650 000 hours

650 000 hours

A relatively healthy person will live for approximately 650 000 hours.

Does that sound like a long time to you?

How many of those hours have you spent worrying about things that have never come to pass?
Or filled with regrets about things that have?
How many hours have you spent turned to stone in front of your television set?
How many sleeping, numbed on substances, working a job that you despise or being in a relationship that strangles your heart?

Can you imagine if you could measure and weigh the hours spent looking into the eyes of your beloved (parent, partner, child, friend?). Or the hours you have devoted to selflessly serving another just because they were in need. How many hours have you in you for creating meaningful relationships, experiences, or time to reflect on your “operating software?”

Do you ever think about how you spend your precious hours?

I’ve been thinking a lot about it lately and this is what I’ve pieced together so far.

I’m going to invest more time in being kind to others.

Sitting with people over thousands of hours in therapy has shown me that we are essentially relational beings. One of our measures of self worth should be the quality of connections we build with others in the world, be that our closest friend, partner, or the homeless addict on the street.
I often wonder about what gets in the way of me being kind to others.

I want to nurture balance.

Balance may sound like a hackneyed concept, but I’m tired of being tired.
Good nutrition, 8 hours sleep a night, exercise, hours for me, for my family, for the cultivation of knowledge, for the sacred. The mindful spending of my precious hours will keep me from becoming exhausted, wired-eyed and brittle in a fast paced,ravenous world.

I want to travel.

Perspective is essential for my psycho-spiritual health. Seeing new cultures and being open to people in unfamiliar settings takes me out of my comfort zone. I learn to appreciate or shift what I place importance on. Sleeping under the stars, watching clouds drift overhead often reminds me about just how little I need to feel joy, to feel deeply connected.

I want to create.

Time is short and I feel a work of art stir within me. If I cannot find the hours to nurture it, it will wither and die. I will grow old with a vague remembering of something greater than the thin life I’ll be living. It doesn’t need to impress anyone, but whatever it is, must ultimately help others to struggle less.

Writer H.L Mencken once said ” you can’t do anything about the length of your life, but you certainly can do something about its width and depth”. So, ultimately these ‘practices’ should bring me a deeper consciousness of myself, an attunement to nature, a more profound relationship with the transcendent (the numinous, the divine, the spiritual) and if integrated correctly, an increased sense of freedom.

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The Memory Palace
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The Memory Palace

The following excerpt is from Moonwalking With Einstein by Joshua Foer. The individuals with the most prodigious memories, those that win the United States and World Memory Championships, use a technique called the “method of loci” or “memory palace.” Since the human brain is highly adept at remembering spaces and images, they simply visualize a house or palace, and visually place each item on a path through the house — using a highly unusual and memorable visual association for each item. Then, to remember, they simply take a mental “walk” through the house on that same path and “see” each item they need to remember. It turns out that this “memory palace” technique was used by the greats of antiquity during times when — because of the absence of the printing press and the internet — memory was a much more highly honored ability:

“Virtually all the nitty-gritty details we have about classical memory training … were first described in a short, anonymously authored Latin rhetoric textbook called the Rhetorica ad Herennium, written some­time between 86 and 82 B.C. … The techniques introduced in the Ad Herennium were widely prac­ticed in the ancient world. In fact, in his own writings on the art of memory, Cicero says that the techniques are so well known that he felt he didn’t need to waste ink describing them in detail. … Once upon a time, … memory train­ing was considered a centerpiece of classical education in the language arts, on par with grammar, logic, and rhetoric. Students were taught not just what to remember, but how to remember it.

