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Posts Tagged ‘thinking’

IMG_2745As I sit here in this garden, staring out at the sea, I realise with some disappointment the perfection of the world can only ever be approximated by the descriptive eye. Blue does not describe the sea today, nor any day, nor grey nor green. It is too approximate. The fancy writer can borrow from the artist’s pallet, attempt words like cerulean, indigo or cobalt, but these suppose the reader is familiar with such flowery synonyms and anyway they similarly fall short of being definitive. We also have teal, turquoise, beryl, utramarine, aquamarine. I take a chance on Beryl, but find it comes in two shades – one blue green, like I imagine a clear tropical ocean, and the other closer to sapphire and how I imagine the cold Atlantic on a sunlit winter’s day.

This is a warmer blue, a mid-blue, I suppose, but threaded with sinewy bands of a paler hue, tending towards – all right – towards aquamarine. These bands are also of a finer, smoother texture than the wide expanse of mid-blue which is finely stippled with the grey of wavelets. But in the time I have taken to describe it, it has already changed, a pool of something paler in the broad sweep of the bay opens up as the waters steadies, and the tide slackens. It will be different again in a moment, and in a minute, and in an hour as the light changes and this July afternoon deepens towards tea time. There will never be a moment or day when it is the same as it is now, this moment in time.

On the horizon, gliding south, seemingly on the line between sea and sky, there is a coaster, long and low and white, a handful of pale pixels in the great scheme of things. The sea, this same sea, will be different out there as it butts up against the clanking, rust streaked hull, a different dynamic to the passage of a ship and the turn of water and the way it catches light.

A writer might as well just say the sea was blue, or perhaps grey, if it was that sort of day. More useful is to accept the transience of the moment, its indescribable nature, and instead to read the sea for emotion.

Warm and languid, that’s the North sea on this sunny afternoon, under a long hot, clear skied bake of sun. Just now a pleasure cruiser out of Scarborough, bobs into view. It’s white, with Britannia bunting hung from fore and aft masts, Union Jacks fluttering. It has a jolly, perky feel about it. But when we feel the scene we have to realise we are seeing ourselves reflected in it and that once again we are failing to see the beauty of the world as it truly is, with acceptance and abandon.

I have never seen as many varieties of birds as I have this afternoon, just sitting here in the sun. I have a handful of names for birds but my vocabulary, such as it is is entirely inadequate. I resist the camera. I do not want to capture them for later classification. I try not to want to know their names in case it robs them of their  beauty.

And then we have the scent. To a former anosmic, the reintroduction of scent into the world is a dramatic thing, nothing short of revelatory, and one simply must know the source of every scent as if greedy to restore lost memory. It has a sweetness to it, like a freshly mown lawn, but drier somehow, a little dusty, damp and warm – though how scent can be dusty I do not know. It’s the wheat, I think, the vast expanse of it, like a straw coloured foreground bowl that contains the sea. The wheat is stagnant, stupefied by the heat, animated only by squadrons of wood pigeon that over-fly it in number. It is hauntingly aromatic – haunting in the way it triggers memories of childhood summer dusks at play in harvest meadows, memories forgotten until now, in passing.

Four thirty and the shadows lengthen to a few yards. The eastern face of the house affords cool and shade now. And though I continue to write, to scan my lines, I am not thinking of anything, desiring nothing but the eternal elongation of this moment.

But I suppose I shall have to be thinking soon about what I want to make for tea.

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thumbnailOnline social media highlights and exploits our universal human vulnerability, that we all want to be someone. We all want to be recognised, liked, admired, and generally believed to be an awesome human being because we think that, in the acceptance of our awesomeness, we’ll find escape from the horror of anonymity and obscurity in the face of inevitable death. Of course it won’t work.

We are none of us really anybody in this narrow sense. Even those admired and cow-towed to are no different to anyone else. They have their own problems, their own duel with death, one they’ll eventually lose like the rest of us. Then they’ll be forgotten, and even so little as a hundred years from now, no one will care. Many a good and talented man has gone to his grave unknown. It’s a sobering realisation, one we must face and understand why an obscure life is not necessarily a wasted one.

