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Posts Tagged ‘mind’

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To become conscious of one’s self is in part to journey along a path towards the realisation of one’s absolute invisibility. More than this it is also to realise everyone we meet along the way is invisible as well.

No one can ever truly know another person. No one else can ever know what we feel, or think. All we can know of each other is what we express through the inadequate means of the physical body, through what we say, what we write, how we move. But how good are we at expressing ourselves? How good are we at interpreting expression? In a sense, we are all prisoners, isolated, and tapping on the walls of our being, that others might know of our presence. But for all of our efforts, the greater part of our selves, the vital part, remains invisible.

So, when we meet others in physical reality we always do so on terms that are mutually delusional. I think I know you, and you think you know me, but we are only projecting our own prejudice and predispositions onto one another, so seeing in each other instead murky reflections of our own shadows, which are by turns attractive and repulsive. As relationships develop with our more favoured companions we might feel justified in saying we come to know them well, but again it’s only their habitual modes of expression we are familiar with. We will never know what they are thinking or feeling, nor they us.

It’s a necessary revelation, this realisation of one’s invisibility, also a good starting point, the assumption what we say, or what we’re hearing could be easily misinterpreted even to the inverse of what is actually intended. It should make us more cautious, more searching, more conscious of our selves and the effects we might be having on others. It might also make us more forgiving.

There are two sides to reality. There is what we perceive and express in the physical world, and then there’s what we feel or imagine in the inner world, the world of the psyche. We each of us sit at the boundary of an inner and an outer world, and neither reality can be excluded from any true description of the totality of human experience.

But the senses have the effect of drawing us out towards embracing more and more of physical reality, until we identify with it completely. We dismiss the inner world, the world of imagination and dreams, as meaningless, indeed as being “unreal”, since it is not “physical”. Thus we close off the door to inner reality, imprison ourselves in the physical and we suffer accordingly, because the physical world can never fulfil a need for completion that is entirely psychological in origin. Mankind’s suffering in the physical world knows no bounds and is increasingly suggestive of our eventual annihilation. Worse, there are many physical scientists today who express the belief consciousness itself is an illusion, that although we might cherish the sense of our own being, in fact we do not exist at all, and never have. How can we not despair? Not only are we trapped in the prison of our minds and invisible to others, we are led to believe there is no one out there either, not even our selves.

But we do exist. We are invisible, yes, but we still have a profound effect on the physical world. Everything that was ever built, or made began as an idea, and ideas are born already fully formed as insights in the inner world. In order to give birth to them we must express them into physical reality through drawing or writing or construction. But without the idea occurring in the first place, nothing would be built or drawn or written down, and the world would be entirely as nature made before mankind ever came along and began to shape it. And ideas are the stuff of minds, the stuff of that realm we would dismiss as unreal.

The danger for all of us then is the same as it has always been. It is to forget we are invisible and to believe the form we express in physical reality is the sum total of who we really are, similarly that all forms are more real than the ideas from which they were born, that happiness can come only in the endless pursuit of material form, that the solution to all our problems can only come from the discovery of yet one more “thing” in physical reality, and that thing will have a form and a name ready made.

It wont.

Cultivating an awareness of the inner world is important if we want to live a better life, and see a better society, one that more closely reflects our potential in positive ways. The realisation we are all invisible is a useful milestone. But we do not need to withdraw from life into monkish caves in order to ponder its implications, only realise it is the quality of our ideas that determines the richness or otherwise of life. The best of us is realised as ideas that rise from the deeper layers of the psyche, the worst from the regurgitated scum of a shallower kind of thinking, a thinking that expresses itself as an habitual will to power. But I think we’re starting to know that side of our selves a little better now. I think we are all becoming more conscious of our selves.

Only when we realise how invisible we are do we begin to see each other, and the world more clearly.

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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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Manet

Back in 1977, when I was training in an engineering workshop, my mate ran his finger up a bandsaw blade. He swore and I fainted. I told everyone I’d had no breakfast and maybe that was why I’d fainted -only admitting the truth to the work’s doc. He was an old guy, long steely grey hair, an incongruous hippy type – a real-life Gandalf. He said I’d be okay, told me to get back on that bandsaw right away, and that I’d probably benefit from learning how to meditate.

The advice about the bandsaw made sense, but I ignored the bit about meditation because I had a fairly rational head in those days. When I think back it was probably the most sage piece of advice I’ve ever had from a medical professional. It was to be years later though, dropping a bottle of Prozac into the bin and wondering what the hell I was going to do next, that I finally took his advice.

