The Figure of Eight (R6)

The dynamic concept of the Figure of Eight was introduced in my Blog ‘Somatic Markers’ dated 16th November.

The bottom half of the Figure of Eight represents the ground of our being—core self—that which we can become more aware of in meditative exercises of one kind or another: the rush of blood in the ears, the crackling of knee joints, the tingling in the right big toe (notice it now…), the sense of suspension in the limbs when you imagine that all motion has been stopped, the place we go to when listening to the slow movement of a Mozart Piano Concerto—α-wave intelligence.

The ascent into the top half of the Figure of Eight takes us into β-wave intelligence which is needed to sustain everyday living during which there’s a tendency to forget that everything depends on the natural functioning of the Core Self where the laws of one’s own being operate.

And the cross-over point? What happens there at the momentary point of fertile stasis, poised between organism and object—organism and anything in the outside world with special reference to those things which we choose to let distract us from the Core Self. What is like to be just there in total silence—at the Euclidean non-existent point of cross-over? How to describe it? Has anybody been there?

There was an artist in the city of Kouroo who was disposed to strive after perfection. One day it came into his mind to make a staff. Having considered that, in an imperfect work, time is an ingredient, but into a perfect work time does not enter, he said to himself, it shall be perfect in all respects, though I should do nothing else in my life. He proceeded instantly to the forest for wood, being resolved that it should not be made of unsuitable material; and as he searched for and rejected stick after stick, his friends gradually deserted him, for they grew old in their works and died, but he grew not older by a moment. High singleness of purpose and resolution, and his elevated piety, endowed him, without his knowledge, with perennial youth. As he made no compromise with Time, Time kept out of his way, and only sighed at a distance because he could not overcome him. Before he had found a stick in all respects suitable, the city of Kouroo was a hoary ruin, and he sat on one of its mounds to peel the stick. Before he had given it the proper shape the dynasty of the Candahars was at an end, and with the point of the stick he wrote the name of the last of that race in the sand, and then resumed his work. By the time he had smoothed and polished the staff Kalpa was no longer the pole-star; and ere he had put on the ferrule and the head adorned with precious stones, Brahma had awoke and slumbered many times. But why do I stay to mention these things? When the finishing stroke was put to his work, it suddenly expanded before the eyes of the astonished artist into the fairest of all the creations of Brahma. He had made a new system in making a staff, a world with full and fair proportions, in which, though the old cities and dynasties had passed away, fairer and more glorious ones had taken their places. And now he saw by the heap of shavings still fresh at his feet, that, for him and his work, the former lapse of time had been an illusion, and that no more time had elapsed than is required for a single scintillation from the brain of Brahma to fall on and inflame the tinder of a mortal brain. The material was pure, and his art was pure; how could the result be other than wonderful?

Thoreau’s little story (quoted by Herbert Read in The Redemption of the Robot) illustrates what the cross-over point might be like. What are the elements that might serve as pointers to us in the so-called ‘ordinary world’?

●     Focus on Things—what Gurdjieff calls getting the Food of Pure Impressions before left-brain thinking takes over in the top half of the Figure of Eight.

●     Timelessness—which includes but is far more than separation from clock-time; a total dedication to the task in hand that brings about a feeling that there is no such thing as time.

●     Singleness of Purpose—unsullied by temporal distractions of any kind.

●    Remembering Oneself—the 4th Way idea of the moment when ‘the tinder of a mortal brain’ is suddenly inflamed by ‘presence’… There are plenty of examples of the way self-remembering works in Gurdjieff & Ouspensky and their followers.

Above all, not to serve machinery but to go with one’s sense of flow in fidelity to the laws of one’s being to the extent that one’s artefacts constantly expand into meaning and renewal of purpose.

How does all this work out for an artist, a composer, poet, dreamer, thinker, craftsperson, What light can such as they shed on how focus on things, the experience of timelessness, singleness of purpose and Being in the present relate to their processes?

And how might such things apply even to a person who has with singleness of purpose dedicated their life to some daily avocation? What benefit would they get from such a change of focus?

Herbert Read’s ‘drift’ is to wonder how the ‘emotional satisfactions’ of the craftsperson’s work can be introduced into the ‘average life’ beset by ‘divided purposes’—the life of the robot. ‘We have never ventured to say that the machine shall go thus far and no further; the machine shall do this, but not that; the machine shall be put here, but not there…’

In our society, the two halves of the Figure of Eight have become radically separated off from each other: the top half has been hi-jacked by and for the efficient functioning of the machine; education drifts more and more towards the hidden wreck of vocational training, preparation for what they call ‘work’ (what might be construed as ‘slavery’—the life of the robot); the bottom half of the Figure of Eight has been forgotten except when it starts malfunctioning when it is simply offered drugs by the health machine.

I ask again: how does all this work out for an artist, a composer, poet, dreamer, thinker, craftsperson? What light can such as they shed on how focus on things, the experience of timelessness and singleness of purpose relate to their processes? What would an ordinary ‘worker’ gain?

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HAIKU – another fifty-one

walking now where
those who passed the café window
walked ten minutes ago


from the train window
glimpses of village streets
I shall never tread


brief conversation
at breakfast during which
a whole life is aired


for the fountains that play
in other people’s gardens

(Fernando Pessoa)


today a colony
of rooks has moved into
the tall sycamore


a raven
pecking at red apples
high above the valley

(at Woodchester 16th August 2010)


blackbirds sing
for rain and four dogs
all swap seats


—less clear across the valley
than they used to be


sitting by a peacock
slumped in a garden tub
—sunshine & mountains


they defend their beliefs
while I just
look at clouds


the judge makes neat points;
the audience thinks
of everything else


an argument about
the dates of bad behaviour
itself not addressed


a double whisky—
as though it could heal


all night the moon moves
round my library
book by book


wanting the strength
to believe that life
is after all so fragile


I teach my father
how to interpret
the death notes he left


—what’s this? she asks
my discordant musical choice
stops her in her tracks


long midnight
in my empty dream-garden


a few yards of sand
where my path used to stretch on
for mile after mile


focus dwindling
but still


on the brink—
watching ravens flap
across the abyss


the last time
in this house seems
not unlike the first


striving to outline
the shape of my feeling
I fall back on houses


so much yet to do—
the gathering up of notes
in the dawn


stripping away
the superfluous on rising—
blackbird’s warning


blue sky & clouds—
sunlight on silver birches
at the hospital gates


the morning after
the endoscopy I raise
my arms to the sun


if you listen
to the sound you may miss
the music

(George Ives to his son Charles)


fresh ploughed sods
facing a silver sky


if childhood is ended
I can no longer be


when the water
is still it can
know itself

(Claudio Naranjo)


what is there between
one thought
and another?



the mind becomes
peaceful when you
don’t mess with it



a soft breeze
swaying curtains
with regret


dust-motes in sunlight
now day is done—
the leftovers


In a Hospital January 2011

the old man’s chest
to make room for a milk-shake


polishing the floor
after a night
of bedlam


Razumovsky One
in my dreams


bare branches
through the hospital window
a flight of gulls


infinite care
for the legless man
fading away


in Italian
at the unresponsive night


rearranges his bedding
over and over again


the unbearable
lightness of nurses
at their tasks


at their interview
lady consultants—chosen
for their looks?


morning light
a release from
fitful sleep


a long rest cure—
opening the first page
of a five-volume novel


at night Antonio
comes alive
pacing the corridors


the surgeon
who will cut me open
becomes a friend



the tortoiseshell cat
moves from the heat of the fire
to stretch out elsewhere


there was a change—
something she had been
quick to notice

(The Furys: James Hanley)


a Haydn string quartet—
three cats stretched
before a log fire


To end of 7/5/10 – 8/2/11 Notebook

Three Poems (R6)

the soul

can either build of itself
a work of art
or sit and watch the Barbarian
inversion of old certitudes—
mask of Evil that entices
into the wilderness of the future;
or it rides out of the Wasteland
tramples the vineyards
demolishes the shrines
giving over soil to sand
and the mind to this awful simplicity
of box & buttons
of fad & fashion—
mere mechanisms of personality
invented by the age

the Barbarian cannot make;
it can only befog and destroy—
but even that it cannot sustain
(as soul would sustain)
lacking limit and boundary
which are essential to all making

and we are victims offered daily
to the cruelties of the moment
with no tradition
to incarnate the gestures of
daily living in song and stone

only wayward mythologies—
an ever-shifting empty hagiography
of temporary heroes
of slogans and the gleanings
of mass culture


the doctrine

of inevitable progress—
the present the highpoint
of cultural and personal development—
the ancestors treated with condescension
the thinkers ignored unread
(those who told it how it really is)—

the present (so they say—the powerful ones
in their powerful ignorance) is
the threshold to a Golden Age—
provided you accept our (mendacious)
version of events…  tissues of imagery
& abstraction

progress is the ghost
of a big black dog
cocking its leg against the lamp-posts
of infinite dark streets—
a convenient construct;
an unsubtle trick of the imagination;
a laying of eggs
in a basket that does not exist


I’m with Hilaire Belloc

who sprayed the English
complacents with corrosive words
to eat away the rust of centuries
of smug: parliamentary democracy
represents not the country of hills
and valleys    not the cottages
and the city streets
but capitalism & wealth;
its supposed incorruptibility is a lie—
bodies bought & sold to slavery
titles bartered for privilege—
we are not all in this together

liberal capitalism will never deliver
the Golden Age—it leads inexorably
towards the Servile State
in which the majority labour
for the good of a small minority
of wealthy owners in their gated domains
or for a government of technical experts
imposing technical solutions—
their expertise in spiritual bankruptcy

the future becomes a refuge for those
who cannot bear to face
the grandeur of the past
in the contingent tyranny of the present

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once upon a time

an angel visited the Earth:
for many years he thought
everybody on Earth was mad
because he could not understand

what it was they were enjoying;
then he caught the Earth disease
and began to enjoy Negative Emotions
just as they had always done

and he could no longer see the madness;
when the heavenly adjudicator came down
to tell him he had failed the test
he got madder and madder…

failed the test and forgotten something
and must remain on Earth until he remembered
what it was and had disentangled himself
from all the curious delights

of indulging in negative emotions:
sinking into the bottomless swamp
of being gloomy or bad-tempered
self-pitying   tart or caustic


Learning in Stages

Conventional wisdom (that is, not really ‘wisdom’ at all) suggests that learning proceeds in four neat and tidy stages. The model is taught as though it’s the be-all and end-all but what it doesn’t do is to depict the subtleties involved in the shift from one assumed ‘stage’ to another. This essay is an attempt to suggest a way of describing a joined up process as opposed to a simple move between discrete ‘stages’.

According to the much-touted self-development model, first there’s what’s called Unconscious Incompetence which is sometimes categorised as ‘blissful ignorance’: at this stage we are supposed not to know we don’t know.

If we don’t know something it surely follows that we can’t possibly know that we don’t know we don’t know – whatever it might be, it’s just way beyond our ken.

Anyway, then, hey presto, there’s what’s called Conscious Incompetence when we are supposed to know that we don’t know: leaving aside knowing and not-knowing, it’s certainly possible that we might become envious of others who we notice can do something with apparent ease; we want to be able to do what they do but just don’t know how to set about it – if we dare to admit that, we might even get called ‘stupid’. There was a guy in a park juggling with eight thuds – how did he do that? I’d have liked to be able to operate with such finesse. My attempts resulted in what’s often called ‘failure’. I become aware of something I’m sure I would be no good at even if I really stuck at it. There is a bit of learning in there somewhere.

Conscious Competence occurs to us when we manage to juggle three thuds. To get to eight you just have to keep going… It’ll happen when you want it to. “Look at me – I’m a juggler!”

Sticking at a piece of learning apparently gets you to the stage of Unconscious Competence – that’s presumably the status of the guy in the park juggling eight thuds who probably wouldn’t be able to tell you how he’d managed to make a blend of the skills involved. It’s just become a habit for him, like falling off a log. Persisting with the activity has provided him with the ‘confidence’ to carry on.

By the way, why are juggling balls called ‘thuds’? Because that’s the noise they make when you drop them when you’re learning… The label ‘thud’ made me smile every time I lost control thus dissipating any annoyance that might have got in the way of learning. In fact I became quite good at juggling four thuds, then I lost interest and, without either need or desire, I’ve even lost the ability to juggle three of them.

As a system the model looks like this:-


Whatever they mean, the labels in the model run the risk of cajoling us into pre-supposing that progressing through these neat and tidy stages is all there is to learning something – a skill or a way of thinking or feeling. It conveniently skates over the how? of it. It is assumed that a boost in something known as ‘confidence’ is all that’s needed to be able to move forward.

Any description of the model is riddled with abstractions: ‘consciousness’, ‘competence’, ‘incompetence’, ‘confidence’, ‘ignorance’, ‘failure’, ‘awareness’, ‘habit’, ‘ability’…

The unwitting permutation of abstractions in speech episodes frequently subverts sensible thinking in all of us in many spheres of activity. As always, things are rather more complex than they seem when one reduces events to abstractions.

My main objection to the Incompetence Model is the fact that it welds the notion of ‘incompetence’ into the brain. ‘I can’t draw…’ ‘I’m tone deaf…’ ‘I can’t do maths…’ It functions as a self-fulfilling prophecy. “I’m so incompetent…” The word ‘incompetent’ should be abolished.

The way to bust abstractions is to turn them into actions taken by different parts of oneself (see my The Campaign Against Abstractionism 2006). The Incompetence Model could be reframed thus:-


Working it Through on the Enneagram

The other day I was with a group of great people looking at the Enneagram once again. I encouraged them to look carefully at the common Competence Model of learning in order to deconstruct it and turn it into I-activity and then test whether it could be mapped on to the Enneagram somehow. One of them coached me through the dynamic system of the Enneagram with the idea that I might discover the diachronic process of becoming the kind of ‘teacher’ I fondly imagine myself to be. Imagination is all it consists of in the end!

The process of Enneagram discovery firstly involves identifying how you originally became fixated in one particular pattern depicted in the Fixations represented on the circumference and then journeying round the internal dynamic in the ‘Direction of Integration’ to find manifestations of resourcefulness you picked up along the way. It is important to follow the internal dynamic in order to get a sense of building on strengths.

In your first brush with the Ichazo/Palmer/Don Riso version of the Enneagram it’s important to focus on what might be your main Fixation – the one that you’ve learned to inhabit through First Education & upbringing – that which determines the way you make sense of life – whether by, for example, rising above things, by picking things apart, by caring about others, by following leads or by working hard and so on. When people first look at the many variables in all nine Fixations, they are inclined to say something like, “There’s a bit of me in all of them…” And that’s true, but the first step is to discover the Fixation that best describes you in your entirety. From there, eventually, one can make a journey round the dynamic system that is the Enneagram to make a rich synthesis of the whole package of possibilities for oneself.

Being coached myself, what I found I became interested in, through the conversation, were the stages in my life when I had actually acquired experiences that took me from my main Fixation to tacking on to my being ‘desirable’ elements of other Fixations in my Direction of Integration. I did the circuit entirely in relation to ‘becoming a teacher’. I was never, of course, aware of the way things were adding up while they were doing so in ‘real life’! The Enneagram dynamic is a tool that offers profound analysis before and after the event.

The first bit of enlightenment that came out of our conversation was that although at an early age I would certainly have been ‘Unconsciously Incompetent’ at being a teacher, in the sense that the idea was way outside my ken, I would nevertheless have had the concept ‘being a teacher’ somewhere lodged in my system because I’d seen teachers at work. What’s blithely called ‘Unconscious Incompetence’ is by no means an exclusive state of being – much else is going on apart from not-knowing. We should abandon the term – it’s all too easy to be bamboozled by the words we use.

Deconstructing the Incompetence Model into I-events and placing them on the Enneagram begins to flesh it out, according to the above reframe, and to connect the hitherto black & white ‘stages’ so that they become more like shades of grey.

This is a Reconstruction of What Came Out of My Being Coached

Being-aware-that-there-were-such-entities-as-‘teachers’-I co-existed with a virtual Having-no-idea-I-would-ever-be-able-to-step-into-their-shoes-I. As a young lad, the label ‘shy’ had been stuck on me – I accepted it without question, but it nevertheless generated in me, at that stage, an un-verbalised Desiring-to-escape-frozenness-in-the-presence-of-others-I. The frozenness was real enough.

My father went off to fight some battle in India in 1941 (I was 4) and my mother began the long descent into anxiety both about his survival and about my sister’s hopeless disease (from which she eventually died in 2005) so that there developed in me a very strong Thrown-on-own-resources-I and also a feeling of being abandoned so that there also came the gift of a Being-useless-and-fearful-of-others-I. In Enneagram terms there was a yawning Hole in my Being which I could have fallen into except that Being-very-curious-I led me towards a Needing-to-piece-things-together-for-myself-I in a meticulous kind of way. Filling the Hole in one’s Being with meaning in order to get to the Wholeness of things is a strong characteristic of Fixation 5 in the Enneagram – that’s how ‘I’ fancy I started and where ‘I’ start from.

Thrown back on my own resources, I began to exercise Fantasising-I and I suppose I acquired a Being-good-at-creating-internal-stories-I. In our south London suburb, I experienced the Blitz: nightly bombing raids threatened extinction, though I didn’t think of that at the time, so there was no fear involved in it. However, Feeling-rather-precarious-I must have had a few outings. Preserving-the-integrity-of-my-being-I resorted to creating an inward-turning, somewhat bizarre, world-view; my Doing-weird-things-I was quite relaxed about this. I remember being on a train one evening between Waterloo and Worcester Park in Surrey where we lived: I became the organiser of the entire railway system, working the signals, determining which passenger and goods trains went where, announcing fanciful directions through station loudspeakers; I even controlled the setting of the sun, delaying it so that the rather short-sighted driver of a certain train could see where he was going.

Being-wrapped-up-in-myself-I sailed through Junior School picking things up with ease from rather straight-laced earnest female teachers. Walking home one afternoon, aged 10, I observed my shadow advancing along the vertical strips of a wooden fence and thought of it as a way of depicting progress through life! I didn’t yet have the word ‘metaphor’ to construct things with.

It was amazing then to find a quite different kind of teacher at Kingston Grammar School – all more or less eccentric and, while I was sometimes afraid of their likely response because I hadn’t done my homework properly, I revelled in their eccentricity: Modelling-on-weirdness-I became a very strong piece of my being; it fitted my pre-existing view of how things ought to be. It seemed at least possible that the generally eccentric methods demonstrated by Basher & Bunter & Techy & Gasbag, to mention but four, might provide a guide for the rather lost Wanting-to-know-how-I-could-transmit-weird-things-I… Entirely separate from a Being-keen-to-write-literary-essays-I, Storing-things-up-I merely filed everything carefully for future reference – as it turned out.

Teacher-training-I which came what seems like a long time after this would have had very severe things to say about the teaching methods of these eccentrics: they had very little idea of packaging anything so it made sense; one history teacher just dictated endless notes; the music teacher had us copying out notes from large printed sheets; mostly they just went on from where they’d left off the previous lesson.

