Life in the clouds of Venus

Alien life could be living in the clouds above venus, our second closest neighbour in the solar system  –  BBC Newsround.

I’m always delighted when science discovers there may be life on other planets even if the media are tempted to link it with ‘Aliens’ for a more compelling headline.

In case you saw the word ‘alien’ and dismissed the article as science fiction, astronomers have detected the gas, phosphine, in the atmosphere of Venus. The constituents of phosphine are one atom of phosphorus combined with three hydrogen atoms.

According to the BBC science correspondent Jonathon Amos:

On Earth, phosphine is associated with life, with microbes living in the guts of animals like penguins, or in oxygen-poor environments as swamps.

For sure you can make it industrially, but there are no factories on Venus; and there are certainly no penguins. So why is the gas there?

Nobody knows the answer to this but I’m sure there will be a lot of research in the future. I have no direct interest in the finding of Phosphine in the clouds of Venus but i do think discoveries like this force us to consider the possibility that our existence on Earth is not the only life form there is.

I’ve always found it rather naive to believe we are the sole occupants of our galaxy – or any other galaxy come to that. Are we that arrogant that we think we are the only living beings to exist; that – with all our personal issues and challenges – we are the most advanced form in existence?

I don’t follow the vision of many Hollywood blockbusters that all other life forms wish us harm.

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Ever the optimist I like to believe – and in this I may also be considered naive – that should other life forms exist and manage to reach our planet, there is a good chance they can offer us knowledge and guidance rather than hold us hostage. If they have the advanced technology to visit Earth and are more evolved than we are, why would they wish to control us?

What would be their advantage in doing so?

I am no scientist and do not claim to have any knowledge about the scientific discoveries that abound. I come purely from a spiritual position. I believe that the Universe was created for a alien-308622_1280purpose and that as we evolve spiritually we wish to help others and not cause harm. I like to think that any alien life form that may visit our planet will be friend not foe.

Control and manipulation usually comes from a position of insecurity; of ignorance. Those who do not feel threatened by others have no desire to exert control and I would like to think that if other life forms do exist that they are of a more advanced form than life on Earth and therefore come from a place of confidence and security; from a place of wishing to help those less knowledgeable than themselves.

BESIDE MYSELF

Eckhart Tolle in A New Earth talks about how experiences in life influence behaviour. An abusive parent or partner can cause immense pain and suffering which may affect our actions many years later, creating responses out of proportion to the present situation.
      Sometimes the experiences are subtle: a loving parent, fearful for the safety of a child, may become overprotective. Religious influences may reinforce certain behavioural patterns. Responses to situations become conditioned, resulting in a lack of freedom of personal choice.
       Everything said to a child, partner, friend or colleague – positive and negative – will register in the subconscious mind and, if repeated often enough, will impact on the way they see themselves and the world around them.
     The following short story touches on this theme in a light-hearted way but shows how the opinions of others can influence the choices we make.
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BESIDE MYSELF

According to Erma Bombeck there’s nothing more miserable in the world than to arrive in paradise and look like your passport photo. I beg to differ. Arriving in paradise and feeling like you look in your passport photo is far more wretched.

For in paradise I sit, yet melancholy obstructs the view.

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Perched on a wooden seat in a tiny cafe, nestled in the rocks overlooking Konnos Bay, I watch sky divers hover in the azure blue sky and speed boats zoom across the tranquil sea. The blazing sun has made the bruised skies of London a distant memory and the fragrance of the pine trees under which I sit, nursing a chilled glass of Pinot Grigio, is heavenly.

But retirement is a double-edged sword. Life becomes one long holiday full of leisurely lunches, relaxation and sun worshipping. It also becomes tedious, dull, monochrome.

Not that I regret the impulsive decision to hand over my wig to the next generation. I miss the drama of the courtroom like one would miss an incontinent old aunt; sad that she is no longer around but grateful the smell has gone with her.

As I dwell ungraciously on my escape to paradise a young woman plonks her rather substantial, bikini-clad, bottom on the chair next to mine. She smiles.

‘Lovely here, isn’t it?’

Not a ‘hello’ or ‘do you mind if I join you? Is this seat taken?’ She looks as comfortable sitting next to me as though she’s my daughter and as I snatch a sideways glance she does seem vaguely familiar. Perhaps I was responsible for incarcerating her at Her Majesty’s Pleasure sometime in the past and she’s come to exact revenge.

She smiles again, without malice, and I’m relieved.

‘I would love to do that,’ she says, pointing to a lithe young man driving water skis skilfully through the wash left by a passing speed boat. ‘Looks tremendous fun,’ she adds.

‘Then why don’t you do it?’ I ask, unable to shake off the irritation bubbling inside because she’s so rudely invaded my private space and is now reminding me that I’ve never had the courage to participate in such adventurous activities.

A shadow clouds her eyes.

‘My father always tells me it’s dangerous. I’ll break a leg. Or worse. He has a tragic story for just about everything. Paragliding? Did you not hear about that young girl in Turkey who crashed into the cliffs? Never walked again.’ Her features distort as she mimics her father’s words. ‘You want to travel to Colombia? Did you not hear about the young man killed by some drug crazed maniac? Happens all the time out there, you know!’

An angry veneer covers her face briefly and a rush of empathy replaces the annoyance I felt at her gatecrashing my party.

‘How old are you?’ I enquire.

‘Twenty two,’ she replies.

‘I have a father like that too,’ I say, ‘and although I became a very successful lawyer and then a judge I’m still terrified of riding a roller coaster. When I was a child we frequently visited Southend but I was never permitted on the rides. Each time I begged ‘just the once’ I was reminded that fairground rides are not always properly maintained and there was a good chance the carriages would come tumbling down as they reached their summit.

Looking up at the cars snaking their way along the track, shaking precariously, I eventually felt the fear and stopped nagging.’ My laugh is tinged with a good dose of resentment. ‘He’s still the same, actually. Any activity I suggest I would like to try that involves anything more dangerous than walking, he now tells me I’m too old.’

