Monthly Archives: October 2012

Listen With Prejudice – #49 Sonic Youth – Daydream Nation – Album Review

Before: Dreary grungers, no tunes.

Nightmare Nation? Loud. Fast. Aggressive. Messed up guitars, vocals, lyrics, the occasional melodic elements a relief from the onslaught. Conjured some sort of hellish future city with monsters nearby in the dark. I managed to listen to it all, except for Trilogy which apparently lasts for ever.

After: Fast grungers, no tunes.

Counting down the Top 50 over at Best Ever Albums. They’ve taken 6,600 greatest album charts and compiled them into an overall chart.

Listen With Prejudice – #50 White Stripes – Elephant – Album Review

Before: Hip comicbook thump/guitar merchants with a compelling attitude

Minimalist banging with unpredictable fuzzy buzzy guitars. Passionate voices defiant and vulnerable, honest and not without humour. It’s surprisingly tender at times, before second half of the album belters kick in. Hard to know how serious it all is; it seems sincere but an ironic twist runs deep. Often I found myself smiling; the spontaneity of the guitars almost comical, the sound produced not quite like anything else I’ve heard. Loudness is tempered by the sparcity of instruments and production. A blues punk mix somewhere in a lost American garage.

After: More varity than expected, and more fun, despite the intensity.

Counting down the Top 50 over at Best Ever Albums. They’ve taken 6,600 greatest album charts and compiled them into an overall chart.

Mindfulness In Plain English – Henepola Gunaratana – How to sit

Extracts from Chapter Six:

The practice of meditation has been going on for several thousand years. That is quite a bit of time for experimentation, and the procedure has been very, very thoroughly refined. Buddhist practice has always recognized that the mind and body are tightly linked and that each influences the other. Thus there are certain recommended physical practices which will greatly assist you to master your skill. And these practices should be followed. Keep in mind, however, that these postures are practice aids. Don’t confuse the two. Meditation does not mean sitting in the lotus position.

The most essential thing is to sit with your back straight. The spine should be erect with the spinal vertebrae like a stack of coins, one on top of the other. Your head should be held in line with the rest of the spine. All of this is done in a relaxed manner. No Stiffness. You are not a wooden soldier, and there is no drill sergeant. There should be no muscular tension involved in keeping the back straight. Sit light and easy. … This is going to require a bit of experimentation on your part. We generally sit in tight, guarded postures when we are walking or talking and in sprawling postures when we are relaxing. Neither of those will do. But they are cultural habits and they can be re-learned.

Don’t tighten your neck muscles. Relax your arms. Your diaphragm is held relaxed, expanded to maximum fullness. Don’t let tension build up in the stomach area. Your chin is up. Your eyes can be open or closed. If you keep them open, fix them on the tip of your nose or in the middle distance straight in front. You are not looking at anything. You are just putting your eyes in some arbitrary direction where there is nothing in particular to see, so that you can forget about vision. Don’t strain. Don’t stiffen and don’t be rigid. Relax; let the body be natural and supple. Let it hang from the erect spine like a rag doll.

You want to achieve a state of complete physical stillness, yet you don’t want to fall asleep. Recall the analogy of the muddy water. You want to promote a totally settled state of the body which will engender a corresponding mental settling. There must also be a state of physical alertness which can induce the kind of mental clarity you seek. So experiment. Your body is a tool for creating desired mental states. Use it judiciously.

Mindfulness In Plain English – Henepola Gunaratana – 100% honesty with ourselves

Extracts from Chapter Five:

Mindfulness is our emergency kit, readily available at our service at any time. When we face a situation where we feel indignation, if we mindfully investigate our own mind, we will discover bitter truths in ourselves. That is we are selfish; we are egocentric; we are attached to our ego; we hold on to our opinions; we think we are right and everybody else is wrong; we are prejudices; we are biased; and at the bottom of all of this, we do not really love ourselves. This discovery, though bitter, is a most rewarding experience. And in the long run, this discovery delivers us from deeply rooted psychological and spiritual suffering.

Mindfulness practice is the practice of one hundred percent honesty with ourselves.

