Monthly Archives: May 2012

… pattern which connects …

For a recent book-sharing with a group of irreverent friends (archventures), I had the wish to share so many books that I instinctively reached more or less blindly into one of my shelves. Books in my home, I must add, are in a muddle. The only order to speak of is their relationship to each other through time. I picked Alice in Wonderland and Mind and Nature. During our afternoon of reading there was not enough time to do honour to the latter, Gregory Bateson’s work. So I said I’d write up something. Oh dear. After pages and pages, I finally recalled this was supposed to be a blog-post, not a novel .

I first came upon Gregory Bateson books, ‘Steps to an Ecology of Mind’ and ‘Mind and Nature,’ during the early 1980’s, after his death. The clarity of his notion that biological forms arrange themselves through relationships struck a deep chord. What totally resonated with me was his thought that the structure of nature and the structure of mind are reflections of each other.  He had a broad perspective for a Biologist, and wanted to build a bridge between the facts of life and behaviour, and what we know of the nature of pattern and order. He was active in, and connected up many different fields of study – anthropology, psychiatry, biological evolution and genetics and the new epistemology which comes out of system-theory and ecology. He challenged basic assumptions and methods of scientific investigations, pointing to the processes beneath structures. He quoted Goethe …

A stem is what bears leaves

A leaf is that which has a bud in its angle

A stem is what was once a bud in that position …

And he provoked new thinking: ‘What pattern connects the crab to the lobster and the orchid to the primrose and all four of them to me. And me to you?’ 

His interest in morphology, the study of structure and form of organisms, involved context, meaning and communication. He distrusted reductive models of cause and effect, the scientific approach that lines up parts and classifies them, focussing on quantity.

Comparing systems, one to another, he perceived the mind as an ecological system. And he used the analogy that ideas, like seeds, can only take root and flourish according to the nature of the system receiving them. This thought alone deserves deep contemplation.

He had a way with stories … ‘There was a man who had a powerful computer, and he wanted to know whether computers could ever think. So he asked it – Will you ever be able to think like a human being? – The computer clicked and rattled and blinked, and finally it printed out its answer on a piece of paper, as these machines do. The man ran to pick up the printout, and there, neatly typed, read the following words: ‘That reminds me of a story.’ 

Concerned about the decimation of aboriginal populations (he did field-work with Margaret Mead), the degradation of ecological systems, economic oppression, and senseless wars and arms races, he took these ominous signs of contemporary life to be manifestations of deeper disorders, which he defined in terms of cybernetic systems of communication and meaning that comprise life, mind, and society. In his view, consciousness dominated by purposeful thought has a linear structure that establishes goals and ways for attaining them without being necessarily sensitive to the circular network of cause and effect that orders the systems.

Looking at human consciousness as an adaptive system, he thought the cure for its inadequacies, evidenced by the negative side-effects of purposive rationality, was not to reject it in favour of a passionate non- rationality, as in the extreme romantic position, but to augment and complete it by engaging with non-discursive, pattern-comprehending and emotional processes. He advocated the befriending of the unconscious aspects of the mind through utilising images and metaphors.

In a civilization which separates mind from body, mythologies about the survival of a transcendent mind are often meant to soften the idea of death, or even deny death as part of life. For Bateson, who saw the mind as being immanent not only in pathways of information which are located inside the body but also in external pathways, death took on a different aspect. ‘The individual nexus of pathways which I call ‘me’ is no longer so precious because that nexus is only part of a larger mind. The ideas which seemed to be me can also become immanent in you. May they survive, if true.’  (Afterword to a collection of celebratory essays, 1972)

Yet there are scientists that can no more perceive the language of nature, and politicians who feel beleaguered by sections of society that seek balance and a fresh context towards ‘an ecology of mind.’  The extreme factions of believers, for what else are they, should look again at the bridge  Bateson prepared.

This lovely video gives a taste of what it is all about :

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-7420104147325742770&hl=en

Looking at the structure of nature and the structure of mind being reflections of each other, it becomes obvious that not only does nature mirror our habit of thinking, but our thinking also mirrors the state of nature. Ecology and psychology must therefore both engage in listening, and seeing, and working ceaselessly towards the integration of knowledge and the re-adjustment of a dynamic balance.

I could go on, but want to bring in a famous painting of Icarus by Brueghel.                                                             Anthony Stevens, a brilliant expositor of Jung’s thought, used the painting as cover for the first hard-cover edition (1995) of his book Private Myths.

http://www.anthonystevens.co.uk/index.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stevens quotes from a poem by Wystan Auden:

In Brueghel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away

Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may

Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,

But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone

As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green

Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen

Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,

Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

What goes up must come down. Who knows how many Big Bangs there were before the one we so ardently explore? There is an organising intelligence behind life’s cycles, while consciousness forever expands. Thinking in metaphors we can perceive similar patterns, forms in nature and mind, cosmos and psyche, mirroring each other across scale and time. In other words, life teems with realities we can tune into, as long as we assign context and meaning.