“In a world with few books, memory was sacrosanct. Just look at Pliny the Elder’s Natural History, the first-century encyclopedia that chronicled … the most exceptional memories then known to history. ‘King Cyrus could give the names of all the soldiers in his army,’ Pliny reports. ‘Lucius Scipio knew the names of the whole Roman people. King Pyrrhus’s envoy Cineas knew those of the Sen­ate and knighthood at Rome the day after his arrival … A person in Greece named Charmadas recited the contents of any volumes in libraries that anyone asked him to quote, just as if he were reading them.’ … Seneca the Elder could repeat two thousand names in the order they’d been given to him. St. Augustine tells of a friend, Simplicius, who could recite Virgil by heart — backward. A strong memory was seen as the greatest virtue since it represented the internalization of a universe of external knowledge.

“The [technique] is to create a space in the mind’s eye, a place that you know well and can easily visualize, and then populate that imagined place with images representing whatever you want to remember. Known as the ‘method of loci’ by the Romans, such a building would later come to be called a ‘memory palace.’ Memory palaces don’t necessarily have to be palatial — or even buildings. They can be routes through a town … or station stops along a railway. … They can be big or small, indoors or outdoors, real or imagi­nary, so long as there’s some semblance of order that links one locus to the next, and so long as they are intimately familiar. The four-time U.S. memory champion Scott Hagwood uses luxury homes featured in Architectural Digest to store his memories. Dr. Yip Swee Chooi, the effervescent Malaysian memory champ, used his own body parts as loci to help him memorize the entire 56,000-word, 1,774-page Oxford Chinese-English dictionary. One might have dozens, hundreds, per­haps even thousands of memory palaces, each built to hold a different set of memories. …

” ‘The thing to understand is that humans are very, very good at learning spaces,’ [memory grand master] Ed Cooke remarked. … ‘Just to give an example, if you are left alone for five minutes in someone else’s house you’ve never visited before, and you’re feeling energetic and nosy, think about how much of that house could be fixed in your memory in that brief period. You’d be able to learn not just where all the different rooms are and how they connect with each other, but their dimensions and decoration, the arrangement of their contents, and where the windows are. Without really noticing it, you’d remember the whereabouts of hundreds of objects and all sorts of dimensions that you wouldn’t even notice yourself noticing. If you actually add up all that information, it’s like the equivalent of a short novel. But we don’t ever register that as being a memory achievement. Humans just gobble up spatial information.’

“The principle of the memory palace is to use one’s exquisite spatial memory to structure and store information whose order comes less naturally. … The crucial thing was to choose a memory palace with which [you are] intimately familiar [such as] the house you grew up in. …

“‘It’s important that you deeply process that image, so you give it as much attention as possible,’ Ed continued. [So if, for example, you want to remember the cottage cheese on your shopping list,] try to imagine [Claudia Schiffer swimming in a tub of cottage cheese]. And make sure you [visually place this cottage cheese image in a specific room in your mental house] … The Ad Herennium advises readers at length about creating the images for one’s memory palace: the funnier, lewder, and more bizarre, the better. … The more vivid the image, the more likely it is to cleave to its locus. What distinguishes a great mnemonist is the ability to create these sorts of lavish images on the fly, to paint in the mind a scene so unlike any that has been seen before that it cannot be forgotten. And to do it quickly. Which is why [memory champion] Tony Buzan tells anyone who will listen that the World Memory Championship is less a test of memory than of creativity.”

Moonwalking With Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything
Author: Joshua Foer
Publisher: The Penguin Press
Copyright 2011 by Joshua Foer
Pages: 94-100

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A long walk to freedom…
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A long walk to freedom…

I haven’t written for a long time,
A bad case of psychic constipation,
unsure of how to express myself,
how to give the Camino its due.

Something had to change, I was in a bad place before I left.

I hastily tended…and then fled my responsibilities at home.

I arrived on the Camino broken…exhausted, burnt out and heartbroken by my numerous bloody skirmishes with the world.
My nerves were jagged,
my body and mind bloated,
a cataract had formed over my soul.

On the first day, I stumbled over the Pyrenees, ill prepared, ankle deep in snow, sweating, my body protested every inch of the first 27km stretch over slick, often treacherous terrain. The icy rain and snow made my 10kg backpack feel a lot heavier.
I fell spectacularly twice, cursing, scrambling. I thought “bugger this!”,
“I’m off to Ibiza!”