But before that, came so-called ‘National Service’… I idled into it assuming that it was just something you did. No principles stood in the way of ‘joining up’. I’m glad now they didn’t because the two year experience of ‘being in the army’ contributed profoundly to the person I imagine I am now – anarcho-pacifist-vegetarian…

At the initial stage of presenting myself for ‘National Service’ I had ticked a box which said ‘Education Corps’. As I’ve pointed out before, I was dumbfounded when it turned out that I had opted to become an army teacher-instructor. This dumped me into Being-forced-into-becoming-aware-of-being-unaware-of-how-to-teach-I and reinvigorated Seeming-to-be-terrified-of-other-people-I.

However, in order to survive, great parts of my being shifted immediately round the Enneagram in the Direction of Integration – Fixation 8: Being-decisive-I, Finding-one’s-strength-I, Sticking-with-it-I, and above all, perhaps, Can-do-I.

Plunged into making up lessons to order, my pre-existing Telling-a-story-I found it quite easy to oblige and quite a bit of quiet excitement was generated by a new Creating-by-gut-reaction-I. A very important new ‘I’ emerged from the combined wit of those parts of me which, had I possessed the concept then, I might have called Learning-during-doing-I and Noticing-feedback-I – the important new ‘I’ was the rather obvious one (now) of Just-doing-it-I. It struck me that standing up as ‘teacher’ in front of a practice class, just doing whatever it was inevitably provoked a response; then, when you simply went wherever the feedback took you, you were propelled into further exchanges again just by doing ‘it’.

Following-my-nose-I Took Over!

One weekend on guard duty, when the officers were off on some beano, a group of us decided we’d nosey-parker the files they kept on us in their offices. There was an interesting comment in my file: ‘Blundell has a quietly dry sense of humour’. I didn’t know that yet. So I took inside me Being-quietly-humorous-I which thenceforth I built into my lessons in a quietly dry sort of way.

When I was posted to a National Service RE Training Camp in Farnborough, Hampshire, where I spent the remainder of my military daze, I began to find that not only did Having-to-teach-weird-things-I come into action but that there was a Nurturing-I who could help people who had signed on for years to succeed at furthering their education. The idea of being able to do that would have been way beyond me when I was a mere private soldier not many weeks before, subject to vicious NCO’s every random disciplinary whim. And so I drifted into Enneagram Fixation 2 to use what I had acquired at 8 (being able to lead myself) to help others.

Being-of-service-to others-I Was Born

However, there was opening up a huge discrepancy between what I had to do to survive being in the army and my growing sense of antipathy towards wielding a rifle. My Regular Army colleagues were all for going off to Suez to ‘bash the wogs’ as they picturesquely described what they thought would be their part in the 1956 Crisis; I was rather afraid they might want to take me with them.

I had to teach what I regarded as weird things like ‘Badges of Rank’ and ‘NATO’s role in the Mediterranean’; later, having failed History at O Level, I found myself teaching Military History. I even started teaching New Testament Greek to one sergeant but he didn’t have much sticking power. I discovered that I had a strong Being-willing-to-give-it-a-whirl-I which derived in part at least from Having-a-sense-of-the-absurd-I. In any case, I could just make it all up as I went along. It really didn’t matter what you did. So here I was integrating to Enneagram Fixation 4 owning up to a sense of the absurd, capable of serious larking about. Coming-to-terms-with-life’s-little-ironies-I.

Apart from what I regarded as the silly things I had to teach, there were some important ones – for example map-reading, which I delighted in. In these crass days the ability to read a map has disappeared into the e-contraption that you just feed a postcode into; thus does so-called Artificial Intelligence destroy the chances for the survival of real intelligence.

To teach map-reading successfully, Instructing-skills-I had to develop. This comprises Breaking-things-down-into-small-chunks-I and Formal-lesson-planning-I. Being-responsible-I began to co-exist with Having-a-high-sense-of-purpose-I. So this aberrant carcass arrived at Fixation 1.

After demob and a brief return to pen-pushing in an office, Suffering-wage-slavery-I decided that it had had enough of working pointlessly at office desks and so, highly principled, Believing-strongly-in-the-centrality-of-the-student-I, applied itself in a Teacher Training College to the study of the philosophy & psychology of teaching, determined to stake out a position for itself at last. Everything in my past had built up to this: Taking-everything-as-a-gift-to-be-relished-I recognised that my great teachers at Kingston Grammar School, who had variously survived the trauma of WW2, not only taught me how to be successfully eccentric but also what to avoid when teaching. Doing-things-differently-from-how-those-old-teachers-did-it-I was a powerful ally in my getting a B.Ed Hons.

Systematic acceptance of everything in life as a gift is a characteristic of Fixation 7


Noticing-feedback-I, Being-spontaneous-I, Grasping-nettles-I, and above all, Not-being-aware-of-what-I-do-do-but-doing-it-anyway-I are also what a Top Form 7 Fixation is about. From there one can go back to Fixation 5 with an enhanced sense of the point of the journey: everything on it conspires to give the quest for knowledge & understanding some continuing significance for me. Hence these lengthy ‘Globs’ which I might begin to call ‘Essays’ – literally ‘attempts’ (from the French) at making sense of things. It does matter what words one chooses to use!

My secondary Fixations (‘Wings’) are 4 (Being-regularly-creative-I) and 6 (Being-courageous-I). A person with a 6 Fixation not only has a sense of duty but can also have a strong Making-space-for-others-I.

The one book my parents bought me early on was called Colin Courageous – must have lodged something in my 3-brained Being!


Going in the Direction of Integration, at 9 one finds Being-self-possessed-I and, what won’t appear in any of the textbooks, Being-optimistically- pessimistic-I or Being-pessimistically- optimistic-I, turn and turn about .
The path to Fixation 3 completes the journey. A person with a 3 Fixation has a purposeful Being-inner-directed-I and a strong Believing-in-self-I.
scan0070It will be noted, perhaps, that the desirable characteristics of 6,9 and 3 appear in various ways in the other Fixations in my account. Individuals locked into those particular three Fixations are, strangely, the most challenged in holding on to their desirable characteristics.

My coach had successfully got me to explore things that I hadn’t pieced together before. ‘Piecing things together’ is a major characteristic of somebody with a 5 Fixation. I was very grateful to her.

It remains to emphasise that this account simply records the way in which I imagine I picked up these many positive aspects of the Enneagram Fixations. The process was entirely accidental: I maintain that I have drifted through life, simply noting the way things happen as they do and responding accordingly; I’m not making any claim for active consolidation of what happened to me. I don’t believe that any of us have as much purchase on life as we like to imagine we have.

My Enneagram chums and I were exploring how our many ‘I’s could be seen to fill the gaps between the notional stages in the familiar Incompetence Model of Human Learning. If it does anything in the way of depicting the process of learning how might we get from one notional stage to another and back? For the sake of demonstration, I chose to consider the part a selection from my millions of ‘I’s might have played in my path to ‘teacherliness’. On another occasion I could have chosen to make a journey round the Enneagram in the opposite direction piecing together all the cockups I’ve made in my life: Being-dictatorial-I at the bottom of Fixation 8, for example, where my Soul Child exists (see Sandra Maitri – The Spiritual Dimension of the Enneagram – for this valuable concept) – the unsorted characteristics from childhood; Being-very-dogmatic-I whenever I sink to the bottom of Fixation 5; Being-melancholic-I at subterranean 4 and so on.

But on this occasion I was seeking to trace what might have been the entirely accidental journey I made towards ‘teacherliness’ and mapping it on to the Enneagram to investigate whether it might say something about the inadequacy of the original model.

This is all about me. It will make a lot more sense for a notional reader to do the journey for itself, asking the question – How did I get to be …? Something you think you’re good at…

“First of all there was a virtual ‘I’ that was not not aware of what it could do… But it did have a concept of…” and so on…


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This is record of a six month slice of my life spent quite often in a garden shed and a cubby hole in James Graham College of Education, near Leeds, between December 1965 and June 1966. When I revisited the place where the College had been I found that everything, including the good old Victorian house had been demolished for a toffy-nosed housing estate. My model, last I heard of it, had already gone to another College in Leeds – I’d love to know if it still exists in some educational establishment somewhere. These are the notes I made at the time – slightly edited.




The wall drawing by CWalter Hodges [see end]
Shakespeare’s Theatre by CWalter Hodges (Junior Library book)
The Seven Ages of the Theatre by RSouthern
Shakespeare’s Stage by AMNagler

Constructional Details

Begun 26th December 1965 (1598/99)
Finished 20th June 1966 (burnt down 1613)
Personal Cost 5/6½d [about 28p]
Wood Used – green grocer boxes, plywood, quartering and floor-board scraps
from a friendly joiner. Odd pieces of hardboard.
Evostick and PVA
A few nails

Approximately 1500 separate pieces of wood in the model.

A Hypothetical Construction

While studying the books listed above, trying to reconcile the evidence given about the Globe Theatre by them, in order to draw up workable plans for the model, I was conscious of steering through a rumbling literary/historical argument. Reading the following quotation from AMNagler, late in the day, to whom trying to reconstruct the Globe seemed a hopeless task, made me think about the validity of the model:-

‘…The available documents simply do not enable us to answer questions such as: How large was the acting area? Were the stage doors parallel to the front of the stage or at an oblique angle to it? What was the nature of the upper stage? What was the height of the tiring house? I am not certain we could answer these questions even if we had the Globe contract…’

Anyway, I persisted, since the construction work got me out of writing two essays on subjects that were not congenial to me. I drew up rough plans. The base:-


Southern provides a more positive note:-

‘…A matter about which there is positive evidence should be added to the above. We have various statements that the interiors of the Elizabethan playhouses were ‘beautiful to look at’, ‘were painted’ and ‘marbled in a fashion skilful enough to deceive even a curious bystander…’ ’

The aim of this model was to preserve the simplicity of a hypothetical design (pace Nagler), the wood texture, and to reveal the construction while creating an illusion of decorative complexity, enough ‘to deceive even a curious bystander’…


Richard Southern’s note on the extant sketch of an Elizabethan theatre (De Witt – Van Buchell) draws attention to one of the minor limitations of the Hodges reconstruction revealed by the building of this model:-

‘…though seats are shown in the top gallery, this is labelled ‘porticus’ which means a roofed walk-way. The suggestion is that (since sight-lines would only allow two rows of benches up here as against five rows in the lowest gallery) there must have been promenade space behind the seating…’

The view of the audience in the top gallery may be gauged by looking through the removable portion of the exterior wall of the model. [The photographs showing this have unfortunately been lost.]

Nagler refers to another position in which the view of the audience would have been seriously obstructed if the Globe had been built like the model:-

‘…It is doubtful whether the stage of the Theatre, the Curtain or the Globe had two lofty posts like those supporting the stage roof in the Swan sketch. Such posts took up precious space and barred the view of several spectators…’

I put the lofty posts in…
And decided to design the stage, seating and roof thus:-


There are three pieces of contemporary evidence about the playhouses erected between the years 1576 and 1623 – the drawing of the Swan and two builders’ contracts, one for the Fortune and one for the Hope. Taken together these three items form the more or less essential basis to which any other evidence must be related. This, point is made by Richard Southern in The Seven Ages of the Theatre (p 172).

No plan or specification of the Globe exists, but its characteristics are referred to in the Fortune contract of 8th January 1599. The main difference between the two theatres is that the Fortune was square whereas the Globe appears to have been round or polygonal. The items in this contract which were used in the construction of my model are as follows:-

‘…The frame of the house to… measure 80 feet square outside and 55 feet square inside…’

‘…The frame to be in three storeys; the first to contain 12ft in height, the second 11ft and the third 9ft. Each storey to be 12ft 6in broad, besides a juttey forwards in either of the saide twoe vpper stories of tenne ynches of lawfull assize, with-four divisions for gentlemen’s rooms… and with stairs, and conveyances (passages) like those of the Globe…’

‘…With a stage and tiring house made in the frame, with a ‘shadow’ (cover) over the stage…. The stage to be 43ft wide and broad enough to come to the middle of the yard. (55ft divided by 2 = 27½ft)…’

The sceptical Nagler points out that ‘the dimensions which Adams computed for the Globe stage (43ft by 29ft) are purely hypothetical’. I took the width of the stage as 30ft which is the length of the edge of a rectangle drawn on the longest side of a four-sided figure having for three of its sides three of the sides of the sixteen-sided figure which encompasses the pit and the stage area. This seems to agree with Walter Hodges’ large drawing which is the primary source for the model.

The Fortune contract continues:- ‘…The stage in all other dimensions to be like that of the Globe…’

‘…With glazed windows to the tiring house…’

‘…The frame and staircases to be lathed and plastered (lime and hair) on the outside…’ This effect has been simulated by gluing the sawdust created by cutting the wood for other parts of the model to the hardboard used for the exterior walls.

Throwing caution to the winds, Nagler provides the information that the stage was probably raised about six feet above the floor of the yard, since this much room was needed for ther operation of the traps. Moreover, the platforms of the street theatres were traditionally head-high.

The first Globe was thatched. According to Nagler, the event of the burning of the Globe was celebrated in a number of popular ballads ‘…one of which advised the actors to whore less and spend the money thus saved to construct a tile roof…’

My model was roofed with straw…

I took great care over the construction of rafters & pillars!


This photo of the construction of the actual Globe by the Thames exudes an uncanny air of resemblance to the experience of making my model:-


Even more uncanny was the experience of attending a Shakespearean performance at the real Globe somewhere around 2000. It was just like walking round my model. I even wondered if it had been used as a prototype for the real Globe. Maybe,say, Sam Wanamaker had found it buried under a heap of files & old clothes in some dead or dying college where it had been used as a visual aid with drama students.

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This piece of writing, done at the end of March 1993, had been dawning on me since I was about ten when, on Friday afternoons, for a whole year we went into Mr Bullivant’s classroom to listen to him read stories which I never heard because I was too busy drinking in the painting which hung on his wall. The experience amounted to one of the most significant events of my entire education.


The Shepherd Boy – Franz von Lenbach

CB: Tell me, shepherd boy, what are you supposed to represent?
SB: I have no idea. Anyway, you know what Ben Nicholson said about his abstracts – when you see a tree in the middle of a field you don’t ask what it represents so why should you ask that question of a painting, any painting? It’s just what it is.
CB: What was in the mind of that Lenbach fellow when he depicted you?
SB: How should I know? The painter is not important – he’s just a by-product of the painting itself.
CB: That’s an interesting idea. Where did you get it from?
SB: Do you imagine that I lie here without thinking, without an original thought in my head? Lenbach’s been dead for ninety years but I’ve been stretched out here gathering ideas all that time.
CB: Ideas about what?
SB: This & that… Actually, that idea – the one about Lenbach being just a by-product of me, this painting – comes from an autobiography – it’s in the air we breathe –‘the oxygen of the soul’ he calls it – the by-product…
CB: Who?
SB: Michel Tournier. I’m on the dust jacket of his book. He says I’m The Wind Spirit.
CB: I don’t know that.
SB: You should. It’ll answer all your questions.
CB: All of them?
SB: Try me! But if you were to buy the book thinking that it was an explication of me represented on the cover you’d be sorely disappointed. There’s nothing there about me specifically though there’s a fine blurb on the dust jacket:-

Lying on his back, his left hand shading his eyes, he no longer hears the bells of his flock in the distance. He no longer sees the mountain flowers and grasses that bow in fragile greeting around his body. He listens to the powerful wind descended from heaven, before which the vegetation of the high slopes bends down. He scrutinises the luminous void. He is tossed by waves in this azure gulf through which heavy white ships pass with majestic slowness. This is his way of doing metaphysics.

CB: Bold claim!
SB: And that’s right, but the writer didn’t do me; nothing about me except for this note on the dust jacket which will become detached from the book as it does the rounds of secondhand bookshops for hundreds of years.
CB OK. You’ve been lying there for 90 years, you say, which must make you an expert at lying on a grassy bank under a cloudless blue sky, so still that the butterflies play around you, oblivious. I’d like to know how you do it.
SB: It takes a lifetime to do it successfully, though the rudiments are quite easy to learn, easy to achieve: your average day-tripper to Brighton or Box Hill knows how to throw themselves on the ground and soak up the sun.
CB: But what you do is different?
SB: Oh yes! You have to nuzzle your shoulders into the planet, feel its surging through the blackness of space, its movement across the universe & time. With your right hand you seek to arrest its flow; with your right foot you tilt it at just the right angle. It’s not any old bank that will do for this. Then you think…
CB: What do you think?
SB: The thinking is of a piece with the activity; it does not follow from it – it is part of it. ‘Landscape is a state of mind’, says Michel Tournier. When I’m like this I become the landscape; it fits me like a glove; I fit it – shoulders, back, bum and leg. I am borne up by the motion of the planet. I am at one with the sandy bank and the impulse of the afternoon.
CB: So how do I get to feel like that? What do I have to do?
SB: It is both simple and complex, both at the same time. You’re out in the open air; you’ve opened your lungs wide; you are in need of spiritual rejuvenation…
CB: How does that follow?
SB: Take it from me… The day is hot; you see a grassy bank that’s just the right angle for sinking into. The moment is right; you sit and fill your eyes with fields, farms, villages, valleys flowing away from you till your sense of identity is lost in them. At that moment you drop back and wriggle your body into the shape of the bank and feel the planet spinning. The wriggle is important.
CB: What’s in your mind? Do you talk to yourself?
SB: Not to start with. I focus on things – sounds, skylarks, insect popping, bees, buzz of grass-hoppers, distant tractors, sheep, a dog barking as they always do. I stare into the blue sky till it becomes kaleidoscopic and I can pick the dancing patterns apart with what passes for my brain. I feel the grass stems. I scoop all these fleeting impressions up into the Nothingness of my other-than-conscious mind. Then I might go into conscious recollection to recall Michel Tournier’s quotation from Nietzsche: ‘one must have a chaos within oneself to give birth to a dancing star’. Sometimes Valéry: ‘God made everything out of nothing but the nothing shows through…’
CB: So you move into your conscious mind then?
SB: In and out, in and out. It’s not good to be in either place for too long or exclusively; better to learn to switch from one to the other as a matter of habit. Michel Tournier says that ‘the great joy of metaphysics is the warm & powerful conviction that by force of intellect one can proceed straight to the roots of the most palpable of things, to the fragrance & texture of the world…’ In my conscious mind I’m pretty clear that putting me on his dust jacket was to do with announcing the existence of an objective correlative (Eliot, you know) for a state of mind – he identifies with me but leaves readers to sort this out for themselves. Or maybe it was accidental. Most things are. When his publisher asked, “What shall we put on the cover?” he might just have looked up at the picture of The Shepherd Boy that had been hanging on his sitting-room wall for forty years and said, “That’s it!” But I don’t know.
CB: I haven’t read this book yet, remember.
SB: It’s a metaphysical autobiography. As far as I can make out, its organising principle is PHORIA which is a special word from the Greek meaning ‘bearing’ or in a more special sense a ‘bearing up’ consisting of a harmony of individual & moment, with time & place & circumstance but neutral – unlike euphoria, going over the top.
CB: So how would I do ‘phoria’? How would I know when I had it?
SB: Pure recognition, awareness of something being just right for the moment, for the time & place – maybe something as simple as a quotation that suddenly leaps off the page of a book at you like ‘rooks – slow dark thoughts of peace’ (Rosamond Lehmann: Invitation to the Waltz) and then a herd of rooks go past your window.
CB: ‘Window’ – how do you know about windows when you’ve been lying there all that time?
SB: I know about many things lying here. Many’s the room I’ve been hung in with morning sunlight streaming through a window – I know about windows.
CB: How do I do PHORIA?
SB: You may have to go back to a time when you could have chosen to be lonely, on your own, gathering the whole universe around you like a cloak.
CB: Why?
SB: It’s like Michel Tournier says in my book: ‘no one is a good student who cannot and does not like to work alone…’ Then you have to sort things out for yourself following the example of a teacher who searches for enlightenment with you: ‘as for French, Latin & Greek, he was perfectly capable of plumbing their mysteries along with us… I think there is no better method…’ Then you must learn to get maximum excitement from small and even trivial events: ‘above all standing by through the terrible & glorious days when the thresher filled the barnyard with panting sounds and silvery dust: these were simple but important things and I am glad I experienced them before they disappeared forever…’
CB: But I cannot go back and rewrite my history.
SB: You cannot rewrite it certainly, but you can view it differently; you can polish it up, fiddle around with the remembering of it. Think of a time when you were lonely now; go back into it, see what you saw, hear what you heard and feel what you felt. Consider what you might have learned from the experience whatever it was.
CB: How pleasant it was to sit in a deckchair on a summer lawn and not be interrupted; bees and larks and internal noises would have taken on more significance for me – if only I had been able to dismantle my longing to be elsewhere.
SB: Now put a big gap between sitting in the deckchair and the longing; separate the experiences, dismantle them, dismingle them, one from the other.
CB: This I can do for myself now then…
SB: It’s my gift to you. And there’s more. Michel Tournier: ‘I think what a person reads early on in life forms an intangible, impregnable, base upon which to erect not only literary cultivation and judgement but also a personal sensibility and mythology – intangible & impregnable because we can no more deny our earliest admirations than we can reject the influence of heredity…’ Around the same time as I was being painted Richard Jefferies offered what amounts to specific directions on how to arrive at my state of mind; if I had asked him what I should do in order to be me I am sure that this is what he would have replied:-

The story of my heart commences seventeen years ago. In the glow of youth there were times every now and then when I felt the necessity of a strong inspiration of soul-thought My heart was dusty, parched for want of the rain of deep feeling; my mind arid and dry, for there is a dust which settles on the heart as well as that which falls on a ledge… There was a hill to which I used to resort at such periods. The labour of walking three miles to it, all the while gradually ascending, seemed to clear my blood of the heaviness accumulated at home. On a warm summer day the slow continued rise required continual effort, which carried away the sense of oppression.

