From role to soul?

I suppose that to some people the theme of Connie Zweig’s book The Inner Work of Age: Shifting from Role to Soul will have no meaning. If we take the view that all life is on the surface, with no interiors, then what could inner work mean for the materialist? If we take what seems to me the sensible viewpoint, that we live in parallel interior and exterior worlds, and that through experience and inner exploration we can become more perfect beings, even align to what it is that led us to be born, then this book could have a lot of meaning for you.

Connie Zweig suggests that in the later part of life we have the opportunity to realise what our whole life process has been about, potentially becoming Elders and mentors for others. The process of building ego, that constituted the first part of life, evolves into a learning process, an uncovering of the strong ego that we built, to transcend its fundamental selfishness and in the light of our new understanding make a positive contribution aligned with our unique destiny.

This is, of course, aligned with the messages underlying transpersonal psychologies and all the world’s major religions and spiritual teachers, extensively quoted by Connie. She suggests that there are two major processes that we go through – psychological reconciliation with the Shadow (and, I would suggest, any traumas accumulated there), and the movement from dominance by ego to being led by our inner soul/spirit.

For me this was like a revision of many approaches to psychological and spiritual growth that I have become aware of over a lifetime,  and important reminders they are.

Becoming reconciled with our own failures and ultimate death are of course a part of this process – death being the great taboo in a surface-oriented culture, death being the end of ego.

Important to me was the emphasis on achieving wisdom, and moving towards the role of the wise Elder, and the importance of this role in society – a role forgotten in many countries including my own – where the upper house of Parliament is apparently misused to reward those giving money to Parties, rather than being the place for the most wise members of society to reflect on new developments.

An important book on an important subject, which is of course outside the current mainstream, but no less important for that.

What can we know?

What can we know about life? Start with what we might all agree on.

Look inside. I am a conscious subject.

Look outside. There appears to be an objective material world in which I experience. I have a body that operates in this external world.

There also appear to be in this world other conscious subjects, including those who conditioned me from birth, and including animals and other creatures. I recognise their interiority.

Much of that interiority is shared across humans (at least) – my surrounding culture.

Summary. Basic dualities.

Basic dualities
  • Interior/exterior or subject/object or conscious/material.
  • Individual/collective or me/society + culture.

Quadrants

We can express this as four quadrants; none is reducible to the others.

Wilber quadrants

These are the Four Quadrants of Ken Wilber’s Integral Psychology, and Ken and others have done a great job of mapping all human knowledge onto these four quadrants. See for example his Integral Psychology or his magnum opus Sex, Ecology and Spirituality.

For example,

  • modern science belongs on the right, as it is concerned with objectivity and, axiomatically, excludes the subject.
  • psychology and spirituality belong on the left, although scientific psychology and institutional religion attempt to reduce this to the right, or control it from the right.
  • culture belongs in the bottom left, and social and government systems in the bottom right.
Huber quadrants

These are also the four quadrants of the modern astrological birth chart. Astrology and astrological psychology have long encompassed all aspects of our being in the world. See for example Bruno & Louise Huber’s The Astrological Houses or Life Clock.

Limitations

Remember that the quadrants are an analytical breakdown, and can only represent suggestive truth. In reality we know that all is interconnected; models such as this may help, but always have their limitations.

What this does imply is that one-dimensional approaches to life cannot work. Materialism is a dead end; it cannot deal with interiors and ends up being inhuman. Control of people’s innermost thoughts through religious or political systems is another dead end; it cannot effectively deal with exteriors through science. Humanity has tried all of these through history.

We just have to embrace the complexity, and ultimately the mystery, of life.

Featured image licensed via Shutterstock.

Never Enough

Here’s another of Steve Taylor‘s poems, expressing aptly the accumulative tendency of the ego. The rich man never has enough money, always tries to make more; he wants the biggest yacht, or to get to Mars, or to control another company. The tyrant at the centre of Empire always wants more land, more people under his personal control. The espoused lover of freedom wants no obligation, no attachment to others, no rules, no common good. You know who you are, and who they are. But it will never be enough…

Steve’s poem expresses it so well.

Never Enough

All the possessions that you collect
and all the wealth that you accumulate 
will never be enough. 

All the success that you achieve
and all the attention that you attract
will never be enough. 

