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Posts Tagged ‘environment’

WOTH cover smallEarly March, and Coronavirus begins to infect both England and the work in progress:

Junction six, Walkden, M61 South. The Beast is purring down to the line from the off-slip. The grassed embankments on either side are awash here with a tide of rubbish. It’s where people wind their windows down while they wait for the lights to change, then toss out the waste packaging of Macmeals, miscellaneous wrappers, sachets, plastic bottles, beer-cans, and all those little nitrous oxide cartridges. This morning there are also nappies, tee-shirts, and a pair of trousers snagged in the bushes.

It’s places like this we void ourselves, sick up all the over-consumption, spoil any vestige of green. How can the natural world take this? Any other creature that fouls its own nest like we do lasts barely the blink of an eye. Why are we still here?

The guy in the white van beside me is wearing a surgical mask and rubber gloves. He catches my fleeting double-take and responds with a finger. He’s either about to rob a bank or he’s paranoid about infection. This virus is beginning to spook everyone now. I’m not sure if it’s warranted or just scare-mongering in the press. Hard to tell. We’ve had years of one thing or another, and seem, as a people, permanently jittery, therefore easily suggestible, and vulnerable to tyranny.

So far as I can gather from my limited tolerance for current affairs these days, there are only a handful of cases in the UK as yet, though I suppose it’s a matter of time before that explodes. The challenge is to isolate against it, have it die out. Worst case it becomes endemic and circulates permanently in the population, scything through us in annual waves. It’s more deadly than flu, kills one percent they say. The government seems willing to tolerate an infection rate of 60%, thus allowing herd-immunity, but on that basis simple arithmetic suggests a quarter of a million of us are expected to die.

Can that be right?

For now share indices are plummeting, and the smart money is buying up bargains while prices are low. Astonishing, how a virus can mutate randomly into such a deadly coherence, and be half-way round the world in the blink of an eye. Yet with all our superior faculties, we cannot even protect our poor from cold and starvation.

Well, we can,… we just don’t.

I’m out this way on the edge of Greater Manchester’s conurbation, having come to see my old boss and mentor, Chester, who I find sitting now in the corner of the day room at the care-home, oxygen mask at the ready in case of breathlessness. Access was not the usual informality. I was interviewed briefly by Anita, the duty care-worker, who looks about twelve yeas old. She asked me if I had visited China or Italy recently, or did I feel unwell? Since I have not and do not, I was admitted. I took care to squirt my hands with the gel-stuff, as per habit, or rather I would have done, but the dispenser was empty, and Anita told me they had run out. There was no chance of resupply either, she added ruefully, and the country was running out of surgical masks, all of which has left me wondering if I am missing something.

If this bug gets into the homes, the old folk are done for.

Anyway, he was quite the thing in his day, old Ches – sat on committees that determined international standards, so engineers around the world could speak the same language – well, except for you Yanks who prefer still to talk in feet and inches which we Europeans find rather quaint.

Yes, I do still consider myself European.

He looks a little more sunken into himself than the last time I saw him, and his chest is wheezy, the fags catching up with him, but he’s eighty-five now and not had a bad run for someone of his questionable habits. It’s only in these last years when everything seems to have fallen apart for him: wife passed on suddenly, his knees gone to arthritis, hands curling up the same, the breath being squeezed out of him bit by bit, as if by a weight on his chest.

He has kids somewhere round the other side of the world. They come and sit and stare at him once a year, like he’s a stranger. In olden days and other ways of working, there would be ample opportunity for his kids to live and work closer to home, and the generations would co-habit, tend to each other more closely and with greater compassion than we do now. But he’s better off than me in that respect. I’ve no idea where my kids are now, or what they’re doing. I send cards out for birthdays, but I’m not even sure I have the right addresses for them any more – they move around so much with their work. And their emails have started bouncing back. It leaves me feeling empty, disconnected.

I’ve always looked at Chester as a way of gauging my own prospects, physically, I mean, at some point in the future, and lately these visits have begun to focus my thoughts on contingencies.

He was always what we used to call a middle of the road Tory, and worth debating intelligently, though of late he has caught the fever of racism to which, like flu, his generation seems particularly prone. He has discovered an especial dislike of Eastern Europeans, though seems not to have noticed most of the kids looking after him are from that part of the world. He has also matured, naturally enough, into an arch BREXITEER, still salivating for a no-deal, and presumably a return to wartime rationing too, which I cannot believe he remembers fondly. Given my own leanings in the opposite direction, we tend to avoid talk of such matters now, speak instead of technical stuff, as if we were still in the business of measuring things and that we matter in the world of work.