As I take a large swig of wine I consider asking if she would like to join me in a drink, our fathers having ignited a sense of kinship. I decide against it. Instead I follow her eyes and see she’s watching a clutch of small children donning life jackets before climbing onto a large banana boat.

‘My father once told me,’ she says, ‘a little boy had fallen off the back of a banana boat, lost at sea. Fodder for the sharks, he’d said.’ She stares into the distance, her lips curling down at the corners as she speaks.

I sense she has no intention of leaving any time soon as she puts her feet up on the chair opposite. Father would never approve of such an action and I find myself smiling, realising that I’m beginning to like her.

 ‘So why don’t you ride the banana boat now?’ I say. ‘You’re old enough to make your own decisions. I assume your father isn’t hiding behind a tree waiting to protest and regale you with the story that the plug may come open, sending it zigzagging across the inhospitable sea like a demented balloon, leaving its passengers to flounder and drown.’  A story my father told me when I wanted to use a Lilo in shallow waters.

She bites her lip and looks at me from the curtain of hair that has fallen across her face. It’s a look I recognise. I’ve seen it in the mirror many times when I lacked courage to stand up for myself. It’s a look of shame.

‘I’m too scared.’ she mutters and I sense, briefly, that we are one. I know her fear because I feel it too. I look at the children laughing and screaming on the huge yellow sausage flying through the air and my desire to be fearless is profound. I am about to suggest we face the challenge together but a flash of panic brings on a sweat which has nothing to do with the intense heat of the Mediterranean sun.

‘What’s your name?’ I ask but before she can reply she shouts:

‘Oh no! Look! My father was right! The boy at the back has fallen off. He’s in the sea.’

She leaps from her seat, shouting and gesticulating but of course the cafe is too far away. Her cries are carried away on the gentle breeze. I watch too, my breath momentarily suspended, until I see the boat turn and head towards the tiny figure bobbing in the water. He’s hauled back up and the boat sets off again, the boy laughing with joy. Simultaneously we sigh with relief

‘You see,’ I tell her, ‘It’s safe these days. I’m sure the paragliding and water skiing activities are too. Why don’t you give it a try? If it had been safe in my day I would have done it.’ It brings me comfort to think this even though I know it’s untrue. I’m glad Alan encouraged our children to experience the world, despite my fears.

‘So why don’t you do it now?’ She asks, challenging, her eyes a blaze of indignation. ‘If it’s so safe why don’t you have a go?’

‘Like Father says, I’m too old now, dear. I always hankered for the excitement of adventure when I was young but it’s too late now.’

‘Why is it?’ she demands and it rankles that this slip of a girl, with the incongruously large bottom, should dare to be so outspoken and rude. Self-consciously I cover my ample thighs with the sarong as she continues.

‘If it crashed into the rocks and I broke a leg I wouldn’t be able to work. Whereas you, you’re probably retired and could afford to spend six weeks with your leg in plaster, sipping on your glass of wine!’

She has a point.

‘True but my bones will break more easily and take longer to heal,’ I rebut, ‘It’s far riskier for me than for you.’

Stalemate. Silence ensues.

I take another gulp of wine. It has lost its chill, less refreshing. I glance at my watch. Alan will arrive soon for lunch and I wonder whether we should ask her to join us. I feel compelled to reach out and convince her that she has her whole life ahead of her. A life that is unscripted. I want to impress upon her that she is the architect of her future and that she should not let other people, with their uninformed opinions and scare tactics, prevent her from following her dreams. As I did.

I take sneaky glances at her as she stares out at sea, a pout on her lips, and I see myself when I was her age. I used to wear my hair long, as she does now. My bottom, too, was always rather on the large side. I would also pout as I watched others have fun, jumping off a cliff into the sea; drinking far too much alcohol than was good for them; riding the bone-rattling roller coaster.

And I’m suddenly angry with myself.

Here I am sitting in paradise, feeling utterly miserable because life holds no excitement or challenges. I realise that although I missed out on many things, the courtroom made me feel alive and raising our children gave immense pleasure. Now I have to find my own entertainment and I’m at a loss.

I make a decision.

‘After lunch I’m going to book myself onto the paraglider,’ I say, ‘There’s no skill to learn. You just sit there, harnessed in, hold tight and admire the view. No danger in that.’ The wine had emboldened me. I’m full of courage.

She grins at me.

‘I’m glad. If you enjoy that then you might like to go snorkelling. You float, mask and snorkel in place, and watch the fish. No danger in that either!’

‘True.’ I reply as she looks at me, excited, her face animated. ‘And if I enjoy the snorkelling I could always take some scuba diving lessons. Why not?’

My enthusiasm is infectious and the young girl’s face is positively glowing. Our chat has certainly raised my spirits. A veil has lifted, the view of paradise no longer obstructed. My life, now I am retired, is a blank canvas and I can paint on it whatever I choose.  I want to shout out loud: ‘I’m free!

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.Darling!’

I turn away from her as Alan leans down to kiss my cheek.

‘You look happy, Some young lothario asked you out to dinner?’ he jokes.

‘No, but this young lady…’ I turn to her. ‘Sorry, I still don’t know your name.’

‘Anne,’ she replies, her lips twitching with amusement.

I am momentarily unsettled. My name is Anne.

‘Anne…has shone a bright torch on my life so I can see what requires dusting, what needs discarding and what should be nurtured. I wish I’d had a conversation with this young girl many years ago. I’ve decided to book a paragliding session after lunch.’

I turn back to Alan, who looks puzzled. His brows furrow in concern and I’m terrified he’s going to talk me out of it, take over where my father left off. I know it would only take a few words to derail my new trajectory.

‘That’s good,’ he says. ‘I’m glad you’ve finally managed to unshackle yourself from all those childhood fears embedded by your overprotective – albeit well-meaning – father. But… who the hell are you taking to?’

I turn to look at Anne. She’s gone. I scour the cafe but she’s nowhere to be seen. I look out to sea as another group of small children traverse the water, laughing and screaming and know that I must craft my own future.

