Devices and desires

Another storming day out with Hg. Unfortunately motherly duties and a new series of the only television programme I watch have combined to prevent further elucidation at this time. However before I retire to bed here is a picture from a previous expedition and two wtfs from today.

devices and desires

So Hg wishes to send a picture or two of the beloved spawn from his phone to mine. (Actually I demand them.) We make ourselves visible, bluetooth-wise, and just look at that list of devices. “Joy and pain”. Who, we wondered, as we surveyed the entirely pain-free-appearance of our fellow drinkers, had labelled their device (or themselves) thus and left it permanently discoverable.

wtf 1

Above is a park railing in Hoxton Square. Affixed to it is a clove of garlic carefully protected by a pad of cotton wool, all held in place with a strip of elastoplast. WTF, you might ask. What indeed. Perhaps the park requires protection from vampires. Or the railing cut itself shaving.

wtf 2

And this is a tree in a park in Shoreditch which, along with several others nearby, has produced an enormous crop of shoefruits. No, I have no idea either.

London really is a most delightful place.


I took part in further hypnosis research this morning, and very fascinating it was too. The first part, if you recall, demonstrated that I’m highly suggestible, the second that I’ve got great frontal lobes. This, well, I’m not sure what part three showed other than that I might be a suitable candidate for an fMRI scan.

The inducement of a possible brain scan all of my very own (or rather the hope of a digital image of the result) was what got me involved in the first place. And of course nobody can promise anything. But I live in hope. I also await the assessment which will determine whether my “maintenance” dose of Citalopram will disqualify me from taking part. Oh, the agony! Imagine, so near and yet so far. I’m booked in for a scan this coming Saturday morning but unsure whether it will happen…

Even more tantalising is the discovery that the scientist in charge of the neuroimaging part of the study is – wait for it – a meditator. And extremely interested in the neuropsychology underlying meditation. And any links there might be between hypnotic and meditative states. Hot, hot, hot, hot damn. I would absolutely definitely stop taking my maintenance dose, if that prevented scans, in order to have something to do with *that* research. After all I only take it because the doctor suggested it was a good idea, not because I feel I need it. (See how keen I am?)

So. Today. It was at the Psychology Department at University College London and involved being hypnotised by a professor there in a space the level of shabbiness and disrepair of which (tiles hanging off the ceiling etc etc) I’ve come to expect of our prestigious centres of excellence (sigh). Then a series of very small movements of one hand under various different suggested conditions.

I’m not sure I’m qualified to say what it’s “like” being hypnotised, having only been so twice recently and once a couple of decades ago. But so far I would say it’s unlike any other experience I’ve had. It’s not like any meditative state I’ve achieved, that’s for sure. There’s an extraordinary passivity about it which, possibly because it’s so far from my normal mode of curious engagement, not to say ornery cussedness, I find rather delightful.

So the hypnotiser says “just sit there”, or words to that effect, and I just sit there. The thought passed, fleetingly, through my mind “how long might I just sit here entirely motionless other than breathing? how many hours?” but it passed and disappeared and I just sat there, how long for I have absolutely no idea. It’s the nearest experience I’ve had to being a machine, operated by someone pushing buttons. I’ve been *treated* like a machine, more than once and in several different circumstances, but this is qualitatively different, because I *choose* to allow it to happen under certain clearly defined circumstances over which, ultimately, I feel as though I have the ability to change should I wish to do so.

Anyway, enough of that. Navel-gazing taken to a new level! I still await the scanning-suitability-questionnaire and the results thereof. However even should I not be able to have a scan the other research tasks are more than fascinating enough to keep me coming back for more. If asked.

Some words of explanation

… as to why I found Jill Bolte Taylor’s TED talk so powerful.

You see (she says, getting a bit pink about the cheeks, gazing at the ground and shuffling her feet in an embarrassed and highly British fashion), you know that experience she talks about, of being at one with the universe an’ all, having no boundaries, cosmic peace love and understanding etc etc?

Yeah, well, I’ve had that experience too. Luckily I wasn’t having a stroke at the same time. As far as I know.

Once only. While meditating. Apart from the visual stuff – I had my eyes closed. But otherwise pretty similar. No me, no you. All me, all you. The kind of experience, as her extremely compelling retelling indicates, that you don’t forget in a hurry.

This raises, of course, fascinating questions about meditation, neuroscience, phenomenology (thanks Jeff), metaphysics, religion, spirituality, morality and no doubt many more.

Unfortunately my brain is currently tired and slightly depressed and my body has reluctantly to haul itself to the sorting office some distance away to pick up some parcels. But since the above issues have been of considerable interest to me for a good few years perhaps I’ll get it together to expatiate upon them some other time.


That was quick – the test was only a couple of days ago.

