Friday, 26 October 2012

An architect of troubled sleep?

In his excellent, humane and practical book "Depressive Illness: the curse of the strong," Dr Tim Cantopher warns sufferers (or any of us) about the various ways we can make it difficult for ourselves to get to sleep at night, and how to get round those sleep preventers.

My current sleep preventer is an old friend who has turned against me, and specialises in spiteful and abusive rhetoric. So of course I spend far too long running scripts, working out justifications and defences, and generally bothering myself up. Needless to say, all this hurt comes welling up at bedtime. I can't get to sleep.

You can't will yourself to go to sleep, can you? Worrying about not sleeping guarantees you won't sleep. So - what can mindfulness offer, how can being in the present moment help?

Firstly, the simple insight that what is troubling me at bedtime are thoughts - my thoughts, and nothing else. My ex-friend is not attacking me at that moment; the assault comes from the thoughts her actions have generated. There are no other events or phenomena at the time I cannot sleep - it's just thoughts.

Secondly, before I go to bed, a simple fifteen-minute meditation in front of an open fire or a candle (seems to help - beauty, reflections on changing states, awareness of transience, but mostly beauty.) Sit solidly, upright. Let the mind settle on the breathing. 

Bring the mind back to the breath, gently but firmly, when it starts running scripts. 

"And another thing - she said that I..." 

"Woa. Of course you feel these things, no blame, just get back to the breath.." 

It's the bringing back of the mind to the breath in the body that helps to create presentmomentness, so no self-criticism if thoughts wander, just return them. Meditation is a process, not a work of art.

Extend awareness to the whole body, sitting here, now, in front of this fire...and so on. (All a bit bald in text, but there are good CDs available to guide us in such meditations.)

Ten or fifteen minutes of this, and then slowly, deliberately and calmly to bed. Really works. She is no longer an architect of troubled sleep, and nor are my thoughts.

The other thing that works is at a common-sense level. Saying to myself three times each morning "she has behaved like a lying cruel cold-hearted piece of shit...."

Er - and then remembering that she's probably not in a happy state of being herself, or she wouldn't need to be so abusive. So - compassion, Gloria, compassion....grievances are an enemy of presentmomentness, stay in the now. Move on. She's an ex-friend, that's sad, too bad, you did what you could and it didn't work. So it goes. Acceptance.

Yup. That's better. 

But she's still behaved like a lying cold-hearted piece of shit.... 

Oh dear. It seems there are limits to mindful compassion; ex-friend may well have reached them. Final step - distance, calm, quiet. Let it all rest in the past. 

Goodbye, ex-friend. Go well. Without me.

Monday, 22 October 2012

A Good Song for a Funeral?

Is this a good funeral song? The title works, but like many songs that get used for funerals, it seems in fact to be about a love relationship; it abruptly works into context towards the end.

It's Bob Dylan's song, couldn't find the original, so thought Ms Peyroux's versions pretty cool, and it's easy to hear the words. Nevertheless, here they are:

I’ve seen love go by my door
It’s never been this close before
Never been so easy or so slow
Been shooting in the dark too long
When somethin’s not right it’s wrong
Yer gonna make me lonesome when you go
Dragon clouds so high above
I’ve only known careless love
It’s always hit me from below
This time around it’s more correct
Right on target, so direct
Yer gonna make me lonesome when you go
Purple clover, Queen Anne’s Lace
Crimson hair across your face
You could make me cry if you don’t know
Can’t remember what I was thinkin’ of
You might be spoilin’ me too much, love
Yer gonna make me lonesome when you go
Flowers on the hillside, bloomin’ crazy
Crickets talkin’ back and forth in rhyme
Blue river runnin’ slow and lazy
I could stay with you forever and never realize the time
Situations have ended sad
Relationships have all been bad
Mine’ve been like Verlaine’s and Rimbaud
But there’s no way I can compare
All those scenes to this affair
Yer gonna make me lonesome when you go
Yer gonna make me wonder what I’m doin’
Stayin’ far behind without you
Yer gonna make me wonder what I’m sayin’
Yer gonna make me give myself a good talkin’ to
I’ll look for you in old Honolulu
San Francisco, Ashtabula
Yer gonna have to leave me now, I know
But I’ll see you in the sky above
In the tall grass, in the ones I love
Yer gonna make me lonesome when you go

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

mindfulness for schoolchildren

I think this is very interesting. It's a programme for schoolchildren, offered, at a price, by the Hawn Foundation. There are some cross, and some not very rational, comments from teachers in the USA about this programme, on YouTube. And in fact the comments, too, are interesting. 

