Time to Leave the Basement

The Skylight Question

Left to our own devices, we like the basement. It’s cosy, warm and undemanding. We have thrown cushions all over the floor, there is a widescreen TV and DVD with surround sound and the floor is littered with our favourite films. After heading in through the front door it’s easy to fall down the steps to this subterranean den filled with our favourite things. The hi-fi goes on at the press of a button and our lifetime soundtrack plays.

This is especially true after a hard day. We arrive home weary, bruised, feeling like a trapped animal. All we want to do is find the familiar dent in the cushions in our favourite room and fall into it.

Our brains are structured that way too. We may have a billion neurons per square millimetre in our brains but we have familiar cosy places there too. The axon that connects one neuron to another (communicating information, memory and feelings like an electrical conductor) tells it that there’s no point doing anything different because the outcome will always be the same. This reinforces the myelin sheath that surrounds the axon that transmits the behaviour that we always display at these times. The more often we exhibit this behaviour, the more embedded it becomes and the less likely it is that we will change it.  Hence red anger spasms; habitual behaviour, automatic responses, addiction, violent ‘away-from’ reactions, childish behaviour when confronted by familiar threats.

Down in the basement the comfortable music plays and even when we don’t like the décor any more and the music has worn thin and repetitive we still go there because we don’t know where else to go.

One day it becomes unbearable. It’s as if a fire has broken out in our well-worn den and the flames are licking at our nest. We run up the stairs, a decision forced upon us by circumstance, but a meta-action – not really our choice. The arguments for and against making a life-changing decision have just been transferred up a level. We desperately hope as we run that the fire down below will be contained and we can recreate our comfort zone on the floor above.

But the fire doesn’t stop. It follows up the stairs and forces us to move up another flight. We could fight but it’s easier to run and we move up again, desperate to find safety, non-aggression, non-confrontation, the status quo again.

The fire pursues us. All the decisions we’ve been putting off for years are being dragged behind us in a hastily grabbed blanket. As we move up floor by floor they become a little heavier.

Finally we get to the attic. And our bag of pluses and minuses, ‘if I do this then I lose that’ stalemates is dragged up with us. The flames and heat are also climbing the stairs behind us. That really big decision about that activity, relationship, life decision, ‘I can’t help it’ action is trying to suffocate us. The heat is becoming unbearable. If I do that, then this will happen. What do I value most?

Then you spot the skylight. Through it the stars twinkle unperturbed by your plight. Outside the night sky is cool, clean and free.

Inside, the flames are moving up a step at a time. You open your bag of indecision and look inside. The ‘Either/Or’ option is already smouldering. The skylight beckons. Beyond it lies just one question.

‘What do you value more than any of this?’

As you open the skylight and climb through, leaving your bundle of old contradictions behind, there is room for you and the answer to that question. Nothing else.

When you climb through into the fresh air and freedom, you realise that you knew the answer to that question all along.

And you take it with you.

The Trouble with Rock Pools

 

 

A life in the shallows (c) Callum Stannard Photography

The Trouble with Rock Pools

The trouble with rock pools

Lies in their ability to amuse for hours

Within the umbilical of the shore

Brand new worlds in a bucket

Full of small, perfectly formed life

Not going very far.

Toe-dipping experience, warm, comfortable

Filled with tiny creatures of no moment

Inching their way around pebbles

Winking at you with their baby claws

Raised in small battlefield surrender

Our shadows fly over the surface, somehow

More courageous, yet not immersed

The seaweed is a figleaf not a forest,

Easy to look beneath and the silver shadows

darting hint at more but we always get less.

The sun shines on the familiar, warming and dispersing

A step away from condensation, the tide runs half a lap

The seagulls move in different circles

The first wind never quite gets its second

We are safe where we can see, sure

That we will never be out of our depth

We paddle, not plunge

The trails of our life idle on the surface

Too small even for horizons

Learned in an instant, available the same time tomorrow

Same time, same place, same me

Asking is this a small break in the beach

Or a taste of the ocean?

