Freud, sex, literature, Descartes, and the body-brain-mind-environment-complexity

Blog Post No. 170

By Dr Jim Byrne

23rd July 2018

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Dr Jim’s Blog: Freud, sex, literature, Descartes, and the body-brain-mind-environment-complexity!

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Part Two: More on ‘What are the linkages between psychology and psychotherapy, on the one hand, and literature, on the other’?

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Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, July 2018

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Introduction

Books on emotional intelligence.JPGRecently, I’ve been blogging about some of the important linkages, or overlaps, between psychology, on the one hand, and literature, on the other.

For examples: I have written about:

(1) Some of the books that helped to grow my emotional intelligence; or to help me to ‘complete’ (or process) some early, traumatic experience;

(2) My own semi-autobiographical novel/story about the life of Daniel O’Beeve – and how this is legitimate psychotherapy for the reader, as well as the writer;

(3) How to “write a new life for yourself” – in the form of a new paperback book about a system of psychotherapy, which I have developed over a number of years.

(4) How psychological insights seep into literature; and how literature in turn influences, or humanizes, psychology and psychotherapy.

Today, I want to describe some experiences with literature that I’ve had over the past couple of days.

Visiting bookshops in Bradford

Julian Barnes, Through the WindowTwo days ago – on Saturday 21st July – Renata and I took some time out and went to Bradford for lunch, and to take a look around the shops, including two bookshops and the main DVD/movie outlet (HMV, in the new arcade).

In Waterstones’ bookshop, towards the end of our visit, I was looking for something which would help me to reflect some more upon the linkages between psychology and literature.

There was nothing of any relevance in the Psychology section.

Then I went looking for a Literature section.  The best I could find were two adjacent book cases, one on Poetry, and one on Drama.  (Bradford is not a particularly big city).

In the drama section, there were a few books on literature, including one by Julian Barnes: Through the Window – Seventeen essays (and one short story); London; Vintage Books; 2012.

The blurb on the back of this book suggested it was exactly what I was seeking.  It began like this: “Novels tell us the most truth about life…”

I bought it, and brought it home, and dived into the Preface, which describes ‘a Sempé cartoon’, which shows three sections of a bookshop.  On the left, the Philosophy section; on the right, the History section; and in the middle, a window that looks out at a man and a woman who are approaching each other from roughly the locations of those two sections, and who are inevitably (and accidentally) going to meet in front of the middle section, which is the Fiction section.

For Julian Barnes, this cartoon describes his own beliefs about the central role of fiction in our lives.

“Fiction, more than any other written form, explains and expands life”, he writes, with great assurance.  “Biology, of course, also explains life; so do biography and biochemistry and biophysics and biomechanics and biopsychology.  But all the biosciences yield no biofiction.  Novels tell us the most truth about life: what it is, how we live it, what it might be for, how we enjoy and value it, how it goes wrong, and how we lose it.  Novels speak to and from the mind, the heart, the eye, the genitals, the skin; the conscious and the subconscious.  What it is to be an individual, what it means to be part of a society. What it means to be alone.  …” Etcetera.

However, it could be objected that, while the various sciences instruct, and suggest what must be done and not done, the literary arts merely create visceral and emotive sensations, which must link up with our socialization in general – that is to say, our previous learning – to help us to decide what to do with this new literary information; these insights; or newly forming feelings and thoughts.

Indeed, it seems to me that if all we had was literature, then we would be “weaving without weft” – or trying to make a fabric without those long strings, from one end of the loom to the other, through which the shuttle passes.  We would be trying to make sense of fictions in the absence of the insights we gain from the various sciences, and the ruminations of the various philosophers.

However, the reverse is also true.  Without literature and art, the sciences would provide us with long strings of facts, set up on our mental looms, but with no means of weaving a living fabric of warmth and depth and emotional meaning.

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An example from fiction

John-Fowles-MantissaWhat I omitted from my story above is this: Before going to Waterstones’, we had visited the Oxfam shop, which has a vast floor dedicated to second-hand books, included the abandoned books of waves of undergraduates and postgraduates from the local universities: yards of books on Psychology, philosophy, health studies, and so on.  And then there’s History, and lots of novels – many of the pulp variety – and some classics.

During this visit, I did look at psychology, and health studies, and personal development; but I began by looking for a novel which might help me to elucidate some of the points I’ve been exploring in these blog posts.  And I did find one.

