On my morning school runs with my daughters during the recent cold snap, the Buckinghamshire countryside was resplendent like an Impressionist winter painting.
Some days the frozen ground was white and glittering with sun lit frost. A piercing blue sky lifted our melancholy thoughts at how cold and early it was, the multitude of roadworks and congestion we faced, and what looming exams my daughter had not done enough revision for.
Other days a low lying mist revealed an-other worldly beauty, a layered spectral effect, and the hidden blurry sun seemed like it would never burn it away.
I pointed out the scenic delights to my daughters, who glanced up from their digital worlds to briefly agree, before resuming in monosyllabic conversation. Being teenagers, they tend to find mornings most disagreeable!
As I drove home across country to avoid huge traffic tailbacks I saw a Red kite sitting on a hefty low branch which hung out as I drove under it. He sat serene and regal, seemingly resigned to the fact that he would not see accurately through the white haze from on high.
Thanks to many years of dedicated conservation work, Red kites are now ubiquitous across the Chilterns and we often see them soaring over our back garden.
They truly are the kings of the skies in this area.
The romantic in me began to accumulate words and thoughts, as the ghostly and sublime scenery captured my imagination. They eventually coalesced into a short poem…
It reminded me that even in perceived difficult conditions there is always something to be grateful for.
Thankfully winter will soon give way to spring, but in the growing power of winter’s limited light, I felt compelled to appreciate its role in the seasons of life, as well as nature.
Winter’s cruel chill permeates air and bone
Hibernation in Nature’s DNA, tugging at souls
A warm sanctuary emanates from home,
But in a shrivelled landscape life still knows
The secret sparks hidden within; take a breath,
There can be no new life before a death.
Winter’s light bathes the bleak land in bliss,
A comforting, gentle magnificence
Soft rays illuminate hearts out of darkness,
Sustaining hope, uplifting strained sentience
O’ wondrous star, casting a shimmering veil
A mysterious, misty pastel of beauty pale.
My soul craves your parsimonious warmth,
Though scant in hours spent, before
Dipping below a horizon to transform
Day to night; a presence I adore,
Devoid of summer’s searing harshness,
A glaring paradox of penury in largesse.
Beguiling winter’s light falls short of need,
A touch too far from desire’s reach,
Tantalising a burgeoning diaspora of seed
A spiritual force of patience to teach
You radiate your ethereal impermanence,
Precious succour, imbibed from winter’s firmament.
Happy New Year! I sincerely hope 2023 will be filled with hope, health, abundance and joy for you.
I haven’t written in almost a year, I spent most of the last twelve months in crisis management mode, one of the toughest of my life in many ways. Thankfully, among the relentless traumatic personal challenges there were a few uplifting moments. I had to dig deep. My energy tanks were laid to waste.
I have a painted wooden plaque on my office wall that reads: Every day may not be good, but there’s good in every day. I find it’s just as relevant for weeks, months and years!
But like negotiating any deep valley that feels interminably arduous; seemingly beyond your physical, emotional and mental capabilities and endurance, if you keep putting one foot in front of the other, keep climbing, no matter how slowly, you will eventually clear the valley and reach a low level peak.
When you reach more and more accessible peaks, they eventually lead to a sky-touching peak. Your personal Everest. It’s what you do when you find yourself in a valley that determines how high the next peaks could be.
I like to think I’m entering what Dr. Benjamin Hardy terms a ‘post-traumatic growth’ state.
I thought I would kick-start my blog this year with a profound subject that has implications for all of us: the origin and meaning of life.
I hear you, am I really going there?!
I suspect ‘evolution’ will prove to be a thorny issue, but that’s no reason to shy away from it. This subject is a multi-disciplinary minefield; encompassing anthropology, archaeology, cosmology, evolutionary biology, philosophy, psychology, theology and quantum mechanics.
I suspect it will engender more questions than it answers, but asking the right questions and opening minds to a bigger discussion is a good starting point.
I never believed the literal story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. To me, its power is allegorical. And it really annoyed me that Eve got the blame for Man’s fall from Grace!
However, Darwin’s theory of evolutionnever sat right with me either. What did I know, a mere slip of a girl being taught science… I must admit though, many of the boys in our school displayed definite ape-like qualities…
It just seems so random (if you’ll excuse the pun) that human beings and indeed – all of life– is the result of a chance event that happened millennia ago, as conventional science suggests. Dr. Francis Crick surmised that the eloquence of life’s building blocks has to be the result of something more than a lucky quirk of nature.
Not believing in either explanation left a gaping hole in my mind as to the origins of Homo sapiens, aka Anatomical Modern Humans (AMHs). Scientists broadly agree that we originated around 200-300 thousand years ago. Cro-Magnon Man was the previous term. There are no discernible genetic differences between AMH’s and humans alive today.
After reading on the subject I’ve come to a personal subjective conclusion that Creation and Evolution are likely one and the same thing. All of nature, (including us), is unfolding in a myriad of glorious mysterious ways.
Homo sapiens are the only species who can consciously evolve. We can regulate our biology and have awareness (to varying degrees) of our emotional states and intuition. This knowledge alone empowers us to make positive changes and healthy progress in our lives. But, as I can attest, knowing and doing are two different things.
We can choose how to react in a given moment, and have the capacity to access deep states of intuition; something animals do instinctively through external environmental triggers.
We already have some of the answers needed to solve many global issues, but short-term selfish interests and lack of international co-operation have so far impeded the rapid progress needed.
The world is changing faster than we have been culturally conditioned to accept – in just one generation – and the challenges are set to exponentially increase if we don’t get a handle on the damage we are doing to the environment. No one alive has witnessed the cyclic convergence of climate, economy, conflict, geopolitics and health to the extent that we are currently experiencing. No one can dispute that we are living in a time of extremes.
As Einstein so eruditely pointed out, we cannot solve a problem from the same level of consciousness that created it in the first place. It’s time to ‘upgrade our story’ and therefore our level of consciousness.
Our fundamental beliefs about who we are, how we got here and how to make the best of our lives underpin our individual and collective behaviour. A re-writing of the human story is long overdue…
Re-examining human origins to better navigate an uncertain future
It will become glaringly obvious that I’m not a fan of scientific materialism or reductionist thinking. I’m more of a Panpsychism kind of girl, erring towards matter from consciousness and the Holographic Universe theory.
I believe that clinging blindly to Darwin’s theory of evolution will not cut the mustard if we are to survive and thrive beyond this precarious, liminal time for our species.
Darwin is still gospel in mainstream scientific circles, and continues to be taught in school to my children’s generation. How would we view, I wonder, in this day and age, groups of people who still used a horse and cart to get from one place to another instead of using a car, train or bus? It would certainly expose them to derision. Yet this is what we are doing by doggedly clinging to Darwinism.
This series of posts is all about exploring new scientific data and establishing a more nuanced, honest and helpful story of our origins and capabilities that will better serve our collective future.
It’s not about debunking Darwin’s theory as more updating and modifying the knowledge that we have. Darwin did the best he could with the technology and observational skills at his disposal during his era. He was a brilliant man. Darwinian Theory should be regarded as a stepping stone rather than a religious doctrine. After all, Darwin had no knowledge of DNA…
Sacrilege I hear you say!
I didn’t set out to be deliberately iconoclastic, merely to search for the truth. Free-thinking is an underrated skill that is not well represented in the current educational curriculum. We tend to indoctrinate rather than empower creativity and curiosity.
Much of the reading I’ve done around evolution has challenged my own previously indoctrinated world view. But on reflection, what I’ve read makes total sense. I’m open to a new narrative on evolution.
Why shouldn’t we question and explore an unproventheory that has in mainstream quarters been falsely accepted as unequivocal truth?
Darwin himself doubted that his theory might not be enough to explain the complexity of life.
Darwin’s acolytes cherry picked the parts of his theory that they wanted to believe, and speculation was taught as fact. Various institutions and the people that supported them held his work as sacrosanct, and attempted to make Darwin’s work into something he himself never intended it to be. They employed his theory for purposes he never foresaw or intended.
Darwin himself in his twilight years moved away from academic Darwinism. He began to focus instead on the evolution of love, altruism and the genetic roots of human kindness over survival and struggle. He also gave credit to Jean Baptise Lamarck and his concept of the environment as the driving force in evolution.
Alfred Russell Wallace deserves more credit than history bestowed on him – as Darwin became the poster boy for Natural Selection and the theory of evolution. In his book, Contributions to the Theory of Natural Selection, published in 1870, Wallace makes the following observation: “Natural Selection would only have endowed savage man with a brain a little superior to that of an ape, whereas he actually possesses one very little inferior to that of the philosopher.”
In other words, our species is over-endowed!
Among Darwin’s detractors it wasn’t just the church who opposed Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, scientists who were Darwin’s peers and in the century and a half preceding have also disagreed with his findings.
Their voices also deserve to be heard:
“Darwin’s theory is not inductive-not based on a series of acknowledged facts pointing to a general conclusion.” ~
Adam Sedgwick (1785 – 1873), Cambridge University – British Geologist and one of the founders of modern geology.
“There are…absolutely no facts either in the records of geology, or in the history of the past, or in the experience of the present, that can be referred to as proving evolution, or the development of one species from another by selection of any kind whatever.”
Louis Agassiz (1807 – 1873) Harvard University – American Geologist
“The theory suffers from grave defects, which are becoming more and more apparent as time advances. It can no longer square with practical scientific knowledge, nor does it suffice for our theoretical grasp of the facts… No one can demonstrate that the limits of a species have ever been passed. These are the rubicons which evolutionists cannot cross… Darwin ransacked other spheres of practical research work for ideas… But his whole resulting scheme remains, to this day, foreign to scientifically established zoology, since actual changes of species by such means are still unknown.”
Albert Fleischmann (1862 – 1942) University of Erlangen – German Zoologist
“Evolution became in a sense a scientific religion; almost all scientists have accepted it and many are prepared to ‘bend’ their observations to fit with it.”
H.S. Lipson (1910 – 1991) University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology – British Phycist
“Evolution is the backbone of biology and biology is thus in the peculiar position of being a science founded on unproven theory. Is it then a science or a faith? Belief in the theory of evolution is thus exactly parallel to belief in special creation. Both are concepts which the believers know to be true, but neither, up to the present, has been capable of proof.” ~
Leonard Harrison Matthews (1901 – 1986) Cambridge University – British Zoologist
“The chance that higher life forms might have emerged in this way is comparable with the chance that a tornado sweeping through a junkyard might assemble a Boeing 747 from materials therein. I am at a loss to understand biologists’ widespread compulsion to deny what seems to me to be obvious.”
Sir Fred Hoyle (1915 – 2001) Cambridge University – British Astronomer, formed the theory of Stellar Nucleosynthesis
“Ultimately the Darwinian theory of evolution is no more or less than the great cosmogenic myth of the twentieth century. The truth is that despite the prestige of evolutionary theory and the tremendous intellectual effort towards reducing living systems to the confines of Darwinian thought, nature refuses to be imprisoned. In the final analysis we still know very little about how new forms of life arise. The ‘mystery of mysteries’ – the origin of new beings on earth – is still largely as enigmatic as when Darwin set sail on the Beagle.”
