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

Being & Communication

A Facebook friend Joe Van Myers posted a paper by SCRWeightman called ‘The Domains of Discourse’ (Systematics Vol 7 December 1969). A previous paper contained a pyramid-shaped model which was intended to depict the relationship between Language, Speech and Meaning as mutually exclusive contributions to the supposed Unity of the experience of self:-

‘Self-unity’ is the critical issue to be discussed but ‘meaning’ always seems to me to be a construct, an emergent property of the system which might be said to be a contributory factor to the ‘Unity’ of self where ‘meaning’ is inevitably focussed.


E.P. = Emergent Property

According to the pyramid model, which the December 1969 paper seeks to revise, the path from language to unity is related to the competence of the self (the language we have at our disposal creates the universe we imagine we live in, as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis has it); the path from speech, or simply using language parrot-fashion, to unity is about relatively effective mechanical performance; while the path from meaning to unity is about conceptual grasp. This follows a pattern in Bennett’s Dramatic Universe.

Weightman acknowledges that none of these categories is watertight. More particularly, he proposes that the model needs to be rebuilt in order to incorporate the role and effect of others in the equation – the relationship between self & society, the interaction.

My own view would be that ‘society’ is an abstract construct, built separately in the mind of each of us, an emergent property from the system of individuals coming together:-

Discourse is made up of utterances (‘the workings of the vocal mechanism’) which in combination and with competent performance become appropriate linguistic behaviour, both individual and societal.

Whether shared ‘meaning’ or ‘understanding’ emerges in speaking together depends on the ‘level of performance’ of participants – depends perhaps on focus, concentration, intention, listening quality, common purpose and willingness. If the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis holds then what one person’s set of verbal possessions & assumptions & combinations of meanings consists of at a point of ‘unity’ will be different from another’s. For example, intention may vary from cohesive to divisive, say, and the emerging propertieswill be anything from congruence/agreement to conflict & alienation.

Speech is not social in the collective sense but rather depends for its success on the matching & coalescence of individual speakers’, one with another. You have only to listen carefully to an exchange between rival politicians or between an atheist and a born-again to confirm this.

In spite of the political trope ‘everybody agrees that…’ – a clear sign of a half-baked attempt to make it so – , Weightman points out that ‘…meaning is neither a collective possession like language, nor a reciprocal action like speech, but a state of affairs that is shared by those [able to share it for for various reasons – community of intention, common focus or purpose and a kind of willingness to commit – ]… and can lead towards the shared experience that is understanding…’

Understanding is verified by sharing, comparing, checking, which adds a new dimension to the original model which becomes a double pyramid.

The crucial thing here is what is meant by ‘unity’ – it is not a something-or-other with permanency as we might imagine it to be. By Unity, in Weightman’s terms, is meant the experiencing self in the present moment which of course constantly changes with the flow of what could be designated ‘time’ – focal point of all the variables in play in the NOW. In the new model, the lower portion is perhaps ‘…more concerned with the material of discourse – sounds and their structure – while the upper pyramid appears to be more concerned with the social aspects of discourse…’

Weightman then redefines the new model by suggesting that his lower pyramid represents something going on ‘below the level of the individual’ (a ‘Subordinate Domain’) while the upper pyramid (the ‘Supra-ordinate Domain’) represents an ordering ‘above the level of the individual’. The spot marked ‘Unity’ then represents a ‘Co-ordinate Domain’.

I find this a useful categorisation and the ensuing discussion of the Co-ordinate Domain even more useful: it causes me to revisit my own ‘Figure of Eight’ model where the point of Unity between ‘Core Consciousness’ (= the Subordinate Domain) and the Extended Consciousness (= the Supra-ordinate Domain) is labelled ‘Interaction Now’ as an aspect of the Experiencing Self without taking into account other experiencing selves which might be a useful thing to do!


A double-click will obtain a decent version…

Weightman then points out the inadequacy of the point of Unity as being a singularity. It is just not a single point as the word itself appears to suggest, either in temporal terms or in terms of ‘self’. Moments are clearly multiple – in spite of the unthinking illusion of constancy, things have a habit of changing from moment to moment – and what’s more there is no unity of self – there are multiple selves or Multiple-I’s which I’m now inclined to think appear in the wrong place on the upper circuit: they are an aspect of the NOW point – the quality of NOWness all depends on what ‘I’ you happen to be in.

Weightman suggests that his pyramidal focal point be labelled a ‘Domain of Realisation’ – the place where ‘discourse becomes real to the individual who experiences it…’ Real but not necessarily accurate or valid or ecologically sound – just existentially ‘real’ – the way things appear to be at any one moment.

It needs to be emphasised that a notional system built from abstractions like ‘society’ and ‘unified self’ alone is pretty well certain to be very unstable; collectivities of selves, submitted to a thorough-going analysis, can be relatively concrete and handleable.

The ‘present moment’ expands and contracts in time & space depending on what one chooses to focus on. Choices are made by individual ‘I’s (of which there are a multitude) without their necessarily discussing the them with other ‘I’s in the system: one ‘I’ might have a broad focus while another has a relatively narrow one; one ‘I’ might be focussed on thinking while another craves action – deliberation v quick fix.

We each consist of a multiplicity of ‘I’s or selves. In the Domain of Realisation a crucial question to ask is – which self (‘I’) is doing the realising? Realisation in one ‘I’ will, without doubt, be different from the realising done by another.

Weightman has a splendid analogy for what can be defined as the functioning & changing focus of Multiple-I’s.

Let us consider what can happen when one goes to a concert. It is first possible to sit, with one’s eyes closed, allowing the music to fill one’s experience, to move and evoke as it will. If one surrenders one’s attention in this way, the music is one’s experience and one’s experience is the music. It is also possible, however, to listen more actively. This requires the expansion of the present moment in such a way that not only is the music still experience, but one is also able to ‘take in’ the structure and development of the work and the way it is unfolding. Such a widening of awareness also brings with it a heightened appreciation of the combinations of sounds, phrases and harmonies. With such a state of affairs we can say one is experiencing both the music and the work.

Surrendering-attention-to-the-music-I and then Analysing-the-structure-of-the-music-I…

A further widening of the present moment would come when, at the same time, one embraces the music, the work and the performance. When this happens one becomes aware of oneself in the concert hall with the rest of the audience, and of the orchestra and conductor playing the work in their own particular way. In this case the expansion of one’s awareness to embrace, as it were, the whole auditorium also brings with it a heightened awareness of each note, with the particular quality, timing and emphasis that it is given on this occasion. Such, one imagines, is the embrace of music critics. Finally, it is possible for a further expansion of the present moment which can bring the individual’s present moment in contact with the greater present moment which is the universal experience of music in the life of man. Such a widening of the embrace of awareness, experiences the concert as part of the musical life of the community, it experiences the full potency of the coalescence of the composer, the orchestra, the conductor and the individual members of the audience, and sees the significance of this in the enrichment of the cultural life of the community. Such an awareness brings with it a heightened appreciation of the sounds in all the aspects we have mentioned, but also as musical sounds, that is to say having a different quality from other kinds of sound.

Embracing-music-work-performance-I, Grasping-the-universal-experience-of-music-I, Relating-to-composer-conductor-audience-I…

At first sight it must seem that this last mode of experiencing music is the most primitive and attainable by anyone no matter whether he is tone deaf, totally ignorant of music, or standing in a noisy railway station. The difference is whether one is experiencing this from inside the ‘universe of music’ or merely looking in from outside. Only through such an expansion of the present moment as has been described, can the experiencing self be brought in contact with this region, from within, in which the special quality of musical sound, and the cultural role of music within the community, are together seen as aspects of the same universal experience.

The situation that has just been described is one that is, if not familiar, at least easily verifiable. Anyone who recognises what has been described, will also be familiar with the instability of the present moment. At one time it may be of sufficient extent and duration to embrace the whole auditorium and the particular performance that is being given, at another it may contract and be filled entirely with the experience of the music, being then of little more duration than a few bars. Such fluctuations are constantly occuring over very short periods of successive time…

One can flit from ‘I’ to ‘I’ from one moment to the next.

The musical analogy also shows one important aspect of the process of co-ordination that belongs to the domain of realisation. This is that, the more the present moment is able to expand and reach into the supra-ordinate domain, the more it is brought in contact with the corresponding region in the subordinate domain. The more the concert goer was able to embrace the occasion and the performance, the more aware he was of the particular quality of each note. Similarly in discourse, the more one is able to embrace a conversation, its situation and those taking part, the more one is also able to be aware of the exact manner in which each sound is articulated. It is because the present moment expands equally into both the subordinate and supra-ordinate domains, that there is able to be, in the domain of realisation, the co-ordering of which we have spoken.

We talk here of the expansion and contraction of the ‘moment’ – the process itself could be said to be managed by a range of different ‘I’s.

In addition to those already referred to we might note ‘I’s like

Listening-to the notes-I

I’ve been told that I’m sometimes in Humming-very-quietly-I – must be infuriating… And there are many more ‘I’s.

If the present moment is unstable then so is the status of the individual management of it: which ‘I’ is determining what goes on there?

Whatever the answer, the important point is that it is only in the Domain of Realisation that anything ever really happens; everything else in the Figure of Eight is merely a contributory factor; any realising is a result of potential wrapped up in the subordinate and supra-ordinate domains.

In addition an expansion of the supposed ‘Unity’ of the Domain of Realisation can take up options described as relating to both the supra-ordinate domain (Extended Consciousness) and the subordinate domain (Core Consciousness or Other-than-conscious Mind)

The larger the individual repertoire contributing to realisation in that domain, the greater the ease with which the experiencer can circulate the Figure of Eight. The more aware the experiencer is of the workings of its Multiple-I’s the more all the possible relationships between supra- and subordinate realms can become functional.

Additionally, the ‘I’ that relates effectively to other people and their multiplicity is likely to marshal ‘I’s that are likely to contribute to a well-formed society of individuals.

Weightman’s very special musical analogy reminded me of a guided visualisation exercise I used to run with groups. It was adapted from James Roose-Evans’ Passages of the Soul.

Facing into the circle
stand with legs slightly apart
feet well rooted to the ground
like a tree whose roots go deep down
eyes closed
breathing in notice the energy in your breath
flowing up from under the ground
up through the feet… up the back of your ankles…
thighs… spine… until it has reached the top of your skull
pause, lungs full of breath
resting in the fullness of the breath like a surfboard rider on the crest of a wave
…release the breath
going with the wave
the breath flows down your face and chest
back to the base of the spine forming a loop.
…no breath left
now in the emptiness of no-breath
neither breathing in nor breathing out.

Lao Tzu:

The ten thousand things
have their beginning
in absolute emptiness,
in complete quiet…
Energetically growing,
restlessly changing,
all complete themselves
by returning to stillness.

open your eyes and turn around to face out from the circle
…take a breath and move your attention to the walls of the room…
another breath takes the attention to the edge of the garden…
to the edge of the town…
globe… moon & stars…
& now your breath comes from the other side of the universe…
make your way slowly back in the same order
and into this room now knowing that the energy
from the other side of the universe
is yours whenever you choose
to tap into it…

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A Graphic Musical Score

I’m looking foward to going to the COMA Summer School in August 2015 to enjoy a week of music-making and listenings as I have done since 2006. When I joined COMA it was an acronym for Contemporary Music for Amateurs (which is what I am) – the name has been changed to Contemporary Music for All.

Perhaps we’re all amateurs really… The need to go back into Beginner’s Mind…

Enjoying the challenge of concocting musical scores (mostly for my own amusement since they usually remain unperformed), this year, amongst other things, I responded to the following challenge:-

A project to consist of ‘…imaginative works of around 3 to 8 minutes duration for soprano voice and cello… fresh, exploratory, experimental approaches to this combination of voice and cello are welcome, for example, non-conventional notation, unusual vocal techniques and speech. Works that could be convincingly performed by competent amateur musicians will be especially welcome…’

I chose five of my own haiku to make into a graphic score. I tested out an early version of the score with a group of enthusiastic amateurs I have joined in with for nearly ten years – they are used to my graphic scores. The task of converting the early version into a score for soprano and cello was nicely challenging mostly to do with reducing the scope from several instruments to one.

Here are the guidelines for the players:-


These are the haiku which were chosen for their sad meditative quality and possible musical interpretation:-

curtain in a breeze –
the long tide
flowing into night

a gardenful
of moonlight – trees
bent into shadow

into the dark this night –
each one of us
our own candle

my reflection
in the midnight window
looks at me reflecting

final words
under a canopy
of sunlit clematis

And here are the final versions of the scores:-





Scan0010 - Copy

A Portable Laboratory

I was in the course of writing this Glob when I heard of the death of my mate Ed Percival (of Shirlaws); it would have appealed to him: we were such different kettles of fish – there must have been some special something-or-other that ensured our great success as a team of two running NLP courses. Reflecting on things as I have for a week now, I think the secret was that we actually walked our talk: without discussing it (we never discussed anything – we just did it), we systematically put a Gap between our manifest differences (Covey: Habit One, the subject of this Glob) and accepted them as part of the fruit cocktail (ah, Mauritius! Covey: Habit Six) then we let it be in order to Sharpen the Saw (basketball and poetry – Covey: Habit Seven).

Each of us is a Portable Laboratory, a topographical life-space in which we can carry out ‘procedures and gestures’ ( = experiments) to arrive at a new discipline of knowledge. We become aware of the nature of our Portable Laboratoriness by making the continual gesture of presence and being fully embedded in Beingness, observing (with a light touch) whatever comes into our experience, keeping track of all the data that emerges and, after reflection, acting on it.

Thus spake Francisco Varela… (Google:

The concept of Portable Laboratory is a persuasive one: the laboratory is constantly with us; we carry it about with us just as we carry our hands and feet, eyes and ears; we cannot separate from it.

What experiments can we usefully carry out in our Portable Laboratory? Dozens daily… And once started it becomes second nature, no sweat – you don’t have to put on a white coat or wear protective gear like rubber gloves or hob-nailed boots or kneel down to anything or kow-tow to the bosses.

‘Freedom, to be plain, is nothing but THE INSIDE OF THE OUTSIDE… whereas Old Bill [William Blake] didn’t understand anything else but freedom and so all his nonsense is full of truth… he may be a bit of an outsider – HIS OUTSIDE IS ON THE INSIDE…’

Thus spake Gulley Jimson in The Horse’s Mouth (Joyce Cary)

Of Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, the first describes the way they are able successfully to put ‘a gap between stimulus and response’, between something that comes at them from outside, impinging on any number of sense receptors – to gain the space to consider what you make of it & how you could respond best.

Feelings don’t enter into the equation: the general principle is that you never ever have to feel anything at all (+ or –) about anything unless you choose. The GAP offers you a choice.

The simplest of examples will perhaps do for an illustration. A chaffinch chaffinching away somewhere up in that tree hits my awareness; it is just that – chaffinch chaffinching all its varied cadences – having noted it, I am free to make the choice to feel overwhelming joy at the sound – or not, as the case may be. In fact, I always do make the choice to be joyful; it’s in the conceptual GAP that I have the space to make the choice; if I had not installed a GAP I would have been simply identified with bird & song & self which entails a loss of self in the experience.

Simply listening to a chaffinch chaffinching away is the reception of what Gurdjieff calls Pure Impressions. Adding Joy to them makes them impure. I think the distinction is important. Feelings are separate from events. Mixing the two is identification. One must disidentify at all costs.

And since, as Kurt Lewin determined many years ago, everything possesses positive/negative valence for us, disidentification is a constant need.

In human relationships, adding feelings of any kind distorts what’s there in front of you. Adding ‘loathing’ to the experience of being in the presence of somebody who does not fill you with joy is unnecessary; the feeling is quite separate from their presence.

Paradoxically, this does not turn you into a cold fish (unless you choose to become one). On the contrary it makes it possible for you to be regarded as warm & cuddly because you do not have requirements of other people – they feel ‘safe’ with you because you are not forcing them to identify with your positive or negative feelings for them.

You can study your own ability to put a GAP between stimulus and response (Covey: Habit One) when you work within your Portable Laboratory. It’s quite crudely a way of preserving the peace.


One ‘click’ will make this legible…

There is a variety of ways of making the GAP.

  • There’s the simple NLP mantra: SEPARATION PRECEDES INTEGRATION… Pick an issue apart and ‘consider all factors’ as De Bono advised; then notice what happens to your thinking when you find that, making sense of the whole, everything is connected after all.
  • If you’re familiar with travelling on the London Underground you can imagine getting on or off the train obeying the loudspeaker command to ‘Mind the Gap’; either the train or the platform represents yourself or the object of contemplation, whichever way you’re going. This is the more effective when you practise the exercise in situ, of course.
  • You can take your Meta-I off away from the issue and look at things from a good distance; this offers a new perspective.
  • Gurdjieff’s STOP exercise can be internalised: when you’re quick enough you can shout “STOP!” at yourself whenever you feel yourself to be on the point of doing or saying something that is unlikely to have useful consequences.


  • You can always ask yourself whether what you’re about to do or say is going to be of benefit to the universe as a whole either in the short or long term.


  • Edmund Husserl advocates the performing of a phenomenological epoché, suspension of both denying and affirming by bracketing off the all too human proclivity to commit to a particular point of view rather than awarding yourself time to consider; when you do this whatever is being contemplated may be seen for its own inherent system of meaning.
    (For more on this Google

Whenever you perform a phenomenological epoché you give yourself the opportunity to simply observe events and pass on without adopting what they call ‘attitude’.

What could be usefully bracketed off so that you need never be affected by anything whatsoever unless you choose to be?

Go on, give it a go!


For My Mate Ed

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Hero’s Journey at Cheltenham in May 2015

Being an entirely personal account of a weekend spent on a course
run by Robert & Deborah Dilts and
in the company of splendid people…
Everything is relative.

Motorbiked 170 miles in pouring rain & poor visibility… I was so wet & cold when I got to the posh hotel in Cheltenham on Thursday on the evening before the course started that I could hardly hold the pen to sign in, what with a shivering interior and dripping sleeves so that the bit of official paper was sopping wet by the time I’d got all my details down. Heroic Journey…

Promising myself a very early night I went to the restaurant at 7pm and sat facing the windows.

through the window
a large choice of old trees
the waiter brings a menu

Half way through my meal Robert & Deborah Dilts came and sat at the next table. I suddenly remembered the moment in 1956 when I passed Ralph Vaughan Williams in the interval of a concert of his music standing nonchalantly at the turn of some stairs in the Royal Festival Hall and I failed to say, “Thanks for making my life what it is!” I’ve regretted that ever since though I’ve partly made up for it by saying the same thing to a composer who will be performed at the Proms this year, Michael Finnissy – he & I do a big hug every time we meet. So I touched Robert on the shoulder and said, “Hi, Robert, I’ve come for my periodic Dilts-fix… It’s been over ten years now but it started back in 1992 in the company of Ian McDermott & John Hicks…” He shook me by the hand and said, “How nice to see you…” The years fell away. “I’m really looking forward to the Dilts-fix!” “An injection…” said Deborah.

And that was why I commented publicly at the end of the final exercise on Sunday that, during the course of it, I’d incorporated something Robert had inspired in me over 20 years ago – to make a neat & tidy circular ending for myself. Completion.

So what am I really here for, I wondered. Ah, the old question. Gurdjieff’s WHAT AM I DOING HERE? What was I doing there in Hammersmith 23 years ago? What was I doing in the previous 53 years?

What Did I Want of a Dilts-fix?

Firstly I wanted to check in with how I imagine that I’ve modelled on him in all of my so-called teaching ever since, the gestures, the tone of voice, the cadences. What Varela calls a ‘portable laboratory’ – my ‘portable laboratory’ – has been built, at least since 1992, upon his abidingly youthful state of being. I needed to check in, to make confirmation, since he is what’s called ‘one of my personal heroes’.

What is a hero? A person you would not mind being; a person whose behaviour & grasp of being you admire. There is of course the danger that this becomes ‘hero-worship’. The heroes require bracketing off in order to prevent a slavishness, an over-identification, a loss of self in something other than your self. What is the way out of this risk? A thorough application of the modelling process: asking the simple question – how do they, all these heroes of mine, do what they do?

owl & blackbird
this May morning
a contemplation of feet

What journeys do they make & Why? How do they do what they do? When exactly do they deem it appropriate to do what they do? Who do they think they are? Where does their journey take them – between what ports of call?

