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So,… There’s a dampness to the air now, not as rich in oxygen, not as energising, and the light of a morning is limping to catch up with the days whose demands of course remain the same as always, regardless of the season. This is Autumn in the already dystopic closing years of the second decade, of the twenty first century.

I take a breath, long and deep, arms rising from my sides to form an arch above my head, legs tense, then relax. Breathe out,…

What?

My arms sink in front of me, as if compressing air, feeling for its springiness with the imagination, and as the body relaxes, there’s a rush to the brain, a moment of light-headedness, a tingle in the shoulders, the forearms, the palms. Don’t panic: it’s blood, and nerve energy, and “stuff”, and beyond this vague rationalisation, I try not to give it much thought.

Qigong is like the I Ching: you sleep better when, as Carl Jung said, you do not bother yourself, with how it works.

Repeat. Four times.

All right,  traditionally it’s eight.

Eight is a lucky number in Chinese, deep stuff, rising from mythology, from numerology. I don’t understand it, but I respect it’s contribution to the global zeitgeist, to which I admit not everyone may be attuned. Anyway, at the weekends, when time’s abundant, sure, it’s eight, but on a workaday morning at seven a.m. we’re conscious the traffic’s already backing up exponentially with respect to time, that the seconds later we are in joining it, the tens of minutes longer we spend sitting in it. Therefore, we make concessions. Four repeats. Obsession is, after all, the mother of pointlessness, while compromise is the father of mutual understanding. (No sexism implied)

Where were we?

Gathering energy from the heavens.

Okay., so,… it’s a flowery term, but then the Chinese, both ancient and modern, are like that. They are admirably fond of their flowery aphorisms. They called their first space station Tiangong – the Heavenly Palace – and why not? It’s due to burn up and crash to earth any time now, by the way. Unhelpful tangent Others, equally well named are planned.

Sorry, where we again?

Heavenly energy?

Right, it’s an opening move to most of the traditional Shaolin Qigong forms I know – or rather knew. I’ve had a long break from this stuff, distracted by the harder aspects of Kung Fu. What’s that? Where to begin? It’s how to dislocate an arm, a finger, break the calivical bone, where the critically debilitating pressure points are, what strike to use for best effect  – Panda or Phoenix Eye – how to release energy with a blow to make it really sting, how to parry, how to handle a sword. How to kill stone dead, and without compromise, or Marquess of Queensbury rules and all that.

Hmm,…

I don’t know how I got into all of that because it’s not my scene at all. It was younger sons, I suppose, for whom Chen style Tai Chi (my first love) was not macho enough. And I enjoyed their company, enjoyed watching them grow and connect with an eclectic miscellany of men, all pretending to be Ninjas, and from there make their own paths.

Don’t get me wrong, the stretching effect of ritual Kung Fu forms upon the body are a tonic, they keep you young and limber, and I am in awe of the Kung Fu greats, but in the end the rigours were becoming too much for a maturing frame, and even in the soft sparring of my little fight club, I was beginning to fear injury.

So, I’m starting from the beginning again, with foundation Qigong forms – breathing, rhythm, visualisation. It’s different for everyone this stuff, and no one can explain how it works. You get the traditionalists all tangled up in their esotericisms and the puzzled rationalists who do it because it feels good – but look blank at the meridian diagrams. And then there are those like me who fell into the esoteric, once, nearly drowned in its nonsense, but are coming back to a point where they can at least tread water.

Qigong isn’t something you can just do, say for an hour a week at a class. That’s where you learn the basics, sure, but it has to be established as part of a daily routine as well, a ritual part of your life. It cured my tinnitus, a decade ago, but the tinnitus is creeping back as the energy fades into late middle age, and the practice has fallen away. So I’m picking up the discipline again, and as I do, the tinnitus fades once more. I’m getting older, but there’s still much to do, much life to be lived, and I have an inkling the secret is simply to keep it moving. Use it or lose it, mate.

I’m coming up to my sixties. But that’s nothing. I’m assured by those who have gone before me there are still rich decades ahead.

Qigong.

