Heartfelt


As a person (traditionally) of the head, I generally take the arrow of causation to be ‘the head drives the heart’…

Of course that’s not always the case. When the heart skips a beat or starts misbehaving; that certainly gets the head thinking.

But a book I’ve been reading advocates what many world religions say: rather than just a rather ugly fleshy pump, the heart is a rich source of information on what’s going on inside.

The thesis is, if you’re carrying some problem you’ve not ‘processed’, when your mind wanders anywhere close to it, you can feel it a sort of ‘blockage’ in the heart. Experimenting with this for three or four weeks – for me at least – there’s absolutely something in it.

The physiology and location of the actual electrical impulses is a matter for the neurologists and cardiologists; but if I concentrate on where I ‘feel’ angst, I do indeed feel it in the heart. 

And what an acute detection mechanism it is – when you properly tune in to it… If I think of something or someone and feel a slight (or indeed major) tension in the chest; then sure enough it turns out there’s some form of messed up feeling hiding in there.

A combination of taking a breath and exploring round the ‘blockage’, and lo and behold there’s invariably some unfinished emotional business to have a look at…

A few weeks in, and I’ve ironed out and processed a good few anxieties I didn’t know I had, rattling about my chest cavity. I find I’m pausing and reflecting; but also acting and reacting more contentedly, easily, helpfully and kindly. 

Instead of chucking the brain at problems, I’m tuning into and listening to the acutely sensitive and (thankfully) steady thump of the heart. It’s a very fine guide.

 

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Bees 

In a meeting this week I asked how people felt about ‘whacking the beehive again’. 


We are trying a new ‘change management’ approach (as opposed the University standard of ‘resistance management’) on a major move; part of which involves regularly asking people how they feel about what we’re doing to them and all the things we’re changing. 


It’s finely poised. As I pointed out, asking people to put on the beekeepers outfit again – as we bring out all the angry bees – feels like a big ask on the hottest June in record at the end of a long academic year…


Still the point of change management is to keep asking, keep answering and keep moving forwards; so we agreed to give the beehive one last whack before summer and ask people if they felt ‘adequately informed’, ‘knew what they needed to do’ and were ‘broadly positive or broadly negative’.

Afterwards, I sent two of my fellow beekeepers this [only slightly doctored] quote from Marie Curie; which serendipitously had landed in my inbox that morning: 

Nothing in life [including bees] is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less. 

Marie Curie (1867 – 1934)  

But later in the day we did have a laugh, agreeing that we might need to pump a bit of smoke in the hive afterwards, to calm it all down again. 


Still as I emailed them later: 

“A former colleague of mine who keeps bees claims that you have to keep your hive in a reasonable state of agitation otherwise half of them clear off and make a new one!”

And now we can practise the art with the real thing… on the vary same day, we discovered a bee panel has just been installed on one of our busy London campuses…

I’ll be making a bee line!
 

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Cetaceans

Famously clever like us, Cetaceans are the smart cookies of the ocean – and they’ve been in my thoughts at work this week. The question being which one to be…

The Sperm Whale?

Wikipedia tells us the Sperm whale “has the largest brain of any animal on Earth, more than five times heavier than a human’s.” Sadly however: “the spermaceti oil from which the whale derives its name was a prime target of the whaling industry, and was dominant for use in oil lamps, lubricants, and candles.” Ouch – so much for my strategy of staying below the waterline.


The Dolphin? 

Fast, flashy, polygamous and a glossy surface performer Wikipedia cautions re the dolphin thus: “Dolphins engage in acts of aggression towards each other. The older a male dolphin is, the more likely his body is to be covered with bite scars. Male dolphins engage in acts of aggression apparently for the same reasons as humans: disputes between companions and competition for females. Acts of aggression can become so intense that targeted dolphins sometimes go into exile after losing a fight. Sounds like a young man’s cetacean to me – as I said in my performance appraisal this week: “I’m knocking on 50; I’m getting too old for some of this stuff!”


The Orca?

This is the chap: “a toothed whale with a diverse diet, there is no animal that preys on them. Killer whales are a cosmopolitan species; their sophisticated hunting techniques and vocal behaviours, which are often specific to a particular group and passed across generations, have been described as manifestations of animal culture. Killer whales are highly social; some populations are composed of family groups (pods) which are the most stable of any animal species.”  


As the pack ice breaks up, and lots of things start moving around; the Orca’s my pick of the cetaceans!

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Gaia II – Truth and Beauty

James Lovelock ends ‘Gaia‘ with a rather profound summary: 

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted.

I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them 

Beauty is truth, truth beauty – that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

I googled for the origins, and should have guessed the first two paragraphs – they are from the King James Bible; Ecclesiastes 3. 

But the third line is interesting too. If indeed ‘beauty’ is the lion’s share of ‘all ye know’ and ‘need to know’ on earth, and ‘truth’ the rest; does this give a simple recipe for the ‘good life’? 

Perhaps not quite that simple. The meaning of this line from Keat’s ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn‘ has been heavily debated down the years.

