I’ve been wanting to blog about mantra meditation for a while as I believe it is valuable and greatly and widely misunderstood. I have been meditating on and off for maybe 35 years and I wish to pass on my experience (for what it’s worth).

There are many practices that fall under the banner of ‘meditation’ so this post is strictly regarding the use of a mantra, a sound or word. In recent years, meditation has become more widely practised and it is no longer seen as the oddity it once was: film director David Lynch and his team meditate on set morning and evening. But contemporary strident atheism tends to link it with religiosity and any potential benefits may then be eschewed owing to the general antipathy to all things ‘religious’.

Meditation does have a purpose, but if you think that purpose has anything to do with being a better person or in achieving some vague spiritual or divine goal I think you will be disappointed. One of the key statements that opened meditation for me was from a wise practitioner of Advaita Vedanta when he said that “meditation is like dipping the mind in gold because it works better afterwards.” I have often observed that upon starting meditation, without my specs, I can barely make out the time on my bedside clock whereas upon emerging from a 30 minute meditation it is crystal clear.

Neither is meditation a quick fix; it took me many years to discover how to meditate productively and overcome the desire to control the practice. This is because in learning to meditate there is an aspect of the forceful use of mind whereas the achievement of successful meditation requires complete relinquishment of mental control. In other words the mind has to learn not to interfere once having established the basic practice. This is not easy, it is yet just another of life’s many paradoxes or conundrums.

The word ‘mantra’ is a Sanskrit word made up of the root ‘man-’, which may be translated as ‘mind’ and the suffix ‘-tra’ which means ‘instrument’ or instrumentality. Thus literally mantra = ‘mind-tool’.

To more fully understand this it is useful to learn a little about the paradigm of mind embedded in the Veda (other paradigms exist). It is in five parts:

Ātman: one’s self, simply an inactive witness of the following:-

Manas: everyday thinking mind; uses language and gets things done

Buddhi: the discerning and creative aspect; seat of reason which works properly only in stillness and silence

Chitta: the emotional ground of being, the memory storehouse; gets things moving; motive force

Ahankāra: the ego or sense of personal or limited existence, the ‘will’.

None of these are separate entities; it is rather that they are aspects of the single mind, like the facets of a gemstone.

Problems inherent in this paradigm of mind:

1                 If buddhi is underdeveloped ever chirpy manas will tend to take over; in serious imbalance the mind can become ‘manic’

2                 If manas is uncontrolled it will assume the role of the mind’s controller, and instead of the self being in command of the mind the constant chatter from the manas invades all aspects of thinking and deleteriously affects the ability simply to attend

3                 If buddhi is undeveloped the mind can be flooded by the emotion of chitta

4                 If buddhi is undeveloped memory can become impaired

5                 If buddhi is undeveloped the ego becomes the principle source of self-identification and the universal aspect of self or ātman is forgotten.

So, the principle function of meditation is to strengthen and clarify buddhi so that it may assume its proper function of the mind’s controller in place of the ever-helpful but over-chatty and intrusive manas. The word buddhi has the same root as the word Buddha, which means to ‘wake up’. This is what leads to the well-known Buddhist exchange:

Once a student asked the Buddha, “Are you the Messiah?”

“No” answered the Buddha.

“Then are you a healer?”

“No” the Buddha replied.

“Then are you a teacher?” the student persisted.

“No, I am not a teacher.”

“Then, what are you?” asked the exasperated student.

I am awake.” the Buddha replied.

So how does it all work? It begins, like all action, with a desire of some sort. Necessarily meditation is not taken up if there is not some vague idea or belief that to do so will be personally beneficial. So a source is needed, like, for example, The School of Meditation in London. Most mantras are traditional, and are said to be ‘special’ words having greater spirituality than ordinary words. However, it is quite possible to try meditation with an ordinary word like ‘love’, for example.

When the mantra is transmitted it is usually in a quiet and comfortable environment where the recipient may relax without intrusive noise or other sensory pollution. The ‘ceremony’ or ‘initiation’ may involve a recitation from whatever tradition the mantra belongs and may be accompanied by a gift of flowers and money. The mantra is spoken by the initiator and repeated by the initiate and then with words of advice on how to use the mantra the new initiate will be given an opportunity to practise for a little while and any immediate questions will be answered.

Upon leaving the room the new meditator will be given a further opportunity to practise without any further advice and after 10-15 minutes the practise will be checked and that’s it. If the meditation is to become established regular meditation checks or tutorials are offered to the initiate with increasing time intervals between each; the principle aim of these tutorials is to deal with any issues that may arise with the practice and provide assistance where necessary.

The basic advice is to pause deeply before beginning meditation, to allow any mental and physical tensions to be let go of or be surrendered and then with a still body and quiet mind, the eyes are closed and the mantra is repeated with a steady rhythm silently in the mind. This is known as ‘japa’ – repetition – and it is the prelude to meditation: once the mantra is ‘heard’ clearly and it is repeating regularly the direction is to let the mantra ‘go’. This doesn’t mean ‘anything goes’ mentally speaking, but to keep the mantra in mind but to relinquish any control over the practice.

The mantra may slow down, or sped up; it may become faint or louder, it may even disappear from ‘view’ but whatever happens in detail the aim is to keep the mantra in mind in some way. This is sometimes called the ‘thread’ of meditation. Meditation is also meant as a form of wakeful rest. It is an opportunity to ‘chill’ to let all concerns of the moment go and give way to the stillness and quietness of meditation.

Sometimes the mind is in such an agitated state that meditation is not possible. Here it may be best just to sit as quietly as possible and allow the agitation to gently subside; either that or to attend directly to the cause of the agitation, whatever it may be, and whichever seems most practicable.

Experienced meditators will affirm that each practise of meditation is unique, like leaves on a tree or snowflakes no two practises of mantra meditation are identical. In this sense meditation is always fresh, interesting and creative as it can never be known before-hand how any particular practise will proceed. Clearly, the background state of the mind will affect the experience and over time the strengthened ‘buddhi’ will gently exert more influence and the power to attend to the practice will increase. This may take years, although some initiates take to meditation like a duck to water and rarely find any difficulties.

A meditating friend once gave me a copy of the advice given by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (of Beatles fame) on meditation and I found it personally so helpful that I repeat it in full here:

“In this meditation we do not concentrate, we do not try to think the mantra clearly.

Mental repetition is not a clear pronunciation; it is just a faint idea.

We don’t try to make a rhythm of the mantra.

We don’t try to control thoughts.

We do not wish that thoughts should not come.

If a thought comes, we do not try to push it out.

We don’t feel sorry about it.

When a thought comes, the mind is completely absorbed in the thought.

When we become aware that we are not thinking the mantra, then we gently come back to the mantra.

Very easily we think the mantra and if at any moment we feel that we are forgetting it, we should not try to persist in repeating it or try to keep on remembering it.

Only very easily we start, and take it as it comes, and do not hold the mantra if it tends to slip away.”

“There is no need to try to stop thinking, because thoughts are a part of meditation.

Even if the mind is filled with other thoughts, while the mantra is going on, there is no conflict.

Our concern is with the mantra, and if other thoughts are there along with it we do not mind them, and we don’t try to remove them.

We are not concerned with them.

We innocently favour the mantra.”

Traditionally, the practice of meditation goes through phases; ‘japa’ or repetition has already been mentioned. In ‘letting-go’ of japa the next phase is called ‘dharma’. It is difficult to provide a single concise definition for dharma, as the word has a long and varied history and straddles a complex set of meanings and interpretations. As well as referring to Law in the universal or abstract sense, dharma designates those behaviours considered necessary for the maintenance of the natural order of things. In experience the sense of ‘dharma’ in meditation is that the practice itself has taken over; personal volition has been fully surrendered and the meditation ‘deepens’. This is often accompanied by a sense of disconnection with the body, it is as if the body has become set in stone and the whole consciousness or awareness is absorbed in the practice.

The final stage of meditation is ‘yoga’ or unity. This has been stated as that point where the mantra, the meditation and the meditator become ‘one’. In this stage, which is not guaranteed, it is as if space and time itself has come to rest. It is completely desireless and utterly still; even the awareness of one’s surroundings can seem to be absent. On one memorable occasion I was meditating with a small group of people and I experienced this timeless depth of ‘yoga’ and after the half hour of practice, which seemed like mere wakeful moments to me, the leader of the group asked ‘How was that?’ I was in such a still state that I had no desire even to speak but as the other members of the group spoke they all complained of intrusive noise, especially the sound of jet airplanes coming in to land at Heathrow Airport. So deep had been my experience that I hadn’t consciously heard any planes!

It is experiences like this that keep the practice alive. I have experienced this form of ‘yoga’ many times and for the rest? Well, practice, they say, makes perfect. I will give one more example of the power of meditation: last week, sitting with a group of a dozen or so second-year students of ‘practical philosophy’ we had an experiment of listening to some music: the slow movement from Mozart’s 23rd piano concerto http://youtu.be/mf711o8jAQA in A Major. It lasts only six minutes, and after the experiment the group was asked to speak of their experience: everybody spoke about the wandering mind and the intrusive thoughts that had happened, with barely any of the music having been heard. For my part, I heard every note, every nuance and every space between the notes and at the end was completely still and fully refreshed.

This power to attend is but one of the principle benefits of meditation, in my experience the mind undoubtedly works better afterwards. So if you love reason, or value a mind able to operate optimally you may be interested in meditation. If you do take it up, give it time, lots of time; nothing of real value comes easily or instantly, it is necessary to do the work, and if you do I firmly believe you will begin to find the natural peace of the mind which seems to be available to so few people.

