The Wisdom of Corona Virus

Before I begin…

Today is my 69th birthday.  I am embarking on my 70th year in this now rather wrinkly and saggy skin suit and still enjoying every day and relishing the pleasures of life on the Blue Planet.  However my working life as a teacher – which I loved – is now over.  I spend my time enjoying the company of nature, family and friends, reading and writing and making tiny, intricate models out of upcycled junk and discarded items.  No one needs such trifles, but the creation of them nourishes my soul and others get pleasure from them.

Because I can now lay claim to being ‘old’ in Earthly terms, I feel able to write what follows with a clear conscience.  These things would be far harder for a younger person to say.  It may shock and upset many, for which I am sorry.  That is not my intention.  I’m not being mischievously provocative.  I’d just like to encourage others to stop for a moment and consider what this virus is showing us and doing for us.

 

Coronavirus, Virus, Pandemic, EpidemicAre you able to pause, put aside the prejudices fed to you by media and gaze on the beauty and perfection of these organisms?  They have intelligence.  It enabled them to evolve this new, unique form.

Humans are quite ready to see this Covid-19 as a wicked, scheming adversary – one that will take all of our collective powers to defeat.  Could we instead see it as a benign, caring entity that looked with concern and compassion at our predicament and evolved to ease some of our most intractable problems?  A step too far for many, perhaps, but worth considering.

Pollution

Imagine, for a moment that we are discussing a wise and benign entity.  It sees the massive pollution rife in China.  It sees the pollution attacking the lungs of China’s people – weakening them, lowering the quality of their lives, lowering their resistance.  Breath, after all, is life force, prana.  China knows this, regrets what is happening, but can’t solve the problem.  Industry has taken control.  Profit matters more than quality of life.  Does it?  Corona Virus strikes and vast numbers of those people, their lungs already compromised by breathing in those poisonous fumes, are struck down.  China simply has to react.  It closes schools, colleges, factories…

The satellite images have detected a significant decreases in nitrogen dioxide over China. And this happens:

Photo taken by NASA of pollution levels over China this year.

Yes, many lives have been lost.  Death – like birth – is almost always a traumatic and messy affair.  It makes huge changes to the lives of those around the person concerned.  I know I am fortunate to believe firmly that my Self is eternal and this physical incarnation just a small – though important and fascinating – episode in its development.  I also believe that Self is able to choose the time of the personality’s arrival and departure in terms of a human life.  I’m not saying (this is a tricky one to explain) that any victims of the virus decided at a conscious level to die.  I’m suggesting that at a higher, spiritual level, the entire entity decides on the correct time – for that being’s evolution – to move on to another state.  At times of mass death, whether from a natural disaster, war, an act of terrorism or a disease, every soul concerned has – at that higher level – elected to move on.  Perhaps part of that decision is based on a desire to force those of us remaining to rethink certain aspects of life.

Will China return to its former levels of pollution?  It will be interesting to see.  Will there be a knock-on effect from this to other industrial nations?

Covid-19 is also affecting travel throughout the world.  I heard yesterday of a school in England requiring all staff to sign an agreement not to engage in any non-essential travel abroad.  Again, air travel is recognised as a major pollutant, yet foreign holidays have become an accepted part of life.  Is the virus holding this up to us for consideration?  Will we find alternatives and make changes to our lives?

Population and Age

Hospice, Wrinkled Hand, Elderly, OldThis is the single most important factor that leads me to believe that the virus could be intelligent and benign.  We have an intractable problem in our world with the ageing population.  Doctors are able to keep people alive for longer.  This is generally considered to be a good thing.  However longevity takes precidence over quality of life.  It has to.  The alternative is unthinkable.  Thus – in my country, at least – many elderly people become increasingly weak and frail, needing to be cared for by exhausted relatives or in nursing homes.  They spend their final years relying on others to provide all their daily needs – even the most intimate ones – while they sit or lie helplessly waiting for the end.   I have watched, at very close quarters, both my parents and both my grandmothers finish their lives that way.  It is that – not death – that I dread.

Covid-19 is highly selective.  It infects all ages, but children recover easily.  Not until after the age of 50 is there even a 1% chance that it will be fatal.  Even then, only those with weakened immune systems or underlying heart/lung problems fall prey to it.  From age 70 onwards, the incidence of death becomes higher.  At 80 it climbs still more sharply.

Speaking as an old person, I welcome this.  I have no death wish, but there are things far worse than death.  Those lingering years, stripped of all purpose and dignity seem to me infinitely worse than a few days of fever, aches and pains and a bad cough.  Our scientists, doctors and politicians are powerless to change the problems caused by and for this ever-growing elderly population.  Perhaps the virus has arrived to rescue the situation – to humanely deal with those who would choose a quick and timely death.