I found Mantissa, by John Fowles. This author’s name jumped out at me because I have read five of his nine books – but I had never come across Mantissa.

So I opened it, and what should leap off the page at me, but a quotation by René Descartes.  This had an electrifying effect upon me, because I have been arguing – in earlier blog posts in this series – that philosophies, like Descartes’ misleading ‘cogito’ (“I think therefore I am”), got into psychology; and that, whatever arises within, or gets into, psychology, inevitably finds its way into literature.  And here was a living proof of my assertions.  The particular quote from Descartes, promulgated by John Fowles, on page 5 of Mantissa, included the following conclusion:

“…this I, that is to say the soul by which I am what I am, is entirely distinct from the body, is even easier to know than the body, and furthermore would not stop being what it is, even if the body did not exist”.

We know from previous considerations of this ‘cogito’-philosophy of Descartes by generations of philosophers, that it is impossible to sustain his beliefs about the body-mind split.

But the more important consideration is this: Why is John Fowles beginning his novel with this quotation?

Is it his intention to argue that we are souls, separate and apart from our bodies?

Or is he going to try to undermine Descartes’ belief?

Part I (of IV) begins with the suggestion of ‘a consciousness’ surrounded by “a luminous and infinite haze”. And out of this connectivity comes an individual consciousness – a male person, in a bed, looking up at two women; one of whom claims to be his wife, and the other a doctor (of neurology); and the suggestion emerges of ‘loss of personal memory’.  The ‘wife’ departs, and a nurse arrives to join the doctor, and it unfolds that the treatment for this poor man (Mr Green’s) mental problem is a physical therapy.  (The theory, explicitly stated by the doctor, is that there is a link between the genitals and the personal sense of remembered self!)

At this point, we can say that Fowles seems to be setting out to refute Descartes view of a separation between mind and body, by treating memory loss via the genitals. (Crazy theory, I know!  But it proves to owe a lot to Freud’s theory of psychosexual stages of human development!)

Fowles’ intention to undermine Descartes seems likely, especially given that the doctor in this story is a neurologist: a specialist in understanding brain-mind functioning. Or the physical brain as the substrate of mind.

Mr Green proves to be resistant to the sexual activities to which he is subjected by the doctor and the nurse, until, at the start of Part II, it emerges that no such reality exists.  There are no physical bodies present! It is all going on in the mind of Mr Green – (who is obviously, ultimately, Mr Fowles!) – who is essentially writing (in his mind) some scenes of pornography.

This is an echo of one of Descartes’ meditations, in which he wonders if he might be just a brain suspended in a vat by an evil demon, and that his brain imagines that it is attached to a body in an external environment.  (I know!  Descartes was a nut!)

(But think about today’s counsellors and psychiatrists.  Most counsellors think of the client as a floating mind!  And most psychiatrists think of the mind-brain as a chemical unit separate and apart from the stresses and strains of its social environment, its philosophy of life, and its personal history of experience!)

Towards the end of Part IV, it becomes obvious that all of the action being described within this narrative, is not actual action, but narrative within narrative; with a magical edge, provide by the presence of the Greek goddess, Erato: (originally introduced as the doctor of neurology!); and the pornographic ravings of a juvenile author (Fowles!)

There is a nod backwards towards Freud in this book; not alone by reducing all human activity to a sexual nightmare; but also these nuggets:

“Now listen closely, Mr Green”. (This is said by the doctor of neurology; who we later learn is the goddess Erato!) “I will try to explain one last time.  Memory is strongly attached to ego”. (NB: Ego is the English-psychoanalyst rendering of Freud’s concept of ‘the I’.)  “Your ego has lost in a conflict with your super-ego”, – (Super-ego is the English-psychoanalyst rendering of Freud’s concept of ‘the Over-I’ [the first instantiation of which is every baby’s mother]).  – “which has decided to repress it – to censor it”. (The concept of repression comes from Freud!) “All nurse and I wish to do is to enlist the aid of the third component of your psyche, the id”. (‘The id’ is the English-psychoanalyst rendering of Freud’s concept of ‘the It’; the ‘thing’ that we are at birth! The ‘whole thing’, body-brain-and-embryonic-mind). “Your id” writes Fowles, through the ethereal person of the doctor/goddess, “is that flaccid member pressed against my posterior.  It is potentially your best friend. And mine as your doctor.  Do you understand what I am saying?” (Page 31 of Mantissa).