Two of Gregory Bateson’s children continue his approach:

His daughter with Margaret Mead – Mary Catherine Bateson:

http://www.interculturalstudies.org/main.html

And some of her books, Peripheral Vision

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0060926309/mead2001centenni

Free chapters of Angels Fear:  http://www.oikos.org/angelsfear.htm

Bateson’s daughter with Lois Cammack – Nora Bateson, recently created a film:

http://www.anecologyofmind.com/

 

Last not least, the themes:  pattern which connects, mirroring and bridging, are subjects of my novels.

 

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… Is a parent ever unemployed ? …

Something new – AVAAZ encourages individual campaigns now . I started one. Click the link and read the proposal, and if you like the idea vote for it.

http://www.avaaz.org/en/petition/Put_parents_on_the_payroll/?fHNQuab&pv=0

Yes, it makes sense – put parents on the payroll – tied to the attendance of courses.  Here some more thoughts as to why …

Family structures are changing for a variety of reasons. No use blaming parents and home-makers that are unable to cope. No good romanticising the past. Parents and carers need  support in this time of flux.  New structures are emerging, single parents or carers, for example, seek families of heart and mind. Our policy-makers don’t seem to take note of this phenomenon. Think of independent units around a communal space that would allow socialising and the sharing of skills.

And why not use the psychological knowledge that has been available for decades? Why is this knowledge not disseminated to parents? Corporations require further training from their employees, offer courses that teach people skills, because they realise these skills improve business.

Parenting is important business, without question the most important one.  Years ago, when I was involved with Parent-Link, sharing skills, I had an idea how to create more opportunities for parents and raise their status. You can read about it by clicking on the AVAAZ link above.  And please vote, or come up with your own ideas.

Present social policies often force a mother or father to beg alms from the state, become unemployed. Is a parent ever unemployed?  Children are the future and must concern us all. I meet many parents, who, even with heightened awareness, tenacity, creativity and sacrifice, struggle to stay sane.

Thanks

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… the wild horse of the mind …

I thought I open the window a bit to what I’m immersed in, drafting the sequel to Course of Mirrors, called Shapers. Another mythic adventure, and more. The short piece below is not representative of the tense action this story has plenty of, but depicts a pivotal moment. The scenery is  Eire, where time-zones overlap. In 2550 AD the island is called Sax, where Rhonda, the super-controlling power, cast their misfits.  In the excerpt below, Tilly (Cassia in Ana’s story) has arranged for Cara and Mesa to meet in Kerry during the 1970s.

The theme touches on the creative process. Something for my writer friends. I welcome any feedback to the draft.

*    *    *

Tilly’s ruined estate on the Kerry peninsula was one among many places around the world where past and future began to cross or run parallel during the 1970s. Not all drop-outs travelling through Derrynane were aware of the phenomenon. Those open to the new wavelengths either tuned in, or received no more than garbled white noise. The going slogan was – love, don’t think – though it should have been – love and think – and stay grounded. These were turbulent times. Traditionalists abhorred the breaking free of conditioning. Leaps into the unknown frightened them.

This is Cara’s time, and these are her thoughts: Personal myth is a complex self-creation, mainly unconscious, but less so once we replace the postulates we inherited with our own, and are drawn to our psychic kin. Every night when the body rests we visit beings in other spheres. We may discount these sojourns as dreams unrelated to our daily existence. Yet bridging occurs when we value inner dynamics and re-story the associative symbols of images. Resonance momentarily fills the void between the known and the unknown, and meaning is assigned to events. Some good people trust in God, but then abnegate their creativity. Are we not the desire of a divine will? Are we not the ears, eyes, nose, hands and feet of a universal intelligence, of which we are the deed? Does not our speech derive from one sound? And is love not the creed that breathes all things and directs the movement of all spheres? I don’t understand the need to prove or disprove a universal intelligence that is within and all around us. The world I create is imperfect and suffers from on-going flux. But I can bring my small flame to its shadows.

Now that Cara’s myth caught up with her, and she was confronted with the net of postulates she had cast into the future. She found herself challenged to engage with what she animated, because she was animated by it.

Gutch spotted Tilly talking to Cara and Mesa in the hall. He was bursting with pleasure. ‘I found my clan,’ he said. ‘This place is teeming with talented actors. We’re going to do some magic theatre. Are you joining us?’

‘I need to take care of something,’ Tilly said. Can you keep an eye on Gart?’

‘That devil had some weird conversion trip and is sound asleep under the table.’

‘Excellent. Let him sleep.’

