Monday, February 23, 2015

Sam Lloyd's Blog has moved!

Hi all

From now on my blog can be found at:

https://samlloyd1976.wordpress.com

Thank you!

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Ineffable

I've always loved the word Ineffable. And I just can't seem to put into words exactly why.

What does it mean? Look it up in a few dictionaries and the basic gist is:

Something so awesome no words can describe it. And you can't even find words to begin describing the awesomeness.

Ever since I learned the word I would often think about it. Surely there are words you can use for everything? How could there be things we know and experience that you can't put into words? Words are what we think with after all?

But then I started to think about this, and really, we learn words when we're very young, but we were thinking before this. We just didn't have words to translate our own thoughts to us. You can teach a parrot words, and some of them can even attach meaning to them, like that African Grey parrot that is capable of telling the difference between a circle and a triangle, and when you show it two triangles of the same size and ask which one is bigger, the yellow one or the red one, it responds with "same".

In essence we humans use words to label our thoughts. This is what allows us to convey our thoughts to other humans, much as I am doing right now. But every now and then we get stuck for words. Maybe we are tired and can't come up with the right words. Or maybe our memory misfires and we get frustrated by this word that is "right on the tip of our tongue" but that we just can't get out.

But in reality there are a lot of thoughts and experiences that have no words. I personally believe there is a part of every language-speaking human being that still thinks without words.

(I must be crazy, choosing to write a bunch of words about things that have no words).

There are words in other languages that belong to thoughts, feelings or experiences we don't have English words for, and single words that we have entire sentences for and vice versa, but I'm not really talking about that.

We can form entire concepts and narratives in our mind at lightning-quick speeds that are too slow for words, but I'm not really talking about that either, because if you thought about it you could eventually put it into words.

I'm talking about the part of you that is on a level that there are no words for in any language.

And as you may have suspected, I'm having trouble finding the words to describe it.

Maybe I should share with you how I visualize the human mind, whatever the word "mind" means to you, which is a discussion I am not going to go near. Today, anyway.

I picture layers of words in concentric circles. There are the words at talking pace, which is the outermost layer. These scroll along like an internet news feed and are the words we generally say out loud. They tend to be censored, filtered, adjusted to suit the audience, shoehorned into politically correct statements.

Next is the inner monologue, the one that moves at lightning speed. This is where your spoken words start from, then move into the outer layer. These are concepts, impressions, feelings and ideas that we have words for, complete with all the swearing, racism, sexism and dirty jokes. Don't worry, the outer layer will filter all that stuff out.

Last is the bit right in the middle. This is where it all starts. There are no words here. This is raw data. This is where all the information that the brain receives, from within and without, is spurted into your conscious awareness. It is from this place that you then start allocating words to the data. Words and phrases such as "ouch, my tummy hurts" or "wow, those jeans make you look fat!" and "gee, it's hot today".

Of course, conducted by organic machinery as this process is, it's not perfect. Every now and then something will come all the way out into the open air leaving us saying "Um, did I just say that out loud?". Likewise, some thought, concept or impression will find it's way to the outer layer that does not, and cannot, have words allocated to it, because there are no words suitable. This is why expanding your vocabulary is a fantastic idea; it increases the likelihood you will have appropriate words to allocate and your mind machinery won't come grinding to a halt.

But even then, this is not really what I'm talking about.

Assuming you have a functioning brain, you have a sense of "self". There is actually a part of your brain that is dedicated to giving you the sense that you are a distinct entity in this world, and if this part of your brain is damaged or switched off for whatever reason, you will experience the dissolving of the ego and oneness with everything that has been described by people before in numerous scenarios.

Over time and as we grow and mature, this sense of self becomes very detailed. We store what we think of ourselves, what we think others think of us, the person we want to be, the person we think we are, the way we think we act, the way we think other people perceive how we act, all in this tiny little box we call our "self". It becomes more than just that specific region of our brain; it becomes our own image of ourselves.

If you're a reasonably self-aware person, you can probably look at this system image from time to time and assess how you're measuring up to it (a habit that can be unhealthy unless it's done the right way). You can even sum up it's attributes and allocate words to them. This is my personality section. This is my "what I enjoy doing" section. This is my music section. This is my favourite film genre section. This is my "who I am when I'm with my friends" section. This is my "what I think about when I'm by myself" section.