So, I think some of my points are being ‘firmed up’ here (if you will pardon my inability to refrain from making a pun at the expense of Fowles and Freud!)  In particular, I think it is safe to say that ideas pass freely between philosophy, psychology and literature.  Each feeds off the other. There are no impermeable boundaries between those domains of thought!

And we have to be awake to this reality for various reasons which I will look at later.  The most obvious one being that fictions find their way into philosophy; and philosophical fictions find their way into psychology; and fictitious aspects of psychology inform counselling and psychotherapy!  And round and round!

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Back to Julian Barnes

Julian Barnes © Alan Edwards
Julian Barnes

Earlier I quoted a very strong argument by Julian Barnes, from the Preface of his book, Through the Window; in which he said: “Novels tell us the most truth about life…”.

However, if you read your texts closely, you will often be rewarded with insights like this: Barnes was inconsistent.

Really? In what way?

Well, just 45 words after the end of his strong claims about novels telling the most truth, we read this statement; the final statement of the Preface:

“The best fiction rarely provides answers; but it does formulate the questions exceptionally well”. (Emphasis added, JWB).

So, if we put his two main ideas together, we get this:

Novels tell us the most truth, but not in the form of answers; only in the form of questions!

Does that make any sense?  No.

Why not?

Because the novel actually presents imaginary scenarios as history. Reading those scenarios – and taking them at face value – the reader finds that certain questions automatically form within their body-brain-mind, based on their socialization; their past experiences; and their current circumstances.

The author cannot control which questions will form in the mind of the reader.

But what is the value of the questions that are thus formed by fictional writing?

The value is huge!  Why?  Because questions are the first and most essential part of what some people call ‘thinking’, but which I call ‘overt, conscious perfinking’ – where ‘perfinking’ means perceiving- feeling- thinking, all in one grasp of the mind.

So, novels impact us, by bringing up new thoughts, and especially questions, which, if we pursue them, may produce dramatic answers that shunt us out of a current reality into a range of new possibilities! In this sense, novels are potentially hugely therapeutic!

For this reason, I recommend novels – the very best novels – my counselling clients; and to my supervisees – counsellors who need to keep growing their hearts and minds; and improving thereby their body-brain-mind-environment-complexity!

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How did the body get into the previous statement?

Heckler-Anatomy-of-change.jpgIt might have been difficult to answer the question – ‘What does the body have to do with reading and/or writing novels?’

Except, while I was scanning the pages of John Fowles’ Mantissa, Renata came over to me and showed me a book she had found: ‘The Anatomy of Change: A way to move through life’s transitions’. This book was written by Richard Strozzi Heckler (1993), a teacher of Aikido (which is a system of Japanese unarmed combat – which I studied briefly at the Dublin Judo Club, in 1991-’62). Heckler’s philosophy of life can be summed up like this:

Renata pointed me at a section on Living in the Body; in which Heckler describes how he was once hired by a juvenile detention centre, where he was to work with difficult juveniles who were violent offenders.  He worked with one, physically huge, and very angry young man who expressed the desire to kill somebody, because he was so angry. Heckler, intuitively, and pragmatically, told this youth that he could show him precisely how to kill somebody.  The youth was hooked, and they began to work on the Aikido pressure points.  But this youth’s physical energies prevented him easily learning what needed to be learned; and so Heckler began to work on his body, to get him to the state where he could master the Aikido pressure points that he wanted to learn. However, through the process of focusing his attention on his own body, and learning to release tensions, this youth lost his interest in killing anybody. He was beginning to live in his body; and he realized it was more interesting to find out about himself than to kill anybody.

Moving a muscle can change a thought, and/or an emotion.  Physical training is profoundly stress reducing.  It teaches physical self-confidence.  And, the softening of ‘body armouring’ can release the person’s feelings, intuitions, and compassion, and, according to Heckler, it can heal our physical and emotional wounds.  (That certainly lines up with my own experience at the Dublin Judo Club [which was actually called the Irish Judo Association at the point when I joined]).  Our experiences shape our body-brain-mind; and we can begin to loosen and reframe our most troubling experiences by working from the body-side of our body-brain-mind, or from the mind-side of our body-brain-mind.

