Pondering the power of the mind

From the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds

Next to my computer desk, there is a pipe that regularly emits a sound that is EXACTLY like a pheasant’s.

Because this past summer the little girl next door had said they had a pheasant in their garden (a likely occurrence, as there are lots of pheasants around here and a field and woods lie just beyond their house), my brain could not imagine anything else but a pheasant making that noise. For weeks I would hear it, all the while ignoring the rational part of my brain telling me “it’s too regular, always at the same distance, rhythm and volume, to be a real pheasant!”. I would hear it and occasionally get up and try very hard to see whether the other neighbour’s very manicured garden (which gives onto the other neighbour’s house, but NOT a field) contained a pheasant who needed rescuing (or chasing away by my dog, as my secret fun switch would prefer).

Eventually I gave in, listened to my rational voice, and investigated. It is the pipe. Now, when I hear the sound, my brain makes the choice every time: do I bring up the image of a pheasant, beautiful plumage and bird brained? Or the image of a rusty pipe? My brain chooses the bird for the image, and the pipe as my rational knowledge.

The same thing happened many, many years ago, as I walked down Kentish Town road from my flat and made my way to the old building that contained the University of North London (title and building setting now all vanished, there is a pizza express and the name has gone, merged into some other no-doubt horrid university of London).

My eyes caught this amazing view of a blue-blue lake, so high as to appear almost tilted, with even a coastline and boats on its edges. There were even some sort of hills, or banks. It was an impossible sight, of course, I knew it, but for many days I couldn’t for the life of me see anything else. Until, eventually, under closer and careful scrutiny, it became clear: it was the great big roof of a factory. I’m not even sure whether it was blue or whether the steel reflected the blueness of the sky. As I did now with the pheasant, I let my brain decide what it saw, and for many, many months, I knew it was a factory, but I still saw the lake.

I’m not sure what all this is a parable for. We discussed homeopathy with my husband the other day: a dear friend “believes” in it, and another dear friend almost lost her son’s eye as she tried to cure him long-distance with her homeopathic doctor in France rather than doing what the gp here in the UK said. We noticed how often the homeopathic doctor acts as a counsellor, a psychologist, but as she does not declare herself to be one, even though she helps enormously, prescribing what is tantamount to a placebo, is she a quack, a fraudster? Rationality would say she is. So are countless professions and roles, from the guru to the reiki practitioner (especially when you have delved so deep in the history of reiki that you know where it came from, and know most of the rituals are completely unneccessary, and Usui himself wouldn’t have dreamed to charge anybody) to some people who add a lot more to simple meditation techniques and call them by new fancy names, to many magicians… where do you draw the line between fraud and well-meaning help?

The same for religion: I am translating my father’s book and I see depictions of his own and other people’s resourcefulness and sense of adventure, and then he attributes their safety to this presence, this “friend”, and we all know who he’s talking about.

I remember when I used to believe I was talking to god, it was nice! And, if your religion is not making money off you, and helps you, is it that important to discredit it?

If believing the soul goes on and my friends are coming back to be near me and comfort me, nobody is being paid for it, it is free, is it therefore bad?

Money I guess is in the equation, but then I remember my wise friend, when I told her I couldn’t charge for my tarot readings as I do them because I actually care for the people I am reading to, and didn’t want to profit, and she said asking for money ensures a) that they heed your words more carefully and b) that there is an exchange: your energy and time spent and their money. That made sense to me at the time.

So is the homeopathic doctor who spends so much time listening and advising a fraud because she sells stuff that (presumably?) she actually believes that works? Is she a fraud even if she provides a lot of emotional support and advice people feel the need to get from her rather than, say, a friend? What if you have no friends nearby, or no suitable friends… is it still bad?

Well there you go, another bit of those time wasting posts that mean very little. You’re all in my thoughts, even if I’ve been not reading lately what with the house full and all.


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