We all have blind spots. The other person is our mirror for us to see our faults with wisdom. We should consider the person who shows our shortcomings as one who excavates a hidden treasure in us that we were unaware of.

It is not the Vipassana meditator’s goal to become enlightened before other people or to have more power or to make more profit than others, for mindfulness meditators are not in competition with each other.

Our goal is to reach the perfection of all the noble and wholesome qualities latent in our subconscious mind. This goal has five elements to it: Purification of mind, overcoming sorrow and lamentation, overcoming pain and grief, treading the right path leading to attainment of eternal peace, and attaining happiness by following that path.

Once you sit, do not change the position again until the end of the time you determined at the beginning. Suppose you change your original position because it is uncomfortable, and assume another position. What happens after a while is that the new position becomes uncomfortable. Then you want another and after a while, it too becomes uncomfortable. So you may go on shifting, moving, changing one position to another the whole time you are on your mediation cushion and you may not gain a deep and meaningful level of concentration. Therefore, do not change your original position, no matter how painful it is.

[the] moment we try to pay bare attention to is the present moment. Our mind goes through a series of events like a series of pictures passing through a projector. Some of these pictures are coming from our past experiences and others are our imaginations of things that we plan to do in the future.

As you continue your practice you mind and body becomes so light that you may feel as if you are floating in the air or on water. You may even feel that your body is springing up into the sky. When the grossness of your in-and-out breathing has ceased, subtle in-and-out breathing arises. This very subtle breath is your objective focus of the mind.

As your mindfulness develops, your resentment for the change, your dislike for the unpleasant experiences, your greet for the pleasant experiences and the notion of self hood will be replaced by the deeper insight of impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and selflessness. This knowledge of reality in your experience helps you to foster a more calm, peaceful and mature attitude towards your life.

The expansion and contraction of the abdomen, lower abdomen and chest are parts of the universal rhythm. Everything in the universe has the same rhythm of expansion and contraction just like our breath and body.

Mindfulness In Plain English – Henepola Gunaratana – Attitude toward meditation

Extracts from Chapter Four:

Don’t expect anything. Just sit back and see what happens. Treat the whole thing as an experiment. … Meditative awareness seeks to see reality exactly as it is.

Don’t strain: Don’t force anything or make grand exaggerated efforts. Meditation is not aggressive. There is no violent striving. Just let your effort be relaxed and steady.

Don’t rush: There is no hurry, so take you time. Settle yourself on a cushion and sit as though you have a whole day.

Don’t cling to anything and don’t reject anything: Let come what comes and accommodate yourself to that, whatever it is. If good mental images arise, that is fine. If bad mental images arise, that is fine, too.

Let go: Learn to flow with all the changes that come up. Loosen up and relax.

Accept everything that arises: Accept your feelings, even the ones you wish you did not have.

Be gentle with yourself: Be kind to yourself. You may not be perfect, but you are all you’ve got to work with.

Investigate yourself: Question everything. Take nothing for granted. Don’t believe anything because it sounds wise and pious and some holy men said it. See for yourself. That does not mean that you should be cynical, impudent or irreverent. It means you should be empirical. … The entire practice hinges upon the desire to be awake to the truth. Without it, the practice is superficial.

View all problems as challenges: Look upon negatives that arise as opportunities to learn and to grow

Don’t ponder: You don’t need to figure everything out. Discursive thinking won’t free you from the trap. In mediation, the mind is purified naturally by mindfulness, by wordless bare attention. … Don’t think. See.

Don’t dwell upon contrasts: Differences do exist between people, but dwelling upon then is a dangerous process. Unless carefully handled, it leads directly to egotism.

 

 

Mindfulness In Plain English – Henepola Gunaratana – The label of ‘me’

Extracts from Chapter Three:

Vipassana is a gentle technique. But it also is very , very thorough. It is an ancient and codified system of sensitivity training, a set of exercises dedicated to becoming more and more receptive to your own life experience. It is attentive listening, total seeing and careful testing.