Good luck.


My Dad – a sketch

My Dad died in 1984, he was 75 years old and I was in my 38th year. I was away at the time on what has become known as a ‘retreat’ in Surrey so I was mentally and emotionally well-armed to receive the news. I left the retreat immediately and went to my old home in Kent to be with my mother who was now alone (my brother had just moved to and still lives in Australia); I spent the next four days with her driving around the island (of Sheppey) visiting old haunts and travelling further afield into the Weald and the Kentish coast. It was on the cusp of springtime and chilly as only Kent can be, prone as it is to the easterly winds off the North Sea and further afield.

We were never particularly close my Dad and me; I only remember him kissing me once when at age 10 my younger brother and I were palmed off onto our paternal grandmother for a week as Mum and Dad drove down to Devon to relive their honeymoon of 1939. He always sported a moustache and I remember it tickling as he kissed me goodbye with a whiff of Player’s cigarette smoke. We had an ok week; my grandmother was a ‘case’ and she loved to win at cards and we played many hands of ‘spite and malice’ as she rejoiced in trouncing her two young charges. She lived in Kingston upon Thames at the time, just round the corner from My Aunt Ivie and Uncle Bill, a fruit wholesaler in Covent Garden market, and owner of a natty bright red new MG TD sports car.


That week was memorable for a number of reasons, but was crowned by the return from their second honeymoon and with them my parents brought some fresh Devon Clotted Cream and a crusty white loaf. Earlier in the summer Dad had had a bumper crop of strawberries and when the neighbours were well supplied my mother made a load of strawberry jam (US = ‘jelly’) with the glut; when we got home it was tea-time and we had the crusty white loaf with lashings of butter, strawberry jam and the clotted cream. I have had many memorable meals in my life – especially when I worked for one of London’s premier architectural firms – but I still recall that meal as being the most memorable.

Dad was an avid gardener in the immediate post-war years and we dined on all kinds of produce from the kitchen garden (back-yard): runner beans, carrots, tomatoes, cabbages, lettuces, Brussels sprouts and, of course, strawberries. The front garden was just as important to Dad, with perennial hydrangeas, London pride, nasturtium and the annuals: salvias, alyssum and lobelia. From 1951 he won Sheppey Rural District Council’s ‘gardener of the year’ silver cup nine years running. His lawns were his pride and joy, which he mowed regularly and edged with long-handled clippers. As I grew older and stronger I enthusiastically joined in with the care of the gardens.

This gardening success was typical of him; everything he did was done meticulously. He was a perfectionist and he was fantastically well-endowed with practical skills. One year he built a garden shed from scratch. It was a little gem and was my second experience of prefabrication (the first being the US manufactured flat-roofed asbestos-cement ‘prefab’ that we lived in on The Broadway in Minster) and I marvelled as he brought the walls together and fitted the sloping roof in one day. He painted it glossy grass green and fitted it out as a workshop with a vice on the bench by the window and all his hand-tools neatly positioned on their own outlines on a plywood board on the back wall. Here he did his ‘wrought iron’ work and woodwork.

As cheap food became more plentiful and post-war rationing ended (yes, I remember rationing!) Dad extended the back garden lawn over the vegetable patch and after a year or two of bedding-in he extended the small putting-green he had established on the rear lawn to one which proved a lot more testing. He spent hours putting alone until nobody could beat him, and we tried, we really tried. Many years later when he joined the Sheerness Golf Club his putting was the strongest part of his ‘game’. (Drive for show and putt for dough!)

As a lad he had been a technophile (geek) and in the inter-war years this meant radios, and he built many. He worked at Sansom & Capps in Tooting mending radios and when the war came in 19939 he was enlisted into the RAF as a radar operator. He told the story of his arrival at an airfield in Suffolk in civvies where the train-load of recruits was lined up; the senior NCO drew them to attention and barked: ‘anybody here with knowledge of radios?’ Dad took a lone step forward. The others were given a 48-hour furlough but dad was immediately taken off and inducted into the radar programme, he spent the remainder of the war billeted on the Suffolk coast.

He claimed that the radar operators could tell when the Luftwaffe were using their homing beacons and once the British bombers were safely home the beam could be bent in order to ditch the German planes into the North Sea. (I’ve never checked the authenticity of this story and it strikes me now that perhaps I should.) As kids we loved to hear repeated recounting of his war stories over Saturday tea around the Swedish designed modern bentwood dining table in the corner of the living room. Like his falling over sleeping cows on moonless nights on the way to the radar outpost because torches (flashlights) were forbidden.

Our favourite story says so much about him. When first enlisted the men were housed in ‘bell’ tents in a Suffolk field and upon waking up on the first morning they were appalled to find the tent and all their belongings were infested with earwigs and other creepy-crawlies. Dad said ‘Don’t worry, I’ll sort it out’ and that day he dug a small trench all around the tent and filled it with creosote. He assured his tent-mates that there’d be no earwigs in the morning but to his dismay he was bitterly disappointed and ridiculed by the others as the infestation reoccurred. He put on his ‘thinking cap’ and wandering around the tent realised that the guy ropes gave access over his creosote moat, so the following day he dug little trenches around each of the tent-pegs, filled them with more creosote and, hey presto, no more earwig infestation.

He loved modern design, as with the dining room table, and everything in our home was smartly designed; we had no heirlooms or antiques. I still have some bookcases he designed and built from old television sets. Upon discharge from the RAF in 1945 he moved to the Isle of Sheppey, to where he had shipped off my mother to live during the war. They were both Londoners, he from Putney and Mum from South Norwood, but fear of the Blitz persuaded them that Mum should join her mother and sister in Kent whilst he was safely ensconced in Suffolk. My brother and I were each born in Sheppey General Hospital (long since redeveloped for housing) in 1946 and 1947 respectively and we each lived our first eighteen years on the island.

Dad worked for the Sheppey Motor Company, the local Rootes’ cars agency – Hillman, Humber, Commer, Singer and Sunbeam – in their radio and TV repair department. He was the repair department and had his own Commer van in which to collect and deliver radios and TVs in those immediate post-war years when they were large items of furniture. I used to go up to his repair shop occasionally on my way back home from the Delamark Road Junior School that was located just round the corner from the Sheppey Motor Company garage and workshop. Unlike his little workshop at home this workshop was large with benches all-round the edges and a large central bench and every inch of surface was covered with dust, radios and TVs of all descriptions and states of repair; it was a total mess.

When I passed the ‘eleven plus’ examination in 1957 and was bound for Borden Grammar School in Sittingbourne, a twenty minute train ride away from Sheerness, I was presented with a brand-new red ‘Palm Beach Tourer’ bicycle. This bike was the ‘bees-knees’ for us boys – girls got the ‘Pink Witch’ equivalent if they were lucky – and it had four-speed Sturmey-Archer gears. A year later despite failing his ‘eleven-plus’ my brother got a new blue ‘Palm Beach Tourer’. Both of these bikes were supplied by Dad’s employer so he must’ve received a decent discount, but we loved those bikes and the freedom they afforded. These were the days when on a weekend or holiday we were expected to leave the home with a packed lunch and spend the whole day out on our bikes without any worry for our safety from perverts and other creeps; all of that came years later. The 1950s and early 60s were halcyon years from the point of view of child safety, apart from the self-inflicted scrapes and bruises from tree-climbing, cliff-climbing, sea fishing and fighting.

I guess wages were not generous in the middle 1950s and on our way to one holiday in Devon (again – we always went to Devon, where it often rained) Dad drove the Hillman Minx hired from his employer to a back-street in south-east inner London where he stopped, went to the car’s boot (trunk), extracted a bulging cardboard box and disappeared into a scruffy-looking shop. What seemed like a long time later re-emerged without the carton and with a smile and a nod to Mum he slid behind the wheel and we headed off south-west on our way to Devon. Years later I discovered that Dad had a fiddle going on at work: he would replace certain valuable radio and television valves with new ones when the old ones were perfectly ok. He collected these second-hand valves (diodes and triodes etc.) over the year and would sell them to unscrupulous outlets for cash to help pay for the holiday. When I was 10 years old I found out that a two-week stay in a Broughton boarding-house for the four of us cost £33. At the time neither Mum nor dad even earned £20 a week.

We were of course one of the first families locally to own a TV and Dad made a beautiful monaural radiogram from a retrieved and refurbished radio and a Collaro auto-changer record deck complete with record storage in which he kept his miniscule record collection. He would conduct Sibelius’ Karelia Suite in the living room mirror when he thought no one was looking.

[FYI: Mum worked as a secretary/book-keeper for the local branch of British Road Services, a now defunct road haulier. Come rain, hail, wind, snow or sun Mum and Dad each cycled to and from work every day and they were both quite slim and fit despite each smoking a pack of Player’s Navy Cut or Senior Service cigarettes every day.]

My Dad’s love of design had led him to do all sorts of drawings of houses and furniture in the inter-war years, all very imitative, but he had acquired two books that for me were seminal. There was a design magazine called ‘The Studio’ (which later gravitated more to fine art) and each year it produced a ‘year book’ of the best articles. He had the year books for 1936 and 1942 and as a pre-teen I pored over these books and their starkly modern designs for furniture, interior design and domestic architecture. It was here that I first laid eyes on American houses that were so different from anything that could be seen locally, until to my utterly pleased surprise I discovered two ‘International Style’ houses on the island. I was 12 years old when I decided to become an architect and these two books were decisive – along with a photo of Frank Lloyd Wright’s ‘Falling Water’, for the Kaufmann family in rural Pennsylvania, found in a local library book.

