Body Rhythms

Each day the body’s activities go through a natural cycle of change. Many of its rhythmical activities are tied into a 24 hour cycle, and many health problems can arise when these natural daily rhythms are disturbed.

Although this is a relatively modern discovery for Western medicine the Chinese were aware of this centuries ago. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine at any one time of day one of the 12 meridians will be more active than the others, hence the concept of the Chinese Meridian clock.

Circadian rhythms TCM

Also through the day the brain wave patterns alternate between Alpha (rest), Beta (active), Delta (deep sleep) and Theta (sleep). Also at a general level in the morning the body reinvigorates itself ready for the day and at night it prepares for sleep.

Wouldn’t it be good if there were a simple, easy-to-use way of synchronizing the body’s circadian rhythms (24 hour body clock) and brain wave frequencies? A simple device which automatically runs a series of programs to ensure this synchronization?

It’s no longer a pipe-dream. Such a device already exists, offering a world beating, ultra-sophisticated approach to maintaining healthy circadian rhythms. It is supremely compact, easy to use and discrete, and can be worn as a pendant or attached to a strap or belt.

It’s called the AcuPearl Circadian Balance. The C-Balance was launched in January 2016 and can be purchased from http://www.acupearl.co.uk/

 

©AcuPearl UK,6.4.18

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Asperger’s Syndrome

At the age of 62, I was diagnosed with Asperger’s. It wasn’t a huge surprise. I’d read about Asperger’s and it did seem to describe me. As a child, I was considered academically gifted and great things were expected of me. But I was also considered shy, nervous, physically clumsy and a bit of a know-it-all.  I had few friends and suffered dreadfully with anxiety and depression. Later, I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue. I felt like an outsider from another planet.

Indeed, people have the impression that people with Asperger’s (aspies) are like Mr Spock, the pointy-eared Vulcan from Star Trek – logical, unemotional and boringly dependable. We’re often portrayed as cold, unfriendly, tactless, opinionated, arrogant, and obsessive; preferring our own company and with a disdain for other people. All of this can be true – on the outside.

But what others don’t see is the internal struggle, for in many respects we’re just like everyone else. We want to love and be loved, we seek friendship and companionship. We need encouragement and like appreciation. We want our weaknesses supported and forgiven and to be accepted for whom we are. But it’s harder for us.

Today, equality and diversity are among the watchwords for a civilised society. It’s considered a good thing to respect people’s differences and treat everyone as equals regardless of gender, race, age, religion, mental or physical impairment, sexual orientation and so on.

Aspies deserve to be on this list. Asperger’s is not a choice; it’s a neurological condition, a developmental disorder. It is not a mental illness or learning disability. As such is a lifelong condition. You can’t cure it, only learn to live with it. And we don’t suffer from Asperger’s, we experience it.

What is Asperger’s?

Asperger’s is an autism spectrum disorder, one of a group of complex disorders characterized by social impairment, communication difficulties, and restrictive, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behaviour. It is named after the psychologist who first identified it in 1943, Dr Hans Asperger.

It is sometimes referred to as ‘high functioning autism’ because symptoms are less severe than full-blown autism. For instance, Asperger’s does not typically involve a speech delay. People with Asperger’s often have good language skills, but their speech patterns may be unusual, and they may not pick up on subtleties such as humour or sarcasm.

About 4 or 5 in every 1,000 have the condition whereas around 10 in 1,000 are autistic. It is 4 times more prevalent in men as women.

Asperger’s is NOT a mental illness or learning disability. Aspies are not damaged and don’t need fixing. They just process the world differently. They see things from a different perspective.

We have no idea what causes it. Somehow developmental changes occur in the womb that ‘rewire’ the neural connections in the brain, but we don’t know for sure. We do know, however, that it is not caused by a child’s upbringing (for instance there is no connection with cold, aloof parenting), nor is it due to psychological or emotional damage. Twin studies show that there is a strong genetic component.

Diagnosis

Many people report a sense of relief when diagnosed. They’re glad to have an explanation for their difficulties and, perhaps, justification for past behaviours. It can also be a trigger for better informed aspies to learn new ways.

Asperger’s Characteristics

We must understand that Asperger’s does not affect everyone the same. There is a huge variation in characteristics within the criteria, and aspie personalities can differ enormously. Even so, many aspie’s identify with the following features:

1. Difficulties understanding non-verbal communication

This lies at the core of aspies’ difficulties with social interactions.

Psychologists tell us that less than 10% of the messages we receive from others comes from the use of words. Nearly 40% comes from verbal cues such as tone of voice, inflexion etc. and the remainder – over 50% – from body language, gesture, facial expression and so on. Aspies do not naturally pick up on these in the same way as our neuro-typical (NT) friends.

Most people can tell another’s feelings from their tone of voice and body language or intuitively – we can’t. Consequently we have problems seeing things from another’s point of view. For example, we don’t always know if a person is smiling because they wish us well, or intend to deceive us. This means that we often misjudge people, especially when meeting them for the first time. We’re easily taken in, thinking others are our friends when they are not.

We’re good with words, though. We understand the literal meanings of words, but get confused when words are not used literally. For example:

‘I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.’ (Which bridge?)

‘You’re trying to make a monkey of me.’ (What have monkeys got to do with it?)

‘You want jam on it!’ (No I don’t, I don’t like jam.)

This can get us into a lot of trouble, and we don’t always understand why. We’re particularly bad at picking up on sarcasm, playful teasing and figures of speech. Interrupting is another common problem since we don’t always pick up the social signals that enable conversations to move from one person to another.

We also have problems with the messages we give out. Our non-verbal communication is poor. Our facial expressions and gestures may be lacking or judged inappropriate, our voice and expression monotone. We often have a quirky sense of humour that isn’t always appreciated by others. Our hearts are in the right place but it doesn’t always show on our faces!

One feature of this is eye contact, a vital part of one-to-one interactions. As a result verbal conversation may not flow and we may come across as disinterested or rude. As a young man, when I met someone I would stare at the ceiling or the floor. I had to force myself to make eye contact with people. There’s a logical reason for this – since nonverbal cues such as facial twitches don’t mean anything to us or if we find them distracting, why look?

We cannot NOT communicate. We are constantly giving out messages, but when you have Aspergers you only pick up 10-20% of the full meaning. 80-90% is lost; consequently it takes longer to process social information.

2. Difficulties in relating to others in social situations

I have always dreaded parties, discos, informal gatherings, networking events and so on. I just don’t feel as if I fit in, and I often mess up when I try. I can recall making countless stupid remarks in an attempt to be witty or make conversation. As a twenty-something, alcohol often came to the rescue. If I was noticeably drunk, I reasoned, then no-one would expect anything of me, and I liked it that way.

We hate rules made by others, including and perhaps especially social rules!

Ironically, many aspies have no problem giving talks or contributing to meetings providing they can prepare. Aspies like sharing information and being in control, but being in unstructured situations brings on anxiety.

Aspies can learn social skills to some extent, but the inner feelings don’t easily go away. We can learn to adjust our behaviour to suit different social situations. We can learn to understand social rules and when something may cause embarrassment. Even though we are more Interested in making significant contributions to a conversation, we can learn to engage in small talk (however much we dislike it). We can learn how to start and end conversations, and how to avoid being over-critical.

Above all, we can learn to listen and show that we’re listening. Sometimes it’s an effort, but isn’t that true for NTs too?

3. Friendships

Most Aspie’s have difficulty making friends. I only have one friend from school, one from my student days, and only a handful from the years since. We like to have friends, but usually have few or none. Why?

Firstly, obviously the problems of social interaction and communication make it hard to get to know people and let them know us. We get bored easily and shy away from socialising. We don’t feel the same need to belong.

