Posts Tagged ‘nerves’

Baoding ballsIn the 1954 movie “The Caine Mutiny” Humphrey Bogart plays the haunted, eccentric and much hated USN officer Captain Queeg. It’s a story in which Queeg finds himself up against accusations of incompetence lodged by his long suffering junior officers, two of whom he’s had hauled before a Court’s Marshal for mutiny. One of the most memorable images of the film is of Bogart rotating a pair of ball bearings in his hand as a stress reliever, while he glares moodily at his oppressors like a man possessed.

People manifest different habits when it comes to unconscious stress relief, not all of them quite so cinematically dramatic as Bogart’s ball bearings – biting nails, biting the inside of your mouth (one of mine), twiddling your hair, your eyebrows(another one of mine), or the ends of your mustache  or picking your toenails. Whatever the habit, it’s temporarily soothing for the doer, but it can be frustrating, even intimidating, for innocent bystanders.

A step up from Bogart’s ball bearings are the so called Chinese “healthy balls” [sic?]. These have the added curiosity of a chime built into them. As you rotate them against each other, you get a pleasing vibration in the palm of your hand – but again to anyone trapped in your company, the sound can be really annoying. I bought them because I liked the look of them, rather than believing they possessed any special healing properties, and I don’t play with them all the time – honestly.

Several of the major organs of the so called energy body have meridians that pass through the fingers, then through the palm of the hand and the arms, as they thread their way into the physical body. The constant dinging and vibration as you rotate the balls are supposed to stimulate the meridians which helps maintain a balanced energy body, which in turn regulates the physical body and keeps you healthy, hence the imperfectly translated: “healthy balls”.

That’s the theory anyway, and I should have an open mind about it, being otherwise such an advocate of alternative therapies, but my sense of smell which was temporarily restored by acupuncture, disappeared about a month ago and, in spite of continuing weekly sessions where I basically have pins stuck in my face, I’m now back to my old anosmic self – perhaps not helped by a stubborn chest infection. I’m therefore not really in a mood to talk about TCM, because I’m frustrated by anosmia – and for various other reasons as well.

Indeed, I feel very much like Bogart, oppressed and misunderstood, so I sit sour faced this evening, juggling my ball bearings. But the ball bearings are no good, Humphrey. You see, the frustration you feel creates a very negative kind of energy that you channel into the motion of those balls. It temporarily diverts the energy, stops it from damaging you, but the source is still there, eating away at you all the time, even when you’re asleep. What you’ve got to do is defuse it. Bad things happen you see? There is misfortune and suffering. That’s life, and its how we deal with it that’s the important thing. So take a deep breath, and let it go.

Well, that’s easy for you to say, says Bogart, but some things are just so goddamned awful, you can’t simply let them go, can you? Like your crew-members ganging up on you and trying to get away with mutiny by challenging your competence. But I think you can let it go, Humphrey. Indeed, I think we must. Lao Tzu said that if you’re frustrated or depressed, you’re living in the past, contemplating things that have already happened. If you’re anxious, you’re living in the future, contemplating what has yet to come. So, let it go, steady yourself in the moment. Let the sediment fall, then clarity will be restored. Stress and anxiety cloud the thoughts. They stop you from seeing straight, stop you from making the right decisions for yourself and others in your care.

I once asked a TCM doctor if those “healthy balls” were any good, since he had a pair on the shelf in his office, and of all people he should probably have the straight dope on them. And he said, well,… if someone’s annoying you, you can gain temporary relief by picking one up and hitting him with it. Other than that they’re probably useless.

By all means juggle your balls or twiddle your eyebrows, but letting go feels so much better. This is not to say we retreat from that which oppresses us, but if we can rid ourselves of the reactionary cloud of negative emotion, we act as we should – wisely, skilfully and in the clear light of day – rather than being influenced by darker energies, which will always waylay us and lead us into making bad decisions.

I hope I have the good sense to take my own advice!

Goodnight all.

