Tuesday, 3 December 2013

New Godhead book review: Our Palaeolithic Inheritance - Prof A.V. Ashok

This review of Godhead: The Brain's Big Bang was sent to us by Prof A.V. Ashok and we are pleased to share it here on the Human Givens blog.

Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrrell’s magisterial work Godhead: The Brain’s Big Bang (2011) is the latest addition to a brilliant set of books on the prehistory and history of consciousness: Jean Gebser’s The Ever-Present Origin (1949-53), Owen Barfield’s Saving the Appearances (1957), Julian Jaynes’s The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (1976), Ken Wilber’s Up From Eden (1981), Walter Ong’s Orality and Literacy (1982), Steven Mithen’s The Prehistory of the Mind (1996) and Morris Berman’s The Wandering God (2000). Godhead is a splendid treatise on the nature and legacy of an “explosive” evolutionary event that occurred 40,000 years ago in the Upper Palaeolithic period (from 40,000 to 10,000 years ago). A grand multi-disciplinary meditation in 467 pages and 5 Parts and 12 Chapters on when and how and why we became human and what it has been to be human for 40 millennia, Godhead has the aura of a summa.

The neocortex emerged 200,000 years ago but its potential remained dormant until 40,000 years ago an evolutionary leap that has been called “the brain’s big bang” happened about which Griffin and Tyrrell write: “Beyond the origin of life itself, this could be Nature’s most remarkable evolutionary step” (pg 86). Godhead originally elicits the characteristics of “the brain’s big bang,” ingeniously locates “the appearance of creativity” (18), “the appearance of mental illness" (22)”and “the appearance of mysticism” (33) in “the brain’s big bang” and boldly reads the 40 millennia from then to now in terms of what has happened afterwards to “the brain’s big bang.”

The Human Context 

“That shiny mound of being, that mouse-grey parliament of cells, that dream factory, that petit tyrant inside a ball of bone, that huddle of neurons calling all the plays, that little everywhere, that fickle pleasure dome, that wrinkled wardrobe of selves stuffed into the skull like too many clothes into a gym bag”—Diane Ackerman, An Alchemy of Mind: The Marvel and Mystery of the Brain, quoted in Godhead, 12.

Until “the brain’s big bang,” proto-human consciousness was arrested and closed in the “present” without temporal and cognitive mobility and was essentially set in the “survival” mode. Griffin and Tyrrell define “the brain’s big bang” as a brave new emergence in consciousness of an efficacy that we now take for granted: “the capacity for reading context” (33) or “parallel processing” (40) or “being able to view a situation from different perspectives and put it in context” (42) which they explain thus:
"As well as concentrating on the present moment, [our ancestors] could focus on the past or the future and what was present or not present. More importantly, they could choose to draw on their past experiences to see how the present is embedded in a deeper context and, because of that, how any changes they might make could affect the future (70)." 
Owing to “the brain’s big bang,” the consciousness of our Upper Palaeolithic ancestors was “rapidly attaching and detaching attention from different objects and events so as to see them from different viewpoints” (30). The distinctive evolutionary merit of this capacity for “context beyond the moment” (24) was that it was a hitherto unknown experience of a “mental landscape of abstract imagination” (17) that occurred because the potential for “imagination” and “association” in the right neocortex and for “reason” and “abstraction” in the left neocortex was actualized for the first time with “balance” (17) as a mental meaning of disciplined situation within a spectrum of possibilities. This evolutionary “giant step for the mind” (70) of simultaneous and responsible stability and fluidity in time and meaning was an opening into cognitive marvels:
“Like Aladdin [our ancestors] came into possession of a magic cavern full of unlimited treasure” (20). 
Griffin and Tyrrell list the “treasures” of consciousness with “context beyond the moment” which is “the most productive brain state ever to have evolved” (20) or the treasures of “creativity”:
 "…once our ancestors could create different scenarios in their imagination, they had the impetus to develop the complex language they needed to describe their thoughts and feelings. By talking about ideas and things not in front of them, the language of abstract thought opened up. Prior to this, the only need for language was for present-centered signalling sounds, such as warning calls that would direct others to think about whatever was going on in their current environment. But once possessed of imagination, people could plan, design, reflect, learn and pass on culture. Campfire conversations and storytelling would naturally follow, unleashing the power of creativity. The dead would be talked about too, and the realization that we must all die in our turn invaded human thought. This would naturally lead to pondering the fundamental questions about the meaning and purpose of life, and wondering if we survived death in any way (20)."
“The brain’s big bang” of “context beyond the moment” in turn triggered a major interfusing consciousness called “magical thinking” (262) that thereafter became the paradigm of Upper Palaeolithic consciousness. Griffin and Tyrrell memorably distill the essence of “magical” consciousness:
"The principle underlying sympathetic magic is that a connection can be made between objects or actions that resemble each other, and that this link can form a channel that empowers human will. By seeking out invisible connections and relationships between different things so as to identify apparently essential qualities that unified them, early man manufactured a methodology around invisible forces that obeyed universal rules. Plants, animals, rocks and even entities such as fire and water were experienced as having a conscious ‘spirit’ that people can ally themselves with if they conducted the right rituals and made appropriate sacrifices. Suffering was the result of upsetting these spirits and long-dead ancestors were evoked to intercede with them on behalf of the living (262)." 
Upper Palaeolithic “magical” consciousness of an experience of unity and a hidden meaning was the first sign of “spiritual knowledge” (305) that would evolve as the search for “the nature of reality and human destiny” (295) through subsequent millennia to the summit of the human capacity for “direct experience” (295) of “everything” (33) as “ONE” (33) in “mysticism.”

The Upper Palaeolithic creativity of context of “the brain’s big bang” is the foundation of all that makes us “human.” Was “the brain’s big bang” the announcement of the arrival of pre-frontal cortex as the unheard of benefactor of the “human” mind?

Cave art painting of horses at Chauvet (30,000 years ago).

A Waking Dream 

Detail from the 46 feet sculpture of the Reclining Buddha in Parinirvana in Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka (12th century).

All mammals possess the capacity for reading context. So how does this capacity qualify as “the brain’s big bang” in human evolution and as the basis of what makes us “human”?

In mammals the capacity for reading context is a precondition for their “warm-bloodedness” and is instinctively “unconscious” and aligned with “survival.” A mammal spends 80-90% of its energy to maintain a constant internal temperature and therefore does not unnecessarily waste its energy responding to every random stimuli in the environment. For example, a wild cat does not chase every leaf blown around by the wind but weighs and considers from a capacity for reading context what demands an energetic chase. Further in all mammals, any “arousal to act” (31) causes its autonomic nervous system to be aroused. Only converting an arousal into action can de-arouse the autonomic nervous system. A buildup of suppressed arousals is deleterious to a mammal.

It is at this point that the REM state (Rapid Eye Movement) or the state in which dreams occur in sleep steps in to safeguard the interior milieu: by siphoning metaphorically in dreams all the suppression of expectations accumulated during waking life. Griffin and Tyrrell write: “What we believe occurred about 40,000 years ago is that humans learnt to access the REM dream state while awake” (20). The REM state is “a powerful reality simulator in our brain” (20) and an “internal theatre” (20) where suppressed instincts in waking life are “metaphorically” fulfilled in dreamscapes that are “other” than reality whereby the integrity of our instincts are preserved. For Griffin and Tyrell, “the brain’s big bang” was a drawing out of the REM state into waking life as a brave new theatre of mind where a waking experience of “the other” or imagination happened--other times, other situations, others and abstractions (of ideas and things) that were “other” than what were tangible right in front of our Upper Palaeolithic ancestors—but anchored in “reality-checking” (22) reason. Therefore for Griffin and Tyrrell, “context beyond the moment” of “the brain’s big bang” was really “daydreaming” (20) and the REM state was involved in the actualization of the right neocortex (imagination) and the left neocortex (reason).