Michael Denton (1943-) British Biochemist, Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
“But how do you get from nothing to such an elaborate something if evolution must proceed through a long sequence of intermediate stages, each favoured by natural selection? You can’t fly with two percent of a wing or gain much protection from an iota’s similarity with a potentially concealing piece of vegetation. How, in other words, can natural selection explain the incipient stages of structures that can only be used (as we now observe them) in much more elaborated form?”
Stephen Jay Gould (1941 – 2002) Harvard University – American Paleontologist and Evolutionary Biologist
“The point, however, is that the doctrine of evolution has swept the world, not on the strength of its scientific merits, but precisely in its capacity as a Gnostic myth. It affirms, in effect, that living beings create themselves, which is, in essence, a metaphysical claim… Thus, in the final analysis, evolutionism is in truth a metaphysical doctrine decked out in scientific garb.”
Wolfgang Smith (1930-) American Mathematician and Physicist
“The statistical probability that organic structures and the most precisely harmonised reactions that typify living organisms would be generated by accident is zero.”
Ilya Prigogne (1917 – 2003) Belgian Physical Chemist and Nobel prize winner
“All of us who study the origin of life find that the more we look into it, the more we feel that it is too complex to have evolved anywhere.”
Harold Urey (1831 – 1981) Nobel Prize-winning Chemist
Mathematicians have calculated that the probability for the existence of a common DNA molecule is one in a centillion, (or 1 with 600 zeros after it).
Mathematical challenges to Darwin’s Theory of Evolution from the Hoover Institute:
Dissent from Darwin is an online declaration signed by 1,371 esteemed scientists from around the world (as of July 2015), in essence saying that as far as they are concerned the mystery of our origins is not yet solved.
Maybe the reason debates and discussion around evolutionary theory can be highly contentious and controversial is because the theory has deep moral, social, and religious implications, as well as being presented as scientific fact even though conflicting issues have yet to be resolved.
Darwin’s theory of evolution appeared to fit what he saw happening for one life form in one specific part of the world (the finches of the Galapagos Islands), he tried to generalise the theory to apply to all life everywhere, including humankind.
While the connections between ancient primates and modern humans on the evolutionary family tree are thought to exist, they have never been proven as fact – they are inferred and speculative connections up to this point in time.
No fossils that reflect an unbroken evolutionary journey from primates to more human-like beings have been discovered!
Morgan’s findings should serve as a warning of wholeheartedly embracing the theory of human evolution.
New scientific evidence is suggesting that certain physical features – including our eyes, our advanced nervous systems, and our brains – were already functional when anatomical modern humans (AMHs) arose around two hundred thousand years ago casts doubt on Darwin’s theory as it pertains to humankind.
The strange thing is that Darwin himself acknowledged the irony in the lack of physical evidence to support his theory. This could be explained in one of two ways: Either the geologists were interpreting the history of the earth incorrectly, or he himself had made an error in his interpreted observations that became the foundation of his theory.
Again, in Darwin’s own words from Origin of Species:
Mutation of the FOXP2 gene
Saturday, February 28th 1953 was an important day for modern science. James Watson and Francis Crick announced to their colleagues over lunch in a Cambridge pub, “We have discovered the secret of life.” They had just discovered the double helix pattern of the DNA molecule – nature’s code for life.
Our DNA exists in every cell of our body, in structures that are called chromosomes. Humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes in our cells. Each chromosome is made of smaller, precise physical markers called genes. These are our physical blueprints.
The Human Genome Project revealed that we have around 23,000 genes, roughly the same number as a worm and a fruit fly. This finding floored scientists, who expected the number to be more like 100,000. Since then genetic mapping has revealed that we share 98 percent of our DNA with chimpanzees, 50 percent with a fruit fly, 80 percent with a cow, and 90 percent with a common house cat. It begged the question, if we have so much in common genetically with other creatures, then why are we so different from them?
The answer being that a single gene can be activated in different ways, and to different degrees, to do different things. In other words, it’s how our genes are activated, or expressed.
In 2009 a study was published in the journal Nature regarding the mutation of the FOXP2 gene, which is linked to our ability to form complex speech and language. The FOXP2 gene is found in both humans and chimpanzees, yet there is something in the way the FOXP2 gene expresses in humans that enables us to communicate in sophisticated forms of language.
According to Wolfgang Enard of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology the mutation of this gene “happened in the same time frame when modern humans evolved.”
The speed and precision of the mutations in FOXP2, occurring in just the right two places in the DNA code is an example of the kind of change that does not lend itself to the theory of evolution as we currently understand it. Science cannot tell us what caused the change.
How do we account for what appears to be more of a spontaneous evolution?
The mystery of Human Chromosome 2 (HC2)
When scientists compared our chromosomes to our nearest primate relatives they discovered that chimpanzees have 48 chromosomes, compared with the 46 found in humans, which seemed to suggest humans were missing two chromosomes.
Advanced DNA sequencing technology has highlighted what wasn’t obvious before: that our missing DNA isn’t missing at all. The ‘missing’ DNA has always been present, however it has been modified and arranged to show that the second largest chromosome in the human body (HC2), actually contains smaller ‘missing’ chromosomes found in the chimp genome.
At some point in the past, for reasons that remain unknown and controversial, two separate chimp chromosomes got combined into a single larger chromosome that is our human chromosome 2.
To me a directed mutation makes the most sense, which acknowledges that some force or intelligence contributed towards the precision, timing and refining of the mutations that make us who we are. It opens what scientists have dubbed a ‘Pandora’s Box of possibilities’. The box has been opened by science, and the contents cannot be stuffed back in…
The Directed Mutation idea takes us into the realm of fields and unseen forces and an unseen intelligence that scientific materialism has been unwilling to consider. This premise can be explored in the mysterious realm of Quantum Mechanics. I’ll be exploring that further in the next post. Another theory being considered is the Stoned Ape Hypothesis.
The profound depth and complexity of life would not have been something that Darwin, Lamarck, or British naturalist Alfred Russell Wallace would have had had the ability to know, no scientist in the late 1800s nor early 1900s could have.
Irreducible complexity means that if any portion of a system stops working, the entire system fails. Could the human cell be the single most complex piece of machinery ever to exist?
There are a myriad of processes that are happening at any given moment in a cell, and when you consider the human body contains around 50 trillion cells, and this cellular structure works in harmony to enable us to go about our lives, it is all the more remarkable. The DNA of life is based upon order and structure and the sharing of information that tell our cells what to do and when to do it. In Nature this kind of order is viewed as a sign of intelligence.
Darwinism has inculcated the ‘survival of the fittest’ attitude into society, which explains why it is currently so toxic. Our social, cultural and economic systems have been built on unhealthy and shaky foundations over the last 150 years. It has lead to scientific materialism, the belief that we are just machines, as are animals, and the world is a non-living entity, entirely at our disposal. It is devoid of a reverence for life.
The Darwinian story of our origins speaks to our lower selves: we are random accidents and have no purpose or meaning other than a biological collection of matter that can only survive if we dominate others. This is the message being taught to impressionable children, when their foundational beliefs are being formed.
We see this principle at work in politics, economics and conflict in individuals and groups determined to reach power and hold onto it at all costs. Power over others and for its own sake and to cause suffering. These destructive human traits are given credence by Darwinism and Neo-Darwinism.
Talk about expressing our ‘selfish genes’! We live in the dysfunctional paradigm of scientific materialism.
The philosopher Herbert Spenser developed social Darwinism, and is also credited with the term survival of the fittest. The tragic implications of his theory enabled the Holocaust – the improving of humanity, the purifying of the race by winnowing out perceived genetic weakness and inferiors. Taken to its fullest application Darwinian theory underpinned the state sanctioned science and violence of Nazi Germany.
Moving from scientific materialism and the age of self-indulgence to a more harmonious way of being can help us usher in the age of self-responsibility. British scientist Timothy Lenton has described how, despite the sun warming by 25 percent since life on earth began around 3.8 billion years ago, our planet has somehow managed to regulate its climate and buffer that huge disparity. Lenton further suggested that evolutionary traits that benefit the system as a whole tend to be reinforced, while those that harm or destabilise the environment in an unfavourable way are restrained.
It is thought that the population of Earth will peak at around 10.4 billion people in the 2080s (along with the resulting needs for land, water, food and resources), and will thereafter decline. What is not commonly known perhaps, is that birth rates and fertility have been falling steadily since 1962 as measured by the UN. The rate of decline is much more steep currently.
World Bank statistics show that global fertility rates have dropped 57% since 1960 to below the replacement rate of 2.1 children per woman to sustain the population. Twenty seven countries now have fewer people than they did in 2010. Fifty nations are expecting declines to continue through 2050. The main concern on the fertility front is related to sperm concentrations, which have dropped from an average of 99 million/ml in 1970 to 47 million/ml in 2011 and are now around 40 million/ml, where conception is considered a rare occurrence.
This is not surprising considering the levels of stress, sedentary lifestyles, toxins in foods and environmental pollutants (such as forever chemicals PFAS) that we are exposed to. These toxins accumulate in our organs. Classed as anti-androgens, they can lower testosterone and the quality of sperm and eggs.
If scientific materialism’s days aren’t numbered then ours certainly are. A path towards Holism and more holistic lifestyles would benefit society immeasurably. And it all starts with our basal paradigm, the story of who we are.
For all science’s importance and contribution to our understanding of the world, there is still not a single machine in the scientific field that can measure love. Love lies beyond logic.
I do, however, remember taking part in an interesting experiment on a personal development course a few years ago, where we used dowsing rods to measure someone’s energy field. It was certainly eye opening.
We were instructed to work in pairs. The ‘test subject’ was asked to stand still while the other person held the rods whilst standing at the other side of the room, who asked them to think about their family or people they loved, to feel appreciation and loving thoughts. They then held up the rods and walked towards the other person experiencing the loving feelings. As soon as the rods crossed each other it indicated the edge of their energy field or aura. The same process was then repeated with the test subject being asked to think sad thoughts, focus on things that upset them and made them angry as the person holding the rods walked towards them.
I must admit that I was sceptical at the outset of this experiment, but the results blew me away. Everyone in the room had universally the same outcome. The distance from when the rods crossed over at the edge of the energy field to the person having the emotions was much greater when those emotions were loving and uplifting, and much closer to the body when negative.
In other words, our way of being in the world affects ourselves and others. This subtle energy expands and contracts according to our moods and emotional states.
How can we define the myriad of feelings and plethora of emotions inspired by love?
That simple random act of kindness a stranger shows, especially at a time when you are feeling the weight of the world on your shoulders, or that peace of mind that infiltrates your cells when you are able to help someone else going through struggle.
Perhaps poetry comes closest, but for me, so does music. In fact all the expressive arts in some way or another emanate from love and communicate love.
Unconditional love is more than an emotion – it’s a way of being in the world.
I’m only just getting round to reflecting on last year, and deciding what my priorities, goals and intentions are for this year and beyond. In a way, I feel like I lost a lot of time through the pandemic, and I feel a quiet determination, an indefatigable spark to live my life on my terms without fear.
It takes courage to be your authentic self under rigid societal norms, stereotyped expectations and dogma. But if you listen to your heart it will always guide you in the right direction.
I am currently ensconced in the upheaval of renovating two bedrooms at the same time, which began shortly after the New Year, (seduced perhaps, by the temporary euphoria of saying good bye to 2021, as well as by the needs of my daughters).