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Being a holistic approach to coping with a nervous disability, a rejection of therapeutic druggery, and the values of secular society that would have us believe it alone possesses the key to the meaning of our lives.

In this essay I speak as someone who has suffered from a troublesome psyche since I was a boy. My earliest encounter with it was an inexplicable feeling of dread in large social gatherings such as school assemblies or church services, a dire panic at having to stand through hymn-singing because I had become irrationally convinced I was going to faint.

The medical profession call these episodes panic attacks and, since the 1990s, have controlled them with a family of drugs called SSRI’s. Two of the most common of these are known as Prozac and Seroxat. In fact they’re prescribed for a wide variety of emotional problems: anxiety, depression, or indeed anything that prevents us, emotionally, from somehow “fitting in” with the world. They work by altering the way the brain handles serotonin and essentially alter what an individual sees as stressful, like putting on dark glasses in bright sunlight. My personal experience of SSRI’s was brief and unpleasant though useful by way of being a formative experience, one that was instrumental in pushing me into a more holistic view of things.

I’ve never understood the cause of my own panic attacks, which somehow added to the feeling of helplessness when I was in the middle of one – but fortunately, their grip has slackened in recent years, and though I hate to tempt fate, I can’t remember the last time I had one – though the old defence mechanisms are still a part of my routine: when entering a room of people, say at a lecture or a music concert, I still naturally take up a position at the sides, by the aisles, and in line of sight of the exit, so I can leave with the minimum of fuss should I begin to struggle with myself later on. Even in my darkest days, I never actually had to make a desperate bolt for the exit, but reminding myself of these facts did not help struggling against the urge when the mood was upon me.

The problem morphed and splintered over the years into a number of other related manifestations. For example, at concerts of classical music, where the listening experience tends to be subtle and intense, I once developed the peculiar habit of wanting to swallow in order to ease a certain dryness of the throat which threatened to erupt into a cough. Swallowing would then become compulsive, and had to be repeated every few seconds until I lost all sense of pleasure in the music. Thus, concerts that should have lifted the spirit left me feeling only jittery and ashamed of my weakness. I would also sometimes suffer a peculiar sensation of imbalance when walking into a room full of noisy people, say at a party or in a crowded restaurant. Outside I would be fine, or if the room were empty, but in a gathering of people, my legs would become strangely tense and wobbly and the floor would become like the swaying deck of a ship. And again there was the situation of being cornered by the consummate bore, the person who told you everything about his life from birth to the present day by way of answer to even the most succinct enquiry. How often have I found myself trapped, not listening, for what seemed like hours, afraid of breaking out into a sweat, afraid of a dizzy spell coming on, and too polite, too sensitive to the bore’s feelings to break him off abruptly, stick my finger in his eye and run screaming for fresh air and freedom?

Yet another peculiar manifestation once concerned my driving. Many years ago now, I suddenly discovered that at certain key points of my daily commute I would experience the very real sensation that my forward motion had been arrested and that I was slipping backwards. This last peculiar episode was perhaps the most frightening because, unlike all the other “trigger environments” driving was not something I could easily avoid: it threatened my freedom to get about.

Somehow though, one muddles through, unable to explain to others for fear of being labelled a nutter,… and the medical profession unfortunately, I always found to be less than helpful. For all the good intentions of the British National Health system my personal experience of it is an inability to deal with any illness that does not show changes in blood and urine samples or cannot be quickly fixed up by a few stitches, a plaster cast, or a dose of antibiotics. There was a doctor, some twenty years ago, who listened to me for all of five minutes. I seemed barely to have begun explaining myself before the man was confidently writing up a prescription for what turned out to be the new cure-all wonder-drug: Prozac. For a few days this was my one and only foray into the chemically adjusted reality of the then modern age. My experience of it was short lived and, though rather distressing, I view it now with all the detachment of an impartial observer, and with the magnanimity of one who has learned his lesson.
For a time it was like putting on a warm straight jacket. A bomb could have gone off and I would not have cared, nor I suspect would I have moved, except perhaps to glance up slowly and brush the dust from my clothes. I was stoned, literally, it seemed, turned to stone. Unfortunately it also stopped me from sleeping, for sleep is a human thing and stones have no need of it. After about a week of doing pushups into the small hours, in order to wear myself out, in the vain hope of encouraging a collapse into a fatigue induced stupor, I experienced for the first and only time in my life a profound sense of drug-induced despair. The whole experience of the medication was far more emotionally disturbing than the occasional fit of the jitters I was trying to cure, so the Prozac went into the bin.