It looks weird, but I’ve been here before, and people no longer take the piss when I’m doing it in my PJ’s in the kitchen while the kettle boils. What’s more I no longer care if they do because I find I have more confidence in it, and in myself when I’m doing it than I once did, which is progress of a sort. What does it do? It clears a space in your head, restores calm, extends one’s magnanimity far out into the tempestuousness of the day. If you’re up against a killer like Twister, it gives you a chance. If Twister is your day, it gets you through.

Noon.

It gets me to about noon before the stresses start caving me in, but what the stresses cannot do is take away the core insight that protects the soul, and Ip Man is the protector of my soul – at least when my Kung Fu is strong.

You can probably simulate this feeling with something out of a blister pack but, trust me,  it’s not the real thing. The thing out of the blister pack drugs the soul so it doesn’t mind the insult of the way we live, it doesn’t mind being flattened by the insult of Twister’s blows. Qigong provides the safe space, the stillness, in which the soul remembers itself, and can observe the life we live with a compassionate detachment. Life, as personified by the belligerent, Egoistic, taunting, daunting, Twister,  does not change, rather we remember who we are, and we do not mind the challenge so much any more. Indeed, we disregard it as irrelevant.

Okay, so we’ve gathered the heavenly stuff, so what’s next? Oh,.. right,… it’s that little twisty finger thing.

Breathe, tense the legs,… relax,..

Whoosh!…

Wow!

Okay,… Not sure how long that  header clip will remain on Youtube – hope you found it entertaining. Ip Man 2 is second only to the original Ip Man as my favourite martial art’s movie.

My humble respects to Sifu, Donnie Yen (Ip Man) and Sifu Darren Majian Shahlavi, the magnificently malign whirlwind of a boxer, Twister!
 

 

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meridian systemI was lying on a table in the back room of a two up two down terraced former mill-house in Chorley, pins sticking out of my arms, my legs and my face, and I felt weird, but in a good way. No, this isn’t the opening of a piece of fiction. This was 2007 and the beginning of my journey into the world of Traditional Chinese Medicine, my first consultation with an acupuncturist – though my experience and subsequent journey into the esoteric, did go a long way in informing my romantic story “Push Hands”.

I’d felt I had no choice in trying acupuncture, being afflicted with a ringing ear that western medicine could do nothing about. And you know what? It worked – of a fashion. Over a period my ringing ear didn’t ring so much any more. And the sessions made me feel different in other ways. I was suddenly more relaxed, more clear headed and energetic. In short, I felt better and a good ten years younger.

Acupuncture’s not available on the NHS, and at thirty quid a session, and with anything up to a dozen sessions or more being required, depending on what ails you, you have to be sure you want to use it. But then I found you could maintain that calmness, that clear headed, relaxed feeling by practising Tai Chi and Qigong. And eventually as we practice, we feel unfamiliar sensations in the hands and the arms, and we wonder: is it Qi?

I began, years ago thinking to nail this mysterious business of Qi, because without it, I believed, TCM and all that mind-body stuff didn’t make sense. But I’ve ended with a more pragmatic view, and a greater understanding of western physiology which explains things well enough if you can only be bothered getting to the bottom of it. I still hear Qi talked about in classes, and it grates a little now, but you can approach it from different angles, both from the traditional, and the practical and the secret is not to get hung up on either. Just do the exercises, the meditation; visualise, rationalise it however you want. It doesn’t matter. All that matters is it works.

One of my biggest frustrations with the traditional path is there has never been a consensus among so called masters about what Qi is, at least nothing one can glean from reading their books. With medical science, the more you read, the clearer things become. With Qi, however, the more you read, the less you understand anything at all. I’ve come to the conclusion the whole business is more of a misunderstanding, born partly out of a rejection of science in the west among those largely resistant to or ignorant of it, and in the east a willingness to present concepts in terms of what we apparently want to believe. And what we want to believe in is Qi.