But if you keep looking long enough you will find a section you can't really describe. What is it? There aren't really any words to describe what this section of me is, but it is still a distinct section. And I use it, but I can't really describe what for. What does it do? Well, I know it's there for a reason, but I can't really describe when, where and how it does what it does.

The reason I bring it up is because, far from being an unnecessary mental appendage, I believe it is an essential part of who we are, and I believe it is important for us to keep trying to put words to it. The reason being, I believe this is the part of us that inspiration comes from, and the process of continually trying to put words to the wordless is where we get all our new ideas from.

Some are better at this than others - I quite often look at different people and think "how the heck did they come up with that? And why didn't I think of that?" So I do my best to grab a hold of the ineffable part of me and keep trying to allocate words to what comes out.

Some of you have no idea what I'm talking about, and others know exactly what I'm talking about. Get to know your ineffable self - there aren't quite words to describe how awesome that part of you is. (Groan).

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

In memory of my best mate Phil Heading

It would have been Phil's 42nd birthday today.

No words can sum up how shit it still is without him. And I still love him just as much now as I ever did.

But in honour of his birthday, here is the speech I read out at his funeral.

RIP Phil, you silly bastard. 2 Samuel 1:26.

"I first met Phil in 1996. I was a drug-addled teenager running back into the arms of the church, and Phil was basically the same but a few years further down the road to recovery than me. I still remember the first conversation I ever had with Phil:

Phil: “Gday mate, I’m Phil.” Me: “Hey mate, I’m Sam.” Phil: “So which church did you go to before you came here?” Me: “the pub.” Phil laughed. And so a mateship was born.

There was many a funny moment in our history. When passionate young Christian men go and hang out together, drink slightly too much beer and start satirising the world, you just know there will be guffaws aplenty.

Phil was always impulsive, sometimes with hilarious results. I remember telling him I’d never done a burnout in a car. So he immediately went off and snuck a little oil tin out of the shed and applied it liberally to the back wheels of the little red Datto, and we then filled the streets of Seacombe Gardens with rubber smoke. Probably should have driven a few streets away from his house first, but at least I got to do a burnout.

Then there was the time he wanted to attend a leadership training conference, but couldn’t because he had work commitments. So – he quit his job and went to the conference. Quite an elegant solution really.

Then there was the time that I mentioned in passing that it would be cool to just have a party for no reason. Before I knew it, Phil had ordered two full lambs from a local butcher, hired a spit and was asking if I could buy the booze and should we throw it at my in-laws house. It was always fun surfing one of Phil’s waves. We rocked up at Peter and Susannes, with music blaring and this great big spit tied straight onto the roof of my old HQ stationwagon, and proceeded to throw one of the best parties I’ve ever been to.

I was also privileged to witness the very beginnings of his relationship with Catherine. I think I know when it all started really. They had been sort of coolly interested in each other for a while. But then one day we were going off paintballing at Deep Creek. I was driving my custard-coloured Volvo, Phil was in the front passenger seat and Catherine was sitting behind him. Phil decided he had an excess of mucous that needed to be disposed of. So, of course, as any red-blooded Aussie male would do, he sent it flying out of his open window. Not realising that Catherine had her window open as well, which led to her being rather unceremoniously covered in his expectorant. I’m pretty sure that was the moment she said “yep, he’s the one!”

Phil was the best man at my wedding, resulting in some of the funniest wedding photos I’ve ever seen. I don’t think Phil ever really grew out of that seven-year-old phase of pulling silly faces in every photo you’re in. The best part though was when my wife and I were trying to be all very pensive and romantic for some photos out the front of Adelaide Uni, on North Terrace where there is a statue of some guy sitting in a chair. We put on our best pre-selfie-age duckfaces, only to look and see that Phil had somehow, in his full three-piece groomesman garb, climbed the thing and was sitting in the guy’s lap. It had to be at least two and a half metres off the ground. Why oh why couldn’t the photographer have taken a photo of that? It would have been the best pic of the day. Of course afterwards came the trademark Phil apology: “I’m really REALLY sorry about that! I feel so bad!” We loved it so much we got the funniest one of them blown up to put on our wall.