Nowadays I no longer trouble the medical profession with any ailment that I cannot point to such as a sore thumb, or a swollen eye. Of course, this probably means that if I contract a fatal disease I shall probably die from it – but the chances are I’ll die from it anyway, so I’m willing to take the risk.
My slow road to regaining control over my life began with the memory of an experience from my first year as an engineering apprentice, in the latter days of the 1970’s. While doing basic training in manufacturing processes, a colleague injured his finger on a machine. This caused him to swear and me to faint. I was seen by the work’s doctor as a precaution and he advised me to get back on that machine as soon as possible, and to consider taking up some form of transcendental meditation. The machine part made sense, but the meditation did not. I possessed a very rational mindset in those days and I rejected anything that was not grounded in material “fact”.

But always, I wondered.

Later, following the Prozac episode, I overcame my overwhelming prejudice and bought a book on Hatha Yoga. I learned a few basic postures and some breathing exercises, and much to my surprise, they seemed to work. The jitters did not entirely pass, but they were suddenly subdued, and the fact I had discovered at last some means of holding them at bay was itself crucial in changing my life. I turn to Yoga now, and other esoteric practices, whenever I feel the jitters coming on and the jitters duly pass. I’m afraid I’m not disciplined enough to practise all the time and I’ve never attended a Yoga class or anything, but even doing these exercises in a half-assed way, succeeds where the medical profession failed completely, either due to lack of time or interest. To be clear, the jitters are still there, for it seems it’s a part of my nature to incubate them, but I am no longer at their mercy, and I get by.
Perhaps after all of this I have given the impression of my being a twitchy, jumpy neurotic, the sort of person you’d easily pick out of a crowd, the one who leaps a mile whenever anyone says “boo”, but you’d be wrong. People who know Michael Graeme’s alter ego (or is he mine? I forget these days!) describe him as “laid back”, to quote the vernacular, which always makes me smile. Appearances can be deceptive you see? Next time you look into the eyes of someone you think you know remember this: you do not know them at all, though you might like to think you do. What you see is a mask. The reality lies somewhere beneath and that reality might both surprise and disturb you.

I say I don’t really understand the origins of my own particular neuroses, and this is true, at least in any detail, but in a broader sense I think I understand them well enough. Psychologists tell us a neurosis is born as the result of an event that we find uncomfortable, frightening or embarrassing. We may no longer remember what that event was because we’ve shoved it deep into our unconscious mind and we’re pretending it never happened. We hide from these things, but the unconscious is very good at remembering what we would otherwise choose to forget, and so we are never truly rid of our skeletons. They become suppressed, and therefore troublesome. Once this happens we’re stuck unless we can afford the time and the money to have someone painstakingly analyse us and expose our fears for what they are. Personally I’ve not gone this far. I probably would if I could afford it, but I’m just an ordinary Joe, and psychoanalysis is a luxury for the wealthy, for the people whose mortgages and pensions haven’t been screwed by twenty years of robber-barron economics. It’s for the ten percent of the population currently sitting at the top of the global financial food chain, rather than the rest of us who are sitting nearer to the bottom, and sliding ever closer into ruin.

So, I live with it, and for most of the time, I’m as happy as the next person. On the positive side, I have sometimes found my neuroses useful, and looking back over the years I see a definite pattern to their awakenings. These patterns correspond to changes in my life, changes of direction when I’m sailing close to the wind, when I’m involved in situations or relationships that are likely to do me harm. In a positive sense then, my neuroses can be viewed as warnings to change course, now! Or else! Unfortunately though, we are all prisoners to a way of life and to some extent also the life choices we have made, and changes of direction are not always possible, no matter what our unconscious is throwing at us.

