Sunday, 19 January 2014

"The Celestine Prophecy" revisited, at fifty.

Although Christmas was a bit hectic this year, I managed to make time to re-read "The Celestine Prophecy", a transcendental novel by James Redfield, which I first read back in 1994, when a friend passed it on to me.  His neighbour had just brought it back from the States, and passed it onto the friend and his wife, and this is very a much a tradition with this particular book, which seeks to help the reader gain insight into the deeper levels of his own personality, and to the wider culture we live in. Inevitably, we used to spend hours discussing these new revelations, with the small community of close friends who had also read the novel, and in that sense, I guess we were like many groups of friends who found themselves engrossed in the unfolding story.

It's often reviewed as a life-changing book, and in some ways it was for me to, back then.  Although I had been interested in psychology since my twenties, and had been writing a personal development journal for a few years, (prompted by pregnancy and motherhood) this was the first time I found a really compelling explanation of how our past - particularly our childhood and our experiences of being parented - moulded our personalities and our lives and relationships with others, in the present. And it did feel empowering, to finally have a good understanding of that, for from that point on, I could recognise an Intimidator, an Interrogator, a Poor Me and an Aloof person.  I realised I was aloof, not as a way to feel superior to people, but as a way of protecting myself from the aggression of others - if you don't let them in, there's a limit to how much damage they can do you.  In a way, that served me well for years, but re-reading the novel over the holidays, I realised I had matured over the subsequent decades, and had become more confident, less of a victim, perhaps due to becoming a mother for parenthood seems to have an incredibly grounding affect on most of us. But it still takes me a good while to feel comfortable on a deeper level, with new acquaintances, many months in fact, as I gradually weigh up how genuine someone is, how dependable. I tend to feel more comfortable with people I have known for many years, I trust my own judgement, much more than the recommendation of others, and that was something I realised quite profoundly, as I re-explored the chapters and insights, one by one. As I reached the end of the book, I suddenly remembered I had promised myself, back then in 1994, I would take a trip to the rain forests of Peru, for my fiftieth birthday, right up into the Andes, to see the ancient Machu Picchu ruins for myself.

On the whole, I don't like to categorise people, either personally or professionally.  Human beings are complex creatures, there's good and bad in all of us, and ultimately it simply comes down to whether our own particular personality can embrace someone else's or whether it clashes with it.

There continues to be a growing interest in transpersonal psychology material, as people are starting to question the culture we live in, which is so heavily focussed on work, and material possessions and achieving financial success and professional status, very often at the expense of relationships and family life.

I was fifty last year, a lot of my friends and colleagues are in their fifties, and perhaps middle-age is a time when, having achieved a certain amount, in terms of our careers, and raising children successfully, we begin to seek a more deeply personal, psychological, maybe even spiritual sense of fulfilment. Gone are the days when a fifty year old man would suddenly feel the urge to sell the family Volvo and return home with sporty little TR7, on the whole, men have become much more enlightened, more self-aware in the past twenty years.  But for most of us, men and women, there is something about reaching this point in our lives and realising that many of the dreams we had in our teens and twenties, got discarded along the way, as life required us to be sensible, responsible, reliable.

With our children maturing and starting to make their own way in the world, and a genuine sense of achievement and contentment from the role of parent, perhaps we can reconnect now, with that passionate soul we used to be, indeed, perhaps we should.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Six of the best - inspiring, powerful short films you really should watch...

Lasting anything from fifteen seconds to forty-five minutes, short films can be a great way to perfect your craft and many are surprisingly powerful.

Here are six favourites, be warned, the last three contain distressing scenes...

Sunday, 12 January 2014

In this age of media and social and government oppression we need a coherent Arts movement, to unite a new Beat Generation

When the moon is in the seventh house, and Jupiter aligns with Mars, then peace will guide the planets, and love will steer the stars... So sang The 5th Dimension, in the song "Aquarius" back in 1969.  

For a few years, in the 70s, there was a genuine sense of a growing counterculture, as young people rejected the restrictive views and values of their parents' generation, and seemed to want to create a more tolerant, more humane, more peaceful society, but aside from a few protests in favour of Civil Rights and against the Vietnam War, it largely came to nothing really, because sitting in a field, naked and stoned, ultimately doesn't challenge the establishment, it just sort of wastes a load of time, and drugs tend to fuck with your mind, rather than focus it to get organised and embark on a credible programme to achieve genuine, lasting change.