No matter how far your empire stretches 
no matter how absolute your power grows
it will never be enough.

Desires never sleep for long. 
Once they’re satisfied, they rise again, like waves,
faster and stronger than before. 

Every new desire is more difficult to meet
and brings more shallow, more short-lived fulfilment 
until eventually we become numb to happiness
and feel nothing but a raging frustration 
that consumes us inside and makes us hate the world. 

It will never be enough
until you give up the outer search for happiness 
and turn inside yourself. 

Beneath the restless surface of your mind
there is a natural harmony –
the radiance of pure consciousness 
softly vibrating, glowing with warm vitality 
like the freshness of a forest in spring. 

The harmony of your deep being 
never fades or slips out of reach. 
The more you attune to it, the more intense it grows.
The more you touch into it, the closer it moves. 

It can’t be exhausted because it’s immaterial
as intangible as air or light.
It can’t be exhausted because it’s eternal
and endlessly renews and refreshes itself.

Be still, and rest inside yourself.
Let your mind settle, and your thoughts slow down
until desires and fears dissolve away.

Then you’ll enter the deep space of being
and harmony will immerse you –
always present, and always enough.

Unconditional love and forgiveness

Edith Stauffer was greatly influenced by the teaching of the Essenes (2nd century BC to 1st century AD), and by Roberto Assagioli, the founder of psychosynthesis. The Essene Code of Conduct, which first came to prominence with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1945, bears striking resemblances to the principles of psychosynthesis. This little book Unconditional Love and Forgiveness (1987) explores some of the most important aspects of these teachings and this lived psychology.

The first essential is to retain and reinforce our connection to the inner Source of all things, or soul, Self, spirit, God as you prefer – through practice such as meditation. As a transpersonal psychology, psychosynthesis recognises this inner connection, which is the souce of wholeness with all beings, and is necessary for correct alignment of our will.

A vital concept is understanding of the brain’s filters – attitudes, which determine the mindset through which we address the world. Assagioli suggested that we can use our will to set goals and change our attitudes, and thus change our lives.

The Essenes gave out a Law of Attitudes, which is essentially to love the Source, love ourselves, and love other beings. The eight attitudes were their rules for living, aiming to bring into consciousness transpersonal attitudes. Roughly, these attitudes are: living in connection with the Source, awareness of self and deficiencies, humility, aiming for justice and fairness, loving without condition, without personal fault, serving peace, inner peace and serenity.

The correspondence with the teachings of Jesus Christ is apparent. Impossible in the modern world, you may say. Yet this is psychologically what will give you peace and alignment with the world.

The later part of the book focuses specifically on forgiveness. I have previously blogged on the subject of forgiveness, so will not repeat that here. What specifically struck me from the Essene Code was the idea that

“To forgive is to cancel all demands, conditions, and expectations held in your mind that block the Attitude of Love…”

Forgiveness does not depend on external circumstances. This is something we do for our own psychological health, enabling us to stay in tune with our surroundings. I am reminded of then-draper Gordon Wilson‘s immediate forgiveness of the IRA bomb in Enniskillen that killed his daughter (November 1987). His reaction is said to have changed the course of the confllict in Northen Ireland, leading eventually to the Peace Process.

“I bear no ill will. I bear no grudge”

Gordon Wilson, 2008

Powerful stuff, this.

Featured image of Enniskillen bombing from the Belfast Telegraph.

Spooky

I was musing on the German word ‘geist’, which seemed to mean both spirit and mind. How could that be? Do German speakers actually perceive the world differently? So, off to geist in Wikipedia, which reveals:

German Geist… translation of Latin spiritus… originally referred to frightening apparitions or ghosts… acquired a Christian meaning from an early time, notably in reference to the Holy Spirit/ Holy Ghost… could refer to spooks or ghostly apparitions, to the religious… Holy Spirit, as well as to the “spirit of wine”…

… its special meaning of “mind, intellect” never shared by English ghost is acquired only in the 18th century, under the influence of French espritGeist could now refer to the quality of intellectual brilliance, to wit, innovation, erudition, etc. It is also in this time that the adjectival distinction of geistlich “spiritual, pertaining to religion” vs. geistig “intellectual, pertaining to the mind”… also geisterhaft “ghostly, spectral”.

