"The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men." attributed to Plato

"Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing." attributed to Edmund Burke

Let's between us make the world a better place.

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Psychosynthesis Made Easy

I'm reading an interesting book at the moment, from O Books new "Made Easy" series, about to be launched at Watkins, the esoteric bookshop in London.

Psychosynthesis Made Easy has been written by Stephanie Sorrell, who trained at the Institute of Psychosynthesis in London and is an Applied Practitioner in the discipline.

This is a short, easy to read volume, ideal for the layman who would like to understand what psychosynthesis is all about. Stephanie illustrates the idea throughout with her own personal life experiences to which many, myself included, will be able to relate. Psychosynthesis, we are told, allows psychology, soul and spirituality to meet on mutual ground.

I was particularly interested in the chapter towards the end of the book linking psychosynthesis with ecopsychology, or eco-therapy. It has been understood since the mid 1900's, Stephanie tells us, that nature has healing power for humans, and that our empathy for the plants and animals we share the planet with is an essential part of our personal well being.
But this of course has a far wider significance for our world, a social significance, as we would surely not damage our world so much with our unsustainable living if we felt a greater empathy for all the life that it contains. And by our thoughtless actions we not only induce climate changes but we damage the very soul of nature that could help us most in our own healing.

"If we do not allow the natural world to speak to us, if we do not let the fierceness give us solace, or the silence reach and heal us, then we can turn our wounds, our own brokenness, against the natural world. And that is what we are doing.
"This powerful source of healing is itself now hurt. Nature has become the docile dog that will savage the child who innocently pokes it in the eye. We are hurting our planet. If we do not act quickly, it may turn on us and destroy us"

These latter sentiments come from my own book, Healing this Wounded Earth, where I write in one chapter of the healing power of nature, and the effect we are having on its fine balance by our present lifestyles, with a call for healing and change. But I further explore the need in some detail for empathy and compassion in all aspects of our lives, at work and at leisure, in our creativity and finances, in our faith and our healthcare, and of course in our relationships and our communities. This must be the future of a better world for us all, and for our children and grandchildren to inherit.

© Eleanor Stoneham 2011

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Loseley Park

I visited Loseley Park in Surrey England the other day. It really has the most delightfully manicured gardens I have seen for a long time. Just look at those lawn edges in the vegetable garden and the beautiful patchwork of lettuces!!

There were also poppies in abundance around the vegetable plots. I imagine these are useful as well as pretty, encouraging bees to come and pollinate the various vegetable flowers. This will be particularly important when the flowers of the runner and broad beans need to "set."

Saturday, 28 May 2011

To Die For, Fashion and The Big Issue

She is a pleasant lady, almost always there at the corner of the High Street, and I say hello as I walk by. But I never walk past unless I have bought the magazine she sells, and I never fail to find something of interest, of vital importance, or both, between its covers.
This week there is an article by Lucy Siegle, author of a best selling book written back in 2008, but of ever increasing relevance - To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing out the World, on the ethics of the fashion industry,

Her goal is to expose to us as Western consumers of “fast fashion” the facts behind the manufacture of the garments we buy too cheaply, throw away too quickly, value too little. She shows us why this system is doomed to exploit workers and produce excessive waste. Millions of workers on this global assembly line, predominantly in Asian countries, often suffer extreme hardships, intimidation and industrial accidents. Through knowledge she hopes we can make better decisions around our fashion purchases. Many of us already know in our hearts that the economics of cheap throw -away clothes cannot add up – that the environmental footprint of such fashion is quite extraordinary and totally unsustainable. I am sure we should all read this book and heed its message.

But let me get back to the magazine I bought this week with Lucy’s article in it. It is of course The Big Issue. I wrote about this in January this year.
Do please buy a copy next time you pass a street vendor selling it. You may be surprised at what a good read it is for £2. Last December there was a contribution from Prince William himself, demonstrating the empathy and compassion inherited from his mother that he feels for the less advantaged in society. And you are helping our fellow brothers and sisters who for whatever reason are less fortunate than ourselves find their feet again, come back from the fringes of our society and reclaim their dignity and independence.

You cannot even buy a coffee now in many places for £2. And how many of those do you buy in a week? So spare £2 for a Big Issue today – and every week.

