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

A Secret Mythology (R10)

A Few Preliminary Examples

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

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

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

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

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

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

Progressive Experiences of My Life

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

Jacques Lacarrière continues:-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Absolute Joy in Ordinary Things

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

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

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

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

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

Why is this a Life-Illusion?

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

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

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

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

‘Voluntarily rooted in the ephemeral’…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Memorable Moments and the Food of Pure Impressions

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


My Father’s Garden

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

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

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

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

Found Poem

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

sink down

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Emotions and Neologisms

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Thanks to Pat Mason!

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

Her questions went like this:-

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

Pat’s model:-


Quick-click to enlarge…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Repertoire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Emotions’ are Tricky Things

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

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

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

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

That might do… Or liberosis

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Significant meaning conveyed by olfactory accident.

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

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

Evening: Gaspar David Fiedrich

Evening: Gaspar David Fiedrich

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

Generally Musing

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

Tower plan looms over Blake Graveyard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then I got into the swing of it…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bread and Circuitry

Back to Napoleonic Times

It has been suggested that the great new Labour leadership under Jeremy Corbyn wants to take us back to the 1980’s while the ‘media’ in general has deliberately failed to head-line the fact that the Tories are intent on taking the country back to Victorian times, or even earlier, to bash us into the shape of serfs under their iron rule; I’m sure that well-provided-for 78-year-olds like myself are past the threat but I just feel deeply for everybody else.

I’ve recently had a reading experience that records in a very graphic way the conditions of ordinary working people in the area where I live prior to 1837 when Queen Victoria came to her throne (not mine). This linked with a study which contains the statement that twenty million people in the UK are currently living in poverty – whilst I note that some ignorant Tory twit has suggested that people use food banks so that they can spend their money down the pub. Then I re-read a novel I first read in 1954 that inspired me to begin to think of myself as a Socialist. These references define the fundamental structure of this Glob.

How to Organise for the Coming Revolution

My wife has a passion for investigating the history of our area, focussing particularly on the local village of West Walton. She’s been reading Portrait of the Fen Country by Edward Storey (1971). Coming to a chapter describing the plight of workers in the 19th Century, she caught my attention by saying, “He could have been writing about England today under the Tories…”

Locked as we are in what has been described as the ‘specious present’, which is quite different from the activity of ‘being present to oneself’ in the NOW, we imagine that the way we live now is specific to us, without precedent, and have become set in the belief that the way things are is the way they have to be – otherwise they’d be different. It’s a belief fostered and backed up by a constant refrain from the Power Possessors: “What we’re doing is right for the country…” And so we are brain-washed into thinking that there is no alternative. ‘Times are hard – we have to reduce the Deficit…’
We only have to go back to conditions as they were in the 1880’s to realise that we are, just now, being shunted by the Tory hooligans out of the enlightenment that came from what’s been called ‘The Spirit of ’45’ – the good years of Socialism which lasted in its original condition about five years before the Tories gradually began to turn the clock back again which they are now doing with a vicious vengeance. The sad thing is that the electorate, having been brought up on easily assimilable sound-bites for years, is not in a position to know what is being destroyed; they would not believe it if it was put to them in plain language; they would not be able to concentrate for more than three minutes on the detailed explanation required to put things straight. Knowing this, it’s clear that the Bully Boys of the Right (always wrong) think that they can do whatever they want. Says Storey:-

There are many old people in the Fens today who can look back on a childhood where meat was a luxury and vegetables were eked out by using wild plants from the fields and hedgerows. A sheep’s head was a banquet and would provide the basis of many meals to come until the bones were as bare as pebbles on a beach.

Those people who can tell you of their own experience of hunger can also remember the stories their own parents told them of even hungrier times. The depression that hit the agricultural community during the early 1880’s drove many people away, not only to other parts of this country, but to other countries as well… to Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Many others, expert craftsmen of their times, took to the roads or went into other jobs that satisfied only their family’s hunger.

What stands as an emblem for the suffering of ordinary people then is the rioting that took place in Littleport and Ely after the Napoleonic wars. Fen-drainage did not fulfil expectations of plenty any more than the so-called ‘communication revolution’ through the use of computers has today relieved people from the drudgery of work as it was thought it might do – voracious employers have simple pocketed the proceeds of the changes in working practices and thrown workers out of properly paid work; in the 1880’s any benefit deriving from additional land for cultivation went into the pockets of landowners and farmers. Storey is of the opinion, which I share, that…

…to defend those who had the power to change things but didn’t is as near as one can get to condoning the acts of barbarity that were just as evil as those that packed Negroes into slave-ships or Jews into concentration camps. Landworkers were starved to death, they were beaten, and they too suffered the inhumanity of man to man.

In the early nineteenth century the death penalty was a routine form of punishment: ‘…hanging was the daily calculated risk that many starving people took to save not themselves but their children. Many felt that a quick death was as good as a certain slow one and stealing could only mean life or death…’ In Tory Britain, in the current absence of capital punishment, as a final act of despair, people throw themselves under trains, for instance. My own journey home has been disrupted thus three times in the last month or so.

Anger & Brain-washing

It’s true that the streets often seethe with the anger of ‘chartered’ (Blake’s word meaning ‘permitted’ by the Power Possessors) protest & demonstration but, with the mass of the population brainwashed by the media into blaming the poor for being lazy, the old for being old, the disabled for being shirkers, the coming revolution is postponed indefinitely and what ordinary anger there might be is calculatedly diverted towards ‘the enemy without’; for reasons that any thinking person finds it impossible to comprehend, ‘the enemy within’ (the Tory Party and hangers-on, the billionaires and the so-called ‘Upper Crust’) simply continues to wine and dine, laughing and joking at the plight of the dispossessed – observe their despicable antics in the House of Commons.

Anyway, Storey says…

Men who had fought at Waterloo were now beginning to wish they had died there. When they came home to the country they had fought for, they returned to an economic crisis which was more demoralizing than the battlefield. Thousands of men were out of work. Pockets remained empty. The price of food rose to a level that made it the exclusive right of the rich. Men who had been heroes were now reduced to the indignity of parish relief, of seeing their few pieces of furniture sold, and being turned out of their homes. Wages for those who could find work dropped, or at best stayed at the old rates…The only people who could afford the luxury of bread were the farmers who had made enough money to pay the miller who had been able to pay the farmer and so on, in one tight, unbreakable circle of ‘what we have we keep’.

By the spring of 1816 it was beginning to seem to agricultural labourers that their only recourse was revolution. But then, just as now, the problem was that of organisation – how to make the masses rise up and revolt against tyranny in an organised way? A strong leader often leads to an alternative despotism; a quiet, determined, principled leader, such as Jeremy Corbyn, has to be capable of weathering sustained abuse not only from the rich and influential but from his own party’s authoritarian wing, with its abject fear of freedom, whose members can only function under somebody who acts as a despot like the War Criminal Blair. How can one assume power without being corrupted by it?

By holding fast to Top Form 8 on the Enneagram which represents ‘leading from the rear’! But that’s another story…

Rioting & Sabotage

Otherwise undirected rioting and sabotage will become the order of the day. In 1816…

…trouble started to flare up in many parts of East Anglia, and in May rioting was reported in Bury, Southery, Brandon and Downham [seemingly such peaceful places nowadays…] By 22nd May the men of Littleport decided that the time had come for them to act. They met at ‘The Globe’ public house for their annual Benefit Club Meeting on the Wednesday evening and their talk quickly concentrated on recent events… If there was going to be an uprising they wanted to be part of it. In their eyes they had nothing to lose and a lot to gain. Most of the men had a few old scores to settle and in the grey, smoky atmosphere of the bar a deceptive flush of heroism must have brought a glow of colour back to their embittered faces.

Just such a warm glow of comradeship, the company of like-minded people with whom you would not mind being stranded on a desert island, comes over me when I join a big march in London. I know it well; it lasts a few days before it settles down quietly with the memory of all the marches I’ve taken part in since 1961.