German Geist in this particular sense of “mind, wit, erudition; intangible essence, spirit” has no precise English-language equivalent, for which reason translators sometimes retain Geist as a German loanword.

That pretty well sums it up. English took both Latin/French and Saxon/Germanic origins and mashed them around a bit, never quite staying in step with either (cf Brexit). And that’s why we still talk about the ‘holy ghost’, rather than the ‘holy spirit’. Hence friend Alf‘s characterisation of the holy trinity as: Big Daddy, Our Kid and Spooky.

And that’s also why we don’t have a word for ‘zeitgeist’.

Featured image cropped from Depiction of the Christian Holy Spirit as a dove,
by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, in the apse of Saint Peter’s Basilica, c. 1660,
via Wikimedia Commons

The Deep Self 

Many today seem to have ‘forgotten’ the essential truth that, within us, behind the surface world of the ego, there is a deeper self that is connected to the whole – the essential spiritual approach to life, the source of our morality and creativity. Steve Taylor‘s recent poem expresses this beautifully.

The Deep Self

There is another self inside you –
not the restless self that always ruminates 
about the future and the past 
not the fragile self that craves for attention 
and is wounded so easily by disrespect
not the anxious self that can’t live inside itself 
and is always reaching outside for distractions. 

There is another self inside you 
that doesn’t consist of concepts 
that isn’t sustained by thought 
that isn’t enclosed inside your body 
and doesn’t feel separate to the world.

There is a deeper self that rests 
quietly, almost imperceptibly
behind the tumult of your thoughts 
like the still blue sky behind dense, swift-moving clouds. 

And your deep self is always ready to emerge 
whenever you release your attention from thoughts 
and let your awareness spread gently around you
opening your senses to the world. 

Then your surface self grows softer, more porous.
Spaces appear between thoughts 
and the deep self slowly seeps through
like sunlight through dissipating clouds.

As you become your deep self
you sense a shift of perspective 
as if dust is falling from your eyes 
and a landscape is becoming more distinct –
brighter, more spacious, less dangerous.

You feel relieved, as if you’ve woken from an anxious dream. 
The problems of your surface self
and the dramas of your surface life 
seem trivial, almost comical. 

Now you feel connected to the world –
not an observer, but a participant
as if your being is fluid and permeable
flowing back and forth between you and the world 
sharing the essence of everything you see. 

You’re no longer restless and anxious
now that natural harmony flows through you. 
You’re no longer fragile and incomplete
now that the wholeness of the world includes you. 

And you feel the joy of self-recognition 
of becoming who you always were  
since your deep self is not another self –
it is simply you.

Seeking Jean Gebser

“We partake every moment of our lives in the originary powers of an ultimately spiritual nature.”

Jean Gebser

Jean Gebser, philosopher, linguist, poet, who described the structures of human consciousness. Born Hans Gebser in Poznan, then Germany, 1905. Left in 1929 for Italy/Spain/France, changing name to Jean. Escaped to Switzerland at the outbreak of WW2. Died 1973.

Having seen many references to the work of Jean Gebser, I wanted to find out more about the man himself and his ideas. His main book The Ever Present Origin seemed difficult to get hold of, and is reputed to be ‘difficult ‘, so I tried the summary of the man and his ideas in Seeing Through the World: Jean Gebser and Integral Consciousness, by Jeremy Johnson (2019).

Basically, Gebser’s work is about human consciousness and how it has evolved and is evolving. He categorises five stages of its evolution, which I roughly describe in the following gross over-simplification.

  • Archaic – original consciousness of the whole, without differentiation.
  • Magical – perfect identification of man with the universe, without separation, all appears magical, a part of ‘the dreaming’.
  • Mythical – becoming conscious of the universe and others through stories and myths.
  • Rational – mental, logical. Man is separated from the world and reasons about it.
  • Integral – becoming aware of, transcending and yet benefiting from the perspectives of all the previous levels.

As stressed by Johnson, this is not intended to be a developmental schema, although it clearly describes the stages of development of humanity to date. But then, neither Johnson’s book nor Gebser’s work are easily read or understood – Gebser has his own specific terminology that I will not attempt to go into here. Johnson has made a heroic attempt to lead us into the thinking of Gebser, and his book is well worth reading, if you are so inclined. Each effort to understand helps us to get in touch with the inspirational quality of this work. He quotes Gebser, giving an indication of the true poetic scope of this work.

