Tag Archives: Alice in Wonderland

… another poignant Alice moment …

‘Let the jury consider their verdict,’ the King said, for about the twentieth time that day.

No, no!’ said the Queen. ‘Sentence first – verdict afterwards.’

‘Stuff and nonsense!’ said Alice loudly, ‘the idea of having the sentence first.’

‘Hold your tongue!’ said the Queen, turning purple.

‘I won’t!’ said Alice.

‘Off with her head!’ the Queen shouted on top of her voice. Nobody moved.

‘Who cares for you?’ said Alice (she had grown to her full size by this time.) ‘You’re nothing but a pack of cards.’

Do we ever grow to our full size, psychologically speaking? I frequently throw my pack of cards into the air – a good practice in this hilariously mad world, where a rational outlook focusses on particulars while missing the whole picture, the full proportion and variety of human experience. The turmoil of our time creates stress that becomes endemic, where hardly anybody can remain relaxed enough to really listen to their own anxieties, let alone others’ – so they can be aired.

Many dear familiar things are vanishing from our lives, including people. People we met on our path at certain times, people that moved apart again or remained close and intimate. Being reminded that nothing lasts, haunts us with a sense of futility, originating from within us as anxieties, which, depending on our sensitivity, are fed by collective anxieties. The turmoil, while a natural part of transformation, also created stress – which takes different forms in us.

I acquired skills to reduce my stress, am fortunate to be able to listen to myself, often a pre-requisite during the training of any vocation that involves listening to others who suffer stress.

This morning on the news, the poor support offered to those who suffer from periods of schizophrenia was highlighted. It most poignantly illustrates the point. Instead of non-judgemental listening to the anxieties people experience under stress, no matter what fantasy grabs a mind as a kind of metaphor – drugs are prescribed, straight away. And so distrust worsens anxieties, without giving a person under stress the opportunity to explore the relevance of their anxieties. This is how schizophrenia is sanctioned and maintained. In short – the most sensitive people become the victims of our schizophrenic society. How sad.

Are you burdened by anxieties? Don’t insult your anxieties with soothing quotes. Forced development weakens the organism. Don’t be intimidated by expert opinions. Express your anxieties creatively – write, draw, create surreal representations of your fantasies, air them and play with them. Give space to the tension. See that the burden is not all on your shoulders. You are having part in a period of transition, a culture that struggles with confusion. Find your own truth, and establish your own evidence, before you arrive at a false verdict and sentence yourself as a victim.

Don’t adjust your truth to prescribed reality, create a reality to express your truth.

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… Alice moments …

‘Who are you?’ said the Caterpillar.

This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation.

Alice replied, rather shyly, ‘I hardly know, sir, just at present – at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.’

‘What do you mean by that?’ said the Caterpillar sternly. Explain yourself!’

‘I can’t explain myself, I’m afraid, sir,’ said Alice, ‘because I’m not myself, you see.’

Illustration by Arthur Rackham

 

A character in my book is having one of those Alice moments.

When I thought about it a little, l had to admit, so do I.

Having discovered this wonderful 1907 edition of Alice in Wonderland among my books, illustrated by Arthur Rackham, I’ll outwit my writer’s block and re-read one of my favourite stories.

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… 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 :

Update … I discovered recently, in 2019, that some the links in this post don’t seem to work anymore. Here , however, is his daughter’s great documentary on Vimeo, unfortunately not free, apart from the trailer.  https://vimeo.com/ondemand/bateson

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.

Check out Gregory Bateson’s books ‘Steps to an Ecology of Mind’ and ‘Mind and Nature.

His family continue his work: His daughter Nora and his wife – Mary Catherine Bateson:   http://www.interculturalstudies.org/main.html

Peripheral Vision

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

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

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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