Tag Archives: reading

… sunshine ☼ parties between rain drops …

Last weekend I stepped out of my recluse bubble. It’s been a while, and I truly enjoyed a spell of rich socialising.

My editor visited and stayed over, enticing me to celebrate the release of ‘Course of Mirrors’ into the world. She brought along an excellent bottle of sparkle. I wish every writer was blessed with such a generous editor friend.

Truth be told, without Zohra’s editing support I would not have reached the confidence to publish my first novel, to continue writing a sequel and even start a third book.

Saturday’s party was to celebrate another friend’s birthday, once more with champagne, and a feast of the most delicious food, prepared by his partner, Ruthie. The afternoon was crowned by the appearance of an auspicious rainbow.

to greet the party – in a sky like rippled silk – a blessed rainbow

For the Sunday occasion a bunch of friends gathered in gratitude, giving honour to the memory of Rahima (Elspeth Milburn-Spottiswood) – a remarkable woman, painter, Sufi and Jungian psychotherapist.

The venue was a beautiful old barn in Surrey, surrounded by green lawns and lush, colourful gardens. We listened to recordings of our friend’s resonant voice reciting poetry by D. H. Lawrence and Rumi. And we watched film clips that brought back into awareness her kindness, knowledge, and her inspirational insights during seminars on archetypes we co-facilitated for many years. Stories were told, readings were offered – and music played. Among the gathering were strangers, new contacts, friends of friends, in the way networks grow.

The sun was warm enough to have a nap on the lawn. Family members, and some of the younger generation attended the day, which was heartwarming.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rahima is sorely missed. I wrote about her on this blog before. In 2012  – October 2016 – and in January 2017

Miraculously, the weekend had only the occasional short shower between long spells of sunshine, augmented by the warmth of friendships.

I feel deeply nourished, and am left with the pleasure of knowing that Course of Mirrors is now travelling across the world, and readers, some of you among them, will already be immersed in the story, and hopefully post reviews.

The light in green shoots encapsulates the weekend.

Information on my first novel is on my book page here.

 

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How do I read?

one of my notebooks

one of my notebooks

I jotted this question in my notebook a while ago. How do I read, in the widest sense? There is plenty of observation and advice on the art of writing, composing music, painting, photography, film. Less is said about on the art of reading, perceiving, interpreting, or how we reject or embrace what is expressed by others, and ourselves, even how we read our dreams.

I conclude there’s no difference between, let’s say writing, and reading, other than visibility, since any creative composition derives from an inner process of reading, the picking and shuffling of impressions into our frame of reference in relation to the larger myth of reality.

One could say the secret of being read lies in one’s talent and ability to read one’s inner psychic world, even when filtered through one’s most personal and eccentric imagination.

Long before communication was easily reproducible and reached greater audiences, people were reading the world, though only a tiny fraction of inspirations and inventions was circulated. Today’s media channels swamp us with communications. It’s confusing. We must choose.

In reading novels, I follow my intuition. The gimmick of an instant attention grabbing action scene puts me off. A proposal may be impossibly fantastic, but if I detect an authentic voice, rhythm and movement, I travel along. Invited into a mind, an atmosphere, a time, a place, I want to be absorbed in this other world and experience myself anew in a conflict between light and shadow from within the heart of another consciousness.

Whether meaning is intended or not, I read my own meaning into what has been imagined by another mind. An insight, a memory may surprise. Some books I treasure for one or two illuminating sentences, so I guess reading for me is a bit of a treasure hunt, which begs a question. What am I hunting for?

world objects for sandtray work

world objects for sandtray work

My interest is fleeting when events are contrived, plucked from the air. Characters convince me when they are embodied and grow around obstacles, reaching towards the light, while spreading roots and producing seeds (new thoughts,) even when they come from mythical creatures, kings and slaves of the past, or explorers of distant futures. As long as events happen in a believable psychological setting, I engage.

Then again, I’ve been convinced by writing that made no sense at all, until, with a little patience, I discovered a new comprehension shining through an abstract form. It’s a wonderful feeling, and important feedback for writers, who may be surprised by what is evoked in readers. Once I finished my present project, I intent to spend more time on reviewing – a most giving art of reading.

Stories for stories sake can be dull, while stories in which nothing much happens outwardly can be riveting when they resonate with the human condition, where, quite often, what seems true becomes false, and what seems false becomes true.

It is said we write the books we want to read. When writing, I search to combine words that convince intellectually and emotionally, until something true is mirrored back. Maybe what I’m hunting for in my reading and writing are fitting metaphors for the miracle of existence.