When Cara and Mesa arrived at the cottage across the atrium, Tilly had lit a fire in the hearth. A nest of chairs invited them, and the smell of fresh coffee. ‘Have some,’ she said, ‘pointing to a steaming pot, ‘and there’s chocolate cake, too.’ Mesa soaked up the atmosphere, transported to Ana’s world, reminded of Cassia’s kitchen. Tilly placed a small leather pouch in Cara’s lap. ‘Here, forged by fire, polished by the sea, a gift of remembrance.’

Cara opened and turned the pouch. A black stone fell into her hand – smooth as marble, yet radiating warmth and shining in the glow of the fire. ‘Ana’s talisman!’

‘Yes, and you might as well own it.’ Tilly paused, gazing into the flames. ‘I have a favour to ask from you, for Mesa’s benefit.’

‘What favour?’ Cara poured cups of coffee for everyone, dished out giant slices of chocolate cake and added a dollop of whipped cream to each.

‘Your future, Cara, has come to visit you. Mesa returned to assimilate what was lost to her. With Ana’s story you re-animated her soul. Certain events in history require beings to return, to right things or bring a message.  Mesa will take on her role in the odyssey of the Ypocs. And she’s going to be the narrator of your story, Cara.’

‘Huh, this takes a leap of the imagination. I haven’t even smoked the weed.’

Tilly smiled. ‘You know what it takes. Uncovering a personal myth is different from writing a Hollywood script. To help Mesa to re-connect with random creative processes, I want you to explain to her in as much detail as possible how your mind works.’

Cara heaved a breath. ‘The idea sucks every thought from my head.’

‘That’s a good start.’

‘All right, here goes a slice of random micro processing … Momentarily stuck with a paragraph, I remember to stretch my legs. In the kitchen I snatch a yogurt from the fridge. I notice a sticky shelf – mental note – clean it soon. Dark clouds gather outside, looks like rain. I run up to the bathroom and close the window. On the way down, I see dust-clouds on the stairs – mental note. Heading for the desk I stop by the fridge again because I’m now really hungry. I prepare a sandwich – mental note – put butter on shopping list. I use the loo – mental note – toilet paper is running out. Telephone rings. The answer machine kicks in. Just as well, I’ll return the call later – mental note. A letter that needs sending sits next to the phone, I put a stamp on it – mental note – post it. A fly is trapped in the window. I release the fly and study a tree out front that leans over and needs pruning. I quickly assess which branch to cut – mental note. Off to my desk. Passing a shelf I spot the book I couldn’t find earlier. What a relief! I plonk it on my research file and am reminded of an article I need to chase – mental note. The sun shines again. I open the backdoor and listen to the birds. Grass needs cutting – mental note. Finally back with my paragraph the writing flows, sheer bliss. At a natural break in the narrative I decide to go shopping. In the car I have an epiphany relating to a character in my story, to do with birds – mental note. The walker I pass reminds me to visit a certain person – mental note. I recall this person collects small antique tins. I could find him a present – mental note. I think of metaphors, how obsessions, like collecting tins, are really personalised teachings – mental note.’

Mesa had listened with rapt attention. ‘What happens to all the mental notes?’

‘Ha, ha … they’re promises. They’re torture. They heap up. They demand execution. My way to deal with accumulative pressures and gain time to focus on my writing is through procrastination. I’ve become patient with nagging voices. They’re not jailors. They’re easily humoured until the time is right for a blitz. Then I act fast and achieve a great deal in a short time, happy to have cleared the space.

‘But why give these mental notes the power of demands over you? Mesa asked.

Cara glanced at Tilly, who had taken up knitting, as if the dialogue bored her.  What was her agenda? Was this really for Mesa’s benefit? Tilly smiled and said, ‘Go on.’

‘It started out as compulsive pattern. I was conditioned to respond to the needs of my environment, and to maintain order. There are exceptions. Some days, it could be the weather, a dream, the stars … from the moment I open my eyes everything flows effortlessly. My brain is relaxed and I attract harmonious thoughts, like I’m fine-tuned to a subtler station, beyond the busy bandwidth of neurotic naggers. The tuning can be learned. It’s like taming a wild horse. I can actually do it, when necessary. But I like letting the horse run wild. I find wild things that way.’

‘We have different conditioning,’ Mesa said. ‘From early on I was trained to tame my mind, to let it rest like a still pond, or focus thoughts like laser beams. Then free play was introduced, disrupting Rhonda’s order, and all went wrong for the Ypoc.’

‘Aha! I bet you didn’t have to juggle a deep conflict, and oppose a controlling father.’

Tilly dropped her knitting. ‘This gets interesting. It’s what Mesa came back for.’

* * *

Apologies: The origin of the image of the horse is unknown to me.  Many thanks to the photographer.

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