‘I guess I’ve been talking to myself,’ I reply, a smile spreading across my face.

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A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle

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Although A New Earth was first published in 2005 – republished in 2016 – its message is timeless. It is the sort of book that, once read from cover to cover, can be frequently dipped into as we start to question who we really are and why we behave the way we do. It provides insight into the nature of humanity and offers a way of looking at the challenges we face – both in our personal and working lives – from another perspective.

The first third of the book goes into great detail about the role the ego plays in our lives. We often relate the word ego to self-importance and superiority. We say that someone has a ‘big ego’ because they think a lot of themselves but we all have an ego which plays a vital role on how we behave and how we see ourselves in the world.

This book is about rising to new levels of consciousness and understanding how we can participate in the unfolding of our personal awakening.

An essential part of awakening is the recognition of the unawakened you, the ego as it thinks, speaks, and acts, as well as the recognition of the collectively conditioned mental processes that perpetuate the unawakened state.”

Eckhart Tolle explains that the unconscious ego strengthens itself and guides our behaviour in many ways. He says that, “the ego isn’t wrong, it’s just unconscious” and he provides an in-depth understanding of the mechanisms the ego uses to strengthen its sense of self.

We may tell lies or cheat in order to boost our standing amongst others; we will argue day and night to prove ourselves right in a discussion; we are influenced by status, money and possessions – the lack of which can cause great suffering.

“when ‘my’ toy breaks or is taken away, intense suffering arises. Not because of any intrinsic value that the toy has – the child will soon lose interest in it, and it will be replaced by other toys, other objects – but because of the thought of ‘mine’. The toy became part of the child’s developing sense of self, of I.”

Role-play – subtle or blatant – is another way in which our ever-demanding ego meets its needs. It demands attention, or contrives to make others think we are more interesting, exciting or wealthy than we are. I found this a very interesting section and realised that we play different roles for different people. It is easier to witness this in others than ourselves. We need to be very alert to our thoughts and actions to catch ourselves in role-play.

The middle section of A New Earth provides insight into what Eckhart Tolle refers to as the ‘pain body’ and it shows how and why we react to current events depending on past experiences. We all have a ‘story’ that makes us who we are. Our past often defines who we are today.

The remnants of pain left behind by every strong negative emotion that is not fully faced, accepted, and then let go join together to form an energy field that lives in the very cells of your body. It consists not just of childhood pain, but also painful emotions that were added to it later in adolescence and during your adult life, much of it created by the voice of the ego.”

Our ‘pain body’ can be triggered at any time and produce strong emotions that may not always be appropriate to the current situation. Abandonment in childhood can produce a volley of emotions if a partner is late home or uncontactable. Someone raising their voice in anger may replicate emotions experienced in the past when a raised voice may have been accompanied by physical violence. This unconscious reaction is triggered from past events and the book explains how to break free from the constraints of the ‘pain body’.

In the last section Tolle provides guidance on how to use the understanding – gained in the previous chapters about the motives and actions of the ego and the role of the pain body – to move forward in personal growth and awakening and ‘finding who you truly are’.

By understanding the mechanisms the ego uses to enhance its identity there is the opportunity to free ourselves from conditioning of the past, allowing us to live in the present moment in peace. This, of course, does not mean being free of challenges and difficult situations but more how to let go of the need to make everything about ‘me’ and ‘mine’.

By paying careful attention to your own behaviour, and to that of those around you, it is possible to see the ego at work. The ego is good in terms of moving us forward. Ambition, motivation, the desire to help others all comes from the ego but it is important to stay alert, to stay present, to observe when the ego is serving you well and when it is creating suffering.

A New Earth is a truly enlightening book which provides new depths of understanding each time it is read. It is a book to keep close to hand and read whenever you feel circumstances are causing pain and suffering. It offers a new perspective on life.

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Just a thought?

“History is not just about the evolution of technology; it is the evolution of thought” The Celestine Prophecy – James Redfield.

Thoughts are silent, private, but they shape our world. Most of what has happened and is happening now in our world was created by ideas formulated in the brain: the decision for one country to invade another began with a thought; the decision for a terrorist to hire a car and plough it into a group of people began with a thought; the decision to start an affair with someone who is married began with a thought. Likewise, working to maintain cordial relationships between countries, raising money for charity and the evolution of technology – all came from initial thoughts and ideas.

Thought informs our very existence. It has the power to destroy and the power to heal and, of course, the way we think often dictates how we behave.

So is it possible to create a better world for the future by being mindful of the way we think?

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I am not a world leader – or a murderer – so I doubt any change in my thinking would have a tremendous impact on the world. Altering my mindset and staying calm, instead of getting angry, would be great for my blood pressure but, at first glance, would seem to be of little help to anyone else.

But what if our thoughts are more than fleeting opinions that pass through the brain and disappear? What if they exist in form but we are just unable to see them? Like, say, electricity. We cannot see electrons orbiting a nucleus in an atom but we can see the results.

There are many who believe thoughts have form; that they are bundles of energy which radiate in waves and have an effect on surrounding matter. What if a thought impacts on the person who is the subject of that thought?

Imagine…I’ve had an argument with a friend. I’m angry. I feel hurt and betrayed and never want to speak to that friend again. My anger, like a black cloud, settles on said friend (well ex-friend now!) and influences their mood and behaviour. My thoughts are not only wreaking havoc with my health but are disturbing the mood of my (ex) friend too, which in turn will affect others.

We have all experienced walking into a room and, without knowing what has taken place, sense a tension. You can almost ‘cut the atmosphere with a knife’. We have also all experienced the effects that positive, happy people have on us compared to unhappy or negative people. Good company uplifts, whereas miserable company leaves one feeling depressed. So is it possible that other people’s thought-forms affect our mood?

A report published in the British Medical Journal regarding a randomised controlled trial to determine “the effects of remote, retroactive intercessory pray-1639946_640prayer on outcomes in patients with bloodstream infection” concluded that “prayer said for a group is associated with a shorter stay in hospital and shorter duration of fever…and should be considered for use in clinical practice”.