Phil and I always just seemed to be on the same wavelength. We always just got each other. We would have these ridiculous conversations, going off on wild tangents, but we never seemed to lose each other’s thread. Same sense of humour, same passion for music, same laid-back attitude to life.

And that just seemed to continue throughout the rest of the time we were mates. We were both either in similar places in our lives, or one in a place the other would come to soon. Whatever was going on with us, one always seemed to understand where the other one was at.

Phil never judged anyone. Never ever judged anyone. He could strike up a friendship with just about anybody, and forgive pretty much any offense. His range of friends was so wildly diverse because he just accepted everyone for exactly who they were. He was who he was, and he made no apology for it, but even if others didn’t extend him the same courtesy, he wasn’t bothered. He just shrugged it off and waited until they got over themselves, then invited them around for a beer.

Phil was an absolute crackup. I simply can’t remember any time I spent with him when he didn’t make me laugh. And he didn’t even have to try, because it was simply his outlook on life that lent that dry wit to every word he said.

And he was smart. Damn smart. I think he was the smartest person I ever met. He was getting distinctions in his law degree, and only quit because he couldn’t stand the subculture – he came to our house wearing his “law” jumper one day and said he had to wear it at uni otherwise he wouldn’t fit in with the in-crowd. His understanding of politics was breathtaking, and he had a mastery over the written word I could only ever hope to attain. He could run intellectual rings around anybody, but of course, he never did, because that kind of thing just wasn’t in his nature. His mind was always ticking over on a level I couldn’t even comprehend, but his heart was still big enough to stoop down to my level to keep the conversation ticking over.

And that was such a typical Phil thing. Unless you spent the time to get to know him, you would never know what a cognitive colossus he was, because he was never one to show off, or belittle, or condescend. To the outsider, he was just the lovable larrikin, the affable bogan, the long-haired lout who always just worked a trade. But those who really knew him knew that hidden under that mullet and goatee and pair of $10 servo sunnies was a brain of epic proportions.

He was definitely the class clown, but he also had a serious side. For the time we were involved in the church he was very serious about his Christianity. He would spend hours studying and meditating, just to understand a little bit more of the God he believed in – yet he was more “Christlike” than anyone else I knew. He was serious about politics, and the exploitation of the worker under the current capitalist regime – and he would be the first to maintain that strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government. He was serious about music. There was never music not playing around Phil, and he had a near magical ability to just happen across random new bands to listen to. He was serious about his family and worked his butt off to provide for them. And he was serious about his friendships. For all his appearance of the mate who was good for a laugh and not much else, he would show no hesitation to wade into the mire of someone else’s dark times and share the load with them. I’m sure many people here today have personally experienced that.

And that was one of the aspects of Phil that astounded me the most. Now I haven’t had the perfect life and I’ve suffered my share of trials and traumas, but it paled in comparison to the wounds of the past Phil carried around with him. But do you think that would ever wipe that toothy grin off his face? No way. And it amazed me that in spite of all his own battles he could still show such amazing empathy to others. He genuinely felt for others, and he translated that empathy into action.

I remember the last time I saw Phil. I was at home recovering from an operation, and he drove all the way from down south to my house up north to visit me. He knocked on the door, I opened it and was greeted with that trademark cheeky grin. He had a backpack with him. I thought maybe he’d packed a lunch. But he sat down on the couch with me and watched the daggy old war movie I’d just started watching. He didn’t say a lot, neither did I, because he wasn’t there to flap his gums. He just came to spend time with me whilst I convalesced. He opened the backpack and pulled out a beer. Then another one. And another one. Aaaand another one. He didn’t ask to put them in my fridge, he just kept them there with him. He didn’t offer me one because he knew after my operation I couldn’t have one anyway, and he didn’t make me feel uncomfortable for it. And in a way, to me this perfectly sums Phil up. Going to great lengths just to be there for a mate but making out like it was no big deal, carrying around whatever he felt he needed to get by, all by himself, not asking anyone for help, and not crying out for attention. And maybe in the end this was his downfall – he cared for and looked after others more than he cared for and looked after himself.

I still can’t believe he’s gone. I keep expecting someone to ring me and say that it was all just a terrible mistake, he’s fine, he just went on holidays without telling anyone. Which is the kind of thing that wouldn’t surprise me if he did.