In that acupuncturist’s consulting room there was a dummy with all the acupuncture points indicated as dots, with lines joining them like the map of a railway system. The lines indicate the so called meridians along which Qi is said to flow, an idea that can be traced back to a book by George Soulie de Morant, an early translator of oriental philosophy. But the strange thing is even the most revered founding oriental work on acupuncture, the Yellow Emperor’s Handbook doesn’t mention meridians. The meridian theory appears to have been an early twentieth century, and largely western, invention. It caught on and we’ve been talking rubbish ever since.

The acupuncture points are real enough. They are what we would now call neuro-vascular nodes, areas dense in fine veins and nerves, situated along the routes of the major arteries. These are referred to in early Chinese texts, a link having been found between them and the function of the organs of the body, that stimulating them can bring about certain healing effects – reducing inflammation, pain, sickness. The precise mechanism is complex and not well understood, but appears to be a result of the stimulation of the body’s natural healing mechanisms. In short, TCM works and is very effective, but the meridian theory, the model underpinning it, as presented to the west, and all its talk of Qi, is misleading at best, at worst, plain wrong.

But having said that it’s sometimes still useful to think in terms of Qi, more as a metaphor of physical effects. In practical terms, Qi has two components. One is oxygen, the other is glucose. The oxygen we get by breathing air, while glucose comes from the food in our stomachs. Both are carried by the blood to every part of the body where they combine to produce chemical energy, either for motion, or for healing and regeneration of tissue. Practices like Tai Chi and Qigong encourage deep breathing, boosting the amount of oxygen in the blood – you also get hot and you sweat because the by product of the body’s chemical equation is heat and water. Heat and water are a good sign. The movements during practice stimulate the neuro-vascular nodes, drive the lymph, and the relaxed, mindful attitude encourages a return to homeostasis, a neutral chemical balance essential for a healthy body. To practice Tai Chi or Qigong for an hour a day is to experience a dramatic change in the way you see and feel your body and the world about you.

The problem for westerners has been the gradual erosion of any romantic notions regarding one’s existence. Medical science has reduced life to a series of mechanical functions, an approach that, while advancing our understanding to miraculous levels, has ironically sucked the life out of being, and what we crave is a return to the mysterious. Perhaps in Qi we have been seeking to put the soul back into the machinery, and to revivify belief in the reality of our selves. But the path of the soul is something else, a somewhat longer journey of which the mind-body stuff can be a part, but only in the sense that in calming the mind, in freeing it from the debilitating distractions of the material life, it can then, in quieter times, return more readily to a deeper contemplation of other things.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

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scent-of-a-womanFirst of all I apologise for my last post. If any of you were feeling down when you read it, it will have done little to cheer you up. I can only say it was the result of a workaday Monday morning at the year’s back end. I read the poem to my son and he said it was impressively bleak. He also said he didn’t like the poet at all – far too depressing on an empty stomach – and was appalled when he learned it was me.

So, I’m glad to say I don’t feel like that all the time, that just as there need be no firm reason for a decline in spirits, it can take equally little to restore a sense of buoyancy.

Take Sunday for example. There is a donut seller on Southport pier. A few years ago, I could not smell the donuts. Indeed, I could not smell anything. I could push my nose into a bag of the freshly fried little things and smell nothing. On Sunday though, I caught the scent of them even from the road as I drove along the promenade, and they cheered me. Ah,… donuts!

Perhaps it was the wind that carried the scent – it was a fresh day, cold – but the scent of those donuts rendered at once last Monday morning’s poem of measured misery a distant memory. I bought six. It’s one of life’s little paradoxes that even the most heavenly scent emanates from sources that in excess are bad for us, but on occasion we simply don’t care. I carried my bag of donuts to the pier’s end, their scent mingling with a brininess of the wind and an incoming tide. Heaven!

Less wholesome,  was the scent of blocked toilets in the cafe in town. I had called for coffee after my blow on the pier. The cafe was empty. I didn’t linger, yet years ago I would not have noticed the maleficent odour and would have sat down quite happily, in all ignorance. Instead, I followed my nose along Lord Street, enticed by the scent of restaurants, pizzerias, more coffee shops, then an impressive waft of perfume from through the doors of Beals.