Conclusion

honetpie
Dr Jim Byrne

Reading a novel on the way to and from your equivalent of the Judo Club will double your progress in healing your body-brain-mind; and seeing a good, wise, broadminded counsellor, at some point each week, will also help!

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PS: If you want to see the kind of range of ideas that I write about, please go to Books about Emotive-Cognitive Therapy (E-CENT).***

That’s all for today.

Best wishes,

Jim

 

Dr Jim Byrne

Doctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

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Reading, writing, literature and self-healing

Blog Post No. 168

By Dr Jim Byrne

15th July 2018

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Dr Jim’s Blog: Literature, personal writing of fiction, and therapeutic healing of the heart and mind

Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, July 2018

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Introduction

Call out about LiteratureIndividual Life is a gift, bestowed by Collective Life, upon fragments of Living Stuff.  Life is a rolling floor-show of life living itself!

We come into existence knowing nothing; and guessing what life might be about.  We stumble through childhood, suffering the blows of negative treatment, and savouring the kiss of good fortune.  We float into adolescence with the naiveté of a baby encountering its first crocodile! And, if we are fortunate, we encounter love in our late twenties, or our early thirties, and feel the full range of emotions: from ecstatic and sweet joy, to fearful and angry insecurity.

Often, we need to encounter the possibility of love in more than one relationship before we can make sense of this ennobling and devastating emotion.  We seek words for our experiences of love and hate, joy and devastation, only to fall back again and again into the void of unknowing: the wordless pit of unconsciousness.

If we are fortunate, we will discover some aspects of the great literature of those who traversed these trackless voids of human beginnings and developments before us; and we may feel in our hearts and guts the pains and pleasures, the defeats and victories, that those who went before us felt and described.

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On being human

DrJimCounselling002The highest calling of a human being is to make sense of our own life, as moral beings, and to share that understanding with those who follow along behind us, so that they might avoid – or traverse more smoothly – the swamps and volcanoes that we had to endure.

Whether we are born in the smallest village in Ireland, or the largest suburb of the largest city in the United States of America; or somewhere in South America; or South Asia, or Central Africa; there is nothing to say that we may not have the latest parable of human suffering and divine love on the tip of our tongues!

Full cover 3

So speak to the world of your journey, that you might know where you have been; and that others might benefit from your journey!

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Regarding literature

Donna_Tartt_The_GoldfinchThe reading of good quality literature – from any and every era of the novel and the stage play – is emotionally educating, and healing of traumatic past experiences.  You can recover from sadness and depression; anger towards the world; and defeatist timidity: Just by exposing your mind and heart to the stories of others who went before you.

The writing of semi-autobiographical stories – with some, little emotional distance from direct, personal experience – is a great way to indirectly digest past traumatic or difficult experiences.

A good semi-autobiographical story, built on fragments learned from the insights of generations of novelists and other authors, is a great way to pass on personal healing examples and therapeutic gifts.  And that is what I have tried to do in my story about Daniel O’Beeve.***

I would like to encourage readers to begin to write short pieces, stories – in semi-autobiographical form – about their own difficulties in the past.  It will help you enormously to grow your emotional literacy (or EQ).

Please take a look at my story if you need a template, or some guidance on how to fictionalise a life story.  Link to Daniel O’Beeve’s story.***

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PS: About an hour after I posted this blog, Daniel’s story became available on Amazon, here: Daniel O’Beeve’s story at Amazon.co.uk.***

And here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1722816821/

And here: https://www.amazon.ca/dp/1722816821/

For more links, please go here: https://abc-counselling.org/2018/07/15/reading-writing-literature-and-self-healing/

That’s all for the moment.  I hope you try this therapeutic writing approach, and gain enormously from using it!

Best wishes,

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

jim.byrne@abc-counselling.com

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Coaching quotations for success and happiness

Blog Post No. 59

11th June 2018 (Updated on 12th June)

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2018

Renata’s Coaching Blog: Quotations for success and happiness: Ideas can change your life

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Introduction

Increasing our well-being, success and happiness as humans is a multi-faceted process!

In this short blog I want to share with you some fabulous quotes which I’ve come across in the course of my research.  My hope is that these little ideas will spark some new thinking of your own, and make a contribution to your growing success and happiness.

