Thursday, December 7, 2017

MINDFULNESS MEDITATION IS THE BEST WAY TO RESPOND TO THE WORRY OF WAITING

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





Saturday, November 18, 2017

ALBERT CAMUS ON THE ‘SELF’


One of my perennial themes is the elusiveness of the self, and the notion that self cannot change self.

Now, we use the word ‘self’ in two different senses. First, we use the word to describe the ‘person’ each one of us is---the ‘real you,’ so to speak---and that is a most legitimate use of the word. However, we also use the word to refer to what we mistakenly perceive to be our real identity. Let me explain.

We perceive life through our senses and by means of our conscious mind. Over time, beginning from the very moment of our birth, sensory perceptions harden into images of various kinds formed out of aggregates of thought and feeling. In time, the illusion of a separate 'observing self' emerges, but the truth is that our sense of mental continuity and identity are simply the result of habit, memory and conditioning. Hundreds of thousands of separate, ever-changing and ever-so-transient mental occurrences—in the form of our various likes, dislikes, views, opinions, prejudices, biases, attachments and aversions, all of them mental images—harden into a fairly persistent mental construct of sorts.

This mental construct is, however, nothing more than a confluence of impermanent components (‘I-moments’ or ‘selves’) which are cleverly synthesized by the mind in a way that appears to give them a singularity and a separate and independent existence and life of their own. The result is the ‘observing self', but it is little more than a bundle of remembered images from and out of which further thought and new imagesyes, more of themarise.

In an earlier post I wrote about one of my favourite authors and philosophers Albert Camus, pictured. On a recent trip to France – well, on the long plane flight from Australia to France and, two or three weeks later, back again – I re-read two books of Camus, namely, La Peste (English: The Plague) and Le Mythe de Sisyphe (English: The Myth of Sisyphus). Now, there were a couple of passages in Le Mythe de Sisyphe on the elusiveness of the self that I must have overlooked when I last read the book. I will quote from the English translation by Justin O’Brien:

Of whom and of what indeed can I say: ‘I know that!’ This heart within me I can feel, and I judge that it exists. This world I can touch, and I likewise judge that it exists. There ends all my knowledge, and the rest is construction. For if I try to seize this self of which I feel sure, if I try to define and to summarize it, it is nothing but water slipping through my fingers. …

Camus makes the point that we can only perceive life through our senses and by means of our conscious mind. We are in direct and immediate contact with both external reality and internal reality, but what about the so-called ‘self’? As Camus says, the moment we try to ‘seize’ this self, or ‘define’ or ‘summarize’ it, it evaporates. Who is the self that is to seize, define or summarize the other self? Are they not one and the same? They are indeed. The Indian spiritual philosopher J. Krishnamurti often made that point. What's more, the idea in our mind that there is some ‘thinker’ or ‘thinking self’ within the mind is fallacious. There is no thinker apart from the thoughts. There is only a person in whom thinking is taking place.

Yes, there is only thinking, and it is the thinking that creates the mental construct of a self and of a notional, but not actual, thinker. The latter is, well, illusory in the sense that it has no separate, independent, and permanent existence apart from our thoughts or the person each one of us is. Yes, the thoughts, or rather the thinking, come first, not the so-called thinker. It is the process of thinking that creates the idea of there being a thinker. Actually, the thinker (that is, the ‘thinking self’ in our mind) and the thinking are a ‘joint phenomenon,’ as Krishnamurti used to say. They are one and the same. Krishnamurti wrote, 'When you look at a flower, when you just see it, at that moment is there an entity who sees? Or is there only seeing?' Camus understood this. In his Carnets, 1942-1951 (Notebooks, 1942-1951), Camus wrote that he was ‘happy to be both halves, the watcher and the watched’. Well, why resist it? We are indeed both halves of this joint phenomenon.

Now, back to Le Mythe de Sisyphe. Camus writes:

… I can sketch one by one all the aspects [the self] is able to assume, all those likewise that have been attributed to it, this upbringing, this origin, this ardor or these silences, this nobility or this vileness. But aspects cannot be added up. This very heart which is mine will forever remain indefinable to me. Between the certainty I have of my existence and the content I try to give to that assurance, the gap will never be filled. …

I agree with There is the self that knows, the self that judges, the self that gets angry easily, the self that takes offence, the self that cares, and so on. These are, as Camus points out, all ‘aspects’ the self is able to assume. But what do all these selves add up to? The answer—nothing. We cling to the self as self. We even manage to convince ourselves that we ‘belong’ to that self, that we really are those myriads of I’s and me’s that make up our waxing and waning consciousness. However, when we get right down to it, these selves are simply a manifestation of cognition by which, in conjunction with the senses, we apprehend the phenomenal world.

