Category Archives: Wisdom

The Hands of Time

This story was inspired by a true incident told to me about a relative. A great uncle who had been a local golf professional, now retired and suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease, was regularly picked up by police whilst lost and out walking, sometimes late at night. This old chap would give the police putting lessons back at the station, whilst awaiting collection by a family member. The issues of ageing and the game of golf’s broad appeal are presented entwined within this short narrative.

Robert Hamilton is a writer, student of history, and a keen golfer. He is currently working on a collection of short stories, inspired by sport, but also dealing with what it means to be alive; to be titled She’ll Be Right Sport. He lives in hope of breaking 80. www.midasword.com.au

THE HANDS OF TIME

By Robert Hamilton

Constable Davis sitting in the front passenger seat noticed the man first. He pointed him out to his partner, Senior Constable Vickery, who was driving the police car. The man was striding down the footpath, which ran adjacent to Stirling Highway. It was not the gait of the man, which drew the attention of Constable Gary Davis, but the fact that he was wearing what clearly looked like pyjamas and that it was nearly three am. The highway and surrounding streets were deserted; Perth was a quiet city after midnight mid week. The police car drew level with the walking man, and Davis could see that he was an older Caucasian white male, winding down his window he hailed the man to stop.

The figure in the blue and white striped pyjamas turned his head and faced the policeman who was leaning his head out of the window. The old man, although bent over a bit, was well over six feet tall and broad chested. His arms hung down by his sides and he looked like a man who had made his living with his hands. His feet were bare, white, hairy, toe nails thick and yellow; there were traces of blood beneath them.

“Excuse me Sir, everything alright? Can we help you with anything? Pretty late to be out and about.”

The old fella was clearly confused. His gaze took in the flashing lights atop the blue and white patrol car, the uniformed occupants of the vehicle, and the sound of the police radio with its staccato blasts of disembodied voices. As his eyes flickered back and forth from face to face, to empty highway left and right, and back to the idling police car time seemed to slow down, stop and start, blinking like the flashing lights.

“Can you give us your name Mister? Where are you going to tonight in such a hurry?”

The pyjama clad man made move to walk away and Constable Davis clicked open his door, and rose out of his seat to prevent the old chap from doing so.

“Steady on old fella. What’s your name? Are you alright mate, can we give you a lift somewhere?”

The words hung in the air seemingly going nowhere. The man squinted his eyes in an effort to concentrate on something fleeting. All these words directed at him and too many shiny surfaces reflecting pieces of light. Where was he going? He knew he had to get somewhere quickly but for the life of him couldn’t remember where.

Gary Davis turned to his partner, Ethan Vickery, and said, “I think that we better take him back to the station, I don’t reckon this old chap knows what’s going on.”

“Yeah Okay Gary I will call it in and let them know we are heading back.”

“Okay Dad we are going to give you a ride back to somewhere nice and warm. Maybe get you a cup of tea or something to warm you up.”

Constable Davis gently steered the pyjama clad man through the now open rear door of the police car and onto the empty seat. A frightened look on the big fella’s face and a raising of his arms caused Constable Davis to increase his hold on the man. The man suddenly spoke for the first time.

“I don’t know who you chaps are but I am really alright…. aah…I really think that I can manage on my own thanks.”

“Well let’s start with your name then Grandad. Can you tell us your name?”

They were back at the station and the old chap, still in his blue and white pyjamas, was nursing a cup of tea, seated at the desk of Senior Constable Vickery. His eyes were red and the large grey skinned bags under them spoke of the late hour, especially under the harsh fluorescent station lights. Nobody looked particularly well under their examining force. Davis thought the bloke must be at least seventy five by the looks of the deeply etched lines on his neck and face. Still had a full head of grey tinged blackish hair though and those arms were well muscled despite the advanced years. His hands were something else again. Davis nudged his partner indicating the old chap’s hands and Vickery acknowledged the tremendous size of the old bloke’s hands. Big hairy mitts with enormous swollen knuckles on each prodigious digit.

“Eric!”

The two policemen broke off their examination of their guest’s phalanges, snapping out of their momentary reverie to process this proffered data. Vickery the more senior of the two policemen was first to respond.

“Okay Eric and do you have a last name?”

The elderly figure smiled at the two coppers and basked for a few seconds in the joyous certainty of remembering his own first name. His gaze then took in an old black and white photograph, framed and hanging on the wall of the station. The image depicted Claremont Railway station sometime near its opening, late in the nineteenth century. He remembered being a boy when things looked like that, the horse drawn carts and the early motor cars. The sound of the steam trains and the smell of horse shit.

“Eric. Eric can you remember your surname, your family name?”

Eric looked vacantly toward the intent faces of the questioning police officers. He wondered exactly what he had done wrong and why he was being interrogated. They did seem to be nice young chaps but with so many difficult questions for him. He was feeling tired and would like to lie down. He couldn’t remember where his bedroom was and which doorway would lead to it. The panic was there again, the unreasoning expanse of nothingness rising up inside of him.

“Eric. My name is Constable Ethan Vickery and this is Constable Gary Davis. And your name is Eric …..?”

Nothing. Nothing was there but a blankness. Eric brought his hand up from the surface of the desk and looked over his hand, perhaps hoping for clues or that the answer might be written on the back of his hand. He remembered as a boy writing important things on the back of his hand, during tests and exams it had been a useful practice. As long as the master did not catch you out, then you were up for six of the best.

“You have a fair pair of hands Eric. They must have come in handy with work and stuff I imagine. Work with your hands did you Eric?”

“I was a golf pro.”

The two policemen glanced impressively at each other.

“A golf pro. And where abouts did you ply your trade Eric? What golf club did you work at?”

“Swanbourne. Cottesloe Golf Club I was the head professional there for thirty years.”

“Now we are getting somewhere I think Gary. We can probably trace Eric’s name from the golf club and get his address.”

“I bet those big hands of his were a sight to see wrapped around a golf club.”

“Were you a big hitter Eric? In your day?”

Eric looked up and held the two young policemen’s appreciative stares in his gaze.

“I was pretty handy of the tee, but as the old saying goes you drive for show but putt for dough. It all comes down to the short stick in the end. You need to roll that ball into the hole.”

“Perhaps we could get some lessons from you while you are here Eric. What do you think?”

“I would be very happy to oblige you officers with a few tips. A smooth stroke is what is required.”

Eric brought his two hands together to grip the handle of his hickory shafted putter. He felt the wound leather grip, which had been specifically tailored to the dimensions of his hands. A golfer’s hands were his real tools in this game of golf. His mentor had emphasised that it was the golfer’s grip which was the most important element in a successful swing. He remembered that overcast day, a rarity in Perth, when his father first took him along to see Mister McDermott the golf professional at the Cottesloe Club. He felt scared as he sat there waiting outside the pro shop, next to where the caddies had a shed. The sweat in the palms of his hands and the rapid beating inside his chest.

“Show me your hands boy. Let’s see how you hold this mashie niblick.”

The tall grey headed man had emerged from his rooms bearing a golf club. Grey woollen knickers and tartan stockings could not hide his lean well muscled legs.

“Come on lad up with you, out of the chair, we don’t have all day!”

Large gnarly hands picked up his own hands and turned them over to examine their constituent parts. The man’s skin felt rough and chapped but his touch was gentle. Eric relaxed a little into the strength of this man.

“Good size. Now grip this club boy. Let’s see how you hold a golf club.”

**********

“Eric. Eric are you okay mate? Want me to freshen up that cup of tea, its looks like it’s gone cold on you?”

Eric smiled at the speaking policeman and shook his head.

“Don’t bother yourself over me. I’m fine, thank you Officer.”

The two constables conferred amongst themselves in the station room, occasionally looking up to see that their guest was alright. They were now the only occupants of the police station at this pre-dawn period, waiting for their shift to end and for the day shift to arrive in another hour.

“I reckon someone will be at the Cottesloe Golf Club in about an hour and we can give them a call and see if they can fill us in about big boy Eric here.”

“Well why don’t I grab a putter and a few balls from my car and we stroke a few putts with Eric.”

“Sounds good to me Gary.”

*******************************

Mister McDermott watched young Eric chip his golf ball to the practice green. Watching carefully how the boy held the club and his stance. The ball tracked toward the hole and came to rest about two feet past. The pro motioned for Eric to join him and waited for the boy to saunter over to him, club in hand, ball in pocket.

McDermott was about six foot two inches and towered over the young boy. He led Eric to a waiting bench seat not far from the first tee, where they could watch a few of the members getting ready to tee off. Caddies were carrying the golfer’s leather bags containing their clubs for their morning round. Everything was very green, the grassy fairways and the bordering foliage and trees.

“I call this my green cathedral,” Mister McDermott suddenly announced.

“A place of prayer, pain and the occasional miracle.” He smiled at Eric as he said this. “And you could be a part of this Master Roberts, if you so desire.”

Eric was silent he wasn’t sure if he was expected to say anything at this point. He looked up at the overcast sky and watched a bird fly low over the gum tree to his right. Everything was slowing down it seemed and Eric was feeling more aware of himself than usual; it was like that final second before you hit your ball.

“Would you like that Eric? Would you be prepared to work hard and make this club proud to have you?”

Eric nodded his head solemnly, or what he hoped appeared that way, and held Mister McDermott’s piercing gaze for at least a second or two. Glancing down at his feet he noticed the scratches that the black boot polish had failed to hide.

“You have a fine pair of hands Eric; golfer’s hands. Your hands and their grip on the club are the most important part of the golf swing. Without golfer’s hands you can never become a player, and as a professional you must be able to play well boy. To teach the members, to advise and if possible inspire them.”

McDermott sat back on the bench and breathed a sigh of, who knows what, contentment, sadness, ennui? Eric definitely didn’t know but he felt at home here, more than that, he felt like he was about to begin here.

“Let me tell you a story lad. A story about a fella called Old Tom Morris. Mister Morris was one of the first golf pro’s in the entire world. He was a denizen of a place called Fyfe in Scotland. Have you heard of Scotland Eric?”

The young boy nodded his assent and watched the whiskers on McDermott’s sideburns twitch as he spoke.

“Old Tom Morris, and the reason why they called him that was because he had a son, also a golf professional, called Young Tom Morris. They both plied their trade at a golf course by the name of St Andrews and this was no ordinary gold course; this was, and still is, the home of golf. The very first golf course and it was marked out by God, with the help of a few sheep and those winds that terrorise a true links course.”

Eric could see the florid skin beneath Mister McDermott’s whiskers glowing brighter as he shared this story. He understood that it was important, somehow, the passing on of this tale about a Scottish golf pro. He looked down at his hands and wondered what made them so special, so different to other boy’s hands.

“Well, Old Tom was the son of a weaver and them weavers needed real good hands too. Strong hands that could weave all day. Tom became an apprentice at St Andrews at about your age. He learnt how to make golf clubs, as you will Eric, and he learnt every single thing about becoming a golf professional, and eventually he became the greatest golf player in the world; winning The Open Championship four times.”

The boy took all of this in and wondered whether he would ever win the Open Championship, or whether he was expected to do so.

“Old Tom Morris worked as a green-keeper, club maker, ball maker, golf teacher, course designer and tournament professional. One day Old Tom was teaching a young apprentice at his course and was having a wee bit of difficulty in instructing the young chap as to the right grip pressure when playing a stroke. He could see that the boy was choking the life out of that golf club handle. and that this was not allowing him to release the club head through the ball. The lad was pulling the shot something awful. Old Tom had pleaded with the boy, “Andrew lad, you must have a light touch on the club.” But to no avail Andrew was determined not to let that spoon even think about slipping out of his hands.

Eventually Tom decided to approach the problem from another angle entirely. Taking Andrew down to the shoreline of the Fyfe of Fief, where there was a birder plying his trade in water birds. After giving young Andrew his solemn speech about the special importance of the hands to a professional golfer and how his grip is the only thing linking him to the golf club, Old Tom, like a West End magician produced from his knickers a warbling duckling. Fluffy in matt grey feathers and somewhat distressed, he held that baby bird before him like some votive offering. He then asked Andrew to place his hands on the throat of the frantic duckling, but before he did so he had to promise Old Tom not to strangle the wee bird and also not to let the bird get away. Faced with this life and death conundrum young Andrew peered into the eyes of the desperate duckling and then into the sage old glare of Old Tom. He gingerly reached out toward the living creature, both of them afraid, and he placed his large golfer’s hands around the delicate neck of this feathered creature and sensitively adjusted his grip pressure before nodding to Old Tom, who then let go. He felt the bird struggle to be free of him and yet he held on, he could feel just how easy it would be to crush that tiny windpipe and break its neck. Andrew found his equilibrium. He found the middle pathway. And Old Tom smiled one of his rare smiles, and told him to remember this moment and this sensation whenever he was holding a club out on the course. It was a Goldilocks moment, a just right sensation. The bird shat on the boy’s golf shoes.

*****************

Eric could see that Constable Davis now had a putter in his hands and that there were several golf balls at his feet on the police station carpet. He rose gingerly, his feet were very sore. He wondered where his Footjoys were, his smart brown brogues. No matter, he reached out for the putter and gently placed his hands on the rubber grip. His thumbs came together, the right slightly lower than the left but both pointing down the club’s shaft. It felt good to be holding a putter again. It felt right.

The two police officers watched as the enormous hands encircled the grip of the putter and emanated a degree of comfort and belonging noticeably absent from their own efforts at gripping the putter. Eric lowered the putter head to the carpet surface and began to brush it with rhythmic movements like the pendulum within a grandfather clock. The two constables were somewhat spellbound in the presence of this aged golf master.

“Putting the golf ball is all about a smooth stroke gentlemen. It is a rocking of the shoulders. A gentle motion, which involves rolling a ball across a smooth surface. Smooth back and smooth through”

Eric knelt slowly down, his aching joints complaining, and placed an empty coffee mug on its side down on the floor some ten feet from the golf balls. Stepping tenderly back to the golf balls he took his stance, the putter at address behind the first of the dimpled white spheres. Both policemen watched intently as the old golf pro took the putter head back and then through the stationary ball, initiating a roll which propelled that golf ball into the open mouth of that coffee cup ten feet away.

“Way to go Eric great stroke!” they chimed in unison. It was like they were children again being initiated into a new game. Watching Eric stroke that ball, the walls of the station seemed to fade and roles were reversing with every roll of that hypnotic white ball.

Eric repeated the process and again that small white ball found its unerring way into the concave cavity within the mug.

“You need to keep your head and body still at the moment of impact. Only the rocking motion of your shoulders direct your arms, hands and the putter toward the target.”

Eric motioned Constable Davis over to him and proffered the putter.

“Here you have a try Officer.”

Awkwardly, the young policeman took the club and began to lay his hands around the putter grip. Eric reached out and placed his enormous old hands over the constables’ grip, delicately adjusting the positioning of the police officer’s digits and gripping of the putter handle. He shyly looked up at Eric, as he would a granddad at Christmas, who had bought him a present.

“Try that, you might find it feels a lot more comfortable. Now have a few practice strokes, rocking your shoulders back and forth. Don’t force anything, just let it happen.”

Constable Gary Davis brushed the surface of the carpet, tentatively at first but more assuredly as he continued. Constable Vickery had removed the putted balls from the coffee mug and now placed them alongside his partner’s putter.

“Now give it a go Son,” Eric instructed the young policeman.

The solid clocking sound of the struck golf ball preceded its rolling journey toward the open coffee mug , time seemed to stand still, the ball turned end over end making its way over the mottled mustard carpet. Existence took a deep breath and held it, and then without further ado that white ball hit the bottom of the cup.

“Way to go Gary?”, whooped Ethan Vickery. “Old Eric here has turned you into a pro on the greens.”

Gary smiled at his partner and Eric, nodding his appreciation of the old pro’s teaching method and the seemingly instantaneous results.

Eric enjoyed the fact that he had made the policemen happier and was at last finding his way in this new universe. Looking around he was unfamiliar with the lay-out and decor of these rooms and uncertain of how he had found himself here. The golf balls and the putter were familiar objects but the setting and characters strangely alien. This bubble of reality was occurring but had no connection with anything else. There were things he knew and much more that he did not. His world was cut into strips and they were flickering like the light on the shiny buttons of the policemen’s uniforms. Eric was often afraid now and uncertain about which direction to head in. The golf course was unfamiliar to him, the lay-out of the holes mysterious. He didn’t know whether he should lay-up or go for the green.

 

©Robert Hamilton

Kitchen gods and sacrifice

Excerpt from – House Therapy – Discovering who you really are at home!

By Sudha Hamilton

House Therapy is Sudha’s soon to be published new book.