It’s an act then, yes, but he thrives on the illusion of it, lighting up as we converse.

Do you remember old so and so?…

But people are such liars, Rick. They lie to each other. All the time.

Yes Lottie, it’s true, we do.

Sometimes it’s the only way we can get by.

 

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coirelagan

Corrie Lagan – Isle of Skye

In the summer of ’86, I took a long drive to the Isle of Skye. I was 25 and my life had not turned out as I’d expected. I’d followed a clearly mapped course from the age of 16: a long technical education, and indentureship to a profession that paid reasonably well. On the surface of things then, give or take a near nervous breakdown or two, I’d nothing to complain about: my car was just a few years old, and paid for, and I had saved enough money for a deposit on a house. It looked as if I was on my way, but something vital was missing and it haunted me.

My life’s course had led me to the edge of the map, and when I turned it over I found the page blank. The map seemed to be saying, this is it, what more do you expect? But the world at 25 was featureless and boring, and the future looked equally uninspiring, empty of mental stimulation, and everything I’d learned seemed of no use to me any more.

It didn’t help I was between girlfriends, pining for the one I’d lost, and not yet daring to anticipate the next. She was supposed to be with me on that trip, but we’d broken up just before, so I was in a state of mind that guaranteed the world would appear superficial, oblivious to my existence and entirely meaningless. But, for anyone craving hedonistic distraction from a serious romantic breakup, the emptiness of the Western Highlands and Islands isn’t the best choice of trip, better by far if it’s a kind of oblivion and rebirth we’re seeking, which I suppose I was. Indeed, as the ever more stunning landscape of the Western Highlands swallowed me up, I felt my loneliness deepen all the more. But there was a kind of adventure in it, too and a freedom of movement and a spontaneity I might not otherwise have enjoyed. I had not arranged a string of accommodation for my tour, but trusted entirely to fate, navigating from one hotel to the next, looking them up each morning after breakfast in my quaint yellow Automobile Association handbook, and ringing from little red call boxes in the most exquisitely picturesque locations. The first hotel to have vacancies would determine my course for the day. Thus it was, by a somewhat circuitous route, and after several days’ motoring I wound up in Mallaig. From there an old Calmac ferry brought me across the water to the Isle of Skye.

Skye is always a revelation, no matter how many times you see it, and though I have not seen it for a long time now, it remains fresh in memory, and for good reasons. Skye cradled my loneliness, not exactly comforting me, but inviting me instead to analyse what it was I felt. Its mountains had something of fairyland about them, something remote and beguiling, yes, but they were also brutal and I knew I was not up to exploring much beyond the foothills. This is where generations of British have trained for high adventure, and is not a place for the faint of heart. Even the rock of which Skye’s mountains are made will  flay the skin from your fingers, and tear your boots to rags.

All journeys have a trajectory to them and we can feel the turning point, the moment the outward leg finds its conclusion and turns for home. Mine came on the climb from Glenbrittle to the mountain tarn of Corrie Lagan. It’s a walk that brings you to the heart of the Cuillin, and from there a choice of more daring adventures. But instead of pressing on up the great stone chute to Sgurr Alisdair, I sat by the corrie in the sun, arrested by the view, and the air, and an indefinable strangeness.

There were men on the opposite bank, soldiers, though not wearing any semblance of uniform. They had just completed a traverse of the Cuillin ridge – a monumental feat of courage, steadiness and skill – and were cooling off. One of them plunged into the clear waters and swam across to me. We chatted amiably for a while, which was kind of him as we were clearly different species; I was a skinny, milk-white office-drone, far from home, and he a bronzed, muscled warrior for whom the whole world was home, and though we looked of a similar age he had already done and seen more than I ever would if I lived to be a hundred.

I realised too the island, and Corrie Lagan in particular had begun transforming my loneliness into a deeper longing, but not for company, at least not of the mortal kind. Nor was it the stimulation of material things I craved, nor the excitement of high adventure, nor even the arcane machinations of career progression. There was, it seemed at once, a deeper and more subtle dimension to the world. I first glimpsed it reflected in the clear scrying waters of Corrie  Lagan that day, and I heard it in the voices, half imagined, echoing from the Cuillin’s savage rim.