The object of Vipassana practice is to learn to pay attention. We think we are doing this already, but that is an illusion. It comes from the fact that we are paying so little attention to the ongoing surge of our own life experiences that we might just as well be asleep. We are simply not paying enough attention to notice that we are not paying attention.

“Never mind what I have been taught. Forget about theories and prejudgments and stereotypes. I want to understand the true nature of life. I want to know what this experience of being alive really is. I want to apprehend the true and deepest qualities of life, and I don’t want to just accept somebody else’s explanation. I want to see it for myself.” If you pursue your meditation practice with this attitude, you will succeed. You’ll find yourself observing things objectively, exactly as they are–flowing and changing from moment to moment. Life then takes on an unbelievable richness which cannot be described.

When you relax your driving desire for comfort, real fulfillment arises. When you drop your hectic pursuit of gratification, the real beauty of life comes out. When you seek to know the reality without illusion, complete with all its pain and danger, that is when real freedom and security are yours. This is not some doctrine we are trying to drill into you. This is an observable reality, a thing you can and should see for yourself.

We worry a lot. Worry itself is the problem. Worry is a process. It has steps. Anxiety is not just a state of existence but a procedure. What you’ve got to do is to look at the very beginning of that procedure, those initial stages before the process has built up a head of steam. The very first link of the worry chain is the grasping/rejecting reaction. As soon as some phenomenon pops into the mind, we try mentally to grab onto it or push it away. That sets the worry response in motion. Luckily, there is a handy little tool called Vipassana meditation which you can use to short-circuit the whole mechanism.

A close inspection reveals that we have done the same thing to ‘me’ that we have done to all other perceptions. We have taken a flowing vortex of thought, feeling and sensation and we have solidified that into a mental construct. Then we have stuck a label onto it, ‘me’. And forever after, we threat it as if it were a static and enduring entity. We view it as a thing separate from all other things. We pinch ourselves off from the rest of that process of eternal change which is the universe. And than we grieve over how lonely we feel. We ignore our inherent connectedness to all other beings and we decide that ‘I’ have to get more for ‘me’; then we marvel at how greedy and insensitive human beings are. And on it goes. Every evil deed, every example of heartlessness in the world stems directly from this false sense of ‘me’ as distinct from all else that is out there.

Vipassana meditation more than anything else is learning to live.

Teach Us To Sit Still – ‘Self’ is an idea we invented

More from the book Teach Us To Sit Still by Tim Parks (A Sceptic’s Search For Health And Healing).

Attention attends, unrequited.

Then, all at once, the temples!

I remember distinctly my first session of vipassana, it was in my temples that it began. First one, then the other: singing, buzzing, dancing. Had I wished to induce the sensation in this part of the body, I would never have imagined such mayhem, as though insect eggs had hatched, or breath on ashes found the nest of live embers. Yet it wasn’t creepy. And it wasn’t hot. It was the lively sparkle of freshly poured soda water.

In my temples.

At this point you realise that focusing the mind – eyes closed – on a part of the body is quite different from focusing on something outside yourself, a ball, say, or a bottle, or a boat. In that case the object remains an object, however long we look at it. But like light through the lens, or through a glass of still water perhaps, the mind sets the body alight, or the body and the mind. It is hard to say which; the skin glows in the mind and the mind fizzes in the skin. Together, neither flesh nor fleshless, or both flesh and fleshless, they burn.

This is the beginning of vipassana.

The encouraging thing is that once one part of the body has answered your polite enquiry, others to seem more willing to respond: here a band of heat, there a patch of coldness, here are dull throb, now a tingling current. The whole house is waking up and as you pass from door to door each occupant acknowledges your presence by turning something on: now blue light, now I read, hear the coffee grinder, there are TV. The tower block starts to  hum.

At the retreats, the first-time meditators are hungry for drama, for an encounter with the demons, submission to a guru. We all want to add another episode to the narrative of ourselves, the yarn we are constantly spinning of our dealings with the world. This is why so many go to India, I suppose, to do no more than sit on a cushion, eyes closed. They hope the exotic location, the gurus robes and foreign voice will add intensity to the tale.