One of the pictures I recently put up on Instagram got forty likes. Experience tells me it’ll not get many more. It’s a about my limit, and seems to be a function of the number of people you follow and the amount of time you’re willing to spend liking other stuff, or somehow gaming the system. But it’s no big deal. It is, after all, just a picture of a hat. Sure, pictures of other people’s hats can garner tens of thousands of likes, and how they do that remains a mystery to me, but it’s still just a picture of a hat and as such will never confer immortality.

My Instagram account leaks a few clicks over to the blog, which in turn leaks a few clicks over to my fiction, which is why I’m on Instagram in the first place. It’s also why I blog. They are both subtle lures to my fiction writings, coaxing readers now and them into my fictional worlds. But my stories are not important either, at least not as influential tools to shape the zeitgeist, nor even just to trumpet my awesomeness. I leave that to others, more savvy, sassy, whatever, and dare I say, more celebrated for their craft.

My thoughts are perhaps too convoluted for a sound-bite culture to make much sense of, and I’m conscious too my outlook, though sincere, may be no more than a mushy blend of pop-philosophy sweetened by archaic Romanticism. The importance of the work then lies only in what it teaches me, and I’m coming to the conclusion what it’s teaching me is how to recognise those useless egotistical compulsions and to rise above words, that the forms of thought we pursue so doggedly throughout our lives, are just shadows of something we will never grasp. It’s not a question of lacking intellect, more that the brain is altogether the wrong shape to accommodate what it is we crave.

You don’t need to write to reach the same conclusion. You just need to live your life as it was given to you, and develop a mindful approach to it. I’m not talking about that self-help-how-to-be-a-winner-in-life kind of mindfulness either. It’s more simply an awareness of our selves in life, and the way we react to situations, and how we can tell if those reactions are the right ones or not, if they contribute to a general transcendence of this fear we have of living, or dig us more firmly into the mire of it.

It might sound as if I’m some way along the path towards nihilism, but nihilism isn’t helpful, other than as a place to bounce back from. Yes, so much of what we are capable of seeing is indeed unimportant, but the world is also rich with a transcendent beauty we are equally capable of recognising, at least in its more lavish manifestations, say in the natural world. And perhaps progress in the right direction is simply our ability to find such transcendence in smaller and smaller places. Indeed perhaps the ultimate success in life, the ultimate awesomeness, is the attainment of absolute obscurity, and the ability to sit alone, quietly, to stare closely at your thumb nail and go:

WOW!

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barcode

Here’s something to think about. You’ve pushed your trolley round the supermarket, done the big shop, got a pile of stuff and now you’re going to put it all through the checkout. You say hello to the checkout guy/girl, they take the first item, scan, then slide it down to where you’re waiting to bag it up.

This is where things become interesting.

You don’t want to look like a dope, so you pick the item up and bag it quick. The next item comes at you a little faster than the first, but you get it in the bag before the third item is coming at you. But the third item is a little faster still, and this time you don’t quite get it in the bag before the next item’s coming at you. You speed up, the checkout person speeds up too. What kind of game is this? Who does this checkout jerk think they are, pushing you like this?

Well, it’s easy enough to understand, once you see it from their point of view. The checkout guy/gal doesn’t want to look like a dope either, so the faster you pick up that first item, the faster they’re going the scan the second. The faster you go, they faster they think you’re expecting them to go. Maybe they’re thinking you’re a grumpy old git hissing at them while they struggle to find the barcode on that packet of crisps, or maybe the barcode won’t scan at all, or maybe the machine’s playing up today.

Not a word’s been said, but both of you are struggling now with negative perceptions of one another, both feeling threatened, and all simply because nobody wants to look stupid.

Insecurities start with negative perceptions, not just of others but of oneself. I can be a bit slow, especially when it comes to thinking on my feet, so when others are rushing about making decisions, or talking fast at me and expecting me to pick up complex information, I feel vulnerable, threatened, and this awakens the ego whose job it is to put me back on the pedestal of my supposed competence, and from which I feel I’m slipping. Ego tries to make us feel safe by making us feel strong. But mostly it ends up making us appear either mean or stupid.

Here’s another illustration. I called into a coffee shop, asked for a coffee. It cost £1.75. (Pay attention now) I offered the girl a fiver but she’d no change. So I pieced together £1.75 in bits and bobs, including coppers, from the corners of all my pockets, and gave it to her. She kept my fiver and gave me change (which I’d thought she was short of). I’ve no idea how much change she gave me, exactly, but it seemed a lot. I was now very confused and queried the fact she’d kept my fiver, even though I’d just given her the £1.75, and what was all this change, and was that right, and could she explain it to me?

