Thursday, September 3, 2009

Layer 189 Mindfulness, Einstein, Satori, Enlightenment, Taming the Monster, Superheads, Electric Shocks, Brain Science and Phonics.

A Buddhist Village

In the middle of the East End? Why not!

In the immediate vicinity of the London Buddhist Centre there are now several shops, cafes and studios that are owned and run by the Buddhist community. What's more, according to the LBC website, they're run on a 'not for profit' basis, and any money they make is either reinvested in the businesses or 'given away'. How amazing is that?

Also on their website you can find:

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art
and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder
and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead, his eyes are closed."Albert Einstein

Also this:

“Life is complicated, speeded up and stressful. On this day for newcomers you can learn two
meditation practices that help you cultivate a steady focus - a calm mind, suffused with
positivity which will help you to live deeply in the here and now.”

Whether or not individuals find that a certain sect of Buddhism can show the way, these are surely proper and worthwhile  goals for people who desire to live more intelligently and achieve greater wellbeing -

•    a calm mind
•    a mind suffused with positivity
•    living deeply in the here and now

'Mindfulness' would seem to be essential if we're to achieve these things, which means paying attention to how our minds are operating, which means we need to take time to reflect on our own thoughts, attitude and behaviour, which means we need methods to focus and to reflect. Which means we probably need to practice meditation.

But I now have to take issue with Albert Einstein. Sorry about that. A sense of the mysterious is not an emotion. OK – call me a pedant – but in my book, or my blog, emotions are temporary afflictions or experiences of the human psyche, whether positive or negative, which come and go of their own accord.

Whereas the kind of experience Einstein was talking about – a sense of the mysterious, the unnameable, the awesome and the wondrous – is a transcendental state of spiritual bliss that Zen calls satori, and which can be achieved through deliberate action and attention, through mindfulness and through meditation.

We can develop ways of living that enable us to return to it again and again, sometimes after considerable effort and discipline, sometimes after no effort at all, like during a walk alone in beautiful surroundings or during love-making, but it's NOT merely an unbidden, spontaneous thing, like an emotion, although it can also be unbidden and spontaneous, on very rare occasions. What it ISN'T, I maintain, is an emotion. My dictionary defines 'emotion' as “any strong feeling, as of sorrow, excitement or fear”; and it's from 'emovere' - to disturb.

To the contrary, it seems to me to be the polar opposite of emotion, or possibly on a different plane of experience altogether. It's a release or a separation from emotion. It doesn't disturb (or impact on our ego) - it's a state of grace, or bliss, or egolessness, or transcendence from mundane experience and day to day reality. It's an almost inexpressible and wordless state that creates a feeling of wellbeing and joy that's beyond  mere words, which cannot encapsulate or even begin to communicate the profundity and otherworldliness of the experience, which removes us from our usual egocentric self that feels separation from rather than connection with the rest of the universe. Emotions are relatively meagre things that cannot possibly do this, that cannot connect us with the mysterious, the sublime, the metaphysical and the spiritual.


The interior spaces of the LBC, a converted ex-GLC fire station, are very lovely and very harmonious. Flowers, candles, incense, rich colours and lovely representations of the Buddha in each room. A good bookshop too.

Last night's book launch was interesting, though not exactly mind-blowing, or enlightening. I liked the concluding remarks, though, which described the 'Dharma mind' as something that fully understands the 'nature of reality'. Absolutely. It's so hard for most people to get anywhere near a grip on the nature of reality, when so many things in our upbringing and our culture mitigate against it. Our world is full of lies, deceptions, confusion and false values.

Understanding the nature of reality is incredibly hard to achieve, and we need to be mindful and attentive every minute of every day if we're to get anywhere near it. Or at least we need to set aside time every day to pause, to read, to meditate, and give time to reflection on ourselves, our experiences, and our world. Which can only happen when we have a calm and settled mind and spirit. Free from emotion.