I always delight in discovering neglected writers, like Marlene Haushofer,  or the poet W S Graham, whom I wrote about here as part of a post in Sept 2013.  And beyond new works, there are innumerable old favourites, including H G Wells. The link connects to a post I did about one of his lesser known stories.

Thinking about photography, my other passionate reading, I was inspired by Henri Cartier Bresson – the link leads to my post about him.  And here the archive of the street photography of Andre Kertesz – enjoy.  I’ll leave film alone, that’s a whole other story.

What are your reflections on reading?

 

Some related blogposts:

Storytelling and the primary world.

Mother-tongue and other tongue.

Memory and Place.

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… moans from an unruly writer …

Installation by Frederick Franck

Installation by Frederick Franck

While I write, wrestle with style, query words battling for attention and set out sequences to string ideas together, anyone watching me might assume I’m a nervous wreck. My body, perfectly able to string an arrow to a bow and hit a target, has a wild notion of focus when it comes to writing. It shifts and wriggles, gets up pretending I need a coffee, ends up cleaning the sink, checks the porch for post and so on, all the while allowing my word sculpting to continue until, bingo …. I rely on intuition, which slips into little silences, opens a crack in the surface of things and reveals a hidden layer, and, occasionally offers a glimpse into the infinity of now. A tiny glimpse is all it takes to relax, sharpen senses and spark a creative dialogue between my inner voices that often quarrel and fool around like the average family.

I respect moderate conflict, it stirs up mud but clears the air, and even when the inner crowd gets fed-up with listening – grace, solitude, or a good night’s sleep bring additional insights, bridge divides and re-establish a tolerable rhythm of chaos and peace.

Am I fooling myself? Is my knack for intuition just guesswork. Is it inborn? Does it evolve with experience, as a kind of deeper listening skill humanity moves towards? Can it be learned? Is it worth defending? Or is it the relic of a go-with-the-flow philosophy that avoids closer analysis of my thought processes and behaviour? I seem to struggle with two kinds of temperaments, one looking for the particle and the other for the wave, stretched between rational and irrational numbers. The two temperaments compete but need each other.

Pilgrim Fool by Celcil Collins

Pilgrim Fool by Celcil Collins

Scientists and statisticians tend to approach the unknown rationally, and seem set to eradicate human incompetence and messiness. Some frenzied rational prophets go as far as knocking anything that can’t be quantified and evidenced. I value logic, what annoys me is the attitude that scoffs at people who hold hands with the fool.

There are more reliable methods than the vagaries of intuition, shown in a New York Times piece by Gary Wolf ‘The Data Driven Life’ from April 2010,  a long but brilliant article that received many pages of diverse comments. Not everyone is keen on the Quantified Self.

I resist being monitored and quantified by data, fixed as particle, ticked off for my risk-taking folly, my random cross-referencing. The geeks and outliers the article describes have fun recording their every move. And I grant that someone suffering from high blood pressure or apnoea benefits from being nudged by a gadget to take a deep breath. I remember being excited and applauding the first biofeedback devices that affirmed how thoughts affect our physiology and vice versa. When it comes to data dependency, I have a hunch it will starve emotional intelligence, which I strongly believe develops through mastery of language.

Working a few years for Social Services, we used to write narrative assessments until a computer programme with tick boxes was introduced. We hated it. Conveying observations in writing was shoved aside as time-consuming, subjective and vague, while quantitative recording was hailed as reliable, though its data hinges no less on interpretation and application.

Recently I skimmed an article suggesting future novels will be written by computers. My cynic leapt from its slumber and argued that a machine hasn’t got 100 Billion neurons and can’t be intimate with nature, is immune to changing metabolisms and moods – hour by hour, night and day. Immune to what comes on the breath, with wind, dust, rain and radio waves that travel through the cosmos, nor is a machine influenced by dreams, synchronicities, diets, layers of revolving memories, kind gestures, general anxieties, rejection, loss of control, loss of a loved one, global news … the unpredictable influx of thoughts and emotions that our mind continuously sifts, evaluates and re-interprets.

Irrational humans can’t be quantified and controlled, which may be why since ancient times there has been an ambition to create artificial beings.  Here a bit of fun from Turing and his colleague Strachey – a reasoned-out love letter, achieved through programming a 1951 computer to make sentences via algorithms, having been fed on love synonyms from a Thesaurus:

Honey Dear – My sympathetic affection beautifully attracts your affectionate enthusiasm. You are my loving adoration: my breathless adoration. My fellow feeling breathlessly hopes for your dear eagerness. My lovesick adoration cherishes your avid ardour.