She looked a little nonplussed, and gave me my fiver back. This didn’t feel right either, but I was also feeling self conscious and stupid for not getting it by now , so I walked away with my fiver, plus the change. As I went I made a rough assessment of the change, and it amounted to well over £5.00, but some of this was mine to begin with, so whatever the nature of the misunderstanding here, I felt sure I was considerably in profit.

I returned to the till to say I felt there was still a mistake, and could we start again? At this point however, the Maitre D became involved and, from the sourness of her expression I guessed she thought I was attempting to take advantage of the girl. I did the best I could, returned all the change that was in my hand – hers plus whatever unknown quantity was my own, but kept my fiver. I’ve still no idea if I actually paid for that coffee, and if I did, how much I’d paid for it, but I had the feeling throughout my drinking of it that I’d overpaid, and yet, paradoxically, that my custom wasn’t welcome any more because I’d tried to pull a fast one.

The girl had been a little slow, and so had I, neither of us with bad intentions, but the assumption of maleficence on the Maitre D’s part, or at least my imagining of it turned a quiet coffee into an embarrassing ordeal and a resentment of the Maitre D’s ugly cats-arse mouth which even now I’m struggling to expunge from memory. I was polite throughout, Ego wouldn’t let me get away without feeling a fool, and without making me promise (to myself) I would never frequent that establishment again – actually the coffee wasn’t that great – gave me indigestion – and the Maitre D was a real sour-puss, so this won’t be a problem at all.

But we can see how quickly the tension mounts as soon as we feel vulnerable and lose our basic trust in the good intent of others. To live well and happy lives we have to assume the other person is like us, wanting to do the right thing, wanting to help when needed, and maybe spread a little happiness along the way. Nor must we feel threatened by our own shortcomings. (I never was any good with money)And we have to assume that if we’re struggling, and we ask for help, others will be big hearted enough to help without strings or questions.

You might say, however, approaching each day with a naive trust in everyone’s best wishes makes us vulnerable to the con-merchant. But if someone cheats me, even though it’s obviously my loss, it’s not really my problem. My problem is how not lose touch with myself, or lose balance when things start to fall apart and my abilities are tested.

This isn’t easy of course when every day our email inboxes are infested with suspicious junk that wants us to “click here”, when scammers ring us up at home claiming to be from our bank in order to steal our money, or when the car insurance renewal notice arrives and you query it because it seems expensive, and they instantly knock off the two hundred quid they were trying to cheat you out of anyway. It’s not easy when even the State takes your children and saddles them with a lifetime of eye-watering debt because they wanted to get a university education. So, yes, I admit, it’s even more tempting than ever to capitulate and retreat to a defensive position, crouch behind the barricades, simmering with anger or quivering in fear.

Except,…

How can we live like that?

If at least in our every day interaction with the people we meet, we try to assume good intent, if we assume that should we struggle, others will help, and for no other reason than it’s the human thing to do, then we’re each pushing back the tide that sometimes feels as if it’s going to overwhelm us, swallow us down and wash us up as yet more zombified pawns, blind and amoral instruments of the machine.

So,..

Starting with the checkout tonight. Pick up that first item really slow, bag it like there’s all the time in the world, and see what happens.

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catrigg foss waterfallI chose Langcliffe for the start of the walk because the parking was free. Well, it was not exactly free; there is a donation box and I did donate, but the money I saved by not parking in Settle would pay for coffee later. This is austerity in personal terms, and rather petty I admit. Those truly struggling under austerity, and there are many now, would not have driven to the Dales in the first place because £20 worth of petrol goes a long way towards groceries.

It struck me recently we’ve been under the cosh of austerity since 2008. This tells me two things. One, it’s been a long time. And two, the ideology that’s driving it has either self evidently failed, or it’s driving us in another direction, that in fact it has not failed at all but succeeded in bringing about a state of political and social affairs that has basically reordered society into one that is less equal.

What this means in practical terms is penny pinching on a scale so grand our ears are filled daily with the sound of gears grinding as our machine runs down. There is a shrinking back to the Gradgrind-glory years of the Victorian era, an age when we sent little orphan boys up chimneys and down the mines to work the narrow seams, because they were cheap and expendable. We did not value life. We are being taught again only to value our own, that a person drowned in the Med is not a person, but something less than that.