 

The Kitchen

The Ancient Greeks, who gave us many of the founding principles upon which we base our modern societies – democracy; logic; philosophy; literature and poetry to name but a few salient examples, had  a rich collection of gods and goddesses. Hestia was the goddess of hearth and home, older sister to Zeus and first born of the titans Kronos and Rhea – perhaps not as well known today as her siblings Demeter, Hera, Haides and Poseidon.  This may have been due to the fact that she was swallowed first by her titan father Kronos, who in  a bid to avoid being overthrown by one of his children, as prophesied, ate all his children, she was thus the last to be regurgitated, once Zeus had forced his father to do so.

The Romans also worshipped her in their homes and knew her as Vesta. The areas of responsibility for which Hestia was worshipped and sacrificed to, were most aspects of domestic life and in particular what we now call the kitchen. For it is around the cooking hearth or kitchen that a home or house builds up or out. Hestia was always toasted at the beginning of a meal in thanks for the hospitality proffered. She was probably where the early Christians appropriated their ‘saying of grace’ before dinner from.

Homeric Hymn 24 to Hestia (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C7th – 4th B.C.) :
“Hestia, in the high dwellings of all, both deathless gods and men who walk on earth, you have gained an everlasting abode and highest honour: glorious is your portion and your right. For without you mortals hold no banquet,–where one does not duly pour sweet wine in offering to Hestia both first and last. And you, Argeiphontes [Hermes], son of Zeus and Maia, . . . be favourable and help us, you and Hestia, the worshipful and dear. Come and dwell in this glorious house in friendship together; for you two, well knowing the noble actions of men, aid on their wisdom and their strength. Hail, Daughter of Kronos, and you also, Hermes.”

Interestingly Hestia was a virginal goddess and refused the suits of both Apollo and Poseidon. Perhaps this is where we get the separation of the sexual roles of the wife and mother in the home and the focus on providing nurture and hospitality instead. Hestia was seen as the giver of all domestic happiness and good fortune in the home and she was believed to dwell in the inner parts of every home. She was also the first god mentioned at every sacrifice, as she represented the hearth where sacrifices took place – this is the direct link to our kitchens today and the genesis of the sacred chef. There are very few temples of Hestia extant and this is thought to be because every home was her temple in the Hellenistic world. I think we can draw some intuition from this in our view of our homes being places of divine inspiration.

The kitchen has of late become a popular focus of interest, with TV chefs and groovy restaurants grabbing the public’s imagination. For House Therapy the kitchen represents our centre, our practical and instinctual selves. This is where we prepare food for family and ourselves. It is also often where food is stored in the refrigerator and pantry cupboards. Food is about survival and security. There is no bullshit about these things and the kitchen is a place where the elements of nature still regularly intervene. Fire on the stove and in your oven; water at the sink, earth in the bench tops and structure; and air in the extractor, fan forced oven and all around. You can be hurt in the kitchen if you do not pay attention to what you are about. Unlike the faux furies vented in the kitchens on TV, you can experience some real passions in these hot and pressurised places at home. You might be burning fingers and dishes, dropping scoldingly hot plates and crying bitter tears over chopped onions. The kitchen is where we show our real reactions to strong emotions, pressure in our lives and our appetites and jealousies.

Have a look around now at your kitchen, the colour of the walls and general lay-out of things. What is your first impression? What does it say to you about your instinctive self? Are you clinical or passionate? Are the walls white/neutral or vivid/strong colours? Is it large or small? Is the instinctual, raw and pragmatic you an important part of your life? Or is it hidden away or missing? The trend in studio apartment architecture now, to build them without kitchens and have neutered mini servery’s instead, is a reflection of a missing essential in sections of our culture. Stripping away the practical ability to fend for yourself by cooking your own food and becoming dependent on pre-prepared meals is symptomatic of us having lost our way along the journey. Is your kitchen well equipped? Can you cook? Do you enjoy cooking for friends, family and yourself?

Returning to the rich historical connection our modern day kitchen has with Hestia’s hearth, as mentioned earlier it was the place where the highly necessary ritualised sacrifices took place. These sacrifices usually involved a calf or some other domesticated animal and those involved with the sacrifice would share in eating the meat of the roasted animal. So the power of the sacrifice would be in the ritualised slaughtering of the animal in dedication to the goddess for a particular purpose – to bring good fortune upon whatever was so desired for example. Today the cook or cooks go into the kitchen, risking cuts, perspiration and burns, to prepare a celebratory meal for our friends and or family – Christmas, birthdays and other days of ritualised festivities. We may not consciously invoke Hestia or any other gods but the overall intention is the same, we wish to share good cheer with those we love and bring good fortune upon us all.

It is interesting to ask oneself what is true sacrifice and what does it mean in our lives today? When we think of sacrificing something, we tend to see it as foregoing or missing out on something so as to have something else. “You cannot have your cake and eat it too.” Which I have always thought was an incredibly stupid saying, because what is the point of possessing uneaten cake? A sacrifice I hear you say, perhaps a slice for the gods. Interestingly the Greeks and Romans would eat the cooked flesh of their sacrifice, offering the bones and fat to the gods and goddesses, but it was the life itself, that was the real sacrifice in my view. The word sacrifice means to make sacred, so whatever we offer up in dedication to the gods becomes sacred. Actually the word anathema, was the Greek word forlaying-up or suspending something in wait for the gods, and it is has now taken on the meaning of something that is accursed, through its contact, down through the ages, with the jealous Hebrew  god, Yahweh; the Christian god. Our language, and lexicon of words, have taken an interesting journey over the last four millennia, and it is no wonder we are all a little confused at times. So we could make  a correlation between sacrificing something in our life and that thing, which  has been sacrificed becomes anathema to us or accursed. How do you feel about the things you have sacrificed in your life? A person’s love; a relationship; a career; types of food; alcohol; drugs; sex; lifestyle; freedom?  We do not live in a particularly sacrificial age, more of a ‘you can have it all’ age, but can you really enjoy it all and be present for entirely disparate things in your life? Do we appreciate things more when we make room for them in our lives? Perhaps sacrifice still has a part to play in our lives today, better sharpen those knives.

The kitchen is also a place of transformation, where base elements are turned into the gold of love and nourishment. Is your kitchen a space where magic like this happens, regularly or just on special occasions? Domestic kitchens have a great tradition throughout the West of being incredibly impractical, lacking preparation space and adequate and functional cupboards. This is now being addressed in more modern homes, as the passion is returning to the kitchen. I think that we suffered for a few decades from the ‘American wonder of white goods’ syndrome, where no home was complete without these wonderful space and time saving machines and that a mentality of faster was better grew up around them. Fast foods, sliced white bread, whipped cream in a can, all these travesties were accorded the haloed status of modernity and progress. When in actual fact they were soulless short cuts that ripped the heart out of good cooking. Yes we still do have a lot of gadgets in the kitchen but we also now understand that good food still needs dedication and application. Bread makers are great, but bread cooked in a wood fired oven tastes better and if it is naturally fermented sour dough even better. Espresso coffee from your home machine tastes a lot better than instant coffee.

Your kitchen is a place where you can practically respond to the basic needs of living. Is your kitchen letting you do this? Is your kitchen supporting you in feeling centred and secure in dealing with the vicissitudes that life often throws up? Are your knives sharp and well balanced? Do you have enough bench space when preparing meals? Does your stove cook the way you want it to cook?  If not then you are letting yourself down and going around with a bloody great hole where your centre should be. As a member of the human tribe you need to be able to fend for yourself, and the kitchen can empower you to be grounded in the here and now. Not wafting around on the ceiling hoping for the crumbs of human kindness to drop your way.

Things we can do to transform our kitchen

As a chef, who has owned and managed a number of restaurants and cafes, I know all about kitchens and their design downfalls. First and foremost it is about space and in particular bench top space where most kitchens, especially older kitchens, are lacking. Storage space comes a close second and it is in these areas that a solid beginning can be made in transforming your kitchen from a frustration trap into a pragmatic pleasure dome. Cooking is never completely easy, if it is, it isn’t real cooking, in my opinion, there must be some blood, sweat and tears in every great dish but not too much. Unnecessary suffering is not on anyone’s menu by choice.

Buy an island bench if you lack bench top space and cannot easily create more, they are great and I have several of them, and you can take them with you when you move.

Sharp knives, that are also well weighted in the overall heft of the knife, can bring a smile to any good cook and I always say, “happiness is a sharp knife.”

Obviously kitchens need to be clean and cleaned regularly for all sorts of reasons, hygiene, health and happiness. Clutter in the kitchen causes chaos and calamity, food takes longer to prepare and the energy around it is bad.

Trapped dead energy, in the form of rotting and old produce in fridges and cupboards, does not augur well for happy kitchen gods and thus producing yummy healthy and nutritious food; so clean out and clean up.

 

©Sudha Hamilton

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Is Sex A Mystical Gateway?

 

Is sex a mystical gateway, to a boundless place of untold pleasures and exquisite pains, in your life?

Sex, I think, is different things at different times of our lives. It reflects what we are seeking, at that juncture, and therefore, who, we are attracting into our life. For it is a union of energies after all, and as they say in the song, “it takes two to tango, baby.” Occasionally that saying has some negative connotations, and similarly our sexual experiences can at times be defined by our partner’s energies, for good or bad.

Making love, having sex, it is a moment when we return to our interior universe and tune into our sensory responses. It is an intensely personal experience, which is also shared, in an intimate revelation of our essentially animal natures. We roar and groan, grunt and gasp, in a symphony of respiratory action, for our ride to pleasure is carried on each breath. It is that breath, which makes sexual activity a possible doorway to the divine. Reading Tim Winton’s novel, Breath, you can sense the parallels between experiences of the ocean and sexual experiences. Metaphorical language used to describe the tumbling; submerged qualities inherent inside a wave are similar to the ocean of bliss, inside us, which can well up during sex. At times we are letting go to the inextricable force of the sea, as we must’ let go’ to the surging currents within our sexuality. We ride upon, and inside, our wave of ecstasy and our breathing triggers the biochemical reactions, which can awaken orgasmic brain activity.

Sex is most often heightened at the beginning of a relationship, when two individuals come together as strangers and begin a process of removing outer signs of independent identity. Clothing, which like a uniform represents each individuals place and possibly role in society, is stripped away and they stand naked before one another. Clothing can hide essential truths, about who we are, and allow us to pretend to be someone we are not. Sex asks of us, right at the start, to play the hand we have been dealt by nature ( I suppose cosmetic surgery has interjected here).  Sex asks us to bring the bare truth to this union, as the key to opening a doorway to bliss. Our feelings, at the beginning, can be on a knife edge, as we show parts of ourselves, normally well hidden, and vacillate between hopes and fears, regarding our acceptance by the beloved. We are not only showing our arse in public but celebrating its function and uses with another. It is a merging process, as we share and discover our erogenous nooks and crannies with another.  Our normally vigilant guard comes down and our pupils dilate, as we hold the gaze of our lover and drink in the cause of this new delight. There is the magic of the unknown in the air and it is charged with the frisson of the archetypal merging moment. There is glory and boldness, and there is surrender and humbleness, there is the charging of the stag with antlers aquiver, and the dissolving into an endless ocean of energy. There are intense moments of you and equally intense moments beyond you. There is the ride and there is the fall.

Once committed to the fruitful sexual act, and thus rewarded with acceptance by our new sexual partner, we bring a sense of hope and with it the possibility of a clean slate, in regard to an ongoing mutually rewarding physical and emotional relationship. For ‘gateway’ sex, as I call it, is a magical, sacred space and we can only access it when we have hope in our heart. The sexual realm, can ask all of us to embody archetypal energies, no longer displayed by our genders in the modern age. It can create a dichotomy or unresolvable dynamic tension, where what we play out sexually can never quite fit into the rest of our lives. It has a special place and demands distinct rules around it, for it to survive and prosper in the twenty first century. So many relationships break down here, as the magic fades in the harsh light of the day and countless tiny grievances mount up to close his or her heart away. Once that heart and hope are locked away then sex becomes a macabre shadow dance, where the bodies go through the motions but with no soul at play. It can be like someone has switched off all the nerve endings, and more importantly all the meaning, from the activity. It is like making love whilst encased in a thick glove of suspended despair. The individual has returned to that individual space and no merging is possible anymore. When love dies it is a very sad day and our consciousness’s run endless reruns of sepia tinted memories to drive all joy away. Grieving the loss of love is probably the most traumatic experience we all will experience in our lifetimes. Like the bush after a fire, everything is black and burnt away. There are skeletons of trees, which mark how high our joy once reached. The echo of love’s laughter keeps the birds at bay. For a time nothing new will grow here and the skies are always grey.

Many of us have put away the magic of sex into the bottom drawer of an old cupboard, which we never use anymore. Somewhere inside of us we have sworn off this disrupting force and condemned that last great hurt to be the final one. We may masturbate our selves, often or not, but without the emotional commitment of another’s fumbling touch. Sex is a momentary relief to help us get to sleep or a frustrated release that doesn’t stain the sheets. Layers of emotional scar tissue have built up hard upon our souls and the smile we may offer another is firmly closed indoors.  When, and if, love returns to these shores it faces a long thaw and the messianic job of raising Lazarus from the dead. I know from my own personal experience that there can be a physical delay in being able to respond sexually after a long lay-off. It is like those layers of calcified hurt must be given time to melt away before my penis will trust enough to fill with blood and stretch out to meet the new day.

Returning now to that time, when we have just established honest sexual union with our new partner and that sense of being ‘in love’ is reciprocated.  Can you remember what it is like? When every part of their body is simply amazing and emanating some intangible quality. To touch their skin is the greatest pleasure you have ever known and it is all holistically connected with some cosmic secret that you just had no idea about before it happened. When you wake up in the morning and glance over at this beatific being, lying next to you and the realisation hits that you and, he or she, are ‘together’. This is the magic realm and it is often bitter sweet for our cynical selves to recall this state of ‘in loveness’.  We have developed the habit of ‘putting down’ such heightened states labelling them  as ‘the honeymoon period’ and quickly assuring the occupants that it will be over before you know it. You cannot stay too long in fairy land and Peter Pan must grow up to face the grim realities of a real relationship. Yet today, even in the age of ‘fast food’ marriages and divorces, we still clamour to be ‘in love’ and now the Internet has brought the supermarket experience to shopping for love and relationships.  In aisle one, we have forty five year old, divorced Capricorns with a penchant for reading the newspaper on the loo; in aisle two……..

How do we integrate magic into our hum drum lives? How do we honour the gods in our lovers and in ourselves? Can we maintain a sense of reality? Can we go to work; support the family; clean the bathroom; listen to the gripers and whingers in the average world; and still delve into the delicious, dripping divinity of another realm?

Is sex a mystical gateway, to a boundless place of untold pleasures and exquisite pains, in your life?

©Sudha Hamilton

CopyMW

 

Raising Children Consciously

RAISING CHILDREN CONSCIOUSLY

Subheading : Parenting for a peaceful world.

By Sudha Hamilton & Suzy Barry

Is parenting a thankless task of unfathomable consequences or an opportunity to bring a keener light of consciousness to our universe?

Parenting is a state that resides deep within the lands of instinct and tradition. The most common determinant of your parenting instincts is your own parents and how they parented you. Depending on the circumstances you may either repeat that act of parenting or do the opposite in reaction to the unwelcome reminder of your own parent-induced trauma.

This repetition in parenting behaviour patterns is condemning us to keep on making the same mistakes again and again. If you do not take responsibility for raising your children in the most enlightened manner possible then how can you ever expect them to take responsibility for themselves, their health, their state of mind and their ability to love. It is a challenge to stand apart from the ever repeating cycle and honestly ask yourself, “what do I want for my child in every moment?”

It is those moments that make up the whole. So what does it all mean? How can we apply the same level of consciousness to raising our children as we do to our own issues? Here are some practical solutions for ‘aware parenting’.

The “Fourth Trimester”

The first few months of new parenthood can be considered the “fourth trimester” of your baby’s life. For parents they are the most intense, but need not be the most difficult! Humans are born at the earliest maturation of all mammals. Consider other mammals that are born almost as fragile and dependent as humans. A baby orang-utan is carried almost constantly on its mother’s body until it is capable of dealing with life on its own. This is a useful way to look at the early months: it helps to separate the advice based on this premise and the advice characteristic of a fast-paced, ‘get things done’ society.

Controlled Crying

Controlled Crying is an example of a common practice considered to be harmful and unnatural by many. Keeping your baby close is what’s best for baby and your relationship with them. You might say, “There are no predators in the nursery, my baby is safe,” but the hollow sound of a baby’s unanswered anguished cries indicates a type of predator, a human emotional predator, which can engender a sense of abandonment and is extremely distressing for the infant. The Australian Association for Infant Mental Health has expressed concern and does not encourage this practice of Control Crying and other variations on the theme, which essentially disregard the only method of communication available to your child. Babies and young children have shorter sleep cycles providing more opportunity for awakening but also more REM sleep and hence, essential brain development. This means that if those inconvenient awakenings that infants are prone to in the first two years or so, are by-products of the short sleep cycles, which are vital for their brain development. Controlled Crying and other sleep training methods designed to keep children asleep for longer periods, must train them out of these shorter cycles, hence rob them of their quota of REM.