By then I was struggling with panic attacks. You sit in a cinema, a theatre, a lecture at college, a presentation at work, and you sweat, you shake inside, you fear losing yourself, you fear drawing attention to yourself. You also fear getting cornered by the consummate bore and being too polite to tell him you’re busy, so you sit there, quietly tearing yourself apart while his interminable tale drones on, when what you really want to do is stick your finger in his eye and run away screaming – all of this behind a serene smile.

Scary, isn’t it?

I lasted a couple of weeks on the Prozac. Its effects were dramatic. They calmed me for a while, helped me to keep working, but I was not myself, and this intruder who was not myself took over my self, decided it no longer needed to sleep, that it was okay to do pushups in the small-hours of a workday morning, then decided it was in the mother of all panics and hanging on by its fingernails, needed a doctor more urgently than it had ever done before. This was definitely not me, so the Prozac went in the bin. (don’t do this without talking to your doctor)

So I talked to my doctor, but found him time-pressed and unsympathetic. He told me the medication would either help or it wouldn’t. Well, it wouldn’t. The message was clear: I was on my own; mental health issues may be ruining your life, but unless you’re thinking of taking your life, the amount of support you can expect is patchy. This was 1992. The only difference now is demand is even greater for fewer resources, and we are better at pretending they are not.

Gandalf’s advice finally broke through: I bought a book on Yoga, which introduced me to meditation. Meditation looks complicated, sounds mysterious, and seems bound up with a lot of transcendental, spiritual stuff. But the physical practice itself is straight forward, and it worked. I’ll probably still faint at the sight of a bloody injury, so don’t come looking to me for first aid, but the panic attacks are a thing of the past. I lead a fairly normal life, most of the time.

You don’t need a guru to learn meditation. Even self taught from books, meditation has an immediate effect on the mind, but without “messing” with your mind in the way anti-depressant medication does. In meditation we try not to think , or we try at least to separate ourselves from our thoughts, and to realise we are not our thoughts.

With a panic attack, we think we’re going to faint, when there’s no physical reason why we should – the pulse rate goes up, we hyperventilate, we experience dizziness; with obsessive hypochondria we think we have a fatal illness which we assemble from otherwise innocuous symptoms and we convince ourselves we are going to die; with obsessive behaviours we think we must carry out an action in a particular way or a set number of times and we think that failure to do so will cause something bad to happen. Thinking, especially faulty thinking, has lot to answer for. It can make us really ill. It can ruin our lives.

Meditation was developed to correct faulty thinking, admittedly more on the transcendental, spiritual level, and therein lies the problem for many in the west, and for two reasons: in the west most of us have either cut the spiritual dimension entirely from our lives, drained the vessel dry so to speak, or we have adopted a narrow, entrenched religious view that does not encompass spiritual philosophies borrowed from other cultures; we have filled the vessel instead with concrete, one that does not permit the natural convective dynamics of exploration and change.

So let me defend meditation by saying it acts upon the mental life, and we need not attach any spiritual significance to it at all. It’s just that in eastern cultures there is less separation between the mental and the spiritual realms. Meditation also acts upon the physical body by freeing up energy consumed in vast quantities by a frantically thinking brain. This is why, when we meditate regularly, we feel less drained by life.

You can find “how to” material on meditation just about anywhere online for free, including my own notes, here. We must meditate every day for it to have any meaningful effect, and we’ll most likely feel resistance to this notion when the pain inside us realises what we’re up to, but persistence pays. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of encountering what was once a sure-fire trigger-situation, and realising we’re looking it calmly and squarely in the eye, unshaken.

And just in case you’re a tough guy who thinks meditation is for girls, remember Kung Fu fighters meditate. It gives them an edge. It’ll give you an edge too.

Think about it. Or rather don’t think!

Meditate!

Thanks Gandalf.

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bearded man 2Men are not alone in suffering from mental illness, but the fact they do suffer is effectively suppressed by everyone in society, including the men who suffer. There is a stigma about it, the result being men deny the facts and are afraid to seek help. There are of course many forms and degree of mental illness, not all of which end in tragedy. But all mental illness, especially if borne in silence, will not only thwart the life chances others take for granted, but it will deny us even the basics of a happy life, one lived without the daily fear of some imagined calamity.