The trouble with rock pools

Lies with our fascination with life in the shallows

Instead of the land out to sea.

 

 

Roy Stannard

7th October 2010

 

Life and depth (c) Callum Stannard photography

Faith in a Big Society


Faith that we're going somewhere

The Big Society as defined by David Cameron and the new Right puts the wider community ahead of narrow self-interest. Without faith this won’t work.

Faith tells us:

  • That when we flick a switch there will be electricity
  • That paying into a mortgage is an investment in the future
  • That this is not all there is
  • That tomorrow will arrive as usual
  • That the future will be better than the past
  • That it is worth helping our neighbour
  • That we are not just the sum of our chemical components
  • That Society (Big or otherwise) has a future

We negotiate life hoping that the future will bear fruit. Without faith, family planning would be a family gamble. Without faith, we wouldn’t sacrifice for the future – the present would be a cynical, nihlistic pig’s trough of satiated appetites. Nothing to hold onto – or for.

The opposite of faith is worthlessness, helplessness and hopelessness. Or put it another way – despair.

Human Beings need faith

How God changes your brain (2009) / Born to Believe (2006) – Andrew Newberg MD and Mark Robert Waldman

These very astute Psychologists have produced research to show how human beings are wired for a belief in and an antenna for God. Humans need to believe in something. Time spent meditating improves memory and slows down neurological damage caused by growing old. They show that energy spent dwelling on negative thoughts for any longer than 20 seconds starts to damage the physiology of the brain. At Powerchange we call this the 19 seconds theory. Spend any longer than that on bad stuff and it will take ten times as long to repair the damage. Newberg and Waldman argue that we have a God neuron in the brain that expands the more we contemplate spiritual matters. The more we tune in, the better the reception.

Maybe that’s why, for many, God is more of a feeling than an idea. God came to earth because he was lonely and missed us and was prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice in order to get us back. Logically, this seems absurd. Delusional. But there is a wellspring of desire in our hearts that wants it to be true. Faith and hope speak to our hearts more than to our heads.

People with faith tend to live longer, live happier lives, have longer marriages, divorce less and have less illness. Oh yes, and they have fewer heart attacks..

Even atheists think faith is a good idea.

Matthew Parris – ‘As an Atheist I truly believe that Africa needs God’ published in The Sunday Times Dec 28th 2008

“Christianity .. offers something to hold on to to those anxious to cast off a crushing tribal groupthink. That is why and how it liberates.”

Joan McGregor, Professor of philosophy and bioethics at Arizona State University, contends that the mind can influence the body, citing the power of prayer, meditation and social groups.

“We waste a lot of money on drugs and invasive therapies when we could go in another direction,” she says, “We ought to be studying this and harnessing the power of the mind.”

Professor Tor Wager, Professor of Psychology at Columbia University has researched the role of placebo in the human brain:

“The human brain is not like a machine, but like a river with a lot of ongoing processes,” said Wager. “What you do when you give someone a drug is you nudge that and produce all sorts of ripple effects.”

Wager has shown how the neurochemistry of the placebo effect can relieve pain in humans. He found that the placebo effect caused the brains of test volunteers to release more of a natural painkiller.

The placebo effect is an improvement in a medical condition caused by a patient’s belief as opposed to actual treatment.

The human being naturally generates faith in the process of healing. Healing results even when no actual chemical or clinical intervention is made. Our psychology needs faith wired into it. Take it away and illness, darkness and death result.

Why do We Need Faith?

Because jumping over the ledge into the unknown is better than certain death in the burning building.

Even if God were a placebo, we would still keep a packet of him on our person. What Dawkins and the selfish mob fail to realise is that the human race is better off believing in the idea of God.

Take that away and you take away hope.

Extinguishing the desire to smoke

Take a deep breath and go for it..

You are not a ‘smoker’, you are someone who smokes.