5WH – I used to use this mnemonic as a way of getting people on a problem-solving course to ‘consider all factors’ as de Bono says. The modelling process…

Have many heroes so that you don’t ever become fixated – that’s the idea: the Dilts-fix becomes the Whitman-fix becomes the Socrates-fix and the Flecker-fix and the Bevan-fix and so on – all in my terms, of course. You could go round the Enneagram and find a hero for each ‘fixation’ – then a hero for every single one of your multiple-I’s – millions of heroic characters; the more heroes there are the larger the repertoire of your heroic possibilities, the more flexible your approach to life. The Dilts-&-Dilts-fix was the focus of the Cheltenham weekend. But Dilts is not Whitman or Sartre or Iris Murdoch or Henry Green or Gurdjieff or any other of the heroes whose characteristics I imagine I have assimilated over the years; visionaries, benefactors, neatly skilled operatives, inventive geniuses, the thinkers, the dutiful ones, the awestruck, the leaders from the rear, the contemplatives… Round and round the Enneagram. The Work is to make a judiciously eloquent synthesis of them all.

Conversely a person who has no heroes or never acknowledges to be so those that they do not know they define as heroes has a limited repertoire of possible ways of being – they make the choice to limit themselves.

deep wooded dell
a young deer skirts
the edge of it

The Space Between

On the first day we played an elaborate simple game of moving round the room into the place where we could see a space; this went on for hours in slightly different ways and became a factor common to all the movement exercises we did.

the juggler – twelve balls
seeming to follow grooves
in violet air

I happened to be reading Henry Green’s brilliant novel Doting in the gaps and, as is my wont, discovering images that made themselves into haiku like this juggler one which was entirely appropriate to what we were doing.

My Ryman’s eccentric 9″ x 7″ hard-back notebook went on a table at one side of the room we danced in as a physical representation of my Present State; a black ink cartridge on a table at the other side of the room stood for a physical representation of my Desired State: the notebook is where my intellectual life is captured and the ink cartridge represents ‘more of the same’. And in the Inbetween was the Journey.

The very idea of ‘Desired State’ presupposes that it’s going to be different from, or something other than, one’s ‘Present State’. My Desired State is to carry on with my intellectual life in the way it’s always been, making connections, expanding, constantly developing, becoming more rich. The words, the poems, the music, the qualifications, the sketches will just keep flowing out of the pen’s cartridge. My Desired State is a fluid state.

dawn sunlight
on horse chestnut blossom
– precision of sycamore leaves

One thing leads to another; I find the spaces in between all the moving elements just by swerving, ducking & weaving.

crow insistently
answered by another
out of the blue

Sunrise and Other People

I became still inside; I didn’t have to do anything; I didn’t even have to shout STOP! at myself. There was a great clarification that came with the sunrise on the second day. Looking out of the restaurant windows I observed a woman strolling across the greensward; she sat herself down cross-legged.

sunrise – I become
the distant woman while she
meditates palms up

However, it gradually dawned on me that I was thinking as usual about a Desired State for myself without regard for others. In relation to them all I want equilibrium & order & openness which I don’t have. ‘Be the change!’ Who said that? Gandhi or Thoreau or somebody. It can be an empty mechanical slogan doing the rounds in ‘social media’, or it can stand for a real settling down of things. Be in equilibrium and pace others to be the same.

a game of moving
through the forest & into
the glade’s new space

I wrote this for my dear friend Gabrielle after she described her image, a glade, for what she wanted to achieve. A clearing in the middle of the forest was my own representation of her image, the carefully mown lawn in Harold Pinter’s Slight Ache.

The space between us; the garden, the rooms, all the common interests taken for granted for far too long. The spaces in between – each a different opportunity for freeing us from the past. Each space represents an opportunity for coming together again. A neutral meeting place.

Making Connections

Shortly before I went to Cheltenham, in an idle moment, I had plucked from my shelves a book I hadn’t opened in quite a lot more than thirty years, Archibald MacLeish’s Poetry and Experience. Bearing in mind that all human-beings are poets, as Keats points out, he quotes a certain Chinese poet, Lu Chi, who said that ‘each time he studies the works of great writers… he flatters himself that he knows how their minds work… He is hewing his axe-handle, as he deftly puts it, with the axe-handle in hand. This is how a poem gets itself written, he says…’ [in my own version]:-

taking his position at the hub of things
the poet contemplates the mystery of the universe;
feeds emotions and mind on the great works of the past;
moving along with the four seasons sighs
at the passing of time; gazing at the myriad objects
thinks of the complexity of the world; sorrows over
the falling leaves in virile autumn; takes joy
in the delicate bud of fragrant spring; with awe at heart
experiences chill; with spirit solemn
turns a gaze to the clouds; declaims the superb works
of the tribe; croons the clean fragrance of past worthies;
roams in the forest of literature and praises
the symmetry of great art; moved
the poet pushes all those books away
and takes up the appropriate writing brush…

MacLeish Continues…

The usual notion of the way in which a poem gets itself written… [in the West] is the one on which we were all brought up. The person about to be poet is lost in self, not capable of outward but only of inward vision – an ‘eye in a fine frenzy rolling’ doesn’t see anything much, solipsist, a candle flame consuming its own fat, a pearl diver emerging blind and breathless from the ocean of himself… Herbert Read has spoken of modern poets as awaiting ‘some symbol rising unaided from the depths of the unconscious’… which makes a poem a secret and isolated event, a rhapsodic cry, something heard at dark far off like that the nightingale in the famous ode… To Lu Chi the begetting of a poem involves not a single electric pole thrust deep into the acids of the self but a pair of poles – self and world opposite. A poem begins not in isolation but in relationship. There’s the writer here and, over there, ‘the mystery of the universe’ – the ‘four seasons’ – ‘the myriad objects’ – ‘the complexity of the world’. Instead of the symbol arising like Venus of her own motion from the sea there is a poem achieved in the space between – the space we all look out on – the space between ourselves on the one side and the world on the other. And finally, instead of the attentive watcher and waiter brooding above the silence of himself, there is a poet taking a position at the hub of things. A teasing phrase. There is a sense in which we are all always at the hub of things for we seem to ourselves to exist at the unturning centre of our turning experience. But Lu Chi obviously means something more and something different. A position at the hub of things is a position a poet takes explicitly and for a purpose: to face the mystery of the universe, to face the world, to see the world. It is from this hub of things that the myriad objects are visible – those myriad objects that most of us stare at all our lives and never see. It is from this hub that the complexity of the world, that complexity which most of us succeed so easily in ignoring, can be observed. It is at this hub that the irresistible sweep of time, that tide which most of us take for granted and so never feel until it has all but carried us away, is felt as movement. Lu Chi’s hub, in brief, is not a spatial centre, such as the one illusion tells us we occupy, but a centre of awareness, a centre of receptivity. It is a position much like the position Keats describes in that famous sentence of his about what he calls ‘negative capability’, the capability to live in ‘uncertainty, mystery and doubt’ without any irritable reaching after fact and reason: without, that is to say, struggling to scramble ashore out of swirling, buffeting awareness of world, to those dry sandpits of ‘fact’ and ‘reason’ which keep the ocean off and so make seeming refuges for our minds.

In our dancing explorations we were all weekend seeking the empty space at the hub of things, becoming more and more aware of the potency of the neutral meeting place, the space between, the silent area of uncommitted energy which can always veer off in the direction of choice, a fruitful standing back from the melée, a meta-position.


Once for about four years I worked under a bit of a tyrant who had a passionate objection to my enthusiasm for the plays of Harold Pinter; without having seen it or wanting to know anything about it, he scorned my description of what I called a ‘hodology’. Googling the word, which, at the time, I thought I’d invented, forty years afterwards, I am very surprised to find that this visual image appears under my name in the collection of hodological maps:-


The tyrant had a huge ill-thought out philosophical opposition to pursuing what he called the activity of ‘hunt the image’ in relation to literary studies preferring to adopt a Marxist sociological angle to avoid the Wolfgang Clemen or Caroline Spurgeon approach in favour of what I might now call the ‘hunt the Class War’ ideas. But then I couldn’t find the space in which to clarify our profound & negative opposition and we didn’t talk about it – or anything else much!

My hodological study of all the plays that Pinter had crafted before 1967 consisted of a systematic (‘exhaustive and exhausting’, said the examiner) glimpse of his image system in the manner of a Clemen or a Spurgeon.

The tyrant and I couldn’t find an empty space in which to investigate what either of us meant: I to agree with his Marxist approach and he at least to acknowledge the power of metaphor. I did once write a poem about how we might meet in the middle of a bridge, he from his side and me from mine, shedding all our pre-suppositions – there to talk about things in what I suppose I imagined to be a ‘neutral space’ – the poem still exists somewhere but I never gave it to him.

Things happen to you and it’s only years later you begin understanding them…
(Borges: Rosenda’s Tale)

In her brilliant book Shakespeare’s Imagery, Caroline Spurgeon quotes John Middleton Murry: ‘…the investigation of metaphor is curiously like the investigation of any of the primary data of consciousness: it cannot be pursued very far without our being led to the borderline of sanity…’ To deal in these things can pose a threat to one’s previous pattern of existence. Caroline Spurgeon continues: ‘…He [Middleton Murray] points out that metaphor seems in part to arise out of the poet’s strong and constant impulse to create life, or to transfer life from his own spirit, as Coleridge says, to things apparently lifeless…’

two blackbirds
swoop consecutively
into the old copse

And now, 43 years on, I’m still playing with images without in the least hunting them down; they just happen; and they happen to express what one feels about existence initially in an other-than-conscious kind of way, at the bottom of the Figure of Eight.

beyond the fence
green-ambling weekend golfers
stretching the eyes

And so for me now ‘the glade’, the open space in the middle of the forest is a powerful image of arrival and departure, a place of temporary clarity. The house called ‘Longholm’ is exactly that. House and garden. The garden is an archetypal image akin to the glade.

The glade is always subject to ‘voices prophesying war’, the beasts in the bushes; the pleasure dome of Kubla Khan dissolves in the clouds. This kind of pattern is not available to everybody – the way you define the world in words creates the way your world is (the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis).

Sometimes people tell you about places and you know you won’t ever go there and so you don’t listen. That’s why I could never learn geography. But sometimes you know you will. Then it becomes important…
Virginia Woolf: The Voyage

And so to stave off possible attacks, often imagined, we make barriers, build high walls: for example, against those who appear ‘to have designs upon us’; they may seem to get up our nose. Maybe they actually do have ‘requirements’: there are people who speak and act as though they require us to speak and act in definite ways – being like them, congruent with their own view of how things should be. They force us into a position where we feel we must justify our selves; or, more belligerently, strike a balance in the joint account. Observing the activities of self-justifying and the making of accounts is a good way to spot two items of what in The Fourth Way is often called ‘False Personality’ in action. Perhaps, like the Ancient Mariner, they just want us to listen to them.

They hammer at us more or less relentlessy. Even offering well-intentioned ‘advice’ can be constructed as ‘hammering’… When you’re quick enough you can reframe everything as a ‘Gift’.

pecking some tree
out there in the boscage

Other people are a mirror of the self; we would not recognise their intentions unless we had the exact same ones as they have. Good advice from Gurdjieff: ‘listen to what you say about other people and notice how accurate a portrayal it is of yourself…’

What you cannot control belongs to False Personality – what you can control belongs to you… PDOuspensky

Their hammer is my hammer; my hammer is my Demon. Polly, the current cat, is one of my Guardians.


All My Heroes are My Guardians

After a time, by synthesis, by systematically accumulating the Top Form characteristics of all your heroes, you can become your own Guardian. Many moons ago, at the end of a ‘Self-development’ course, we were asked to invent a bit of gear that we could wear as a virtual defence against attack in any situation. My own design was a wizard’s outfit; a dear friend later presented me with this splendid 3-D china plaque which hangs on the wall of my office.


On any Heroic Journey I may possibly undertake in the ever-shortening future, this is how I will appear (in my own mind!)… Magic & Mystery.

the dull engine of the world
– grey dawn

And so, in that garb which makes me impregnable, I go forth into the world to face the risks, the Folded Arms [a pub… of course], the hammers & sickles that strive to cut me down to size – swords into ploughshares, facing the demons, dancing with them.

welcome now
to the guest house
smell of old carpets

By commenting on my energetic dancing mode in the Guest House, Margaret brought to mind a poem I’d written two or three weeks before; there seemed to be a perfect fit. I was completely staggered when she said that she’d been watching me dancing and wondering how I could do it in such an apparently unselfconscious manner; after fifty years I had once again been ‘commended for my rhythmic prowess…’ The final nine lines of the poem were added in Cheltenham as a result of our exchange! Margaret wondered what would have been missed forever if she hadn’t At the Moment When… said what she said that turned her into a well-formed hologram of the woman who was already there in the middle of my poem.

one year

a woman I imagined I loved derided me
when her efforts to teach me to waltz –
one foot here and the other there
one after another in the appropriate order
all the while with a proper regard
for the other’s feet – failed

seven years afterwards when she was
a thing of the more than dubious past
I was commended by a college woman
I hardly knew for my rhythmic prowess
in a mad dancing melée – total absence
of concern for where any feet were

why should one have been concerned
for the dancing-manual position of feet
when the whole body knew what to do?

fifty years on after many dreams of running
with legs wrapped in virtual sheets –
so long content to gyrate in words alone –
now I meet another woman I hardly know
who – having spent a day wondering how
I managed (by ripping the sheets apart)
to engage in an unselfconscious fling –
suddenly herself decided to leap over
all those years and find all my content


To my silent joy, I noticed that, next day, Margaret was jigging about deep in an unselfconscious somatic processing of various elements of our Hero’s Journey. I told her I’d noticed! I saw her!

In a half-waking state just after dawn on the final day in Cheltenham, I had a little dream. I was still dancing with hands touching and passing. Very touching. Suddenly at the other end of the room where we had done our artistic depictions of our ‘calling’, that which drove us to action, the impulse forward, there appeared a lot of little kids aged about 7 or 8, drawing or writing at the tables where we had been the previous day. Priya said I was ‘the man who taught me to have hands…’

That afternoon we had to instruct three others on how to be Guardians to us, how to convey their solicitude. One of mine had to say, “Don’t be such a sucker…” in Bogartian American; another, “Everything’s turned out for the best…” addressed, though she did not know it, to my Even-now-existing-fifteen-year-old-I and a third was to say, “Just like that…” Tommy Cooper style. I walked across the greensward by the stream with the Guardians dancing around me, expressing themselves thus for five minutes or so.

acquiring the words
of others delicately
& with respect

And in the morning it began to rain so the journey back was the same as the journey out.

TSEliot Has It All

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance…

So I awoke to a very heavy grey sky.

cow far off
small clicking of rain
on sycamore leaves

with an overwhelming awareness that

the creeping worm
is on its journey –
implacable too

And during my solo breakfast, all the other journey-makers having either left or not such early risers as myself I sat where I’d sat on the first evening and contemplated trees.

the moorhen chases
a grey squirrel through
the white gazebo

When I got home, soaked through, dazed from the 170-mile journey in the pouring rain, I found that somebody had sent me this little quotation:-

Gurdjieff had given us a pledge to say each time before beginning a new exercise – that we would not use this for the self, but for all humanity. This ‘good-wishing-for-all’ vow, so deeply moving in intent, had a tremendous effect upon me. For the first time in my life, I felt that I was truly doing something for humanity as I strove to make my own molecule of it more perfect. The meaning of this Work, which at first had seemed quite egotistical and self-centered, suddenly blossomed out like a tree of life encompassing in its myriad branchings the entire human family. The implications of it were staggering. By my single efforts toward Being, I could help sleeping humanity [to make a move towards Something Much Bigger than Themselves] … Every time I said the pledge before beginning an exercise, I believed that if I made something for my own inner world, I would be making it for ‘all humanity’.

Kathryn Hulme: Undiscovered Country

Sounds like the ‘Coach State’ we’d talked about…

NOTE: I wrote all the haiku during the course of the weekend.

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Haiku and Well-being

Writing Proper Haiku Affects the Way You Are in the World

In their Mutative Metaphors in Psychotherapy (1994), Cox & Theilgaard offer brilliant insights into the way that conventional poetry can be used to stimulate the seamless progress of formally therapeutic interventions; they describe how very skilled operators can use poetry & drama in their work – they would need to learn how to combine the listening skills normal in a sensitive therapist with a genuinely working understanding of the function of literary imagery and metaphor.

Cox & Theilgaard do not include the possible uses of haiku by therapists but since it’s arguable that haiku variously function as metaphor for all aspects of human experience, it would seem likely that, on the basis of their explorations, the habit of writing & reading ‘pure form’ haiku might well have the same kind of positive integrative effect on our lives as other kinds of poetry might have. Their very compression and economy makes this more likely, I would argue: there’s a focus that doesn’t necessarily come with longer forms of poetry.

‘pure form’

By ‘pure form’ haiku is meant what comes spontaneously from some relatively obscure part of one’s being, something, as it were, dictated by the relationship between self and world, something that’s the result of what Sartre (1950) called an ‘aesthetic imperative’, a phrase intended to represent the way in which we are driven to record something that just seems ‘right’ because it propels us into ‘something larger than ourselves’, almost as though we were not present.

So-called ‘modern’ haiku and throwaway three-line poems that are constructed out of some kind of clever mental disposition are emphatically not ‘pure form’ – they are limited intellectual constructions that lead the soul nowhere.

‘aesthetic imperative’

The ‘aesthetic imperative’ is an insistent, irresistible call to action in order to make the commonplace uncommon; it may be brought to life by some occasion which seems to proclaim the desire of the world to reveal itself to human consciousness via a moving, but hardly ever monumental, experience that demands to be recorded; a desire of the inner world to reveal itself through some sudden perception of previously unnoticed harmony, shape, colour, relationship, continuity, sense of ‘fit’ or coherence, maybe even the feeling of really living one’s life for the very first time or at least a sense of renewal.

June sun after rain –
patch of waste ground
awash with poppies

There’s a sudden moment of broad sympathy with the externals of life bringing about an urgent need, escaping precise definition, to change the structure of the world: for the reader it’s often the same – there’s a something-or-other behind the words on the page which cannot be put any other way. It’s like being stopped in your tracks which may, by magic, have you swapping tracks.

Such sudden perceptions are not to be missed: when you are so alive to circumstances that you write a long succession of haiku, more than likely to be of varying quality, it seems to lend coherence to experience overall. In itself a ‘successful’ haiku is a little self-referential system; its significance is an emergent property of the system; it can be whatever it is, not invented but perceived by a jolt of sensory and super-sensory experience or an other-than-conscious shift from one field of reality to another which leaves the reader to construct whatever ‘meaning’ emerges.

single magpie –
old country woman
pauses for a second

‘a poetry without poets’

The philosopher Heidegger drew a distinction between poetry which requires a poet and ‘a poetry without poets’ – ‘…the blooming of a blossom, the coming out of a butterfly from a cocoon, the plummeting of a waterfall when the snow begins to melt…’, threshold occasions when you feel you’re on the point of something but not quite getting there, moments of ecstasy when things are just as they are, not coming into being by intellectual comparison with something else. Bashō said, ‘Learn about a pine tree from a pine tree, and about a bamboo stalk from a bamboo stalk…’

still summer night –
bat calls sort out
the young from the old

Bashō taught that the poet should always detach the mind from the self and enter the object in order to share its ‘delicate life and feelings’. Coming to terms with haiku is about the paradox of absenting the self as a way of getting close to its essential nature: it’s perhaps what happens to our psyche when it becomes ‘the blooming of a blossom’ or understanding the essence of ‘pine tree’.


What does happen when we quell the hubbub that goes on in the brain? It is arguably from silence that real haiku emerge; there are so many different ways in which we can contrive to be silent; different kinds of haiku mirror these ways. Cox & Theilgaard quote Leslie Kane’s (1984) survey of The Language of Silence:

The dumb silence of apathy, the sober silence of solemnity, the fertile silence of awareness, the active silence of perception, the baffled silence of confusion, the uneasy silence of impasse, the muzzled silence of outrage, the expectant silence of waiting, the reproachful silence of censure, the tacit silence of approval, the vituperative silence of accusation, the eloquent silence of awe, the unnerving silence of menace, the peaceful silence of communion, and the irrevocable silence of death illustrate by their unspoken response to speech that experiences exist for which we lack the word.