Nata's June blog post2What I like about these authors is that they don’t mince words – they go straight to the point.

These quotes are like nuggets of gold: precious because of the willingness of the people who share them to be honest, and pass on their insights and lived experience. I thank them all for that!

These quotes cover the different aspects of what it means to be human. As human animals our level of activity and exercise is very important for our well-being, as is the amount and quality of sleep we have, the quality of our diets, how to handle the challenge of very difficult life events, resisting social pressure to conform to others’ rules, staying true to ourselves, and how we nurture and manage our relationships with our families and friends.

If we ignore the knowledge and authority in these statements, then we are the ones who will pay the price, sooner or later.

Here’s an introductory quote:

“People are more concerned with figuring out which direction their car is going, than in finding out the direction of their life, health and where their relationships are going”.

Jonathan Robinson

This quote wakes us up to the fact that it is very easy to become over-involved in what is directly in front of us, instead of watching where we are going in life!

The well-being quotations

1. This quote is based on extensive research, and, if adopted by people, will have an immediate impact on their sense of well-being as they go about their daily jobs and commitments. It’s from Shawn Stevenson, a best-selling author and the founder of the Model Health Show in America:

“Your sleep quality and the quality of your life go hand in hand…….Unless you give your body the right amount of sleep you will never, I repeat never, have the body and life that you want to have”.

Shawn Stevenson

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2. I particularly like this one, from the Earl of Derby:

“Those who don’t find time for exercise will have to find time for illness”.

The Earl of Derby

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This statement by the Earl of Derby is one of the things that motivates me to do my physical exercise, most days of the week.  Without this insight, I might think my exercises were ‘wasting valuable time’!

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3. This next quotation is the opinion of Dr Kelly Brogan – (a practising psychiatrist, trained medical doctor, with a degree in cognitive neuroscience, and she describes the work she does with her patients as ‘lifestyle medicine’). This is her assessment of of the pointlessness of applying chemical solutions to people’s problems:

“If you think a chemical pill can save, cure or ‘correct’ you, you’re dead wrong. That is about as misguided as taking aspirin for a nail stuck in your foot”.

Dr Kelly Brogan

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4. This next quote, from Claudia Black, explains the need to have boundaries that protect you from hostility and destructive criticism in your immediate social environment:

“Surround yourself with people who respect you and treat you well.”

Claudia Black

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Implicit in Claudia Black’s statement, above, is the idea that we should not associate with people who are bad for us.  And also, when people – who are basically good for us – say or do things that offend us, we have to defend ourselves from those attacks.

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5. On the theme of self-care, here is an excellent quote:

“You can’t give to your family or others out of an empty cup – Practice extreme self-care”. (Anon)

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6. On the same subject of self-care, and handling criticism from others, here is a powerful quote from Leila Hoteit, an Arab businesswoman. She defines resilience as the ability to transform shit (sexism, racial prejudice, destructive criticism, etc) into fuel, as she states in her fabulous TED talk:

“Convert their shit into your fuel!”

Leila Hoteit

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7. Life is always throwing new learning experiences at us, and here is a lovely quote by Thomas Szasz, which explains why it’s harder for us to learn when we get older:

“Every act of conscious learning requires a willingness to suffer an injury to one’s self-esteem. That’s why young children, before they are aware of their own self-importance, learn so easily”.

Thomas Szasz

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8. In the next quotation, J.K. Rowling passes on some great advice about what you will gain when problems happen in your life:

“You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity. Such knowledge is a true gift, for all that it is painfully won, and (my own adversities and struggles have) been worth more than any qualification I have ever learned.”

J.K. Rowling

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9. Here is a very useful and helpful quote by Dan Coyle, which assists us in re-framing past test and exam failures and interpersonal skills deficits:

“If you don’t have early success, don’t quit. Instead, treat your early efforts as experiments, not as verdicts.”

Dan Coyle

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10. The final quote is one from John Wooden, a world-famous coach. It reminds me of the idea (from Carol Dweck) that we can have an open or a closed mind-set.

“If I am through learning, I am through!”

John Wooden

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Conclusion

Nata-Lifestyle-coach92I hope you have enjoyed these quotes and that you find one or two of them useful.

They can change the way we view the world, or ourselves, and point the way for us to improve our well-being if we want the rewards.