In order to become an architect in 1964 the RIBA had determined that the preferred route was via a university degree and when I expressed a desire to go to university my father objected on the grounds that at eighteen I should be going out to work in order to contribute to the family income. It was only due to pressure from my mother and headmaster that he reluctantly agreed and I became the first member of my family to attend university. (My children each attended university).

In 1984, as a fully qualified architect, I finally realised a long-held desire to visit ‘Falling Water’ and when there I purchased a number of large postcards and sent two of them bearing iconic views of the house to my parents. By this time my Mum and Dad had moved to a small one-bedroom retirement apartment, the prefabs having long-been demolished, and Dad in his seventies had gravitated to oil painting as a hobby. He was as meticulous as always and had copied these two post-card views as oil paintings for Christmas presents, but he died before he could finish one of the paintings and they hang in our living room today, a constant reminder of his manifold gifts. But I digress.

In due course economics intervened and the Sheppey Motor Co. closed in 1957; Dad then entered a time of change, which he hated. He worked in a couple of factories and even spent a short time self-employed, which, owing to his perfectionism, proved spectacularly uneconomic. In 1962 I was working one summer vacation from school for Stan Northover in one of his amusement arcades in Leysdown-on-Sea on the bingo stand when I learnt that Stan wanted a device to help him even the odds of winning. There were 50 seating positions on the bingo and the ‘caller’ had a list which contained a winning line for each card. The trouble was that the caller might forget which card he was intending to win and he would get confused so Dad made a box about a foot square and 2 inched deep with 50 subdivisions each with a little switch and battery-driven light, so the caller always knew which card was to win because of the lit line. They only committed this fraud in quiet times of day to make sure everybody who played regularly would win and each card only cost 6 old pence (2½ new pence) so we’re not talking major fraud here.

Mum and Dad liked a drink. They had a number of locals and by the time I was seventeen I was included in their excursions. Their daytime preference was the True Briton in a Sheerness back-street, where Dad built the downstairs bar, but there was also The Nore at Halfway and for evenings out the Harty Ferry Inn in a particularly isolated part of the island was their undoubted favourite. The True Brit became my ‘local’ and on Saturday lunchtimes I would join them at the Nore after completing my paper-money collecting round for a pint of Shepherd Neame’s best bitter.

When we went to the Harty Ferry Inn I would join them in their preferred tipple of gin and tonic and after getting too drunk on a couple of occasions I vowed never to drink G&Ts again for fear of alcoholism. I kept to beer or wine and latterly have taken to a nightly whisky and water; I don’t think I’ve ever been an alcoholic – but what’s the measure?; I don’t even have a drink at lunchtime unless we’re down at cousin Brian’s in Dorset when he or Sheila have their regular midday ‘noggin’ or ‘snifter’.

My Dad’s only friends seemed to be those regulars he encountered in pubs or ‘mine hosts’, and despite his manifold practical gifts he was inept at looking after himself. So when my mother went into hospital in the mid-1970s with an operable restricted small intestine she arranged for my Aunt Deborah (originally Christened Doris, which she unilaterally changed when she became the landlady of the Newnham Arms in central London’s Rathbone Street because Doris was just the ‘wrong’ sort of name) to stay with my Dad to look after him. As a result of this sojourn Deborah never spoke to my father ever again and it was only after his death ten years later that my mother told me that Dad had threatened to kill himself had she have died, so it’s just as well that he went first.

My ‘better’ half, Maureen, has reminded me that he was very restrictive of my mother; not quite abusive, he was insanely jealous of her manifold social skills which he felt he utterly lacked. I found this surprising because he had a well-developed sense of humour and could tell a good story, but it is true that he had zero life outside of work, pub and home. Even when they joined the local golf club as ‘seniors’ he never, to my knowledge, ever went there without being accompanied by my mother; she, of course, loved the conviviality of the nineteenth hole. As much as his passing was a trauma to my mother after 45 years of marriage, she blossomed afterwards and got involved in all sorts of activities that she denied herself whilst he was around.

There’s much more that I could add, but this is a blog post and can only be a brief sketch. The one thing I promised myself once I had left home was that I wouldn’t be like him and my wife tells me I was successful in that. I love cooking, and – strangely – ironing (I find it oddly peaceful); I do my own laundry and owing to my wife’s physical disability I have to do most things around the house. Like many men I need reminding of important dates and on bin-day she tells me at least twice to put the wheelie bins out for collection.

My relationship with my children benefitted from me having a rather old-fashioned father and we are ‘kissing’ close. When my brother and I were very young mother would keep us kids away from dad until he had had a chance to ‘settle-in’ from his work day. For me, I loved to spend time with my children at any time of the day and as younger children they spent most of the weekend with me at the playground in the local park or the swimming pool. Daughter Claire quit her eight-year marriage last year owing to a lack of attention from her likable but workaholic husband; son Simon and wife Nicky have a nearly two-year old son, Max, and another on the way, due in April.

Dads are important and I learnt much from mine either directly or in the breach and I feel sorry for the many children today who find themselves in single-family, ‘dad-less’ households.

But it takes all sorts, and none of us has to be defined by our upbringing. We can choose to be what we want to be, but we can’t choose our Dads.

If you have been, thank you for reading.

Stephen Coulson

Why atheism?

It’s sort of become obligatory for those that are to say ‘Why I’m an atheist’ and I’m happy to oblige only in the hope that someone might be persuaded to the side of reason if wavering on the Occam’s razor of religion versus atheism. But I do have a problem as I’m not one of those ‘in your face’ atheists and I still hold to a certain take on spirituality – but as my first post shows – it is a belief in the indefatigable, infinite human spirit, not some remote transcendent immaterial omniscient spirituality.

As a four-year old my mother took me to Sunday school in the corrugated ‘tin’ covered Bethel Chapel in the village in which I was born and raised on an island in the Thames Estuary off the north Kent coast. (This makes me a ‘man of Kent’ – as opposed to a ‘Kentish man’ because they’re born west of the River Medway). I don’t remember anything of this time except that it, in recollection, seems blissfully short.

For a reason lost in the mists of time I and my younger brother transferred to the Methodist Sunday school which we attended for many years and from which I have many memories, mostly happy. In a village, even one as large and spread out as Minster in Sheppey, the church provides a solid social base, the religion bit is very secondary, or it was in the 1950s (yes, I’m that ancient!). Neither of my parents was particularly religious: my mother attended the occasional church service but I cannot remember my father ever entering a church for any reason whatsoever. Ever. It was never a topic of his conversation either.

In 1957 a new scout troop, the ‘10th Sheppey’, was established which my brother joined (we had both been in the 3rd Sheppey Sea-scouts ‘cubs’ section); he seemed to enjoy it so some time later I too joined and quickly rose to ‘second’, ‘sixer’ and then ‘troop leader’. The troop used to meet in the Abbey gatehouse, now a ‘Scheduled Monument’ and museum, but then a rather dilapidated left-over space which the troop quickly colonised. This was before the days of Health and Safety and every ‘Bob-a-Job’ week we would lower a two-wheeled trek-cart on ropes through a trap-door in the floor of the gatehouse to the stony trackway some twenty and more feet below. Madness.

I digress: the 10th Sheppey Scout Troop was affiliated to Minster Abbey, dedicated to Saints Sexburgha and Erminhilda, the two founding Abbesses of the oldest Abbey Church in Britain, and one day a call came from the vicar to the scouts for volunteers to join the church choir. My brother and I each had passable treble voices and we joined the choir. This meant quitting the Methodist church but that was compensated by the excellent youth club run by the Abbey in the old tea-rooms next to the cemetery, where we played endless games of table-tennis, snooker and darts, and we learned how to dance.

A little time later the boys in the choir were offered confirmation classes in the front room of one of the vergers and around the age of fourteen I found myself duly confirmed by the Bishop of Rochester into the fellowship of the Church of England in the historic parish church at Eastchurch – best known for the first airfield in England (from where Lord Brabazon flew) and the open prison. About the only thing I recall of these evenings was being told by the verger that one day I would become Prime Minister! I must have been an argumentative little bugger? Oh, and I knew bits of the Bible pretty well. None of this was done because I particularly desired it and my ‘Christianity’ was very laid back, uncharismatic and non-evangelical. It just sort of happened as an integral part of having a caring mother and ‘hands off’ father in a semi-rural part of late 1950’s England.

In 1963 when I reached the grand age of seventeen, I found myself in a group discussion having to defend Christianity in the prefect’s room at Borden Grammar School in Sittingbourne. The only other defendant of God was my good friend Ben, who had recently undergone a mysterious experience, of which he never divulged a word despite intense questioning, but which had left him a firm believer in a deity although not necessarily particularly religiously so. We failed abysmally: I was not a proselytising Christian. It is an interesting aside to ponder the fact that in a prefects’ room of fifteen or so guys in 1963 none was a believer, because neither Ben nor I were prefects, being in the lower sixth at the time, and we had been dragged in to debate God by the upper sixth prefects. It follows that there were very few church-goers in a sixth form of more than 60 boys and this was, I believe, a fairly accurate reflection of the state of religiosity among the relatively intelligent youth in the UK.

For us young men, this may have had a little something to do with the senior maths master, a particularly nasty piece of work whom we called ‘Tot’ Wheatley (totting up/maths? Geddit?) who was a member of ‘Toc H’ the militant arm of the Methodist Church. Militants of all descriptions are really their own worst enemies aren’t they?

I’ve quoted that joke about the CofE in an earlier post that says so much about the English:

“Are you religious?”

