Finding Peace…Going Deeper…Meditating

What is Meditation?

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“It’s what happy and successful people do,” I was told, when I first started learning about meditation and how to do it. The Dalai Lama and other Tibetan Buddhists  believe that happiness is the actual goal of most people on earth. I started meditating in the nineteen nineties, when I was searching for strategies for overcoming work-based anxiety and depression, which were causing self-esteem issues for me. However, it wasn’t until more recently, after stopping full-time work, that I joined groups to enhance the practice and to go deeper into it.

Meditation has been around from time immemorial: first recorded in written texts from seven thousand years ago in China. While meditation has become linked mainly to Eastern cultures, it is integral to most spiritual paths, and basic to all major religions in some form or another.

Dr Ian Gawler of the Ian Gawler Foundation claimed to have been cured of cancer through meditation and dietary changes.  He states that “No matter where in your life you want to see  improvement, meditation can help. It does not matter what age you are, your culture or beliefs; meditation is for everyone and can provide you with great benefits, many of which have been scientifically confirmed. This simple, yet powerful mind training tool, can bring long-term improvement to your health, wellbeing, relationships and career.” Mindbody Mastery

How to meditate:

There are many different groups offering many different meditation practices. Here is an article outlining the  main different types of meditation.

Simply put, you sit with your back erect, close your eyes, focus on your breath, and practise mindfullness. It takes time and continued practice to learn how to do this easily and comfortably, without being pulled around by speedy, agitated “monkey mind“.

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Monkey Mind

 A Simple meditation for beginners
  1. Sit or lie comfortably. You may even want to invest in a meditation chair.
  2. Close your eyes.
  3. Make no effort to control the breath; simply breathe naturally.
  4. Focus your attention on the breath and on how the body moves with each inhalation and exhalation.

Credits for the Mercedes Benz ad:
Advertising Agency: Shalmor Avnon Amichay/Y&R Interactive Tel Aviv, Israel
Chief Creative Director: Gideon Amichay
Executive Creative Director: Tzur Golan
Creative Director: Yariv Twig
Art Directors: Gil Aviyam, Dror Nachumi
Illustrators: Gil Aviyam, Lena Guberman
Copywriters: Sharon Refael, Oren Meir
Executive Client Director: Adam Polachek
Account Supervisor: Yael Yuz
Account Manager: Mayran Sadeh
Head of Strategic Planning: Yoni Lahav
Planning Director: Zohar Reznik
Planner: Nili Rabinowitz

Emotional Intelligence

Wikipedia gives a good overview of the term  Emotional Intelligence. But what are the implications for writers and others today?

I love this ad from Mercedes-Benz from Ads of the World  that seems to sum up the functions and importance of both sides of the brain. Which side do you think emotional intelligence is linked to? See credits for the ad below

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Swedish “love coach”, Carolin Dahlman,  gave a presentation to our writers’ group around the idea of networking in order to be published.  Most of the large group of writers who attended were hoping to be published one day. Her message was that in this fast-moving world we need to self-promote through the internet and other technology at our disposal, and to go out and meet people and talk about our projects. Admittedly, she has found a saleable niche, in that many lonely people need her psychological know-how, and her skills for relating to others. At the same time, she knows how to self promote, loves what she does, and has boundless energy for doing so.

One of the questions was from a group member who saw himself as being highly intelligent. He claimed the supra-importance of IQ, intelligence quotient,  for a happy life. The speaker claimed that, in fact, intelligence can be an obstacle in a person’s search for “truth”. Carolin’s response was that “emotional intelligence” (EQ or EI) is far more important for finding love and happiness than IQ. She often meets intelligent men and women who are afraid of seeking out love (fearing commitment? emotional pain?) and who live a lonely life as a result.
Several people in the group pointed out examples of “idiot savants” (Remember “Rain Man” played by Dustin Hoffman?) who can calculate extraordinary sums in their head, but who can barely look after themselves. However, these are extreme examples of specifically gifted individuals within the “autism spectrum” , who do not score well on intelligence tests at all.
 Another definition of EQ is from Salovey and Mayer: “A form of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions.
Daniel Goleman, in his 1995 book Emotional Intelligence, identified 4 aspects of the concept as follows: Knowing your emotions; managing your own emotions; motivating yourself; managing relationships i.e. managing the emotions of others.

The fifth one is the hardest to achieve;  many parents will agree with this, as small children are naturally egotistical.