In mammals, “context beyond the moment” is instinctually “unconscious” and allied with “survival” while 40,000 years ago our Upper Palaeolithic ancestors began to experience “context beyond the moment” consciously and in the service of not just survival but more importantly of “meaning” that steadily increased in scale and depth of context to eventually become a mystical intuition in which we “escape space and time and become aware of the network of relationships that hold the Universe together”(35). For Griffin and Tyrrell, “mysticism is a continuation of the process of deepening the capacity for reading context that began to evolve with the appearance of early mammals some 200 million years ago (33)."

Le Reve (“The Dream” / 1932) by Pablo Picasso

“The brain’s big bang” of the astonishing capacity to simultaneously “attach” (33) attention to objects and events and also “detach” (33) from them “to see things in context…and review them in context” in escalating connections was not an unmixed breakthrough of “creativity.” Griffin and Tyrrell identify extreme cognitive disabilities and mental illness for which they coin the rubric “Caetextia” or “Context Blindness” (40) as originating in “the brain’s big bang.” “The capacity for reading context” is not protected from losing the “balance” (323) of “attention” and “context” that is required to be maintained. “Attention” occurs out of “reason” which is a function of the left neocortex and “context” occurs out of “imagination” which is a function of the right neocortex. Imbalance in the attention-context axis of left-brain and right-brain co-ordination causes insanity. Attention can “overdevelop” (70) into a monomaniacal and inflexible concentration unsupported by context resulting in the “left-brained caetextia” (50) of autism and Asperger’s syndrome. Conversely, context can overdevelop into a swamping flood of reckless metaphorical and associative delusions unsupported by attention to reality resulting in the “right-brained caetextia” (50) of schizophrenia. Griffin and Tyrrell speak of and follow the dark shadow of “the brain’s big bang” stretching across millennia in the form of the sorrow of suppression, oppression and persecution inflicted on men and women who have known “the great secret” (299) of “the higher impulse” (305) by leaders and movements and entire epochs crippled by cold and ruthless left-brained or grandiose and messianic right-brained caetextia.

The execution of the Sufi mystic Mansur al-Hallaj (852-922) who famously and heretically observed: “I am the Truth” and “There is nothing wrapped in my turban but God.”

Godhead expansively dwells on the dark side of “the brain’s big bang” composed of autism and schizophrenia. But with equal or even greater appeal, Griffin and Tyrrell’s book unrolls a spectacular and elevating interpretation of the bright side of “the brain’s big bang” as the portal to the ultimate destiny of consciousness: the “Gnosis” (”knowledge” as “direct experience”) of “Godhead.” Griffin and Tyrrell make “the brain’s big bang” the origin of the loftiest experience of meaning for human consciousness: mysticism. Mysticism is the final form of “context thinking” (34) in a “process through which we become consciously aware of ever deeper networks of relationships around us” (34). The capacity for reading context of “the brain’s big bang” became progressively enriched down the millennia with a “direct experience of more and more context” (33) that laboriously led by the time of the Axial Age (800 to 200 BC) to the ultimate reading of “the interconnectedness of everything” (33) or the “ONE” (33) in “Gnosis.” “Gnosis” is the ultimate non-duality of Godhead and human consciousness in which as Meister Eckhart memorably said: “The Eye with which I see God is the same Eye with which God sees me” (191).
Gupta Sculpture (5th century) depicting the Dharmachakrapravartana (“Turning in Motion the Wheel of the Law”), the First Sermon of the Buddha after the Enlightenment (Archaeological Museum, Sarnath, India).
In Part Four of Godhead comprising of chapters 9, 10 and 11, Griffin and Tyrrell unfurl a panorama of the human march of meaning and the advancement of learning in an attempt to track the fate of gnosis. We are taken on a dazzling journey through the history of the human quest: from the Venus of Hohle Fels (35,000 years ago) and the cave-art of Chauvet (30,000 years ago) and Lascaux (17,000 years ago) through the sanctuary of Gobekli Tepe in southeastern Turkey built 12,000 years ago, the Fertile Crescent, the Gnostic mystery schools in the lands around the Mediterranean, the Roman Empire, the ignorant Christian literalists, the Golden Age of Islam in Moorish Spain from 750 to 1250 AD, the luminous Sufi mystics, the brilliant Medieval scholars and Meister Eckhart to Emmanuel Swedenborg in the 18th century. All along this rich review of the triumphs and vicissitudes of gnosis, Griffin and Tyrrell chime the note that humanity seems to be composed of “the outer circle of humanity” (314) sunk in unregenerate living and insensitive to knowing the truth and “a small inner circle of illuminati” (310) who live in the highest state of compassion and wisdom “to find a way to act as midwife” (282) to the birth of “higher forms of consciousness” (282) in “all humanity” (282). Godhead asserts like an inference from its magnificent study of centuries of gnosis that “in every epoch there are, and have to be, genuinely spiritually enlightened people who maintain the universe” (299).

I am Nothing 

The Astronomer (1668) by Jan Vermeer (1632-1675).
A substantial portion of the middle of Godhead comprises of a profound elaboration of the observation: “In the beginning there was nothing, which exploded” (181). Griffin and Tyrell launch into a gorgeous spell of reflection of the Big Bang and the organization of the universe cast in a fascinating mix of the findings of quantum physics (especially of Julian Barbour and Rolf Landauer) and the intuitions of mysticism. These pages are a cascade of every conundrum of our mysterious universe that has baffled the human mind down the millennia. Griffin and Tyrrell ransack the treasury of human wonder and knowledge in a search for the meaning of the place and purpose of humanity in this teasing universe and compose an esoteric cosmology fitted with concepts like “relatons,” “pattern-matching,” “the oscillating universe,” “the arc of descent” and “the arc of ascent.” These pages range dizzily “from nothing to everything” (211) and carry an exhortation for us to always choose to be on “the arc of ascent” in increasing levels of “integration” (211) from the “chaos” (203) of the manifestation of “everything” or matter to the “pure awareness” (211) of “nothing” or “I am” (192) or “Godhead.” “Nothing is not what it seems” (238).

Polishing the Mirror of the Heart

Jalalludin Rumi
The last chapter of Godhead turns into a manual of spiritual instruction for gnostic development. The ascent to the next stage of development of consciousness cannot happen without “necessity” (198). Griffin and Tyrrell quote the great Sufi poet Jalaluddin Rumi: “New organs of perception come into being as a result of necessity. Therefore, O man, increase your necessity, so that you may increase your perception” (352). “Necessity” in individual development occurs out of what Griffin and Tyrrell drawing on Sufi wisdom call “spare capacity” (352) and “removing the ‘veils’” (365) that wipe out the “dense egotistical crowd in our brain (349). Rumi also called “necessity” “polishing the mirror of the heart” (256). “We are much more than we think we are” (339): we are ultimately “nothing” but the “Godhead.”