Pure form haiku consists of a metaphorical statement about the relationship between Being and Context that, lacking the words, hardly breaks the silence.

the oaks he planted
tall enough
to steal his shadow


Which raises the question: what is a metaphor? The word itself means literally a ‘bearing across’ from one field of existence to another. At school we are (or used to be) taught that metaphor is about some invented comparison, often now completely dead, for instance ‘a storm in a teacup’ or ‘the bonnet of a car’; such inventions are rightly taboo in haiku where direct observation precludes invention. But metaphor as ‘invented comparison’ is a very limited definition. It could be argued, for instance, that all words are metaphors in the sense that they ‘bear across’ from our undifferentiated experience of the world towards the attempt to capture it in words; it takes an effort of imagination to understand that words are emphatically not the things we take them to refer to; the things of the world exist without the words we habitually attach to them.

harvesting carrots
his grandson giggles –
a rude one

Neuroscience and Haiku

The distinction between Left Brain and Right Brain is more complex than was once thought – it is no longer a true up-to-date neuroscientific description of brain functioning – but it is still quite acceptable as a rough & ready description of observable behaviour – it’s quite clear that we live through discernable patterns of behaviour (regarded since the 1950’s as deriving from a Right Brain view of things) which we then attempt to capture in an inevitably linear way via the Left Brain. Haiku is the bearing across from either side of the brain via the corpus callosum. In that sense too it is a metaphor.

neighbour’s funeral
when church bell tolls
his flock looks up

In the rough & tumble of life, we have countless uncategorised perceptions, not just visual but through the senses of smell, taste, hearing, perhaps giving rise to what’s called a ‘sixth sense’ which may simply be an emergent property of the conventional five senses. A percept depends on direct sensory input while image is an inner world construct. A percept never replicates the world we imagine we live in: it is the result of an active, selective and adaptive process. We not only see, but we look for; not only hear, but we listen to; when we feel we seek for comparable past experiences in order to explain what we’re feeling. Perception takes place in an already tuned organism, and the process itself is influenced by memory and the general categorizing principles we choose to apply to the world. The world we imagine we live in depends on the words we happen to be able to manage; the words we have at our disposal are dumped on us by education and upbringing – they might have been a completely different selection.

Because a metaphor is open-ended there’s an absence of direction both to writer and reader; it is always open to interpretation. As a result metaphor is transformative by its very nature; it can help you see your being in the world in a different way. And seeing is not so simple: we perhaps construct haiku at different times in different places by some choice from seeing, looking, regarding, beholding, studying, glancing, eyeing, surveying, scanning, inspecting, watching, observing, staring, discerning, gazing, gloating, noticing, inspecting, or recognising… Cox & Theilgaard usefully widen the concept of visual perception in this way. What kinds of perception do we exercise at different times when writing haiku?

high-pitched alarm –
old dog fails to bark
his sight failing too

Therapy and Haiku

Their review of the uses of literature in therapy does not extend to the consideration of haiku at all but it’s quite easy to relate Cox & Theilgaard’s therapeutic line to haiku studies. For instance, they quote Gaston Bachelard (1884-1962): ‘…the image touches the depths before it stirs the surface…’ which could be said to be precisely what happens when one writes a haiku – or when it writes you.

There have been many attempts to define haiku. One might simply say that haiku is a spontaneous brief response, without the intervention of thinking, to the concrete particulars of the here & now. Conventional metaphor & simile go beyond the here & now by relating one thing to another; their use, common in ordinary poetry, is out of place in haiku. On the other hand, it is arguable that every haiku is in itself a metaphor – literally a ‘bearing across from one field of existence to another’ – a bridge between what seems to be ‘out-there’ and what may with more or less certainty be ‘in-here’. Like on the London Underground, there’s a gap between the train, or moving experience, and what seems like the comparatively solid platform of the haiku. Or it could be conceived as a threshold, a stepping out into a different kind of world; the haiku moment exists in the gap or threshold between: it has its sole being there as in the shifting boundary between sea & dry land. What’s more, the images that crop up as haiku-metaphor safely hold experience which may be impossible to talk about openly in consecutive words, just as the demand for an explanation destroys a joke.

What I shall never know
I must make known

Edwin Muir

Life is about the endless story we tell ourselves; it is always incomplete because always being told or retold; the unresolvedness of a haiku depicts such incompletion. It’s no good searching for meaning within the story – the meaning is in the gap, at the threshold and haiku dances on the threshold between one thing and another; of course there are concrete elements in haiku but they only exist as markers or reference points to delineate the Nothingness of the gap.

So haiku give us a pattern (or metaphor) which somehow connects out-there & in-here – we are left to search for the pattern which is an integrative process in itself; in piecing a haiku together we reconstruct ourselves. What’s needed is an acceptance of the feeling of contentment that we are always on the threshold of understanding but never fully achieving it. Thus the truly effective haiku is the one that leaves us with a bit of a mystery; its image-connection or metaphor comes initially from a pre-verbal somatic state – meaning, always provisional, trails along after it if you’re lucky or persistent.

We often resort to abstractions (depression, anger, fear, guilt, passivity, helplessness, emptiness) to describe inner turmoil but they are human inventions, reifications of some disturbance in the neurons – you can’t ‘put any of them in a wheelbarrow’ which is always a good reality-test. The labelling process that our linear thinking habitually resorts to is no good for the purpose of achieving understanding. Understanding is always a matter of balancing the meagre knowledge we have with focussed awareness – haiku helps.

joints predict rain
barometer points to fair –
he trusts his joints

Poiesis & Praxis

The Greeks had a couple of useful words for what haiku-writers often struggle over – the concept of a haiku and the moment of committing idea to paper. Haiku-writers, and others, are only too familiar with the kind of feeling that suggests that the linearity involved in finding the right words in the right order runs the risk of distorting the thing you first thought of; if it takes too long to settle on the ‘right words’ we probably have the experience of deciding not to bother. The Greek word poiesis stands for the act of bringing something from the uncertainty of the other-than-conscious pre-verbal mind out into the full light of day; it does not go further than an ‘unveiling’, a ‘leading into presence’. After that praxis must take over as a will to accomplish or complete itself in action.

If, in relation to haiku, poiesis might mean the arrival of some inchoate notion and praxis refer to the formal expression of it in words, then the concept of autopoiesis takes things a stage further. Autopoiesis means self-production: the act of writing is a way of defining the self which can be done discursively or intellectually; conventional poetry works this way by the conscious elaboration of ideas, whereas haiku is a mode of disclosure of relationship rather than a way of capturing what’s out there intellectually. As a result something is called into existence, neatly rather than discursively, which was not there before. A haiku is about being-in-the-world, rather than an indulging in subject-object dualism. The haiku writer hovers (or maybe dances) in the uncertain gap between poiesis and praxis, never quite sure about either.

parallel stripes
he pushes the mower
straight up straight down

And then there arises mystery, astonishment, uniqueness provided by the something which was not there before that is called into existence by autopoiesis. The tapping of the other-than-conscious mind affirms the depths of our being, gives us a more conscious awareness with an enhanced focus on the outside world; the result is a new capacity for confronting experience and a different way of seeing the world. As Wallace Stevens wrote: ‘Poetry is a purging of the world’s poverty… a poem is a meteor… a pheasant disappearing into the brush… a café… the disengagement from reality… a cure of the mind… a renovation of experience… nature created by the poet…’ He was writing about poetry in general as he saw it but all this could easily be related to the writing of haiku.

Shifting Focus and the Revealing of Meaning

So, in writing haiku there’s a shift of focus from interior to exterior events; the place of renewal is in the potential space between the individual and what’s out-there. The writer reveals something about a momentary relationship; the poetic encounter with other people’s haiku cause you to see things differently; a reader, as Sartre argues, is a revealer of meaning; reading somebody else’s haiku results is an associative search, comparison, empathy. In both reading and writing haiku there’s a need to cultivate Keats’ ‘Negative Capability’ – the state that comes into being ‘…when one is capable of being in uncertanities, mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact & reason…’

We can irritably ‘reach after fact and reason’; logic & reason & classifying cut us off from a valuable part of Being – the other-than-conscious part of ourselves. Alternatively, we can teach ourselves how to ‘tolerate ambiguity’. Whatever way we choose it’s a demonstrable fact that we are not passive onlookers but active participants in the creation of experience however we do it. Specifically, haiku create experience by isolating factors never before juxtaposed; they depict what cannot ever be fully understood and therefore incorporate uncertainty as a valid part of experience.

putting the bin out
he spots a brilliant planet
from his own

What we have been conditioned to try to do by print and e-gadgetry is to impose our will on intractable experienced confusion; the alternative is the patient humanly directed extraction of meaning from whatever meaning we construct ourselves. Principally by teaching ourselves to develop ‘perceptual expectancy’ – being alive to whatever is presented to us without judgement. Mental readiness is being attentive to what’s outside us. Anticipation interacts with percepts in some kind of staging centre, in which the sensory input is matched with a hypothesis. That becomes a haiku.

It requires the awakening of the body-brain to the possibilities of image construction with new possibilities actualised through playfulness and a certain degree of intimacy with what goes on around us. A haiku can be seen as an integral part of oneself, uniting the cognitive and affective domains, endowing experience with meaningful coherence – an emergent property of multiple events. An ordinary poem can make this happen but the outcome is more certain within the compression of haiku.

first daffodils –
old gardener
with spring in his step

Somatic Markers

The eminent neuroscientist Antonio Damasio talks about ‘somatic markers’: somewhere in the pre-verbal state, in the other-than-conscious realm, there are points about the body where ideas are located and get fired in relation to circumstances; this gives us a kinaesthetic whole body empathy with events as they take place outside of us so that there’s an interweaving of content & cadence and a widening of experience.

Reading haiku written by others involves a search for understanding self and others; a presented image makes us think of a host of remembered images: how many other things have I seen thus? I wait to receive a little bit of enlightenment. Going through haiku images gets us to a place of safety (the safety of words on the page) via something obscure & hidden. We experience attunement & empathy – transposing self into the thinking & feeling of another, re-structuring the world as they do.

Mystical Melting

Ultimately haiku offer us the chance to perform a mystical melting together with universal rhythm.

closing the skylight
he almost traps
the evening star


NOTE: All the haiku quoted in this Glob come from A Year About the Farm by Michael Scott with his permission.

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Neuroscience and Architecture

Anna-Maija Tuunanen wrote a paper on Neurophenomenological Approaches to Embodiment in Architecture. In the context of the 6th Annual Architecture Research Symposium (‘Designing & Planning the Built Environment for Human Well-Being’) 2014 her aim was to alert fellow architects to the relevance of neuroscience to architecture. Her main point was that, because ‘…people largely perceive buildings through [all] the senses…’ (Mallgrove 2010) in a global kind of way, architects should be concerned not just with visual factors (as seems to be the case): human beings contrive awareness of the spaces they inhabit by proprioception, the body-brain’s inner sense of grasping what it’s like to move about in some defined space or simply to occupy it in a relatively fixed position. Proprioception gives rise to unique personal experience.

This is all words, the marshalling of inert ideas – as it is with all mere collections of words, the question is: how to make them come alive experientially? To use Gurdjieff’s nice word – how do we ‘vivify’ them? How in this case do we vivify the the activity called ‘proprioception’ so that it has real meaning within the body-mind system of a human individual – for me in my awareness, right now, for example. It’s not enough just to trot out a definition and hope for the best. How do we give life, for example, to the notion of ‘fully inhabiting built space’? How do we achieve full understanding of ‘…the interwoven connection of body & space’ ?

It’s worth recalling Gurdjieff’s model of Understanding – that it can only result from a live combination of Knowledge and Being-action: you have to do something essential to your being acting on the inertness of pure Knowledge to transform it into Understanding. This is what I call the KUB model.

Moving Laboratories

Anna-Maija Tuunanen describes practical ‘Moving Laboratories’ which seem to fulfil Gurdjieff’s model admirably. In the built space of a Moving Laboratory, individuals discover ways in which the interior space of their bodies exists within and has a relationship with external space by moving intentionally through it. This takes up Francisco Varela’s essentially Buddhist idea of a ‘…portable self-laboratorium [as] a place for human discovery and transformation’ and gives it architectural form. The explorer physically embodies the experience of space, pursuing the knowledge of the way it is ordered & shaped in itself and by progress through it.

Treated with serious intent, the body-mind system is a laboratory in itself; its study is usually called ‘self-observation’! Through this practice we can gain systematic spatial intelligence by following Varela’s advice to note manifestations of mind as if they were ‘scientific data’; with dedicated practice they become ‘gestures of awareness’ or mindfulness. Gesture constitutes data.

Quoting Mallgrave (2013), Anna-Maija Tuunanen points out that we are ‘…continually reconstituting ourselves within environmental fields of stimuli that are sculpting or re-engineering our biological systems…’

She defines Varela’s project as seeking to advance beyond the ‘spook of subjectivity’ and make the study of subjective lived experience as respectable as the hard sciences are said to be. His conclusion was that a combination of neuroscience and phenomenology would assist ‘a disciplined approach to exploring human experience…’ (Depraz et al On Becoming Aware 2003)

In my view, phenomenology is the philosophy behind both the Fourth Way and Neuro-linguistic Programming. For what it’s worth, I feel at home with it.

However, I am not an architect, so the general drift of Anna-Maija Tuunanen’s article is of no consequence to me – it misses the mark. But it speaks to me eloquently in that I had a big hand in re-designing the already built living space we inhabit: I feel that I have both shaped it and chosen to be shaped by it these twenty years; there’s a systemic relationship.


A Personal Journey

Before it could be properly lived in, the house’s structure – originally three terraced dwellings – required a good deal of adjustment – walls to be knocked down; doorways & corridors to be reconstituted; new woodwork, library shelving, fireplaces to be installed to replace 1950’s rather nasty tiles; plastering & painting attacked. The major work was done by professionals in the building game. I vividly recall wandering around after them through the brickdust and marvelling at the way spaces kept opening up with new-cut arches and doorways; it felt then as though my ‘psyche’ was expanding into the new rooms and passageways. I did not define it thus then, but just by making journeys through the planks & plaster I was in fact making new gestures of awareness, every move a gesture filling the spaces with feelingful cognition, taking it all into my being. This is what I understand as ‘embodiment’.

I suppose that all this could be dismissed as an example of subjective spookiness but it’s actually neither more nor less than it was. I can’t be bothered to call it an ‘objective’ account but the fact is that I felt my psyche expand to fill the entire space and it’s been that way for twenty years now.

In the thick of thin things, we have come to take the results of all this activity for granted, but I do often pause now in going from room to room to notice the woodwork, the carefully mitred joins, in a few places the very unskilled plasterwork I did myself, the things that remain unfinished after all those years, patterns made by walls and furniture. And so I decided to treat the house for a few days as a Laboratorium, myself the explorer strolling about it taking photos. These are to be studied not as a purely visual record but as quick snapshots representing body-mind cognitive-affective gestures: I look to left and right and make a digital gesture, often resulting in something rather blurred but true to life; I ‘bracket’ the bricks & mortar so as to reveal the thing itself in its essential relationship with lived experience. It occurs to me that photographs are perhaps always mere gestures towards so-called reality.

‘Bracketing’ is a key phenomenological process of reduction; in Husserl’s terms an epoché, a suspension for the moment of all the judgmental urges of the mind, employed originally by the Greek sceptics as a way of arriving at a lucid state of absolute tranquillity in which things remain mere things, disidentified, to be seen for what they are, phenomena of the human mind before they get crunched in ratiocination. Gurdjieff’s ‘Pure Impressions’.


I photo-bracket the front door of the house which was a wholly new space sawn out of old bricks – it didn’t exist twenty years ago; seeing it thus, with bright sunlight obscuring the garden outside, returns it to the status of newly carved framework rather than ‘front door’. My view of it becomes again the making of much mess of broken bricks & dust. It is a part of my Being. Mess into the kind of order that I relish…

One of the most important ways in which a house can contribute to embodiment is that it functions as a museum of memory – the neurons full of electro-chemical connections. While the house was being renovated, I stayed in a posh hotel that had a very large, golden framed mirror at the turn of some stairs.


This photo-gesture re-animates the memory which of course is by now somewhat out of focus with the passage of time – I recall thinking that a large mirror (preferably in a golden frame) would do very well in this position so that it doubled the size of the entrance hall and, when the front door was open brought the garden outside into the house. The mirror turned up in a local antique shop shortly after I’d enjoyed the hotel experience…

DSCN0463Up the stairs, sunlight following me around, the picture gallery, visual anchors for this and that experience, I am determined to come to grips with the statement: ‘…We wish to understand how we come to examine what we live through…’ (Depraz et al op cit 2003)

I climb these stairs at least ten times an average day; in the ‘normal course of events I do not pause to notice the manifold emotional associations attached to each of the framed photos, paintings, memorials on the wall; nor do I stop to focus on this pattern of depth & upstairs sitting-room & circle of blue carpet. Today I do; I perform a ‘gesture of suspension’ as a break from the ‘natural attitude’; my habitual approach to stair-mounting is in abeyance and my thoughts go off in a different direction. This is my own elaboration of a Depraz, Varela & Vermersch (1999) diagram incorporating Gurdjieff’s STOP! mechanism which I feel it’s necessary to internalise in order to make the epoché, bracketing off, work:-


Depraz et al, op cit (2003) confirm this as a method of guided introspection, a turning inwards and then a letting go so that something new can be revealed in a jointly cognitive/affective manner.

Strangely, Depraz et al  connect what they call a ‘moving intimacy with our experience’ with what is assumed to be a mental capacity – ‘intuition’. This seems to me to be an example of ‘if you don’t know what something-or-other might be, just give it a name and all will be well…’ Rather flaccid thinking!

On the other hand, we could take Gurdjieff’s ‘Centres’ (corresponding with the brain functions of neo-cortex (thinking), limbic, (feeling) & reptile (action & reaction), acknowledge Left & Right brain functions and thread in sense experience (VAKOG – Visual, Auditory, Kinaesthetic, Olfactory & Gustatory) at every level to form a complex systemic process where the connecting threads represent lived experience thus:-

Scan0058It requires a balanced melding of all these possible human functions to achieve full awareness. If anything, ‘intuition’ could be usefully construed as the Emergent Property of such a system. It could be a rough equivalent of something like ‘energy of connection’, a fusion of potential human proclivities, an unspecifiable gesture of awareness like waving one’s hand towards something. Thus the smell and taste of books & carpet, the passing through arches & doorways, going down corridors, become the Emergent Property of ‘passing through’ and/or coming to the other side, being connected.

Expanded in this way, it is perhaps possible to accept that ‘…intuitive evidence is less a result or a product than an act and process of coming forth… when filling in and intended meaning … coincide you have intuitive evidence…’

And so I turn left at the top of the stairs pausing for a moment on the threshold of a bedroom, ‘filling in’ context to look at the long view outside into which I can stretch my being – a matter of large embodiment. The view stays in my mind as I penetrate the closed & cluttered space where I’m typing this.

I spend a lot of time in this small room, focussed; it feels safe, isolated & enclosed; it holds my being together; paradoxically, it feels as though my mind/body system reaches out in jubilation into the universe from here via books, computer, contemporary classical music through ear-phones as loud as I like even at midnight, yards of notebooks filed relatively neatly on shelving made from old floor-boarding dismantled from various parts of the old houses… The little room lives – there’s a cognitive-affective something-or-other that

‘…makes one little room an everywhere.
Let sea-discoverers to new worlds have gone,
Let maps to other, worlds on worlds have shown,
Let us possess one world, each hath one, and is one.

John Donne: The Good-Morrow

Here I do not need to move far to get what I want to facilitate thinking; it all seems joyously close at hand; I sit at writing desk or computer table; I turn my head to look two bosky miles over the river; I adjust my sitting to suit myself; I am ‘doing proprioception’ – ‘the inner sense by which the body is aware of itself…’ Comfort in sitting, minor adjustments, awareness of arm & hand movements – ‘joints, tendons, ligaments, muscles & skin’ contain feedback mechanisms that tell me when to shift position. And then I can get up and go down into the much larger space of the library which contains, as I like to think, the gallivanting sources of my intellectual life. As I pass from one space to the other, there’s a feeling of personal transformation, of an opening up; my whole being becomes wider & seemingly taller though the actual ceiling is the same height throughout!


