Vajra Blue

Mindfulness and Compassion. Understanding trauma in young people.


Guarding the Gates to our Senses: Critical Thinking Matters.

File:Bronze Marcus Aurelius Louvre Br45.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

If it is not right, don’t do it: if it is not true, don’t say it.

Marcus Aurelius.

Sometime in the winter of 179/180 CE, while on campaign in the Balkans, the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius – the last of the five good emperors (the white haired one in Gladiator) – wrote these words in his personal journal. He was reminding himself to take care about the things he thought, said and did. He believed that acting in a “right” way mattered, and that integrity mattered a great deal.

As Emperor what he said mattered. He was in a such a powerful position that his word, quite literally, was law and carried the power of life and death over the ordinary mortals over whom he ruled. Marcus did his best to live his philosophy and not to abuse his power. He lived in a time when philosophy was not some desiccated academic pursuit but a way of life. Something to be lived every day. He followed the teaching of the Stoic school and believed in the stoic virtues, the yardsticks against which he measured himself.

  • Justice – Treating others with decency and fairness. Not imposing our world view on others. Not giving in to hate speech or treating one part of society differently from the rest. Bearing your community in mind when you make decision about how to behave. Masks anyone. Vaccination?
  • Wisdom – Practical wisdom for day to day living. This is seen as the chief human good and remains so under all and any conditions. It allows us to make ethical decisions. Without the wisdom to live well how can we make any sensible decisions about the right way to behave? Perhaps a little practical wisdom might have prevented the unedifying spectacle of Capitol insurgents blaming Trump for their decision to attend the party.
  • Temperance – Moderation in all things. A middle way. that old fashioned virtue of self control. Being able to rein in our desires and actions so that we do not lose control or yield to excess or the masses. Thinking before we act.
  • Courage – Although this can have a physical element it is more about moral courage. To act according to what is right and to continue to do so even tin he most demanding of circumstances. To take responsibility for our actions and to face the consequences of our choices with equanimity.

Every day, despite all the demands on his time, Marcus took the time to write in his journal. A document that he titled “To Himself”, but is better known as “Meditations.” He wrote in his journal to review the day just past and as a way to prepare himself for the day ahead. He did this in order to hold himself to account for his past behaviour and to plan for whatever upsets might come his way in the future, thinking through the trials and tribulations that might he might face so that he could take them in his stride.

Marcus has been a beacon of upstanding behaviour ever since.

Give distinction and stand out as a fine example to the rest. Epictetus.

In light of the way various World Leaders have chosen to behave over the past few years it would seem unlikely that someone like Marcus would have managed to get elected to any meaningful position if he espoused views of this nature today.

We live at a time where these four cardinal virtues, or indeed any virtues, have been deliberately set aside by those who should be setting an example to the rest of us. Presidents and other world leaders choose to lie to the world. They incite hatred and insurgency. Feeding off those who feel dispossessed and with little real stake in their world to push their own personal agendas and to aggrandise themselves.

Worst of all their followers, fed on a diet of misinformation, take this as permission to stop thinking for themselves and to express the most horrific opinions and bizarre beliefs without challenging their veracity or impact.

It does seem strange that a wealthy american realtor should choose to fly by private jet to Washington, stand around advertising her services before then entering the Capitol complex and then, not just expects, but demand a pardon from the President when she has to face the consequences of her own conscious decision to act unlawfully.

Perhaps what the world needs at the moment is more of these stoic virtues. We should encourage people to think for themselves and make their own decisions instead of allowing them to abdicate their responsibility to the rest of the world and blaming others for the decisions they choose to make.

All rights come with accompanying responsibilities. The greatest of these is not to abuse them.


How can we all be the same when we are all so different? The danger of automatic judgement.

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Take a pinch of white man
Wrap him up in black skin
Add a touch of blue blood
And a little bitty bit of red Indian boy
Oh like a Curly Latin kinkies
Oh Lordy, Lordy, mixed with yellow Chinkees, yeah
You know you lump it all together
And you got a recipe for a get along scene
Oh what a beautiful dream
If it could only come true, you know, you know
What we need is a great big melting pot
Big enough enough enough to take
The world and all its got And keep it stirring for a hundred years or more
And turn out coffee coloured people by the score.
Blue MInk – Melting Pot

Psychotherapy and mediation have much in common.

In therapy, it is the conflicts and tensions that exist in our inner world that we need to resolve if we are to live at peace with ourselves. Mediation is a similar process and concerns the conflicts that arise in our outer space. We need to resolve such difficulties when they arise because we are social beings, and therefore have to reach an accommodation with other people if we want to live in a harmonious world.

As we grow up and develop within our families we go through an unconscious process of learning how to be human. We learn how to be “our kind” of human. The world view that we learn is based on “how we do things around here.” A world view that is acquired rather than being innate.

This becomes what we call our culture

We learn to be a human being in our family, in our street, in our community, in our country. This becomes what we call our culture and includes a multitude of beliefs and behaviours that we accept without question as being the only way to do things. How we talk, what we wear, what we eat and even what we think and believe. It is interesting to see how many non-religious people in the UK, when asked, say that their religion is Church of England, even though they have never been to church in their entire lives.

