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Llangranog beach

Walking meditation

I’ve been practising walking “meditation” on the beach at Llangranog. I begin with my awareness, in my personal here & now. Staying in awareness of myself, my physical presence and senses, I become aware what is around. The experience is as though I’ve opened my eyes & ears further, more gets in, and what arrives is less “filtered”, without judgement. The experience reminds of me of John O’Donohue: “When we walk on the earth with reverence, beauty will decide to trust us”. Is this reverence? Is beauty deciding to trust me?

(The “meditation” practice is my own creation, distilled from different things I’ve been taught over many years. I don’t suppose it’s original. It is original to me).

Llangranog beach
Llangranog beach

Personal heroism

I had a moment of inspiration a while ago. It’s been running around my mind ever since. I applied this to gaining understanding of a personal experience, and I think it will be useful to others. Actually, I think it’s such a good idea, someone has probably thought of it already.

If we compare ourselves to others, we could easily miss our finest hour, our moment of personal heroism. If I think I did something brave, my next thoughts might be of someone I saw on TV rescuing a family from a car sinking into a river, or of a firefighter risking her life to bring children from a burning building. Not all acts of heroism will be famous. We won’t all get on TV or into the papers. And yet, for some, leaving the house will take as much courage as it takes for a firefighter to run into a burning building.

I have a suggestion for a way to examine our moments of personal heroism, the times when we act from our values, even knowing there is a risk to ourselves.

The American scholar Joseph Campbell identified a narrative structure that appears in almost all myths, legends and old stories, and a lot of newer stories as well. He called it The Hero’s Journey. I’m going to borrow a simplified version from Erica Sosna’s excellent book Your Life Plan. In this version, the journey has these stages:

  • The invitation to adventure.
  • The commitment: stepping into the unknown.
  • The quest: challenges, obstacles, setbacks, victory (or failure).
  • The return: the hero returns, transformed by the quest.

Here is a way we can tell our stories of heroism to ourselves, and if we choose, to trusted friends. Your story doesn’t have to be a literal journey. It may have taken place in familiar locations, perhaps even in your own home. The difference could have been in your mind, your attitude and perhaps no one noticed any change.

The invitation

How does your story begin? How were you invited to this journey? How did you decide to accept the invitation? How difficult was it? How long did the decision take? Did you consider refusing? What dangers did you anticipate?

The danger could be emotional or physical. For example, if we commit ourselves to a love affair, we open ourselves to heartbreak.

The Commitment

How did you step into the unknown? What did you leave behind? How different was the new? Did you find it frightening, or exciting, or something else? What other emotions arose?

The Quest

What challenges did you face? What obstructions? Did anyone try to discourage you? Were there any allies helping? Any thoughts, books or objects that helped?

Were you victorious?

The Return

How were you transformed by the journey? What did you learn? What did you lose? Are you glad you made the journey? What would things be like if you hadn’t? Do you have any regrets? What feelings arise when you think about your story?

I poem about a conversation that didn’t end when I thought it would

Stillness

I stand beside my friend, bathed now and wearing a favourite dress, laid on her bed, surrounded by flowers, profoundly still. Without a sound, I hear her gift: “Life is precious”. But I know this already. “No”, she says, silent, insistent, “it’s much more precious than that”. My heart is open and her lesson lands without resistance. Watching her shocking stillness, I understand. Life is precious. “And another thing; you could be a lot more gentle”. I know this is true. But how will I become more gentle? Silence. Stillness. Incomprehensible stillness.

[This is an edited version of the piece I posted in June. I like this better — it’s actually shorter, I have been able to say what I wanted to say using fewer words].

Electro etched copper pipe

Electro etching copper pipe with salt water

This is my second attempt at electro etching copper using salt water. This time I used the Silhouette Portrait to cut vinyl masks which worked very well. I used a saturated salt solution of tap water and table salt. Then a 9v PP3 type battery. The battery drained in 30 minutes and I used a second one to complete the job. If I decide to do this again, I’ll use a mains adaptor.

