Tuesday, May 22, 2018


Mindfulness and meditation may stave off dementia.

Researchers from University College London examined studies looking at the association between mid-life anxietydepression, and the development of dementia. The findings, published in BMJ Open, point to an association between moderate to severe anxiety or depression and future dementia, with a gap of at least 10 years in between diagnoses. In other words, those who suffered clinically significant – that is, moderate to severe – anxiety or depression in mid-life were more likely to develop dementia years later.

It seems that responses to stress may speed up brain cell ageing and degenerative changes in the central nervous system, increasing vulnerability to dementia. Mindfulness and meditation, which have been found to reduce anxiety, have the potential to reduce the risk of later dementia.

The research involved 30,000 people.

Gimson A, Schlosser M, Huntley JD, et al. ‘Support for midlife anxiety diagnosis as an independent risk factor for dementia: a systematic review.’ BMJ Open 2018;8:e019399. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2017-019399


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Tuesday, April 17, 2018


Fairy tales are rarely about fairies and generally have an inner meaning. I have looked at several famous fairy tales in the past including Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs by the Brothers Grimm. Here’s another fairy tale—from Germany—involving a character called Snow White: ‘Snow-White and Rose-Red’.

The tale goes something like this. A poor widow lives in a small cottage by the woods with her two young children, Snow-White and Rose-Red, whom she adores. There is a garden in front of the cottage in which there are two rose bushes. One of the roses bears white roses, and the other red roses. The symbolism of that is revealing. The rose represents the individual's unfolding consciousness although, depending on the context, it has a myriad assortment of additional meanings associated with it, such as purity, passion, heavenly perfection, virginity, fertility, suffering and sacrifice, death and life. 

In the context of this fairy tale, the white and red roses represent the thinking and feeling aspects of our consciousness respectively. Now, the two young children, who play together and love each other dearly, are just like the above mentioned roses. Rose-Red is outspoken and cheerful and loves to play outside whereas her sister Snow-White is quiet and shy and prefers doing housework and reading. The two girls love to go out into the forest where they like to sleep. On one occasion, whilst sleeping unknowingly on the edge of a precipice, they are awakened by a figure in shining white apparel (apparently, a ‘guardian angel’, variously a symbol of power, guardianship, inner guidance and personal transformation).

One winter night, there is a knock at the door. Rose-Red opens the door to find a bear. At first, she is terrified, but the bear tells her not to be afraid. ‘I'm half frozen and I merely want to warm up a little at your place,’ he says. They let the bear in, and he lies down in front of the fire. The girls beat the snow off the bear, and they quickly become quite friendly with him. They play with the bear and roll him around playfully. They let the bear spend the night in front of the fire. In the morning the bear leaves, trotting out into the woods. The bear comes back every night for the rest of that winter and the family grows used to him.

When summer comes, the bear tells the family that he must go away for a while to guard his treasure from a wicked dwarf. On parting, the bear catches his fur on the door-hook, and it seems to Snow-White that she sees gold glittering underneath.

During the summer, when the girls are walking through the forest, they find a dwarf whose beard is stuck in a tree. The girls rescue him by cutting his beard free, but the dwarf is ungrateful and yells at them for cutting his beautiful beard. He seizes a bag of gold which lies behind him and hurries off angrily. The girls encounter the dwarf several times that summer, each time rescuing him from some peril each time, but the dwarf is always ungrateful. On the second occasion the dwarf runs off with a bag of pearls. On another occasion he hurries off with a bag of precious stones. Then, one day, they meet the dwarf once again and he is seen counting his treasures. This time, the bear rushes out of the forest and strikes the dwarf dead.

Instantly, the bear’s skin falls from him, revealing a handsome prince. You see, the dwarf had put a spell on the prince by stealing his precious stones and turning him into a bear, but the curse is broken with the death of the dwarf. Snow-White marries the prince, and Rose-Red marries his brother. And yes, as in all fairy tales, they all live happily ever after.

Have you ever noticed how many fairy tales involve a widow? A widow represents those who are cut off, so to speak, from their true being as a person among persons. They are people who have lost connection with their inner potentiality. In this tale, however, there is still some contact with the elemental world represented by the garden and the rose bushes.

