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Archive for November, 2011

BE THE FLOW

autumn falls

THREE RIVERS OF FLOW

What flows like a river?

Which flows make us who we are?

Which rivers flow together to create the river of Life?

Let’s consider the following three.

Energy; Time; and Consciousness

Energy

All substance is energy. All solid objects, whether animate, or inanimate, appear very different from the forms of energy with which we are familiar….heat, light, electricity etc. But in fact, all substances consist of molecules, molecules are built from atoms, and the deeper and deeper we peer into atoms, the more we see simply energy. As electrons whizz perpetually around in the nuclei of the atoms, and as physicists smash atoms to pieces only to discover more and more particles of energy, we discover that all substance is energy, that all energy is part of a great continuum, and that apparent solidity is only that – apparent. There is no different material of the universe called solid. It’s all energy.

Some energy can be experienced directly with our own senses. Light, sound and heat, for example. Some energy can be measured with machinery we manufacture. In fact, we are able to measure the energy our sensory organs can detect, and we can also measure energy for which we have no natural detection equipment – electricity and calories for example.

Other energies cannot be measured with machinery, cannot be detected with our sensory organs, but can be experienced as direct realities – the personal energies – mental energy, physical energy, spiritual energy.

Time

We measure the flow of time with our chronometers, our clocks, watches and timers. These measurements are completely artificial. They were invented by humans and developed as mechanical devices calibrated against the turn of the Earth, and the cycles of the sun and the moon.

But our experience of the flow of time is neither so linear, nor so constant. We experience time as passing slowly, or quickly. We experience time standing still, or time flying. We are also able to consider different durations of time, and in so doing, to change our perspectives.

Consciousness

Consciousness refers to your individual awareness of your unique thoughts, memories, feelings, sensations and environment. Your conscious experiences are constantly shifting and changing.

What is consciousness? It is the awareness of existence. It’s the experience of “I AM”.

But consciousness is not limited to our personal experience of living inside our bodies. As every person matures and develops we can see a natural progression of the expansion of consciousness from egocentric (the awareness of “me”), to ethnocentric (the awareness of “those who are like me”), to world-centric (the awareness of all Nature), and, ultimately, to universe-centric (the awareness of all that is). Each of these “levels” of development of consciousness contains the previous levels within it, so as consciousness expands to include all those who are like me, it continues to include the consciousness which is aware of “me”.

As we consider these expanding horizons, we increase the spread and depth of our connections, ultimately experiencing the universal consciousness from which all personal consciousness emerges.

BE THE FLOW

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web water 1

BE THE FLOW

A lot goes on within our brains without our knowledge that it is happening. In fact, most of what goes on within our brains occurs without us being aware of it. Consider for a moment your breathing, or your heart rate. Neither of these essential rhythms are under conscious control but the brain plays a crucial role in regulating both of them.

However, the ability to make choices is a key characteristic of being human. By making choices, we claim autonomy and self-expression. In order to make choices we need awareness.

Awareness involves a state of being, a level of arousal and attention. It also requires something to be aware of.

To develop and grow far from our current state requires an awareness of being part of something greater than ourselves. It involves being aware of our connections. Connections to others, to the world, to the universal.

In the contemplation of Life we develop an awareness of our emergence temporarily from all that is. We become aware of our wave-like existence, appearing out of the surface and the depths of the great sea.

Having become aware of our existence as part of the universal and of how we emerge out of all that is, we then become aware of returning to where we came from.

We become aware of the great cycles of birth, growth and death. The cycles of expansion and contraction. The cycles of coming and going.

Finally, we develop an awareness of being within the flow and feeling the flow within, through, and around us all.

BE THE FLOW

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waterfall

I first came across the use of the word “flow” in relation to well-being when I read the book of that name by the psychologist, Czikszentmihalyi. Since then, I’ve found it a useful concept, not only in relation to happiness, mood and thinking, but also in relation to the entire good functioning of the human being.

When all your billions of cells work in harmony (another good word when thinking about health) then there is an integrated, coherent flow of energy and co-ordinated activity throughout your entire being.

In my BE THE FLOW, I explore this concept with words and images. Here’s the section on flow itself….

FLOW

What do you think of when you think of “flow”?

Flow involves constant movement and change.

We say we are in the flow, when what we are doing goes well, feels effortless and even exciting. When a sportsperson is in the flow, they are performing at their best, running fastest, scoring goals, hitting balls far and accurately. When a musician is in the flow, they are making beautiful, or stimulating, or moving, music. When a dancer is in the flow, his or her movements are elegant, beautiful and awe inspiring.