“Yes, I’m a member of the Church of England.”

“Ah, so you’re not religious then!”

By this time my voice had broken and I no longer attended church and when I went ‘up’ to study architecture at the University of Sheffield in 1964 I had no personal or emotional ties to religion and I spent my wonderful university years largely blissfully free of God and religion of any shape whatsoever. There was also the ‘summer of love’ to enjoy. I hadn’t become an atheist as such, I just gave God no further thought, until in my postgraduate years I shared a flat with four really bright guys and we spend many a happy evening smoking dope, listening to the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and those American bands on the CBS label, like Chicago and The Flock, and exploring matters philosophic and religious.

In 1970 I purchased my Faber Paper editions of ‘The Geeta’ and ‘The Ten Principal Upanishads’ (now beautifully rebound) after a particularly intriguing chat with Dave, a lover of LSD and ‘The Divided Self’ by R.D.Laing and unbeknownst to me at the time, this was my first tentative step into the world of the ‘Veda’ and the ‘Bhagavad Gita’, Zen Buddhism, Alan Watts, ‘The Prophet’ by Khalil Gibran and the fascinating world of Lao Tzu and ‘Taoism’.

Through one of those strange happenstances of life I happened to have my copy of ‘The Prophet’ on my drawing board one morning in 1974 when a visitor to the architecture studio in which I worked passed by, did a double-take and offered to buy me lunch across the road in the ‘Eight Bells’ public house in the centre of Old Hatfield. Never having been one to knowingly miss a free lunch we had an enjoyable chat which ended in an invitation to join him and his family for supper the following week. George is a Scotsman, his charming wife Marion is Welsh and their two girls are delightfully English, much to George’s chagrin. At this first of many suppers were two couples and I recall the evening passed by very enjoyably in a haze of good food, wine, good company and conversation. As a direct result of this I joined the practical philosophy class of the School of Economic Science in the centre of London and the following term I also enrolled for the economics class. When the philosophy was less than engaging the economics was interesting and visa versa and so I completed the first three years of esoteric study.

Next came classes in calligraphy and Sanskrit, both of which appealed to me and so the years passed. I got married and fathered Simon and Claire. I first tutored in economics (see my post on ‘Value’ below) then in Sanskrit, which I loved and finally in philosophy; I still tutor a philosophy class in the early years and I make the strictest distinction between philosophy and religion, despite the fact that they broadly address similar questions. A key difference is, I believe, that philosophy is an integral part of the world of questions, like science, of keeping the mind and heart open whereas religion is in the business of providing answers and thereby in closing down the heart and mind.

The philosophic antecedents of the school run from Socrates, via Shakespeare to the Vedic concept of ‘Advaita’ or ‘non-duality’. A series of conversations between Leon McLaren the founder of the school in 1937 and the Shankarācharya Shri Shantananda Saraswatī spanning the years 1965 – 1993 forms the foundation of study for the ‘senior’ students of the school. It was here that I began to have qualms about theism and atheism. Despite the fact that I am clear in my own mind about the distinction between philosophy and religion I observed that most of my fellow senior students were believers in God almost by default.

If you ever thought about reviewing ‘non-duality’ sites on the internet, you will find this same dichotomy. Some sites/writers are strictly non-Godly but others have been caught up with the concept of ‘The Absolute’ (Brahman) which becomes directly equivalent to ‘God’ and this I observe in the school too. Fortunately the current leader of the school never mentions God so my continued association remains but it’s getting ever more tenuous.

Fortunately the school runs the annual arts and crafts event ‘Art in Action’ at Waterperry Gardens in Oxfordshire, which has become the premier tented summer event of its type, and this aspect of service to humanity is one that I hold dear. (My job is Health & Safety! *facepalm*).

Now, an integral element of membership of the school is the taking-up of mantra meditation and there is plenty of evidence available these days to demonstrate the general beneficial mental aspects of meditation but to ‘advaitins’ one of the key ideas is that meditation will take you all the way to a point of ‘no mind’ or to pure consciousness beyond the mind and therefore to one’s ‘absolute’ Self. Now this is where the trouble starts because it’s clear from the non-religious web sites that the idea of achieving ‘self-realisation’ is fairly commonplace whereas amongst the ‘Godly’ it’s pretty much non-existent. As an illustration, a few months ago I was speaking to one of the ‘éminences grise’ of the school and when I mentioned this fact he said ‘Well, they must all be saints then.’

And there it is. God, saints, angels, satan, etc., are all impediments to what Maslow called ‘self-actualisation’ or what is known in non-duality circles as ‘self-realisation’. This is true of the wider aspects of the Godly influence: impediments galore. More recently I have had the undoubted pleasure of reading Richard Dawkins’ ‘The God Delusion’ and Christopher Krzeminski’s ‘What are you without God?’ and I finally realised I was a fully-blown atheist but with a firm belief in the indomitable human spirit, as my first post ‘A penny dropped’ attests. (In which I acknowledge the journey Jen August has taken as recorded in her blog ‘Wading through the Illusion’ and its precipitant effect on resolution in my own understanding).

So I belatedly discovered that I’m a firm atheist, but also a meditator and a believer in the infinite goodness of the human spirit, to which extent I am a spiritual person. Maybe it is the case that in some way the mind is geared towards what may be called ‘natural spirituality’ and an absence of good education allied with religious indoctrination of the young means that impressionable minds can be forced into the cognitive dissonance necessary for belief in an omniscient, omnipresent, transcendent Creator. Its just dogmatic ignorance really.

In addition there are those individual revelations of the numinous, such as friend Ben’s above, but it needs to be remembered that the mind is still largely uncharted territory. Hard-ass atheists will relate the mind purely to the brain, about which precious little is also known. You ‘pays your money and takes your choice’: the mind is either solely an adjunct to the brain or the brain is the decoder of the infinite mind. The fact is: nobody knows. So these individual revelations could all be figments of the mind or imagination and anecdotal evidence is of no value without the ability for replication essential in the context of scientific knowledge, of wisdom.

It seems to me that the tendency to religiosity is largely a psychological matter; essentially believers want to believe so they do, irrespective of reason, replicable evidence or plain common sense. And the obverse is probably equally true so I find I am just as wary of the militant atheist as much as I am of the militant or fundamentalist theist. To that extent I am an agnostic atheist: an atheist but without absolute certainty, which incidentally is the intellectual stance of Chris Krzeminski’s excellent book.

It has taken me a lifetime of effort and study to arrive at this point, I’m kinda jealous of those atheists among you who arrived at this position early in life. But I don’t regret it, and, as always in Philosophy, there is further to go.

There is always further to go, for if there wasn’t one would be omniscient and that is impossible.

And if you have been, thank you for listening.

Stephen Coulson

@philositect on Twitter


A Brazilian Adventure – part 2

Two ayahuasca ceremonies down, one to go. For this one we moved from the Capão (pronounced ‘kapow’ – I kid you not) Valley to Riachinho in another part of the Chapada Diamantina (check out Wikipedia or TripAdvisor for this magical land) to meet our second shaman, Zezito or Blue Eagle, a genuine Cherokee.

He turns out to be an avuncular structural engineer who, rare among Brazilians, speaks tolerably good English. He was once married to a French woman but that ended and he says he’ll never speak French again despite the fact that he’s fluent in French. Just goes to show the power of the feminine, and they claim they don’t rule the world, pffft.

He got the name ‘Blue Eagle’ because one day he was brought an injured Blue Eagle on account of the sanctuary he ran for injured raptors (see’ you like him already) and he gently nursed it back to health. Thereafter it wouldn’t leave him for a second. If he was called out to give a structural engineering or other consultation the eagle would follow his car, perch there until he emerged from the consultation and then fly back behind the vehicle.

Upon arrival at Riachinho we were each shown to little two-bed stand-alone shacks in the woods to one side of his magnificent home, which naturally he had built himself. These shacks (I had #11) were constructed to contain two children as his estancia is dedicated, inter alia, to the education of the young (grows on you doesn’t he). He also gives employment to a number of locals on the farming element of the estate where coffee, bananas and mushrooms are the principle crops. And then there is that (larger) part given over to his shamanic practices.

The centre of this is the truly magnificent ‘temple’ he has constructed as part of and an adjunct to his home. It has a hyperbolic-paraboloid roof constructed from straight timbers grown on the estate and it can seat 100 people easily. The guest dining area is at a level three-steps higher from the temple proper and his little daughter Maja has a snug reading area off with couch and bookshelves. She is a fortunate girl.

We assemble around 4pm and after brushing us each in smoke and a condor’s feather he talks to us at length in English (thankfully both Vairea and Lauren speak passable English too) in a manner that will be familiar to readers of Carlos Castaneda and nothing he says in any way presents any challenge to the advaitic principles that were then prominent in my world view. He speaks of brother- and sisterhood, of nature, of harmony, of planets, constellations and galaxies and he ends up with an appeal for each of us to discover our inner child having prefaced this with an aside on his abhorrence on the harming of children.

He speaks in detail about the Inipi ‘sweat lodge’, its design and the ceremony that is planned for later that day. We conclude with an opportunity to say why we’re here and what our expectations are. He says that hope for a purer heart is ok whereas a wish for world peace is ‘bullshit’. He then hands out a ‘talking stick’ (complete with feathers) and whosoever holds the stick holds the right to speak without interruption. When it comes to my turn to speak I find I am flooded by tears so open is the heart to what has been and whatever is to follow.

After an hour or so Leo, who has accompanied us from Lothlorien takes the floor and Paul translates his brief Portuguese into English and then we begin preparations for the Inipi Purification Ceremony.