There have been many such studies, with comparable results.

Prayer is thought with good intention. So if our positive thoughts help others, what of our negative thoughts? What of our prejudices and dislike towards others? Even if negative thoughts are not expressed verbally it is possible they are causing harm to those who are the subject of those thoughts – which, in turn, may affect their behaviour.

There is a quote which is attributed to Gautama Siddhartha, the Buddha, which says that:

All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think we become

It seems, therefore, that we all have the power to create a better world for the future just by changing the way we think.  It sounds simple but in practise is difficult to do.

Being nice when we are angry takes Gandhi proportions of compassion and understanding; refraining from shouting at the television while listening to politicians bicker on Question Time may be near impossible but if, whenever we can, we send out good thought-forms perhaps – in our own little way – we can help towards making the world a better place.

 

 

 

 

Stay Alert, Control Your Thoughts and Save Lives

I find it interesting that when we’re calm and our chattering minds eventually rest we suddenly remember an appointment, or find a solution to a problem. When confronted with important decisions we often have a ‘gut’ feeling about the choices we make. Occasionally, we get a sense of danger and act accordingly. The more alert we are to our inner guidance and intuition, the smoother – and safer – ride we should have in life.

Robert Louis Stevenson had the idea for his famous novel Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde while sleeping and Stephen King got inspiration for his brilliant novel Misery while drifting off to sleep. Our subconscious mind is a memory bank. It stores information which controls our behaviour without our awareness and can be accessed when our active mind becomes relaxed.

I thought it would be interesting to write a short story from the point of view of the subconscious mind.

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Stay Alert, Control Your Thoughts and Save Lives

When Josh punctured the lung of 46-year-old Mrs Landau, causing death due to complications of a haemothorax, I sensed a fragmentation in our relationship; a dichotomy in our thinking. I tried to convince him that a series of mistakes had contributed to her demise but Josh maintained he was ultimately responsible.

Now, as he blocks my communications, allowing me only the rarest of appearances, I’m finding it increasingly difficult to halt his self-destruction.

Seven days after the death of Mrs Landau Josh glances at his watch. Fifteen minutes to the end of three, very long days on-call and he’s mentally ordering a double whisky while running through the events of the day. Has he forgotten anything? Yes, of course he has! How could he not when he hasn’t even had time to piss.

He orders an X-ray for the elderly lady on Cheshire Ward, requested that morning by the consultant when learning, on ward round, she had fallen out of bed the previous evening. Mindful of a lawsuit, no doubt. Josh then writes up antibiotics for an eight year old girl. A difficult decision required on an elderly gentleman on the respiratory ward had cast the request for antibiotics for the child straight into the wind. The elderly gentleman subsequently died but Josh does not consider himself responsible for that one.

Whereas weekdays carry the full complement of staff, decisions at the weekend are sometimes left to novices, like Josh, who rely on a good phone signal to enable a Google search for guidance. A Registrar is available but rarely has time to hold the Junior’s hand while he attends to all the emergencies the Junior is too inexperienced to cover.

Mistakes are made.

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Five minutes to end of shift, exhausted and fed up, Josh’s bleep buzzes. He considers banging his head against the wall and presenting himself in Casualty with suspected concussion but I gently remind him he is still officially on duty and under investigation regarding the death of Mrs Landau.

He answers. It’s Nurse Seema from Oncology.

‘Hi Josh. Sorry, love, I know you’re about to leave but Nicos is still in Resuscitation. What a bloody day, eh? Can you come and do a catheter before you go?’

Josh’s heartbeat accelerates but forgets to send oxygen to his brain. His head swims; tendrils of red swirl round his body as anger and fear surge. On legs that no longer remember how to carry his weight he makes his way to Oncology. His responsibilities officially end during the walk to the ward but he is now committed. While his mind is busy I have little chance of getting through.

Josh takes one look at the patient and feels a sense of panic as I try to warn him by feeding him a memory from an episode while on a previous rotation. An F1, fresh out of medical school, had been coerced into inserting a catheter in an elderly cancer patient when a radiologist was unavailable and it hadn’t gone well.

‘I’m not experienced to do this. You need to call in a radiologist or surgeon,’ says Josh.

‘But there’s nobody available. Please?’ Nurse Seema begs.

Josh hesitates and during the pause she hands him a catheter tube and flashes him a smile.

‘Thanks Josh, you’re a star. Can’t leave the old fella with nowhere to pee otherwise he’ll probably burst his bladder!”

Josh holds the catheter – completely forgetting to check whether it’s the correct size – in his clammy hands. He baulks at the odour that rises to his nostrils before realising it’s a mixture of sweat and fear emanating from his own body. Clutching the tube he has difficulty deciding what to do. His thoughts try to grab onto something solid as he rubs the back of his neck unable to make up his mind whether to allow the nurse to bully him into performing the procedure or whether he has the courage to refuse.

Fear metastasises to every cell, freezing the synapses in his brain. The patient is in pain and the Registrar is unavailable. Josh doesn’t heed my warning and, against his better judgement, begins the procedure. 

Deep breaths, Josh, I tell him. Calm your frazzled, overworked brain and allow me to help you. With hands shaking worse than some of the patients on the neurology ward, Josh inserts the catheter, successfully completes the task and then prays there will be no complications as he goes to change out of his scrubs.

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Josh keeps his head down as he leaves the hospital. The euphoria he felt at the end of shift is short-lived as the death of Mrs Landau surfaces in all its colours and he senses eyes of judgement following every step he takes. Wispy clouds of murky blue reside in his aura as he struggles to quell the shame that lurks in his mind.

Josh tells himself he can’t do this any more. There’s no way he’s going back through those hospital doors and subjecting one more patient to his poor decisions. His body tenses and he lashes out at a lamp post with the fervour of an England striker. Wham! A torrent of pain floods his foot and ankle, sending sparks to his brain. He sways as the light temporarily dims and his breath momentarily ceases.