The measure we used during the study was the Harvard Group Scale of Hypnotic Susceptibility and is one of the most reliable and widely used measure of hypnotisability. The scores range from 0 (least hypnotisable) to 12 (most hypnotisable).

You scored 11, which puts you in the high hypnotisable range.

Please note that hypnotisability has no relation to gullibility (being fooled), giving in to being pressured by others (conformity), or believing unusual things. In fact people who are high hypnotisable have been found to have better attention and concentration than others.

So, do I fancy further guinea piggery?

Hmmm. Let me think about it.

For a picosecond or two.

Hypnotic earworm

by the sea - blue

Why would this image have anything to do with an earworm?

It was the teacher’s suggestion to use blue ink to make the print. Inspired. Now the water and foam look both like water and foam and also sky and cloud. And the moon floats serenely in both.

(Let me link yet again to the absolutely brilliant poem the image was originally created to go alongside.)

Sky and clouds feature as a metaphor for conveying how we might still our minds during meditation:

The mind is like space or like sky, completely clear, not solid, and vast, spacious and unlimited.

Try to get a sense of how your mind is like that, like this clear, vast, spacious sky.

The things that we are aware of, the thoughts, images, memories and so on, are similar to the clouds that pass through the sky.

They’re not always there but they appear and after a while they disappear.

If there are thoughts appearing in your mind while you are sitting here doing this meditation, thoughts, memories, images, or if you hear sounds or feel sensations in your body, think that these are just like clouds, passing through this space or clear sky of your mind.

Let them come and let them go, realise that they are only momentary and not solid, they just come and go.

Let them go and return your awareness to the mind itself, which is like the clear spacious sky.

“You can be above your thoughts and watch them as though they were clouds below you in the sky” said my teacher.

I have a huge problem with this, though. Absolutely massive.

The problem is that the first time I was introduced to this way of conceptualising the activity (or lack of activity) someone in the group, who shall remain nameless but never forgotten, started singing Both Sides Now by Joni Mitchel:

I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It’s cloud illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all.

And every single time, yes, every. single. time. I meditate in this way I have to listen to Joni and her little ditty.

This has been amusing. Also infuriating. Boring. Enraging. Irritating like a shirt label rubbing the sensitive skin on the back of your back. Painful as an ill-fitting shoe rubbing a raw patch of skin. Frustratingly circularly self-referential as a small dog chasing its docked tail.

No doubt this is highly revealing in some way about the crapness of my mind but don’t ask me how. Nowadays I just let her twitter on, secure in the knowledge that there’s nothing I can do about it and trying to makes it worse. Maybe one day it won’t happen… and I’ll notice. And then maybe, one day, it won’t happen… and I won’t notice!

After producing a permanent pictorial reminder of a meditation closed-loop I trundled down to the IoP to take part in Dr Bell‘s research into the neuropsychology of suggestion and dissociative disorders, which was remarkably similar to the Joni effect.

I used to believe myself highly susceptible to hypnosis since a friend at university, who’d done a day’s course, managed to make me offer the assembled company hot chocolate in midsummer as a result of post-hypnotic suggestion. Of course I only have everyone else’s word for it that I was acting in a pre-programmed way since I remember nothing other than making the offer and everyone falling about laughing.

This time it was different. Although I believe I was probably hypnotised because I couldn’t, for instance, bend my arm when told it was stiff there was part of my brain which was observing everything as though from a distance. Looking at clouds from both sides now, as it were. So while I couldn’t bend my arm when told it was as stiff as a bar of iron there was part of my brain saying “hmmm, interesting. You’re trying really hard to bend your arm, genuinely trying, but you can’t. However you know that you haven’t lost the ability to move. You could do it. But you won’t because you’ve been told you can’t. Hmmm. Interesting.”

Most interesting was the post-hypnotic suggestion. I remember being told that I was going to forget everything I had been asked to do while hypnotised and then remember everything when I prompted by a certain set of words. I think I was told that I was also going to forget what I had been told. But the cloud-watching part of the brain was busy telling me that this was obviously the post-hypnotic suggestion part of the plan and was keeping tabs on what was going on.

When we were “woken up” we were asked to write down on a piece of paper what we had been doing while hypnotised. I knew that I’d been told I wouldn’t be able to remember, I also knew that I almost certainly could, but – and here’s the interesting bit (for those of you who might not find this blow-by-blow account entirely riveting) – I couldn’t activate the part of my brain necessary to recover the memory in order to write it down. In the end I had to write “I was told I wouldn’t be able to remember but I can’t remember whether I was told I wouldn’t be able to remember that or not”.

Doncha just love the human brain?

I fear my failure to be deeply hypnotised will rule me out of further opportunities to take part in the research and, most important of all to me, have a brain scan image all of my very own to play with. Rats.

