Tell Me About It…


We have no control over many of the things that happen to us in our lives but if we can make sense of what has happened, we will usually construct a narrative to explain it to ourselves.  This narrative is more than just a story, it’s our escape hatch after trauma.  It’s what we can use to help us to overcome whatever horrible disaster has befallen us. Climb over it. Make good our escape.

Dan Siegel maintains that people who have horribly traumatic childhoods make excellent parents once they can make sense of their own story – no matter how awful.

 

No matter what happens – once you can look it in the eye and make it your story it loses its power to control you.

We have told stories since forever which means they are commonplace in our societies.  But common as they are, they are still essential to our well-being, safety and resilience.

We explain away myths and legends as primitive ways to explain the natural world – and they did indeed have a function in this regard – but it’s possible that they mean more than just that to us. It’s possible that they explain truths and experiences that are too subtle or difficult to approach in other ways and it’s possible that they allow us to construct narratives that function like ladders on which to climb out of the holes into which we may have been thrown.

If this wasn’t the case, then why do we still love to tell and hear stories? Whether it’s science fiction or vampires, rom-coms or action adventures surely our attraction to stories – myths – is because they are still fulfilling the same purpose for us that they have since time immemorial?

Just Because This is Lovely


I’m no expert on Dylan Thomas but they say he wrote Do Not Go Gentle Into that Good Night about his father’s descent into old age and death.  It is a beautiful poem and to me, as well as being about the inevitability of death, it is also about the need to try, to ‘rage’ until the bitter end.  In everything.  In the full knowledge that death is inevitably coming this is a plea not to surrender.  Ever.  To keep on going.  Keep on raging.  Until the absolute end.

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Continue reading

Love the One You’re With


Newborn child, seconds after birth. The umbili...

The field of interpersonal neurobiology is an exciting new area of research. The more that is discovered about how the brain works, the clearer it is that it is endlessly open to development and change as it rewires itself every single day. It turns out that how you choose to think really does have an effect on your brain – especially when it comes to love.  Loving relationships have the greatest effect on the wiring and rewiring of the brain.

In 2006, researchers in Virginia gave electric shocks to the ankles of women in happy relationships and measured their anxiety beforehand and pain levels during the shocks.  What they discovered was that the same level of electricity administered when holding their partner’s hand reduced their blood pressure and their brains showed a lower neural response to the pain.  Women in troubled relationships didn’t experience the same relief from holding their partners’ hands.

To quote from Diane Ackerman‘s very interesting article, The Brain on Love

All relationships change the brain — but most important are the intimate bonds that foster or fail us, altering the delicate circuits that shape memories, emotions and that ultimate souvenir, the self.

Every great love affair begins with a scream. At birth, the brain starts blazing new neural pathways based on its odyssey in an alien world. An infant is steeped in bright, buzzing, bristling sensations, raw emotions and the curious feelings they unleash, weird objects, a flux of faces, shadowy images and dreams — but most of all a powerfully magnetic primary caregiver whose wizardry astounds.

Brain scans show synchrony between the brains of mother and child; but what they can’t show is the internal bond that belongs to neither alone, a fusion in which the self feels so permeable it doesn’t matter whose body is whose. Wordlessly, relying on the heart’s semaphores, the mother says all an infant needs to hear, communicating through eyes, face and voice. Thanks to advances in neuroimaging, we now have evidence that a baby’s first attachments imprint its brain. The patterns of a lifetime’s behaviors, thoughts, self-regard and choice of sweethearts all begin in this crucible.

We used to think this was the end of the story: first heredity, then the brain’s engraving mental maps in childhood, after which you’re pretty much stuck with the final blueprint.

But as a wealth of imaging studies highlight, the neural alchemy continues throughout life as we mature and forge friendships, dabble in affairs, succumb to romantic love, choose a soul mate. The body remembers how that oneness with Mother felt, and longs for its adult equivalent. (1)

So, what can we learn from this?

That we need love to be healthy and balanced and happy?  We all probably knew this.

But it also says that every smile, every loving touch, every kindness is worthwhile because it resonates and shapes the brain of the recipient.  It says that we should be careful with each other – even when it’s difficult.   And generous with our love – whenever possible.

This song reminds me of Diane Ackerman’s article – I have no idea why, the link is pretty tenuous – but I really like both the song and the video anyway.  So, here it is –

(1) Diane Ackerman, The Brain on Lovehttp://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/03/24/the-brain-on-love/

Once I Had a Nosebleed


The title of this post is misleading.

I have had many, many nosebleeds in my life.

Some big.  Some small.  Some medium.  And a lot more than once.  I am extremely prone to nosebleeds and can spontaneously begin to bleed from the nose mid-conversation.  I am reliably informed that this is very disconcerting to watch. I have had nosebleeds while eating, drinking, talking, working, driving, walking, sleeping, watching TV, in the shower, at weddings – you get the picture.  If I was in a TV programme or movie I would be pretty sure that this unprovoked bleeding in a character would mean that he/she was either about to die (House/Six Feet Under) or was possessed by aliens (can’t think of an example but you get my drift).  Anyway, this is the story of one of my nosebleeds.

When I finished secondary school I went to work for the summer in Holland (really called the Netherlands but everybody calls it Holland).  I was employed – along with hundreds of other students – in a factory packing flower bulbs.  It was fine.  It was fun.  I was seventeen and it was a big, big adventure and then, one day I had a nose bleed at work.  It started the usual way by spontaneously pouring down my face.  I went to the bathroom and it continued to bleed, I applied pressure, threw water on my face, my neck, my wrists – did everything I knew how to do (as trained by my mother the nurse) and still it persisted.  It bled and bled and bled.