All respect to the point about the money the programme costs compared with the fact that one reason why a of lot children can't concentrate is down to material factors (e.g. no real breakfast...) But mindfulness meditation is a material factor, in that it can change children's behaviour, calm them down, help them concentrate, help them - if they need it - to feel better about themselves. It develops the way the brain works; so does a good breakfast. 

Changing a young brain's characteristic patterns can be done in many ways - playing violent video games, for example - or doing a little meditation to help them in their school work. But it's all material - electric currents and hook-ups, chemical changes.

For some people, we need to keep saying: it's not a religion, it's not based upon religious faith.  The changes in people's patterns of thought when they meditate are observable via the usual electronic kit they stick on your head to measure brain waves, or in more detail via MRI scans. It's not a matter of faith. (Though naturally, if you believe it is helping you, it's more likely to do so.)

You might have your own views on how much it helps to have Goldie Hawn's name behind this programme. You may extend little sympathy in her direction because she was one of those who helped to develop the "dumb blonde" stereotype beloved of sexist comedians and saloon-bar wits; but those were her acting jobs. She's certainly trying to do something here that seems to me very worthwhile.

I always like the criticism "it's all touchy-feely." a) it isn't. b) would it be better if it was all done in a macho sort of way, more football coach than meditation teacher?

Children who are more proficient at being in the present, at being mindful, may perhaps grow up more able to accept their own mortality, be less death-haunted and more death-accepting, better able to accept that life is risky, impermanent, and precious because it ends. I would have thought, in a culture where many are obsessed with death-fantasy, with the idea that you can kill all the bad guys one day, with the idea that God is on our side - that a mindful child is a precious asset.

Friday, 12 October 2012

How Old Is Mindfulness?

This genial old cove is, allegedly, Lao Tzu, sage of ancient China, founder of Taoism and author of the Tao Te Ching.

My current meditation class leader teacher gave us a poem/passage last night:

Always We Hope

Always we hope
someone else has the answer,
some other place will be better,
some other time it will all turn out.

This is it.
No-one else has the answer.
No other place will be better,
and it has already turned out.

At the centre of your being
you have the answer;
you know who you are
and you know what you want.

There is no need
to run outside
for better seeing,
nor peer from a window.

Rather abide at the centre of your being;
for the more you leave it, the less you learn.
Search your heart
and see:
the way to do
is to be.
             Lao Tzu 

OK modern common sense says there may well be a better place, depends where you live; other people may have an answer for us, none of us can know everything. But there is a valuable centre to this which is about not being distracted by procrastination and wishful thinking. I particularly like "it has already turned out," and "the way to do is to be." 

Living in the moment, in yourself, not searching for non-existent alternatives but accepting yourself where you are right here and now - mindfulness insights. From the sixth century BCE. Historians say Lao Tzu  may be a synthesis of several historical personages, or may not even have existed. I don't know if he really wrote this, and to me, it doesn't really matter. 

Maybe mindfulness hasn't got a date of birth. Insofar as Taoism exhibits mindfulness teachings and insights, maybe it doesn't have such a date either. Maybe mindfulness is a tendency, a mode of thought and being, that is there all the time and has been there since whenever. Waiting for us when we're ready to find it.

I certainly think that we trouble ourselves night and day by not abiding at the centre of our beings. That is, by not living in ourselves, here and now.  The way to do is to be - not the other way round. 

Small audience, still blowing my horn

I like writing this blog; it enables me to work out a few ideas, when I've the time. It's also great when people leave a comment. In the past, some comments have been thoughtful and have carried discussion forward, made me think, been helpful; others were briefer but encouraging. 

It's gone very, very quiet lately. I feel as though I've been shouting down a well.

Now, don't get your hankies out, but I felt pretty discouraged earlier this morning. I looked at the little stats counter thing you can append to your blog for free. 

Over the last week, I had 151 visits. Four visits were for over an hour; two were for between five and 20 minutes, and seven were for between 30 seconds and 20 minutes. (None, as it happens, for visits of between 20 minutes and one hour.) Thirteen substantial visits. The rest stayed long enough to realise they were not interested, and moved swiftly on.

"Sod it," I thought, "I'll pack it in. Blogland takes up quite a lot of my time, and what I'm saying clearly isn't interesting people any more. No-one even bothers to drop by and say hello anymore, even my so-called colleagues, even.... (sob sob)"

Then I remembered an anecdote from Louis Armstrong. One night he and his band were due to play a gig in front of a tiny audience; one of the band was grousing that it was hardly worth it. Satch told him that even if there was one person in the audience, that one person might have driven for four hours to hear them, and their job was to get out there and play for him.

OK, that's a pretty ambitious analogy (Armstrong: magnificent trumpet player who changed the nature of jazz. Self: er, well....)