The Sick and Vulnerable

Ah, but what of those who have weakened immune systems for other reasons – people who are ill but would soon recover or those with conditions requiring care in institutions?  They are vulnerable.  They should be protected.  Yet in my country we place them in hospitals where the essential work of cleaning and sanitising is given to people on zero hours contracts, people living in poverty, people who – if they become unwell – can’t afford to take sick leave, or their families would have no food.  Thus the outrageous treatment of these vital workers may well cause the virus to spread around hospitals and other institutions.

Like China’s pollution, these injustices have been brushed aside for economic reasons.  The Health Service is overstretched, we are told.  We simply can’t afford to pay these people more.  Now, though, can we afford not to?

 

Certainly this strain of Corona Virus is harsh and uncompromising.  It is no respecter of sensibilities and traditions.  It is forcing every one of us to rethink multiple aspects of our lives.  And in many respects, perhaps that is no bad thing.

 

 

 

 

The Randomness of Bees

I was 17, and happened to be sitting next to that girl – Gail or something – who was generally considered by the rest of the class to be a bit weird.

Honey Bees, Beehive, Honey, Bees“I mean just look at bees,” she said to me.
This was a conversation opener, apropos to nothing.  We weren’t even doing a biology lesson.
“What about them?” I said warily.
“Well just THINK about it!” she exclaimed. “I mean how can anyone – ANYONE – argue that life is random, that everything just happened to evolve the way it did by a series of chances. So stupid!  Think about bees, Janet. (I hate it when people use my full name, but Gail wasn’t the sort to shorten it, the way everyone else did.) Think about the way they live… the patterns… it’s all just SO perfect.”

She drifted off into a blissful reverie, religious ecstasy temporarily quenching her evangelical zeal. Gail was a fundamentalist Christian.
I grunted and began focusing hard on my work.

The fact that I can recall that rather odd snippet of conversation fifty years later, though, goes to show the effect her comments made on me.  I’ve never forgotten that incident and as I continued through my life, my mind often travelled back to Gail and her bees.  Were we, and all that we share our planet with, really the result of some fluke of natural selection?  It merited consideration, certainly.

People, Doctors, Medic, ScientistIf you’ve just done the maths, you’ll have deduced that I was educated in the shiny black and white op-art sixties.  Science was at its zenith.  It was the new religion.  Scientists knew everything.  They could send rockets to the moon.  They could explain anything that needed an explanation.  Other points of view were rudely brushed aside as superstition or ignorance.  To disagree with the concept of life emerging from a rather fortuitous combination of chemicals, temperature, light and moisture in primeval swamps was almost heresy.  It meant you had to be a Creationist – someone who, like Gail, believed the beginning of the Bible contained a factual account of the beginning of the World.

Decades rolled by and I kept thinking.  I became increasingly disillusioned with the pomposity of the scientists who were more than happy to sweep inconvenient truths under their lab benches and persuade museums to hide away artefacts that didn’t fit their version of events.  On the other hand, I remained unconvinced by Gail’s merciful-but-actually-pretty-vengeful God and his six day fix on the bottomless void.

Fortunately for me, life is more nuanced these days.  The growth of digital information, multi-culturalism and alternative ways of thinking and being, mean that despite the continued persistence of some purists and fundamentalists on all sides, terms like Consciousness and Awareness and Intention have gained sway.

It’s no longer either/or.  Even scientists are discovering that we influence our lives, our bodies, our wellness and our experience through our thoughts and expectations.  For me, God has drifted away from being a strict headmaster with a hippy son to become a benign Intelligence, of which all Life is some kind of infinitessimal part.

Understanding the implications of quantum science removes the barrier between living and non-living.  We know, now, how much energy, how much LIFE there is in even the most apparently inert object.  Everything is, well, ert.

So OK Gail, I’ll give you that one.  There is no randomness in bees.  They are a pretty wonderful example of that Divine Intelligence playing out.

Solar Eclipse 2017, Totality, 2017And now, I’ve got one for you:  eclipses.  Is it random chance that when we stand on this one little planet, amongst a mass of celestial bodies, our Moon (which is, in astronomical terms, tiny but very close) can exactly block out our view of our Sun, which is far bigger but far further away?

If Life didn’t randomly evolve on this planet, then do the positions of the heavenly bodies need to be viewed as random, or is there a Divine Intelligence at work there too?

Can we listen again to the music of the spheres?  Can we begin to understand why the ancients built megalithic structures with such care and precision, aligning them to star patterns, compass directions and equinoxes?

We are all hard-wired to love pattern, to reach into it and to understand and reproduce it, whether we are humans or bees.

And there’s this….