After four hours of coaching Miss Y was set to go, but something seemed not to be right. It was clear that she still harboured a desire to have a cigarette and that this was troubling her. The smoking habit had become a barrier to her doing anything else. If she couldn’t give up smoking how could she expect to achieve her other goals?

Nothing's too big to kick..

I asked her to light up a cigarette and smoke in front of me. She refused. I persisted. She said that she could not smoke in my house. Despite her desire to smoke she could conquer her habit in order to conform with her interpretation of the ‘rules’ of the house. The competing commitment not to offend me and my house rules was greater than her desire to smoke.

I pointed out that this meant that she and not her habit were in control of her smoking behaviour. That she could NOT smoke if she chose. This meant that she could choose not to smoke if she wished. We then made the cigarettes the villains of the piece and then focused on what she wanted more. The answer to that question was – ‘Life’. What did life consist of? Marriage, children, love, happiness, independence and a good job. These are things she wanted more. In the arena of competing commitments, these would win.

What do you want more?

I asked her again if she would like to smoke. She declined. I asked if she wanted to go outside to smoke. She again declined. I asked her to imagine a situation in the future similar to one in the past where she would be confronted by a situation that in the past would have led to her smoking. She said that she would not smoke – that the desire to smoke had gone. She left her packet of cigarettes and lighter on the table and said that she would not need these anymore.

If you would like to quit smoking try asking yourself these questions:

  1. How do you know that you are addicted to smoking?
  2. What advantages are there in calling it an addiction? If it wasn’t an addiction what would it be instead?
  3. Do you smoke when you are asleep?
  4. Do you smoke in front of children?
  5. Do you smoke indoors?
  6. How clean does the air have to be before you will consider not polluting it?
  7. Were you born with a habit? Did you have a habit before you were born?
  8. When did you first decide that this behaviour would give you what you wanted?
  9. Who are you surrendering to when you give in?
  10. Does anyone else make you behave this way?
  11. Whose rules are you living your life by?
  12. Who benefits from your repeated behaviour?
  13. Who decides when you repeat this behaviour and when you don’t?
  14. Whose hand creates this behaviour?
  15. It’s interesting that as we grow up we leave learned behaviour behind when it stops being useful – like using a potty or crossing a road with an adult – what could you leave behind?
  16. What does this behaviour that you learned much earlier in your life still give you?
  17. Assuming you don’t behave like this all the time, what do you decide when you don’t behave this way?
  18. What are the hidden advantages of continuing to do what you are doing?
  19. If the advantages are cancelling out the disadvantages leaving you in stalemate, what does this mean?
  20. If you were the rulemaker what would you change to break the stalemate?
  21. What rules are there that people can apply when they can’t decide between two equally powerful options?
  22. When might you decide that stalemate is a good place to be?
  23. What do you do when you think you can’t win?
  24. If this is a game, what game would you rather be playing?
  25. If you noticed that you have been hiding something, how is hiding helping you?
  26. What would honesty give you instead?
  27. Could honesty help you create a set of new rules?
  28. How have your goals, longings and aspirations changed since you started this behaviour?
  29. What was the difference between behaviours that lasted and those that didn’t?
  30. Supposing that you could draw upon energy any time that you needed it, what difference would that make?
  31. How do people who DON’T succumb to habitual behaviour not do it?
  32. When did you first notice that you were doing this behaviour?
  33. Who made this decision for you?
  34. What would happen if this behaviour were so unique to you that only you could control it?
  35. When you DON’T do repeated behaviour who makes that decision?
  36. If you control the decision not to do it, who controls your decision to do it?
  37. What would it be like to put out one of your fears instead?
  38. Looking back in six months time what did you decide today that changed everything?
  39. Do you want to do something better instead? What could that be?
  40. Supposing freedom meant fresh air?
  41. What would happen if you had to accept responsibility for what you do and how you do it?
  42. When would a good time be to start?
  43. What would happen if someone like you made a good decision for and about themselves?
  44. What do you want more than to just carry on as you are?
  45. Think of a situation in the future where you would have reacted as you did in the past. How are you reacting now?