And then there are the views from the house which give it a whole new feeling every morning!


To recapitulate… Reflections on the origin of Neurophenomenology

The basis for neurophenomenology in modern times comes from Kant via Edmund Husserl (1859 -1938).

Husserl proposes that ‘the natural standpoint’ of human being-in-the-world can be established and experienced with its alternative by means of straightforward first person meditation; he provides us with an example which in itself is worth pondering and meditating upon in order to embody the process; in Gurdjieff’s terms to ‘vivify’ it, make it live for us, render it our own possession.

Our first outlook upon life is that of natural human beings, imaging, judging, feeling, willing, ‘from the natural standpoint’. Let us make clear to ourselves what this means in the form of simple meditations which we can best carry on in the first person.

I am aware of a world, spread out in space endlessly, and in time becoming and become, without end. I am aware of it, that means, first of all, I discover it immediately, intuitively, I experience it. Through sight, touch, hearing, etc., in the different ways of sensory perception, corporeal things somehow spatially distributed are for me simply there, in verbal or figurative sense ‘present’, whether or not I pay them special attention by busying myself with them, considering, thinking, feeling, willing.

Embodiment is a function of all the senses: we accumulate things in the body by taking possession of them visually, auditorily and kinaesthetically; when applying oneself to grasping the concept of embodiment it’s as well to do so in each of these ways and then combine the effect. Perhaps the combination amounts to ‘intuition’ – a label invented to refer to some indefinable mode of apprehension.

[Others]… too are present as realities in my field of intuition, even when I pay them no attention… [and] I can let my attention wander from the writing-table I have just seen and observed, through the unseen portions of the room behind my back to the verandah, into the garden, to the children in the summer-house, and so forth, to all the objects concerning which I precisely ‘know’ that they are there and yonder in my immediate co-perceived surroundings – a knowledge which has nothing of conceptual thinking in it, and first changes into clear intuiting with the bestowing of attention, and even then only partially and for the most part very imperfectly.

When we are not specifically attending to an event or series of events (everything is a ‘event’) we are in ‘natural standpoint’, idling along without focus. Things exist, there is a world-presence ‘…whether or not I pay [it] special attention by busying myself with [it]…’ But shifting gear into ‘special attention’ (do it now, just as Husserl does it for us!) gets us something else entirely, something rare and unique to the moment-when. So, for Husserl here, the deliberately summoned up sight & feel of the writing table & the felt sense of the verandah behind him is enriched by the sound of children playing in the summer house. I take it that this is how ‘embodiment’ occurs. It is not just an idea; it ‘…has nothing of conceptual thinking in it…’ – it is simply the case but it is something that never occurs to us when we’re in ‘natural standpoint’… when we are just getting on with ordinary living – that is to say most of the time. The experience of ‘special attention’ becomes even more striking as a working engagement when you ‘busy’ yourself sufficiently to add that ‘…beyond all this there’s a …zone of indeterminacy [which] is infinite. The misty horizon that can never be completely outlined remains necessarily there…’ which stretches out in time. Tennyson’s Ullyses understands this:-

…all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move.

This world now present to me, and in every waking ‘now’ obviously so, has its temporal horizon, infinite in both directions, its known and unknown, its intimately alive and its unalive past and future. Moving freely within the moment of experience which brings what is present into my intuitional grasp, I can follow up these connexions of the reality which immediately surrounds me. I can shift my standpoint in space and time, look this way and that, turn temporally forwards and backwards; I can provide for myself constantly new and more or less clear and meaningful perceptions and representations, and images also more or less clear, in which I make intuitable to myself whatever can possibly exist really or
supposedly in the steadfast order of space and time.

In this way, when consciously awake, I find myself at all times, and without my ever being able to change this, set in relation to a world which, through its constant changes, remains one and ever the same. It is continually ‘present’ for me, and I myself am a member of it. Therefore this world is not there for me as a mere world of facts and affairs, but, with the same immediacy, as a world of values, a world of goods, a practical world. Without further effort on my part I find the things before me furnished not only with the qualities that befit their positive nature, but with value-characters such as beautiful or ugly, agreeable or disagreeable, pleasant or unpleasant, and so forth. Things in their immediacy stand there as objects to be used, the table with its books, the glass to drink from, the vase, the piano…

In Kurt Lewin’s terms, all these things have positive or negative valence. The world is enriched when we acknowledge that all events whatsoever have for us a certain strength of feeling attaching to them. I take it that this is how the poet & composer & painter represent the world to themselves in pre-verbal cognition. (See my Figure of Eight, based on Antonio Damasio’s The Feeling of Now) At this very moment I suddenly realise that, becoming aware of the unsorted heaps of papers & books on my desk give me a ‘sinking feeling’, negative valence, when a clear desk would feel so much better!

…I am present to myself continually as someone who perceives, represents, thinks, feels, desires, and so forth; and for the most part herein I find myself related in present experience to the fact-world which is constantly about me. But I am not always so related, not every cogito in which I live has, for its cogitatum, things, men, objects or [relatively solid] contents of one kind or another. [There are ideas…] Perhaps I am busied with pure numbers and the laws they symbolize: nothing of this sort is present in the world about me, this world of ‘real fact’. And yet the world of numbers also is there for me, as the field of objects [or events] with which I am arithmetically busied; while I am thus occupied some numbers or constructions of a numerical kind will be at the focus of vision, girt by an arithmetical horizon partly defined, partly not; but obviously this being-there-for-me, like the being there at all, is something very different from this. The arithmetical world is there for me only when and so long as I occupy the arithmetical standpoint. But the natural world, the world in the ordinary sense of the word, is constantly there for me, so long as I live naturally and look in its direction. I am then at the ‘natural standpoint’, which is just another way of stating the same thing. And there is no need to modify these conclusions when I proceed to appropriate to myself the arithmetical world, and other similar ‘worlds’… [Whatever happens] the natural world still remains ‘present’ [as background] – I am at the natural standpoint after as well as before, and in this respect undisturbed by the adoption of new standpoints.

And when I’m on top form I know that this is just the case with others who appear within the scope of my ‘natural standpoint’ and I take account of this fact. Conflict occurs when I fail to take this into account. And this is not conceptual; it is just general description prior to all ‘theory’ about what might or might not be the case. It is pure subjective observation which anybody can verify without resort to theoretical perspectives. It has a certain objectivity about it.

How are we to navigate this mentally? Husserl proposes a deliberate shift of attention by means of his key concept, the epoché,  which needs to be thoroughly entered into to have any meaning for us. It is a new way of thinking – perhaps an ‘unnatural’ one.

Instead now of remaining at this standpoint, we propose to alter it radically. Our aim must be to convince ourselves of the possibility of this alteration on grounds of principle.

The General Thesis according to which the real world about me is at all times known not merely in a general way as something apprehended, but as a fact-world that has its being out there, does not consist of course in an act proper, in an articulated judgment about existence. It is and remains something all the time the standpoint is adopted, that is, it endures persistently during the whole course of our life of natural endeavour. What has been at any time perceived clearly, or obscurely made present, in short everything out of the world of nature known through experience and prior to any thinking, bears in its totality and in all its articulated sections the character ‘present out there’, a character which can function essentially as the ground of support for an explicit (predicative) existential judgment which is in agreement with the character it is grounded upon.

Theories based on doubting the very existence of things can be played around with philosophically but there has to be something there to enable doubt to take place. The verb ‘to doubt’ requires an object. Whatever you take leave to doubt the existence of something it must exist before you can manage to doubt it. Doubt the existence of the previous sentence and see where it gets you… Doubt its meaning… Even if, through systematic doubt, you set the whole of existence on one side, it is still there to be doubted.

What if, for the moment, we practised ‘setting things on one side? This is what Husserl proposes – the deliberate act of putting things ‘out of action’ by an act of ‘disconnection’ a ‘bracketing off’. Husserl explains:-

It still remains there like the bracketed in the bracket, like the disconnected outside the connexional system. We can also say: the thesis is experience as lived … but we make ‘no use’ of it, and by that, of course, we do not indicate privation (as when we say of the ignorant that he makes no use of a certain thesis); [but] we are dealing with … a unique form of consciousness, which clamps on to the original simple thesis … and transvalues it in a quite peculiar way.

Whatever gets bracketed is not to be discounted, ignored or otherwise done away with but simply to be suspended. ‘The thesis is ‘put out of action’, bracketed, it passes off into the modified status of a ‘bracketed thesis’, and the judgment [becomes] a ‘bracketed judgment’…’

We can reflect upon the various different appearances of events viewed from different angles – they represent different appearances, different ways of seeing, but phenomenology suggests that it’s necessary to abandon the natural habit of perception in order to concentrate on pure experience, on a pure phenomena – ‘pure impressions’ as Gurdjieff would say – on the appearance of things and events, unlabelled, all by itself.

We have different experiencings or acts of experience. In Internal Considering we decorate and mix such events by identification just as we confuse our experience of other people with our own autobiography, projecting ourselves on to them as though we were them, expecting them to behave as we do. In External Considering we can get at the experience itself, isolate the event for specific pondering. We can , as it were, blot out people and events in order to scrutinise experience pure & simple.

We can suspend, at least temporarily, belief in the existence of whatever we manage to blot out; this is to perform a ‘phenomenological reduction’, an epoché. This is bracketing off, a way of treating the external world as if were not there so that we may focus on the experience we have of things, on experience without all the identifications with the events of experience that we are normally lumbered with.

Getting into what I call Meta-I we can look at essences, patterns, form & structure without all the usual clutter of existence. Husserl calls this ‘eidetic reduction’. Too much concerned with the details of things we tend, in the natural standpoint, to miss the pattern of things.

The act of bracketing shifts the point of focus. A very mundane example: here is a pleasant fellow whose practical bent is to do good in the world but his political beliefs are connected to the most destructive set of policies; in order to relate to him in a functional way as is necessary one has to perform an act of bracketing – thus one can set aside his outrageous politics and relate to him as a positive force; it may even be that he himself has erected unacknowledged ‘buffers’ between belief and action. What about a thinker whose private life has reprehensible elements in it but whose philosophical system is profound? Bracketing off the private life for the time being at least will enable focus on the philosophy. Here too is a writer whose characters inhabit a secure middle-upper class world in which none of them seem to have to toil with real ‘work’ – one can put that in brackets in order to engage intellectually in relationships and prose magic.

Refusal to engage with oppositions and paradox results in what Gurdjieff calls ‘buffers’ – a mental process that prevents us from facing up to our contradictions. Buffers exclude a relationship between elements; brackets enable open multiplication.

How is all this likely to affect one’s behaviour?

It is worth revisiting the Concept of PROPRIUM – an extract:-

In his neglected slim volume Becoming (1960), Gordon Allport comments that it’s ‘all too easy to assign functions that are not fully understood [nor can be] to a mysterious central agency and then to declare that ‘it’ [‘self’] performs in such a way as to unify the personality and maintain its integrity…’

Something more general, more neutral [than, say, ‘intuition’] might be more existentially accurate: something like Adler’s ‘life-style’, a ‘style or pattern of being’; the advantage of the latter is that if there is a pattern then one can unpick it and investigate its intricacy, discard the parts of the pattern that are not intrinsic to one’s sense of who one is – ho-hum things like driving on the right or left hand side of the road, not eating peas with your knife, politely holding a door open for somebody following you – and then you could start looking for those things that are ‘propriate’ – things ‘central to our sense of existence’. It makes perfect sense to say, “There is a pattern to my being on this earth; I can find it…”

The Proprium

Allport suggests using the concept of the Proprium which ‘includes all aspects of personality that make for inward unity’. He enumerates eight not necessarily discrete ways in which the Proprium functions; we can appropriate these paradigms to ourselves and find that they help to define what has become peculiarly ours.

• We have Bodily Sense; we are bathed in a sensory stream of events from the outside world; internally there are rumblings and oozings: these together provide a lifelong anchor for us. We locate the ground of our being somewhere in all this: for example when I was a child I vividly recall thinking that the root of my being was located in a large mole on the side of my foot.

• We have what we like to call Self-identity, that which we associate with our name; all our thoughts and feelings all down the years belong to it; there’s an organic continuity between the ‘I’ that entertained the belief about the mole and me now – I take my sock off and, though the mole has faded a little, I can still easily locate the root of my being there! Apart from which ‘Colin’ means ‘Victory to the People!’ with which I associate my long-term anarcho-socialist leanings; an alternative meaning is ‘dark’ with which I like to associate the NLP process of ‘artful vagueness’ or the Fourth Way ‘sly man’ (canniness)

Ego-enhancement – we have survival needs which often result in self-assertion; we derive self-satisfaction from what we do; take a pride in it, develop vanity and forthrightness…

• To assist this process, we identify with all kinds of things outside of us—Ego-extension; here we run the considerable risk of losing our selves in possessions, loved objects, people, teams, causes, loyalties, groups, clothes, nation and abstractions of all kinds that some of us even choose to go to war over.

• We have a Rational Agent that, by appropriate adjustments and planning, helps to keep us reasonably in touch with ‘reality’; it constantly discriminates between this and that.

• Our Self-image – the phenomenal self – derives from the way we regard our abilities, status, roles, and aspirations; it may include a vision of self-perfection driving us forward. The self-image guides propriate striving. It is a picture of our self that is not necessarily congruent with ‘reality’.

Propriate Striving is that which involves the ego, making for unification of the whole of our being, maintaining the tension of endeavour, expectation, intention; it is outcome-focussed and future-referenced. It’s what is usually called ‘motivation’ but is more about keeping the tension going than any kind of ‘drive reduction’.

• Somewhere in all this there is a Knower, a Knowing-I; it ‘knows’ bodily sensations, it can discriminate identity, it knows how it extends itself into other things, identifying with them; it knows what it is to strive, to get pleasure from being in a state of tension; it can bundle all this together and call it PROPRIUM. Such broad intentional dispositions are relatively few and it’s possible to distinguish and understand their basic patterning.

So, in order to move towards a definition of my self and to gain a measure of control over the result, I ask my self what are the broad intentional dispositions that have determined, and no doubt will continue to determine, the way I do my life?

My provisional answers would go something like this:-

• I persist in figuring out the patterns of things. The very concept of Proprium appeals to me because it offers the opportunity to replace the soggy lump of ‘self’ with a complex pattern that I can set myself to unravel.

• Without really thinking about it, I am constantly looking for connections. PDOuspensky said that, in spite of the fact that things appear to be separate, everything is in fact connected. I am deeply into the Enneagram which is a huge system of systems to do with understanding the way the whole of human personality is connected up together, how it behaves, how it thinks, how it relates.

• I aim to depict my Proprium – specifically the way in which it can be looked at from different perspectives – the way I can feel it working within, the way I can submit it to intellectual analysis and the way I can move between the different parts to make it work.

• I am above all a teacher of all this. Give me a new idea and, without thinking about it, I find myself setting about answering the question, “How will I teach that – how will I present it in a way that will appeal to many different learning styles?”

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One Hundred and Ten Haiku (February – April 2015)

restless cat curls up
at last on the magic rug
bought in Marrakesh


hedge druid! she says –
no convocations
or dancing circles for me


in a gold-framed mirror:
the garden
and a friend


outside the night river
moves seawards to return
later moon-drenched


meeting a good old friend –
her face sheds all its years
as we talk


green woodpecker
nestled in the lawn
red head up and down


christmas day
not long after midnight –
wind down the chimney


one last patch of snow
where I sit to read
on the summer lawn


evening dark –
the thrumming of a cargo boat
under half a moon


sepulchral ballet
I move as dead men do
in dumb harmony

found in Russell Brand’s Revolution
– his 10k hike with the Marines


chimney pots
on a midnight lawn


the silence
of the moon
chiming midnight


first hours
of a day without a name
– hollow wind


so long ago –
making a bonfire of the old year
for my father


green curtains
shifting & crumpling
at the open night window


the flute-player
bidding farewell
with silvery notes

this night again I travel
far in time & space


roving wind
& rattling shutters –
night store


after the party
after the seagulls
the notion of oneness

(reading Plotinus)


beyond the images
of the temple sanctuary –
behold your self

(reading Plotinus)


proud soldiers
in a regimental photo
all now but dreams


then the night wind dropped
making an arrangement
with Erebos


Brahms’ First Symphony
the essence of my self
just before breakfast


dead of night pigeon
locked to the slenderest branch
bouncing in the gale


pheasant alarm call
night darkness in half


clock-tick in this room;
tock of clock in the next –
my night time


she grows great cucumbers
but never ever
looks up at the stars


gale-snapped willow branch
among autumn leaves
on a winter lawn


heron rising slowly
from back-field frost
at midday


swooping down
past last year’s nests


remembering swifts
scything evening air
a million years ago


Three found in Henry Green: Blindness

in the hallway – square
of yellow on the parquet

green shade on the table;
circle of light on books
& papers there

whistling gently
till the house
is full of shadows


perambulating naked trees –
inside the windowpane


the old hall –
dust motes in sunbeams
Alois Haba


at the swimming pool
peach-tree buds

For Alan Anapolsky


I spread my wings
and dance
to the sound of drums

For Alan Anapolsky


long train journey
at the end of a week
at the end of a life-time


this string quartet –
heard in another room
another time


ten thousand seagulls
follow the river seawards
just before sunset


across the library floor
sinking to another level


field of snow –
the wandering trail stops
where the old horse stands


edge of the estuary mud
facing a silver sea
one gull


of bare trees
round a winter field


crow awake betimes
shouting away
my dark inside


a windowful
of grey sky
& silver birch


sunrise –
HGWells illuminated
in the corridor bookcase


dog meetup
on the cold towpath
the humans talk nevertheless


a scurry of gulls
up from a black field
as the train passes by


two swans in a field
at the bend of a road –
otherwise grey


bonfire smoke
across a green field –
train windows all closed


train neighbour
with headphones
and St Vitus Dance


on the station concourse –
twenty yard grin


looking up from my book
– the woman who smiled
just an empty space


guest house bedroom –
closes in on me
like so many before

Three found in Henry Green – Pack My Bag

next to the house
a huge beech tree –
a million of spiders

night footsteps
falling with moonlit sound
on flagstones

no stars – earth
under steady rain
& cattle in lost fields

warm sunlight –
opening my eyes
to a sudden crush of rooks


carthorse with coat
trotting around
a green field centre


Four found in Henry Green: Caught

fathomless sea
in the shade of foothills
with hyacinths

stretch of water
& sails from the past –
boats fishing in the senses

through the iron gate –
a tangle of memories
binds us to life

owls in daylight
over hills & valleys
over her body’s white winter


the grandchildren –
loving them each note they play
of grandpa’s string duos


not at all deaf
but needing to fill the whole house
with preludes & fugues


another evening
and the chaffinches
address the silent rain


tumbling on a mud patch
my nose very close
to a clump of snowdrops


a few remaining teeth –
they must make do
for the next twenty years


cat moves away
across the carpet –
the latest log too buoyant


and the swoop of a pigeon


last pages
of my midnight reading –
outside the gale stops


on the dyke-top
obliviously preening


not to be seen
unless you get up:
grandfather clock tick-tocking


drawing curtains
on a winter night –
a glimpse of summer seat


the slamming of doors –
sunrise in an old-fashioned
seaside guesthouse


the small night-wind
spills moon
all over the place


things of which
I have forgotten the name
define these dwindling days


three layers of quartz
trapped in flint
long centuries


end of day –
tumbling into the gap
between light & dark


stroking his beard:
thoughts leaping
the synapses


curtains drawn –
a sense of
evening containment


trying on a friend’s poems
for size & fit
– different footsteps


this chaffinch stops –
friend over the stream starts
& stops: thus all afternoon


across night-still fields
a one-note chant from
out of the seaflats


3am gut-rot –
seeking a comfortable space
to fit my self


before dawn
a back field pheasant flurry
sets off wood pigeons


why all the fuss?
when you’ve seen one eclipse
you’ve seen the lot


cat stretched
deep in sleep – paws
running somewhere fast in it


Five from Henry Green’s Loving

shaft of golden sun
lighting girls
through parted cloud

through white-wrapped dimness –
the sound of a waltz

she swims towards
the young laughing girls

under a hedge
observing red fuschia bells
swinging without a note

blue heave of wave
between the donkey’s legs
the thundering ocean


this day
the flow of it even stranger
than the one before


the slamming
of mile-high metal doors
at the end of a dream


leaves & wind
in a wheelbarrow – the sweeper
abuses his broom

(Polanski: Ghost)


that the level clouds of sunrise
will yield up a haiku


climbing the climbing
dream-hill in expectation
of a long vista


a whole week of haiku
in the dull interstices
of this night


the squawking pheasant
lost in a hundred acres
of winter wheat


close to my hand
on the arm of the chair – cat


half way through a sentence
what I’m saying suddenly
seems familiar


from far hedge to eave
woodpigeon house-building


high wind rinses night
through the guts… through daffodils
& down the chimney


cat in a dream
tail twitching
at something malevolent


time for the old News:
another bombing
another bit of lying


cat on my lap
intent on watching
Blade Runner yet again



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How do we make sense of things?