Physical touch

English psychiatrist John Bowlby, developed in the nineteen sixties, what has come to be known as attachment theory. This theory holds that babies thrive best on having a secure touch orientated attachment to their parents, being constantly held rather than being placed in a pram or cot. More recently science has detected positive benefits to the babies immune system when they are predominantly held in states of physical closeness to the mother or primary carer.

When you think about it, it is not so surprising, having been inside the womb for nine months, the transition from mother’s body to spending large parts of the day in a pram or cot, away from the reassuring heart beat of the mother does seem harsh. Jean Liedloff in her nineteen seventy five seminal book, The Continuum Concept, named this vital stage in early childhood care the “in-arms phase.” Spending several years in the jungles of South America with a tribe of Indians, she observed a different and decidedly more nurturing way to raise children.

Skin to skin contact is a vital physical reassurance to the newborn child and like our monkey forebears this contact provides a successful two million year old continuum. Strapping the baby to the mother by means of a sling or other similar device allows the child to be part of the mother’s energy field and has been a part of numerous cultures throughout the world; in Africa; Asia and beyond. Through observation the baby is also learning about the mother’s universe, her day-to-day activities. Beware though of the front packs where the legs hang straight down, they are not good for spinal development. [STUDIES?]

Rochelle L. Casses, D.C, taken from http://continuum-concept.org/reading/spinalStress.html

“A baby’s spine is placed in a compromising position in many of today’s popular carriers. If the carrier positions the infant upright, with the legs hanging down and the bodyweight supported at the base of the baby’s spine (i.e. at the crotch), it puts undue stress on the spine which can adversely affect the development of the spinal curves and, in some cases, cause spondylolisthesis (forward slipping of a vertebra on the one below it).

Spondylolisthesis is documented in approximately 5% of white males, but is prevalent in native Eskimos (as high as 60% of the population is affected). There has been much discussion on the high percentage of affected Eskimos as to whether it is a genetic predisposition or related to environmental factors (i.e., papoose carriers). Knowing how dynamic and vital the biomechanics of the spine are, I believe that environmental factors are the cause. If the trend continues in the U.S. to carry infants in carriers (or place them in walkers, jumpers, etc.) that place their spines in a weight bearing position before the spine is developmentally ready to do so, I believe we will see an increase in the incidence of spondylolisthesis”

Breastfeeding

The World Health Organisation recommends breastfeeding for the first two years and beyond. The WHO encourages food as a diet of food and bm after 6 months, exclusive bfeeding up to 2 years and beyond.

“Promoting appropriate feeding for infants and young children

10. Breastfeeding is an unequalled way of providing ideal food for the

healthy growth and development of infants; it is also an integral

part of the reproductive process with important implications for

the health of mothers. As a global public health recommendation,

infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of

life to achieve optimal growth, development and health.1 Thereafter,

to meet their evolving nutritional requirements, infants should

receive nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods while

breastfeeding continues for up to two years of age or beyond. Exclusive

breastfeeding from birth is possible except for a few medical

conditions, and unrestricted exclusive breastfeeding results in

ample milk production.”

http://www.waba.org.my/docs/gs_iycf.pdf

The WHO’s recommendation to exclusively breastfeeding to six months should not be mistaken as an instruction to wean at six months. There are wonderful benefits to full term breastfeeding. Six months is such a premature time to wean when the human history is taken into account as is the world’s current population. If you can do it, the best foundation for ensuring your child’s needs are being met is to breastfeed on demand for the first year and as long as is mutually desirable. Some time in the second year, the child’s understanding of others’ needs may grow to allow you to gently begin to assert your own needs, your own instincts and your child’s reaction are the best guides here. Breast milk changes with the growing infant and is undoubtedly the best source of nutrition for a young child.

Toddler Years and Beyond

The toddler years are the beginning of individuation and undoubtedly the most challenging for many parents and children. The toddler is becoming aware that they are separate people and their own desires are emerging and taking control of their body, mind, voice and spirit. The age of the tantrum is upon you! How many of us have looked at or partaken in a sort of release therapy? Toddlers should be release therapy practitioners. They are open valves of emotion, they live in the moment and embody the oneness that so many of us are striving for.

Raising toddlers consciously means not crushing this exuberance, whilst guiding your tremendous toddler in the ways of the world, via your own personal boundaries. To parent authentically is to allow your toddler to express themselves within the boundaries you are comfortable with. There is no benefit to the toddler allowing them to climb on your head, while you patiently wait for their exuberance to change to respect, you need to indicate that you have personal boundaries. They are now ready for them. In teaching them that you need your boundaries respected, they will learn to give this respect and expect the same from others; here we have the foundation of respect for self.

Gentle Discipline

Gentle discipline means respecting your toddler as another human being. It does not mean allowing them to walk all over you as this is rarely what the toddler wants or needs. Gentle discipline involves negotiation from a place of empathy with a view to a long-term goal, as opposed to short-term convenience of an obedient toddler with eyes downcast in shame. Shaming and physical punishment/ solitary confinement (time-out) have become the cornerstone of popular discipline. This is what Robin Grille, psychologist and psychotherapist, in his book Parenting for a Peaceful World terms operating in “Socializing Mode”. The socializing mode is characterized by the preoccupation with social norms and producing children who will function well in society, be employable, polite and well mannered. In order to train children it is necessary to curb their natural desires in some way. Every time we employ these conventional methods, we are attempting to “break” our children. An obedient animal has its sprit broken, and every time this happens to a child, a little of them must surely die.

Redirection

If you see your child becoming aggressive, don’t wait for them to hit someone, and then punish them. Intervene, ask if they are feeling angry and tell them it is not acceptable to hit people, but that it is just fine to feel angry and invite them to belt a cushion to alleviate their frustration. This can be great fun!

Negotiation

Invite and employ negotiation. Think about the wonderful skills you are passing on by respecting their desires enough to negotiate. Blind obedience loses its appeal somewhat after about age 10, then we value initiative. Probably one of the few simple formulas: If your child doesn’t want their nappy changed, but it is stinky and you need to go out. You can say: “We have to change your nappy, but would you like to bring this toy with you, or this one?” Or “We have to change your nappy now, but would you like to do it on the change table or on the couch?” This alleviates the monotony a toddler must feel of not being in charge by giving them a choice within your own boundaries. You need to go out now – that is your boundary – so within that, what can you offer?

Allow Expression

Frustration abounds in the toddler years, they are becoming independent in so many ways, but their natural exuberance means that they are often met with opposition from parents and from their own capacity. Allow and encourage tantrums, they are the toddler’s therapy; they are valid expressions and should be honoured. If your child wants chocolate in the middle of shopping and you don’t want her to have it – fair enough! But…she will be upset and though it wouldn’t distress you that much, it is the end of the world for her, so there is no point telling her it’s not! Let her sit on the ground and have a ‘tanty’, really what’s the big deal, be brave and weather the disapproving glances of the old ladies who ‘never would have had that in their day’ or who would ‘have given them short shrift’. Remember, it is children brought up under that paradigm who pack the waiting rooms of therapists, and whose depression levels have hit record levels. Honour your child and focus on your child and you will be amazed at the transformation after she has grieved the chocolate experience that never was.

Look behind the behaviour

It is important that you delve beneath the behaviour presented by your child and always ask, “Why?” A holistic way is to look at the whole child, not just the behaviour you would like to stamp out. What is happening for your child that is making them react in this way? Can you help them? As we all know; it is always better to deal with the cause than the symptom.

Unconditional Parenting

Alfie Kohn has published works including “Unconditional Parenting” on the problems with a system of punishments and rewards. We are not dealing with a rat, which is what behaviourism was based upon. (The faith in a punishment/reward system is based on studies conducted with rats and morsels of food; not humans).

Withholding love and approval sends a message to our children that they are only lovable if they do what we want, what a concerning idea to take to the world! The idea is to ‘work with’ your children to achieve the best consensus for all involved, instead of ‘doing to’ them – in order have your own laws obeyed. For example, a punishment is something you do to your children; instead consider working out a solution that is acceptable to all parties.

Mutual Respect and Authenticity

These are perhaps the most important elements that underpin all aspects of Gentle Discipline. When your child does something that makes you angry tell them so just as you would your partner. Communicate with your child with respect, but with feeling and authenticity. Your children want to know you. Your needs are also important, a self-sacrificing parent is not being authentic and our children can feel it. If you have had enough of reading “Maisy” after the 50th time that day; stop. Offer another suggestion, or just say, I need a break and offer an alternative activity that doesn’t involve you…or Maisy. Your child should respect your threshold, as you should respect theirs.

The bigger picture

Are we parenting today in a manner today that is all about making things easier for parents or are we parenting for healthier conscious children? Is placing six month old babies in full time childcare in the best interests of that child? Are we relinquishing our parental responsibilities over to paid professionals for purely economic reasons? Economics is after all, about the value of “things”. What is the value of a well-loved child throughout his or her lifetime?

There is a millennium of violent, exploitive and sadistic cultural behaviour towards children entrenched in our collective unconscious, and only a handful of sporadic decades that have been characterised by the desire to nurture and value children. Robin Grille prefaces his book by saying, “The key to world peace and sustainability lies in the way we collectively relate to our children.”

This might not be the first occasion in human history on which this idea has been expressed. Today however, groundbreaking research has brought new confirmation to this ancient idea. Our understanding of early childhood development has grown so rapidly in recent years, that we can now say the following with unprecedented confidence: “the human brain and heart that are met primarily with empathy in the critical early years cannot and will not grow to choose a violent or selfish life.” This is Robin Grille. Parenting for A Peaceful World.

There is a link between how we parent our own children and the levels of violence and degradation in our communities. Each moment with our children provides the opportunity to foster respect for self and others, to nurture them with the same enlightened quality of love that you desire in your own life and to above all allow their individual spirit to flourish. When you as a parent are temporarily subsumed by your negative emotions (rage, despair, and the like) find ways to vent these elsewhere away from your children, remembering that in reality they are often just very small children, not the “Toddzillas” they sometimes feel like. As with all moments that seem to be overwhelming remember, “this too will pass.”

There is no future in a return to a spurious golden age of discipline and authoritarian control, as often promulgated by media commentators. This was clearly a time characterised by violence and force. There is no turning back the pages of time and there is no quick fix, raising children consciously is time consuming, challenging and the true consequences of an act of love.

References

Parenting for a Peaceful World

By Robin Grille

Longueville Media 2005

www.our-emotional-health.com

The Continuum Concept

By Jean Liedloff

Penguin Books 2004 reissue

Unconditional Parenting

By Alfie Kohn

Aria Books

The Natural Child – Parenting from the Heart

By Jan Hunt

New Society Publishers, Gabriola Island BC 2001

The Aware Baby : A New Approach to Parenting

By AJ Solter

Shining Star Press, Goleta California 1998

The First Relationship – Infant & Mother

By Daniel N Stern

Harvard University Press 2002.

©Sudha Hamilton

Appeared in WellBeing Magazine

Midas Word

www.sacredchef.com

Together We Can Heal Ourselves

EMOTIONAL HEALING – AF-X RELEASE THERAPY.

Heading: Emotional Healing.

Subheading: Af-x Release Therapy.

What first attracted me to Af-x Release Therapy©, was the notion of respect for our own mind’s ability to heal ourselves, inherent within its philosophy. Here, it seemed, was a process that put the onus on self-responsibility, instead of the almighty therapist. Having tried numerous therapies, I now have a greater respect for anything that puts me in touch with my own wisdom, rather than something that makes me dependent on someone or something else. It intrigued me, too, when I was told there would be only three sessions and I would not be required to speak much in any of them. This was definitely like no counselling I’d had before.

A Zen-like flavour pervaded my encounter with Af-x’s founding practitioner, Ian White, with few words on my part and from him a confidence in my ability to “right my own mental and emotional cart.” The silence growing within me was a welcome change from the usual chatter as I listened to him outlining the coming sessions. Why was I here? I suppose you could call it mild depression. I was also interested in experiencing this therapy. Closing my eyes and sitting back in my chair, I opened my mind to the words being spoken to me.

Af-x Release Therapy© is based on the work of the School of Affectology, developed by Australian psychotherapist, Ian White. Its roots are in studies are in studies of early childhood and the discovery that we develop a subtle emotional sense well before we begin to think conceptually. In the period of birth to 18 months, we’re developing our feeling selves long before we learn words and how to think in a narrative way. We learn what feeling responses work for us and this is the basis of the development of our emotions. This information is stored by the limbic brain, there to be called on when we require an emotional response. The process is referred to as neuro-encoding. Many of the scientific studies of this early learning period are covered in books by Goleman, Damasio, LeDoux and others.

“Of course, our affect -meaning emotional reactions, are immediate and don’t allow us to think about them because they are happening at a subconscious level – the reactions defy our rational selves,” says Ian. “Through this we build a habit of feeling,  that eventually grows into our own unconscious sense of self.” Af-x Release Therapy© predicates that these first learning’s have a powerful influence on how we react emotionally throughout our life, often without realising why. As these feelings are experienced pre-verbally, it is, Ian’s view, ineffective for the client to attempt to “talk it out.” “What is important is to allow the client to focus on, and safely reach, that inner feeling space, and it’s only through silence and a quietening of the mind’s chatter that this is possible,” says Ian. “Once there, the subconscious mind’s own sophisticated self-correcting gear is available to a simple ‘reminder like’ suggestion.”

“So isn’t this just hypnotherapy?” I put to Ian. “I prefer to use the term ‘assisted self attention’, or ‘focus  on feelings’, as it’s not necessary for the client to be in any particular state for the process to work, and the term ‘self attention’ also describes the meditative state, which I think is a closer fit for this work,” responds Ian. “Also, what is integral to understand here is that, unlike hypnotherapists and all other counsellors and psychotherapists, we are not responding to a particular complaint voiced by the client, because of course the client has not said anything. The Af-x practitioner is appealing to the client’s own innate ability as a perfect being to make the necessary adjustments to their emotional self.”

As I hear these words and ruminate on being a ‘perfect being,’ memories of my own spiritual journey filter into consciousness. I remember being told stories by my spiritual ‘master’ about how insanity was dealt with in the East, in the time of Lao Tzu; how the suffere would be locked in a cell in complete darkness with no contact with any other person, meals being slipped under the door. It sounded barbaric but, apparently, it was often a quick cure as the inflamed mental state was not pandered to and an encounter with the”original face or self” was hard to avoid. The strict adherence of the client to the no-speaking approach in Af-x therapy and the self-attention consciousness of the meditative state ring a few bells for me, so I am not surprised to learn that Ian White trained as a Zen Bukkyo monk in his earlier years.

“Yes, I sat in Zasen in black hakama robes, being whacked on the back with an oak walking stick by the senior monk and scrubbing a sterile, perfectly clean floor over and over again, and all that other exciting stuff, but I never really took to it because it didn’t deal with my impatience about helping bring peace to my fellow person,” says White.

It is perhaps that focus that has led Ian to a life devoted to assisting in the healing of thousands through the development and refinement of Af-x Release Therapy©. Through the School of Affectology, Ian White has trained Af-x practitioners in Australia, the US and Europe. He and those who are using the therapy in their work have had particular success in dealing with those apparently suffering from the many forms of depression, as well as a host of other mental-emotional problems. Ian says, “One of the most important aspects of the Af-x approach is that we do not consider that ongoing psychotherapy is productive in changes for the better. In fact, ongoing therapy actually gets in the way of people making the mental and emotional change choices that bring about success.”

“How do you monitor whether three sessions are enough or are effective at all?” I ask.

“Over the past 10 years, every Af-x client has been asked to participate in a feedback system,” Ian ventures. “Questionnaires are sent out guaranteeing that the client’s responses will remain confidential and anonymous. We just get the pure data and so we know in the majority of cases that it is working.”

Many ex-clients have come forward to volunteer their personal stories about their experiences with Af-x. It’s through this process that I am able to read through testimonials from clients who have visited an Af-x practitioner. Although these people range widely in age and circumstance, there’s a common theme, which runs through their experiences. In nearly all cases, they were previously informed by health professionals that they were suffering from depression, panic attacks or stress and required medication. One testimonial in particular caught my attention – “Lisa’s Story.” I think it was because, being a teenager, Lisa (not her real name) conveyed her situation with that rawness and emotional honesty often seen in her age group.

Lisa’s Story (age 17)

“For many years I suffered from what is known as clinical depression, a diagnosis I received from psychiatrists and doctors. From the early days of my problem, I was prescribed various antidepressants. I also suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. During this time, I thought about suicide on many occasions. Life seemed to be of no use, no purpose, and I didn’t want to spend the rest of it living in the big black hole I seemed to exist in. I felt lost and alone. No one knew how to help me. Of course, many people tried to help, but for a long while I suffered alone, thinking I was beyond help; just willing myself to die. On more than one occasion, I attempted to take my life, never thinking I could find any solutions to getting any better than just coping from day to day, taking drugs and lashing out at everyone and everything around me.