He clutches the lamp post and clings tightly until equilibrium returns. Tears course down his cheeks as self-pity usurps rationality. He hobbles to the pub, the pain – and the prospect of temporary annihilation from worry – give him unexpected joy.

When he downs the first double whisky in a few gulps, then orders another, I’m afraid. No, Josh, No! Just go home. You’re a good doctor. You just lack experience – and support is not always available. It’s not your fault.

Josh pauses as he raises the glass to his lips. I think I might be getting through. I hope he realises he is not responsible for the failures of the system.

But no. My pleas go unheard – or ignored. Four hours later Josh is slumped, unconscious, against a green wheelie bin, stalactites of barely digested McDonalds hang from his mouth; his jeans covered in vomit. An icy wind threatens to extinguish life as Josh knows it.

I need to up my game.

Josh! I yell. Get up and go home before you die of hypothermia. He stirs. I’m hopeful. But he remains out of reach. I want to shake him but that’s not possible.

Two teenagers approach. They’re both very drunk and I sense they’re looking for fun. Instinctively I know Josh is in trouble. I yell to him again as the tall, lanky one starts unbuckling Josh’s belt. There’s laughter and whoops of delight as they remove his dirty jeans and underwear.

Josh! Wake up! I screech at his prone body. He doesn’t hear me. Nobody does.

A quick search of Josh’s jeans reveal his wallet, which the short, skinny one pockets. They throw Josh’s jeans and pants in the wheelie bin, miasma from its putrid contents slither out as the lid is raised. About to walk off, Lanky unzips his trousers and sends a torrent of steaming urine over Josh’s face. The kids laugh and saunter off.

I hate to say it but they’ve done Josh a favour.

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Roused from oblivion, unaware he’s been shamefully abused, Josh manages to drag himself to standing position and hobble, naked from the waist down, along the road while I feed him directions to his flat and instruct him to crawl under the duvet.

I’m relieved. He’s been spared from the clutches of the grim reaper and the police – for tonight at least. It’s an arduous task watching your personality destroy itself, unable to prevent the haemorrhaging of self- respect as it drowns in a quagmire of guilt.

Josh dreams he returns home from work drunk and slumps on the sofa while smoking a cigarette. He smells burning. Flames leap around him. His daughter is dead.

Josh wakes, panic fluttering in his chest, as he recalls the terror of his nocturnal memories. For it is not a dream. I have pushed this true event, from a previous lifetime, to the surface in the hope he will ‘remember’ he vowed never to drink again.

After showering off the nauseating body smells (he still has no idea he was urinated on before staggering home semi-naked) Josh calls the hospital.

Louisa, an F2 like him, answers the phone.

‘Just checking to see if everything’s ok. No problems from the weekend?’ Asks Josh.

‘Everything’s fine. You don’t need to check in every time you have a day off to make sure you haven’t killed anyone!’ Louisa laughs but stops abruptly when she realises he is, in fact, responsible for killing someone.

It’s only after two cups of coffee and a quarter of a slice of toast that I’m able to make any headway. As his headache begins to recede Josh pulls his legs up onto the sofa and wraps his arms around his knees, dropping his chin onto them. And the conversation begins in Josh’s head.

- Why did I drink so much?

- Guilt. You’re blaming yourself for the death of Mrs Landau.

- Yes, because it was my fault. I should have been more careful aspirating the fluid from her lungs.

- The procedure always carries risks. She was severely overweight making the task more difficult.

- True. But still…she was only forty six and had three children. It shouldn’t have happened.

- A hazard of the job. Nobody goes through a career in medicine without accidentally killing a few people. Also you should have been supervised as you are technically a trainee. At the end of your shift you handed over and when she was screaming from the pain she was given pain killers, rather than a scan to check for anything more serious.

Josh shakes his head, as though this simple act could banish his despair. Clouds of grey wrap around him like a shroud. I know I’ve lost the debate. His dark thoughts suffocate me as I sense Josh give up the fight.

He wants to separate us and send me back to Source whereupon I will take on the responsibility of a new personality. Josh’s experiences will be added to those of the other’s I have recorded and will be available if the new personality is awake and present enough to access the wisdom.

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Josh jumps up from the sofa and lets out a squeal of pain as he lands on his bruised and battered foot. He reaches for his keys, climbs into his car and drives to his parents’ house.

His unexpected arrival sends his mother into a fluster. There’s only enough lunch for two and she has no cakes or biscuits. Shopping day is tomorrow.

Josh reassures his parents that he’s just popped in to say hello as he was passing. He accepts a cup of coffee, smiles and chats with them for half an hour before visiting the bathroom. Although he needs to relieve himself he has an ulterior motive.

Opening the bathroom cabinet, where his parents keep their medication safe from their small grandchildren, Josh finds the morphine tablets his father takes for bone cancer. There are three complete packs of twenty eight pills and one pack with twenty six. He leaves the opened pack of twenty six and pockets one full box hoping it will not immediately be missed.

On leaving, he hugs both his parents tight knowing he will not see them again. He blinks away the tears that threaten. A haze of blue and yellow reflect his calmer mood now he sees a way forward.

Back home Josh closes the curtains, pushes all twenty eight pills from their blisters, brings the half empty bottle of whisky from the kitchen, turns out the light and sits on the sofa.

I try to reason with him. Try to dissuade him from his plan of action because I know that if he can get through this tough time it will make him stronger. He is a good doctor who lacks experience; a kind person who feels the pain of others. Maturity – if he reaches that stage – will iron out the wrinkles caused by lack of confidence.

He picks up a tablet, pops it in his mouth and takes a few gulps of whisky.

Our conversation continues in Josh’s head as I try to make him see sense. I’m working on the assumption there’s still room for debate as he hasn’t taken a handful to swallow. Me v. Him.

I lose again.

He picks up another pill as his mobile phone rings. Caller ID tells him it’s Mum. Josh ignores it, mentally says sorry and washes the pill down with more whisky.

Black and grey clouds swirl around him. Flashes of anger at the interruption cause red streaks to shoot through his aura.