So now I’m wondering what effect, if any, practising meditation has on ones suggestibility for hypnosis and whether this particular sort of dissociative activity (“mind observing mind”, unlike the pathological dissociation experienced by people with PTSD and, let it be said, certain forms of depression) is useful or otherwise.

Rhetorical wonderings, of course. But I’m glad I went and I’m glad I have the print which so serendipitously reminds me of the experience.



There’s an oft-quoted Zen saying that says “After the ecstasy, the laundry.” Presumably after the thrill of enlightenment has faded, all that remains are dirty T-shirts and undies. And yet, I’d beg to differ with this oft-quoted saying, or at least the preposition therein. It isn’t that laundry comes after ecstasy; it’s that laundry is ecstasy. If you fully embrace your life with all its tedium and drudgery–if you fully embrace the monotonous routine of the same old spouse as you head off to meditate, again, on the same old cushion–you discover your laundry and your ecstasy are one in the same. What is marital bliss, after all, but the repetition, ’til death do us part, of the same old chores, the same old laundry, and the same old ecstasies?


Sun Rises

while the days slip
into winter’s tightness
each morning the sun
rises without repeating


The single dimension of infinity

In Israel and in the Reform world, today is also Simchat Torah, the day of “rejoicing in the Torah,” when we read the very end of the Torah and then immediately cycle back around to the very beginning. Our central narrative is a kind of mobius strip, a continual spiral, which shifts in meaning each year as we change and grow.

Although the path is usually described as having eight steps, in essence there are only three, with each of those three broken down in groupings of three, three, and two sub-step. The three basic steps are ethical conduct, meditation, and transforming insight into the way things are. Rather than forming a stairway that leads to heaven, these three steps and their eight sub-steps are more like a Mobius Strip that endlessly leaves, travels, and arrives in the here and now. One can start anywhere on the path, or choose to follow any step at any time, or several or all of them all at once, and always arrive at the same place. The Noble Eightfold Path, as the path to the end of suffering is usually called, truly describes more of a place than a path, with the place being the present, a boundary-less orb without coordinates in which all things happen everywhere all the time.



Or should it be trunk? when actually it’s a root. Oh well, you get the general idea.

Most of the Suffok pictures are now up, I think, and can be seen in a slideshow.

The most viewed, apart from the pipefish, is one of the secondborn’s lower extremities which seems to be very popular among the community which finds such body parts particularly exciting. Some of whom have accounts seemingly without their own pictures but lots and lots of other people’s saved for future reference. I’m not really sure how I feel about this.

Festival of the Trees #5

I’ve had such fun reading through and organising all the submissions. I hope you enjoy them too. Most had an accompanying illustration. For the few that didn’t I’ve selected something I thought appropriate. Please, posters concerned, let me know if you have any objection.