I still can’t believe I am not going to see that ear-to-ear grin, or hear that hearty guffaw again.

I still can’t believe I am not going to go hang out at his house again, sit around drinking beer and dribbling the kind of nonsense that only he and I could.

Phil – seriously dude, what gives? I knew I valued your friendship, but I never realised how much I NEEDED your friendship. You were the constant reassuring presence at the back of my mind, and it was comforting to know that at any moment I could get a text message in a New Zealand accent, asking if I want to go see this that or the other band, or catch up for a beer at lunchtime, or come over and hang out. Why did you take that away from me?

Who am I going to go and see King of the North with now? And who am I supposed to carry down an extremely steep and narrow staircase after they’ve polished off a whole hipflask of Jim Beam and have been temporarily robbed of the ability to walk?

Who am I going to watch The Song Remains The Same with, or Pink Floyd Live at Pompeii with? And who is going to put some rubbish movie on for me to watch then fall asleep on the couch without telling me how to turn off the TV and the sound system?

Maybe life can carry on as normal. Maybe I can get over this grief and just get back to it like nothing happened. But of course I can’t. I’ve never had a friend like you, and I never will again. You are a singular icon in my mind, standing tall and proud, with none who could ever compare.

I remember the day I heard that you had gone. I had to leave work as soon as I got off the phone, I just couldn’t keep concentrating. I walked to the bus stop and stood there next to the Adelaide GPO. Then the clock tower chimed, but one of the bells must have broken, because some of the chimes didn’t ring. And I thought – that’s the world now. The world is missing one of it’s most vital components, and it will never sound the same again.

But one thing that can never be taken away from me, or from Catherine, or from Josh, or Ella, or Riley or Reece, or from anyone who ever knew and loved Phil, is that for a while – he was here. We have more than just memories of Phil. He left an indelible imprint on our lives that will never fade like memories do. In a very real and non-wishy-washy sense, his spirit still lingers in our lives, and his presence will always be a factor in them, because for a short time we got to share them with Phil. He was one of those unique buried treasures whose love for life and people was contagious.

Josh, Ella, Riley, Reece – you should be proud of your dad. He was strong. He was brave. And he was the most selfless person I’ve ever known. If I could ever be just half the person he was, I will be a much better man than I am today. And I’m just his mate. You are his kids, the people he loved more than anything and anyone else in this entire world. He may not be around anymore, but you can know – not just think, not just believe, but KNOW – that your dad’s love is still with you, and always will be. And he would want you to have the best lives you could possibly have, even if he couldn’t be in them.

For the rest of us, let me offer some advice. I’ve adopted a new motto – WWPD – What Would Phil Do. When we are figuring out how to cope with his absence, how would Phil handle it? After he’s sat out on the back porch by himself drinking beer staring off into space and listening to Cold Chisel that is? How would Phil want to be remembered and his memory honoured? I’m pretty sure, after we’ve given ourselves the time and space to grieve, he would want us to crank up some Sabbath or some Zeppelin or some Floyd, get together, have a barbie, enjoy each other’s company and laugh. Laugh loud and from the gut, teeth bared, eyes clenched shut and clutching the stomach. Because that’s what Phil would do."

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Teleportation - an existential crisis

Now I could pretend that I am using this topic as a springboard to open a discussion about the nature of existence, consciousness, what makes you "you" and all that stuff.

But who am I kidding? I'm just nerding out.

You are a starship captain in the Star Trek universe. You take your first nervous step onto the teleporter pad, and wait for the engineer to throw the lever, instantly transporting you onto your new starship. What happens next?

To an outside observer, you are surrounded by a wispy cloud of light, you disappear, then reappear in a wispy cloud of light at your destination. Simple.

But what about your own personal experience of the voyage?

Believe it or not, teleportation is real. Admittedly we can only teleport single photons of light, but we can do it. But the process involves destroying the original photon and recreating it at the other end.

Let's imagine that this is how Star Trek teleporters work. The teleporter machinery reads you down to the last individual quantum particle, destroys you, then recreates an exact replica at the other end, complete with all your memories leading up to the moment of teleportation.

