Thursday, 13 August 2009

The uncomfortable gap.

Back in the 1960s someone published a series of amusing sayings on postcards called ‘Potshots’. One read, ‘If things don’t improve soon I shall have to ask you to stop helping me.’ It occurs to me that the media are trying to help by giving us an unrelenting diet of bad news. They are saying, “This is not how things should be and if we keep on reminding you how bad they are someone, somewhere will do something to make them better.”
The fact is that lots of people, including politicians, are doing things to try and make life better but generally speaking they don’t get reported by news media. Or if they are reported it’s usually because someone thinks that it’s not enough or that the wrong tactics are being used. In some respects, of course, for many millions of people, life does get better. Even in my lifetime it has got infinitely better for me and for many people like me. But there’s always a gap between the way things are and the way we would like them to be.

We are dominated by the ‘doing mind’, left hemispherical thinking. Therefore we rarely begin by accepting what is the case about our present situation (either internal or external). We perpetually begin with the famous response, ‘If I were you I wouldn’t start from here.’ The gap between here where we are and there where we want to be is intolerable. We assume that rational thought will get us there and fast. But sometimes it’s a question of ‘don’t just do something, stand there!’ In fact it’s nearly always the right way to start tackling a problem. And it’s certainly the right way to start if the problem cannot be solved immediately or by me personally. The rush to judgement, condemnation, recrimination has become a pandemic more serious than swine flu. A little more stillness, being instead of doing, acceptance of what is now the case, of where we are, of where I am in this present moment would produce dramatic results for all the suffering about which we are constantly reminded.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009


I'm re-reading “The Mindful Way Through Depression” by Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Segal and Jon Kabat-Zinn. I come across the following succinct and exact definition of ‘mindfulness’, “Mindfulness is the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally to things as they are.” Every element of that definition is essential. As the authors point out, mindfulness involves, necessarily, intention (I am reminded of Martin Buber’s dictum, “Will and grace are two sides of the same coin.”); it focuses on the present moment; and it, again necessarily, requires a non-judgemental attitude. It's a pity about the book's title because it is a wonderful resource for anyone, depressed or not, who wants to know how to live 'wisely, agreeably and well'. (I can't remember the origin of that quote)

In a nice piece of synchronicity, Yvonne tells me later of a quote from Saul Bellows’s The Rain King: “The forgiveness of sins is perpetual and righteousness is not required.” One might begin such a wonderful sentence with, “Confession is essential ....” One would then have a more ‘spiritual’ approach to mindfulness in which becoming aware of ‘things-as-they-are’ is ‘confession’; and ‘righteousness is not required’ is the non-judgemental bit.