Friday, 27 May 2011

New Freedom Fighters - Wounded Healers to Heal the World

Every now and then - in fact I am glad to say rather more frequently these days - I come across someone else's work that makes me say YEESS! At last the message is getting through - my idea is becoming part of the Zeitgeist, the Spirit of the Moment. And today is one of those days, when I stumbled upon a brilliant talk by Rick Axtell Associate Professor of Religion and College Chaplain at Centre, a Top 50 liberal arts college located in the “centre” of Kentucky in Danville. He was addressing the graduate class of 2011, on May 22nd this year, with a talk on Wounded Healers.

Do read the full transcript. Axtell starts with the story of the courageous Freedom Fighters, fighting for racial equality in America 50 years ago, an event being celebrated this month. He tells the biblical story of Jacob and his ladder, an archetypal story of the human journey, and he talks of the Wounded Healer of Dutch Roman Catholic Priest Henri Nouwen. And he ends with a plea to all the graduates to go out into the world as Wounded Healers to build a better future. Here is a story from a Fr. Daniel Berrigan given in the talk:

"There once was a child who used to play only in the front yard, where everyone was like himself. One day,…he was sent…into the back yard. Back yard? He hadn't known there was one. A revelation! Tanners, shoemakers, alleys, gutters, children, washwomen, markets, flower carts, beggars. The child sat on the back stoop, half frightened, totally fascinated...
His exile ended, as such things will. He was called back indoors, and on into the front yard.
He went in with a strange new look on his face. He knew something for the first time.
It had come to him with the unpredictability of lightning, with the logic of nature, of water and sun, of the opening of a door.
He knew now, THAT A FRONT YARD EXISTED BECAUSE A BACK YARD EXISTED -- front will have back, rich will have poor, master will have slave, pride will have fall, blood will have blood."

Rick continues: "Here is the wound that leads to life. Fr. Henri Nouwen writes in his book, The Wounded Healer, that the outward journey toward healing of others requires an inward journey that recognizes the sufferings of our time in our own unsatisfied cravings, in our own alienation, in our shared human condition.
This is the starting point on the journey into service.
And only when it comes from a heart wounded by the suffering we seek to heal will service be authentic."

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Glencore's appalling press coverage

The commodity trader Glencore, one of the most powerful global companies, has been in the news with its flotation on the London Stock Exchange, to raise funds for buying rival mining companies. But it “has received some appalling press coverage during the lead up to its listing …culminating in last week’s allegations in The Times that the CEO had failed to respond to ten African children who had written begging him to stop the pollution from a mine that was blighting their lives…On the day this was being reported around the world, Glencore was listing and Mr Glasenberg [the CEO] became an instant
billionaire with a personal fortune of almost £6billion.”

I am quoting Niamh O’Keeffe, founder of leadership consultancy CEOassist, who said the sensitivity and controversy surrounding Glencore’s industry made it more vital than in many other sectors for the chief executive to put in place a lasting legacy of good.
Read the full story at Director of Finance Online.

This raises the whole question of ethical investment. How many of us will be buying the shares hoping to make a quick profit, ignoring the plight of those children, and certainly many others, from the effects of Glencore’s polluting activities? Not only pollution seems to be at stake. There was a call for greater transparency of the company’s activities from a Christian Aid spokesperson on last night’s Channel 4 News, who was expressing concerns about Glencore’s activities.

But it isn’t only direct stock investments that are relevant here. Many of us own company stock, some of us perhaps without even knowing it, or at least thinking about it, because it is out of sight in our pension funds (although the deep recession at the end of the first decade of the new millennium, and the turmoil on world financial markets, brought such funds sharply into focus for many). Businesses must now be more accountable for their green credentials. But what about those companies that still operate unethical work practices. Those holding pension funds delegate full powers of investment to the fund managers who will be motivated and driven by the need to maximize profits and growth for the funds in their charge. As major shareholders these funds have enormous powers and are not likely to consider the ethical views of the individual pensioners against the overall drive for growth. It may seem that the individual does not have a voice. But we can have our say; we can influence others. All it needs is knowledge and courage and the support of other like - minded people. It can be done. Have you ever questioned your pension fund managers on this?
Does the small shareholder really know or even care how the company operates as long as he receives his regular dividend income? Can he possibly understand the full implications of the company’s business, how it treats its employees, how it deals with its waste, how it invests its own money. So many shareholders make their investments motivated solely by profit, without any regard for the ethical considerations. This is no less true of buying shares than buying consumer goods. And purchasers of the Glencore stock should be asking questions of the company.
The implications of all this are enormous. As individuals we may unwittingly be supporting the continuing suffering of communities near to a company’s activities (the Glencore example being a case in point.) Or we may be helping to fuel warfare, for example, by carelessly investing or allowing our pension funds or banks or investment funds or unit trusts to invest in any company involved along the way with the production of weapons.