Credits for the ad:
Advertising Agency: Shalmor Avnon Amichay/Y&R Interactive Tel Aviv, Israel
Chief Creative Director: Gideon Amichay
Executive Creative Director: Tzur Golan
Creative Director: Yariv Twig
Art Directors: Gil Aviyam, Dror Nachumi
Illustrators: Gil Aviyam, Lena Guberman
Copywriters: Sharon Refael, Oren Meir
Executive Client Director: Adam Polachek
Account Supervisor: Yael Yuz
Account Manager: Mayran Sadeh
Head of Strategic Planning: Yoni Lahav
Planning Director: Zohar Reznik
Planner: Nili Rabinowitz

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Are You Left Brained or Right Brained?

Tread Carefully Here…

I have to be careful when discussing this concept, as I’m married to a scientist, who also happens to be a very creative person. He was an actor when we first met, but has for a long time worked in a left-brained (academic) field: researching best-practice treatments for treating stuttering.

Left-brained people are said to utilise the parts of the brain related to logic, whereas  right-brained people choose the areas concerned with creativity.

Many who subscribe to this idea of left-brained versus right-brained, believe that we are born with a particular leaning towards one or the other hemisphere.  However, I see this distinction as partly metaphorical, rather than literal. That is, we are probably utilising both hemispheres of the brain all of the time, when working mentally, thinking and using language. But certain tracts or pathways might be forged differently, certainly over time, for the creative versus the logical thinker.

Are You a Creative or Logical Thinker?

Overall, I’m probably a creative, rather than a logical thinker. Yet I’ve excelled in academic pursuits at certain points in my life, when I’ve chosen to do so.  At this stage in life, I have chosen to follow my goal of mastering creative writing (fiction and memoir) now that I have retired from full-time work.  And recently, in every survey I’ve filled in relating to this topic, I’ve been shown to fall on the side of “right-brained” rather than “left-brained”.  But only just.  That is, I’m using all of my brain, all of the time, but I’m currently favouring creativity, over logical thinking.  And it shows!

Follow the Dancing Lady

When I follow the dancing lady figure with my eyes, which many might see as a puerile exercise—a trick?—something interesting happens. I only see her turning right. Does this clinch the deal? I’m a right-brained person!

Which side of the brain do you think you favour?

Brain scanning technology is quickly approachi...

Brain scanning technology is quickly approaching levels of detail that will have serious implications (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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The Great Beauty

due west from the hotel

A perfect day for a walk

In the movie “The Great Beauty”, the 2013 Italian film by Paolo Sorrentino, a tourist,  after taking photos in Rome,  collapses and dies. The message is clear: See Rome and die! Like the protagonist in the film, my abode while in Rome (in my case, the Palatino Hotel) was almost overlooking the Colosseum. A flight of stairs opposite the hotel led up through an archway between walls covered by vines to the top of the hill. From there,  you looked down on the ancient stadium, constructed for gladiatorial events two millenia ago.

The view from the hotel

Walkway to the Colosseum

Esthetically pleasing

Perfectly constructed Roman arches

I could walk in any direction for hours, to be overwhelmed by ancient beauty. Ten minutes’ away to the west was the Roman Forum. You had to pay twelve euros to wander around in here. It was well worth it, and there was less chance of being relieved of your wallet by pickpockets in here.

Gigantic Temple

Temple of Antonius Pius and Faustina

Still intact today

An ancient street in the Forum

Romulous and Remus

The Twins Suckled by the Wolf

Romulus and Remus, the twin founders of Rome, were said to have been suckled by a she-wolf, after their mother was forced to become a vestal virgin. Roma was named after Romulus, who favoured the palatine Hill on which to construct the town that became Rome. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romulus_and_Remus

The Garden  containing Statues of the Vestal Virgins was beautiful and full of pathos. It harks back to an ancient cult of which little remains today. The virgins were chosen from aristocratic families to watch over the eternal fire that represented the city’s life force. One of their more macabre tasks was to prepare the mixture containing salt to be spread over sacrificial bodies.

Statins, Cholesterol and Coronary Heart Disease

I was recently advised by doctors that I should take statins to lower my blood cholesterol reading. The statins lowered my reading quickly to half what it was before. Originally it was 8, then 7 after trialling diet and exercise for a short time, but it went down to 4 when on the drugs. The problem was that I developed jaw and neck problems that sent me off to an endodontist to see if I required gum or root canal surgery. There was nothing wrong with my teeth at the time.

