Saturday, August 29, 2015

MINDFULNESS MEDITATION CAN HELP PEOPLE TO SMOKE LESS

Meditation can decrease a person’s desire to smoke without them even realising.

Texas Tech University (TTU) and University of Oregon researchers conducted a study involving 60 students, around half of whom smoked, and enrolled them into relaxation classes.

Half the group did muscle relaxation exercises while the other half were taught mindfulness meditation.

After two weeks, the smokers who had practised mindfulness meditation had reduced their puffing and inhaling habits by two-thirds. Not only that but they were also unaware they had.

According to the lead author of the study, Dr Yi-Yuan Tang [pictured left], a professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences and Presidential Endowed Chair in Neuroscience at TTU, when the students were asked if they had smoked less they replied in the negative. However, tests were carried out on the amount of carbon dioxide in the students’ lungs; the tests revealed a 60 per cent reduction in smoking two weeks after the study.

‘The students changed their smoking behaviour but were not aware of it,’ Tang said. ‘When we showed the data to a participant who said they had smoked 20 cigarettes, this person checked their pocket immediately and was shocked to find 10 left.

‘We then measured intention to see if it correlated with smoking changes and found there was no correlation.

‘But if you improve the self-control network in the brain and moderate stress-reactivity, then it’s possible to reduce smoking.’


The study authors state that recent neuroimaging studies have shown that smokers have less activity in the brain regions associated with self-control, raising questions around whether targeting these neurobiological circuits could be a way to treat addiction.

The study is interesting, to say the least. I have always taken the view that the key to breaking any addiction is desire or ‘want-power’. This study does not directly challenge that thesis but suggests perhaps that desire may be explicit or implicit, and that the latter may be associated with improvements in the self-control network of the brain.


Study: Yi-Yuan Tang, Michael I Posner , Mary K Rothbart , and Nora D Volkow. ‘Circuitry of self-control and its role in reducing addiction.’ Trends in Cognitive Sciences, August 2015, Vol. 19, No. 8. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2015.06.007.


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IMPORTANT NOTICE: Please read the Terms of Use and Disclaimer. The information provided on or linked to this blog is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your medical practitioner or other qualified health provider because of something you have read on this blog or elsewhere. For immediate mental health advice or support call (in Australia) Lifeline on 13 1 1 14 or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800; in any country call the relevant mental health care emergency hotline (if there is one) or simply dial your emergency assistance telephone number and ask for help. For information, advice and referral on mental illness contact (in Australia) the SANE Helpline on 1800 18 SANE (7263) or go online via sane.org.




Monday, August 24, 2015

LIVING MINDFULLY IS THE ANSWER TO THE ABSURD


‘If sub specie aeternitatis there is no reason to believe that anything matters, then that doesn't matter either, and we can approach our absurd lives with irony instead of heroism or despair.’
Thomas Nagel.


Life is absurd---and I will hear nothing to the contrary.

The Christian, as well as others with religious faith of one kind or another, will tell you that life, although at times unfair or seemingly unfair, is ultimately just and meaningful because, so they assert, there is a Supreme Being in charge who will, so it goes, ensure that all things are ‘squared up’ in the fulness of time. Thus, it is said that those who appear to have suffered unfairly in this lifetime will be compensated in the supposed life-to-come, and those who appear to get away with their wrongdoings in this life will be punished in the life-to-come.

Well, that is a nice myth, and quite comforting to some. I must say that I derived some comfort from it for many years. I no longer do. The myth ‘died’ on me not so much when I came to the view that there were not only no good reasons for believing in the existence of an all-powerful and all-loving God but also good reasons for not believing in the existence of such a Being. No, the myth really died on me when I saw, in all its horror, the presence everywhere of what is known as gratuitous evil and suffering. Evil or suffering is gratuitous (that is, pointless or unnecessary) if, in the view of reasonable persons, the world would be improved by its absence and when no greater good can result from its existence as opposed to non-existence. True, some people do appear to be ennobled by suffering but I hardly think that makes the suffering right or necessary. You see, all too often too high a price is paid for the experience, and all too often the experience happens at the terrible expense of the innocent, the helpless and the powerless such as children or mere bystanders.


