Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Healing Images

My brother Bill is a true contemplative, can see deeply into nature and appreciate its soul nourishing beauty more than anyone I know. He can step out of the “hurry-up” pace of modern activity to watch the birds, or the movement of the wind in the trees, currents of water in the stream, and enjoys being part of where he is and giving it his full attention. When he pulled over to see the field of sunflowers blooming in bright sunlight, the pleasure was extended by seeing so many other people doing the same thing, pulled to a stop, arrested by beauty, taking pictures to send to their friends. We want to share beauty and the pleasure we take in it. And we have more ways than ever to share things with others. He said the people who had stopped were talking to each other about it. It was an experience that unified strangers. He and I had a wonderful conversation about the power of beauty to demand attention and to bring people together in wonder. It got me to thinking about how we can all be each other’s gurus, sharing whatever makes us feel and think more deeply. People are tired of the superficiality being emphasized by so much media and welcome opportunities for more satisfying life experience.
When we feel pleasure at the sight of sunflowers it’s evidence of the endorphins, our natural opiates reinforcing what’s good for us and combating our pain. Connecting is good for our health, drawing attention out of ourselves and into our surroundings. We begin by connecting to the beauty we see and extend the connection as we share it.
I heard Dr. Herbert Benson on the radio recently discussing his newest book, “Relaxation Revolution”. An enormous part of the body/mind reciprocity is the way we visualize our condition. Diagnosis exacerbates a condition because its definition creates a set of expectations, images of the form the disease will take. He used the phrase, “remembering wellness” for picturing the healthy condition you know from experience, visualizing a time when the problem wasn’t there. He emphasizes the need to do it every day to rework long held negative images. Even more effective might be our memories of moments of connection, people talking about a field of sunflowers. Pain separates us. Remembered experiences of beauty in all of its forms restore our connection and can be used for self-healing.
Images of growth, in particular, fortify our vitality, and are a favored subject for artists and photographers. The process of growth is the experience of extending of ourselves, reaching beyond our previous limits, applying our learning, experience and outlook in our interaction with the physical world. Emerson spoke of the value of work as in, not the results or profit from the work, but the increased power as our skills are developed and improved. As Erich Fromm wrote, “Living is growing” which may be part of why we’re attracted to growth in nature. Images of nature reinforce our participation in cycles of growth and our identification with the life-force that could also be seen as spirit. Dylan Thomas imagined spirit so beautifully as “that force that through the green fuse drives the flower.” Remembering the images that pulled our attention out of ourselves and into the world may be more restorative than we realize.
(Sunflower photo by Bill Waters)

Sunday, September 12, 2010



I recently read in “The Body Has A Mind Of Its Own” by Sandra and Matthew Blakeslee that for the Himba tribe in Namibia, each person is born with a self-space like a bubble extending beyond the body that is always mingling with the self-space of others in the community. Because of this they felt they were never alone, and felt very sorry for westerners who thought of themselves as isolated in space. Our cultural mindset of an individual consciousness encased in a body creates a painful separation between our environment and ourselves.
We think of personal space as something that can be invaded or trespassed. Keeping the body and personhood safe is a high priority. Though people generally think of safety as physical, avoiding threats to the body, psychiatrist James Gilligan, who has spent his life working with prisoners, said that a threat to one’s dignity is just as serious. Since punishment is a threat to both he sees the increase in violence as due to the increasingly punitive nature of American society. He said a common statement among repeat offenders is, “I never got so much respect in my life as I did when I pointed a gun at somebody.” Feeling respected is part of a sense of safety, deeply rooted in our physiology. Just seeing a contempt face or someone rolling their eyes in relation to something you’ve said or done will make your heart beat faster. Physiologically, ridicule and mockery have the same effect as violence and can be the cause of violence. Nietzsche said, “Distrust anyone in whom the desire to punish is powerful.” The media revels in the thought that Roger Clemens might go to jail for lying, and that violates my sense of proportion. Obedience has become more important than justice, mechanically applying the same penalty, regardless of context. As the amount of rules increases, more and more of us find ourselves lawbreakers, transgressing codes designed to protect us. I’m often guilty of not wearing my seatbelt, but I feel I’m a better driver without it. If I do what I feel is right I can get a ticket.
Overemphasis on rules implies disrespect for the common sense of the populace. It communicates dangers that might not have been worried about before. It increases walls between people and stirs negative mental states like suspicion and worry. The labyrinth of barriers and limitations is part of a way of seeing built on separation. Every protection is another wall in the fortress between ourselves and others. Our safety is secured by our greater isolation. A new way of visualizing our place in the world might relieve this estrangement.
To envision ourselves as a part of a field of consciousness that includes us would help us accept the life lessons that are thrown our way as part of the knowledge we’re best suited to provide. We are, after all, unique places in space and time with a particular view that adds to the big picture. Trust is a precondition of safety and if you trust the overarching order as instructive you can be aware but not over vigilant. David Bohm, from his perspective in quantum physics, talked of beauty, art and creativity as acts of “fitting”, discernment of what’s works with the larger pattern unfolding in a given context. Since at a quantum level we’re all a continuous field, it might be time to let go of the cultural idea of ourselves as so separate. A change of image would lead to a change in attitude toward the world we’re immersed in, our systems and patterns of movement intricately woven through the totality of life experience. As part of our environment, it would be natural to act in harmony with it.