“The simple is in us. It is participation—participation in that which is unknown yet evident to us: a tiny seed in us, which contains all transparency—the diaphanous world, the most irradiated and most sober beatitude. It is so completely comprehensive and whole that neither our intelligent, super-clever, caged-in thought nor our pitiable-pitiful and needy-strong longing—how much poverty it renders visible!—can even divine it. And yet, it is within us.”

Jean Gebser April 26 1973

Of course, there are parallels between Gebser’s analysis and the work of Iain McGilchrist, referred to in other posts. The current left-brain-dominant mode of being is the equivalent of the rational stage, and the co-operating left and right brains that McGilchrist envisages are the equivalent of the integral stage. See Scott Preston’s post Gebser and McGilchrist for more insight.

Jean Gebser is also referred to extensively in Ken Wilber‘s work, such as in the lengthy masterwork Sex, Ecology and Spirituality. All these guys are on to something fundamental about what it means to be human, and the direction of any New Renaissance of the human spirit.

Psychological disorders, power and the future of humanity

Steve Taylor has written a great post in Psychology Today on The Danger of Dark Triad Leaders: The link between psychological disorders and power. So what are dark triad leaders? Steve explains:

While some psychologists like to think in terms of specific disorders like psychopathy and narcissistic personality disorder, I prefer — like many psychologists nowadays — to think in terms of a “dark triad” of three personality traits that appear together: psychopathy, narcissism and Machiavellianism. This makes sense because these traits almost always overlap and are difficult to distinguish from one another.

Dark triad personalities crave power and find powerful positions easy to attain, because of their ruthlessness and manipulative skills. Since they lack empathy and conscience, they have no qualms against deceiving and exploiting other people in their rise to the top. Since they are often charismatic and charming, they often gain the support of ordinary people, who are impressed by their apparent confidence and decisiveness.

Sounds familiar? This psychological abnormality attracts to itself others of similar mindset, forming a pathocracy:

Of course, such leaders don’t work alone. Once dark triad leaders gain power, moral and responsible people rapidly fall away, and other dark triad personalities collect around them. The government quickly becomes what the Polish psychologist Andrew Lobaczewski referred to as a “pathocracy” — a government made of individuals with personality disorders.

The history of the last 200 years shows too many examples of such pathocracies across the world; there are many today, with Putin’s Russia currently the most evident. There is an urgent need for the world to work out how to manage human affairs without such individuals and pathocracies gaining further hold. They bring out the worst in humanity, such as what is now happening in Ukraine. There will be little prospect for humanity for many thousands of years if one of these dysfunctonal cabals unleashes nuclear or biological terror across the world.

Photo of Himmler, Hitler et al: Newsweek

Megalomaniac and lost soul?

One could argue that my posts about Iain McGilchrist’s books (see eg The Matter With Things) and the problem of today’s left brain dominance are of mere academic interest, or to do with the long term environmental threat. Yet suddenly it is upon us, threatening the world we know, live and love, in the form of Vladimir Putin. Putin is one of many leaders who exhibit a pathologically extreme form of left brain domination, where left brain rationality and abstract ideas override any consideration of the people and environment involved, whether in Russia, in Ukraine, or in the rest of the world. There is a lack of connection with reality – the death, destruction and psychological trauma being inflicted on millions of people. Only a person who has lost touch with the real lived world and their own moral sense could do such a thing. Putin has literally decided that the map is more important than the territory.

I’m not sure if this recognition helps us much in dealing with the inhuman threat represented by Putin, but it is useful to see where this person is coming from. There is only abstract rationality without compassion or recognition of common humanity, let alone community with nature. It is evident from clips in the media that he rules by fear, also evident from his threats to the rest of the world.

Can we have compassion for a lost soul, when he threatens us all?

The Matter With Things

I have spent many happy hours reading Iain McGilchrist’s magnum opus The Matter With Things. This is probably the largest and most expensive book (in two volumes) that I have ever read or bought, at 1578 pages, including appendices and an extensive bibliography, and a cost in the region £75-£90 (hardback), although there is apparently a cheaper Kindle edition. Why did I do this? Because I was inspired by his previous book The Master and His Emissary, which seemed to capture something very important about the predicament we find ourselves in today. See my review of that book here.