I muttered interminably for hours, stopping intermittently to stare open mouthed at the incredible vistas that would open unexpectedly before me. Eventually, 11 hours later, I arrived at the first stop, freezing, filthy, shattered and exhilarated.
That night, I fell into the deepest, most nourishing sleep I have had in years.

People do the Camino for a variety of reasons, religious, spiritual, psychological (stage of life, often mid-late life), and physical. They come in fragmented droves from around the world, often spiritually anaemic, broken, disillusioned, confused. some seek insight or a challenge, others a lover, a friend or a break.

Among the seekers, I met witches and shamans, historians and plumbers, psychopaths and mavericks, each one had unique, often fascinating stories to tell.

For me, the journey was less about what was happening externally or relationally and more of what was going on deep inside of me as I walked hour after hour, day after day for four weeks covering a distance of approximately 800 kilometers.

I chose to walk alone for a couple of reasons, I was there to do my ‘work’, to heal. I found that I was unable to concentrate on my process and walk and talk with others at the same time. I wanted to encounter myself on a fundamental level with little or no distraction. When my head got too busy, I turned to my playlists compiled by dear friends, the music went a long way to keeping me sane and served to amplify peak experiences (I have a fantastic Camino playlist if anyone is keen).

I wanted to avoid ’empty talk’, the cocktail party chit chat I struggle with at the best of times. I wanted to be alone, with myself, with nowhere to run, my only responsibility…to ‘sort my shit out’.

The first weeks were punctuated by the physical challenges, aches, blisters, exhaustion. The body needs at least a week to acclimatize to the stress it is put under day after day. While I am incredibly attuned to what is happening in others, I have a blind spot when it comes to my own physicality. I had to learn to nourish myself on multiple levels in order to have the energy I needed to keep going. If I ignored the signals my body sent me, I would suffer.
I learnt to make love to my feet every evening.

As my body hardened and my stamina increased, I became aware of the incessant chatter of my mind. Living in a city, I had become less aware of my internal monologue, but out there, with the path stretching to the horizon, I was forced to listen to and observe endless reruns of past relational enactments. I watched as my ego raged and wailed against all it felt had wronged it. I conjured countless conversations that will never take place. The Observer was often embarrassed at just how petty my ego could be, I would internally quietly shake my head wondering whether I had learnt anything at all through my various attempts to understand myself. Slowly, gently, probably out of sheer exhaustion, I began to counsel and nurse the injured child.
And slowly the healing began.

Once the volume of my ego had softened, something shifted deep within. I began to wake up at 5:00 am and set off in the dark with my head torch, I’d walk and weep, my tears were filled with relief, with grief, with freedom, with the knowledge that I was fundamentally where I needed to be, doing what had to be done in order for me to evolve.

I would salute the Sun each morning, listening to the multitude of birds, my body felt strong, my mind clear, my heart open.
I would often laugh with such delight as a flash of creativity, or perspective, or joy ran through me.

My tears dried up on the 24th day. I was then able to connect with other seekers on the path and discovered that other people are a fundamental raw material of the Camino.

I returned home physically run down but psychospiritually more energized than I have been since I can remember. It is not a magical, mystical transformation. For me, walking brought me towards myself, it burnt away the psychic dross that had accumulated as a result of the most difficult year I had ever encountered.

I’ve never been a religious man, but I’ve always had a strong spiritual connection.
On the Camino I felt that connection deepen. I miss it, I’m struggling with the readjustment, the avalanche of roles and responsibilities have found me again.
Something must change, something essential…at least now, I have its scent.

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The Road Home
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The Road Home

I shave on Fridays. I do it with great anticipation. Fridays are the days I get to see my daughters. I shave so that when I kiss them they won’t get scratched, that when they cuddle up to me in front of a movie there is nothing that could disturb our proximity. Today, as I stood in front of the mirror, looking at my grey, exhausted pallor, I realized that this would be the last time I performed this ritual for the next month.