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Poverty & Deprivation under the Tories

Right now it seems that twenty million people in the UK are living in poverty according to a study detailing high levels of deprivation. Breadline Britain (by economist Stewart Lansley and academic Joanna Mack) shows that poverty has doubled since 1983 – and is set to get worse over the next five years. Thousands of face-to-face interviews done for the book reveal the desperate state in which many families live: one in three Britons is below an internationally accepted minimum living standard devised by the authors; three and a half million adults go hungry so they can feed their children; one in five children is in a house that is cold and damp; one in ten lacks warm clothes; gas and electricity prices have doubled over the last decade while average wages have fallen over the same period; 21% of people are living in debt and a third of people are unable to save any money at all.

The really awful thing is that whole generations are being denied opportunity. And over time this becomes the norm; it’s generally assumed that this is how things have to be otherwise they’d be different. Stewart Lansley points out that ‘poverty is driven by a false political ideology…’ and concludes that ‘…we need transformative politics of the type that we saw in post-war Britain’.


For ‘transformative politics’ read REVOLUTION. Back in 1816, Storey points out that…

…one person that they particularly wanted to get even with was a Mr. Henry Martin, one of the biggest farmers in the area. As a parish officer, he had provoked a great deal of hatred and hostility by declaring more than once that the meagre allowance made by the parish was more than enough for the miserable peasants. Flaunting his expensive taste in dress and wearing shirts for which he boastingly paid a guinea a time, he was fond of publicly declaring that the parish money could be better spent than providing the working class with beer and that if their children were hungry, it was entirely their own fault.

When the price of one of Mr. Martin’s shirts would have paid the low wages for three of the men he had sacked, it is easy to see why he was at the top of the list when the day of reckoning came. So, when the angry men of Littleport marched out of ‘The Globe’ to face their oppressors, Henry Martin was one man for whom death of any kind seemed a lenient sentence for his treatment of the poor. But having spent their Benefit Club money on a quart of ale to seal their resolution and on another to give them courage, their empty bellies soon got the better of their full heads and there was little discrimination about the property or persons that they attacked. Shop windows were smashed in and money demanded from the owners. Houses were ransacked and silver stolen. Furniture was hacked to pieces and food stolen from pantries. When Josiah Dewey, a retired farmer, refused to give the rioters what they wanted, they forced their way into his house and cleared the rooms of bed-linen, clocks, clothes, cutlery and a well-sharpened cleaver, which Thomas South, one of the ring-leaders, was to put to frightening use later that night. Every farmer was visited by the rioters and robbed of money and possessions and their families terrorized.

By the time the rioters reached Mr. Martin’s house they were drunk with their new-found power and easy victories. Martin, they chanted, would be hacked to pieces in the street. But the uproar had reached Martin long before his avengers and when they arrived he had slid silently off into safety, leaving his old grandmother, Rebecca Waddelow and a servant, to guard his house. There was an hysteria now in the rioters’ behaviour that no reasoning could subdue. They ransacked the house, chopped up every chair and piece of furniture they could find, searching angrily in every room and cupboard for the man they had come to kill.

At the vicarage, the Reverend Vachell defiantly stood with his loaded pistol and threatened to shoot the first man that put a foot on his property. What he did not know was that in a mob there is not always a ‘first man’ to do anything, it is often one uncontrollable sprawl of many men surging forward in one common cause. The threat of shooting them, coming from their vicar, incensed their minds and Vachell was knocked aside as the men noisily rampaged through the book-lined vicarage. In fact, the rioters were so busy smashing up the house that they overlooked the vicar and his family, who, in the dust and noise, quickly made their escape out of a back door. Free of the house and the men, they hurried to Ely where they roused the magistrates… to see what could be done. Vachell knew that Sir Henry Dudley had a buccaneering quality and a reputation that would frighten the rioters if only he would act. To begin with the two Ely magistrates must have listened incredulously as the Reverend Vachell related one episode after another…

At midnight, the rioters re-assembled at their headquarters, ‘The Globe’, and made their plans for the attack on Ely and, if necessary, on the cathedral itself. The hours before dawn would also give them time to collect a better arsenal of weapons, for it was now clear that they needed something more than the stolen cleaver and a few hefty clubs.

When the early mist of that May morning cleared there were more serious expressions of determination on the faces of the men who were now aware of their actions. For one thing they realized that after the havoc they had caused the night before it was too late to turn back. Anyone who had fire-arms or ammunition at home fetched them for the leaders to distribute among the men. The man who emerged as the ‘commander-in-chief’ of this make-shift army was John Dennis, at first a reluctant participant, but one who brought a much more sophisticated approach to the conflict. He took charge of the distribution of arms and shot and made sure that those who did not carry fire-arms at least had pitch-forks, eel-glaives or clubs. In addition to their individual weapons the men also had a ‘tank’, a very primitive one, but nevertheless ingenious and impressive-looking. They had stolen a farm cart and horses from one of the farmers and on the cart they had fixed four fowlers’ punt-guns. These muzzle-loaders were anything up to 10 feet long and fired a pound of shot that could kill at a distance of 150 yards. Their ‘tank’ ready for action, and their arms loaded, the men at last led the horses out of ‘The Globe’ yard and set out for Ely.

The frenzy of the previous night had spent itself. There was now no laughter, no banter and very little talking. The seriousness of their action and the possible consequences if things went wrong, were all too apparent. The chances were slim. The penalties were high. But again as Richard Rutter was to explain, ‘you may as well be hanged as starved’ to death. The Littleport men did not embark on the second part of their mission as a drunken mob. They remembered that they had not eaten for several days and, whatever the outcome of their action, they would pursue their defiant gesture to the palace doors at Ely.

The Reverend Metcalfe, forewarned of the invasion, had taken the precaution of sending word through to the garrison at Bury St. Edmunds. He wanted troops at the ready, on the outskirts of the city, to meet the trouble when it arrived. In the meantime, he rode out to meet the rioters – an action which needed no small ration of courage…

About 500 people gathered outside The White Hart Inn and Mr. Metcalfe was now joined by several other magistrates. He asked the men what they wanted. For a few moments the shouts and demands were no more than a babble of incoherent words until the ringleaders brought some kind of unison to their cries of ‘flour’ and ‘bread’. The magistrates were told how the men’s wives and families were starving, how on less than 8 shillings a week they couldn’t afford to buy even the basic foods at the present prices. They complained that when they asked for more money their masters would either not listen or blamed the Napoleonic Wars for the plight of the country. But that wasn’t good enough, they said, some of them had fought in the war for their country and they expected a living. They knew there was enough food if it was shared out properly and they were there to see that some of it came to them…

The magistrates of Ely invited a small committee into the ‘White Hart’ to talk quietly about
the men’s grievances. Typical divide & rule tactics. Eventually it was proclaimed that ‘The Magistrates agree, and do order, that the overseers shall pay to each family Two Shillings per Head per Week, when Flour is Half-a-crown a stone; such allowance to be raised in proportion when the price of flour is higher, and that the price of labour shall be Two Shillings a day, whether married or single and that the labourer shall be paid his full wages by the Farmer who hires him.’

The demonstrators were given free beer and told to go home. A ‘lunatic-fringe’ encouraged the rioters who remained to celebrate their victory by demanding free beer at every pub in Ely.

…pandemonium broke loose. Shops were smashed up and looted. Millers and bakers were beaten and robbed. Private householders were attacked…The Ely and Littleport labourers had been joined by agitators from other towns and they wanted much more than had been granted in the ‘White Hart’ agreement. The magistrates’ only hope was that their appeal for troops had been granted and that soon the army would ride in to restore order and discipline.

There was news that…

…a similar riot was still causing trouble at Downham and that other labourers were preparing to strike. Some of them may have believed, as they trudged home in the heroic and romantic haze of their fatigue, that they had in fact lit a flame in the heart of the Fens which would burn for a long time, that whatever happened now, things could never be as bad again.

No such luck. A detachment of the Royal Dragoons arrived, stimulating uncoordinated anger at the power of authority.