His phone rings again. Hopefully the momentum will be broken and Josh will see sense. Caller ID tells him it’s his sister. He mentally apologises again and picks up another pill. He’s feeling dizzy. His head is fuzzy – more due to the whisky than the morphine.

Nausea rises in his throat and he struggles to keep the contents of his stomach in place. Determined to go through with his plan he takes another tablet and guzzles more whisky.

His phone rings again. Synchronicity kicks in as a flurry of messages fly through the collective consciousness. It’s the hospital and Josh’s instincts as a doctor force him to take the call.

‘Josh. It’s Louisa. Your dad’s just been brought in and your family have desperately been trying to contact you. He’s has a stroke. He wants to see you.’ 

A father trying to save his son, although neither are consciously aware of this.

Josh pauses. A rainbow of hues twist and turn from head to toe as Josh absorbs the information.

‘On my way,’ he says before sweeping the remaining pills into his hand and flushing them down the sink.

We are back on track.

For now.

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THE END

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Our Responsibility to be Happy

Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.” Dalai Lama XIV

I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s our duty to society to be happy.  At face value it seems self-centred and indulgent to seek happiness when there’s so much suffering in the world. It seems like a ‘blow you Jack, I’m alright!’ type attitude. However, the more I think about it and watch life going on around me, the more I believe that if we could make it our priority to be happy then the world would be a much better place.

During a recent visit to a supermarket a woman barged into me with the force of a rhino (I’ll refrain from commenting on her size!). Slightly winded and taken by surprise I found myself apologising –  as you do! (For some reason the British have this strange habit of apologising for things they haven’t done. There is a wonderful book called Watching the English by Kate Fox which investigates English behaviour – and the author spent an afternoon bumping into people and discovered that over 80% apologised to her  for bumping into them!)     

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            So sorry that you bumped into me!         Image courtesy of Pixabay

 I obviously didn’t apologise loud enough – or perhaps the woman was deaf as well as bloody rude – and I found myself on the receiving end of a barrage of abuse. “Don’t F…..g say sorry then” she yelled as she shoved her trolley into mine, grazing my knuckles in the process. Stupidly, despite her obnoxious behaviour, I began to explain that I had apologised even though she had in fact bumped into me but she stormed off, leaving me mumbling to myself like a crazy lady.

No longer in the mood for shopping, due to indignant outrage, I picked up a few more things and headed for the checkout. No points for guessing who was at the checkout next to mine. Yes, the charging rhino who was now venting her anger at the poor man at the till.

She was clearly not a happy bunny and I felt sorry for whoever was waiting for her at home.

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Grumpy = difficult  Image courtesy of Pixabay

Observation tells me that unhappy people tend to be self-focussed, rude, difficult and antagonistic. I’m not talking about sad unhappy but miserable unhappy. Miserable people make it their mission in life to make everyone else’s lives on par with their own. Happy people on the other hand tend to be more tolerant, flexible and generally nicer people. Happiness is infectious. Being around happy people makes you feel good despite your own problems.

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Happy = nice to be around Image courtesy of Pixabay

 

So, how do we seek happiness and fulfil our planetary duties?

A new car…that would make me very happy! A month in the Caribbean…how could I be miserable sunning myself on a beach there? Obviously it is my responsibility to be happy so Lastminute.com here I come!!

But do these things really make me happy? Momentarily, yes. Then I revert to my baseline level of happiness. The level that is me. The level that, whatever the problem or pleasure, I revert to in everyday life. Once I’ve overcome the awe of sitting on a Caribbean beach for a few days I get a bit bored and think how nice it would be if I could wander around an art gallery and get out of the heat!

My daughter has travelled a lot and worked as a volunteer in small villages in Uganda and Cambodia and she tells me that the people there seemed happy with life. Despite having very little, they were happier than many that she meets at home. (Home as in England – not home, home…we’re not generally a miserable bunch). They were always willing to share their evening meal, which consisted of a few floating bits in a watery broth. They had more than their fair share of problems, as you can imagine, but their baseline level of happiness was higher than many who have acquired an abundance of material goods.

Happiness is determined more by one’s state of mind than by eternal events” The Art of Happiness, HH Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler.

The key is not to confuse happiness with pleasure. Pleasure comes and goes but the aim is to achieve a higher baseline level of happiness. We clearly need the basics of a roof over our head, food in our stomachs and clothes to wear but does all the extra bits really make us happy? It’s all about our attitude to life and we can do a lot to change our expectations in order to achieve greater joy.

I truly believe it’s our priority in life – our contribution to the planet, if you like – to seek happiness. It’s neither self-indulgent nor selfish. Hard work it may be, to express more love and affection and smile at everyone; sometimes nearly impossible to show compassion when you’re angry and frustrated but the more it’s practised the easier it becomes (so all the books say!). Over time, less things irritate and annoy – and this raises the baseline level of happiness. .

Simples!

 

 

Synchronicity or just coincidence?

Synchronicity: “The simultaneous occurrence of events which appear significantly related but have no discernible causal connection”www.oxforddictionaries.com

I recently read a book called Synchrodestiny by Deepak Chopra explaining that there is no such thing as coincidence; events are carefully coordinated to give us opportunities for growth. There are sign posts everywhere (apparently) if we are alert enough to see them. Well, I can’t see them for looking – as the expression goes.

How do you know when the universe is trying to tell you something when you have no idea what you’re looking for? It’s impossible to interpret every single incident trying to look for clues. It can drive you crazy – I know because I tried it for a day and ended up with a headache.

We’ve all experienced those uncanny moments that give us pause for thought – which we then invariably dismiss as freaky coincidences. As Deepak Chopra says, ‘Your car breaks down on a deserted road, and just when you had resigned yourself to being stranded for hours, the very first vehicle that comes along is a tow truck”.

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What is it trying to tell me? 

Are these experiences signs and if so how do we interpret them?