Personally I’ve come to believe that our natural inclination as human beings is not to live in the sort of society that the secular west is becoming at all. I believe we are meant to live a much freer, more open sort of life, closer to nature perhaps, less regimented, less structured, one where people are free to engage with their spiritual or psychological sides without being exploited, brainwashed or just plain hoodwinked by either charismatic charlatans, or organised religions. Too much conformity, too much of doing what we’re told, rather than what we please is bad for us. Bad for our psyche, bad for our spirit. As Aleister Crowley once wrote [and I paraphrase]: If it harms no one, (and presumably this includes ourselves), then we should be able to do as we like.

My first brush with the pain of compulsory conformity were my school days, which I hated with a passion from beginning to end. I was taken from the meadows and woodlands around my home and placed in the stifling confines of primary school. It was to be the first of many yokes – each one telling me I could not be what I wanted to be. I could not even have the time to think about what I wanted to be. There is a system to life you see? It imposes itself upon you. You do not shape it. It shapes you. So we become, not really ourselves but a mask in the form of what we believe, or what we are taught will be acceptable to society. We measure our words, we do not say what we feel, yet at the same time try to convince ourselves that we do believe in what we say. The illusion is complete: Individual and society engaging on terms that are mutually delusional.

Then comes work and marriage and children, and mortgages and pension provisions, so you will not starve when you grow old. And all the time a part of you is thinking: I’m really not meant for this. There’s something else I was supposed to do with my life, except there’s no longer any time to remember what it was. I do not care about money or fine houses or fashionable cars – easy for me to say perhaps: I have a roof over my head, not a big house but a nice one, and I drive a seven year old car, but – I think I’m old enough now to understand the trap of our possessions. All I have ever really wanted is to be free, to think my own thoughts and simply “be”, without having to speak in a manner that I believe will be pleasing to someone else, so that I won’t get fired or be thought of as strange. And I’ve long held the belief that my own neuroses are the inevitable consequences of being entangled in a world, in a system, and to a lifetime of conformity that I was not designed for.

If this is true, then there are an awful lot of people like me, and I fear my own neuroses are as nothing compared to those endured quietly by others. If you count yourself among our number then this essay’s for you. It may not bring you much comfort beyond the reassurance that you are not alone. But also I hope I can show you that far from putting you on the outside of life, your differences actually make you all the more a part of it than the seemingly happy majority who have never experienced the power or the horror of a sudden volcanic eruption from their unconscious mind.

For a person to suffer under the pressures of our society does not mean that person is in any way weaker than others,… just more sensitive to the absurdities and, to be quite frank the sometimes outrageous indignities we have to endure. Are we the crazy ones or are we simply the only ones left with eyes to see?

It is no measure of health to be to well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.

J Krishnamurti

I’m too old to have any illusions about our way of life in the west, which since about 1985 seems to have been slipping into a sort of neo-conservative, survival-of-the-fittest, free market, free for all, one in which it’s assumed we’re all out to get whatever we want regardless of the heads we must trample in order to get it. But I refuse to join in such a cynical and demeaning game, and am presently trying to see my way through to retirement in as inoffensive and inconspicuous a manner as possible. Then, I tell myself, I’ll have a couple of decades to savour my freedom and soak the neuroses out of my system, that perhaps then, in the brief decades remaining, I will finally remember what it was I was supposed to have done with my life.

But the way of life that supports us has shown itself to be founded on a philosophy that’s no longer sustainable, and it looks like the financial securities we took for granted twenty years ago simply won’t be there when we finally come to rely upon them. Indeed, our politicians are presently laying the groundwork for an argument intent on convincing us that some of us may never retire at all, and if we insist on doing so we will live in a sort of grey poverty until the end of our days.