Prisoners should were tried at Special Assizes in Ely. A special Commission was hastily set up to hear the charges and the prisoners were sent for trial in June 1816. Storey highlights the absurd lengths the Power Possessors go to in order to drum up popular enthusiasm for what they hope will convince people they know best, to waste money that could be far more intelligently invested.

A great amount of pomp and ceremony preceded the proceedings and more money was spent on the pageantry, trumpeters, stewards and carriages for the bishop and judges than all the prisoners would have wanted to keep them for a year. It is a strange paradox of human nature and our society that we are always much more willing to spend money on killing people than saving them.

On the morning of the first day of the trial, the judges were the guests of the Bishop of Ely for breakfast and then accompanied him, with several other dignitaries, to the cathedral for a special service. After an anthem, which had also been specially written for the occasion, the Reverend Sir Henry Bate Dudley himself preached a sermon, taking for his text a phrase from the First Epistle of Paul the Apostle to Timothy, Chapter One, Verse Nine: ‘… the law is not made for the righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient…’

Without the ‘laws’ of cricket, the game would not be possible; if people drove vehicles just where they wanted roads would be somewhat chaotic; intelligent laws in general are invented in order to oil the works. But unnecessary laws are invented, not by the righteous but by the Power Possessors in order to keep us under control. The unwritten ‘law’ that people must put up with their lot or face the consequences of a determined challenge needs spelling out and proclaiming from the steps of the townhall in order for it to be obvious that it is inequitable. Kant proposes a different definition: ‘The touchstone of all those decisions that may be made into law for a people lies in this question: Could a people impose such a law upon itself?’

After their prayers the commission made its way through the streets lined with soldiers armed with bayonets. Crowds gathered behind the soldiers and looked on silently as the wealthy procession went by.

It appears that while

…the well-fed and overweight Bishop was at his prayers his coach had been tampered with by some Fenmen…; the bishop … made heavy work of climbing into his carriage. With an autocratic shout he ordered his coachman to drive on and at that crucial moment, when dignity was so necessary for him, one of the wheels came off… There was no laughing or jeering from the crowd; only their dry, narrow smiles and piercing, revengeful eyes, following the carriage [after the wheel had been fixed] until it was out of sight. The pompous proceedings at Ely would have been laughable had they not been so tragic and panic-stricken.

Only a few prisoners were allowed to speak in their own defence. The judge told them that their actions had nothing to do with poor living standards. Twenty-four were condemned to death, some were to be transported for life, some were to be transported for limited periods while others were simply jailed in Ely. During the rumpus that ensued the judge threatened to hang a few more unless they cleared the court.

As a sop to the populace and to keep them quiet, nineteen of those sentenced to death were reprieved but transported for life to Botany Bay. While in a typically underhand kind of way, without reason, those who had only been sentenced to a year’s imprisonment in Ely were transported for seven years without being allowed to say good-bye to their families.

The judges wanted to underline the power of the Church and State by making the hangings something to remember. They wanted to make it clear that any further thoughts of an uprising would only send more people to their deaths.

On Friday, 28th June 1816 … the procession to the place of execution took over an hour to pass and was made up of nearly 300 ‘privileged persons’ willing to add their support to this showy example of ‘justice’. A crowd of several hundred onlookers was there to get the message – men from Ely, Littleport, Bury, Southery, Downham, Soham, March and Chatteris… This was the day when hundreds of Fenmen vowed never to forgive either of those two powers who had been party to these deaths.

William Beamiss
George Crow
John Dennis
Isaac Harley
Thomas South

This in their memory…

Not So Much Forgiven But Completely Forgotten

These days the Power Possessors have managed to distract our attention from the enemy within by providing a dose of Bread and Circuitry and the media daily pretends that everything is fine.

Rise up, England! You’ve nothing to lose but your TV sets and your shopping trolleys.

Things Seem Separate but in fact Everything is Connected

While I was thinking about all this I re-read Venetian Blinds, a great novel by Ethel Mannin (1933), for the third or fourth time since I first read it around 1954. I bought it in Brady’s Arcade in Kingston-on-Thames (long gone probably!) and was captivated by it; it remains as fresh now as it did then. Stephen Pendrick is the central character; he inhabits the same kind of suburban area that I grew up in though I lived in the new outer suburbs of London in Worcester Park whereas he lived in various places around Earlsfield on the line between Worcester Park and Waterloo.

The watercress beds by the River Wandle where the Pendricks moved from Tooting! – I remember them so well staring out from the train as it gathered speed from Wimbledon to Earlsfield; to the right was a very large dump that smoked, with hot ashes I always assumed, during the early morning rush hour and, much lower down, the watercress beds, the river and a band of Victorian houses I used to wonder what it was like to live in.

It’s now a dreadful industrial estate. If there’s anybody still living since the war in the old houses by the side of the Wandle they’ll be full of regret – as full as I am. They’d be in their 80’s or 90’s!

“It’s lovely and open here. As good as being in the country, I always say.” That’s what the Pendrick’s neighbour Mrs Mord said. It was how I saw the place for many years.

Stephen Pendrick was greatly influenced by the Leider family, romantic & revolutionary Germans whose life was greatly disturbed by the 1st World War and with whom Stephen lost touch though they always stayed in his mind.

Reading Venetian Blinds again at this moment seemed to fit rather neatly with the first part of this Glob.

[Stephen] thought a lot about what Fritz said about it being all wrong that there should be rich and poor, and he, too, began to think that it would be fine if it could all be different, if as in the Rubaiyat which Carl Leider was so fond of quoting it could be possible to reshape the sorry scheme of things and mould it nearer to the heart’s desire; through a mighty revolution which would sweep all the bad things away, so that there were no more slums, no more people sleeping on the Thames Embankment at nights because they had nowhere else to go, like Jack London wrote about, no more people singing in the streets for money because there was no work for them, no more processions of unemployed. He had not thought about these things before, but now his waking mind was full of them, and he told Fritz that he agreed with him about the injustice of ‘the existing social system’, and Fritz said that was splendid and that it meant that Stephen was a Socialist, and that he, Fritz, had made a convert to the Cause, and now Stephen must make a convert, because that was the way to help, everybody doing their bit, and he wrote out the words of the Red Flag for Stephen and lent him Richard Whiteing’s Number Five John Street, and Arthur Morrison’s Tales of Mean Streets, Gissing’s Odd Women, and The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft, Robert Blatchford’s Merrie England, Somerset Maugham’s Liza of Lambeth, William Morris’s News from Nowhere. He read them all, and thought about them, and was excited and indignant, and filled with pity and anger and dismay – burned in short, with that pure name of youth looking upon the world and seeing for the first time the injustice and suffering which is part of the social system humanity has devised for itself.

Processions of unemployed with their banner, ‘We Want Work’, and singing some dismal song, frequently turned into Ledstock Street on Sunday mornings – they were more depressing than the Salvation Army, Mrs. Pendrick declared. Fritz said that one day there would be a revolution, for work is the right to live, and that is Man’s first right.

He was fond of quoting John Ball’s famous speech at the time of the Peasant Revolt, “Good people, things will never go well in England so long as goods be not in common, and so long as there be villains and gentlemen. By what right are they whom we call lords greater folk than we? On what grounds have they deserved it? Why do they hold us in serfage? If we all came of the same father and mother, of Adam and Eve, how can they say or prove that they are better than we, if it be not that they make us gain for them by our toil what they spend in their pride? … It is of us and our toil that these men hold their state.”

Stephen looked up Green’s History at the Leiders’ house and copied out the speech in its entirety, and from doing that he discovered that history was not dead facts and figures as it was made to seem at school, but a living saga of human struggle. Swept by a youthful Socialist fire he realised that he wanted to read of the life of the common people from the earliest times, he wanted to know about the Industrial Revolution and how it affected the workers, and how it connected with life at the present day, and reading history for the sake of all this, he became interested in history generally; it fascinated him; he could not understand anyone not wanting to read history. Gradually he wanted to have books of his own. One day, he thought, he would have a fine library like the Leiders had; he wanted to read history, sociology, poetry. In this way, one horizon after another the Leider’s opened up for him.

One day, I suppose I thought, I will have the fine library I celebrate in my ROOM books.