True, I would never be a warrior, they said, likely never cross the Cuillin ridge blithely, with my hands on top of my head and I would probably never be a millionaire. My chosen profession already bored the pants off me and I had no girlfriend. But so what? Such vexations might seem important at the time, but in the great scheme of things they are at the very least subordinate to this awakening to a sublime sense of the inner world, a thing not unlike falling in love, a phenomenon whose existence the genus loci of Corrie Lagan acquainted me with, then sent me home with a mind to exploring it for the rest of my days.

You don’t need to climb to Corrie Lagan to find it, though its openings in places like that are more obvious than elsewhere and easier for the neophyte to discern. But awareness of its presence cuts in two directions. Yes, it grants a higher perspective on life’s experience, and it renders much of what we do, and the things that vex us, banal, when compared with the potential we all have for a much deeper connection with the inspirational power of our natural surroundings. But when we see the despoliation of the earth, and the detritus of our messy civilisations spilling endlessly into the sea, we feel also those vital portals closing, shrinking back from our crass presence. We realise then with a sense of panic and grief, the few who have awakened fully to that greater reality, and might guide us more surely towards it, may well be the last of us. And what use is that?

It’s thirty five years now since that trip to the Isle of Skye, and after all this time I would not want this latter point to be the sole lesson of a life’s journey, a kind of too-late warning to mind how you go when the avalanche is all but on top of us. The next few decades will tell whether the map of our collective future leads to better things, or to extinction, but there is no mistaking the fact that right now the world stands on the cusp of great change, materially, socially, politically and ecologically. It could go either way but while pessimism is always tempting, especially given the things I have seen, in spite of myself, I am holding on for something infinitely more hopeful.

 

 

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hartsop barn

When he was writing his iconic guidebook series, Alfred Wainwright gave the region east of Ullswater, Patterdale and Kirkstone, the rather exotic title: the Far Eastern Fells. It has something of the romance of old Empire about it, suggesting a region both aloof and mysterious. For two years he explored it in his characteristically painstaking and solitary manner, finally penning the last full stop of this, his second volume, in the Autumn of 1956. On its completion, he said, he felt like a man who had just come home “from a long and lonely journey”, describing a land in which he had walked from morning till dusk without sight of other human beings. It’s not quite so lonely a place now, but still a good choice for anyone wanting to escape the queues on Striding Edge.

“They are for strong walkers,” these fells, he says, “and should please the solitary man of keen observation and imagination”.

far eastern fellsIn the 50’s this region was very difficult to get at, especially for anyone, like Wainwright, without a car, and that means most people. Overnight accommodation was sparse, still is, being mostly restricted to the Patterdale valley. He relied on bus services from Kendal, and wild-camps overnight. But over-nighting on the fells for Wainwright did not involve a tent, just a blanket and endless smokes until first-light. He walked in tweeds and hobnails, and his waterproof was a button-up plastic Mackintosh. Today’s mountain rescue teams would feel obliged to consider him mad and deliver a stern lecture, but his was a more rugged, unassuming, and self-reliant generation, one that brushed off hardship. It was thus, lightly attired, he explored every nook and cranny, and of an evening he would settle down at home with pen and ink and fashion for us entirely by hand these neatly intricate and fastidiously detailed guidebooks which, like no others, are a timeless love-song to the land of the lakes. They are also of course a lasting inspiration to the generations who have followed him up the English mountains.

As he wrote his guides he worried they would soon become dated beyond use, but many an experienced fell-walker still defers to them when planning an expedition. They provide a wealth of detail, all of it conveyed with great charm. For once though, I found Wainwright of little help. I was planning a walk over Satura Crag by way of Hayeswater, then on to Angle Tarn, but the crag only manages a footnote in book two, it being really neither here nor there, just a neat little crown of crags on the way from one much bigger place to the next. It’s more notable for the view than for the climb – as we shall see – but let’s pocket our Wainwright for company anyway, and off we go.

We begin in Patterdale, at the beautiful little hamlet of Hartsop. And it’s here, I read with some sadness the notice beseeching visitors to take their bags of dog-poo home. It seems the plague of bagged-and-scattered dog-poo has reached even Hartsop now! I have imagined the spread of a crass urban greyness in many ways over the years, contaminating the sublime green with something unwholesome, but discarded bags of poo were not anticipated, nor even imagined, yet they do sum up this socially degenerate phenomenon very well, both in its physical manifestation, but also metaphorically, and even spiritually.