When we suffer from mental illness we become emotionally useless to those around us, also angry with ourselves for being “weak”. There is also a mysterious energy about it, and if we don’t take steps towards healing, it will form itself into a powerful vortex, sucking us down into an ever decreasing spiral, diminishing our chances of ever getting on with a normal life. We may begin to self medicate with alcohol or other drugs, self harm, manifest irrational, compulsive behaviours, and in the worst of cases begin to think suicidal thoughts.

It’s a remarkable fact that throughout all of this we will appear to be functioning well, turning up for work, doing a decent job, smiling, being nice, and bringing home the bacon. But it’s a mask. We are skilful at evasive tactics that get us through the day, avoiding the trigger situations we associate with our anxieties. All of this comes before we seek help, if we ever do – and 80% of us don’t. When we eventually stop functioning, we do so suddenly, catastrophically, and no one, including us, sees it coming. The really sobering fact here is that mental illness is not rare. It’s very common. One in five of us is suffering, right now. It’s just that nobody ever talks about it. How crazy is that?

So what do we do? Well, like all illnesses, much falls upon the sufferer to acknowledge the problem. Everyone experiences lows in life, but they pass. Mental illness is different. It settles in. If you’ve been feeling inconsolably down or on edge for months, let alone years it’s probably a good idea to talk to your doctor. That’s the litigiously-aware, super-sensible advice – go speak to your doctor, because what the hell do I know? But the reality of state primary healthcare services is that the time, sympathy and understanding one needs to sort things out properly will most likely be lacking. If you’re lucky you’ll get a hastily scrawled prescription for anti-depressants, and a referral to psychological counselling. The waiting time to your first session will be in inverse proportion to how much you managed to frighten the crap out of your doctor with what you told him, so don’t hold back because you need that referral, and you need it fast!

But sadly, again, the cash strapped reality of public mental healthcare is that it can backfire when you feel you’re not being given the necessary face-time with a competent or at least half way human counsellor, that you’re not being listened to, that indeed you never see the same counsellor twice in a row, that you feel you’re being fobbed off with drugs that aren’t right for you, that your regular sessions are broken up by spurious cancellations on their part, when, if you miss a session yourself, no matter what your excuse, you’ll be kicked into the long grass and left there to rot.

Then, those anti-depressants become your only hope, and are not to be sniffed at as they enable one to keep going without taking time off work, and more importantly having to explain why. Me? No, I’m fine! Just a touch of flu. But they don’t work in all cases, didn’t work for me, turned me into a zombie and robbed me of sleep for weeks on end. It also gave me pause how relaxed my GP was about putting me on them for life, careless of the risk of serious side effects and little or no supervision. But if you’re in a situation where you’re thinking of taking your life, they might just save your life and you’d be unwise to reject this option. It’s just that when we’re suffering from mental illness, we don’t always act wisely. We react instead to fear and to the isolation imposed on us by that illness.

Because of my  negative experience with mental health services, I’ve always been leery of the long term medication route, also guilty of labelling mental health care professionals (unfairly) as lacking empathy and being ruled by the same tick box culture as everyone else these days, merely there to fudge you off their books as a successful intervention with the minimum of time and effort, because time and effort costs money – and there isn’t any. Instead I became a lone survivalist, hunkered down in my flimsy home-made refuge with a handful of improvised weapons to keep the demons at bay. But they they bought me time, and time and effort is what it takes. There’s a lot we can do to help ourselves, and a lot of free information online these days to demystify those demons.

So ask yourself this: do I want to get better? The answer might seem obvious, but some of us are so benighted and so closely identified with our illness, we lack the mental focus to even understand the question. Once we accept the need for healing though, then proper healing can take place, but it won’t come solely through the intervention of a healthcare professional, or from out of a blister-pack. These are merely some of the tools at our disposal, to be used wisely and mindfully – mindful of the fact that even a doctorate in psychology does not give the other person a clear window into your head.

Mental illness is different to other illnesses; it does not attack the body directly, it attacks the soul and its methods are as unique as we are. Indeed it uses us to attack ourselves. It confuses us into thinking we are nothing more than the pain we feel. Unfortunately the defences we can deploy will seem as bizarre as the illness, indeed they will require the adoption of a frame of mind as irrational as the malaise under which we labour. Therefore, again, we encounter an internal resistance, because the possession of even the knowledge of such techniques is a tacit admission of the need to deploy them in the first place.