Camus then goes on to say:

… Forever I shall be a stranger to myself. In psychology as in logic, there are truths but no truth. Socrates’ ‘Know thyself’ has as much value as the ‘Be virtuous’ of our confessionals. They reveal a nostalgia at the same time as an ignorance. They are sterile exercises on great subjects. They are legitimate only in precisely so far as they are approximate.

Camus says that we will forever be a stranger to ourself. I beg to differ. Each one of us is a person—a person among persons. In that regard, I am greatly indebted to the writings and ideas of the British philosopher P F Strawson who, in his famous 1958 article ‘Persons,’ articulated a concept of ‘person’ in respect of which both physical characteristics and states of consciousness can be ascribed to it.

Yes, each one of us is a person among persons. We are much more than those little, 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.’ Nothing could be further from the truth. Freedom comes when we get real, that is, when we start to live as---a person among persons.

You need not be a stranger to yourself. You can get to know the person that you are. It isn’t easy. It takes time. A lot of time—a whole lifetime, in fact. So, how can we get to know ourselves, that is, the person that each one of us is? By self-observation—that is, observation without the observer. You see, there is an 'observer' when we operate from our conditioned mind, that is, from the self that judges, the self that likes this, the self that dislikes that. Where there is an observer, there is a distorting lens which experiences, processes and interprets---and distorts---all that happens in our lives through an amalgam of thoughts, feelings, images, memories, beliefs, opinions, prejudices and biases---all of which is the past and for the most part conditioning. I love these words from P D Ouspensky (In Search of the Miraculous), who is quoting his teacher George Gurdjieff:

Self-observation brings man to the realization of the necessity for self-change. And in observing himself a man notices that self-observation itself brings about certain changes in his inner processes, He begins to understand that self-observation is an instrument of self-change, a means of awakening. By observing himself he throws, as it were, a ray of light onto his inner processes which have hitherto worked in complete darkness. And under the influence of this light the processes themselves begin to change.

By all means, observe your anger. Observe what you instinctively like or dislike, or judge or condemn. Watch your various selves in action. Learn from them. But never identify with them. They are NOT the person that, in truth, you are.


RELATED POST



Sunday, October 8, 2017

MINDFULNESS AND AUSTRALIAN RULES FOOTBALL

Mindfulness is playing an ever-increasing role in sports training and success in sports of all kinds.

Mindfulness and meditation have been identified as key contributors to the Richmond Tigers’ ability to find emotional balance this past season and win the AFL grand final.

Here is a link to an insightful article by Tom Cartmill published in The Sydney Morning Herald.


On a related matter, for those who are athletes or coaches, I thoroughly recommend the recently published seminal text Mindful Sport Performance Enhancement: Mental Training for Athletes and Coaches by Drs Keith A Kaufman, Carol R Glass and Timothy R Pineau and published by the American Psychological Association. I am honoured to be mentioned and quoted in the book as one of the few who has written on the subject of mindfulness and acting

What, you may ask, is the relevance of acting to sport? Well, in recent years sports psychologists have been turning their attention to the various mental strategies used by actors and developing ways in which those strategies can be used by those who play sport. 


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Sunday, September 10, 2017

DEATH OF DR JOHN MARTIN, LEADING TEXAN CHIROPRACTOR AND WELLNESS PRACTITIONER

It is with considerable sadness that I report the passing to higher consciousness of my good friend, Dr John L Martin DC FICCA FIACA, pictured. John  affectionately known as 'Dr John'  passed on at 5.05 am on September 9, 2017, aged 78.

Dr John Martin was born in Tyler, Smith County, Texas on July 11, 1939. He grew up in Tyler, the ‘Rose Capital of America’, a city named for John Tyler, the 10th President the United States of America. He attended John Tyler High School, Tyler TX; Tyler Junior College, Tyler TX, 1957-59; San Antonio College, San Antonio TX, 1962-64; and Texas Chiropractic College, Pasadena TX, 1960-64. He travelled to China in 1987 to study and observe acupuncture methods. He was a Doctor of Chiropractic (DC), a Fellow of the International College of Clinical Acupuncture (FICCA), and a Fellow of the International Academy of Clinical Acupuncture (FIACA), and also had other qualifications in health care.