Smoking is not an illness in the conventional sense. It’s a learned automatic behaviour – at Powerchange.com we call it Auto-Response Psychology. You decided to start. This may have been prompted by a trauma or even an absence of something in your life. Since then, when that original feeling has repeated itself, you reach automatically for a cigarette. The pre-conditions may be boredom, loneliness, stress, hunger, looking cool. These are the triggers – or they used to be. The questions above will have re-wired these responses. You decide when you smoke. You do not smoke continuously (certainly not when you are asleep) and so you already make choices.

Why not choose life instead?

The cigarette is not a person, not a controlling, sentient being. It does not make decisions. It is a passive object. It only lights when you light it. Other people have given up easily when they realise this. You can too.

You are not a ‘smoker’, you are a human being who used to smoke.

You are in control. How does it feel to be someone who has regained control?

Now go and do that thing you wanted to do instead.

More information on addiction and phobia release at www.powerchange.com 

The Art of Self-Presentation

Spot the light. Then reflect it back.

Ok, you have been asked to present a training seminar. Or make a speech.
You. The You that normally chokes when asked for the time. Lost for words? More like abandoned in a huge wide open space called low self esteem.

It'll all come out in the mouthwash..

We’ll deal with the self-worth issue elsewhere – but let’s get you through that presentation and then you can ask me later about how to rewire your self-worth to 100%. It should take about 30 minutes.

So let’s assume that you have the responsibility to populate the Seminar. How do you get an audience? Simples.

Contact

How will they hear about your event in the first place?

Quality of initial contact is very important. ‘You only have one opportunity to make a first impression.’
Was it Facebook, Linked In or Meetup.com – is it your immediate circle or a little wider. Remember that they have chosen to attend.
That’s quite a compliment to little ol’ you.

Connect

Warming up is essential to any worthwhile connection. This is about demonstrating your trustworthiness in the early part of the Seminar. Create an honest, unsophisticated atmosphere, taking time to honour them, love them, honour their commitment and interest (they have chosen to come). Never overestimate their knowledge – or underestimate their intelligence.

Take time to make people feel good: laughter, looking at them easily – plenty of eye contact, so they can connect with you. Avoid using a lectern and having any furniture between you and them.  Trust yourself.
Take this time to introduce yourself and your organisation/interest/cause/department/whatever, some of the things you offer – and a comment on how being involved has changed your life (or at the very least, your week!). Be honest, without being negative or apologetic.
Thank people for being understanding about anything that goes awry. Love what you say. Say what you love.
Embrace your audience. Endorse, honour, value, praise, reassure, approve them.
Steer their attention to small gems that will change their thinking, rather than blanket knowledge that is easily ignored.
When possible, increase psychological buy-in by having participants sign a register: Name, email, phone, address, how they heard about you. This is ESSENTIAL for your future involvement with these people. Make sure EVERYTHING is perceived as to their advantage (and make sure it is!)

How to overcome the fluttery stuff..

Start this connect process at the moment of contact. This may be when someone meets you in the loo before you come into the room, or as you’re chatting with someone else. It is the peripheral information they will go with most convincingly.

Get some two-way connection. This is easily done by asking if it is too hot/cold in here, or setting some deliberately co-operative activities: Have people stand up, and/or do the Power of Pretend Exercise (Assume it, produce it – pretend you are happy, and lo and behold after five minutes of faking it you really are!). Passing round notes etc. is great. If you’re following another seminar, have them stretch and chat. Be ultra-sensitive and make space for people’s humanity.
Build unity by focusing on what the people in the room have in common. (Honour individuality too) Make notices work for you:
Where the toilets are. Phones: “It’s easy to forget to switch off your mobile phone so if you’re not sure, do feel completely free to check it now.”

Content

People have different learning styles. (You didn’t know that? Contact me if you want to know more).