Several general practitioners and a cardiologist, who is currently carrying out tests on me, recommended a minimal amount of a statin, combined with a low-fat diet and heart vitamins. Even with the low-level statin, the side-effects occurred once again. And I have been following a low-fat diet for most of my adult life. The problem with a high cholesterol reading seemed to me to be genetic. My paternal grandmother had “hardened arteries” as did, possibly, my father, but he died of a stroke from stress at sixty, not from a heart attack.

Next I looked at the research that had been carried out, and I saw that the main conclusions were relevant to people who had experienced a first heart attack. It seemed that statins did nothing that could be proven to assist healthy people like me at my stage of life. My blood pressure has always responded to a minimal amount of medication, and I have had a low pulse reading, suggesting an active lifestyle. The three blood pressure measures have usually been excellent, but I’m responsive to the “white coat syndrome”, that is, some doctors tend to get a high bottom figure—diastolic—reading when taking it. Because of this, I have recently purchased my own blood pressure measuring device.

The peer review findings on cholesterol and saturated fats as being the enemy to normal cholesterol readings, had been carried out in a couple of villages in Scotland and Wales. A British doctor, Malcolm Kendrick, has published a book entitled Doctoring Data, criticising the objectivity and validity of the findings. He claims that the peer review process in the Welsh research was fallible, and that there were too many variables that should have been considered. Furthermore, he points out that the bar for a healthy cholesterol measure has been lowered in recent times, so that what was once slightly elevated is now seen as life-threatening. However the evidence in favour of the use of statins is impressive for high risk individuals.

An interesting observation that Kendrick dragged up caught my attention:  the French diet contains a high level of saturated fats, and yet the cholesterol levels of the French population are just above average. See The French Paradox. As a young woman, I spent four years in France, and I was impressed by the food in France and the way it was produced and served. I saw that the French diet was very different from the Australian one and vastly different from American fast foods and eating habits. The French savoured their food, which was fresh and pure; families sat down together and conversed at meal times, and dishes were served and consumed slowly over a long period of time. See this article on the comparative coronary heart disease (CHD) situation in different countries.

But it got me thinking in the direction of natural, pure foods versus carbohydrate-rich, sugar-loaded choices that we are offered in our large supermarkets here. Could the culprits be sugar, and other refined products, rather than fat, that are doing the damage? I glanced at some of the low-fat options that I had been buying, and was astonished at the hidden sugar found in many of them! I had to use a magnifying glass to read the levels on the packaging.

So now, I am back to the drawing board.  I was led to believe that all I needed to do was to follow a low-fat diet in order to stay healthy. But low-fat milk has quite high levels of sugar. When people eat a food containing carbohydrates, the digestive system breaks down the digestible ones into sugar, which enters the blood. Lowering the amount of carbohydrates in the diet could have a huge effect on the body and on physical health.

What convinced me of the need to stay on statins was finding a well-read GP, who walked me through the arguments in favour of their benefits; and hearing from a friend who suffered a heart attack after she went off the pills.

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First Week of Spring … Downunder

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Someone asked me today why I blog. Another person said recently that, at my age, it’s enough to be a good grandmother to my grandchildren. To be honest, and I’ll try to be truthful in this, the reason I started blogging was because of my older brother. I’d like to say that he encouraged me to do so, but the truth of the matter is that it was a case of sibling rivalry. Mine. About ten years ago, he started a blog from his eyrie, a farmhouse nestled in a valley below the French Alps, (http://skyvington.blogspot.com.au/), and I wanted to prove that I was able to do so myself. I’d been writing for therapeutic reasons for many years at the time. I knew it was a hangover from childhood, this need to prove myself: an immature impulse on my part. It’s the same reason why I embarked on higher studies, and ended up with several Masters degrees, even though I didn’t like school or even university very much. Continue reading

Back to Croatia

 

Gorgeous colours

Cavtat Harbour

I’m off for the northern hemisphere once again in two weeks’ time.  Beautiful Croatia is our host country once more.  We’ll stay at the same Hotel Croatia, built during Tito’s reign on the edge of the Adriatic at Cavtat. From the sea, it is reminiscent of a boat, not at all like some of the ugly Soviet buildings of the era.

Hotel Croatia

Hotel Croatia

The waters of the Adriatic here are advertised as “the Mediterranean like it used to be.” It’s a village-like atmosphere in the town, with cobbled streets winding upwards from the harbour.  I intend riding a bicycle around the peninsula, stopping to view Roman ruins, taste local cuisine, visit museums and swim. and artwork by notable artists which would be worth your time to see.  The Church of St Nicholas has Icons of the  saint, an alabaster relief from the 15th century, works by Benedetto Genarri, and paintings by Sicilian painters.