The climb begins at once on an unrelentingly steep track by Hayewater Gill, which, after an hour or so, leads us to the somewhat troubling revelation that is Hayeswater, a post-glacial lake, nestling in a valley at nearly 1400 feet. Why troubling? Well, it’s hard to say, but I’m not the only one to have thought so:

ENFOLDED in the mountain’s naked arms,
Where noonday wears a drearier look than night,
And echo, like a shrinking anchorite,
Wanders unseen, and shadowy strange alarms

Visit the soul ; there sunshine rarely warms
The crags, but only random shafts of light
Flit, while the black squalls shrilling from the height
Shudder along the lake in scattering swarms.

Cradle of tempests, whence the whirlwind leaps
To scourge the billows, till they writhe and rear
Columns of hissing spray ; the wrinkled steeps

Scowl at the sullen moaning of the mere ;
And luminous against the dale-side drear,
Ghostlike, the rainstorm’s scanty vesture sweeps.

hayeswater

Hayeswater from Satura Crag

So wrote Alfred Hayes of it in 1895. And the watercolourist, Heaton Cooper, writing in 1960, agrees it can be rather a sombre place. Heaton Cooper also writes of an abundance of wildlife here but that seems nowadays lacking: deer and pine-martens and birds, including cormorants, fishing for the lake’s salmon. Indeed it has an altogether more barren look about it this morning – not even sheep. There are sketchy paths that trace its shore, but it’s not a place that invites closer acquaintance and I have never been tempted by it. So we avoid the “sullen moaning of the mere” and keep to the sunnier path that winds its way up by The Knott. Here at around 2000 feet, we encounter the path connecting with the Roman Way on Highstreet, and head north. Far below us now, Hayeswater still broods, while the southern sky thickens and dissolves the warm, cloudy-brightness of the morning into something altogether more gloomy. The Met office forecast rain for 15:00, and it looks like they’re going to be right.

I realise that, like most of my walks in the Lakes, I last did this route many years ago. I also remember it as being rather easier than it feels today. As we age, we trade our fitness for “experience”. Yet it’s experience that enables us to savour places such as these all the more and it’s unfortunate then it’s this lost fitness that’s required to carry us up here, thereby curtailing our opportunity for over-indulgence in the Lake country’s mystical delights. But such convolutions aren’t getting us any further along our path, are they Michael? On we go then, the hard work of ascent behind us now, so we can enjoy an undulating and entirely unambiguous path all the way to Satura Crag. From here, northwards we get a view of one of Lakeland’s most secret valleys: the seldom seen and ever so lonely Bannerdale.

It’s a mostly deserted place, just the one lone farm at Dale Head, a white sentinel against the green, and around the corner, at the opening of Rampsgill, there’s the historic hunting lodge, built in 1912 for a visit by our game-mad cousin, Kaiser Willy. The lodge is for hire. It boasts “interesting plumbing” and costs £1400 per week at peak. As a base for exploring this remote region, I can think of nowhere finer! However, I do admit to preferring my plumbing as boring as possible.

angletarn

Angle Tarn

Continuing our way, we come down to Angle Tarn for lunch, an altogether cheerier prospect than Hayeswater. Indeed Wainwright declared this to be one of the finest tarns in Lakeland. Even in gloomy weather, it never fails to make me smile. There is something truly heavenly about it, un-shadowed by soaring crag, it reflects the mood of the sky perfectly, speaking of which, as we settle by the shore, the sky darkens, and a wind stirs the surface to an animated silver.

I was probably twenty five when I first came this way, living at home with my mum, and just a rusty old Cortina to my name. Now I’ve got kids as old as I was then, my mum’s gone, and my whole life down there in the mad churn of the world is completely different, yet right now, and from this elevated perspective, I’m reassured a vital part of me remains the same, that there is little to separate that earlier walk from this one, for such is the magic of the fells, always stripping away the egoic delusions of who and what we think we are, and dismissing too the imaginary constraints of linear time.

The best walk is always the next one, and all walks are equally memorable, yet remembered in no particular order, so for a time, we are indeed ageless. Wordsworth wrote of this in more penetrating form in his “intimations of immortality”, that it is indeed possible to recover what we feel we have lost to time. But for that to mean anything to us personally, I think we need to have a spent a life-time wandering the high-ways, among these gaunt cathedrals and echoing amphitheatres, listening to, or rather feeling, what it is they have to say to us.

Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, its fears,
To me the meanest flower that blows can give,
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.

Thank you William.

But we’ve burst seventeen hundred words now, which puts us considerably to the north of verbose, so far as this particular medium goes, and here we are still, up by Angle Tarn, munching on a butty like we’ve not a care in the world. It’s also looking like the rain’s going to catch up with us any second. We don’t mind that, though we might give the Pikes a miss, and just shamble our way down to Boardale because, although we’ve only done about four miles so far, it feels more like eight, and we’ve another three back to the car which are going to feel like six. And maybe it’s time we bought a better pair of boots, maybe even a pair of Scarpas like our old ones. But it took us twenty years to wear those things out, and they still weren’t worn in by the time they fell apart, and have we even got another twenty years of blisters in us?

Sure we do.

A fish leaps, lands with a splosh and focuses down our attention to the mindful moment. Then the rain comes on, its “scanty vesture” advancing earnestly, across the fells, raises a hiss from the clear waters of the tarn. Hat’s off to the Met office; they forecast this five days ago, and they’re only half an hour out. How do they do that?

It’s a firm rain, but soft on the skin and warm. Then comes that rich scent from the earth, something fecund and exhilarating about it, like a fine malt whiskey. Sure, there are worse places to be than the Far Eastern Fells in June. Even in the rain.

Three miles still to the car, did you say?

They can wait.

Hartsop vire to threshthwaite

Hartsop

 

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southport sunsetSo,.. out walking with my phone in my back pocket. Not a good idea, cracked the screen and killed it. On the upside it’s a Chinese ‘Droid, so it didn’t cost much, and all the important stuff was saved to the removable memory anyway. All told then, nothing lost and in true consumerist tradition I threw it away and ordered a new one from Amazon. This was Sunday, just before midnight when I placed the order, standard postage, nothing special. I was thinking it would do me good to be without the phone for a bit – teach me to be more careful. However,…

Next day, Monday, a bank holiday and there’s a white van outside come mid-afternoon: ‘Sign here mate’. Package delivered, and I’m holding my new phone in a state of bemused awe. Okay, this doesn’t happen with everything you buy off Amazon – and you usually have to pay a premium for next day delivery, so I’d clearly hit upon a set of fortuitous circumstances here, but it illustrates how the machinery is gearing up to provide us with an instant gratification. But is this what we really want? Given the direction things are moving in it seems to be what we want, and it’s impressive, but do we really need it? And rather than being served, are we not merely being used, abused and generally hoodwinked into expectations that are ultimately self destructive?

While I was sitting in my garden, sunning myself all Monday, the guy in the white van had been up since dawn, sorting his deliveries out, then sweating on one of the hottest days of the year while fighting his way through bank holiday traffic along with so many other diesel belching white vans, each making their own manic deliveries, and all so we could get our stuff faster than we really needed it. But before doing his bit, it was another guy pushing a trolley in a warehouse to get my thing, his feet and knees killing him, the machine counting him down to a telling off for going too slow, that he’d better hurry up, keep pace, deliver more stuff to replace all the other stuff he found last week that’s already been thrown away.

But don’t worry about the human exploitation angle. In the near future, our stuff will be picked and packed and bagged entirely by machine and given to a drone for delivery. No humans involved. We’ll all be living within an hour’s flying time of a fulfilment centre by then, and the thing will be dropped off to a landing zone in our back yard, or maybe we’ll be fitting delivery chutes to our roofs and they’ll be as ubiquitous as chimney pots. Then we’ll be grinding our teeth if the drop’s five minutes late, berating the quality of a drone that struggles to make time against a howling gale. Total time to fulfilment? a couple of hours, and we’ll be looking to cut that in half. The infrastructure will facilitate it, and we’ll get used to it, and expect it, whether we really need it to be that way or not.

So, safe now in possession of my new phone, having been without one for all of fifteen hours – and ten of those asleep – I drove out to the coast, secure in the knowledge it was tracking my every move and could guide me back home if need be. But the coast, on the evening of a Bank Holiday Monday was like the aftermath of a rock festival – litter strewn as far as the eye could see. The promenades were thick with it, the beaches too. You could even see outlines in it where the cars had been parked and all this discarded stuff had just spewed from the open windows. Fast food cartons, plastic bags, blobs of ice-cream,…

Feral seagulls feasted on all the food waste, and what they missed the rats would get come fall of night. The tide was coming in; scent of the sea, scent of disposable barbecues and recreational weed. In a few hours the beaches would give up their filth, and the sea would gulp it down, vomiting it back up wherever the ocean currents took it.

