where you’re concerned, what was my redeeming feature – the one that spared me from your indifference?”

“Oh,… it’s hard to say. A mixture of things. Compassion. Humility. And clear signs of distress.”

“Well, distress for sure.”

Finn scanned the dining crowds. He noted men did not wear ties to dinner any more, unlike Finn who remained always a decade behind fashion. He noted instead they wore hideously pretentious timepieces with designer names, timepieces that would no doubt be thrown away when their batteries ran down. There would be no future niche market on Ebay for such things, unless future generations rediscovered a sense of irony.

Carina watched him watching: “So, what are you thinking?”

But never mind what Finn’s thinking, Carina, what am I thinking? This is an interesting chapter and a turning point,  a little overlong perhaps, a little talky, you and Finn batting ideas across the table like tennis players, and I can barely keep up with you, just as the rules of tennis, so obvious to others have long remained a mystery to me. I can only ask you play the game wisely, Carina, and don’t hurt anyone – especially me. We’re in too deep by now. Your next moves can either make or break the story.

Mazda Glasson Feb 16Doris they called it, the storm I mean. We caught the scythe edge of it on Thursday as it advanced across the North, laid the grass flat and rippling in shivery silver waves. It pulled down trees and masonry too. It was looking a bit doubtful for my trip to Glasson Marina then, this last Friday of February. It would have made it four years in a row and on each occasion enjoying the harbingers of spring – soft sunshine, snowdrops and crocuses, and hares gambolling in the lush green meadows between Glasson and Cockerham.

Ah, well.

But come Friday Doris has moved her quietly watchful eye over the North, blessed us now with a brief, eerie calm, and several hours of clear blue. So, I wake the Mazda from her hibernation, and we head up the M6 to Lancaster, and Glasson.

The ticket machine at the marina is broken. It always is. There’s a number to ring so you can pay to park your car by phone but the number is broken too. It was broken last time, I recall. It’s only a pound all day , and I don’t begrudge it. I want to pay, but there is not the means of doing so. So, I tie on my boots, put on my winter layers and set off amid a gnawing anxiety about returning to find the Mazda slapped with a cunningly constructed penalty notice – this happens every time – the anxiety I mean, not the penalty notice.

I’m a little spooked by this weather. Four years in a row, this day has repeated itself, weather and all, this annual pilgrimage to the port of Glasson. It’s not a groundhog experience – more complicated than that. I live my life as normal all year, but on this one day, the last Friday of February, I step back into the same day, like an eternal recurrence.

cockeham-stoneOn this occasion, I am also on a mission. Last year, just along the coast here, I’d found a smooth-worn piece of standstone. Unremarkable you might say except this stone had once been part of the Abbey, long since demolished and recycled into the sea defences. It granted the stone a certain intangible, esoteric value and I’d made a promise with the abbey’s ghosts – I’ll take this home for luck, because its shape pleases me, I’ll keep it on my desk, turning it meditatively as I ponder my muse, then I’ll return it to the sea a year from now.

So here we are again. Same day, somehow slipped out of time – even a storm abated to make way, so I can keep my promise.

From the Marina we head out along the canal to the first bridge, pausing a while at the Christ’s Church, glowing in the the early morning sun, and we admire its displays of snowdrops and crocuses. Then from the bridge, we have a bit of quiet road walking, narrow lanes, south, before taking to the first of the boggy meadow paths, this one by Thursland hill fishery, and eventually out onto the causeway at Cockerham marsh.

It’s all wide blue sky and impossibly green meadows here, a pair of swans in one, stark white against the green, a pair of hares at play in another. There’s something neat and, compartmentalised about this, something symbolic, dreamlike even, and then,…our first impediment to progress, our first challenge: a gate, tied up with a tangle of wire and made so as not to be undone.

It makes me question my memory, my confidence, for sure the path leads through here? The map says yes, but there’s no way this gate is going to open, and all alternative routes lead astray. Something symbolic here also, I think. So I climb the gate and, not for the last time today, make good my course.

Gaining the causeway at Cockerham Marsh, I’m in time to see a Pilatus Turbo Porter, belonging to the Black Knights skydiving centre, hauling itself aloft with a penetrating buzz that vibrates in my skull. This is new to me. They have not flown on previous incarnations of this day.

Later, as I walk the causeway a couple of red chutes blossom in the blue. Men float to the ground, legs akimbo, wobbling. Their rate of descent looks faster than I’d be comfortable with. I’m reminded a man was killed here in 2012 when his chute didn’t open. It’s a sobering thought – a popular charity challenge, but leaping from a plane is no joke, and clearly not without its dangers, which I suppose is the attraction.