CB: If what you’re doing isn’t working for you, do something different…
SB: It’s a PHORIA, a being born up in a way totally appropriate to his desire for change.

Moving up the sweet short turf, at every step my heart seemed to obtain a wider horizon of feeling; with every inhalation of rich pure air, a deeper desire. The very light of the sun was whiter and more brilliant here. By the time I had reached the summit I had entirely forgotten the petty circumstances and the annoyances of existence. I felt myself, myself… I was utterly alone with the sun and the earth. Lying down on the grass, I spoke in my soul to the earth, the sun, the air, and the distant sea far beyond sight. I thought of the earth’s firmness – I felt it bear me up…

CB: Ah! Phoria. I see – a bearing up.

SB: Mystical combination of events. And then moving inwards. Outside-inside-outside.

…through the grassy couch there came an influence as if I could feel the great earth speaking to me. By the blue heaven, by the rolling sun bursting through untrodden space, a new ocean of ether every day unveiled. By the fresh and wandering air encompassing the world; by the sea sounding on the shore – the green sea white-flecked at the margin and the deep ocean; by the strong earth under me. Then, returning, I prayed by the sweet thyme, whose little flowers I touched with my hand; by the slender grass; by the crumble of dry chalky earth I took up and let fall through my fingers. Touching the crumble of earth, the blade of grass, the thyme flower, breathing the earth-encircling air, thinking of the sea and the sky, holding out my hand for the sunbeams to touch it, prone on the sward in token of deep reverence. thus I prayed that I might touch to the unutterable existence infinitely higher than deity… Next, back to myself I came and recalled myself, my bodily existence. I held out my hand, the sunlight gleamed on the skin and the iridescent nails; I recalled the mystery and beauty of the flesh. I thought of the mind with which I could see the ocean sixty miles distant, and gather to myself its glory. I thought of my inner existence, that consciousness which is called the soul. These, that is, myself, I threw into the balance to weigh the prayer the heavier.

SB: I could have written all that if I had not been so busy slumped just here; it’s as though old Lenbach had read Richard Jefferies and had a wish to represent the words in print. Anyway, what you have to do… Hey, are you listening to me?
CB: Ooops, sorry! I think I tranced out…
SB: Did you get it though? Never mind! I wonder what it would have been like if you had got it. What you have to do is to keep going backwards & forwards, macro/micro, specific/general, internal feelings/universal shudders – backwards & forwards so quickly that you settle at what’s been called the ‘still point of the turning world’.
CB: Not much money in that…
SB: What? So you’re part of what Michel Tournier refers to as the crisis that began in the 18th Century, ‘a turning point in the history of education, as moral initiation gradually lost out to practical instruction…’ Now ‘education, cleansed of every last vestige of initiation, has been reduced to nothing more than a dispenser of useful & saleable knowledge…’ as defined by those who stand to benefit from the cleansing.
CB: Quite. I think I must have been born before the 18th Century. I’ve wanted this conversation ever since I was 10 in Mr Bullivant’s classroom on a Friday afternoon.

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I was on a train to London the other day. Sitting opposite & next to me were a couple of blokes on their way to Twickenham to watch a rugby match. When they’d run out of their own conversation about things happening in the construction industry, the more obviously affable of the two turned to me and said, “So where are you going today?”

I asked him if he wanted the five hour version or the two minute one; they opted for the latter so I told them I was off to a Haiku Conference (in fact, it was the Annual General Meeting of The British Haiku Society (12th November 2016) but that didn’t seem to me, under the spell of vanity, to sound quite as grand as ‘Haiku Conference’…) Did they know what a haiku was? One of them did. I just said it was it was the result of looking at the world in a different kind of way without thinking about it too much. A particular way originating in Japan.

“You don’t look Japanese!”

They wanted to know what I was reading; it turned out that since they’d left school (I’d say around twenty years ago) they’d only read three books between them. I said I couldn’t imagine what it must be like not to be reading – “I’ve been called a ‘chain reader’: while I’m reading one book I’m wondering what to read next…”

To reestablish rapport I said how I have a passion for brick-laying. The result of my efforts might not pass professional inspection but, “I’ve been fascinated from childhood by the way the runny stuff you carefully smooth between the bricks in the afternoon goes solid by morning.”

One of them said, “I’ve never thought about it like that. That’s a different way of looking at the world – like writing a haiku, I suppose…” No need for my five hour version! It’s called ‘one trial learning’!

The following day, hunting through a very early volume of Blithe Spirit, the British Haiku Society journal which I’ve often edited, I found an essay I wrote in 1992 which might have formed the basis of the five hour version the two chaps from the construction industry declined. I haven’t advanced much in my thinking – or perhaps I’ve just been rather consistent.

Here’s the essay:-

An Apology by a Westerner Writing Haiku

“Haiku…? What the hell’s a haiku…? Japanese poem…? You’re not Japanese – what are you doing writing haiku…?”

Occasionally you get challenged by people who don’t even write ‘poetry’ to explain why you write haiku: to talk about the influence of Japanese culture, seems to me to be absurd if you’ve never been to Japan; the nearest I can get to thinking about making sense is to explain the attraction of [the Alan Watts’ version of] Zen as a way of thinking, but people are equally baffled when all you can do to explain yourself is to throw your fan out of the window or tip a glass of water on the floor which is, so I understand, the Zen way.

In any case, I’m not completely convinced that my interest in the ‘spirit of haiku’ did really begin when I read The Way of Zen in the early sixties; I don’t think I would have been so captivated by Alan Watts’ writing if my. mind had not already been made a fertile seed-bed in some other way.

Tracing the mind-trails that lead to present moments is always fascinating; while the trail is being blazed you’re too busy doing what they call ‘learning’ to keep track of the evolving pattern – once the pattern is established it’s difficult to unravel: what, for instance, brings one person to see a haiku as a focus for the entire universe while another says dismissively, “So what?” Is there a moment in childhood when some people make a choice to be forever locked into immediacy, concreteness, the Suchness of things, while others fix on, say, money to locate (and therefore lose) themselves in a web of possessions and organised diversions?

More specifically, I wondered if I had read some Western thinker whose ideas might have played on my mind to make it easy to become ‘haiku-hooked’ when Watts came my way. I have always enjoyed the encapsulation of ‘little moments’ in poetry because they leave you puzzled, amazed, contemplative; they reverberate in the mind long time to come: D H Lawrence’s poem ‘At the Bank in Spain’ can serve as a random example:-

Even the old priest, in his long black robe and silvery hair
came to the counter with his hat off, humble at the shrine,
and was immensely flattered when one of the fat little clerks of the bank
shook hands with him.

It is often pointed out that Zen-think, such as this, occurs in literature other than Japanese: it manifests itself in a regard for the moment, for the specificity of objects (sono-mama), allows them to stand without comment to do their work in the mind. The opposite occurs ‘…when we concentrate on a material object… [then] the very act of attention may lead to our involuntarily sinking into the history of that object…’ Explanations, footnotes, unwrapping ideas (as now) paradoxically work towards the defeat of ideas; a good bit of advice for haiku-writers might be that, ‘…novices must learn to skim over matter if they want matter to stay at the exact level of the moment…’ (Vladimir Nabokov). Matter in itself, left to itself, is powerful to fix and subsequently summon up past moments – my personal list might start thus: knot-holes in fences, curious rock-forms, running water, a back garden manhole cover I called, for some inscrutable reason, a ‘Putney’, a tall fir tree on a distant western horizon…

I recently re-read James Kirkup’s The Only Child. The reading helped to strengthen a tentative hypothesis that some people make an existential choice early on in life to be concerned for the minutiae offered by experience; such a choice can work towards a particular mind-set that, given an awareness of the form, can lead to habitual haiku-writing.

While ‘…other people [were] partially deafened by the busy hum of their own bodies…’ James found himself unable to make a noise in the company of others; the inward-turning sensitivity, ‘lonely but not conscious of loneliness’, resulted in a rich haul of potential haiku-moments: the shining door-knob of the house where he was born, the H-shaped boot-scraper, gas-lamp in the street, slightly stirring shadows of flowery lace curtains, far-off moaning of ships, jam jars of dead wall flowers and marguerites amongst gravestones, the grimy boots of newspaper readers in the library, a chipped blue enamel teapot, vivid blue flashes on tram-wires, granny Kirkup’s porch smelling of Autumn and sea, telegraph poles in the lane, magical labyrinth of white sheets on washing day, the dog Rosie, the milkman’s horse, sparrows hopping in the gutter, seagulls flying over chimneys, the bandstand in South Marine Park, the travelling spark at the end of the lamplighter’s stick, a seagull perching on a rocking buoy, a model ship in a glass case…


Lifeboat in the snow, South Shields

Examining carefully this ‘…rag-bag… that we cannot bring ourselves to part with…’ possessing it ‘…with a fresh and extraordinary strength, we discover at the end of long and tangled skeins a bright pin of truth…’. Haiku is a ‘bright pin of truth’!

Ordinary experience is always fresh and productive when you can relate your soul to it in this way; there, is no chance of being ‘bored’ – ‘…people who get bored are ones who always reckon that something amusing ought to come at them from outside…’ says, Robert Walser [one of James’ favourite authors] in Jakob von Gunten). At key moments of perception the observer becomes the door-knob, the H-shaped boot-scraper, a knot-hole in a fence, and so on; the soul goes out to meet experience, constructing itself from events rather than waiting for ready-made amusements as small as a TV programme, as large as Disneyland.

So, perhaps, the nature of one’s childhood choices and sensitivity makes it relatively easy, or not, to accept the haiku process when it comes your way.

I wondered whether I had, in addition, read something in Western philosophy that might have led to a mild obsession for the idea behind haiku-writing. Tracing this mind-trail ought not to be too long a business for in what I like to call my ‘intellectual life’ there were, at the very most, just ten formative books. Of these, Aldous Huxley’s Perennial Philosophy which I read in the late-1950’s gave me, from medieval mysticism, the concept of Istigkeit – Suchness – which, after I had read Watts, translated keenly to the Japanese concept ‘sono-mama’. But, going backwards on the mind-trail, I come to AN Whitehead’s Adventures of Ideas. I reach to my bookshelves for a book about Whitehead, recently acquired, and re-discover ideas that I had completely forgotten but which have long since ceased being, in Whitehead’s own term, ‘inert’ in me, and have become my own possession.

Whitehead is against carving experience up into lumps; he denies the conventional division of Nature into apparent and real. Nature is what is given in experience. The fundamental unit of existence is an ‘event’ or ‘occasion’ where subject and object are united, where there is no dichotomy of perceiver and perceived. Promising! Precisely Zen! As I understand it…

For Whitehead, the event/occasion exists momentarily at the intersection of ‘presentational immediacy’ and ‘causal efficacy’: for example, there is a dripping tap in presentational immediacy; for a split second there is a mental construction <dripping tap – ah! – plumber> or <plumbers mend taps – this tap needs a plumber>. ‘Split second’ is a poverty-stricken language attempt to depict the ‘timeless moment’ when the dripping tap is and is not connected with plumber (= ‘causal efficacy’).

Whitehead believes that we come to unique awareness of who and what we are by constructing ourselves out of our contacts with such occasions of experience. Far from our manipulating events, occasions grasp us to become concrete through what Whitehead calls ‘prehension’: the conscious ‘I’ [or set of ‘I’s] is a ‘route for occasions’ to make themselves felt.

I often have the feeling that haiku write me; looking back over a notebook containing a month of haiku I certainly feel that their occasions have made me a route; the momentary awareness we capture in haiku becomes the way we read the world – so it is a constant feedback loop: the frog plopping into the pond constructs the awareness of the poet; without the presence of the poet, no frog, no plop, no pond because no eye to see or ear to hear. Whitehead would say, I think, that there is nothing to choose between the frog and the man whose mind has for a split second become the frog.

At the moment of the occasion I am nothing but the occasion itself. The occasion is a growth of feeling and an ultimate unity and I am that growth and that unity. My actuality, my concreteness, is to be defined by what is present in the occasion, whether derived from the past or conceptually turned towards the future, whether concerned with some present physical feeling or with an idea plucked from empty air.

In Whitehead’s terms, a haiku would be a non-judgemental ‘proposition’ about the world based on pure data without the intervention of any kind of mentalism.

“Haiku…? What the hell’s a haiku…? Japanese poem…? You’re not Japanese…”
“You’re right, I’m not. But there’s this chap called Whitehead – he says… And I made many choices in childhood that made me content with little events and occasions… And then I discovered haiku and everything clicked into place. Hoorah for the Japanese without whom the vehicle for expressing all this would not exist!”

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Thoughts on and a review of HGWells’ The Croquet Player…

What do you feel about the scary crisis of existing in the world as it has become in this glorious New Millennium? Daily news of devastating explosions in market places or at wedding ceremonies, the collecting of blown-apart body parts in sacks, global terrorist activity, maiming and execution, drone strikes on anything that’s moving, the mass graves, rape & pillage on a grand scale, wanton destruction of famous archaeological sites, shots of the dismembered remains of what was once a human-being, whole cities reduced to rubble by blind forces, the columns of refugees, their drowning in leaky boats way out at sea, inhumanity towards those who manage to make it over the sea, little kids covered in flies dying in the streets, photos of grossly malformed babies resulting even now from the American bombing of Vietnam years ago, the hooded hordes. The Kurtzian Horror… Mr Kurtz or Colonel Kurtz. One could go mad either way.

What does the global situation make me feel? “…Nothing – I never really think about it if I can help it…”

Most people (the majority?) have simply become inured, content to choose to pretend that everything is normal: football on a Saturday afternoon, soaps on telly, quiz programmes, Bingo, Christmas and New Year celebrations and continuing support for any bombing labelled as being in aid of ‘The Defence of Freedom & Democracy’. The colossal waste of resources. And there’s always Church on Sunday for a shriving and poppies for remembrance.

HGWells’ novella The Croquet Player will speak to anybody who identifies with the intolerable buffering between the Horror and Normality; to anybody who notices the radio announcer’s swift flippant turning away from a brief report on the accidental drone-strike on an Afghan funeral parade – “…and now for today’s sports news…”

I first read The Croquet Player a year before ‘9/11′ changed the world forever. The intervening years present a bloody cavalcade of systemic destruction that could play on the mind if you chose to let it. If you chose to identify with it instead of setting it all on one side or, at best, maintaining a balanced grasp of the global situation in order to face it and then get on with ordinary life; the media helps by not reporting the full extent of human misery; the Power Possessors know what’s best for us. Their World War 3 is just round the corner.

The croquet player, Georgie Frobisher, a simple soul like the rest of us, brought up from the age of three by an over-protective aunt, equates ‘thinking’ with doing The Times crossword puzzle every day, and playing chess (by correspondence) and bridge; he just wants to get on with ordinary life but Wells’ opening paragraph tells us that the notional story-teller has allowed himself to be thoroughly disturbed; he craves our reassurance that we think he has become unreasonably haunted.

I have been talking to two very queer individuals and they have produced a peculiar disturbance of my mind. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that they have infected me and distressed me with some very strange and unpleasant ideas. I want to set down what it is they have said to me, in the first place for my own sake, so as to clear up my thoughts about it. What they told me was fantastic and unreasonable, but I shall feel surer about that if I set it down in writing. Moreover I want to get my story into a shape that will enable one or two sympathetic readers to reassure me about the purely imaginative quality of what these two men had to say. It is a sort of ghost story but not an ordinary ghost story – more realistic and haunting and disturbing…

The story is told in such a way that we are forced to participate in the first person writer’s distress while noting his desire to get on with his holiday with his aunt in Les Noupets and play the next game of croquet at which he is an expert. He has clearly decided that he does not want to share his state of mind with his aunt who, being pretty straight, as we are told, would probably have told him to snap out of it so he addresses his notional readers in the hope that they will empathise.

On the hotel terrace he has been button-holed by a Dr Finchatton whom he first notices violently throwing library books about. Dr Finchatton is in Les Noupets to get away from the thinking that the books represent for him and from the haunting he has come to associate with a Fenland place called Cainsmarsh where he had acquired a medical practice to escape the stress of London. Cainsmarsh sounds ideal for this purpose – it has ‘…a flat, still atmosphere… translucent, gentle, coloured…’ But he has become aware of ‘…things lying below the surface, things altogether hidden in more eventful and colourful surroundings [which] creep on our perceptions…’

Dr Finchatton has fallen prey to evil dreams. He is as keen to tell his story to Frobisher as Frobisher is to share his with us and for the same reason – both want to get things out of their system.

An Indication of What’s Happened to Dr Finchatton

I would get up and dress, go out either on foot or in my car, in spite of a strong fear resistance. Fear pursued me out of those dreams. The nightmare quality hung about me and could not be shaken off. I was awake and still dreaming. Never have I seen such sinister skies as I did on those night excursions. I felt such a dread of unfamiliar shadows as I had not known even in childhood. There were times on those nocturnal drives when I could have shouted aloud for daylight as a man suffocating in a closed chamber might shout for air.