Having achieved a greater measure of understanding of the nature of reality, and some degree of 'dharma mind', if you want to call it that – or spiritual intelligence if you prefer – then what do we do with ourselves next? Well for a start off we have to carry on working at it - “Every second, it keeps changing . . . ” as Van said in “Enlightenment”. But we can also get on with “just living” - “but radiating compassion and wisdom”. Well said, that man. And he also reminded those gathered for the book sale launch that we need to remember not to strive for happiness – it's a waste of time and probably counterproductive.

Putting it another way, and to paraphrase Khalil Gibran - happiness, like love, will choose us, if it finds us worthy. We can't choose to be happy.


Taming the Monster

Another 'debate' on the radio this morning about whether or not we, as a society, can make capitalism work for us, instead of tolerating a situation whereby the majority of us just work for (or to protect ourselves from) the monster that we, as humans, created.

One of the speakers just kept reiterating that it's vital that we don't do anything that will drive away the beast that inhabits the City of London, since it seems to be a vital source of income for this country. Of course he didn't mention that the income created barely trickles down to the majority of us, or discuss the fact that the beast, untamed, just FUCKS US UP. In fact it fucks up the whole planet, left unchecked and unregulated, as we're still seeing.



Here we go again – the new school year, and a year in which headteachers who take on responsibility for more than one school can make shedloads more money. The logic is that we need to pay these people loads more since they otherwise wouldn't put up with the extra stress and brainache. Whereas the reality is that the smartest of these people just set up systems whereby they delegate the brainache, and simply monitor the performance of those who have to deal with it day to day.

As someone on the programme said, the job of the head these days is to manage what we now need to see as 'a very large business'. Oh really? Well this is what the government and management consultants would like us to believe. Businesses gets results, and results are all that matter in education these days. Results meaning test and exam passes, nothing else. 

And even if those superheads did care about more than exam results, they'd still delegate the responsibility, and the schools would succeed or fail by the efforts of the whole team, not just the heads. So are we intending to increase education budgets globally and pay everybody more?Are we fuck. Cutbacks are now the order of the day, as the Tories will willingly tell you, as they rub their hands in glee at the prospect of power after the next election.

Describing headteachers as managers of businesses and paying them by results and by the size of their 'business' may well bring into the profession (of school management) lots more people who have a mission to 'drive up standards' and a mission to make pots of money. You have been warned. Oxzen has  already seen the future, and it's not a pretty sight.

Shock Doctrine Update

Management consultants McKinsey & Co have said that as a result of the financial crisis and the increase in government borrowing there needs to be a 10% reduction in the NHS workforce – 137,000 people should lose their jobs. New Labour are saying they won't do it. The New Tories (same as the old ones) certainly will, whilst claiming, no doubt, that they'll still maintain and even improve the quality of services through “efficiency savings”. Mark my words.

Brain Science

Scientists using the latest real-time brain scanners have shown that the brains of psychopaths are physically different to those of the rest of us. Their neural pathways show 'very significant differences'.
This shouldn't be so surprising, though it does raise some interesting issues about how the human brain is wired up so that the various centres within it are properly connected and we're therefore able to achieve states of empathy, sympathy, compassion, etc. We can still have some interesting debates about nature versus nurture, and to what degree parenting and schooling can make a difference to levels of emotional, social and spiritual intelligence.

One of the most shocking sequences in the film of the Shock Doctrine was the one showing the administering of electric shocks to the brains of people who may or may not have been suffering from schizophrenia, depression, psychosis, etc. This is how poor Peter Green, who's now very much recovered, had his brains blown out at the height of his creative genius and brilliance as a songwriter and musician. Staggering ignorance – to believe that it's possible to use electric shocks to return someone to normality, or to create a 'blank slate', as the Shock Doctrine authors believed.

I've been re-reading some interesting stuff about people who suffer from bipolar syndrome, by a writer who's a sufferer herself – Kay Redfield Jamison – but that'll have to wait till tomorrow. Lithium and all.

Why Ben?