“My friends and family were desperate for my recovery. Endless visits to the school counsellor seemed to make no difference. I spent many months ‘in therapy’ with a psychiatrist. Same outcome. Those many years of taking antidepressants and even alternative natural medication resulted in no answer. In fact, things were getting steadily worse. Quite apart from my depressive sickness, there was a steadily increasing pressure on me to get better. Pressure that people who had no idea of the loneliness of me applied. I know they had the best intentions, but they didn’t know they were adding incredibly to my burden.

“Then my parents heard about Ian White and his work, which he called Af-x therapy. My parents had no idea how it worked and, quite incorrectly, translated it to me as being ‘hypnotherapy.’ This, of course, didn’t help my expectations and I was opposed to the idea of seeing him from the start. In fact, I was very sceptical about the idea, I thought it would be another case of crazy person with crazy antics claiming to have all the answers. For this reason, I refused the treatment.

“After months of my family pleading with me to ‘give it a go’, I reluctantly agreed. In all honesty, that was merely to stop the pleading and give me an excuse to say to them, ‘See, this didn’t work, either!’ I walked into his rooms, making it very obvious that I didn’t want to be there and I was only there to ‘shut everybody up’.  Of course, I was determined to derail anything he was going to try with me. As a result of my many visits to other counsellors and therapists, I was certain I knew how to handle him to my own ends.

“But I was very surprised at his approach. Now, in hindsight, I would say I was pleasantly surprised. Ian was lovely and considerate of the fact that I had been pressured to undergo treatment. He talked about that pressure right from the outset and gave the impression that he knew all about how I felt about ‘everybody trying to tell me what’s best for me’.  He made me feel very comfortable and relaxed and told me I was ‘the boss’. In other words, he did not do or say anything I was uncomfortable with and I was given no reason to oppose the idea of going ahead with helping myself out of the dilemma.

“He explained the procedures of Af-x very clearly, removing any idea that there was ‘a mystery’ about what he had to offer. Ian explained he didn’t want me to talk unless I wanted to ask a general question about the treatment. He explained why it was important for me not to try to put my problems into words. That was a great relief, because I had been trying unsuccessfully to put my problems into words for years. I had always left counsellors’ offices wondering whether I had really explained things in a truthful way.

“After my third session I thanked Ian for his time and walked away wondering when and if I would notice any change. In some ways, even though I had enjoyed my time in the therapy, I still couldn’t see how it could help to ‘say nothing’ and ‘take notice of my self’. I did what Ian suggested and tried not to analyse what we had done in therapy. As a matter of fact, I tended to forget I had gone to see him.

“About a month later, I stated to feel very strong, physically and emotionally, and I decided to stop taking medication for my depression. I had depended on that medication for such a long time, that there was a part of me that seemed to be saying, ‘Well, I’ll stop taking it and that’ll prove that I can do without it.’ But that didn’t happen. I started to notice that my energy levels were gradually rising and my desire for sleep was declining. I also started to notice I had a calmer and less aggressive approach to negative situations. My friends, my family and my teachers all noticed and commented on this change. I no longer felt a need to resolve my problems with violence, verbal or otherwise, and for the first time in my life I felt happy. Although I did not understand how the therapy worked, I remember on many occasions, the things he said and explained came back to me in those moments when I once would have become depressed or lost my temper.

“Today, eight months after my therapy, I am still not taking medication, I’m attending the gym three times a week and I seem to not react to things as I used to- angrily. I receive compliments all the time on how much I have improved in all areas of my life. At times, these comments are about changes that I think are obvious, but sometimes I’m surprised that people have noticed some of the more gentle changes to who I am. I feel like I have eventually found myself, and found the person inside that I once used to be, and found the person I can be.”

No analysing?

The idea that we can undergo change without analysing it, talking it through and even intellectually understanding that change is baffling for many people. In many of the volunteered stories I read the most common response was: “I don’t know how this thing worked but it did.” Ian White talks about ‘re-education’, that the work of Af-x Release Therapy© is all about re-educating our early emotional selves. This is subtle stuff and it doesn’t employ any high tech gadgetry….well, except, that is, for the most sophisticated gadget of all, the human mind. Perhaps as we evolve further we will learn to value the finer workings of the human brain. At present, our models of our own consciousness are computers, which in truth are terribly inadequate.

For many people, the whole purpose of their visit to a counsellor is to pour out their problems, so this ban on words can be a major deterrent. Ian explains it’s absolutely vital to the success of the therapy: “As soon as you listen to their story you are complicit in their world paradigm – the half truths, the snippets of pseudo self-help theories they’ve picked up and applied to their own situation; and you are caught in their web with them. The Af-x practitioner comes clean to the table and bypasses all this completely, working directly with the subconscious emotional mind.” White likens this process to the Zen therapeutic approach of “holding the mirror firmly.”

After speaking with Ian for many hours about his past training and personal experiences, I begin to get a picture of how this therapy has come into being. The development of Affectology has been a constant evolution of a work that began with a desire to understand the qualities of consciousness. Having at its core a profound respect for the ‘perfection’ of humankind, it’s a therapy for a conscious age. Also, at that core seems to be a deep concern for the way society believes many of the damaging myths about our mental and emotional wellbeing.

How was it for me? I experienced an upsurge of self-belief immediately after the sessions, which I had over a three week period. My self esteem, which had been low, due to a failed relationship that had ended some 16 months before, felt markedly stronger at the conclusion of the sessions. While I was suffering only a low level of depression, the results were gentle and subtle, yet definite. As for curing ‘the human condition’, Ian White maintains strongly that our human condition is already perfect but needs some guidance for reflective emotional and mental healing. That’s the nature of Af-x Release Therapy©.

There are now a number of practitioners who have been trained by the School of Affectology in Australia, the US and Sweden. Ian White is currently in Greece, training practitioners in Athens.

©Sudha Hamilton

Appeared in WellBeing Magazine.

Eco Living Magazine

Midas Word

Cooking school on the sunshine coast, the Sacred Chef cooking classes, where you will prepare great food, discover new recipes, eat, drink and meet new like minded people.

Materialism Our One God

Today in the harsh daylight of our overcrowded cities, in developed nations around the globe, we are encouraged to worship only one god, the holy dollar. People are rushing about in their cars, and on public transport, to reach their destinations, their places of work and of investment, where labour and lead may be turned into gold. Sitting at terminals, tapping keys, in the hope that interest rates will rise or fall, that the market will strengthen their position; and that bears will turn into bulls. If you can imagine an animated city scene, with hundreds of besuited pedestrians crossing the pavements, all with a cartoon circle above their heads, showing their thoughts as a dollar sign. This is the charge of the light brigade, where horses have become mobile phones and helmets and swords, iPods and sunglasses.

Newspapers, and online sources, today are filled with economic imperatives, and this obsession, which began in the late nineteen seventies, has become the overriding concern for dad and mum; and their kids. Money is on everyone’s lips and in everyone’s mind, how to get it, how to make it, how to keep it; and how to hide it. Everyone’s become  a banker and governments are complicit in this – the tax department has driven these changes , as your tax return became more and more complex, you had to think like an accountant to make sense of it. Paul Keating, as rock star Treasurer, had a hand in it, as he, and PM Hawke, deregulated the banks and made public announcements about “banana state economies.” Suddenly everyone had to get up to speed on the balance of payments and interest rate figures daily made the front page. It was like a crash course in economics, skewed with the dramatics and sensationalism that sells papers.

There are and were positives, about this new found economic literacy amongst the hoi polloi, as people are always empowered by knowledge. In this new era of freedom, individuals and groups, were able to break down decades and centuries of banking obfuscation, to achieve their wants; even women, who had been particularly disadvantaged by the prejudices of this male dominated industry. Economic growth came spurting out, after years of lazy conservative rule, people got money and invested it in new businesses and real estate – the housing market exploded. Of course we got some excessive behaviour, Alan Bond, Christopher Skase etc but generally it was much more for the good, as a greater number and spread of people were enabled to become productive.

However, and I will use a controversial analogy here to illustrate my point, the economic awareness grew and has now become such an overweening thing that it has strangled all other gods. I liken it to the historical journey of Western women, from their hair covered and protected imprisonment in wifely roles, through the suffragettes and then the women’s liberation movement, up until now in their emancipated state from legislated prejudice; but still with the biological necessities to be women. This potentially challenging, dichotomous position is most dramatically seen in the form of the traditionally attired Islamic woman, as she represents the other extreme pole, as if she has just stepped out of the pages of history into the twenty first century. I respect the fiercely won freedoms of today’s Western woman, but also see the conflicting impact that the demands of the world have made upon the inner life of some women. In a similar vein, today’s awareness of the economic imperative has damaged the inner life of us all, removing perceived value from other pursuits not so closely held to the material bosom.

As Science, in the service of money, has slain the Christian religion, condemning it to the irrelevancy of a surfeit of poorly attended suburban churches clamouring for ageing attendees, the great god avarice has filled the breach. Materialism, what you can buy with money, has taken hold of head and heart inside the majority of us all. What is the holiest, most sacred, thing that you can purchase? It is of course the home, a house or flat, villa or apartment, but  a home by any other name just the same. This haloed quest, the often life time journey devoted to owning your own home, is, in Australia anyway, a culturally approved goal that lies beneath the day to day activity of millions. It gives meaning to life to many of these people, and I imagine the banks must really love it. It reminds me of the association between diamond rings and marriage; doctors, pharmaceutical drugs and illness; and other firmly entrenched cultural beliefs. How do you get people to work all the time and do it more or less willingly? By making what they want so expensive that they have to. If the average home is priced around nine times the average income, and you have to borrow hundreds of thousands of dollars from the banks at substantial and fluctuating interest rates, then you are going to be tied into working for a very long time. Mentally, by the time you have paid off your house and loan, you are often so brain washed into that behaviour that you go on working anyway. Homes bought as investment properties, charge rentals at a market value so determined,  that they can pay off housing loans and or profit accordingly – thus making shelter/housing expensive for everyone.  The goal for many in owning their own home is financial freedom, which often really means, once achieved, becoming a landlord and profiting from others, for money as they say does not stand still and you will be advised by those who work with money to invest your new found freedom in more real estate; and the cycle continues.

Going to work every week day, and often doing something that you dislike in some way, treating another human being in  a less than  human way by focusing on the money at the expense of everything else, damages the soul some say. You might go to your doctor and complain that you are not feeling, dare I say it, happy, and he most probably will tell you that you are depressed and prescribe an antidepressant.

“Over the last 30 years, rates of depression have been steadily increasing in Western societies. In the last ten years, consumption of antidepressants has doubled in the most advanced Western countries. Today, more than 11 million Americans are taking antidepressants. The estimated number of people in Britain taking antidepressants is two million. In Australia, 66 percent of those seeing a GP for the first time about depression have a chance of being medicated – in most cases with antidepressants. These data are so stark that most of us and our institutions prefer not to think about them.”

Dr David Servan-Schreiber, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Pittsburgh University School of Medicine

Author of Healing Without Freud or Prozac, 2004, Rodale.

 

Then, in a tra la la drugged state, not caring so much about a lot of things, unable to achieve an orgasm, you will keep on doing what you were doing, working in much the same way and edging hopefully closer to that nirvana, called financial freedom. When you set out on the journey as a youngish adult, I imagine that the many things you associate with financial freedom will change over the years and that when you get there, often decades later, you will be a completely different person. It is like any long journey, in that it is better to make the experience of your journey your succour than the goal itself. Otherwise you are training yourself, every day, to switch off subtly and desensitise yourself to life, killing yourself a little bit each day in the hope that when you get to the end you will be able to turn yourself back on; and enjoy that wonderful financial freedom you see in the scenes depicted in those TV ads for the banks.

If you read a little history and have a good look at the Christian religion, you will see that belief in god, for much of their sixteen hundred years in power, was not optional. From the time of Constantine, the Roman emperor in the fourth century AD when Christianity became the state religion – the Holy Roman Catholic Church,  if you did not believe in a Christian god, and their version of that Christian god, you were very likely to be put to death. This heavy handed approach began to soften after the Renaissance in the sixteenth century, but life remained very hard for those who did not acquiesce and worship in the prescribed manner. Jews of course were murdered, exiled, banned and generally hated since the time of Christ. The crusades slaughtered millions of Muslims over centuries and religious pogroms have continued the genocide of both Jews and Muslims by Christians. I always smile when I remember Sunday School, and the things I was told about the poor Christians being thrown to the lions by the Romans, of course this was true for the three centuries it happened,  but nobody was teaching the children about the next twelve centuries of Christian atrocities committed against the rest of the world; and also within their own communities in the prosecution of heresies. History always favours the victors.

Within, and despite all this bloodshed, many people had an experience of god being present within their lives. It seems in a lot of instances to have provided these individuals with a sense of belonging to something divine, which was beyond the reach of those with the swords. I would posit that the very threat to some people’s belief in god, through perceived heretical accusations, as in the time of the Cathars in France in the thirteenth century, and in the very bloody later schism between Catholics and the Reformation Church in the sixteenth century, to name but a few, intensified their experience of their religion and god. Nobody loves quite so much as when that love is threatened and or about to go away. Religion, and or belief in god, is always like that enormous elephant in the room, which will not go away.

“Superstition requires credulity, just as true religion requires faith. Deep-rooted credulity is so powerful that it may even, in false beliefs, be thought to perform miracles. For if anyone believes most firmly that his religion is true, even if it is in fact false, he raises his spirit by reason of that very credulity until it becomes like the spirits who are the leaders and princes of that religion and seems to perform things which are not perceived by those in a normal and rational state.”

Cornelius Agrippa (1486-1535)

De Occulta Philosophia

I ask myself, a lot, what belief in god really is. Rationally there is no evidence for  the existence of a god, and in my historical search so far, there never has been any evidence. In Christianity’s case, we now clearly know that the gospels in the Bible, which were written between seventy and up to two hundred years after the time of Jesus, are not reliable historical accounts and indeed are more like PR releases or overly favourable biographical sketches, designed to sell Christianity to the Roman power elite and others. The account of Pilate for instance, is completely fictitious and reworked by the writers of the gospels to exonerate the Romans from the execution of Jesus and to put that blame squarely upon the Jews; which has had onerous historical consequences to put it mildly. Christianity is not alone in creating fictions to make it divine and more than merely human, in PR and sales there is a great and long lasting tradition, which is about making your product uniquely special and divinity ticks all those boxes. The tablet which held the ten commandments, where is it and who else but Moses really saw it and if it was placed in the Ark of the Covenant, where is it also? The Mormons then, through their prophet, Joseph Smith Junior, and I imagine from his impression of the historical precedent set by Moses as reported in Exodus, had a solid gold tablet from the Angel Moroni containing their scriptures, which conveniently only Joseph actually saw. Now Christians, who believe in Jesus rising bodily from the dead, often chuckle softly at the unrealistic beliefs of other religions, whilst having no problem with the outlandish collection of miracle stories and the like contained in their Bible. When we inherit beliefs from our parents, these loving and respected beings, and they likewise inherited their beliefs from their parents and so on, it is easy to understand why these often ridiculous beliefs have lasted so long. It is hard to shoot down the firmly held beliefs of your elders and those whom you love; many people choose to turn away from confronting the elephant in the room.

Buddhism, both the Theravada and Mahayana schools of Buddhism, are also a collection of stories tinged with the magical properties of the divine. Siddhartha Gautama, the Nepalese prince  did exist historically and most probably did venture out on a spiritual quest, but then the story tellers take over and we are regaled with unearthly feats designed to impress the uneducated masses. Hinduism is a fantastic collection of wildly colourful stories, creation myths involving gods and demons, many of them extraordinarily beautiful.

“An ancient Hindu warrior-king named Muchukunda was born from his father’s left side, the father having swallowed by mistake a fertility potion that the Brahmins had prepared for his wife; and in keeping with the promising symbolism of this miracle, the motherless marvel, fruit of the male womb, grew to be such a king among kings that when the gods, at one period, were suffering defeat in their perpetual contest with the demons, they called upon him for help. He assisted them to a mighty victory, and they, in their divine pleasure, granted him the realisation of his highest wish. But what should such a king, himself almost omnipotent, desire? What greatest boon of boons could be conceived of by such a master among men? King Muchukunda, so runs the story, was very tired after his battle: all he asked was that he might be granted a sleep without end, and that any person chancing to arouse him should be burned to a crisp by the first glance of his eye.

The boon was bestowed. In a cavern chamber, deep within the womb of a mountain, King Muchukunda retired to sleep, and there slumbered through the revolving eons. Individuals, peoples, civilisations, world ages, came into being out of the void and dropped back into it again, while the old king, in his state of subconscious bliss, endured. Timeless as the Freudian unconscious beneath the dramatic time world of our fluctuating ego-experience, that old mountain man, the drinker of deep sleep, lived on and on.