The prison doors clang shut on Stephen’s life and he never achieves the promise of this early revolutionary spirit. But he keeps the memory of life in the Leider’s household fresh in his mind; towards the end of the novel, after various doomed relationships, he reflects on how things might have been.

He had never forgotten how Carl Leider… had talked of Heidelberg in apple-blossom time, of the mountains of the Tyrol, and of lying naked in the sun; and there was that absurd lovely dream of buying a Schloss on the Rhine and living there happily ever after; they were to become Wander-vogel and take ruck-sacks, he recalled, and Leitchen [a Beatrice-figure to Stephen] was to bring her mandolin, and they were to go everywhere; and there was that song they had sung that somehow had the mountains in it, and laughter, and music under trees, and swimming in blue lakes, all romance and adventure, and not caring about to-morrow, and something else, which as a boy he hadn’t been able to define, but which he now knew to be a nostalgia for lost worlds, a clinging to dreams which had no chance of realisation.

The closest Stephen got to such dreams was to write about the pleasures of distant lands in travel brochures which is one of the things he was employed to do.

Stephen’s sister, Elsie, married a very rich older man, being pregnant by him, with whom it seemed likely that she would be able to go all over the world. The irony of life was not lost on Stephen.

It was queer how life worked out, he thought; queer to think that Elsie, to whom beauty meant nothing, and for whom the horizon held nothing but a possible hat-shop or smart restaurant, was to have without particularly wanting it all that he had wanted so much and dreamed of for so long.

Not for him the thrill of boat-trains, cross-Channel steamers, the smell of coffee and garlic and French cigarettes at the Gare du Nord, which, Bowden [his work-colleague] said, was one of the best smells in the world; not for him the night-journey, thundering South, with the sunrise over Avignon and the first smell and glimpse of the South, which Bowden declared to be one of the great excitements of life; not for him the glamour of coming into strange ports, and the journeyings on to new adventure, new experiences, new sights and sounds and smells and colours, as he had so glowingly written of it in the Tendall travel booklets.

For him the walk to the station in the morning and home again at night; strap-hanging in crowded trains, being shut up in an office all day till whatever sun there was went down, day after day. For him as for thousands, as for hundreds of thousands, two weeks out of every fifty-two, three at most, in which to do as he liked – for the rest, the slave of a job, doing nothing that he wanted to do, nothing that really mattered to him, nothing creative, just so many hours per day, per week, in an office for the sake of at first a weekly wage, and then the dignity of a monthly salary.

He might break away, of course; he might revolt and ‘walk out into the sun’ – wasn’t that what they called it? In books people sometimes did it; but not in real life; not when you were married, not if you were just an ordinary person like Stephen Pendrick.

He might go abroad without Alice for his annual holiday, since she refused to leave England. But – she was his wife; it would break her heart; ordinary decent people didn’t do things like that; if their wives refused to travel they just sighed and said “Very well, dear,” and went on going to Bexhill or Broadstairs or Torquay, or wherever it was, for the rest of their lives, and in time learned to forget that they had ever wanted anything more colourful and exciting.

Stuck in the back office of the Westminster Bank in Cheapside in 1963, I remember leaning forward to Dave Adams who sat opposite me and saying quietly, “In a moment I’m going to stand up on my desk and yell WAKE UP, ALL YOU BASTARDS!” So convincing was my threat that he immediately got up and went to the washroom, not to re-appear for another 15 minutes.

Even when I escaped the daily ‘strap-hanging in crowded trains’ by breaking away from office life to become a teacher, I would say to my dear friend Ann, “In a moment I shall climb out of this window and you’ll never see me again…” I think she half-believed I might.

The title Venetian Blinds is meant to represent middle class achievement but the novel might just as well have been called ‘Resignation’. Arthur Pendrick, Stephen’s father, did ‘not ask much of life’ and Stephen follows in his footsteps. Not asking much of life…

I don’t think I’ve ever asked much of life: books up on bookshelves in alphabetical order, music, bonfires, books to make notes in, rummaging in the mind, starlight & sunsets, flights of birds, the same pictures on the walls in the same places for years & years, log-fires, the warmth of a woman’s embrace, a lawn with well-defined stripes on which to sit on a deckchair in summer sunlight, beginnings and endings – that’s not much to ask…

Arthur Pendrick ‘…was not much concerned with what folks might think so that he wore his clothes till they were a ‘disgrace’ and never looked smart as [his wife’s] sister’s husbands did and often she must remind him to shave and get his hair cut…’ Oh, Arthur Pendrick, the very model of existence.

What the Power Possessors Rely On

While they fill their pointless lives with wining & dining and creating lucrative contacts and ‘getting on’ and occupying their sad mansions, the Power Possessors rely on the fact that ordinary people do not ask much of life, being too busy scraping a living to ask the right questions about their nefarious activities.

And then one asks – why should anybody ask much of life? What does it profit anybody to possess more than they absolutely need?

Come the Revolution, I still like to think I’d be up there on the barricades! Maybe we could organise a peaceful one – at my age that might be desirable…

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Peter Weir

‘Some of the main islands are: my garden, the view of distant mountains,
my country place where I withdraw from the noise of city life, my library…’
Carl Jung (1952)

How I Came to Own The Island

The Island by Peter Weir was published in 1949. I lament the fact that I’ll never know the reason why my mother gave me a copy for my 14th birthday. Did she know somehow that it would fit the way I was – that it would resonate with me stylistically, atmospherically and in the way it brilliantly conveys a still, sad, dreamy, ecstatically hopeless resignation? Or was she just attracted by the sublime illustrations by William McLaren? I can see her picking the book up in Bentalls of Kingston and reading the first page.

The sea had fallen, a low tide

The air was very still and clear, so that voices would have carried.
But there were no voices, just the whisper of leaves and sometimes the call of an owl. Sometimes also a twig broke as a deer stepped through the shadows; the foliage stirred, birds closed their wings, and an apple fell in the orchard. And always if one listened one heard the murmur of waves, so that the forest seemed to throb with the distant beat of the sea.

It was here that it really began, in an old, abandoned orchard. Its grass was long, wild, matted like hair, and it lay in the heart of the forest.

I imagine her thinking, ‘that will just suit my son…’ We were never a talkative family but I suppose I must have given away something about myself. She would probably have glanced at the few books I had on my one shelf then – Elia, Selborne, Sartor Resartus, The Aeneid, The Penguin Book of English Essays, Kenneth Allot’s Contemporary Verse, The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam – now grown in number to what can justifiably be called a ‘library’; she had perhaps been able to gauge something of my somewhat wayward youthful enthusiasms. We never talked about them and I know to my dismay now that I never expressed my gratitude to her for The Island which has been in my library ever since.

And where did I get the burning desire to possess a library of my own? It probably entered my being as a result of reading the description of the library in the island owner’s mansion: ‘…the candle grew brighter. They pierced the shadows of the library, revealing the true dimensions of the room, walls which were lined from ceiling to floor, the tables covered, with books, books that were there in thousands, mostly very old…’ From that moment I had to have a library!

My mother had done well in a conventional way at school; she ‘matriculated’ but never developed herself intellectually in all her 93 years, being more than mentally burdened by my sister’s progressive disability, but she must have known something about my inner being; though for sure she could never have known how The Island would remain just as captivating for me now as it was then – the trance has persisted during all these many years. Such are the accidental events that make us what we are today.

The Island Trance

I want to explore the nature of the trance which has far more to it than I originally imagined.

The dust jacket proclaims: ‘The author is a young ex-airman who on his release from the RAF retired to a cottage in the New Forest to devote his life to writing…’ I think I decided there and then that was what I wanted too: a cottage in the country and the time and space to write; this was an image or ideal that stuck with me during all the distracting years of making a living, being a father and through all the times of domestic uncertainty. I have always thought of myself, in a Thoreau kind of way, as being in the world but not of it – a virtual hermit – and I have written many miles of words, content with a minute but distinguished readership, if I can call it that! I have read and been consumed by Conrad and Lawrence, Woolf and Hardy and so on but, without underplaying their impact on me, I doubt I’d have been the person I am today without a firm anchor in what is still for me the curiously vivid imagery of The Island.