Also, I was inspired by hearing the man himself speaking in some of the videos produced by the Scientific & Medical Network. You can see some of these yourself on the website Channel McGilchrist. This man inspires by the depth of his erudition and the lengths to which he has gone to make his case. The Matter With Things took ten years of his life and provides a comprehensive justification and amplification of the theory in that earlier book. It speaks with equal erudition on neuroscience, philosophy, psychology, physics…

This is not really a book for the general reader; it does require interested effort and perseverance to complete, but I found the effort well repaid. When Iain presented his first draft to his publisher, the reaction was that it needed major editing and perhaps removal of references. He refused and chose to publish it himself. All the research and references were of importance.

I have no intention of trying any sort of summary. Perhaps the important point remains that first presented in The Master and his Emissary. We have these two modes of knowing about things: essentially rational and intuitive, which correspond strongly with left brain and right brain respectively. The proper mode of working of the human being involves both modes: initiation with intuition, working it through with rationality, and validating again with intuition.

Today’s problem is that the rational left brain has in many people significantly lost touch with the intuitive right, which is what grounds us in reality. The left tries to go its own way and ignore the right (the Emissary usurps the Master). We see the results all around in massive narcissism, and lost participation in the natural world, to the degree that we are apparently rather rapidly degrading it. The abstraction of the map has become more important than the reality of the territory.

In marshalling the evidence the book ranges widely over many fields. The first part considers the means to truth – attention, perception, judgement, intelligence (emotional social and cognitive) and creativity. The second part considers the paths to truth related to the brain hemispheres – science, reason and intuition. The third and final part considers the nature of reality, including the significance of opposites, the one and the many – parts and wholes, time, space, matter and consciousness, value, purpose of life and the nature of the cosmos, and the sense of the sacred. Wow.

Having seen various videos of the man in conversation, I found the experience of reading these volumes to be like having an ongoing conversation with an erudite and wise man – an enjoyable and educational experience.

McGilchrist sees this culmination of his life’s work to be the presentation and ‘proving’ of his theories, in an academic sense – there are just so many references, all beautifully laid out near the relevant text. Who can say that this is not a vital endeavour for humanity? These ideas are important!

Trauma and the body

In the early 1980s I read the then-popular book Bodymind by Ken Dychtwald, on how the psychological/emotional effect of events in our lives are reflected in the body, and increasing body awareness can help in addressing the residue of these. It all made sense.

Science, and particularly neuroscience, has move a long way since those days, so it was interesting to come back to this scene with Bessel van der Kolk’s book The Body Keeps the Score – the title says it all. The subtitle gives the particular focus of the book: Mind, brain and body in the transformation of trauma.

Over the years I’ve been involved in various ways with counselling and had an interest in the talking therapies, but it has been evident that there are problems that these simply cannot reach, trauma being a major one of these. Psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk has specialised in helping people with trauma over a long career, and it is fascinating to see his perspective on it, and how the professional view has evolved over that time.

I do recall from my own experiences growing up, that various uncles who had served in World War II never talked about their experiences – whether in Burma, or as a prisoner of war in Germany, or in active combat. It was in the box of their past, and they just did not want to open up that box. I suspect that each had his own trauma that was just too difficult to resolve in any conscious way.

It was the traumas of war that were first recognised in USA in 1980, in the aftermath of the Vietnam war. PTSD was then first described as a condition in the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III) of the American Psychiatric Association. Van der Kolk gives insight into the fight there has been since then to introduce into the DSM more general traumas that come out of lived experience due to domestic/child abuse, physical circumstances such as poverty, neglect, working conditions, hunger, racism, oppression by unfair policing and so on. This has proved very difficult. Might one suggest that those in power might not wish it to be recognised that the conditions they were imposing on members of society are actually causing traumatic injury to those in their ‘care’.

Even so, there has been great progress in the understanding and treatment of trauma, and the book outlines many approaches that have proved helpful, and the underpinning advances in neuroscience. It is impossible to summarise the wise words and stories emerging in these pages – engaging psyche, emotions and the body with techniques, therapies bodywork etc. Of course, drugs may help, but they are not the ultimate answer.