His awakening came- but with a surprising turn that throws into new perspective the whole problem of the hero-circuit, as well as the mystery of a  mighty king’s request for sleep as the highest conceivable boon.

Vishnu, the Lord of the World, had become incarnate in the person of a beautiful youth named Krishna, who, having saved the land of India from a  tyrannical race of demons, had assumed the throne. And he had been ruling in Utopian peace, when a horde of barbarians suddenly invaded from the northwest. Krishna the king went against them, but, in keeping with his divine nature, won the victory playfully, by a simple ruse. Unarmed and garlanded with lotuses, he came out of his stronghold and tempted the enemy king to pursue and catch him, then dodged into a cave. When the barbarian followed, he discovered someone lying there in the chamber, asleep.

“Oh!” thought he. “So he has lured me here and now feigns to be a harmless sleeper.”

He kicked the figure lying on the ground before him, and it stirred. It was King Muchukunda. The figure rose, and the eyes that had been closed for unnumbered cycles of creation, world history, and dissolution, opened slowly to the light. The first glance that went forth struck the enemy king, who burst into a torch of flame and was reduced immediately to a smoking heap of ash. Muchukunda turned, and the second glance struck the garlanded, beautiful youth, whom the awakened old king straightaway recognised by his radiance as an incarnation of God. And Muchukunda bowed before his Saviour with the following prayer:

“ My Lord God! When I lived and wrought as a man, I lived and wrought – straying restlessly; through many lives, birth after birth, I sought and suffered, nowhere knowing cease or rest. Distress I mistook for joy. Mirages appearing over the desert I mistook for refreshing waters. Delights I grasped, and what I obtained was misery. Kingly power and earthly possession, riches and might, friends and sons, wife and followers, everything that lures the senses: I wanted them all, because I believed that these would bring me beatitude. But the moment anything was mine it changed its nature, and became as  a burning fire.

Then I found my way into the company of the gods, and they welcomed me as a companion. But where, still, surcease? Where rest? The creatures of this world, gods included, all are tricked, my Lord God, by your playful ruses; that is why they continue in their futile round of birth, life agony, old age, and death. Between lives, they confront the lord of the dead and are forced to endure hells of every degree of pitiless pain. And it all comes from you!

“My Lord God, deluded by your playful ruses, I too was a prey of the world, wandering in a labyrinth of error, netted in the meshes of ego-consciousness. Now, therefore, I take refuge in your Presence – the boundless, the adorable – desiring only freedom from it all.”

When Muchukunda stepped from his cave, he saw that men, since his departure, had become reduced in stature. He was as a giant among them. And so he departed from them again, retreated to the highest mountains, and there dedicated himself to the ascetic practices that should finally release him from his last attachment to the forms of being.

Muchukunda, in other words, instead of returning, decided to retreat one degree still further from the world. And who shall say that his decision was altogether without reason?”

Joseph Campbell

The Hero With A Thousand Faces, 1993, Fontana Press, pp 194-196.

 

I would say that the original author of this story was probably a new parent, indicated by the hero wishing for eternal sleep over all other riches LOL. What it also tells us, is that the successful religions, which have been taken up by kings and therefore the state, all have messages at their heart which assure the listener that the rewards and sufferings of life are nothing in comparison with the promises of divinity. These are not their only messages, but clearly that message would resonate with the suffering masses – to hear that all life, good and bad, is an illusion, would be a panacea to the many who were decidedly short changed by the distribution of commonwealth. It is kings who have driven religions and enforced participation in their rituals, and kings who have controlled and censored the scriptural content of these religion’s holy books. Kings have had much more need of religion and its ability to control the behaviour of adherents, than have subjects had need of religious beliefs.

The belief in  a god, who will upon the death of the believer, even things up in terms of getting a fair share of the goodies, in heaven or some paradisiacal garden in the afterlife, has had broad appeal among the disadvantaged. I think we see that now in the fervent take up of extremist Islamic beliefs, many of these adherents are poor and have been racially slighted in the countries they reside in, and they believe that their actions and belief in a vengeful Allah will deliver them to paradise. The African American slaves took the Christian message of the meek inheriting the Earth to heart; women, who have been down trodden and abused by men, have found succour in religion, and it is often a belief which burns brightest in the hearts of mothers within a family; perhaps as salve to the tragedies that historically affected women through the deaths of their children. To believe in something better than avarice, competition and bloodshed is an understandable wish, if Darwinian evolution can only provide that the strong/intelligent will prevail, then it is perfectly understandable that humanity would invent a god that possibly offers the mercy of something else with a kinder face. Although the original incarnations of the old testament Judo-Christian religions were decidedly brutal.

“The great unmentionable evil at the centre of our culture is monotheism. From a barbaric Bronze Age text known as the Old Testament, three anti-human religions have evolved – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. These are sky-god religions. They are, literally, patriarchal – god is the Omnipotent Father – hence the loathing of women for 2000 years in those countries afflicted by the sky-god and his earthly male delegates.”

Gore Vidal

The belief in god has been used by the strong to justify their rule and control over others, the divine right of kings to rule, and the same belief has been employed by the weak to salve their hurts and pains in the hope for  a better deal in the afterlife; it is a flexible beast this elephant. All religions seem to make a heap of promises, which require your extinction before they pay out on them, and as nobody has as yet returned from the dead (Jesus excepting but then he works for them) we are none the wiser when it comes to knowing their truth and efficacy. The poor and down trodden masses, who were forced to subscribe to the state religion – the Holy Roman Catholic Church – would have taken what message of hope they could from their time in church. The church collected taxes from these same people and controlled their lives as much as the king, for hundreds of years people were expected to go on a religious pilgrimage during their lives and if they did not they were expected to pay the church the equivalent amount of money they would have spent on their holy journey. Representatives of the church would sell common folk religious relics, purporting to be splinters of the cross that crucified Jesus and the like, and absolutions; so you could buy a piece of heaven, a bit like you can buy financial freedom through home ownership today.

I would say that in our relationship with the new religion, materialism, we have done away with a good deal of hypocrisy about money and its importance in our lives. When I was growing up it was considered rude to ask direct questions about money, which set me back somewhat for many years when it came to negotiating transactions. It was bad form to ask how much something was worth – shopping could be a struggle – bad manners to ask how much someone earnt for a living – life was a bit less exacting I suppose – I imagine as it was before the advent of the electric light, when the edges of existence were not so pronounced in gaslight and candle light. Not a bad thing sometimes to have a bit more mystery. There was however a great deal of downplaying falsely of the importance of money and this was simple dishonesty in many instances. A bit like not being able to talk about ‘fucking’ and always having to say ‘making love’ when referring to sex, which was also the case when I was growing up, at least in polite society or with a lady. But sometimes ‘fucking’ is a more correct description for the activity and incorporates more of our animal natures, whereas ‘making love’ is a far more ethereal term, non-corporeal in fact; and “fucking” is after all only a small part of making love. There always needs to be black and white in the equation, otherwise if we are forced to pretend to only live in the light, we will get corruption, as we do with celibate priests and all those who deny the darkness and their shadow side.

Similarly we need the balance of spirit, inchoate things inside of us, anti-matter if you like, especially now in the time of money. When the zeitgeist is the passion for money and the things that money can buy and people are marching to the consumerist beat, for technological toys like IPhone’s and other gadgets, then the opposite pole becomes so very important. Familiarity breeds contempt and that is what is happening, and will happen even more, with materialism, its strident voice drowns out the sensitive and the mysterious. Science like a Krispy Kreme doughnut has deliciously explained the how but has nothing at its centre to explain the why – consciousness continues to elude neuroscience and all other branches of material knowledge. We need to realise that just because we have named a street on a map and given a moment in time a precise number, that it does not truly define the reality of that particular space and moment. We have killed the mystery, the unexpected nature of existence, by naming and measuring everything and then agreeing amongst ourselves that this is its only reality – we have turned symbols into things and references into realities. No wonder so many people are depressed, having lost contact with the earth beneath their feet, because they are walking on a line on a map inside their head.

I wonder if you or I were to go and lie in a dark cave for a year, a space with no light whatsoever, but with enough warmth, food and comfort to sustain us, and we had no contact with the outside world for that entire year – how we would be on our emergence from the cave after the year? Would our consciousnesses be changed, affected, transformed in any meaningful way? What would we encounter within our own psyches and would the zeitgeist of the times slip away? I imagine that our thoughts would continue to go around and around, as they do, chasing their own tails and tales. But after awhile, with no points of external reference, with which to reinforce their existence, these thoughts would, I suspect, evolve or devolve. Perhaps as in a spiral motion returning to their points of origin, regressing to where they came from – things someone said that we appropriated; wisdom from mum and dad; teachers and mentors; books that we have read; Sunday School scriptures; and finally back even further as we lie there in the pure blackness. We would, I suspect, begin to break down all thoughts and all the things we live by, our moral compass so to speak, our very own philosophy of life, and things would be reduced to essentialities and much of the guff would simply fall away. Close your eyes now and drift away.

©Sudha Hamilton

Materialism is our god

Today in the harsh daylight of our overcrowded cities, in developed nations around the globe, we are encouraged to worship only one god, the holy dollar. People are rushing about in their cars, and on public transport, to reach their destinations, their places of work and of investment, where labour and lead may be turned into gold. Sitting at terminals, tapping keys, in the hope that interest rates will rise or fall, that the market will strengthen their position; and that bears will turn into bulls. If you can imagine an animated city scene, with hundreds of besuited pedestrians crossing the pavements, all with a cartoon circle above their heads, showing their thoughts as a dollar sign. This is the charge of the light brigade, where horses have become mobile phones and helmets and swords, iPods and sunglasses.

Newspapers, and online sources, today are filled with economic imperatives, and this obsession, which began in the late nineteen seventies, has become the overriding concern for dad and mum; and their kids. Money is on everyone’s lips and in everyone’s mind, how to get it, how to make it, how to keep it; and how to hide it. Everyone’s become  a banker and governments are complicit in this – the tax department has driven these changes , as your tax return became more and more complex, you had to think like an accountant to make sense of it. Paul Keating, as rock star Treasurer, had a hand in it, as he, and PM Hawke, deregulated the banks and made public announcements about “banana state economies.” Suddenly everyone had to get up to speed on the balance of payments and interest rate figures daily made the front page. It was like a crash course in economics, skewed with the dramatics and sensationalism that sells papers.

There are and were positives, about this new found economic literacy amongst the hoi polloi, as people are always empowered by knowledge. In this new era of freedom, individuals and groups, were able to break down decades and centuries of banking obfuscation, to achieve their wants; even women, who had been particularly disadvantaged by the prejudices of this male dominated industry. Economic growth came spurting out, after years of lazy conservative rule, people got money and invested it in new businesses and real estate – the housing market exploded. Of course we got some excessive behaviour, Alan Bond, Christopher Skase etc but generally it was much more for the good, as a greater number and spread of people were enabled to become productive.

However, and I will use a controversial analogy here to illustrate my point, the economic awareness grew and has now become such an overweening thing that it has strangled all other gods. I liken it to the historical journey of Western women, from their hair covered and protected imprisonment in wifely roles, through the suffragettes and then the women’s liberation movement, up until now in their emancipated state from legislated prejudice; but still with the biological necessities to be women. This potentially challenging, dichotomous position is most dramatically seen in the form of the traditionally attired Islamic woman, as she represents the other extreme pole, as if she has just stepped out of the pages of history into the twenty first century. I respect the fiercely won freedoms of today’s Western woman, but also see the conflicting impact that the demands of the world have made upon the inner life of some women. In a similar vein, today’s awareness of the economic imperative has damaged the inner life of us all, removing perceived value from other pursuits not so closely held to the material bosom.

As Science, in the service of money, has slain the Christian religion, condemning it to the irrelevancy of a surfeit of poorly attended suburban churches clamouring for ageing attendees, the great god avarice has filled the breach. Materialism, what you can buy with money, has taken hold of head and heart inside the majority of us all. What is the holiest, most sacred, thing that you can purchase? It is of course the home, a house or flat, villa or apartment, but  a home by any other name just the same. This haloed quest, the often life time journey devoted to owning your own home, is, in Australia anyway, a culturally approved goal that lies beneath the day to day activity of millions. It gives meaning to life to many of these people, and I imagine the banks must really love it. It reminds me of the association between diamond rings and marriage; doctors, pharmaceutical drugs and illness; and other firmly entrenched cultural beliefs. How do you get people to work all the time and do it more or less willingly? By making what they want so expensive that they have to. If the average home is priced around nine times the average annual income, and you have to borrow hundreds of thousands of dollars from the banks at substantial and fluctuating interest rates, then you are going to be tied into working for a very long time. Mentally, by the time you have paid off your house and loan, you are often so brain washed into that behaviour that you go on working anyway. Homes bought as investment properties, charge rentals at a market value so determined,  that they can pay off housing loans and or profit accordingly – thus making shelter/housing expensive for everyone.  The goal for many in owning their own home is financial freedom, which often really means, once achieved, becoming a landlord and profiting from others, for money as they say does not stand still and you will be advised by those who work with money to invest your new found freedom in more real estate; and the cycle continues.

Going to work every week day, and often doing something that you dislike in some way, treating another human being in  a less than  human way by focusing on the money at the expense of everything else, damages the soul some say. You might go to your doctor and complain that you are not feeling, dare I say it, happy, and he most probably will tell you that you are depressed and prescribe an antidepressant.

“Over the last 30 years, rates of depression have been steadily increasing in Western societies. In the last ten years, consumption of antidepressants has doubled in the most advanced Western countries. Today, more than 11 million Americans are taking antidepressants. The estimated number of people in Britain taking antidepressants is two million. In Australia, 66 percent of those seeing a GP for the first time about depression have a chance of being medicated – in most cases with antidepressants. These data are so stark that most of us and our institutions prefer not to think about them.”

Dr David Servan-Schreiber, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Pittsburgh University School of Medicine

Author of Healing Without Freud or Prozac, 2004, Rodale.

Then, in a tra la la drugged state, not caring so much about a lot of things, unable to achieve an orgasm, you will keep on doing what you were doing, working in much the same way and edging hopefully closer to that nirvana, called financial freedom. When you set out on the journey as a youngish adult, I imagine that the many things you associate with financial freedom will change over the years and that when you get there, often decades later, you will be a completely different person. It is like any long journey, in that it is better to make the experience of your journey your succour than the goal itself. Otherwise you are training yourself, every day, to switch off subtly and desensitise yourself to life, killing yourself a little bit each day in the hope that when you get to the end you will be able to turn yourself back on; and enjoy that wonderful financial freedom you see in the scenes depicted in those TV ads for the banks.

If you read a little history and have a good look at the Christian religion, you will see that belief in god, for much of their sixteen hundred years in power, was not optional. From the time of Constantine, the Roman emperor in the fourth century AD when Christianity became the state religion – the Holy Roman Catholic Church,  if you did not believe in a Christian god, and their version of that Christian god, you were very likely to be put to death. This heavy handed approach began to soften after the Renaissance in the sixteenth century, but life remained very hard for those who did not acquiesce and worship in the prescribed manner. Jews of course were murdered, exiled, banned and generally hated since the time of Christ. The crusades slaughtered millions of Muslims over centuries and religious pogroms have continued the genocide of both Jews and Muslims by Christians. I always smile when I remember Sunday School, and the things I was told about the poor Christians being thrown to the lions by the Romans, of course this was true for the three centuries it happened,  but nobody was teaching the children about the next twelve centuries of Christian atrocities committed against the rest of the world; and also within their own communities in the prosecution of heresies. History always favours the victors.

Within, and despite all this bloodshed, many people had an experience of god being present within their lives. It seems in a lot of instances to have provided these individuals with a sense of belonging to something divine, which was beyond the reach of those with the swords. I would posit that the very threat to some people’s belief in god, through perceived heretical accusations, as in the time of the Cathars in France in the thirteenth century, and in the very bloody later schism between Catholics and the Reformation Church in the sixteenth century, to name but a few, intensified their experience of their religion and god. Nobody loves quite so much as when that love is threatened and or about to go away. Religion, and or belief in god, is always like that enormous elephant in the room, which will not go away.

“Superstition requires credulity, just as true religion requires faith. Deep-rooted credulity is so powerful that it may even, in false beliefs, be thought to perform miracles. For if anyone believes most firmly that his religion is true, even if it is in fact false, he raises his spirit by reason of that very credulity until it becomes like the spirits who are the leaders and princes of that religion and seems to perform things which are not perceived by those in a normal and rational state.”