 

Taxonomical with the Truth

Taxonomy is something I’ve been thinking about recently, because it very much underlies our current world view.  Everything is classified and sub-classified so that it can be put into a tidy little box, marked neatly with a (preferably Latin) name and declared separate from everything else.  We do it with flora and fauna, obviously, but that mania for neat, clear, unambiguous boundaries and definitions has become a mainstay of life in general.  It’s how we understand and make sense of things – their features, their purposes, their very existence.Oxford Museum Of Natural History, Oxford

At times, the classifications have to be tweaked.  Poor old Pluto is downgraded from Planet to Big Rock; some garden plant suddenly gets a new name and all the garden centres have to readjust their labelling.  And don’t even get me started on the labels they use and change around in medical and psychological diagnoses…  Basically, though, humanity clings to the concept that everything that is, can be labelled, and that this is a Good Thing.

Was it always so?  We know our Greek and Roman forebears were keen on this organised labelling idea, but if we go way back to the people who made those strange and wonderful structures that seem to evade neat classification and confound the theorists, I suspect a very different world view was in place.

Teotihuacan, Mexico City, PyramidWe are told by the experts that these creations were burial chambers or astronomical observatories or temples or meeting places or whatever the latest fragments of archaeology suggest.  They dig in the dark and assume that a few pieces of charred sheep bone or potsherds will allow them to make a classification.  The truth is, though, we don’t get it.  We, as 21st century humans, simply can’t see why so many people would work together and go to such enormous lengths to create massive, perfectly aligned and painstakingly constructed edifices such as the Giza pyramid complex, Gobekli Tepe, the Stonehenge landscape or Teotihuacan for ANY of those purposes.  The nearest (relatively) modern equivalents we can find are the great Gothic cathedrals of mediaeval Europe or intricate mausoleums, so, for want of better data, we decide that’s what they must have been ‘for’.

Deep inside, though, we know there has to be more to it than that.

What if our distant ancestors lived in a world where classification was considered counterproductive or, at the very least, irrelevant?

Think of all those folk tales and ancient religious texts where a name was considered to be a dangerous thing – so powerful that it was only to be used by initiates, and then only in the direst of circumstances.  That suggests that categorisation per se was not the way their minds worked.  Did these people see the world, and indeed the cosmos, as something so integrated, that to divide it into its constituent parts would be to destroy, weaken or pollute it?  Was it, indeed, a form of heresy?

What if, instead of saying, “Hey, guys, let’s build a gigantic temple to the gods here,”  or “Oh, this would be a great place to build an observatory,” those wise and distant people would perhaps work together to build something that was not this or that or the other, but something that was this AND that AND the other AND all that they could possibly create as a microcosm of the universe itself?

The current mainstream science-based world view is that everything is a fortuitous accident – evolution and climate, gravity and the tilt of an axis here or there somehow randomly resulted in all this.  As such, it’s very fragile, very likely to dissolve back into chaos and we need to impose order on it, if we are going to make any sense of it at all.

Earth, Globe, Space, Universe, WorldIf we can imagine a society where such a view does not hold sway – a society where the skies above us, the planet we inhabit, the plants, creatures and all of us exist as a conscious, intelligent, unified whole, with each aspect relying on the rest for its existence, there would be no need to separate and divide it.  On the contrary, all that could be done to celebrate its perfect symmetries and unity would be a job worth doing well.  I suspect that such a society would have a language based in something that expands naturally, like mathematics or perhaps musical notation, rather than words that label, define and confine.  Perhaps such a language, were it ever rediscovered, would help us towards an understanding of our mysterious ancestors, and our cosmos.

 

“How does the universe work?” The WhatsApp version

Texting, Boy, Teenager, Sitting, OutdoorI can’t do the double thumbs typing on my phone.  I’ve tried, but no.  It’s a single index finger, along with copious bouts of fury at the idiosyncrasies of predictive text.  So it’s slow.

I do enjoy a challenge, though, and when the titular question was posed to me on WhatsApp last weekend, I couldn’t resist the challenge.  Here, for anyone interested, is how the conversation went:

So I believe there is consciousness, OK?  Loads of it, which permeates every portion of the universe.That consciousness could also be called spirit, energy, God, All That Is and many other things.  Can you accept that?

Yes

Good.  so this consciousness vibrates at an incredibly high frequency.  Notice that the word ‘high’ there is not a synonym for good, holy, spiritual or any other value-laden stuff.  It’s just a level of vibration.  Got that?

Yes

Fine.  Well as I understand it, at that highest level of vibration, the consciousness is a single thing – God or Oneness or All That Is.  However it has the ability to step its vibration down.  Just like an electrical current or the spectrum of light, as its vibration changes, it has different properties.  Can you accept all that so far?

Yes

Phew, this is hard.  OK, so imagine the vibration lowering just a bit.  What happens then is that the Oneness separates out into individual parts.  They are holographic, so still contain the highest level of vibration within themselves.  It’s like saying that your brain is an individual thing but it’s still a part of you.  Are you comfortable with the idea that at a slightly lower vibration, consciousness is differentiated into what we can call spirits or maybe souls?

I’m understanding what you’re saying.