The physical and mental exhaustion caused by lugging furniture, clearing, decluttering, organising and the chaos that comes with such work of clearing entire rooms of everything (which has to be dispersed into the remaining living space for sorting), has been somewhat stressful. But I can finally see light at the end of the tunnel: a smoother domestic life for myself and my family, which I fervently hope will translate into increased harmony, productivity and greater joy all-round.
I find chaos deeply unsettling. Maybe it’s a metaphor for life at the moment. My mind, body and soul somehow seem to tune in to and reflect my immediate surroundings, so visualising a calmer future is a must for me! But through chaos comes order. Eventually…
No wonder completing my tax return felt more aggravating than usual!
Evolving from one state to a higher state often feels like an arduous undertaking, but worth the work even so.
I intended to write this post in January, but didn’t, as I had my urgent home renovation hat on; however it seems more fitting for February, which is designated in many countries as Heart Month.
Heart Month focuses on heart health and all matters relating to the heart. February was probably chosen because the 14th February is Valentine’s Day!
The heart has a mind of its own – literally
Anyone who has ever been in love knows that the heart does not always obey the head! This point was beautifully elucidated by Blaise Pascale:
It turns out there is a scientific basis for Pascale’s erudite observation, which I’ll go into more detail on later in the post.
The heart is the first organ to develop in a growing fetus; and in our normal day to day lives it beats around 100,000 times per day, pumping 2,000 gallons of blood around 60,000 miles of arteries, veins, capillaries and blood vessels.
But being a vessel of miraculous circulation may not be its only purpose. Our ancestors regarded the human heart as the centre of thought, emotion, memory and personality – the true master organ of the body.
The heart is mentioned 830 times in the Bible, and features in 59 of the 66 books.
Proverbs: “Counsel in the heart of a man is like deep water; but a man of understanding will draw it out.”
Similarly, the native Omaha people of North America have a tradition: “Ask questions from your heart and you will be answered from the heart.”
The Lotus Sutra of the Mahayana Buddhist tradition teaches of the “hidden treasure of the heart”, which is described in scripture as being “as vast as the universe itself, which dispels any feelings of powerlessness.”
Decisions based on the heart’s wisdom will never be wrong for you.
A little brain in the heart
In 1991 an incredible discovery was published in the journal Neurocardiology by a team of scientists lead by Dr Armour from the University of Montreal; studying the close relationship between the brain and the heart. In the process of their research it was discovered that the human heart contains around 40,000 specialised neurons (sensory neurites), which form a communication network within the heart, operating independently of the brain. A little brain in the heart.
“The ‘heart brain’ is an intricate network of nerves, neurotransmitters, proteins, and support cells similar to those found in the brain proper.”
Dr. Andrew Armour
The heart’s brain converts the language of the body – emotions – into the electrical language of the nervous system so that its messages make sense to the brain. Scientists are also investigating the heart’s brain role in other physical and mental functions such as:
Direct communication with sensory neurites in other organs of the body
The heart-based wisdom known as heart intelligence
Intentional states of deep intuition
Intentional precognitive abilities
The mechanism of self-healing
The awakening of super learning abilities and more.
The heart’s brain can think, learn and remember, sensing inner and outer worlds by itself, and when in harmony with our cranial brain provide a benefit of a single potent neural network shared by two separate organs.
The Coptic Christian saint, Macarius said of the heart:
How, I wonder, could he have possibly known, that the ‘all things’ category would include the ability of the heart to remember life events – even when the heart is no longer in the body of the person who experienced the events?!
Memories of the heart
I vaguely remember seeing a fictional film many moons ago (the title eludes me), where a person has a heart transplant and starts to have visions of the deceased person who’s heart they have been given. It seemed way out there. But truth really can be stranger than fiction…
Since the very first heart transplant in 1967, there are now thousands of heart transplant operations performed every year. Over time a curious phenomena began to occur, a side effect that was labelled memory transference. It seems that if the heart is alive the memories remain. Emotional memories are so deeply ingrained in the heart’s memory they can be experienced by a donor.
An incredible case was documented in the book The Heart’s Code, of which a section is dedicated to true life accounts of heart recipients. The case of an eight year old girl is particularly heart-rending. The young girl began having vivid and frightening dreams, nightmares, in which she was being chased, attacked and killed. Although the transplant was technically a success, the psychological impact of these nightmares became increasingly distressing.
The young girl was subsequently referred to a psychiatrist. She described a terrible event and images with such clarity, detail and consistency that the psychiatrist became convinced she was relaying actual memories. The question was from whose memory?
Eventually the authorities were contacted, an investigation conducted, and so it came to light that the young girl was remembering an unsolved murder from her own town. She was able to share the specific details of where, when and how the murder was carried out, remembering the words spoken during the attack, and was even able to say the name of the murderer. Tragically, the victim had been a 10 year old girl. Based on the details she was able to give the police, a man that fit the circumstances and description was arrested and put on trial. He was subsequently convicted of the assault and murder of the girl whose heart had been donated to the eight year old girl.
A fascinating documentary on this subject and the little brain in the heart:
The discovery of the ‘little brain in the heart’ has the potential to reveal a vast array of possibilities. These examples show me that the power of the heart is not to be underestimated.
Asking the heart for guidance
Typically we tend to use our brain, our reasoning capacities and logic when we are faced with choices and decisions. We mull thoughts over, examining the pros and cons, using the filters of past experience, our perceptions which are all bound to our sense of self-worth. Our minds tend to justify the answers we arrive at using circular reasoning, a way of thinking that supports a conclusion by restating it.
Sometimes a choice can be baffling through reason alone, and despite the advanced technology available to most people, the heart may just prove the most sophisticated technology we could have at our disposal. The heart can bypass mental filters and prejudice.
What if our heart intelligence knows instantly what’s true for us in the moment? What if we have the opportunity to access a deeper wisdom that transcends the bias of the mind?
We ignore our heart’s wisdom at our peril.
Would you agree that when you meet a person for the very first time you instantly form an impression of their character, and have a feeling whether you might like them or not before you have even exchanged a single word?
Our human instinct is the need to know if we are safe and if we can trust that person. This applies to friendship, business, love, romance and intimacy.
The speed at which this impression is formed is not the result of brain activity alone. As well as the ‘heart brain’, I also believe that our ‘gut brain’ has a role to play, giving us those all important ‘gut feelings’.
“At the center of this ability (INTUITION) is the human heart, which encompasses a degree of intelligence whose sophistication and vastness we are continuing to understand and explore. We now know this intelligence may cultivated to our advantage in many ways.”
Institute of HeartMath
Throughout the last two years of the Covi-19 pandemic, political and societal volatility and the increasingly frequent and disturbing climate events experienced, we have been collectively battered; physically, mentally and emotionally. We are living in extreme times.
In addition to solving the manmade circumstances that have contributed to the challenging situations we are facing on an individual and collective scale, it is clear that developing resilience and embracing change in a healthy way will help us emerge into greater equilibrium and make better choices, thereby reducing the stress created in our lives.
The Stockholm Resilience Centre describes resilience as the capacity to “continually change and adapt yet remain within critical thresholds.”
A great lecture on the science of resilience:
Personal resilience can be thought of as the combined force of the emotional, physical and psychological “batteries” that power us through life’s challenges, and expanded resilience is the juice that keeps our batteries continually charged. Life is so intense for may of us, we can’t afford to have low batteries…
Heart rate variability (HRV) is one way to measure the resilience of our heart. In summary, the greater the variability between beats, the greater the resilience we have in facing life’s stresses and the changes going on in our world.
I have been using a technique to create Heart-Brain Coherence, and for difficult choices I have also been asking my heart.
So although my focus will naturally be on my goals, using my heart as an unfailing barometer in my progress and for life in general is my underlying theme this year.
The ‘weighing of the heart‘
From the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead came the ritual weighing of the heart against the feather of Maat , the goddess of Truth and Justice. In Egyptian religion the heart was considered to contain all of the good and bad deeds of a person’s life, and was needed for judgment in the afterlife. To me, this is a great metaphor for life, as well as the afterlife. If you live with a heavy heart your life scales will be unbalanced. Living according to the wisdom of the heart keeps our scales in balance and harmony.
Wearing the world like a loose garment.
We will always face challenges, to a lesser or greater degree. Globally, as a species, we are going through profound changes, and our actions will determine the course of our evolution.
I have been guilty of allowing myself to become mired in anger, frustration, hopelessness and overwhelm with the current state of the world, and in particular with the appalling behaviour of our politicians. I’ve realised it’s perfectly natural to feel this way, (when I see things I cherish being systematically destroyed), as long as I work through it and release it in a healthy way, and not become attached to these particularly strong negative emotions. The Heart-Brain Coherence technique and letting go helps me to do that, as it allows a certain detachment from events that are out of my control.
Jesus’s advice to “wear the world like a loose garment” makes total sense in this context. Reframing the content of what is happening into a wider context enables me to transcend the pain of the events. I realise that enough people will feel the same as me, and at some point political and social change will come as a result of experiencing what doesn’t serve us.
Until the next time, from my heart to yours, in love, gratitude and wisdom…
Autumn, in her characteristic colourful cycle, is in full ochre bloom and bluster, with winter waiting conspicuously in the wings. Where has this year gone?
It has evaporated into time’s ether, barely noticeable under the weight of challenges this year has borne witness to. And, my dear reader, I guess you are also handling your own significant challenges. I hope you are safe and well.
I have been absent from my normal activities for a few months, a family crisis that, still unresolved, has totally derailed me; emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually. Suffice to say, that when a mother faces such a challenge involving one of her children it is no small thing. As a result, I had unintentionally put myself in the shadow side of Demeter’s archetypal shoes. She is one of the three vulnerable goddesses.
I plan to write about the archetypes of Greek mythology, it is a fascinating psychological subject. I have three main archetypes that affect my life: Artemis, Aphrodite and Demeter.
Gradually I have returned to a modicum of functioning, and a good measure of my recovery (apart from my family and friends), has been derived out in nature.
Normally playing my violin would offer substantial succour for such deeply felt pain, but unfortunately my violin bridge collapsed and other parts of my beloved instrument badly needed replacing as well. For a violin that’s over 120 years old, this maintenance and renovation has been 35 years overdue in my ownership!!
I’m not sure if that’s a metaphor for my life at the moment – I certainly have missed her shiny wooden curves and dulcet tones (when playing well at least). But there is hope on the horizon, for it is having a complete overhaul by one of the most talented restorers in the UK.
Hopefully I’ll be able to create a rich, melodic sound, (if I haven’t forgotten how to play in two months), even though my bank account will be much attenuated.
Taking up yoga and appreciating the raw beauty of my garden and going for walks have lifted my spirits a great deal.
I have written before about autumn – my favourite season despite my aversion to cold weather!
In the last few days of October last year, my best friend invited me away for a long weekend to her place in North Devon. It’s not an area I was particularly familiar with, (Cornwall has generally been my place of pilgrimage), but I found it lovely. I thought I would share some pictures of a trip Sophie and I made to the RHS Garden Rosemoor on a mild but wet and misty day. My retinas were overwhelmed by the colours and contrasts.