Diary:    “Afterwards we collect bunches of flowers from the beautiful grounds and wander down to the sweat lodge site near to the river and lay the flowers around the ‘tree of life’ located just outside the opening to the lodge. We then set about cleaning the site and prepare the fire, which turns out to be a large structure in the form of a truncated pyramid about a metre high and it contains within its heart some two dozen river washed stones each about the size of a large mango or pineapple.”

When Blue Eagle is satisfied with the cleanliness of the freshly swept site we return for a shower and supper. The sweat lodge experience is postponed to the following morning and we are sent off with instructions to gather at 4.45am. Which we do, but for me with some reluctance as I hadn’t slept well and the weather was cool and windy. When we arrived at the sacred site the fire was already well alight and we settled down to watch it consume the clever timber pyramid and thoroughly heat the stones within. As we watched the fire Zezito teaches us some Cherokee chants.

Diary:    “These chants were just like the singing of ‘Redskins’ found in Hollywood movies of the mid-twentieth century with the accent on some vowel sounds (he later explained to Lesley and I that these stressed sounds relate to different chakras: the pure ‘a’ sound relates to the heart chakra for example); it was those almost shouted sounds that made the chanting seem so authentic. At the level of mind I could see scepticism but at the level of heart there was a recognition that allowed me to join in with the chanting with gusto. It was rather freeing and we sang a number of chants or songs whilst the huge fire burnt down to a few red embers.”

We were instructed on the etiquette of the sweat lodge and Blue Eagle begins the ceremony with an appeal to the spirits of the compass points. As previously Zezito lights up a peace pipe, with its metaphor of the male stem and the female bowl, and he blows smoke over the heart chakra of each and again wipes us with his condor’s feather. We then stripped off to our swimming trunks and bikinis and duly filed through the low entrance on all fours into the sweat lodge, men first. I find myself seated cross-legged on the dark earth floor between a naked Laurent and the new arrival, Paul’s brother Gary, and once the ten retreatees are inside the ‘firemen’ Paul begins transferring the twenty or so red-hot stones from the embers of the fire to the shallow dip in the middle of the sweat lodge. This takes some time and as Paul labours Blue Eagle speaks non-stop in a fashion similar to his speech yesterday in the ‘temple’. Everything he says seems full of reason and light.

Eventually all the stones are transferred and Paul joins us inside the lodge. The heat is scalding as water is added to the stones and perspiration is endemic. A little gecko appears and seems to stare at me for ages before scurrying off. My body is not attuned to sitting cross-legged on the earth floor and the agony of posture and the scalding heat make me the first to seek the coolness of the outside air and I am permitted to leave once Blue Eagle has finished his soliloquy. I half expect to find myself alone outside as the others didn’t seem to have any difficulty with conditions in the sweat lodge so I find a space on the earth outside and as instructed I hug the planet and think harmonious thoughts.

You can imagine my surprise as I was soon followed by a steady trickle of people quietly stretching out on the earth around me, and after a long while I decide the time has come to go down to the nearby river (more a strong stream) to cleanse the body. My surprise is made all the more astonishing by the revelation that most of the others had discarded their swimwear altogether and were stretched out face-down and stark naked with arms and legs akimbo. It was time to meditate and I wandered off to find a quiet corner to practise and surrender my astonishment. People come and go past my seated form and after a half hour or so I get up and go to the river. I am joined by Zezito and we both strip off and plunge into the cold water. It is blissful, and as we bathe we chat. It turns out that he is only two years younger than I and we discover we have much in common. He is a charming companion and I hope he found my company just a bit enjoyable.

We returned to our rooms to shower and gather at the temple for a sumptuous breakfast and talk of Inipi purification. Afterwards I settle down to write up my diary – I have much to record – but young Maja joins me and despite the fact that neither of us speak a word of each other’s language we spend a very happy and delightfully enjoyable half-hour or so communicating by signs, play-acting and drawings; she is a real sweetie and is a credit to her exceptional parents. Maybe she touched the inner child in me that we had been asked to seek; who knows?

I am joined by the lovely Lesley, the English lady of uncertain years and resident of St Martin in the Caribbean, and I have to admit that I have very slightly fallen in love with her and her mane of light auburn hair. We talk for a while and then decide to amble off together to visit the Riachinho Falls, a half an hour or so away. On the bridge over the river we play a game of Pooh-sticks and I am amused to discover she doesn’t know about Pooh-sticks. She is a most amiable companion and the morning is thus brought to a sweet conclusion. After lunch Lesley and I fall into conversation with Blue Eagle and this is my diary record:

“Lesley and I spent a pleasant half hour or so talking with Zezito about his life and his world. He told us the story of how he came to be a Cherokee shaman which began with a plot of land he had acquired elsewhere and no sooner had he commenced digging foundations for a proposed dwelling than he found a beautiful crystal. It looked exactly like a picture he had seen in some publication or other and found that the picture was related to a full Cherokee woman now living in Sweden. On the second attempt – the Brazilian postal system prevented the first attempt – he got the crystal to her via one of his sons and the receipt of this crystal brought her to Brazil and he became this woman’s disciple for five years (a bit like Socrates and Diotima). The story sounded fantastical but I heard him tell the same story later and assume it to be true. He also told us something of his life as an engineer and how he came to develop the estate and associated buildings, especially the unusual temple building. He is not an ayahuasca Shaman and although we will be holding our third and final ceremony tonight here at Riachinho he will not be in attendance.”

Rain threatened that evening’s ayahuasca ceremony so Paul thought we might have the ceremony inside the temple, but when it came clear there would be no fire the group decided to brave the elements and hold the ceremony at the outside sanctuary. We all pitched in and soon had the sanctuary cleared and swept and sufficient wood for the fire. Once night fell we gathered as previously in our off-white outfits and the third ceremony began once the fire was well alight. The weather was threatening but in the event it proved to be only slightly inclement and apart from a short time bundled against wind and rain the evening proved to be beautiful and largely star-studded.

Paul’s brother Gary had joined us only that morning and had not had the bedding-in of the first two ceremonies and he clearly found the experience a trial, so much so that Paul had to take him away from the circle and tend to him personally. Just because ayahuasca seemed to me to be the gentlest of companions it is not so for the unprepared or unguarded. The mind can be a febrile place. I can do no better to sum up these ayahuasca ceremonies than by a longish quotation from my diary:

Strangely enough I have not vomited once through the three sessions although the ayahuasca has played havoc with my digestive system in an accurate simulacrum of diarrhoea. But this time despite ominous rumblings, gurglings and windiness I was spared the bathroom call. I did however experience some exquisite visual images, some not unlike air-borne seeds with delicate fronds in colours primarily green, blue violet and purple, exactly like those in James Cameron’s movie ‘Avatar’. I felt strangely expansive and was really taken by the star-filled night sky, my beloved companions and the form and shape of the surrounding trees flickering in the light of the fire.

“At one point I thought a visit to the bathroom was going to be necessary; I left the circle and as I did the moon slid out from behind a cloud and the path was brightly lit as if by magic. Suzana had seen me leave and followed me with a torch in order to safely light my way through the trees but her care and attention was made entirely redundant by the moonlight, and when I reached the paved area outside the temple building I turned to await her arrival. Without a word we fervently embraced each other for what seemed to me to be a long and beautiful time: the embrace was one of love but without a trace of sexuality – it was a straightforward recognition of the ‘same’ in each other which might be humanity but it might also be one’s real identity seen in each other. Oddly, my breath came in short gasps as if there had been physical exertion but once it settled down we spoke words of mutual affection and appreciation and I excused myself for a futile visit to the bathroom. Who knows why anything happens or for what purpose?

“Suzana is probably the sweetest woman I have ever met in my life; she is selflessly generous and apparently unaware of her beauty and charm. Meeting her has been undoubtedly a highlight of this trip if not of this lifetime.

“On the subject of ayahuasca and vomiting or the ‘squits’ as a metaphor of the removal of impediments what I did uniquely experience this time was almost uncontrolled yawning and sighing and according to Dale this is another way this medicine works. Ayahuasca is definitely not a psychedelic substance but it clearly does have an effect. For me it is a certain feeling of wakefulness, a deep stillness without criticism or judgement of any kind and – above all – an opening of the heart which is the undoubting feeling of freedom. Subsequently I feel as if the heart might be now be ajar as being fully open, especially for me, is a tall order.

“Leo looks after these sessions with great care and precision using Paul and Suzana as extensions to that compassion. His songs go straight to the heart and are fully engaging throughout the ceremony; at other times they would probably seem trite. He tops and tails the ceremony appropriately and the unity of the group at the end of the sessions is a delightful tribute to both the ayahuasca and his devoted attention. It is difficult to describe quite how important the individual hugs are at the end of the ceremonies in establishing the mutuality of love and trust in the group. Lesley made the point at breakfast, when I had difficulty in responding to the question ‘how was it for you?’, that ayahuasca keeps on working and it could be six months or more before the lessons it has to teach are fully learnt.”

All that was left for the last day of the ten day retreat was the revealing of our ‘power animals’. Zezito, carrying a drum, gathered us together on a rainy afternoon, not the sort of rain seen in American movies, but on/off light rain and off we hike in good companionship to a cave some way distant. When we arrive we realise little eight year-old Maja has been there earlier and she has sweetly left a few of her stuffed animals around the entrance to the cave to welcome us. Zezito gives instructions and explains the procedure and with far too few flashlights we slowly clamber down the steep rocky terrain into inky blackness. We can hear the rush of an underground river and upon reaching a mini plateau we dispose of our bodies around in the darkness as near prone as we can manage and once silence descends from the group there is just the nearby rushing of a full underground river. There is no fear.