Secondly, although we may believe we can be good friends, interesting and fun to be with, it has to be on our own terms. We are self-orientated. We can be stubborn. For example, we may not answer the phone unless convenient to us and resent uninvited visitors and interruptions, especially when we’re busy pursuing a cherished interest.

Thirdly, we don’t always hold back on the truth as we see it, and our narrow range of interests, bluntness, honesty and logic doesn’t necessarily make us popular. I used to try to make friends by being helpful, sharing my knowledge and interests and letting people know the right way to do things. Unsurprisingly they didn’t always appreciate my concern and I couldn’t understand why!

An ex-girlfriend called me a ‘people-pleaser’. At first I thought this was a compliment, but now I understand. Aspies hate rejection and are easily hurt. Sometimes we try to win approval by being over-friendly, over-helpful. We misunderstand the boundaries – and that’s a big part of having the condition.

4. Emotions

Aspies’ natural instincts are to logical problem-solving rather than an emotional response. Perhaps that’s why people generally think that we don’t have emotions – but we do. Oh yes we do, and our emotions can run very deep.

The problem is, we can’t always say or show what we’re feeling, and at other times we display extreme emotion. We aren’t always sure which emotion is appropriate, and we may express our feelings in unpredictable ways. We are prone to angry outbursts, but anger is probably not the underlying emotion which may be anxiety, frustration, sadness or irritation. When things get too much and we can’t figure out a response we may yell and scream and smash things. It brings us no pleasure; we don’t enjoy making a spectacle of ourselves.

Alternatively, we may sink into a depressive episode. Anxiety and depression are a daily reality for most Aspies. It may not show, though: we may be calm on the outside while screaming on the inside. Many aspies succumb to chronic fatigue from the sheer effort of trying to appear ‘normal’ on the outside.

Whether we explode or stop functioning when things get on top of us, we call it a ‘meltdown’. Some meltdowns are sudden, intense, intimidating; some are slow burning and can take weeks to get over. I’ve had a slow burner every few years requiring clinical support. Two steps forward, one step back – the story of my life.

5. Restricted and repetitive behaviour

Aspies are known for our set routines and resistance to change. We have strong preference for routine, order and have preferred ways of doing things. A trained eye can easily spot that I have Aspergers from the way I organise my CD collection, display my books, plan my meals and arrange my photo albums! We can be very irritable and distressed if the unexpected happens or if arrangements are changed. Once a pattern is established or a plan is made, it’s stuck to resolutely.

Typically, we have an unusual preoccupation with a narrow range of specific subjects and an intense ability to focus on them. Aspies often seek out other people to talk to about our interests. The discussion is usually one-sided. We can be more interest in getting our knowledge across than listening to feedback.

We can be fixated on specific topics, objects, people, activities and so on to the exclusion of all else, and a dogged determination to pursue them. Perfectionism can be a problem – a fear of attempting we’re not sure we can excel at it. We can be very upset with ourselves if we fall short of our high standards.

Although I said earlier that people with Asperger’s don’t like social rules, rules are very important to us. As much as we hate other people’s rules, we like our own and insist that they be obeyed. For example, we may become angry with drivers who break traffic rules, a game is not played fairly or someone is caught cheating. And we don’t like to be hurried.

6. Sensitivity

Ironically, aspies can be both hyper- (over) sensitive and hypo- (under) sensitive.

As a child, I was called ‘highly strung’. It was made clear that this was a bad thing and brought much criticism my way. I had a recurring dream which I still remember clearly to this day. I was curled up in a large wooden chest, listening to the sounds of the world outside and safe from them.

Over-stimulation can lead to odd movements to make us feel in control and which annoy others. ‘Stimming’ – self-stimulation – is common. This can take the form of tapping, playing with our fingers or hair, rocking, flapping, spinning or flicking objects.

People with Asperger’s are commonly intolerant of excessive sensory stimulation. For example:

  • Bright lights may be difficult to cope with or even physically painful. They can cause sickness and headaches and prevent sleep.
  • Similarly sounds. High pitched sounds can be painful. Small sounds made by others may annoy. Sleep is easily disturbed, for instance by a ticking clock, traffic noise or someone snoring. Sounds we control don’t bother us, though. We like our own music played loud but cannot abide other people’s.
  • Certain textures or clothing may be highly irritating, especially tight clothing like ties, rings and clothes that scratch or itch.
  • Being touched can cause irritation or discomfort, and tickling can be torture! We may be especially sensitive to kinaesthetic stimuli such as heat, cold, water, wind or rain.
  • Certain smells or colours may irritate and cause stress, e.g. flower scents, spices or animal smells.
  • Foods of certain tastes or textures may annoy or cause retching – e.g. custard, cheese, fat, slimy foods.

All these can lead us to seeking or avoiding thing that others find perfectly tolerable. For instance, crowds, hectic activity and busyness bother us. We find them threatening and confusing. Every sense is on alert, looking for danger, unsure if we should be afraid or not. This takes effort and is exhausting, another reasons why aspies are prone to chronic fatigue.

On the other hand, aspies can also be hypo-reactive to stimuli in the environment. We may not feel pain when hurt and leave an injury unnoticed. A full bladder or hunger pains may not register, and we may be unable to process certain sounds. Once again, our senses are letting us down.

7. Motor skills

People with Aspergers are often physically clumsy. Our motor skills are underdeveloped, our balance, fine motor skills and coordination poor. Naturally this causes problems with physical activities such as sports, intricate activities like modelling and handicrafts and dancing.

8. Strengths

Knowing the struggles that Asperger’s people face and how they come across to others, it may surprise you that many top companies – including Microsoft (founded by aspie Bill Gates) actively seek them out for employment because of the qualities they bring. Asperger’s individuals can be remarkably intelligent. After all, Einstein was one, as was Alan Turing!

Aspies are often very articulate, numerate, logical good with detail. We have excellent concentration and dogged persistence. We are honest, loyal and dependable. Give us a role that meets our skills and preoccupations and we are in our element.

It may be that these are the qualities upon which civilisation depends. ‘After all,’ wrote Asperger’s diagnosee Temple Grandin, ‘the really social people did not invent the first stone spear. It was probably invented by an Aspie who chipped away at rocks while the other people socialised around the campfire. Without autism we might still be living in caves!’

©David Lawrence Preston, 31.3.18

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Asperger’s cannot be cured, but some of the symptoms can be relieved so that life becomes more tolerable. I’ve found AcuPearl Chillout particularly helpful.  See www.acupearl.co.uk.

 

The Molecules of Emotion

Anyone who has ever felt sick with worry or cried at the cinema knows that there is a close connection between our thoughts, emotions and bodily state, but only in the last couple of decades has the medical establishment acknowledged this connection and begun to take it seriously. The reason was that scientists could find no discernible means by which the brain, nervous system and immune system communicated with each other, and hence could not explain how the mind could possibly bring about physical changes.

Dr Candace Pert changed all that. She discovered the biochemical mechanisms through which mind-body communication takes place. As a result of her work, and that work of other great PNI (Psycho-Neuro-Immunology) pioneers such as Cannon, Ader, Felten and the rest, no serious medic today would deny that our thoughts and emotions affect our health. No longer can we regard the body and mind as distinct from each other – they function together as a single unit, an interconnected whole.

The Molecules of Emotion is an account of Dr Pert’s life and work from her graduation in 1970 until its publication in 1997. The first chapter sets the scene, a scientific explanation of ligands, peptides and receptor sites cleverly woven into her account of how she approaches lecturing to an expert audience.  The next few chapters describe the defining period on her life when, as a young scientist trying to make her mark, she fought off those who said it couldn’t be done and discovered the opiate receptor in the brain. She then found herself at odds with those in power who resented her challenge to established scientific thinking and who weren’t ready to be confronted by – shock horror!!! – a woman shaking things up. Indeed, this episode sets the tone for much of the book. She frequently returns to the 1970’s style feminism, concluding that her difficulties in getting the credit to which she was entitled were due to her gender rather than the dirty tricks and ruthlessness of professional colleagues.

