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Friday
Sep192014

Day TWO of my three day fast

 

Woke about 4.30am. drank some water. Weighed myself- an incredible 3kg weight loss- must be mainly water loss. My eyes feel dehydrated, as if with a hangover. One is red- probably all the toxins I’m liberating by not eating. But usual aches and pains- slight allergic wheeziness and stiff shoulder have gone. That is incentive enough to keep going. Back in bed I stay there until 9am. After a bracing lap sang tea I go out and chop some wood. I don’t try too hard, and what I find is that I end up using the axe properly- letting it’s weight do the work instead of my arms. I take a goodly break looking out at the view but I am not really tired…just slow. I must be running off my own fat supplies – good for a slow burn but nothing too extreme is remotely possible.

But I do spend most of the day sitting around a lot. I manage to fiddle with a website I’m helping to build. Still get waves of low level headacheyness. My eye is no longer bloodshot by the evening. Turn off a film and read a novel, but my eyes are soon tired. I have my soup which is just a teaspoon of bouillon powder in a cup. I add a small chopped up garlic. Bad idea- I’m soon burping and I can feel a small windsection of weird stuff going on in my insides. I’m sick of mint tea by now. Lemon and ginger is OK and so is lap sang.

I really hope I hit the much advertised breakthrough tomorrow as this is a medium unpleasant experience- but, strangely, one I am not regretting one bit. It’s like being on a trip, a strange and interesting journey.

 

Thursday
Sep182014

Day ONE of three day fast

I had once fasted during Ramadan- it was in winter in Egypt so the days weren’t so long- you only have to go from dawn to dusk, and dusk was about 5.30pm so if you lay in bed in the morning- as I did- it wasn’t too hard. But it wasn’t easy either, for me, day after day for a month. For one thing eating and thinking about eating and preparing food and talking about food take up a fair bit of one’s day. Strip it out and all that extra time can be disconcerting. It certainly doesn’t help you remain resolute.

And then there are the headaches. Some fasters get hungry. Not me. I sometimes even felt slightly full. But I did get nasty headaches- especially at first- probably caffeine withdrawal- but still not a great thing to look forward to.

Fasting is common to most religions, in some form or another. One perspective I agree with is that some religious practice started as a health practice which then became ritualised, its original meaning lost. Could the health benefits of fasting have been known in more traditional times, and only now are we rediscovering them?

Then, after conversations with friends Ramsay Wood, Polly Gates and Rich Lisney I decided, what the hell, do a three day, four night fast and see what happens. Instead of the Ramadan style of fast where it is nil by mouth- no water even- my rules would be a little slack: I’d be allowed black tea, maybe a little coffee, diluted juice, one thin soup a day and fruit teas and of course a ton of water. No solids at all though for the whole period. I’d heard of a guy who had built a patio while on a thirty day water-only fast and this put it all in perspective. Let’s do it!

I also watched this: 

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xvdbtt_eat-fast-live-longer-hd_shortfilms

But only after I’d started. It was fascinating, hard to disagree with.

My motives were to activate the self-healing properties of the body which are supposedly and fairly convincingly I think, shown to be inhibited by eating too much. I know I eat too much. I have a spare tyre- the worst kind of fat- and it’s something I wanted to deflate for sure.

So, DAY ONE:

I had a big lunch the day before I started, including wine. This made having no breakfast on day one of the fast easy. I bought two cans of readymade 'frappacino' and a small container of organic ‘super nutrient’ juice and headed home to do two hours of gardening- weeding mainly. No problem doing work but then in a wave it hit me- I felt awful! But carried on digging and then felt fine. I knew the key would be the same as dealing with any pain- wait out the waves- nothing lasts forever at the same intensity.

Working, I found I naturally moved slowly like a fieldworker in a hot climate. I planned to use the coffee and later tea to smooth away the headaches. And it seemed to work. Until after lunchtime when I again began to feel fairly awful. I drank a fizzy water and lots of still water, lay down for a bit and took an aspirin. Felt a bit better. Head was manageable. I poured a tiny amount of blackcurrant smoothie into a glass and then added ten times as much water. I could feel my brain sucking in the small sugar hit- anything that tastes that good must be wrong! I managed a few barbell lifts- about the same power as I have without fasting, but I do it more slowly. 

I read a lot and then watched a useless western on TV. My eyes hurt but it's manageable.

Glad to be able to go to bed about 10pm.

