Wednesday 27 April 2011

The whereabouts of happiness

I am now a grandfather for the second time. Samuel was born 6 days ago, and here he is with his cousin of 11 months, and the full entourage of parents and grandparent.

As my father died 2 years ago, these moments of time in which birth happens give me the distinct feeling of my own mortality, and moving along a notch on the lineage. As a reflection, it actually enables me to feel very present.

At another level it also makes me wonder what kind of life and world Samuel and Ollie are inheriting, and given it is quite possible they will live to see the turn of the next century, whereabouts on that infamous hockeystick graph the world will then be. So fear then comes up.

Reflecting as we do in transition work on stuff like this brings up both the personal and the collective. It is no coincidence that the standard Transition Training has 50% of it's content on the 'inner world paradigm'. It's not only vital we bring the external and internal together for understanding, it is also an imperative ( I believe) for action and change to be effective and long-lasting.

It appears, sadly, that the split between inner and external worlds manifests itself ( at least in the West) into 2 'camps'. So: what I call the activist camp, who on the whole either ignore or on occasions are hostile toward the inner world issues; and the individualist/personal journey camp, who may show no interest in or relativise the external world issues.

This apparent split has always perplexed me particularly as I have had feet in both camps for some time. It therefore came as a wonderful discovery to find that the transition model not only recognises both, but positively promotes their inter-relations as pivotal in how we move forward.

These different approaches even show themselves in the different definitions of happiness that I found. Here are a few:

Jeremy Bentham: " The greatest happiness for the greatest number is the foundation of morals and legislation"
Aristotle: " Happiness is an expression of the soul in considered action"
Dostoevsky: " Happiness does not lie in happiness, but in the achievement of it"
The XIVth Dalai Lama: " I believe that the very purpose of our life is to seek happiness....the very motion of our life is towards happiness"
Berthold Brecht: " The right to happiness is fundamental. Men live so little time and die alone"
Immanuel Kant: " Virtue and happiness constitute the summum bonum of life"
Emile Zola: " I have one passion only for light in the name of humanity which has borne so much and has a right to happiness".

So this is all pre-amble to my chosen subject of mindfulness, and for me a particular form of mindfulness practice which is now an integral part of my life.

Although various forms of mindfulness practice have been used for centuries in the East, it has only become incorporated into western psychology since the early 1970s, particularly in the context of 'stress reduction'. There are now so many different forms and expressions of mindfulness practice, you could say that they generically are now more of an approach or pre-disposition of mind. I like to think, in my better moments, that I am cycling, or doing the washing up, or writing this blog, or talking to my friends, mindfully... until, that is, I realise that I have switched out of this mode and become enmeshed in my thoughts and brain activity. In fact some thoughts seem to like it so much that they come around and interrupt for a second or third time!

My own form of learning mindfulness has actually been through body work, and in particular the practice of 'authentic movement'. As a form, this is a body-impulse movement which teaches us to learn how to be our own internal witness. In the process we (I) become acutely aware of how much we project, in ordinary life, our own thoughts and mind games onto others. Projection in reality is everyday social currency. Mindfulness, as it teaches a non-judgmental approach, helps us see our projections for what they really are.

So how does all this connect with transition work? When I looked up the various definitions of mindfulness, one thing struck me: the effect in those who adopt it is not simply personal. The research says rather dryly that " [mindfulness practice] alters the symetries in the pre-frontal cortex", which is associated with .."faster recovery from negative experience". So in other words, it helps in creating resilience.

One of my great mentors, Adam Curle, who founded the Bradford University Peace Studies Department in the 1970s, and who later became a mediator for the U.N. in some pretty horrific conflicts, recognised the need for personal resilience in his role as mediator. He also recognised that his own state of mind had a direct influence on the outcome in his mediation. [ See 'To Tame the Hydra: Undermining The Culture of Violence' A Curle 1999].

So my own particular mindfulness and movement practice is inherent to how I connect and engage with the world, my friends, and my family. Indeed it sharpens that engagement - makes it more authentic. It doesn't make me wiser, or less fearful - indeed it can bring up more fear as engagement becomes sharper. However, that fear is somehow contained and becomes a mobiliser, rather than something which holds me back.

Now I think I'll just pop back and see how far my grandson has moved in the last 2 days.....

No comments:

Post a Comment