Personally, as one who gave up chemistry and biology at an early age, I found the book tough going in places, but the ‘difficult’ passages soon give way to more reader friendly narrative. Parts are stomach churning; her description of making a frothy milkshake-like mixture from the brains of the recently deceased is not for the faint-hearted, but an essential part of her research. She describes research that would later signpost an effective treatment for HIV, an easily synthesised polypeptide that would block one of the receptor sites by which the virus gains access to the body. Complicated, yes, but even so, the author makes it as clear as possible for the uninitiated like me. I learned a great deal, and, thanks to a clear and comprehensive index at the back, will use the book as a source of reference in the future.

Besides, for me, the science is not the only point of the book, for behind the technical details lies a fascinating human interest story of a determined young woman doing unconventional research in a staid and conservative environment. Indeed, her first major breakthrough would not have happened if she’d obeyed her superior’s instruction to discontinue that line of research. Then as the story unfolds, we learn how she was denied her share in a prestigious award, even though she did most of the research; her difficulties combining he professional life with her family life; her 10 year struggle to get funding for research; and how she founding of a research institute with a state-of-the-art laboratory only to have the funding withdrawn after falling foul of the intriguingly unnamed ‘Second Biggest Drug Company on the Planet’. She tells how she sabotaged her chances of gaining a Nobel Prize nomination by refusing to support the nomination of a group of (male) rivals who she felt had stolen her ideas.

Later breakthroughs in HIV/AIDS and cancer treatments followed, each as hard-fought as the last. By then, she had become more resilient, and her anger and frustration had given way to mindfulness and acceptance. For out of her research had come the realisation that forgiveness and a positive attitude in the face of adversity are important for maintaining wellbeing, and that toxic emotions must be expressed and worked through.

meridiansThe final chapters offer an eight part programme for a healthy lifestyle. By then, she had discovered meditation, consciousness and chakra-based energy medicine. She had become an apostle for integrating mainstream, science-based medicine with holistic healthcare, and acknowledged the interaction between ‘healer’ and ‘client’ as an important part of the healing process. She had also stumbled across the notion of information exchange as the basis of understanding biological life, referring to neuropeptides and receptors as ‘information molecules’.

The Molecules of Emotion has been criticised by the more scientifically minded as focussing too much on the human interest story and veering too far towards the ‘woo-woo’ in its final chapters, and by science-phobics as too heavy on technical detail.  But science is an unfolding process. Scientifically, the world has moved on since The Molecules of Emotion was first published. We know a great deal more about the mechanisms by which our mental and emotional processes affect the biochemical make up of the body and manifest as health and wellbeing or dysfunction and disease. As a result, health practitioners (including doctors) are no longer reluctant to discuss with clients how their beliefs and lifestyle choices impact on their health, and more and more clients readily embrace holistic healing approaches alongside conventional medicine.

Dr Pert made some important discoveries, then, not content to keep them to herself, fought hard to bring them to our attention. Her work validates what common sense has always told us – that the mind and body are intimately connected. For me, this book is an essential read for anyone engaged in medicine/healthcare and/or healing, either as a practitioner, educator, policymaker or administrator.

Dr Candace Pert, The Molecules of Emotion: Why You Feel The Way You Feel, Pocket Books, 1999, ISBN- 13: 978-0-6710-3397-2

 

Copyright David Lawrence Preston, 25.3.18. All rights reserved.

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Happy Easter Everyone

Every year on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox, Christians celebrate Easter, as they have ever since the First Council of Nicaea in 325 CE. Easter is the day on which they believe their Saviour’s body came back to life after suffering a horrendous death, and that he was seen in corporeal form for several weeks before ascending to ‘heaven’ on a cloud. This is the very basis of the Christian religion.

JC

They believe it because some of the Gospels (not all of them, as we’ll see) say it happened. But most Christians have never read the New Testament in full, let alone studied it. They don’t know who wrote it, or when, or how it came to be in its final form. Nor are they aware of the inconsistencies and contradictions it contains.

If they read it, knew its history and thought about it, Christians would realise that the Gospel accounts of the resurrection are just as implausible as a three day old mangled dead body coming back to life would be today!

The church says the contradictions don’t matter, but they would, wouldn’t they? What matters is that believers accept their version of events without question, as a matter of faith, without letting inconvenient facts getting in the way.

But surely for the New Testament stories to have any real value they must be substantially true, which means historically accurate. Otherwise they are on the same par as the Tales of Narnia, Lord of the Rings and other stories written to make a point – thought provoking but works of fiction nonetheless.

What the Gospels Actually Say

The church claims that the entire New Testament was written by people who were all either present at the events they describe or who spoke to eyewitnesses and then presented accurate, unembellished accounts of what they saw or heard.

But this simply isn’t true!

The earliest gospel was written around 70 CE, and most Biblical scholars agree that it is probably the most historically reliable. The second and third were written around 80-90 CE and the fourth between 99-100 CE. All four were unnamed until the late second century when the names Mark, Matthew, Luke and John were ascribed. But they didn’t reach their final form until much later, after they had been translated and mistranslated many times and many additions and redactions had been made.

The longer the period between the actual events, the writing of the manuscript and its reaching its final form, the more embellished became the story.

The earliest New Testament writings are seven of the letters attributed to Paul of Tarsus (Thessalonians 1, Philippians, Philemon, Corinthians 1 and 2, Galatians and Romans). These date from 53-58 CE, a quarter of a century after the crucifixion. The other letters in Paul’s name were written much later after his death, not by him.

Paul had met with at least two of the disciples who knew Yeshua, Peter and James, yet he never claimed a physical resurrection. He wrote that Yeshua appeared in changed form. He wrote (1 Corinthians 15: 3-7): ‘For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received,’ and went on to report a number of ‘appearances’ to the twelve disciples (strange – after Judas’s suicide there were only supposed to be eleven) and to a wider group of believers.

The First Gospel (later named ‘Mark’) originally ended with the body missing and an angel telling the disciples to return to Galilee where they would see him. They were clearly not expecting this, and fled in terror (Mark 16:5-8). Much later, another section was added by an unknown author (Mark 16:9-19) in which Yeshua ‘appeared’ to them several times and spoke. Nowhere did either author claim that he had risen in bodily form.

The Second and Third Gospels (written around 80-90 CE and subsequently named ‘Matthew’ and ‘Luke’) used the First as a guide and added their resurrection narratives. reported dozens of sightings, although their accounts are remarkably inconsistent. Most of them began and ended mysteriously, for instance, he ‘drew near,’ then ‘disappeared from sight’ like a ghost.

The Third Gospel expanded the story, adding several more appearances in which Yeshua ‘came near’ and ‘stood among them’, showed them his wounds, ate fish, then vanished. Later, he ‘withdrew from them and was carried up to heaven.’ (Luke 24:51) None of these incidents are found in the other Gospels. Moreover, far from fleeing to Galilee, the disciples stayed in Jerusalem and ‘were continually in the temple.’ (Luke 24:50) Perhaps he wasn’t sure of his facts or like any good journalist didn’t want to let the facts get in the way of a good story.

The Acts of the Apostles, written by the same author as the Third Gospel, merely says he ‘presented himself alive’ to the disciples over a forty day period.

By the time the fourth Gospel was written, it was clear that most Jews did not accept Yeshua as the Messiah, and this was reflected in the increasingly exaggerated claims made on his behalf.