Still – this week I found from myself looking at nature more intently as a result of Lovelock and Keats. But Lovelock’s own ‘last word’ set me thinking too…

There can be no prescription, no set of rules, for living within Gaia. For each of our different actions there are only consequences.

This connected my with my developing ‘inner Buddhist’. Life takes is course; many thing happened before us and many more will happen after. 

This morning, I scanned my instagram photos from the last few years, to look at what I take photos of… 

Far from exhaustive; but a funny old selection of the beauty of nature, mankind’s profound and profane imprint on it – and our ongoing search for truth…

Truth and beauty might not be such bad guides. 


Ecclesiastes – King James Version 

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.

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Quiet 


Some weeks back I was talking to someone at work about the racket going on in her head. Too much on her mind.

As luck would have it, I’d just started reading a book which tackles the issue head on: what is all the noise in between our ears about…

In a nutshell the thesis is that we all live with a ‘noisy narrator’ in our heads – who is trying to be helpful but just can’t stop pointing things out, making suggestions, presenting arguments and/or things to remember or worry about. 

And the internal narrator likes nothing better than presenting competing options, then contradicting itself and coming up with wild half-baked fears and anxieties. All of which is ready and constant source of angst, brain ache and worries.

But that’s not the half of it… once you pay attention you notice your chatty companion also loves the banal and distracting – look at that tree; fancy a latte; what time is it; fancy humming this tune?

Now like most people I’d always assumed the restless, ceaseless, constant chuntering in my head was me. But the argument in The Untethered Soul’ is that you’re not the narrator… you’re the one quietly listening.

It’s a bit like being in a cinema; detach yourself from the action onscreen and you notice you’re sat in a row of chairs immersed in the film – but the observer of it; you’re not in the film.

It’s a bit strange the effect this has. Combined with taking a breath (of which more anon) I find myself experiencing quite a lot of quiet…

Of course it’s easy to switch the constant stream of ideas, actions and reactions back on; that’s still the default setting. But I do find myself sitting quietly and staring into the middle distance a good deal at the moment.

Quiet it seems is just that; quiet. It’s a whole new experience, but I quite like it.

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Gaia 


I’m reading James Lovelock’s famous ‘Gaia’ – the first airing of the hypothesis that the planet (and not just we creatures on it) is itself a self-regulating living system.

Lovelock got plenty of stick for this book. A scientist accused of straying into mysticism and anthropomorphism for personalising Gaia as a ‘being’ or a ‘living thing’; not just a bunch of chemical and physical processes.

He freely admits in the later foreword, that he had to write a much more dull and prosaic version to get anywhere with the scientific community. 

It’s one of those books like ‘On the Origin of Species’ which more people will know of than will read. But I’m glad I picked this out of an otherwise lifeless ‘Science’ shelf in the local library. 

It’s a super read. And even allowing for all that has changed in our knowledge and understanding in the 40+ years since it was written; like ‘On the Origin of Species’, you feel you are witness to a remarkable moment of synthesis. A whole array of concepts and ideas join together in one person’s mind and become a new picture on how the entire planet – and possibly the whole of creation works.

The simple facts of how the ‘perfect’ level of of the supremely reactive ‘vital’ ingredient oxygen (21%) is kept in the atmosphere are fascinating. It simply could not and would not be there without deeply interconnected living systems. 

Similarly the seas – without Gaian processes they’d get saltier and saltier within 80 million years; instead of the aeons at a stable 3.5%, which allows half the earth’s biomass to life in three-quarters of its surface.

It’s a terrific read. A moment in historic and scientific time maybe; but as important a science book as has ever struck the popular conscience. It’s also a book which reminds us that the planet we live on is so much more wonderful than we yet understand.

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To infinity and beyond…


Last weekend at twilight by the seaside, I took this photo. 

It picks up a theme I’m reading about at the moment; which is getting into the habit of looking a little beyond what’s happening right in front of you. 

Simple really – look up… 

Urban life is so full of people, noise, distractions, aggro, interruptions, obstacles and incidents. But if you look up at the sky or the far horizon they all melt away. 

It’s a clever trick… As we were driving to the seaside a football flew out of a local park and slapped hard into the side of the car with a very loud thud. Just a quick look at the clouds and the moment had gone…

This is not an argument for indifference or distraction – quite the contrary. When you look up you see things: trees, clouds, birds, fine rooflines, planes; or sometimes just the limitless sky, which expands into the boundless upper atmosphere and on to the unending universe. 

It’s simply that when you look up; it’s almost impossible to feel down. 

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Everybody’s talkin’ at me…

I sat through nearly two days of interviews this week. And, as so often, was amazed by how much people like to talk – and what they shared! 

Surely the most valuable thing to learn in life (and certainly in interviews) is that the most important and influential thing you can ever do is stop talking; all the time you’re talking, you’re basically draining the interview panel’s energy away!

We all want to talk; but if you want to get a job, in the words of the otherwise flawed Aaron Burr, from the wonderful Broadway musical ‘Hamilton

“Talk less; smile more…”

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Smile, surf, sleep

Smile

Talking to my daughter about her friendship angst this morning, I advocated she try a welcoming smile. 