School of the Soul 

Al-Qarawiyyin (founded in 859 AD): “the house of learning in Fez [Morocco], the oldest degree-granting university in the world” (Godhead, 328).
To read Griffin and Tyrrell’s “polishing” presentation of the meaning of “the brain’s big bang” in Godhead is to have attended a “School of the Soul” (314) and become “a citizen of the cosmos” (313) nowhere and always as “nothing” in gnosis.

The cupola of the Solomon Guggenheim Museum (designed by Frank Lloyd Wright) in New York.

Professor A.V. Ashok
Department of English Literature
The English and Foreign Languages University
Hyderabad 500007 India 28-30

Article written November 2013 in Cambridge, Massachusetts

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Don't dream anymore? Yes you do!

You often hear someone say "Oh, I never dream" but as we shall see, it's simply not possible that you don't! If you don't think you dream, it's really only that you don't remember, because we evolved to forget our dreams.

Why we don't remember dreams

We can all remember significant and memorable dreams we've had in the past but sometimes, it feels like you haven't had a dream for weeks. The simple reason for this is that we have evolved to forget our dreams.

Brains originally evolved to help animals make more accurate predictions about what behaviours would help them survive. But the type of expectations we have as humans, or that other animals have, for that matter, are infinitely more complex than those of a bee. When mammals evolved, they developed warm-bloodedness, which meant that they were no longer dependent on the sun's heat for mobility. But maintaining a constant warm body temperature required a greatly increased energy intake (estimated at up to a 500 per cent increase in calories needed). So, to meet this need, mammals had to become much better at locating food supplies while also avoiding becoming food themselves for other warm-blooded predatory mammals — all of which required a much more sophisticated prediction system, to reduce the risks.

The cortex provided the answer. The evolution of the cortex, with its much increased processing capacity, enabled mammals not just to act purely on instinct — see a food source and go for it — but to weigh up the risks and benefits of an action — do I have time to make the kill and hide it or will I get eaten by another animal while I'm doing it? In more technical terms, it enabled the ancient dopamine prediction circuits of the limbic system to be subjected to a higher-order risk analysis, based on the additional computing power provided by the cortex.

 However, that left another problem to be solved. The limbic system communicates with the cortex via behavioural impulses (emotions). If these are not acted upon (for instance, because the strategy is deemed too risky or because the cortex has set other priorities — such as deciding, in certain circumstances, that it is more important to protect young than to chase a possible food source) they don't go away. In the case of humans, this state of unfulfilled expectation can also occur when we think about something in the future or the past that causes emotional arousal in the present but which can't, by its very nature, be acted upon. These uncompleted emotional impulses — expectations — stay switched on, taking up processing capacity in the expectation system.

How to deal with these uncompleted emotional impulses floating around?

So far, two strategies have evolved for dealing with this. The first, in the spiny anteater, is the development of a much bigger cortex to store all these expectations whilst retaining sufficient spare computing power for making new, ongoing risk assessments. This may also be the strategy evolved by dolphins, which have an exceptionally large cortex. The muscle paralysis that accompanies REM sleep places dolphins at risk of drowning, so they can have hardly any REM sleep.

The second and much more efficient method is dreaming. In dreaming, we act out the unrealised expectations from waking by pattern matching them to analogous sensory patterns — images and events stored in memory — as it is through pattern matching that the REM system works. I am often asked why the pattern match has to be analogical or metaphorical. Apart from the evidence I have published explaining this point, there is a sound physiological reason for why it must be so. An expectation is an imagined scenario, using images from memory.

In dreaming, we are asking memory to provide a scenario that matches a scenario that is already a part of memory — the event that aroused the expectation. So the matching scenario has to be the best fit that memory can provide. Think of it this way — if I hold up my left hand and ask my brain for a best-fit pattern match, it can't use my left hand because that is the one I want a match for — so it must use my right hand, as the best-fit pattern match for my left. (This does not happen in waking because we pattern match our expectations to whatever stimulates them in the environment, not to a memory. If we want an ice cream, the expectation is fulfilled when we are actually eating it.)

The dream, then, by fulfilling the expectation, completes the circuit and switches off the arousal. But that is not the end of the matter, for we have now converted an unrealised expectation into a factual memory of completing it. Ordinarily, the hippocampus, the conscious memory store, holds our memories of recent events and quickly deconstructs those memories and sends them to various parts of the cortex — the parts concerned with vision, hearing, touch, etc — for storage. It does that to facilitate efficient pattern matching. But, if the dream is allowed to be stored as a real memory, it will corrupt the memory store and greatly diminish our ability reliably to predict the outcome of similar experiences in the future. This is avoided by preventing the hippocampus from sending the dream information to the cortex for long-term storage. As explained earlier, PET scans and other types of research have shown that, in dreaming, the prefrontal cortex is closed down.

So it is no accident that the prefrontal cortex is switched off during dreaming. It is no accident that the hippocampus doesn't de-construct information and send it all around the brain because what the hippocampus is doing in dreaming is getting rid of expectations that didn't pan out while we were awake. It is getting them out of the way, making them inaccessible, in effect, so as to allow us to build up a proper, intelligence prediction and expectation system, an accurate storage of knowledge. (This also explains the evidence for memory consolidation — if you take away all the false expectations, the memories that are consolidated are more accurate.)

The expectation fulfilment theory can therefore explain why dreams are about emotionally arousing events, particularly about emotionally arousing expectations. It explains why dreams are consistent over time. It explains the developmental aspects of dreaming. It can explain the other tests put down by Domhoff (see 'We need a new theory' at the end of this page). But, more than that, it explains the cutting-edge evidence that the brain is ever malleable, by explaining how it can be so malleable.

The purpose of the brain is to predict, so that we can get our needs met. We need to have a system that can continually adapt itself, and the expectation fulfilment theory shows how the brain does that by cancelling out the expectations that didn't work. It enables us to have a bang-up-to-date register of what really does get needs met in our lives, so that we can more accurately predict what we need to do in the future. (But we can only work with the experiences we have had. If, as a child, a young woman experienced both abuse and love from her father, she may continually seek a relationship with abusive men, until eventually she can learn that love exists separately from abuse.)

But what about remembered dreams? 

You might then wonder if recalling our dreams, as sometimes happens, is undoing the dreamwork. The answer is no, because the arousal is switched off once the expectation is acted out. When we are awake, the cortex is switched on, enabling us to compare dream content to what is really happening around us and, thus, to distinguish between dream and reality. Occasionally the cortex is alerted by some incongruity in the dream experience, such as flying, and we become aware that we are dreaming. (this is known as lucid dreaming) But this risks undoing the dream work of deactivating the experiences — because we now know we are experiencing a fantasy. (In more primitive mammals, if an altering of the cortex were to happen, it is less likely their brains could make the distinction between dream and reality; the fantasy would be treated as real and would therefore corrupt the memory stores.)


This article was adapted from part of the article Dreaming to forget: the real reason by Joe Griffin (Human Givens Journal 2005).

For more information and references please read the original article.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

A 'woo-free' guide to interpreting your dreams

The strangeness of dreaming, despite it being a regular biological function, encourages myths and fantastic explanation. Our bizarre night-time visitations seem so intensely real and full of meaning when we are having them but remain mostly unfathomable to our conscious mind and are usually quickly forgotten.