Before long his daily life was affected: ‘…I would turn convulsively under the impression that a silent hound was creeping up to attack me from behind, or I would imagine a black snake wriggling out from under the valance of an armchair…’

Then his professional practice began to suffer.

I began to find something evil in the silence or in the gestures of some of my patients. And while I sat by their bedsides I fancied that there were hostile goings-to-and-fro and malignant whisperings and conspirings just outside the door.

I could not understand what was the matter with me. I searched my mind for nervous stresses and I could find none. I had surely left all that behind in London. Temperature and so forth remained normal. But clearly there was something askew in my adjustment to these new surroundings. Cainsmarsh was disappointing my expectations. There was no healing in it for me. I had to pull myself together, I had sunk all my little capital in the practice and I had to stick it. There was nowhere else for me to go.

Others in the area seem to be affected by its ambience but they don’t talk about it. Finchatton goes to see the old vicar Rawdon who he imagines might be expected to have a view about things with a mystery attached to them. Rawdon told Finchatton that he was succumbing to the Evil sooner than he did when he first came to Cainsmarsh for a quiet & peaceful retirement. He fears his food is being poisoned. He expounds his theory with gusto:-

The evil was in the soil, he declared, underground. He laid great stress on the word ‘underground’. He made a downward gesture with his quivering hand. There was something mighty and dreadful buried in Cainsmarsh. Something colossally evil. Broken up. Scattered all over the Marsh. “I think I know what it is,” he whispered darkly, but for a time he would not explain… “They kept on stirring it up, he said; they would not let it rest.

It soon became clear who ‘they’ were: ‘those archaeologists’ digging everything up and the ploughing of old pastures where there was a ‘wilderness of graves’ with long-buried cavemen.

You found stones of the strangest shapes. Abominable shapes. “They keep on bringing things up,” he said, “Things that had better be left alone. Ought to be let alone. Making doubts and puzzles – destroying faith.”

He denounced Darwinism and evolution. And then there was the High Church rival with ‘his vestments & images & music & mummery’.

He poured out the festering accumulations of his brooding solitude. His sentences had the readiness of long-matured expression… Out of it all came a suggestion. I doubt if it will seem even remotely sane to you – in this clear air. But it was the suggestion that this haunting… was [done by] a something remote, archaic, bestial…

Finchatton said he ‘…drove back home more saturated with terror than when I went. I was beginning to see visions now everywhere…’ He took to drink.

He doesn’t realise it but Frobisher is already in deep trance in spite of his attempts to stave it off other-than-consciously by contrasting Finchatton’s account with life at Les Noupets: ‘“…sitting here at this table with everything bright and clear and definite, there is a certain unreality – if you understand me?”’ Finchatton agrees that drinking vermouth and seltzer at lunch-time does make Les Loupets seem far from Cainsmarsh, far from the threatening evil to which Frobisher imagines that he is immune. He likes a weird & eerie story like those of Edgar Allan Poe, in spite of his aunt’s objections, but keeps his imagination merely as a tame ‘domestic pet’.

I was oblivious then of the possibility that this story might ever disturb my own slumbers. I keep dreams for waking moments but I like them then. Fancies and reveries. I welcome them. One dreams then but one feels quite safe. There may be shivers in it but no real fear. It is just because they are impossible that I like impossible stories.

Finchatton determines to visit Mortover, the High Church man, to get his side of the story. He turns out to be just as irrational as his rival for God. He

…blamed the Reformation and made great play with the Puritan witch mania of the sixteenth century. Some spiritual control was broken then, he assured me with the utmost confidence. Diabolism had returned to the earth… We have to restore the unity of Christendom and exorcize these devils.

Mortover seems to Finchatton to be caught up in his own final solution.

As he talked I could see that his head was full of long slow processions winding across the marshes with banners, canopies, vestments, boys chanting, censers swinging, priests asperging. I thought of the old vicar peering out of his dirty study window and I had a vision of him running out hoarse and stumbling, with murder in his eyes.

When they should above all have been able to, neither man of religion could offer Finchatton any solace: ‘…They wanted to be at each other’s throats. That was where the haunting poison of the marsh came in. As if to put a final stamp on things, Mortover said, “The Greeks had a word for it… Panic. Endemic panic, that was the contagion of the marshes.”

Finchatton, being already in headlong panic, points out that ‘panic’ was just a label. He decides that a visit to the admired curator of Eastfolk museum where old bones were kept might provide him with a more balanced view of what was happening in Cainsmarsh. The curator explained that the locals mistrusted the archaeological digs and that their fear was contagious – he himself had felt it. Could the skull of the caveman they were looking at have left behind an angry spirit? The curator’s suggestion was to convert Finchatton’s fear into something that could be managed

If we can make a ghost of this fear of yours – well, ghosts can be laid. If we make a fever of it, fever can be cured. But while this remains merely panic fear and a smouldering rage, what can we do about it?

Finchatton is intrigued by the suggestion but not impressed. What the curator had said with a certain objectivity contrasted greatly with the responses of the religious men who had nothing practical to offer but what the curator said required serious pondering.

It was queer theoretical stuff and yet, in a way, it had a sort of air of explanation… The expression he used was that we were breaking the frame of our present… I had not the remotest idea what the frame of our present might be.

The Curator Seeks to Explain the Idea of

“A century or so ago,” he said, “men lived in the present far more than they do now. Their past went back four or five thousand years, their future hardly went as far; they lived for now. And what they called the eternities. They knew nothing of the remote real past. They cared nothing for the real future. That,” he nodded at the cave-man’s skull, “just wasn’t there. All that was buried and forgotten and out of life. We lived in a magic sphere and we felt taken care of and safe. And now in the last century or so, we have broken that. We have poked into the past, unearthing age after age and we peer more and more forward into the future. And that’s what’s the matter with us.”

What is the present? A moment now… and now and now? An emptiness? History since the 2nd World War? My last 25 years? What they call The Present Day? The undifferentiated omnipresence of a God? The feeling of present is different for different people at different times? Perhaps the feeling of NOW incorporates everything that’s led to this moment?

Let’s say that it does: the present includes everything that has led us to this moment now – a historical unity, a personal selection, one unique to every individual, but capable of including a personal collection of all the good (and maybe bad) things from the past, all the I-tags connected with places, events, people, things that go to make you who you are in the present moment; this might include things from the long past – visiting Stonehenge now in 1947, for instance. One puts a personal frame round everything that fits with NOW; within the frame things are just as they always have been; one could rely on this being the case: the present thus defined was preserved and curated by knowledgeable old men who would keep the stones safe and the furniture polished for all time. The trains would always run and on time and there would be a hospital bed when you needed it. But now your painstakingly constructed frame is broken and it’s all rumpus & hooded hordes.


Aleppo – before & after

The carnage that is Syria, the wanton destruction of historical artefacts in Iraq by the Western invader as well, the demolition of Buddhist statues by the Taliban, . The contents of the frame explode and destroy it from within. This is breaking the frame of the historic present.

The magic sphere of security in lastingness is blown apart. The security came from knowing that the present was a completion, the temples preserved by settled institutions, a sure heritage. In The Croquet Player it was the archaeologists who were poking around; now there’s a quite different poking around – the Americans and their so-called allies and the other terrorists whom it’s quite impossible ever to sit round a table in Geneva to negotiate with. Why would they want to negotiate when their intention is to destroy ‘civilisation’? Along with the Americans they seem quite good at it; theirs is a position of strength.

Broken the frame of the present; the past destroyed and the future corrupted; meanwhile there’s the golden pretence that everything is normal: the game of croquet will take place this afternoon.

The old fearful past re-appears in the vacuum of the empty frame and the future ‘opens like a gulf to swallow us’. The ancestral brute returns, resurrected savageries unstoppable. ‘The world is full of menace…’

The curator says it is a matter of the mind. To counter his mental oppression, Finchatton must enlarge his mind ‘…to a vaster world where the caveman was as present as the daily paper and a thousand years ahead was on the doorstep…’ Put things into perspective, see them sub specie aeternitatis, as it were.

The curator recommends Finchatton to see Norbert, a psychiatrist of Harley Street who was one of the first to realise ‘this spreading miasma of the mind’. In spite of the curator’s helpful comments Finchatton’s horrors increased. The caveman’s skull’s descendents like ants made chase.

Swarms of human beings hurrying to and fro, making helpless gestures of submission or deference, resisting an overpowering impulse to throw themselves under [the skull’s] all-devouring shadow. Presently these swarms began to fall into lines and columns, were clad in uniforms, formed up and began marching and trotting towards the black shadows under those worn and rust-stained teeth. From which darkness there presently oozed something – something winding and trickling, and something that manifestly tasted very agreeably to him. Blood.”

Then à propos of nothing, as though his mind was fixed elsewhere ‘…Finchatton said a queer thing: “Little children killed by air-raids in the street.”’ It seems that Wells himself was under the spell of what was happening in Spain at the time he wrote The Croquet Player.

Madrid 1936

Madrid 1936

Comparable is the stray thought about the Syrian boy washed up dead on a beach. “But I never really think about it… There’s nothing I can do…”

Now Finchatton is under Norbert’s supervision in Les Noupets. Quite unaware of the profound effect he’s had on Frobisher, he is grateful for the opportunity to tell his story.

It’s what Norbert wants me to do. He wants me to familiarize myself with what has just happened to me, just in the spirit in which you have taken it, so as to be able to distinguish between the realities of my experience, the realities of life, he calls them, and the fears and fancies and dreams I have wrapped about them. His idea is that I ought to see things unfeelingly… Norbert’s idea, you know, is that I should talk it quietly over with anyone who – who seems reasonably balanced and not too worried about the past or the future. So as to get these facts as facts and not as dreads and horrors. He wants to bring me back so to speak to what he calls a rational insensitiveness, rational insensitiveness, that’s his formula, and so get a firmer foothold for – whatever I have to do next.”

Norbert appears suddenly and says he’s been observing the conversation (like God) ‘from above’. He assumes that Finchatton has told Frobisher about the horrors in Cainsmarsh. He makes a demand that Frobisher tells them both what he thought of the story but he resents Norbert’s air of commanding superiority and refuses; he expresses the hope that he will see Finchatton again so that they can continue their conversation.

The Following Morning
Norbert on his own is waiting to hear a commonsense outside view of Finchatton’s account. Frobisher remains noncommittal. Norbert asks him if he’s ever heard of any part of the world called ‘Cainsmarsh’. He tells him that there’s no such place. ‘It is a myth.’

It seems that Finchatton was certainly working as a doctor near Ely.

… “Finchatton really went to the Tressider Museum at Ely, and Cunningham, the custodian, had the sense to spot his condition and send him to me… Everything he told you was true and everything was a lie. He is troubled beyond reason… the only way he can express himself is by fable… the realities that are overwhelming him are so monstrous and frightful that he has to transform them into this fairy tale about old skulls and silences in butterfly land, in the hope of getting them down to the dimensions of an hallucination and so presently expelling them from his thoughts.”

Frobisher wants to know what’s made Finchatton get to the end of his tether.

“Didn’t he repeat my phrase – endemic panic? A contagion in our atmosphere. A sickness in the very grounds of our lives, breaking out here and there and filling men’s minds with a paralysing, irrational fear?”
“He did use that expression.”
“Yes, sir. And it is what I am dealing with here. It is what even I am only beginning to realize. A new Plague – of the soul. A distress of the mind that has long lurked in odd corners of the mind, an endemic disorder, rising suddenly and spreading into a world epidemic. The story our friend put away into a sort of fairyland fenland is really the story of thousands of people today – and it will be the story of hundreds of thousands tomorrow…

Partly to re-assure himself, Frobisher wonders if Norbert is not as mad as Finchatton. He admits that he was an early case but he was able to use his professional inderstanding to crawl out the other side of the horror and take a firm grip on life.

Norbert repeats the idea of ‘breaking the Frame of the Present’ which Cunningham, the curator, had only half-grasped the meaning of in his conversation with Finchatton.

“Animals,” he said, “live wholly in the present. They are framed in immediate things. So are really unsophisticated people… But we humans, we have been probing and piercing into the past and future. We have been multiplying memories, histories, traditions, we have filled ourselves with forebodings and plannings and apprehensions. And so our worlds have become overwhelmingly vast for us, terrific, appalling. Things that had seemed forgotten for ever have suddenly come back into the very present of our consciousness.”
“In other words,” said I, trying to keep him moored to current realities, “we have found out
about the cave-man.”
“Found out about him!” he shouted. “We live in his presence. He has never died. He is anything but dead. Only… he was shut off from us and hidden. For a long time. And now we see him here face to face and his grin derides us. Man is still what he was. Invincibly bestial, envious, malicious, greedy. Man, sir, unmasked and disillusioned is the same fearing, snarling, fighting beast he was a hundred thousand years ago. These are no metaphors, sir. What I tell you is the monstrous reality. The brute has been marking time and dreaming of a progress it has failed to make. Any archaeologist will tell you as much; modern man has no better skull, no better brain. Just a cave-man, more or less trained. There has been no real change, no real escape. Civilization, progress, all that, we are discovering, was a delusion. Nothing was secured. Nothing. For a time man built himself in, into his neat little present world of Gods and Providences, rainbow promises and so forth. It was artificial, it was artistic, fictitious. We are only beginning to realize how artificial… And when sensitive, unprepared men like our poor friend Finchatton become aware of it, they show themselves too weak to face it. They refuse to face a world so grim and great as this world really is. They take refuge in stories of hauntings and personal madness in the hope of some sort of exorcism, something they think will be a cure…. There is no such cure…

From bawling, his voice sank to a deep heavy undertone. “Madness, sir, from the mental side, is poor Nature’s answer to overwhelming fact. It is flight. And today all over the world, intellectual men are going mad. They are dithering, because they realize that the fight against this cave-man who is over us, who is in us, who is indeed us, is going against these imaginary selves. The world is no longer safe for anything. It was sheer delusion that we had Him under…

What’s to be done then? Frobisher wonders. It all seems hopeless.

Face the facts! Face the facts, sir! Go through with it. Survive if you can and perish if you can’t. Do as I have done and shape your mind to a new scale. Only giants can save the world from complete relapse and so we – we who care for civilization – have to become giants. We have to bind a harder, stronger civilization like steel about the world. We have to make such a mental effort as the stars have never witnessed yet. Arise, O mind of Man!” (He called me that!) “Or be for ever defeated.”

Frobisher has no giant-potential; he’s the ordinary man-in-the-street who just wants to get on with his life without having to consider the larger issues. He dismisses Norbert’s ‘epoch-making rhetoric’.

I suppose from first to last throughout the ages decent people of my sort have had to listen to this kind of thing, but it seemed to me beyond all reason that I should have to listen it on the terrace of the Source Hotel at Perona above Les Noupets on a lovely morning in this year of grace nineteen hundred and thirty-six… I ceased to mark or remember half the things he said…

Thus the majority of the population when faced with the manifold horrors of the world-scene. The media reports are designed to have us think that for the most part everything is just like it’s always been – the process is called ‘hypernormalisation’.

He reeled off a list of atrocities, murders and horrors all over the world. I suppose there is a rather unusual amount of massacre and torture going on nowadays. I suppose the outlook is pretty black. I suppose there may be frightful wars, air raids and pogroms ahead of us. But what am I to do about it? What was the good of bow-wow-wowing at me?

The net effect on Frobisher of listening to Finchatton and then Norbert’s interpretation of Finchatton is to slightly unhinge his mind; he has strongly identified with what both men have said so that he has to admit that

… these two men have in a sort of way hypnotized me after all, and put something of this anxiety and something of this haunting of theirs upon me. I try and get them in a proper perspective by writing down this story, but the mere writing of it makes me realize how much I can’t detach myself. I can no more get rid of it by telling it to you than Finchatton could get rid of it by telling it to me. I did not know that one could be hypnotized in this fashion, by people just sitting about or talking to you. I thought you had to sit still and give yourself up to hypnotism or else there was nothing doing. But now I find I don’t sleep as well as I used to do, I catch myself anxious about world affairs, I read evil things between the lines in the newspapers, and usually very faintly but sometimes quite plainly I see, behind the transparent front of things, that cave-man face.

Like many in our world Frobisher refuses to face the facts. The world may crumble about us, life as we used to know it is over & done for, but we leave the solution to the politicians who are presumably paid to know what to do. But they, of course, are part of the problem – they contribute to the horror.

But I had had enough of this apocalyptic stuff. I looked [Norbert] in the face, firmly but politely. I said, “I don’t care. The world may be going to pieces. The Stone Age may be returning. This may, as you say, be the sunset of civilization. I’m sorry, but I can’t help it this morning. I have other engagements… I am going to play croquet with my aunt at half-past twelve today.”

Yes, I have outlined the whole story of The Croquet Player but I do not think I have ruined it for the reader: re-reading  with the outcome in mind adds another layer to one’s experience of it.

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The Shepherd Boy – Lenbach

In an essay called ‘In Praise of Idleness’, Bertrand Russell says that he thinks ‘…there is far too much work done in the world, that immense harm is caused by the belief that work is virtuous…’ He hopes that ‘the leaders of the YMCA will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing… The road to happiness and prosperity lies in an organised diminution of work…’

Russell’s supremely sensible point of view which would be derided by all those who don’t have to work for a living, relying on inherited wealth and an old boy network, is based on the key principle that ‘…the morality of work is the morality of slaves – modern man has no need of slavery…’ The focus on those who still make the lives of some a misery by submitting them to actual slavery blinds us to the fact that anybody who works for the well-being of shareholders is a slave, producing an unnecessary excess for the sake of somebody else.

In fact, Russell continues, under modern conditions, if somebody asked the right questions, it would be possible ‘…to distribute leisure justly without injury to civilisation. Modern technique has made it possible to diminish enormously the amount of labour required to secure the necessities of life for everyone…’

This was written before the advent of the universal computer. One of the questions that desperately needs asking is: Why, with all these ‘labour-saving devices’, has a three day working week with full employment not yet been instituted for all? The answer is: Because the Power Possessors have appropriated the money representing ‘time saved’ for their own amusement, pretending that we ordinary slaves & plebs must continue to keep our noses to the grindstone.

It would come as a considerable upset to the rich & powerful to discover one morning that the headline in the Daily Tibligrop advocated THE DAWN OF THE AGE OF LEISURE FOR ALL!

Russell: ‘…The idea that the poor should have leisure has always been shocking to the rich. In England, in the early nineteenth century, fifteen hours was the ordinary day’s work for a man; children sometimes did as much, and very commonly did twelve hours a day. When meddlesome busybodies suggested that perhaps these hours were rather long, they were told that work kept adults from drink and children from mischief…’

Another question which ought to be asked is something like: What do we need to produce in order to ensure a Good Life for All? Russell says that ‘…if the ordinary wage-earner worked four hours a day, there would be enough for everybody, and no unemployment – assuming a certain very moderate amount of sensible organization. This idea shocks the well-to-do, because they are convinced that the poor would not know how to use so much leisure…’

I know people who say they would not know what to do with themselves if they were ‘retired’ – so they go back to being wage slaves after retirement age or they volunteer to work for nothing but the feeling that they are somehow benefiting society. The idea of ‘being bored’ with so much time on your hands is entirely foreign to me; at ten o’clock the day I commenced wage slavery in 1955 I wondered what it would be like when I had the freedom of retirement. I do remember that for two weeks after I achieved early retirement in 1992 I wondered how to plan ‘my time’ – the feeling that I should be running around after people and have people running around after me lasted just two weeks before the blinding revelation of a huge expanse of freedom struck me thunderbolt-wise. I haven’t recovered from it!