In the Ladies’ toilet in that flower-bulb factory there was a long, stainless steel sink along one wall with numerous taps overhead.  Running parallel with the sink was a big mirror. I stood there.  Miles and miles from home, my blood all over the stainless steel splash-back and mirror, blood all over my face and hands and clothes and a stream of Dutch women coming in to try to help me but all failing and resorting to hysterics.  I looked at myself in the mirror as they held my wrists under the cold water to try to stop me passing out (does that really work?).  My eyes wide with terror, my face white and blood streaked – I began to freak out.  Crying and screaming and buckling at the knees.  Somewhere in the all-encompassing hysteria someone called a doctor.  I had nothing to do with it.

First thing I knew about the doctor was when he appeared in the distorted cacophonous reality in the Ladies’ toilet. The noise bouncing off the tiles and steel and glass was like knives. Me crying.  Middle-aged supervisors and office staff high-pitched chattering like hysterical Dutch magpies.  Water everywhere.  Blood everywhere.  He appeared as if out of nowhere and just stood looking at me in the blood smeared mirror.  After a few seconds he spoke (in English) – “Stop.”

At first the sound made no sense.  He said it again.  “Stop.”

This was absurd!  Clearly he was missing the fact that I was dying.  It was obvious from the blood bath and even more obvious from the wailing women and worried men all around that my young life was ending in the bathroom of a flower-bulb factory.

And it was such a pity.  If I was going to die at seventeen I would have liked it to be for some heroic reason.  “She saved a child from a burning building/runaway train/stampede.”  Not she had a nosebleed to death.

The doctor was unmoved by the scene. He really wasn’t getting it.  I was dying and it wasn’t even romantic or worthwhile.  But this Dutch doctor didn’t seem to care.  I cried on.  The women wailed on.  He didn’t move.  Didn’t fall to his knees sobbing and wringing his hands at the tragedy that was unfolding in the factory bathroom.  Instead, he just stood there, calmly, as if nothing important or terrifying was happening and repeated himself quietly.  “Stop.  Stop it now.”

I was furious.  He was clearly a heartless bastard who didn’t care about me or anybody else…

I stopped crying.

The doctor was kind to me then – he packed my nose (which was horrible – I’m sure some of you have had to have it done) and ignored the fact that I was not only ungrateful but frostily furious with him.

He was such a fool!  How dare he speak to me like that!  Was that all he’d learned in medical school?

Maybe it was.

If it was all he learned I now see it differently to when I was 17.  Now I think he’d learned quite a lot.

He’d learned to take responsibility and put his neck on the line and keep to his own truth.

He’d learned that even though everything might be broken it was never going to be fixed while everything was flying around in the air.

He’d learned that – like blood – sometimes we need to staunch the flow of our emotions, even temporarily and even artificially – if we are to survive.  And he’d learned that it was more important to do what he knew to be right than to get pulled into the world of an hysterical 17 year old – and a roomful of almost as hysterical adults.

I never knew his name.  I was too busy being mad at him.  I hope he had – has – a nice life.

Common Humanity


Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Article 5

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment

Roméo Dallaire is a Canadian senator, widely known for being Force Commander of UNAMIR (United Nations Assistance Mission In Rwanda) between 1993 and 1994.  He is also known for his efforts to stop the genocide waged by extremist Hutu Rwandans against their moderate Hutu tribesmen and, more especially against the Tutsis who were the other ethnic group in the Rwandan conflict.

During the genocide, with dwindling troops and no help from outside, most of Roméo Dallaire’s efforts were focused on defending areas where he knew Tutsis were hiding.  In spite of the fact that Dallaire had such limited resources and help, he is credited with directly saving somewhere in the region of 32,000 people of different races.

While Dallaire survived the genocide in Rwanda and many of his associates weren’t as lucky, he makes no secret of his struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of his experiences and is an outspoken supporter of all efforts to tend to veteran’s mental health.

Now, as well as being a senator, Roméo Dallaire has devoted his life to working for human rights and the prevention of genocide.

Dallaire has written two books – Shake Hands with the Devil – The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda (2004) and They Fight Like Soldiers, They Die Like Children (2010), a book about child soliders.

Blind Spots


Nowadays it’s widely accepted, in our rapidly shrinking global village, that we need to learn to work together – learn to live together.

And yet we resist it.

We insist on concentrating on the differences between us.

Colour, race, nationality, religion, politics, culture, gender, age, status, beliefs, thoughts.

Sure we’re different.

There’s no doubt about it.

But how about the ways we are the same?

Why don’t we really concentrate on what we share instead of what separates us?

I really mean that as a question – why don’t we?

What stops us trying to work together?

What are the obstacles to our seeing our similarities?

Can we talk about that?

Love Your Enemy


We love our families.  

Our friends.

Our neighbours.

Our towns.

Our countries.

But our enemies?

We’ve heard it lots of times but somehow it still doesn’t seem like a good idea – or at least not in practice.

Why should they get our love as well as everything else they’ve taken from us?

I don’t know the answer to that but I wonder what happens to us if  we do manage to love our enemies?

Is it possible that we get something bigger and better than whatever it was that was taken from us in the first place?

I don’t know.

Maybe.

What do you think?

Spread a Little Happiness


This is a simple and sweet story of a man who is offering a wonderful expression of love.  I especially love the simplicity and earnestness of this gesture and admire him for uncompromisingly opening his heart in such a wonderful way.

Once again thanks to Bowl of Miso for originally posting this – http://bowlofmiso.com/2012/02/24/yoshis-blend-brings-hope/

http://vimeo.com/mackfilm/yoshisblend