At a meta-level, how do we make sense of the way we make sense of things?

Making Sense of Sense-making is the title of an article by Thompson & Stapleton first published on-line on 20th December 2008. It is subtitled ‘Reflections on Enactive and Extended Mind Theories’.

For my own intellectual amusement, I chose to take it as an object lesson in how I make sense of things: I set out to make sense of the article in whatever way I could, presupposing that what emerged would say something about the way I habitually make ‘sense’ for myself and that this would then feed back into the substance & ‘meaning’ of the article itself to assist my understanding. I expected to be able to look back on the coming rigmarole which fills nearly twenty pages in my current notebook and, having taken it all inside myself, say, “That was a piece of writing worth tussling with…”

Cognitive Dissonance

The first thing that happened to me when I began to read was to experience a rather severe attack of ‘cognitive dissonance’ (Festinger 1959): at the very outset the authors describe their intention as being to explore ‘the difference between the enactive approach to cognitive science and the extended mind thesis… the debate between internalism and externalism… the relation between cognition and emotion…’ amongst other things.

Thompson & Stapleton explain that ‘the enactive approach (à la Francisco Varela) in cognitive science [is concerned with]… the sense-making activity of autonomous agents…’ whereas ‘…in the extended mind thesis the environment constitutes part of the mind when it is coupled to the brain in the right way…’ What this might be is not explained, at least to begin with.

My severe attack of cognitive dissonance (from which, having made some ‘sense’ of the whole piece now, I have recovered) came about because the conceptual oppositions as stated caused me to turn my own clock back fifty years to a time when, in an attempt to apply some kind of theory-based approach to actual chalkboard classroom teaching, I was struggling to understand the apparent opposition of the psychological disputes between behaviourists and field theorists. Whilst feeling pretty sure that they don’t try to get student teachers to engage in such thinking any more, I wondered how anybody in these so-called ‘enlightened’ days could possibly still be lumbered with the dichotomies recorded two paragraphs ago – how could they possibly now argue about internalism and externalism or maintain a distinction between cognition and emotion when such discrepancies had been settled for me long ago when I assimilated Herbert Mowrer’s ‘cybernetic model’ – the application of a synthesis of SR and Gestalt theories – not either/or but both/and – a pattern repeated and enhanced in a practical manner by Miller, Galanter & Pribram in their Plans and the Structure of Behaviour, to the ineffable beauty of whose TOTE model I developed an emotio-cognitive attachment which has never faded in fifty years?


Beautiful systemic process to which I have emotio-cognitive attachment. I notice that others can display an emotio-cognitive attachment to a football team; I can often experience the same thing in relation to an abstract idea or model or even a single word as will be demonstrated.

So that’s the second thing that gave rise to my experiencing an attack of cognitive dissonance – the idea that grown men & women could possibly still take up sides in relation to the assumed dichotomy of intellect and emotion.

As for externalists and internalists continuing to peddle an exclusive line in the modern world… Well, that was the giddy limit!

I have lived with the simple findings of Finesmith (1959) who assessed psycho-galvanic skin responses (whatever that might have consisted of) to the sounding of mere nonsense syllables. Ever since I came across the report of the experiment I have taken it for granted that, if there is, in normal circumstances, a non-articulated emotional response to nonsense syllables, all words and therefore all linguistic statements of any kind carry both intellectual and emotional energy for the sense-maker, irrespective of the actual content of a communication which, of course, in itself, would be more than likely to increase an emotio-cognitive response.

Lewin’s ‘Life Space’ concept (1938) together with the idea that everything in our experience has positive/negative valence for us has been in my bones for fifty years. The different rooms we inhabit carry an emotional tinge for us variously weak or strong, negative or positive; of all the rooms in our house, the room where I work in the way I’m doing now has the strongest pull. On the desk where I’m writing, I keep my mother’s sharp dress-making scissors; whenever I use them to cut paper, I laugh because I hear her long ago voice in my head, “Don’t use my dress-making scissors to cut paper!” Nearby on my desk there’s a saucer of plain glass marbles I nicked from a beloved landlady when she left her premises – I feel sure she’d have forgiven my theft by now though she probably hasn’t noticed it; a twelve-inch wooden ruler here has positive valence for me as does the half empty bottle of black ink. Scissors, marbles, ruler, bottle of black ink – each far more than mere objects on a desk: these things serve to anchor me emotionally and intellectually to my self-history – they constitute a little area of my life-space.

So much for the attack of cognitive dissonance; it was fortunately at an optimum level: had it been too devastating the article about sense-making would have developed negative valence for me and I would probably have abandoned it. What kept me at it? Firstly, I warmed to the neutral sense of order conveyed by the authors; it was not their fault that their sources didn’t refer to my pet theoretical reading from long ago, Mowrer, Miller, Galanter & Pribram, Finesmith, Festinger & Lewin; Thompson & Stapleton were doing a really good job in setting out the apparently current state of play in the cognitive theory field. And later on they certainly do point out (the subject of their explorations) Francisco Varela’s roots in ‘cybernetics’!

The Enactive Approach to Making Sense

Secondly I was attracted by their initial description of the ‘Enactive Approach’, a term I hadn’t come across before – I’m always enthusiastic about what might turn out to be productive ways of classifying what William James calls a ‘blooming, buzzing confusion’!

The Enactive Approach, which Thompson & Stapleton appear to favour from the outset, is concerned with things for which I think I have a soft spot – autonomy, sense-making, emergence, embodiment and experience in general. Just listing these things gives me a warm tingly feeling. Seriously.

They explain that the Enactive Approach to sense-making ‘…starts from the question of how a system must be organised in order to be autonomous… [generating and sustaining] its own activity and thereby [enacting or bringing forth] its own cognitive domain…’

Scan0053This diagram depicts a system; all systems have emergent properties (EP’s) and when we ponder the EP of this system it could be said to be ‘a cognitive domain’. A transparent one, as we will discover.

A system is self-perpetuating, autonomous, internally & cognitively self-consistent, all elements working together, enabling further productive contact with the outside world (specifically the words on the page and all that they imply in this case).

An autonomous system is defined as one ‘composed of processes that generate and sustain [it] as a unity and thereby also define an environment for the system. Varela (1979, 1997) talks of ‘operational closure’, a term which appeals to me because it resonates with the idea that systems go round & round in circles, vicious or virtuous depending; they feed off themselves. In his arcane way, Gurdjieff refers to something like this process as ‘iraniranumange’.

On the other hand, Thompson & Stapleton point out that for an autonomous system to function effectively the ‘operationally closed network must be… open to…’ exchanges with the environment.
going beyond the words on the page



The systemic circuit goes out into the ‘real world’ having first achieved autonomy by means of autopoiesis, a term borrowed from biological molecular workings but having been taken far beyond its original context by Varela & Maturana and now applicable to other spatially bounded systems – for example, human social groupings.

‘Autopoiesis’ is literally self-generation, a self-perpetuating systemic process that ‘World Leaders’ ought to be educated to understand in the context of systems thinking instead of depending on linear thinking to do their dirty work: “…we just have to bomb them off the map and everything will be fine…” – no thought of a possible systemic backlash. In politics and international affairs the simplistic dependence on linear thinking has dire consequences since in a system of any kind there is no action without reaction. More complex thinking is needed. The Bush-Blair bombing spree on Iraq which was supposed to be a Final Solution gave rise to Al Qaeda in Iraq and then the rise of ISIS.

Often my own chosen way of making sugary sense of the world is to transform complex ideas into poetry – which for me stands for the inevitably bitty way in which we accommodate ourselves to the nature of things. So I take Thompson & Stapleton’s explanation of the origin in biology of Maturana & Varela’s ideas and transform its inevitably inert ideas into something that becomes my own possession which is, as I’ve so often said, what ANWhitehead defines as the purpose of education and the end of learning. My poem goes like this:-


the uphill struggle to make sense
of an intellectual idea: concepts
(and images if you’re lucky)
tumble about until they hit upon
an orientation that increases
the possibility of defining (say)
some central organising principle
(orientation as it might be to sugar
in the case of a microbiological organism)
at which point they gather
individual momentum and begin
to coalesce about a flame
in much the same way as a moth might
but there are dangers in a flame –
all things remain precarious & perilous
and it is advisable not to go for
too early closure…

nevertheless for a time at least
the world and all its varied circumstances
can be transformed into a place of meaning
and intelligence… identity is maintained
and perspectival interactions
become normative – certain things
ought to follow after autonomy
& equilibrium are achieved
through autopoiesis which cannot
in itself (on it own) sustain
the necessary momentum –
what further is required is that
the intellectual idea neatly disposed
around a central organising principle
rub shoulders with the world outside it
and thereby develop adaptive autonomy
for itself – a kind of rich picture acceptance
in consciousness and a sense of ‘the real’
which are emergent properties of
this Being in the World

Thompson & Stapleton pursue the metaphor of autopoiesis by means of its original biological context – the example they choose relates to the fondness of certain bacteria, as autonomous systems, for sugar resulting in a self-organisation and sense-making that ‘transforms the world into an environment’ for themselves – one which is less precarious for their survival.

I feel on much less precarious ground myself when Thompson & Stapleton proceed to demolish the dichotomy of internalism & externalism.

The grounding of cognition in sense-making and sense-making in adaptive autonomy do not imply either internalism or externalism about the processes of cognition. The internalism/externalism debate rests on assumptions that are foreign to the enactive approach…

That it is still argued by some that internal processes alone could possibly give rise to cognitive processes seems absurd: failing to take externalities into account would be sure to result in a warped interpretation of things as they might be assumed to be.

Further the act of cognition is not an event happening inside the system; it is a relational process of sense-making that takes place between the system and its environment. The internal/external dichotomy probably arises from the difficulty humankind experiences when it tries to understand abstractions – the impulse is to reify whatever seems hard to understand: if you conceptualise ‘consciousness’ as a box, say, then it has to have an inside and an outside. We imagine that consciousness & cognition (and other sensations) are spatially located inside the cranium or somewhere else inside us, something we carry about with us, commanding the same status as objects of extension like a hockey stick or a compass.

Cognition has no Location

How else to conceptualise ‘consciousness’ then? It really does take a great effort of imagination to understand the profound idea that COGNITION HAS NO LOCATION. It is an emergent something-or-other (to use Gurdjieff’s provocative phrase to describe the unfleshiness of something that does not warrant it) that derives from ‘Being-in-the-world’ (Heidegger) and shifts around pretty much uncontrollably from moment to moment depending on attention and intention – some kind of energy propelling it forward.

I am home and dry when Thompson & Stapleton proceed to demolish the all too easy dichotomy cognition/emotion. To anybody committed to the enactive approach cognition and emotion are ‘thoroughly integrated at biological, psychological and phenomenological levels…’ As Lewin pointed out in the year after I was born, all things have valence, positive or negative, for the human system; sense-making depends upon the choices we make in embodying preferences for positive valences and avoiding the negative ones. On the face of it abstract problem-solving always rests heavily on such emotional discrimination. Neuroscience backs this up.

Complex cognitive-emotional behaviours have their basis in dynamic coalitions of networks of brain areas none of which should be conceptualised as specifically affective or cognitive. (Pessoa 2008)

There is no such thing as ‘body neutrality’ nor can ‘envattment’ (the assumption that there is a clearly definable interface between body & mind) be sustained.

Gurdjieff and ‘Centres’

In his resolutely ‘pre-scientific’ way, Gurdjieff had it about right when he offered the simple model of ‘Centres’ and their interaction. It is, in a practical sense, obvious that human beings function broadly intellectually, emotionally and by actively fixing things. The issue comes to a head when it’s clear that by general programming people like us function lop-sidedly; we tend to operate exclusively in one or other of the ‘Centres’ – corresponding more or less to the Triune brain model formulated by Paul MacLean ten years or so after Gurdijieff’s death. Some people are locked into their neocortex – ‘thinkers’ – while others are predominantly emotional about things, happy in their limbic system; for reptilians, it’s all action & survival. One of the objectives of the activity called ‘Self-remembering’ in the Fourth Way system is for the individual to gain a balance of modes of functioning, intellect-emotion-action. Had he been able to accept the lingo I’m convinced that Mr G would have been charmed by the idea of ‘coalitions of networks of brain areas none of which should be conceptualised as specifically affective or cognitive…’ Thoroughly resourceful human operation in the world results from contriving a balance in the networks.

Maintaining balance is a constant process in autonomous function. The man on the tightrope crossing Niagara Falls is moment by moment maintaining ‘operational closure’ within his system in order to relate effectively to pretty precarious circumstances in order to get safely to the other side. The funambulist’s balancing pole is literally ‘incorporated’ into the balancing act; its incorporation extends his being into the world; for him the balancing pole is no longer an object – it is assimilated into his Being-in-the-world.

Fountain Pen & Notebook & Transparency

Thompson & Stapleton point to the very valuable distinction between body-as-object and body-as-subject. Writing this originally with my fountain pen I could say, “This is my hand with the smooth-running pen held by thumb & forefinger, as it has been thus for seventy bloomin’ years…” – an opaque event which never fails to impress me in contrast to my being able to shift my attention to the idea of the pen being an extension of my cognitive apparatus; then the process of making marks on paper becomes entirely transparent to me; pen & page are no longer objects to me but integral to a mode of apprehension.

Thompson & Stapleton propose that

For anything external to the body’s boundary to count as part of the cognitive system it must function transparently in the body’s sense-making interactions with the environment…

This has to be a deliberately felt part of ‘experience’. Now, while I’m writing at my desk I ‘see right through my self’ – my being is so transparent that Observing-I has no idea what it might be or what it might once have been; it’s all – desk & pen & so forth – some kind of transparent extension of my being with distinctly positive valence; the notebook is part of my general transparency. By contrast, when I file it neatly away on the nearby shelf with all its fellows it becomes an object in the world again just as it was in the shop when I bought it. I know that I can re-vivify it, or any of the other fifty years’ worth of notebooks, simply by taking it down and opening it to read or write – when I do that it resumes its transparency.

To get a sense of what ‘transparency’ signifies existentially one has to ponder how the objects we choose to transform into parts of Being-in-the-world work for us.

It is only when I get to the very last sentence of Thompson & Stapleton’s article that I breathe a sigh of relief and get the feeling that the tussle has been worthwhile: the enactive approach pays off. They conclude that it is the sort of questions they’ve raised in the reader’s mind that ‘…enactive and extended mind theorists should be trying to answer, not the questions posed in the dichotomous and inappropriate categories of inside versus outside…’ and so on.

I am back where I started from!


We never ever see the world ‘as it really is’ – that’s just an hopeless invention, invisible pie in the sky – we construct reality-for-ourselves and make it into a more or less rich picture. Settling for something less than rich is simply a half-hearted accommodation to the external stresses induced by other people’s realities; keeping at it in-spite-of fulfils what JGBennett says can only be a ‘progressive approximation to truth’. That needs a lot of work.

It’s not far off the concept of ‘neurophenomenology’ (Varela 1996) which is concerned with ‘…a pragmatic will to progressively & systematically reduce the distance between subjective and objective… a way of narrowing the gap between the mental and the physical.



I am left with seeking to understand the notion of ‘embodiment’ – literally the process of taking experience and making it into a psychophysical distributed transparent whole within Being. I can’t touch it, see it or say where it is precisely (unless by gut reaction) but I sense that I ‘embodied’, for example, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony sixty years ago – it has literally been part of the fabric of my being in all those years: even when I’m not whistling to or conducting a recording, I can switch into hearing it as an accompaniment to life. It’s the same with certain poems & olfactory stimuli.

More recently I came to understand the way a ‘Word Processor’ as an extension of my being could intervene there with the beneficial result of making whatever I write flow more easily: I suddenly realised that the systemic hand-eye-body-brain circuit was spectacularly improved by practice at noticing what happens when you see what you tap out on the keyboard appearing on the screen as a physical manifestation of what your neurons etc were dictating to you. The facility thus embodied transferred itself, I’m pleased to say, to the act of writing with my favourite fountain pen.

The process of embodiment is perhaps related to the concept of ‘identification’; it could be another way of describing it: when we identify with something we are taking it into ourselves, making it part of us. For instance, I am well aware that I identify thoroughly with the fountain pen and notebook I originally used for writing this rigmarole – they are part of who I am.

But there is a great danger in identification: it can easily lead to loss of self, self-forgetting. One should constantly practise the art of disidentification.

Anybody who sits in front of a computer all day runs the risk, through embodiment and identification, of losing self in machine, or abandoning autonomy. Dependency on the machine for information & knowledge slackens the process of autopoiesis. It’s difficult to grasp that one is simply imagining that the power and instantaneity (50 million examples in a split second!) is something of one’s own; the lack of understanding of this results either in loss of autonomy or, what’s significantly worse, in false autonomy, leading to pride & vanity.

I am inclined to think on.

Thinking On – an Intellectual Way of Thinking
about the Idea of Consciousness Having No Location


I feel kind of comfortable (= ‘identified’) with this analysis… If I looked at it again I’d probably change things…

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National Service

Nearly sixty years ago I was privileged (I suppose I was…) to undertake so-called ‘National Service’. One of its many personal beneficial outcomes, absolutely no doubt unintended, was to have me choose to be a convert to life-long pacifism.

For twenty-four months I lived in the Sergeants’ Mess of 9TRRE Camp, Farnborough, Hampshire (now a housing estate) and worked with salt-of-the-earth fellows who were in the army either because their fathers had been so engaged before them or because they could imagine doing nothing else with their lives. They had presumably been conned into thinking that at some stage in the rosiness of the future they would, in some unspecified way, be made heroes, saviours of those twin abstractions ‘freedom’ & ‘democracy’ by which we’re all conned. Without quite realising what was happening to me I found myself in what now seems the very strange position of ‘Teacher’ or ‘Sergeant Instructor’ both to the professional NCO’s and to raw National Service recruits from whose ranks I had but lately risen to such a giddy height myself.

I took my task very seriously. Entering into dedicated soldiers’ minds in order to be able to pace their learning effectively, I began to understand what made them tick and eventually I came to some provisional conclusions about how the rest of us have been dished by the pervasive narrative that persuades us that the ‘Armed Forces’ and ‘defence’ are necessary aspects of human life, that the gigantic ‘investment’ in organised destruction is worth it

The nightmare called ‘Suez’ occurred while I was notionally ‘being a soldier’ and the attitude of the regular soldiers was that we should immediately be up for bashing ‘the wogs’ as they charmingly called the Egyptians.

But long before all this happened to me various images had impinged themselves on my consciousness that prepared me to question the whole basis on which the two years of National Service (how the words grind themselves out!) was predicated. The sound of ‘buzz bombs’ (primitive cruise missiles that were directed randomly over Britain in the last days of WW2 – 1944/45) and the sight of smoking ruins of buildings in London that had been bombed by Hitler the night before I travelled through them on the way to Waterloo Station came to be a normal and more or less acceptable part of my early life. Amazing now that, after a night of explosions and flashing lights, in the light of day everything seemed so ordinary.

By the age of 16, I was conditioned into thinking that the only pattern of existence was SCHOOL ➔WORK➔NATIONAL SERVICE➔WORK. I could have challenged this but I didn’t; I did not then have Revolutionary Intelligence (one of many additions I’d make to Howard Gardner’s seven or eight ‘Intelligences’) lacking which at that time I did not question the pattern – it was simply ‘the way things are’.