We also visited the home of Dartington Crystal, and consumed a hearty pub lunch after we spent an hour or two roaming around the stunningly wild coast of Hartland Point. Hartland was used as the coastal location of Manderley in the recent film based on Daphne du Maurier’s classic novel, Rebecca:
Of course photographs can never do justice compared to seeing such botanical wonders in the flesh, but it can at least give a sense of the beauty contained in a quiet valley of North Devon.
I have not written any poetry for some time, it has never been a talent of mine, but it is oddly cathartic and creative to let my mind wander in this direction whenever I think about nature.
My regular postman has always been friendly. He’s cheerful and affable, even when he is being buffeted or soaked by inclement British weather. He must have a mountain of mail and parcels to deliver, but he never seems hurried and is usually chatty.
In a world where we may see certain people on a daily basis and yet know little about them, we grow a certain familiarity, albeit a superficial one; so it’s refreshing when a deeper connection takes place.
Talking isn’t a big part of the job, especially as Royal Mail are (not surprisingly), more concerned with productivity than my ‘friendly neighbourhood postman’.
I don’t know my postman’s real name – and he prefers to keep it that way after divulging some very personal information about himself the other day. He seemed to want to talk more than usual; we were having a conversation about a trip he had taken to Argentina to see his girlfriend at the time.
Before I continue, it’s only fair to warn you that this post contains some harrowing stories, read on at your own discretion.
He explained that he had gone out for a run and had accidentally crossed onto the rural land of a neighbour. He knew he was in trouble when armed guards apprehended him and hauled him up in front of the owner. Humble and apologetic, he explained that he was staying next door as a guest of his neighbour, and did not intend to trespass. The tension gradually eased and all was eventually forgiven as the suspicion evaporated.
He was still conscious that men were brandishing AK47s and joked to me that he wondered if he would have to suddenly revive ‘special skills’ that he hadn’t needed to use in a long while. However, the property owner offered him a job as a body guard, which he turned down.
By this point I had a strong inkling that my postman wasn’t your average guy…
He then slipped in that he wasn’t popular in Argentina. I frowned; this seemed an odd and decidedly provocative thing to say. When I queried why this might be so, he hesitated for a split second, and coolly informed me that he had previously been on a clandestine mission there, as part of a military team sent to apprehend a child sex trafficker.
My jaw must have dropped.
Maybe he trusted me, (I like to think I am a good listener), and he went on to reveal things I never would have guessed about him.
One thing I had always been curious about (but was too polite to ask), was why he was missing his top two middle teeth. He is quite muscular, although not overly tall, and in otherwise apparent good health. It is an unusual thing to see in a fit man, especially as the rest of his teeth seemed fine.
Well, now I know why.
Without asking him he told me that during his time in the army he was deployed to Iraq after the initial invasion, and spent time in enemy territory. He was captured and subsequently tortured. Although recruits are given resistance to interrogation training he admitted it wasn’t sufficient to prepare him for the real thing.
As he relayed the inevitable torture that followed, it seemed somewhat surreal. His teeth were forcibly removed.
His nails were pulled out and other excruciating things done to him which I didn’t dare ask about. He was rescued, he thinks, by Special Forces. It sounds like he is lucky to be alive. Some of his friends and colleagues weren’t so fortunate.
A conversation with a friend back at base shortly after being rescued resulted in his nickname that he adopted as his military handle: Jericho.
His speciality in the British army was as a sharpshooter. He said it required nerves of steel and an alert state over long periods of time. Sometimes they were given drugs to help them stay awake during critical missions.
Note to self: must remain on good terms with my postman!
He told of another day when his convoy was hit by IEDs. Some vehicles were on fire, and he had to drag one of his friends, burning and screaming from a badly damaged vehicle, sadly unable to save his life.
What must that kind of horror do to a person?
In short, it causes trauma. Survivors guilt. These life and death situations are extreme experiences, and the army needs to do more to help soldiers adjust to civilian life.
I was appalled by what he was telling me, but he seemed to have reached a level of detachment about it. He admitted that he had suffered with PTSD after being discharged from the army.
Another difficult thing for him to deal with was the fact that the Iraqi army would shoot civilians that spoke to them or demonstrated any kind of co-operation. They would be lined up and executed in cold blood. His unit were told not to interfere, something a normal person would naturally find abhorrent and shocking. He hinted that he felt torn following orders at certain times, especially when he considered them to be wrong. I got the distinct impression that his conscience was the cause of insubordination at times.
Actively letting atrocities happen is surely as morally reprehensible as participating in them. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
He must have seen and done things no person could ever forget, let alone attempt to process in order to lead a normal life.
He told me that working on a farm after he was discharged helped him to adjust to civilian life. He regularly woke up screaming. He would feel angry, on edge and ready for combat at the drop of a hat. He found that meditation helped him to feel calmer and recover mentally.
Ernest Hemingway became a literary icon through the creative expression of his wartime experiences. Writing can enable healing and catharsis.
Jericho (as I refer to him now), also got involved in boxing for a while, but gave it up to protect his wrists and hands so he could continue to play the guitar injury free. He likes to do open-mic sessions and also writes songs.
He would tell me about parachuting into a scenario in the dead of night, which funnily enough he said didn’t scare him as much as climbing up a ladder!
Over a number of years he was deployed on missions in 78 countries, including the Middle East, Russia, various African nations, South America and so forth.
Some of the smaller, less established PMCs had questionable clients, and he told of being on jobs where he would come up against other mercenaries in the role of body guards that he knew from his time at another PMC. He also worked for an international contractor where different nationalities worked together. He has some American friends.
I felt honoured that he was telling me such personal things about his life – but, if I’m honest – also a little disturbed.
He also spoke of a helicopter landing in the park near his house one night as an old employer had sent men to ask him about breaking into a certain facility he had experience of. It seemed a tad creepy. I asked how he could remember such detail, but he insisted he could recall the mission and was able to help them.
There are clearly major drawbacks to his previous line of work, but I asked if being in the military had helped him to develop self-discipline, and he agreed it most definitely had. He would rise at 5 am to work-out before the day started, and felt himself to be a highly independent and resilient person.
Jericho’s was the sort of background that is often used in action movies, although it did not sound glamorous, as such activities can sometimes be portrayed on screen. But still, it is far removed from the mundane act of delivering mail!
Being a postman is a million miles away from the adrenaline fuelled excitement and danger of his former career, and I think that’s just how he likes it at this stage of his life. He also talked about his family and other everyday minutiae.
I liked him anyway, before I knew more about him, but I have a new found respect for Jericho. He has had to adjust through the kind of intense lifestyle and experiences that most of us could not comprehend. It may have been his choice to go down that path, but none of us ever really know where a path we choose to walk will ultimately lead. He is an interesting person, and gave me permission to write about him without using his real name, thus ensuring anonymity.
I’m thinking of loosely basing a character on him!
It reminded me that everyone has a story in them, that appearances and career choices are not accurate barometers of someone’s character or past. You never know what someone has been through, or about their early upbringing.
It was a lesson that compassion and kindness is a balm to ease suffering and make someone’s day a bit brighter.
Listening to Jericho elicited thoughts about my paternal grandfather, Jonathan Patrick Haley, who everyone called Jack. I vaguely remember as a child the rare occasions when my grandfather would talk about his time in the RAAF, (Royal Australian Airforce) flying spitfires in Burma during World War Two.
There was only so much he would share about his time as a reconnaissance pilot. My grandmother told me that his doctor thought he was too weak and malnourished to make it beyond six months after he returned home to life in Australia, but thankfully she nursed him back to health.
When my dad was young the Haley family emigrated to the UK. He was a tall, active, no-nonsense man, with a soft spot for his grandchildren. I was very close to him in my early childhood when we lived near them. My dad has his medals, including a Burma Star.
I looked up to my grandfather; he was a source of inspiration, confidence and comfort to me in my early childhood.
Jericho’s personal history is invisible beneath his red polo shirt uniform; only a cheerful, gappy smile hints at his previous life. People have hidden depths, and it can be revelatory exploring them, not least to gain a greater understanding of others and ourselves.
It’s amazing what you can learn when you take the time to get to know someone. Active listening is compassion in action. Heaven knows the world needs as much compassion as it can get right now.
Since the dawn of time mankind has observed the cosmos in awe, and it continues to engender curiosity and fascination. The sparkling firmament that illuminated the night sky demonstrated to early Homo sapiens that there were forces around us beyond our comprehension. So far away, yet irresistible to the naked eye, beckoning for us to reach up and touch them. The sun, moon, planets and trillions of stars seem to feed our need for oneness, unity and connection to a greater power.
The stars invoke the heavens; some dazzling far-off realm that is simultaneously part of us, (our physical form is made of stardust: elements that were created from supernova stars), and yet unfathomably vast, distant and eternal.
Christopher Columbus and many early explorers used the sun, moon and stars to navigate across oceans and deserts alike, while the moon has bathed earth and all who walk upon her in an ethereal, mystical glow through eons of nights of all our ancestors. Back then it must have been even more impressive, with little to no light pollution.
The eyes of our past were transfixed on the moon’s phases; was she waxing or waning, full or new?
Astronomers measured her movements and positions, alongside the other celestial bodies in our solar system. We are, if not entirely at their mercy, influenced greatly by these cosmic spheres; perhaps on occasion becoming a little too obsessed with our ‘birth sign’ traits…
The ancient seers and rishis of India developed Vedic astrology (a moon based system) from the time of the Vedas, the oldest and foremost scriptures of Hinduism. In western astrology my sun sign is Aries, but in Vedic astrology (which differs from western astrology by a whole month), I am a Pisces, and my moon is in Taurus.
The practice of arranged marriages, which were and still are common in India, used this system to accurately gauge affinity and compatibility between couples.
Thanks to Claudius Ptolemy, Nicolaus Copernicus, Galileo Galilei, Johannes Kepler, Isaac Newton, Edmond Halley, Christiaan Huygens, Giovanni Cassini, Charles Messier, Edwin Hubble, Albert Einstein, Carl Sagan and many others who were curious about the universe, over the centuries we mapped our cosmos and grew universal science as far as technology and knowledge would allow.
But even our closest celestial neighbour, the moon, remained elusive until Neil Armstrong’s vicarious ‘giant leap for mankind’ on the lunar surface in July 1969.
If the sun is the masculine ‘yang’, the moon is the feminine ‘yin’. Gentle and beguiling, and considered by some to be an emotional barometer.
She has always been our night time beacon and companion. Instead of scorching heat she casts soft hues and her powerful gravitational pull is responsible for the tides.
The forces the moon exerts on Earth and its inhabitants are experienced through physical sensations, mostly things that are enticing to humans; such as frolicking in the surf, or having a romantic meal or stroll under her otherworldly light. Moonlight on water is the most transfixing and mesmerising sight to behold.
Women tend to find that their menstrual cycles are synced with the lunar cycles, and the moon has been linked to fertility. In Greek mythology the goddess Artemis is associated with the hunt and the moon.
We assign meanings to the moon within our culture, with many references in literature, art and music.
I remember a cow jumping over the moon in a certain nursery rhyme!
With how sad steps, O moon, thou climb’st the skies;
How silently, and with how wan a face.
What, may it be that even in heavenly place
That busy archer his sharp arrows tries?
Sure, if that long-with-love-acquainted eyes
Can judge of love, thou feel’st a lover’s case;
I read it in thy looks; thy languished grace
To me, that feel the like, thy state descries.