Cornelius Agrippa (1486-1535)

De Occulta Philosophia

I ask myself, a lot, what belief in god really is. Rationally there is no evidence for  the existence of a god, and in my historical search so far, there never has been any evidence. In Christianity’s case, we now clearly know that the gospels in the Bible, which were written between seventy and up to two hundred years after the time of Jesus, are not reliable historical accounts and indeed are more like PR releases or overly favourable biographical sketches, designed to sell Christianity to the Roman power elite and others. The account of Pilate for instance, is completely fictitious and reworked by the writers of the gospels to exonerate the Romans from the execution of Jesus and to put that blame squarely upon the Jews; which has had onerous historical consequences to put it mildly. Christianity is not alone in creating fictions to make it divine and more than merely human, in PR and sales there is a great and long lasting tradition, which is about making your product uniquely special and divinity ticks all those boxes. The tablet which held the ten commandments, where is it and who else but Moses really saw it and if it was placed in the Ark of the Covenant, where is it also? The Mormons then, through their prophet, Joseph Smith Junior, and I imagine from his impression of the historical precedent set by Moses as reported in Exodus, had a solid gold tablet from the Angel Moroni containing their scriptures, which conveniently only Joseph actually saw. Now Christians, who believe in Jesus rising bodily from the dead, often chuckle softly at the unrealistic beliefs of other religions, whilst having no problem with the outlandish collection of miracle stories and the like contained in their Bible. When we inherit beliefs from our parents, these loving and respected beings, and they likewise inherited their beliefs from their parents and so on, it is easy to understand why these often ridiculous beliefs have lasted so long. It is hard to shoot down the firmly held beliefs of your elders and those whom you love; many people choose to turn away from confronting the elephant in the room.

Buddhism, both the Theravada and Mahayana schools of Buddhism, are also a collection of stories tinged with the magical properties of the divine. Siddhartha Gautama, the Nepalese prince  did exist historically and most probably did venture out on a spiritual quest, but then the story tellers take over and we are regaled with unearthly feats designed to impress the uneducated masses. Hinduism is a fantastic collection of wildly colourful stories, creation myths involving gods and demons, many of them extraordinarily beautiful.

“An ancient Hindu warrior-king named Muchukunda was born from his father’s left side, the father having swallowed by mistake a fertility potion that the Brahmins had prepared for his wife; and in keeping with the promising symbolism of this miracle, the motherless marvel, fruit of the male womb, grew to be such a king among kings that when the gods, at one period, were suffering defeat in their perpetual contest with the demons, they called upon him for help. He assisted them to a mighty victory, and they, in their divine pleasure, granted him the realisation of his highest wish. But what should such a king, himself almost omnipotent, desire? What greatest boon of boons could be conceived of by such a master among men? King Muchukunda, so runs the story, was very tired after his battle: all he asked was that he might be granted a sleep without end, and that any person chancing to arouse him should be burned to a crisp by the first glance of his eye.

The boon was bestowed. In a cavern chamber, deep within the womb of a mountain, King Muchukunda retired to sleep, and there slumbered through the revolving eons. Individuals, peoples, civilisations, world ages, came into being out of the void and dropped back into it again, while the old king, in his state of subconscious bliss, endured. Timeless as the Freudian unconscious beneath the dramatic time world of our fluctuating ego-experience, that old mountain man, the drinker of deep sleep, lived on and on.

His awakening came- but with a surprising turn that throws into new perspective the whole problem of the hero-circuit, as well as the mystery of a  mighty king’s request for sleep as the highest conceivable boon.

Vishnu, the Lord of the World, had become incarnate in the person of a beautiful youth named Krishna, who, having saved the land of India from a  tyrannical race of demons, had assumed the throne. And he had been ruling in Utopian peace, when a horde of barbarians suddenly invaded from the northwest. Krishna the king went against them, but, in keeping with his divine nature, won the victory playfully, by a simple ruse. Unarmed and garlanded with lotuses, he came out of his stronghold and tempted the enemy king to pursue and catch him, then dodged into a cave. When the barbarian followed, he discovered someone lying there in the chamber, asleep.

“Oh!” thought he. “So he has lured me here and now feigns to be a harmless sleeper.”

He kicked the figure lying on the ground before him, and it stirred. It was King Muchukunda. The figure rose, and the eyes that had been closed for unnumbered cycles of creation, world history, and dissolution, opened slowly to the light. The first glance that went forth struck the enemy king, who burst into a torch of flame and was reduced immediately to a smoking heap of ash. Muchukunda turned, and the second glance struck the garlanded, beautiful youth, whom the awakened old king straightaway recognised by his radiance as an incarnation of God. And Muchukunda bowed before his Saviour with the following prayer:

“ My Lord God! When I lived and wrought as a man, I lived and wrought – straying restlessly; through many lives, birth after birth, I sought and suffered, nowhere knowing cease or rest. Distress I mistook for joy. Mirages appearing over the desert I mistook for refreshing waters. Delights I grasped, and what I obtained was misery. Kingly power and earthly possession, riches and might, friends and sons, wife and followers, everything that lures the senses: I wanted them all, because I believed that these would bring me beatitude. But the moment anything was mine it changed its nature, and became as  a burning fire.

Then I found my way into the company of the gods, and they welcomed me as a companion. But where, still, surcease? Where rest? The creatures of this world, gods included, all are tricked, my Lord God, by your playful ruses; that is why they continue in their futile round of birth, life agony, old age, and death. Between lives, they confront the lord of the dead and are forced to endure hells of every degree of pitiless pain. And it all comes from you!

“My Lord God, deluded by your playful ruses, I too was a prey of the world, wandering in a labyrinth of error, netted in the meshes of ego-consciousness. Now, therefore, I take refuge in your Presence – the boundless, the adorable – desiring only freedom from it all.”

When Muchukunda stepped from his cave, he saw that men, since his departure, had become reduced in stature. He was as a giant among them. And so he departed from them again, retreated to the highest mountains, and there dedicated himself to the ascetic practices that should finally release him from his last attachment to the forms of being.

Muchukunda, in other words, instead of returning, decided to retreat one degree still further from the world. And who shall say that his decision was altogether without reason?”

Joseph Campbell

The Hero With A Thousand Faces, 1993, Fontana Press, pp 194-196.

I would say that the original author of this story was probably a new parent, indicated by the hero wishing for eternal sleep over all other riches LOL. What it also tells us, is that the successful religions, which have been taken up by kings and therefore the state, all have messages at their heart which assure the listener that the rewards and sufferings of life are nothing in comparison with the promises of divinity. These are not their only messages, but clearly that message would resonate with the suffering masses – to hear that all life, good and bad, is an illusion, would be a panacea to the many who were decidedly short changed by the distribution of commonwealth. It is kings who have driven religions and enforced participation in their rituals, and kings who have controlled and censored the scriptural content of these religion’s holy books. Kings have had much more need of religion and its ability to control the behaviour of adherents, than have subjects had need of religious beliefs.

The belief in  a god, who will upon the death of the believer, even things up in terms of getting a fair share of the goodies, in heaven or some paradisiacal garden in the afterlife, has had broad appeal among the disadvantaged. I think we see that now in the fervent take up of extremist Islamic beliefs, many of these adherents are poor and have been racially slighted in the countries they reside in, and they believe that their actions and belief in a vengeful Allah will deliver them to paradise. The African American slaves took the Christian message of the meek inheriting the Earth to heart; women, who have been down trodden and abused by men, have found succour in religion, and it is often a belief which burns brightest in the hearts of mothers within a family; perhaps as salve to the tragedies that historically affected women through the deaths of their children. To believe in something better than avarice, competition and bloodshed is an understandable wish, if Darwinian evolution can only provide that the strong/intelligent will prevail, then it is perfectly understandable that humanity would invent a god that possibly offers the mercy of something else with a kinder face. Although the original incarnations of the old testament Judo-Christian religions were decidedly brutal.

“The great unmentionable evil at the centre of our culture is monotheism. From a barbaric Bronze Age text known as the Old Testament, three anti-human religions have evolved – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. These are sky-god religions. They are, literally, patriarchal – god is the Omnipotent Father – hence the loathing of women for 2000 years in those countries afflicted by the sky-god and his earthly male delegates.”

Gore Vidal

The belief in god has been used by the strong to justify their rule and control over others, the divine right of kings to rule, and the same belief has been employed by the weak to salve their hurts and pains in the hope for  a better deal in the afterlife; it is a flexible beast this elephant. All religions seem to make a heap of promises, which require your extinction before they pay out on them, and as nobody has as yet returned from the dead (Jesus excepting but then he works for them) we are none the wiser when it comes to knowing their truth and efficacy. The poor and down trodden masses, who were forced to subscribe to the state religion – the Holy Roman Catholic Church – would have taken what message of hope they could from their time in church. The church collected taxes from these same people and controlled their lives as much as the king, for hundreds of years people were expected to go on a religious pilgrimage during their lives and if they did not they were expected to pay the church the equivalent amount of money they would have spent on their holy journey. Representatives of the church would sell common folk religious relics, purporting to be splinters of the cross that crucified Jesus and the like, and absolutions; so you could buy a piece of heaven, a bit like you can buy financial freedom through home ownership today.

I would say that in our relationship with the new religion, materialism, we have done away with a good deal of hypocrisy about money and its importance in our lives. When I was growing up it was considered rude to ask direct questions about money, which set me back somewhat for many years when it came to negotiating transactions. It was bad form to ask how much something was worth – shopping could be a struggle – bad manners to ask how much someone earnt for a living – life was a bit less exacting I suppose – I imagine as it was before the advent of the electric light, when the edges of existence were not so pronounced in gaslight and candle light. Not a bad thing sometimes to have a bit more mystery. There was however a great deal of downplaying falsely of the importance of money and this was simple dishonesty in many instances. A bit like not being able to talk about ‘fucking’ and always having to say ‘making love’ when referring to sex, which was also the case when I was growing up, at least in polite society or with a lady. But sometimes ‘fucking’ is a more correct description for the activity and incorporates more of our animal natures, whereas ‘making love’ is a far more ethereal term, non-corporeal in fact; and “fucking” is after all only a small part of making love. There always needs to be black and white in the equation, otherwise if we are forced to pretend to only live in the light, we will get corruption, as we do with celibate priests and all those who deny the darkness and their shadow side.

Similarly we need the balance of spirit, inchoate things inside of us, anti-matter if you like, especially now in the time of money. When the zeitgeist is the passion for money and the things that money can buy and people are marching to the consumerist beat, for technological toys like IPhone’s and other gadgets, then the opposite pole becomes so very important. Familiarity breeds contempt and that is what is happening, and will happen even more, with materialism, its strident voice drowns out the sensitive and the mysterious. Science like a Krispy Kreme doughnut has deliciously explained the how but has nothing at its centre to explain the why – consciousness continues to elude neuroscience and all other branches of material knowledge. We need to realise that just because we have named a street on a map and given a moment in time a precise number, that it does not truly define the reality of that particular space and moment. We have killed the mystery, the unexpected nature of existence, by naming and measuring everything and then agreeing amongst ourselves that this is its only reality – we have turned symbols into things and references into realities. No wonder so many people are depressed, having lost contact with the earth beneath their feet, because they are walking on a line on a map inside their head.

I wonder if you or I were to go and lie in a dark cave for a year, a space with no light whatsoever, but with enough warmth, food and comfort to sustain us, and we had no contact with the outside world for that entire year – how we would be on our emergence from the cave after the year? Would our consciousnesses be changed, affected, transformed in any meaningful way? What would we encounter within our own psyches and would the zeitgeist of the times slip away? I imagine that our thoughts would continue to go around and around, as they do, chasing their own tails and tales. But after awhile, with no points of external reference, with which to reinforce their existence, these thoughts would, I suspect, evolve or devolve. Perhaps as in a spiral motion returning to their points of origin, regressing to where they came from – things someone said that we appropriated; wisdom from mum and dad; teachers and mentors; books that we have read; Sunday School scriptures; and finally back even further as we lie there in the pure blackness. We would, I suspect, begin to break down all thoughts and all the things we live by, our moral compass so to speak, our very own philosophy of life, and things would be reduced to essentialities and much of the guff would simply fall away. Close your eyes now and drift away.

©Sudha Hamilton

What is it to be human?

Our Posthuman Future – Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution

By Francis Fukuyama

Profile Books, 2003.

Book Review

A disturbing orange cover, with a picture of what looks like a conveyer belt full of robotic looking babies stretching into infinity, possibly delayed my reading of this brilliant book. Its publication date accidentally synchronised with the birth of my own children and perhaps I was too involved in the real thing to have the time to read about biotechnology and its impact on humanity; well I am glad I finally have. Francis Fukuyama likes to invoke the heavy hitters of philosophy right off and Nietzsche’s ominous quotes are littered throughout at chapter beginnings, I suppose it is called getting your attention. Fukuyama weaves around all over the place  a bit at first, delineating things by way of reference to George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, before settling down and finding his stride. These two books were the two poles of possible fears for Fukuyama’s American baby boomer generation, representing the futuristic totalitarian IT nightmare in the former and the more creepy biotechnological nirvana in the latter. We have of course now arrived into a world where, both the technologies featured in these two books  are part of our reality, and the author goes on throughout his book to show, that it is the biotechnological possibilities of which we have most to fear.

He classifies biotechnology into three major parts: Neuropharmacology; Genetic Engineering; and Lifespan Extension. Beginning with Neuropharmacology Fukuyama paints  a vivid picture of now, in our Western urban worlds, with facts about the prevalence of antidepressant drug use through Prozac and its many SSRI cousins, and even more disturbingly the massive use of Ritalin being prescribed for our children. We are deeply involved in mind and behaviour control on  a societal level through our complacent acceptance of these drugs. Doctors are prescribing antidepressants and amphetamines to men, women and children at an alarming rate. Why is this happening? Why has something like ADHD suddenly gone from not existing at all to enormous levels within our communities? Fukuyama does not take a moralistic tone in his discussion about this but brings the facts and their ramifications into sharp focus. There are various forces at work within these situations: our expectations regarding happiness are very different now to twenty or thirty years ago and our reliance on medical science has been consistently encouraged by governments and the pharmaceutical industry during the last few decades. Economically we are all expected to provide maximum levels of productivity, whether you are a mother or a teacher, we do not have the same amount of time to devote to the care of our children in many cases and we therefore expect our children to be more cooperative at school and at home. When they are not we now classify them as deficient in attention and drug them.

At the same time, as we are officially giving happy pills to a substantial percentage of our population, we are condemning and prosecuting another large section as illegal drug users. You can see the strange hypocrisy in this fact, as Fukuyama points out the similarities, chemically speaking, between  many of these drugs, like Ecstasy  and the SSRI’s, and that Speed is an amphetamine like Ritalin. It is these fine lines of demarcation within our societies, defining what neuropharmacology is really for, that this book explores. Drugs are OK if we are sick but are bad if merely for pleasure and that certain levels of unhappiness then become sickness (depression), as do certain levels of not paying enough attention (ADHD). Who is deciding the points on the scale? Doctors and the medical industry? Don’t they have  a vested interest in all these matters and indeed a trillion dollar interest in pharmacology? A lot of what this book is about, is asking who in our Western civilised worlds should be making these decisions for society and is it really OK to let the market decide? Being an American, Francis Fukuyama is living in the nation, which has the most avaristic culture in the world, especially around technological developments; as we have seen in the IT industry. He postulates that we as a world need to think about the consequences of these biotechnological developments and legislate for them; for our own protection.

Moving on to Genetic Engineering, and the myriad of biotechnological challenges we now and in the very near future face, Fukuyama shepherds in Dolly the Sheep and its obvious pointer to human cloning. Human cloning is currently banned in most countries and faces a huge amount of legal discussion, as to the rights of  a clone within our societies. The whole genetic question raises the unholy spectre of Eugenics and the Nazis experiments on the weak and their racially judged inferiors. It was not only in Germany and Japan, where these ghastly experiments went on, scientists in the US in a Jewish hospital infected the chronically ill with cancer cells, in another case it was mentally retarded children with hepatitis and the more famous case (they made a movie about it) of 400 black men, many of whom were purposely not treated for syphilis with available medication to record the diseases progression. Fukuyama’s book indicates that this whole racial genetic argument is still very much alive in the US and that the nurture versus nature questions splits the sciences down the middle on political grounds. He states that the Left have always come down on the side of environmental factors affecting intelligence levels within races – not enough to eat so the brain doesn’t develop – where the Right have been firmly on the side of white people being genetically superior in terms of intelligence. Reading all this myself I wondered about the tests being utilised in all this so called intelligence testing, the criteria for intelligence and how it is judged? Scientists, politicians and bureaucrats all testing on the basis of their own preconceived ideas about what it is to be intelligent in a predominantly white Anglo Saxon culture. And even beyond questions of race what is intelligence anyway, is it IQ or Emotional Intelligence or Spiritual Intelligence?