There was more perfume from the girls in the crowds on the street.Ah, the scent of a woman!  Indeed on days like these I am in an ecstasy of perfume and can happily follow one trail after another. I realise this is not a good defence against accusations of stalking, but I am also fickle – the lightness of a daytime perfume, or the sultry heaviness of evening,.. girls, you can still warm the cockles, but it is your perfume that sets them on fire. I politely decline all other charms.

Scent opens up the unseen dimensions of the world. It’s impossible to say how extraordinary this is unless you have lost your scent, say for decades, then had it make a recovery. The health professionals I consulted offered little hope. But there’s good information out there – people who tried things and said: this worked for me. You can usually tell them apart from the charlatans by the fact they don’t want any money in exchange for this information. Alpha Lipoic Acid has worked for me. It’s just a food supplement, and it took a while, but it’s gradually opened up a door to a greater experience of the world once more.

I return to the car, return to it’s familiar scent. Yes, the familiar scent, the multilayered scent of place – impossible to label as one thing or another. I can’t define the scent of my car at all. It may be the carpets, or the vinyl top, or something leaking through from the battery in the boot. It smells, dare I say, manly, spicy, a little oily but with an acidic, almost citrus tang. And this is odd because for the first twelve years of its life this little car was owned by a woman. There were lipsticks and little perfume bottles lost down the backs of the seats, and Duran Duran CDs. Yet for all of this purely physical detritus, she seems not to have left behind much of an olfactory impression at all.

I massage my nose with fingertips while I think about this, bring back some feeling after the cold of the air, and as I do so I smell the shaving cream I used that morning, also the hint of an aftershave transferred from the fingers of my gloves – Kuros – an aftershave I wore so long ago I no longer recall the occasion. Yet there it lingers in the pockets of time, waiting to trigger the unexpected – memories of a girl I used to know, and who had a particular liking for that scent – so much so, she would borrow it from me. It would render her weak, she said.

Ah, when the scent is sharp it is a revelation.

When it’s missing from your life altogether, it’s not funny.

Sunday scent and the day feels warmer.
Pity’s Mondays round the corner.

We’ll end it there.

 

Graeme out.

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rydal mount

My lawn had grown overlong since the last mow, virtue of a week of rain and heat. It felt soft and springy underfoot, and the grass released its scent as I walked, a delicious scent that mingled with that of haymaking coming from the meadows beyond the fence. It was an overcast evening, warm, with pale white clouds rising into an oppressive background of blue-grey. I sensed the approach of a thundery rain. They say you can smell the rain, or if not the rain exactly then something of the atmosphere that precedes it. And yes, that evening I fancied I could smell the approach of rain. All of this intermingled was the scent of a rural late summer evening, rich in memory, releasing images of childhood, faces and events from a past I had forgotten, long locked in the treasure chest of experience.

The remarkable thing me in all of this was that I could smell anything at all. To lose ones sense of smell for so long as I had, and have it return as strong and keen as it sometimes is now is more than a joy. It is an intimate and profoundly meaningful re-connection with the deeper world, a connection many normal scented people take for granted. Indeed I’ve seen them pull a face, overwhelmed by scents of the wrong sort. But to the recovering anosmic, even the rancid odour of organic decay is a sensual experience of incalculable value, if not exactly to be enjoyed, then at least, like all scent, appreciated for the enhanced degree of self awareness its grants for, as any anosmic will tell you, to be without scent is to be not fully in the world at all.

I can’t remember how long I was without a sense of smell – decades probably. It faded gradually, for no known reason, and doctors could not help me. My road to recovery then was one of personal experiment, and the search for useful information in a sea of online nonsense, and hear-say, and old-wives-tales. But had I cleaved solely to accepted medical opinion I might have subjected myself to painful and invasive surgery only to find, as many had before me, that it did not work. I might also have subjected myself to a life on steroids. I persevered with the medically accepted route for two years with intermittent and at best only temporary respite, before giving up on it. Instead I followed a tentative lead to a harmless common food supplement called Lipoid Acid. Six months later my sense of smell was returning. Getting on for two years now, and its sharpness can at times astonish me.