But as words and thoughts are eased out of the mind, so the self weakens. There is no narrative to feed it. When the words are gone, whether you are in Verona or Varanasi hardly matters, whether it is morning or evening, whether you are young or old, man or woman, poor or rich isn’t, in the silence, in the darkness, in the stillness, so important. Like ghosts, angels, gods, ‘self’, it turns out, is an idea we invented, a story we tell ourselves. It needs language to survive. The words create meaning, the meaning and purpose, the purpose narrative. But here, for a little while, there is no story, no rhetoric, no deceit. Here is silence and acceptance; the pleasure of a space that need not be imbued with meaning. Intensely aware, of the flesh, the breath, the blood, consciousness allows the ‘I’ to slip away.

Mindfulness In Plain English – Henepola Gunaratana – “What is there is there”

Extracts from Chapter Two:

The goal is awareness, an awareness so intense, concentrated and finely tuned that you will be able to pierce the inner workings of reality itself.

Meditation procedures stress concentration of the mind, bringing the mind to rest on one item or one area of thought. Do it strongly and thoroughly enough, and you achieve a deep and blissful relaxation which is called Jhana. It is a state of such supreme tranquility that it amounts to rapture. It is a form of pleasure which lies above and beyond anything that can be experienced in the normal state of consciousness. Most systems stop right there. That is the goal, and when you attain that, you simply repeat the experience for the rest of your life. Not so with Vipassana meditation. Vipassana seeks another goal–awareness.

You understand how to walk. You probably can’t describe the exact order in which your nerve fibers and your muscles contract during that process. But you can do it. Meditation needs to be understood that same way, by doing it. It is not something that you can learn in abstract terms. It is to be experienced.

Meditate and you will probably dredge up various nasty-matters from your past. The suppressed material that has been buried there for quite some time can be scary. It is also highly profitable. No activity is entirely without risk, but that does not mean that we should wrap ourselves in some protective cocoon. That is not living. That is premature death.

Meditation teaches you how to disentangle yourself from the thought process. It is the mental art of stepping out of your own way, and that’s a pretty useful skill in everyday life. Meditation is certainly not some irrelevant practice strictly for ascetics and hermits. It is a practical skill that focuses on everyday events and has immediate application in everybody’s life. Meditation is not other-worldly.

Meditation is running into reality. It does not insulate you from the pain of life. It allows you to delve so deeply into life and all its aspects that you pierce the pain barrier and you go beyond suffering. Vipassana is a practice done with the specific intention of facing reality, to fully experience life just as it is and to cope with exactly what you find. It allows you to blow aside the illusions and to free yourself from all those polite little lies you tell yourself all the time. What is there is there.

The meditator is actively engaged in the process of getting rid of greed, tension and insensitivity. Those are the very items which obstruct his compassion for others. Until they are gone, any good works that he does are likely to be just an extension of his own ego and of no real help in the long run. Harm in the name of help is one of the oldest games.

Cleansing yourself of selfishness is not a selfish activity.

If you learn nothing else from meditation, you will learn patience. And that is the most valuable lesson available.

Teach Us To Sit Still – The pain had quite gone

More from the book Teach Us To Sit Still by Tim Parks (A Sceptic’s Search For Health And Healing). Park’s experiences painlessness after years of near constant pelvic pain.

The first few minutes have passed now. However excruciating, I must lie still. I breathed deeply and remembered Eliot. ‘Teach us to care and not to care. Teach us to sit still.’

Don’t verbalise.

Then after a while something would happen. The breath breathed itself and I slid down into that dark landscape with its low sky and damp hills. At once the muscles of my face buzzed and sang with tension.

I say ‘something would happen’, as though these sessions were all the same. Certainly there was an element of repetition, particularly at the beginning: the itches, the fuss, the trivial adjustments, the mill of defeatist thoughts. But from this point on, from the moment I entered my bodyscape, as it were, every day was different. And as the first week moved into the second and third, things grew more intense, more – here was a real paradox – exotic.