Whereas the first three Gospel writers portray Yeshua as what G-d would be like if he took human form, the Fourth Gospel (‘John’) thought he was G-d! This work is regarded by scholars as an abstract work of theology rather than a serious attempt at historical accuracy. Here Yeshua appeared to Mary Magdalene outside the tomb but warned her not to touch him since he had not yet ‘ascended to the Father’. (John 20:17)  Later he ‘stood among’ the disciples and invited ‘doubting’ Thomas to touch his wounds. He also he appeared to different disciples on various occasions, in one instance filling their nets full of fish and offering bread and fish for breakfast. On this occasion, in common with most of his ‘appearances’, they did not recognise him immediately.

The Gospels agree on only two details – that the tomb was found empty on the third day after the crucifixion, and that Mary Magdalene was one of those who discovered the empty tomb. None of them say that Yeshua was seen walking out of the tomb, nor do they explain how he was seen fully clothed, considering the burial clothes were left in situ.

What happened to the body?

The Second Gospel has an interesting postscript that illustrates the writers’ dilemma: explaining what happened to Yeshua’s body. According to ‘Matthew’, the Jewish leaders, petrified of what would happen if the word got out that Yeshua had come back to life, paid the soldiers guarding the tomb to spread the story that the disciples came by night and stole the body while they were asleep. ‘This story is still told among the Jews to this day,’ he wrote fifty years after the crucifixion. (Matthew 28:15).

It was normal practice to leave crucified bodies on the crosses until the vultures had torn off the flesh, then remove the bones and dispose of them in sulphur pits outside the city used as a crematorium. It is highly probable that this is what happened to Yeshua’s body too.

But to say so would not have suited the gospel writers. Instead they wrote that Pilate allowed the body to be taken by an influential follower and placed in a sealed tomb. Quite why the Pilate would have allowed this particular troublemaker to be given special treatment is unclear.

When Yeshua died, his disciples were scared and confused, their hopes that the ‘kingdom of God’ was about to appear and reform the world shattered. Then, as the decades rolled by, their successors began to see him as the personification of G-d, and then G-d himself in human form. But how could G-d die? How could they execute G-d as a common criminal and leave his remains to rot in a sulphur pit?

Hence the Easter stories transformed Yeshua’s death and abject defeat into a noble sacrifice, the triumph of life over death, the victory of the Saviour over the Romans and the ultimate vindication despite not being recognised as the Messiah by the Jews. This was their purpose.

A miraculous presence

Apart from the apparent disappearance of the body, the only other historical fact of which we can be sure is that some of Yeshua’s followers believed that they felt the miraculous presence of their dead Master and perhaps saw visions of him. We can’t say exactly what these, but they obviously felt real because many of them suffered and died for it. It’s not unusual for bereaved people today to ‘see’ a departed loved one or ‘feel’ their presence – it happened to me when my father died.

But, in common with Paul, Peter, James and the authors of the First and Second Gospels, I don’t believe his body came back to life in a physical sense. If he had, the events would surely have been mentioned in the historical records of the day, not just the Gospels, and the Jewish population would surely have been won over. But they weren’t.

Diabolical Mimicry

There were many myths concerning a dying and resurrected god-man across the Middle East from the 5th Century BCE onward. In Egypt:

  • He was God made flesh, the Son of God.
  • His mother was a mortal virgin.
  • He was born in a humble cowshed before three shepherds.
  • He turned water into wine at a marriage ceremony.
  • He rode triumphantly on a donkey while people waved palm leaves to honour him.
  • He died, and on the third day rose from the dead and ascended to heaven in glory.
  • His followers awaited his return as judge in the last days.
  • His death and resurrection were celebrated by a ritual meal of bread and wine which symbolised his body and blood.

This was not Yeshua ben Yosef, the man whose life inspired the Christian religion, but the Egyptian god-man Osiris, five hundred years before his birth! The similarities were so obvious that the Second Century Roman satirist Celsus described Christianity as ‘diabolical mimicry’ and accused Yeshua of ‘having invented his birth from a virgin’. But this is unfair – Yeshua knew nothing about this (and neither did his mother) since the virgin birth stories were invented long after their death.

Of course, the resurrection is not verifiable in a factual/historical sense. You either believe it or you don’t. If you believe, no evidence, no insights, no knowledge, no common sense will shake your belief.  That’s the way the human mind works; it’s also the nature of belief.

© David Lawrence Preston, 25.3.2018

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Front cover 201 things

Hay House/Balboa Press, 2015

Why Big Pharma is unsustainable

The conventional view, upon which modern medicine is based, is that the body is a collection of dumb atoms which somehow come together to form molecules (chemicals) which combine to form living cells.

Cell 2Cells gather together to make a body which is governed by genes, nerves and hormones. When we are ill, the body’s biochemistry is out of balance  and must be restored using chemicals or by modifying genes. It’s a bit like adding salt to our food by trial and error hoping we get the taste right.

However, the biochemical explanation of the body has significant limitations. It doesn’t explain the shape and form of the body or how healing happens. It has a poor record in treating chronic disease. It does not explain our individuality, thoughts, intentions, memory or intelligence. Nor does it explain belief, the placebo effect or consciousness. Indeed, despite several centuries of ‘scientific’ medicine, most of the dynamic processes in our body are not totally understood. That’s because it’s beyond them! Only a holistic field-based approach can explain the interconnected nature of life processes – human, animal and plant-based.

A field is an area in which a given force exerts an influence, a well known example being is the field around a magnet. Fields involve a vibration of energy and information transfer. They offer convincing explanations of how consciousness influences the body at cellular level and how a multitude of patterns and simultaneous movements impact on the body’s physiology, biochemistry and mental and emotional functioning.

It has long been recognised that the body is shaped by hundreds of subtle energy fields – including the auric field, the chakras, morphological fields (which allow exchanges between like-minded species and transfer information from one generation to another), thought fields, electrical and light fields.

Biofield

All matter – including the human body – is formed from energy at a low rate of vibration controlled by information fields. These are as necessary to the functioning of the body as energy.

In future, correcting dysfunctional energy and information flows will be central to the science of health and healing. Doctors will understand that the root cause of disease and ill health, whether physical or emotional, is disruptions or distortions to the body’s information fields.

Consciousness and the ‘healing intelligence’ of the body are glaringly absent from the current orthodox medical model, but they are the future. Big Pharma beware! Within a couple of generations you and your drug-based approach to everything are going to find yourselves old hat! And you probably know it!

Copyright David Lawrence Preston, 25.3.18

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Heresy and Truth

In the early 1980s, the newly appointed Anglican Bishop of Durham, Dr David Jenkins, said he did not believe the gospel birth stories nor that that a physical resurrection had taken place, and that such beliefs were not necessary to be a good Christian.

You may remember the uproar in some Christian circles. Many – including the Prime Minister at the time, Margaret Thatcher – thought he had no right to call himself a Christian and senior members of the Church of England demanded he be tried for heresy (the last heresy trials had been over a hundred years previously).

Moreover, on the day of Dr Jenkins’ ordination at York Minster, lightning struck the Minster and part of the roof caught fire. Proof, said his critics, that God was angry with the church for appointing him.

All this made quite an impression on me, having rejected the strict Methodist upbringing to which I had been subjected. I began to take an interest in religion from a historical point of view. I quickly discovered that Bishop Jenkins was merely expressing a view that had long existed among scholars. For example, Dr Albert Schweitzer wrote in 1906: ‘The histories of Jesus’ birth are not literary versions of a tradition, but literary inventions.’[1]

But what was the Bishop really saying? Let’s take a look at the Christmas and resurrection stories:

The Christmas story which is enacted around the world every December is based on just two gospels – ‘Matthew’s’ and ‘Luke’s’. ‘Mark’ and ‘John’ have nothing to say on the issue. Indeed, the Fourth Gospel reports an incident in which a crowd doubted that Jesus was the Messiah precisely because he did not come from Bethlehem, but from Galilee[2]

nativity

The familiar Christmas tale combines ‘Matthew’ and ‘Luke’.