Anyway, Langcliffe. This is a walk I’ve done before, many times: Catrigg force, the Attermire Scars and the Warrendale Knots. I wrote about it here. My return was on account of a free day and insufficient time to plan anything new. But with a familiar route, freed from the responsibility of navigation, the mind can turn to other things. The weather was promising, the morning peeling open after overnight rains to a mixture of sunshine and humidity.

Someone tried to get my email logins by phishing. I was sufficiently webwise not to succumb. Meanwhile the BBC tells me of a woman who was targeted by phone scammers, tricked into thinking her bank account was under attack and so sought to transfer funds to safety. She lost it all to the scammers. This leaves a sour taste.

This and Austerity. But are the two things not the same?

2008.

A long time.

Hitler was defeated in five.

This economic crisis is taking longer.

Unless it is not a crisis,

But a change of paradigm.

 

Some have grown fat from austerity, but most have grown lean. Then some have sought to join the ranks of the fat by foul and ingenious means, by preying on the poor and the lean and the hungry, because like in Victorian times the poor are once more cheap and expendable, and easily vilified into a thing less than human. Into perhaps a scrounger? Nobody cares about the poor.

But the beauty of the Yorkshire Dales managed to work a little of its magic on my soul. At Catrigg though, I felt unwell, my vision whiting out as I descended the shady sylvan dell, after strong sunshine on the open moor above. I don’t know what this was about but I didn’t panic. Were I to have expired alone at Catrigg, I can think of no finer setting.

He was at peace, they said.

As it was I sat only a while with a sandwich and fruit and quiet thoughts as the water roared through the narrow slit. Then, feeling better, I carried on.

It’s possible something has happened this summer. Many feel the way I do; fearful; alarmed by an ideology that seems unshakable in its grip, and which has razed the familiar ground, so there is no path now for my children to follow. Instead, they must follow the directions of the suited man with his slick coiffure and oily smile, and take their place in the minimum wage economy, regardless of whether they have a university educations or not.

It may fizzle out in a few weeks time, this thing, or it may lead on to a kind of rebellion. Not just here, but across the West and wherever the suited man sits fat. Men are appearing, dishevelled, articulate. Yesterday’s men, the suits tell us, but then they would. The dishevelled men fill assembly halls and football stadiums. They speak a language that is nostalgic to the old, yet new to the young. It will collapse of course, but not before it brings about a change in the other direction – I hope.

The walk is more up and down than I remember, more of a pull on the leg muscles, though I comfort myself this is probably on account of the stretching I did at Kung Fu the night before. In April you will find the early Purple Orchid sprouting in profusion along the base of the Attermire Scars. Today I found the delicate Hare bell, and other blooms so small one would need a glass to see them properly.

It was cold on the tops, a cold wind icifying the sweat on my back whenever I stopped, so I kept moving, munching a Kit-kat as I went. Dark chocolate and bright white limestone. The world could be going to hell in a handcart, quite possibly is so far as I can tell, but so long as I get my Kit-Kat of a morning, I can find it within me to remain magnanimous.

In the pastures by the Warrendale knots there were long haired cattle, reddish brown. Calves sat easy, nudged udders. One cow stood aside, silent and serene in expectation, as wide as she was tall, her calf still basking in the warm hinterland of the womb. A lone white bull moved among them. The path took me through the herd. I made delicate adjustments, startled none. A hundred tons of beef, but not aggressive. Had they the intelligence to be cognisant of their fate, would they have been so easy in my company? Had we been cognisant of ours in 2008, would we have been so easy too?

I return to Langcliffe, hill-achy and bone tingling tired. The church is having a sale of books and CD’s. I am searching for a copy of Belladonna. Stevie Nicks. 1981-ish. I could buy it online for about a fiver, but am holding off, thinking to discover it in a charity shop for £2.00. I have been searching for years.

Why so selective? I spend £20 on petrol for a walk in the Dales, but I won’t spend a fiver on an old CD that I tell myself I really want. Or is it that I resist the siren call of Stevie Nicks. Stevie is nostalgia.

My moods are mysterious.

I did not go into the church. I peeled my boots off, sat a while, let my feet cool, changed my shirt, then dropped the top and took the car across the moor to Malham.