But Dr Google is for sure an unreliable healer. He will tell you what you want to hear. Is my condition incurable? Yes/no, he says, depending on what you want to believe. Will this or that cure it? Yes/ no, he says, again depending on what you want to believe. Life threatening? Ditto.

There is no substitute then for a circumspect approach, one that values only the evidence of a verifiable efficacy. But here we find the skepticism of science overwhelmingly biased against the hope of myth, and old-wifery, dismissing it in its entirety as nonsense when actually there may be useful snippets to be gleaned. As a rule we must be suspicious of anything that costs us money, avoid also the inane chatter of vexatious forums and other online support groupery. Instead seek the accounts of those who have done things, who have tried this or that, and written about it in detail, and aren’t trying to sell you a cure. I found my own crock of gold in the writings at No Smell No Taste, judged it to be a reliable source and followed my nose (pun intended).

So it was partly from the sea of online myth the stories of Lipoic Acid arose. It was also a degree of faith and determination that guided their application, and eventually saw me through to a re-connection with a sensual experience I had not dared hope I’d ever know again.

The varieties of fragrance of women at a wedding is astonishing, as I had reason to notice last weekend. There are so many commercial perfumes, and I had forgotten how unique they are, and how they play upon the senses, how they tickle the emotions – some of them darkly erotic, some playfully sharp, dancing light upon the night air like the faery folk, and all obliterated now and then by the heavy sweetness of a cigarette, an unwholesome troll of a scent that can have me compressing my lungs in defence at twenty paces. Yet, but a few years ago, I would not have smelled a cigarette even had I been holding it myself.

The realisation doctors do not know everything is a salutary lesson, and something of a shock to the layman. Certainly they know much more about a thing than you or I, but to own a condition like Anosmia is an education in itself and qualifies you by default for intelligent study and comment. And it is through study we might understand it, and by understanding come either to terms with its incurability, or aid our own recovery.

With anosmia, a complicating factor is no one knows how the sense of smell works, how it takes the airborne molecules of the scented thing and reads them in a way the mind can interpret a signature of the scent of that thing. We can guess it’s something to do with the mucous membrane and the way the sensory nerves lie within it. We can look suspiciously at invasive polyps – cut them out if they are sufficient in number to actually block the nose. But I still have polyps, yet also a keen sense of smell, so polyps, although much maligned and blamed, and to be honest a flipping nuisance, I conclude, are not the cause of anosmia.

My own feeling is that inflammation of the mucous membrane is the cause, that polyps are a symptom of this as much as anosmia, that in swelling of the membrane the nerves within it are stretched and lose their ability to do whatever it is they do. Reduce the inflammation and the nerves recover their mysterious function, and the sense of smell returns.

The scent of a cupboard when you open it, the scent of shoe polish, the musky sweetness of WD40, the sharp repellent tang of petroleum, and metal polish. And in the garden, a rose, or lavender, or rosemary, the interior of an old shed containing a mad cornucopia of scented stuff. The scent of a car under a hot sun. The scent of a handful of copper coins. A newspaper. A chip shop.

All these things are to be marvelled at adding incalculable layers of meaning to the world that is also seen and felt and heard, and without which the world is not complete.

[PS the garden featured in the photo isn’t mine, but once belonged to William Wordsworth]

 

 

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girl meditatingIt’s with a mixture of surprise and confusion I note the term Mindfulness cropping up in the Corporate literature these days. This is rather like coming across Mary Poppins in a brothel. Originally an ancient meditative technique for releasing the mind from self destructive thinking, Mindfulness saw eventual escape into the so called new age, then a growing acceptance among mental health professionals as a way of easing stress and anxiety. But more latterly, the scientific management gurus have been hyping it as a way of rendering employees more efficient – though I’m not sure how this is supposed to work. Indeed the term Corporate Mindfulness is something of an oxymoron, each term neatly cancelling out the other.

