Archive for December, 2013

Here’s a fascinating study of 700 people asked to record what happened in different parts of their bodies when they experienced different emotions.

You’ve probably come across the idea of embodied cognition and embodied metaphors (briefly, we now know there are neural networks around the hollow organs of the body, especially the heart and the intestines, revealing that we don’t do all our cognitive work inside our skulls! and that metaphors like “heart broken”, “heart to heart”, “gut feeling” and so on, demonstrate how we experience the whole world through our whole being – body and mind)

This particular study is a self-reported one – it does not show physiological body changes, rather a representation of what people say they experience subjectively. Look at the beautiful summary image they produced –



How well does this show the shutdown experience of depression, the fist clenching of anger, the whole body experience of happiness, the links between anxiety and fear, or between shame and disgust, or between envy and contempt?

Another thing that strikes me about this is the degree to which the shutting down in depression is focused in the limbs – which makes me wonder about the links we are discovering about the healing power of exercise.

Interesting, huh?

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Rays of light

In the fields of holistic and integrative medicine people often talk about taking a body/mind/spirit approach. The body and the mind aspects are pretty uncontentious. But what about “spirit”?

For many people the word spirit conjures up either organised religion, or non-denominational ideas like spirit beings, beliefs about life after death, or reincarnation, and so on. But is there a spirituality which isn’t supernatural?

Think of the idea of the “thin spaces” for example, where you feel connected to something greater than yourself.

In fact, I do think this is a key to the concept of spirituality – connection – connection to something greater than yourself. There’s a great pdf about integrative medicine (download here) across on the humanmedia.org site which includes a page on spirituality. They say it is

a means of connection and/or self-reflection through which one finds comfort, purpose and inner peace.

Not a bad definition, and it highlights both the key ideas of connection and of purpose. We are meaning seeking, meaning creating, beings. We do that through stories, through seeking patterns, by joining things up……and that gives us our myths, our beliefs and a sense of purpose. It’s pretty hard to live a life with no sense of purpose.

The Humankind document goes on to say that spirituality includes the qualities of

compassion, humility, generosity and simplicity

I wonder if thinking about qualities such as these helps us to see spirituality as something essentially integrative – in the sense of it being that which connects and pulls the body and the mind together……

Back to the idea of spirituality including a sense of being connected to that which is greater than yourself – remember this little RSA Animate video of Jeremy Rifkin’s fabulous talk on “empathic civilisation”? No? Click through and watch it now.

What does spirituality mean to you? What part does it play in your life?

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James Hollis, in “The Middle Passage”, says

The invitation is to shift gears for the next part of the journey, to move from outer acquisition to inner development


…it is this emphasis on inner, rather than outer truth, that distinguishes the second adulthood from the first.

Whilst I think these developmental shifts are a perpetual presence in our lives, there is no doubt that we are more aware of the transition phases at some times than we are at others, and this is where I am now, at the end of 2013, in one of those transitions. So, I’m enjoying shifting gears, and throwing myself more fully into the process of becoming.

Are you ready to accept the invitation to change gears? I wonder what inner truths we’ll discover?


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light on earth


What I love about this photo is the way the light appears – it’s almost as if there must be multiple sources of the light, shining with different intensities on different parts of the landscape.

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fractal cloud


Ursula Le Guin, in the introduction to her selected short stories, “Where on Earth”, says

I had been writing realistic stories (bourgeois-USA-1948) because realism was what a serious writer was supposed to write under the rule of modernism, which had decreed that non-realistic fiction, if not mere kiddilit, was trash. I was a very serious young writer. I never had anything against realistic novels, and loved many of them. I am not theory-minded, and did not yet try to question or argue with this arbitrary impoverishment of literature. But I was soon aware that the ground it offered my particular talent was small and stony. I had to find my own way elsewhere. Orsinia was the way, lying between actuality, which was supposed to be the sole subject of fiction, and the limitless realms of the imagination.

How liberating! How inspiring! Of course, all fiction is a work of the imagination, whether you call it “realism” or not, and, actually, isn’t Life, which can only be lived from the perspective of the subject, also a work of imagination? Or at least, it’s a work of finding that path between “actuality” (the objective Real), and the “limitless realms of the imagination” (how we subjectively interpret and experience that Real)?

I also love her phrase “arbitrary impoverishment of literature”. Why indeed should we limit ourselves to “realism”, especially if that same realism ignores, or worse, denies, the inclusion of the imagination?

Finally, I like that phrase “the ground if offered my particular talent was small and stony”. Isn’t it true that for each of us, our particular talents flourish in quite different environments, or on quite different paths?