Well the consciousness can continue to adjust and step down its vibration to lower and lower levels.  Like musical notes, lower is not worse than higher, just different.  Humans mostly don’t get that and associate higher with better.  At each vibrational drop, consciousness becomes – how can I explain this?  It becomes less identified with the Oneness and more identified with individuation.  Does that make sense?

Yes

OK, so imagine we’ve worked through many of those lowerings and reached a point where the vibration is so far removed from the top, that the vibrational energy can form matter around itself.  I mean encase itself in matter – a physical body – and create physical stuff like land and buildings and so forth around it.  It is consciousness that creates all matter.  The matter has no independent existence.  Again, most humans can’t get that.  Can you?

Yes

Great.  So I’m now talking about consciousness at a human level.  However there are different vibrational levels within humanity.  It’s a matter of choice.  Some of us opted to live very gritty, physical lives, cutting off almost all awareness of the higher vibrations.  When they die, even those beings will return to high vibration, but for now, they’ve chosen to avoid it.  Other humans retain some awareness of higher vibration, while fully engaged with physicality.  Then there are the ones who have chosen not to get too caught up in being physical.  Parts of it totally disgust them.  Aspects of it overwhelm them and make them feel sick or anxious or uncomfortable.  They struggle to get along in the physical world and feel more comfortable with thought and with non-physical aspects of existence.

I can see what you’re saying

So these higher vibrational humans are trying to do something very special and difficult.  They are trying to bring high vibrational systems into physicality.  This is the big new evolutionary step, not just for humans, but for All That Is.  If we can successfully combine the two, we will quite literally have the best of all possible worlds.  THAT is what mystics and spirit guides and so forth are guiding us towards.  That is why psychic and metaphysical skills are so precious and wonderful.  Now do you get it?

Yes.

Good.  I’m shattered.  How did I do?

You conveyed your beliefs.  I’m not saying I disagreed with them.  I’m not saying I completely agree with it.  I haven’t tried to form an explanation to the workings of the universe

Maybe you should start…

 

Dying to Understand

Fall, Autumn, Leaf, Brown, Green, Yellow“I hear Daisy has gone now,” I remarked to a friend.
Daisy was elderly and ill. She’d taken to her bed and had been refusing food for some time, so it wasn’t a surprise.
“Yes,” Ali replied, “and boy is she in for a shock!”
I looked up in surprise for a moment, then realised what she meant.
“You mean she didn’t believe there would be anything after life?”
“Exactly,” Ali smiled. “She was adamant that ‘she’ would die along with her body. End of. What must she be thinking now?”

Bison, Cave Of Altamira, Prehistoric ArtIt’s the third time recently that such an idea has been placed in my mind.  The first was when I read a highly praised and undeniably well-researched and well-argued book called The Mind in the Cave.  Its author, David Lewis-Williams, speaks eloquently and convincingly about the world view of our ancient ancestors – those who decorated caves and rocks with incredible images of animals, geometric shapes, figures who appear to be somewhere between animals and humans etc.  It’s a great book, but for me, there is one huge issue I’ll be bold enough to disagree on.  It’s what Professor Lewis-Williams terms ‘the brain/mind problem’.  Here’s the way he resolves it (and, I’d suggest, the reason a book that deals mainly with ‘altered states’ has been so well received in scientific circles):

Two things we do know are, one, that the brain/mind evolved, and two, that consciousness (as distinct from brain) is a notion, or sensation, created by electro-chemical activity in the ‘wiring’ of the brain.

Ngc 3603, Nebula, Space, StarsThe second was a recent BBC documentary following three ageing British astronomers on a journey to recapture some of the finest moments of their younger days, when they had held eminent positions in observatories in the US, in the post Sputnik race-for-space of the mid-twentieth century.  They were lovely guys and all had enjoyed happy and successful lives.  Now, though, one was terminally ill and the others were in, shall we say, the late autumn of their lives.  Unsurprisingly, as they trekked through the mountains, the discussion turned to death.  One, despite his scientific training, clung to the Christian faith.  He admitted he didn’t see much logic in it, but still felt comforted by the God he’d been brought up to believe in and the idea that there would be an afterlife.  He mused, rather sadly though, that there probably wasn’t any need for astronomers in Heaven.  His colleagues seemed to adhere more to Daisy’s view, and that, presumably, of Professor Lewis-Williams.  When their bodies and brains died, so would their consciousness.  That – obviously, in their minds – meant no further existence.  As an 11-year-old I once taught commented, “I don’t think there’s anything after we die; it’s a bit sad really.”

Angel, Cherub, Stone, Angel WingsIt is a bit sad.  Has humanity, throughout its entire existence, had to make an unpleasant choice between, a. trying hard to hold faith in a religion that often seems illogical and unlikely, or b. accepting that our brains are so great, they can almost have us believing, sometimes, that there is something beyond this existence, although they know that not to be true?