Then, even of fellowship, O moon, tell me,
Is constant love deemed there but want of wit?
Are beauties there as proud as here they be?
Do they above love to be loved, and yet
Those lovers scorn whom that love doth possess?
Do they call virtue there ungratefulness?
Sir Philip Sidney ~ Sonnet 31
Artists like Turner, Friedrich, Aivazovsky, Pether, Olsson, Grimshaw and van Gogh immortalised their evening views.
Beethoven and Debussy wrote evocative music, (although it was Beethoven’s publisher that assigned the sobriquet ‘Moonlight’ Sonata).
Perhaps the cosmos inspires us to act from the higher part of ourselves more than we give it credit for.
Today, May 26th is a total lunar eclipse. It was around lunchtime here in the UK, (sadly facing away from the moon) as the moon, earth and sun all align to create the phenomena. The shadow cast from the earth hides the light of the moon and has been likened to looking at the shadow part of ourselves.
To ancient peoples eclipses often signified a terrifying event – omens of bad luck as the ‘lights’ in the sky were thought to be Gods, and it was scary when the Gods went ‘dark’! In ancient India they recommended submerging oneself in a river and chanting during an eclipse.
Eclipses are considered a good time for looking inwards and spiritual growth, but not for starting new projects in the material realm. Pay attention to your feelings, intuition and dreams. Now is a good time to declutter, revisit old, unfinished projects and pay attention to relationships and the people you love. We’re probably all feeling extra sensitive at the moment.
Eclipses can be powerful times for growth and clarity, but in any healing a crisis point occurs that is the ‘darkness before the dawn’, encouraging us to see what we need to fix, change or heal in order to have the life we want.
This lunar eclipse is also being referred to as the Super Flower Blood Moon; the red is perceived as the moon passes through Earth’s umbral shadow. I’m hoping for clear skies tonight so I can glimpse this stunning spectre.
The Super Flower Blood Moon over New York:
I had my second Astra Zeneca vaccine today, I’m not sure if that’s auspicious or not!
Wherever you are, happy moon gazing if that’s your thing!
Thou silver deity of secret night,
Direct my footsteps through the woodland shade;
Thou conscious witness of unknown delight,
The Lover’s guardian, and the Muse’s aid!
By thy pale beams I solitary rove,
To thee my tender grief confide;
Serenely sweet you gild the silent grove,
My friend, my goddess, and my guide …
Lady Mary Montague (1689 – 1762) ~ ‘Hymn to the Moon’
It would be the understatement of 2021 to say that January and February and most of March were tough months for our nation. There’s the usual January blues, when it’s dark and cold and everyone is a bit skint; but this year the individual and collective malaise was on another level.
Like most of the rest of the world, we were hit by another wave of the coronavirus pandemic, (over 127,000 families in the UK are mourning the loss of a loved one to Covid-19).
Now that we have emerged from the dire months of being cooped up indoors, (alongside the mental health implications of our covid incarcerations), the nation is tentatively looking ahead and the schools (thankfully) have now reopened. Many businesses were forced to close or operate at a reduced capacity. Income levels dropped off. Then there is the inevitable Brexit fallout hitting fisheries, imports and exports, and business in general, with untold damage to the economy – the full extent of which is yet to be truly calibrated.
With so many triggers for individual and collective stress, I may not be the only one who went through the January blues on steroids!!
Some days I felt like I was wandering aimlessly in a spiritual wilderness and would never feel joy again.
Deep in the doldrums…
Now that I am on the other side of that particular episode I can reframe the experience and feel a certain relief and detachment. Some unresolved trauma from my childhood came up, which unfortunately was compounded as it coincided with lockdown and home schooling.
I barely managed under the extra workload of full-time home schooling two secondary school Year 7 & 9 daughters. For the most part, my youngest remained motivated and conscientious, but her older teenage sister did not, and trying to help her was exhausting. She suffered from a lack of social interaction. Those two and half months tested my patience and perseverance to the limit.
I’m sure many parents of school age children with limited indoor space must at times have felt some level of frustration, fatigue, lassitude, vexation, overwhelm and anxiety.
Most days, between the learning, the laundry and the kitchen, there was no time or energy for anything else. On top of that I was going through an intense healing process.
I have to admit that during those first two months I resorted to comfort eating and doing less exercise, (although I normally love hiking, we had biblical amounts of rain), and for most of January I went into total hibernation. I think my brain is still catching up.
I’ve had to forgive myself for my less than perfect attitude and cut myself some slack however, as these are unprecedented times. The accumulation of stress hit me like a volcanic eruption I couldn’t control. I just had to go with the flow…
I also watched, obsessed, as the geological equivalent appeared in Iceland, a short distance from where our family stayed in Grindavik during the summer of 2019. It would have been great to witness first hand.
Watching this amazing footage reminded me of Frodo’s quest to destroy the One Ring in the fires of Mount Doom…
At times the overloaded, antsy feeling on my Central Nervous System was acute and physically uncomfortable. At other times I felt suffocated by ennui, accompanied by a total loss of motivation. I caught myself thinking ‘what’s the point?’ I realise now that this thought (and others like it), had arisen from a feeling of helplessness and hopelessness.
I’m not seeking sympathy, I know many people have suffered over the winter and continue to do so; but I share this personal experience to illustrate that my months of introspection and healing did yield positive results.
I needed to seek a solution; not just for me, but if it worked, to share with the wider world for anyone who continues to feel engulfed in an existential crisis, given all that we are dealing with.
What to do when you’ve sunk into a funk that you struggle to shake off?
I had to take it one day at a time. Deep breathing exercises and movement did help to calm me, as did meditation and practising gratitude. Even if it was only to appreciate that I had the opportunity to expunge some ‘dark’ emotional energy that was held deep in my body.
I realised I had to start small: I was only capable of making micro choices; which on a practical level helped me to regain some measure of control in my life. Focusing on the little steps and achievements built up my confidence and motivation bit by bit.
As I reflected on the difficult early months it informed my objectives for the rest of the year.
My main intention for 2021 is to live my life like a prayer. This is not a goal but a daily practice, and involves dedicating myself to being a servant of life in all its forms, appreciating the beauty of life, embracing a willingness to forgive shortcomings, to let go of the past (including resentments, negative emotions) and be a loving person.
I’ve come to the conclusion that in the current global situation, being kind to one’s self and others, and a source of lovingness in the world is what will see humanity more serenely and successfully through this time. I knew I had to surrender my anger about the situation and the feeling of losing control of my life.
I rediscovered a book I bought a few years ago but hadn’t yet read: Letting Go – The Pathway of Surrender by Dr. David R Hawkins. I might have saved myself some anguish if I had, but they do say that when the student is ready the teacher will appear. Doc Hawkins has been a major influence in my life. I’m only a short way in, but already I have shifted my energy.
Having let go of some heavy psychological baggage over the preceding weeks, I noticed, to my delight, that my mind was considerably quieter. The incessant yapping of my thoughts had abated. This has been quite a revelation for me!
Not having to waste energy fighting the negative voice that tells me I’m not good enough, or how tough my life is has brought some much needed inner peace.
According to Dr Hawkins, it is the accumulated pressure of emotions that sparks a myriad of associated thoughts. Painful and destructive feelings trapped unconsciously in the body foments unhelpful and negative thoughts.
As an example, just one painful memory from early life that proves too overwhelming to handle is subsequently repressed (buried deep), in the psyche, and over many years can generate hundreds or thousands of thoughts. Dr. Hawkins asserts that when we surrender the underlying emotion all of those thoughts disappear instantly.
Hearing a lot of negative inner chatter is a sign that there’s unresolved emotional material being held in the body. When an underlying emotion is buried, forgotten or ignored, and not experienced, a person may not understand the reason for their actions.
Dr Hawkins suggests a simple way to become conscious of underlying emotions behind any activity, by asking: What for? With each answer, what for? is asked again and again, repeatedly until the basic feeling is uncovered. To be effective this method requires self-honesty.
Another revelation was discovering that thoughts are impersonal. They arise from the attractor field that a person is aligned with at any given moment. Now I try to watch these thoughts scudding across the sky of my mind like jostling clouds, I just watch them come and go, I try not to identify with them. They are just thoughts.
It is quite liberating to learn that thoughts emanate from unprocessed emotions. If we watch our thoughts we can ascertain the type of feelings that are responsible for them and begin the process of letting them go.
The 3 major mechanisms for dealing with difficult feelings
Essentially we have three major ways of handling negative emotions: suppression/repression, expression and escape.
This is the most common way of dealing with strong emotions. We don’t want to be overwhelmed, we are not sure how to cope, so we just sort of muddle through. Repression is the unconscious pushing down of feelings and suppression happens consciously. How we sort what feelings are repressed or suppressed is influenced by the unconscious programmes we carry within us from our childhood, upbringing, social expectations and life experience.
When a feeling is repressed it is usually because there is so much guilt and fear over it that it is instantly thrust into the unconscious.
Instead of acknowledging or observing it, we deny the presence of an unpleasant feeling within us and project it onto the world and those around us. The feeling is eventually experienced as if it belongs to someone else. ‘They’ then become the enemy. Blame is placed on people, institutions, social conditions, God, luck, foreigners, ethnic groups (Brexit right there), and all other things outside ourselves. Through projection the individual maintains self-esteem at the expense of another.
Both methods carry psychosomatic consequences such as the manifestation of physical ailments and illness. If we don’t clear out this emotional garbage it impacts our lives down the road and weighs us down, limits our quality of life, relationships and inner peace becomes more elusive.
As the term suggests this method involves talking, venting and verbalising our feelings. This allows for just enough of the inner discomfort to be let out so the remainder can then be suppressed.
Dr Hawkins makes the point that many people in society, (me included, until I delved deeper into these mechanisms), believe that expressing their feelings frees them from the feelings. It has been shown that the expression of a feeling tends to propagate the feeling and give it greater energy.
Expressing in this way also allows what’s left to be suppressed out of awareness. The balance between suppression and expression depends on early training and the cultural norms of an individual.
A note on Freud…
Misinterpretations on the teachings of Sigmund Freud have resulted in the desire to express as a cure, because Freud identified suppression as the cause of neurosis. Freud suggested that the repressed feeling or impulse was to be neutralised, sublimated, socialised and channelled into the constructive drives of love, work and creativity.
I regret the times I have dumped my negative feelings onto others, as now I know that they experience this venting as a form of attack – which they are then forced to suppress, express or escape. It is now thought that the expression of negativity results in the deterioration and destruction of relationships.
A better alternative is to take responsibility for our own feelings and neutralise them. This begins with developing awareness. If we can do this only positive, uplifting feelings remain to be expressed.
Diversion in one form or another helps us to avoid painful or scary feelings. Socially condoned activities like binge watching box sets, over-eating, drinking, sex and being a workaholic may help us dull things momentarily so we can cope in the moment, but are detrimental if used as a crutch long-term.
Shifting to the perspective of the witness…
Feelings are transient by nature; the important thing is to know that you are not your feelings, but that the ‘real’ you is merely witnessing them. When you become the observer you can cease identifying with negative feelings. Becoming more aware of your internal landscape is a progressive undertaking that enables you to become the witness rather than the experiencer of phenomena.