I pray for there to be a shift in investment attitude, towards what is ethical, not what will make us the most money regardless of how that money is generated.

Monday, 23 May 2011

We need to change our hearts - and minds

“The trouble with virtually all forms of revolution and modernising strategies is that they change everything – except the human heart. And until that is changed corporately, nothing is significantly different in the long run.”

John Sentamu, Archbishop of York,in his inaugural address in York Minster, 2005

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Sacredness in everything

"I used to believe that we must choose between science and reason on the one hand, and spirituality on the other, as foundations for living our lives. Now I consider this a false choice…we can recover the sense of sacredness…not just in science,but in every area of life."

Larry Dossey, Reinventing Medicine

Friday, 20 May 2011

Ripples of Hope

"Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."


Robert Kennedy, in a speech he made in Cape Town on 7 June 1966.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

The Healing Power of Art

‘Art first heals the artist and subsequently helps heal others.’ (1) So writes Kay Jamison, psychiatrist and herself a manic-depressive, who has made the connection between personal wounds and creativity and explores the link in some detail in her book Touched With Fire.

All the creative therapies tap into this healing power, whether as art, music, poetry or dance. As Edward Adamson, one time artistic director at Netherne, a former psychiatric hospital in Southern England, explains: ‘The artist is also on familiar terms with the inner self, and therefore is a little closer to those who are obliged to wrestle with its problems. The hospital artist’s main role is to be a catalyst who allows the healing art to emerge.’ (2) 

But the work produced in such therapy sessions can become more if the patient has his own artistic talent. It then ‘transforms other people’s lives in its representation, and majesty, in its depiction of the human condition reaching towards the sublime… Van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo: ‘Either shut me up right away in a madhouse or else let me work with all my strength.’’ (3)
I can personally testify to the healing power of creativity. As I struggled to climb out of the black depression of my own serious breakdown, it was therapy in the art room, with the imaginative use of collage, clay, paint and loads of paper both of the drawing and tissue kind (!), that helped me as well as many others to unblock so much that was otherwise too painful to speak about. My own creations sadly showed none of the flair of Van Gogh. Nonetheless it is only following such release that true healing of mind and spirit can really begin, just as a foreign body or infection must be cleared from a wound before the skin will properly heal over it.
We must however look beyond the caring professions and embrace healing creativity as a guiding principle for us all if we are to live sustainably, responsibly and peaceably together.
Within all our communities people are dedicating much of their spare time to selflessly bring purpose and hope and healing to many where there was previously disharmony and ugliness. Drama and dance can turn feral youth into young responsible adults. Football can unite otherwise divided communities. Nature rambles can introduce children to a further dimension in their lives. Beautiful nature films are produced to inspire us all.
We will find examples all around us if we attune ourselves to the healing needs of the world.

Whether or not we have a faith, I see the need to heal ourselves, in a holistic spiritual sense, to heal our wounded behavior, before we can hope to heal what is around us in this world, animate and inanimate. Linked with the healing power of our own creativity, we can all be a part of that healing process. We can all allow the beauty of creation in its many forms to come into our lives. We can be receptive to its spiritually healing qualities. Whether this happens through a great work of art from one of the Old Masters, or from a poem, an inspiring book, a symphony or our own creative efforts, it may indeed be the Wounded Healer at work. We can then pass that healing on to others.
It is not only those who call themselves artists who have this serious responsibility as agents for social change: creativity is not only about painting and music, poetry and the media. We are all artists: whether as parent or homemaker, businessman or scientist, whether we are in one of the caring or pastoral professions or in education and training, we will all knowingly or perhaps unwittingly put our creative powers and talents to either good or evil use.
Art is an essential feature of sustainable living and as responsible human beings we have a choice as to how we use this for the future of our earth. We can choose ‘celebrity and commercial art, that is disengaged from the concerns of the world… isolationistic and egotistic…[which] has little to do with the ecological spiritual or social challenges of our time.’ Alternatively we can encourage and produce ‘art with integrity; art that inspires, uplifts and serves the greater purpose of life.’ (4)
We can heal or hurt with our creativity. The choice is ultimately ours and ours alone, as is the responsibility.