For now is the time to release that which has patiently paced, tightly wound deep inside of me. I can feel him straining against the conventions that bind.

He has the scent of The Great Depth.

With self discovery must come separation from the known, from that which I love most.
I cannot remain safe and grow.
Nor will I be able to teach my children to reach beyond themselves if I cannot do it myself.

I leave you with something called Tikkun Olam, a spiritual compass that I seek to reconnect with, a code I hope to impart to my children through my own lived practise.

To banish darkness with love
To bring healing to humankind
To battle ignorance by imparting wisdom
To overcome hatred by imparting love
To awaken the divine spark, even in the darkest of souls
To dissolve anger with kindness

With much love and courage,

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The evolution of psychiatric treatment.
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The evolution of psychiatric treatment.

Lobotomy, a procedure whereby a sharp instrument such as an icepick was inserted through holes that were drilled in the skull or through the eyesocket above the eye and were designed to sever the connections between the frontal lobe and the rest of the brain. Though thoroughly discredited by the 1970s, in the late 1930s through the 1950s, lobotomies became an increasingly common treatment in America for mental illness:

“Doctors at the time were using many strange methods to treat patients who were depressed or mentally ill. Psychiatrists used electrotherapy, where they ran varying amounts of electricity through people’s brains and bodies. They used hydrotherapy, where they gave their patients baths, douches, wet packs, steam, spritzers, and shots from hoses. … A German psychiatrist developed something called the ‘electric shower.’ The patient was fitted into a helmet that gave his brain a ‘shower’ of electricity. …

“These doctors weren’t just doing experiments in dark basements somewhere, hidden from the American Medical Association, or from the public eye. They were the subjects of articles in magazines and newspapers that applauded their efforts [including] Time, Newsweek, Scientific American, Science Digest and Nature.
“In 1935, visiting London, Dr. Walter Freeman witnessed a presentation on chimpanzees whose frontal lobes had been operated on. No one knew why exactly, but the monkeys all became passive and subdued after the operation. Another doctor attending the presentation was a Portuguese neurologist named Egas Moniz. He returned to Lisbon and in late 1935 began performing similar frontal lobe experiments on human beings. Moniz called the process ‘psychosurgery’ [it later became known as ‘lobotomy.’]

“Encouraged [by early experiments in this area] Freeman … conducted many more prefrontal lobotomies. In that early period, Freeman’s statistics said that out of his first 623 surgeries, 52 percent of the patients received ‘good’ results, 32 percent received ‘fair’ results, and 13 percent received ‘poor’ results. The remaining 3 percent died, but they weren’t included in the ‘poor’ results category. Freeman would later get closer to the truth when he admitted that his fatality rate was almost 15 percent. …

“Many of Freeman’s patients were so damaged by the surgery that they needed to be taught how to eat and use the bathroom again. Some never recovered. One of Freeman’s most famous patients was Rosemary Kennedy, sister of future president John F. Kennedy. Rosemary was born slightly retarded, but she lived an almost normal life until she was twenty-three. Then Freeman went to work on her. He performed a prefrontal lobotomy in 1941. Rosemary wound up in a Wisconsin mental hospital, where she stayed until her death, more than sixty years later. …

“The news coverage was universally positive. … The New York Times ran a story applauding Freeman’s success rate, which their reporter put at 65 percent. … Freeman’s lobotomy might have gotten popular without the support of the press. America’s hospitals were flooded with mental patients. By the late 1940s, there were more than a million mental cases in hospitals or asylums. More than 55 percent of all patients in American hospitals were mental cases. One study reported that the population of mental patients in American hospitals was growing by 80 percent a year.