It’s not possible to both ‘watch’ and ‘resist’ a strong emotion at the same time. Resistance doesn’t serve you. It is resistance that keeps a feeling going. A feeling that is not resisted will disappear as the emotion behind it dissipates.
In other words, to some degree, it’s wise to wear your heart on your sleeve. You can only do something that doesn’t serve you if you do it unconsciously.
What causes you stress?
To attribute stress to outside factors is the projection of repressed feelings. Repressed feelings make us vulnerable to external stress. The word ‘stress’ is a bit ambiguous. When we say we are stressed, it covers a multitude of deeply held emotions!
Dr. Hawkins explains that the real source of stress is internal. Using the emotion of fear as an example, one might react to stress with fear if it is already present within to be triggered by an event. And let’s face it, there are plenty of ‘events’ going on around us at the moment. The more fear we hold inside the more the world appears to be a terrifying place. To the angry person the world is chaos, a mingling of frustration and vexation. The inner state influences the outer state.
Essentially, what we are holding inside (resisted emotions), colours our world…
Next time I feel stress I will see it as a warning sign that there is an accumulation of pressure from supressed and repressed feelings. Understanding that the havoc wreaked by stress is the result of our own hidden emotions puts us in control of handling it more effectively.
The energy of emotions
Emotions emit a vibrational energy field (I will cover more on this in a subsequent post), which in turn influences what kind of people are in our lives. All living things are connected on vibrational energy levels so our basic state is picked up and reacted to by all life forms around us.
It’s quite a wake up call to understand that our basic emotional states transmit themselves to the universe.
I like to imagine a pebble being dropped into fresh water and sending ripples out in concentric circles to the shore.
I feel this erudite Beatles song sums up the optimal state of allowing-ness and acceptance of all our emotions, without judgement:
Handling major crises
The Letting Go technique is very helpful in daily life, but it is also fundamental to shortening and alleviating extreme suffering when one is going through a crisis.
In such a situation it is easy to become overwhelmed by strong emotions, when we are vulnerable to be triggered by one of the major areas of supressed or repressed feelings. In this instance the main problem is not so much identifying the emotion as handling the overwhelm.
The three mechanisms the mind consciously employs to process emotions that were mentioned earlier – suppression/repression, expression and escape can be employed in a deliberate manner. They are only harmful when used unconsciously, if the person is not aware of what they are doing.
In an overwhelm, it is advisable to use them consciously. This is done so that the sheer intensity and quantity of emotion can be disassembled and let go bit by bit. By holding at bay the bulk of the emotion we can deal with as much emotion as we are capable of in that moment.
In this situation sharing the strong feelings with close friends or mentors reduces its intensity and the act of expressing the feeling releases some of the energy behind it. It is also advised to consciously use the escape mechanism to create some distance to the emotion, such as walking the dog, socialising, going to the movies (whenever that may be allowed), watching TV or making music.
When some of the overload has abated it’s easier to start to let go of small aspects of the situation. As we come out of overwhelm it is wise to recall that a certain portion of the emotion was purposefully suppressed or escaped. This is a good time to re-examine the feeling so that it does not cause residual harm, such as bitterness, unconscious guilt or lower self-esteem.
There is much more detail in the book, it really is one of the few manuals for life you’ll ever need. I hope to have relayed a valuable kernel or two of the profound teachings inside.
Letting go is a lifelong process, but it gets easier the more you do it, as you begin to feel lighter and happier in the aftermath of releasing.
There are no short cuts to emotional mastery; letting go and surrendering is the most direct route, as long as we are willing to explore the shadow aspect of our psyche and by doing so, shine the light of consciousness into the darkness. It can be a turbulent ride, but as Dr Hawkins asserts, you only ever have to handle the energy behind the feeling – which is finite and eventually runs out.
If every human being learned to effectively process their emotions the world would be a happier and less violent place. However, we are all at different points in the evolution of our individual consciousness, and as Gandhi stated, it’s our responsibility to become the change we wish to see in the world.
During my period of healing I noticed that I was judging myself for my lack of obvious progress over the winter months, but in the wake of my nascent recovery and heightened awareness, I realised I had in fact made huge progress!
Self-awareness, letting go, and being liberated from past trauma and disempowering beliefs is vital work.
Nobody knows the exact date of Ludwig van Beethoven’s birthday. It could be today, 17th December 1770, the day he was baptised, or likely the day before. Two hundred and fifty years ago in a pretty terraced house in Bonn, Beethoven came into the world; and his influence was of such magnitude it can still be strongly felt; universally loved and appreciated today.
Beethoven has always been at my side, a constant musical companion (from childhood to middle age), through the ups and downs of my life; my victories and vicissitudes, with his symphonies, sonatas, concertos, chamber music, overtures, lieder and choral works, resonating with my own experiences over the years.
I have applied myself to playing many of Beethoven’s violin works, and am now delighted that my youngest daughter (who recently passed her ABRSM Piano Grade 1 with Distinction, despite learning 90% of the syllabus in online lessons, thanks to her fantastic teacher), is falling in love with his piano music. I have never seen her practice so fervently on any other piece to-date as she does Für Elise, which she can now competently play a simplified version of.
There is divinity in Beethoven’s music, it speaks to the soul, but it’s also unmistakably human. How he transmuted sorrow, joy, jealousy, passion, injustice, fury, freedom, love, hope, and the depths of human emotion into the perfect notes on a score is his genius.
If you’ve read my blog now and then (thank you), you may have guessed that I’m a total Beethoven zealot!
He was one of the greatest composers that ever lived, numero uno as far as I’m concerned. I doubt his music will ever be surpassed.
There were very large boots to fill as Beethoven began to explore his musical promise. The great Baroque composers of Bach and Handael left a massive impressive ouevre, and soon after the titans of the Classical era, Mozart and Haydn came along. Young Beethoven had plenty of inspiration to draw from, but rather than worrying about how he was going to make his mark in their shadow, or let their talent suffocate him, he rose to be his own artist, shaping the late Classical era and defining the new Romantic era. Beethoven is a musical icon, his music is timeless.
Beethoven could be pugnacious and capricious, (the poor unfortunate souls who invoked his ire could attest to that), he was also volatile and could fly into a rage, even over a lost penny! But to his credit it wasn’t really a rage, Anton Schindler coined the phrase. A fantastic little piece.
He was also kind, dedicated, loving and loyal. I feel Beethoven was forged just as much by his flaws and tragedies as well as his talents and achievements; there were many facets to his character that made him so rich, complex and brilliant.
Perhaps a challenging childhood is prerequisite for a romantic genius, and Beethoven ticked that box. He recovered from Smallpox, and endured a troubled relationship with his father, who would drink and beat him.
But Beethoven nurtured his prodigious talent and it would see him through multiple romantic heartbreaks, (including the Immortal Beloved), Napoleon’s assault on Vienna, health challenges, deafness and his problematic interactions with his nephew Karl. To say his life was difficult would be an understatement. He had quite a vast range of experiences to draw upon…
In art Beethoven was usually depicted with a serious expression, tousled hair and intense eyes, the demeanour of a tortured artist. People overlooked the fact that he could be a curmudgeon and frequently irascible in nature, because through his musical gifts he brought profound beauty into a turbulent world. He wasn’t always understood and appreciated fully during his life, especially by the unsuspecting conservative Viennese audiences, but over the decades and certainly two and a half centuries since his birth, I’m sure millions of people feel the same way I do about dear Ludwig.
Beethoven’s music plays the human heart like no other. It is never ordinary; but profound, and soaring, passionate and searing, loving and lyrical, noble and idealistic, tender hearted and romantic, tempestuous, peaceful and bucolic, dramatic and virtuosic, heart breaking and visceral, innovative and revolutionary.
The year 2020 has been Beethoven’s 250th anniversary year – and it has been one of the toughest years in living memory; a year that will go down in history. Many of the planned celebratory live concerts did not take place due to the Coronavirus pandemic. I think Beethoven would have shaken his fist and carried on composing anyway. And luckily for us, modern technology enables streaming.
The difficulty of this year is all the more reason to celebrate his life and his music, it will see us through this terrible time, and if his music demonstrates anything, it’s that struggles can be overcome. It’s as though Beethoven is saying I understand your heartache and strife, your pain and your pleasure. Listen up!
I’m going to share some of my favourite pieces and some older posts I wrote about the maestro. But before that I wanted to explore some of his lieder.
Pain and passion
I’ve always felt that Countess Josephine von Deym (nee Brunsvik) was Beethoven’s mysterious Immortal Beloved, and read some of the early delirious, passionate love letters Beethoven wrote to Josephine, published in Jan Swafford’s tome: Beethoven – Anguish and Triumph.
In 1805 Beethoven was basking in the glory of his heroic third symphony, which premiered in April that year.
His health challenges were ongoing and he was working on his only opera, about a courageous and honourable wife: Leonore. The work was later retitled Fidelio. And his personal life was consumed by his passion for the newly widowed mother-of-four, Josephine. His heart and his whole being must have been on fire! He clearly wanted Josephine to be his devoted wife – but their societal positions and personal circumstances (at least for Josephine), meant they could not be together.
Not only did he write her ecstatic love letters, but composed and dedicated the song An die Hoffnung (To Hope), as well as the Andante Favori, which was originally intended as the slow movement of the Waldstein Sonata.
“O, beloved J. It is no desire for the other sex that draws me to you, no, it is just you, your whole self with all your individual qualities – that has compelled my regard…
Long – long- of long duration – may our love become – for it is so noble – so firmly founded upon mutual regard and friendship…Oh, you, you make me hope your heart will long – beat for me – Mine can only – cease – to beat for you – when – it no longer beats.”
Josephine made a respectful and honest reply:
“You have long had my heart, dear Beethoven; if this assurance can give you joy, then receive it – from the purest heart. Take carte that is also entrusted into the purest bosom. You receive the greatest proof of my love (and) of my esteem through this confession, through this confidence! I herewith give you – of the… possession of the noblest of my Self…will you indicate to me if you are satisfied with it? Do not tear my heart apart – do not try to persuade me further. I love you inexpressibly, as one gentle soul does another. Are you not capable of this covenant? I am not receptive to other (forms of) love for the present.”
It seems that Beethoven wasn’t at all satisfied – for the heart loves who it loves, and perhaps he did not fully understand Josephine’s situation: she had lost her husband, gone through a nervous breakdown, taken on his debts, was running his business and raising four children; in a society, and from a family that frowned upon marriages between the aristocracy and commoners.
Beethoven’s frustration and heart break must have been expressed in some form of anger, which no doubt exacerbated the situation. Josephine responded with desperation:
“Even before I knew you, your music made me enthusiastic for you – the goodness of your character, your affection increased it. This preference that you granted me, the pleasure of your acquaintance, would have been the finest jewel of my life if you could have loved me less sensually. That I cannot satisfy this sensual love makes you angry with me, (but) I would have had to violate solemn obligations if I gave heed to your longings.”
Josephine left for Budapest before Napoleon’s assault on Vienna, but even though he was emotionally bereft and in poor health, Beethoven ploughed himself into his music. It is thought that another song he wrote around this time, Als die Geliebte sich trennen wollte(When the Beloved Wished to Part), summed up his anguish, with some poignant lines, such as: The last ray of hope is sinking, and Ah, lovely hope, return to me.