Peter Weir was born in 1915. In this his centenary year it seems very appropriate to me generally to record his unsung achievement and personally to attempt to figure out the effect that The Island had on me at what I suppose was a highly impressionable age when life was pretty well my own unknown island of potential. Just what is the nature of the trance he induced in me sixty years ago?

The ‘old, abandoned orchard’ on the first page – it started there! Immediately the (unanswered) questions: how did it come to be abandoned and by whom? Facing the orchard is the mysterious bailiff’s dilapidated hut or office where he works on his papers behind closed windows – ‘always closed – covered with cobwebs and dust…’

In later years, when such working conditions always struck me, and strike me still, as being ideal – out of the dim and dusty mess one creates temporary islands of order by sorting papers into heaps – I often wondered, since it was said that the author had intended to devote his life to writing, why nothing else by Peter Weir ever appeared in print; I have always hoped to develop my own creative intentions but nothing much comes of them, partly, I suppose, owing to my complete lack of entrepreneurial spirit! But my interest here is more about what can be derived from ‘the words on the page’, in line with what, in the middle of the 20th Century, was called ‘the New Criticism’ in accordance with which I used to teach English Literature but which, in this godforsaken era of the cult of the personality, is in danger of becoming completely outmoded.

Poetic Prose

The poetic prose of the opening tells us linguistically about the interior landscape of Tarn, the central figure of the novel: ‘…Then there came through endless woods and hollows as if from another world – winding slowly far away – the long clear notes of a horn…’ which seem to haunt the whole novel. I was more than happy to assimilate all this for my own interior landscape: my adolescent poetry sang out with absence and the sound of far-off horns; it was full of images of ruin and desolation!

In a flashback, Tarn recalls the moment some time earlier when Noola, a long-time island resident, whose spirit seems to haunt it, had shown him how to find the bailiff’s hut. Why does he want to get there? He has been somehow translated from his own island a month or two before (so he thinks, but is clearly not sure – keeping track of time is a problem for characters in the novel) and initially wants to find out how to make his way back there; on the other hand now he has met Noola it seems that he is more than happy to remain on her island. In the absence of the even more mysterious island owner, Noola thinks that the bailiff may be able to help Tarn, but, as she tells him, not if the only lead he can offer about his island is that

“It’s really rather like this, more rugged though and smaller, with no great woods like these. There too the swallows have left their nest, and larks will be singing now. Butterflies cling to the grass-stems, asleep, and petals fall indoors. A breath of air makes the curtain sway.”

A woodpecker laughed in the trees…

This seems like a rather louder version of Noola’s quiet response. And there’s always the sound of the sea: ‘…its rhythm haunted his thoughts and gently, dreamily, it lulled him back in its broadly rocking arms…’ Tarn’s quest shifts during the flashback to wondering whether he’ll be able to find Noola’s garden which he imagines as consisting of ‘…dove-cots and… pools of water and light… so many trees in it that parts are very dark. And in the light I see beds of flowers, growing luxuriantly yet somehow wildly, in abandon, tumbling over the lawns…’ This is his own fanciful image of Noola, her manor and its garden.

Throughout the novel conversations remind me of those in a Pinter play – inconclusive, they drift off or fade into one another as do the images – very often a conversation fuses with a depiction of the natural scene or else it melds into past times, stream of consciousness style.

And [Noola] began to play. She had no music before her. She played first old childhood tunes and rhymes – of a little girl in the garden, a child who ran on uncertain footsteps talking to the trees, to a broken doll which she clutched in her arms, among flowers of other days. Those days were endless, of cloudless skies, days of a vast, blue calm – Niord [a general factotum], the horses, a little black dog panting in the shade, swallows nesting in the barn, meadows flooded with hay, tall stems that met above her head, then vanished beneath the scythe. Still further back the hours grew hazy, haunted with the sea, grey, rocking days, a storm-thrush singing, nights of long, soft rain.
“You play well tonight.” [Says her mother for whom she is playing…]
Then she recalled other hands which had moved across these keys – the vanished strains of a minuet, carriage wheels in the snow, lamps lit and fires blazing, laughter, many voices – voices which still were heard in those rooms, very softly when nights were calm – and over the distance a trace of sadness, why she did not know, days very quiet, days so far off that her mother was still a girl.
In a cool shower of crystal notes, the long dead years fell back. The pool rippled and was still. And there in the hot and sultry noon were lakes of bog-myrtle, the moors of summer, and a girl who walked through the haze –
A lark sang joyously.
She stopped. Somewhere a canary woke in its cage. The notes died faintly away.
“Noola, whom did you meet today?”
“Tarn, Mother,” she answered, “why?”

Pause. No answer. The mother continued writing. Fade out.

Fade in to the bailiff’s hut. (I wonder if somebody might see the filmic possibilities of the text. It would make a great film or even an opera. I hold the idea in my mind to savour). The bailiff (bass baritone) has written in his daily log WORK I’VE DONE TODAY. It is too dark to read in the shadows of his hut but he records the visit made by Tarn (tenor) to enquire about where the island he came from might be located; the bailiff is unable to help but makes a note to refer the case to the owner (counter-tenor).

Tarn’s visit reminds the bailiff of his youth – how the pattern of his life had been determined when the owner asked him to be bailiff: ‘thus had been sown the seed of his life. And he wondered what seed Tarn had sown by coming…’ The seed of my own life was planted here…

The bailiff turns back to his papers.

Some he had never been able to read; there was not time enough. Evenings came, year followed year. He strove to attend to the present. But the past rose swiftly behind him – and always he heard the sea. It had been over the sea that the owner had gone. “Remember this: I will return. And carry out my instructions.”

This had been no threat, but a statement of fact. And the huge book stood there still, darkly bound, inscrutable, instructions from the owner. It was this which had so dismayed him at first, that some were so hard to follow. Even of these he had not read all, and some could not be read. For the pages were yellow, stained with age, words blotted, erased and then added; cross-references so abounded that often it was impossible to know what was instructed; and some of the references seemed to refer to that part of the book which was blank, to empty pages just faintly stained by those which came before. If only he could have spoken, but once, with his predecessor…’

Towards the end of the novel we discover who his predecessor was. The curious instruction which he had found most difficult to swallow was:-

The bailiff shall have no reward, nor wife,
nor home nor children, save these,
which are his reward, his children:
his work and the island around him.

The predecessor had disobeyed the rule and been expelled. Towards the end of The Island the current bailiff declares his love for Gilla suggesting that he too is running the risk of breaking the rule.


Tarn is gainfully employed in the village school as a teacher of all subjects except geography from which he is excluded because of his ignorance about his place of origin. As though they knew about this, some wag in the class had been probably volunteered to mark on the schoolroom map a little mark with a sign ‘this is the island’! The reader wonders which is the Island of the title – Noola’s or Tarn’s. At another level their possible congruence is perhaps the whole other-than-conscious point of the novel. All islands are connected under the sea!

Tarn’s teaching methods are very congenial to me and I think it might have been here that was born my desire to be a teacher which, after various debilitating office experiences and so-called National Service, I set out to achieve ten years after first reading The Island, not that my classes were ever quiet like Tarn’s!

He made it clear that it was necessary to read exam questions carefully but he found that ‘half at least of the answers did not reply to the questions. They referred, he supposed, to some other question…’ Whenever I set a writing task for children I accepted just whatever they wrote, relevant or not, in the belief that writing should come from the soul and not have to conform to somebody else’s diktat. So it suited me very well when I eventually taught an English Literature A Level course where there were no guidelines for a ‘correct’ answer, no marking scheme, and essays had to be assessed for the quality of a student’s thinking. The course was soon abolished by the Power Possessors.

Tarn has a very good relationship with his class as illustrated in the following passage. Also noteworthy stylistically is the way the conversation about how to get to the owner’s mansion so smoothly becomes Tarn’s exploration itself. There is no sense of authorial intervention in the process; throughout the book, characters do their own transformation of natural images in internal reflection which never comes over as author commentary.

