Welcome to my blog—an eyes-open, no holds barred exploration of Western and Eastern spirituality, mindfulness, philosophy and literature. A member of the Australian and New Zealand Mental Health Association, I lectured at the NSW Institute of Psychiatry (now the Health Education and Training Institute) to mental health workers for 14 years and at the University of Technology, Sydney to law students for 16 years. My interests include metaphysics, mythology and addiction recovery.
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.
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
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
you have the spirit of Christmas which is peace, the gladness of Christmas
which is hope, and the heart of Christmas which is love.
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
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
We all worry, some of
us more than others. The English word ‘worry’ comes from the OldEnglish wordwyrganand 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
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.
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
my perennial themes is the elusiveness of the self, and the notion that self
cannot change self.
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
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
images—yes, more of them—arise.
earlier post I wrote about one of my favourite authors and
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
couple of passages in Le
Mythe de Sisypheon 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
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. Camuswrites:
… 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. …
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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)).
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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