Through all historical periods humanity has puzzled over the meaning of remembered dreams and dream interpretation industries have flourished with promises that they can satisfy our natural longing to understand the mysterious 'messages' that dreams seem to carry. The 21st century is no exception, bookshop shelves groan under the weight of dream ‘dictionaries’ and dream interpretation material. And type ‘dream interpretation’ into Google and more than two million results come up.

Much of the fanciful dream interpretation industry, including the ever-popular content of dream dictionaries, is harmless fun, not unlike astrology, but not always. The influence of the idiosyncratic confabulations and fantasies of Freud and Jung for example permeate our culture and have, in some cases produced virulent results, as when therapists interpret dreams as revealing repressed memories of abuse, without any corroborating evidence, and highly suggestible patients, misguided by ignorant ‘therapists’, begin to think that perhaps they were abused. This is called false memory syndrome.

A real guide to interpreting your own dreams 

The ultimate test of the expectation fulfilment theory of dreaming is if you are able to use it in your life and, like any truly curious person, we would expect you to test the theory for themselves. What follows are a few pointers as to how to do this.

The first requirement of course is to remember a dream. Dreaming is predominantly a right-brain, metaphorical activity and so the first step is to give voice to it straight away. Write it down, record it on tape or tell somebody about it quickly. By doing this you activate the parts of your brain that create narrative and memories, predominantly this is a left-brain activity. Otherwise the dream will quickly fade away.

Let’s assume you have remembered a dream. It is rare that a dreamer can see immediately what the dream was about and often, if you tell it to someone who knows you and who is aware of what was going on the previous day, that person will see the metaphorical connection quicker than you will.

There are three main reasons for this. Firstly, on awaking one is still close to our metaphorical mind and that cannot easily ‘read’ itself. Secondly, the arousal in you that produced the dream imagery is now dearoused so it is harder for you to remember what you were worked up about the day before. And, thirdly, we evolved to forget our dreams because we need to be able to distinguish between the metaphorical world of the REM dream state and the ordered reality we see when we are awake. So nature is working to draw a veil over them. (If we didn’t do this we would all suffer from permanent psychosis.)

Once you have the story of a dream secure you can begin to self-reflect in order to grasp its meaning. To create the dream your brain is able to draw on memories and information from any part of your life: childhood events, people you’ve interacted with, or imagined interacting with, characters from books, films and TV programmes, news stories etc. The dream might include puns and wordplay.

The key to identifying what the dream was about is its emotion. The emotion in the dream story is always connected to what you felt but did not act upon the previous day. So you have to make a self-reflective journey back over the story of what happened to you the previous day to discover that connection. Not everyone finds this easy, particularly left-brained people, but those who succeed are able to internalise the truth of this theory and gain a precious element towards self-understanding. Once you discover the connection to the aroused expectations all the characters and elements of the dream will reveal themselves.

Recurring dreams 

If you find yourself having a recurring dream it is because you keep finding yourself in a similar situation, perhaps being bullied or tested in some way, and the brain is using the same or similar metaphor to dearouse you. Nature is very economical like that and wouldn't keep inventing new metaphors to dearouse the same pattern of behaviour.

Here is a video of Human Givens College tutor Joe Griffin explaining more about the expectation fulfilment theory of dreaming and how it supersedes other dream theories.


This post was taken from Why-we-dream.com - a website dedicated to explaining the expectation fulfilment theory of dreaming.

If you liked this you might like these posts:

Dreaming to forget: The real reason why

Great Expectations: Joe Griffin goes back to basics for powerful insights into human nature

Why do I wake up tired?

Saturday, 9 November 2013

3 ways to relax immediately

Do you feel overwhelmed with life? Like you are paddling hard just to stay afloat?

Stress is a big part of every day life, and with almost half of Briton's considering themselves 'stressed' it's never been more important to build relaxation into your daily life.

To reduce your anxiety levels practice one of the following relaxation methods for 10 minutes at least twice a day:

1) 7/11 breathing - this incredibly simple (and incredibly effective) breathing technique that relaxes your body and mind is explained here.

2) The clenched fist method - this simple technique is derived from yoga and can be done anywhere:
  • Settle yourself comfortably and make your hands into the tightest fists possible.
  • Look at your fists carefully as you scrunch them harder and harder, being aware of the whiteness of the knuckles, the feeling of your nails against your palms, the pressure of your thumbs against your forefingers and the rigidity of your wrists. Notice too, the tension moving up your arms to the elbows and shoulders.
  • Close your eyes and keep squeezing your fists, concentrating on the tight physical sensation. 
  • Then with your attention focused on how the tension feels, allow your fingers to slowly unwind, and concentrate instead on the spreading sensation of growing relaxation.
  • Now feel the enjoyable sensation of relaxation spreading naturally through your fingers and up your arms as the tension drains away, concentrating on what form it takes, maybe a tingling feeling or a sensation of warmth.
  • Whatever form it takes, let the relaxation spread through your body, relaxing your brow, cheek muscles, your jaw, your shoulders, chest and so on, down to your toes.
  • Keep your focus on the stress falling away and the calming differences you feel in your body.
  • Repeat for as long as you like and enjoying the calming changes that occur throughout your body. As your body relaxes, so does your mind.
3) The whole body method
  • Work gradually through the main muscles of your body, tensing each in turn for a count of 10 and then relaxing them. As in the precious technique, this works on the simple mechanical principle that, if you tense muscles and then relax them, your muscles are always more relaxed afterwards than before you tensed them.
  • Try starting with your feet, move up to your calf muscles, then your knees, your thighs, your stomach muscles and so on..

Try this helpful relaxation CD for more on the benefits of relaxation, as well as a guided relaxation session that makes it even easier for you to relax quickly whenever you feel stressed.

More self help tips:

How does deep breathing make you feel relaxed? 
Think differently in 4 steps
How to beat emotional stress
How to stop worrying

How to beat emotional stress

With the news that 44% of people in the UK describe themselves as 'stressed' with 27% of those admitting they are regularly 'close to breaking point', it has become even more crucial to spread effective information about how to manage stress.

1) Do an emotional needs audit

We have a number of innate emotional needs (or 'human givens') that, when they are not met, lead to stress. We also have the innate resources needed to meet these needs in our environment.

If you are not aware of these needs and resources then it's important to find out about them. Once you can see which needs are not being met and are causing you stress, it's easier to devise a plan of action to meet them. A good therapist will help you do this.

If you fancy doing an emotional needs audit of your life, use our online tool to help.

2) Learn to stop worrying

3) Challenge the negative thoughts that lead from stress to anxiety and depression

4) Look after yourself physically

Stress raises your cortisol levels which have a big impact on your physical wellbeing as well as your emotional state. It's important to remember to look after yourself in all the usual ways, getting enough sleep, eating well and taking regular exercise.


Find out more - the more you know about how to create and maintain good mental health the better chance you have to dealing with stressful situations we all come across in life:

How does deep breathing make you feel relaxed?
Think differently in 4 steps
How to stop worrying
Why do I wake up tired?


Buy a self help book
Attend a training course to find out more

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Human Givens and PTSD Resolution on BBC News

Towards the end of October, the charity PTSD Resolution that uses Human Givens therapy to treat traumatised military veterans and currently has an incredible 8 out of 10 success rate, was featured on BBC News:

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

HG Library: Heart attack

As he convalesces from a quadruple heart-bypass operation, Ivan Tyrrell provides an inside
view of needs being met, and thwarted, during his NHS experience. 