In the early summer of 1805 Carl Czerny was present at a Lobkowitz soiree, where provoked during the course of the evening, Beethoven humiliated Ignaz Pleyel – a piano maker, publisher and pianist – a contempory of Haydn. Beethoven listened to Pleyel’s new string quartets and then was dragged against his will to the piano by some ladies. Beethoven was a great improviser, (he had quite the reputation in his early career), but must surely have transferred his annoyance at having to play in public into giving Pleyel the ‘Daniel Stiebelt’ treatment, featured briefly in my debut novel, The Virtuoso.
I listened to Beethoven exclusively and constantly as I wrote it, being as he was the heroine’s hero (and one of mine!).
Czerny, a talented pianist and student of Beethoven, recorded how Beethoven grabbed a copy of Pleyel’s second violin part and based his improvisation on a few random notes. It must have made quite the impression on him: “Throughout the whole improvisation the quite insignificant notes…were present in the middle parts, like a connecting thread or a cantus firmus, while he built upon them the boldest melodies and harmonies in the most brilliant (concerto) style.”
Unlike Stiebelt, who, in humiliation had stormed off in outrage and never returned to Vienna, Czerny explains poor Pleyel’s gracious reaction to the maestro’s mocking genius: “Pleyel was so amazed that he kissed Beethoven’s hands. After such improvisations, Beethoven used to break out laughing in a loud and satisfied fashion.”
Beethoven himself wrote of the incident to his friend Count Nikolaus Zmeskall: “I wanted to entertain Pleyel in a musical way – But for the last week I have again been ailing…and in some ways I am becoming more and more peevish every day in Vienna.”
It seems that Beethoven’s ego only surfaced full throttle when his art was involved, for he never put a lot of concern into his appearance or living conditions, and was not in the least bit foppish.
In 1807 Beethoven met Marie Bigot, an accomplished pianist, married to Paul Bigot de Morogues, Count Razumosky’s librarian. Beethoven flirted with Marie, and got into hot water with her husband, but having been caught out he apologised profusely and they remained friends. Apparently Marie had been able to sight read his water stained Appassionata manuscript. She was technically brilliant and put her own stamp on the music she played.
She had wowed Haydn in 1805, and had a similar effect upon Beethoven after a performance of one of his sonatas: “That’s not exactly the character I wanted to give this piece, but go right ahead. If it isn’t entirely mine, it’s something better.”
It’s apparent that Beethoven respected artistic interpretation and was not affronted by an artist’s individuality, as a non conformist, it was quality he valued in himself.
In the spring of 1816 Beethoven completed a song cycle known as An die ferne Geliebte (To the Distant Beloved), clearly stemming from his own considerable pain, having written in a letter to Ferdinand Ries, “I have found only one whom no doubt I shall never possess”, a memorial to the Immortal Beloved.
This little cycle of folk songs unifies the story as a whole, greater than the sum of its parts. Beethoven was familiar with folk songs from his childhood and his early teacher Christian Neefe. The song cycle is strophic, so each verse is sung to the same melody with slight variations here and there. The emotions of the song are expressed less flamboyantly than opera, but no less poignant.
The verses were written by the poet and playwright Alois Jeitteles, and were highly relevant to Beethoven at this time in his life. Perfect to set to music!
The world collectively held its breath as the election for the 46th President of the United States of America was held during November, and has subsequently been rumbling on over the entire month. For interminable days it seemed to hang on a knife edge, and now, thankfully, Joe Biden has unequivocably emerged as the victor. But the election has been embroiled in quite a circus…
During such times of upheaval and turmoil around the world it’s essential that we have a grown-up in the White House rather than a self-inflated, messianic enfant terrible.
Trump has thrown multiple tantrums about how unfair democracy is, and has behaved like a desperate despot wanting to cling to power at any cost. It’s damaging not just for America, (being the beacon of freedom and democracy that it is in the world), but also for global democracy, when the perceived leader of the free world acts like some third-world, tin-pot dictator by refusing (until recently), to collaborate with the incoming administration for the good of the nation.
What kind of example is that?
Trump’s antics over the last four years have brought the Office of President into disrepute. His legacy is a litany of lies and ‘fake news’ accusations, the desecration of values, the demolition of decency, the destruction of integrity, willful ignorance around environmental issues, mishandling of the pandemic and the spread of division, hate, racial tensions and the complete polarisation of a nation.
The man (and I hope someday woman), serves the office, not the reverse!
There is still a way to go before the vote is certified and thankfully the unnecessary and baseless legal challenges from the incumbent president have been thrown out. His apparent denial of the facts and manner of departure will further test America’s democracy.
Biden strikes me as a man of competence, common-sense, caring and humility – a breath of fresh air to Trump’s insouciant attitude toward responsibility, and his unrepentant vanity and hubris.
America, and (like ripples travelling across a pond) to a lesser extent the world, is reeling from the onslaught of an egomaniac and chancer tyrant. The fact that more people have voted in the 2020 election, (close to 150 million people) than at any other time in its 244 year history as the United States of America speaks volumes.
Balance must be restored – now the scales can start tipping towards the safer mid-point. How much damage has been done remains to be seen, and Biden is right to suggest that the nation needs to heal.
The fact that sanity has prevailed is in no small measure due to the principles and values that the Founding Fathers employed in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. These documents are sacred and integral to the founding of the United States of America. They are the bedrock and cornerstone of America’s power and prosperity.
But the severance of the colonies from George III’s distant rule was far from smooth. After the dust had settled from the Revolutionary War, a handful of men courageously saw a vision of what their nation could become.
The founding of the United States has been an incredible experiment in the evolution of human civilisation.
With its isolated geopolitical borders the United States of America was free from outside interference once they had eliminated servitude to the British monarchy. Inspired by the sheer unlimited potential and opportunities for a better life, a wave of immigration seeded the nation with a diverse population – an ideal cultural petri dish for the growth of the New World.
By looking to the microcosm of America we can apply the knowledge, wisdom and learning of human civilisation and evolution to the macrocosm – the world at large.
The only pre-existing cultural personality in the newly formed United States of America was that of the native Indian populations, it was still early days for the first generations of settlers, but their spirit of adventure, innovation and discovery has certainly permeated down through the centuries.
Unlike the more established nations across Europe, (where citizens were limited by their highly stratified caste-like society and hierarchy of power, usually predicated by blood lineage), America was a blank canvas for her citizens, where, on paper at least, all men were created equal; endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, and among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.
Sadly, these lofty ideals have not always proved the lived experience for many with darker skins, those of the ‘fairer sex’ or other minority groups. There is plenty of unfinished business, hence still, even in the 21st century, the #BlackLivesMatter movement was deemed necessary to attain a fairer, more egalitarian society. But the values are at least enshrined in its founding, the Constitution and Bill of Rights, and therefore inextricable from the nation’s cultural and social evolution.
The values and courage of the Founding Fathers
The Deistic Enlightenment philosophy that was sweeping through 1700s Europe, as espoused by its leading philosophers such as John Locke, Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (whose raptures of ‘free’ noble savages intrigued many), resonated with Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and Benjamin Franklin.
Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, Hancock and the other 56 delegates who signed the Declaration of Independence did so knowing that they would pilloried, ostracised, suffer financial hardship, ruin and possibly death. This act was no tea party!
When they wrote: ‘We mutually pledge to each other our lives, our Fortunes, our Sacred Honor’ they were legally marking themselves as traitors, knowing the penalty for treason was death. Patrick Henry’s passionate statement, “Give me liberty or give me death!” was not merely hyperbole. When Benjamin Franklin said to his fellow revolutionaries, “We must all hang together or we shall most assuredly hang separately,” he was speaking literally.
John Hancock was the wealthiest of the American revolutionaries, with a net worth of around $750,000 in today’s dollars. Another wealthy signatory, Thomas Nelson of Virginia, had his lands and home seized by the British and died penniless at the age of 50. Hartmann purports that 9 of the 56 signers lost their lives in the war and 17 lost their homes and fortunes.
Hartmann further explains: “While many of the conservative Tory families still have considerable wealth and power (in Canada and England), not a single founder’s family persists today as a wealthy or politically dominant entity.”
It was inevitable that cynical attacks would be made on their characters in the years since the founding of the nation. They were not perfect human beings; their personalities contained flaws and contradictions like the rest of us – however, their hearts were in the right place. It’s worth remembering that this enlightened band of brothers stood up to what was then the greatest power in the world – the British Empire.
Their Deist beliefs meant that the Declaration of Independence encapsulated Natural Law: the notion that ordinary humans could be equal sovereign citizens who endow government with authority, instead of the other way around.
The tenets of Natural Law
In 1661 English philosopher Thomas Hobbes published his work, Leviathan, which attempted to codify Natural Law into 9 principles:
Seek peace first, use war as a last resort.
Be willing to offer the same freedom to others as to oneself.
Keep your agreements.
Accommodate your own needs to the laws of the community.
As appropriate, forgive those who repent.
In the case of revenge, focus not on the great evil of the past but the greater good to follow.
Never declare hatred of another.
Acknowledge the equality of others.
John Locke sought to hold governments accountable to these principles. In his Two Treatises of Government which was initially published anonymously in 1689 he suggested that if a ruler went against these natural laws and failed to protect ‘life, liberty and property’ the populace could justifiably overthrow a government. It happened in France in 1789, and heads rolled as a consequence…
One could argue that Brexit has removed some of our rights and liberties.
Jefferson used Locke’s arguments when he crafted the Declaration of Independence. But the Enlightenment philosophers were not the only influence on the Founding Fathers. Locke and Rousseau got their ideas from the Native’s New World.
Quite a circle of serendipity…
The ideals of human perfection existed in Europe since the golden age of Greece, but the idea of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness never actualised from an abstract concept to reality in Socrates’ world of form.
The first reports of the ways and customs of the native peoples of the Americas showed the concepts of democracy and balance of power were well established in these cultures at least 400 years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Some say as early as 1100, but there are accounts from the 1400s to 1500s of six tribes that lived in what is now the northeastern United States, Southern Ontario and Quebec, a people who came together to form what was known as the Iroquois Confederacy.
The Iroquois Confederacy
Hiawatha was instructed by an elder named Two-Rivers to negotiate peace between the warring tribes. He proposed a League of Peace and Power to bring the tribes together. The result of this historic gathering bore the League of Haudenosaunee, meaning ‘people of the long house’.
The confederacy was comprised of the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca tribes, later accepting the Tuscaroras who migrated from the Carolinas. Through this confederacy, six diverse nations managed to live in relative peace and harmony through a remarkable political system that was the forerunner to the United States Constitution.
There are many similarities between the Iroquois Confederacy and the Constitution: namely the devolvement of power in the federal system – just as tribes maintained autonomy in regard to local issues.
A mutual-defense pack provided a strong multi-tribe nation to protect against their enemies. It conserved lives, energy and resources that would otherwise have been spent in waging war with each other. The confederacy also employed a sophisticated system of checks and balances between three governmental branches.
The Iroquois Nation of colonial America believed in freedom of expression, provided that expression caused no harm.
Whereas Western civilisation was more guilt orientated, tribal culture was more shame-orientated – a strong identification within the community motivated individuals to avoid transgressions that might bring shame on them and their clan.
The influence of Native American culture was profound and far-reaching on the early colonists, particularly those who grew up in the New World rather than England. The colonists adopted indigenous customs such as bathing, not considered a healthy practice across much of Europe at the time.