It was at this point that Zezito commences his drumming, slowly and rhythmically and as he does so he very gradually increases the tempo to a thumping rhythm and the mind and body sync with the beat and all other thoughts subside. Suddenly, after 15-20 minutes he stops and guides us inwards. Our ‘power animal’ will appear, he promises, but if more than one animal presents itself he says we just have to question each in turn and none of the animals can lie so by a process of questions it is possible to find the true power animal who will just not go away. For me an American Bald Eagle presents itself immediately and under the most strenuous questioning it just remains quietly unperturbed looking around with eagle-like distain. No other animal presents itself and I feel filled with the power of the gimlet-eyed eagle. We are very happy in each other’s company.

In due course Zezito says we must give voice to our power animals ‘altogether as one’ and the air is suddenly filled with squawks, grunts, growls and all manner of animalistic sounds and it is the most hilarious experience and we all end up laughing like drains in the pitch blackness with the rushing river harmonising the collective mirth. And then it was all over and we slowly regained the light and the cave entrance in the best of humour. That evening I depart with Suzana and Dale on the local bus for Palmeira where we reconnect with the overnight bus to Salvador and I fall into a dreamless sleep.

Suzana has offered bed and board at her aunt’s apartment in central Salvador for the four days before flying back to Europe. This time turn out to be quite magical for me, but that is another story, it is difficult to explain the thrill and complete satisfaction the mere company of a beautiful woman can afford and I leave Brazil a quite different and more relaxed person than the one who had arrived twenty days earlier. The whole adventure had fulfilled my intention for the trip and you can’t say more than that.

And if you have been, thanks for listening.

Stephen Coulson

@philositect on Twitter.


A Brazilian Adventure – part 1/2

Two and a half years ago I took a trip to Brazil at the invitation of one of my ex-students of practical philosophy, who has subsequently become a firm friend, in order to attend an eleven day, shaman-led Ayahuasca retreat in the Chapada Diamantina, a Brazilian national Park in Bahia. Paul was married to a Brazilian lady and after they split up he decided to give up a good job in London, rent out his flat and take pot luck in Brazil. He landed in Salvador, the capital of Bahia and once the capital of the country and for six months or so lived a life of unremitting hedonism (he’s a good looking chap).

Like the Prodigal Son, he woke up one fateful day and looked objectively at his life; he claims our philosophy classes in London were instrumental in this naval gazing, and he didn’t particularly like what he saw. By this time he had met the wondrous Suzana and between them they set out to find what would make life truly worth living.

They met a shaman in the relatively new Santo Daime tradition. Santo Daime is a syncretic spiritual practice (relating to a historical tendency for a language to reduce its use of inflections; religious syncretism exhibits blending of two or more religious belief systems into a new system, or the incorporation into a religious tradition of beliefs from unrelated traditions) which was founded in the 1930s in the Brazilian Amazonian state of Acre by Raimundo Irineu Serra, known as Mestre Irineu. Paul’s shaman’s name was Leo and he introduced Paul and Suzana to ayahuasca and began initiating them into Brazilian shamanic practices.

Ayahuasca is a banned substance in Europe and the USA but is freely available in Brazil and Peru. Traditionally, this beverage contains a combination of the Banisteriopsis caapi vine and the leaves of the Psychotria viridis (or alternatively the Diplopterys cabrerana). It has now been determined what the active components of these ingredients are, and some people have used plants from other parts of the world to make similar herbal potions.

The most important active component in ayahuasca as far as its visionary qualities are concerned is a substance called DMT (dimethyltryptamine). DMT has a powerful effect on consciousness that is difficult to describe in words. Many say it is ‘spiritual’, and is characterized by detailed, bright and colourful visions. Indigenous people say that during their trance, which lasts approximately four hours, they enter the world of the spirits and communicate with them, while psychologists consider DMT to be one of the hallucinogens, or psychedelics: “substances which make the soul visible.”

(Nb the bulk of the last three paragraphs have been taken direct from the website @ayahuasca-info.com)

One of the things Paul and Suzana did at this time was set up a web site at www.know-thyself.org dedicated to the dissemination of information about ayahuasca, and named, he said, after an email conversation with yours truly (do take a look, there’s lots of goodies) and he commenced offering ayahuasca retreats to the world. From summer of 2008 he also began asking me to join him in a retreat so that he could start to repay some of the philosophic debt he said he felt towards me.

At the very end of 2010 (Christmas Eve to be exact) the global ‘credit crunch’ was instrumental in terminating my employment as an architect and Town Planning Consultant. I was stunned, but fortunately years of meditation and reflection had provided a bulwark against anguish and relatively quickly I got used to the idea of not working for a living. Fortunately, I was quite well provided for with private pension arrangements and had a tiny mortgage so I embraced the idea of retirement, despite not yet having reached the usual retirement age in the UK of 65 years.

After nearly three years of keeping Paul and his invitations to ‘retreats’ at arm’s length, suddenly I had no excuse not to go. I could afford it (just) and he enticed me with the idea of an ‘old man’s’ retreat. So I accepted and made arrangements to fly to Salvador in Bahia, via Lisbon on TAP Airlines on April fool’s day 2011. We flew out of Heathrow early in the morning and arrived in Brazil around midnight local time after a few hours lay-over in Lisbon. For a temperate dweller Salvador was like walking into a fully operational sauna and here began four days of perspiration.

Paul was there at the barrier, beaming. We got the money aspect out of the way – these retreats are not cheap – and we jumped into a taxi and headed off into the damp, humid and warm Salvadorian night heading north to a small gated seaside community called Barro do Jacuipe where the stunning Suzana was waiting with a beautiful vegetarian supper even though midnight had come and gone. We ate, dank and talked on the covered verandah at the rear of the house until 2am and then off to bed.

We spent four blissful and lazy days at their house; every day we would wander on to the wide sandy beaches and enjoy the savagery of the southern Atlantic surf and swim in the community’s club-house open air pool. Suzana gave me two muscle-stretching, bone-crunching massages. I kept a dairy each day and these reminiscences are adapted from the diary. (In this post I shall not go into detail but I am willing to publish the long version should there be sufficient interest.)

On day 5 two other retreat members arrived at the house, a Frenchman, Laurent, and his delightful (and gorgeous) Tahitian female air stewardess partner, Vairea, and in the evening we collected at Salvador’s central bus station where we were joined by two others, a beautiful 24 year old architecture graduate from UCLA, Elissa – whose Brazilian-born mother had recently died – and Dale, a thirty-something chunky Korean naturalised Australian film-maker. Suzana was not to accompany us, so six of us boarded the overnight bus to the Chapada Diamantina. Sleep was fitful and disturbed by difficult passengers (two of whom were ejected from the bus) and we arrived in Palmeira around 6am and disembarked into the fresh morning damp air of 1,000m above sea level. For the next eleven days perspiration was largely a ‘no show’ as the climate resembled a fine, cloudy English summer’s day. I was relieved.

We were met by a toothful, smiling driver of quite the largest Chevrolet shooting brake I’d ever seen which swallowed us six and our luggage with consummate ease. The roads in Palmeira were paved but immediately outside the town the roads became rutted dirt tracks and we weaved and bounced our way to our home for the next eight days in the Valle do Capão. An hour or so later we pulled up at a low, single-storey pitched-roof spread called ‘Lothlorien’ and upon disembarking were met by the cackle of small monkeys in an adjacent tree next to the banana grove. There was a nearly new four bedroom accommodation block and we were allocated a commodious room each with its own shower room and a verandah where hung an inviting hammock.

The first ayahuasca ceremony was scheduled for day three and in the meantime there was a settling-in and reception process that included lunch followed by a session with Leo, our shaman, who investigated our chakras (surprisingly accurately) and his wife, Claudia, who gave a hands-off massage with stones and crystals (I fell asleep on the massage table!). There was a full programme of early morning yoga and meditation and daily treks around the beautiful valley; everywhere the scene was coloured purple by the florescence of a local tree.

The first ayahuasca ceremony took place in the afternoon of day 3 commencing just after midday and was held at Leo’s property in another part of the valley, which required the Chevrolet for transport. Having been dropped-off at the termination of the track and a further five minute walk through scrubby woods, there in a swept clearing was Leo’s unfinished house, an adjacent finished toilet block with anaerobic digester, an impressive tepee some way off, a well-stocked garden and a commodious sacred ceremonial area or ‘sanctuary’. The earth sanctuary had been meticulously swept and rush matting had been placed around in a large circle centred upon a sunken fireplace with stones of various sizes identifying seating positions, where a young man was engaged in lighting the sacred fire. An altar of sorts stood by one side.

After preliminary devotions spoken in Portuguese (and translated by Paul) the shaman turned to face the gathering and one by one we advanced for the ayahuasca ‘tea’. I had read widely on the internet prior to this moment and expected a glutinous, revolting taste, but I was pleasantly surprised: it wasn’t actually tasty but neither was it noxious, with a sort of woody vegetable flavour and not at all viscous. We sat round in our appointed places and for maybe an hour nothing much happened but for members of the congregation disappearing off into the surrounding jungle to vomit – a much expected after-effect of imbibing ayahuasca. Oddly, I didn’t vomit nor even feel the need despite the fact that I’d always thought I had a weak stomach largely through an inability to hold much alcohol.

Diary: “For me the first uncontrolled experience was a desire to laugh, which I managed to control for a while but … there came a moment when I was unable to keep the desire under control and I remember heartily laughing out loud for a few moments – well maybe a little longer – and thereafter I was not subjected to any uncontrollable emotions or desires. Later I said that I wanted to laugh out of sheer joy and in reflection I can think of no other reason.