A kind of psychological adaptation to the stresses of living where we live.

Culture – the social environment that we grow up in – provided an evolutionary, or at least survival advantage for humanity as we spread out across the globe and populated our world. It binds us together into a supportive group that is best adapted to survive in the particular region of the world that we have come to call our home. A kind of psychological adaptation to the stresses of living where we live.

Ties of blood and clan became ever more important as our population expanded. When there were only a few modern humans wandering the world, resources were plentiful and we were unlikely to come into conflict with other people. As populations grew “ownership” of fertile land and well stocked hunting grounds became more important, and our cultural differences became signs of danger and threat. So much so that the banks and ditches that our ancestors built to show ownership of land are still visible in our world thousands of years later.

In much the same way that the different fishing villages of Scotland had their own specific knitting patterns for fishermens’ jumpers (allowing drowned sailors’ bodies to be returned home), and the different clans developed tartans out of the local weaving patterns and available dyes, we started to identify strangers by their dress, jewellery, and speech.

Difference became more important than similarity. Differences began to trigger a judgement of danger and threat. Our social nature only went so far. In the same way that the folk in Gulliver’s Travels almost went to war over which end of a boiled egg should be cut off before it is eaten, our different ways of doing things became part of our personal identity rather than an adaptation to the local world.

When we feel threatened by others who challenge our habitual ways of doing things our instinct is to fight back. The perceived threat is often as trivial as how we eat our eggs.

We interpret the world through glasses that have become obscured by our culture, religion. political ideology, social class or even which footie team we choose to support. Difference produces immediate and automatic judgements about others and their intentions.

If you tell them they are under threat they will let you do anything.

Herman Goering

Early in the twenty-first century this is clearly seen in the increasing isolationism in the western world. Immigrants in particular have come in for a considerable degree of fearful and negative stereotyping. Cultural dress is seen as threatening, different religious practices become cause for paranoid concern and we all attack what we do not know.

We come to accept as truth what is mere falsehood based on ignorance. The lies spread by populist politicians with their own axes to grind are accepted, unchallenged as truth. Worrying echoes of the rise of fascism in the mid twentieth century.

So all muslims become terrorists, all immigrants are just after an easy life. “Coming over here taking away our jobs” etc. Yet none of these ideas stand up to any degree of scrutiny. For instance, many of the West Indian members of the UK population arrived as the local population didn’t want to do important jobs like driving buses or garbage disposal. Many asian families arrived – as was their legal right – to run corner shops or chippies that took whole families, working all hours, just to put food on the table. Not to mention the large number of foreign doctors and nurses that keep the NHS running.

Migrants are seen as a drain on the local tax payer, yet all the evidence shows that these groups are net contributors to the economies of any country to which they move.

The sad thing about this misplaced fear of strangers is that diversity is good for us. Isolation leads to in-bred populations which stagnate and wither away and die. So called “mongrel vigour” produces healthier, stronger populations. One of the best things we can do for our children is to marry out. This introduces new genes into a population and reduces the incidence of many culturally bound illnesses.

One of the best things we can do for our children is to marry out.

So, next time we find ourselves making an automatic judgement about anything, young people, strangers, Chelsea supporters, add your own bias here, perhaps we should take a second or two to think about what we are doing.

The reality is that the things that we humans have in common far outweigh our differences. Under our skin and different customs we are all human, and if our families have been settled out of Africa for more than a few generations, we are all descended from the same small groups of modern humans that spread out to colonise the world just a few thousand years ago.

Perhaps the time has come for mankind to work together in the best interests of all, rather than allowing a priveleged elite to run the world for their own benefit.


Trauma Informed Care: Attachment trauma and neuroplasticity

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Early experience shapes the structure and function of the brain. This reveals the fundamental way in which gene expression is determined by experience.
Daniel Siegel

Homo sapiens is a social species, and we have a prolonged developmental phase of dependency as we grow to adulthood.

Because of this, evolution has kitted us out with systems that enhance our ability to form relationships with others in our community.

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Containing consciousness: The clash between species and personal evolution.

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There were crimson roses on the bench; they looked like splashes of blood.

Dorothy L. Sayers
Strong Poison (Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries)

For human mental health, there is an unfortunate clash between the way our brains evolved to maximise our chances of survival, and the way our mind has developed and evolved to meet the demands of consciousness.

There is a dynamic tension between them and sometimes the two act at cross purposes. The content of the mind can trigger a full-blown, physical survival response, such as a panic attack, that seems to erupt almost out of nowhere. While the fight and flight response to imminent danger, involves the inhibition of conscious thought.

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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.

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Mindfulness: guarding the gates to our senses.

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In 122 CE, Hadrian, the Roman emperor, drew a line in the sand, and set limits to the size of the Roman Empire.

This step was necessary as the Empire had become increasingly unwieldy to administer. Instead of throwing even more money, and yet more troops at the problem, as many suggested, Hadrian determined on a different solution.

Boundaries were marked around the Empire, and although the walls and defensive works that he ordered to be built, did serve a military purpose, the main idea seems to have been to control what came in, and what went out of the Empire.

For many of us, deciding what we allow into our inner world is a major problem.

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