Van der Kolk is a great storyteller, so the material is fully engaging. We can all learn a lot, even in dealing with the minor ‘traumas’ of everyday life. Even more, we can see how the generation of trauma is built in to some of our governmental and social systems. He ends the book with this statement:

Trauma is now our most urgent public health issue, and we have the knowledge necessary to respond effectively. The choice is ours to act on what we know.

Well worth reading.

Fundamentalism

My post Modes of knowing highlighted that we have two modes of knowing: rationality, corresponding to left brain function; and intuition, corresponding to right brain function. The human being operates at best when these two modes of knowing operate in tandem, and there is great danger when the rational/left brain function takes over and ignores or denies the right brain/intuition. This is the root cause of fundamentalism.

Fundamentalism appears in many guises in the modern world.

  • Religious fundamentalism. We all know about that. The word in the holy books is taken as a statement of fact, rather than as metaphor. We see these fundamentalists all over the world – Islamic Christian, Hindhu, Buddhist… The effect is to deny the basic truths that were initially espoused by the founding spiritual teachers – Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha…
  • Political fundamentalism. The dedication to a particular ideology, which is often the cover for a privileged class, even an individual, to stay in control of society.
  • Economic fundamentalism. The dedication to particular ideas about how an economy is run, such as that private is always good, public spending is always bad, of many modern right wingers – or indeed the very opposite from many modern left wingers.
  • Scientific materialist fundamentalism. The belief that objective science and the materialist paradigm can explain everything, and that subjective life – religion/spirituality, morality, values etc – are somehow unimportant as without foundation.

I’m sure you could add further examples. Yes, fundamentalism abounds wherever there is human thought and endeavour – particularly, I would suggest, in these days of significant left-brain domination. The task of human development is, as ever, to tread the path between the extremes that lead to fundamentalism, to respond to life with the full subjectivity of those very subjective values that fundamentalism is inherently unable to take into consideration. To be human beings, not the machines that various fundamentalisms would seek to turn us into.

Inspired by Iain McGilchrist’s The Matter with Things.
Featured image by Stiller Beobachter from Ansbach, Germany, via Wikimedia Commons

Amygdala hijak

This post from Hdavey Thoreau was very meaningful for me, as it introduces Daniel Goleman’s concept of ‘amygdala hijak’. Putting a name to an emotional experience can help, giving an impetus to practice that will eventually make perfect. We can stop being overwhelmed by emotional responses, even when stressed. We don’t have to be driven by habitual ‘fight or flight’ responses, although it is so easy to forget. How about you?

Words from Walden

R is for Regulate

“The emotionally intelligent person is skilled in four areas: identifying emotions, using emotions, understanding emotions, and regulating emotions” – John Mayer-

Regulating ourselves and our emotions is the key to a healthy mind and happy life.

If we do not regulate our body and emotions then we are at the mercy of our mind and happiness and we will get stuck reacting internally to external circumstances.

If, however, when we get overwhelmed (which happens to almost everyone from time to time) we stop, breathe and regulate our response, that is what it becomes. A response instead of a reaction.

Daniel Goleman speaks about this eloquently in his book Emotional Intelligence calling it ‘Amygdala Hijack’.

The author says if we feel ‘Amygdala Hijack’ coming on, there is a second or two where we can make a decision of how to respond. If we regulate ourselves at…

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Non-Duality

The Chryslis gives a good perspective on modernity, non-duality, and the complementarity of opposites. It’s all about the change of consciousness that we are witnessing in slow motion?

The Chrysalis

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass the world is too full to talk about.”

Rumi

There is an evident problem in the functioning of human consciousness in the Late Modern Era. Some hold that the multiplying social and personal crises of the times are actually altogether a spiritual crisis or a crisis of consciousness at root — a crisis of fragmentation, atomisation, and disintegration of the modern self and its consciousness structure. This seems evidently the case. There is, as we witness, great anxiety and Angst and extremes of paranoia and insecurity about what we call “identity” which drives all kinds of projection, scapegoating, racism, and violence. Also quite a lot of mental confusion and cognitive dissonance that some describe as “schizoid” or as “the culture of narcissism”, portents that we are faced…

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Obstacles

A great reminder from Walden on seeing obstacles in the right way. It’s so easy to see them negatively and become stressed or discouraged. Yes we do have a choice in how we frame them. Thanks, Hdavey Thoreau.