At the end of National Service (May 1958) I discarded my absurd army uniform and sent all the things I was supposed to hold on to in case of an emergency back to what one of my first civilian work colleagues called the ‘Whore Office’, with a note to say that I was no longer willing to be considered suitable material for cannon fodder. There was no reply. By that time the discrepancies of the last few months slowly began to dawn on me: the beautiful Sergeant Hawkins with his rasping voice and polished boots was just an ordinary chap; the ramshackle organisation I was attached to was something other than a ‘fighting force’; at least weekly opportunities to cycle out into the Hampshire countryside presented me with a stark contrast – boots on a barrack square against peaceful country lanes. While I wheeled my way through the countryside, over the hills & down to the sea, I spent time contemplating the notion that somewhere, while I was looking at poppies and sniffing new-cut grass, professional men were blowing one another apart like a kind of reciprocal fox-hunt. And this was the new pattern that took hold of me: ‘Man in Nature’ v ‘Unnatural Bellicose Man’; it was the contrast between a human-being all senses alive, in a state of ecstatic simplicity, and a robot-figure carrying out the army formula ‘Your Weapon is Given You to Kill the Enemy’.

But Sergeant Hawkins was not a robot and I couldn’t imagine him ever being likely to kill anybody – he was a sensitive & thoughtful human-being with a keen sense of humour. Knowing nothing about the subjects in the syllabus till the night before a lesson, I taught him Military History which enabled him to pass an exam to get promotion. Amongst other things, I became an expert on the Peninsula War! Discrepancies! Discrepancies!

The World is Never Ever Just As It Is

We invent the world to suit ourselves and then go to sleep; each one of us constructs an image of it according to the way our experience dictates and then we squabble and fight over what we imagine might be the right way. Is it just a matter of different relative belief systems, every one just as valid as the others? Is there anything to discriminate between different systems? Might there be a way of defining a thoroughly objective belief system, some existential certainty about a particular way of seeing? Or is the playground argument based on ‘my belief’s better than your belief’ the only one there is?

What about scrutinising differences between one belief and another by reference to motives & hidden agendas? It’s surely the motivation behind a set of beliefs that gives them their subjectivity; an objective belief would be free from personal presentation, based on pure human well-being.

So, for instance, the sole motivation of a Seeker after Truth is contained in the seeking itself. There is no intention to take over the world, no drift towards world-domination, or even leadership of a small group, no taking up arms, a lack of concern for profit at anybody else’s expense. You may follow the seeker’s journey or not – just as you choose. The Seeker passes through empires & kingships, wars & divinations, observing all and then moving on with a notebook full of scraps & jottings. On the other hand the Empire Builder tarries overlong, insistently accumulating fortunes, regarding the Seeker’s efforts with amusement, regarding the simple person’s squabbles with absolute psychopathic disdain.

So What Have We Got?

On the one hand, Man of Nature and, on the other, Unnatural Bellicose Man; or Seeker versus Empire Builder, movement & seasonal rhythm contrasted with stasis. Those who are fixed in their metaphors & categories can well afford to regard philosophers of process & fluidity as laughable, as having consigned themselves to cohabiting with crackpots.

Empire Builders observe their rivals arming themselves against attack and therefore require us to go along with a trillion dollar tax donations to ensure a ready supply of ever more sophisticated weaponry. They have persistent Requirements. Beware anybody who has Requirements – like Keats said in a slightly different context ‘…we distrust poetry that has a palpable design upon us…’ Empire builders require you to go along with their one and only way of constructing the world, with their unexamined conventional wisdoms.

Empire Builders live in gated estates and castles where they can store their riches while the Seeker is content with a simple roof against the elements and wonders about how to spend surplus pennies on furthering the endless quest.

In order to strengthen their position, Empire Builders contrive to focus our minds on supposed external threats so as to suggest that the enemy is some outside force – a whole string of them in historical sequence, the Yellow Peril, the Red Menace, Bin Laden, Al Qaeda, ISIS – when in fact the Enemy is right here, daily on the telly, wearing a smarmy face of deception and using honeyed tones. The Enemy Without is a very convenient fiction. It suits the Empire Builder for us ordinary folk to takes sides and squabble amongst ourselves: divide & rule is the principle weapon of those with Requirements.

They claw at our being; they invade our brain, to convert it to their way of unthink; they proselytise, they send out missionaries to pervert the truth by omission & distortion and

when detonated
the public falls prey to the hate traps
politically set to divide it against itself
(Buckminster Fuller)

Behold a Proper President

Compare any empire builder you choose with President José ‘Pepe’ Mujica of Uruguay who says that ‘…as soon as politicians start climbing up the ladder, they suddenly become kings. I don’t know how it works, but what I do know is that republics came to the world to make sure that no one is more than anyone else… The pomp of office is like something left over from a feudal past: you need a palace, red carpet, a lot of yes-people behind you…’

He says, ‘Businesses just want to increase their profits; it’s up to the government to make sure they distribute enough of those profits so workers have the money to buy the goods they produce… If we lived within our means, by being prudent, the 7 billion people in the world could have everything they needed. Global politics should be moving in that direction. But we think as people and countries, not as a species…’

President Mujica gives 90% of his salary to charity and lives in a very ordinary domicile but denies that he’s ‘…the poorest president…’ On the contrary, ‘…the poorest is the one who needs a lot to live. My lifestyle is a consequence of my wounds. I’m the son of my history. There have been years when I would have been happy just to have a mattress…’

‘I have a way of life that I don’t change just because I am a president. I earn more than I need…’ The important thing is ‘…to live in accordance with how one thinks. Be yourself and don’t try to impose your criteria on the rest. I don’t expect others to live like me. I want to respect people’s freedom, but I defend my freedom. And that comes with the courage to say what you think, even if sometimes others don’t share those views…’


The important distinction which I have arrived at is between those who are constantly wondering what life is about, constantly seeking, and those who imagine that they know for sure what it’s all about, and must invent ways of bamboozling others into thinking their way without realising that they have themselves chosen to be bamboozled into what Beelzebub/Gurdjieff called sinkrpoosarams – ‘belief in any old twaddle’…

Of course, a Seeker after Truth is a human-being and cannot fail to be distressed at the unspeakable crimes committed against humanity by the Empire Builders and the Power Possessors. The Seeker after Truth is always in danger of appearing to be being diverted from the true quest from time to time by taking up sides.

It is of course a pendulum thing (qv) : on the one hand there’s disgust for the Blair and the Bush and the Thatcher and the Nettleyahoo, for instance – playing out the role of loathsome psychopaths, intolerable specimens to many observers of the human charade; on the other hand there’s the attitude of the seemingly saintly person, swooning for the beauty of the world, who says that such characters are but human-beings worthy of respect & trying to do the best they can for the world, mirrors of our own inadequate selves.

Put these two vantage points on a pendulum and discrepancies can be worked at:-

Scan0070While it’s essential to continue to entertain the existence of discrepancies and contra-dictions, always acknowledging that identifying exclusively with either side of the pendulum swing is a distortion of the way things are, at the bottom of the pendulum swing emerges the idea of determining to use one’s personal energy to persist with seeking in spite of…

I will both write haiku and complain vociferously about the Power Possessors, energy intact.

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A Few Choice Sentences Just Won’t Do… On the other hand, this collection of articles & posters, done over the last couple of months, with mounting fury, probably won’t get much of a reading. However, the effort and making a commentary to fit it all together has got it off my chest, as it were.

Critics of the NHS claim that we can’t afford to pay for it;
but the truth is that we can’t afford not to.
Jason Hickel (American anthropologist at the London School of Economics)


A double click will enlarge all posters

Professor Vernon Bogdanor: … [the Tory] approach to the NHS. Another ‘mess we inherited,’ they say, to justify changes for which nobody voted and for which they have no mandate. What they actually inherited was an NHS with the highest satisfaction ratings in its history, which are now sliding as waiting lists grow, health workers are deliberately demoralised, and Jeremy Hunt talks up failure wherever he can find it to open the doors to a new system geared to those who see healthcare purely as a source of profit. (Professor Vernon Bogdanor is Research Professor at the Institute for Contemporary British History at King’s College London and Professor of Politics at the New College of the Humanities, Emeritus Professor of Politics and Government at the University of Oxford and Emeritus Fellow of Brasenose College, Oxford)


Horror Stories as Mental Hooks

What sound like Tory-inspired BBC radio ‘news’ bulletins have bombarded us with horror stories and generalisations from specific reports of ‘failings’ in the NHS for many months, softening us up for the idea that unless it’s privatised and run by oh-so-efficient profit-making concerns run by Tory friends and donors it will collapse completely. The word ‘Hinchingbrooke’, referred to later, blows the lie out of the water. But the takeover continues willy-nilly.

Strange how the horror stories only began after the current government, without a clear mandate to do anything at all, took up its seat in parliament, at a time when public satisfaction with the NHS was high.

I had had a couple of major NHS surgical interventions (one distinctly life-theatening) in the ten years to 2011 and had nothing but praise for the institution that worked its socks off for me. In 2013 when I needed another intervention the brilliant NHS consultant of my so-called ‘choice’ was so overworked that, reluctantly, so I felt, he suggested I go to the ‘NHS wing’ of a private provider – so the NHS would have had to pay them for an operation that was not so successful and service that was appalling in various ways. Invited to fill in a feedback form, I wrote a damning assessment of the overall ‘private’ treatment I received (which started with private payers sitting on plush furniture in the waiting area while the plebs had hard plastic chairs) but there was no response – not even a ‘take it or leave it, you’re only a pleb…’

My personal support would always go to Aneurin Bevan’s NHS which cared unstintingly for my grossly disabled sister from 1948 till 2005 and which is now being systematically dismantled by the ideologues of the Right, the butchers of the Welfare State.

A Commons Early Day Motion dated 28th October 2014 was signed by 91 MP’s which noted

‘…that public services have been privatised and outsourced without giving a voice to the public service users affected by those decisions…’ and sought to recognise ‘…that the public needs real powers to object to sell-offs, access information and hold private providers to account for their performance… calling for the introduction of a Public Service Users Bill which would make the in-house option the default, require public consultation before privatisation or outsourcing and promote transparency, accountability and social value in public service contracts…’

With no hope or expectation of a positive reaction, I urged the person who is supposed to represent me in the House of Commons to vote for this Motion and I protested about the way the National Health Service is being privatised in a thoroughly underhand kind of way. In response, I was told in no uncertain terms that the NHS was not being privatised and was presented with a letter (dated 9th December 2014) from MP Letwin who describes himself as ‘Minister responsible for open public services’.

I think it’s worth noting the word ‘open’ which has entered discourse by means of a sleight of mouth: when you cut the crap, it presumably means that ‘public services’ are up for grabs, open for anybody to stake a claim on ownership, open to the highest bidder; I don’t recall any ‘open’ discussion about this redefinition of ‘public services’. It has been sneaked into the political narrative in a far less than transparent way.

Letwin (who was a one time non-executive director of NMRothschild Corporate Finance Ltd, which invests heavily in healthcare) suggests that ‘…The UK Government is implementing a demanding commercial reform agenda which is aimed at leveraging the Crown’s buying power, deriving better value for money and providing savings for the taxpayer to support deficit reduction and growth…’ That strikes me as privatisation in all but name.

This high-falutin nonsense (‘…leveraging the Crown’s buying power…’) is supposed to support the pretension that the programme is said to have delivered billions of £££ savings in the last three years. The question arises: savings for whom and at whose expense?

A Case Study

A single case study, recording a pattern that’s probably being repeated over and over again in a way that it’s impossible for ordinary people to keep up with, including myself if I had not chosen to keep tabs on things for a couple of months, makes a nonsense of these claims.

On 27th January 2015 we learned that… ‘an £80 million contract to run cancer scans for the NHS has been given to a private health firm with a Tory MP on their board, despite a rival NHS consortium allegedly offering to carry out the work for £7 million less…’ It seems that ‘…the NHS Trust that runs Royal Stoke University Hospital in Staffordshire put together a consortium with other NHS hospitals to enter what they called a ‘competitive bid’ for a 10-year contract to run scans across Cheshire, Staffordshire, Shropshire, Liverpool, and Lancashire. The scans, known as PET-CT, are mostly used for diagnosing and measuring cancers, and are a vital tool for fighting the disease…’ As it turned out, NHS England, the health service’s ‘head office’ set up by the coalition government to oversee and probably dismantle the health service by sleight of hand, ‘…rejected the bid from state-run providers and instead awarded the contract to Alliance Medical, a private health firm whose board members include leading Conservative MP Malcolm Rifkind…’ He ‘…gets around £60,000 a year to sit on Alliance Medical’s board, according to public records. He is a backbencher in a government whose health policy is now enriching his own company. Alliance Medical has a turnover of around £120 million a year, so this scanning contract, worth an estimated £8million a year, is a significant part of its work. Alliance Medical said Rifkind was not involved in the bid…’ So, who is getting the so-called savings and who suffers from the ‘expense’ of such savings?

What’s even more scandalous is that the scanner was originally purchased by public subscription. ‘…Most of the cash for the £3 million machine came from a bequest plus a £1 million Keele University research grant – and £250,000 was donated by the public. Ron Alcock, aged 75, from Cheadle gave £1,000 after the death of wife Jeannette of leukaemia in 2009. He said: “Because of Mr Cameron’s policies private firms are coming more into the NHS. “That scares people that it will be privatised and could deter them from raising money for things in future.” The Royal Stoke had pooled its expertise with Wirral-based Clatterbridge Cancer Centre and the Royal Liverpool to put in the NHS bid for PET-CT scanning across a region of around five million people…’ And presumably sufferers will have to pay handsomely to have a scan.

NHS England’s special department, the ‘Strategic Projects Team’, was in charge of the procurement for the scanning contract – the very same team founded in 2009 to handle the management of Hinchingbrooke hospital in Cambridgeshire leading to the first full privatisation of an NHS hospital. ‘Circle’, the private healthcare firm that ‘rescued’ the hospital, hoping to make a big profit, was trumpeted for stepping in to triumph where the NHS had ‘failed’. Circle abandoned the hospital after a damning report from quality inspectors and because they found they couldn’t make a profit out of the hospital. So the hospital will be graciously given back to the NHS to pick up the pieces – at what cost to the taxpayer? – a clear case of what it is thought might make a profit being hived off into private hands and government friends while non-profit-making services to the community continue to be starved of funds.

This is the pattern of all privatisation ‘initiatives’. Hinchingbrooke has just been disappeared from the BBC ‘news’ bulletins. The BBC is fearful that its licence will not be renewed in 2016 if it does its job as it should be done – open and transparent reporting of the way things really are.

Back to Letwin’s Letter

‘The driving principle behind all public procurement policy is to award contracts on the basis of value for money through open and fair competitive tender in accordance with public procurement legislation…’

This is clearly not happening in the case of the Royal Stoke bid to run PET-CT scanning across their region nor did it happen in the case of Hinchingbrooke. In fact, the suspicion arises in the first case that a prominent member of the Tory government will ultimately benefit from the acceptance of a more expensive bid and in the second that Tory donors were theoretically being rewarded.

When a government minister chooses to engage in wool-pulling they get their minions to concoct linguistic gobbleygook. So, in Letwinese:-

‘Public sector procurers are required to assess value for money from the perspective of the contracting authority, using criteria linked to the subject matter of the contract, including compliance with the published specification. Wider socio-economic criteria can be taken into account at tender evaluation stage if they relate directly to the subject matter of a contract from the point of view of the contracting authority. However, the Public Services (Social Value) Act already places a requirement on commissioners to consider the economic, environmental and social benefits of their approaches to procurement at the pre-procurement stage.’

The one and only intelligent question that might come out of this shambles of an explanation is: what ‘economic, environmental and social benefits’ derive from accepting a private company’s bid rather than the less expensive one from groups already engaged in pooling their expertise over the scanning project?

Letwin then has the effrontery to offer reassurance to ‘the constituent’ [viz, myself] that, ‘whilst this government is the most transparent ever…’

At a time when the biggest lie & lack of transparency is that of the need for ‘Austerity’, pardon me, while I fall about laughing with profound and disgusted incredulity…

‘…we recognise that there is more to do and we are continuing efforts to ensure that as much information as possible is disclosed about performance so that public confidence in outsourced public services improves…’

Lack of transparency is the keynote of the Coalition Government. It flourishes across the whole of their dictatorship. So in another contexts:-

Or, relation to fracking, which my MP supports, watch the following on Lord Brown and transparency…

This government is transparent? About as transparent as a ten inch block of concrete.

Anyway, back to health issues…

There sure is ‘more to do’, says Letwin. His Government of toffs has no intention of doing anything about transparency while opacity suits them very well… Ian Syme, coordinator of North Staffordshire Healthwatch said:

“There’s little or no openness or transparency in these tendering processes, no public debate, no meaningful public scrutiny. Ask for details and you get obstructed by the ‘commercial confidentiality’ excuse.” He added: “The evidence is stacking up that NHS England have a privatisation agenda and NHS England are at the moment privatising NHS by stealth.”

But Letwin persists:

‘…we have been working with the Confederation of British Industry to agree key principles for greater transparency, which will be published early in 2015. Moreover, the Government has taken steps to improve our management of supplier relationships and performance, and to ensure that past performance is taken into account when awarding future work…’

Working with the CBI to agree key principles of transparency? – they are a corporate think-tank in league with the government. The key principles of transparency are pretty straightforward and don’t take much stating or even thinking about:-

• tell the absolute truth;
• don’t operate with a hidden agenda;
• use prose that makes sense;
• don’t wrap lies up in abstractions and gobbledgook;
• be open and clear…

It’s as simple as that – but impossible for the ideologues of the Right who have an agenda that they must keep hidden for fear of a revolution.

Letwin: ‘Finally, increasing competition and consumer choice drives innovation and efficiency…’ What is the proof for this? It doesn’t work in the energy industry, why should it work in the much more subtle healthcare field? In any case, ‘Competition’, presupposing it ever drives anything worthwhile, is not relevant to healthcare; ‘choice’ is of no consequence if your health is threatened: if you’re unwell you just want sorting out, as I was in 2011. True innovation in healthcare is naturally dedicated to finding even better ways to improve people’s state of being which costs money: doctors and consultants are professionally dedicated to doing what’s best for patients; all they have to compete against is illness and various kinds of decrepitude.

More Letwin obfuscation follows:

‘…Consequently we are committed to opening up government procurement, to levelling the playing field for suppliers of all size and type, and to identifying opportunities for further private and voluntary sector involvement in service delivery where these can offer benefits to the tax payer and service users…’

‘…levelling the playing field…’ a nonsense expression which could mean anything you like.

Letwin concludes ‘…I hope that this information enables you to respond to your constituent and goes some way towards addressing their concerns…’ Laughable!

Of course, all this simply increases my concern especially when I set such tosh against the case studies of Stoke Hospital and Hinchingbrooke – and that just for starters.

At the same time I am assured that the NHS is definitely not being privatised. My parliamentary ‘representative’ seems not to know what his colleagues are planning… Francis Maude (Cabinet Office minister), for example.

In The Daily Telegraph, 14th December 2014, James Kirkup reported that hospitals and other acute services could leave the NHS, to save money and improve care… That’s a great soundbite but it’s a contradiction in terms: ‘Saving money’ and ‘improving care’ do not mesh together – in order to improve care money has to be spent unconditionally to the point where improvements may be made.

Maude, dropping the official lies for a moment, letting the cat out of the bag, told The Daily Torygraph that,

‘…in the continuing shrinking of the state and the cutting of costs, almost everything could be handed over to mutual companies owned by employers and other non-state bodies. He also warned that public sector jobs and wages would have to fall sharply to ensure the Government lives within its means…’

The government already has the means to care for public services: make sure the rich and the corporations pay what they owe to the system by taxing them properly. It’s been shown that the so-called ‘deficit’ could be eliminated overnight by collecting all the tax that’s owed by the rich who exploit all the loopholes they can find or engage in the immoral tactic of shifting their outfits to ‘tax havens’. What do they care for the country, the state, and its people? Nothing. Profit rules OK.

Incidentally, always beware the word ‘mutual’ which is craftily slipped into sentences that are really about slashing & burning. It signifies nothing – but in the mouths of government officials it can sound vaguely benevolent – done for the ‘mutual’ benefit of all.