The horrors of rational fascistic science have lodged in the cultural consciousness and so there is a justifiable amount of fear around Genetic Engineering. In contrast to this are the things we now can do about diseases and conditions like cystic fibrosis and Down’s syndrome, which are now being screened for with preimplantation genetic diagnosis. The extension of this will be designer babies, where technology again offers the graduation from avoidance of sickness to ideas of perfection. Introducing questions of who will be able to afford it and will this become the province of the rich, thus increasing the gulf between the haves and have nots?  The author emphasises again that governments must play their part in making sure that genetic engineering does not disadvantage the already disadvantaged within our communities; and goes further to suggest that it could indeed be a technology used to improve things for these sections of the community. Fukuyama recommends international bodies for the guidance of biotechnology and offers the examples in the nuclear industry as proof of possible efficacy in this regard. The dangers of the nuclear industry (as seen by the crisis currently in Japan) are, I think he is inferring, on par with the dangers inherent in the biotechnology sphere.

Francis Fukuyama talks a lot about what it means to be human and the essential qualities of humanness. He invokes Aristotle and a whole pantheon of philosophers and moral judges in answering this question. In the end I think he comes down on the side of feeling, that it is our human feelings which define us as human. So we have the harsh and hostile world of Darwinian evolution and the men in white lab coats on one hand and the subjective consciousness of the feeling world on the other, his book may be an informed cry for help. An Achtung before it is too late and we have sold our humanness for bigger boobs, and smarter and taller, better looking kids. Stem cell therapy and the use of research involving embryos are or have been hot topics recently, with governments voting on legislation, and often doing so as votes of conscience rather than on party policy grounds. The ability to grow new cells and possibly limbs and other organs for the sick versus the rights of the unborn. This takes us back to abortion and how that is still used in many Eastern countries as a genetic engineering tool in favour of males over females in the human species. Abortion is a very volatile topic in the US especially, and anything to do with it opens up that great religious divide and debate. The genetic engineering argument embraces the scientist’s pragmatic view that if we are terminating unwanted pregnancies, and also if there are extra embryos left over from IVF, then we should be using these for embryonic stem cell research. Against this we have the Right To Life religious organisations and also non-religious anti-biotechnology groups, who see this work as a corruption of the rights of the individual, which opens the question –  at what age do we become human?

The third part of this whole dilemma, according to Fukuyama, is science’s work in prolonging our life expectancies. The twentieth century has seen the life expectancies raised in women from 46.3 and men from 48.3, in the US in 1900, to that of 79.9 for women and 74.2 for men in the year 2000. The author points out, when you combine this with falling birth rates in most Western countries we are now facing  a rapidly changing age demographic, meaning that fewer young people will be supporting many more older and infirm people in our communities and economies. In addition to the well publicised affect this will have on social security systems, there will be further ramifications with a growing divide internationally, with developing nations with higher birth rates having younger population demographics; more angry young men. Fukuyama posits that the US will have a decidedly older and more feminine population, as women live longer, and that this will contrast politically with their dealings with these young countries (I think it more likely to be a good thing as grandma is less likely to bomb people). Our Posthuman Future goes onto list many of the possible scenarios related to these population and demographic shifts related to life span extension, and in particular talks about our attitudes to the elderly, facing challenges; when we are forced to care for them on mass and they are taking our jobs – (which the baby boomers have been doing for years in Australia LOL). Fukuyama spells out the medical facts about prolonging life spans and that quality of life experience will not necessarily accompany this extension; and that our cultural worshipping of youth is very much about sexual reproductivity. Lives lived for the majority of years as aged, and non-reproductively,  will present clear cultural and psychological challenges for the participants and for all those around them. Medical science is taking us all down this path because nobody really wants to die and wants to see their parents die, and euthanasia is feared by many within our societies. We do and will need to have these discussions about death and what it means to have a life, beyond the ‘hands off’ and keep everything alive for as long as possible, which is the  current position of governments and medical science. I think we as a community will have to grow up and religions will need to pull their heads out of the sands of two millennia ago – which is when their religious texts were written.

Francis Fukuyama, being an American and working in the US education system, as the Professor of International Political Economy at John Hopkins University, in my opinion shies away from stressing the very large part that the free market in our capitalist economy plays in this. Despite the fact that the overall message of his book is that we need impartial democratic government bodies policing biotechnology, I still think the author misses out on emphasising the fact, that we as a society leave  a great deal of medical science in the hands of a market intent on making as much money as possible out of whatever situation they find or create. Our democratically elected representatives in government are too dependent on popular decisions and election campaign dollars from the pharmaceutical industry. Our scientists are equally dependent on private enterprise funded research grants and even the scientific journals, which publish the reports, are dependent on big pharma advertising dollars. If we value the dollar over everything else how will we ever get any impartiality in any decision making body and if every government department is only potentially lasting four or five years how can we carry out any far reaching legislation?

This is a really worthwhile and enjoyable book to read, drawing on our great Western philosophical canon to pose many of the questions, we as a society face in regard to the biotechnological revolution.

©Sudha Hamilton

Finally finished with physics

Book Review
The Dancing Wu Li Masters
By Gary Zukav
Fontana/Collins 1980.

Who else out there, has carried a book around  with them for twenty plus years, with the intention of reading that book, because it is really something they ought to read? That book for me, has been The Dancing Wu Li Masters by Gary Zukav, first published in 1979 and subtitled – An Overview of the New Physics. Now I was never big on science at school, in fact I only did biology in my final years of school, because you had to do at least one science or math subject for tertiary admittance, and I failed that. In the years since I have developed a far keener interest in the non-humanities and I put down my adolescent indifference to the sciences, to the appalling teachers we had – repressed science types with no flair for teaching. In the intervening years, I have found a fulfilling passion for Richard Dawkins, the celebrated atheist and biologist, reading several of his enlightening books about selfish genes and blind watch makers (being a selfish bastard myself I could easily relate to those genes). I have also flirted with neuroscience and a number of studies of the human brain by a variety of scientific authors.

I suppose, however, I have read more of what they call pseudoscience than anything else, all those self-help authors who have picked up a scientific concept or two along the way, and expounded upon them for a book or ten. Deepak Chopra springs to mind but there have been many more, Wayne Dyer, Stuart Wilde, Ken Wilber, and the list could go on and on. What these authors were and are, are great communicators – able to deliver a concept with best selling aplomb. Gary Zukav, fits into this category, but the content of The Dancing Wu Li Master does not – physics  of the non-Newtonian, non-classical sort, is not light reading.

The mystery of the sub-atomic world and its quantum mechanical behaviour has always appealed to me. Sure, the gist of it all, has leaked out into my world over the last thirty years and has conceptually influenced many of the seminars I have attended and many of those pseudoscientific books I have read. Still I wanted to read this account of it and I had carried this book with me for most of those thirty years. The fact is, it wasn’t even my book, as confirmed by the name inscribed in the fly leaf, it was an old girlfriends and I am not even sure if my appropriation of it was entirely mutually consenting – but this kind of things often happens with books doesn’t it? I had of course made several attempts to read the thing over the years, but a number of issues had prevented me each time. These stumbling blocks are clearly visible now in hindsight, but at the time were not.

Firstly, the edition of this book was a Fontana paperback, now yellowing with age, and the size of the type is highly sympathetic to the sub-atomic subject matter. I would begin the book and after struggling through a couple of pages, listing experiments involving excited atoms and a Danish physicist in 1913, I would begin to glaze over and squint at the black micro copy now dancing on the page. If I had also had a few glasses of wine with dinner, then the whole campaign would be very short lived and the petit paperback would find its way back onto the bookshelf; to be lost for another half decade or so.

Another little matter, or amusing literary device employed by the author, Gary Zukav, which I was entirely unaware of in my earlier unsuccessful stints at reading the book, was the fact that there are multiple chapters but they are all entitled Chapter One. So to the dilettante reader who makes only occasional forays into the book, one never seems to make any headway and when picking the book up again after a break is never sure where he is up to. This in combination with the seemingly nonsensical content of quantum physics is almost a guarantee of unreadability.

However, today, I stand before you as  a new man who has now read an overview of the new physics. I did have to make  a few changes in my life for this remarkable achievement to have finally occurred. My marriage break down and separation, was an important stepping stone I now see, and the following break down and separation from my subsequent lover was also a vital link in the chain. I would also posit, that my removal from all friends and acquaintances, was equally integral to creating the necessary ambience for the reading of this title. Not having  a job, which could get in the way and distract from the level of concentration required, was another step in the right direction.  In toto I would say that all of these things contributed to having the time and space to complete my reading of The Dancing Wu Li Masters.

It is an excellent and at times exciting book about a topic that is often imponderable and at heart indescribable. Quantum Theory is really a theory about the ultimately elusive nature of matter’s smallest building blocks. Very early on in the book we discover that these sub-atomic particles can  be observed to be behaving as both waves and particles, but not at the same time. This immediately, for the first time since Isaac Newton gave us our classical world view of the physical nature of all things, created uncertainty; bona fide scientific uncertainty. What does science love to do in such circumstances? Name things of course, so we end up with Werner Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle , which states that we cannot know both the position and the momentum of a particle with absolute precision. The more we know about its position, the less we can then know about its momentum. Our study of the sub-atomic world was taking us beyond what we knew as common sense and delivering us into an unknown  realm of maybes. The book shares the shocking sentiment, this experimentally verified new physical reality sent into the established scientific world. Nothing would ever be the same again in that once rock solid scientific strata.

Quantum physics questions, and then dissembles, the once sanctified truth, which was the separation between the observer and what was being measured. In the old Newtonian scientific view, when and where an experiment was held, all things being declared,  had no measurable influence on the outcome. Not so in the sub-atomic universe, as particles or waves appeared and disappeared depending upon the observer’s intention to observe. Zukav then begins to introduce the parallels with Eastern philosophical mysticism and in particular it’s understanding that language can never deliver experience. Similarly words and even mathematics cannot adequately convey what is truly happening on the sub-atomic level. All languages have their own symbology and rules which define them and thus make them unable to describe things that they were never designed to describe. So our attempts at understanding sub-atomic reality, our ability to picture it, are on par with languages attempts to describe mystical enlightenment or satori. This conundrum has been poetically referenced as to be like a finger pointing at the moon.

The Dancing Wu Li Masters are another poetic metaphor, taken from one of the many meanings of the Chinese characters utilised in the term Wu LI. They are used here to reference the possible nature of the sub-atomic realm, as a quantum energy field alive with dancing probabilities. The indications of the unfolding new physical realities of the quantum universe are tantalisingly mysterious, and mathematical equations and so called proofs are all pointing at something so much more alive with unforeseen possibilities. The book imparts a real attitude of excitement  and infers that science, and physics in particular, has awoken after a long sleep of certainty.

One of the more interesting possibilities is the Many Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, in this it is posited that when a particle appears in a certain place or behaves in a certain way, all the other possibilities occur simultaneously in other dimensions or worlds, rather than just not happening in this world. This level of unknown behaviour and reality is mainly possible because we are unable to perceive the sub-atomic world with our senses (the dark adapted eye apparently can detect single photons, but all other particles must be detected indirectly). Zukav is suggesting that the nature of existence is far more unpredictable than we once thought.

Humanities best loved and most well known scientist, Albert Einstein, graces the pages of The Dancing Wu Li Masters and we are informed of his importance to much of the new understanding of the quantum universe. Einstein himself rejected the pragmatic Copenhagen Interpretation of the new physics, citing its inability to represent all aspects of physical reality. He felt that a true theory needs to be able to interact with all levels of reality and that Quantum Mechanics may indeed be the best explanation for the sub-atomic realm but could not provide a one to one correspondence between reality and theory. The book is very illuminating when explaining Einstein’s Theories of Relativity, both the general and the special; it is worth reading for this alone. We all know Einstein as some sort of twentieth century celebrity but very few of us actually understand the ramifications of his scientific work. Basically he brought a fourth wall or dimension to our understanding of the universe, a space-time continuum, that alone shattered our age old assumptions built on Euclidean geometry. He questioned things, which had never been questioned before, and that is why he was able to come up with answers nobody else had. Of course much of what he achieved and gave us goes completely over my head but this book did give me a grasp of a few things.

A large part of the book is concerned with explaining how sub-atomic particles collide into each other and reform as completely new particles. This is what Zukav calls the dance and we hear a lot today about particle accelerators and colliders, including the giant one, CERN, in Switzerland. He  explains how the colliding and accelerating of these particles is really all about creating mass, as sub-atomic particles have no mass at rest, and through this activity the quantum behaviour can be observed in an attempt to get closer to understanding the fabric of the universe. We have particles and anti-particles, photons, protons, neutrons, electrons, possibly gravitons, and the four forces known as: the strong force; electromagnetic force; weak force; and the gravitational force. Bubble chambers are used to capture the particle behaviour on photographic plates, as we chase the elusive tail of this mythical dragon, made up of sub-atomic matter.

I have used the Internet to check out the ongoing Quantum Physics journey,  since the book’s publication, and there has been the discovery of the W & Z Bosun particles discovered at CERN in 1983 – which led to a Nobel prize for its discoverer in 1984.  There is still talk of discovering Tachyons, once we are travelling beyond the speed of light, and we hypothetically think a lot about Gravitons too. So what has happened to the general zeitgeist of physicists since the publication of this book? Well not  a lot as far as I can see, there still seems to be those (the majority) who keep their head down and don’t formulate the big questions and carry on like technicians, to borrow a defining term from the book, rather than as scientists in search of the  answers to “what is the nature of existence?” But how the hell would I really know. The book is worth the read, even if it took me thirty years to scale it, and in a way it’s timeline is my timeline, as I first ventured out on the road to nowhere at about the same time. So if you have a little space in your life I recommend a dance with a Wu Li master.

©Sudha Hamilton

 

 

 

Do you long for certainty?

The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind

By Julian Jaynes

First Mariner Books  ISBN 0-618-05707-2

Do you ever long for certainty?

Do you wish that you had a direct line to God, especially during those times when you are really unsure about what direction to take in your life? Would you like to be able to reach deep inside yourself and just know the right answer? Well according to the theory of the bicameral mind, and its part in the origin of consciousness, we all do have that facility within our brains. In fact it was originally all we did have, as it preceded that sense of I or me, our very own subjective consciousness which we all have today. Julian Jaynes published his book, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, in 1976 and the waves of influence have been spreading out ever since. The first sixty pages of his book are to me, the most immediately confronting and mind expanding – as they focus on what consciousness actually is or is not.

I mean consciousness is not mere reactivity or being awake, it is much more than that isn’t it? Think about what your sense of consciousness is to you. Where is your consciousness located? Is it somewhere on or in your body? What purpose does your consciousness serve? Is it so that you can learn things? Jaynes lists a number of scientific studies showing that our ability to learn things is not dependent upon our sense of consciousness and is actually impeded by it – a perfect example is when we are overly self-conscious we cannot perform basic tasks that involve motor skills, like talking. Try it now, try speaking and at the same time focus on your articulation, bringing your full consciousness to bear on every enunciated syllable. How each vibrational sound is made inside your throat – you will just stop speaking as it becomes overwhelming.

Our consciousness is also not a perfect copy of our experiences; it is not some recording device taking impressions of memories and storing them. You can show this to yourself by asking yourself what information you can remember about walking into the last room you walked into. Try remembering what was in the room and where, get a piece of paper and write down your results. You will find that you have very little to show for it, so our consciousnesses are not providing this service. Jaynes goes on to say, that when we recall a memory, we do not call up the actual physical memory but a generalised version of it largely invented by ourselves to represent whatever it is – swimming or walking in a park. The memory is a construct involving thoughts we have about the activities and often is influenced by how we imagine others see us swimming or walking  – so our consciousness is not a faithful recording of reality.

What Julian Jaynes does posit, is where our sense of consciousness has come about from, and he points the finger at language and in particular languages love of metaphor. In fact he states language is largely metaphor and shows how many words have their roots in metaphor, for example the verb ‘to be’ comes from the Sanskrit ‘bhu’- meaning to grow, or make grow. Similarly our English words ‘am’ and ‘is’ have evolved from the Sanskrit ‘asmi’- meaning to breathe. Think to yourself now just how many times our language references other familiar pictures to describe less familiar things. For example how we use parts of the human body to describe parts of other things, like the face of a clock, cliff, card; and the eyes of needles, storms, potatoes; the lips of cups, craters; and the tongues of shoes, joints; and the teeth of winds, cogs etc. Indeed we reference and compare constantly with language, in the meaning of the words themselves and in the expressions we invent to make metaphors with. The vastness of language over several millennia means that we lose touch with its incredible elasticity and tend to think of it as some solid construct, missing the obvious evidence it has to show us about ourselves and the origin of consciousness.

It is through the ability to metaphor that the modern lexicon of our language is able to remain a reasonably finite collection of words. Otherwise like the Inuit we would have to have 150 different words for snow.  Jaynes talks about the function of metaphor being one of creating understanding through familiarity. We use a familiar example to shine a light on something less familiar, but ultimately this brings us a limited understanding based entirely on the quality of the metaphor employed. I would go on to say that it means we actually know far less than we think we do. An example of this would be our understanding of what happens during an electrical storm, we have learnt at school that it involves air pressure, vacuums and particle friction but we have no real direct experience of what happens and only a theoretical knowledge of it. Our sense of subjective consciousness is based on how we perceive existence through the use of language and referencing through metaphor. It is like the relationship between a map and the geographical reality of what has been mapped. So ultimately our knowledge of reality is a tenuous one at best and it is riddled with theoretical understandings based on metaphorical language constructs. You think you know stuff that you don’t really.