Actually, it is virtually impossible to provide a totally satisfactory definition of gratuitous evil and suffering. Many Christian theologians seize upon that in an attempt to show that there really is no such thing as gratuitous evil and suffering. They will stop at nothing to avoid blaming or otherwise implicating God for or as respects the existence of evil and suffering of whatever kind. As I see it, the difficulties encountered by reasonable persons only serve to highlight the absurdity and irrationality of the phenomenon --- as well as its terribleness and unacceptability.

Here’s just one example of the phenomenon of gratuitous evil and suffering. I could give you many. A cousin of mine died at the age of ten from incurable brain cancer. That is as good an example of gratuitous evil and suffering as any. What did my cousin do to ‘deserve’ that? Now, I know that question is perhaps not the ‘right’ one to ask, and maybe not even a ‘good’ question to ask. For starters, the question implies that disease or suffering is the result of wrongoing on the part of the sufferer. However, the very fact that we ask such a question, as most if not all of us will do at some point or other in our lives, points to the very existence of ‘the absurd.’ We ask the question---but we get no satisfactory answer at all. None whatsoever. No 'voice' answers back. Not even the voice of reason. There is just a huge void before us. (The Christian theologian's 'answer', namely, that God suffers in and with His creation, is far from satisfying. That may satisfy some but, I suspect, not most people.)

The philosophy of absurdism, together with its first cousin existentialism, is closely associated with the writings of the French philosopher and novelist Albert Camus [pictured right]. His writings have played an important part in the development of my own philosophy of life. Camus wrote that, on the one hand, we have this insatiable yearning for life to make sense, that is, have purpose and meaning, yet on the other hand we find, if we are rigorously honest with ourselves, that life does not have any innate or intrinsic purpose or meaning. ‘The absurd,’ wrote Camus, ‘is born of this confrontation between the human need and the unreasonable silence of the world.’

We must be careful here. The human being is not absurd, nor is life itself absurd if we see it as it really is---the natural and inevitable outworking of a sometimes orderly but at other times quite disorderly and even chaotic interplay of forces and events most of which are outside our conscious or personal control. Life is what it is. Terrible though it is, children dying of brain or bone cancer is precisely what one would expect to find in a world that has no innate or intrinsic meaning or purpose. However, when we place our desire for meaning and purpose and all our other hopes and expectations alongside this world which is totally oblivious to all our desires and even to our very existence, well, that’s when we get the absurd. Says Camus, ‘The absurd is not in man or in the world but in their presence together … it is the bond uniting them.’

Camus’ answer to the existence of the absurd is this---rebellion … revolt. Yes, we must rebel, even revolt, against the absurd. That will not make the absurd go away but we must live as if there were meaning in our every act, thought and word. Yes, we will ultimately die and in a very real sense all that we did will come to naught, but we can invest life with a certain meaning and purpose if we live fully, are true to ourselves, and commit ourselves to some noble cause beyond ourselves. ‘One must imagine Sisyphus happy,’ Camus wrote in his philosophical essay The Myth of Sisyphus(Sisyphus, a figure of Greek mythology, was condemned to an eternity of rolling a boulder uphill, only to have to watch it roll back down again. Camus compared what he saw as the absurdity of our lives here on earth with the fate of Sisyphus.) We must open ourselves to ‘the gentle indifference of the world’ (Camus' words) and be able to say, as did Meursault, the anti-hero in Camus' great philosophical novel The Stranger, near the very end of his life, ‘I felt that I had been happy and that I was happy again.’

We do have choices in life. Perhaps they are not ‘real’ choices, for I think there is much to be said for the view that the choices that we make are necessarily determined by matters (eg our genes) that are beyond our personal or conscious control. Even our seemingly 'free' choices are largely determined by our temperament, our likes and dislikes, and the choices we've made previously. Be that as it may, we can still choose to be happy---no matter what. We can still choose to live mindfully. And we can still choose to make every moment of our finite existence here on earth count.

Yes, living mindfully, one moment at a time, is the 'answer'---in the sense of being the most appropriate response in all the circumstances---to the existence of the absurd. No, mindfulness cannot make the absurd disappear. Nothing can accomplish that feat. However, living mindfully can invest every moment of our wakeful and at times fitful existence with purpose and meaning. The purpose and meaning is in the doing, that is, in the living of our days … mindfully.

