Sunday 29 June 2014

Focusing on stories

When I was a child I loved stories. I was blessed to have an Aunty Carol at home, a kind of Mary Poppins figure who came into my life before I was conscious, and died of cancer when I was twelve. She told me stories, often the same ones again and again because I begged her to do so. They were the best kind: imagined live, well-known, with some new twists every now and then, recurring characters, but enough of them to aborb new ones into the circle, and always the expectation of excitement as well as tension.

I woke up one morning when I was five and found I could read. I was drawn to books almost ferociously: when I was ten, during a cold winter's day at Gordon's Bay I read "Wuthering Heights" and while hardly grasping the deeper layers of narrative, I was instinctively drawn to the atmospheric intensity, and the themes that ran with them.

When I turned thirteen my own story hit me like an express train, right in the solar plexus, and I have been trying to find ways to tell it to myself ever since.
So intrigued was I by the powerful effects of narrative, that when I was about fifteen I made an important career decision. I figured that if I identified with one particular hat for work purposes, that was all I would wear, and that would be severely restricting. So I decided that I would teach literature, and thus be available to experience, vicariously, all the roles available in all the stories possible.

Thus I became a teacher, and learnt quite quickly that the teaching profession itself is a difficult story. You bumped your head against political purpose rather than the joy of open minds, you struggled with bullying hierarchies, mindless admin., distracted students, in short, all the ironies of living that come disguised as education.

I worked hard, learned as much as I could, and made it to university level as professor of English. After some years, the story of my own life interrupted me, and took me on to where I am now.

If you are to coach the mind, your own or any other, narrative is probably the most powerful tool.
I thnk that we always instinctively need to find a vehicle for our words, sentences and paragraphs, and the context that we choose, mostly unconsciously, is the story that pops out, cued by the dramas of and in our lives.

We do not focus consciously on the dramas in and of our lives: they happen on a daily and weekly basis, and the big ones like love and death come unheralded.

We pass dangerous places in our lives, and when these happen to us, we need a myth, a living story to word us past these places.

One of the most helpful books I have read, in this connection, is Rollo May's "The Cry For Myth".
At the core, we require a living story that makes sense of living for us.

Fortunately, a way of objectifying stories, even living stories, has been invented: the book.

A book can be a dangerous thing because it both objectifies and formalises a story, or any other set of ideas, and establishes a weird link between objectivity and subjectivity, just as our bodies do.

We believe our existence because we experience our bodies. We believe books in respect of the claims they make, from recipes to salvation.

However, no story has a neat beginning and a definite ending. From fantasy to history to sensationalism to cosmology, you can always find contextual links and personal fascination.

Stories are not merely personal. They also reflect the ultimacy of human meaning. Applied to business, they can work to great effect. Applied to history, they establish knoiwledge. Aspiring to faith, they create genuine steps.

They begin at beginnings that are not new.

They end at places that enter the greatest story of stories.

It has been my quest to find that story, and to know it when I find it, and that quest has brought me to a place where there are two mats before the entrance. The instruction is not to wipe my shoes but to take them off and read, as if for the first time in my life: humility and love.

The intensity that struck me as a teenager is worded by what these two morphemes convey. Put together, a third quickly arrives: compassion.

If we follow the intent and energy of the stories that want to go somewhere, and aren't just for entertainment, we will progress to the felt meanings of these words.

These are intense matters of the heart, and if you allow it, your feet may stay on the mats, as a welcome, rather than an entrance.

The entrance is better than a thousand welcomes, if you know your host as well as your best friend, your beloved, your Lord. The focus at this point goes through the eye of the needle, but is worth it.

Friday 13 June 2014

Befriending the snake within

It's a remarkable snake. Academics try to touch its tail, hypnotists try to stare it in the eye, preachers rail against it, visionaries look to it for direction, healers know it as strong medicine.

You can try to tame it with words, and it is able to hibernate for aeons, but it knows about the Alpha and the Omega, and stretches the length between these points, undertaking what is for humans, an ultimate mystery.

I considered using the word "serpent" instead of "snake", but that's archaic, and more removed from the dread I'm observing.

Who are we? What are we? And in what kind of universe or universes are we?

I think often of Einstein's remark, that the most salient question is whether or not we live in a friendly universe.

I'm not sure how to answer that. I have read many superficial writings that refer themselves to coaching, about the eight ways of doing this, and the three most important aspects of doing that, and the ten most beautiful things you have learnt this week. There's a difference between tickling the human mind and coaching it, and to do coaching, you have to go for broke, properly.

Coaching will come and go, just as going to your psychologist went. The human mind is there, really there, illusory as the Buddhists would have it, but not really, because when people close to you die, you cry, and when you die, people close to you cry. Feelings feel to be real, and there's no escape from that.

I want to take a closer look at what conscious feeling does:

I find no discontinutity between sensation, feeling, emotion , atttitude, thought and decision.

This is one snake. It's not just inside you, it is you. I picked on the image of snake because it's long, scary, feels different, and brings a sense of dread, which is good for complacent minds.

If you've read Scott Peck's "People of the Lie", you'll have an idea of how the reptilian layers of our physiology are able to make a claim against the later layers. It makes sense to me. My mother is the planet, this dangerous, delicate balance of ecology I am afraid of, would prefer to love, but don't know how to.

If I wish to arise to heaven, I had better know how I arose from this earth. The freedom of one is the the joy of the other: and there is no escape from the bridge between the two.

I often ponder: how did all these life forms emerge? and then the answer comes: it's a dance of the table of elements, which is easy enough to grasp, the reach of physics, which is not easy to grasp, because physics is abstract, the path of logic, which is the strict master of rules, and the romance of reason, which points to an impossible path, and leaves you, the cipher of conscious being, to find the way.

My friend, the snake within, is hungry, indeed starving. Yet I have never felt such a birth waiting,  and I want to know: what will this loop of conscsciousness do when my individual life moves on to the next paragraph?

Better to make friends, rather than pick a fight out of fruitless fear.

If Einstein asked a question, I presume he didn't know the answer.

My answer is:

the universe is not tame, but it's not without friends. "Friendly" is an adjective. Friends are real.

So when you regard that whole scope of feelings, sensations, emotions, and what feels to be real, bursting out from your inwardness, I'd say, make friends with the snake within. "Confusion" means the joining of different streams, and allowing the conjunction, once you have done it, brings peace.