Some education into how to manage leisure time might be needed for those whose minds have been dulled into the existing system, those who have what is to me a very alien idea that life is for ‘working’. Some suggestions about the endless vistas, the endless possibilities for grabbing new ventures or reclaiming forgotten (or lost) endeavours, the brave stepping into new ‘I’s and shuffling off old outworn ones.

‘The wise use of leisure, it must be conceded, is a product of civilization and education. Somebody who has worked long hours all life-long will be bored with sudden idleness. But without a considerable amount of leisure you are cut off from many of the best things. There is no longer any reason why the bulk of the population should suffer this deprivation; only a foolish asceticism, usually vicarious, makes us continue to insist on work in excessive quantities now that the need no longer exists…’

What might be the consequences of the wild embrace of idleness? Saving untold quantities of money currently wasted on unnecessary things and ventures. Most of all a relaxation into life and living, ease and security.

More questions that ought to be asked: What do we need to live a comfortable and satisfactory life? What effect would idleness have on society as a whole?

‘…Good nature is, of all moral qualities, the one that the world needs most, and good nature is the result of ease and security, not of a life of arduous struggle. Modern methods of production have given us the possibility of ease and security for all; we have chosen, instead, to have overwork for some and starvation for the others. Hitherto we have continued to be as energetic as we were before there were machines; in this we have been foolish, but there is no reason to go on being foolish for ever…’


Reading Russell’s essay (first published NB in 1935) caused me to wonder about the meaning of the word ‘idleness’ and to consider what amount of idleness my life had consisted of. I did an inventory of the times I consider myself to have been ‘idle’ according to my own definition of idleness. The result was very surprising to me and led me to conclude that, as compared with what young people have to put up with nowadays, I’ve led a charmed life, never really having put myself out, never having had a damned CV; there’s always been a kind of calculated absence, being in the world but not of it. How on earth have I done it? What existential (virtual) choices did I make that led me to this NOW? Early morning in late October 2016 with streams of Canada geese hurling their way across the flatlands.

Here’s my definition of ‘idleness’ – it’s doing what you want to do when you want to do it. According to this definition, I am very aware that there were times when I felt that demands were being made on my relish for idleness so that I had to choose to live up to what others expected of me and to make ends meet for self and family – what was the balance between idleness and responding to alien demands?

So here I am after 78 years! How have things divided up?

1937-1954 – Early years and schooling. 17 years of idleness, centred on self, accumulating I-tags, looking at newts, experiencing the effects of World War, writing essays that pleased me, wandering on Wimbledon Common, cycling to Worthing & back in a day (100+ miles), acquiring education by osmosis from the dedicated eccentric heroes of Kingston Grammar School just post-war, beginning to collect books & records, adolescent misplaced passion for Maureen…
1955-1956 – first experience of wage slavery in the Inland Revenue. In Muriel Spark’s A Far Cry from Kensington (recounting events in 1954 just before I was setting out on my career as a Civil Servant, Martin York offers this advice as to how to throw a spanner in the works of tax inspecting: ‘…send them, out of the blue, a cheque for eight pounds seventeen and three. Something like that. They can never tally up a sum of that kind with any of their figures; your file will go from hand to hand for months and years and eventually get lost…’ I can vouch for the accuracy of such advice though nowadays I suppose a computer would smell a rat and I bet dusty old files have given way to e-filing… One year of wage slavery which contributed to ‘Income Tax Dreams’ for the next fifty years…
1956-1958 – so-called ‘National Service’. For some young men of my age this period was Total Slavery & Misery; for me it was undiluted idleness: the first eighteen weeks was such a frantic & bizarre basic training out of which I emerged as a Sergeant Instructor in the Education Corps, teaching absurdities, free to play hockey midweek, make trips to Farnham & Guildford when I felt like it and cycle the Hampshire countryside. I can still feel the May morning when I suddenly realised with a jolt that all this was coming to an end. Then the embrace of pacifism… Two years of idleness…
1958-1964 – six years: return to the Civil Service, then The British Metal Corporation which I tried to disguise as idleness by attending regular lunchtime organ recitals in St Lawrence Jewry, followed by three years in the Westminster Bank which I tried to disguise as idleness by dashing to hear Donald Soper on Tower Hill Wednesday lunchtimes… Described as a ‘rolling stone’ at my departure interview!
1964-1968 – Teacher Training. The utter idle bliss of four years rolling stones in an academic setting.
1968-1992 – teaching: school, Teacher Training, Further Education. 24 years of a different kind of wage slavery. Let’s call it that anyway… You could subtract a total of 4 years to take account of the academic holidays. Say, 20 years of wage slavery.
1992-2016 – early retirement @ 55 – since 1992 it all seems like some kind of crazy dream, gardens dug, newts observed, extraordinary teaching episodes for Big Money – the Intellectual Life conquering it all somehow. Listening to all my old vinyl records in alphabetical order on headphones at 4am. Music composed, books written, paintings painted… 24 years!

And the totals of all the months & years…? I make it 51 years of ‘idleness’ as against 27 years of wage slavery, 20 of those being tolerably ‘idle’ by my definition. Let’s say 65% of my life devoted to idleness as against 35% spent in an often not too arduous slavery.

How did this charmed life come about? I suppose I’ve always stuck to my pacifist guns. No wonder Bertrand Russell’s essay appealed to me! Around 1960 I wrote an essay in which I described how I had drifted from one thing to another up till then little realising how this would become the pattern of my life for the next fifty years; I didn’t even set about organising ‘a diminution of work’ – it just happened.

Paradoxically, I do more things during the course of a day now than I ever did before – I just don’t call it ‘work’.

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Words matter; the linguistic make-up of discourse is all-important…

One of the reasons for… lack of understanding… is to be found in the language which people speak. This language is full of wrong concepts, wrong classifications, wrong associations. And the chief thing is that… the vagueness and inaccuracy of ordinary thinking happens because every word can have thousands of different meanings according to the material the speaker has at her disposal and the complex of associations at work in her at any one moment. People do not clearly realize to what a degree their language is subjective, that is, what different things each of them says while using the same words. They are not aware that each one of them speaks in a language of their own, understanding other people’s language either vaguely or not at all, and having no idea that each one of them speaks in a language unknown to them or anybody else. People persist in having a very firm conviction, or belief, that they speak the same language, that they understand one another.

GI Gurdjieff (Gurdjieff quotations courtesy of Allan Clews)

‘Social Media’, Chat Shows, the Feuilletons, Pub gatherings ‒ avalanches of words, words, words. From a meta-position one might well ask what any of them signify. And then more generally ‒ What’s the function of language in the ‘conversation of humanunkind’? How do we use words? What do they do for us? What kind of ‘reality’ do they represent? What do they have to do with ‘communication’? Are they anything but a very crude stab at representing what we like to think of as ‘reality’?

In The Glass Bead Game, set in a Castalia of the future, Hermann Hesse calls the 20th Century ‘the Age of the Feuilleton’, when the media served up a trivialities ‘…by the million… They reported on, or rather chatted about, a thousand-and-one items of knowledge. … A torrent of zealous scribbling poured out over every ephemeral incident and in quality, assortment, and phraseology. All this material bore the mark of mass goods rapidly and irresponsibly turned out.’

‘…People have a very firm conviction, or belief, that they speak the same language, that they understand one another…’ The fact is ‒ they don’t. A biased media uses this insight to manipulate minds: it knows it is safe to churn out words and that nobody is likely to be able to piece together all the contradictions involved.

For a lark, I recently participated briefly in a ludicrous Farcebook exchange (something Hesse would no doubt have scorned) with some local Brexit fanatics. I attempted to point out that, quite irrespective of the arguments for and against leaving the European Union, Referendum voters had been bamboozled by abstractions ‒ word-sounds commonly used by demagogues to brainwash people into voting for their cause. For example, in the current context, ‘control’, ‘sovereignty’, ‘democracy’, ‘leadership’, ‘immigration’, ‘our country’, ‘the people’, their ‘will’, and so on. I challenged them to say what they thought these words actually meant in the context of the Referendum. I pointed out that such words easily become unexamined common currency in a so-called ‘debate’ on the assumption that everybody knows just what they mean ‒ thus subscribing to mass linguistic confusion. I didn’t actually use these words but it’s the gist of what I meant! The level of ‘debate’ goes off with the fairies into the heady realm of abstraction while the solid sticks & stones of things are left miles below.

My local Brexit fanatics either would or could not even address the idea, let alone try to offer something of an opposition. They resorted to the usual ad hominem abuse. I pointed out that such abstract words, meaningless in themselves, gave people the infinite space to fill them with just whatever ‘meaning’ they chose to inject into them so that they then inevitably voted for something that was their very own invention.

They voted for something that was their very own invention; they voted for their own idea not for anything that might be called ‘objective’.

It’s Worth Playing This Little Game…

Entertain an abstraction ‒ any one of the examples above will do ‒ and notice how your inner voice immediately swings into action to provide ‘meaning’. An abstraction always offers space to determine ‘meaning’. Meanings are individually constructed. Gurdjieff calls the phenomenon ‘Internal Considering’. When a million voters indulge in this same game the result is a million different ways of ‘thinking’. It ought not to surprise anybody that the Referendum ‘winners’ can’t agree on a way forward ‒ there was no agreement about the reasons for leaving the EU in the first place; millions of different angles cannot be reduced to purely digital alternatives.

After I’d had my amusement playing around with Deaf Ears and after suffering the unpleasant characteristics of others for a length of time that I deemed sufficient, I eventually blocked my assailants. I was described, with what Mr Polly called ‘allitrition’s artful aid’, as ‘boring Blundell’ because I ‘went on about abstractions’ when they were quite clear that my trouble was being in denial about the Absolute Truth of their Brekshit cause.

The crowd neither wants nor seeks knowledge, and the leaders of the crowd, in their own interests, try to strengthen its fear & dislike of everything new and unknown. The slavery in which mankind lives is based upon this fear. It is even difficult to imagine all the horror of this slavery. We do not understand what people are losing. But in order to understand the cause of this slavery it is enough to see how people live, what constitutes the aim of their existence, the object of their desires, passions, & aspirations, of what they think, of what they talk, what they serve & what they worship.

George Gurdjieff

All abstractions (such as, in the current context, ‘control’, ‘sovereignty’, ‘democracy’, ‘leadership’, ‘immigration’, ‘our country’, ‘the people’, their ‘will’) stimulate internal dialogue ‒ they never sustain themselves as ‘just words’ ‒ they require to be filled with meaning.

Abstractions are ‘Thought Viruses’

They infect what passes for thinking. Thinking becomes diseased.

In the turmoil following the absurd vote to ‘withdraw from Europe’ the abstraction ‘leadership’ kept on being thrown about as though everybody agreed on the meaning of the word. It’s only necessary to point out that the authoritarian personality will fill the word with loud mouth authoritarianism ‒ will require the passion of a Hitler ‒ while what we might call the ‘quiet democrat’ is likely to opt for the kind of person who leads undemonstratively from the rear, like the Baggage Handler in Hesse’s Journey to the East. We identify with our leaders.

I’m going on… The description ‘Boring Blundell’ is very accurate as far as somebody who is prepared to be bored is concerned! But I suppose I do go on a bit ‒ it’s been pointed out to me before in relation to my Globs. I’m unrepentent! There are so many angles to pursue. It seems to me that in general, spoon-fed by triviality and idiot-chat, the human race is less and less able or willing to engage in what I’d call small chunk, ‘genuine thinking’ ‒ which perhaps says something about human attention spans in general. I don’t know whether it’s a recent phenomenon, but I call it ‘the Blue Peter Effect’. Blue Peter was a UK children’s TV programme: it featured five minute slots on this & that and programmed kids into expecting presentations on which they didn’t really have to concentrate for too long. I compare its effect on intellectual expectations with that of Children’s Hour; first broadcast in 1922, it was one of the earliest radio programmes and was part of the BBC’s ethos until 1964 and had a satisfying mix of relatively serious plays and talks, including Helen Henschel on music (where I cut my teeth) and Nature Parliament in which a serious panel answered serious questions about things that happen in nature. It was what I was brought up on. I listened enthusiastically daily at five o’clock teatime for an hour for many years. Everything was low key & serious without all the A Influence razzmatazz that it’s considered children need nowadays. Now I think about it, the need to concentrate was more intense: one learned to concentrate for longer periods. The younger generation has been razzmatazzed.

How do we learn to concentrate? Not by being content with sound bites and a sense of ‘always hurrying on’. Needs peace & quiet & time to consider…

On the other hand part of me always asks why should anybody pay attention to what I think; why do I bother to attempt these long-winded word-assemblages? That’s one of my own ‘thought viruses’. For a long time, for fear of being ‘boring’, it got in the way of my ever opening my mouth! I was called ‘shy’.

What is a Thought Virus?

NLP pushes the phenomenon. It’s a belief possessing negative implications whose origin lies possibly long-buried in our other-than-conscious mind; it’s more or less impossible to discover where & how such a belief came from without a lot of delving into our past ‒ we’ve no idea where we caught the virus, it’s an other-than-conscious mental pattern that helps to determine behaviour. We harbour the virus; it feeds off our energies; it can take over when we are required to face a challenge and feel helpless or up against it in some way. It’s the result of programming, upbringing, education, people we’ve met ‒ the rebuffs, disappointments, set backs not resourcefully dealt with.

Abstractions, seeds of disease, facilitate thought viruses; they block thinking, drain the energy out of it.

How do thought viruses work? One has to investigate the things that drain resolve. I can only think how thought viruses have affected me. As an example, I fight shy of producing poems, music, artwork for competitions. I have long rented out space in my being to a thought virus that appears on competitive occasions. Because I’ve done plenty of what in NLP is called ‘time-lining’ I know exactly how, where & when I caught this particular infection. To ponder it in the first place I literally walked back into the past with a question in mind: ‘Where did this avoidance of competitive occasions originate?’

It’s a curious thing but when you get to the moment-when, you don’t discover it ‒ it just leaps out at you. So I walked back down the years. The moment leapt out at me when I got to the age of 16: I had written a few poems; I sent one to Time and Tide, a literary-political journal long since defunct ‒ they sent me a rejection slip. After that, on the very rare occasions when I entertained the thought of presenting any kind of artefact for display or performance it was always accompanied by the mantra ‘I won’t win’ or ‘This won’t be any good’. I did not resolve this till I was approaching 60! The time-line exercise got rid of the virus simply by bringing the process into consciousness. I still avoid competitive events but only because they seem to me to be a waste of time & energy. I do things now from a conviction that they just have to be done; I push things out into the world without bothering about consequences; their production ‘satisfies my soul’. The virus is eliminated. It’s nice when two or three people respond to what I do but external recognition is not important.

Learning to avoid competition had a Positive Intention for me: it was a defensive gesture helping me to avoid ‘failure’.

The pattern was, “Oops, I’m being asked to compete!” trigger thought virus ‒ “I’ll always get a rejection slip!”. Knowing the pattern robs the thought virus of its power to infect.

Since around 1987 I have just made poems, music, works of art and experimental novels without stopping to think about consequences.

This is the way out of limiting thought viruses: ‘anything is possible…’ ‘I can’.

Another example reconstructed from the behaviour I observed in my very disabled sister. When she was a few years old she overheard doctors telling my mother that she’d only live till she was about 40. I remember her waking in the night screaming out that she didn’t want to die. I don’t know how she did it but she developed a dogged determination to defy the doctors’ prognosis. Perhaps we had the same absolute bloody-mindedness that I know I have in my repertoire. I wonder how she managed to avoid the effects of what could have been a killer thought virus. How did she do that? Perhaps by simply keeping what the doctors had said in her mind, facing up to it, and having a determination to prove them wrong ‒ which she did by 25 years.

My old mum had a thought virus she never got rid of: ‘I don’t do long pieces of reading’: it successfully ensured that she always chose to skip long prose paragraphs in novels, trotting her eyes down the page for the next bit of conversation. I suppose I could have been infected by this. Somehow I developed an immunity. How did I do that? I wonder if she said sometime, “I don’t read the long boring bits!” with the emphasis on ‘don’t read the long boring bits!’ which incited me, being what they call a Polarity Responder, to do just the opposite! I jumped to attention at the call of the hidden imperative ‒ read the long boring bits!

An Otherness-thought-virus…

There’s a deeply embedded thought virus which can infect the absolute capacity to be oneself: instead of building on what you have, it creates a lurking desire to be ‘as good/clever/observant/athletic/handsome as other people are. An Otherness-thought-virus plants a constant wish to be other than what you are.

I suffered from such a virus for many years: ‘What will it be like when I function as other people do?’

By the age of 10, apparently, I use to express deviant opinions of some kind ‒ I don’t remember what they were so perhaps they have come to be the norm for me! I do recall standing on the kitchen step around 1943/44 and saying to my mother, “I don’t suppose that Hitler is all bad…” I was whisked inside lest the neighbours heard what I said!

When I was 10, my mother’s mother sought to re-assure her by saying, “Don’t worry, he’ll grow out of it by the time he’s 30…” I became infected by the Otherness-thought-virus there and then: it goes like this, “When am I going to be other than how I am right now?” The corollary was that I ought to have been different from how I was; things ought to have been different. Life was always about to start in some new mode. For many years I found it difficult to face up to my ‘real being’, warts & all. Have I done so?

Accepting various recognitions (as teacher, creative person, thinker, poem-writer, whistler of obscure pieces of music, not to mention a lot of Beethoven) has always been difficult but I have come to laugh at it all as Absurd in the technical Sartrean sense which leaves just me functioning in the world in the only way I know how.

Thought viruses prevent the healthy functioning of the individual. We all suffer from them; like the common cold they creep up on us unawares…

How do we cultivate a immune system? How might a political leader present their case in order to counteract the effect of a thought virus. It was through spreading the contagion of thought viruses that the EU-quitters won their absurd case.


First, we have to grasp fully the concept ‘thought virus’. Think what exactly a virus is. In modern times (since 1728) a virus is an ‘agent that causes infectious disease’. In the late 14th Century it meant a ‘venomous substance’, from the Latin virus ‘poison, sap of plants, slimy liquid’. Sanskrit visam ‘poison’, transmuted into the Latin viscum ‘sticky substance, birdlime’.

So a virus is a something or other with viscosity ‒ a ‘venomous substance’ that sticks to you. If you were aware of it you would take steps to scrub it off.

Since 1972 it’s been a metaphor in computing. A computer virus is a program or piece of code that is loaded on to your computer without your knowledge and runs against your wishes. It sticks there.

Computer viruses are manufactured. A simple one can make a copy of itself over and over again and is relatively easy to produce. Even such a simple virus is dangerous because it will quickly use all available memory and bring the system to a halt.

A ‘thought virus’ is a mental program deriving from something we’ve coded for ourselves sometime in the past in the way that I’ve suggested. We choose to invent a thought virus; it can infect our entire system in a jiffy. Like an original ordinary virus, thought viruses can also replicate themselves in one’s psycho-physical machine. One’s thinking process is hijacked ‒ it comes to a halt.


