Vajra Blue

Mindfulness and Compassion. Understanding trauma in young people.


Mindfulness: a campaign for slow friendship.

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Or should that read “who only knows your emoticon”?

If you find a wise person, Who points out your faults and corrects you,

You should follow such a sage, 

As you would a revealer of treasures.

It is better, never worse, 

To follow such a sage.

DHAMMAPADA (verse 76)

 A few weeks ago I was sitting at a café in the centre of town, enjoying a few minutes peace  with a long black when I noticed three people at the table next to me. They arrived together and after ordering their drinks they continued to sit at the same table. For the twenty minutes that I was able to observe their interactions they did not speak to each other, instead they seemed to take it in turns to pick up their phone, tap away at the screen and then replace it on the table. Then the next person repeated the procedure. To all intents and purposes it appeared that they were talking to each other by text message. The art of small talk and conversation appeared to have died a death.

I belong to a spiritual community that has spread around the world  over the last two and half thousand years. It entertains the idea of spiritual friendship as a force for good in people’s lives. Friendship is viewed as an important aspect of the spiritual journey. When people with shared interests and goals meet to share their experiences with others it can provide an environment which acts as an aid to personal and community development. allowing a free exchange of infromation and for each perosn of be of help to all the others.

This process takes no prisoners. Spiritual friendship is a fierce form of friendship. However, this is only one form of friendship that matters. Friends are important to all of us in many different ways.They are our support network when times are bad and a source of joy when they are good.

This process takes no prisoners

We need to look after our friendships as otherwise they can wither away and die, leaving us on our own and missing one of the necessary parts of being a human. Human beings are often described as social animals,  this means that we are evolved to live in groups, and that much of our development towards consciousness appears to have been triggered by this. Language, social behaviours, play all come from the way we mix as people and with the people in our world. Out of this comes the whole world of  culture, art and science.  We are driven to communicate  almost from the moment of our birth.  The evidence is that as newborn babies we start to communicate before we are our old.

The success of social media suggests that contact with other human beings is a thing that we all enjoy. But there is a huge difference between the friends we have online and those we see in the flesh. One problem with social media is that the interactions  we have with other people are impersonal and conducted via a keyboard or touchscreen. We have no context in which to understand the messages that we receive. we would do well to remember is according to linguistic research only about 7% of the information that  here when we communicate using speech is in the words that we choose to use, the rest of the meaning is in our body language, tone of voice, facial expressions etc. indeed it is entirely possible that we can make the words that we choose to use mean the exact opposite of what they literally say purely by how we say them.

When we add the lack of context to this mix we can end up in some very interesting, and scary places. There is an aphorism widely used in neuroscience at the moment that says that “neurons that fire together wire together,” in other words if we use different pathways in our brain a lot they tend to become much easier to set off,  and can cause reactions that are semi automatic so that we can respond to both familiar and unfamiliar situations in ways that we would not usually intend. Similarly if we practice using bits of our brain to excess we find that this can trigger an habitual response to events or situations in out lives. This means that we can have large and unexpected responses to minor triggers in our social environment.

A phenomenon called kindling can come into play in this situation.  In much the same way that we can create a fire from a single spark by slowly adding larger pieces of  combustible material to encourage the flames to grow,  we can adversely affect mental state I constantly rehearsing and adding small negative elements. If we have been having a bad day we might send texts to several of our friends telling them about it.  We find ourselves typing the same negative comments several times, each time we do this, it reinforces and deepens negative mental states contributing to increased levels of unhappiness. At an extreme it can worsen depression and anxiety and  lead to worsening states of mind.

Kindling can come into play.

When we meet a friend face to face and discuss our worries the situation is often very different we may well tell a friend how awful we feel, and they may well listen and sympathise, however, this conversation cannot persist for very long and we  will  inevitably move onto other topics of discussion. Just being in the presence of someone we like can have a strong positive effect on mood and well-being, and if we share our difficulties with them it is likely to be a helpful experience where we have a chance to explore our feelings and thoughts about the issue in much greater detail than would  be possible if our contact is purely on social media.

One worrying piece of research suggests that people are considerably more likely to give negative feedback over social media than to make positive, constructive comments. The anonymity provided by the Internet, combined the human tendency to pay more attention to the negative aspects of our environment (a necessary survival skill)  means that there are people who feel safe to say things that they would not normally say in a face-to-face situation at, with the results that vulnerable people can be exposed to great deal of negative feedback which will exacerbates that condition to activation of our fight or flight response, leading to a strengthening of the mood states stop

There has been a lot of research into longevity and the human condition. Blue Zones, those areas where there are unexpectedly high numbers of men and women who are living healthily into extreme old age, have been much in the media over the last few years. According to the research that has been carried out, one of the main contributing factors to the development of these pockets of healthy old people is regular social contact. This is an important contributory factor that plays a significant part in maintaining their physical and mental health, these are two important factors that contribute to a healthy and long life.