Sad to say, I read recently that London art galleries are having to restrict numbers of visitors per time slot at special exhibitions, as they are experiencing “gallery rage” as people jostle for a view. Whatever next? But how can anyone have a chance to really appreciate the spiritual or healing message that an exhibit may impart, if the visitor cannot have his own space to absorb that message?

1. Jamison, Kay Redfield, Touched With Fire: Manic Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament (New York Free Press: 1993) p. 121. Renowned clinical psychologist and author – sufferer of and expert on bipolar disorder.

2. Edward Adamson, Art as Healing, 1993, published by Coventure, 1993, passage from his introduction. Adamson was Art Director at Netherne Hospital (a psychiatric hospital in the UK) for some time.

3. Jane Piirto, Ph.D. Metaphor and Image in Counseling the Talented, Van Gogh
quotation also in Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh, Arles, 28 January 1889 cited at ‘Van Gogh’s Letters Unabridged and Annotated.’

4. Canon Peter Challen, South London Industrial Mission annual lecture 2005. This Mission closed in 2006, and is replaced by Mission in London’s Economy, a London wide ecumenical Christian organization set up in 2005, http://www.mile.org.uk/

Image is by Bruce  

© Eleanor Stoneham 2011

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Lovely garden or barren desert ?- The evolution of creativity

I think it was probably Graham Wallas who first put forward the idea that the progress of human creativity may follow the Darwinian laws of natural selection,(1) that creativity has a part to play, for good or ill, in our evolution, in determining the future of the human race on this planet.
Dean Keith Simonton, professor of psychology at the University of California at Davis, provides an updated perspective on Wallas in his book, Origins of Genius: Darwinian Perspectives on Creativity,(2)where he further explores this idea and agrees that ‘creative genius, or the ability to produce highly original ideas with staying power, is a fundamentally Darwinian process that enhances the adaptive fitness of the individual and the human species.’ In other words, creativity ‘can be understood as a process akin to natural selection that leads to the survival of those ideas that prove their hardiness.’(3)
At the same time Hungarian psychology professor and leading researcher on positive psychology Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi was in 1996 linking creativity to biological evolution. His view is that units of information or memes, (the word coined by Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene, in 1976), are passed down through generations by learning. Cultures develop over time by creative people changing these memes and if the changes are seen as useful to a developing culture so they will continue to be handed on to new generations and become entrenched.
Because of this, Csikzentmihalyi argues that we have taken over from God as the creator in this world and it would help, he warns, ‘if we realized the awesome responsibility of this new role…’ He continues:

Whether this transformation will help the human race or cause its downfall is not yet clear...The gods of the ancients, like Shiva, like Yehova, were both builders and destroyers. The universe endured in a precarious balance between their mercy and their wrath…The world we inhabit today...teeters between becoming either the lovely garden or the barren desert that our contrary impulses strive to bring about. The desert is likely to prevail if we ignore the potential for destruction our stewardship implies and go on abusing blindly our new-won powers. (4)

Lovely Garden or Barren Desert? The choice is ours.

1. Graham Wallas,The Art of Thought, 1926.
2. Dean Keith Simonton, Origins of Genius: Darwinian Perspectives on Creativity, USA: Oxford University Press, 1999.
3. Publishers Weekly editorial review of Simonton Origins of Genius 
4. Csikszentmihalyi Mihaly, Creativity – Flow and the psychology of discovery and invention (New York Harper Perennial) p. 6-7 cited in Jenya Krein on Creativity: Theories, Beliefs, and Discoveries in Speaking in Tongues Guided by Voices

Image from Amazon by Juyle 

© Eleanor Stoneham 2011

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