For a computer system there are antivirus programs which periodically check it for the best-known types of viruses. Can we develop our own anti-thought-virus program? Can we become thought-virus-resistant? What anti-thought-virus mental programs can we develop? Perhaps we need to practise exercises like these:-

Instead of merely accumulating, one must try to keep constantly the organic sensation of the body. Sense one’s body again, continually without interrupting one’s ordinary occupations ‒ to keep a little energy, to take the habit… Wet a handkerchief, wring it out, put it on your skin. The contact will remind you. When it is dry, begin again. The key to everything ‒ remain apart. Our aim is to have constantly a sensation of oneself, of one’s individuality. This sensation cannot be expressed intellectually, because it is organic. It is something which makes you independent, when you are with other people.

GI Gurdjieff

Thought Viruses and Viscosity ‒ processes that stick to us… What is the solvent?

For Sartre ‘…the viscous, that sticky sliminess of the world’, has a way of revealing an individual notion of ‘reality’. Viscosity is a something-or-other in the interface between observation and whatever’s ‘out there’. Stuff sticks to us. Without realising it, we take the sticky qualities of things to express their ‘reality’ for us. Oiliness, sliminess, viscosity become an inchoate metaphor for our being in the world. Remember that oiliness, sliminess, viscosity are characteristics of the common virus!

Mary Warnock quotes from Sartre’s Being and Nothingness:-

The honey which slides off my spoon on to the honey in the jar first sculptures the surface by fastening itself on to it in relief, and its fusion with the whole is presented as a gradual sinking, a collapse which appears at once as deflation… If an object which I hold in my hands is solid I can let it go when I like; its inertia symbolises my total power… . [But the viscous reverses things]. I, the conscious being, am suddenly compromised. I open my hand. I want to let go of the viscous object and it sticks to me, it draws me, it sucks at me. Its mode of being is neither the reassuring inertia of the solid nor a dynamism like that in water, which is exhausted in fleeing from me. It is a soft yielding action…. It lives obscurely under my fingers… At this moment I suddenly understand the snare of the viscous; it is a fluidity which holds and compromises me… The viscous seems to lend itself to me, it invites me; for a body of viscosity at rest is not noticeably different from a body of very dense liquid. But it is a trap. The viscous is like a liquid seen in a nightmare, where all its properties are animated by a sort of life and turn back against me… A sugary viscosity is the ideal of the viscous; it symbolises the sugary death of consciousness, like the death of a wasp which sinks into the jam and drowns.


Here’s another way of looking at this via the concept of identification.

We identify all the time. It keeps us asleep. We identify with our thoughts, feelings and whatever happens in life. Not properly conscious, we operate mechanically. We take this for normality. We become absorbed in things, lost in what we are doing. This is called identification. Whatever you become interested in, or associated with, sticks to you; it takes over your being like a virus and a ‘you-in yourself’ no longer exists.

I am identified now with getting my ideas straight on the screen and suddenly become aware of the music that’s playing through my headphones which had faded into the background. When we’re not identifying with this we identify with that; one identifying event displaces another ‒ adding to the typing/thinking trance, there comes another moment of identifying because I suddenly notice the green-leafed summer scene outside my window ‒ and there’s a fourth when I become aware of my hands jumping up & down on the keyboard and so on. What might be added to experience if/when we became able to focus on everything that comes at us thus with ‘divided attention’. What if I could focus on many things all at the same time? It might increase our repertoire of ways of concentrating.

Whatever else it might do, divided attention enhances discrimination; instead of being stuck in one mode of being it offers the opportunity for making comparisons… I type. I think, I look out of the window, I notice my hands responding to thinking ‒ what is the difference between these experiences?

Asleep in life, we are identified with every thought we have, every feeling and mood, every sensation, every movement. It’s just ‘life’. The way it is. At moments during the day we could learn to challenge ourselves with asking ‒ what am I identifying with right now? What word? what event? what opinion? what favourite idea? There might be things we’re identifying with that are unnecessary to the task in hand. What is it that’s taken me away from knowing who & where I am? What Attentional Virus has attacked my being? STOP! Remain apart!

Attentional Viruses

There are many different kinds of Attentional Viruses. We identify with them. The common feature is that they all get us to look at things askew. For example:-

‘This AV is called getting angry’ = being in Getting-angry-I
‘This AV is called feeling hurt and left out’ = Being-in-feeling-hurt-I
‘This AV is called being disappointed’ = Being-in-experiencing-disappointment-I
‘This AV is called being disorganised’ = Being-in-disorganised-I
‘This AV is called being enthusiastic’ = Being-in-over-zealous-I

Identification wastes energy. Awareness of the act of dividing attention increases energy ‒ the resulting ability to shift attention helps tell us what’s important and what isn’t. Learning to make a shift away from an ‘I’ that’s identifying with something unnecessary (such as trying to win an argument, as I was briefly in my Farcebook exchange) towards something more important. ‘One must not do anything unnecessary’, said Ouspensky.

In a moment of not being identified you seem to be in a quiet, central place in yourself and you are aware of the different ‘I’s and events trying to advance and capture your attention. It’s like keeping a gap, maintained by some invisible protector, (Meta-I, Protecting-I) between you and the crowd of things. This can be called a ‘Work-state’ as opposed to a ‘Life-state’. So, in order to have the blissful experience of a moment of non-identification it is necessary to put yourself in a ‘Work-state’ every day.

There are many ways of doing this including: remembering your aim and remembering yourself at the same time: ‘this is me here and now reviewing something I’ve read in connection with the system that’s not a system; going over in my mind what happened the previous day…’ Or else bringing to mind something you want to be more conscious of regarding another person or a certain situation; trying to see events and people in the light of the non-system.

Struggling against identification needs practice first in easier moments. As PDOuspensky said: ‘You cannot learn to swim if you fall in the sea during a storm. You must learn in calm water. Then perhaps if you fall in you’ll be able to swim…’


Eliminating thought viruses requires breaking their effects down, discovering their origin, making comparisons, forming discrete discriminations. We can do that with the thought viruses of abstractionism.

Take ‘Control’ and ‘Sovereignty’ ‒ two abstractions by which people were conned into voting to quit the European Union’; they identified uncritically with airy nothings ‒ abstractions.

It’s not that abstractions are totally meaningless; they are shorthand terms, pure representations, of a complex set of factors & events; they result in our losing touch with all the variables; they are airy nothings in themselves.

Unpacking abstractions is an intellectually satisfying thing to do: it harnesses the resources of our whole being ‒ intellect, feeling, action.

Let’s do that with ‘Control’ and ‘Sovereignty’. They relate to ‘Leadership’: when you have personal control over events you have power/authority over them; you are able to lead things your way.

It hardly needs pointing out that the immediate result of the Brexiteers voting for the abstraction ‘Control’ has been that things are spiralling downwards ‘out of control’ ‒ markets falling, monetary collapse, companies closing. ‘Control’ has been lost, whatever that means!

And the two major parties in the UK are plunged into a ‘Leadership’ crisis. The ‘debate’ seems to centre on personality rather than policy ‒ ‘who do we want?’ rather than ‘where do we want to go or be led?’ Or even ‘how do we want to be led?’

The sole challenger to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party says he doesn’t have the qualities of ‘Leadership’ which enables her to hide behind an abstraction rather than deal with the question of ‘where do we want to be?’

We need a strategy for analysing the term ‘leadership’. On the Enneagram, a powerful analytical tool said to be thousands of years old, Fixation 8 is about the qualities of leadership. Take your pick!

1. A Top Form leader is one who

• has a charismatic aura of absolute self-mastery being able to inspire others to action
• is seen by others as a benefactor, creating opportunities for peace & prosperity
• inspires loyalty & devotion
• is able, given a high degree of courage both physical & moral, to restrain any tendency to naked power
• is self-reliant so that set-backs become opportunities ‒ always rises to new challenges
• does not suffer from self-doubt and is not given to introspection or concern with identity
• operates with a kind of innocent & balanced impartiality
• is seen as a protector and provider
• inspires others to work for something larger than themselves
• is benign, possessing great intrinsic authority

2. Leaders who act out of self-interest rather than altruistically fail ultimately because they are

• rugged individualists, adventurers, entrepreneurs, intent on own ends
• not cooperative ‒ not good team players
• driven by the profit motive ‒ money is power
• content to make deals
• on the descent from being healthy leaders towards being dominating bosses
• believers that power is not an abstraction but something you have to succeed at
• inclined to feel that expanding a sphere of influence expands sense of self
• literally and metaphorically craving power to express self
• into domination ‒ being the Big Shot with an egocentric view of the truth
• happy to rule by patronage in order to get supporters
• unlikely to back down because pride is at stake
• of an authoritarian cast of mind

3. Then there are extreme cases of so-called leaders who need to be taken out somehow. They

• become ruthless tyrants, belligerent and bullying ‒ leadership is being tough
• believe that might is right ‒ the law of the jungle applies
• think expedience is all
• forbid all questioning of their commands; only intimidate those they sense are vulnerable ‒ have to be sure they can succeed
• are impossible to be intimate with since friendliness and cooperation are taken to be signs of weakness
• have no compunction about lying, cheating, stealing, reneging on promises
• act in a way that suggests ‘More power ‒ less need to justify’
• are desperate to hold on to power
• have delusional ideas about being god-like
• set themselves up as super-people, beyond morality
• lack any capacity of self-restraint
• want to destroy before being destroyed
• believe that survival is all (‘Better Dead Than Red’!)
• defy death ultimately by stamping on others

Such a taxonomy provides a detailed analysis of the abstraction ‘Leadership’. The key characteristic of somebody with top leadership qualities is ‘a charismatic aura of absolute self-mastery’, that is to say, the ability to be a leader to oneself.

Unfortunately, individuals with an authoritarian mentality can only believe that an authoritarian leader of ‘types’ 2 and 3 is worthy to be a leader. Authoritarianism is a very persuasive abstraction. Authoritarianism is rife. The Brexit campaign was run by people of an authoritarian cast of mind; it was voted for by those with a similar cast of mind.

…when the conquest of nature has secured the possibility of nourishment for everybody, and when the growth of technique has made large-scale co-operation profitable, the conflict of man with man becomes an anachronism, and should end in a political and economic unification such as is sought by the advocates of world government. By this means an external harmony of man with man can be established, but it will not be a stable harmony until men have achieved a genuine harmony within themselves, and have ceased to regard a part of themselves as an enemy fo be vanquished.

Bertrand Russell: New Hopes for a Changing World (1951)


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There’s something about the preservation of old notebooks…

I wonder what’s to be gained from keeping a notebook?

My friend Paul Hickey prompted me to hunt through some old notebooks to find a picture I remember preserving there; it’s a page from a book I used to read my kids in the 1960’s ‒ a 1930’s depiction of a street by St Paul’s I once knew very well. There’s a nice eerie emptiness about it. The building will have been destroyed in the blitz. The picture feels to me to depict a vanished world, a kind of stillness I wish were possible now instead of this brash, loud-mouthed and stupid New World.

I suppose it is an illusion – this stillness – says more about me than what then constituted ‘Reality’…


Just a few years after - the 1940/41 blitz...

Just a few years after – the 1940/41 blitz… Aiming for St Paul’s but missing it…

On the opposite page in the notebook there’s a fanciful poem I wrote (1971) when I carefully preserved the page from a child’s reader.

I am not of this time

‒ I should have died fifty years ago;
some fault there was in my birth-time: this scene
from a child’s picture book convinces me (though
there may have been several other indications)

I am content with dingy inefficient lighting;
with incredibly slow box-shape cars;
with stars and moon that never seem to move;
with steam trains winding down inefficient sidelines
(Reading to Redhill under Box Hill for example)
‒ an empty railway platform at Adlestrop…

if I had died with Owen & Butterworth
I’d at least have had the chance of hearing Mahler
& early Schoenberg             Debussy ‒
maybe I’d have contrived to meet Charles Ives

and you might have lived in Ancient Greece
listening to Pericles            wandered in a green grove
disguised as a boy talking with Socrates;
our paths would not have crossed
unless some transparent timeslip
had so confused the lines of time
as to have sent us cycling down the same
Edwardian lanes to a cream tea
in a Cotswold village around the end
of the first decade of the century

but if I’d died fifty years ago
the children to whom I read this book
would not have existed…

With all the world in an empty turmoil on a Summer Sunday morning in 2016, I turn the pages of the notebook haphazardly. Rambling back there, 45 years ago, I enjoy the feeling of escape. Talking of escape…

Scan0028Stuck on another page, here’s my National Service Enlistment Notice! What memories! I suppose that many young lads 60 years ago might have regarded the experience of National Service not as an escape but as imprisonment. Not I! It was a significant turning point in my life; it’s only relatively recently that I’ve come to appreciate how much of a turning point it really was. The whole experience converted me to pacifism for a start. Detached suddenly from life in a London suburb, I entered this remote bubble in time as I enter it as a different bubble from a different age now; its curious events are still lively within me. How easy it is to make all the past live again!

Here’s the poem on the opposite page in my notebook:-


because I lacked conscientiousness

I made no objection ‒
when The Big Day came I waved to my mother
outside Mrs Lewis’s exactly where
I watched my father wave to her
fifteen years before when he went off to Real War

he’d made me an item for shaving (mirror fixed
in a carefully-hinged wooden frame) that I never used

Commander Crabb was dead ‒ the newspapers
contained inquests on the event;
I didn’t know what to say to my father
who took my departure very seriously
having a sort of pride in his unappreciative son:
I wondered if he too was thinking of that earlier time

I was in a state of dream; my train-reading
was HGWells’ Short History of the World
it seemed relevant… seemed to place
my little shattered heroism in a short perspective

before long the entire railway system seemed
full of soldiers coming & going
joining up being demobbed

one group laughed uproariously
when I told them I was just joining up ‒
I supposed they’d nearly finished

at Victorian-built Fulwood Barracks north of Preston
I lost my old self making my way
into a new world put on fresh clothes
staggered across a parade ground
that afternoon with a great weight in my new kitbag

Entrance to Fulwood Barracks Preston

Entrance to Fulwood Barracks Preston

The reference to Commander Crabb is interesting. He was a British Royal Navy frogman and MI6 diver who vanished during a reconnaissance mission around a Soviet cruiser berthed at Portsmouth. He was presumed dead on 19th April 1956.

There were various speculations as to the reasons for his disappearance: that he’d been killed by some secret Soviet underwater weapon; that he had been captured and imprisoned in Lefortovo prison with prison number 147, that he had been brainwashed to work for the Soviet Union to train their frogman teams; that he had defected and became a commander in the Soviet Navy; that he was in the Soviet Special Task Underwater Operational Command in the Black Sea Fleet; or that MI6 had asked him to defect so he could become a double agent.

Did his image (my awareness of it in 1971) appear in the poem as an ironical possible direction for my army career? Now it simply reminds me that people appear and disappear, fading from the collective memory ‒ as though they had never existed though at the time speculation was all the rage and their being was firmly planted in the imagination. Thus the media (who really couldn’t care less) stir things in the False Imagination. What Gurdjieff calls ‘The News of the Day’…

Around the time of this notebook (1971) my daughter Ruth was 3…



…and I was three years into teaching. Here’s a rather strange poem that starts with something a kid said to me as a protest but goes off into what seem now like random ruminations. Perhaps I was just ‘writing everything down’ as an ironic response. Now I’m very glad I wrote everything down!


why do we have to write everything down?
why can’t we just learn?
OVERLAP WITH what Auden said:
how do I know what I mean
till I see what I’ve written?

the old man in the depth of a clock
kettle spurt               spent match
transistor turmoil bursts upon
fluted further world
with aged anger

the best ruse is offhandedness;
head off compulsive noises meant
to fill the gap between generations

CLOCK continues as it has since 1918
when he finished the war;
the old men of the tribe ‒
how much do they know?
they effect to know so much ‒
they fill the gap with rage


At Kingston Grammar School, for homework. we used to have to translate little sentences from Hillard & Botting. They often concerned an odd figure ‘Cotta’; we had no idea who or what he was ‒ during their eccentric, planless, lessons the eccentric masters made no attempt to tell us so that the sentences we struggled with remained totally abstract & remote. Cotta dux fuit copiarum Romanarum.


Kingston Grammar School – the Quad where we used to play British Bulldog… There were no chairs or litter bins in my time…

Now, by employing the amazing services of Wikipedia, sixty years after it might have been of real interest, I now remedy the lack in my adolescent education. It seems that:-

Lucius Aurunculeius Cotta (died 54 BC) was an officer in the Gallic army of Gaius Julius Caesar. The little we know of Cotta is found in Book V of Caesar’s De Bello Gallico. In 54 BC, when Caesar returned from his second expedition to Britain, he found food in short supply so he distributed his eight legions amongst a larger number of Gallic states from which to draw sustenance during the winter. To the eighth legion, which had recently been raised from across the Po he added another five cohorts. In command of this legion and the other cohorts, he put Quintus Titurius Sabinus and Lucius Aurunculeius Cotta. These two were appointed Legati (Lieutenant-Generals)…

The troops of Sabinus and Cotta were sent by Caesar into the country of the Eburones, in Belgica, most of which lies between the Meuse and the Rhine where they set up Fort Aduatuca in which to winter. The Eburones tribe was under the rule of Ambiorix and Catuvolcus. These two, instigated by the Treveri, collected their men and after a fortnight, fell on a detachment of Romans who were collecting wood. The marauding Eburones went on to assault the Roman Fort. The Roman infantry mounted the ramparts and despatched a squadron of Spanish horse which, falling on the flank of the enemy, routed them in that engagement… Caesar [later] notes that Sabinus lost his mind, running from cohort to cohort and issuing ineffectual orders. Cotta, by contrast, kept calm and did his duty as a commander, in action his duty as a soldier…

What a splendid man was Cotta as compared with the feeble Sabinus lost in history! Cotta, the dynamic, devoted to the airy abstraction Duty. And all this was kept secret from us…

I remember Cotta

under the summer apple tree of youth:
Cotta an athletic guy
leaping from exercise to exercise
in Hillard & Rotting
with his death defying exploits

Cotta will attack the Belgians
Cotta pugnabit Belgas
Cotta has attacked the Belgians
Cotta Belgas pugnavit
(we will attack Cotta
pugnabimus Cottam
if he gets stroppy)
Cotta had attacked the Belgians ‒
pity the poor Belgians:
whose Highway 13
had they been traipsing on?

the Belgians love their country
Belgae patriam amant
how my memory serves me ‒
the Belgians attacked Cotta (hoorah!)

Cotta had reported the battle
(Cotta pugnam nuntiaverat)

they will attack the Vietcong
they have attacked the Vietcong
they had attacked the Vietcong
the Vietcong will not lay down & die
(Vietcongi patriam amant)

and who will report their victory?
one difficult to decline or conjugate:
survival of indiscriminate napalming
of Highway 13            limitless defoliation;
what isn’t destroyed in a VC offensive
gets laid waste in a counter-attack
neat & tidy ‒ but how do you
define ‘victory’ ‒ who reported
the victories of Cotta?

Cotta mortuus est (O Cotta!)








Highway 13 runs from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) via Lai Khe and An Loc into Cambodia…

Other People by Ruth

Happier People by Ruth aged about 3

There is a yard or so of notebooks on the shelf behind me… They mean a great deal to me… Why?
What do they mean?