Joseph and Mary travelled from Nazareth to Bethlehem on a donkey. Their son was born in a stable because there was no room at the inn. They were visited by shepherds and three wise men from the East. According to ‘Matthew’, and ‘Matthew’ alone, the family then had to escape to Egypt to avoid persecution from King Herod. Eventually they returned to Nazareth and nothing more was heard of them for over a decade.

Now apart from the sheer implausibility of such a tale, it is compounded by a number of ‘inconvenient’ facts based on what we know about history and the culture of Palestinian society at that time.

To start with, the above narrative is a combination of two incompatible and very different sources. The only thing they have in common is the location, Bethlehem, and their wish to portray Jesus’ birth as important. ‘Matthew’ was also concerned to link it in as many ways as possible to the ancient Hebrew prophecies.

There is no mention of this miraculous birth anywhere else in the New Testament: no mention in the earliest gospel, ‘Mark’, and no mention in Paul’s letters, which pre-date ‘Mark’. Paul had met with the disciples Peter and James (Jesus’s biological brother) – surely they would have discussed such a remarkable turn of events? Or is it simply that these stories hadn’t yet been circulated when the earliest New Testament texts were written?

There’s no mention of the birth in ‘John’s’ Gospel; no mention in the Acts of the Apostles; and no mention in the later letters. Nowhere in the gospels does Jesus make any reference to his birth, and neither do his mother or his brothers! Curious!

Bethlehem

It was especially important for the author of ‘Matthew’s Gospel’ that Jesus was seen to come from Bethlehem, since the prophet Micah had foreseen a Messiah being born there [3]. ‘Matthew’ stated it as a fact [4] but made no attempt to explain how they came to be in Bethlehem; that story came only from ‘Luke’. He wrote that a census was to take place which required every citizen to return to their ancestral home. Because Joseph was said to be a descendent of King David, this meant David’s city, Bethlehem.

Good story. The problem is, it simply isn’t true. Historians have searched in vain for an empire-wide census at the time of Jesus’s birth, but there was none. In any case the Romans had no jurisdiction to hold a census in Galilee since this was Herod’s province. And not even the Romans would have insisted that a heavily pregnant woman travel the eighty miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem through hostile territory on a donkey.

The flight into Egypt

According to ‘Luke’[6], after the birth the family immediately returned to Nazareth. But ‘Matthew’s’ gospel says that Mary, Joseph and the baby fled to Egypt to avoid an order from King Herod that all new born Jewish boys be killed. But there’s no record of any such decree, and no record of a slaughter of Jewish babies at that time. It is simply a literary way of linking Jesus’s birth to the passage in the scriptures in which Yahweh says, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’[7]

So were ‘Matthew’ and ‘Luke’ fibbers? Yes and no. They saw no harm in using a little artistic licence or borrowing a few ideas from other cultures. They simply wanted to encourage people to join their new community.

JC

Let’s turn to Jesus’ crucifixion, burial and resurrection.

While Jesus’s crucifixion is not in doubt (it is about the only fact about his life that is mentioned outside the official gospels), the circumstances of his burial are contested. It was unheard of for a crucified person to receive a decent burial. It was normal practice to leave them on the cross until the vultures had torn off the flesh, then take the bones to the sulphur pits outside Jerusalem which were used as a crematorium. The balance of probability is that this is where Jesus’s body ended up too.

The gospels say that that Pilate, the Roman governor, gave permission for Jesus’ body to be removed and placed in a tomb. Quite why this notoriously cruel and ruthless man would have given permission for the body of this particular insurgent to be given this special treatment is unclear, except it set the scene for what followed next.

Nobody saw Jesus walk out of the tomb!

Why make up a story? When Jesus died, his followers’ hopes that he was the one to liberate his people were shattered. Then, as the decades rolled by, successive generations of Christians began to see him as the personification of G_d. But how could G_d die? How could they execute G_d as a common criminal?

The New Testament writers and subsequent theologians had a lot of explaining to do! Resurrection was the startling explanation they came up with.

According to the gospels, Jesus repeatedly told his disciples that he would be killed and then resurrected on the third day[3]. Did he actually speak those words? We don’t know. According to these same sources, nobody – not even his closest disciples – expected him to rise again, and when the post-Easter Christ figure ‘appeared’ to them, all the witnesses were so surprised they didn’t recognise him.

Most of the gospel sightings began and ended mysteriously. Usually he ‘drew near’ then ‘disappeared from sight’. But the gospel writers went to great lengths to insist that the risen Jesus was not a ghost, nor a badly injured man hobbling around. Even though he could appear and disappear at will and walk through walls, they claimed he ate, drank and could be touched.

Paul of Tarsus would not have believed this. He believed that Jesus returned in changed form, not as a resuscitated corpse but transformed into a spiritual body

I don’t have space to go into all the inconsistencies in the resurrection stories, so I’ll summarise:

  • In ‘Mark’s’ Gospel the disciples fled in terror and returned to Galilee.[4] The original gospel ended there, but decades later twelve extra verses were added by a second author in which the Christ figure ‘appeared’ to them several times, spoke to them and was immediately whisked away to heaven. Nowhere does either author claim that Jesus had risen in bodily form.
  • In ‘Matthew’s’ Gospel, Mary Magdalene encountered Jesus as they fled from the empty tomb, but she didn’t recognize him. Clearly he wasn’t the man they remembered from just a few days earlier.
  • ‘Luke’s’ Gospel added several more appearances in which Jesus ‘came near’ and ‘stood among them’, showed them his wounds, ate fish, then vanished. There are no such claims in ‘Mark’ or ‘Matthew’. Moreover, far from fleeing to Galilee, the disciples stayed in Jerusalem and ‘were continually in the temple.’
  • In the Fourth Gospel – written around 70 years after the crucifixion – neither Mary Magdalene nor Peter recognised him at first. Later, he ‘stood among’ the disciples and invited ‘doubting’ Thomas to touch his wounds.[5] He also appeared to the disciples on various occasions, once while they ate bread and fish for breakfast and another in which he appeared on a beach and gave the disciples some advice on fishing.[6]
  • Acts of the Apostles, written by the same author as ‘Luke’s’ Gospel, merely says he ‘presented himself alive’ to the disciples over a forty day period before the momentous events of Pentecost.

Once again we find ourselves wondering which, if any, of these accounts is correct, since they can’t all be right! The only things the gospels agree on is that the tomb was empty on the third day and Mary Magdalene was one of those who discovered it. Bear in mind that with many of the gospel stories, the longer the period between Jesus’s life (c 5 BCE-30 CE) and the writing of the gospel (c 70 CE – 105 CE), the more embellished they become.

Psychologists tell us that we are just as likely to see what we believe as believe what we see. In my opinion there’s no verifiable evidence for a physical resurrection, just the words of a small group of devotees. But we must all decide for ourselves. Whatever you choose to believe is true – for you. That’s the nature of belief.

Bishop Jenkins described the resurrection stories as ‘a conjuring trick with bones’ – hardly likely to endear him to the diehards. But what I believe he was trying to say was important – seek the deeper, metaphysical truths in the scriptures rather than blindly accepting them as literal truth (which they are quite plainly not).

But what are these truths? The 19th Century mystic, Charles Fillmore, said that ‘there is only one metaphysical interpretation and that is your own.’ In other words, what matters is what the biblical texts mean to you. For me, Christmas is about celebrating the birth of divine consciousness or the Christ spirit within, and the resurrection about re-affirming the indestructible nature of consciousness.