Words from Walden

O is for Obstacles

“Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off the goal” -Henry Ford-

If everyone is overcoming obstacles, the question becomes, what kind of obstacles do you want to overcome?

Obstacles that are put in our path to make us stronger. They are a whisper from the versions of ourselves saying – ‘hey, over here, keep going,this way’

Obstacles are the Universe asking ‘how bad do you want it.’

Then, purposefully setting up obstacles designed to male us stretch and grow.

Obstacles allow us to fail forward so we can determine what we want and what we don’t.

If we run into an obstacle and we decide to quit the thing we’re chasing because of the obstacles; the truth is that we didn’t really want it in the first place. Which is a great awareness to have because we can move on…

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Modes of knowing

In his magnum opus, The Matter with Things, Iain McGilchrist identifies Henri Bergson as a major contibutor to the understanding of the way we human beings know about the world.

Essentially, there are two modes of knowing, which I will characterise in a word as intuition and rationality. Intuition is to do with direct perception of the world and understanding what is needed; rationality is to do with language and analysis, rationalising about the world. Intuition ‘presences’ in the world; rationality ‘re-presents’ the world in its own terms.

These two modes were well understood by many thinkers of the past. In the early 1900s these included Bergson, William James, Einstein (see featured quote) and other quantum pioneers. In earlier times, for example, the Romantic movement of such as Wordsworth and Coleridge strove to emphasise the continued importance of direct perception in an encroaching world of rationality. The two modes are also well understood in the world of astrology, where the planet Jupiter represents the faculty of direct perception/ intuition, whereas Mercury represents rational/ analytical intelligence.

What neurologist/psychologist/philosopher Iain McGilchrist adds to this picture is the correlation of the intuitive intelligence with the right brain, and of rationality with the left brain – emerging from modern studies in neurology.

Humans evolved with these two different capabilities because they were necessary for survival. For instance, a hunt might have involved analytical planning to get in the right place to hunt, but intuitive perceptions of the dangers posed by other wild animals in the area. We rely on the combination of these two intelligences.

However, contrary to what you might think, there is no symmetry between the two in terms of their function. Intuition grounds us in the real world; rationality theorises about it. Our intelligence is powerful because the two co-operate – intuition suggests an approach; rationality evaluates and proposes the way to go; then intuition confirms – intuition is the Master.

The disturbing thing about left brain rationality, spotted by Bergson and others, is that it does not necessarily see the need for grounded intuition at all. In this extreme case it usurps the role of the right hemisphere, the intuition and the connection with the real world. The map becomes the territory. A world of abstraction is confused for reality itself. This was the theme of McGilchrist’s previous book The Master and His Emissary – the left brain messenger taking over and ignoring the right brain connection with reality.

Looking at today’s world, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that this is essentially what has happened to humanity in the large. Our connection with reality, with planet earth, is being slowly destroyed by the left-brain machinations of politics, capitalism, business, technology, consumerism. It will all end in tears for many people and many species of life; indeed it already has.

Yet we still each have those intuitive right brains and there will always be those who know the way to go, who love nature, the earth, their fellow beings, who fight the good fight against left brain extremism. This is the dance of life, and the peculiar destiny of human beings…

The first traffic jam on Broadway

I’ve owned the book Time and Free Will by French philosopher Henri Bergson (1859-1941) since university days – but regretfully never quite got around to fully reading it. It still resides on my bookshelf, awaiting the day… I was also interested in American polymath William James, and did at that time read some of his work, including The Varieties of Religious Experience, which proved quite influential. These philosophers were reverently referred to by other thinkers I was also reading at university, notably Colin Wilson’s then-popular The Outsider. So I was quite interested to come across this story about Bergson in Iain McGilchrist’s seemingly infinitely giving book The Matter with Things.

In 1907 Bergson published the book Creative Evolution, which built on Darwin’s idea of evolution, but rejected ‘natural selection’ as the main means of progress, proposing instead the idea of the life force, or elan vital, which was notably the source of human creativity. It seems that these ideas generated great interest in the US at the time, related as they were to the work of William James, who had died two years previously. Bergson was invited to Manhattan to give six public lectures on ‘Spirituality and Freedom’.