The you at the other end has only just been created literally a second ago, but it has all of your memories, so according to this new you, it experienced stepping into the teleporter, being surrounded by light, a brief moment of nothing then back to being surrounded by light at the other end. But the old you experiences stepping into the teleporter, being surrounded by light, then all of a sudden finding themselves standing at the pearly gates saying "I don't remember entering these coordinates!"

It's an easy enough mistake to make. The very first human being to be transported pops out at the other end and says "yep - she works a treat!" not knowing they had just been killed. So then everyone thinks it's safe and zips here there and everywhere by transporter, creating clone after clone of themselves that simply remembers a nice quick transporter journey.

So every time Captain Kirk is beamed down to the surface, the last thing he remembers is stepping into the transporter beam. Then when the new Captain Kirk beams back to the ship, the last thing he remembers is being engulfed in the transporter beam. And so on and so forth, with an endless parade of Kirks whose lives all end on the dispatch side of a transporter journey, until the very last time he ever transports anywhere, and his last clone goes on to live the remainder of the original Kirk's life with countless memories of being safely transported in the transporter here there and everywhere until he finally dies of natural causes instead of instant transporter beam disintegration death like so many Kirks before him.

Even if you could find a way to transport the original matter, so that no-one's body was being destroyed and then a copy created, it would still involve ripping you apart atom by atom, flinging you across space then putting you back together again. A process that would undoubtedly kill you anyway. In which case the first person to be transported would reach their destination and instantly flop on the ground like a marionette with it's strings cut. Which would then lead them to the quantum teleportation idea, which everyone would think is safe, and refer the previous couple of paragraphs for why this would be a problem.

It's the problem of continuity, and it's the same problem with uploading your consciousness to a computer. The uploaded version of you is still just a copy. The original you is still in your body. You could probably even have a nice conversation with yourself before you keeled over from whatever disease you had that you were uploading your consciousness to try and avoid.

It's a problem that was handled nicely in the movie The Sixth Day, when Mr Bad Guy clones himself and the clone wakes up before the old him is dead.

There are some people who don't see a problem with this. "Hey" they say, "if I still exist in some form or another, so what if I'm not around to experience it?" But, um, I kind of have a problem with that, because, you know, I don't want to die in a transporter room, or spend my last few seconds watching how much fun my digital copy is having without me. Besides, we can already do this kind of thing anyway - it's called having kids.

So now we could go into the whole thing of "but what makes you you?" and "where does this idea of me come from?" But...... let's not.

For now I can confirm there is no way I'm stepping onto any transporter machine or uploading my consciousness to any digital heaven until they sort these kinds of problems out.

And to answer your question, yes, this is the kind of crap I actually spend time thinking about.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Mindfulness

This week I discovered the concept of mindfulness.

Now like I said, I only discovered it this week so I'm not pretending to be an expert, but just in this short time I've found it ridiculously useful.

Put in it's simplest terms, Mindfulness is forcing your thoughts to be focused on the moment and nothing else.

Expanding on this a little bit - instead of letting your thoughts ruminate on the past, strain and squint into the future or scurry in circles around today's to-do list, you force them to focus on right here and right now, to the exclusion of all else.

So let's backtrack a bit and talk about how many minds you have.

"What do you mean Lloydie? How many minds? I have one, of course!"

But if you take a second to delineate between "mind" and "brain", it gets interesting.

Most of us, when we use the word "mind", use it as an overarching term to describe the sum total of our brain activity, but with emphasis on the sum total of all our thought activity. But what is a "mind"? Where does the mind start and end? And....... how come I can even have a concept of my own mind?

So now we're in murky waters, so we'll keep it high level and avoid arguing about consciousness and sentience and all of that hard stuff that I'm tired of trying to figure out. Things make a lot more sense when you use the word "mind" in a much more utilitarian way.

Whatever you do, DO NOT think about white elephants.

You just thought about white elephants didn't you? Tsk tsk tsk. OK, let's try this again.

Whatever you do, DO NOT think about white elephants playing golf.

You did it again didn't you? You probably even added a nice green playing surface, a few trees, a blue sky with some nice fluffy white clouds and a bright yellow sun, along with the white elephants holding their putters with their trunks, didn't you?

The reason you couldn't possibly not think about white elephants playing golf on a nice day is because there is a part of your brain that just chatters away, all day every day, in a constant stream of words, and never ever shuts up even for an instant.