Why do I keep a notebook as a matter of habit? I suppose I had always intended that they would form the basis of future writing.

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A Secret Mythology (R10)

A Few Preliminary Examples

• Three years running at the beginning of the 1990’s I chose to begin the academic Summer Holidays by cycling solo 1000 miles in a fortnight from John o’Groats to Lands End, from the top to the bottom of island Britain, a different way each time, averaging 92 miles a day. That was when I was very fit. It pleased me greatly to do this eating up of miles – it pleases me greatly now that I did it and can recall, as I often do, mental images of events along the road.

• I stick with old hats, old clothes, find it difficult to throw things away. I want many pictures on the wall to provide anchors for a sense of Being. The things I value seem to be a part of me: the collection of stones on my desk, the oddities I’ve bought in junk shops, a fountain pen from the sixties, remembrances of my dead sister, a large old collection of vinyl LP’s, as good as new, that I listen to with headphones in the early morning before it’s light. I feel so comfortable with all these things around me. It pleases me to find myself admitting all this at last.

• I’ve composed miles and miles of music, most of it never played. I’ve handmade over 10,000 paperback books for other people (and a few for myself) in the last 25 years.

• The amassing of things, words, sounds, paintings, ideas, people, events… “How do you find the time?” people ask. Perhaps I have been well on the way to learning how to escape time.

• I started writing ROOM books in 2001. I’m on my tenth now (March 2016) – they consist of over two hundred pages each containing literary-political-philosophical-Gurdjieffian rambles, no longer arranged in chapters, but in Combologues which are, literally, ‘knots of words’. When I first came across the word I found it intriguing that it contained letters from my name in proper sequence – CoBlu – and decided to replace ‘chapters’ with it. At the end of a section by Jacques Lacarrière in Needleman & Baker’s Gurdjieff – Essays & Reflections we are told that ‘a Combologue is a chaplet used in Greece for prayers as well as for the pleasure of the fingers’. He says

Certain people practise prayer or meditation. I practise writing. It is like an ascetic discipline but also like pleasure, like work that is identical with play. And during all these years… your image [Gurdjieff’s], your thought, your teaching have been like the thread of a combologue along which the progressive experiences of my life have been told…

Progressive Experiences of My Life

– long solo bicycle rides for forty-two years till 1994, the writing of miles & miles of words and of music, the fabrication of books for others, the writing of books for myself, old hats, all old hat things and this house as a museum of life – I love its creaky old floorboards…

Jacques Lacarrière continues:-

I am taking the road again, knowing that, starting tonight, I am going to load myself up with and delight in… emotions and sentiments: the scent of the wind, the cries of children playing in the twilight, the silhouette of a furtive cat on the counter, the silence of an old café where Time itself sleeps and dreams. I love these hours and claim them for myself… They build up in me, day after day, season after season, that part which perhaps will escape Time. Yes, I am voluntarily rooted in the ephemeral (others might say the impermanent), which is a way of being faithful to Time…

…And a way of being true to the secret of one’s inner life, the pattern of which saves us from drawing the most sinister conclusion as a result of accepting the ultimate truth that human existence is completely absurd, has no conceivable rhyme or reason or purpose.

So how does one construct a personal meaning of life? How escape the demolition of self because of a belief in its utter absurdity?

The things I’ve listed seem to me to be deeply charged with meaning and significance related to the minutiae, the oddities – what to other people will no doubt seem inexplicable or even crass eccentricities. I think one must hold tight to crass eccentricities! Have a positive pride in them. I’m with John Cowper Powys in The Meaning of Culture where he defines such pride ‘as an integral feeling of self-respect associated with what we may call a person’s Life Illusion… [which. he says] is that view of one’s self which includes both one’s role in the world as it appears to others and to the part played by one’s self, in secret solitude in regard to the universe…’

The first five paragraphs of this essay I recognise as coming out of my ‘secret solitude’. I’m not boasting about what I’ve done, nor advocating that anybody else do as I have done; the things I’ve listed are just what I have done; they are objective reality; they apply solely to me, to my singular self; they define something of who & what I imagine I am. But in what sense do they constitute a ‘Life Illusion’? Why an illusion? To describe something as an illusion is to make of it a pretence, an invention, a distortion or trick, something that deceives by producing a false or misleading impression of ‘reality’.

And so, of course, the key question is – what is reality? Perhaps what you invent stands over against everything that anybody else might describe as ‘reality’; it’s a determination to redefine things by dint of your own mind-power. Powys says it is to hold

…in deep contempt all the opinions of the crowd and all objective and worldly standards [so that] the ultimate pride of personality within us, this self-respect by means of which we lie back upon an unassailable life-illusion [would make it] perfectly content with itself quite apart from external success, fame, prestige, or any reputation in the eyes of others…

It’s an illusion, perhaps, because it takes us over in the way it does when it could have been different; it’s an illusion if we think it’s a way of dealing with life that nobody else has at their command. And it’s unassailable because, once you begin to run with it, nobody can deprive you of it.

Powys defines Culture as ‘the conscious development of life-illusion’. My ROOM books (which are literally a ‘growth’ I’ve cultured) therefore consist of an area of my life-illusion – what I consider life is about: the things that concern me in the solitude of my innermost being; the interconnectedness of all things, people, events, the memorialising; amongst other things they recount the way books I’ve read have crafted my being. It occurs to me that I must sometime somehow have chosen to have developed a consistently diligent attitude to reading to have persevered with this connecting business – it must have taken a fairly rare bit of dedication to be alert to the existence of connections, to the capturing or forging of them. It’s not that I ever set out to do this: it was an organic process; it crept up on me down all the lengthy years. The dedication grew on me; it wasn’t something I made an oath to but one afternoon sometime in the mid-’90’s I came to the conclusion that the most resourceful ‘virtual question’ I was in the habit of asking myself, entirely self-prompted, was – How can I connect this with that, x with y, in whatever context I might happen to find myself. This brought making connections to the top of my mind – a good place to hold anything that might contribute to what could turn out to be useful for whatever it is that’s deep down hidden away in one’s life-illusion!

I’d have to admit that it might all be an illusion – a rather complicated disguise behind which I’m saying that life is books, philosophy, Gurdjieff and descriptions of things, events and attitudes that I consider to be worth recording in detail; and the illusion that I’ve always suffered most from that life is not about ambition, prestige, fame, money (and all the rest of the A Influences) but about a systematic return to Essence.

Of course, there are many things which disturb one’s life-illusion. The frequent attacks from outside; the dismantling of things by agents large or small at all times of day and night. To counter them one must hold tight to all one’s crass eccentricities. And gather the self into the larger Self and all the selves into just the ONE.

Absolute Joy in Ordinary Things

Crass eccentricities seem to come suddenly from some level of existence one knows not where – part of one’s life-illusion, the dream of life. ‘…What one is wise to do with books is to saturate oneself in their imaginative atmospheres…’ (JCP op cit) and then locate the atmospheres in real life to

gather together the forces of his inmost being as he stands under any sort of tree upon any patch of bare earth or uncut grass, and let him feel himself as a human animal, unique among his fellows in his own peculiar personal sensations, carried through space-time on the surface of this terrestrial orb!… Then will all manner of old obscure feelings, evoked by both sun and wind, warmth and cold, earth and grass, air and rain, rise up in his mind. And he will remember certain street-corners where the evening light has fallen in particular ways. He will remember certain bridges where the rain-wet stones or the mosses have taken on a certain delicate sadness, or have pierced his heart ‘with thoughts beyond the reaches of his soul. He will remember the tarry smells and the salty breaths of this or that harbour-mouth, passed carelessly enough at the time, but returning upon him now as of the very essence of his life. He will remember how he once came up the slope of a far-off hill, following some half-forgotten road; and there will come upon him vague memories of remote gates overgrown with elder-bushes and with tall nettles; memories of bare beech-trunks, God knows on what far uplands, of stranded barges in stagnant back waters, of green seaweed on lonely pier-posts, of glittering sun-paths, or moon-paths, on sea-waters and river-waters, of graveyards where the mounds of the dead were as drowsy under the long years as if the passing of time had been the passing of interminable flocks of sheep. Thus will he tell like beads the memories of his days and their long burden; while the unspeakable poetry of life will flood his being with a strange happiness.

If he waits long enough, thus standing alone, thus staring at earth and sky, there will even, perhaps, come over him that immemorial sensation, known to saints and mystics from the beginning of time, wherein the feeling of all outward things is lost in a singular ecstasy.

This feels like it might be the result of what Jacques Lacarrière described as being ‘voluntarily rooted in the ephemeral’. Rooting oneself in sunshine & rain, the tracery of cloud formations, the trees up on the hill (Chanctonbury Ring springs to mind), the pool in the forest, silent as moon-dust, is to return to elemental certainty.

But the question continues to gnaw away: why is this a life-illusion?

Why is this a Life-Illusion?

In The Art of Growing Old John Cowper Powys says:-

We can now take stock of our situation in a fresh and new way. Both to ourselves and to the world at large we are now no better than the little green grub that hides itself in what is usually called ‘Cuckoo-spit’…

In the grand scheme of things we are pretty negligible beings but we give ourselves airs & graces and act as though we are lords & ladies of creation giving not a second thought to the way we are destroying our living space, treading on the faces of those less able to fend for themselves than we are. We are negligible beings nevertheless. It is because of this that, in order to sustain our Being, we must create a life-illusion of some kind.

If that is what we are [grub in cuckoo-spit], let us boldly and shamelessly accept the situation! We, an abject and contemptible failure, we, a wretched and helpless criminal, we, a laughing-stock for all well-constituted persons, can turn round quietly now, even as the poorest blind-worm can ‘turn’, and enjoy once again the roar of the wind, the rustle of the leaves, the roll of the waves, the lights and shadows on the dust-heap, the waving grasses, the scattered stones!

‘Voluntarily rooted in the ephemeral’…

It will depend on the quality of our imagination whether the feeling that we are on a level with the weakest offspring of planetary life gives us – in addition to the lifting up of our own heart – a never-before-experienced thrill of melting tenderness for all these fellow-entities, children of the same Great Mother, who are as helpless, and often as vicious and mean and cowardly, as we are ourselves!

As a defence mechanism against the possible mental overwhelm that comes from contemplating our status as worthless, absurd and contemptible beings it is perhaps necessary to invent some protective factor – what Ibsen called a ‘saving lie’, as Powys points out, one that hides the brutal truth from people we relate to and also prevents us from giving way to total personal despair. Powys calls it a ‘life-illusion’ which is ‘…our inmost, secretest, personal respect for ourselves…’ He says it is important

…owing to our manifold weaknesses and infirmities – to keep [our personal sense of Being] inviolable to all shocks and to strip it of all pretence and assumption. Get it down – that is the clue-word – to the lowest and simplest level you possibly can! I don’t mean that we should yield up one jot of our natural and legitimate pride in being ourselves. Pride of this sort is twin-brother to that planetary humility which is our sublimest novum organum of wisdom.

What I mean is that we should have the pride, just as we have the courage, of our inherent limitations. And it is here that Nature, with her primordial elements of earth, air, fire, and water, plays so mysterious a part. For there are only four things that render our Life-Illusion absolutely indifferent to the Opinion of the World and completely impervious to our blunders and failures in the Struggle for Existence; and these four things are: absorption in books; devotion to a cause; some special erotic obsession; and the cultivation of a life of pure sensation. Of these four the last-mentioned is the only one completely within the power of an ordinary person’s will.

It’s still an illusion because the reality is that we are worthless as ever, absurd and contemptible beings who feel obliged to overcome that horrifying idea: some of us escape from it into politics or religion or sport or some such invented diversion in order to calm ourselves down; the relief of belonging to a larger organised group or set of rigid beliefs gives us the idea that all is in fact right with the world while we still live in antagonisms and furious rivalry. No progress, says Gurdjieff, till you realise fully that you are a No-thing going no-where,

Oh, what misery we escape, what heart-burnings, what disappointments, what bitterness, what pessimism, what tragic humiliation, by living in our immediate sensations, in place of competing with others or depending on the love, admiration, esteem of others, or on our position in society and our achievements in the Great World!

This is how celebrities of various kinds survive their ultimate pointlessness: ‘…their inmost Life-Illusion artificially blown up, like the rubber tyre of a wheel, by the air-pump of public opinion…’ To avoid such artificiality we need what Gurdjieff called ‘Second Education’ which we have to work hard at to achieve. ‘First Education’ is the standard one we get from parents, schooling and society in general seeking to fit us into patterns and forms that already exist. It is hard to escape First Education and the beliefs and proclivities it lumbers us with: we learn to self-justify, to make accounts tit for tat, to engage in A Influences, to relish negative emotion, making money, paying the mortgage, sport and what people call fun… We have to

…reach by a deliberate cultivation the sort of proud humility… which is absolutely essential if [we] are to face [our] own soul and… senses, and get [our] Life-Illusion down to the ground, where it can neither fall any lower nor be punctured by any sharp flint of reality when it takes to the road!


Not all the ‘mindfulness’ courses under the sun, or over it, will provide you with such an elemental starting point. Examples of a person in their life-illusion are not very sophisticated; simple things suffice; all that’s needed is to be ‘rooted in the ephemeral’. So

It always gave Wolf a peculiar thrill thus to tighten his grip upon his stick, thus to wrap himself more closely in his faded overcoat. Objects of this kind played a queer part in his secret life-illusion. His stick was like a plough-handle, a ship’s runner, a gun, a spade, a sword, a spear. His threadbare overcoat was like a medieval jerkin, like a monk’s habit, like a classic toga! It gave him a primeval delight merely to move one foot in front of the other, merely to prod the ground with his stick, merely to feel the flapping of his coat about his knees, when this mood predominated. It always associated itself with his consciousness of the historic continuity – so incredibly charged with marvels of dreamy fancy – of human beings moving to and fro across the earth. It associated itself, too, with his deep, obstinate quarrel with modern inventions, with modern machinery…

Thus the eponymous hero of John Cowper Powys’ Wolf Solent which I haven’t read for many many years.

As if to confirm the source of the benefits to be derived from being ‘rooted in the ephemeral’, Powys quite often resorts to making bright lists of the things that root him – a ‘conscious banking up’ of observable phenomena, of memorable moments.

Our innermost self, as we grow more and more conscious of it, surprises us again and again by new explosions of feeling drawn from emotional, nervous, and even chemical reactions; but for all its surreptitious dependence on these impulses, its inner report upon its own nature is that it is a clear, hard, enclosed, secretive nucleus with a detached and independent existence of its own… What… denotes the cultured person is the conscious banking up of this philosophy of his own, its protection from disintegrating elements, the guiding of its channel-bed through jungles of brutality and stupidity.
(The Meaning of Culture)

Memorable Moments and the Food of Pure Impressions

A deliberate dwelling on ‘memorable moments’ from the past serves to root oneself in the continuity of one’s Being. What is it that makes ‘moments’ into ones that become ‘memorable’? The knack of saying to oneself, “I shall remember this moment for the rest of my life…” will fix things in the whatever-it-is preserves things in the mind; I suppose that this can start any time but for me it started around the age of four pottering around my father’s garden, looking under stones for small wild life, poking the pond to disturb newts, staring up at the clouds and the moon, wondering how far up the sky was & what kept it in place…


My Father’s Garden

So, early on, with no idea that my experience was of any significance, I consumed what Gurdjieff called the Food of Pure Impressions. Then I began to crave such experiences and bind them together.

Gurdjieff calls the Food of Pure Impressions the highest form of food, that which contributes most nourishingly to one’s innermost life – more than fish & chips and any more obvious sustenance. I think it’s what Powys is achieving in his listing process.

It is a memorable moment in one’s intellectual life when one realizes that it is not learning for learning’s sake, or knowledge for the sake of knowledge that is the object of our secret struggle with inertia and futility. It is simply that we may enjoy the most exciting sensations that life offers; and enjoy them over the longest possible extension of time. Among such sensations one of the most thrilling is that vague feeling of old countryside romance which emanates from certain far-off highways and certain remote villages. Standing upon some old stone bridge where the moss grows green and untouched on the curve of the dark arches above the water, one often feels that there, is a silent unspeakable secret hovering about such places that no writer has ever really caught.

To develop such images by ratiocination into some long prose elaboration would destroy their purity; just a list is all that’s needed – to rescue the minutiae from the oblivion they might otherwise suffer.

Found Poem

Another way of rescuing words from books that I relish is to construct ‘Found Poems’ from a prose text. I’ve found that some writers’ products yield up such poems more than others; in Powys’ prose texts you often suddenly find yourself reading something with a natural poetic style. This from Chapter 3 of The Philosophy of Solitude:-

sink down

deep into your soul say:
here I am a living conscious self
surrounded by walls
streets pavements houses roofs

above me the boundless sky
beneath the solid earth;
all around me are people
of my own kind with their fixed ideas
and their fixed habits

out of my loneliness I stretch forth my spirit
towards all those inanimate things
others are passing carelessly by
and taking carelessly for granted –
towards these stones
towards this dust
towards this brickwork & ironwork
& woodwork on which sun or moon
is shining upon which rain is falling
clouds rolling mist sinking down

I am in a prison – it’s all the same!
I stretch out my spirit
to these walls to that window
to that square of blueness
of yellowness of blackness
which is the window of my place

these inanimates –
inanimate space light & darkness
are my universe:
the world into which this living self
has been flung by an inscrutable destiny

it is in my power
to gather up my forces
and embrace this universe
represented by these material elements

it is in my power
to assert my nature my inmost being
against these things
upon these things

it is in my power
to satisfy my senses upon them
and to feel as I stretch out my spirit
towards them that I am embracing
and yet defying
the whole material world

it matters nothing
how ignorant I am of the great religions
the great philosophies
the prophets & gurus & sages
for here I am – the I am I
within this weak feeble wretched
discomforted body stretching out my spirit
to the great mystery of the universe
as represented by these queer objects
these stones this woodwork
this dark night
these gusts of rainy wind

only in loneliness…
these walls these half-open windows
through which sun or dark night appears
are fringes edges margins
of an unfathomable universe
on the brink of which we stand
while soul grapples with the unknown

In its original context this sequence is an understandable gestalt, a complete isolable notion, that renders itself into a Pure Impression like the circle of trees of Chanctonbury in the South Downs (which I haven’t seen for many years) just seeming to be awaiting release from its chain of words.

This is my secret mythology – entirely mine. It’s part of my life-illusion that one can rescue things from its Absurdity to make novelty.

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Emotions and Neologisms

On the rare occasions when my wife says she doesn’t feel very well I ask her, in order to be of assistance, how specifically she doesn’t feel very well. She usually says she’s not too sure so I suggest that perhaps her ‘gronglins are condibulated…’ or that it’s a sad case of ‘koprinitis’ – something like that.

“How do you think up these words?” she asks.
“It’s second nature,” I say.

So, I ask myself where do I get this kind of response from? Simple! I’ve been ‘moodelling’ for sixty years on HGWells’ very special hero Mr Polly who, compensating for his meagre education by the voracious reading he organised for himself, had come across words that interested him but mangled them when he tried to use them to represent things he wanted to say: so, amongst other things he talked about ‘allitrition’s artful aid’, (alliteration’s artful aid) ‘exploratious menanderings’ (exploring that meanders all over the place) and ‘sesquippledan verboojuice’.