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In The Village

 

Ancient Church

The Church

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can catch ferries to one of the many peaceful islands, or visit the bustling walled city of Dubrovnik,  a favourite haunt for tourists.

Dubrovnik

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Dubrovnik

 

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The Village of Cavtat on the Bay

Source: Listen to this organ in Croatia that uses the sea to make hauntingly beautiful music.

(in Zadar)

Flame Trees … Cold Chisel

“Flame Trees” was sung by Jimmy Barnes to commemorate Australia Day on 26th January this year (2016). The song depicts the two sides of Grafton, its  polarities, in a creative way. This town is the setting for my memoir “River Girl” that I intend to  publish in the near future. We lived outside the main town at a place called Waterview. Being surrounded by nature was the positive side of my childhood when I was growing up.

Grafton and South Grafton

I was born and grew up in the far north coast town of Grafton in NSW, Australia. Actually, it was on the “poor cousin” South Grafton on the Clarence River at a place called Waterview. There’s a crooked bridge joining the two sides of the river.  We lived on a block of land in a weatherboard cottage, a bit of a dump, really. Dad didn’t mind, so long as he was away from the town “rubber necks”.  Mum hankered after mod cons and pretty things. Dad wanted only land, gum trees and bullocks.

There was an avenue of jacaranda trees, which marked the end of the township of South Grafton, and the start of the Gwydir Highway that we lived next to, one mile out from the town boundary. Continue reading

High Flights: Beginnings and Endings

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Lines from the poem, “High Flight” slipped into my mind, while I was flying over the  Channel on the way to Heathrow Airport. That last line was a douzy! Mark and I were returning home from Paris via London and Dubai. This was only the first short leg of the journey. We’d left the same way, en route to Roma, ten days earlier. The clouds below formed a landscape of ridges and rivers, that seemed familiar to me, an Aussie voyager, but was constructed out of fairy floss. I could only imagine the rich French countryside, and the Manche far below, hidden by the snowy screen.

It was a perfect one-hour flight. Very few bumps. The plane had risen above the bad weather in Paris. I brushed away a tear at the thought of the Latin Quarter far away down below. I’d fallen in love with it half a century ago. Rose twilight bands tinted the horizons on both sides of the plane. I glimpsed the silvery half-moon, looking quietly down on the plane, and thought of my young grandson, also named Mark, about to have his fourth birthday party the next day back home. We had thirty hours of travel ahead of us yet. Why oh why was our beloved country so far away from everywhere else that beckoned us?

High Flight
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air. . . .

Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or ever eagle flew —
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
John Gillespie Magee, Jr

On the third of September in 1941, eighteen year old John Gillespie Magee was flying at 30,000 feet in a test flight of the Spitfire V.  As he climbed up above the clouds, he was inspired to write a poem, describing feelings of awe that overcame him when he flew  into a realm of strange beauty far above the earth. Once back on the ground, he wrote a letter to his parents. in which he enclosed a copy of the poem.

Flying fighter sweeps over France and air defense over England against the German Luftwaffe, he rose to the rank of Pilot Officer.

Just three months later, on the eleventh of December 1941 (and only three days after the US entered the war), Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, Jr., was killed, when the Spitfire V he was flying, collided with another plane over England.  He was only nineteen years old.

A Bird’s Eye View

A city of wonders

View from our window

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A city of wonders

A small bridge behind our hotel

 

The amazing piazza San Marco

Mark in front of San Marco

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We’re heading for the air space over la Belle Paris, where we will spend such a memorable few days, meeting up with Véronique and Thierry, and Manya and Hakeem. You can tell it’s France down below from the beautifully sculpted blocks of land, some tilled, others awaiting cultivation: the richness of the French agricultural tradition.

Whereas Venice will be a feast for the eyes, Paris is style, fresh food in street markets, wonderful cuisine and products in delis, and interesting, generous people. Admittedly, there’s also a creeping sense of depression there, as the young abandon ship and take off for richer pastures further afield: New York, Sydney, Berlin…anywhere they can find work. But things augure well for the future, so long as its large youth population returns once the economy recuperates.

Mark had one day working hard in Paris teaching the Lidcombe Program. He was exhausted afterwards, but we were served dinner: ‘foie gras d’oie’—home-made by Thierry!—and baked lamb with vegetables and sauce and lots of red wine!  It was a real feast, and a once-in-a-lifetime experience like staying in the Presidential Suite in Cavtat. But I must admit to suffering from ‘mal au foie’ the next day. Continue reading