Still, it made me think: stop grumbling, calm your ego, greedy as it is for attention, and instead, say this:

Four of you out there spent over an hour reading stuff I'd written?

Thank you so much. I'm delighted you found something of interest. I hope the mindfulness stuff helps.

And - thanks, Satch.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Art Of Dying

Well, I don't know if dying is an art - if so, then we're all artists. Or potential artists. Maybe that's a useful idea in our death-averse culture, which is changing so very slowly towards believing that accepting your death means treasuring and energising your life. Anyway, just thought I'd pop this cheery little ditty of George's in front of you. If living is also dying, then let's get dying.

Anyone other than me like the nice wailing guitar stuff in here? BTW, the YouTube heading is wrong - it's not the fab four, it's the Fab George on the album you see in front of you. Cool wellies, George - thanks for all the music.

Even the Beatlemania generation will haven to slip old Charon a few bob and hop on his ferry - I'm not sure this is one for a funeral, but it sure could be one for the run up your own funeral.

It's bein' so cheerful as keeps me goin'...

Art Of Dying *
(G. Harrison)

There'll come a time when all of us must leave here
Then nothing sister Mary can do
Will keep me here with you
As nothing in this life that I've been trying
Could equal or surpass the art of dying
Do you believe me

There'll come a time when all your hopes are fading
When things that seemed so very plain
Become an awful pain
Searching for the truth among the lying
And answered when you've learned the art of dying

But you're still with me
But if you want it
Then you must find it
But when you have it
There'll be no need for it

There'll come a time when most of us return here
Brought back by our desire to be
A perfect entity
Living through a million years of crying
Until you've realized the Art of Dying
Do you believe me

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

If Not For You

A thought sent me diving through the dear old back catalogue of ancient faves at Mundi Mansions recently, and the thought occurred to me that this could be just the right funeral track for half of a devoted couple. So I played it again, After All These Years.

Then I wiped my eyes, blew my nose, and decided to stick it up here for you.

Sometimes it's the simplest things that work hardest for you, isn't it?

* If Not For You *
(Bob Dylan)

If not for you
Babe I couldn't even find the door
I couldn't even see the floor
I'd be sad and blue if not for you

If not for you
Babe the night would see me wide awake
The day would surely have to break
It would not be new if not for you

If not for you my sky would fall
Rain would gather too
Without your love I'd be nowhere at all
I'd be lost if not for you

If not for you
The winter would hold no spring
Couldn't hear a robin sing
I just wouldn't have a clue if not for you

If not for you my sky would fall
Rain would gather too
Without your love I'd be nowhere at all
I'd be lost if not for you

If not for you
The winter would hold no spring
Couldn't hear a robin sing
I just wouldn't have a clue if not for you

If not for you

Too many in a week

I wouldn't want my reader to think that, having been a runner-up at the Good Funeral Guides awards last month (have I already mentioned that? Oh.) this blog was out to grass. In fact, my celebrancy work has had one of those periodic surges, and the blog has, with regret, been left in neutral for a week or three.. 

I know, I know, I'm "out to grass" - metaphor from keeping horses - and now I'm "in neutral." The few times I've been horse-riding, I wish the damned thing had got a neutral mode. It's a long way to the ground, I seem to remember.

But sloppy writing is what I fear when I'm overloaded. Here's the point: I think it's unwise (that's tactful for inappropriate) for celebrants to take on too many funerals. It's bad for them, I'd have thought, and they run the risk of not having the energy, empathy reserves and general calm concentration levels to do the job really well. One a week suits me, two a week is busy busy. 

Of course this may be just the ageing me, others may be able to do a splendid job at twice this intensity. But generally, I resist accepting temporary overloads. It's not easy saying no, there's not too many secular celebrants around here, but I'm going to be helped in this because another celeb is now working alongside me. Blessings upon her head!

However, sometimes a spot of overwork is unavoidable, unless one harden the heart. An undertaker I greatly respect rings me whilst I'm in the car (passenger) returning to Mundi Mansions after a brief visit to family. I accept - happy to help. Almost at once, the damned mobile clatters at me again. A friend's father has just died. Will I...well, of course. Then, same evening, I'm just loitering with intent by a glass of Merlot, and - phone goes. Another much-respected undertaker, with a bit of an emergency - one of those sad circumstances where a very elderly person has no surviving family, it's all via the solicitor executor, and it's soon, can I talk to a few neighbours, prepare a suitable ceremony...well, of course.

Four funerals in seven days. Hands a blur, throat roughens, head aches, the Long Suffering One suffers.

Am I grumbling? No. It's a privilege. It's just bloody hard work. I shouldn't work at this pitch too often. A.D. etc. Where did I put my feckin' glasses...not the Merlot, the other sort...see, even the jokes get worse when you overwork....