There were curious pulsations. In my wrists perhaps. Not a regular wrist pulse of the kind you can check and count. Rather it might move along my right wrist, from hand to forearm, then ripple over to the left. Faster than an ordinary pulse. More fluid, mobile. The wave was picked up by a ticking in the stomach. Then leg too. A sea swell of pulses were criss-crossing the muscles. The tension in my cheeks was exactly superimposed over the tension in my calves. The two seemed to be the same. Both were growing and changing, glowing and noisy. Suddenly, it was all so interesting that the mind found it easy to concentrate. More interesting than thoughts. As when you surrender yourself to strange music. It was so busy. Parts of the body were calling back and forth to each other with little ripping pulse oceans, as if the tide was lapping in and out across underwater weeds.

Stop describing it!

Concentrate.

Suddenly my belly drew a huge breath, absolutely unexpected, and a warm wave flooded down my body from top to toe.

I nearly drowned. Shocked and tensed, I sat up and opened my eyes.

What in God’s name was that?

The feeling had vanished at once. It was gone. But so too, I realise now, was the pain. The pain had quite gone. Not even the shadow of the pain. Not a ghost. I was lying still, painless.

 

Mindfulness In Plain English – Henepola Gunaratana – “You are a mess”

Extracts from Chapter One:

Buddhism as a whole is quite different from the theological religions with which Westerners are most familiar. It is a direct entrance to a spiritual or divine realm without addressing deities or other ‘agents’. Its flavor is intensely clinical, much more akin to what we would call psychology than to what we would usually call religion. It is an ever-ongoing investigation of reality, a microscopic examination of the very process of perception. Its intention is to pick apart the screen of lies and delusions through which we normally view the world, and thus to reveal the face of ultimate reality. Vipassana meditation is an ancient and elegant technique for doing just that.

Meditation is not easy. It takes time and it takes energy. It also takes grit, determination and discipline. It requires a host of personal qualities which we normally regard as unpleasant and which we like to avoid whenever possible. We can sum it all up in the American word ‘gumption’. Meditation takes ‘gumption’. It is certainly a great deal easier just to kick back and watch television. So why bother? Why waste all that time and energy when you could be out enjoying yourself? Why bother? Simple. Because you are human. And just because of the simple fact that you are human, you find yourself heir to an inherent unsatisfactoriness in life which simply will not go away. You can suppress it from your awareness for a time. You can distract yourself for hours on end, but it always comes back–usually when you least expect it.

You suddenly realize that you are spending your whole life just barely getting by. You keep up a good front. You manage to make ends meed somehow and look OK from the outside. But those periods of desperation, those times when you feel everything caving in on you, you keep those to yourself. You are a mess. And you know it. But you hide it beautifully. you hide it beautifully. Meanwhile, way down under all that you just know there has got be some other way to live, some better way to look at the world, some way to touch life more fully. You click into it by chance now and then. You get a good job. You fall in love. You win the game. and for a while, things are different. Life takes on a richness and clarity that makes all the bad times and humdrum fade away. The whole texture of your experience changes and you say to yourself, “OK, now I’ve made it; now I will be happy”. But then that fades, too, like smoke in the wind. You are left with just a memory. That and a vague awareness that something is wrong.

Go to a party. Listen to the laughter, that brittle-tongued voice that says fun on the surface and fear underneath. Feel the tension, feel the pressure. Nobody really relaxes. They are faking it.

At first glance this seems exceedingly morbid and pessimistic. It even seems untrue. After all, there are plenty of times when we are happy. Aren’t there? No, there are not. It just seems that way. Take any moment when you feel really fulfilled and examine it closely. Down under the joy, you will find that subtle, all-pervasive undercurrent of tension, that no matter how great the moment is, it is going to end. No matter how much you just gained, you are either going to lose some of it or spend the rest of your days guarding what you have got and scheming how to get more. And in the end, you are going to die. In the end, you lose everything. It is all transitory.