First attempt at a prose poem

I’ve been intrigued by the idea of a prose poem since I first heard of the form. Not sure I’ve understood the concept, I’m having a go anyway. I’m wanting to capture the essence of a moment.

I shared this first with friends in a closed Facebook group. No one said it sucks. Of course, they may be being kind.

Stillness

I stand beside my friend, bathed now and wearing a favourite dress, laid on her bed, surrounded by flowers, profoundly still. With no sound or movement I hear her gift: “Life is precious”. I know this already. “No”, she tells me, silent, insistent, “it’s much more precious than that”. My heart is open and her lesson lands without resistance. Watching her shocking stillness, I understand. Life is precious. “And another thing”, I hear from the silence, “you could be a lot more gentle”. I know this is true. But how will I become more gentle? Silence. Incomprehensible stillness.

Earth Hour, Sound Scape

I’ve been invited to submit a sound recording for a sound scape project for Earth Hour. Sounds from the natural world are requested. I haven’t made outside recordings before and the quality on this isn’t as good as I hoped. Lots to learn, I guess. The sound is water running down the cliff face at Caibwr, with the waves breaking on the beach in the background.

It’s noisy at the start, improves at about 20 seconds in.

Some days, when the weather is just so, the waves pile into the caves and the air bursting out sounds like distant artillery fire (I used to live near an army range). I’d love to record that, perhaps using something more sophisticated than a mobile phone.

I love the name of this place — I think Caibwr is pronounced like Khyber as in Khyber Pass.

Cliff at Caibwr

Download

 

Embracing Mystery

We are, Sartre told us, doomed to be free. “Essence precedes existence”, which is to say there is no essence of human calling us to be human. No other animal has such freedom. If a wolf ignored the essence of wolf and tried to live as a haddock, he would soon die. A haddock trying to live even as a different fish would be doomed. But we humans have a huge range of choices on how to live. Anyone who finds freedom on this scale unbearable has an easy way out: just sign up for the voluntary slavery offered by any religion. Hand your unwanted freedom the men in funny hats (and it nearly always is a man).

With unanswerable questions, I can see two obvious choices but I’m going to recommend the third. The obvious choice with difficult questions is to rely on the men in funny hats again, a popular option for religious people. Not only can they be relied upon to answer the unanswerable, many will even insist on obviously incorrect answers and perhaps stone you to death if you disagree. The second option, typically chosen by atheists, is to ignore unanswerable questions, deny they exist or insist asking them is futile and absurd. This may leave some atheists looking rather cold, having intellect but little emotion about them.

I’d like to recommend a third option: embrace Mystery, even come to love it. Ask the impossible questions. Embrace the beauty of the questions and embrace the Mystery of not knowing the answers. If you find the knowledge that your questions will never be satisfactorily answered, acknowledge the fear, embrace it and live with it. If you genuinely believe a question to be worth asking and yet unanswerable, is it not wiser to embrace Mystery than to pretend to know the answer?

What is love for? I don’t know. Are there different kinds of love, or are they all variations of the same experience? I don’t know. What happens to me after I die? Probably nothing, but I’m not sure. Is there a god? Unlikely, but I can’t be certain. What is the purpose of life? I don’t even know that it has a purpose. Do I have a soul? Probably not, but I can’t be sure. Is there intelligent life on other planets? I don’t know, and if there is, they could be so far away we would never meet them or even know they exist.

Training & practice: reaping the rewards

I noticed something rather lovely on Monday, something that’s been building for several years. I’m effortlessly happy, even in challenging situations. I was happy while waiting to see a vascular consultant about an ancient leg injury that’s limiting my mobility at the moment. A few years ago, I might have been resentful of the time waiting to see the consultant and the probable many months wait for surgery to improve my ruined knee. On Monday, without making any conscious effort, I noticed how kind the nurses were, how amazing the medical technology is compared to what was around when I injured my leg in 1977. The delight was easy and genuine. It’s the result, I think, of several years training and practice in several areas including NVC, Positive Psychology and mindfulness.

