Blog Archives

Metta Bhavana ~ Loving Kindness Meditation

I am currently trying to build my mindfulness practice, and today, for a change I tried a loving kindess meditation. There are various stages to go through, that end with you trying to hold yourself in the same loving kindness you have previously, in the same meditation, held someone else in. I used a person, and found it hard. I tried a pet, the cat to be precise and found it…

Well, I can’t really say. Meditation is not about words, so much, as noticing feelings. I noticed a very unexpected feeling, in the heart area, that stayed with me for a while. Meditation is also about accepting what is, without judgement, without attaching a story… that wouldn’t make much of a blog post however… suffice to say that the feeling was also painful. The meditation felt like it moved me from a closed heart state to a more open, but pained one. I am interested in this process, that’s why I’ve written it down. I will go there again, but not today. Will I go with more trepidation next time, based on today’s experience? Hopefully not.

It really is amazing what goes on with our bodies that our busy mind does not often allow us to notice. Yesterday, I decided to notice the soles of my feet as I walked round the corner with the youngest to the orthodontist (another post lies behind those doors). I decided to notice them, and appreciate them for all the hard work they do on my behalf for which I simply NEVER thank them. After only a few minutes of this walking whilst noticing what the sensations were, I can only say that the soles of my feet really appreciated the attention. Try it some time.

No-one need know.

Science as a belief system or a method of enquiry?

This is the central question posed by Rupert Sheldrake’s book The Science Delusion, and I think it is an extremely pertinent one.

I have, for a while, been losing patience with the attitude of media scientists (most particularly the irritating Brian Cox) who talk and write about their subject as if it were some kind of dogma rather than a body of knowledge and theory that rightly evolves with time. It is not so much that Cox and his ilk deny the evolution of knowledge. The fact is, I heard his honestly pointing out, when the neutrinos in the OPERA experiment at CERN appeared to travel faster than the speed of light, that science is a discipline wherein you merely remain at any given point in time less wrong than before. No, my petty irritation arises from the arrogant and haughty dismissal of any experience or possibility that sits outside the current scientific orthodoxy.

Sheldrake writes most interestingly on the subject of the mind, something that many scientists will insist exists entirely as a set of experiences formed in the brain through the activity of chemicals, electricity and neural pathways. In fact, there are some who will say that because they can measure activity in the brain before we make a conscious decision that any free will we may think we have is a delusion, our brain has already decided for us. Thankfully, there are scientists that understand, from their own experience and that of others, that there is a lot more to us, our minds, our conciousness than that. I heard a psychiatrist on the radio the other week likening the use of brain scanning techniques to understand mental illness with the idea that you would better understand the plot of Eastenders if you dismantled your telly to observe its wiring. Comparing apples and oranges? Well I suppose so, but they are both fruit and it’s an analogy with some mileage in it to my mind.

When I write ‘my mind’, I don’t mean only my brain – I am sure of it because I have observed my own experience. I might mean a combination of my brain, epigenetics, embodied cognition, collective conciousness and quantum mechanics. If I were to agree with Richard Sheldrake I might mean the field of my mind and morphic resonance too.

You see there is a lot more knowledge out there, up in the air, or wherever, but not just in our skulls than the orthdox scientific community feel compelled to enquire into. What’s worse, those that do enquire are given short shrift by the establishment. Richard Dawkins refused even to look at the evidence contained within Richard Sheldrake’s Science Delusion, let alone discuss what it might mean. Yes, the orthodox scientific community’s methods are superb for describing what goes on in the human brain but these descriptions should never be conflated with our understanding of why, or perhaps how.

Many scientific leaps have been made through close observation of experience and that includes the observation of trial and error. Many trials and a few errors or accidents have created the breakthroughs in medicine and technology that we so rely on in our lives today; hence the sworn fealty to the scientific way. Not all of that effecting of positive outcomes has given us the lowdown on the Why of it though. For example, we regularly make people lose consciousness through administering general anaesthesia in hospitals. The person has a painfree surgical procedure that improves their life. Then the anaesthetist brings them round. We can do all this, but we still don’t know where consciousness comes from. We go to sleep daily and we have a different sort of conciousness, we can describe what it might feel like if we dream, but still we don’t know where conciousness comes from. After all the brain is still there, doing its thing. It doesn’t entirely nod off too, does it?

That is why Sheldrake’s central question is a valid one. I do not necessarily agree with all his various hypotheses, but his insistence about the necessity for the scientific community to get its collective head out of its arse and enquire methodically into all aspects of the human experience (not just those that fit with its current preoccupation with the materialist model) is a valid one. After all, metaphysics is not just for poets, philosophers and religion.

‘Mind’ by Richard Wilbur

Mind in its purest play is like some bat
That beats about in caverns all alone,
Contriving by a kind of senseless wit
Not to conclude against a wall of stone.