You can’t make radical changes in the pattern of your life until you begin to see yourself exactly as you are now. As soon as you do that, changes flow naturally. You don’t have to force or struggle or obey rules dictated to you by some authority. You just change. It is automatic. But arriving at the initial insight is quite a task. You’ve got to see who you are and how you are, without illusion, judgement or resistance of any kind. You’ve got to see your own place in society and your function as a social being. You’ve got to see your duties and obligations to your fellow human beings, and above all, your responsibility to yourself as an individual living with other individuals. And you’ve got to see all of that clearly and as a unit, a single gestalt of interrelationship. It sounds complex, but it often occurs in a single instant.

The purpose of meditation is personal transformation. The you that goes in one side of the meditation experience is not the same you that comes out the other side. It changes your character by a process of sensitization, by making you deeply aware of your own thoughts, word, and deeds. Your arrogance evaporated and your antagonism dries up. Your mind becomes still and calm. And your life smoothes out. Thus meditation properly performed prepares you to meet the ups and down of existence. It reduces your tension, your fear, and your worry. Restlessness recedes and passion moderates. Things begin to fall into place and your life becomes a glide instead of a struggle. All of this happens through understanding.

There is only one way you will ever know if meditation is worth the effort. Learn to do it right, and do it. See for yourself.

Teach Us To Sit Still – Constant Motion

More from the book Teach Us To Sit Still by Tim Parks (A Sceptic’s Search For Health And Healing). Parks has begun to experiment with sitting still and sees that he is always moving:

The pain surged to the fore. It was strong. You deal with the pain by keeping in constant motion, I realised now.  That was the truth. Even when I was still, I moved. My knee jerking. Scratching. My fist clenching and clenching. That kept the pain at bay. And when my body was still my mind moved. My mind was in constant motion. All day every day. The thoughts jerked back and forward like the knee that twitched. The difficulty when I was writing was not to come up with thoughts, but to give them direction and economy. Like a climbing plant that must be pruned and tamed, pruned and tamed. Above all pruned.

 

You are supposed not to be thinking.

 

Or not supposed to be thinking.

 

Or supposed to be not thinking.

 

I moved the ‘not’. Language is always on the move.

 

Even when I slept I moved. To sleep I needed to be on one side with one knee pushed forward. Then I switched to the other side. And I switched my earplugs from one ear to the other. I can’t bear having an earplug pressing the pillow. I pulled the earplug out, turned over, put the plug-in. Six times a night.

In the silence, eyes closed, I remembered a documentary had seen years before about some kind of desert lizard  that stopped its feet from burning on the hot Sahara sand by constantly and rapidly lifting and dropping the right front foot and back left foot, then the left front and back right. Alternately. They lifted and fell in the blink of an eyelid, almost too quick for the camera to see. A sort of Purgatory, I had thought, when I saw the images.

 

 

Teach Us To Sit Still – ‘Something’s got to change! Please!’

Next month I am going to a vipassana centre in Hereford for ten days of silence and sitting; meditation. Having  been on shorter retreats I’d like to immerse deeper into this exploration, and a ten-day retreat has been recommended by several friends. The decision to go was helped along by the book Teach Us To Sit Still by Tim Parks (the subtitle: A Sceptic’s Search For Health And Healing), a very interesting account of the author’s freedom from pain after suffering for many years. Having exhausted all other possibilities to treat this pelvic pain, he undertakes a sitting meditation practice, eventually learning that the pain itself is a gateway for release. The writing is refreshing as Parks had no interest in spiritual matters or meditation beforehand and so the language is refreshingly free of anything new age.

Getting desperate, Parks visits an Ayurvedic doctor while on business in India. He is told that his symptoms can be relived but…

‘On the other hand…’ He sat back and looked me in the eyes. His face was frank. ‘This is a problem you will never get over, Mr Parks, until you confront the profound contradiction in your character.’

I can’t recall being more surprised by a single remark in all my life.

‘Ah,’ I said at last.

‘There is a tussle in your mind.’

I sat still. I had wanted a different story, to challenge the ‘official medical version’. I was getting it.

‘What actually causes all this pain?’ I asked.

‘It is blocked vata.’

‘That is an energy that flows in the body,’ his wife explained. ‘ One of the five elements. It balances others and needs to be balanced by them. When the balance goes wrong, then the vata is blocked and causes pain.’

