Friday, May 22, 2015

The common thoughts of human beings

I was reading the work of Levi-Strauss (the anthropologist, not the Jean maker) and his attempts to find common essence of human thought across different tribes and cultures. If we look at our own minds, it is possible to see the construction of thought but the contents of those thoughts and how they relate to society are complex - clearly the way we think is a cultural phenomenon and culture is a  thing all of its own outside of our individual selves. Do we try to understand this thing or do we let it go? How do we engage with it? 

Well, I'm not sure. You can gauge the well being of a society by the culture it produces - the music, the art, the way it expresses form. It is a complex language and it shapes how we think. Now, you could spend a long time investigating this but the key thing to recognise is that The thoughts it produces in Us are something we do not directly control. However, how we react to these thoughts and how we shape future thoughts is something we are responsible for and we should bear this in mind as we engage with the world. How we act, speak and the things we do - these are the building blocks of feeling good in our minds and the minds of those around us. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Exploiting the body mind complex to shape thoughts

In my last post an attempt was made to explain away thoughts - they are causal, we have little control over them, we should chill out about them. The mind makes thoughts like a factory makes widgets. They are not us.

However, we all know how difficult thoughts are - they can make our lives a misery. As westerners, we have a duty to stop this misery and control them in some way, and there is a glimmer of hope if you put the effort in.

The first thing to be aware of is: the more you think a thought, the more likely you are to think that thought again. The more you moan, the more likely you are to moan in future. The more generous you are, the more generous you become. And so on. In short, think good things.

The next handy thing to know is: you can't think a thought without contracting a muscle somewhere (this is why dead people don't do thinky things). The body and mind are two sides of the same coin, they are inexorably bound together. This is useful because we can influence the mind by working on our bodies - relax the body and the mind will follow suit. There are many, many ways to work on the body and if we pay attention to how it affects our minds we can start to generate a beneficial cycle of relaxation and contented thinking. We feel het up, we do some body relaxation, we notice the contents of the mind change, we explore deeper mind relaxation, the body begins to let go, the mind let's go further, the body and mind unite as one and we are suddenly as vast as the ocean .... Maybe.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

What is a thought?

You can go a long way with this line of enquiry.

Before you begin, it's important to do some groundwork. First, you need to purify the mind (or clean it out). To do this you need to be a generally decent person pursuing wholesome thoughts (generous, forgiving, seeing the good) and then you should be able to calm the mind down by allowing it to rest on an object and then letting it relax (like taming a wild animal of sorts).

Once the mind is calm, you can see what's happening. To cut a long story short, a lot of stuff is happening - it's like you've been driving along the road looking at the trees go by and then a hole opens up in the bottom of the car and you see the Tarmac whizzing by and things happening very fast. Not to worry, you're a complex organism so you'd expect a bit of action.

Next step is to attach some labels to the features of the mind as they emerge. The central feature is perception - attaching labels to stuff. What stuff? Well, it's mainly sensory information - sounds, sights, feelings mainly. So you relax, things are whizzing by, a sound occurs and then you attach a label to what you heard. This categorisation then triggers a load of other stuff - whether you like the sound or not, any opinions that might suddenly emerge (by now the sound may have long gone ...), what you might do next, and so on.

So, here starts the investigation into thoughts. You see them arising from external conditions, you may even see them arise from nowhere (perhaps you are psychic), but they arise and then we act on them - perhaps we think some more, perhaps we eat some cake. I could go on but it's best to see for yourself.

Why do this at all? Once you see how thoughts are made over and over again, they begin to lose their attraction. You realise that you are bigger than thoughts and that's not too shabby.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Superfood your muffins

If you go on a strange food diet then you'll need some cakes at some point - I've found muffins to be a bit of a life saver over the years, especially on the wheat free stints. Here's the basic muffin recipe:

Preheat your oven to as hot as it can go. Have about 12 muffin cases arranged in a muffin tin.

- 250g self raising flour (I use a wheat free blend, with some variations)
- A few teaspoons of sugar (experiment with this, if you make 10 muffins allow half a teaspoon per muffin, more if you can't stand it). Sometimes you can go sugar free, depending on your flavour.
- A teaspoon of baking powder
- A teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
- 1 egg, optional if you don't have one
- 3 fl oz extra virgin olive oil, or other health giving oil
- 9 fl oz of milk or orange juice ( enough fluid to make a slack mix)

Then you add your flavours, this is the superfood bit.

- a handful of chia seeds (Mexican endurance runners like this apparently)
- a handful of sunflower seeds, or other seeds
- 100g of nuts, walnuts or pecans or whatever
- 100g of dried fruit, a goji berry mix is good
- 50g of chocolate chips .... If you need them

Mix up all the dry ingredients in one bowl, mix up all the wet ingredients in a jug, then mix them all together - you're aiming for a slightly slack mix. Divvy up the mix into the muffin cases, lower the oven temperature to about 160c (fan oven), and bake for 20 minutes, until they are firm but fair.

Muffins are foolproof and these ones contain everything you need to put a smile on your face.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

VE day celebrations May 1945 Alexandria

My Granddad went through the war. Here's how they celebrated the end.

It seems very civilised. I like the idea that they enjoyed a tombola and some donkey racing. I imagine the boxing competition would have been fierce.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Don't think too hard, it might never happen

In fact, the opposite might happen. Clearly, one day the bad thing will happen, and it's clear to me that unfortunate things happen all the time. It's part of growing up - we can't hide from the onset of poopishness. It's what happens. That's not to say that we sit there considering all the poopishness in the world and trying to defend ourselves against it (defensiveness = prison). Perhaps: we see the poop, we anticipate the poop, we acknowledge that we may soon be up to our neck in it, but we give ourselves a choice. Perhaps now I will think about something different. And therein lies freedom.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Exploration of pleasure and feeling good

Here is a deep and curious exploration that goes right to the core of our quest for happiness. What is pleasure? We may begin with the simple things - eating an orange, a fried egg, some toast. Things taste nice. We stroke our cheek, run a nail across our lips - things feel nice. Perhaps we become aware of a little release of niceness - some endorphins or oxytocin or dopamine, feel good brain chemicals. But still we wonder, why do they feel nice? We might realise that 'nice' is a label that we assign to a particular sense experience - there is nothing intrinsically nice about the sense contact. We might realise that pain and pleasure are quite similar as sense contacts. It does not end there. The thought of a nice experience can become self sustaining - something pleasureable or satisfying. We can saturate ourselves in this chemical wash of satisfaction, but these are just labels we attach to physical experiences. There is just sublime contentment. We are not longer seeking pleasure, we are satisfied - our quest is complete (for the time being). This brings relief and a sense of freedom. We are perfectly happy just the way we are.

This didn't come out quite the way I expected. What I wanted to say was that there is no end to exploration of pleasure - it leads us into the very core of our selves. We see how we are slaves to an invisible master, but it does not need to be like this. We see it and we take heed.