Snow-White and Rose-Red represent two different aspects or sides of human experience. Snow-White (cf the white roses), who likes to stay indoors, represents the thinking part of us that is introspective, introverted contemplative and meditative. Rose-Red (cf the red roses), who likes being outdoors, symbolises the perceiving, more extroverted part of us that is more interested in the outer world of sense impressions. The fact that the two girls play together and love each other is highly symbolic. It means, among other things, that these two sides of our nature are equally important. Both are needed and belong together. In other words, they are complementary. Never forget that.

The bear is an out-picturing of us—body, mind and soul. There is the outer, physical part of us and the inner mental and spiritual ‘parts’ of us. The dwarf represents negative, evil forces, both within and outside of ourselves, that make for separation, division and strife. These forces or tendencies within us must be overcome if we are to grow into the persons we are capable of being and which, in truth, we really are. The gold, pearls, and precious stones referred to in the tale represent spiritual riches and wisdom—the non-physical things ‘not made with human handseternal in the heavens’ (cf 2 Cor 5:1). The dwarf is seen seizing, appropriating and running of with these gifts, not realizing that they are not yet his by right of consciousness. There are things that we must give up in order for these gifts to be rightfully ours. That is an important lesson we all must learn. Our false selves (the little ‘I’s’ and ‘me’s’), in the form of our various likes, dislikes, views, opinions, biases and prejudices, seek to appropriate these treasures even though they are not yet ours by right of consciousness.

Now, the bear is not what it appears to be. Inside of it is a prince, that is, a higher self—our true self. Here’s a famous Zen story on the point. A distraught man approaches a Zen master and says, ‘Please, Master, I feel lost, desperate. I don't know who I am. Please, show me my true self!’ The master just looks away without responding. The man begins to plead and beg, but still the master gives no reply. Finally giving up in frustration, the man turns to leave. At that moment the master calls out to him by name. ‘Yes!’ the man says as he turns around toward the master. ‘There it is!’ exclaims the master.

Our true self is the person that each one of us is. However, when we see and experience ourselves we do not ordinarily see and experience the person that in truth each one of us is. Instead, we tend to see and experience any one or more of a number of self-images (those ‘I’s’ and ‘me’s’ held in our mind). At one point in time we may see and experience the ‘little me’, or the ‘frightened me’, or the ‘inferior me’. At another point in time we may see and experience the ‘confident me’. 

These ‘I’s’ and ‘me’s’ are nothing more than self-images in our mind. They are images felt and experienced as real, that is, as the real person that we think we are. Jointly and severally, these ‘I’s’ and ‘me’s’ constitute in varying degrees our sense of who we think we are, and whichever image is most dominant in your mind at any point in time will constitute your sense of ‘me’—that is, what to you, in you, is you—at least at that particular point in time. There is a feeling component to these mental self-images, with the result that many of the images can be quite strong and persistent over time and their persistency over time only reinforces the mistaken belief that these images are really us. This also makes change seem very difficult indeed. However, none—I repeat none—of these felt self-images are real. They are not the real person that in truth you are.

Fulton J Sheen wrote, ‘Death to the lower self is the condition of resurrection to the higher self.’ That is what this fairy tale is all about. We must die to our false selves so that we might become the real person that we are. Some call that the ‘higher self’, but please don’t confuse that with those little, false selves of which I spoke. The ‘higher self’ is the real person that in truth you are. I am referring to a power and presence ‘not-oneself’. You see, we are much more than just those pesky false selves—all those waxing and waning ‘I’s’ and ‘me’s’—with which we tend to identify, in the mistaken belief that they constitute the ‘real me’.

Freedom from the bondage to self comes when we get real, that is, when we start to live from our true being as a person among persons. We come to know our higher or real self—symbolised in the fairy tale ‘Snow-White and Rose-Red’ by each of the marriages that take place—as a result of thinking (Snow-White), perceiving (Rose-Red), and overcoming the evil spirit of separateness (symbolised by the destruction of the dwarf by the bear).

When this happens, you become what the American psychologist Carl Rogers, pictured left, referred to as a ‘fully functioning person’. The mystics refer to this as coming to ‘know the Self as One’. Yes, we are one with all Life, even though few know or understand what that truly means.


Tuesday, March 6, 2018


My favourite comedian Groucho Marx was a lifelong insomniac. He tried most things to help him sleep, but apparently to little avail. ‘I can sleep anywhere but in bed,’ he once exclaimed.

According to a 2015 study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicinemindfulness meditation is one of the most powerful tools for improving your sleep ... and the quality of your sleep.