The ill-educated Osborne has apparently set out plans to reduce public spending to its lowest level since the 1930’s. Maude,

‘…who is drawing up plans for £20 billion of Whitehall savings by 2020, said that with the exception of defence and policing, every function of the state could potentially be done outside the public sector. But instead of ‘red-blooded commercial for-profit outsourcing’ [sic] to big companies, services could be transferred to a range of ‘mutual, joint venture or hybrid’ companies run by their staff. He said it would ‘give flexibility to evolve services around the needs of the user, which makes for a better outcome and saves money’…

Sez who? And there’s that word ‘mutual’ again. And in any case, ‘staff’, in the shape of wage slaves, already run companies. The corporate moguls simply pocket the profits created by hard-working ‘staff’. Nothing ‘mutual’ about that.

One might easily be forgiven for thinking that Maude is advocating honest public involvement, ‘mutuality’, but there’s no doubt that corporate entities will move in to fill the vacuum whenever they can sniff a profit to be made. The fraudulent policy of ‘Localism’, advocated by the Coalition in 2010, turned out to have nothing whatsoever to do with individual involvement in political planning – it’s simply that local corporations take over at a local level. Beware the term ‘mutual’ – that doesn’t mean co-ownership or anything like it any more than Free Schools are ‘free’ of anything. The frequent use of the word is a Government linguistic ploy.

The Concept of ‘Mutuality’

Writing in The Guardian, Monday 19 January 2015, David Owen points out that ‘…those who advocate ‘the market as the organising principle of the NHS’, have abused the term ‘mutual’ as a less abrasive way of achieving their objectives…’

One of the principles of ‘transparency’ – say what you mean without euphemism or circumlocution.

David Owen continues

‘…Hinchingbrooke Hospital is now in ‘special measures’ with an uncertain future, and the real NHS will have to pick up the pieces [ie pay for the government cockup]… Circle’s spin was that it was a ‘mutual’, because it was supposedly half-owned by staff; and commentators glossed over the fact it was half-owned by hedge fund managers. We were told it would ‘liberate’ NHS staff from the tired, over-centralised state solution. The marketeers believed that only by leaving the NHS and being given shares in their own hospital could staff be motivated to work harder for patients…

‘…The notion that such “mutual” structures are more responsive to grassroots staff was demolished by the CQC. The management of Circle merely replicated old hierarchies, with nursing staff reporting that they felt unable to raise concerns, with managers brought in from industry totally out of their depth. Morale at Hinchingbrooke was at rock bottom, with the last staff survey placing it in the lowest 20% of hospital trusts on key indicators including job satisfaction, bullying, training and potentially harmful errors…’

‘…The mutual concept is enthusiastically promoted by ministers. Turning every aspect of our public services into ‘mutuals’ as they imagine them – or mutual ‘joint ventures’ with growing opportunities for private investors – seems more politically sellable than more blatant forms of privatisation.

‘Maude has written to every acute hospital in England, inviting them to explore leaving the NHS to become just such a ‘mutual’… Ali Parsa, Circle’s founder and ex-Goldman Sachs banker, told a receptive media that more ‘business culture’ could work miracles on our underfunded hospitals. But …the A&E waiting time management system based on Argos tills failed – patients in Hinchingbrooke’s understaffed A&E were twice as likely as the average NHS A&E patient to wait so long that they gave up and left without being seen.’

So Much for the Business Model

Considering that ‘Circle Partnership’ gave up running Hinchingbrooke hospital not a month after the The Daily Telegraph report of 14th December 2014 because they couldn’t make a profit out of it, the following statement in the report makes for rather hollow reading: ‘…the National Health Service is already experimenting with transferring some ‘acute’ services out of the public sector. Hinchingbrooke hospital in Cambridgeshire is run by a company jointly owned by its staff and private investors… Critics have claimed that this has led to lower standards, a claim ministers reject…’ Critics turned out to be quite right.


Click to enlarge!

What would the Prime Minister have to say now? Something no doubt to cover tracks in some smooth-talking way or, more likely, he’ll just pretend it never happened.

Now, it’s of no consequence to me that the privatisation process was set in motion by Iraq-Demolition-Blair’s government. The idea of making a profit out of health is criminal whoever started it. But, with a version of the habitual snide remark about ‘the previous government’ and its so-called failings, ‘Maude insisted that his reforms were inspired by Labour, the previous government, saying, “The Blair public sector reformers got rid of the shibboleth – public sector good, private sector bad,” he said. “It’s not binary.” He added that there would be more such changes to come in the health service, adding that he did not ‘see a line’ limiting the number of transfers out of the public sector…’ – a circumlocution for total privatisation.

The replacement mantra, ‘Private sector good, public sector bad’, simply means jobs being moved over to the corporations and organisations owned by the millionaire supporters of the Tory Party who offer zero hours contracts and nil support for the less well off.

‘…Independent forecasters have said Coalition spending plans will mean the loss of another million public sector jobs…’ In his mealy-mouthed fashion, ‘…Maude admitted: “We won’t make the savings that have been set out without further reductions in headcount and pay bill.” He said this would not necessarily spell blanket pay cuts, but suggested that it was a mistake to think the state should compete with private sector employers on pay…’

‘Reductions in headcount’ is a euphemism for creating unemployment, depriving people of real jobs. Essential to the successful instigation of ‘transparency’ is using the right words to describe what you’re really talking about. The use of circumlocutions and euphemisms like ‘headcount’ is a sure sign that something underhand is taking place.

It Goes On and On…

Charlie Cooper, Health Correspondent of The Independent, Wednesday 17th December 2014 reported that NHS Nottingham University Hospitals Trust, regarded as a national centre of excellence for dermatology, has been forced to scrap highly rated services, including emergency care for patients with severe skin conditions including skin cancer, after losing six of its eight consultants reluctant to work for private-sector subcontractor, Circle, which won a contract to provide most of the local dermatology services last year. ‘…The Trust lost out to Circle, despite warnings from senior doctors that they would leave rather than be transferred out of the NHS…’ They were afraid that ‘…a profit-driven provider would not offer opportunities for academic research or training…’

The British Association of Dermatologists (BAD) warned that the privatisation and ‘fragmentation’ of specialist services was ‘decimating’ some areas of the NHS. Dr David Eedy, president of BAD, said it was now offering reduced facilities and a ‘fractured’ service, increasingly dependent on more expensive locum doctors…’

‘… “Nobody has thought through the implications for teaching, training and research – the whole future of British dermatology,” Dr Eedy said. He said the ‘exodus of staff’ should have been predicted. “Nottingham is just one example of the many fires we are fighting across the UK to try to keep dermatology services open in the face of poorly thought-out commissioning decisions and the Government’s lack of understanding of the implications of pushing NHS services into unsustainable models provided by commercially driven private providers or enterprises,” he said…’

I suspect that the government is only too aware of the outcomes of their policies: starve of funds, privatise, profit… Never mind service to the public…

‘…Dr Clive Peedell, a consultant oncologist and co-leader of the National Health Action Party, said the rate of outsourcing in the NHS required an urgent review. “We now have a shocking situation where an entire region is at risk of losing acute adult dermatology services,” he said. “Cancer services could also be affected because dermatologists play a key role in the management of skin cancers like melanoma.”…’

‘…Labour’s shadow Health Secretary, Andy Burnham, said: “The true ideological intent of the Government’s NHS plans is becoming clearer by the day. They ploughed on with this privatisation even though doctors said they would leave. It shows competition lawyers, not consultants, calling the shots in the Coalition NHS. Labour will scrap the competition culture and put the right values at the heart of the NHS”…’

One can only hope that this is unequivocal policy. We shall see, maybe…

But it goes on and on… Some positively evil things are happening. Hugh Pym, BBC Health Editor reported an NHS England plan ‘…to pay a reduced fee to hospitals for each extra patient they take on…’

The Daily Telegraph:

‘Hospital specialists [including some of Britain’s most eminent neuroscientists, cancer experts and cardiologists – people who should know what they’re talking about…] have hit out at plans to reduce funding for specialised operations and treatments NHS trusts provide, including some cancer care. Some 345 specialists have written to NHS England saying the changes could mean longer waiting lists and avoidable deaths. Under the plans, centres treating more patients than expected would receive just half the extra treatment costs. NHS England says these services have already seen a big increase in funding and now have some of the highest profit margins in the NHS…’

Profit margins that the private providers would no doubt love to get their hands on. This is sleight of mouth underhandedness… The general aim is to curb a growth in spending on specialist services – entailing cutting research – for conditions such as uncommon cancers, burns and medical genetics. One can only assume that there is now a deliberate policy to cull the whole population.

Moving Deckchairs on the Titanic…

‘…Just what should NHS priorities be at a time of rising demand for care and more sophisticated medical technology and treatment becoming available? ‘…NHS England have taken a decision to shift some resources from specialised provision, including some complex cancer surgery, to areas which they feel are in need of more funding, such as mental health. In effect it has a cake, agreed with the Department of Health, and it has decided to slice it differently from next year. There is no plan to cut specialised services, rather to pay hospitals less for each new patient they take on. Hospitals and their consultants are understandably upset that their income for new work will be lower than they expected. They warn that patients will suffer as waiting lists for treatment will get longer. Why, they argue, should people needing cancer treatment lose out at all?’

Quite right. I speak as a more than grateful recipient of such treatment.

Though it sounds good – ‘…no plan to cut specialised services…’ – paying hospitals ‘less for each new patient they take on’ is an underhand, far less than transparent way of making cuts. One can imagine Tory apologists sitting around a table brain-storming ways of cutting & slashing whilst giving the impression that they are being so benevolent & caring.

However, the letter [from the specialists concerned] quoted by the Daily Telegraph says

‘…the proposals will leave hospitals with a choice of treating patients and incurring a financial loss, or not treating them at all. The clinical consequences of these longer waiting times and a lower quality service to patients with conditions such as heart disease, liver disease, leukaemia, complex cancers etc will be severe… Each patient should get the treatment they need where and when they need it, instead of essentially robbing one part of the system to pay for another…’

In a separate letter to the Daily Torygraph, a leading cancer expert said the changes would devastate services for the most sick. Simon Oberst, director of clinical development at Cambridge Cancer Centre, based at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, said the plans flew in the face of promises by the health secretary to improve Britain’s poor rates of cancer survival. ‘Hunt’s fine words are belied by his specialist commissioners at NHS England,’ he writes. The senior manager of cancer services said ‘…the proposals were perverse, given recent statements from the health secretary acknowledging that hospitals currently see 51 per cent more patients with suspected cancer than in 2010…’ It seems that there will also be an average 6 per cent cut in provision for chemotherapy.

And it all started when the so-called ‘Coalition’ came to rule us.

The NHS is not Being Privatised?

On Sunday 9th September 2012, Daniel Boffey, policy editor of The Observer, reported that Hunt, the new health secretary, personally intervened to speed up the takeover of NHS hospitals in his constituency by a private company, Virgin Care. He wanted the £650m deal to be swiftly signed to end the delay caused by concern for outcomes. Virgin Care, part-owned by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, subsequently agreed on a five-year contract in March to run seven hospitals along with dentistry services, sexual health clinics, breast cancer screening and other community services. The takeover took place, concerns not addressed.

The shadow health secretary, Andy Burnham, said that

‘…never before has a health secretary handed over his local NHS lock, stock and barrel to the private sector. If what has happened in his own patch is his blueprint, then now’s the time for him to be honest with patients and staff. It is time the health secretary broke his silence on his plans and told the public how far he wants to privatise the rest of the NHS in England…’

Suspicions about Hunt’s motives are confirmed when we learn that

‘…he co-authored a book that supported transforming the NHS into a system of universal insurance where patients buy health care from the provider of their choice. The book, Direct Democracy: An Agenda for a New Model Party, sets out an alternative vision for a dismantled NHS. It says: ‘The NHS was designed over half a century ago, at a time of rationing and deep poverty. It was, and remains, a child of its time, conceived on the principle that the beneficent state should be a monopoly provider. But we know today that monopolies rarely act in the best interests of consumers. Because government both funds and provides health care, medical professionals are beset with political targets and central direction, distorting clinical priorities and preventing innovation.’

This is Orwellian double-think. There do not have to be political targets in a properly funded NHS and it all depends on who is running a monopoly – profiteers or real professionals…

The book Hunt is involved in adds: ‘We should fund patients, either through the tax system or by way of universal insurance, to purchase health care from the provider of their choice. The poor and unemployed would have their contributions supplemented or paid for by the state.’ Given a policy of 100 years of cutting & slashing, of so-called Austerity and a consistent attack on the poor and unemployed, it’s highly unlikely that the latter would happen at all and a private insurance system is simply a way of helping insurance companies to make even more profit.

A source close to Hunt denied that the minister wrote the section in the book about the NHS and said that ‘it does not reflect his views’ – so exactly what are his views and why did he allow his name to be associated with the book? It is claimed that he attemped to remove a tribute to the NHS from the Olympics opening ceremony. Now why would he do that?

Hinchingbrooke Should be Made to Haunt the Coalition

On the 9th January, 2015, Benedict Cooper, freelance journalist on medical matters, pointed out that Circle’s dumping of Hinchingbrooke Hospital was no surprise especially to National Health Action Party founding member and Save Lewisham Hospital veteran Dr Louise Irvine who said: “This is exactly what we warned and predicted would happen and illustrates the folly of private sector involvement in our NHS. When the going gets tough, the private sector gets going – and dumps NHS patients. The privatisation experiment has lamentably failed”.

In the autumn of 2014 there was a damning report by the Care Quality Commission (CQC). Shocking failings were revealed: ‘…little internal or clear external oversight of how the trust managed risks to the quality of care… lack of clarity or coherence over who was responsible for the oversight and scrutiny of the trust’s quality agenda; poor hygiene standards; and a ‘blame approach, rather than that of a supportive and patient focused approach…’ And this after Circle had been held up as a shining example of a private company stepping in to triumph where the NHS had failed. Benedict Cooper points out that ‘…when private companies bin their contracts with the NHS in such a self-serving fashion, it is the trusts’ time and precious taxpayer funds that end up being wasted on picking up the pieces… What cost will Circle’s walking away be to Cambridgeshire and Peterborough…?’

Inefficiency and waste and profits for the boys when the Government’s plan was supposed to be to save money and cut the so-called deficit…


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Three years after the Coalition began its nasty reign it was already clear that private firms were already running frontline NHS services without publicising the fact – that is, with lack of transparency.

On May 29th 2013, RosWynne Jones, journalist, who stands up for ordinary people, reported that Branson’s Virgin empire (‘planes, trains and telly’) was already running more than 100 services across the NHS. Visiting the Urgent Care Centre at Croydon University Hospital in South London, she told Sharon Byfield, 51, who was taking a break from her mother’s bedside. “I can’t believe what you are telling me,” she says. Her mum had been in intensive care for three weeks following a massive heart attack, now being treated by the NHS, but had come in through the UCC, run by Virgin Care. RosWynne Jones asked Sharon and her husband Neil, 44, whether it mattered to them who was running the place. “Of course,” Sharon says. “It’s about being straight with people. You should know who you’re being treated by.” “They say they’re not privatising the NHS,” Neil says. “But then they clearly are. If Virgin’s running this place, it’s privatised, isn’t it?”

But RosWynne Jones found it impossible to tell other people. It’s all kept secret with a studied lack of transparency. Usually, she says, when Branson launches a new line of business there are PR stunts but inside Croydon UCC there is not a single trace of Virgin branding… The clinic says NHS clearly outside.

But the truth that is not publicised is that ‘…the Government’s health reforms have already handed £7billion in contracts to private firms such as Virgin, private equity-owned Care UK, Serco and Circle. In late 2012, a further £20billion ‘bonanza’ for private firms was predicted by corporate finance adviser Catalyst.

Virgin Care’s interests inside the NHS are astonishingly diverse – sexual health services, children’s services, radiology departments, diagnostic and urgent care centres and even entire GP practices. In 2012, it won a £100million-a-year deal to run a whole host of services in Surrey, including community hospitals. In April 2013 it began a £132million deal to run children’s services for Devon County Council – including mental health, school nursing, health visits and care for the disabled. In May 2013 it announced a contract worth £6.6million to run healthcare inside HMP Bullingdon in Oxfordshire.

How come we don’t know about this? It seems that ‘… NHS brand guidelines require Virgin to ensure that the NHS is the primary logo…’ RosWynne Jones goes on to say that

‘…Section 75 of the Health and Social Care Act, passed in April 2013, has now opened up the NHS like a car boot sale. Campaigners say newly privatised services are being run at a loss while corporates hoover up the rest of the contracts. In two years’ time, the odds are they will be making a profit. Do we really expect these companies to run the NHS for the good of their health? Section 75 now makes it compulsory for services to be put out to tender.’

Now Here’s a Real Man

My rage at what’s going on is monumental. The sense of alienation I feel is inexpressible so here’s a quotation from Harry’s Last Stand by Harry Leslie Smith (born 1923). I let it speak for me. Says Harry:-

To me, the introduction of free health care was the first brick laid on the road to the social welfare state. So it has always been difficult for me to listen to politicians, proud possessors of health insurance and shares in private health care companies, when they talk about how the health service that we fought so hard to build must change. The coalition government’s Health and Social Care Act will create a two-tier health care system. This act will see the NHS stripped down like a derelict house is by criminals for copper wiring.

UKIP has even proposed that A&E patients should have the right to buy their way to the front of the queue, while in Merseyside a private for-profit cancer clinic has set up shop under the NHS umbrella. Where will all of this end? What will be given the greatest priority in a new health care system that sends every service, from blood work to chemotherapy, out to the lowest bid tender?

It ends where I began my life – in a Britain that believed health care depended on your social status. So if you were rich and insured you received timely medical treatment, while the rest of the country got the drippings. One-fifth of the lords who voted in the controversial act – which provides a gateway to privatise our health care system – were found to have connections to private health care companies. If that doesn’t make you angry, nothing will.

Sometimes I try to think how I might explain how we built these beautiful structures in our society – which protected the poor, which kept them safe at work, healthy in their lives, supported them when they were down on their luck – only to watch them be destroyed within a few short generations. But I cannot find the words.


Other than expletives, I really cannot find the words to describe my rage at what’s being perpetrated and so I resort to quotations and posters collected from the Internet.


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Back to Hinchingbrooke

The Hinchingbrooke Hospital farce has completely disappeared from the airwaves of the BBC, an arm of the Tory Party. Their ‘News’ bulletins never ask the question – why did England’s privatised hospital deal REALLY collapse? Never mind asking why Circle Health was given the contract in the first place. Of course it wasn’t because Ruddock, Arbib, Odey & Platt with stakes in Circle Health had donated £million and a half to the Tory Party. This is corruption on a grand scale and the majority of the electorate either don’t care or are too busy getting on with their own lives to bother or to make the time to find out. And the Power Possessors know this – they know just what they can get away with.

On 14th January 2015, Caroline Molloy, freelance writer and Green Party Activist, said that

‘…shocking examples of poor care were part of the reason Circle withdrew from running Hinchingbrooke Hospital. When Circle announced it was pulling out of its contract to run the Hinchingbrooke Hospital it blamed a £5million loss and an NHS crisis including ‘unprecedented increases in accident and emergency attendances, insufficient care plans for patients awaiting discharge, and funding levels that have not kept pace with demand…’

It Lied

Because ‘…the real reason was a damning report by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) which awarded its worst ever rating for ‘caring’. Both safety and leadership were also bottom of the heap. Circle’s cleverly branded ‘mutual’ model, far from ‘liberating’ NHS professionals to make grassroots-led improvements, had in fact replicated some of the worst hierarchical, bullying practices to be found in the NHS. And it had lost the caring and expertise that are the NHS’s strengths, principally as a result of poor leadership and financially-driven staff cuts to satisfy investors. [To increase the profit…]

Circle’s medical services were found to be delivering ‘poor emotional and physical care which was not safe or caring…people were not treated with dignity and respect… some patients were afraid of certain nursing staff…’ During their two-day inspection the CQC witnessed patients being left dirty and distressed, and treated rudely or roughly: ‘…we heard a staff member say to the patient, “Don’t misbehave, you know what happens when you misbehave”. We later asked the patient what they thought the staff member meant by this; the patient became withdrawn and was unable to provide us with an answer…’

‘…A patient on Apple Tree Ward, who required support during the night to go to the toilet told us that staff were ‘often too busy’. “…They tell me to go in my bed and they will change me when they have time…”’.

When ‘failings’ in the NHS are revealed the BBC goes overboard to highlight them – these private defects went without notice.