A chiropractor of several decades experience (in his later years, the owner/clinician, Barton Creek Chiropractic, 1990-2006; Contemporary Health Care, 2008-2014) as well as a clinical acupuncturist, John brought applied kinesiology (muscle testing) to Austin TX and was an instructor and mentor at Touch for Health, Kinesiology Association (under the auspices of Better Health for Everyone Naturally, 2014 onwards). He delivered a paper titled ‘A New Method of Determining and Correcting Acupuncture Imbalances’ at the 37th Annual Touch for Health Conference held in Chicago, Illinois in July 2012 and hosted the 39th Annual Touch for Health Kinesiology Association Conference held in Austin TX in July 2014. He taught Touch for Health classes to hundreds of Austinites and many others as well.

John was a Past President of the Texas Chiropractic Association (1989-90), as well as its sometime Secretary, a Past President of Travis County Chiropractic Society, and a Past President of the Congress of Chiropractic State Associations (COCSA). He was also a Past Chairman, Academic Affairs, Texas Chiropractic Association Board of Regents (also serving for 6 years on the Board of Regents). For a while, he was also President of the Texas Board of Chiropractic Examiners (TBCE).

Dr John Martin and my wife Elspeth. San Antonio TX. April 2000.

Most notably, he was a member of the Commission which produced the Guidelines for Chiropractic Quality Assurance and Practice Parameters (‘Mercy Guidelines’) (Aspen Publishers, 1993; Jones and Bartlett Publishers, 2005), being one of only 35 chiropractors selected internationally to co-author the chiropractic industry’s first Standard of Care. In addition, he was co-author of the Texas Guidelines for Chiropractic Quality Assurance and Practice Parameters  and a longtime editor of the Texas Chiropractic Association Journal for which he wrote many articles over the years. He attended the World Chiropractic Summit in London UK in 1987 and was also a highly respected expert witness on chiropractic standard of care in malpractice litigation (see eg Williams v Heuser Chiropractic, 2004 WL 100462 (Tex.App.-Tyler, 2004)). 

With his wife Kay, John was a longtime member of Unity Church of the Hills, in Austin TX, at which he facilitated various seminars and workshops on natural stress reduction and other subjects. John was a liberal Democrat who knew quite a few Democrat Governors of Texas. An Eagle Scout, he was also heavily involved in the Boy Scouts of America and loved the great outdoors. John's passion was hiking at Philmont and he led 20 treks. He guided and influenced boys and young men through his work with the Boy Scouts.

Dr John Martin outside the LBJ Presidential Library and Museum.
Austin TX. March 2000.

In early 2000, during my sabbatical from teaching at UTS, Elspeth and I spent several weeks in Texas with John and Kay, also touring the states of New Mexico and Louisiana. I was studying the use of complementary and alternative medicine in recovery from addiction. We were based at John and Kay's home in Austin and they were both gracious hosts and knowledgeable tour guides. John was proud to be a native-born Texan. I will always remember the time he took us over the Texas State Capitol at night. It was a memorable evening. Another memorable occasion was when John took Elspeth and me to San Antonio to go over The Alamo. Another Native-born Texan was selling and autographing copies of his book inside the building. I remember John talking for some time to the author about Texan history and the Battle of the Alamo, in which even some Australians fought. The Aussie flag was one of many in the grounds of The Alamo. Anyway, the author inscribed John's copy of the book, 'From one native-born Texan to another.' 

Then there was the visit to the LBJ Presidential Library, the old French embassy, the Governor's Mansion, the Law School of the University of Texas at Austin, Texan restaurants (one being the Catfish Parlour), Lake Travis, Texas bluebells, worship at Unity, complimentary chiropractic sessions (even in a restaurant in San Antonio, when I was in considerable pain from a cervical headache), et al ... Yes, so many happy memories of my UTS sabbatical spent there.

Dr John Martin and his wife Kay. The Oasis, Lake Travis. Austin TX. April 2000.

Shortly after Elspeth and I came back to Sydney, New South Wales from our time in Texas with Kay and John, it gave me great joy to be able to facilitate John's registration here in New South Wales as a chiropractor. He was an admirer of Australia's system of universal health care and was very angry that America's system of health care was so deficient, inefficient and costly. He wrote an editorial on this very subject in the Texas Chiropractic Association Journal, advocating the introduction of a system of universal health care in the United States.

Dr John Martin really advanced chiropractic and its holistic advantages. He was a truly amazing healer and teacher – and a very good friend. So many people have expressed on social media their love, appreciation and thanks to this wonderful man in the short time since his passing.