Anyway,…

It’s a gorgeous morning on the marsh – the tide is out, waders a plenty by the sparkling waterline – a mix of dunlin mostly, some curlew and the occasional splash of darting colour, and the shrill piping of oyster-catchers. These are the birds I can name, many I cannot. I kick against a curious piece of brass just along the way here, hear its metallic jingle underfoot. Curious, I pick it up.

What the Hell?

knuckledusterIt’s a knuckleduster, perfect fit too, but as I squeeze it into my fist, I feel a jarring of something unpleasant, imagine it smashing into someone’s jaw in a drunken brawl, blood, a spill of teeth, torn flesh. What foolishness and folly – the worst of mankind encapsulated in this one dumb object.

They are illegal to carry, and to sell in the UK, but not to own – one avoids prosecution I presume by not being caught with it in one’s possession. I don’t know what to do with it. If I drop it back onto the path, it’s there for the next passer by to chance upon it. And so what? I don’t know, but it doesn’t feel right, feel safe, so I slip it into my pocket for now, some possibly misguided sense of protection. I’ll have to think about it.

plover-scarAcross a vast, green, sea-scented sward I approach the Chapter House of the Abbey now, but what draws my eye is the Plover Scar Light, just off shore, or rather its absence from the receding tide. It was a rusty old thing, quaint, its architecture not quite of this world and having the look of something too long at sea without paint. And it’s mostly gone now, its stonework laid out methodically ashore, its foundations on the scar overlaid with an exoskeleton of scaffolding. A ship struck it some months ago, dealt it a mortal blow, but engineers are undertaking a painstaking restoration. It was always a beautiful subject for the camera – just Google Plover Scar Light for a sample. I shall have to wait for my next incarnation, next year, to get my picture.

slurryNear the old Lighthouse cottage I return
that smooth-worn piece of the abbey to the sea, keep my mysterious pact with the spirits of place. But it’s an ignominious ceremony overseen by a farmer shooting shit into the meadow across a fence, trundling slow with a giant tank of malodorous slurry. I’m upwind, so it doesn’t bother me, but I sit a while anyway, let him get on, not wanting to follow too close.

So,… the knuckleduster. It’s much pitted and spoiled by weather, but serviceable enough  and not beyond restoration – there are some  who have a morbid fascination for such things. I should take it home and saw it up perhaps? Take it out of circulation. But it feels like a contamination in my pocket, a really bad vibe, bad Karma rising from it like the stench of that slurry now. So how about I throw it into the sea? But might the sea not throw it back, come the next storm, for other hands to find?

gateIt’s about six miles round and back to Glasson. But at five miles I come upon my second impediment to progress ,and this one more serious. It’s a gate that lets on to a section of path that is now submerged by flooding. Someone has laid a precarious looking plank across the gap. The water beyond the gate, under that plank is waist deep and very, very cold. It gives me pause, but the alternative is several miles of backtracking.

I accept the challenge -something bloody minded in my attitude to risk this morning – I mean if people can leap from aeroplanes,… So, I stride out over several feet of water, onto the first bar of the semi-submerged gate, climb the gate, descend to balance on the plank on the other side. Then it’s a deep breath and a couple of steps to the dry land, the plank bending under my weight as I go, so the water comes within inches of overtopping my boots. But I make it over with dry feet.

As a marked track, the Lancashire coastal way is not without its spice!

Finally it’s back along the canal with it’s colourful barges, their chimneys now smoking cosily, and to Glasson Basin where the Mazda basks in the sun, awaiting its long run home. There’s no penalty notice stuck to the windscreen. Glasson keeps its pact with me, as I kept my pact with the ghosts of the abbey. And that knuckleduster? Let’s just say I lost it along the way, lost it somewhere safe where no one,  will ever find it again and from where the sea can never toss it back.

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Hartsop old wayThe source of our creative energies is a mystery. All I know for sure is it’s not a physical thing. Provided we have sufficient strength at least to draw breath, stay awake and sit down at the work desk, it’s simply a question of opening the valve inside our heads for the creative steam to come gushing out with a vigour untempered even by age and infirmity.

But we can weaken it,…

I’m weakening it now by talking about it. It builds pressure over time and we can either nurture it, then let it out in a sustained, calculated burst and achieve something significant with it – a novel say, or a painting, or an epic poem, or we can be constantly leaking it off in short squeaks until there’s nothing left and we are reduced to a state of creative barrenness.

Bear in mind, once upon a time, words like these would have had no outlet beyond the private diary. In so keeping them within the bounds of a closed personal awareness, they would not deplete the source. Indeed quite the opposite, for maintaining an intimacy with one’s self is both to respect one’s self and also the daemonic forces within us. But now our heads are stuck inside this box and we’re venting words the hyperspatial vacuum, which does nothing but empty us of our creativity.