Then Leo began singing Santo Daime songs, which I later learnt he had largely penned himself; the songs were simple and oddly involving such that I found myself quietly joining in, as did Laurent on my left. Leo was joined in song by his wife, Claudia, and time passed very contentedly. I had expected all sorts of hallucinations, but if what I experienced was hallucinatory it was extremely gentle and heart-warming. Another hour or so passed when I was gripped by rampant flatulence and an urgent need to visit the bathroom and I made my way to the stand-alone bathroom block just making it in time to avoid a nasty case of diarrhoea – I guessed the ayahuasca must express itself at one end or the other.

After another hour or so a second helping of ayahuasca was offered which was taken up by all except Suzana. The women seemed to have most difficulty of one sort or another, and ended up wrapped up in prone positions or in a hammock, except Vairea who just quietly rocked to and fro for hours. My thoughts on this first session are taken from my diary:

Upon reflection the truth that was being clearly presented to the mind was that I, the real and essential ‘Self’ (i.e. not the ego), is simply the witness to each and every event, including the movements of my own mind. The mind loves involvement but the witness or observer is one, detached and alone. I was entirely happy with either the play of involvement or the play of detachment.

And:       At the conclusion of the ceremony Paul read out a homily which stated quite clearly that the ‘sacred’ circle contained truth, beauty and justice at its centre and that entry thereto made these powers available to the supplicant … and personally speaking the feeling is that the heart was truly open to receive such words. Finally, we all hugged each other like brothers and sisters. I first hugged Leo for whom I felt love and trust in his care throughout the ceremony and finally I hugged Claudia which brought tears of joy and gratitude: all in all a very memorable and valuable experience. The ‘lady’ (Paul’s term for ayahuasca) was, I felt, very gentle with me: the question is what did she intend to show? Well she definitely seemed to have a humourous side but also absurdity, love, compassion, togetherness and harmony.

We finished the ‘ceremony’ with a dip in the nearby river and having reconnected with the Chevrolet we wended our way back to Lothlorien and a vegetarian supper garnered from the kitchen garden. Back at our rooms Dale and I lay in our respective hammocks and chewed the fat regarding our experiences of that first ceremony. He seems to have had a much more profound journey than me, but, as I later became to realise, one’s experiences have much to do with one’s expectations.

Three days later, the second ceremony again took place at Leo’s; it was scheduled to take place in the tepee in the evening. The group had been swelled by the arrival of Lesley, a rangy pencil slim English woman who lives in St Martin in the Caribbean; in her ‘middle’ years she faced the world with a wide smile. We spend most of the day at As Rodas, Leo’s place, tidying, preparing food and swimming; eventually, all clad in light coloured clothing, we gathered in the tepee – men on one side and women on the other – and the ceremony began with the imbibing of the ayahuasca around a central fire. The smoke from the fire forced the congregation to the circle outside the tepee and once the matting had been relocated we settled under the brilliant starlit southern sky exaggerated by the complete absence of light pollution.

The evening proceeded much as the first ceremony with comings and goings to accommodate the ayahuasca (and for me another case of the ‘squits’) but the most memorable part of the evening for me was the awe and oneness with the cloudless southern sky untrammelled by light pollution, the friendliness of the surrounding trees and the open heart for the world and everybody present. Leo brought along a fellow Santo Daime follower who played gentle guitar solos before backing Leo’s singing.

Diary entry:

I wanted to know first-hand the unity of ‘advaita’ or ‘not two-ness’. Each of the two ceremonies so far allowed me to experience an opening of the heart which may be characterised as a real ‘sense of belonging’ to the group and the event; this seems like a form of love in which nothing is excluded and everything and everybody is included with warmth and affection. There is a real appreciation of the interconnectedness of all things in which everything fits in a beautiful jigsaw puzzle that is in no way alien to the witnessing awareness; indeed the appreciation of being or existence itself is not different from the act of witnessing – they are one and the same. It is not as if something is being viewed from the outside but rather from the inside, that what is being viewed is the same as that which is viewing it. And at one level whilst there is the removal of difference from the ‘play’ of life  it remains of inestimable interest and attraction: the starry night sky that evening proved to be of particular fascination. To sum up, it seems to me that ayahuasca allows the perception of one’s real beliefs to be experienced; as Shakespeare put it in the mouth of Prospero: it ‘provides an habitation’ to the contents and intents of the heart.

In due course, around 2am, it was time to sleep and Paul prepared a place for me on the floor of the tepee and I slept like a baby in a borrowed sleeping bag. During the night there were two ‘old man’ visits to the bathroom block and I surfaced fully around eight, in time for meditation in the mist-filled cool air of the Capão Valley followed by a sumptuous vegetarian breakfast. Later that day we were to move to Riachinho in another part of the Capada Diamantino to meet Zezito, our second shaman but this time a full Cherokee. There we were to have our third and final ayahuasca ceremony but under Zezito’s guidance we were also to be introduced to the ‘Inipi’ purification ceremony and the discovery of our ‘power animals’. This forms the second part of this post, as this one is already quite long enough.

And, if you have been, thanks for reading.

Stephen ‘Kool*son’ Coulson

@philositect on Twitter

Morality without God

Theists claim there is no morality without God, whose ‘words’ have all required men to interpret them; Gospels are therefore no more spiritual than the men who wrote them down from the oral traditions from which they arose. (Unless, of course, they happen to be the dreams of historic paedophiles which have somehow strangely become holy writ.)

In other words all Godly utterances have as their commonality the instrumentality of man, the inventor of all the Gods that have ever been allowed to control man’s actions and thoughts and this appreciation accounts for the fact that all scripture has as its primary social aim the control of the excesses of human nature, especially sexuality. Religion is essentially censorious (ask any victim of the Taleban – or the Tea Party for that matter).

Sadly, it is all too pertinent a fact that the greater majority of the most heinous crimes against humanity have been at the hands of the so-called Godly or believers in this or that ‘-ism’. In short, the unreason of ‘faith’ in one ‘-ism’ or another is at the heart of man’s inhumanity to man, and it continues to be so to this very day.

It doesn’t matter if the ‘-ism’ is religious or secular in nature, belief in it demands careful consideration and deep reflection. To quote Anthony de Mello “People kill for money or for power. But the most ruthless murderers are those who kill for their ideas.”

Murder is wrong – it doesn’t need a God to tell you that

Rape is wrong – it doesn’t need a God to tell you that

Theft is wrong – it doesn’t need a God to tell you that

Slander is wrong – it doesn’t need a God to tell you that

Libel is wrong – it doesn’t need a God to tell you that

Maiming is wrong – it doesn’t need a God to tell you that

Cruelty is wrong – it doesn’t need a God to tell you that

Smugness is wrong – it doesn’t need a God to tell you that

Jealousy is wrong – it doesn’t need a God to tell you that

Claiming truth is wrong – it doesn’t need a God to tell you that

Goodness is its own reward – it doesn’t need a God to tell you that

Evil is its own reward – it doesn’t need a God to tell you that


Heaven is here and now – it needs a person of reason to tell you that

Hell is a state of mind – it needs a person of reason to tell you that

Paradise is a figment of the imagination – it needs a person of reason to tell you that

Religious faith is misguided – it needs a person of reason to tell you that

There is no ‘hereafter’ – it needs a person of reason to tell you that

Atheism is logical – it needs a person of reason to tell you that

Humanitarianism is right – it needs a person of reason to tell you that

Equality is true – it needs a person of reason to tell you that

Feminism is desirable – it needs a person of reason to tell you that

Education is essential – it needs a person of reason to tell you that

Competition is fine – it needs a person of reason to tell you that

The development of talent is necessary – it needs a person of reason to tell you that

Most importantly:

Love is the underlying reality of existence – it needs a person of reason to tell you that

Compassion is the expression of that love – it needs a person of reason to tell you that

Morality is right action – it needs a person of reason to tell you that


Compassion quotes:

Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.Albert Einstein

Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.Dalai Lama

I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures.Lao Tzu

Wisdom, compassion, and courage are the three universally recognized moral qualities of men.Confucius

Our human compassion binds us the one to the other – not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.Nelson Mandela

The purpose of human life is to serve, and to show compassion and the will to help others.Albert Schweitzer


Love quotes:

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.Lao Tzu

Keep love in your heart. A life without it is like a sunless garden when the flowers are dead.Oscar Wilde

Friends can help each other. A true friend is someone who lets you have total freedom to be yourself – and especially to feel. Or, not feel. Whatever you happen to be feeling at the moment is fine with them. That’s what real love amounts to – letting a person be what s/he really is.Jim Morrison

I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.Martin Luther King, Jr.

Love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies.Aristotle

Where there is love there is life.Mahatma Gandhi

We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we’re not alone.Orson Welles

A flower cannot blossom without sunshine, and man cannot live without love.Max Muller

Can miles truly separate you from friends … If you want to be with someone you love, aren’t you already there?Richard Bach


Morality quotes:

Morality is of the highest importance – but for us, not for God.Albert Einstein

A man does what he must – in spite of personal consequences, in spite of obstacles and dangers and pressures – and that is the basis of all human morality.Winston Churchill

I reject any religious doctrine that does not appeal to reason and is in conflict with morality.Mahatma Gandhi

Do not be too moral. You may cheat yourself out of much life so. Aim above morality. Be not simply good; be good for something.Henry David Thoreau

In Christianity neither morality nor religion come into contact with reality at any point.Friedrich Nietzsche

I have to live for others and not for myself: that’s middle-class morality.George Bernard Shaw

The purpose of morality is to teach you, not to suffer and die, but to enjoy yourself and live.Ayn Rand

Compassion is the basis of morality.Arthur Schopenhauer

So when someone has the gall to claim that there is no morality without God tell them that morality is the very heart of being truly human, and it doesn’t need a God to tell you that.