Inspectors found a patient with ‘challenging’ behaviour had been sedated without any record of a proper assessment of their mental state or best interest.

Circle’s junior doctors were often labelling patients ‘do not resuscitate’ without discussing the decision with patients or relatives, and without any apparent oversight from senior doctors. Sometimes the failure to discuss was because the patient lacked mental capacity, notes often suggested – but the CQC ‘saw no evidence that a mental capacity assessment had been undertaken in any of the patient records we looked at’. The CQC notes ‘We found many instances of staff wishing to care for patients in the best way, but unable to … prevent service demands from severely impinging on the quality and kindness of care for patients’.

Circle had won the contract by promising what the Public Accounts Committee called an ‘unrealistic’ and ‘unprecedented’ level of savings – urged on by government officials. Circle’s Full Business Case said it would achieve this by altering ‘nurse-patient ratios’ but exactly how was blacked out of the plan when it was eventually published. Leaks suggested plans to cut 320 posts in total. Within 6 months of taking over, Circle had already scrapped 46 full time nursing posts, then Chief Executive Ali Parsa (an ex-Goldman Sachs banker) admitted.

Circle loudly proclaimed its rapid improvement in the key ‘4 hour A&E waiting time’ target as evidence that ‘privatisation had quickly turned Hinchingbrooke around’. But the CQC discovered the hospital kept patients waiting too long in ambulances before they were allowed into A&E. And after they were seen in A&E, they then waited far too long – up to 12 hours – to be admitted to hospital. On this measure (so-called ‘trolley waits’) Hinchingbrooke had one in 5 patients waiting between 4 and 12 hours, compared to a national average of only one in 20 patients.

So Much for Key Targets

And whilst waiting in A&E, an unusually high number of patients (double the national average) left before being seen, fed up of waiting – and presumably unimpressed by the waiting-management computer system Circle had boasted was modelled on the Argos tills. (Circle’s senior management team had been hired from Argos, Avon, Faberge, Tesco and fashion-website Asos, bragged Ali Parsa in an article entitled “Government should not be running hospitals”).

‘…the chaplain singled out for special praise…’

Otherwise, the inspectors found ‘…incomplete patient notes, missing care plans, infected catheters, unwashed hands, broken clinical guidelines, fluids were repeatedly out of reach of patients, call bells were placed out of reach, diabetic patients were left without food…’ on and on. ‘…Many patients were being moved between wards in the middle of the night. One patient on the acute surgical and trauma ward said that they had been on seven wards in the first three days of admission, and had been moved at 12.45am, 3am and 5am on different days…’

Staff morale was amongst the lowest in the country. ‘…Staff told the CQC that shortages also meant little time for training. For example, staff at ward level were not competent in caring for people at the end of their life, because they had not received the training required to enable them to undertake this role…’

Caroline Molloy concludes that

‘…just as opponents to the Health & Social Care Act pointed out, what the private sector really want to do is cherry pick, taking the government money to run all the predictable and easy stuff – starving the rest of the NHS of funds as a result…’

‘…In nearby Bedfordshire, Circle recently won a huge ‘integrated’ ‘prime contractor’ contract for all musculo-skeletal services in the area – and promptly tried to sub-contract the undesirable bits back to the NHS on Circle’s own terms. As the local NHS hospital told the BBC, “Our concern is that if we don’t have the planned work coming through, then with the way the NHS is financed, we don’t know whether we will have sufficient money to provide the emergency service.” Recent reports suggest Bedford Hospital is now in severe financial difficulties…

It Goes On and On…

On 17th January 2015, Dan Bloom posted an article in MailOnline indicating that NHS was more than doubling spending on private beds for mental health patients after slashing hundreds of its own beds in order to save money.

‘…Cash-strapped hospital chiefs are spending vast amounts on sending mental health patients into private care after they axed more than 1,000 NHS beds – in order to comply with the Government’s demand to ‘make saving’. Damning figures compiled by MailOnline show the soaring amount paid to private firms to provide ‘out-of-area’ beds (maybe hundreds of miles from patients’ homes & costing the taxpayer thousands of pounds) which are used as NHS mental health wards are cut back. Figures provided by 22 mental health trusts show they spent £38.2million on private sector out-of-area beds in 2013/14 – two and a half times the £14.7million they spent in 2011/12.

Mark Winstanley, chief executive of Rethink Mental Illness, said: ‘Sending people away from home for treatment, while cutting beds in local mental health wards, makes no sense financially and causes human misery. Not only is this a bad use of vital NHS resources, it is also very distressing for people because it delays them from getting treatment and cuts them off from their family and friends. Everyone who needs a hospital bed should be able to get one close to home, no matter where they live or what their circumstances are.’

The Royal College of Nursing warned care was at crisis point, with 1,500 mental health beds closed down since 2010.

General secretary Dr Peter Carter told MailOnline demand has risen by almost a third since 2010. ‘It’s a false economy to make these sorts of cuts,’ he said. ‘This increased NHS spending on private sector beds is a sign that the health service lacks capacity and urgently needs to increase its own provision. This short-sighted approach also undermines the quality of patient care. Inadequate provision means there’s a severe lack of mental health beds in many communities and too many patients have to go hundreds of miles away from home to access a service… Some patients with serious mental illnesses are having to wait until their health deteriorates to such an extent that they have to be detained before they start getting specialist care. Children with mental health problems have been placed in police cells because there aren’t beds available. One of the worst offenders was the South London and Maudsley NHS trust, which leaped from spending £1.8million in 2011/12 to £5.5million last year.

A spokesman in a mealy-mouthed coverup, said that the government has invested £450m since 2010 to improve access to talking therapies, helping almost a million people. The Government has made it clear that beds must always be available for those who need them,’ the spokesman added. ‘We are going further than ever before to put mental health on a par with physical health and we expect NHS Trusts, who have committed to making this a reality, to ensure mental health doesn’t lose out in local spending…’

On February 21, 2015, the day I posted this Glob, we learn that, as an election ploy, the Coalition is going to devote £300m to mental health… For god’s sake let’s not be constantly fooled by these criminals of the Right.

A Locum A&E Doctor Speaks Out About
the Silent Privatisation of the NHS Workforce

On 3rd February 2015, Paul Teed, a junior A&E doctor wondered why the government is privatising its own in-house locum agency when MP’s are highlighting soaring NHS spending on agency and locum staff. He said,

‘Last year, I worked as a locum A&E junior doctor. I saw the fragmentation caused by the internal market and Health & Social Care Act first hand and soon realised who benefits from the coalition’s privatised healthcare designs – the privileged, not patients.

The overall spend on locum doctors is at an all-time high. It is particularly high in A&E departments and worsening. Spend on agency staff to fill medical rotas across hospitals has risen ‘exponentially’, Department of Health officials have told MPs on the influential Public Accounts Committee (PAC). The PAC’s new report released today reveals last year alone, agency spend jumped from £2.1billion to £2.6 billion. It costs the public purse an average of £400,000 to train an emergency consultant, according to Margaret Hodge, Chair of the PAC. Yet every year a hundred A&E consultants are now leaving the NHS to work abroad. Those that remain increasingly work for locum agencies – which profit by charging the NHS an extra 30% for the work.

When I work for a publicly funded agency the fee goes ultimately to the private equity firm, the Blackstone Group, whose chairman is so concerned with our nation’s health that he’s also on the board of British American Tobacco. The scale of the profit is highlighted in the offer of a referral bonus of 50p per hour of every hour another doctor works if I get them to work through them. Thus the NHS subsidises an ever increasing amount of stakeholders who profit from privatisation.

We’re told that NHS human resources administration is being outsourced to these agencies for the sake of efficiency, but in truth the same tasks are repeated, sometimes in triplicate, merely adding another layer of corporate bureaucracy for all involved.


We Should be Speaking Out With More Determination

In The Guardian of 6th Feb 2015, Owen Jones sums it all up:-

… the NHS is our cherished national institution: research by British Future two years ago revealed it made us most proud to be British, coming ahead of both army and monarchy. We are quite literally born into it; it is our confidante for some of our most personal worries; it tends to us whether we have broken bones or are consumed with anxiety; and it is there, unconditionally, until we die. How could we have been so passive when it came under attack?

The King’s Fund has today given the definitive verdict on policies the electorate neither asked for nor were consulted about. The so-called reforms have proved ‘disastrous’, it says. Its chief executive speaks of three wasted years when the NHS desperately needed to focus on ‘growing financial and services pressures’ but is now left with a structure that is ‘complex, confusing and bureaucratic’ and ‘not fit for purpose’. For any organisation this would be a damning verdict. But this is our NHS which has been assaulted and traumatised.

Complexity Deliberately Designed to Fool Us

How have they got away with it? In part, the government’s policies were shrouded in so much complexity it often seemed hard to understand what was going on. Ex-health secretary Andrew Lansley’s Health and Social Care Act 2012 was notoriously much longer than the original legislation that introduced the NHS in the first place. Then there is the lack of media scrutiny. The public’s affection for the NHS is not shared by many of those who run the British press, many of whom shun public healthcare and go private. For the left, a battery of government assaults – from social security to education – meant overstretched resources. Bread and butter issues, like disabled people forced to pay the bedroom tax, often feel like more of a priority than a complex problem with longer term implications.

Government apologists will seize on the report’s finding that although damaging marketisation has taken place, the feared mass privatisation has not materialised. Opponents of the government’s policies always pointed out that the legislation laid the foundations for long-term rather than immediate privatisation. The ‘National’ was stripped from an increasingly fragmented National Health Service.

As Open Democracy points out, for example, the Tories have been promoting the sell-off of NHS property. And critics of the King’s Fund, such as National Health Action Party co-lead Clive Peedell, suggest it is undermined by previous support for pro-market NHS policies. Another pro-government defence is that Labour in power promoted privatisation, which is of course absolutely the case – and yet another reason why the leadership needs to draw a clear line with its past.

The NHS has been fragmented by this government’s policies: it is being squeezed of cash and resources; cuts to local authorities have heaped pressure on it; and it is being ever more stretched by an ageing population. This winter’s A&E crisis was a cry of pain from the NHS, and there will undoubtedly be many more to come. Labour has to be held to its pledge to promote integration rather than fragmentation. We need an NHS that focuses on prevention rather than managing disease.

But here’s the problem. There have been dedicated, dogged campaigners – but too few of them. We didn’t like what the government has done, we didn’t ask for it – but much of it has gone over our heads. We love the NHS – but we have been all too quiet as it has been fragmented and undermined. We have proved that it is even possible to attack our most treasured institution without causing too much fuss. It is a lesson that this and future governments will remember. Perhaps, then, it is time to speak out.

‘Liberating the NHS’ into the Hands of the Profiteers

In the Independent 7th February 2015, commenting on a highly critical report by the King’s Fund think-tank, Charlie Cooper wrote that Lansley’s ‘damaging reforms were at root of the current NHS crisis’ – they had probably contributed to the current crises in the NHS. Changes set out in the Health and Social Care Act 2012 amounted to the ‘biggest and most far-reaching legislation in the history of the NHS’. The Coalition’s health reforms were ‘damaging and distracting’ for the NHS, and government policy for the past two years has been ‘devoted to limiting the damage’.

Drawn up during Mr Lansley’s time in opposition from 2005 to 2010, they were outlined in a now-notorious White Paper in 2010, subheaded ‘Liberating the NHS’. They led to the complete overhaul of the management and bureaucratic structure of the NHS, while also placing a stronger emphasis on competition and markets in the provision of care. But they coincided with a time of rising pressure on hospitals and GPs from an ageing and growing population, as well as a dramatic slowdown in government funding.

Meanwhile, an Hunt apologist said the King’s Fund report highlighted ‘why both the public and the health sector should be wary of Labour’s plans for upheaval and reorganisation.’ What planet are they on? Labour’s plans for upheaval? One of my own principles is always to listen to what you say about other people because what you hear will tell you more about yourself than it will about them.


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Take It from an American – Britain’s NHS is As Good As It Gets

‘…It’s no wonder that 30% of healthcare spending in the US is absorbed by bureaucracy – nearly twice the proportion that other industrialized countries spend. This is rather strange, given that the chief justification for private healthcare is that it suffers less bureaucracy. It turns out that exactly the opposite is true…’

Let Jason Hickel (anthropologist at the London School of Economics) conclude this horrific recital of mine. On 16th February 2015, he wrote this brilliant article in unmitigated high regard for Aneurin Bevan’s Health Service:-

As an American, I have followed the debate about the future of the National Health Service with curious fascination. I must say I don’t entirely understand why this has even become a question – why anyone seriously thinks that privatizing the NHS would be a good idea, or why we have to resort to citizen campaigns simply in order to keep it around. As far as I can tell, the NHS is one of the best things Britain has going for it, and it would be a monumental step backward to let it go.

I haven’t always held these views. Being on the left, I have long been committed to the principle of socialized healthcare, but, like most of my countrymen, I secretly suspected that such a system could never really work in practice. Before I moved to London in 2011, I had visions of the NHS as a quagmire of forms, queues, and long waiting times. These assumptions affect US progressives as much as they do devotees of Fox News: they’re in the water, part of the commonsense furniture of everyday life. Somehow we all end up believing that America’s private, for-profit healthcare system is our only hope, and without it we’re likely to end up dying while waiting in line for basic treatment. For most Americans, the specter of socialized healthcare – and of the NHS in particular – looms like the heavy shadow of Russian bureaucracy in a Gogol novel.

I was forced to confront these assumptions when I made my first visit to the doctor, which I put off for a long time out of sheer fear. I expected to have to take a train to some government complex where I would submit myself before a nameless bureaucrat behind a glass barrier in a brutalist concrete building. I literally thought this. So I was pleasantly surprised when it turned out that all I had to do was walk five minutes down the road to the nearest GP.

Upon arriving, I went straight up to the counter – no queuing required – and asked to register. Instead of the multiple page forms that I expected to fill out, which I had grown accustomed to completing every time I visited a doctor in the United States, I was presented with a single quarter sheet with the obvious fields: name, date of birth, and address. Nobody asked me for a health insurance card. Nobody asked if I would be able to pay. Nobody asked me for a British passport to prove that I was worthy of care. The edifices of my worldview began to crumble around me.

Fine, I thought: registration may be simple, but surely I’ll have to wait weeks for my appointment? Or even months? I was wrong again. I was given a slot that very afternoon.

I did have to sit in the waiting room, I’ll admit: for a sum total of 15 minutes. During that time, I marveled at the attractive display of public health information lining the walls – something I had never encountered in the US. It struck me, for the first time, that a publically funded healthcare system actually has an incentive to maintain good public health through mass education and preventative care. What a refreshing change from the perverse incentives built into the American model, which not only lacks this motive but operates according to the opposite logic: the more bad health there is in the population, the more money there is to be made from it.

My doctor was warm and professional, set up the referral and ordered my tests, and sent me on my way. As I passed by the receptionist at the front desk I felt almost guilty, and actually stopped to ask her if I needed to pay anything before leaving: surely there must be at least a small fee? She laughed at me. To this day, three years later, I still can’t get used to it, to the idea of health as a public good – it seems too humane to be true.

Some might rush to conclude that this surprisingly positive experience is probably due to the fact that I live in a posh white part of London. But I don’t. I live in Kilburn, and the clinic in question is adjacent to a number of council estates. The vast majority of the clinic’s patients are working class, and only about half of them are white. The first-rate care I receive is the care that every resident receives, regardless of their race or class – as a basic human right, as part of the social contract, as a feature of the collective solidarity that Clement Atlee’s Labour government forged in the 1940’s from the ashes of World War II.

And it’s not just that this clinic happens to be a good apple in a barrel of bad. I’ve been referred to specialists in other units – including large hospitals – on a number of occasions, and each time I’ve found myself amazed at the efficiency of the service. At one point I was referred for a possible case of melanoma. I was seen by a dermatologist at the first break in my schedule. So much for languishing in line for treatment. Why so efficient? Because there’s a powerful incentive at work: the NHS saves money by catching cancer early.

And it’s not just life-threatening illnesses that call forth the best of the NHS. The mundane phlebotomy lab I had to visit recently at the Royal Free Hospital was run like a well-oiled machine, caring for fifty patients an hour at peak time without a glitch. The system just works. We needn’t rely on anecdotes to prove this. The Commonwealth Fund recently released a report comparing the health systems of 11 highly industrialized countries. In the category of efficiency, the UK ranked number 1. The US, by contrast, ranked last. So much for the theory that profit stimulates efficiency. The UK also ranks well above the US in terms of timeliness of care, contrary to Fox News propaganda.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised; while living in the US I spent an astonishing amount of time waiting for appointments and sitting in receptions, even as a paying customer. I sometimes caught myself wondering if things might be different if I were able to pay more.

And it’s not just in the areas of efficiency and timeliness that the UK performs so well. It comes first in almost every other category – equity, access, quality, etc. – making it the best overall healthcare system in the world. As for the overall ranking of the US: dead last, again. The Commonwealth study didn’t measure bureaucracy, but I suspect that here too the UK would win handily. While living in the States I was regularly frustrated by the amount of time I had to spend not just filling out forms, but reviewing costs, interpreting bills, paying fees, comparing coverage plans, and badgering my insurance company over the phone to shell out for their fair share (an obligation they routinely shirked).

It’s no wonder that 30% of healthcare spending in the US is absorbed by bureaucracy – nearly twice the proportion that other industrialized countries spend. This is rather strange, given that the chief justification for private healthcare is that it suffers less bureaucracy. It turns out that exactly the opposite is true.

As for how likely a patient is to die for want of life-saving services: I wouldn’t choose to take my chances in the US, given that I’m not a millionaire. A close friend of mine recently discovered she had a fast-growing mass on her ovary that would lead to swift death if it wasn’t removed within the month. It sounds like a no-brainer, but before she scheduled the surgery she had to count the costs: her insurance company agreed to cover 80% (after much pressure from her doctors to get the company to cover it at all), but she would be responsible for the remainder – a sobering $40,000. She’s alive today, but she’ll spend many years working extra hours to pay off the loan she took out just to stay alive.

She is not alone. Millions of Americans are in debt due to healthcare costs, which is the number one cause of personal bankruptcy in the United States. In the UK we don’t have to face this terrible anxiety; it would be difficult for me to overstate how liberating this feels.

These are stories and statistics that I regularly wheel out during conversations with my American friends and family. And while they usually accept the evidence that I offer up (albeit somewhat grudgingly), they always insist that, sure, it sounds like a great service, but there’s no way it can be financially viable, right? But here again the evidence defies assumptions. The Commonwealth study confirms that the cost the UK pays for delivering the best healthcare in the world is less than any other industrialized nation: only $3,405 per capita. The most expensive healthcare system, by contrast, is the US, at $8,508 per capita – more than double the UK, while delivering much worse results.

Critics of the NHS claim that we can’t afford to pay for it; but the truth is that we can’t afford not to.

These data tell a clear story. But ultimately it’s not the extrinsic values of efficiency, timeliness, and low cost that make the NHS great. The NHS is great because it’s built on the principles of solidarity, universality, and equality – and because it is staffed by people who believe deeply in its basic moral mission. It is for these reasons that, when the NHS was founded in 1948, the Minister for Health Aneurin Bevan famously proclaimed that it was ‘the most civilized step that any country has ever taken…’

Yet, tragically, the present government is doing its best to dismantle the NHS, with the ultimate goal, it would seem, of replacing it with the US model. The Health and Social Care Act of 2012 put an end to the mandate for the state to provide comprehensive healthcare to every resident of England free at the point of use, and has allowed for-profit companies to buy up huge chunks of the NHS (£10 billion worth of contracts have already been handed out since the Act was passed). The Tories know the US system performs worse on every conceivable count, but they are willing to go there anyhow: the healthcare market-in-waiting is just too juicy to leave untapped.

Bevan knew that the NHS would face opposition from powerful private interests, but he was hopeful that it would prevail: “The NHS will stand,” he said, “as long as there are those who will fight for it.” Many Britons are doing just that. But, thanks to skillful government subterfuge, the vast majority do not even know that their cherished healthcare system is under threat, and many others don’t understand what it’s like to live with the dysfunctions of a private alternative. It’s sometimes hard to realize how good something is until it’s taken away from you. To England, I say, take it from an American: what you have is as good as it gets, and it’s worth defending. Your civilization depends on it.


Thanks to all the people I’ve quoted. I hope they won’t mind what I’ve done…

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