The Age of Aquarius, is supposed to liberate us all, so that we might cast off the shackles of conservative conformity in our quest to discover the full joys of being human, the freedom to express ourselves, to fulfil ourselves as individuals, to connect with our fellow man and our environment.  In this actual age of sexually transmitted diseases, some of which seem to be resistant now to antibiotics, presumably no-one would really be endorsing free love, as the 70s hippies were.  No matter how enlightened and psychologically liberated I became, I cannot imagine shagging all the gents and half the females in my community, with no consideration for physical or emotional commitment, some things are just clearly a very bad idea!

Most people seem to subscribe to the view that the Age of Aquarius hasn't actually started yet, and won't do for a few hundred years, but some claim it began in 2012.  If it did, there certainly doesn't seem to be any feeling of liberation so far.  The vast majority of us still seem to be living under a cloud of extreme social and political oppression, more so than ever in my lifetime really.  Those who don't conform to current social norms are portrayed in the mainstream media as deviant - for which read eccentric if you're rich or a threat to the lives of decent hard-working families if you don't happen to be loaded.  

We also live in the Age of Litigation, where the full might of the law is frequently used against anyone expressing a view which really challenges government and the corporations who fund political parties, and this has inevitably seeped through into popular culture, art and drama.  Seldom will you discover a TV drama or radio play with a negative message about the establishment.  Not so long ago, you might have been able to watch a prime time UK drama, which portrayed government ministers as corrupt, specifically identifying the characters as corrupt Tory politicians.  That seems much less likely now, as programme makers err on the side of caution, at the expense of compelling, gritty original drama to get public debate going. And even more worrying, documentary series actively demonise anyone not conforming to the established model of family life and those horrid, judgemental, voyeuristic programmes frequently attract high viewing figures.

But there must be an enormous number of writers and artists, and musicians and actors and poets and dancers, who certainly don't share this narrow Daily Mail definition of what life should be, and we perhaps need to establish a coherent movement, to challenge the intolerance and bigotry the viewing public has become used to sitting in front of, without questioning any of the messages they're being fed, night in, night out.

Scotland has the National Collective , a movement for artists and creatives, prepared to challenge the political establishment, in this case, united specifically in their support for Scottish independence, and we could perhaps be inspired and encouraged by that, to form our own Arts movement for people who seek to challenge the status quo in a broader sense, a bit like the Beat Generation of writers in the 50s and 60s.

If you already know of such collectives, please feel free to post links to these groups,  in the comments section below and perhaps we can start to join up a few of the dots, and build something meaningful and lasting together.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Positive life changes are always a great idea for our health, though all of us have the right to be autonomous and to decide what's best for ourselves.

In recent years, I've been trying to adopt a new healthy habit, for a new year. I give myself a goal of committing to the new change for one month, and if I want to quit at the end of four weeks, then I allow myself to do so. But as it happens, I tend to get used to the healthy habit, and don't seem to revert back. Occasionally I might have lapses, once or a couple of times, but I seem to be so used to the new routine, I find I don't actually enjoy going back to the old habit. Well, so far that has been the case!

One year, I had read about the health benefits to starting each day with a glass of health juice made up of 1/3rd carrot juice, 1/3rd beetroot juice and 1/3rd pressed apple juice. It looks almost like a glass of blood, goodness knows what my neighbours think ,as I stand there at the window devouring it each morning.  It actually tastes nothing like you might expect, it's got a berry kind of flavour and the beet gives it a bit of an earthy taste.  Carrot juice is anti-carcinogenic, beetroot juice apparently breaks tumours down, thanks to betacyanin, and is used by athletes for muscle recovery, so it feeds your physical body, and apple juice has properties beneficial to the brain, promoting healthy mental function.  I quickly got to like it, and years on, this is how I start each day.
Another year, I decided to stop buying refined sugar, given the links with cancer and diabetes - then halfway through the year I stopped buying brown sugar for myself and replaced it with honey in my coffee and baking. I confess I do have a bag of sugar in the cupboard for visiting friends who take sugar, and I can't say I myself have given up sugar altogether, because it's in plenty of the manufactured food I buy, and if I'm out, I'll put half a spoon of brown sugar in a cup of coffee, but I did notice as the months went on, I felt less sluggish and slept better.  Some would argue honey is not much better for us than sugar, and I can only go on my own experiences, I just feel better for greatly reducing my sugar intake. It should be said, it's not advisable to consume a great amount of honey either, moderation is probably the key word.