Listen, we can either do a thing, or we can explain to an imagined audience why we’re doing it – explain it through our blogs, our tweets, our Instagrams. But in explaining it, in chattering about it, and self justifying, we lose the point, the point being the thing itself, rather than the describing of it.

I have talked a lot about Tai Chi on this blog, why I do it, only lately to realise, actually, I don’t do it any more. Meditation – ditto. I talk about it, but I don’t do it. And if I’m talking about writing, I’m not writing. So I guess what I’m thinking about at the moment, what I’m exploring tonight, is the perennial problem of self-justification, of explaining ourselves to the imaginary “other”, when what we’re really doing is comforting our own egos.

We cannot help our insecurities. It’s human nature, this feeling some of us have of being pulled away from the tit too soon, and we assume the other person wasn’t. We assume the other person has no insecurities at all, that they are not the same lost child we feel ourselves to be when we close the door at night and face our selves, alone. Well guess what? They do. The problem then is one of self assurance, of reassurance that what we are is all right, that we need not explain ourselves, nor less try to impress others with how successful, interesting, cool, sexy or even just how extra-specially normal we are. To this end we wear a mask.

Everyone born has ample reason to simply be. It’s just that we aspire to be more than we are. More than what? Well, more than anyone else, perhaps – more cool, more insightful, more intelligent,… and just well,… more! This is what the mask conveys. But if we forget the mask, forget the usual external appearances, the difference between me and you is nothing much. We both arise from the same collective milieu of unconscious potential, like periscopes, each to pierce the surface of this, a somewhat denser and less yielding reality. Our uniqueness lies only in this individual perspective, our singular view of the world.

Knowing what that view is, is one thing, sharing it with others is only useful to point. We are all of us on a personal voyage of discovery, and it’s ultimately our own vision, our own private view that is the essential thing. It is the picture postcard we gift back to the consciousness from which we arise. It’s not important then to capture every thought we’ve ever had, to write it down and self publish it – just because we can do it now, doesn’t mean we should. The importance of the moment has already been captured by the inner eye.

It’s more important then we notice when the sun is shining, important we do not feel the need to take its picture all the time. It’s beautiful, yes, but there’s a limit to the intimacy with which the essence of such beauty can be shared, because beauty is a thing with our unique perception at the centre of it. The urge to share it is the writer’s bane of course, but one should always be mindful that in sharing anything, the essence is always lost, and no matter what our skill with words, no one can ever truly know or see the world the way we do.

So go easy on the media. Take a break from the Blog now and then, don’t feel the need to post on Instagram every day, and don’t you ever go tweeting to the world what you had for breakfast.

Save a little something for yourself. And keep it safe.

Think outside the box from time to time.

wet leafThe evidence in support of Extra Sensory Perception (ESP) is such that, were it any other field of study, it would long ago have been considered proven, yet it remains controversial. It tells us we all have the ability to predict otherwise random outcomes beyond chance, some of us better than others – the turn of a card, say, or the roll of die. It’s just that in practical terms, since it’s not a reliable phenomenon, it’s not much use on a day to day basis, at least not for the majority of us, so whether we believe in it or not, we tend to ignore it.

Psychokinesis is another controversial topic, yet also well supported by the evidence. It tells us we can affect outcomes by thinking about them, such as interfering with the workings of sensitive machines. But like ESP, the effect is mostly too weak to be of any practical significance – you have bore deep into the statistics of a large number of trials in order to detect it.  It’s like radio signals from a galaxy on the edge of the universe – sure, you know it’s there all right, but you’ll never see it with your own eyes.

Then there’s precognition, the evidence suggesting we can tell in advance when something is going to happen, either through a gut feeling on the spot – and then it happens – or we might dream of an event which subsequently happens days, weeks or even years later. Again it’s not a reliable phenomenon, not something we can call upon at will. Most of us I think have experienced a few spontaneous instances of precognition, but if we try to call it up at will, we find we’re wrong more times than is useful and we look stupid so we discount it from our every day approach to life. Statistically speaking though, it’s pretty well established that we can sometimes see around corners.

But forget the statistics, forget the practical usefulness of these non-superpowers. It’s the existence of the phenomenon that’s the essential thing, because it tells us the mind is more than a product of the brain, that some aspect of consciousness is not confined to the physical body, that it extends out into the world. And cases of precognition tell us it is not confined in time either. The implications for our world view are profound, the science underpinning it as yet unknown and extremely challenging, yet I have no problem accepting any of this, but if we go the whole hog and accept a return to philosophical dualism, then what?