Yours wistfully, M.U.C. (Manchester University Computer)

…. M. U. C. is eager, if a little verbose and breathless 🙂

Since then, artificial intelligence is even more breathless with numbers, but operates highly sophisticated technology that improved the quality of our lives. I admit I’m fascinated by the concept of cyborgs, but don’t want to get plucked into the human network protocol .

Our privacy is at stake. And our relationship with nature? … its record of life and the human experience, the treasure house of the collective unconscious, translated and re-membered through DNA, invisible spheres and the very light we breathe. Anything alive changes from moment to moment. And our experiences, insights and expectations have a vital part in the changing.

Nature is the book I grew up with, it taught me stuff:                                                                                                       About growing … put a seed into earth, tend to its needs and its story flowers.                                                        About resilience … a seedling lost in a dark corner will grow towards any spot of light, no matter how it must bend and curl its stalk around obstacles.                                                                                                                                       About connections … the dynamic geometry of the tiniest plants and vast galaxies are reflected in each other.

Enough samples to show the obvious – nature teaches through metaphors. My theme is resilience. I take risks and accept that struggling makes me inventive, expands my consciousness, polishes my heart and challenges me to think for myself.

My moan extends to the growing practice of enticing people to emulate machines in service of progress and economic efficiency, in jobs that dull the senses and dull the mind.

Meanwhile I cheer the unruly folk, including fools, dreamers, innovators, artists, poets and writers with an ear towards the hidden – who translate past and future newly into the present – the open-minded, who can tolerate conflict, value intuitive signals that chime in the heart, and who can occasionally endure being suspended like a leaf on a gossamer thread.

What do you, my reader, think?

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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 :

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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… on awareness …

Magic or what? According to the Hindus everything is food, including sounds and visual vibrations – all kinds of impressions: stories, architectural proportions, union of forms and colours, harmonics and rhythms, dissonance, conflict and all the ideas with which we come in contact. All this, absorbed mechanically and mostly without awareness throughout the day, has made up our being and continues to do so, unless we wake up to this process and adjust our rituals.

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Psychological laws: excerpt from ‘The Act of Will’ by Roberto Assagioli M.D.

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1   Images or mental pictures and ideas tend to produce the physical conditions and the external acts that correspond to them. Every image has in itself a motor element.

2   Attitudes, movements, and actions tend to evoke corresponding images and ideas; these, in turn evoke or intensify corresponding emotions and feelings.

3   Ideas and images tend to awaken emotions and feelings that correspond to them.

4   Emotions and impressions tend to awaken and intensify ideas and images that correspond to or are associated with them.

5   Needs, urges, drives and desires tend to arouse corresponding images, ideas and emotions.

6   Attention, interest, affirmation, and repetitions reinforce the ideas, images and psychological formations on which they are centred.

7  Repetition of actions intensifies the urge to further reiteration and renders their execution easier and better, until they come to be performed unconsciously.

8   All the various functions, and their manifold combinations in complexes and sub-personalities, adopt means of achieving their aims without our awareness, and independently of, and even against, our conscious will.

9   Urges, drives, desires and emotions tend to and demand to be expressed.

10   The psychological energies can find expression: 1. directly, through discharge and catharsis, 2. indirectly, through symbolic action, 3. through a process of transmutation.

*    *    *

After carefully contemplating these laws you will draw your own conclusions.

Here some practical examples:   Having experienced Feldenkreis work, and practices deriving from it  –  after doing a gentle physical exercise and repeating it in my imagination only, with eyes closed, the same physical reactions happen in my body. This  explains why active imagination can affect mind and body at a deep level and change physical symptoms as well as states of mind.

When I hit my toe, elbow or head on an object, I repeat the exact contact and, in my imagination, send the impact back. There remains hardly any pain and the usual swelling is mild or does not occur at all.

Therapeutically, if a tense or hurtful part of the body is listened to and  allowed a voice, the result can be  instantaneous,  much like when you lower yourself at eye-level to a toddler who has a tantrum, and do nothing else but acknowledge the rage, surprise, surprise, the tantrum stops.

What seems like magic, is actually simple and applies both ways: physical activity influences mood and mind,  active imagination influences mood and body.  Many of our modern-day ailments derive from people not being able to listen to their bodies and/or not being able to use their imagination in a constructive way.

Reading and, even more deeply, writing, are indirect symbolic expressions of psychological energy, which explains the incredible power of stories 🙂

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