What a terribly bleak choice.  When faced with it – many years ago – I didn’t like either of the options.  That’s why I’ve been on this fascinating journey, the one I’ve attempted imperfectly to document in this blog.  I believe now that I have proof that our consciousness exists above and beyond our physical bodies, however complex and impressive the ‘wiring’ of the brain may be.  I believe that there is no need to die in order to understand what is often called ‘God’ and that an ‘afterlife’ is not a possibility, but a given.  More than that, I believe we are here, right now, to explore this very issue, so that we no longer need to be sad or scared, hopeful or doubtful about death.

As Koimul so eloquently puts it: THIS IS THE GREAT EXPERIMENT.  IT IS TO LIVE IN YOUR EARTHLY BODY YET SEE INTO THE ETERNAL.

 

 

Thoughts on and beyond Time

The Passage of Time

The Passage of Time (Photo credit: ToniVC)

Does anyone else have the feeling that they’re inadvertently following some kind of elaborate treasure trail through life?

It’s as if Someone or Something is littering your lifetime with clues and markers that will lead you in a particular direction and towards significant discoveries.

I’ve had that feeling for most of my life.  I know all experience is important and all that but, you know, some things have an extra special feel, and some inner mechanism lights up a little flashing LED that signifies, ‘Notice this.  You’re going to need it later on.’

I’m going to follow the path – as best I can – of one of my own ‘treasure trails’.  You are very welcome to join me on my journey.

Drawing of T. S. Eliot by Simon Fieldhouse. De...

Clue 1:  I was 17 years old, and had just discovered TS Eliot’s poetry.  The Eng. Lit. A-level syllabus involved forensic study of texts, to extricate all possible layers of meaning.  Quite a task with Eliot, but a wholly fascinating and satisfying  one.

I can vividly recall the shock waves that ran through my body on first reading the opening lines of Burnt Norton:

“Time present and time past

Are both perhaps present in time future,

And time future contained in time past.”

Heraclitus

Heraclitus (Photo credit: cote)

The next line spoke of time being “eternally present”.  He was quoting (according to our English teacher) the ideas of Heraclitus, founder of Metaphysics and believer in eternal flux.

I was stunned, amazed, numbed by the significance of those words.  For me the world had changed.  I wasn’t sure how or why, but I knew I’d just been handed a valuable pointer, and I’d find out more one day.

Clue 2:  Fast forward about 30 years.  (I’m sure there were other clues between – some I’ve forgotten and many I missed – but the wonder of this system is that no matter how many hints and tips we miss, there will always be others dangled in our path, until we finally notice.)  Even with my sluggish and myopic way of moving through life, I realised that I was being pushed towards reading a particular book.  References to it were cropping up everywhere.

To be honest, the title was putting me off a bit.  It was called Conversations With God by Neale Donald Walsch.  I was expecting something earnest, slushy and religious.  Fortunately, the book was none of these.  It was a channelled work, quoting a ‘God’ who differed markedly from the one Sunday school teachers had tried to fob me off with.  This God was authentic, witty, fun, always wise and often outrageous.  Many parts stood out, but the words relevant to my present trail came near the start of  Book Two:

“There is no time.  All things exist simultaneously.  All events occur at once.”

There it was again!  First a poet and an ancient philosopher, now God – all telling me something that seemed impossible and yet perfectly right at the same time.

Now the indications started to come thick and fast – mainly because by this point I was actively on the lookout for them.

Space-time continuum

Space-time continuum (Photo credit: pellesten)

Clue 3:  A lifetime’s disinterest in science became a fascination when I discovered the space-time continuum, relativity and fractals.  True, I needed all this to be delivered in the most basic form for it to be intelligible to me, but gradually it opened my mind to time being, at the very least, something wobbly and variable rather than an absolute.

When things start to go blurry at the edges, I begin to get interested; that’s the place I want to explore.

Science also had some helpful quotes.  Einstein said:

“People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”

and he had a still more pithy explanation for that illusion:

“The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.”

Clue 4:  More channelled material.  It didn’t seem to matter where it came from – the messages were the same.  Jane Roberts, channelling Seth, was stating that yes, we all have many lifetimes, and spaces in between, but that these events were/are/will be all happening at once.

So for ‘past lives’ should we read ‘alternate present lives’?  Oh good grief!

Clue 5:  I met the boy.  I had an unusual but very close friendship with a youngster who had been in a class I used to teach.  Not only did he share my fascination with the bendiness of time and the existence of alternate lives – he personally experienced them.  He had the most brilliant mind and for several years was kind enough to share his thoughts and experiences with me.

Train tickets

Train tickets (Photo credit: Alice Bartlett)

He told me of experiencing involuntary – and highly confusing – ‘slips’ between one reality and another.  (Readers of my book will perhaps recall the train ticket story as an example of this.)