‘It is this mental tussle that blocks the vata,’ the doctor said.

I reflected. ‘So, what is the tussle about?’

‘Good question!’ The doctor smiled.

‘A tussle like this is not really about anything,’ his wife explained. ‘It is part of the prakruti.’

They began to explain what prakruti was: the amalgamation of inherited and acquired traits coming together to form the personality. If those traits were at odds and the two couldn’t mix, you’d be in trouble.

‘In that case a person may get the impression that his life is a series of dilemmas. He may think: if only I could resolve this or that dilemma, I will have resolved my problems. But each dilemma is only a manifestation of the deeper conflict.’

…’are you telling me it’s entirely psychosomatic?’

A slow smile spread across the doctor’s face. ‘That’s not a word we have much use for, Mr Parks.’

I looked at him.

‘You only say ‘psychosomatic’ if you think that body and mind are ever separate.’

The generator fell silent. What a pleasure sudden silence is, as when a harsh light goes out and your eyes can attune to the friendly dark. I picked up faint noises of plumbing, cries from the street, and I reflected that most people feel ashamed if told their problem is psychosomatic. They feel accused, guilty. It’s acceptable to have a sick body, that’s not your fault, but not a sick mind. The mind is you, the body is only yours. Choosing to go to an analysist because you’re unhappy is another matter. There is a respectability about being unhappy in a complicated way and most people would agree that to recognise you need professional help shows humility and good sense. But someone who makes his body ill because he doesn’t want to acknowledge his mind is in trouble, because he’s repressing his fears and desires and conflicts, is just a loser.

At exactly the moment I formulated this view, I realised that I was actually extremely eager for my problems to be psychosomatic. I was more than willing to countenance the idea that my pains only existed in my head, or that trouble in my head had brought them into existence in my body. I want to change, I told myself, returning from the bathroom. Why else would I have gone to an ayurvedic doctor? I want everything to change, inside me.

My parents tried to exorcise my brother and heal his polio. He was not changed. My sister gave birth to a severely handicapped daughter. The power of prayer did not transform her. Nor a trip to Lourdes. My father’s cancer was not helped by the laying on of hands. He lost his mind and died in pain. Afraid of anything that reminded us of their spiritual aberration, my brother and I counted entirely, perhaps aggressively, on official learning and official medicine; perhaps the only opinion we now had in common with my mother and sister was that all alternative therapies were baloney. Even today, if you mention acupuncture to my atheist brother, he will declare it  hocus-pocus. Just like my mother.

So where was I to turn, now that I had washed my hands of the doctors and they have me? The previous week, at the University, I had had to interrupt a lesson; for the first time the pain had obtruded  on my teaching. On Sunday afternoon at the stadium – for I was still an avid football goer – I was barely able to sit down during the second half of the game. I had to keep jumping to my feet as if excited by what was going on on the pitch. ‘Arbito di merda!’  I yelled, when nothing much was happening. My stadium friends laughed, but somebody client asked me to sit down.

On the bench in Regents Park, among the pleasant trees and lawns, I shouted: ‘Something’s got to change! Please!’ And a young man turned and glanced at me and hurried on.

Talking bird

Working at tidying a garden, I disturbed a bird in a bush, a young, scruffy, brown blackbird. Hopping about nearby it started to call my name, repeating over and over. Duncan. Then inside the bush somehow was written a message: ‘see through all illusion for the actual.’

All in a dream

South Downs Way – Final Leg – Alfriston to Eastbourne

For the final stage of the 100-mile SDW, I took the Coastal Route from the downland village of Alfriston, through the Cuckmere valley, across the Seven Sisters Country park with its bright white cliffs, via Birling Gap, up to Beachy Head before leaving the downs, descending into Eastbourne and it’s seafront promenade. A thoroughly enjoyable last twelve miles – a classic!