… “Come over here to the board.” He began to draw. “Didn’t you tell me you’d been to the Old Mansion – the owner’s house, you know – and that you looked in at the windows?”
“Oh yes, sir.”
“Well, I’ve been there, too, and I couldn’t get in. There’s a wall all round the park. Here’s the wall – lodge-gates there –”
“There are dogs at the lodges too – huge dogs, mastiffs they are.”
“Then how did you get in?”
Next woods and streams appeared on the board, a bridge, a disused barn – and the path along which Tarn walked through the wind on the following afternoon.

The wind was rising. Harebells rang in the fields. Partridges crouched on the stubble. Hazel nuts fell and leaves raced wildly, preceding him through the woods… The door which Peter had described was hidden by brambles and thorns, so that it might well have been passed unnoticed by all save little boys. And although it was chained, he could just squeeze through by pushing it carefully. A robin was singing above the brambles.

When he gains entry to the Mansion, without having the necessary permit, Liza, who appears to be a maid, shows him round the empty galleries and bedrooms of the huge rambling house, explaining that everybody there was waiting for the return of the owner. In spite of his absence the kitchen is very well stocked for his coming, at which time ‘the windows will be thrown open and all the leaves cleared away’.

Here among utensils of every kind, coppers, sinks and pots and pans, great bowls of milk, and ovens, huge ladles, cupboards crammed with provisions, larders in which he saw cheeses and flour, honey-combs, apples and hams…

and most extraordinary of all, stunning image,

…maidens, dressed all alike in white, their hair tied back, their feet bare. Their movements were swift and tireless, silent, so that the impression was that he had entered, not a kitchen, but a vast, tiled hall in which these maids were dancing.

Once again, Tarn has a fleeting intuition that this kitchen is somehow an emblem for his island of which he was the owner, as he tells blind Mr Ardan, who is in the mansion library with the bailiff. At this revelation the bailiff is as surprised as we are. Once upon a time, he was an island owner – has he been deposed, expelled, or in some other way lost control of his own sense of being in charge of his place? Hence the unexplained move to Noola’s island?


‘Waiting’ is perhaps the central organising principle of The Island: everybody seems to be waiting for something to happen. Waiting for the owner to put in an appearance is reminiscent of Gurdjieff’s metaphor of the house with an absent Master – without the controlling effect of the Master, things fall apart, directionless; we have to achieve the status of Master in order to put our own house in order, re-discover our essential self; it feels as though this is what Tarn is waiting for. He hopes that Ardan, who, temporarily living in the owner’s mansion, is making a study of, and writing a book about, islands, will be able to help; but merely describing a kitchen won’t be much use! Ardan invites him to an ‘uneventful’ dinner during the course of which there’s the one clear statement of the metaphor behind the title of the book: ‘…the three men sat far apart, each with his own thoughts. They seldom spoke. They were, he thought, like three islands, or planets out in space, their faces lit faintly, in silence, with darkness all around…’

Time passes; ‘winter came quickly’. Tarn visits Noola in her manor house during the winter when it is cut off from the rest of the island by the river. A loving isolation.

Now was the time when the forest thundered as the wind rushed through the trees. From the windows of the manor one looked out on a sea of branches, waves which towered above the house, filled the rooms with subaqueous green and swaying, leaning over it, with a flicker of light and shade. In rain these trees which possessed the manor far more than those who lived there, submerged it, invading it with murmurs, an obliterating sleep. Then the forest dripped from the hills to the shore, rain trickled down the trunks and the valley was lost in a blue-grey mist, the river seething with bubbles.

It is suggested that the verger might be able to answer Tarn’s questions about his island. An arrangement is made for them to meet in the ‘The Fish’, the village pub. Tarn approaches the place through the icy weather and, not for the only time in the book, once inside, feels a sense of cold alienation in a crowd: ‘listening to the conversation around him he discovered that he could not understand it… he knew the meaning of each of their words, but their arrangement meant nothing to him…’ Perhaps the deliberate choice of the name of the pub and all the fish imagery is intended to suggest that here is some kind of esoteric knowledge of the spirit waiting to be found here – that which is, for anybody, difficult to understand. In the same way, the reader comprehends each little cameo sequence in the novel but piecing everything together to make a coherent sense is more intriguingly challenging. We are only able to begin to sort things out for ourselves in its last pages; it is constructed with artful vagueness and poetic discrepancies; it is a novel for a reader with a fair toleration of ambiguity

Anyway, the verger turns out to be the ‘little wizened man, dressed completely in black’ sitting by the wall. They discuss fishing – a common interest – but Tarn begins to feel as though this was a dream – ‘as if in that dream he had wandered by accident on to a stage where a play was already in progress’ – a sensation I have been familiar with all my life.


Tarn’s sense of unreality is increased when the verger, as though addressing the parish council of which he is secretary, embarks on an analysis of a problem that he and the bailiff seem to have discussed: because Tarn has been asking questions all round the village, they harbour the suspicion that Tarn ‘…might not have come here by accident. You might have been sent here by some other island…’ Investigations by outside authority have happened before with disastrous consequences as we shall discover. The verger explains their quandary:-

“Now, as a matter of interest – please don’t misunderstand me – suppose you were to be helped to go, not necessarily to your own island, which none of us know, but to some other – say with Mr. Ardan when he finishes his book.” He eyed Tarn curiously to see the effect of his words; but the young man gave no indication of his feelings. “As against such a move there are certain objections of which, as an intelligent man, if I may put it like that, the bailiff cannot fail to be aware. There are in fact two disadvantages either one of which would be certain to arise. In the first place, if you have not been sent here, then your departure would be a waste of time, both for you as well as him – and the owner might learn of it. If, on the other hand, you have been sent here, it might well be construed as a confession of weakness.”

It seemed to Tarn that in thus speaking aloud his thoughts, the verger succeeded only in showing him how unreal and complicated they were.

Verger and bailiff seem constrained by the need not to upset the owner at any cost. The verger’s own solution is simply to keep Tarn on the island either by granting him fishing rights or, with dramatic irony, to get him married to somebody on the island. As Tarn sums it up, the verger was insinuating that ‘the bailiff arranges the love affairs of his community’.

Outside again, ‘a meteor burned its trail across the sky…’

The existence of Tarn’s island is strangely confirmed when he receives a letter from somebody called Gilla (a name which can be interpreted variously as Joy, messenger, boy-servant) which arrives he knows not how. He gives his reaction to the letter to Noola and her mother:-

“… the apples in the orchard, the cattle lowing in their byres and the bees in the ivy-bloom. How then the garden throbbed for me with the endless drone of bees! I saw my window open at dawn on a vast and hazy sea, the falling tide, boundless sands, sea-pools, a schooner [which will appear later on] and far away, another island, vague and remote, great hills that were lost in the clouds. Then her letter grew filled for me with autumn, the gathering of corn, the west wind tossing a young girl’s hair, blowing it into her eyes. And those were your eyes, Noola, and leaves were falling softly, over an island dissolving in mist, in a liquid fruitfulness. Over the land, as I read, fell snow. In a night it was transformed. It was hidden, covered with silent flakes, the branches delicate – woven into a wonderland, white, vaulted, untouched, like a dream. I watched the wind arise on the moors – they mount behind the garden – huge waves of snow-dust toppling – hissing – misty spirals made grey by the heather – deluging the gorse with crystals – waves that flowed down in an endless succession as if to submerge the house. And the wind, as it streamed through the trees in the garden, was calling of days to come, days when the gorse would be motionless, scented, pods snapping in the sun.”

Transformations and merging. Tarn has told Noola that he loves her more than all this now, that her old garden which is described in similar ecstatic terms represents her multiplicity of selves ‘like rings in a tree’, including, prophetically, being a self as ‘a little child running down the path… holding a doll that is blind and she tells it about the flowers…’ And then he sees ‘…nothing – only long waves on the sea…’ by which the garden is haunted – the pattern of their lives in the ‘wild, earthy life of the island of which they were each a part…’

What seems to take Tarn away from a firm grasp of life is the presence of crowds, as when he’s in ‘The Fish’, having drunk more beer than he feels he ought to have done. There is a party at the manor during which he again found himself in a kind of dream: conversations sounded like the drone of insects; he is bewildered by a play and feels that something is about to happen when a distant horn sounds, premonition of thunder, and then the bailiff arrives leading the blind Ardan.