This article was published in Human Givens journal, Vol 20, No 1 (2013). For more articles like this subscribe to the Human Givens journal.

There is nothing like a heart attack to remind one of how little time we all have on this earth, and that we waste most of it. On a damp Tuesday afternoon last October, the Fates decided that it was my turn to have one. It led me to an intimate experience of the NHS and also to discovering more about our innate physical and emotional needs.

This is what happened. I was at the office in Sussex, writing a letter, when a tight pain in my chest hit me out of the blue. At the time I had no idea what this paroxysm, clamminess and awful faint feeling signified. My first thought was that I had a sudden case of really bad indigestion, so I staggered out to my car to find some Rennies. Yet, on popping two into my mouth, the pain got worse. I felt so awful I sat still, slumped in the driving seat, feeling frustrated and decidedly uneasy. But, after about 10 minutes, the pain stopped as suddenly as it had started. Shortly afterwards, feeling a little wobbly at first, I made my way back to my desk and got on with my work. Being a bloke, I told no one and quickly became absorbed in tasks, thinking nothing more about it. As far as I was concerned, the Rennies had worked.

That evening, in torrential driving rain, I made my way to Ditchling, a few miles from the office, had supper with an old school friend, then drove back to our home in the Cotswolds arriving at about 11.00pm feeling shattered and worn out, but happy to switch off and go to bed. I slept soundly. On Wednesday life went on as usual – working, walking and reading. The next day I took my wife, Véronique, to catch a train to York where she would be staying for two nights. Suddenly, at 2am the following morning, I woke up with that same squeezing pain, only this time it was worse. I broke out into a cold sweat and, feeling nauseous, slowly felt my way downstairs, where I sat in front of the dying fire, trying to keep calm and attempting to treat myself with a cold laser machine that I had been experimenting with to improve my immune system. I began to face up to the fact that something was wrong with my heart. After half an hour or so, the pain subsided and I climbed slowly up the stairs and went back to bed. Sleep evaded me for a while, kept at bay by the worrying thoughts going round in my head.

I told no one.

Next day I felt fine again and went for a long walk. I was still feeling fine when Véronique returned mid-evening on the Saturday. However, in the early hours, the pain returned yet again, not quite so severely but enough to make me resolve to see my GP on the Monday. I mentioned this plan to Véronique on Sunday morning and, not unnaturally, she wanted to know why I needed to go. So I explained what had been happening. Although I told her I didn’t want any fuss, she called the doctor at once and, between them, within an hour, they had me admitted to the local hospital, where I was immediately given a blood test. During a heart attack, apparently, heart muscle cells die and release proteins into the blood-stream, which a blood test can detect. I had higher than normal levels of these proteins, revealing that I had had a heart attack – or probably three.

The benefits of hindsight 

I was asked if I had been doing anything phsically strenuous when the first attack occurred and I said no. (It was only later that someone at the office reminded me that, about an hour before the first attack, I had unloaded two pallets of heavy books into the store room, which had made me breathless and a bit weak. At the time I just thought I was out of condition.) Nurses injected me with a blood thinner and gave me a statin.

With the benefit of hindsight, my advice to anyone suffering severe chest pains would be to call the doctor or, at least, tell someone, not foolishly play down the seriousness, as I did to myself. Looking back, I still can’t explain why I exhibited such wilful blindness with regard to my obvious malfunctioning body, other than that I felt that I had too much work to do, couldn’t see how I could take time off and so couldn’t sanction the possibility of illness. A doctor at the hospital said that Véronique’s prompt action might well have saved my life, because the next heart attack could have been fatal.

I was transferred by ambulance to the Heart Centre at John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford for an angiogram, which revealed damaged arteries. They couldn’t fit stents and kept me on a ward by myself for five days while they decided what to do. Then David Taggart, professor of cardiovascular surgery, came to introduce himself, and said I needed a triple bypass operation and that there was a 99 per cent chance I would survive. (Good odds, I thought.) I was to go home and prepare myself – and not walk up steep hills or lift anything heavier than a kettle because that might kill me. Slim as a whippet himself, he added that I ought to lose some weight as quickly as possible because being overweight is a prime cause of heart attacks. I asked him how I could do this and shall never forget his reply: “You’re obviously an intelligent man. You don’t need me to tell you how to lose weight; find out for yourself.” Not a man to mince his words!

A dream 

As I look back I can see there were clear signs well before these events that things were not right with my heart. A few weeks before, for example, I had arrived at the B&B in Bristol where I was staying before giving a seminar the next day. The room I was allocated was on the top floor of a five-story Georgian building. Grabbing my suitcase, I started to climb the stairs two at a time, as was my wont: first floor, second, third. Suddenly I caught my foot on a stair and stumbled back into the proprietor, who was following me. I insisted there was no harm done and continued a few more steps, now taking them one at a time. Then I stumbled again and this time crashed into the bannisters. The proprietor decided to put me in a room on the third floor, so I wouldn’t have to climb any further. I was quite shaken by having so nearly tumbled down the steep stairway. I assumed I was tired because normally I’m quite nimble for my age. Now it seems more likely that my heart was not pumping hard enough to get me up the stairs.

Once alone, I sat on my bed musing about how easily a simple thing like a stumble could change one’s whole life, perhaps even cause me to lose it, just when so many possibilities seemed to be opening up: I had a lovely wife, a beautiful new home that we had shaped together, and was living in a quintessentially peaceful part of the English countryside that I wanted to continue enjoying. I was also relishing new challenges involved in bringing the human givens approach into organisations and was writing another book.

That night I had a dream that metaphorically encapsulated my ruminations. I was high up on a hill progressing along a difficult path from where I could occasionally glimpse an amazing view of a beautiful coastal town down by the sea – a better world. Someone was with me and I offered to take a photograph of the view for them with their camera because they couldn’t quite see it. Doing so, however, involved me leaning out from the path into a lot of vegetation that concealed the cliff edge.

When I looked at the view through the camera I became aware that the edge of the cliff was crumbling away and I was beginning to fall to a certain death, all the time thinking that this meant I would no longer reach my destination: the beautiful scene ahead. Then I woke up, sweating, to discover, to my great relief, that I was safe in bed and it was time to get up and start work.


I was given a bag of tablets to take home with me. I took these pills as directed for six weeks, until I received a letter giving me the date of the operation and telling me to stop taking them seven days before. However, I stopped as soon as I read the letter (10 days before the operation date) because I could feel the drugs were dulling my brain, interfering with my memory and my ability to concentrate, and depleting my energy levels. They also gave me a nasty rash. Within a couple of days I felt much better and mentally sharper: my ‘mojo’ had returned to such a degree that family, neighbours and colleagues all noticed.

While waiting for the operation I began reading about the side effects of the drugs I had been given, particularly statins and beta-blockers. I also looked into losing weight. A few years earlier I had read The Diet Delusion by Gary Taubes that tells an astonishing story of just how much vested interests distort ‘science’ and create harmful public perceptions about what is good or bad for us. So I decided to read his later book, Why we get fat and what to do about it, which shows all too clearly that what we are so often told is necessary for healthy living ain’t necessarily so. With my wife’s support, I adjusted my diet. At this point, with the operation looming, I had complete trust in the hospital and the swift actions and recommendations of those assigned to care for me.