Mindfulness, it seems, has become a highly marketable brand to the extent that even I am becoming sick of the word. Now, after your fourteen hour day of spreadsheet gazing, video-conferencing, and boardroom jousting, you can drive your showy, rented, BMW to the gym, display your expensively honed, Lycra clad body to your fellow narcissists, then drive to your mindfulness class and show off your expensively reconstructed mind. Then, come work-a-day morn, refreshed, pecks and abs hard as iron beneath your clean white shirt, mind simmering, cat-like in its predatory stillness, you become the master of all you survey, a steely eyed corporate warrior!

I wonder if we’re in danger of losing our way here. Perhaps we need to call it something else? Or perhaps it’s just that I feel myself slipping out of the world, no longer enamoured of its constructs, nor trusting of its players, that when I see Mindfulness advertised in corporate magazines, I am instinctively uneasy.

The dilemma for the corporate world is that the practice of Mindfulness will inevitably reveal the corporate world itself to be insane, indeed so sick it infects us all, has us eating each other, like a mad dog chewing at its own paws. So the idea of practising mindfulness, all the better to rape the earth and further dispossess the poor of their already meagre incomes seems the ultimate irony.

Do we even know what mindfulness is?

It’s mediation, right?

When I began to meditate it was because I had difficulty fitting in with the world. Meditation was an attempt to stop thinking, to plug the channel from which there issued an endless stream of debilitating and largely self critical thought. But you cannot stop thinking by thinking about it, nor less by hiding from one’s thoughts, nor combating them by the force of other thoughts. You need to give the mind something else to do.

Hanging it on the breath is a better approach. Listening to the breath, feeling the breath, experiencing the breath with every fibre of one’s being eventually renders thought as an observable phenomenon and from here it is but a small step to the realisation we are not our thoughts, that there is an awareness beyond our thoughts, a silent watcher that is not in itself a thought, and finally the realisation this silent watcher is actually who we really are. Carrying an awareness of this awareness, as we go about our lives, living with sufficient space in our heads for this awareness to be, is the essence of mindful living.

This is where the way becomes strange. We imagine that without our thoughts, our memories, our hopes, our dreams, we could not be said to exist at all, that without them we would have no personality, no sense of self. But this is the illusion of thinking. It is why we are vulnerable to our thoughts and so often fall into the trap of trying to think our way out of our worries, into a better, happier, more peaceful way of living. We can’t. The self constructed sense of self is an illusion, and actually the source of all our problems. The more we try to build this illusion up, the flimsier and more troublesome it becomes.

Similarly the corporate world is something we have merely thought up. It is not how the world really is. Mindfulness therefore does not prepare us for lives as a corporate raiders. Indeed quite the opposite. It should make us wish there was another way to live, another way to earn money and provide for our families, even if there isn’t. Beware then – mindfulness will seriously hamper your prospects for promotion, because it makes you all the more mindful of what it is you are doing. This is the point of departure then, where the meditative tradition reveals the unsuspected nature of the world.

The world as we have thought it is an illusion and it’s only by recognising our true nature do we perceive the world as it really is, how stunningly beautiful and alive. It is at the root of mindfulness we therefore find the ethics of life itself, at the root of mindfulness we discover peace, free from the imagined monsters of the past and the present.

Where mindfulness fits in to the structure of the man-constructed thought up world illusion I don’t know, since whichever power base we examine – be it political or corporate, I see no ethical dimension to it at all. It is a machine, not a mind, so there is a fundamental incompatibility of terminology here, and I conclude the corporate world has either changed the practice of mindfulness beyond all recognition into something faddish and useless, or nullified it by presenting it merely as a brand to be marketed and sold at a profit. Either way this is not the mindfulness I know.

Beware then where you buy your mindfulness from.

Mindfulness is free.

You don’t even have to think about it.

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Vogeler - DreamsAs we age we undergo a process of emotional development. Obviously we do not possess the same outlook in our middle years as we did when we were children, but what is it that drives us to change? Is it merely that we come to inhabit a progressively older body? Is it the experience of life itself that changes us, or is it that are we subject to influences from the unconscious mind that would have us seek those experiences out as a medium for change?