Now is the time to enjoy using them! The major element of this is to start with the purpose of the seminar. Have something for each person.
Live your brand. What you are THINKING will come out. If you don’t want it to, change it.
What do you want people to absorb, pick up ‘through their skin’? Send it out through YOUR skin!
Do you really need notes? Avoid if you can.  Learn thoroughly what you have to do in the session, so it is part of you.

Continuity

What do YOU want out of this for the future?  Identify the multiple wins. There will be massive opportunities for you if you want to take them. Keep the purpose of the seminar at the front of your mind.

Remember the ‘silken thread’ of business development: most of your business comes from 20% (sometimes just 3%) of your effort – but you don’t know which 20% until later!
Offer several clearly different opportunities for participants to follow up the session. One expensive, one exclusive, one affordable.

Enjoy yourself. They will too. Promise.

The ultra-relaxed look - Roy Stannard with an audience in his pocket

This article is based on the methods used by Powerchange Ltd – the Company I am involved with – for more see www.powerchange.com

Off the map?

Are you out there?

How often have you heard the expression ‘it’s off the map’, or ‘I haven’t planned for this’, or ‘there is no routemap for what I am going through?’ The language of life often delineates where we go and what we are prepared to try. ‘That’s off limits’, or ‘don’t go there’ have far more impact and meaning than the words first suggest. We hear expressions like that virtually from the womb. In fact, it comes as a surprise that the first words we hear as infants aren’t ‘Welcome to the world, don’t walk on the grass!’ 

As children we will hear exhortations to ‘be careful’, to ‘watch where we’re going’ or ‘look out!’ – the culture of childhood is not to explore or to go to places that we are not supposed to. If anything, this culture of carefulness has become more pronounced in recent years. We sensibly, oh so sensibly channel our kids into the Scout or Guides and allow them to discover new things under very managed circumstances. Nothing wrong with that at all, but kids need to test themselves against bigger, stronger opposition than the local five badges on my sleeve brigade.

Most of us stay on the map for most of our lives. We explore the map, we go the very edge of the map in certain circumstances and occasionally we deliberately get ourselves lost, just to prove that we can survive in the wild. However, we are not in the wild, we are at the edge of a very civilised map. We clutch our compass and probably the phone number of our favoured local cab firm and we stride out with a slight sense of adventure.

When Christopher Columbus discovered America he did not set out with the objective of discovering a place called America. True, there was a sense of a brave new world existing out there somewhere, but not one that was already charted. A true explorer is not someone who re-discovers the known. To find yourself, you have to first lose your bearings.

In American law, discovery is the pre-trial phase in a lawsuit in which each party through the law of civil procedure can request documents and other evidence from other parties and can compel the production of evidence by using a subpoena or requests for production of documents and depositions. The important point here is that the lawyer does not know in advance what this request might turn up. If they did the request would be superfluous and the trial would probably not be necessary.

In the same way, if we know in advance what we are going to discover then actually we have already discovered it and the process of exploration is redundant. When people talk about career and planning their life, what they are attempting to do is read a map that they do not own yet. Let’s consider the word career for a second. A career cannot exist in advance. By definition, a career exists in retrospect. It is printed on a CV. It is difficult to plot or calculate in advance. However, careering about in your job or life in general may have the unexpected consequence of touching the edges of what is possible. You may discover areas of the future that you didn’t know existed.

Staying on the map means that you will not discover what lies off the map, the other side of the horizon, where the places are when you wander off the beaten track. Do you want to live on a beaten track? Do you want to live on the wall or off it?  

You don’t have to subscribe to the National Geographic in order to explore. You don’t need to buy a tent and canoe down the Amazon. You don’t need to be Bear Grylls or Ray Mears. It’s a state of mind not a state of nation.

The first step of discovery is understanding that the door in front of you is locked on the inside, not the outside and that you hold the key. Step through it and breathe in the air. It looks unfamiliar but the sun is shining. Beyond the map, there is another map, undrawn.