“There was no real treatment for these people. They were often drugged, shackled, kept in straitjackets or locked in rubber rooms. Doctors were able to keep them from harming themselves or others, but they had a cure rate of about zero. Besides, keeping them in hospitals was expensive. Freeman offered a solution. His motto was, ‘Lobotomy gets them home!’ Directors of mental institutions heard that loud and clear. One of Freeman’s colleagues said that a procedure that would send 10 percent of mental patients home would save the American taxpayer $1 million a day. Freeman claimed a success rate well above 10 percent. Most hospitals and institutions welcomed him and his lobotomy.”

My Lobotomy
Author: Howard Dully
Publisher: Broadway Books
Copyright 2007 by Howard Dully and Charles Fleming
Pages 63-69

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Come to rest…finally.
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Come to rest…finally.

I offer my vulnerability as a guide towards the courage of exploring your own.

I lost my mother to her madness before I was born, I lost the musky scent of her warm body when I was 9…I lost her permenantly this month.
Her mind had broken while experimenting with LSD on a distant balmy beach in the late 60’s. She became Bodicea- shield maiden, Kali-devouring dark mother, seer, telepath, crazy wild eyed shapeshifter. Her mind continually moved like shadows under fast moving cloud.

I have loyally guarded my precious little velvet bag of memories of our time together, the deeply satisfying gouda toasted sandwiches, our sword fights which she would always let me win, her jagged loving hugs.
But there are also darker images, playing hide and seek…with her disappearing for hours, sometimes days while I became increasingly frantic. The neighbors feeding me Horlicks while they stole worried glances.
And others which I will always keep unspoken.

Eventually my grandparents intervened and I went to live with them in the distant reaches of the upper middle class- going to the ‘right’ schools encouraged to get the ‘right’ marks and make the ‘right’ friends. I dutifully performed, not wanting to risk another expulsion from loving attachment. My mother faded reluctantly, uncomfortably from my heart, whenever my head turned towards the confusing, textured memory of her, it was gently, but firmly guided towards my promising future.

I had not seen nor heard from her in over a decade. I’d often stared at a thinning, faded photo of her over the years, trying to keep a feeling image of her somewhere safe in me, but it always disintegrated like gossamer thread.
When I heard that she had passed away I was unsure of what I felt, so many conflicting emotions struggled for primacy.

A deep, overwhelming sadness for the traumatic, confusing life she experienced, for how her fierce struggle against sanity had alienated everyone, including me.

Guilt, for not having wrestled her madness out of her (even though I know how impossible this would’ve been).

Understanding how the primal parental wound is the unconscious master we all serve on some level, paying homage to it in-one way or another.

How I have sought a reflection of her in my lovers eyes, impotently, agonizingly trying to repair her through them.

And relief, that I finally know her fate and that her suffering has come to an end.

A close friend told me that my mother would’ve been proud of me.

I choose to believe it true.

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As some things fall apart, others come together.
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As some things fall apart, others come together.

Disintegration has become an ally. My initial skirmishes with its power left me devastated. Now, as I familiarize myself with the topography of the boneyard, something deep inside of me settles. I’m not panicking anymore, quite the opposite, I feel sharpened like a keen blade. The observer stays in his seat, watching emotional weather fronts roll in, wreak havoc and then leave. There seems to be an intelligence to it all, it’s a fierce teacher but I trust it, implicitly. I let my heart ache, my tears roll, even as pieces of me burn and fade away, there is renewal. Small shoots appearing everywhere. I can feel the inside of others now with an acuity that is exquisitely balanced, I drop deep beneath my fatigue into the collective. I have never felt more part of the whole, yet been so alone.

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Risk- William Ward
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Risk- William Ward

To laugh is to risk appearing a fool
To weep is to risk being called sentimental
To reach out to another is to risk involvement
To expose feelings is to risk exposing your true self
To place your ideas and dreams before a crowd is to risk their loss
To love is to risk not being loved in return
To live is to risk dying
To try is to risk failure.

But risks must be taken
Because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.
The people who risk nothing may avoid suffering and sorrow,
But they cannot learn, feel, change, grow, or really live.
Chained by their servitude that are slaves who have forfeited all freedom.
Only a person who risks is truly free.

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