The great Persian philosopher, astronomer and poet Omar Khayyám wrote, ‘Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.’ How true that is! This present moment, which as I write those words has become the next moment and the one after that, is all that we have. Our life here on earth is a succession of life-moments each one of which is an instant of time in which we live, move and have our being. The choice which is yours and mine is this---will we choose to live each life-moment mindfully or mindlessly?

Rebel against the absurd. Revolt. Choose to be happy. Act as if your every act, thought and word had meaning and purpose. Embrace the delicious irony that in the overall scheme of things nothing truly matters at all in the sense of having any eternal lasting significance. But I urge you to do more---live nobly and, above all, mindfully … in the face of an otherwise meaningless and indifferent world.



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LIVING IN THE NOW WITH FRENCH POET JACQUES PRÉVERT









Friday, August 21, 2015

KILL THE BUDDHA---AND LIVE!

I have read some great spiritual books, and met some great spiritual teachers, in my lifetime but I must and will say this---only you can save yourself. Only you can relieve the misery of your broken life. Only you can wake up and be born anew. No one---not Jesus, not Buddha, not Muhammad, nor anyone else for that matter---can wake you up or otherwise effect this radical change in you.

Now, what I’ve just said is rank heresy to many religious people who think that salvation or enlightenment---call it what you will---comes from accepting this person or that person into one’s life or from following a certain prescribed path or set of teachings. Well, I am a heretic, and I’m proud to be one. A heretic is one who chooses, and who chooses to think differently and be different. We need more heretics in the world---more people who are prepared to think and live differently. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that only a heretic can change our damaged, troubled and threatened world. I go further and say that only a heretic, who is prepared to surrender and throw out of the window all their past thinking and conditioning on matters religious and non-religious, can wake up and change the world for the better. So, get real. Stop worshipping others. Look within. The truth is within you.

One of the great books of the past 40-odd years is If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him! by the American psychotherapist Sheldon B Kopp [pictured left]. Now, that is a great title for a book. The idea of killing the Buddha---or Jesus or any other holy person---is quite horrible, and the idea of the taking of life in Buddhism is especially revolting (in theory, at least). The point of the book’s title is fairly obvious --- no meaning that comes from outside of ourselves is real. Any Buddha you meet ‘on the road’, that is, outside of yourself, is not the real Buddha. It is a counterfeit---an imposter! The real Buddha (or Christ for that matter) is within you. Got that? Within you. Inside.

Jesus understood that point perfectly. That is why he is quoted as having said that ‘the kingdom of God is within you’ (Lk 17:21 [KJV]). He never asked people to worship him or offer him sacrifices. He said, ‘Follow me’ (Mk 2:14 [KJV]), that is, live the way Jesus do, and ‘Feed my sheep’ (Jn 21:17 [KJV]), that is, attend to the needs of others, especially the marginalized and the disadvantaged. He also said, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice' (Mt 9:13 [NIV]). And while I’m on the subject---well, sort of---do you want to know what makes a true ‘Christian nation’? I will tell you. A Christian nation---irrespective of the religious affiliation(s) (if any) of its many inhabitants---is one which feeds the poor, houses the homeless, provides universal health care, livable wages and other benefits to its people, protects, restores and enhances the environment, and works with other nations for world peace. That is what Jesus would have wanted. That is what Buddha would have wanted as well. Ditto Muhammad.

Back to the theme of this post. Others can point the way but each of us must be our own teacher, master and savior---and disciple. Buddhism is very strong on this. Listen to these words from what is known as ‘The Buddha’s Farewell Address’:

Therefore, O Ananda, be ye lamps unto yourselves. 
Rely on yourselves, and do not rely on external help.
 [13]

Hold fast to the truth as a lamp. 
Seek salvation alone in the truth. 
Look not for assistance to any one besides yourselves.
 
[14]


Here’s a Zen exchange that I like. It illustrates the futility of seeking truth in the form of someone else’s conceptual, conditioned teachings. It also illustrates that each one of us is in exactly the same position as respects both our ignorance of the real and our innate ability to have direct and immediate access to and understanding of the real:

A monk asked ‘What is the meaning of the First Patriarch's coming from the West?’
Master: ‘Ask the post over there.’
Monk: ‘I do not understand.’
Master: ‘I do not either, any more than you.’