In the study, 49 adults, all of whom reported having sleep troubles prior to being enrolled in the study, were split into two groups. One group was instructed to complete a mindfulness meditation program while the other simply attended sleep education classes which mostly focused on instructing the participants on various ways to improve their sleep habits. Each group participated in their respective programs for six weeks. By the end, the results showed that those who were meditating experienced less insomnia, fatigue, and depression compared to those who weren't practising mindfulness meditation.

The results confirm a 2008 study which demonstrated that wellbeing and mindfulness are positively associated with sleep quality and with a morning circadian preference. Results from a sample of 305 undergraduates revealed positive associations among measures of emotional, psychological, and social well-being, mindfulness, sleep quality and morningness (that is, the characteristic of being most active and alert during the morning).

As I see it, there are two elements of mindfulness that are helpful in dealing with insomnia—choiceless awareness and non-resistance. You can’t sleep? Don’t resist it. Stop fighting against it, for whatever we resist persists. Simply be aware—non-selectively aware—of whatever passes through your mind. Watch it. Observe it. Don’t fight against it. Give those mental movies no power, by being only barely attentive to their content. Let it pass … for it will. And let it go. Try this—and you will be amazed at the difference it makes.


Black D S, O’Reilly G A, Olmstead R, Breen E C, and Irwin M R. ‘Mindfulness Meditation and Improvement in Sleep Quality and Daytime Impairment Among Older Adults With Sleep Disturbances: A Randomized Clinical Trial.’ JAMA Intern Med. 2015;175(4):494-501. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.8081

Howell A J, Digdon N L, Buro K, and Sheptycki A R. ‘Relations among mindfulness, well-being, and sleep.’ (2008) Personality and Individual Differences, 2008;45(8):773-777. doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2008.08.005

Friday, February 2, 2018


The great American comedian and writer Groucho Marx, pictured, could be serious at times. In his 1959 autobiography Groucho and Me the thrice-married star had this to say about what he referred to as ‘true love’:

I believe … that real love only appears when the early fires of passion have cooled off and the embers just lie there smoldering. This is true love. This relationship has only a bowing acquaintance with sex. Its component parts are patience, forgiveness, mutual understanding and a high tolerance for each other’s faults.

A meta-analysis published in the February 2016 issue of the Journal of Human Sciences and Extension provides empirical evidence that the current literature on mindfulness and relationship satisfaction indicates that more mindful individuals have more satisfying, connected relationships.

The meta-analysis looked at the results of 12 studies, including two mindfulness intervention studies. Overall, mindfulness was shown to enhance relationship connectedness and satisfaction. The authors stated (at pp 96-97):

… [M]indful practices are typically taught as an individual practice. There are, however, mindful practices that have an explicit focus on others, such as loving kindness meditations or aikido communication practices, which focus on caring for others. In addition, mindfulness practice is about noticing many dimensions of the self, including feelings and thoughts related to relationships and interactions.

The results of this meta-analysis further validate the recent efforts to include mindfulness training in relationship education. The authors of the meta-analysis state that future basic and applied research to inform enhanced models of best practices for community education focused on promoting relational health is encouraged.

Study: McGill J, Adler-Baeder F, and Rodriguez P. ‘Mindfully in Love: A Meta-Analysis of the Association Between Mindfulness and Relationship Satisfaction.’ Journal of Human Sciences and Extension. 2016;4(1):89-101. ISSN: 2325-5226 (Print).

Acknowledgment. Groucho and Me, by Groucho Marx. Originally published: New York: Bernard Geis Associates, 1959. Copyright © 1959 by Groucho Marx. Copyright renewed © 1987 in the name of Arthur Marx as son. All rights reserved.

Monday, January 1, 2018


Dr Alison Gray (pictured), chair of the spirituality special interest group at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, and a liaison psychiatry consultant working in Hereford and at the Beacon Clinic, Malvern, has recently said that those who engage in more ‘inward-focused’ types of spirituality – and that includes mindfulness meditation – ‘can become self-involved’. 

‘In as much as religion is about binding people together, spirituality can become inward looking and selfish,’ Dr Gray said.  ‘In no way does that happen to everyone … But there's a potential for it to become inward-looking and basically self-centred.’ To counter this, Dr Gray recommends that people practice mindfulness and other forms of spirituality in groups rather than alone.