I recommend that you treat yourself and have a look at the quotes in small, independent bookshops, as well as the major bookshops like W.H. Smith’s and Waterstone’s, in the UK. This process, of looking for ideas in the form of brief quotations, can be very illuminating and boost your energy at the same time.  Or, as John Steinbeck famously wrote:

“Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.” 

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Best wishes,

Renata

Renata Taylor-Byrne

Lifestyle Coach-Counsellor

The Coaching/Counselling Division

Email: renata@abc-counselling.org

Telephone: 01422 843 629

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philosophy of happiness and success

Blog Post No. 55

6th January  2018

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2018

Renata’s Coaching Blog: A philosophy of happiness and success for 2018

Five powerful quotations that change people’s lives!

Here’s a selection of treasures from the past which strengthen us in the present

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Introduction

Some simple words and phrases, created by others, can help us to survive in this complex world that is saturated with excessive information and bad news. Our thoughts, feelings and behaviours are all interconnected.  And some insights from profound thinkers can change the way we think-feel-act.  For this reason, if you change your philosophy of life, you can become happier, healthier and more successful, at home and in work.

In this blog I want to present a brief range of profound insights which have woken me up, and which can awaken you to a new way to think, feel and act in your new year of opportunity: 2018.

These quotations are like a dose of medicine, strong and powerful, (and without side effects); which can ground you in your body-mind and your actual surroundings; and awaken you to the stunning world in which you live; thus recharging your energy, and providing optimism for the year ahead.

These insights have worked wonders for me – and I hope they help you to be happier, healthier and more successful in the period ahead!

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Teddy Roosevelt quotes

Theodore (“Teddy”) Roosevelt was an American president who had strong views about how to live. He won a Nobel Peace prize and entered political office in 1901. The following quotation from him is magnificent – because it forces us to reign back our minds from fantasies and re-orient ourselves to the reality around us, and our limitations. We aren’t superhuman; and we need to manage our bodies, and our environments, carefully, and not exhaust ourselves. This is it:

Roosevelt-1

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The next quote by Roosevelt was one that I heard for the first time at a Landmark Forum, (or Personal Development marathon), in Leeds, many years ago. And I was blown away by it. It states, very eloquently, the warning message that, whatever we do in life, there will be people on the side-lines criticising us, and trying to demotivate and divert us from our goals. But to live our lives fully we need to be in the arena of life, striving to find our way forward. (Imagine a massive football stadium with you in the centre, dealing with life and its challenges).The glory doesn’t go to the critics, sitting in the stands; but to the millions of heroic people who struggle through life to achieve their goals.  Here are the words that moved me:

Proper-Roosevelt-critic-quote

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We now move on to a statement by Lao Tzu, an ancient Chinese sage, who created Taoist philosophy, and who lived in the 6th century BCE. His profound insights were written down and put in to a book called the “Tao Te Ching”, and I strongly recommend that you read this book, many times.

Lao Tzu 

This is the bit I mean:

Lao-Tsu

In this quotation, Lao Tzu is advising us to work at accepting reality and accepting change as a constant part of our lives. (But please remember, it’s okay to try to change those things which are changeable, as we will see when we look at Epictetus, below). And Lao Tzu is also saying that blocking change is not a constructive thing to do. This is not easy to accept, and at times it can seem overwhelming. However, it is, he implies, the wisest way to live our lives.

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Epictetus and the question of control…

This leads us into one of my really top quotes, which I use myself, by reminding myself of its wisdom, whenever I become upset about the nature of reality. I also mention it to my coaching/counselling clients, because of its simple clarification of our personal boundaries. It comes from an ancient Greco-Roman philosopher called Epictetus. He was born in 55 CE in Turkey and was one of the most famous Stoic philosophers. (I advocate the use of the moderate elements of his philosophy, but I reject, and warn against using, his extremist views: such as the one where he asserts that we are not upset by what happens to us! [All our heroes have feet of clay!])