 

Thursday
Sep182014

Autodidacticism

Fascinating long article by the polymathic Jack Kinsella on all sorts of improved self-teaching methods- really interesting and useful- will get you thinking for sure:

http://www.oxbridgenotes.com/articles/autodidactism/oxbridge_notes_guide_to_autodidactism

 

Sunday
Sep142014

Haughty and Generous

Idries Shah famously reintroduced the idea that traditionally it was often considered the ideal, or near ideal, character to be both haughty and generous. I was talking about this today with author and friend Jason Webster. I suggested that, like much of Idries Shah's apparently simple statements, it would reward further thinking. One could superficially understand being 'haughty and generous' to mean one should be snotty and snobbish yet also generous. But think back to those previous eras when the idea was first promulgated. Then there was a more rigid set of behaviours for each class. You didn’t really need to be snobbish- there was such an obvious difference between you and the next level. Snobbery only becomes necessary when you actual rub shoulders with the hoi poloi. In Egypt the upper classes can be snobbish, but I often found the real aristocrats weren’t- they were kind and considerate to all people they came into contact with because it was so obvious they were from another zone. And many were also generous.

Jason suggested being haughty in this context meant refusing to be flattered when people noticed your generosity; an antidote to ‘using up’ whatever accrues when one is generous. I think, though, that, in addition to this there is also the fact that a haughty person does not rely on others for sustenance, does not ‘consume’. He or she is a producer- and yet they pass on things of value to others- they are generous. They aren’t looking to take, they are looking to give. Being snotty has nothing to do with it- the real deal is about aiming to reach a place where you can help others without needing or seeking help yourself, which includes, of course, the ‘help’ of being praised.

 

Wednesday
Sep102014

The Polymathic Principle

 

Everyone will tell you one thing; specialise, specialise, specialise…don’t.

Suppose you have a child who seems unusually talented at science, who appears to have a natural inclination towards math and physics. You might be tempted to send your offspring to special classes in extra math with the dream that they would achieve great things if only they specialised early enough. Walter Alvarez, a doctor, saw things differently. His son Luis was gifted in science but he chose to balance this by sending him to a school specialising in arts and crafts. Instead of fast tracking through advanced calculus, Luis worked at technical drawing and woodwork…which didn’t stop him from going on later to study science and ultimately win the 1968 Nobel Prize for Physics. Luis attributed his success to his ability to build any experimental apparatus he could imagine.

Developing fine motor skills was also essential to the success claimed by celebrated US astronaut Storey Musgrave. His early training as a boy growing up on a farm gave him the skills ‘to fix anything’ just as crucial in a space station, as later degrees in engineering and medicine.

There is informal recognition of the advantage of a polymathic background: 82% of scientists and engineers surveyed by Robert Root-Bernstein answered Yes to the question “Would you recommend an arts and crafts education as a useful or even essential background for a scientific innovator?”[1]

But scientists and engineers are not alone in needing inspiration from elsewhere. Artists and writers also gain from having a non-arts background. WH Auden, Somerset Maugham, Anton Chekhov and David Foster Wallace all had maths or science educations in addition to their literary pursuits. In terms of multi-modal skills, Foster Wallace was also a sports scholar as a young man. Jack Kerouac and Ken Kesey were both football players; Albert Camus played in goal for the Algerian national soccer team and Samuel Beckett was a notable cricket player in his native Ireland.

An early taste for multiple expertise is rather more common than we might think. My own childhood background is far from unusual: I built treehouses, go karts, repaired bicycles and motorbikes, took photographs, went rock climbing, looked at things under a microscope and wrote poetry. I managed to maintain this wide spread of interests into adulthood- by ignoring the advice given to me by careers officers, teachers, employers but luckily not my parents.

They understood the need to maintain a wide base of knowledge. Intuitively they understood about the synergetics of knowledge.

Alexis Carrel, Nobel Prize winner in Medicine learned, when he was a child, how to stitch incredibly tiny and intricate patterns from his lace making mother. He later used this skill in making ground breaking advancements in the field of surgery.

Hans von Euler-Chelpin focussed on fine arts at college before an interest in colour lead him to the sciences, eventually leading to the 1929 Nobel prize in chemistry.

Leading astro-physicist Jacob Shaham claimed, “Acting taught me how to read equations like a script with characters I had to bring to life.”

All these high achievers are demonstrating the same thing: there is great synergy in having multiple areas of expertise.

The  engine of polymathics, why it works, is the synergy between different areas of knowledge. The more you know the better- but not just arithmetically, exponentially. Fields of knowledge cross-fertilise each other in many, often surprising, ways. The kernal of creativity is, after all, putting together things that have never been put together before. Learning skills, honed on one area become useful in another. You get different perspectives the more you know, and a different perspective can mean everything.