Well, what do I think of that? Dr Gray is right. Damn right. Religion, at its best (note: I said, ‘at its best’), binds people together. After all, the word religion has an affinity with the Latin verb religare, which means to bind, bind back, bind up, and bind fast together. Spirituality is more personal, informal and unorganized in nature. Of course, not all religion is good. Indeed, it can be quite toxic and harmful at times, but at its best it binds people together and binds them to a power-other-than-themselves, that is, to what has been referred to as the largeness of life. We all need to get our minds off ourselves. Unfortunately, far too much spirituality makes us more self-centred, self-focused and self-absorbed. New Age spirituality tends to do that. It’s all about me, me, me. My inner growth, my health, my goals, and so on. Too many of our attempts at divesting ourselves of our little selves only heighten our obsession with self—and that is not good!

True mindfulness makes us increasingly aware of a power and presence greater than, and other than, our little, tiny, puny selves. The regular practice of mindfulness increases our awareness of the flow of life of which we are but a small part. There is the inner content of our mindfulness but let’s not neglect the outer content as well, that is, all that is going on around us and outside of us.

The truly mindful person grows in love, compassion and tolerance for their fellow human beings, indeed, for all life in all its myriad forms and comes to know that he or she is one with all life.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017


The Biblical story of The Wise Men is an interesting one. It’s a story very rich in symbolism and meaning.

There are some who would question whether any man can truly be said to be wise. I have an interest-based opinion on that matter, so I will express no view, except to say that although the Biblical account of the story refers to the persons as ‘men’, there may well have been at least one woman among them. But does it really matter? No.

The Bible does not say there were three of them. That is simply an assumption, in light of the three gifts presented to the Christ child—namely, gold, frankincense and myrrh. I will have more to say about those gifts shortly, but even if there were three wise (wo)men, one of them may well have presented two gifts with one of the others presenting the third gift. Who knows? It doesn’t matter.

We are not told the names of the wise persons, although church tradition tells us that their names supposedly were Melchior, Balthasar and Gaspar. Although at least one church tradition says that the wise persons were kings (Melchior being a king of Persia, Balthasar a king of Arabia, and Gaspar a king of India), the Biblical narrative does not say so. They may have been rulers of Arabian states but it’s more likely that they were magi, wizards or astrologers and, so it is said, members of the priestly caste of Zoroastrianism. Suffice to say that these people were on a journey—a journey in search of truth and wisdom. They were following a star—and no ordinary star at that.

So, we have the image of wise men following a star, attending upon the birth of someone famous, and presenting gifts to the baby. This, my friends, is the stuff of myth and legend, but that does not mean that the story is not true. Myths are not not true. Myths have their own level of truth and meaning, and this story is no different in that regard. The births of other famous persons—real or imagined—were hailed by wise men or aged saints who presented gifts to the newly born. I am thinking of the Buddha, Krishna, Rama and Mithra, for starters.

The star was, of course, the Star in the East. Esoterically, a star symbolizes some spiritual truth, at first dimly perceived. The East is where God is. The source of all life, truth, power and love. The Star in the East is the morning star, the first gleam or dawning of truth. For some, for example, scientists, the star is the light of reason. We need such people in our world, now more than ever. There should be no place for superstition. For others, the star represents hope and aspirations. They are important as well. Others consult the stars for guidance in their lives. I see no evidence or good reasons for doing that, but that is just my view.

The wise persons were in search of something greater than themselves. Relying perhaps on a combination of intuition, insight, reason, knowledge and wisdom – the last two things are not one and the same – they knew that a great event was taking place in Judea. Furthermore, they were prepared to follow their star wherever it led them. Are you prepared to do likewise?

And what of those gifts—gold, frankincense and myrrh? Gold symbolizes that the Christ child was a king; on a deeper level, gold represents the light of truth as well as the gift of wisdom. Frankincense denotes Christ’s divinity; on a deeper level, it symbolizes the sweet fragrance of sympathy, empathy, compassion, self-giving, understanding and healing. Myrrh is one of the spices used for burial and thus is a kind of prophecy of Christ’s death; more esoterically, myrrh symbolizes the love that sustains and heals. 

Some have interpreted the three gifts a little differently. For example, some commentators see the gifts as representing our three-fold human nature, with gold denoting our material (i.e. physical) nature, frankincense our emotional nature (i.e. our hopes, wishes and aspirations), and myrrh our mental nature (i.e. mind or intellect). However the gifts are interpreted, the really important thing is this—it is incumbent upon us to give of ourselves to others. We find ourselves to the extent to which we give ourselves away, in self-giving to others and to a cause or power greater than ourselves. Millions of people have found that to be true in their lives.