He told me of the 4th dimension where “time becomes fractal and there is no distinction between past, present and future”.  He explained that once someone could interact with this dimension,

“…they could eliminate the normal journey time involved for travel between two points.  As if time is the same at somebody’s destination as their origin, the move between the two points is instantaneous.”

My book coverFinally, I had enough information to put my book – Life: A Player’s Guide – together, including plenty of material on time, and the curious way in which it only exists in our imagined reality.  Like taste, sight and smell, it seemed to be no more than a helpful feedback system for exploring corporeal life, and one that would cease to have any meaning or importance once we shed this mortal coil and moved beyond.  Possibly it was even something we could warp and bend a bit while still here…

I wasn’t finished yet.  The treasure trail clues kept coming.

Clue 6:  As I mentioned in another post, I was recently handed a copy of ‘One’ by Richard Bach.  This, too, explores the idea of parallel lives which could, if we knew the way, be accessed from ‘now’.

Clue 7:  Attending one of those ‘evenings of clairvoyance’ that come up every now and then (so to speak) , I watched as the medium connected to various people’s grannies and parents, giving detailed accounts of their lives that were obviously deeply meaningful to the recipients.

One member of the audience asked why these ladies and gents were still hovering around ‘beyond the veil’, waiting to give accounts of their – it has to be said – rather trivial ailments and idiosyncrasies.  “Why haven’t any of them reincarnated?” she asked.

The medium didn’t answer.  She side-stepped.  She began talking of her own past lives.  The questioner had a good point, though.  The thought of spending eternity queuing up patiently on the other side of the veil at seances to get the chance to tell your great-niece how happy you are and that the tummy spasms no longer affect you doesn’t appeal much, does it?

It only makes sense if we can accept that we can exist in all places and times, all the time… and that tends to send us a little crazy.

I still have plenty of unanswered questions.  Where does all this leave karma, for example?  Can there have been a beginning – Big Bang or whatever – if there’s no time?

I wonder how many more clues the mysterious treasure trail organiser will drop in my path before I figure it out …

If you’re one of the people who is holding any of those clues for me, do let me know, won’t you?  🙂

Rules of Engagement – in Education and Beyond

Some mystery person has been looking through many of my old posts this last week.  It’s encouraged me to revisit some of my older jottings.  

Rather short of time this week, so I’ve decided the article below is probably worth a second look.  Sadly, I no longer work at GLOW, but this should serve as a fitting tribute to the amazing young people I knew there.

 

Back when I was a schoolteacher in Essex, I’d greet my new cluster of 10-year-olds on the first day of the school year with their first task – to write our class rules.

Rules for Students Fall 2009-2

It was a depressing and arduous process.  I’d start by writing up my own contribution: Have Fun.  The children would look sideways at each other with that, ‘yeah, right!’ expression and proceed to make their own suggestions, gleaned from six years of experience within the education system.

No swearin’.    No spittin’.    Don’t hit no one.    Don’t rock on yer chairs…….

Patiently and gently I’d encourage them to transform their list of negatives to positives – aspirations rather than prohibitions.  They’d look bemused, try hard to please me, but be far more comfortable with their familiar set of regulations – they were much easier to break.

I should add that all the teachers who had encountered these groups of children before me had made similar attempts to foster positivity.   Perhaps we made limited progress eventually.

 

At GLOW, there is a shifting population, so the rules are ready and waiting.  New arrivals either agree to our code of conduct or decide this place isn’t right for them and leave.  We have only four rules, but they are binding and non-negotiable.

The first I brought with me: Have fun.

The other three were lifted from Conversations With God:   Be Honest.    Be Responsible.    Be Aware.

They work.  Conflicts are rare within the group, despite widely differing backgrounds and ages (currently 7-14).

When one child approached me this week to tell me he was becoming frustrated that a smaller child was repeatedly breathing right in his face, I took the younger one aside and reminded him of the rule of Awareness.

“Being aware means watching how your behaviour is affecting others in the room.  If the other person is clearly enjoying this game – laughing and joining in – by all means carry on.  If he’s looking annoyed, unhappy or asking you to stop, then you must decide whether it’s a good game for both of you.”

He looked surprised, thought for a moment, then nodded and stopped.

We’ve talked a lot about bullying.  Many home-educated children have experienced this in the past at school or within their neighbourhoods.  We’ve reached an agreement that’s it’s an unfortunate affliction affecting those who feel powerless or fearful, and therefore choose to boost their own self-esteem by attempting to lower that of another person.  Once the children are able to recognise the neediness of the bully, they can move beyond fear and towards some level of understanding (while taking steps to keep themselves safe, obviously).  However they are in agreement that bullying in any form is not ok.

Activities are provided but participation is optional.  If someone prefers to sit out, that’s fine, as long as they remain responsible and aware and don’t stop others from having fun.