downpour.jpg My own contribution, and that of my two helpers pictured left, is some tree audio. Friend H and son A kicked through drifts of dry leaves, pushed past brittle foliage on branches, snapped twigs and stood (and crouched) with great forbearance while I recorded the sudden downpour thrashing on the leaves. Thank you H and A for the sound of trees!
Yes, suddenly, it’s autumn, as Bev notes on Burning Silo.
Bear creek and soft maple leaves. Larry Ayers views Bear Creek And Its Trees from ground level to get the full carpet-effct of the fallen leaves. His dog Tucker looked on tolerantly at this behaviour. Later in his walk he finds vast leaves on a tiny sycamore sapling and speculate on the possible cause of their scale.
bigleaf.jpg And while we’re on the subject of the outsized, big leaf maple is the self-explanatory title of a post by the Dharma Bums. They’re sweet too, apparently. Their sap. The ones with big leaves.
A small leaf here, but one of many Fallen – leaves, death, seduction and the tempted Eve are woven together by Lorianne at Hoarded Ordinaries.
mountain ash over the arbor Death too haunts Sharon Brogan’s Snapshot Poem 04 October 2006 at Watermark. Yet I can’t help thinking that the bright scarlet-orange of the mountain ash berries in her picture show there’s brightness as well.
Backlit_lvs5_low_res Colour, form and light – Backlit Ninebark by the botanizing Larry Hufford.
swamp.jpg The frequent rains have enlarged the local swamps and the still water mirrors the emptiness above writes BodySoulSpirit in Family trees in October. She posts three images of trees from three different family members and muses on their symbolism.
In Understory Lorianne of Hoarded Ordinaries raises her eyes to the lower levels and honours the hangers-on.
leaves.jpg So why do leaves change colour and get pushed off their parent trees? I thought I knew, but recent research as outlined by Jeremy in A Festival of Leaves threatens to overturn the received wisdom of my school biology lessons. Read more of Jeremy’s science writing at the Voltage Gate.
mushroom.jpg Jade of Arboreality (and the host of this Festival next month) has been Playing in the Pocono Forests and shows us it’s not only leaves that are in ruddy colour.
Mushrooms_1 More mycology at Broad Meadow Brook, as seen by Leslee of 3rd House Journal This trunk with its mushroom footpegs looks like a ladder.
gspruce.jpg A sunset colour here, but perennial not autumnal. Joe Kissell presents The Golden Spruce – Tragic fall of a legendary tree posted at Interesting Thing of the Day. A highly unusual Sitka Spruce tree in British Columbia had golden needles and a conical shape, and was revered by nearby indigenous people. It was cut down by a logger-turned-environmentalist in a bizarre twist of illogic.
Another dead tree here, but what a whopper! For the story of this driftwood read Bev’s entry on Burning Silo.
fraserfir.jpg From gone to going… John Ruberry of Marathon Pundit was at Great Smoky Mountains National Park and found bad news for Fraser Firs.
needles.jpg Needles drop too… in this case the needles of the Pinus Strobus. As well as pictures Cindy of Riverrim also gives a useful tip for measuring the approximate height of a tree.
krummholz.jpg Butuki’s post The Lungs of the Mountain God (at Laughing Knees) is included here for the beautiful pictures of larch and elfinwood and creeping pine included in it. Read it too, for the exquisite writing of the account of a walk (walk?!) up Kurobe Peak and the non-tree-related pictures. The shot chosen to represent the post here is called “Kurobe krummholz” and, curious, I wanted to know what a krummholz is. What an excellent word.
Equisetum_guttation Another great word, another great picture and another great entry from Larry Hufford at botanizing: The guttating horsetail. The post qualifies for inclusion because of its references to the now-extinct tree horsetails, in case you were wondering. If, like me, you hadn’t come across guttation, read to the end to find out what it is. And read the comments to find out why the horsetail makes an excellent pan-scrubber.
This weirdly-angled trunk is a yellow birch, one of several photographed by Dave Bonta of Via Negativa on his recent return to Bear Heaven in West Virginia’s Monongahela National Forest. He mentions its orogenous zone in passing as well as a legendary purple dye known as orchil. More new words for my list. Although Dave found some aspects of the trip disappointing his photographs never fail to delight. For the swiftly-connected there’s a slideshow here.
Maracas Beach, border= What a spectacular view! Find out in Appreciating Nature why for year Nneka just couldn’t appreciate it, as posted at Balanced Life Center.
mango tree Despite loving climbing trees and loving mangoes and having been in places with an abundance of mango trees I’ve never actually been in the branches of one. Now I know what I’m missing thanks to the poem Midday at Very Like A Whale. Mmmmmm. Lick that juice before the bees find you.
At Naturally Connected Wendy tells us why Burlingame calls itself the “City of Trees” and shows us how large “heritage” trees are protected – wherever they may be growing.
cornus.jpg Here’s another big tree – sent in by Julian of Bubble Brothers. The post is called Gather ye rosebuds, &c, – endangered species and concerns both this majestic Cornus kousa as well as an apparent wine-lake. The latter is related to Julian’s current job as a wine merchant. In his submission he says I’m certainly no photographer, and wasn’t able to make gardening pay, but here’s a tree that takes some of the sting out of having to serve Mammon. Plant ya now, dig ya later! I imagine the contents of Mammon’s bottles are quite efficacious in sting-relief too.
tane-mahuta1.JPG Tane mahuta is the last and perhaps the biggest of our big tree section. The god of the forest, the son of the sky father and earth mother, he ripped them apart allowing life to flourish. Lucy Kempton met the forest god’s forest incarnation while in New Zealand, and also found his grandeur in a rather more prosaic setting.
In this section we see some entries where words are foremost, starting with the Ballad of Penelope from Alan Van Dine of Light Verse for a Heavy Universe. Penelope dreams of finery while sprucelike, she lingers silently, contemplating the sorry fates of family members. Her story has a happy ending. Well, I think it does. But I can’t be sure.
bonsaicrabapple.jpg One poet highlights another – Juliet Wilson posts Three haiku on Trees by Sandy Hiss on her blog Bolts of Silk.
bamboo.jpg Read A landscape of holes where things once were. Chris Clarke writes at Creek Running North and he’s one of the best writers on the web. This post transcends summary by me. Just read it.
seagulls.jpg This last entry isn’t really about trees at all. It’s actually about the River Ribble in the north of England. I’ve included it for three reasons – firstly the delightful drawing of the seagulls and the sun making friends which contains trees; secondly it’s a piece of good environmental news and thirdly the blog links to Global Voices. I’m the host. I’m allowed to be biased.

The next host will be Arboreality – Tree Blogging. Send links to Jade by email: jadeblackwater [at] brainripples [dot] com to arrive with her no later than Nov. 29