Other years  I switched from white bread to wholemeal, though I still buy white for other people in the family, I also made the change to decaf coffee some years ago, and mostly I'm vegetarian, but again I'm happy to cook meat for other people.  I'm not one to thrust my own preferences on anyone else, this is all personal choice.  I just seem to feel better for these gradual changes and I need to have energy in my day to day life, because I'm 50 now and still rushing round as much as I did when I was in my 20s and 30s.

This year, I made the commitment back in December, to get more sleep and I've also begun meditating, which I'm already finding benefits from, one month in.  I've done yoga since I was 17, but find I get lazy and don't make time for it, particularly now so much of my "spare time" is taken up with writing and editing.  But even 10 minutes of mindfulness meditation seems to have benefits.  I had been getting headaches (probably due to lack of sleep and not drinking enough water) and sometimes felt a little stressed when I got tired, but that seems to be going.  It occurs to me, we're spoilt really, in this internet age we're living in.  We can have access to virtually any book we want, and Youtube is full of videos, supporting us with the changes we decide to make.

Again, I would close by stressing, I'd never seek to advise anyone else what choices they should be making in life, not even my own children, we all need to be free to be autonomous.  There's nothing more annoying than someone giving you a lecture because your shoes aren't vegan.  We all do what's right for us, none of us has the right really, to judge others. and sometimes I think people spend far too much time pointing out our differences, and not enough focussing on all the things we humans have in common.

An increasing number of people are becoming interested in Mindfulness, in their quest to reduce stress and anxiety in daily life.

The following is taken from The Mental Health Foundation website - the original article can be found here 

Mindfulness is a mind-body based approach that helps people change the way they think and feel about their experiences, especially stressful experiences.

Mindfulness exercises or mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) are ways of paying attention to the present moment, using techniques like meditation, breathing and yoga. Mindfulness training helps us become more aware of our thoughts and feelings so that instead of being overwhelmed by them, we're better able to manage them.
It's been known for millennia that the way we think and the way we handle how we feel plays a big part in mental health. Taking a mindfulness course can give people more insight into their emotions, boost their attention and concentration and improve relationships.
MBCT is recommended by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) for the prevention of relapse in recurrent depression. It combines mindfulness techniques like meditation, breathing exercises and stretching with elements from cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) to help break the negative thought patterns that are characteristic of recurrent depression. Mindfulness is a potentially life-changing way to alter our feelings in positive ways, and an ever-expanding body of evidence shows that it really works.

Mindfulness meditation has been shown to affect how the brain works and even its structure. People undertaking mindfulness training have shown increased activity in the area of the brain associated with positive emotion – the pre-frontal cortex – which is generally less active in people who are depressed.
More than 100 studies have shown changes in brain wave activity during meditation and researchers have found that areas of the brain linked to emotional regulation are larger in people who have meditated regularly for five years.
Research shows that Mindfulness can help with:
recurrent depression
anxiety disorders
addictive behaviour
chronic pain
chronic fatigue syndrome
plus more mental and physical problems.
There is growing evidence that Mindfulness in the workplace can improve productivity and decrease sickness absence, and increasingly employers are looking to benefit from its effect on workplace wellbeing. Find out more at Mindfulnet.
Almost three-quarters of GPs think mindfulness meditation would be helpful for people with mental health problems, and a third already refer patients to MBCT on a regular basis. (Source: ICM survey June 2009 of 250 GPs). With the increase in talking therapies being instigated across the UK this is something that you can raise and discuss with your GP.
Benefitting from mindfulness therapies

MBCT is usually a weekly course of classes taught over two months, but there are also online courses available that can be done in your own time, at home or even at work. These courses teach people how to manage their thoughts and feelings in a way that makes depression less likely to occur.
Such treatment has been shown to cut relapse rates in half for recurrent depression.
Find out more about mindfulness and its benefits on the Be Mindful website, where you can:
watch videos and listen to podcasts
find out about courses in your area
share your experience of mindfulness at the The Oxford Mindfulness Centre
give your support for increased access to mindfulness therapy on the NHS.
Mindfulness courses don’t require any religious or spiritual beliefs. Mindfulness is suitable for, and can help people with any religious beliefs or people with none at all.
Whether you want to learn new techniques for coping with stress in the workplace or at home, manage anxiety or depression or improve your concentration, energy levels and enjoyment of life, Mindfulness is a valuable tool. In fact, mindfulness meditation can have such a positive impact on our mental and physical well-being that many GPs say that all people could benefit from learning the techniques.