My sister called recently to say she had awoken with a song in her head, an old song from her ipod that she hadn’t listened to for some time. An hour later in the car on her way to work, not liking the current topic on the radio, she tuned into a music station and yes, you can guess the rest. Same song. She asked me what I made of it and all I could offer was that perhaps there was something in the song that was relevant to her current circumstances. Not that she was aware of, she replied. Perhaps there was, perhaps there wasn’t, how are we to know?  

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The planets know exactly where they are going.

Although I am far from understanding how synchronicity works and a million miles away from understanding any sort of divine message, I am a fan of the whole ‘working behind the scenes’ theory. Nature, in its chaos, is carefully coordinated. The solar system is ordered. Although talk of destiny implies we have no control over our future, that everything is already mapped out, I don’t see it like that. I see it more as a guiding hand which strives to bring us what we need – and these needs are constantly changing depending on our daily actions and decisions. (A blog for another day).

I had an experience some years ago that pointed in a particular direction; one that fortunately I didn’t ignore. With the children away at university I had been trying to think of a hobby that I could take up and continue into later life. Something that didn’t tie me to a place or time.

One morning as I showered for work the idea of writing popped into my head. Due to my general lack of artistic talent and creativity I dismissed it immediately and thought no more about it. My trek to work that morning was stressful as there were long delays on the tube, forcing me to walk the last part of the journey. In the whole year I had been at this job I had never had to walk along that particular road.

There was a fierce wind so I kept my head down (plus I usually look at the pavement to avoid picking up anything nasty on my shoes!). About half way along I looked up at the building I was passing and it said Kogan Publishers. I was excited. A link to writing. As soon as I arrived at work I Googled it. They published business books and I was disappointed, convinced it would be a literary publishers after my thoughts in the shower.

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The phone is a bit of a distraction.!

That evening after dinner my husband was flicking through the TV channels (as usual) and I was reading (as usual) and suddenly for about ten seconds he picked up a programme on authors. The short clip I heard was Martina Cole saying ‘You don’t have to be a great literary person to write’ or something along those lines. Three events linked to writing and publishing within a twelve hour period. Surely this was no coincidence. I decided that writing a novel was something I could do anywhere in the world as long as I had a laptop (and a cup of coffee or a glass of Pinot Grigio).

During my next visit to the library I took out a mountain of books on creative writing and began to learn the craft. That was four years ago. My interest has never waned, in fact it has increased. To this day I believe it was the universe guiding me.

So make of that what you will but it certainly piqued my interest in synchronicity versus coincidence and if a book falls off the shelf in Waterstones and lands at your feet I suggest you take a good look at it – just in case.

 

The New Normal

We have a normal. As you move outside of your comfort zone, what was once the unknown and frightening becomes your new normal. - Robin Sharma

There has been much talk, as Coronavirus holds the world to ransom, of social distancing becoming the new normal until a treatment or vaccine is found. This virus has bred fear and mistrust of indulging in the most basic of human instincts:  touch

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No longer are we able to hug our loved ones and friends if they’re not of our immediate household. We cannot shake hands when meeting someone new – although there’s very little of that going on at the moment. Our body language, particularly towards strangers, is becoming ever-increasingly hostile.

virus-4898571__340While taking a walk we cross the road to avoid getting too close – often afraid to exchange greetings, fearful our breaths may mingle. We are being starved of the love and affection that nourishes our souls.

So why do we conform just because the government tells us to stay at least two meters apart? Why to we keep our adult children on the drive when they lovingly bring shopping? Why do we tell our grandchildren – who we love beyond measure – that they cannot come to visit? Why do we stay at home?

To save the NHS?

Partly, but the real reason – I believe – is to satisfy that deep, innate sense within us:  Survival. Ultimately, we are afraid to die and whatever horrors we suffer, the instinct to survive kicks in. This deeply-embedded drive, which ensures the continuation of our species, gives us one of the greatest tools we have on this Earth:  The ability to adapt.

Whatever shattering experience rocks our world, whether it’s the death of someone we love, divorce, losing our job, we learn to live with the consequences. Not always happily but our way of life settles into a new routine: a different pattern. A new normal.

I just hope, for the sanity of mankind, social distancing is a temporary “new normal” and fear of human contact doesn’t become so ingrained we continue distancing even after scientists have found a way to keep us safe from the clutches of Coronavirus.

I suspect our fear of being in close contact with others will be temporary. After all, Coronavirus is not the first to terrorise our world. Our ancestors have suffered The Plague, Smallpox, Diphtheria – to name just a few. All of which were highly contagious, with devastatingly high mortality rates. These diseases would also have brought fear of close human contact.

But our species is ultimately built on love. We create new life through love and we thrive on touch, affection and kindness and I believe that, given time, our need for love will supersede our fears.

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Tao Te Ching Verse 3

Society today encourages ambition and prestige. Many aspire to celebrity status or to be successful entrepreneurs; many believe success is measured by position in society and possessions obtained.

Verse 3 of the Tao shows us how this way of life creates imbalance in the world.

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Translation by John Macdonald

Verse 3

If you over-esteem talented individuals
people will become overly competitive.
If you overvalue possessions
people will begin to steal.

Do not display your treasures
or people will become envious.

The Master leads by
Emptying people’s minds,
filling their bellies,
weakening their ambitions,
and making them become strong.
Preferring simplicity and freedom
from desires,
avoiding the pitfalls of knowledge and wrong action.

For those who practise not-doing
Everything will fall into place.

The first four lines say that we create imbalance by placing greater value on some things more than others. We refer to someone as ‘clever’ or a possession as ‘expensive’.

What exactly does this mean, as everything in life is relative to something else.

A BMW car is more expensive than a Ford Mondeo; a Bentley more expensive than the BMW. Therefore desire is never satisfied because there is always something greater to own – or something better to achieve…and there is always someone more clever!

emphasising the need for more highlights the perceived ‘lack’ and makes people unhappy, dissatisfied, envious and covetous. Even those that do succeed are rarely satisfied for long, because they’re still locked into the mindset of ‘striving but never arriving’. Daily-tao.blogspot

If we were satisfied with the basic needs: a roof over our heads, food in our stomachs, surrounded by people we love this imbalance could be redressed. The verse goes on to say that relinquishing ambition and desire makes for a happier, more balanced society.