It is said that the lectures were well over-subscribed, and the number of vehicles trying to gain access caused the very first traffic jam on Broadway. This was actually two years before John D.Herz started the first Yellow Cab Company in 1915.

According to an essay by historian Larry McGrath both Sigmund Freud’s 1909 and Bertrand Russell’s 1914 visits to the US met with popular excitement similar to Bergson’s. How different from today, when such major thinkers largely do not meet with such popular acclaim. It appears that it was perhaps the scientists, such as Einstein, who took over the public imagination.

It’s not really my purpose to explore why this might be the case, in this brief post, but I will be coming back to Bergson in a future post, as his ideas are strikingly relevant today.

Featured image of Henri Bergson by unknown photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

That was 2021 on this blog

My favourite photos from posts of 2021

These were the individual posts, if you’re interested: Towards Tywyn, Sun going down at West Kirby, Sunset at Barmouth, Chinon, Black pine canopy, Common gallinule

My favourite wordy posts of 2021

Most viewed (2021)

As ever, the most viewed probably depends on the vagaries of search engines and my choice of keywords. The top two were the same as in 2020!

Most liked (5 years)

At least the top entry suggests that this exercise is worthwhile.

A happy new year to you all!

Restoring the natural order

Once, we human beings were immersed in the dreaming of the world, just as the plants and animals. Our brains had two hemispheres, which were equally immersed, equally perceptive of and involved in our interconnected world.

Then, we created language and the ability to reflect. Gradually, the left side of our brain began to specialise, to separate out and lose contact with our livingness, an ability which was retained in the right brain. The right brain was grounded in the body and sensing the world; the left brain increasingly concentrated on abstraction and manipulation of the world. Being interconnected, they formed a wonderful partnership, but it was the right brain that was grounded in living, was the Master, served by the left brain.

But the left brain became ever more powerful in its schemes and manipulations. It invented science and technology and the duality of subject and object. The subjective was ‘in here’, and the objective was ‘out there’, and the latter could be measured and manipulated by science.

The problem was, the left brain began to think it was more important – than the connectedness, the beautiful, the moral, the intuition grounded in right brain experience. What was important was the re-presentation of the world, not the actual experience. Even that, subjectivity itself, would eventually be explained away by materialist models. Art was just about concepts, not beauty. Justice was about laws and punishment, not what was right. Might was right in the politics of ‘interests’, which even purported to justify obscene warfare. Money was the supreme value. Science could be directed without making space for inspiration. Education was to prepare for making money. Intelligence was an abstraction that could be mechanised.

Yet still the right brain was there, belittled, but grounding and connecting. The denied connection with nature as it was slowly and systematically debased, exploited, polluted. The failed left brain dominance was showing its true colours as climate breakdown and pollution got a grip, species began to disappear, a stream of plagues burst forth on the earth. It was time for the right brain to take charge again, a new interconnectedness, a new caring for nature and others. The science and the money became once again harnessed to the good of all, no longer driven by the fearful band of rich and powerful left brains who almost destroyed it all. Education aimed once again to uncover the destiny of this particular soul on earth.

What made this happen? Well it was the natural order of things. The over-specialised left brain could not in the end cover up the effect of its own defects. The mass tragedies stirred the human soul, and the balance changed.

Inspired by Iain McGilchrist’s books The Master and His Emissary and The Matter with Things.

The Secret Stories of Our Lives

The secret stories that we tell ourselves. Victor Negro reminds us of the power of our own positive and negative thoughts and the stories they tell us. They shape our character and destiny. So being aware of the stories we tell ourselves is actually rather valuable. Maybe we can then change them!

The Victor Negro

There are secret stories that we tell ourselves. These stories have a lot of impact on how we see ourselves, how we interpret the world and how we carry our relationship with other people.

These secret stories have both positive and negative elements. The negative elements carry all our fears, doubts, our sense of inadequacy, our regrets, and our shame. The positive elements carry our hopes, our memories of accomplishment, our victories, our needs and desires, our fantasy of greatness, our prospects for success, and the different permutations of our ambitions.

Our prevailing mood at the time can influence which story plays over on the screen of our minds. The story that stays longer in the mind takes us in the direction of the story because your physical life would have to act it out one way or the other.

If you dwell on the negative stories, they will produce…

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