For all my dislike of our way of life, I always had a faith in its reliability. I may not like it I thought, but the system seems to work, well not any more. In five years time the mortgage on my house will mature, and after paying my dues to the building society every month for the past twenty five years, it looks like I will still owe as much as when I started. The financial mechanism that was to provide the money needed to pay it off has simply collapsed. As an example of the utilitarian depths to which our financial institutions have now stooped, I contacted my mortgage company, trying to find the best way of sorting things out, the way that was going to be least financially crucifying, but they refused to advise me, claiming it was no longer their policy to do so. They could sell me a “product” that was of benefit to them, on their terms, but their responsibility went no further than that. I suppose I was naive for even asking. My mortgage payments have now trebled.

Also, the same financial system that was to provide a pension in old age, I discover can no longer do so unless, again, I treble the contributions I make. So it seems all the promises that were made have now been broken by the small print that basically absolves the financial vendors of any responsibility. In the 1980’s we dared to harbour dreams of retirement in our fifties in order to pursue the things we all wanted to pursue, outside of the world of mundane work, but twenty years later we are waking up to the reality of a life spent in debt and servitude, for the term of our natural lives.

My apologies for the rant, but generally what I’m trying to illustrate here is that, these past years, and especially since the turn of the century, society has shown itself to be in state of undisguised crisis. There is a climate of uncertainty, and fear. Indeed we find ourselves subjected to an apocalyptic vision in which we dare not move or even breathe for fear of armageddon – either from a terrorist outrage, or a climatic upheaval of Old Testament proportions. Both government and increasingly influential fundamentalist religions seem united in encouraging this belief.
Now, in a sense all of this comes as a relief to me because it suggests I was not wrong to have spent my whole life viewing the world with an attitude similar to one of politely enduring the irritations of an obnoxious relative. The truth is out; it wasn’t just my imagination: he was obnoxious after all!

Life goes on, but there is an appalling sense that the future will be radically different from the one we imagined. And I’m not talking about the threat from global terrorism. In spite of the terrible outrages perpetrated in recent years, you’re still about as likely to die at the hands of a terrorist as you are from being struck by lightning, and far more likely to die as a result of a drug related gun crime, or a stupid car accident. What I’m talking about here is the death of hope, the death of meaning, and the loss of any dreams of comfort by way of compensation as we enter the latter part of our lives. What need have we to sit and think, to while away our latter years in idle pleasure,… when we could be earning our keep and paying our taxes until the day we drop?

Depressing, isn’t it?

If you suffer from your own neuroses, take comfort from the fact your sufferings are not your fault. They are perhaps the result of a society imposing something upon you, asking you to accept something as being normal that your natural self, perhaps your unconscious self finds simply too outrageous to bear, but is too polite to say – so you’ve swallowed it and it’s been giving you indigestion ever since.

Now, there’s not much I can do about the slow demise of western society, the breakdown of the family, the flood tide of drugs that lay waste to entire communities, the philosophy of slash and burn economics, or the rise of meaningless terrorism against which there appears to be little defence other than a knee-jerk leap into the Orwellian nightmare of a techno-totalitarian state. The social exterminations wrought by the utilitarian swings of the global economy are equally quite beyond my influence. I’m just an ordinary man tapping words into an old computer. I cannot save your mortgages, nor your pensions, and if the retirement age is jacked up to seventy five, or even abandoned altogether, there’s not much I can do about that either.

What I can do however is reassure you that it’s not your fault, that the jitters you feel are the natural consequences of enduring something that is alien to the nature God gave you. What you can do, however, is accept yourself for what you are. The jitters, the neuroses,… these are differences in you that serve only to affirm your humanity. They do not separate you from anything other than the false idea of conformity to some rosy image of what a normal human being is supposed to be like.

My own neuroses over the years have carried messages for me that I was too deaf to heed at the time. You’re going the wrong way, Mike, they said. Pull back, stop, turn the car around! Meanwhile poor Mike couldn’t imagine what was going on. He didn’t have a stressful lifestyle, he wasn’t some ruthless, corporate go-getter, and his marriage wasn’t on the rocks. So what was it that got under his skin so much that at times he wanted to scream?

