When you correct your mind everything else will fall into place.
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
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
Give me a child until he is seven, and I will give you the man.
St Francis Xavier paraphrasing Aristotle (with a certain sinister undertone).
Amongst all the great apes, Homo sapiens has an unusual gift. The ability to hear a sound and then to copy it. This skill arises from an innate drive to learn language, and to communicate. This is a hard wired aid to social living that has developed over millions of years of evolution.
This drive to learn is seen in the “babbling” phase that we all pass through as infants. We make repetitive sounds, as if practicing, before we start to speak words. This stage occurs in children of all language groups, all of whom make similar sounds; it is also present in those children who are born deaf.
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.
Mental health has become a major concern of the modern world.
There are rising levels of depression.
Ever increasing numbers of work hours are lost to stress and related disorders.
There seems to be an epidemic of suicide and self harm among the young.
Current treatment regimens seem to rely too much on medication, often as the only intervention, and fail to address the holistic picture.
1. A tag or sheath, as of plastic, on the end of a lace, cord, or ribbon to facilitate its passing through eyelet holes.
2. A similar device used for an ornament.
[Middle English, from Old French aguillette, diminutive of aguille,needle, from Vulgar Latin *acūcula, from Late Latin acucula, diminutive of Latin acus, needle; see ak- in Indo-European roots.]
Mindfulness and meditation have been around for thousands of years. It is only relatively recently that they have started to appear on the radar as potential treatments for physical and mental health difficulties.
Your mind is not a cage.
It is a garden.
And it needs cultivating.
The incidence of depression is rising rapidly, at least in the western world. It has been described as the common cold of psychiatry and psychology.
Depression is a common disorder, but this does not make it either inevitable, or an acceptable part of modern life. The lifetime incidence of depression continues to show a steady rise, with each succeeding generation having a greater risk. For people born before the First World War, the lifetime risk was about 3%, for Americans currently in their midtwenties, current estimates put their lifetime risk to be approaching 25%. This rapid increase shows little sign of slowing down.
Challenge is the pathway to engagement and progress in our lives. But not all challenges are created equal. Some challenges make us feel alive, engaged, connected, and fulfilled. Others simply overwhelm us. Knowing the difference as you set bigger and bolder challenges for yourself is critical to your sanity, success, and satisfaction.
Staying alive has always been the greatest challenge for any creature. All species have developed systems to detect danger and potential threats. One of the most effective of these, is the appropriately named “fight or flight response”. This prepares us to do exactly that, fight or run for our lives.
We detect threat by analysing the incoming data from our environment, both from the external world, and from our inner world of thought, emotion, and knowledge. Our conscious brain can only manage a tiny percentage of the information that we receive from our senses, the rest is processed at an unconscious level.
Our focus is constantly drawn to the events in the world around us. However, the systems that we use to assess threat are designed for a different world. A world in which we were prey animals and not the top predator on the planet. They are certainly not designed for life in a modern, technological, stimulus rich world, and not for a self-aware creature, whose own thoughts and emotions can be mistaken for a threat. Is that tiny spider really a danger to life?
People today are in danger of drowning in information; but, because they have been taught that information is useful, they are more willing to drown than they need be.
If they could handle information, they would not have to drown at all.”
― Idries Shah, Reflections
Information is one thing that is plentiful in the twenty first century. It is said that one week of the New York Times contains more information than the average person, alive just fifty years ago, would have been exposed to in their entire lives. As well as the ever increasing availablity of information, the volume of data available seems to be expanding exponentially, and most of this is unfiltered. This knowledge revolution, while having many benefits, does come with a significant price.
Attention Deficit Trait (ADT) is a term that describes the effects of a persistent state of information overload that can be generated by the digital world. It was first used by psychiatrist, Edward Hallowell, in an article in the Harvard Business Review. He described a state “Marked by distractability, inner frenzy, and impatience…” occuring in business managers that turned “otherwise talented performers into harried underachievers.”
This condition although similar to ADHD, is caused by the environment in which we live and work. In other words it is something that we are doing to ourselves.