Chaos ahead

And then I discovered for myself the chaotic way NHS administration functions, and the severe distress this causes to both patients and staff. It started when I received a letter asking me to attend a preadmission appointment, at which time an X-ray of my chest and ECG would also be taken. After the X-ray and ECG, Véronique and I made our way to the preadmission clinic and arrived on time at 12.30pm. After waiting for over an hour and still not being called, we queried when we would be seen and, at that point, discovered that I was “not on the list”. When we showed the appointment letter to the nurse, she was clearly frustrated that the information had not been passed through to her and very kindly stayed late and saw us anyway.

We got back home to find on the doormat the letter giving the date for my admission for surgery. Consequently, we booked and prepaid for a B&B near to the hospital, so that Véronique could stay close by. We also made a multitude of other arrangements, including driving the cat to be looked after by a friend in a different county. On the appointed day, I duly turned up at 3pm at the cardiothoracic ward, where they were expecting me, and was put in an overflow ward with other heart patients. At about 10pm I was told by a bank nurse that she was very sorry but I did not seem to be “on the list” for surgery the next day and that she couldn’t understand why. As I had spent weeks preparing myself mentally for the operation and its aftermath, I had a frustrating and restless night, not knowing what would happen the next day but comforting myself by reflecting that, when something one expects doesn’t happen, new insights often occur.

In the morning Professor Taggart, a busy man, took time out to find me and profusely apologise on behalf of the hospital for the fact that I couldn’t be operated on that day. He said this would most assuredly not have happened had he still been in charge of his list but that was not how the current system worked. He was, therefore, quite unaware that I was in the hospital until that morning. Professor Taggart’s evident distress, honourable apology and prompt action impressed me. However, I received no explanation or apology from the administrator at fault.

An irritated email 

I was so inflamed by all this that I emailed the chief executive of the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust, Sir Jonathan Michael, detailing this series of events. I also caustically pointed out that, as psychological stress is known to be the principal cause of heart problems, the way I had been treated led me to suspect that management is unaware that their job should involve keeping heart patients as calm as possible. I suggested that they were badly in need of basic training about innate human needs – not just those of patients but also those of the clinical staff, who were clearly frustrated by their lack of control over important aspects of their work.

I concluded by saying, “When an organisation functions well, it is like any flourishing living organism: all its systems work together in a healthy, meaningful way. A mature organic organisation is not easily taken in; it questions its own assumptions, is flexible and adaptable and the people in all departments take full responsibility for their work, pulling together in an organic way for the good of the whole. Its philosophy is that everyone’s emotional needs should be met in balance, because creating an environment where that is possible is what moti- vates people. One incompetent, unmotivated staff member at any level in an organisation damages the health of the whole.”

I signed off as director of the Human Givens Institute, and copied the email to my MP, the local press and my GP. The very next day Sir Jonathan emailed me back (at 9pm on a Sunday evening, to be precise), which was pretty impressive. Other apologies from various people lower in the hierarchy soon followed during that week and were profuse. The local paper took my photo and gave the incident a whole page, with the heading, “Hospital blunder delays operation”. The article also featured an apology from the director of clinical services at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust.

No one engaged with the important points I raised in my final paragraph, however, which suggests that these executives are so busy ‘putting out fires’ that they have no spare capacity to step back and look at the bigger picture.

The operation 

Two weeks later, I was back in the John Radcliffe – and this time all went well. After the operation, which turned out to be a quadruple bypass, Professor Taggart told me my heart was in good shape and it was just the arteries that needed replacing. During our conversation, he told me of another shocking hospital management blunder. Apparently, I and others could have had our surgery a day earlier because his team had been all set to start work that morning when they discovered that there was nobody on their list for that day, even though many patients were in the queue for a bypass. So eight or nine highly skilled people were paid a lot of money by taxpayers to sit around drinking coffee, with nothing else to do but moan about the system of management that can allow such things to happen.


I was again given drugs to take but felt too weak to protest. My attention was focused on recovery, getting home and becoming active again as quickly as possible. Despite feeling extremely tired and weak, which I’m told is normal after a major operation, as soon as I could I started to walk around the wards once or twice a day. On my perambulations, I often struck up conversations with other patients. Véronique spent as much time with me as she was allowed, which was almost all day, and her company had a greatly calming effect; my children visited or kept in touch on the phone. Colleagues and friends also called. This was in contrast to several patients we met who had little or no support: consequently, their anxiety levels were higher than mine. One man seemed terrified at the thought of being sent home alone so soon after the operation, with no one there to look after him.

To know that other people are thinking about you and care for you is a major factor in recovery and it was no surprise that the lonely people we spoke to were the most anxious and unhappy – something all human givens practitioners would expect. We know how important it is to feel positive and how the heart patients who do worst are those who are depressed or feel ‘out of control’ because their heart let them down. I would tell anyone in similar circumstances to remember their own emotional needs; getting them met well has a major impact on recovery.

The cholesterol myth

One thing that helped me meet my need for autonomy and control was gathering information. I continued reading books about the life-style causes of heart attacks, diet and the side effects of drugs, particularly of the statins. I was particularly impressed by Dr Malcolm Kendrick’s The Great Cholesterol Con and Dr Duane Graveline's books, The Statin Damage Crisis and The Dark Side of Statins.

Cortisol is the culprit 

Dr Kendrick makes the case that it is not cholesterol but cortisol that is the primary cause of the inflammation of the arteries. Cortisol is the hormone released in response to stress and a low level of blood glucocorticoids. Its primary functions are to increase blood sugar, suppress the immune system, and aid in fat, protein and carbohydrate metabolism. Stress levels are raised, as we know, when innate emotional needs are not being adequately met. And a physical stressor that also leads to increased cortisol production is our un-natural modern diet, over-loaded as it is with sugar- producing carbohydrates and processed foods. Perhaps, I reflected, my heart attacks were the price for my lifelong addiction to honey on toast, potatoes and fruit juice.

Graveline is a highly respected American physician, medical researcher and NASA astronaut. After he was prescribed statins to reduce his cholesterol level, he developed transient global amnesia – he could not even recognise his family. His memory only slowly recovered when he stopped taking the statins. NASA physicians prescribed them again at just half the dose, but the amnesia returned, so he stopped them for good and has since become an authoritative critic of them.

Cholesterol plays an important role in the body and the metabolic pathways in the brain, contributing vitally to the brain’s proper functioning, including mediating the formation of new synapses. It is the precursor of vitamin D and all our steroid and sex hormones. It also acts as a vital component of the immune system and as a protective antioxidant in its own right. Graveline refers to clinical trials and studies whose data show that cholesterol-lowering statins have negligible impact on heart disease in those who have not been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease, yet increase mortality rates overall from all causes.

Statins and saturated fat

The over-prescription of statins over the last 40 years was generated on the back of the ‘diet– heart’ hypothesis that suggested that dietary saturated fat raises cholesterol levels, and that these two substances somehow clog up our arteries, causing heart attacks. This notion would seem to have been thoroughly debunked by better science (as well as common sense and experience) but it still clings on in the collective mind and is still accepted as true by most doctors, partly, no doubt, because of the PR efforts of the pharmaceutical industry, for whom statins have generated vast fortunes. The food processing industry has also benefited from the cholesterol myth, introducing thousands of ‘low cholesterol’ products – cheap to produce margarines and spreads etc – to sell to an anxious public.