This quote, below, states that there are some things that we can control and some things that are definitely beyond our control. This sounds glaringly obvious, but it isn’t! Lots of human suffering arises when we try to change something which we can’t – because we haven’t got the power. And all too often, humans continue to try to change things which are beyond their control – and this makes them very frustrated and unhappy. To be really happy we’d better actually work at sussing out what we can control, and forget about trying to change those things, events and people which we cannot change or affect in any significant way.  Here’s that relevant statement:

Proper-epictetus

The question of personal change…

Finally, this last quote explains why there are limits in the control that we have over other people. Marilyn Ferguson was an American author, editor and public speaker who specialised in personal and social transformation. She was born in 1938, and died in 2008. Her quote describes the truth that people can’t be forced to change – it’s up to them and they are (often) firmly in charge of their own growth processes (in those areas which they can control! This is what she said:

Proper-marilyn-ferguson-quote

Conclusion

Reading the views and ideas of thoughtful and wise people, who have lived before us, can be very helpful – as indicated above. They can broaden our view of life; and help us to manage our emotions in difficult circumstances.  They enrich the wealth of knowledge that can be passed down in our families, and can be therapeutic for us and our nearest and dearest.

Their views can act like compasses or road maps, and help us make our way through life more easily. The quotes I have selected above are some of my favourite, treasured principles; and I strongly recommend that you look for your own, which will nourish you when times get tough. (But please remember, all our heroes have feet of clay.  So we’d better read their writings critically, and try to avoid following their errors or unhelpful thoughts.

As a lifestyle coach/counsellor, I am always looking for examples of the practical and useful wisdom of others, which can strengthen my clients as they make their courageous way through life. I hope you find this blog post helpful; and I hope you also search for and find some really good wisdom quotes for yourself.

That’s all for today.

If you need to clarify your thinking or feelings, call me to arrange a conversation.

Best wishes,

Renata

Renata Taylor-Byrne

Lifestyle Coach-Counsellor

The Coaching/Counselling Division

Email: renata@abc-counselling.org

Telephone: 01422 843 629

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Sleep, learning, health and happiness

Blog Post No. 53

14th October 2017

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2017


Renata’s Coaching Blog:

Do you want to feel better tomorrow morning, at no cost? The amazing power of sleep can transform your life

Introduction

This blog is a rave review of a book review I read, two weeks ago, in the Sunday Times Culture Magazine (October 1st 2017). It was written by James McConnachie.

He was reviewing ‘Why we sleep’- a book written by Matthew Walker, who is a professor of neuroscience and psychology at Berkeley, California.  The book was published in September of this year.

Sleeping -baby

Vital facts about sleep

McConnachie has done a very clear and fluent analysis of this book, ‘Why we sleep’, and has picked out some fascinating facts about why sleep is so important, and how we could all benefit from being more aware of its importance. In this blog post, I will present some of these gems so you can have the latest findings on sleep and how it makes you feel better.  Of course, to gain the benefits, you would have to take on board the implications of the research findings. They really clarify, on the basis of sound research, the importance of sleep for our well-being.

Sleeping-man

A vital fact: We need a minimum of 8 hours sleep every night!

If you think you can get by on less than 8 hours sleep a night, then you are most likely wrong.  According to Matthew Walker:

“You have forgotten what it is like to function properly”.

Sleep-book-coverWalker estimates that 2 out of 5 people in the UK are not having the sleep that they need, and he points out the consequences of not having enough sleep, which you may not be aware of. I will now present some of those consequences.

What happens when we don’t get enough sleep?

Short sleepers eat an average of 300 calories extra per day, adding up to 10lb to 15lb of weight gain over a year! This is because people who don’t get enough sleep tend to eat more. (Their bodies produce more ghrelin, which is a hormone that makes you feel hungry. They also produce less leptin, which is the hormone that makes you feel full up). You also become vulnerable to some of those medical conditions which sleep protects us from.  What are those conditions?

Appetite

Sleep protects us from:

According to Walker’s research, sleep protects us from:

# Influenza

# Infections

# Dementia

# Heart disease; and:

# Mental ill health. (Walker states that: “There is no major psychiatric condition in which sleep is [found to be] normal”.)

Adequate sleep also protects us from car crashes. (Drowsiness, resulting from sleep deprivation or insufficiency causes more road accidents than drugs and alcohol combined).

Walker also states that adults of 45 and over, who sleep fewer than 6 hours a night, are 200% more likely to have a heart attack or stroke!

So what are the benefits of adequate sleep, apart from removing the risks listed above?