Last year, I completed an on-line Positive Psychology training course with Dr Chris Johnstone and Miriam Akhtar. The practices I learnt on the course were valuable, simple to use ideas like optimism, daily gratitude and savouring. I practice most days and they’ve become habit. It might seem that pessimists are most realistic and least likely to be disappointed, but evidence based studies have shown that optimists tend to be happier. Just so long as over-optimism doesn’t lead to extra risky behaviour or repeatedly attempting failed strategies.

Why am I so angered by homoeopathy?

I get angry, really angry when people try to press their opinion that homoeopathy is a form of medicine on me. And I get angry if someone tries to insist my preference for evidence based medicine is “just an opinion” and is just as valid as their opinion that homoeopathy is true.

I’m going to take a step back from the homoeopathy argument and concentrate on why I get angry when I hear it defended. Quite simply, homoeopathy and other forms of “evidence light” thinking scare me. My reason for finding these ideas so frightening is that I fear another dark age. There are signs of a desire for such an age everywhere; not just the theatrical barbarism of ISIS, but the science denying Christians, particularly in the USA.

According to a Wikipedia article on Age of Enlightenment, the Enlightenment began 300 years ago. Humanity began to shake off the horror of theocracy, to replace it with democracy and to prefer humanist values (which the church has sometimes tried to take credit for!). We began to do away with superstition, to embrace the scientific method and to look for evidence to support beliefs, or to discard those beliefs. This work isn’t complete and won’t be until religion has been cured. And the work is becoming a fight as the forces of darkness push back and claim the hearts and minds of many.

Any belief that has been shown to be incorrect, and this includes homoeopathy, but which people continue to cling to belongs with the dark side. As Voltaire said, “Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.”. Homoeopathy isn’t a harmless eccentricity, it’s an example of deluded thinking, a failure of reasoning and a symptom of an enthusiasm to descend back into darkness and ignorance. It’s as ghastly as religion and belongs in our past, our history, not the 21st Century.

If any homoeopathy enthusiast has read this far, please don’t try and persuade me with your anecdotal evidence or by raising your voice. I’m not impressed by your anecdotes and shouting doesn’t make you sound any less foolish. Show me the proper randomised trial (not the amateurish rubbish from Bristol). Don’t waste too much time looking for that trial — it doesn’t exist. And remember, in the immortal works of Carl Sagan, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary  evidence”. Make no mistake, the claim that homoeopathy is a form of medicine is extraordinary, and the evidence is pitiful.

References:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Age_of_Enlightenment Wikipedia article on Age of Enlightenment, viewed 25/12/15.

http://skeptico.blogs.com/skeptico/2008/01/extraordinary-c.html an informative article about the statement “extraordinary claims require extraordinary  evidence” which apparently didn’t originate with Carl Sagan.

Heartbreak

Over the last year, several things have happened that lead me to reflect on the nature of love & heartbreak.

Last autumn, I lost connection with my closest friend. This happened suddenly and without warning. It was an intensely painful and frightening time. Without realising it, I had come to rely on the close connection we had created. Before this friendship, I hadn’t experience such close connection or even known it was possible.

In May 2015, I went to Chicago to attend the Leveraging Your Influence  retreat lead my Miki Kashtan. In one session, Miki told us that if we committed ourselves to living NVC and to spreading it to a wider audience, “know this, you will fail”, a reminder that such commitment really requires resilience and the knowledge that we won’t always succeed.

A few weeks later, I stumbled across a David Wyte audio book When the Heart Breaks at Sounds True. Whyte reminds us of the inevitability of heartbreak: love is rarely symmetrical.

At Spirit of NVC camp in summer 2015, during a heart connection exercise, I remembered a fragment of a poem or prayer that suggests “Love like you’ve never been hurt”. My heart immediately replied “I can only love as though I’ve never been hurt, I will return broken hearted again”.