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Kenneth Steven, in his poem of imagined fragments, “A Song Among The Stones”, describes what the journey might have been like for the Celtic Christian monks who are believed to have travelled from Iona to Iceland.
On the first page, these two lines grabbed me

yet this is the place they came to find
an island thin to the divine

That’s a wonderful phrase, “thin to the divine”. I can think of many places where it feels as if the land is thin to the divine, those special places which move and stir your spirit. Off the West coast of Scotland is definitely one of those places for me.

Where are yours?

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Christmas Day


cuddles, laughs, grazing and nibbling, sipping and drinking, listening to a Christmas playlist on Spotify, playing with tractors and racing penguins, wearing party hats, google-eyed glasses, wearing socks with robins on, sharing time and space and Life……

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I’ve been reading “Stoner”, by John Williams, which has been getting rave reviews in the UK in recent weeks. I’m enjoying it and can easily see why it’s been attracting such positive reviews, but today, I had one of those experiences you get when you read really great writing. Suddenly a phrase leapt out at me, stopping me in my tracks, catching my breath and sparking my thoughts….

…love is not an end but a process through which one person attempts to know another

Oh, yes! Love isn’t a goal to be achieved, or a target to be hit, or a product to be purchased. It’s a process of attempting to know someone. In fact, it seems to me that it isn’t possible to know another unless that attempt at knowing grows out of love. (Incidentally, I also think one of the reasons why many people find it so hard to really know themselves, is a lack of self-compassion…or loving attitude towards the self)

But then Williams, in the very next page writes this about how Stoner thought about love –

he saw it as a human act of becoming, a condition that was invented and modified moment by moment and day by day, by the will and the intelligence and the heart.

“a human act of becoming” – oh I SO love that phrase, and in the rest of sentence he shows us how love constantly changes, how it is a creative act, and how it involves the will, the intelligence and the heart.

Don’t you just love it when a book of several hundred pages, suddenly throws a few words at you and you feel awe, amazement and admiration?

I do.


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As we come towards the end of another year, there are many articles and programmes looking back over 2013, and looking forward into 2014. In the socio-economic world what we hear about most is “growth”. Concern about whether or not there has been “enough”, and how we can all strive to produce more. Every single country in the world is measured in terms of the “growth” of its economy. Very little growth, bad marks. Increasingly more growth, good marks!

But growth of what? And for what?

Growth of consumption. That seems to be one marker. Consumption of what? Doesn’t matter. Stuff. Just, the more consumption, the better. Growth of “activity”. That’s another. But what kind of activity? Just activity. Busy turning financial derivatives into even more complex products to sell others. Busy making stuff. Busy moving stuff. Just activity.

Why? Why is more consumption and more activity good no matter what is being consumed, no matter what activities are being carried out?

Is it to produce more and more wealth for less and less people? Because that’s the sure and certain trend we are seeing.

Meantime we are seeing two other forms of growth. Growth of the number of people alive on the planet. Growth of the amount of finite resources we are taking out of the planet. Growth of the number of drugs people take every day. Growth in long term diseases and cancer.

Something isn’t going right, don’t you think?

Marc Halévy, in his “Prospective 2015 – 2025”, [ISBN 270331017X] takes this whole issue by the scruff of the neck and points out with stark clarity that we are just not on a sustainable path. More than that, we seem to be caught in a communal delusion, that this current path of ever more consumption by ever more people is a good thing – in fact THE good thing – THE criterion on which to judge the health of any economy.

This is just crazy. It makes no sense.

Marc suggests an alternative and he captures it in a simple French phrase – “la jouissance de la frugalité”.

These aren’t the easiest words to translate into English (help me out here if you are good at translating!) – but you get a bit of the sense of “jouissance” from the french phrase “joie de vivre” (which, interestingly, is one of those phrases we English speakers use directly as it is). It’s something to do with pleasure, joy, delight, satisfaction, something life enhancing. It’s, fundamentally, about quality. And “frugalité” isn’t exactly “frugality” as we would say in English. In fact, frugality isn’t a word which is used much by English speakers any more, but Benjamin Franklin had it as one of the most important of his virtues. It doesn’t mean something inadequate, or poor. It isn’t about poverty. But it is about “less”…..a kind of making the most of whatever it is you have…..

We can find this suggestion in the “sweetness of life”, and in the “slow movement“.

It’s about more quality for less consumption. It’s about living in the present, savouring, enjoying, mindfully experiencing every single moment.

Once you apply that personal principle to the universal, then you stop to ask yourself at each level. Does this enhance my life? Does it enhance the life of the human species? Does it enhance Life on Earth? Does it enhance the Universe?

Enhance might not be the best word, but I hope you get the idea. We need to shift our focus from more, more, more numbers and stuff, to deeper, greater, more impactful quality of living.

We need more of “la jouissance de la frugalité”

fishermen Lake of Menteith


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Here’s what you can do.

You can do what the whole universe does.

You can do what absolutely everything in the universe can do.

You can realise your potential, your completely unique potential.


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