In Iroquois tribal society authority flowed from the ground up, not from the top down.
Thomas Jefferson was deeply influenced by Native American wisdom, as his father Peter was a cartographer. They would go off on excursions together and Peter and would have meetings at their home in Virginia with the Cherokee chief Ontassete which young Tom possibly witnessed.
Why the Fourth of July?
The 4th July is an auspicious date indeed. It is known that on the 4th July 1776, the Continental Congress formally adopted the Declaration of Independence that had been largely drafted by Thomas Jefferson.
However, some 32 years prior on the 4th July 1744, an important meeting took place that was also fundamental to the founding of the United States of America. A charismatic chief from the Iroquois Nation, Canassatego, met with the the English colonists to forge an alliance between the colonists and the Iroquois against the French.
He spoke of unity:
Benjamin Franklin, present at the meeting relayed a powerful example that Canassatego demonstrated to the colonists, describing how the chief held up an arrow and easily snapped it in two. He then lashed together twelve arrows, (one for every one of 12 colonies represented at the meeting), and even the strongest man in the room could not break them.
Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the Great Seal of the United States, designed in 1782 by Charles Thomson, depicts an eagle clutching thirteen arrows in his claws.
And it has a certain poetic justice that the President is referred to as the Commander-in-Chief!
In 1751 Franklin began his campaign for a federal union, writing: “It would be a very strange thing if six nations of ignorant savages should be capable of forming a scheme for such a union and be able to execute it in such a manner as that it has subsisted ages, and yet a like union should be impractical for ten or a dozen English colonies.” Aside from his jibe at ‘ignorant savages’, Franklin expressed admiration for Iroquois political practise. And thus, a new republic was created based on Native tribal wisdom.
It’s disappointing but not altogether surprising, that information explaining the role of Native American culture on the founding of the United States was repressed until the seventies.
How about this for a tragic and sobering statistic:
When Christopher Colombus discovered the New World in 1492 it was estimated there were around 6 million Native Americans living across the continent. Some argue there were many more, upwards of 20 million. But the white settlers brought with them a host of big city ‘plagues’ that were new to them, such as smallpox, measles and syphilis. The native population had no immunity to these diseases. In addition to the ravages of disease, other factors compounded their fate; warfare, forced migration, outright slaughter and a massive white land grab. By 1900 the Native American population had been reduced to around 250,000 souls.
In Iroquois culture the Earth, plants and land were perceived as feminine in character – older women were responsible for the basics of life – growing and preparing food, birthing and nurturing children and the domestic work of the community.
This work was of value and the men recognised and appreciated the women’s fundamental power. A far cry from the underrated role of modern mothers. It was in everyone’s interest for the clan to be successful.
The clan was usually headed up by an older woman. Property and land was collectively owned by the clans and enough food grown to feed all of their members. It was a broadly egalitarian society and the Iroquois men understood the need for men and women to achieve unity and work together in balance and harmony.
True political power was in the hands of the grandmothers, who possessed the authority to select a chief and also to impeach him for wrongdoing or incompetence. The original impeachers!
The women even made the final decision about whether or not to go to war. When women were past childbearing age they became clan mothers and would often accompany war parties. They could be just as ruthless as men with enemy tribes outside the confederacy, especially when it involved the abduction of clan children. Maternal instincts can be as brutal as they are nurturing when required!
Mother Earth and Father Sky came out of balance as patriarchy retained all the power in Western civilisation. The disconnection from the sacred feminine enabled the plundering of Earth’s resources, and put us out of touch with the natural world.
As usual, Marina’s lyrics are spot on:
The pursuit of happiness (as defined by the Iroquois Confederacy), was held in balance as long as citizens did not cause harm to others. One could argue that the pursuit of happiness has taken on a darker, materialistic slant in so much as corporate greed is running rampant with no regard for the consequence to human life and the planet. But that’s a subject for a new post!
In the meantime, even with all the turbulence and turmoil around us, as much as you can – be happy!
I love it when I come across a book I’d forgotten about. I purchased The Muse by Jessie Burton a few years ago, and as is my tendency, addiction even, to hoard books and novels, I added it to my ‘to read and ongoing’ piles around the house. Somehow it got buried.
As I’ve been decluttering and reorganising I came across it, just at the moment I decided I needed a break from research and non-fiction.
Jessie Burton is now my muse! It’s a fantastic novel, it stimulated my creativity and motivation in many ways, which is auspicious with #NaNoWriMo (national novel writing month) coming up in November, where writers aim to get 50,000 words onto paper or screen.
I ended up studying it anyway, a masterclass in historical, literary fiction, I couldn’t put it down.
The lives of two young women, thirty years apart and from different cultures are juxtaposed and intertwined in a riveting way, all connected to a work of art: Rufina and the Lion.
Maybe I loved it so much because the main protagonist is a writer, and the pivotal character a painter.
Odelle Bastien, a young woman from Trinidad, struggles to find fulfilling work in 1960s London. The story begins with her getting a new job at a respected London art gallery, The Skelton Institute.
Odelle writes in her spare time and works for the enigmatic Marjorie Quick, bearing witness to her descent into a destructive, downward spiral when Lawrie Scott, (Odelle’s boyfriend), brings a mysterious painting to the gallery for valuation; the only thing left to him by his late mother after her un-timely death. Odelle is determined to get to the bottom of Quick’s secrets.
In a parallel story the novel then jumps back to the past, and the life of the Schloss family who have just moved from London to Andalusia in January 1936. They are renting a large finca in Arazuelo, a village near Malaga.
The father, Harold Schloss, a renowned Jewish Viennese art dealer with a gallery in Paris, becomes obsessed by what he thinks is a work of art by a promising local Spanish artist, Isaac Robles. His wife Sarah is a spoilt and unstable English condiment heiress, and their daughter, Olive, a painter, is coming to terms with her formidable artistic ability.
To her surprise, Olive finds the rural Spanish setting and the presence of their close neighbours, Isaac and Teresa Robles inspires her to express her authentic self. Olive has a letter from the Slade art school in her possession, but she has not shown it to her father, fearing his lack of approval, but also she does not wish to leave Spain and her lover, who also happens to be her muse…
Olive paints in secret, only Teresa is party to her acts of creation. Teresa burns with indignation for her friend’s anonymity – that her talent goes unacknowledged and unappreciated. Her subversive actions on Olive’s behalf are the crucible of how events unfold, of the inevitable apocryphal attributions.
Olive has a hard time persuading her reluctant muse to take the credit for her art.
Harold Schloss entices Peggy Guggenheim in Venice (a real person and collector) to view the works that he believes are by Isaac Robles.
As Isaac and his younger sister Teresa become deeply involved in the complex dynamics of the Schloss family, they are all ultimately drawn into the Spanish civil war with devastating consequences.
Apart from being a brilliant and beautifully written story, The Muse subtly revealed and revelled in the themes of identity, provenance, the restitution of valuable paintings suspected of being stolen by the Nazis, the circumstances surrounding the creation of art and the cult of the artist.
Very often an artist’s appeal and allure increases after their death, although some are fortunate to become legends in their own lifetime. Death certainly creates and intensifies icons…
I’d like to think I’d hang a piece of art mainly because I loved to look at it, not because of who painted it, but very often the two are not mutually exclusive. Rarity adds value, as does sentimental attachment.
The Muse makes you think about what art’s intrinsic value is: the actual work of art itself, which once completed stands independent from the artist, or whether that value should be tied to the person who made it; their story and the ‘journey’ of the work post creation.
The idea of provenance isn’t unique to the art world, but is also applied in literature, music composition and the purchase of instruments. I readily admit that given the choice, I would love to own a violin made by Stradivarius or Guarneri rather than one produced by an unknown luthier. Their quality has been proven over the centuries.
Maybe time is a factor in how we appreciate art. Trends and tastes change, but geniuses never go out of fashion.
Can we really separate a purely aesthetic desire from financial value?
Any creative endeavour, whether we like it or not, is bound by some degree to the person who originated it.
Romantic notions tend to creep in when purchasing art and sculpture. We are naturally attracted to the story behind a work of art, it heightens our understanding of it, gives us context to value and appreciate it. Is it right that there may come a point when the provenance or story behind a work is perceived as more important and valuable than the work itself?
Provenance is solely a human benchmark.
I think Banksy was very astute to keep his identity a secret. It’s his trademark signature next to street art that has popped up on a wall or tube train overnight that almost seems to excite people as much as his original pictures…
And what about the artist? What value do they imbibe from their creative efforts?
Certainly they deserve financial remuneration, admiration and respect. Some of these external blessings never flow to an artist. So in many cases the inner joy of creating is paramount. Nothing is certain.
It’s hard to believe that Vincent van Gogh only sold a handful of art works in his life, but now his colourful and distinctive oeuvre is one of the most sought after and popular in the world. How much value did he place in his own ability versus other people’s opinions? Vincent struggled with his mental health, but he was compelled to paint regardless.
Real life scenarios in the art world where a lost masterpiece has been found, and subsequently authenticated, demonstrate how excitement builds and a bidding frenzy usually ensues…
For various reasons authors sometimes choose to write under a pseudonym. J.K. Rowling penned the Cormoran Strike crime novels as Robert Galbraith, with modest sales. But once her true identity became public knowledge sales took a startling upward trajectory.
Like writing, art is highly subjective, and we each look at a work of art through our own prism or perceptive lens. Picasso is a big deal, but I don’t personally gravitate to his work. But I love the likes of Monet, Pissarro, van Gogh, Klimt, Alma-Tadema, Waterhouse, and well, I could go on.
In The Muse, Odelle becomes choked up about not being good enough. And who hasn’t experienced Imposter Syndrome to some extent at least once in their life?
Jessie Burton summed up these feelings that can capture and anchor a creative soul on the seabed of writer’s block.
“She had told me that the approval of other people should never be my goal.”
“You’re not walking around with a golden halo beaming out of you depending on the power of your paragraph. You don’t come into it, once someone else is reading. It stands apart from you. Don’t let your ability drag you down, don’t hang it round your neck like an albatross.”
“Like most artists, everything I produced was connected to who I was – and so I suffered according to how my work was received. The idea that anyone might be able to detach their personal value from their public output was revolutionary. I didn’t know if it was possible, even desirable. Surely it would affect the quality of the work? Still, I knew I’d gone too far in the opposite direction, and something had to change. Ever since I could pick up a pen, other people’s pleasure was how I’d garnered attention and defined success. When I began receiving public acknowledgement for a private act, something was essentially lost. My writing became the axis upon which all my identity and happiness hinged. It was not outward-looking, a self-conscious performance. I was asked to repeat the pleasure for people, again and again, until the facsimile of my act became the act itself.”
“…I’d been writing so long for the particular purpose of being approved that I’d forgotten the genesis of my impulse; unbothered, pure creation, existing outside the parameters of success and failure. And somewhere along the line, this being ‘good’ had come to paralyse my belief that I could write at all.”
Jessie Burton, The Muse
My takeaways are that we have to get out of our own way, have faith in our abilities, try to learn from the creative process and above all, enjoy it.
If every artist, writer or musician had decided to quit their projects out of fear of rejection or lack of recognition there would be no culture for us to enjoy, no legacy of human creative expression, no muses to inspire future generations.