We all have days when Life flows well. Those days, we feel good, we achieve what set out to achieve, we get what we wish for.

It takes effort, practice and skill to make performances seem easy, to make them flow.

Flow might be effortless but it is full of energy.

A fast flowing river is vigorous, energetic, powerful.

You can hear the sound of the water flowing over a waterfall echoing through the forest long before you catch sight of the falls themselves.

When we see clouds racing across the sky, blown by the high winds, we don’t say they are flowing, but we could. They are water, and they are moving, fast and far, apparently effortlessly. The clouds flow over the sky from one horizon to the other.

The low clouds flow down over the tops of the mountains, like liquid nitrogen spilling out of its container. They flow down the side of the mountain, enveloping it, swathing it, wrapping it up in soft, wet, white cloud.

Healthy living organisms exhibit the characteristics of flow. They have vitality and vigour. All their parts are working well together, communicating well with each other, working in harmony, or showing what is termed “coherence”. Everything is flowing in the same direction, without turbulence, and without stasis. The coherence of flow creates a distinguishable being. We can see and know its existence. We can distinguish it from its surroundings, just as we can name a river.

Flow also suggests direction. Usually something which is flowing is flowing somewhere…..towards some point. Flow pushes towards what is called the “far from equilibrium point”. It pushes at the boundaries, at the limits. And, in so doing, new phenomena appear. This novelty, this appearance of new behaviours or patterns is known as emergence. Flow is, therefore, the driving force behind creativity.

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BE THE FLOW

Water Lessons

 

Atlantic lighting

We can learn a lot from water. Water is everywhere, both around us and within us. Without water we would die very quickly. Water meets many of our needs. Water can be a great teacher for us.

Let’s begin by considering the sea. All the oceans of the world are connected. There are no oceans, no seas, anywhere in the world, which exist in isolation. In fact although we name the oceans and the seas as if they are separate entities, they are not. They are all one, artificially divided up into regions. We do that all the time as human beings. We break down whatever we see into parts, and we name the parts, isolating them from their natural environment, artificially dividing them up to contain them.

All divisions are artificial. The seas and oceans of the world are more than just connected. They are all the one water.

The surface of the sea is rarely still. In fact, it is never still at the edges. Have you ever been to a beach where there are no waves breaking on the shore, where there is no tide? Some days, however, as you cast your eyes out further to sea, the surface may appear flat and calm, but it rarely stays that way for long. The wind blows, the currents flow, and the surface breaks into a myriad of waves. Every one of us is like one of these waves. We appear, as if we are separate and distinct entities, but only for a brief time, then we are gone again. This is no illusion. Like the waves, we do indeed appear as distinct, discernible entities. But only for a short period of time. Just as the waves emerge out of the ocean, without breaking away from the ocean, so we emerge from the universe, from Life, from the non-dual nature of reality. And just as the waves dissolve back into the great sea again, so do we, after a brief life, return to the universe, to whatever it is that we emerge from.

Apparently separate forms are not actually separate at all. All beings, all forms, emerge only for a brief time from the wholeness of everything, and they are all transient, soon finding themselves submerged again below the surface, finding themselves becoming one again.

As the wind and the currents produce the waves, so the sun’s rays heat the surface of the seas and the water rises high into the sky to form clouds. We can learn a lot from clouds. It is hard to define the edges of a cloud. As you look at it, it constantly changes shape, size and colour. You can point to a particular cloud sitting low on the top of a hill, but if you climb the hill, the closer you get to the cloud, the harder it is to see its edges. At some point, you enter the cloud itself, but it can be very difficult to know exactly when that occurs. It’s almost impossible to know where a cloud begins and ends. In fact once you get really close to a cloud, it becomes just mist, a wetness on the surface of your face, an obscurity, a hindrance to your vision. Strangely, clouds are easier to see from the distance than they are from close up.

Objects are not as fixed as they first appear. All objects are constantly undergoing change, and edges are not as clear the closer you look.

As the clouds drift towards the mountaintops, they release their water as rain, and the rain falls to the ground. As the raindrops gather on the ground they form puddles, ponds, and lakes, and they flow down the mountains and hills as streams which join other streams to become rivers. The rivers all flow towards the sea, returning to the point where they began.

All of life is cyclical. Just as the water in the sea rises to become clouds, then falls again as rain, we see the patterns and cycles of all life. Where are the straight lines in Nature? Where are the beginnings and the ends of things? Everything curves, bends, entwines, cycles and flows.