So many of our emotional and psychological problems arise from our bondage to self. We need to be set free from that bondage, but only we---that is, the person each one of us is---can do that. The so-called ‘higher power’ is to be found inside each one of us despite the fact that many people see it otherwise. The power is a power-not-oneself that is capable of freeing us from the bondage of self and to self. The power is the primal, ontological power of being itself that expresses itself in us and as us.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I endorse psychiatry. I work with psychiatrists and lecture at an educational institution---the NSW Institute of Psychiatry---the objects of which, among others, are to assist and foster research and investigation into the causation, prevention, diagnosis and treatment of mental illnesses and disorders, to assist and foster post-graduate education and training in psychiatry, and to prescribe programs of training in psychiatry and mental health for both medical practitioners and for other persons including non-medical groups. Psychiatry helped me to overcome clinical depression and one or two other mental health issues as well. However, a psychiatrist, psychologist or counsellor can but help to facilitate recovery. They treat but do not heal. Deep down, all healing is self-healing.

The real Buddha or Christ is within you. It is an innate potentiality. It is both a presence and a power that is waiting for you to unleash it. I love these words of Dr Norman Vincent Peale: ‘There is a spiritual giant within us, which is always struggling to burst its way out of the prison we have made for it.’ This spiritual giant is unleashed when, firstly, you really want it to be unleashed and, secondly, when you remove the obstacles to its activation. Want-power is especially important, and you must surrender, that is, let go.

So, if you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him. (Metaphorically, that is.)










IMPORTANT NOTICE: Please read the Terms of Use and Disclaimer. The information provided on or linked to this blog is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your medical practitioner or other qualified health provider because of something you have read on this blog or elsewhere. For immediate mental health advice or support call (in Australia) Lifeline on 13 1 1 14 or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800; in any country call the relevant mental health care emergency hotline (if there is one) or simply dial your emergency assistance telephone number and ask for help. For information, advice and referral on mental illness contact (in Australia) the SANE Helpline on 1800 18 SANE (7263) or go online via sane.org.

Friday, August 14, 2015

MINDFULNESS THROUGH THE EYES OF A CHILD

One of my favourite books as a child was one entitled The Magic Shell

In many ways this book is like another in my collection which I loved as a child (and still do)---The Red Balloon---in that the book consists primarily of photographs. The two books are very similar in other respects as well. Both beautifully capture, in a highly lyrical way, all the whimsy, imagination and free spirit of the child. In both books, the text is minimal; it is the photos that tell the story. In the case of The Magic Shell the photos were taken by the book's author, Nadine Amadio (1929-2009) [pictured below right], with a Rolleiflex camera using Kodak Tri-X film.

Nadine Amadio, who was married to the famed Australian jazz musician Ray Price from 1953 to 1968, came from a very artistic and musical family. She was an Australian writer, poet, journalist, arts critic, mythographer, photographer and film producer, with her works and interests encompassing fiction, biography, poetry, fine arts, art appreciation, music, mythology (myth 'is a life-force that combats the futility and potentially suicidal emptiness of a purely materialistic society', she wrote) and native folklore, editing, photography and  painting as well as scriptwriting and executive producing for films and documentaries

In 1976 Ms Amadio received a New Writers Fellowship from the Literature Board of the Australia Council. (To be technical, Ms Amadio was hardly a ‘new writer’ by 1976, for she had already authored and published a few books including Amanda and the Dachshund in 1965 as well as The Magic Shell in 1958.) For many years Ms Amadio collaborated with the distinguished Australian painter and close friend of hers Charles Blackmanmy favourite work of theirs being The New Adventures of Alice in Rainforest Land. She published two books about Blackman and his work---Charles Blackman: The Lost Domains and Orpheus, the Song of Forever---and set up the Blackman Trust for his benefit. She was also close to many other prominent Australian artists and put together a book about the celebrated Australian Aboriginal artist Albert Namatjira entitled Albert Namatjira: The Life and Work of an Australian Painter. There were several other literary and scholarly works of hers (for example, Pacifica: Myth, Magic and Traditional Wisdom from the South Sea Islands) but I will stop there. Suffice to say she was quite versatile.