Spirituality for me is knowing that the life force, universal energy, Christ spirit, zero point field,  whatever you want to call it, is present everywhere, including in me, and expressing it with joy. I believe that Bishop Jenkins – the man branded a heretic by members of his own church – thought the same.

I conclude my book ‘201 Things About Christianity You Probably Don’t Know (But Ought To)’ with the following comment:

If I have to believe in a virgin birth, walking on water, dead and decomposing bodies coming back to life and a man being carried up to heaven on a cloud before I can realise my spirituality, then there’s no hope for me. For me, in this sense conventional Christianity is a barrier. I can study it, learn from it and borrow the sayings and parables that make sense to me. The rest I can reject without fear of eternal damnation (a loving G_d wouldn’t do that to me anyway).

That’s what Bishop Jenkins was driving at. That’s not heresy – that is truth!

©David Lawrence Preston, 19.3.2018

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[1] The Quest of the Historical Jesus

[2] John 7:40-42

[3] E.g. Mark 9:31 and 10:34; Matthew 16:21 and 17:23; Luke 9:22 and 24:7; John 20:19

[4] Mark 16: 5-8

[5] John 20:19-20

[6] John 21:4-6

Can We Really Think And Grow Rich?

In the Victorian era success was believed to be about hard work, serious effort, application and persistence, and maybe a slice of privilege or good luck.

Later Deepak Chopra and other ‘New Age writers taught that by raising our consciousness we achieve everything while doing nothing, and it doesn’t matter what our background.

Somewhere in the middle of these two extremes, writing in the 1930s, laid one of America’s most influential and barely recognised authors, Dr Napolean Hill.

I first came across his seminal work, Think and Grow Rich, in the late 80s. At that time I taught in the business department of a university. One day, the secretary of the students’ association invited me to attend a talk given by a former professional footballer who had gone on to make a fortune in the insurance industry. The subject was Think and Grow Rich.  At first, I wasn’t attracted to what I thought (wrongly) was just another book preaching ‘greed is good’. Remember, in this was the Thatcher era. Government ministers showed little empathy for the poorest in society, and every week on TV Harry Enfield’s comic character ‘Loadsamoney’ could be heard mocking the lowly paid as traditional industries collapsed around them.

But I attended. An hour and a half later I was convinced that this was exactly what we should be teaching our students. This was the missing link between academic and vocational success and in many ways the key to happiness at all levels.

Napolean Hill was just starting out on his career in journalism when he met the industrialist Andrew Carnegie, at that time reputedly the world’s richest man. Carnegie, a Scot, had arrived in the USA penniless. He was convinced that the formula for success could be identified and expressed in simple terms that anyone could apply. They made a deal. Carnegie would introduce the young journalist to five hundred of America’s most financially successful men. Hill would interview them and publish his findings. No money would change hands since Carnegie reasoned that once Dr Hill had completed his task, he would need no payment from him.

TAGR was first published in 1937. It was an immediate success. The first five thousand copies quickly sold out despite there being no advertising. Another ten thousand copies were printed, then another twenty thousand, and all sold out within a few weeks. To date, more than fifteen million copies have been sold.

What is the formula that Dr Hill so eloquently articulated? It is based on two sets of ideas – The Six Steps to Riches and the Thirteen Step Programme to Wealth and Success.

Here are the Six Steps:

  • Fix in your mind precisely what you want. ‘Know what you want’, wrote Dr Hill, ‘and you’ll generally get it.’
  •  Determine what you intend to give in exchange. You have to give before you can get, and nothing comes for free.
  •  Establish a definite date by which you intend to have it.
  •  Make a plan and start right away. If the plan isn’t working, amend it, but never give up.
  •  Write a statement of intention on a small card and place it where you can see it. This keeps your goal permanently etched in your mind.
  •  Read the statement several times a day. Let your subconscious mind absorb it.

These Six Steps are complemented by thirteen action points and principles:

  • Desire is ‘the starting point of all achievement, and the first step to riches.’ Dr Hill wrote, ‘All success starts with selecting a definite purpose, the desire to achieve it, and commitment to it.’
  • Faith: ‘a state of mind which may be induced or created by affirmation or repeated instructions to the subconscious mind through the principle of autosuggestion.’ ‘There are no limitations other than those we impose on ourselves,’ wrote Dr Hill, ‘because both poverty and riches are the offspring of thought.’
  •  Auto-suggestion: self-administered suggestion in the form of affirmations to be used morning and night and frequently in between.
  •  Specialised knowledge: Contrary to the well-known maxim, knowledge is not power, but potential power. It only becomes power when it is organised into plans of action and directed to a definite end
  •  Imagination: Everything starts out as an idea waiting to be brought into expression. Imagination may be cultivated through relaxed visualisation, which also strengthens belief in attainment.
  •  Organised planning is the crystallisation of desire into action. To be sure of success, argued Dr Hill, you must have plans that are faultless. You also need a Plan B (and a Plan C and maybe D).
  •  Decision: Lack of decision is a major cause of failure. It causes procrastination, ‘a common enemy which practically all must conquer.’
  •  Persistence: Dr Hill had much to say on this subject. ‘Persistence is to the character of man what carbon is to steel,’ he wrote. ‘No man is ever whipped until he quits in his own mind.’  And ‘every adversity, every failure and every heartache carries with it the seed of an equivalent or a greater benefit.’
  •  The Master Mind: No individual has sufficient knowledge and experience to succeed massively without the cooperation of other people. The Mastermind is the harmonious coordination of knowledge and effort between two or more people, for the attainment of a definite purpose.
  •  Sex Transmutation: Sex energy is the creative energy of all geniuses, but it must be channelled into constructive activity.  This means the switching of the mind from thoughts of physical expression to thoughts of some other nature.
  •  The Subconscious Mind:  Dr Hill wrote that the subconscious is ‘a field of consciousness in which every impulse of thought is classified and recorded and from which thoughts may be withdrawn as letters may be taken from a filing cabinet’. It receives and files impressions or thoughts, and draws upon the forces of Infinite Intelligence for its power.
  •  The Brain: Every brain is capable of picking up vibrations of thought being released by other brains. ‘Our brains become magnetised with the dominating thoughts which we hold in our minds,’ and ‘the circumstances of life harmonise with the nature of our dominant thoughts.’ Dr Hill was teaching the ‘Law of Attraction’ long before it entered the popular imagination.
  •  The Sixth Sense (or intuition) can be understood and assimilated only by mastering the other twelve principles.  This is the receiving mechanism by which ideas, plans and thoughts flash into the mind, and the medium of contact between the finite mind of the human being and the Infinite Intelligence.

So what made Think and Grow Rich the runaway success that it became? Well obviously it offered hope at a time of great economic hardship and was based on thorough research and experience. ‘Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve,’ became his most famous phrase. Since we all have the ability to desire, to think, to imagine, our destiny is in our own hands. Moreover, since the Infinite Intelligence does not play favourites, riches are within everyone’s reach.

But there’s more. Far from being a mere formula, it is a profound work of practical and spiritual philosophy. Hill believed there were universal forces beyond our intellectual understanding and identified the blockages that prevent most of us rising above the daily grind, most of which exist only in our limiting thoughts and imagination. He drew on ancient wisdom, that we accomplish nothing without the Power (or ‘Infinite Intelligence’) that works within us. And he gave us tools that anyone able to think and act for themselves could use.

There’s little doubt that virtually every Western success coach and motivational speaker owes Dr Napolean Hill a huge debt without necessarily acknowledging his influence. Most of the self-help books that I have read merely regurgitate his ideas using modern, NLP-influenced terminology and up to date examples. Many of today’s motivational gurus are slick, polished performers well versed in the persuasive arts (take a look at the YouTube clips of Napolean Hill and you’ll see he was none of these things), but scratch beneath the surface and you soon discover that they add little to Dr Hill’s original work.