There are moments of happiness. They come suddenly. Unexpected. It’s a rough old road to Malham from Lancliffe – quite a climb up the zigzags into a lonely wonderland of limestone country. The car’s done 80,000 now, still drives like new and with a punch on the climbs that delights and surprises. And then there are these moments, when we’re rattling along, I swear the tyres dissolve and we’re flying, and the land is not the land at all but clouds on which the scenery has been painted. Then the heart opens and I am smiling at the lightness of my being.

I stop for coffee at Malham, having joined some dots on the map. But it’s a strange country opening before us now. And 2008 is a very long time ago.

Anyway, let’s keep that drive

in mind.

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coffeecupFrom a corner of this corner coffee shop I command a view of two streets in this archetypal northern market town of mine, and mainly what I see are people lost in thought. And since we all have a habit of thinking in a way that is essentially corrupt, I’d say most of us are in trouble, most of the time. And the troubling thing for me is, I know what those I see are thinking because it’s all around them.

When I say “thought”, I’m talking more in abstract terms, as an outward expression of the human mind in the built environment. I’ve just come back from a walk on the moors, which has rendered me philosophical and still, and observational. Nature has been slowly reclaiming the moors since our forbears stripped the land of its trees in ancient days. The moors are not pristine, not yet a meditation entirely void of thought; you can still see traces here of what we think: the run of a fence, the straight line of an irrigation ditch sliced deep into the peat. There are traces too of the way we used to think: a ruined farm, tumbled now to something that resembles pre-history, thoughts of a way of life that was overtaken by yet other thoughts, thoughts of an economic expediency that rendered an entire way of living in those otherwise bleak wastes obsolete.

I pause at this point and read back over my words, try to decide if what I’ve written is what I believe to be true, or if I’m just plucking strings at random, searching for cute harmonies. I find no discord, find I do believe what I am saying, but then belief is never a guarantee of truth, indeed it’s every bit as vulnerable to corruption as the thoughts that give rise to it.

An image appears on the TV screen, the ever intrusive news bulletin, the ever intrusive informer of a particularly corrupt kind of thinking. It shows a masked man bringing down a sledgehammer, breaking up works of art that were crafted 3000 years ago. This act takes place in what was once ancient Assyria, and we are viewing it in my northern market town, several thousand miles away.

There are two versions of this story – one is that the masked man’s beliefs tell him these works are idols, that the highly literal interpretation of his belief system commands their destruction because they insult his deity. Another version of the story is that the potent imagery is designed to become a viral thought, carrier of a lethal pathogen, fatal to hope, carried far and wide on the winds of an ever hysterical media, greedy for such proofs of the world’s descent into chaos, and our powerlessness to act against it.

Idolatry. I hold with that thought for a moment, reminded of the journal of Margaret Wilson, an early Christian missionary to India who spoke of the love she had for her children being idolatrous, that it distracted her thoughts, tempted her away from the love of her God. In this she did not mean she loved her children any less, but that she was conscious of the difference and careful not to confuse the two. Such were the careful, self analytical thoughts of a religiously devout woman born two hundred years ago. There were idols aplenty in the community she served, and in which she eventually died, but she never sought their destruction. I watch these stone idols fall, smashed to dust in the early second millennium AD, and am saddened by their loss, by the apparent barbarism of our times. I realise too how the value of education lies not in the mere passing on of fact, nor even in teaching the young how to think, but also how to question and to test, independently, and without fear, for the trueness in one’s thoughts and the thoughts of others.

The high mountain is a meditation, crafted not from thought, but by nature. The water falls down the gullies in a way that is at times awe inspiring, yet no human thought, no master landscape designer decided it should fall that way. The lakes in the valleys too take their shape, not from the thought of man, yet they are infinitely pleasing to the eye and the spirit. They transcend us, yet they are also a part of us, triggering within a memory, as if for a forgotten love, a curious longing for that sweet, sublime perfection we have since the days of Eden, lost.

From the corner coffee shop my senses drown in thought. The built environment overwhelms me, with only a narrow slit of sepia sky to hint at greater things beyond. The road, the pavement, the scratty shops, all are the imperfect physical manifestation of our thoughts. The clothes we wear, even the shape of our spectacles are decided by the curious interplay of thoughts, thought somewhere, and by someone. But in achieving an inner stillness, I also see the pavements are broken, that in the side streets there gathers a tide of fast food cartons, that the roofs are missing tiles, that the grime washed render, once proud white, is cracked and coming away to reveal the scars of spalled brick underneath, that a man stands suddenly doubled over as if in pain, while another nearby, and apparently oblivious, holds a bucket for charity. The man is drunk, fails to vomit up his intake, then unsteadily joins the flow of passers by.