The Arboretum

In his school Tarn discovers a copy of a vast sprawling book, ‘full of sentences so long, so very involved, curling back on themselves…’, the whole thing in the end just petering away. It is called The Arboretum – a book Ardan needed for his studies. Ultimately The Island simply peters away in the most agreeable enigmatic fashion, mystery that has haunted me all these years!

Tarn and Noola visit the Arboretum – a visit that doomed their relationship. Like much else in this thoroughly intriguing novel, the reason for this is never clear.

“This place,” he said as they closed the gate – it seemed natural to speak very quietly – “must surely have some history. I wonder what it is.”
His voice echoed softly.
“I think it has, and there’s somebody working; we might ask him,” she suggested.
Leading off the main ride were two others transepting, like the former only shorter, so that the wood was laid out in the form of a cross. From these rides led smaller paths through groves of rhododendron, among other trees, all huge of their kind although small compared with the red-woods. There were glades of slender, grey-barked beeches, whose leaves were gently rustling, standing like maidens in a circle as they walked slowly on. In some of the glades were cypresses and fir-trees of every kind, silver firs and cedars, trees with several trunks, with pale, grey leaves, blue, brittle foliage, boughs golden and purplish and black, trees whose growth was compact or spreading, contorted, symmetrical. Here and there stood ancient yews in an impenetrable shade, gnarled, dark and patriarchal trees, which might have marked the tombs of kings…

A woodsman they meet explains that long ago the owner had intended to build a house with a walled garden there. All that can be seen are overgrown ruined walls. It was, thought Tarn, ‘…a small forgotten section of that far greater temple, its columns supporting the clouds…’ a mysterious image that causes a bit of a shock to the system since if the ‘far greater temple’ represents the temple of life then Tarn’s view of it is perhaps similar to that expressed by Orwell’s George Bowling in Coming up for Air, ‘the dustbin we’re in reaches up to the sky’?

All work on house and arboretum was long ago stopped on orders from the owner presumably as a result of some great disappointment or falling away of intention. Things just ‘petered out’. It must have been a significant development when it was first proposed because plenty of books have been written about it according to the woodsman who had worked there so long that ‘it’s all a part of us’. The doomed visit to the ruins of the arboretum can be taken to stand for the ruin of Tarn’s plans for marriage: Noola explains that Ardan, like her blind doll, needs her; at that moment a sudden vision of his island fades away from Tarn’s eye like a dream and he knows he will never go to the arboretum again; it’s all a trick of the light.

That nothing more of Peter Weir’s authorship appeared in published form makes me wonder briefly if things somehow ‘petered out’ for him.

That very night Ardan calls for Noola and asks her to go away with him. She goes. Noola’s mother explains to Tarn that it was a big mistake to go to the arboretum before they were married; if they had gone afterwards it would have been ‘different’. The place seems to have infected them with its ruin and decay.

School’s Out

It’s the summer holidays and to rise above his distress Tarn decides to spend a few weeks by the sea with renewed hope of finding out something about his island. So far in the novel, frequent references to the distant sound of the sea have reminded us of its presence but now we are where sea meets land, a potent image representing fluidity and fixity, a magical boundary in mythology where special knowledge can be acquired. Or, in Jungian terms, ‘the unconscious might be compared to the sea, while consciousness is like an island rising out of its midst. The island could reveal what kind of relationship the ego-consciousness of a dreamer has with the unconscious…’

Little waves were lapping along the sands, green, glistening, murmurous, and it seemed that the sea was sleeping, basking lazily, caressing the shores of the island. Its scent floated inland, tinged gold, becoming a part of the gorse-clumps on the hills above the bay. And, as Tarn descended, sounds wove round him, bird cries, voices, fragmentary notes made musical by the distance, bells, flutes and the twang of strings, the beating of drums and cymbals – the sounds of the sea-side town. Soon they clamoured about him. Entering the streets, he was swallowed up by a vast resounding wave.

The transformation of one sound into another reminds me of Jung’s experience with a boiling kettle:-

One evening – I can still remember it precisely – I was sitting by the fireplace and had put a big kettle on the fire to make hot water for washing up. The water began to boil and the kettle to sing. It sounded like many voices, or stringed instruments, or even like a whole orchestra… It was as though there were one orchestra inside the Tower and another one outside. Now one dominated, now the other, as though they were responding to each other… It was soft music, containing, as well, all the discords of nature. And that was right, for nature is not only harmonious; she is also dreadfully contradictory and chaotic. The music was that way too: an outpouring of sounds, having the quality of water and of wind…

The scene in the streets which ‘swallows’ Tarn is so different from the rest of the island. Tarn is once again, as in ‘The Fish’ and at the manor party, alienated by busy-ness and a throng of people invading his peace; the people here seem to have their features painted on waxen masks and ‘…when they laughed or smiled these features puckered as if the wax was melting…’. I am reminded of Pete’s dream in Harold Pinter’s early radio play The Dwarfs:-

I was with a girl in a tube station, on the platform. People were rushing about. There was some sort of panic. When I looked round I saw everyone’s faces were peeling, blotched, blistered…

Pete is similarly alienated by people! He wonders if his own face is peeling…

After this, we ‘normal’ human beings perhaps feel a kind of relief, as though we are suddenly in what we like to think of as ‘the real world’, or at least the world of consciousness:-

Here around him flags were flying, bunting and coloured streamers, roundabouts circled giddily, wheezing, and children were shouting. People were eating ice cream, walking about in beach-attire, racing past him in vehicles of every kind. Here were cafés, each with a different tune, shop-windows filled with picture post-cards, and sea-gulls which dived on the promenade, screaming raucously, to seize morsels of food which were thrown to them by old men and podgy schoolboys. He began to realize that the island was very much larger than he had known.

But Tarn is not fooled by conscious ‘reality’ – even the shadows in his still, silent, hotel are different from the shadows at the manor or in the schoolroom; the lounge with its ferns is full of old people, endlessly reflected in mirrors, dressed as for a journey with suitcases and packages; it has the appearance of a waiting-room.

The waiting image again.

When the steamer arrives the sound of its hooter reminds Tarn of Niord’s horn but the waiting passengers with their suitcases and baggage charge in an unscrupulous melée towards the exit. Compelling image.


At their destination Tarn discovers a train service along the coast built by the owner for the pleasure of visitors; he goes to the end of the line where, across the salt-marsh with its tidal creeks, a vast breeding ground for birds, he can see a tower, ‘crumbling in the haze’. Climbing it, through rooms littered with miscellaneous junk, for what he hopes will be a better view of the island Tarn feels as if ‘…he were climbing out of the perplexities of the town, of Noola and Ardan, the Arboretum, as if in this wilderness he was finding something for which he had sought…’

What is Tarn seeking for but his essential being? A meta-position from which he can assert himself, his own island in space & time representing what he feels he has somehow lost; fulfilment of a need to make up for the loss of temporary solace in Noola with her roots firmly in the manor and the haunted garden; aspiring to the solidity of the Owner’s mansion, even feeling at home in the bailiff’s hut; always after a container for his being, which has to be something quite different from ‘The Fish’ with its crowd of incoherent topers or the hotel with its mad crush of holiday-makers. The tower takes him up out of all this – though crumbling at the base, it represents, at least temporarily, something solid from which to operate. With the immediate agreement of the tower warden, he decides to spend the rest of his holiday there.

Over a number of years, Jung built himself a tower which came to express something of his inner being:-

Gradually, through my scientific work, I was able to put my fantasies and the contents of the unconscious on a solid footing. Words and paper, however, did not seem real enough to me; something more was needed. I had to achieve a kind of representation in stone of my innermost thoughts and of the knowledge I had acquired. Or, to put it another way, I had to make a confession of faith in stone. That was the beginning of the ‘Tower’, the house which I built for myself at Bollingen.