John lived his life fully and his adventurous spirit will be missed. I am proud to have known him.

I am relieved that John is now out of pain. He be greatly missed. He has returned to the ineffable undiffused Light, from which we all come and to which we all ultimately return. Ever onward, ever upward.

Our loving hearts, thoughts and prayers go out to John's widow Kay, and his children Glennece and William and grandchildren Jason, Matt and Hannah, at this sad time. 


Note
. A 'Celebration of Life' service for Dr John Martin will be held at Unity Church of the Hills, 9905 Anderson Mill Road, Austin TX, on Saturday, September 30, 2017, commencing at 11.00 am, with sharing time to follow. The family has requested that donations be made in his name to Unity Church of the Hills Bell Memorial Fund.



Sunday, September 3, 2017

A FURTHER STUDY SUGGESTS MINDFULNESS MAY HELP ADHD

A new pilot study published in the Journal of Attention Disorder suggests that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) could improve symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in adults. 

MBCT is a structured, 8-week program that combines mindfulness meditation and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

In this pilot study the researchers enrolled 31 ADHD participants in an adapted form of MBCT, obtained self-report questionnaires, and interviewed 24 participants. The study found that mindfulness therapy significantly reduced ADHD symptoms and improved areas of executive functioning, self-compassion and mental health.


A larger trial is needed, but the small study is part of the emerging evidence that mindfulness therapies could play an important role in the treatment of ADHD.

A review published in May 2017 found that MBCT was a useful adjunct therapy to standard medication treatment of ADHD in young adults. Of the 12 trials published in the last 5 years, the majority have shown a reduction in ADHD severity with the addition of MBCT to standard treatment. There have been other studies which have made similar findings. (See ‘RELATED POSTS’, below.)

More research is needed in this area. However, the studies done to date suggest a promising and emerging role of mindfulness in the treatment of ADHD.

Study: Janssen L et al. ‘The Feasibility, Effectiveness, and Process of Change of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Adults With ADHD: A Mixed-Method Pilot Study.’ J Atten Disord. 2017 Aug 1:1087054717727350. doi: 10.1177/1087054717727350. [Epub ahead of print]


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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

THE SLEEPING BEAUTY—OR HOW TO ACHIEVE ENLIGHTENMENT

Fairy tales are a subgenre of the artistic and literary genre known as fantasy. A ‘fantasy’ ordinarily involves the following elements: first, a quest or journey of some kind, often involving tests, trials and tribulations, with a battle between good and evil; secondly, a fictitious or legendary place in which strange, seemingly unnatural events occur; thirdly, the presence of strange, seemingly unnatural, fanciful, even grotesque, characters and capricious forces; and fourthly, lessons in how to live, evolve, and relate to others and a power-not-oneself that is capable of freeing oneself from the bondage of self.

Fairy tales are not just about fantasy and most such tales are not even about 'fairies'. That grand master of modern fairy tales J R R Tolkien wrote that fairy tales have four main uses: escape, consolation, recovery, and fantasy. I have already spoken, albeit briefly, about fantasy. The ideas of escape and consolation are fairly straightforward, but the notion of recovery is a fascinating and most important one. Recovery is, yes, all about regaining what seemingly, and perhaps actually, has been ‘lost’, namely, our spiritual heritage.

Nearly all fairy tales are encoded spiritual and moral lessons (‘road maps’) of great importance---just like the parables of Jesus in the New Testament---and they almost invariably incorporate more than a few fragments (‘gems’) of ancient wisdom, with the spiritual ideas and themes being portrayed in a highly figurative and literary manner. Fairy tales graphically depict the involution and evolution of the soul, or, in the language of the great American mythographer Joseph Campbell, the 'hero's journey' of self-discovery through trial, tribulation and adversity. Here’s a clue. In fairy tales, as well as in most sacred literature, the soul is nearly always spoken of as a woman, and the human spirit a man.

If there is one theme or underlying message contained in the great religions of the world it is this---we come from God (Spirit, Life, the Source), we belong to God, we are never truly separate from God (even though we act as if we were), and we are all on our way back to God. Of course, not all the world’s religions use the word ‘God,’ or express this idea theistically, but that is largely immaterial. The idea is generally still there.

Now, the story of ‘The Sleeping Beauty’.