But here’s the rub. On the surface, TAGR appears to be about financial success, but look a little deeper and you realise it’s much more. ‘Riches’ do not just consist of money – they are anything just and worthwhile that your heart desires. Dr Hill said so himself.  Health, happiness, friendship, peace of mind, love… all are ‘riches’, subject to the same principles of acquisition.

Can we think and grow rich? Certainly. And as Dr Hill concluded, ‘when riches begin to come, they come so quickly and in such great abundance, that you will wonder where they have been hiding during all those lean years!’

 

© David Lawrence Preston, 22.2.2018

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All visible things come from the invisible and depend on the ‘unseen’

Before Einstein, the world was thought to be a collection of atoms behaving according to fixed and observable ‘laws’, and space was exactly that – empty space. This explanation seemed to fit the data in Newton’s day, but it changed with the advent of Quantum Physics. We now know that matter is merely energy condensed to a slow vibration. Break an atom down to its ultimate components, and we find microscopic particles spinning at great speed around a central core. What appears solid is actually more than 99.99% empty space: billions of tiny particles flying in formation, held together by an invisible force field. Everything in the universe is made up of energy. Even space is not really empty: it is a ‘presence’, an inexhaustible ‘potential’ that manifests in places as matter.

Moreover, when particles are studied in detail, they don’t actually exist! Rather, they are tendencies to exist. They appear and disappear millions of times a second and move at inestimable speeds. We can’t even assume they exist when they are not being observed. Quarks – subatomic particles – change according to who’s observing them and the nature of the observer. For instance, if the observer is angry, he creates irritation in what is being observed!

Biofield

Everything, including you, came out of an invisible energy field which, when investigated, is shown to have nothing in it!

How does it feel to know that everything you see, hear, smell, taste and touch is made up of particles that don’t actually exist?

If nothing exists, then how is it that things appears solid? It’s because our consciousness (our awareness and beliefs) tells us so. It is playing a trick on us. Nothing is solid, except in our imagination.

For example, take a pile of bricks. You can’t see through it. It feels solid. You believe it is solid. If you were to try and break it with your hands, you would injure yourself. Your belief would be proved valid through painful experience.

A martial arts expert looks at a pile of bricks differently. He does not perceive it to be solid. He focuses his mind, directs his energy and smashes it with his bare hand without the slightest pain. His belief is also proved to be correct.

Who is right? Both! If your consciousness tells you that something is so, it is. For you.

©David Lawrence Preston, 15.2.18

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Valentine’s Day

Today is Valentine’s Day. For many people this means it is a day of flowers, chocolates and greetings cards slushy, humorous or both. We may think this is a recent invention like Fathers’ Day, but that’s far from true. Valentine’s Day dates back many centuries and has its origins in 3rd Century Rome.

St Valentine is thought to have been a priest who conducted marriages against the wishes of the Emperor Claudius who believed married men made poor soldiers.  When Claudius found out he sentenced Valentine to death, but even while languishing in gaol Valentine fell in love with the gaoler’s daughter. He wrote her a letter on the day of his execution, February 14th, signed ‘from your Valentine’.

Valentine’s Day celebrations originated from a Roman festival called Lupercalia during which boys picked the names of girls from a box. The chosen would become their girlfriend for the festival. If they got on, they would get married. Later the church adopted Lupercalia as a Christian event in which St Valentine would be commemorated. In the Middle Ages they believed that February 14th was the start of the mating season for birds.

The first known Valentine’s Day message dates from 1415, a poem written by the Duke of Orleans to his wife when he was incarcerated in the Tower of London after the Battle of Agincourt.

Valentine’s Day is now an annual love-fest welcomed and enjoyed by millions. It’s a day of flowers, chocolates, romantic meals and intrigue – tradition has it that cards should be sent anonymously and some people go to enormous lengths to disguise the sender’s identity. Sometimes messages are serious, sometimes just a bit of fun. And maybe that’s the point. Enjoy it, but don’t take it too seriously. It’s the froth on the coffee, not the coffee itself!

Want to know more? Visit http://blog.davidlawrencepreston.co.uk/2018/02/love/

Love Is A Many Splendoured Thing

I was asked to give a talk on love for Valentine’s Day. I accepted. Shouldn’t be too hard, I thought. After all, everyone wants to love and be loved, don’t they? I soon wished I hadn’t. Like Prince Charles I couldn’t even decide – what is love?

I trawled the internet. I found the views of poets, philosophers, psychologists, theologians, novelists and neuroscientists. This merely confirmed my suspicion that the word means very different things to different people. For example:

  • My dictionary says love is ‘Deep affection or fondness; a concern for, and commitment to, each other.’ (But what about love of life, love of country, etc?)
  • At a conference of sociologists in America in 1977, love was defined as ‘the cognitive-affective state characterized by intrusive and obsessive fantasizing concerning reciprocity or amorant feelings by the object of the amorance.’ (Are you any the wiser?)
  •  Psychological researcher Havelock Ellis took a simple view: love = sex + friendship. (Not very satisfactory.)
  •  M Scott Peck (Author of ‘The Road Less Travelled’) defined love as ‘Concern for the spiritual growth of another.’ (A good one, but what does it really mean?)
  •  In his book, ‘The Four Loves’, CS Lewis says there are four main types of love – affection, friendship, eros/romantic love, and charity. (Would Aslan agree?)
  • My favourite came from Plato, written 2,500 years ago, that love is a noble idea, or ‘form’.

Love as a ‘Form’

Plato believed that behind every tangible thing is an idea, or ‘form.’ These are independent entities which exist whether or not we are aware of them and able to grasp them with the mind. For example, behind the physical form table is the idea of table. So love exists in the universe as an idea and as an ideal. We only become aware of it when it enters our experience. My experience of love is different from yours, meanwhile, the idea of love (also wisdom, justice, honesty, beauty and so on) remains constant, permanent and unchanging.

Plato’s ideal of perfection was love that is:

  •   Fearless
  •   Constant
  •   Non-discriminatory
  •   Unconditional
  •   Completely unselfish, and
  •   Endlessly forgiving

He urged us not to judge by appearances, but seek what is real, not what merely looks real. And perhaps that’s where many of us go wrong. We confuse real love with something rather less, and in doing so, we condemn ourselves to constant disillusionment and disappointment.

So let’s consider love from a number of different perspectives, to try and discern what is real.

Sexual attraction

Anthropologist and ‘love expert’ Professor Helen Fisher, author of ‘Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love’ (2004), regards love as merely an instinct driven by a collection of physical and hormonal changes over which we have no control. She claims that the brain has three chemical systems for dealing with love – one for sexual attraction, one for romantic yearning and another for attachment. The first draws you to a person; the second motivates you to focus your attention on them; the last enables you to stay with a mate long enough to rear children.

When working properly, these systems ensure we meet the right match and sustain that connection over time. But it can also warp our senses, distort our perceptions, play havoc with our thinking and cause us to behave – to put it mildly – most unwisely! And in no area is this more true romantic love. For example, research has shown that men lose the ability to think rationally in the presence of a pretty woman (did we really need research to prove this?). The face, body and any sexual signals given off consciously or unconsciously can easily override common sense.

Romantic love

Romantic love is usually thought of as strong feelings reserved for one special person. Sometimes indistinguishable from infatuation, it is unpredictable and frequently beyond our conscious control. When we fall in love, our bodies are flooded with feel-good chemicals such as testosterone, dopamine and serotonin. It’s as if a switch has been thrown and a different programme has started to run. In the early phases, when sophisticated bio-feedback sensors are attached, scientists find the effect on the body is similar to the effects of an obsessive-compulsive disorder!