Graveline points out that having ‘normal’ or even ‘low’ cholesterol levels does not eliminate the risk of heart attack or stroke. In fact, 75 per cent of heart attack victims have normal levels of cholesterol. In the hospital, I was told mine was ‘normal’. Studies show that, while statins do fairly reliably lower blood cholesterol, taking the drug brings no improvement in terms of risk of heart disease or heart attack and no reduced risk of death, compared with not taking it. As Graveline provides evidence to show, people with high cholesterol often tend to live longer than those with low levels, and those with heart disease tend to have low levels of cholesterol. This rather suggests that the cholesterol levels that statin drugs are purported to reduce have little or nothing to do with heart disease in the first place.

Microbiologist, immunologist, and pioneer in the development of human cell culture technology Dr Myron Wentz puts it very succinctly: “There is no part of the body where cholesterol does not play important roles in physiology and metabolism. Just because it is found in arterial plaques does not mean it is the cause of heart disease. Rather, cholesterol is there as a repair molecule, called on to mend damage caused by inflammation. Because you usually find firemen at the location of a fire does not mean that they started the fire. Indeed, there is mounting evidence that cholesterol is involved in preventing cardiovascular disease rather than in its development.”

Statistics unchanged 

Since statins were introduced as a wonder drug in the 80s, the incidence of heart attacks and strokes has not changed. If they worked in the way that the pharmaceutical studies appear to show, the numbers of strokes and heart attacks should have fallen dramatically. They have not. However, the list of officially acknowledged statin side effects has grown, the main ones being damage to the peripheral nervous system, causing tingling, numbness, prickling of the hands and feet, and burning pain and paralysis; muscle damage, causing severe muscle weakness, intense muscle aches and pains, and disabling fatigue; kidney damage, which can be fatal; immune suppression; increased risk of diabetes; increased risk of cancer; heart failure; and decreased mental functioning, including confusion, memory loss, and transit global amnesia.

Other problems, including cataracts, liver dysfunction, rashes, hair loss in women, upset stomach, headache and insomnia have also been linked to statins. In addition, some GPs have described side effects such as irritability and ‘generally feeling old’ that are never mentioned in studies, yet are common. It would seem that many people are undoub- tedly being damaged and subjected to premature degenerative disease and death as a result of inges- ting statins and I resolved not to be one of them.


On the sixth day after my operation I was discharged and for the first couple of weeks or so I felt extremely uncomfortable and weak and experienced a lot of pain in my chest and the leg from which a vein had been extracted for the transplant. I kept falling asleep and had to take paracetamol a few times, especially at night. It took a while before I really felt on the mend. My GP encouraged me to resume taking the statins and other medications, which I had stopped again as soon as I got home (except for one soluble aspirin daily, which is said to thin the blood and has the same anti-inflammatory effect on arteries that statins have). I also began taking vitamin D supplements to counter the lack of sunshine this winter and was eating well again, thanks to Véronique’s care and the information we began gathering together about eating more healthily.

At home it was a relief to re-engage with work and colleagues again, albeit gently to begin with. Between sleeps and short walks I also read a few novels, something I rarely do these days. The one I enjoyed most was sent to me by my son, Mark. This was Musashi, by Eiji Yoshikawa, an epic samurai tale based on real characters. It was great to disappear into an exciting, exotic alien world for a while and mentally disengage from pain and inconveniences. The main character overcame great difficulties, including injury, heartbreak and being endlessly hunted, attaining wisdom from doing so. Just the tonic I needed.

 Not so intelligent now 

Six weeks after leaving hospital I was back at the John Radcliffe for X-rays, an ECG and other tests, before seeing Professor Taggart for a check up. He told me that the X-ray results were excellent and all the tests confirmed that the operation had been successful. Moreover, he said, he could tell just by looking at me that I was well.

“How come?” I asked.
“It’s your colour, your demeanour,” he said, with a smile.
“You are obviously healthy.” Then I made a mistake and said,
“That may be because I’m not taking any of the medication, apart from the aspirin.”

This did not go down well.

It was a clear example of his earlier observation conflicting with the beliefs he held about the value of statins. When I explained that I had read up on statins and did not trust the research on which their use was based, Professor Taggart’s immediate response was to say that trawling the internet for conspiracy theories was easy to do but an unreliable way to inform myself. This came across to me as a bit patronising. He evidently no longer thought I was “an intelligent man”. I didn’t bother explaining that I was basing my decision on several fully referenced books by respected doctors and professors, so I promptly shook his hand and thanked him for his skill and care. He said he would write to the pharmacist and ask her to discuss my medication with me.

Dishing out ‘meds’ 

Doctors, I realise, are obsessed with dishing out ‘meds’. (There were even posters on the hospital walls featuring TV celebrities, with speech bubbles coming out of their mouths, saying, “Don’t forget your meds!”) They seem to assume it is not normal if, by my age, a person is not taking some medication or other as a matter of course. I’m not against drug treatments but I do question ones where the side effects might be worse than the condition they are treating, the practice of mixing several potent drugs together, and the research funded by drug companies on which these regimes are based. (The evidence for the unscrupulous claims that the industry makes can be found in Dr David Healy’s brilliant book Pharmageddon.)

At home we got seriously interested in food. Another book we both read avidly, twice, was Trick and Treat, by Barry Groves, a real page turner for anyone whose attention becomes focused on their physical state – as my heart attacks made me focus on mine. It was the best book I came across about looking after your own health and is well worth reading for its common sense advice about diet and exercise, much of which contradicts the absurdities recommended by ‘nutritionists’ and the health-care industry.

At home we now generally avoid bread, pota- toes, pasta, rice, fruit juices, skimmed and semi- skimmed milk (we drink full cream milk from a nearby farm). We happily eat cheese, fatty meat of all kinds, fish, eggs, salad and green vegetables. This keeps the weight down and energy levels up. We never have margarine, processed ‘yogurts’, or any product labelled ‘low fat’ or ‘low cholesterol’. Instead we cook with butter or cold-pressed olive oil. As a result I have lost over a stone.

If you are interested in health, it is worth- while remembering that hydrogenated vegetable oils, and the trans fats they contain, are some of the most harmful substances you can put into your body and are the main causes of the epidemic of obesity and diabetes. They are found in practically every processed food and fizzy drink including cakes, bread, biscuits, soups, cereals and takeaway foods.

Fear of dying 

After a bodily setback like a non-fatal heart attack many people become anxious and begin to worry excessively about the future. As we know, it is worrying that causes depression. Conventional doctors seem often not to realise that one leads to the other, but they do take the risk of depression seriously. Despite loading me up with medicines (and medicines to counteract the side effect of the medicines), two doctors separately suggested that I should be prepared to take anti-depressants as well, in case I got depressed during my convalescence! No attempt was made to find out if I was worrying or suggest any better way of keeping depression at bay (such as getting one’s needs for emotional support, connection, sense of purpose, status and security met).

Worrying about one’s inevitable demise doesn’t make for a clear spirit. I take my inspiration from the words of Mark Twain: “The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.”

A decade or more ago I had an intense near-death experience. During a medical crisis in an intensive care unit I stopped breathing several times and, on each occasion, became aware of passing through the REM state portal into a realm beyond space and time where things that puzzled me were explained. Back in the hospital little time had passed, only enough for me to eventually gasp in a little breath or two before passing out again and returning to that place. Since then I don’t fear dying as I used to do when a child and will submit readily when my time comes.