While the machine pioneers pioneer ever faster ways of telling us what we want, then getting it to us ahead of when we want it, whether we really want it, or need it, or not, the aftermath of a bank holiday Monday provides no better illustration of the price we pay for a society hooked on consumption and instant gratification. And the price we pay is this: we are drowning in our own effluent. And it’s too late to do anything about it because our heads are so far inside this box now we’re losing sight of the light of day.

We all had our phones out, taking pictures of the sunset and cooing over it while stepping around the trash. I took a picture of a waste bin, dwarfed by mountains of rubbish piled beside it. I was thinking to post it here, but it turned my stomach, so I deleted it, kept the sunset, posted that to Instagram, self censored like everyone else, so I can go on pretending the world is still a beautiful place.

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tree of life and yin yangI’ve been reading a paper by Roger Jahnke, a much respected author of many works on energy  medicine, and Qigong –  a rare sane voice in a field otherwise beset by fools and charlatans. The paper is quite technical and discusses research into how the body functions at the cellular level, how it sometimes fails, and how it repairs itself. It basically says Qigong is good for you, and then presents the evidence.

There was a lot of hype a while back about Genetics and the mapping of the Human Genome. We were told you could read the profile of a person’s DNA then tell them what illnesses they were going to get, even when they were going to die. It was a scary idea and only the life insurance companies really took to it with enthusiasm. For the rest of us, it was a depressing concept; here’s the roadmap of your life, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

But now we know better. Your DNA can present you with statistical data on those ailments you’re most susceptible to, but whether you fall foul of them depends mainly on environmental factors. In fact we have about the same number of genes as a rodent, but there’s clearly a great deal of difference between a person and a rodent, a lot more going on in the maintenance of our well-being than the bare facts suggested by a DNA profile.

What do we mean by environmental factors? Basically stress.

When early man roamed the wilderness with his bow and arrow, his stresses were obvious – an angry bear, a hungry lion, the threat of being killed by another man. Faced with an immediate and obvious danger of death, the body responds by pumping you up, it sets the heart racing and readies you either to fight for your life, or to run like the wind.

We still have this “fight or flight” response, but in modern living the things that scare us are less obvious. A powerpoint presentation in front of the top brass? The ever spiralling cost of utility bills? Rumours of redundancy at work? A two hour commute in heavy traffic? An endless list. But how do you fight or run from such things? You can’t. Modern man is presented with a new kind of predator, one against which the old responses are useless – indeed worse than useless, because if you don’t physically fight or run, your body’s response becomes toxic and makes you ill.

The fight or flight mechanism is Yang. It’s active, dynamic, hot, and potentially dangerous. It can burn you out. It pumps you up and it says: “Do something!”. But without balance, Yang is indiscriminate and self destructive. Fight or flight is important, but should be used wisely, and for that we need the Yin side of our nature. Yin equates to the body’s “relaxation response” – the mirror image of “fight or flight”, like the nestled tadpoles in the yin-yang symbol. It’s natural and we all possess it, but modern living  causes us to neglect it, to belittle it,… even to laugh at it.

Techniques like meditation, yoga and Qigong work by awakening the relaxation response – defusing and dissolving toxins, encouraging repair rather than corroding us with the bitter acid of a million nagging worries. The methods are quite easy to learn and they allow the mind to enter the whole body, to sense it, to enjoy its vibrant aliveness, and to soothe the parts that are tense and troubled. Over time, the stillness these methods induce becomes a part of who you are and you no longer see the old stressors in quite the same way. You react to them with more discernment. Instead of terrifying, your old enemies begin to look jaded and foolish.

Internal methods like Qigong are taken to their extreme in martial arts. When skilled opponents face one another, they do so, not in a state of tension, pumped up with the fight or flight chemicals, but in stillness. When action comes, it’s swift and purposeful, rising forcefully out of stillness. And that’s the healthy way to live: acting when required but out of a more general stillness, rather than being forced to run like the rodents those early geneticists tried to tell us we were, forever moving, jumping at shadows, for ever reacting to life’s imaginary enemies.

So stop. Think. Breathe.

Relax.

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