I told her about the nice lady at work who told me about the cold snap in Romania and how it’s threatening the cherry trees; people are tending fires to gently waft smoke through the branches to protect the cherries. We both wished them well.

This lovely encounter grew from simply smiling, on three occasions as she made me a latte; and the smile developed into an exchange and then a conversation. 

Let’s see how my eldest gets on – I suspect it might take me than a smile with this ‘friend’.

Surf

I’m reading a rather terrific book about letting go of anxiety and fear and tapping into your own energy. 

More of this anon, but one of the many useful reminders is nearly everything that happens to us, in truth, is outside of our control. This means there are only two options, try to resist, control or avoid life – or roll with it. 

This week (like so many) looked on Tuesday morning (after an enjoyable but tiring bank holiday) like wave after wave of bother, problems, egos, unreasonable demands, risks and stressors; culminating in large forum event – at which I would have to orchestrate, perform and keep the whole show together. 

So it was; but by (largely) surfing along on the top of it all and not fighting it (and myself) I got through it just fine. By saving the energy on worry, avoidance and fear – I got it all done quite happily. 

As King Canute amply showed, there’s little point trying to stop the waves; may as well get up on your board and ride ’em.


Sleep

My old friend sleep. I need it so much, I never get enough of it and I never do enough to make sure I do. But I have improved in a few areas… to earplugs I’ve added eyepatches and from last week a booze curfew at 9pm. 

All the book and all the sage advice in them can’t help me when I’m tired. Without my sleep I’m hopeless; with it I’m smiling and surfing along.

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Smorgasbord 

Bank Holiday view; spot the nuclear power station… oops.

Feeling a little jaded today after a late night and a long drive back from the Welsh borders – I’m not much looking forward to work tomorrow.

How fortunate to stumble across this rather super smorgasbord of eleven answers to the question: ‘how to live?’ by Carolyn Gregiore from the Huffington Post in 2013. It was rattling about in the inbox I’m slowly tidying.

Get a good night’s sleep is the only other advice that’s missing, I’ll make sure I will tonight.

Aristotle (at number one appropriately…) 

“Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence,” Aristotle wrote.

The ancient Greek philosopher came up with one of the most famous definitions of happiness, eudaimonia, or human flourishing. By this theory of self-actualization, personal well-being and happiness are the highest goals that we can strive for.

Martin Heidegger

For German phenomenologist Martin Heidegger, a good life could was not possible unless you were living authentically, directing your life on your own terms, rather than following the blueprints set by others.

“Anyone can achieve their fullest potential, who we are might be predetermined, but the path we follow is always of our own choosing,” sais Heidegger. “We should never allow our fears or the expectations of others to set the frontiers of our destiny.”

Jean-Paul Sartre

Sarte may have been most famous for saying “Hell is other people,” but the French existentialist thinker also had some keen insights on happiness and the meaning of human existence. Freedom, he said, was the highest goal we could aspire to.

“Freedom is what you do with what’s been done to you,” said Sartre.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

To Emerson, the early American Transcendentalist thinker, taking each day in stride — as unburdened as possible by worries about the past and future — was the best route to a life well-lived.

“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can,” said Emerson. “Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”

Albert Camus

For French existential philosopher and novelist, over-thinking and over-analyzing can make us miss the moment.

“You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of,” said Camus. “You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.”

Epicurus

“Of all the means to insure happiness throughout the whole life, by far the most important is the acquisition of friends,” said the Hellenic philosopher Epicurus.

The Athenian philosopher believed that friendship, more than anything else, contributed to the development of a healthy and fulfilling life. He lived this notion in his own life, creating a school called “The Garden,” where he and his followers studied philosophy together in a close-knit community.

Friedrich Nietzsche

Nietzsche may have been a nihilist, but he still believed that there was one thing that truly made life worth living: The creation and enjoyment of art. Nietzsche was particularly fond of music, and loved to go see the operas of his German contemporary Richard Wagner (As he wrote, “Without music, life would be a mistake.”)

He also said, “We should consider every day lost on which we have not danced at least once.”

William James

American psychologist and philosopher William James coined the term “will to believe” to refer to way that we are able to choose our attitudes and beliefs — and in doing so, change our lives.

“Be not afraid of life,” James wrote. “Believe that life is worth living, and your belief will help create the fact.”

Simone de Beauvoir

Feminist thinker Simone de Beauvoir — the longtime partner of Jean-Paul Sartre — believed that caring for others was what gave life meaning.

“One’s life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, and compassion,” she wrote.

Thomas Merton

American Catholic thinker and mystic Thomas Merton believed that we could all find happiness — if only we looked to our inner wisdom.

“We have what we seek,” said Merton. “It is there all the time, and if we slow down and be still, it will make itself known to us.”

Marcus Tullius Cicero

For the Roman philosopher and politician Cicero, cultivating the intellect was essential to the good life. He once said that all you need in life is a garden and a library, and many times waxed poetic about his love of reading.

“Read at every wait; read at all hours; read within leisure; read in times of labor; read as one goes in; read as one goest out,” said Cicero. “The task of the educated mind is simply put: read to lead.”

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