Why do the rivers follow the particular paths they take? Partly, the answer is the environment in which they flow. The earth and rocks encountered by the water resist it, and in that resistance they create the river banks. Partly, however, the answer is history. The water which has flowed this way before is joined by the water which falls today. The actual course of a river can change over the years, but we can easily place any river on a map. We can track it from it’s origins, from it’s source, right down the long and winding path to it’s estuary, and so into the sea again. Over the years, over the centuries, particular paths are carved in the surface of the Earth, and as each new rain falls, the water quickly seeks out these old paths and hurries down them.

The paths of the past create the paths of the present.

We name the rivers. We can place them all on our maps. Yet, as Heroditus said, you cannot step in the same river twice. He was pointing out the truth that the river constantly changes and flows. You never experience the exact same river twice.

Everything constantly changes. What you experience today can never be experienced again.

 

 

BE THE FLOW

 

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BE THE FLOW

a wave

Can you remember a time when you looked up at the sky, a blue sky with distinct white clouds in it, and as you looked at one particular cloud you could watch its shape constantly changing? You probably noticed how the cloud would thin out at the edges and, in many cases, especially with the smaller clouds, you could watch as it gradually disappeared.

If you can’t remember ever doing that, then do it as soon as the weather allows. Pick out a fairly small cloud and watch it constantly change shape, constantly thin out at its edges and gradually disappear.

Where does the cloud go?

Have you ever watched large snowflakes slowly falling onto water? Have you noticed how they lose their shape, sinking or dissolving into the water?

Where does the snowflake go?

Now imagine you have a bottle of water and you take it down to a river. You take off the top of the bottle and empty the water into the river. Instantly, it seems, the un-bottled water disappears.

Where does the bottled water go?

Imagine the last of these scenes is filmed with a video camera and now you can watch the video but slowed down many, many times. You can see the water in the bottle taking the shape of the bottle. As you empty it out, it rapidly changes its shape as it pours into the river, but before it hits the river, it is still clearly the same “body of water” which was held within the bottle. As it breaks through the river’s surface, it changes shape even more, frame by frame becoming less distinguishable from the river itself.

The bottled water doesn’t disappear. It becomes the river as the river flows through it.

The snowflake doesn’t disappear. It becomes the water as the water flows through it.

The cloud doesn’t disappear. It becomes the sky as the sky flows through it.

Can you remember a time when you looked at the sea, and watched the waves growing out of the flat surface of the sea, swelling out of the surface of the sea, until they broke free of that flatness to stand proudly, perhaps flashing white tips as they sped towards the shore, to crash on the rocks or the beach, hiss, rattle the stones and the shells, then slip back quietly into the sea again?

BE THE FLOW

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Nice little article on the School of Life site about the relationship between compassion and circulating levels of oxytocin.

It references Paul Zak’s talk on TED.COM.

It appears that there’s a relationship between our oxytocin levels and how much compassion we experience. Of course, as with so much neuroscience, this can’t be described as simply cause and effect but the correlation is still an interesting one.
I particularly like the concluding recommendation about how to increase your oxytocin levels –

To make a decision to raise the level of oxytocin in our bodies – Zak’s prescription is “eight hugs a day” – and reduce, say, levels of the stress hormone cortisol, seems as conscious a moral choice as giving to charity or embracing a religious creed. And if the outcome is the same, then let’s get hugging now

 

Never mind your 5 a day veggie and fruit portions – have you had your 8 hugs today yet??

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People not processes

It seems like there’s one story after another at the moment about vulnerable old people being neglected in hospitals, “care homes” and even in their own homes where home “carers” are failing to provide the “minimum standards of care” – even, according the most recent reports, to the extent that their are breaches of basic human rights.

It makes you wonder about the word “care”.

Within the health service and the “care” industry there’s been an increase in setting standards, developing procedures to record activities and the government’s response to this latest report is to talk of strengthening the inspection systems.

Is this the answer? To set higher “standards”, and to ratchet up the monitoring and inspection processes?

I don’t think so. It doesn’t seem to be enough. The missing link, is, I believe, a prioritisation of people.

What does it mean to be human? If we reduce a human being in any way, we start to lose the very essence of being human. A human being can neither be reduced to  an object to be acted on, nor a means of carrying out procedure without losing something. Every human being is unique and lives constantly with a subjective experience of reality. If we forget that we start to act towards each other as if others are objects.

What we need is to reclaim the values – that the most important thing is to care – to feel empathy towards, compassion towards the people – both the people in need of care, and those delivering it. We need to treat people as whole people, not as tasks to be carried out or completed.

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