The Magic Shell is a book of 60-odd photos and captions photographed, written and arranged by Ms Amadio. The photographs depict a Sydney of the late 1950s, both the central business district itself ('wide streets and narrow streets, along with hundreds of double-decker buses') and the northern beaches of Sydney, where I now live, in particular, Palm Beach ('White sand stretched for miles and miles and all the while the sea came rolling in, breaking on the shore in a mass of foam'). There are also photos of what we Australians call ‘the bush’, in this case country (rural) New South Wales. All the photos freeze in time and space an era, and a place, that for the most part have gone. Ditto The Red Balloon.


The Magic Shell is about a small boy’s ‘magical’ journey from the country, where he lives on a farm, to Sydney to visit his Aunt Marie at Potts Point, through Sydney's central business district ('even more wonderful than he had imagined'), to the wonder of the sea at Palm Beach ('all so vast, so blue and so wonderful'). On the book's inside front cover, the author has written these charmingly evocative words:

This is Sydney. …

It is a big city full of tall, new buildings towering upwards and quaint old buildings nestling in their long familiar places. Like all big cities, it is filled with people---the rich and the poor, the seeing and the unseeing. And there is always something special to be seen in this city: perhaps it is the harbor, edged by gardens and coves, docks and ships; perhaps the narrow, straggling streets, packed with surprises; or maybe the long golden arms of beaches stretching to the north and the south. Many strange and enchanted things have been known to happen in this city. And sometimes there comes a stranger who, especially if he is very young, sees it for the first time and is filled with wonder. …

Yes, life is full of ‘strange and enchanted things’, if only we would experience them as such. Even the seemingly drab, commonplace, ordinary and familiar can be, and in truth are, a source of great wonder and enchantment. Children are expert at seeing this. Sadly, adults are not. Somehow, in growing up---in many ways I hate those words---most of us lose our capacity to appreciate the wonder and mystery of life. We must become like a ‘stranger’ if we are to see things as if ‘for the first time’ and ‘filled with wonder’. As one great teacher expressed it some 2,000 or more years ago, we must 'change and become like little children' (Mt 18:3 [NIV]). 

While at the beach Mark, the boy in the story, explored the rocks by the water’s edge and the rock pools:

The rocks were full of mysterious little pools. Tiny fish were swimming around amongst the bright pebbles, starfish and large spiky shapes that reminded Mark of porcupines. Every pool had new and exciting things to discover and Mark ran eagerly from pool to pool, wondering what he’d find next. He hoped he might find his magic shell but he only found small ones with shellfish still living inside.

In due course Mark found that elusive ‘magic’ shell---a ‘great shining shell’. 'It was more beautiful than any shell he had ever dreamed of.' Mark put the shell to his ear and ‘the sea gave him her own song.’ The author writes, ‘Now he would have it to listen to always. It was indeed a magic shell.’

I loved this book as a child, and, now aged 60, I still love it. I will not part with the book. 

The book is no literary masterpiece--it doesn't purport to be---but it does has an unmistakable charm and quaintness. As I re-read the book this morning it occurred to me that Ms Amadio had captured, both in her photos and text, the essence of mindfulness, not to mention the essence of childhood as well. Yes, the author captured that wonderful ability, which we all need, to see things as they really are, to appreciate events and occurrences, and the small things of life, as they are unfolding. Such is the ‘magic’ of life. It is nothing supernatural. It is something very natural---so natural that we take it for granted and fail to see it. The wonder and mystery of life lies in its very ephemerality and transience. The fact that one day we will lose it all---whatever 'it' may be---makes life all that more special.

Life is indeed filled with wonder and awe. The child, so it seems, is intuitively mindful. In becoming adults we were taught---conditioned---to analyse, criticise, judge, compare and interpret. In so doing, we lose much of our innate ability to see and experience things as they actually happen. That is a very sad thing. The regular practice mindfulness enables us to regain that joyous, childlike ability to see things for the first time and filled with wonder.

May you find your ‘magic shell' today.




The photographs in this post (other than that of Nadine Amadio)
are
from The Magic Shell (Sydney: Ure Smith Pty Limited, 1958).
Copyright © The Estate of the Late Nadine Amadio.
The photograph of Ms Amadio is by Peter Morris.
All rights reserved.


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Friday, August 7, 2015

MINDFULNESS, VETERANS AND PTSD

Mindfulness therapy appears to help veterans cope with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a new study suggests. The report was published in the August 4, 2015 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Dr Melissa Polusny [pictured right], a staff psychologist from the Minneapolis VA Health Care System, and colleagues randomly assigned 116 veterans with PTSD to nine sessions of either mindfulness-based stress-reduction (MBSR) therapy or present-centred group therapy, which focused on current life problems.