Such is the bind we find ourselves in! But anyway,…

As a first step we must dis-identify with our illness. The pain, the fear, the debilitating isolation, the strange compulsions, the damaging thoughts. These things are not who we are, they are just thoughts. Even if they threaten to kill us, they are still merely the things we suffer from. If we can find the space within ourselves to step back and say: no, I am not that, then we’re already moving in the right direction.

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fortune telling“Why prove to a man he is wrong? You can’t win an argument, because if you lose, you lose it; and if you win, you lose it. You will feel fine. But what about him? You have made him feel inferior, you hurt his pride, insult his intelligence, his judgement, and his self-respect.” *

So Deepak Chopra reminds us in his introduction to Dean Radin’s latest book: “Supernormal”, in which Radin turns the spotlight of scientific rigour onto the so called siddhis – the paranormal side effects reported by experienced meditators – things like Psychokinesis, Presentiment, and Telekinesis.

You don’t believe in this sort of thing? Perhaps those words even embarrass you? Well, just hold on,… belief isn’t a word I like to use. I need to have a reason for my thoughts, and that comes down to a mixture of knowledge, experience and – yes – intuition as well, but I think there’s a body of evidence now we can no longer ignore. But I’m not going to argue about it, and neither is Dean Radin. Radin seeks instead to build a body of evidence so large it cannot help but change formerly skeptical minds, like mine. Supernormal Perception? Materialism is wrong? How do you get that message across in the face of overwhelming prejudice to the contrary? Well, you don’t. You simply present the facts, and hopefully at some point the other guy, like me, will think it was his idea all along.

For now however, Materialism remains the prevailing scientific paradigm. It tells us we are the sum of our material parts, that even our thoughts are due entirely to mechanisms going on in the goo of our brains. According to this materialistic doctrine, our consciousness, our sense of self, is an illusion. In short we do not exist. But how can that be right? Of course we want there to be something more to the world than its materials, we want there to be something more to ourselves other than the goo in our brains. We want the ghost in our heads – the thing that keeps telling us we’re real – to be telling the truth: that we do indeed exist!

Materialism has been a successful way of looking at the world. It’s taken us from horses and carts to automobiles and aeroplanes, and from printing presses to the internet, but its core assumption that “material” is all there is renders it blind to evidence to the contrary, renders it dismissive of anomalous experience, renders it unable to grasp the idea that consciousness might actually be real, that it might be independent of any currently understood material paradigm. Thus materialism crosses the line from reason into more of a belief system. Then, like all belief systems, it runs out of steam, stranding us at a point in our evolution where it feels safe, but is unable to move on, unable to address anything other than what it already knows.

But there’s a growing body of evidence now that suggests materialism is an incomplete model of the way things really are. Materialists still pour scorn upon it because that is their nature, but the emerging picture is this: that the mind can indeed sometimes see around corners, that we do indeed have premonitions of future events, and we can indeed alter outcomes in the here and now simply by the power of the mind. The evidence resides, not in one or two flamboyant individuals with mesmeric stares and peculiar tastes in clothing, but in the population at large. It is a small effect, but reliably demonstrable in all of us. And Dean Radin, among others, has been demonstrating it for decades.

It’s nothing new. The evidence has been around since the 1930’s, and merely grows ever more persuasive with each fresh pass. Nor is this evidence anecdotal – it’s based upon thousands upon thousands of published trials, subject to scientific rigour and statistical analysis. But such is the power of the status quo, this is a body of work largely unknown, even today.

Why is any of this this important? So we can read minds at parties and amaze our friends? So what? But, if we can show that the mind is not confined to the brain – and I think we can – if we can show that its reach extends beyond the body and that it can extract information from the environment at a remove in both space and time – and I think we can – it has profound implications for our view of what the mind is, and how the universe works. It also changes our ideas of what we are, and how we might be capable of evolving.

The end-game of Materialism is intrinsically pessimistic: there can be no happy endings; the disintegration of organised matter is fact; we are all going to die and that is that, and the vast majority of us will live and die, our lives unnoticed. But to have confidence that one can explore the world, psychically, to intuit it, even to shape it, to be an integral part of it by virtue of the mind alone, places each of us back at the centre of our lives, and at the outset of a great adventure into the new and the mysterious. It also grants us the power of a self determination, and a psychical integrity that Materialism has long denied us.

It’s a dangerous idea.

We should be careful who we tell.

*Dale Carnegie – 1888-1955. Writer, motivational speaker, lecturer, author of “how to win friends and influence people”.

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