A king and a queen have been trying to have a child for years. Finally, a frog prophesies a birth. When the child finally arrives, they call her Aurora. A great holiday is proclaimed to celebrate Aurora’s birth. Visitors come from far and wide, including three good fairies. One of the most distinguished guests is another king from a neighboring kingdom, who brings along his son Prince Philip. (No, not that one. He’s not quite that old.) Both kings realize that their dream of a united kingdom can now come true.

Three good fairies begin bestowing their gifts upon Aurora. She receives the gift of beauty, and gift of song, but before the last gift is bestowed, a wicked fairy interrupts. This wicked fairy is upset that she wasn’t invited to the party, so she casts a spell on the day of Aurora’s 16th birthday, to the effect that Aurora will prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and die. The third good fairy hasn’t bestowed her gift yet, and she’s horrified at the spell the wicked fairy cast. The good fairy isn’t strong enough to undo the spell, but she is able to dilute it a bit, such that instead of death Aurora will instead fall asleep until her true love comes along to undo the spell with a kiss. As a precaution, all spinning wheels are removed from the kingdom, and Aurora lives in hiding as a peasant with the good fairies for protection.


Aurora grows up, meets Prince Philip, and falls in love with him. On the night of Aurora’s 16th birthday, Aurora, Prince Philip, and the good fairies all go back to the castle to live. But the evil fairy sneaks into the castle and pricks Aurora’s finger with a needle, causing her to fall asleep. With the help of the good fairies, Prince Philip, after a heroic, difficult, and dangerous journey, reaches Aurora, then kisses her, and she awakes---and, yes, they all live happily ever after.

Well, this is a story of ‘paradise regained’—a very familiar theme in fairy tales, indeed in almost all sacred (so-called ‘occult’) literature. We have the involution of the human soul, with its incarnation from the starry regions of space-time and the cosmos. Significantly, it is a ‘frog’ that heralds and prophesies the birth of Aurora, a frog being the ancient occult symbol of metamorphosis. The princess is called Aurora, which means ‘dawn’ or ‘enlightenment.’ If you are familiar with Roman mythology Aurora is the goddess of the Dawn. She renews herself each morning and flies across the sky, announcing the arrival of the sun. Much symbolism there!

There are ‘good fairies’ (successes, achievements, growth) and ‘bad fairies’ (setbacks, mistakes, failures) in life. We can learn from them all. The curse from the wicked fairy represents all those trials, setbacks and negative forces with which we have to grapple and which we have to overcome is we are to grow spiritually. Once again, we have the archetypal Path or Quest so frequently found in sacred and even secular literature. Then, there’s the staircase that Aurora ascends, being a symbol of the spiritual unfoldment of the soul. (In sacred or occult literature all ‘uprights’ such as stairs, ladders and trees represent the creative divine life within us; cf Jacob’s ladder.) The ‘spinning’ refers largely to intellectual development, that is, the ‘spinning’ of one’s thoughts. 

Then we have the Prince, who must fight his way through overgrown thickets of tall trees and sharp brambles. At first, only the very tops of the castle’s towers could be seen, and then a fearsome dragon (or, in some versions of the story, ferocious dogs or other animals). Yes, the human spirit, represented by the Prince, must fight its way through evil and false beliefs (sin, separateness, selfishness, etc). Some commentators have written that we also have here an allusion to the spirit evolving and successively passing through the various kingdoms (plant, animal, etc) in its divine unfoldment. (That, however, is not how I see it.) Ultimately, there is the ‘kiss’---that is, the connection and conjunction between truth and love, the union of the human soul and the human spirit with the divine. Enlightenment is achieved. Oneness. Wholeness. Union. Communion.

Now, here’s something else—something very important. Aurora is not really a separate person from the Prince, for she is nothing other than the soul of the Prince that was sleeping—lying dormant—in the illusion of the material world or realm (the false self). Ultimately, the Prince is able to ‘spouse’ his enlightened soul—and live happily ever after! So can you.

So, what is enlightenment? Well, as I see it, it is waking up to the reality of one’s true self, one’s true be-ing-ness. It is casting off the false self/selves, that is, the belief in our separateness from other persons and things, and the life of selfishness and bondage to self. It is ceasing to identify with all those false selves (the ‘I’s’ and ‘me’s’, our likes and dislikes) that make up our personality but which are not the real person that each one of us is. It living as a person among persons.

Come alive! Awake the sleeping beauty within.


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HANSEL AND GRETEL—OR THE STORY OF YOU AND ME


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SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS—OR HOW TO BE RELIEVED OF THE BONDAGE OF SELF