Sometimes there is an element of striving to excel at a task – making paper aeroplanes, for example.  Each child works to improve upon his or her prototype.  We then come together and decide on the best features of each.  ‘Put-downs’ and bragging are absent.  The children have reached a consensus that ‘I win’ necessitates ‘You lose’, and that doesn’t feel too good.

When an activity is finished, everyone takes joint responsibility for helping to clear up and tidy the room.

All sounds quite utopian, doesn’t it?  It certainly feels that way.

 

Last night, though, I found myself wondering whether GLOW’s rules are preparing these children for life in the outside world.  Let’s take, um, politics, for example…

I’m a resolutely apolitical person.  I have no particular allegiance to any party or dogma.  I think life is far more complex than that.

I do however feel deeply saddened by the adversarial system of politics that currently holds sway in my country (the UK) and many others.

Let us, if we can, suspend judgement for a while and accept that those who have chosen to become politicians have done so with at least some intention to provide fairness, protection for the weakest, controls over the most powerful and a ‘decent’ society for all, in whatever way they feel that should be done.  Is it not a shame, then, that their only recourse, once they have entered the political arena, is to score points off others and shout them down?

The House of Commons at Westminster: This engr...

If a spokesperson for the blue party suggests solving a problem by doing A, B or C, the corresponding member of the red party is duty bound to berate this idea, to roundly insult the ‘honourable member’ in as snide and unpleasant a way as possible and to give a range of reasons why A, B or C is completely ridiculous.  This happens regardless of the merits or demerits of the original idea and often in spite of that individual’s personal feelings about it.

Should a member of one party publicly agree with something suggested by their opponents, a bevy of spin doctors will hastily point out that their representative didn’t actually mean to appear to sanction what must, of course, be a bad idea, given its origins.

Have you ever thought how much time and money this unpleasant and pointless haggling and bickering wastes?

I understand that groups called All Party Select Committees manage to sit round a table, put political allegiances aside and debate the actual pros and cons of particular matters.  How pleasant it would be (and – still better – how unappealing to our media moguls) if all politics could be conducted in such a way that consensus, not the outmoded whip system, became the norm.  Individual politicians from different walks of life and with varying points of view could look dispassionately at a range of options, debate them quietly and respectfully and vote for the ones they felt would best serve the country.

The braying, squawking and old-school playground behaviour could cease and we’d have a political system fit for purpose in the twenty-first century and worthy of the young people who are discovering a better way of being.

The GLOW kids could even suggest a suitable set of rules for such a political system…

Autistic by any other name?

I know I’m not alone in being neurotypical but utterly fascinated by the autistic mind. (How many other people loved Spock the best on Star Trek?) I want to explain why this way of being seems to me so interesting and exciting.

Let me begin by saying I have a big problem with many of the names/labels applied to people whose minds work this way.

I’m not wild about the word Autism. The first bit’s fine – it’s from the Greek ‘autos’ meaning ‘self’, and I’m quite happy to think of my autistic friends and contacts as being very unique individuals. It’s the ‘ism’ tag I don’t like. -Isms imply a lack or limitation, whether they are medical or social in origin: thus dwarfism and autism can be lumped with sexism or racism. They’re ugly words implying an inability to reach a desired potential. I’m with the wonderful and inspiring Satish Kumar here, when he says, “Let all ‘isms’ be ‘wassums’!”

I also object strongly to ANY label that includes ‘disorder’ or ‘dysfunction’. They both imply ‘dissing’ or disrespecting. They’re often seen with the words ‘suffers from…’
Now I’ve come across many people in my life who felt they were suffering in some way. Many of them had a condition which felt very limiting to them. I recall overhearing a group of six-year-olds planning a ‘let’s pretend’ game together. “Let’s pretend,” said the one with Cerebral Palsy, “that I can walk properly and…”
She was suffering.

Yet I’ve never heard anyone on the autistic spectrum complain or object to the way they are. On the contrary. Those who use words to express their feelings will tell you they wouldn’t swap lives with a neurotypical person for anything, and their reasons are always the same. They know they have abilities and skills the rest of us lack. Yeah, yeah – and vice versa, of course. The fact remains – they are differently ordered, not disordered.

So, given that I’m so picky about labels, which will I be happy with?
My favourite to date comes courtesy of a very special man called David Rowan: Autistic Spectrum Perception. That works for me on all levels and it gets to the heart of it. There’s a tremendously broad spectrum of individual ways of being which co-exist under the autistic umbrella. That diversity is to be appreciated and celebrated. And just look how different it sounds when Disorder is replaced by Perception. It removes the idea of ‘They’re not normal-like-us, so there’s something wrong with them’ and replaces it with a recognition that an autistic individual has levels of perception that differ markedly from that of the neurotypical population.

Now we have the label sorted, I’d like to explore that perception.