Sesquipedalian, a word you won’t hear everyday, refers to words that are a foot and a half long (Horace). Wells had his hero indulging in a ‘pleonasm’: he meant to say ‘sesquipedalian verbosity’ two words which pretty well mean the same thing.

My abiding interest in words and their relation to external ‘reality’ started when I had to study The History of Mr Polly in June 1954 for the Ordinary Level examination, as a contribution to the rubber-stamping of my educational progress through life. I learned that, when stuck for a word to express your meaning, you could simply make one up and, unless they were interested enough to ask a question, people would assume that you knew what you were talking about. Politicians, especially those of the Right and religious deviants do this all the time. One should be on constant guard against the ridiculous notion that they know what they’re talking about.

GIGurdjieff was the arch neologiser: my favourite invented word of his is sinkrpoosarams which means ‘belief in any old twaddle’; those who go along with Right Wing politicians and established religious maniacs suffer from sinkrpoosarams.


Two thoughts arise: firstly, all words are made up; secondly, the selection of made-up words we each individually choose to add to our repertoire provides a unique invented universe which we run the risk of proclaiming to be the only one of its kind. I later found, like a clap of thunder, that Benjamin Lee Whorf, developing the concept of linguistic relativity, had said something very similar, under the influence of his mentor Edward Sapir who held that ordinary language has a tendency to obscure, rather than facilitate, the mind to perceive and describe the world as it really is.

Thanks to Pat Mason!

I began to think about this once more when Whitehead’s ‘searchlight’ swung round to focus on the subject of words and their effect on what we like to think of as ‘meaning’. This was prompted by a series of interesting questions high-lighted by my friend Pat Mason who is writing a book.

Her questions went like this:-

• Does shame cause anxiety or does anxiety mean that people suffering with it are more susceptible to feeling shame?
• Is anxiety the root cause of feeling shame – or is intense shame the root cause of anxiety?
• Is low self esteem caused by shame or is it that if one has low self esteem, one is more susceptible to feeling shame?
• Is it a matter of Cause and Effect? Or are these things all part of the same continuum as in the Shame Circle?

Pat’s model:-


Quick-click to enlarge…

I suggested that the key bit of this ‘Shame System’ might be ‘Meaning attribution through language’. Naming things lends a spurious kind of existence to whatever’s named.

Language being an intellectual invention – something totally separate from the way things are (in itself an invented concept!) – it is in business somehow to manage the meaning we ascribe to events which just keep happening in spite of the way we try to pin things down with words; things going on around us all the time have a nasty habit of escaping the net of words we try to weave around them; the words we succeed in imposing on ‘reality’ lead us to create a false notion of it but, of course, what would we do without words? Robert Graves’ lovely poem The Cool Web expresses this precisely:-

Children are dumb to say how hot the day is,
How hot the scent is of the summer rose,
How dreadful the black wastes of evening sky,
How dreadful the tall soldiers drumming by.

But we have speech, to chill the angry day,
And speech, to dull the rose’s cruel scent.
We spell away the overhanging night,
We spell away the soldiers and the fright.

There’s a cool web of language winds us in,
Retreat from too much joy or too much fear:
We grow sea-green at last and coldly die
In brininess and volubility.

But if we let our tongues lose self-possession,
Throwing off language and its watery clasp
Before our death, instead of when death comes,
Facing the wide glare of the children’s day,
Facing the rose, the dark sky and the drums,
We shall go mad no doubt and die that way.

I accept totally Benjamin Lee Whorf’s conclusion that the words we have at our disposal, or have come to deal in because they ‘work’ for us, create the universe we imagine we live in. If we’re diligent we inspect the universe we imagine we live in and adjust the words we use to what we find. Habitual satisfaction with the words we have at our disposal depends on our sense of ‘fit’: what seems to work for us in our context is reinforced over time and so we continue with the pattern of words that appears to represent our working ‘reality’, whether it’s anything like το ὀν (=being, the whole damned shoot) or not. If we’re not that diligent we stick with the old words and rest content to play the same old tracks.

One way of judging ‘appropriateness’ is to notice how worked up people get when faced with something that, through the use of words, causes cognitive dissonance for them: when one’s notion of ‘fit’ is disturbed by a bunch of words that suggest that there alternative ways of constructing a version of the universe one can go into a spectacular tizzy.

A mind more open to other possibilities might exclaim, “How interesting!” which, I suppose, is the emotionally intelligent response. It signifies a person who is capable of, and practised at, rising above identification with a particular point of view to achieve a meta-position, emotionless, except, perhaps, to indulge in a small excitement at the idea that one has escaped identification with a point of view – which would in itself signify a temporary lapse. One must never get too excited about anything!

My Repertoire

All these words I’ve just dragged out of my limited repertoire are inventions that I’ve come to work with down the years. I could go back over them and fill in gaps until my sense of ‘fit’ became relatively certain. I notice all kinds of phrases and expressions that have come to sit comfortably in my minor intellectual prestidigitations.

We have at our disposal all manner of words we have invented as a way of representing what we call ‘emotions’. The concept of ‘emotion’ is, of course, in itself, invented, something plastered on top of the indubitable fact that we are driven by electro-chemical activity which is, to use GIGurdjieff’s splendid getout or coverall, a ‘something-or-other’ that keeps us going between birth & death. In order to manage the activity it’s come to be the case that we invent words to describe what’s happening and then imagine that the words are the things themselves. Philosophers have been trying to nail the truth of this for a long time; the nominalist/realist argy-bargy in the Middle Ages is a handy sort of example of the problem: ‘realists’ argued that words were the things themselves (we have a word ‘unicorn’ therefore there must be unicorns); to the contrary, ‘nominalists’ argued that words were just names or labels for things. The Tory Party is of the first faction – we have the word ‘austerity’ therefore, like a unicorn, it must exist; Corbyn is a nominalist – ‘austerity’ is a political invention, just a label for a way of demolishing the Welfare State. I happen to be a thoroughgoing Nominalist. I’m with Corbyn.

Take a random selection of invented ‘emotion’ words – shame, anger, happiness, horror, frustration, disgust, delight, anxiety, fear, loathing, love… and so on – simply names we have invented for all kinds of behaviours deriving from neuron and/or neurotransmitter activity. If it were possible to chart how one electro-chemical response to events merges, translates, stimulates, hi-jacks, relates to another it would constitute a more accurate way of saying what goes on in the human frame. It’s obviously true that we have ‘feelings’ but words that are supposed to depict emotions are rather dodgy items, or so it seems to me – need treating with extreme care.

I used to base a lot of my teaching on the fundamental idea that it’s confusing to talk about ‘memory’ (‘I have a bad memory’, for instance); it makes such a difference when you substitute the participle ‘remembering’ for the noun. A verb is a doing word while a noun is an immobile abstraction. I used to teach that the upshot is that you have to do something in order to fix stuff in the mental system.

As a parallel way of thinking, emotion is a noun, and feeling is a verb. So ‘feeling’ is what goes on inside us – you can tap it, do something about it, change it – while ‘emotion’ is a plum duff abstraction – you just tip it out of the basin if you can & hope for the best.

What’s in the body somewhere undoubtedly gives rise to feelings while the mental apparatus invents the mental categories we call ‘emotions’.

Scan0002Incidentally, but in a related sort of way, I was told by a Danish lady some years ago that in Danish there are no separate words for ‘teaching’ and ‘learning’ – they are indissolubly linked in the one word indlaering: teaching is learning; the best way to learn something is to teach it. Systemic relationship!

Out of all this it perhaps emerges that the question does shame cause anxiety or the reverse? is the kind of question I remember my Latin teacher Mr Richardson (rest his soul & thanks for whistling to me in order to analyse bits of Brahms’ First Symphony – something I was in awe of) saying ought not to be asked because the very question presupposes that there’s an answer. Electro-chemically it’s all part of the Shame Circle continuum; the neuronal activity is the continuum while the words shift around inside the mind’s stunted dictionary playing a different tune. Damasio’s ‘somatic markers’ are relevant but I doubt they can be labelled in the way we imagine they could be.

Gurdjieff had a word for the connectedness of everything: iraniranumange – the universal exchange of substances. One would do well to adopt this concept; it represents the systemic connection between all things both physical and other-than-physical.

I’m quite sure that low ‘self-esteem’ (not thinking much of your self) is a result of not being able to track all this in a thoroughgoing kind of way and connect it all up (not being able to think much at all); people at the mercy of their bubbling brains are unable to view themselves with any sense of certainty about the way the universe really is (το ὀν). Their aims & intentions are never clear to themselves and so are not linked to anything they can grasp: “nothing I set my mind on ever comes to fruition… I’m a hopeless case…”

‘Emotions’ are Tricky Things

‘Emotions’ are tricky things but what can be said about human-beings with relative (felt) certainty is that they have intentions and hopes: I intend to finish making my point now and I hope that what I write comes out in a way that can easily be understood; we have the intention to make things OK for ourselves and for others; we hope that things will turn out as we expect & when they don’t there’s a great clattering in the something-or-the-other that keeps us going and we feel what amounts to being ‘angry’ or frustrated or shamed or anxious depending what we can do about whatever it is that’s flummoxed us and/or how important it might be. So feelings arise from the outcome connected with what we intend or hope for.

I recently composed a little jazz piece with the intention of proving to myself that I could deliberately write something that a jazz combo might take a fancy to – I hoped they might want to play it. My neurons sorted themselves into a feeling of what might be called ‘pleasure’ when I was told how much the group liked it; the neurons re-arranged themselves into what we might call ‘disappointment’ when I found that they couldn’t appear in the concert it was intended that they play the piece in and then the electro-chemical fizz went into a well-known (to me) dismissive gesture that has a strong swear-word attached to it + ‘the story of my life’. That has a somatic marker well and truly established somewhere down the outside of my left thigh. When I succeed in moving it temporarily to my forehead, I can get into a powerful ‘on to the next thing’ feeling which I expect some culture or another has invented a nifty word for – I’m not sure we’ve got one in English.

In the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows (a brilliant Webgroup) I found altschmerz, a German compound word literally meaning ‘Old Pain’ – in itself a pain. It’s defined in full as:-

weariness with the same old issues that you’ve always had – the same boring flaws and anxieties you’ve been gnawing on for years, which leaves them soggy and tasteless and inert, with nothing interesting left to think about, nothing left to do but spit them out and wander off to the backyard till the next time…

That might do… Or liberosis

…the desire to care less about things – to loosen your grip on your life, to stop glancing behind you every few steps, afraid that someone will snatch it from you before you reach the end zone – rather to hold your life loosely and playfully, like a volleyball, keeping it in the air, with only quick fleeting interventions, bouncing freely in the hands of trusted friends, always in play.

If there’s no word for a complex feeling – one that cannot be given shorthand shrift – what happens to it? How does it enter into our conscious thoughts to figure in our construction of meaning? Things are impossible to pin down without words: ‘the story of my life’ + ‘on to the next thing’ are quite often linked ‘feelings’ for me. The first could be categorised, without precision, as ‘misery’ or ‘self-demolition’ or ‘hopelessness’; the second as ‘being optimistic’ or NLP-type ‘next-steppery’; but there’s so much more involved: the ‘optimism’ of ‘on to the next thing’ for me always contains the alarming proviso that ‘nothing-will-change’ (another emotion nameless as yet, as far as I know).

Anyway, I later discovered that the jazz group will certainly play my piece at another concert and as a result I was iskoloonitzinernly pleased at the news. I think some of Gurdjieff’s invented words are examples of his infinite larking about! iskoloonitzinernly is supposed to mean ‘blissfully’.


As if all this weren’t complicated enough already, the familiar distinction between what we label ‘cognitive’ & ‘affective’ processes is just as much an invention as everything else we concoct in the attempt to explain things. As I recall, Finesmith (1959) rigged up some machine that measured victims’ cognitive/affective responses to the sound of nonsense syllables – there was presumably some minimal ‘cognitive’ effort to understand them contemporaneously associated with an ‘affective response; the neurons made no such distinction. There was an uprising of physical/mental activity; the cognitive/affective feelings are always first, the labels we call emotions come second and skew us into simplistic categories, a process which distorts thinking; distorts the way we feel and how we construct our sense of ‘reality’. How do we know the difference between the distortion and the actual? Especially since there is a marked proclivity to intellectualise everything, emphasising merely cognitive processes. Gurdjieff, with his tongue in his cheek:-

Hence, during all this time, in order to be able to make anything clear to others, they have automatically been compelled to invent and go on inventing, a great many almost meaningless words for things and also for ideas, great and small; and so their mentation has gradually begun to function, as I have said, according to the principle of chainonizironness

chainonizironness is the act of making intellectual associations without the participation of the Feeling Centre.

Emotion-words representing feelings come from chainonizironness: the words themselves don’t convey the affective complexity behind the words – never ever can. Without the felt complexity what chance of accuracy?

Let’s imagine, for moment, we were permanently ‘lost for words’, or that some embargo had been placed on the use of words, or even that, like the Greek philosopher Cratylus, we made a decision never to use words again because of their imprecision – we would then have to make do with feelings and thoughts about feelings all mixed up together.

Any encounter with the ‘outside world’ would then become:-

In Lawrence Durrell’s novel Sebastian, Constance is a pychotherapist charged with the task of getting through to a young lad who doesn’t talk and is completely unresponsive to what’s going on around him. For apparently no reason at all he suddenly goes into lengthy torrents of tears and begins to react to Constance in relatively ‘normal’ ways. His grandmother tells her that she has changed her perfume to the same as the young lad’s mother wore years ago before the time of trauma.

Constance was dumbfounded, exasperated and professionally delighted – perhaps this is what had given her such an immediate associative transference with the child, had enabled her to penetrate his emotions so swiftly. And the tears … She went back over the old diagnoses in the light of this new gleam of knowledge. How lucky she had been, for her choice of a new scent to match a new hair-style, a new character change, had been quite haphazard. Had it in fact been a key? She turned to look at the small abstracted face beside her in the looming automobile and wondered. And if all human emotions and action depended on such an affective pattern of association-responses … It was a pure wilderness of associations, a labyrinth in which the sources of all impulse lay. Besides, it was after all sound psychology to trace the roots of emotion and desire to the sense of smell – its vast ramifications had never been completely worked out, and never would be…

Significant meaning conveyed by olfactory accident.

On the other hand we might decide to use words again and commit ourselves to the project of inventing new words to label complex ideas. Of the 17,677 words Shakespeare used, it seems that 1,700 were invented – now we take them for granted. Words like accommodation, aerial, amazement, apostrophe, assassination, auspicious, baseless, bloody, bump, castigate, changeful, clangor, countless, courtship, critic, critical, dexterously, dishearten, dislocate, dwindle, eventful, exposure, fitful, frugal, generous, gloomy, gnarled, hurry and so on through the alphabet…

We could model on Shakespeare in this way. This painting by Gaspar David Friedrich cries out for a word capable of encapsulating the profound feeling it conveys:-

Evening: Gaspar David Fiedrich

Evening: Gaspar David Fiedrich

While I was thinking of inventing a word I discovered that there was a Japanese one that would do very well: Komorebi labels the feeling evoked by sunlight filtering through trees – the interplay between light and leaves. In relation to this particular painting one might link it with Eugene Marais’ concept of ‘hesperian depression’, a not well-known emotion we are all supposed to suffer from at the end of day.

Generally Musing

If I’m on a train for a couple of stops I often pick a newspaper that somebody has discarded and run my eye over the ‘news’. This item struck me a couple of days ago:-

Tower plan looms over Blake Graveyard

B. JOHNSON, Mayor of London was today expected to approve plans for a ‘bullying’ 11-storey office block overlooking a historically important graveyard. Bunhill Fields, in City Road, Islington, is the final resting place of more than 120,000 Londoners – including William Blake, whose work includes England’s unofficial national anthem ‘Jerusalem’, and writer Daniel Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe.

The graveyard, now protected as a Grade I listed park and Garden of Special Historic Interest, was established in the 1660’s near the site of an older burial ground. It became a resting place for Nonconformists, and also contains the graves of John Bunyan and the mother of Methodism’s founder John Wesley.

A planning application lodged with Islington council in August would involve the demolition of two buildings on the corner of City Road and Featherstone Street and their replacement with four buildings: two of 10 and 11 storeys and two of five storeys each.

The council rejected the plan last October citing concerns about ‘substantial harm’ to the burial ground but the final decision was taken out of its hands this month when the scheme was ‘called in’ by the Mayor. A public hearing on the application from Derwent London was taking place at City Hall today. It is the 15th such hearing on a major planning scheme held by Mr Johnson and to date all 14 have gone in favour of developers. Islington council’s executive member for housing and development, James Murray, said: “Once again, the Mayor has ignored local decision-making for a major planning application.”

Conservationists say the 43-metre block would ‘bury’ and ‘overwhelm’ the graveyard. Tim Heath, chairman of the Blake Society, said the group had been denied planning permission for a full headstone at the poet’s original burial spot adding, “It’s remarkably unfair that an 11 storey building is allowed when we aren’t even allowed to put up a traditional gravestone.”

That the obnoxious Mayor of London intervened to award a developer the freedom to do what they like to a site of some considerable interest, repository of corpses for whom one might have great feeling has me choosing to feel rather more than ‘disgust’. The Power Possessors are subverting the whole world without regard for sensitivities. Reading the article again I invented a word to encapsulate everything I felt about this. So

krungut – is a-feeling-stoked-up-by-reading-a-newpaper-article-about-the-mayor-of-London-sanctioning-the-building-of-tower-blocks-round-the-graveyard-where-William-Blake-is-buried

Then I got into the swing of it…

pertle – is the-act-of-going-downstairs-to-make-a-morning-cup-of-tea-without-switching-the-house-lights-on-carrying-a-small-torch-in-order-to-deprive-the-power-company-of-a-bit-of-profit… The torch becomes a pertle-stick, thanks to my wife for suggesting it!

grundilacious – my novel-reading on a train from Ely to Downham Market was severely interrupted he other day by one of these people who address the whole compartment by talking loudly into their small ‘communalling e-boxes’: half a conversation about renovating his new country residence was succeeded by one about the way the next person on the other end could corner a lucrative market by becoming a professional tutor. Suddenly noticing mid-flow that he was at his stop, he left the train in a hurry abandoning scarf and gloves on the seat. There was time while the doors were still open for me to pick them up and attract his attention but all in a split second I decided not to since he’d invaded my space and, from the way he was talking, would have more than sufficient resources to buy new ones. I needed a word to describe my complex feeling – a new emotion for which as yet there was not a word. I was being grundilacious… An adjective describing a-mean-action-resulting-from-having-one’s-reading-interrupted-by-a-well-heeled-man-on-a-train

And what about a single word for the following unfortunate event (recorded in a newspaper clipping I’ve hoarded since 1995, specially for this purpose)?

A Northallerton postman fined five shillings in 1962 for riding a bike without lights held a grudge against the policewoman for more than thirty years. After he had posted her hate mail on the 33rd anniversary of his court appearance, he ended up back in court and was fined £100.

I think it could be a lestum… The postman suffered a lestum = ‘things-catching-up-with-you-after-exactly-33-years’.

Events have a tendency to bundle themselves up into a whole complex of feelings for which there is no shorthand word. Perhaps our world would be the richer for more words conveying emotion! Emotional neologisms could render thinking/feeling more precise.

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