And what of the Christ child? Literal-minded Christians see that child as synonymous with Jesus—and he alone. However, I see the Christ child as denoting more than just Jesus. A ‘child’, in sacred language and literature, represents a spiritual idea or truth as well as indwelling power, potentiality and inner light. The Christ child, of course, is no ordinary child but represents our inner potential, our real self—what the Apostle Paul refers to as the ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory’ (Col 1:27). The Christ child represents the person, as yet unborn, that you are nevertheless capable of becoming and being. When the Christ child is born in us, we awaken to our real self.

The birth of the Christ child takes place, not in the crowded inn of materialism and worldly values and opinions, but in a humble, receptive and childlike manger. There is so much meaning in that alone.

Once the wise persons had attended the birth of the Christ child, they returned to their country ‘by another way’. When a person has experienced a truly life-changing experience, in which they discover their real self, they are never the same again. He or she is permanently changed—for the better.

In summary, here are five important ‘lessons’ from the story. First, the wise (wo)men were wise because they were following a star, wherever it may have led them. Secondly, there is no limit to the number of people—men and women—who are capable of becoming and being wise. (In my view, that’s partly why the Bible doesn’t tell us how many there were of them.) Thirdly, those who are wise bring forth gifts—parts of their own human nature offered in sacrifice and love to a cause or power greater than themselves. Fourthly, wise men and women are on a journey—a journey of self-discovery. Fifthly, once a person finds the ‘Christ child’, they always embark upon another way of living—a new and better way of living characterised by sacrificial self-giving, love, compassion and service to others.

May you have the spirit of Christmas which is peace, the gladness of Christmas which is hope, and the heart of Christmas which is love.




Thursday, December 7, 2017


Recent research published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin shows that mindfulness meditation is an effective antidote to the phenomenon of the worry of waiting, whether waiting for exam results, medical test results or whatever.

The research involved 150 California law students who had taken the bar exam and who were awaiting their results. There was a period of some four months between the exam and the date on which the results were posted online. The students completed a series of questionnaires in that four-month waiting period. During that waiting period the students were asked to participate in a 15-minute audio-guided meditation session at least once a week.

It was found that the practice of mindfulness meditation helped to postpone the phenomenon of ‘bracing’, which we do when we prepare ourselves for the worst. You may well ask, ‘What’s wrong with bracing? Surely, it’s a good thing to hope for the best while preparing yourself for the worst.’ I’m not so sure of that. If bracing sets in too early in the waiting period, most of us will start to worry … and worry … and worry.

Now, here's something especially interesting. The study shows that even 15 minutes of mindfulness meditation once a week, which was the average amount of meditation practised by the participants, was found to be enough to ease the stress of waiting.

We all worry, some of us more than others. The English word ‘worry’ comes from the Old English word wyrgan and Old High German word wurgen, both meaning ‘to strangle, to choke’. When we worry, we strangle ourselves, so to speak. Actually, not so to speak, but well-nigh literally. Worry is very bad for the body, the mind and the spirit. People say, 'I'm sick with worry,' or 'I'm worried to death.' Do they really know the truth of what they're saying? People can literally worry themselves sick--and in some cases even to death. Corrie ten Boom wrote, ‘Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow. It empties today of its strength.’ That’s so true, my friends.

The regular practice of mindfulness, as well as mindfulness meditation, helps one to accept, and not resist or fight against, our thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations and, as J Krishnamurti [pictured right] used to say, ‘On the acknowledgement [that is, acceptance] of what is, there is the cessation of all conflict.’ Got that? All conflict—whether physical, mental or emotional.

I used to think that whenever a negative thought—say, a thought of anticipated or feared failure—entered the mind that it was necessary to substitute for that negative thought a positive thought. That works for some people but it is not necessary to do it. Simply observe the negative thought. Give it no power. Don’t resist it. Just watch it arise and vanish, for it will not last long. Bracing yourself for the worst is generally advocated by Stoics—and it definitely has its place. When? Later. Don’t brace yourself too early, lest worry set in.

Journal reference

Sweeny K and Howell J L. ‘Bracing Later and Coping Better: Benefits of Mindfulness During a Stressful Waiting Period.’ Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 2017; 43 (10): 1399 DOI: 10.1177/0146167217713490