Congratulations, you have just become an explorer.

The best undiscovered Indie love song ever?

ACR: Good Together 1989 - the album that contains 'The Big E (I won't stop loving you)'

When you’re sick and tired of everybody lying to you
you just want to walk away….. walk right into better days
if you can just stop wanting it….. it will come to you
I know you try….. but don’t try too hard
when I see you cry….. it breaks my heart

I won’t stop loving you….. I still believe in you
when everything goes wrong….. you think you’re on your own
I won’t stop loving you….. I won’t stop loving you

In these changing times….. you see yourself on the outside
it’s getting harder to find your way
you’re living in hope from day to day
if you can laugh in spite of it….. there’s nothing you can’t do
I know you try….. but don’t try too hard
when you lie to me….. you break my heart

I won’t stop loving you….. I still believe in you
when everything goes wrong….. you think you’re on your own
I won’t stop loving you….. I won’t stop loving you

You just can’t take it anymore….. and then again
A lost cause is the only one worth fighting for!

I won’t stop loving you….. I still believe in you
when everything goes wrong….. you think you’re on your own
I won’t stop loving you….. I won’t stop loving you

It’s 1989 and the Berlin Wall is falling, Chinese pro-democracy protestors are facing down tanks in Tiananmen Square and others are being eliminated. Soviet forces withdraw from Afghanistan.

The Exxon Valdez runs aground off Alaska spewing oil over the whole East Seaboard. The Ayatolla Khomeini dies after first imposing a Fatwah on Salman Rushdie. A ring around Neptune is discovered and the USA invades Panama.

A Certain Ratio - A Manchester band for our times - then and now

In Manchester, A Certain Ratio, a band managed by Factory’s Tony Wilson bringing sidewinding jazz, funk, soul and indie together in the same food mixer, signed with A&M Records in 1987 and two years later the experimental, daring and dangerous Good Together was released.

The album failed to produce a hit, and led to the band’s departure from the label. However, a song found its way onto it sung by Simon Topping (who would later stand in for Ian Curtis with Joy Division at a concert in Bury’s Derby Hall on April 8 1980 which ended in a riot a few weeks before Curtis’ suicide). Called The Big E (I won’t stop loving you) –  the song which is virtually impossible to find apart from on a few jealously guarded copies of the album, has continued to haunt people like me down the years.

The verse below is especially relevant to today’s situation. Poverty, hardship, world banking system collapse, corrupt politicians, earthquake and famine – and that’s just this week..

ACR state something that here at Powerchange we tend to subscribe to – namely that you can create your own state – and then declare your own state of independence – a republic called Happiness in the middle of the surrounding gloom:

In these changing times….. you see yourself on the outside
it’s getting harder to find your way
you’re living in hope from day to day
if you can laugh in spite of it….. there’s nothing you can’t do
I know you try….. but don’t try too hard
when you lie to me….. you break my heart

On the 22nd January I read Chris Salmon in the Guardian saying this, “ACR may be remembered as Factory Records slightly underachieving punk-funkers, but in this 1989 single they created one of the most gorgeous and touching Indie-pop love songs you’ll ever hear..”  It inspired me to write this post. The song also appears as the brilliant and inspiring swansong on my 17 song compilation – The Greatest Indie Love Songs of all Time (Vol 1).

I can only track down a 12″ single version of the song – but each tick, tock and zip reflects the many times that it has been played over the years. Is it the great undiscovered love song for our times? Judge for yourself.

http://www.mediafire.com/file/1kpsbbwi81kpcl9/A_Certain_Ratio_-The_Big_E__I_Wont_Stop_Loving_You_.zip

The 12" sleeve for ACR's 'The Big E'

The track was also released as a 12″ single and I have uploaded this slightly longer and less crackly version here:

http://www.mediafire.com/file/ntdhyounlmy/A1.

A Certain Ratio – The Big E (I won’t stop loving you).mp3