The Tao is:
‘Urging us to forsake the demented race to perpetually accumulate and acquire, he instead advises us to empty our minds and weaken our ambitions….by letting go of our ambitions, desires and all the things we think we need in order to be happy, we stop projecting our happiness into the future and can instead be at peace and content in the present moment, now.Daily-tao.blogspot.

Weakening our ambitions and letting go of our desire for possessions does not mean we stagnate. Instead, we grow by moving forward with enthusiasm for the simple things in life – without the excesses and indulgences.

I am writing this during Lockdown of the Coronavirus pandemic. Those whose work is non-essential have been told to stay at home. A world recession is imminent as the economy comes to a halt. Rich and poor will suffering due to lack of income. Rich and poor will lose loved ones. The virus does not discriminate.

What value is the Bentley when you are not permitted to drive it? What is the value in competition when you are not free to compete? The Olympic Games have been cancelled, television filming has halted, the James Bond movie premiere delayed. Many businesses will inevitably go bust.

As people are forced to stay at home, a different way of living will emerge. Some will find it hard to cope; some will just be bored. Others – if their lives have not been devastated by the virus – will spend time with their families; spend time in the garden; take up a hobby they have been too busy to indulge in.  Desire and ambition will be placed on hold as there will be no means to satisfy them for the time being.

Without the need to chase possessions and status, life will be simple and perhaps a new freedom will emerge.

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Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Fankl

Viktor Frankl’s Man’s search for Meaning is one of the great books of our time. Typically, if a book has one passage, one idea with the power to change a person’s life, that alone justifies reading and re-reading it and finding room for it on one’s shelves. This book has several such passages – Harold S Kushner.

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The book is divided into two sections. The first comprises the experiences of Frankl’s internment in several concentration camps during World War 2; the second details a theory he proposes called Logotherapy, which involves looking to the future in an effort to find meaning in life with the view to improving every day existence.

Although there are many disturbing events detailed in the first part of the book, Frankl has focussed on using his skills as a psychoanalyst to try to work out why some people survive such horrendous circumstances and others do not. What is it that enables one to cope and another to give up?

Frankl believes it is linked with man’s view on the meaning of life.

It is something that most grapple with at some point in their lives. What meaning does life have? This does not refer to the all encompassing ‘what is the meaning of existence for humanity’ but more of ‘what is the meaning of life for me?’

“For the meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour. What matters therefore is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.”

Frankl says that as the prisoners were transported to the camps many were still under the illusion they would be reprieved; that all would be well. They still had hope and therefore retained the desire to survive. Soon after they arrived, however, hope faded with the horrors of their ordeal and with it their will to live.

During what Frankl terms “the first phase of our psychological reactions” most considered suicide as they viewed the future with little hope. Some took their lives by running into the electric fence surrounding the camp – so desperate were they.

The second phase, which came after the initial shock and the desire to kill oneself, brought apathy and a form of emotional death. Many of the prisoners would no longer avert their eyes to the constant beatings of the other prisoners; they no longer felt any emotion when watching someone being tortured.

Frankl describes how, on one occasion, a twelve year old boy was forced to stand to attention for hours in the snow and then to work outside with bare feet because there were no shoes for him. His toes became frostbitten and the doctors on duty picked off the black stumps. As the other prisoners watched they no longer felt disgust, horror or pity. This deadening of emotions occurred within just a few weeks of exposure to such horrors.

Gone was hope and any meaning to life.

Frankl – one of the few who survived the concentration camps – believed that “forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing: your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation” and it is possible this way of thinking, and his determination not to allow any given situation to destroy him, that enhanced Frankl’s chances of survival.

Frankl also observed that:

In spite of all the enforced physical and mental primitiveness of the life in a concentration camp, it was possible for spiritual life to deepen…they were able to retreat from their terrible surroundings to a life of inner riches and spiritual freedom. Only in this way can one explain the apparent paradox that some prisoners of a less hardy make-up often seemed to survive camp life better than did those of a robust nature.”

Frankl believed that such intense experiences provided the opportunity for spiritual growth and with it the hope of a better future. His view was that even suffering provided meaning to life if you viewed it as such.

“When a man finds it his destiny to suffer, he will have to accept his suffering as his task; his single and unique task. He will have to acknowledge the fact that even in suffering he is unique and alone in the universe. No one can relieve him of his suffering or suffer in his place. His unique opportunity lies in the way in which he bears his burden.”

It is possible to see all around us those who find meaning in their suffering: Charities set up in the name of loved ones who have died, such as the Willow foundation. This was founded by former Arsenal goalkeeper Bob Wilson and his wife Megs after their daughter, Anna, died of cancer. The charity provides special days for children and young people who are very ill, to give them something to look forward to.

Megan’s Law in the United States was passed after the parents of Megan Kanka – raped and murdered at the age of 7 – campaigned to have a law passed enabling communities to be warned of sex offenders in the areas in which they lived.

Some, at the death of a child or a loved one, can no longer find any meaning to life whereas others use this suffering to help others and therefore find some meaning to their own lives.

As expressed by Harold Kushner in the introductory quote there are many passages in Man’s Search for Meaning that have the power to change the way we view life. One is that we have the opportunity to choose how we respond to any given situation we find ourselves in. Whether this is a life-changing event or a more chronic leeching of our sense of self, ultimately we can choose how to respond to it. Some situations we are unable to change but we still have the choice to accept what it has to offer. Frankl believes this can determine whether we sink or swim.

Another is that life can have meaning whatever situation we are in. Meaning can be found in suffering – as the examples above show – and it can also be found in the boredom of the daily routine as boredom often spurs us on to change what is not working in our lives if we approach it in the correct way.

Man’s Search for Meaning was written over seventy years ago but its message is timeless. This book will be read in years to come and will still have the power to change the life of its reader.