But where this starts to make sense is that there's another part of your brain that is listening to this chatter. You saw the images, you saw the nice green grass, smelled that freshly-mown putting green smell, heard the leaves rustling as the trees gently swayed in the sweet-smelling wind, and felt the warmth of the sunshine on your face, because your inner chatterbox immediately regurgitated the suggested thought. But your inner observer observed this and filled in all the rest of the details.

This is how your brain works. It receives the jumbled cascade of your sensory input and rearranges it into familiar shapes and sensory experiences that match your memories of those same experiences prior. Your brain watches itself sensing the world and interprets it into a language that you will understand.

Too much too soon? Let's just cut to the chase.

The easiest way to make use of this in your everyday life is to understand the difference between your "Thinking Mind" and "Observing Mind". The Thinking Mind is your inner chatterbox, and your Observing Mind is the stenographer. You can actually think about your thoughts. And where this becomes something you can use is when you understand that the Thinking Mind is where your emotions lie.

Have you ever been so utterly devastated about something that you were in tears? Maybe you had just received some devastating news, or a loved one had said or done something ridiculously hurtful. You were a blubbering mess, so you decided to make yourself a comforting warm beverage. You put the kettle on the stove, then sat on the couch blubbering away, the Thinking Mind chattering away about how hurt you feel, and how devastating this is, and why did this happen to me, and this is the worst thing I've ever felt, and how can I go on after this. Then you looked over at the kettle and thought "I'd better make sure I turn that off before it boils over!". A purely un-emotional and pragmatic thought from the Observing Mind, reminding you not to burn the house down.

Before I discovered this concept I had two big problems: 1. I was completely wrapped up in my emotions, and 2. I was zoomed in on the negative. I would take the big picture of my life, scan the entire image for any negative aspect, no matter how small, then zoom in on them until they were all I could see. Then, because I was submerged in my own emotional quagmire, my entire world became these negatives and nothing was good any more. I did this with my job, my marriage, my kids, my house, even myself.

The biggest problem with this is that, when you live submerged in your emotional ocean, you suppress any negative emotion or thought, for fear it will capsize your tiny little boat and you will sink forever into the ominous depths. Then as a result of this, because these emotions and thoughts are actually you trying to tell yourself something important, and no-one tells you to shutup and go away and gets off lightly, they start shouting at you, and pounding on the door of your mind, demanding to be heard. So you fight them off even more, and they demand to be heard even more, and so on and so on until there is a screaming match going on inside your head that you can't escape from.

But when I broke it down into the Thinking Mind and the Observing Mind, I realised a few things.

1. I am not my emotions.

I feel my emotions. I have emotions. I am not a bundle of pure emotion, floating around in a multi-coloured vapour. My emotions are like a sense - my brain can't feel physical pain, but when I feel emotional pain, it means something is not connecting the way it should up there, and I should give time and space for myself to rectify it.

2. Negative emotions are good, valuable and useful.

There is a reason part of you is screaming at you and demanding to be heard. How would you feel if you were trying to tell someone something really important, and they interrupted you, told you to shutup and piss off, no-one wants to hear what you've got to say because you're an idiot? Has anyone ever spoken to you like that in your life? And if they did, how would you react? You wouldn't put up with that kind of treatment from another person, so why would you treat yourself like that? Emotions are messages. Negative emotions are just as important as positive ones. In fact, maybe more important - they are the warning signs that you need to give yourself some attention and look after yourself before you end up in a mess.

3. Letting your negative emotions be heard removes their power to consume your life.

Once you stop telling yourself to shutup and piss off, and listen to your negative emotions, you get the message and the emotion passes. Hang on, I don't feel so angry any more! Wait a second, a minute ago my life was crashing down around my ears, now I can easily see a way through the mess! Hold the phone, one minute I'm plotting to obtain an assault rifle and make that dickhead at work wish he'd called in sick, the next minute I'm laughing at how silly this all seems! By giving yourself the time and space to process the negativity, you feel heard, you feel valued and you feel like your opinion means something. Once you start taking better care of yourself emotionally, you start to feel better almost instantly.

Well this is all very wonderful Lloydie, but how do you even do all this?