It's the anniversary of the death of Ben Kinsella, who was stabbed to death a year ago in South London. His sister Brooke has written a book called, “Why Ben?” She now wants to teach and to open her own drama school - having realised that being a successful actor can't possibly be the 'be-all and end-all' of what life should be all about. She wants to do something to help create a better society, and not just take something out.

Phil Beadle – 'Could Do Better'

Phil Beadle is a fucking industry. Phil has a new book out, called Could Do Better (How To Help Your Child Do Better At School)
Since it's starting school (or back-to-school) time, how to school-proof your children before they even start seems to be Phil's current concern. As opposed to teaching them to be children and how to play.

According to Phil, on the Today programme, “low expectations, attainment gap, blah blah – letting the kids go at their own pace is by definition low expectations” - kids need a systematic approach to phonics, and they have the right to read as early as they possibly can. Which obviously overrides any other human rights we might think they should have.

Another speaker pointed out that British kids are the unhappiest and most stressed in the world, according to UNESCO, an organisation that drew up a document on the rights of the child.

No matter - Phil the Beadle maintains that we need to force-feed phonics to Nursery age kids so that they don't leave the Reception class 'unable to read'. He's never taught that age group of, course, so he doesn't actually know what it's like to teach a class of kids aged 4 or 5. Still – he's got an award, he's officially a great teacher, so he clearly knows what he's talking about. Not.

Phil says the unhappiest kids he came across as a teacher were those who couldn't read. What a dork. He therefore switches cause and effect and assumes that the inability to read is the cause of the unhappiness. Of course those kids SAY they desperately want to read. And they do. But most reading failure is caused by inability to concentrate, emotional disturbance, low self-esteem, poor memory skills, lack of a love of real books, lack of interest in reading compared with other alternatives, etc, etc. I could go on. It's complex.

Including poor teaching, in some cases. I hold no brief for poor teachers and poor schools. But the poorest teachers of reading have no clue about the need to teach all of the cuing systems, including whole-to-part phonics, and, needless to say, 'synthetic' phonics as a last resort when all else fails. They just bash away at a single approach. Like synthetic phonics. Which is FUCKING GUARANTEED to put a lot of kids off reading, or believing that they can read. Especially if it's done before kids have been drawn into wanting to read. In the learning game, motivation is all. Phil ought to know that.

I need to declare a personal interest. My second child pretty much taught herself to read by the age of four, from a love of real books and a set of Oxford Reading Tree books that I happened to have as review copies from the newspaper I occasionally wrote book reviews for.

My first child loved books and stories, but just didn't 'get' reading. Why make the effort when you could get somebody to read them to you? A real monkey.

At the age of seven his reading skills quickly 'came together' as they say, and by the age of 10 he was the best reader in his class of very bright kids, scoring two marks less than the maximum in the London Reading Test.

Mr Beadle, who turns out to be a real dork, in spite of his alleged genius as a teacher, went on to say that the reason why the Danish education system does so well, in spite of their kids not beginning formal education till aged six, is that their language makes becoming literate so much easier – that it's a lot more phonically regular, etc, and therefore they have a lot less difficulty learning to read and write “Denmark”. Oh dear.

Thank goodness someone emailed the programme to say that the majority of Scandinavian people seem to have little difficulty in becoming literate in English in spite of not having had a daily diet of formal 'synthetic phonics' from the age of 4, and why might that be?

High Heels

Opinions on them seem to vary greatly, according to today's radio. Japanese teenagers who are used to walking in trainers are hilarious when you see them out in their first pair of high heels, as I noticed earlier this year. Very few women anywhere can walk in them properly or elegantly. Think Dick Emery - “Oo, you are awful!”

1 comment:

  1. Have to agree re. phonics. Our son confused "was" and "saw" because he took them apart into sounds. He stopped reading when he was told tricky words were trying to "trick him" ffs. However he reads "ran" as rund, despite loads of phonics lessons. So he sees a word and ascribes a meaning to it ie past tense of run, not r-a-n. He is reading again now thanks to storybooks about monsters,dinosaurs etc.


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