What follows are my own observations, based on ASP people I know and books, articles and other information that has come to me once I identified within myself a desire to understand. I’m not a neuroscientist; not a scientist, even. I’d welcome comments and corrections from others – particularly members of the ASP population.

A very dear ASPie friend once wrote me the following email. He was explaining his conviction that the increasing number of individuals diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum could provide our world with an advantage, should climate change or some other cataclysmic condition change our way of life dramatically.

What I suspect is the different ways of thinking, viewing information and processing that information – whether consciously or not – provides a better understanding (or different one which could be more relevant in a different or changing world) of what’s going on around them and also potentially have the ability to provide more accurate predictions of the future which could easily prove to be a valuable survival skill and very beneficial to non ASD people around them.
I think there could be very beneficial relationships between the 2 groups of people, though I’m not convinced that non ASD people would be able to develop the ability to think in the same way; particularly when not everything is necessarily done consciously.

It reminds me of Temple Grandin’s famous quote:

Who do you think made the first stone spears? The Asperger guy. If you were to get rid of all the autism genetics, there would be no more Silicon Valley.

Neither of them sound like they’re ‘suffering’ with anything, do they? Far less ‘disordered’…

So why and how are the ASP population different? I unexpectedly picked up some pointers when I watched the following Ted Talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/jill_bolte_taylor_s_powerful_stroke_of_insight.html?source=facebook#.UOlP0c_KPz0.facebook

An amazing story in its own right, but Jill Bolte Taylor also eloquently explains the differences between the two hemispheres of the brain. She mentions that in the neurotypical brain, the corpus callosum has 300,000,000 connections that link the two. What is the effect of that?

It means that in every new life experience, my right hemisphere is thinking in pictures, in the ‘now’ and absorbing vast amounts of sensory information as energy. This is connecting me to every other source of energy in the cosmos. It’s huge, transcendent and – if I could only focus clearly on what it is showing me – it can provide unending streams of information and allow me to connect telepathically with everyone and everything else.

At the same time, though, my left brain is analysing the new data in a very different way. It is methodically sifting through its vast bank of memory files in order to categorise my experience – identifying how it relates to past events and computing logical steps to follow in order to minimise discomfort or produce a favourable result in the future. This part of my brain thinks in language. I could live very successfully by listening to the chatter of my left hemisphere, except that I tend to get distracted by all that sensory and emotional stuff coming from the right.

Thus my NT (neurotypical) brain is playing some ultra-fast game of ping pong with every new piece of information that comes to it. That allows me to understand idiom, sarcasm and all those complex interplays and nuances of meaning that can only be interpreted if we are able to use both hemispheres together at an optimum level.
The downside is that I find it difficult to quiet my brain chatter and meditate, for example, or to apply clear logic to a complex problem without noticing my desire for a coffee or a walk in the park. I sacrifice depth of perception for mental agility.

In the ASP population, the linking mechanism between the two sides of the brain, the corpus callosum, is differently formed. It’s not as thick. It’s often not symmetrical. It sometimes follows winding paths, deep into one hemisphere or the other.

Depending on each ASP person’s unique brain profile, the way they experience a new situation will vary. What they can all do, though, is to partially or even totally block off the stimuli from one side or the other. As my friend pointed out, this isn’t always intentional or conscious. However it allows them to delve deep, deep into the information provided by just one of the hemispheres.

Spock was super-logical, with a brilliant left-brained mind. Yet he also possessed tremendous telepathic powers and could link at will to the mind of another. Remember that Tesla, Newton and Einstein are commonly now regarded as having been autistic and you can see where the advantages lie.

Fascinating.

I strongly suspect that as we begin to work together, with both populations using their specific skills as equal and opposite partners, we will find massive mutual advantages. The first step is for the neurotypicals to drop their chauvinistic idea that anyone different to them is ‘disordered’. The second is to find alternative ways to link with those ASP people who don’t tend to think or communicate in language. (Suzy Miller in the US, among others, is doing pioneering work on this.)

What comes next is anyone’s guess, but I’m betting it could be extremely exciting.

What’s wrong with the education system?

Once I was talking to a group of 10 and 11-year-old children.  I asked them a simple question which reduced them to silence for some minutes.  The question was this: “Do you want to grow up to be like your parents?”

Eventually one little girl spoke out.  “No.  I mean – my mum and dad are great and that, but if we grew up just like them, the world wouldn’t move on, would it?  We’ve got to take it further.”

Once she’d spoken, the rest of the group looked relieved.  They agreed.  That was the truth they’d been searching for.

Ironic, isn’t it – we educate our kids to learn all the stuff the adults know – to try to turn out a bunch of people who will grow up just like us.  What if we listened to them sometimes?  They’re young, they’re not used to being heard and most of them don’t yet have the skills to put their message across as eloquently as that child did.  By all means teach them how to communicate effectively and how to listen thoughtfully, but then listen to what they have to teach us.  You might be very surprised…