Of course, I still think that I have things to do and enjoy on this earth, but death doesn’t wait to see if we’ve finished all our projects or had our fill of earthly enjoyments before it calls us back whence we came. It is the price we pay for freewill and having the chance to observe and participate in the wonders of creation: we all leave this familiar home, stepping out the door as it were, to rejoin the conscious universe, taking with us our contribution to it. In the meantime, I am grateful for the continuing ability to marvel at Reality from my current perspective, whilst preparing for that event as best as I can. And I thank the doctors, surgeons and nurses, and my wife and family, colleagues and friends for the opportunity.

This article was published in Human Givens journal, Vol 20, No 1 (2013).

For more articles like this subscribe to the Human Givens journal.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Think differently in 4 steps

Have you caught yourself thinking negatively lately and want to get out of that rut? Do you need help thinking constructively about a situation that is troubling you?

Strong emotions lead to black and white, 'all or nothing' catastrophic thinking and make it difficult to consider anything realistically. If you feel angry, sad, guilty or concerned about something, it's easy to get into the habit of catastrophic thinking. However, with very little effort you can train your brain to 'forget' to think negatively and increase your mental wellbeing.

There is a good reason to stop negative thinking in its tracks as soon as you can:

Negatively churning over a situation in your mind without resolving it is a gross misuse of the imagination and can, in the long run, lead to depression.

Simply by finding and reading this blog post you have indicated that you have the drive and self awareness necessary to change your thinking patterns, so here are four steps to training your brain to see things differently and in the long term, 'forget' to think negative thoughts at all:

1) Catch your negative thoughts

The first step is to identify any unhelpful thoughts that pop up. Someone in the grip of negative thinking is in a trance state and is prone to black and white thinking. If you are trapped in this state it can get more difficult to 'catch' yourself thinking overly negative thoughts, so a good tip is to spend a day going round with a notebook, writing down any negative thoughts you catch yourself thinking. If this seems like too much hard work, then consider how much effort your brain is wasting already by thinking negatively. Committing to one day with a notebook is much less work than the time and energy taken up by decades of unproductive negative thinking.

Practicing mindfulness or meditation can help you become more aware of your thought processes and make it easier to catch negative thoughts during the day before they can do further damage.

2) Challenging catastrophic thoughts

Once you have caught your negative thought, the next stage is to challenge them. Pulling yourself out of the negative emotional trance by challenging negative thoughts is a process which will come naturally the more you do it.

Rather than just lazily letting the negative thought wash over you, actually think about whether the content of the thought is really true, and whether you have any evidence to the contrary. This works because facing a problem this way engages your logical brain rather than the emotional brain, lifting you from the negative emotional trance state.

It's important not to be fooled though. If you find yourself thinking "Well, logically I am a stupid, bad person and everything I do is useless" then you are still in your emotional brain.

Negative thoughts about any scenario and situation, no matter how dire, can be challenged. If you are in any doubt about this fact, then we recommend reading Man's Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl, a Viennese psychiatrist and holocaust survivor who was able to see how both he and others in Auschwitz coped (or didn't) with the experience. He noticed that the sort of person the concentration camp prisoner became was the result of an inner decision and offered proof that everything can be taken away from us except the ability to choose our attitude in any given set of circumstances.

3) Reframe to widen your context

A purely negative thought is rarely useful. Any negative thought should always be countered with a context giving more positive thought. Making an effort to do this can be of great therapeutic benefit. This is called 'reframing' and as it becomes a habit to your brain, you will start to bypass negative thoughts entirely.

It's very easy to naturally sink into acceptance of negative thoughts, even if to an outside observer they are completely over the top ("I am a bad, useless person. I can't do anything right. Everyone hates me.")  The trick is to make a habit of challenging and putting any negative thoughts into the correct perspective. Putting a situation into context is an incredibly powerful way of combating negativity, and with practice, your brain will start to automatically widen the context of negative thoughts without you even having to think about it.

"I am a bad, useless person"
"I have made some mistakes, but so does everyone and my mistakes are actually an opportunity to learn how to act and do better in the future. I can think of specific examples of times I have achieved good things so I am not a bad person at all."

"I can't do anything."
"I am good at loads of things like playing the clarinet, making cakes, cycling and my job. Admittedly at the moment I am not that good at driving but I will practice and get better and pass my test eventually."

"Everyone hates me."
"My colleague is obviously having a bad day and has decided to take it out on me. I won't take it personally because I can think of lots of people who appreciate and love me for who I am."

This might feel uncomfortable and false at first but as you make a habit of testing out different perspectives your brain will warm to the idea. Your brain does not want to be mired in negativity because it takes up a lot of energy. Give it spare capacity by giving it a chance to get out of the negative rut and it will flourish.

4) Disempower anxiety

Anxiety is very destructive and there are many things you can do to beat it. Here are a few links to further information and support:
A note about trauma

If you think you are suffering from the effects of trauma then you may find it more difficult to see things differently.

Please see a qualified Human Givens therapist if you are suffering from PTSD/trauma symptoms, as trauma can usually be quickly and easily treated.

How to master anxiety

Thursday, 20 June 2013

What is different about the human givens approach?

"Techniques of sufficient power to completely 
revolutionise our approach to parenting, teaching 
and the caring professions."
- Dr. Nick Baylis, Lecturer 
in Positive Psychology, Cambridge University

There are currently hundreds of different therapeutic models in the world, each claiming to know how to relieve mental distress, thus illustrating that there is a high level of confusion in the field about how best to help people. Yet there is a wealth of scientific knowledge available to us from diverse disciplines — psychology, neurobiology, the social sciences etc. — and much ancient wisdom handed down through the ages, all of which could bring clarity to the subject.

Surely, we have enough information available to us to enable us to stand back, see what works and, most importantly, understand why?

Twenty years ago a group of psychologists and therapists set out to discover exactly that. Looking in detail at why some therapies work (to varying degrees) and others don’t, they attacked the question from a scientific viewpoint, discarding any approach which was dogmatic or hypothetical, or which didn’t agree with the emerging findings of neuroscience.

The result was a synthesis of everything that can reliably be said to help human beings function well and be happy. It soon became known as the human givens approach, after the scientifically well-established 'givens' of human nature.

Added to this too were remarkable new insights into the purpose of some long-unexplained brain mechanisms — including: why we dream, and how this relates to depression and psychosis, the importance of the REM state, why we are so vulnerable to addiction and the importance of caetextia — which have increased our understanding still further and had enormous beneficial impact for treatment.

The human givens approach to therapy rapidly showed itself to be a fast, brief and extraordinarily effective way to improve the psychological state of people with problems; bringing down their emotional arousal, reframing and detraumatising their past, re-connecting them with the resources they already have so that they can get on with life.

Continually evolving 

As knowledge of how human beings function continues to grow it is essential for therapists that they never stop learning. The human givens approach to therapy is an open and evolving concept — continually incorporating new knowledge and insights as they come to light — which frees us to see more clearly what really works and why, and makes therapists and counsellors more effective at relieving distress.

Cost savings

By helping people move on in their lives as quickly and effectively as possible, using the HG approach has potentially enormous cost-saving implications for our health services and beyond.

Do some training in the human givens approach or click on the book covers to find out more:

Human Givens Institute / Human Givens College / Human Givens Foundation / Human Givens Publishing