And if you have been, thanks for listening.

Stephen ‘Kool*son’ Coulson

@philositect on Twitter

An anatomy of reason

The starting point for this post is the belief that the highest quality of which the human being is capable is that of pure reason. ‘Thinking’ is an essential and unique human trait but the application of reason is what allows thoughts to be assessed for their wisdom, rank stupidity or any strata in between.

In an age of democracy and equality one of the most dangerous ideas around is ‘my idea is as good as yours’ when palpably and objectively that cannot be the case. There is a hierarchy of thought that reflects the point of origination of that thought; for example, a thought starting in prejudice will always bear the mark of that prejudice. Equally, a thought originating in wisdom will ever contain a flake of that wisdom.

Thoughts can begin from any mental state, and by this I do not mean a neurotic or psychotic influence; by mental state I am referencing the ever changing emotional and intellectual landscape that we are each subject to during an average day. There may be a gender bias as to the source of thought but this essay accepts unilaterally that we’re all equally capable of emotion and logic although there may be a non-gender bias to one or the other.

It is very easy to be critical (there is much to be critical of) but it is much harder to be positive and constructive. There is an excellent practice of quietly thinking of someone of whom you are deeply critical and then only objectively considering their good points. This invariably results in a lessening of the criticism and the establishment of some genuine compassion for what is often a shared human condition.

In the anatomy of reason then it may be proposed that:

1                 reason presupposes positivity and constructiveness

2                 reason presupposes compassion

Reason is necessarily well-informed: how can it be reasonable to reject or ignore facts or scientific insight and discovery; that is the way of the ignoramus. The 20th century saw an explosion of scientific and technological inquiry and achievement and it has given much to what we take for granted in the 21st century. The development of the supercomputer opened up the previously untestable world of iterative mathematics and gave us fractals and an insight into the amazing mathematics of evolution. The invention of the Internet has opened up humanity to instant communication and the whole gamut of the world of ideas and in so doing has identified and clarified thinking that is both inhuman and destructive, such as the savage trade in sexual slavery or the heinous practice of female genital mutilation. Knowledge IS power, and the freely available knowledge of the Internet is slowly (and I hope surely) destroying millennia of archaic ignorance and totalitarian belief, although not without its remaining exponents of each.

The third, fourth and fifth aspects of reason then encompass ‘education’ in one form or another:

3                 reason presupposes well-informed opinion

4                 reason presupposes free and necessary access to knowledge

5                 reason also requires a good deal of work or effort

One effect of this abundance of information and knowledge is to force those who place their faith in Bronze Age religious beliefs into the self-created prison of ‘fundamentalism’. Be it Christian, Moslem or whatever the true nature of religious faith is epitomised by the fundamentalism to be found at the basic foundation of that ‘faith’ and its necessary concomitant of ignoring or rejecting new knowledge. It is this tendency that makes religion’s claim to ‘peace’ so laughable. Books such as Richard Dawkins’ ‘The God Delusion’ and Christopher Krzeminski’s ‘What are you without God?’ demonstrate that there are two basic approaches to knowledge acquisition: the first is the ‘route of faith’ and the second is the ‘route of reason’ and they are completely and totally mutually exclusive.

I have essayed elsewhere in this blog (Faith and Reason) that despite religion’s attempts to claim reason for their beliefs, ultimately they have to descend to the flyswatter of ‘faith’ because in their distorted ignorant values ‘faith’ trumps ‘reason’.

Religious critics of Richard Dawkins accuse him of being ‘shrill’, but I ask anyone to read ‘The God Delusion’ and defy you to discover this so-called shrillness. He is clearly impassioned about his criticism of all things religious but he never descends into the sort of name-calling and obnoxious behaviour so evident in the writings of believers. (Twitter is a marvellous forum for seeing the intellectual precedents of theists and atheists alike and it is abundantly evident that it is the former who frequently indulge in irreligious behaviour: they obviously feel threatened by the rationality of atheism). The evidence indicates that religion cannot bear the searchlight of logic and evidence-based thinking, and this is very often reflected in a clear inability to express their thoughts grammatically and with accepted norms of spelling.

The sixth/seventh aspects of the anatomy of reason are necessarily essentially anti-theistic:

6                 faith-based forms of knowledge acquisition are inimical to reason

7                 reason-based knowledge acquisition of necessity includes evidence and logic

But there is more, much more to reason than evidence and logic, important though they are. There is the whole area of creativity and its relationship with the stillness of mind. As a first observation it is fairly clear that an agitated mind will have some difficulty in accessing logic, let alone creativity and mental ‘centeredness or equanimity’. When I worked as an architect – a profession I loved – the bit I enjoyed most was design (the old something from nothing trick – goddit God?). The prelude to design is getting to know the brief backwards, the site like the back of your hand, and the town planning restrictions and requirements firmly in mind. Often I would be worrying a particular aspect and coming up with all sorts of solutions, but not that particular one that shouts ‘this is THE answer’.

So I would sleep on it – not necessarily literally but often so – it might mean attending to some other matter entirely, or just mentally surrendering the matter. Then, and this happened many times, upon returning to the design issue – maybe a day or so later –  a ‘that’s it’ solution would just present itself, apparently out of the blue. Now it is important to realise that without the spade work first of getting the parameters of the design firmly in mind the creative act of ‘design’ just wouldn’t happen. The reality is that the solution to a problem always lies within the statement of the problem; get the statement right and the solution will of necessity follow eventually, a little practise of patience may just be necessary.

So the eighth/ninth/tenth components of the anatomy of reason may be stated as:

8                 reason requires that the groundwork to any issue/problem be fully complete

9                 creativity as an aspect of reason may need a little patience

10              mental activity may need to be surrendered, if only temporarily

Finally there is the need for reflection or meditation. What is clear from the above is that a still mind somewhere along the way is crucial to the exercise of reason. A useful analogy is a pond: throw a stone into a still pond and you can see the ripples expand and rebound; throw a stone into an agitated pond and the ripples become difficult to distinguish from the general melee.  For reason to operate fully a still mind is essential.

I am, and have been for many years, a member of a Practical philosophy group – with which I have many points of disagreement, but mutual respect eases differences – and one of the practices we adopt on our retreats is formal reflection. We take a sentence of philosophic intent and allow it to reflect in the mind; an important rule of reflection is not to get caught by any single thought that might arise (and many do), but to acknowledge each aperçu and then let it go. This process of mental surrender seems to be all important to the practice and in this manner always something new appears. It is a truly creative practice.

Another practice of creativity is ‘brainstorming’, the essence of which is not to limit any idea that arises but to throw it into the ring of ideas just to see how it lands and what may arise. In business I believe it is also known as ‘blue sky thinking’ but the point is that creativity cannot be limited by any particular mind set. It has to be ‘thinking out of the box’ to use another overworked piece of commercial new-think, or thinking without restrictive limit.

But speaking as a sometime meditator of more than 30 years, what really brings the mind to stillness is mantra meditation. Mantra = ‘mind instrument’, and it is an effective way of delving deeply into the turmoil of the mind to reach levels of relative stillness (and some claim absolute stillness, but I’m not so sure). Certainly, there is a strong feeling of elation and even ecstasy when these deeper levels of the mind are reached, but it does take devoted practise.

Meditation needs to be discriminated from a religious practice – although many religions extol the virtue of meditation – you will only find ‘God’ if you believe that is what the practice meditation is for. My experience suggests that the real function of meditation is to plumb the mental depths to a substantial point of conscious rest and from there to open back up to the world and its demands with a mind that is refreshed and willing to see things ‘as if for the first time’. Equally important is the surrender of any idea or (especially) belief that may arise.

So, the 11th+ components of reason may be stated as follows:

11              at some stage the exercise of reason requires a still mind

12              reflection as a particular practice is an effective way of stilling the mind

13              meditation can bring the mind to that stillness which is the tipping point of creativity and insight

And so there we have it: one possible map of the nature and practice of reason, which has been argued to be the apogee of humanity and the human spirit. Reason encompasses study, education, auto-didacticism, work, effort and the application of logic, and important as they are it is access to the real stillness of mind that allows reason free-rein and original insight and creativity.

So here are the complete components of the anatomy of reason elucidated in the above essay:

1                 reason presupposes positivity and a constructive attitude of mind

2                 reason presupposes an open mind or compassion

3                 reason presupposes well-informed and educated opinion

4                 reason presupposes free and necessary access to knowledge (=science)

5                 reason also requires a good deal of work or effort

6                 faith-based forms of knowledge acquisition are inimical to reason

7                 reason-based knowledge acquisition of necessity includes testable evidence and logic

8                 reason requires that the groundwork to any issue/problem be fully completed

9                 creativity as an aspect of reason may need a little patience

10              mental activity may need to be temporarily surrendered

11              at some stage the exercise of reason requires a still mind

12              reflection as a particular practice is an effective way of stilling the mind

13              meditation can bring the mind to that stillness which is the tipping point of true creativity and insight

Nothing is written in stone and the above is only a personal view. I invite any reader to propose additional anatomical aspects so that the fledgling essay may find its flight feathers and soar.

And if you have been, thanks for reading.


Stephen Coulson

@philositect on Twitter