In this sense, my neuroses seem to have had the same intent as bad dreams, not just the expression of an anxiety, but a clue also regarding their cause, and cure. The agoraphobic is perhaps the most illustrative of the meaningful malaise. I’ve known a few agoraphobics over the years, and this condition for the sufferer, and their loved ones is no joke. A normal, attractive, healthy person becomes by degrees less confident in dealing with the world until a state is reached where the whole world is viewed with such anxiety that the person withdraws completely, feeling safe nowhere outside the bounds of their own home. They get by, day to day, but survive in a sort of prison of their own making. It is a total disengagement from a reality they have come to abhor. In order to be cured the agoraphobic has to lose their dread of society, or at least become more accepting of it.

But what if it’s society that’s at fault?

What if it really is better to withdraw than to sup with the devil himself?

For me, it was the school assembly and the church service, a lack of comprehension and a total reluctance to be away from the things that meant most to me in my childhood. Conformance was demanded, but as a result I have always been stubbornly elusive when it comes to committing myself to anything I do not wholeheartedly believe in. The trouble is, there seems to be so little worth believing in, so I slip through life unconnected and uncommitted to anyone or anything outside of my own close family. The only exception seem to be my writings which bear witness to life through these, my own eyes.
I did not rationalise it this way at the time. I only knew I was afraid of something, afraid of the inexplicable physical manifestations, the tension, the dizziness, the increased pulse. So the physical symptom, the sense of strangeness, became the thing to be feared, and for many years the root cause was overlooked.

The medical books tell us that our flesh and blood bodies have developed a physical response to things that frightens us. Our heart-rate goes up, we become tense, poised ready either to fight for our lives or run like hell. But how can you run from a reluctance to conform? How can we run from the demands of our society, from the responsibilities we all have and which inevitably involve facing up to things we’d really rather not do? Indeed we’re conditioned to accept this as a normal part of our lives. But equally we hate it.

It’s easy to stand up and begin whining on behalf of everyone who’s experience of life has left them jaded and jittery, but that’s not really my aim here. My aim is more to look at society and ask the question, what is it that we are afraid of? We have no control over the life we are born into and therefore it seems cruel that we should come up against circumstances over which we have no control but which nevertheless are sure to drive us mad – not all of us perhaps – just those unable to adapt or to cope well enough with the reality of the world as we see it.

In my own case, it has always been a fear of emptiness, that our lives mean nothing. It has always been my desire to explore life in a way that was most meaningful to me. This seems to be a thing that gains the approval of my unconscious because time spent in focussed introspection is time rewarded with a sense of calm, while time spent dealing with the day to day chaotic scatter of a workaday life is punishable by tiresome neurosis – at least it was until I came to believe that there was indeed nothing more to society than a chaotic scattering of half-bakedness.

To be sure, it’s a closely guarded secret that “society” is not actually the purpose of our lives at all. It’s more the stage on which we play our life out. It’s when we come to believe that somewhere in society might lie the secret of our purpose that the problems begin. Society itself holds no meaning whatsoever. If we want to experience any sort of genuine fulfilment, then we have to provide that meaning for ourselves as individuals. True purpose is the indefinable belief in something “other”, something outside of society, like the guiding hand of a beloved parent. When we let go of our parent’s hand as children, we suffer the bewildering crowds as they swirl around us, careless and oblivious to our need. We fear the loss of ourselves, the inability ever again to feel the warmth and the sure guidance of those we love. We fear losing our centre, losing our self.

Now and then, when I’m feeling particularly tired and jittery I will experience a moment of complete disengagement. It can be anywhere – in a meeting at work, in a restaurant, or when chatting with others. It comes suddenly – a sense of shifting outside of myself and of leaving behind only a disorientated shell, a shell momentarily paralysed and fearful for its existence, alone in these strange surroundings without a guiding psyche. It is unlike a daydream, for in daydreaming the action always takes place inside one’s head. What I call the disengagement of my soul is quite different. In disengagement of the soul,… the soul seems to momentarily slip out of the host.