The first trick is this: when you feel a negative emotion, don't associate with it by saying "I feel angry" or "I feel sad" or "I feel scared". You are not your emotions. Instead, say "I feel anger" or "I feel sadness" or "I feel fear". This way you are reinforcing the fact to yourself that you have emotions, they don't have you. I was amazed the first day I tried this. It felt silly at first, like I was an alien from some awful 60's sci-fi series, but it worked! Instead of washing over me like a tide I was going to drown in, they bubbled up and danced in front of me like little semaphore signals. I didn't rush it, but by repeating to myself "I feel anger, I feel sadness, I feel fear", eventually the cause of the anger, sadness and fear became apparent. And my Observing Mind could easily see what the problem was and why these signals were being received, and it turned out it was an easy fix after all. By not giving my Thinking Mind the pulpit I was able to identify the short-circuit, remind myself that those things were in the past, they are not happening to me now and I don't need to worry about it ever happening again. The next day I felt like a million bucks.

The second trick is this: pick a time, pick a place. Maybe sit down, maybe just stand there. But deliberately set aside time to engage all of your senses in this present moment, and this present moment alone. The feel of the chair I am sitting in. The feel of the keys of the keyboard under my fingers. The multi-coloured glow of the computer screen. The sound of the vacuum cleaner, and my little son playing his imaginary games in the other room. The fragrance of the leather of my chair and the scented candle in the kitchen. Immerse yourself only in Now. It won't be long before the Thinking Mind decides to take a break as well, your guard will come down, big problems will become little problems and a dead-end shows you the secret passage-way.

The third trick is this: think of your emotions as leaves floating on a stream in front of you, or cars driving past on the road in front of you. You are not bobbing along with the leaves, you are not driving the car. You are standing on the bank or the kerb, watching them flow past. You are not being sucked in by the undercurrent or getting mown down by a drunk driver, you are quietly standing there, observing the leaves and cars as they pass.

I could bore you with all the details of how this has changed my outlook on life, and how much better I feel even after just one week of thinking like this, but I won't. Instead, I will say that once you become "the master of your domain" and "lord of the manor", you will feel a lot better too.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Bump - Just Write

What does one write when one wants to write but doesn't have anything specific to write about?

I'm good at writing. Always have been. Never studied or anything, just have always been able to do it.

I started a fiction novel a few years ago. I've almost finished the first act! Everyone who read it can't wait to see what happens next.

Well what happened next was life. New baby with health issues, changing jobs, buying houses, life life life! And the fiction novel has been patiently waiting on my hard drive and quietly bubbling over in the back of my mind ever since.

But now my life is at a point where I've realized you just need to do it. Don't wait for the inspiration or motivation, that will come when you just do it. Don't wait until you're over your fear of churning out a load of rubbish, just churn it out. Don't wait until you have something to write about, just write.

My day job entails a lot of writing - email communications, policies and processes, executive summaries, formal letters, client summaries, reports, data, there was even a magazine article thrown in there - so it's not like I haven't been writing. But it's been a long time since I created anything of my own.

Call me a weirdo, but ever since I knew how to type, a blank word document would get my pulse rate up. Just look at it! All of that pristine white space! Just waiting to be filled with sentences and paragraphs!

For me that is the joy of writing - creating something out of a white space of nothing. You start with a blank screen, fill it with sentences and paragraphs, and the joy of creating emotion out of those words - excitement, fear, joy, sentimentality, elation, amusement - for me is akin to the joy of creating music.

In a way that's exactly what it is - creating music with words. Forming sounds not out of vibrating strings but out of people's thoughts. Creating imagery not with notes and beats but by directing someones inner voice. That's exhilarating.

So you know what? Time to just write. You can write about wanting to write and not knowing what to write about and before you know it you've filled a whole page. How very satisfying!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Believing Skeptic

In accordance with my facebook status update of 9th February, here is the blog entry more fully explaining my new-found position.

Up until very recently I was under the same mistaken impression that most people are, being that a skeptic is basically the same thing as being a cynic, and being skeptical is being cynical. This is, however, not the case.

"Cynic: a person who believes that only selfishness motivates human actions and who disbelieves in or minimizes selfless acts or disinterested points of view."

"Skeptic: a person who questions the validity or authenticity of something purporting to be factual. A person who habitually doubts the authenticity of accepted beliefs."