Life can provide any number of varied environments enabling us to grow in all manner of positive directions, but it can just as easily arrest our development if experience of life is at odds with our aspirations. So where does the aspiration, the imperative, the drive come from? Abusive relationships, personal misfortune, global upheaval, even financial ruin, all present challenges to health and well being, subverting a life’s path and running it onto the rocks. Yet in spite of misfortune some people suffer no injury beyond the initial trauma, while others are maimed for life. To avoid lasting scars appears to require an agile frame of mind and a deep intuitive sense of one’s abiding value in the face of all rational evidence to the contrary. Where does such strength, such resilience come from?

With bad experiences, what usually happens is we push the memories out of range of our emotional radar and get on with things as best we can. We are all good at this, at removing from conscious awareness those things that are most painful to us, and anyway we cannot always react to hurt in the way we would like, and in which our instincts are urging us – like punching the other guy on the nose. In the course of life, there is a lot we simply have to swallow, but the unconscious never forgets a slight. It remembers everything.

It even knows what I was doing at half past three on Wednesday afternoon, December 28th 1978. I can no longer consciously recall this moment of course – it is lost to my every day awareness but well documented cases of spontaneous and total recall suggest the memory of this moment still exists, somewhere, and if, during that moment, I was experiencing an emotional upset that was never healed, my unconscious will offer it back. And it will keep offering it back, until I deal with it.

It does this through the dreaming process, using a symbolic language in which the objects, the people, the situations we encounter in the dream world are emotionally charged in ways reflective of our life experience, including the things we’d rather not acknowledge. And the dream is saying, here, look, take this back this and then we can move on. But if we have fallen foul of a culture that devalues the dreaming process, if we never take notice of our dreams, the process of “dealing with it” can be a problem. And stuff mounts up. Some of us incubate hidden, forgotten traumas, combine them, allow them to breed, then hatch them into inexplicable and stupendously debilitating neuroses. At such times as these it seems our unconscious is overrun with demons out to do us harm. We might feel that to go poking around in there is the very last thing we should be doing, but paying attention to our dreams helps defuse things. It puts the unconscious mind in a better mood for dealing with us, if it realises we are receptive.

We all dream, every night, though some people dispute this, claiming never to have dreamed at all. But the thing with dreams is they play out in a part of the mind that bypasses the way we normally acquire memory. If we want to remember our dreams we have to make a conscious effort to do so. We have to remind ourselves, when we lay down to sleep, we would like to remember our dreams. Then, on waking, in the first seconds of awareness, we have a fleeting opportunity to drink the dream down whole, sufficient at least to recall it well enough to record it later on. But even then we must make haste, or the memory will fade to nothing like an imperfectly processed photograph. Reading my dream journal now, accounts of many dreams I had years ago are like reading the fantasies of a complete stranger.

So we have our dream. What now? Well, the best we can do is sit down and ponder upon it. What might it be showing us? What emotions does it provoke? It does not matter if we cannot understand the dream. It seems to be the conversation with the unconscious that’s the important thing. If we fail in the first dreams, to understand what it’s showing us, it will try other ways of illustrating the same thing, until we finally get it.

We can forget those dream dictionaries. What they fail to point out is that the dream is a personal thing and that, for example, a rabbit in my dream might mean something entirely different in yours. You can forget also asking advice from others because they may react to your symbols differently. Thus, slowly, respectfully, and with an attitude of genuine enquiry, we approach the unconscious, preferably on bended knee.

I worry about self-help dream techniques that sound more assertive, like a battering down of a door into unconsciousness in order to plunder its contents, in an effort to turn us into mega-star celebrities with millions in the bank, and perfect teeth. The lesson of a century of psychoanalysis tells us we are only a small part of who we think we are, that we are not entirely in charge. We can be part of the solution to the mystery of our lives, which involves being a good listener and a willing partner in the adventure, or we can remain for ever a part of the problem.

I suppose the bottom line is we do not need to be ill to take an interest in our personal development, in the rounding out and the maturation of our soul. True there are grown men and women as emotionally well developed as four year olds, or for that matter wildebeest, and for whom all talk of the dreaming process will sound ridiculous. But for those who seek meaning beyond the normal watering and rutting of the species, the dream is nature’s own gift to aid us on the path to a greater self awareness.

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