The researchers found that during treatment and in the two months following, MBSR therapy improved PTSD symptoms more than did present-centred group therapy. In fact, those who had MBSR experienced a 49 per cent reduction in PTSD symptoms, compared with a 28 per cent reduction in symptoms among those who had present-centred group therapy.


As patients’ mindfulness skills increased, they showed improvement in PTSD symptoms such as nightmares, flashbacks of the traumatic event, and avoiding things that might remind them of the traumatic event. In addition, patients experienced improvements in irritability, depression, and quality of life.

‘We think that teaching people these mindfulness skills helps them to have a different relationship with their PTSD symptoms — a willingness to let thoughts be there without trying to push them away,’ says Dr Polusny.


Reference:
Polusny M A, et al. ‘Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Among Veterans.’ JAMA. 2015;314(5):456-465.


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IMPORTANT NOTICE: Please read the Terms of Use and Disclaimer. The information provided on or linked to this blog is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your medical practitioner or other qualified health provider because of something you have read on this blog or elsewhere. For immediate advice or support call (in Australia) Lifeline on 13 1 1 14 or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800. For information, advice and referral on mental illness contact (in Australia) the SANE Helpline on 1800 18 SANE (7263) go online via sane.org. In other countries call the relevant mental health care emergency hotline or simply dial your emergency assistance telephone number and ask for help. 




Sunday, August 2, 2015

LIVING IN THE NOW WITH FRENCH POET JACQUES PRÉVERT

‘Sweet present of the present.’ Jacques Prévert.


Here's the 'secret' to living fully and mindfully. This is it---learn how to live in a 'small second of eternity'. That's the good advice from a certain Frenchman of yesteryear.

The greatest French poet of last century was Jacques Prévert (1900-1977) [pictured right and below]. His reputation in that regard was established with the publication of his book Paroles (a volume of his collected poems) in 1945.

Prévert was also a distinguished and innovative screenwriter (Les Enfants du Paradis (Children of Paradise), Remorques (Stormy Waters))---a great exponent of French poetic realism---and a vehement anti-clericalist ('Our Father / Who art in heaven / Stay there / And we will stay on earth / Which is sometimes so pretty' [from his poem 'Pater Noster']). I have loved and enjoyed his poetry and fables for children for over 45 years. Actually, I first read a collaborated work of his, the whimsical children's book Bim (which was also made into a film written and directed by Albert Lamorisse of The Red Balloon (Le Ballon Rouge) fame), when I was a child. 

What I particularly love about Prévert's poems is his ability to capture a single moment, or a succession of single moments, of the eternal now---for all time. Take, for example, his poem ‘Alicante’:

Une orange sur la table
Ta robe sur le tapis
Et toi dans mon lit.
Doux présent du présent
Fraîcheur de la nuit
Chaleur de ma vie.

An orange on the table
Your dress on the rug
And you in my bed.
Sweet present of the present
Cool of the night
Warmth of my life.

‘Sweet present of the present.’ How much truth there is in those five words (well, four in the original French)! The present moment is the only moment we truly have. Some call it the eternal now, because it is always the present moment which is ever-renewing itself as---the present moment! The eternal now is the portal through which we experience the present moment, indeed every moment---but only one moment at a time.


So many of Prévert’s poems are set in Paris, especially the Paris after World War II. Many concern love ('Love is so simple,' he wrote). One finds in almost all of his poems that typically French post-War existential angst and disillusionment but there is also an almost surreal touch to some of his writings. As respects the latter, there is no surprise there as Prévert was once (albeit only for a short period) a member of the Surrealist movement

Here is Prévert’s poem ‘Paris de nuit’ (‘Paris At Night’). As you read the six lines of this poem you can actually see and feel the present moment renew itself into the next present moment and so forth:

Trois allumettes une à une allumées dans la nuit
La premiére pour voir ton visage tout entier
La seconde pour voir tes yeux
La dernière pour voir ta bouche
Et l'obscuritè tout entière pour me rappeler tout cela
En te serrant dans mes bras.