Therefore when I say I now consider myself a skeptic, I do not mean I have engendered a generally distrustful attitude towards people. And whilst I may question certain fundamentals of the Christian religion, I have not shed my belief in God.

Skepticism is a process, and a skeptic is a person who requires a higher standard of evidence. When I call myself a "Believing Skeptic", I am calling myself someone who still believes in God, but requires a higher standard of evidence for commonly held beliefs, especially the beliefs of Evangelical Fundamentalism.

For the larger part of my life (being from the age of four until late last year), I was an Evangelical Religious Fundamentalist.

"Evangelical: denoting or relating to any of certain Protestant sects or parties, which emphasize the importance of personal conversion and faith in atonement through the death of Christ as a means of salvation."

"Religious: appropriate to or in accordance with the principles of a religion."

"Fundamentalism: a movement in American Protestantism that arose in the early part of the 20th century in reaction to modernism and that stresses the infallibility of the Bible not only in matters of faith and morals but also as a literal historical record, holding as essential to Christian faith belief in such doctrines as the creation of the world, the virgin birth, physical resurrection, atonement by the sacrificial death of Christ, and the Second Coming."

I believed that the entire universe was created in six literal days by God, that evolution was a load of crap, and that scientists were so hell-bent on being rebellious against God they had created an entire system with which to deny Him.

I believed that the Bible was a literal historical account, including the creation narrative, the exodus, and the events in books such as Daniel and Jonah.

I believed that after death, the souls of everyone who did not believe in the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (ie was converted, or "saved") were thrown into an eternal hell of unspeakable torment from which there was no escape for all eternity, regardless of the deeds done whilst in the body.

And I also believed that believing the above was essential for one's own salvation, such that if one deviated from one's belief in any of the above, that one would themselves be thrown into an eternal hell of unspeakable torment from which there was no escape for all eternity, regardless of the deeds done whilst in the body.

And there lies the rub, and my main bone of contention (or the particular bone of contention I have time to discuss in this one blog entry): the Fundamentalist view that anything other than blind belief in the tenets of Fundamentalism itself constitutes disbelief in God and results in eternal damnation.
It goes something like this:

"If you don't believe that every word of the Bible is literally and ineffably true, how can you believe it is God-inspired? And if you don't believe that every word of the Bible is God-inspired, how can you say you believe that any of the words of the Bible are God-inspired? And if you don't believe that the Bible is God-inspired, how can you say that you believe in Jesus? And if you don't believe in Jesus, how can you say that you are saved and any better than an unbeliever? And if you're an unbeliever, how do you suppose you can escape being BURNED IN HELL FOR ALL ETERNITY? AAAAAA HA HA HA HA HA HAAAAA!!!!!! AAAAAAAAA HA HA HA HA HA HA HAAAAAAA!!!!!!!".

This is a baffling string of logical fallacies and straw men tied to straw men with other bits of straw, and has done nothing to better the human condition or improve the lives of its proponents or anyone else. It has done nothing to endear the attitudes of humanity towards altruistic or philanthropic ends, it has not increased morality, compassion, justice, mercy, grace and love. It has segregated the Fundamentalists from the rest of "The World" (those evil un-converted people who don't believe in the tenets of Fundamentalism and who are possessed by "the spirit of the world" or "the god of this age") into various in-fighting camps that drag people down instead of lifting them up. It has turned the attitudes of the world not against injustice, inhumanity, evil and selfishness, but against itself and anyone else who could feasibly be tarred with the same brush. And (most personally to myself) it has done scant more than fill well-meaning and God-loving individuals with such a crippling fear of unspeakable eternal torment with no hope of escape that they are too afraid to move, let alone grow, develop, learn, and contribute to the betterment of the human race.



I would gladly welcome any comments anyone has on this post. If you know someone who is a skeptic or an atheist, or a fundamentalist or other kind of conservative Christian, and you think they might have something to say in response, please tell them to have a read. I would love to see as many different responses and perspectives as possible regarding the uncharted metaphysical waters I now find myself sailing. Maybe as I delineate my position more thoroughly it will help some people through some of their own stuff, then become inexplicably popular, become a quick and easy means of fame and fortune for me and enable me to spend the rest of my life sipping lattes on my back porch in my pyjamas. It never hurts to dream.