Synergy is the ‘extra energy’ liberated in system that makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts. It’s an idea that has been around since Aristotle.

If you have three or more areas of expertise there is a real rise in many allied areas of knowledge acquisition and deployment. You learn faster and act smarter.

Why three or more? It’s what I have noticed. And the wider apart they are the better. Best is a physical or modal skill such as dancing or bookbinding or fly tying or parachuting PLUS a factual/informational field be it scientific, historical or literary PLUS an area of creative endeavor- singing, acting, writing, painting.



[1] Lamore and Root-Bernstein 2011

 

Friday
Sep052014

marx, opium, cocaine and attention

 

Marx is endlessly requoted as saying religion is the opiate of the people. In light of recent history a modern Marx might say religion is more akin to the cocaine or meth amphetamine of the people. Has religion changed so much it has gone from being a pacifying drug to an exciter of drama? 

We take drugs to make up for something lacking in our lives: happiness, calm, excitement, meaning. People know they are missing something in life. They look to balance themselves on the evidence presented, they look to stabilise using publicly available information. They try to become exoterically stable. But it’s impossible. The exoteric is composed of families, tribes, states, corporations- all of which give voice to ‘their’ own need for survival through people who have been sucked in to become inadvertent mouthpieces for these supra-human entities. Ever had a cause ‘take you over’? I have, briefly, it’s a delicious feeling of empowerment without guilt, doubt or confusion. But we are human individuals, linked with everything at an invisible, esoteric, level, not through the gross alliances of family and nation. Not that these aren’t important, they are, they provide the nutritional framework for life- what they can’t do is supply a real sense of ultimate purpose. Because what is most real (in many senses) is also hidden, then its concepts and ideas – when they become publicised- always run the risk of becoming traduced and cheapened, turned from being gold coins into metal discs good as a washer or a weight of some sort. The real meaning is lost and the esoteric concept becomes yet another item used by the exoteric world. The other day I was looking at a 19th century travel book about Iraq- it showed a drawing of the copper peacock of the Yezidis- a religious cult that still exists. Four of these copper birds were used to rally the people and were only revealed on special occasions. But from the drawing it was obvious that this was a sculptural representation of the path to personal enlightenment- the decorated handle indicating the different stages of growing awareness. Yet this item had become a kind of political device- rather like the mace wielded by western monarchs. It has been watered down to help the exoteric- the tribe- to survive. It happens with symbols- look how the yinyang symbol has become the flag of Korea, reduced from a meditation object to an emotional rallying point.

The esoteric is always having to reinvent itself, find new untainted ways to preserve and represent the kind of truths we need to make personal progress in this and future lives.

The exoteric world’s failure to supply meaning is further complicated because the same groups that fail to supply meaning distort things in order to appear as ‘supplying meaning’. In the current world a lack of involvement (caused by the disintegration of ‘traditional’ structures) means there are widespread feelings of worthlessness. Involvement supplies ‘A’ grade attention. If you have children compare the effect playing a board game has on them with merely asking to see their latest painting or lego toy. Involvement, as my friend Ramsay Wood informed me, is indeed the higher form of attention. 

But involvement is hard to conjure out of thin air. And the modern westernised world undermines structures that served very effectively to involve people in the past. These can’t be revived, alternatives are appearing all the time, but slowly and quietly. Meanwhile vast numbers of people do not get enough attention and drama in their everyday lives. So, if, in the past, when there was enough drama and attention in life, exoteric religion could function as something encouraging contemplation and patience, now more pressing concerns are forced upon its malleable form. In the exoteric world ‘religion’ is the first and most famous tourist destination for ‘meaning’. It’s the Tower of London. But now the ‘meaning’ people require includes this undigested need for involvement. Involvement that will generate high levels of attention and drama. Until we find a way of integrating that into the modern westernised version of life currently sweeping the globe, then expect religion to supply it in various grotesque and distorted ways. If the people need cocaine to get attention and involvement, they’ll find it.

 

Wednesday
Aug202014

twelve angry men

I've just watched the superb Twelve Angry Men, a classic movie where Henry Fonda persuades a certain jury they shouldn't be quite so certain. Subtle and brilliant in the way it deals with the way we make up our mind about things, I hadn't watched it - though I could have done - at any time in the last thirty years, because as a teenager I'd seen the Tony Hancock comic version, which lampoons the whole thing and therefore made me disregard the original. The British boast that their their piss taking humour reveals the reality behind the 'hypocritical' veil so often drawn across life. But what if piss taking actually covers up truth?