There are other anomalous phenomenon pointing in this direction – stuff  I’m less comfortable with, yet for which the evidence is growing. One of these is the study of near death, where people are resuscitated after suffering life threatening injury, or heart attack. The brain is starved of oxygen and effectively dies, flat-lining on the EEG, yet during this supposed dead period, rather than reporting oblivion, people, upon resuscitation, give us accounts of an intensification of conscious awareness, of visiting highly realistic realms, of speaking with other beings, with dead loved ones. The accounts are broadly consistent, across all cultures and are not confined to those of a religious bent. Such events are life changing for those who experience them.

And then we have the reincarnation studies, which I find even more disturbing to my worldview – in particular the work of Ian Stevenson, and more lately Jim Tucker, in which very young children report veridical details of a past life. Again, whilst controversial, this research is painstaking, and the evidence is very persuasive.

Yes, I’m uncomfortable with the idea of reincarnation because it doesn’t make sense to me, but having weighed the evidence I’m finding it’s something I must at least reckon with as a possibility. Indeed in any other field of scientific endeavour the case would by now be considered robust. That it isn’t, isn’t surprising to me, and I’m not expecting it to change any time soon. My own reluctance to accept such things perhaps speaks of a broader unease, because if they’re true, then what?

All of these phenomena are dangerous in that they threaten the underpinnings of both science and religion. If it were no longer controversial that the essence of the personality was an indestructible, non corporeal entity, unrestricted by the bounds of space and time, recycling itself through various incarnations in a more restricted form in the material world,… well,… yes,… indeed: Then what?

Perhaps it’s easier not to ask the question.

 

watchwordThe Watchword technique is method of self analysis. Its origins are obscure, but find themselves formalised in this 1990’s title by Michael Daniels, senior lecturer in what was then Liverpool Polytechnic’s Department of Psychology. The book has a very Jungian grounding, and aims to give the reader a clear picture of the forces at play in the currents of the psyche – where we’re going, what’s holding us back, what are the dominant forces driving us, what areas we need to work on, to let go of and so on.

If you’re of a New Agey, self analysis, Jung-fan bent, you probably already have a number of methods for getting inside your head. Tarot cards are popular, as are Runes. For a long time I favoured the I Ching but, like all oracular devices it can be misunderstood and, like the Tarot and Runes, is somewhat tainted by an occultish aura which does not appeal to everyone.

Oracles do not foretell tell the future. It’s a common misconception. Instead, they read the psychical landscape and make projections from it. They grant us a look inside our heads, revealing what might otherwise be hidden. All methods have their attractions and drawbacks and we should feel free to take them up and set them aside as and when the mood takes us, never adhering to them too slavishly, but rather listening to our own instincts for what’s right at the time. In this way the Watchword technique can be looked upon as another thing to try, perhaps when answers are failing you elsewhere. The method is direct, and carries none of the occult baggage associated with other methods, though this is not to say its intuitions are both startling and mysterious.

The technique involves writing down sixteen words – whatever comes into one’s head – then pairing them off and looking for an association with the linked words, then pairing these off. Reminiscent of a Jungian word association test, and dream amplification, what we end up with is a grid of highly charged words which, like dream symbols, represent the archetypal forces, or a kind of psychical weather forecast. As a method I find it very powerful, though as Daniels cautions in the book, it is not something to be read too literally or follow too slavishly.

So, our sixteen seed words are boiled down by a process of association into a square matrix which we then interpret using a form of directional symbolism. In short, the up and down directions indicate progressive and regressive tendencies, the left and the right involve the more subtle interpretation of inner (left) and outer (right) psychological urges. The overall balance of the square therefore comes to represent a map of the forces within us and the complex dynamical churn between them. A further pattern of three words emerges in the centre of the matrix, the middle one of these being taken as the ultimate direction implied from the interplay of all the other forces in the mix.

While this may sound dubious to anyone not versed in symbolic or archetypal thinking, I find the method has an uncanny way of homing in on the key dynamics. The answers arise from our own thought processes, it’s just that some of them are normally hidden from view and the method tries to tease them out. At its most basic level the Watchword technique can be treated as a word game, as a bit of fun, and when beginning with it, it’s perhaps best to treat it as such. But at its deepest level it can aid us in coming up with some profound insights into our own strengths and failings.

A more individual analysis of the words we’ve chosen can also reveal our Myers Briggs type, and the book goes into this in some depth, but I’ve found the technique less reliable in that respect, probably due to my own failings in grasping the symbolic significance of the words we use, better to use the Myers Briggs method itself, but in all other respects this is a valuable tool for anyone on the path towards self discovery.