Three matches one by one struck in the night
The first to see your face in its entirety
The second to see your eyes
The last to see your mouth
And the darkness all around to remind me of all these
As I hold you in my arms. 

Could you not see and perhaps hear the three matches being struck one after the other? Well, I could. And that imagery of light and dark. There is the light of the present moment---and the darkness of all around it (the enormity of eternity, the great unkown).

The author (IEJ) in Guérande, France in 2014

Next is Prévert’s poem ‘Les prodiges de la liberté’ (‘The Signs of Freedom’, but often cited as ‘The Wonders of Life’):

Entre les dents d'un piège
La patte d'un renard blanc
Et du sang sur la neige
Le sang du renard blanc
Et des traces dans la neige
Les traces du renard blanc
Qui s'enfuit sur trois pattes
Dans le soleil couchant
Avec entre les dents
Un lièvre encore vivant.

In the teeth of a trap
The paw of a white fox
And on the snow, blood
The blood of the white fox
And in the snow, tracks
The tracks of the white fox
Who escaped on three legs
As the sun was setting
A rabbit between his teeth
Still alive.

Parc de Belleville, Paris, France

That poem, along with many others of Prévert, reminds me of the haiku poetry of Japan, particularly the poems of Bashō. There is a directness and an immediacy about the words and their flow---a directness and immediacy that is the very essence of the living of these days. It is the practice of the presence of mindfulness from one moment to the next. Take, for example, Prévert's 'haikuesque' poem 'L'Autumne' ('Autumn'):

Un cheval s'écroule au milieu d'une allée 
Les feuilles tombent sur lui 
Notre amour frissonne 
Et le soleil aussi. 

A horse collapses in the middle of an alley
Leaves fall on him
Our love trembles
And the sun too.

You get the same directness and immediacy of the present moment--frozen in time and space---in the poem 'La Belle Saison' (English title: 'Summer'):

A jeun perdue glacée 
Toute seule sans un sou 
Une fille de seize ans 
Immobile debout 
Place de la Concorde 
A midi le Quinze Août.

Lost, starving, frozen
Alone, and penniless
A sixteen-year old girl
Standing motionless
Place de la Concorde
August fifteenth, noon, more or less.

Saint-Marc-sur-Mer, France (photo taken by the author)

I'll leave you to read offline Prévert's much longer poem 'Déjeuner du Matin' (English title: 'Breakfast'). (‘He poured the coffee / Into the cup / He put the milk / Into the cup of coffee / He put the sugar / Into the coffee with milk / With a small spoon / He churned / He drank the coffee … .’ It is Prévert at his very best.)

Now, here is his poem ‘Le jardin’ (‘The Garden’):

Des milliers et des milliers d'années
Ne sauraient suffire 
Pour dire 
La petite seconde d'éternité 
Où tu m'as embrassé 
Où je t'ai embrassèe 
Un matin dans la lumière de l'hiver 
Au parc Montsouris à Paris 
A Paris 
Sur la terre 
La terre qui est un astre.

Thousands and thousands of years
would not be enough
to tell of
that small second of eternity
when you held me
when I held you
one morning
in winter’s light,
in Montsouris Park
in Paris,
on earth,
this earth
that is a star.

‘That small second of eternity’ ('that tiny instant of all eternity', in another translation)---that is all we have. In the immensity of all eternity our whole life here on earth is, yes, one small second. That is a very sobering reflection but know this: if you want to live fully then you must live each second as if it were your last. (Not to put too fine a point on it, it may well be your last. Who knows?) 

But there's much more to those words 'that small second of eternity', for the only life we can truly know and experience is that ever-so-ephemeral present moment---but it is more than sufficient ... provided we use it wisely. Here's some good advice on the subject from Prévert: 'Life is a cherry / Death is the pit / Love the cherry tree.' And this: 'Eat on the grass / Hurry up / Sooner or later / The grass will eat on you.' Get the message?

Remember this, my friends---‘that small second of eternity’ is of enormous importance. Indeed, it is of infinite importance. It was William Blake who wrote:

TO see a world in a grain of sand,
  And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
  And eternity in an hour.

Just as the entire world is in a grain of sand, so the immensity and infinity of all eternity is in each and every second of life---your life!

I will let Jacques Prévert have the final word. It's about happiness. 'Even if happiness forgets you a little bit, never completely forget about it.'