Where does that certainty principle, I mentioned at the beginning, fit into this? It seems like we are getting further and further away from that shore of assurance.  Well Jaynes postulates, that prior to the development of our illusory sense of subjective consciousness, we had a fully operating God spot in the right hemisphere of our temporal lobe and it was here that we received direct transmission from the divine.  He lists a number of studies into the brain, where scientists have removed sections and whole hemispheres to reveal what areas of the brain are responsible for particular functions and how the brain adapts. He gives a fascinating example where a dozen neurosurgical patients have undergone a complete commissurotomy, the cutting of all interconnections between the two hemispheres down the middle, as a treatment for severe epilepsy. For a period of about two months some patients lose the power of speech, but gradually they all return to a sense of being how they were prior to the operation. Normal observation of these patients shows nothing amiss either. However under rigorous study it becomes clear that these people cannot see things on their left side and the dominant left hemisphere projects a repeat of the right side vision to fill in the gaps. Even more astonishing though is that the right hemisphere is actually seeing  what is there on the left side but because of the cutting of the interconnections between the two sides of the brain has no way to communicate it. Tests have shown that these people using their left hand only can point out or draw what is on the left side but have no verbal or cognitive awareness of what is there. It is like there are two separate awareness’s, functioning independently within the same body.

Julian Jaynes goes on, in a satisfyingly erudite manner, to illustrate through countless examples taken from the great recorded histories like The Iliad, The Old Testament, Egyptian Papyruses, Babylonian Cuneiforms and more, how different humankind was at this time. That this difference in how they thought was because of this bicameral mind, that there were literally two separate minds at work within them. A dominant over mind or ‘God speak’ operating from the right hemisphere, which was triggered during times of stress or novel challenges outside the normal demands of the time, and the more prosaic left hemisphere ‘man brain’, which at this time had no subjective consciousness, no sense of I or me. Jaynes takes you on a journey from languages evolution from signalling and intentional calls to the development of nouns. Remember for a long time nobody had a name for things and for individuals. Death was a different beast when the one who died did not even have a name. Try and imagine a time when the sense of self was so small or non-existent and nobody had names. When there were no names for things and no words, how would you think?

It is an incredible theory and explains a great deal about why we worshipped statues of Gods and why we buried dead kings and priests surrounded by things to eat and treasures to keep. If these Gods and their stewards were continuing to speak inside our heads, beyond their allotted life spans, then it makes a lot more sense. Religion has always been about control and if that controlling centre is inbuilt inside our brains, then anthropologically a lot of stuff makes much more sense. It explains why we still cling to religions even now hundreds of years after science had ridiculed their fundamental platforms of belief. We are programmed to believe and to follow instructions, to understand – meaning stand under God. Jaynes maintains an aesthetic appreciation for the many wonders that humankind’s devotion to beliefs in Gods have produced and he is perhaps an example of his Christian American background. Still his insights and his theory are so startlingly original that he may have had no reason to bother with aggravating those of a more narrow minded persuasion.

The modern parallels with those suffering from schizophrenia are explored and Jaynes again proffers numerous scientific studies to illuminate his theoretical claims. Joan of Arc and many of the first testament prophets are prime examples of individuals recorded in history, who heard the passionate and insistent voice of God inside their heads. These individuals often laid down their own lives and willingly would lay down the lives of others to fulfil the ambitions of the voice within their head. Culturally now we have no room for those exhibiting a fully fledged bicameral mind and the voice of God; and so we lock them up and drug them.

Jaynes points out that it is poetry, and poetries link to music, which has been the favoured speech of the Gods, with most of our great and holy missives having been delivered in verse. This fact again links the right hemisphere of our brains with our connection to God, for it is in the right hemisphere where we process music and poetry. Music comes from the Muses, and they were the daughters of Zeus – bringers of divine inspiration; our connection to the Gods. Poets have, down through the ages, often been deliverers of God’s message, and the metre of verse can have a hypnotic, hallucinatory effect upon the listener. So many of the strands of evidence produced by Jaynes, to promote his theory, illuminates these aspects of humanity with a new understanding of where they actually fit in with the greater scheme of things.

What I particularly like about Julian Jayne’s theory of the bicameral mind is that it shatters the safe and often dry outcomes of much of the study of ancient history. We are so far removed from these ancient millennia’s, and the translations of these earliest languages are rife with modern approximations, making so many assumptions about who they were grossly incorrect. This book is a quantum leap into the unknown and really worth reading on so many levels.

The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind

By Julian Jaynes

First Mariner Books  ISBN 0-618-05707-2

©Sudha Hamilton

Suicide Rates in Australia

I read with interest a recent report into suicide, published in The Australian newspaper, where it was declared that the rate of annual suicide in Australia is now well over that of road deaths. It was, I think, a feature written with the intent to ring a few alarm bells in this country, amongst leaders and the general population. It seems to me, that despite the wonders of a hundred and one different kinds of mobile phones and the fabulous Internet, the lives of Australians, and in particular our youth, are not all they are cracked up to be. Not as they are portrayed in the countless advertisements for all these apparently necessary, technological accoutrements, which are inferred to guarantee a fulfilling life. The ability to communicate in a nanosecond, eighteen different ways does not come with an automatic application to develop content worth communicating it seems.

Gizmo’s and gadgets are not going to provide meaning to anyone’s life. Waiting for the new IPhone or tablet reader is no anteroom experience on the way to transformation. As a society it seems that we are always helpless to effect any real change in the face of the markets relentless desire to satisfy the inconsequential. The article in The Australian did not address why people and in particular young people are killing themselves, it was all about what could have been done in the period immediately prior to the suicide to prevent such a tragedy.  I always ask myself why are people killing themselves, obviously there are unique situations in each case but I also feel that there are shared cultural reasons why suicide rates are so high. Where is the deep meaning in these people’s lives and where is it rooted in your own life? Ask yourself honestly what you are living for?

  • to live a good life
  • for friends and family
  • to amass a fortune
  • so I can have sex with ______
  • to help others
  • for the love of some god
  • because I love ________
  • I don’t know I have never thought about it

These are some of the answers I have received in answer to this question. We emerge from our mother’s womb and make our way through childhood, having reasons to ‘be’ indoctrinated into us, by everything from the messages inherent within our children’s stories to the modern version of fireside chats with our parents. Early life comes with a moral behind every lesson, in the hope that it will train us to becomes good little boys or girls. But what are we training or being trained for? What is the real core meaning in our lives? What is the bottom line, when everything is stripped away and you are bare of all the palaver? Is it merely a choiceless choice! This is it, you have been born and there is no meaning to it, beyond the obvious experience itself, so just get on and make the best of it.

It seems we in the wealthy West, where we are not generally scrabbling for our very survival, are caught in this intensely materialistic society. A society which celebrates the invention and endless modification of communication devices and holds the purchase of your own home, as the most sacrosanct of all things that can be achieved in a lifetime. So our kids grow up as consumers not creators, coveting sleek, technological gadgets. Believing that liberty and freedom are achieved in the possession of these talismans of ‘cool‘, just like in the ads. Perhaps when things don’t quite pan out the way the advertising  has been assuring them they will  and they are subject to a concerted digital hate campaign via Facebook by their ‘so called’ friends, then these individuals are missing a reason to live for.

The cultural changes and evolution, which are endlessly unfolding, finds us at a time when the meaning of life, seemingly apparent in our parents and grandparents lives, have become a flicker on a screen – an entry in Wikipedia on a Google page ranking list. Belief in god has been subject to the erosion of a full twentieth century’s worth of scientific derision. So many sub-splinters of meaning came from this one awesome god delusion. Millions of people down the ages have been slaughtered in this belief and it emanates in our DNA like a blood disease. So we are left now at the altar of our lives looking around for the next suitor to give our lives something worth living for. Belief in ourselves perhaps?

Well we have become so functional in everything we do and say. Language has become so functional, losing all it’s flowery intrigues of earlier times. Education is so god damned functional, all about jobs and continuous assessments. Love has become pretty functional too, try before you buy living together and fast food divorce. Can functionality alone give deep and true meaning to life? My function in life is to ______________________ insert your own function in the space provided. Will that function give you the meaning you need to cope with tragedy and grief in your life?

If we really want to reduce the number of people killing themselves within our communities, I think we need to ask ourselves about the meaning of our lives. Digging bloody great big holes in the ground and selling ore to the Chinese is not going to provide us all with a meaningful reason to celebrate being alive. Having a new mobile phone is not going to change your life where it matters. How we educate our children and ourselves is going to get a bit closer in that search for meaning. We need to really have a look at our whole education system and see what it provides, beyond the ability to get a job. We need to move the ancient education set-up we have out of the nineteenth century, remove the god botherers from their positions of influence, and ask ourselves some real honest to _____? questions about ourselves and the meaning of life. We can do this we just need to care enough to do something.

Winter Spring Earth Wisdom

Eco Living Magazine presents:

Heading: Winter-Spring Earth Wisdom

By Glenys Livingstone Ph.D.

Intro: In the Southern Hemisphere we have just passed the Earth holy-day of Winter Solstice, which was in late June; and are moving into Early Spring which may be celebrated in early August and is traditionally named as “Imbolc”.

Winter Solstice is the Seasonal Moment of the year when Earth’s tilt leans us furthest away from the Sun – when the dark part of the day is at its longest. The stories of Old tell of the Great Mother giving birth to the Divine Child on this night, as henceforth the Sun’s light and warmth begin to return, and the ongoing creativity of Earth is assured. This Earth holy-day was adapted by Christianity as the time to celebrate the birth of its Divine Child, but the Divine Child of more ancient Earth-based religious practice was understood as renewed Being itself, the promise of never-ending renewal – apparent eternal Creativity itself. And just so, may we re-story it again in our times, with our own renewed understandings. From this point of the year on, for the next few seasons, Sun’s strength will grow, until it peaks at Summer Solstice and turns yet again.

At the sacred site of Newgrange in Ireland – known by its indigenous name as “Bru na Boinne” – where the megalithic mound is dated at 3200 B.C.E. , the Winter Solstice dawn lights up a Triple Spiral motif that is engraved on the inner chamber wall. It is thought that this Triple Spiral represents the Triple Goddess as She was known by the ancients in that place, and also that it represents the heart of the sacred heritage of ritual celebration of eternal creation, that the seasonal Wheel of the Year expresses, and that this site records .*

Winter Solstice is the time for the lighting of candles, for embracing the miracle of being, for choosing a joyful response to the awesome fact of existence, for celebrating the gift of birth. Birthing is not often an easy process – for the birthgiver, nor for the birthed one: it is a shamanic act requiring strength of bodymind, attention and focus of the mother, and courage to be of the new young one.

Birthgiving is the original place of “heroics”. Many cultures of the world have never forgotten that: perhaps therefore better termed as “heroics.”(In pre-Olympian times, Hera was Amazon Queen of the Land and not the “wife of Zeus”. Heracles was her hero, because he did her bidding, thus the term “hero” is derivative of “Hera”).

Patriarchal adaptations of the story of this Seasonal Moment usually miss the Creative Act of birthgiving completely – pre-occupied as they often are with the “virgin” nature of the Mother being interpreted as an “intact hymen”, and the focus being the Child as “saviour”: even the Mother gazes at the Child in Christian icons, while in more ancient images Her eyes are direct and expressive of her integrity as Creator.

Winter Solstice and Early Spring rituals may be a contemplation of the Creativity of the Cosmos – Cosmogenesis … how it all unfolds. When told from within a “Mother-mind” – a mind that connects the biological creativity of the female body to Cosmic Creativity, to our “Navel” lineage, to the Nativity of every being, then we are all the Holy Ones. And we all – female and male – may know the skill and care required for “birthing” the New, whether that is physical, psychological or however one categorizes it.

In Earth-based religious practice, the ubiquitous icon of Mother and Child – Creator and Created – expresses something essential about the Universe itself … the “motherhood” we are all born within (not simply a “brotherhood”). It expresses the essential Communion experience that this Cosmos is, the innate and holy Care that it takes, and the reciprocal nature of it: that is, how one is always Creator and Created at the same time. We cannot touch without being touched at the same time. We may realize that Cosmogenesis – the entire Unfolding of the Cosmos – is essentially relational: our experience tells us this is so.

Subheading:  Early Spring/Imbolc

The Early Spring/Imbolc celebration is traditionally a time of dedication to the nurturance of the New Young Being. Once again, this is no wimpy task: it is for the brave and courageous, whether one is committing to the new being in another, or in one’s self. The Great Goddess Brigid of the Celtic peoples is traditionally invoked for such a task. She has been understood for millennia as the ‘One Who tends the Flame of Being’: a Brigid-ine commitment is one that is unwavering in its devotion to the central truth of each unique particular self. The stories of old speak of Brigid in three primary capacities – that may need spelling out in our times, as they are almost forgotten skills: She is imagined as blacksmith, physician and poet …   all three.

Blacksmith is one who takes the unshapely lump of raw metal, melts it, then takes the fiery hot form and shapes it. This is no stereotypical “feminine” act: the Goddess of old is not bound by such patriarchal dualisms. She is spiritual warrior, shaman – this is her eternal virgin quality, never separate from the ‘mother’ quality or the ‘Old One’ quality, and no need to characterize such power as “masculine” or dissociate it from “nursery” activity.

Physician is one who understands the “physics” of being, of matter – how a body relates within itself and within its context, functions harmoniously and thus may heal/ become whole. In this role, Brigid is scientist, healer – none of it is separate. Her physics are biologically connected – an understanding of dwelling within a whole and seamless Universe.

Poet of Old is one who speaks the metaphors, the stories of cultural knowledge, the sacred language of creativity – one who “spells” what may be so. It is a power of spirit: the voice enabled by air, resonant with the winged ones – the birds – whose perspective transcends boundaries. The ancients knew Poetry as a sacred and powerful task – that with our words, we do create what is so. Brigid’s “motherhood statements” are statements of the Mother/Creator, Who once again is never separate from her whole self – the Young One and the Old One – represented in the Triple Spiral dynamic.

The coming into Being that Winter Solstice and Early Spring celebrates, is an awesome thing. It takes courage and daring. It has taken courage and daring – always. In these times of change, it is perhaps particularly so. Our times require the melting down of so much that no longer works, that will not carry us through. These times require the re-shaping and speaking of new realities – an aboriginal magic of new connections, with what is already present within us, if we can but plumb it, open to it deep within. This is a great seasonal moment to get with the plot of Creativity, to align ourselves with our Native Wisdom …the Wisdom that in fact brings us all into being. We may respond to the gift of being by receiving it graciously – and thus become responsible. Though we may feel inadequate, we are not – and we need to begin.

It can be a useful exercise to re-write prayers or songs learned perhaps too well as a child or later, to re-speak them and imbue them with new understandings. It is a way of spelling one’s self, of changing one’s mind – to articulate with each word and phrase what one truly believes to be so. And besides, many of the prayers and praises that are found in patriarchal religions of recent human history are often founded upon the expressions of some earlier Earth-based Goddess religion that is now unmentioned and buried. So any re-writing and listening to one’s own interpretations of the pattern of the prayer may end up being closer to its original sense, as well as speaking a new moment.

I offer the following, addressing the Universe as Mother:

Our Mother

Who is with us,

Holy is our Being.

Thy Kin-dom is present.

Thy Desire is felt throughout the Cosmos.

We graciously receive your infinite daily abundance.

May we forgive each other our lack of skill and insensitivity.

May we understand our inner guidance,

and perceive each other’s needs.

For Thine is the Kin-dom, the Power and the Story,

forever and ever.

Blessed Be . **

© Glenys Livingstone 2008

* See Martin Brennan, The Stones of Time: Calendars, Sundials, and Stone Chambers of Ancient Ireland. Rochester Vermont, Inner Traditions International, 1994.

** Glenys Livingstone, PaGaian Cosmology: Re-inventing Earth-based Goddess Religion. IUniverse 2005, p. 259, with acknowledgement of Karen Davis’ term “Kin-dom”, from “A Peacable Kin-dom and the Ethics of Eating”, EarthLight, Issue 51 Vol 14 No.2., Autumn 2004. p.54.

***Newgrange:  The Megalithic Passage Tombs of Newgrange,  Knowth,  Dowth, Fourknocks, Loughcrew and Tara are located in the present day County of Meath on the east coast of Ireland. The Boyne Valley Mounds at Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth were built around 3200BC making them older than Stonehenge in England and the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt. Built by Neolithic farming communities about 5000 years ago, the passage tombs have clear astronomical alignments such as the Winter Solstice Sunrise at Newgrange and the Equinox Sunrise at Loughcrew.

©Eco Living Magazine

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