What are we thinking? Why indeed am I sitting here, a lone scribe with notebook while my neighbours text to others and play Candycrush to while away the empty time between movement from one place to the next? Are they thinking anything at all? And when they lift their eyes what do they see of the thoughts of the world? How do they interpret, filter, inflate, suppress? Do these thoughts we see inspire or depress the spirit?

What are you thinking, right now? How much of it is true, how much of it corrupt? And how would we know the difference anyway?

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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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henry cordierReticent and uncertain; are my ideas any good? I’m sure it’s a question many speculative writers ask themselves. The writing starts in uncertain circumstances, notebooks under the pillows of childhood, then creative writing homeworks for school, which must pass the red pen test of one’s English Teacher.

Mine wrote poetry – good poetry, at least the snippets he read to us in class on the brighter of his days, the days when he was not so scowly-stern. I wanted him to like my writing too, my poetry. That I respected him, feared him a little even, it meant a lot to have him pen good things in the margins of my homeworks. And of course  it hurt when the marks slipped below C for things I’d laboured long upon, while managing to miss the point entirely.

Mr. Jones. It was approval I sought back then from him. In my eyes he was a literary genius, benign sage, and caustic nemesis rolled into one. He was a man I could both hate and love, this man who whipped me through my English O Level. He was a God, or rather the channel through which I sought the approval of the Gods for my words – his red pen the arbiter of permission to think the way I thought.

But after the brightly coursing stream of education, one is discharged into the stagnant, murky mill-pond of life, and with no Mr Jones, the image of Godhead moves to the faceless publisher. For the next twenty years I sought approval there instead, but to no avail, for the God of publishing does not exist; it is therefore healthier to be an atheist in all our dealings with them.

In retrospect, I am glad now for the red pen of Mr. Jones, bright-curling round my spelling mistakes, even the pointed “see me” and the ensuing stern lectures on my use of grammar and punctuation, with ears burning, and the girls in class I adored all listening in. Oh, the humiliation! Could he not see how much I wished to be like him? that words for me were thoughts out loud, and my thoughts did not seem like the thoughts of other boys. Are my thoughts all right, Mr. Jones? Is it all right to think and feel this way? Why can I see the story of a man’s life in a worn out shoe, when others see nothing? Why is there pathos in a girl’s discarded bow? Tragedy in a rusted spring? What see you there, Mr Jones? And is that all right? Is that normal?

Revise use of comma, apostrophe and semi-colon, Michael. Watch your spellings!

But once you have the mechanics, what you think is what you think, what you see is what you see, and you need no approval to think or see, or write an account of it. Then writing becomes a matter of style and long practice, years of practice,… decades and decades in the dusty notebooks of adulthood. But the thoughts are yours and the fact of your existence alone is sufficient for them to be written. If anyone agrees or not, is moved or not, is a matter for the Gods.

You have no power there.

Mr. Jones never told me this. It’s something we have to work out for ourselves. Perhaps he did not know; perhaps it was approval he sought for himself, through us, by reading us his poems. With the benefit of long hindsight, I think this might be true, for I am much older now than he was then, and age, if nothing else, brings insight.

No.

Do not write for approval. Ask yourself only this: in seeking publication am I chasing validation of my ideas? If the answer’s yes, you’re labouring under a delusion. Nobody cares that much. If a publisher likes your work you are one lucky scribe my friend, but if he does not, it does not mean you cannot write, that your mind is dim, that your thoughts are third rate – only that the publisher cannot sell them.

So where does approval come from? One’s online readers? It helps if readers say nice things, but it’s as well to bear in mind they might not mean it – same if they assault you with brickbats. Of course the only approval that means a damn comes from you. Only you can give yourself permission to think out loud, to have the courage your thoughts are worth the writing down. It sounds complicated and crinkly-weird, but it’s really very simple. Just be yourself, sincere, then the Gods might come and speak to you, and ultimately through you.

Isn’t that right, Mr Jones?

Good poems they were, your poems.

Keep well.

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