In this twenty-first century we all seem to be too busy to manage our time and environment to allow us to live a healthy life.  Over the last 50 years or so there have been various movements harking back to the old days.  In the UK the campaign for real ale rebels against the big brewers who are introducing a homogenised  keg beer, preferring to pay more money for a slowly made craftsman brewed product. and there have been similar campaigns around the world directed at bread, and food in general.

A new campaign.

I am suggesting that we introduce a new campaign.  It is time to spend more time  socialising and in direct face-to-face contact with other people.  So I would encourage you all  to join the new campaign.

THE CAMPAIGN FOR SLOW FRIENDSHIP.


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Mindfulness: living in the moment

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When you correct your mind everything else will fall into place.
Lao Tzu.

A few years ago I went through a difficult period with stress and depression.  At this time my partner commissioned this brush painting for me. It shows a bamboo leaf falling, twisting in the air, full of life, while at the same time it is suspended in a single moment. A moment in which anything is possible, a moment that is full of possibility and in which nothing can be taken for granted.

It serves as a reminder that nothing lasts, that everything is transient, and that I need to do my best to stay in the present moment, open to new experiences and doing whatever I can to remain open to whatever opportunities and options come my way. It also reminds me that making predictions can be fraught with danger, after all a dragon might just fly down and eat the leaf.

This is also one of the reasons why I like rainbows, those fleeting, numinous phenomena that only exist in the eye of the beholder. A momentary experience of physics in action, something that is best when it is just experienced and enjoyed, not analysed.

This is what mindfulness is all about. Continue reading


Mindfulness and therapy: making space for thinking.

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Sometimes a cigar, is just a cigar. Attributed to Sigmund Freud

Psychotherapy is a conversation. Albeit a highly specialised one that does not solely rely on words for meaning to be understood. The idea behind this exchange is to help the client, or patient, achieve a greater awareness of their inner life, and the impact that this has on their interaction with the world. When we understand the connections between our thoughts, emotions, and behaviour, we are in a better position to be able to change. Once we start to develop this kind of awareness, we can alter the way we live, and change our perceptions about our place in the world. Continue reading


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Conscious attention: looking after our inner world.

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If your mind carries a heavy burden of past, you will experience more of the same. The past perpetuates itself through lack of presence. The quality of your consciousness at this moment is what shapes the future. ― Eckhart Tolle

Our brains have a very narrow bandwidth for the conscious processing of information.  This means that we spend a lot of time letting autopilot run our lives, based on how the unconscious mind processes incoming information.  The unconscious processes information rapidly while the conscious mind is much slower.  This has important consequences for our survival but can create difficulties in the modern world.

The unconscious mind is not able to tell the difference between what is real and what is imagined.  The same pathways in the brain can be triggered by either of them.  This means that we may respond to our internal thought processes or our current emotional tone, as if they were a response to real events in the outside world. Continue reading


Mindfulness: Minding the Gap.

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The guy in the bright blue ute who cut me up on my way to work this morning, did not act to make me angry and reality would say that absolutely nothing happened.

I had to brake a bit harder than I wanted and the action disturbed my reverie and highlighted my being absent from what I was supposed to be doing at the time – driving. My mind flashed onto this event bringing to bear all the other times when I have felt discounted, unvalued, taken for granted, ignored or other similar experience. This results in a flash of rage bursting out “How dare he treat me so!” “How dare he put my life in danger.” And I am even further detached from the present moment, in my car, driving, right here right now.

Continue reading


Mindfulness: a safety catch when dealing with difficult emotions.

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Light the blue touch paper and retire.
Instruction on a firework box.

The human mind has only a very limited bandwidth available for the conscious processing of incoming information.

This means that much of our response to events is unconscious.

Because of this, we have developed highly effective systems for processing most of the data that reaches our brain without bringing it to full awareness.

Continue reading


Depression: Activation in action. Setting goals and training the black dog.

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You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks.
Winston Spencer Churchill.

Sir Winston Churchill, the British wartime Prime Minister, used the childhood expression “Black Dog”, to describe periods of altered, gloomy mood, that plagued him throughout his life.

These dips in mood could be so severe as to render him bed bound, yet they usually recovered over a period of weeks. Despite this, he managed to lead the United Kingdom from almost certain defeat to victory.

The  expression, Black Dog, has since become almost synonymous with depression.

Continue reading