I might be fearful for my sanity, prone as I am to such episodes, but I’ve experienced them since childhood and they seem to have done me no harm. They are not, then, a symptom of advancing madness, but more perhaps a looseness of grip. The feeling is one of bearing witness to a dream, a feeling things are not real and that I need to wake up and find my true self, my true reality, except of course the self that is dreaming protests that it is the real self and I’d better hang on to the dream because it’s all there is!

Well,… such are the storms that periodically sweep this particular mind. The worst thing is the suspicion that I am alone in these experiences, that only the inmates of an asylum can experience anything worse, but of course I am far from alone, and my storms are as nothing compared to some – rendered sluggish perhaps by the chemical quagmire of Prozac or Seroxat, but there all the same.

Now, it might seem a little childish, harking back to pre-school days as being the happiest of my life, or later, the temporary freedom of those delicious six week summer holidays when the time stretched out each morning, an infinity of choice, and when each day was a pleasure sipped like fine wine. But you can’t live like that, can you? You have to make a living. You have to contribute to your society by paying your way, and paying your taxes. Of course you do, but what you must not do is look to society, nor even to the people around you, to provide the meaning in your own life.

As Margaret Thatcher once famously said: “there is no such thing as society”. Now, I’m not sure in what context this was meant to be taken, but from one particular angle at least, I find myself in agreement with the Iron Lady. Society is an abstract concept of varying parameters that are entirely dependent upon an individual’s perception. Society does not feel anything. It does not look down upon individuals with either compassion or contempt. It owes us nothing, as we owe it nothing beyond our legal dues. It is simply an organisational structure, and I’m afraid to say that in modern secular terms this boils down to people who are either customers or salesmen. How many times a day does your telephone ring with someone trying to sell you something? In short, there is no meaning to the secular society beyond a system of financial transactions.

The only practical advice I can offer, if you don’t do it already, is to do as that old medical officer told me, mysteriously, so long ago, and that’s meditate, which is really no more than sitting quietly and alone from time to time. Some people buy books and tapes and learn to do it in the way of the great meditative traditions, while some go to classes, and this is fine if you can make the time, because the deeper you go the better. Do it every day if you can. If not, if like me the kids burst in, or start to whine every time you sit down, then just do it whenever you can, even if it’s only for a moment. And when you’ve done it, remember that the way we live our lives does not provide the meaning to our lives. Meaning is what we carry in our hearts. It is personal, meaningful in a way specific only to ourselves. Others need not share our vision, or indeed know anything about it at all. Our vision, our sense of meaning is ours alone.
In meditating, we cut back to the centre of ourselves, we reach out for the hand we let go of at the moment of our birth, the only thing connecting us to something safe and sure in a world that is otherwise completely bewildering. That hand is there for each of us and it has nothing to do with this world at all,… it is completely beyond it. We have only to touch it in our minds, for a kind of enlightenment to ensue.

And it goes something like this:

If contemporary society truly possessed the meaning of our lives, it would not offer it back to us for free. We would have to pay for it, and the price would be so high that only a few elite individuals would ever be able to possess it. Or, it would be owned by a mega-corporation that might allow us to pay for it in instalments over a lifetime, with the promise that, like our homes, it would eventually be ours. However, there would probably be something in the small print that absolved the mega-corp from any responsibility when at the end of our term it presented us with a dog eared piece of paper with the number 42 written upon it.

[if unsure Google 42 “meaning of life”]

But the meaning of life is not a thing, not a number, not an equation, nor is it an explanation of any kind, for there is not a question that can be adequately framed to solicit anything approaching a satisfactory answer. It is much simpler than all of that. It is a state of being, a state of grace, and I’m sorry but that costs nothing at all, and it is the birthright of every one of us. What is it? You know what it is. Just sit still for a moment, close your eyes and listen to the sound of it coming from that space between your ears, and no, I don’t mean the tinnitus! Maybe you can even see it with your mind’s eye, but rest assured, if you sit there often enough, pretty soon,…

…. you’ll begin to feel it.

Michael Graeme

April 2007

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