Three videos on Mindfulness:

Sunday, 5 January 2014

What causes the bliss and euphoria of love to end, to suddenly turn into conflict? As explained in "The Celestine Prophecy"

Over the holidays I have been revisiting the transcendental psychology novel, "The Celestine Prophecy" by James Redfield, which I first read with friends from a local village, back in 1994, twenty years ago.  

Back then, we would meet up and discuss the various insights and how we could apply them to our own personalities, our past and our present lives, and it is so interesting now, to see how much of this learning I adopted and incorporated into my own life, even though the book seems to have a religious message and I am a life long agnostic.

I highly encourage people to read the novel, or listen to it as an audio book (particularly good to relax with at the end of the day).  Allow me to share some of my notes and observations, all these years on.

What causes the bliss and euphoria of love to end, to suddenly turn into conflict?

This is explained in "The Celestine Prophecy" as addiction to another person and ventures into Jungian territory (and even Freudian) for those of you who follow their teachings...

When love first happens, the two individuals are giving each other energy unconsciously and both people feel buoyant and elated. That's the incredible high, we all call being in love.... They cut themselves off from others, from the universe and seek to gain all their energy from one person, which is unsustainable, and eventually each stops giving so much energy and reverts to old psycho dramas to seek to control the other, forcing the lover's energy their way. At this point the relationship degenerates into the usual power struggle. The problem starts in our early family life, because most of us were not given enough positive energy, attention from adults, none of us were able to complete an important psychological process, we weren't able to integrate our opposite sexual side, and the reason we can become addicted to someone of the opposite sex, is that we are yet to access this opposite sex energy ourselves. We mistakenly think the only way of having the opposite sex energy we crave, is to possess someone sexually and keeping them close to us physically (as a child might with their opposite sex parent). The problem is, most parents are competing with their own children for energy, within a family, because we are looking for this opposite sex energy externally, in another human being, rather than finding it within ourselves.

Make any sense?

So it also talks about the way, when we're perhaps younger, and we fall in love we're looking for someone else to be our "other half" to "complete us" is a phrase we often hear, and relationships like this, where the individuals are perhaps quite needy, are destined to fail, unless one person is prepared to submit to the other and let them dominate the relationship and decisions. It can never be a mature mutual relationship, if we don't feel complete ourselves, if we haven't yet learned to love ourselves and value who and what we are.

Often, you find a couple where one person is shy and the other very confident, one is exceptionally attractive and the other very plain, one academic and the other not so intellectually bright. It is sometimes thought that these opposites attract in a very natural and positive way, but in fact, each individual is seeking to compensate for their lack of attractiveness or lack of confidence and so on, by bonding with someone who has qualities they wish they themselves possessed. And it never really works, this idea of someone completing us, because you ultimately have two halves of a person making up one whole and that whole has two heads... two egos,.. eventually they start pulling in opposite directions, in their desire to gain and maintain energy.

And so often people get romantically involved without first building a solid foundation of a strong platonic friendship. This is needed because it is the only way a couple can build a deeper level of trust. Going to bed with someone before you have established this level of trust tends to result in nervousness (unless you're drunk) because you're naked, physically and emotionally, and you don't know this person well enough really to be that intimate with them, you have no idea really if they will turn around and laugh at you. Often there is embarrassment in these sexual encounters. If you feel embarrassed when you're in bed with someone, it's far too soon and any relationship is highly unlikely to last.

Link to James Redfield's Celestine Vision site.
You can buy "The Celestine Prophecy" here.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Those 2014 Fireworks in full - Austerity? What Austerity??

Once again, the Tories have misjudged the mood of the nation in spectacular style, as only they could. 

As millions of people struggled to get through the toughest Christmas yet, with utility bills soaring, and nearly 350,000 dependent on food banks (according to a report by The Trussell Trust), the Tories pulled out all the stops, to lay on a pyrotechnics extravaganza- which also included peach snow, edible banana confetti and orange-scented bubbles - to take our minds off how miserable and desperate day to day living has become for so many families, as the government continues to bleed the poorest dry to pay for the irresponsible banking, which crashed the UK economy.
I actually can't watch this, it makes me physically sick to see such an obscene and wreckless waste of money, when so many vulnerable people are left starving on the streets.

Link to the Trussell Trust article on food banks