It has no need to falter or explore;
Darkly it knows what obstacles are there,
And so may weave and flitter, dip and soar
In perfect courses through the blackest air.

And has this simile a like perfection?
The mind is like a bat. Precisely. Save
That in the very happiest intellection
A graceful error may correct the cave.

I got up this morning wondering about Wittgenstein’s idea that if a lion could speak we couldn’t understand him. This makes sense because, sometimes, when humans speak my own language I can’t understand them either. It seems that Wittgenstein meant we could not begin to conceive of a lion’s experience of life and the older I get, the harder it is to conceive of another human’s experience of life, unless it is a sort of metaphysical understanding – something beyond words. I wonder if I could apply that to a lion, despite Wittgenstein.

Thus, you will see that Richard Wilbur’s poem gave me some small clarity for the day; although I did wonder if language, rather than the mind, was more like a bat. I do not believe all thought is language-based…which brings me to another of Wittgenstein’s ideas which was that language is the cage whose walls we keep climbing. Whichsoever, the cave is dark enough for silent contemplation.

…it performs quick and dirty sketches of the world…

What does you may wonder. It’s description of the mind – mine & yours.

from The Evolution of Consciousness: The Origins of the Way We Think by Robert Ornstein

Like the rest of biological evolution, the human mind is a collage of adaptations (the propensity to do the right thing) to different situations. Our thought is a pack of fixed routines—simpletons. We need them. It is vital to find the right food at the right time, to mate well, to generate children, to avoid marauders, to respond to emergency quickly….

The mind evolved great breadth, but it is shallow, for it performs quick and dirty sketches of the world. This rough-and-ready perception of reality enabled our ancestors to survive better. The mind did not evolve to know the world or to know ourselves. Simply speaking, there has never been, nor will there ever be, enough time to be truly rational. “

Personally, I find that notion somewhat depressing.

This is much more like it. A 3D brain scan published in National Geographic this summer showing the neural pathways in the brain. Truly, a thing of beauty.

Nostalgia meets Amnesia

Yesterday I felt all 1990s and posted a link to The Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony, which was on constantly in late ’97 and ’98 – a period in my life I feel a bit wistful over (for no particular reason other than it being the fun you have in your twenties).

Then I went off to work which required me to go to a consultation thing for MIND (our local branch). They kicked off with speeches from the chair, Sir Teddy Taylor (resplendent in House of Commons braces – he was the baby there a long time ago you know) and an address from the MIND Director of Network Services, Lee Smith.

The whole time Mr Smith was talking, I was wondering where I knew him from. Not many clues in the name. He talked for about 10 minutes and by the end I had narrowed it down to London, more than ten years ago, probably working in a mental health setting in the voluntary sector. But I was still a bit baffled. Knowing it would probably drive me nuts I decided to nobble him as he left the stage and ask the random and potentially humiliating question – do I know you?

I have form for this kind of thing and it is embarrassing. So this time I ran through a checklist first based on the following experiences. Once I asked a man at the OXO Tower (who was evidently out with a beautiful girl he wanted to impress) if I had done a course with him at the City Lit. He had not. In fact he was an actor. From the television. So I did a check – did I see Lee Smith on the television ever and had never actually met him in real life? Maybe talking about the Mental Health Act or something. On balance I thought not.

Then I did the – have I confused him with someone else entirely check. I did this recently. I had a conversation with a woman in the supermarket called Vicky who was with her daughter Isabel. When she mentioned her young baby I declared shock and surprise as I hadn’t known she was pregnant when I thought I had last seen her. Eventually, my clanger became clear. She wasn’t the Vicky I thought she was, she was another one, with a daughter called Isabel. And then in my complete confusion I had to ask if I even knew her at all. Thankfully I did, we had been on the same course (for 6 months!) a couple of years ago. So she knew me. She must now know I am very absent-minded too.

Lee Smith seemed to pass that check, so I just asked if I knew him (which is a stupid question as it should be – do you know me? – but that is a tad egocentric) and mooted working in Brent as an opening gambit. Thankfully, he was not an actor or a doppelganger and he did recognise me and filled in my missing gaps. Working for MIND is obviously good for you. We were colleagues at St Mungo’s (in London but nowhere near Brent) in the mid to late 90s, working at different projects but with our paths crossing from time to time. I still can’t exactly remember the paths or the crossing details but you can’t indefinitely quiz a director of a national charity, at a formal do, for the missing bits of your memory jigsaw. Actually, I seem to have lost the lid too, so if anyone has that it would be helpful to have it back…

We had a nice chat. It was nice to see him. But it was disconcerting to have a malfunctioning memory. It felt like being in a car when the battery is turning over, just. I think I am going to stop harking back for a while and live in the moment as the short term memory seems ok for now.

Now, my mother doesn’t like this sort of talk so don’t read it mum / don’t tell her if you read it yourself: I txted the other half and asked him to smother me with a pillow if I ever really lose my mind.