The main problem with romantic love is that something suppresses the usual fault-finding mechanisms – we’re blinded and deafened to the reality of the other, including their so-called defects. That’s why a honeymoon has been described as ‘a short period of doting between dating and debting’.

And yet romantic love is highly prized in Western Society. Our media are obsessed with it and full of articles on how to find it. They mostly focus on attracting the person you fancy by appealing to their five senses: how to dress, how to use your voice, what perfume to wear, how to kiss, choosing sexy foods, and so on.

Romantic love renders our normal self-protection systems useless. Perceptions are distorted, clear thinking faculties disabled. Our biology knows this, which is precisely why the feel-good chemicals that act as they do. If they didn’t, our DNA would have a much smaller chance of being passed on!

If the loving relationship is to survive, romantic love must transform into something else – deeper, long lasting – and more practical. So our biochemistry adjusts, as we shall see.

Love as needs fulfillment

Motivational experts tell us that all motivation and ultimately behaviour is based on perceived needs. These needs may be physical or emotional, rational or irrational.

A friend told me this story. Two elderly men were talking.

‘I hear you’re getting married,’ said the first.

‘That’s right.’

‘Do I know her?’

‘Don’t think so.’

‘Is she good looking?’

‘Not really. She has a face like a pig.’

‘Is she a good cook?’

‘Dreadful!’

‘Then she must have lots of money.’

‘Not at all.’

‘Is she good in bed?’

‘No idea. Never tried.’

‘Then why on earth do you want to marry her?’

‘Because she has a car and at 82 can still drive!’

It’s interesting to think of what needs love fulfils – or what needs we hope, expect or want love to fulfil. There are physical needs of course, but in this day and age, in the West at least, most of our needs are, in fact, emotional. Some psychologists believe that love is simply a blend of emotions with survival value.

Love as an emotion

Emotions are part of our biology – they are, in effect, physical responses to our thinking and our belief systems. They can feel wonderful, but they can also bring misery. They can ruin our ability to think clearly, which is why acting on our emotions is not always the best way. As we mature, we leave childish emotions behind and earn more adult ways of functioning. Or do we?

Not always. Many of us fall in love with people who aren’t necessary right for us. ‘Ever fallen in love with someone you shouldn’t have fallen in love with?’ Among the reasons people make this mistake are:

  •  Looking for someone to take their pain away, to remove loneliness, self-doubt, poverty, etc.
  •  Trying to make themselves complete through another person.
  •  Romantic delusions: For example, ‘We need each other so badly’, or ‘I want to marry you and have your children – see how much I love you? How unselfish I am!’

Needs based ‘love’ is all too often bound up with emotions such as fear and selfishness. It can arouse fierce passions such as jealousy, possessiveness and revenge, and can easily be confused with:

  •   Co-dependence – ‘I need you; I can’t live without you.’
  •   Conditionality – ‘I’ll love you, but only if…’
  •   Lust – ‘I fancy you.’
  •   Romance – ‘I love the fantasy I have of you.’
  •   Hope – ‘I love you but I wish I could change you.’

Long-term loving relationships

The things that first attract us to each other are not necessarily those which keep us together. It used to be said that humans are one of the few species where a couple naturally stay together to support the offspring they have created. In reality, this may no longer be entirely true, but is still seen as the ideal. Stable societies depend on stable family groupings, which is why it is regulated by law and enshrined in religion and custom.

Old couple

Where the will to stay together is present, the transformation to long-term loving relationships is supported by our body chemistry. The feel-good chemicals endorphins and oxytocins replace the sex hormones, and the hormones that initially made us blind to the reality of the other person subside. Now we see them as they are, warts and all! Unlike romantic lovers, long established couples are all too aware of their partner’s failings!

We may ask ourselves in this cynical age whether ‘happy ever after’ is still a realistic possibility? Or indeed, whether it ever was? Perhaps people in previous generations were simply more orientated towards duty and necessity?

I believe it is, but only if both partners realise:

  • No-one person can meet all your needs. Don’t expect them to. And don’t allow them to expect it of you.
  • No two people match perfectly. We may never be fully understood by the person we had hoped would understand us.
  • You are still individuals even when together – as Kahlil Gibran advised, ‘Let there be spaces in your togetherness.’
  • And remember, love does not equate to idolatry

But as we all know, sadly it doesn’t always happen. A man was attending the burial of his recently-deceased wife when someone asks: ‘Who is it who rests in peace here?’ ‘Me, now that I’m rid of her!’ he replied.

This joke is at least 1600 years old. It was discovered with some ancient Greek writings. Nothing changes!

Perfect love

To return to Plato – how many loves do you know that meet his criteria for perfect love? If you are in a one-to-one relationship, ask yourself: Is our love fearless? Unchanging? Non-discriminatory? Unconditional? Completely unselfish? Endlessly forgiving?

Romantic love by its very nature cannot meet these criteria, being needs-based, short-lived, conditional (‘I’ll only love you if you do all this for me’) and unforgiving. It is also discriminatory – exclusive to one person.

But you may disagree.

Moreover, even the happiest long-term relationships are likely to have most, if not all, of these characteristics. After all, many long-term relationships work on the basis that ‘I’ll do just enough to stop you leaving, if you do just enough to make me stay.’

Again – you may disagree.

Higher love

There’s a third type of human love. It’s a love that goes beyond our families and friends and encompasses all of humankind, perhaps even the whole of creation. Again we must be careful. It’s easy to profess love for those caught in an earthquake on the other side of the world and ignore the illness and suffering right under our nose.

One of the great passages on love was written by Paul of Tarsus. Professor Henry Drummond, a 19th Century scientist and theologian, was so impressed by this passage he wrote a book on it and urged his students to read this passage daily for three months. Many reported that it had transformed their lives.

‘Love is patient and kind. It is never jealous. It does not boast, it is not proud; it is never rude or self-seeking; it is not easily angered, and keeps no record of wrongs. Love takes no pleasure in evil and delights in truth; it is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope, to persevere.’

(1 Corinthians, 13, 4-7)

‘You will find as you look back upon your life,’ wrote Drummond, ‘that the moments when you have truly lived are the moments when you have done things in the spirit of love.’

I challenge you: read these words daily. Then put them into practice. After three months, look back on your experiences. You may experience a profound awakening.

But there’s an even greater form of love:

Universal Love

Human love is a pale shadow of the love expressed by the creative intelligence that sustains us, whether you see this in theological terms or as the information fields that quantum physicists tell us underpin the entire physical universe.

Chemically-driven, delusional romantic love, and needs-based, co-dependent love exist only within the confines of our own skin, shaped by human instincts and emotions; but universal love is not an emotion, lays down no conditions, and it does not discriminate. It is the very Life-Force within us. And it meets all of Plato’s criteria – it is fearless, constant, non-discriminatory, unconditional, completely unselfish and endlessly forgiving.

The late, great spiritual teacher, Anthony de Mello, wrote:

‘Is it possible for the rose to say, ‘I will give my fragrance to the good people who smell me, but I will withhold it from the bad? Or for a lamp to say, ‘I will give my light to the good people in this room, but I will withhold it from the evil people?’ These are images of what love is about.  It is around you like the air you breathe and in every atom of your body.’

Think about it: if this were not so, the universe would quickly self-destruct!

You can ignore it, deny it, cut yourself from it (and hence destroy your own happiness), but you can’t stop the flow. Be quiet and still, and you can feel it pulsating in every part of your being. Let it radiate! When we awaken the infinite power of love that lies within us, anger and fear dissolve. Inner peace and contentment are ours.

To quote Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (a French Jesuit priest who died in 1955):

‘The day will come when, after harnessing space, the winds, the tides, gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, we shall have discovered fire.’

 

©David Lawrence Preston, 8.2.2018

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