Jung had intended it to be a simple ‘round structure with a hearth in the centre and bunks along the walls…’ like an African hut with a fire burning in the middle round which the life of the family revolves. He comments that ‘…primitive huts concretise an idea of wholeness…’ Jung’s tower was added to as he experienced ‘…the feeling of repose and renewal…’ become more and more intense; he needed to capture this with additions to the building. However. he realised that the central tower was himself, a place of rebirth which he’d built in a kind of dream, a symbol of ‘psychic wholeness’.

In the last forty years I have built four summer houses in different gardens, no more than ‘primitive huts’, small pointed towers, which I’ve thought of as some kind of representation of my self.

There is a paragraph in Jung’s masterpiece Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1961) that is uncannily congruent with Tarn’s general sensitivity:-

At times I feel as if I am spread out over the landscape and inside things, and am myself living in every tree, in the plashing of the waves, in the clouds and the animals that come and go, in the procession of the seasons. There is nothing in the Tower that has not grown into its own form over the decades, nothing with which I am not linked. Here everything has its history, and mine; here is space for the spaceless kingdom of the world’s and the psyche’s hinterland.

Of course Tarn’s endeavours to find out about his island, lacking system and stickability, have not been at all akin to ‘scientific work’ but when he arrives at the tower he clearly feels that his experiences of natural events, having become a part of him, achieve a kind of settled climax. This is confirmed when the warden and he spend much time talking, for at last a central mystery is revealed; we feel a sense of recognition, familiar territory, when the warden explains…

You know the office and the orchard. I had been working there all morning and the trees were a mass of blossom. I used sometimes to wonder that trees so old should be so full of life. And I was tired of all those papers and writings when outside the sun was shining. I was still young. So I sat gazing through the window. And then I saw a young girl walking slowly among the trees. The sun and the leaves were playing in her hair. Birds were singing. A torrent of sound swept over me. I went and threw open the door. Even then, standing on the steps of the office, it was not too late. I could have gone back to my desk and nobody would have been any the wiser – if she had not seen me also. That was how I loved her.”

Tarn has forgotten the ‘rules’ attaching to the role of bailiff and wonders how that could have got him the sack.

“I suppose,” the warden continued, “it might have been hushed up, had it not been for the young man who, unknown to me, had been sent to… inspect the island. How even he discovered, I never knew, although I must say he was a very shrewd young fellow. I suspected the verger of telling him; but I didn’t much care then…

So, the warden was the previous bailiff – he’d broken the rules and been exiled. He’d fallen in love with Noola’s mother; presumably he’s therefore Noola’s father and the ‘shrewd young fellow’ who came to inspect the island was a forerunner of the kind of inspector of islands the verger and current bailiff suspected Tarn of being. The ‘plot’, at least provisionally, tumbles into place but we need to read the novel again to get the whole drift of it; several readings are needed to get all the nuances. For instance, it turns out that all the writing Noola’s mother spends her time on goes into letters to the warden of the tower.

A few mornings later, a schooner is observed under full sail. The warden quietly & sadly observes that it’s the owner; he knows that the owner will only return to the island if Noola’s mother dies. A very brief reference tells us that she was the owner’s sister. We are left with the tantalising idea that she had something to do with the owner’s abandonment of the arboretum and the island. He has come for the funeral.

After finishing the last page of The Island and reluctantly closing the book, what impressions are we left with?

• The seamless flow of natural events through the seasons and characters’ absorption in them
• Shady interiors where people write: the bailiff, Noola’s mother, Ardan, the warden…
• Authority figures: the bailiff, the headmaster, the owner, the sinister figure of the verger
• The arboretum ‘curse’
• The way the ending peters away in mystery
• The novel seems like a bit of a ramble but actually has a tightly knit ‘plot’
• The theme of ‘waiting’
• The presence of the sea as perhaps as a representation of the other-than-conscious mind
• The notion of ‘island’ as sanctuary
• A library & old collections of books & papers
• Houses & similar structures as containers of the soul
• Tarn’s alienation – constantly seeking, but ultimately giving in to authority

The Return

When Tarn arrives back after his holiday he finds everything changed as though affected by ‘deep autumnal stillness’. The manor was in the middle of a wilderness: ‘he felt that the garden could never really have been as he remembered it; this wild claim of autumn was the natural end of a dream…’ He imagines that his own island will be in a similar state of abandonment.

Noola’s mother had been confident that Noola would return and so is the only remaining resident in the manor, the cook, who keeps a fire burning while she waits.

In the first of the concluding authoritarian diktats, the headmaster announces that Tarn will no longer be employed as a teacher; he is to go to the manor next day. Tarn asserts that he’ll only go on his terms.

There Noola has taken over her mother’s position writing at her desk and, not seeming to recognise Tarn at first, thinking that they’d been apart for years and years, summers, winters and autumns; Tarn is similarly vague about the passage of time. But anyway, reconciled, He goes to the bailiff’s to ask for the return of her mother’s livestock; he finds the office changed, littered with papers & books, buckets all over the floor to catch the rain leaking through the roof. Noola tells Tarn how important repairs are – a practical observation that Tarn seems to ignore. Perhaps he feels that house repairs are not the stuff of romantic liaison – I recall that Keats says he can’t marry Fanny because he didn’t want their relationship sullied by things like doing the shopping.

Nevertheless they marry and time passes. The owner has discovered the whereabouts of Tarn’s own island and the bailiff demands that he set out for it immediately. Authority wins out. There is a hint that the verger is again machinating to get Tarn out of the way and the owner asserts that Noola’s son ‘is to be my next bailiff’. Another diktat.

The novel peters away in a way that I find most satisfying.

Jung described the relationship between consciousness and the other-than-conscious mind as being akin to a chain of islands which appear to be separate above the surface of the ocean but are really connected below it. When Tarn is absorbed into the ocean we could take it to mean that the individuation process is complete, that he has achieved a conceptual unity with his ‘dark bride’. Consciousness joins up with Other-than-consciousness.

I came across an outline of a dissertation on the Internet by Edward John Federenko called Islands and Transformation: An Archetypal Pattern in Western Literature (January 1, 1996). (Doctoral Dissertation, University of Massachusetts) It explores the literary use of the island metaphor in a way that I think is totally appropriate to Peter Weir’s brilliant short novel The Island. It proposes:-

…the castaway and the island experience as a parallel to the hero and the hero’s journey as a metaphor for what Carl Jung has called ‘the individuation process’. The island setting as a site for the spiritual, emotional, or psychological transformation of a character has remained a constant in Western literature… The typical island story involves a character in many, if not all, of the following ways: removal to a remote island; awakening to, and taking stock of, strange surroundings; initial setbacks followed by increasing adaptation; spiritual, emotional, or psychological growth due specifically to island experiences; a climactic event which challenges growing feelings of wholeness; and escape and return to the home society in a much-altered state. [Federenko traces] …the influence of the island on the castaway story in terms of six archetypes: wanderer, hermit, artist, magician, king, and hero. Jung refers to the influence on the psyche of certain places and situations when he says that ‘only in the region of danger (watery abyss, cavern, forest, island, castle, etc.) can one find the treasure hard to attain… (Collected Works 12:438) …Jung was concerned primarily with describing archetypal figures and their effect on individuation. [Federenko’s] dissertation attempts to extend that concern by considering how the archetypal setting inspires human transformation. The conclusion [he draws] …from examining the function of these six archetypes in island fiction is that they are given impetus by the island setting because of the island’s remoteness from the castaway’s home society and the island’s isolation from all other societies. Jung notes that a particular kind of psychic energy flourishes in isolation resulting in ‘an animation of the psychic atmosphere, as a substitute for loss of contact with other people’ (CW 12:57). The island – a kind of incubator – exerts a more active influence on a character’s growth in island fiction than has hitherto been acknowledged.

When Shakespeare depicts characters who are ‘on the mend’ psychically he takes them off to an island as in The Tempest or isolates them in a forest as in As You Like It for dramatic study.

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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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