What having enough sleep gives you

The research results show that, adequate sleep will help you in the following ways:

# You will have more energy (and be more productive);

# You control your weight better;

# It makes you more creative;

# It makes you more emotionally intelligent and able to pick up vital, subtle, non-verbal and verbal cues from people in interpersonal communication; and:

# It makes you look younger!

Some ‘killer facts’ mentioned in the book

Matthew-WalkerIn addition to these benefits, Walker mentions two other important facts.  The first concerns sleep, and the other learning and memory (of particular interest to students).

Firstly, it has been discovered that a single night of inadequate sleep (of just 4 hours) destroys 70% of the ‘natural killer cells’ in the immune system!  Those killer cells are what protects us from various pathogenic invaders of our bodies.

Secondly, if you are a student trying to learn new information, Matthew Walker has some great advice for you:

On his ‘You Tube’ talk entitled ‘Why We Sleep’, he shows the power of sleep in relation to learning and memory:

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What All-nighters do to your learning efficiency

As described in the video clip above, Walker did some research on sleep and learning.  One of the things he investigated was this: If we go to an all-night party (or cram for an exam all night), and have no sleep, would it affect our ability to learn the following day? Dr Walker wanted to test the hypothesis (a testable statement), that “Pulling an all-nighter is a good idea”, so he set up a research experiment:

Two groups of healthy young adults were split into a ‘Sleep’ group and a ‘Sleep Deprivation’ group. The ‘Sleep’ group were going to get a full eight hours’ sleep, and the ‘Deprivation’ group were going to keep awake all night, under supervision, with no caffeine or naps.

Then the following day, the members of each group were placed in an MRI scanner – (which can monitor their brain functioning) – and were asked to learn a whole list of new facts, as snapshots were taken of their brains’ activities. Following that, the participants were all tested to see how effective the learning had been.

When the learning efficiency of the two groups was compared, there was an amazing 40% difference in the ability of the brain to make new memories as between the two groups. So all-nighters have to pay a mental price tag in terms of almost halving their ability to learn!

If you are a student, or learning new material of any kind, then this has to be ‘a wakeup call’ for you (if you will pardon the paradoxical pun!).

Matthew Walker made the following statement in response to these findings, about the impact of sleep on our ability to learn new information:

“This should be frightening considering what we know in our education populations right now about what is happening to sleep. It would be the difference between ‘aceing’ an exam and failing it miserably”

He goes on to say:

It’s been recently discovered that you need sleep before learning, to prepare your brain, so it’s almost like a dry sponge, ready to soak up new information.

Sleep after learning is essential to hit the ‘SAVE’ button on those new memories so you don’t forget them”. 

He then also goes on to state that:

“Without sleep our memory circuits effectively become waterlogged and you can’t absorb information.”

So, to be clear, we need adequate sleep to prepare to soak up new information; and we need adequate sleep afterwards to consolidate the learning (in the form of memory traces in the brain).

Conclusion

This evidence about the importance of sleep has emerged over the last 20 years, and has massive implications for our health, and our ability to learn, to interact with others effectively, and to enjoy life.

Since I read the review by James McConnachie, I have been religiously making sure I get at least 8 hours’ sleep per night, and intend to get Matthew Walker’s book. I strongly recommend it, and also watching him talking on ‘You Tube.’

But please bear in mind: This blog has given you some of the latest information about sleep from an expert. I’ve just given you some declarative knowledge (which means that you’ve now got some information that can be retained or stored; or articulated or stated to another person). This has to be distinguished from what we call ‘procedural knowledge’.  That is to say, knowing how to tie shoe laces is not at all the same thing as being able to tie shoe laces.

If you want this information about sleep to improve your quality of life – your health and relationships, your learning and memorizing ability, and safety when driving – then you need to turn this information into procedural knowledge.

You need to actively change your sleep patterns, which are most likely well established habits!

You need to be able to stick to your commitment to change your sleep habits, and assertively alter them in the face of possible pressure from others. As Dr Phil said, “This is when the rubber hits the road”.

renata-taylor-byrne-lifestyle-coachIf you want support in doing this, that’s when coaching can be a great moral and practical support. So contact me if you want to take on board these findings and change your sleep patterns for the better.

That’s all for now.

Best wishes,

Renata

Renata Taylor-Byrne

Lifestyle Coach-Counsellor

The Coaching/Counselling Division

Email: renata@abc-counselling.org

Telephone: 01422 843 629

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Sleep,