Climate-change denial getting harder to defend

As temperatures in the Norwegian Arctic beat those in the denialists’ favourite, the Medieval Warm Period, comes this:

The United States experienced the warmest July in its history, with more than 3,000 heat records broken across the country. Overall, the summer was the nation’s third warmest on record and comes in a year that is turning out to be the hottest ever. High temperatures along with low precipitation generated drought conditions across 60% of the Lower 48 states, which affected 70% of the corn and soybean crop and rendered part of the Mississippi River non-navigable. Arctic Sea ice declined to a record low, and a surface thaw swept across 97% of the Greenland ice cap.

Though it’s not possible to definitively link any of these individual events to human-caused climate change, the summer’s extreme weather follows clear longer-term trends and is consistent with climate model projections. This was the 36th consecutive July and 329th consecutive month in which global temperatures have been above the 20th century average. In addition, seven of the 10 hottest summers recorded in the United States have occurred since 2000. Such rising temperatures and climate anomalies have been documented around the world.

But there’s also one bit of good news: The increasingly powerful evidence of a long-term warming trend is making climate-change denial more difficult to defend. Take “Climategate” — the argument that scientists have based their evidence for global warming on fraudulent science. The Koch Foundation provided funding to physicist Richard Muller of UC Berkeley, a longtime climate-change skeptic, to disprove the widespread consensus on global warming. Instead, his re-analysis showed the exact same warming trend found by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and other scientists.

Since completing his research last year, Muller has been vociferously speaking out on the reality of human-caused climate change, including in testimony before Congress. The publication this spring of an expanded weather station analysis by Britain’s Hadley Centre further confirms the trend and suggests Northern Hemisphere surface warming was about 0.1 degree Celsius greater than previously thought. With Muller’s and the Hadley Centre’s re-analysis, the idea of Climategate has become virtually impossible to take seriously. The planet is warming.

But that hasn’t silenced the climate-change deniers entirely; they’ve simply shifted their arguments. Increasingly, they are accepting evidence of recent warming, but they deny that it is largely caused by humans, attributing it instead to natural factors such as solar variability or the El Niño system. But these arguments don’t fly any better than their original ones.

Research by Grant Foster of the United States and Stefan Rahmstorf of Germany has shown that recent variations in the solar cycle, volcanic activity and El Niño/La Niña events actually had a tempering effect on warming. Similarly, Markus Huber and Reto Knutti of the Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science in Zurich found by using simulation models that non-greenhouse gas factors could have accounted for only about 1% of the warming experienced since 1950. And this summer a team headed by Peter Gleckler of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory provided strong evidence that the recent warming of the ocean surface could be traced to human activities. The evidence is now overwhelming that by and large the warming we are seeing has an anthropogenic cause.

Another common theme of the skeptics recently is that even if anthropogenic climate change is real, projections overstate future warming. Writing in August in the Wall Street Journal, physicists Roger Cohen (a retired ExxonMobil executive), William Happer of Princeton and Richard Lindzen of MIT — all noted climate skeptics — asserted that greenhouse gases, though possibly having a warming effect, were “unlikely to increase global temperature more than about one degree Celsius.”

That 1-degree Celsius, or 1.8-degree Fahrenheit, projection is based largely on a 2011 paper by Lindzen and contradicted by much other research. The Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5, for example, which represents about 20 climate modeling groups, has in 2012 generated more than 200 submissions and peer-reviewed publications testing and analyzing the newest climate models. The sum result of these improved models reaffirms the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel’s projections of an increase in global temperature of 4 to 8 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100. It is important for scientists to further refine such projections, but it’s clear that increasing greenhouse gases are likely to cause a significant rise in global temperatures.

(My emphasis in bold)

Source

 

Scrap Book – Yugoslavia 1987

Here we are, Peter and I in what was Yugoslavia, in 1987. No idea what’s going on, except that Peter is in full on The Cure mode. I spent most of the holiday listening to Licensed to Ill, reading 1984, and lusting after a leggy local girl. We had one terrible date, with an ex-pat acting as interpreter/chaperone. Bad idea. Otherwise the holiday was great, with the hotel at the head of a fjord – if you can have fjords outside of Scandinavia – where we swam and canoed and hiked. It was the first time I flew anyplace. Martin probably took the photo.