On going soft in the head

Jessica. By Thomas Hawk, San Francisco

Jessica. By Thomas Hawk, San Francisco — The homeless girl with love in her eyes.

It was during a balmy mid-afternoon in Central Oxford that I and my friend of some 20 years’ standing gingerly negotiated a crossing of the busy street that had first been lain a millennia ago during Saxon times — then a loosely set cobbled carriageway running northwards up from the ford of the oxen at Grandpont, some half mile or so distant along adjoining St. Aldates. The year was 1992 and a palpably self-satisfied, Thatcher-hewn metropolitan hum of affluence pervaded the air in equal measure to the oppressive diesel fumes belching from the buses and taxis that laboured and lurched their way along Cornmarket Street towards Carfax, twixt which our bodies wove, breathing in unnatural rhythms, yet mysteriously embracing the effluvium with bare arms and wide open hearts, unburdened neither by concerns nor the otherwise ubiquitously lugged, logo-laden bags of well-sated shoppers.

And then it hit me. Like Gabriel’s Sledgehammer, like Drury’s hypnotically corrective stick — ich liebe dich! I knew I was now in love, and that I loved my friend; I loved the woman who brushed past us so irritably; I loved, too, the arthritic elderly gentleman who froze with anxious eyes in deliberating the manner of his crossing, and I loved the carcinogenic particles pumping through my lungs out into the yielding air, the dumb dummies posing erect at shined panes with their cold, dead eyes and synthetic elegance, the chaos and indecipherable din of a gaggle of garrulous language students, of horns a-honking, of the lumbering bells of St. Michael’s tolling optimistically, and of ancient Oxenaforda’s silenced, illustrious past; yet I was not only in love, as love was now in me as I turned, looking at my friend, laconically offering, “I feel great”, at which, with pursed smile, he said, “You feel it too, do you?”

A religious may call it God’s Presence, though in these days of Rationalism I should deem it the cranial release of monoamines and oxytocin. I’m unsure what to call it, ‘Love’ seeming as polluted a term as was Cornmarket on that summer’s day 25 years ago. Most will know of this state by whatever name or none; Buddhists call it ‘Mettā’ (Pali) or ‘Maitrī’ (Sanskrit), ancient terms denoting ‘kindly, loving feelings of amity and benevolence’, the Aristotelian ‘Philia’ and Judaic ‘Chesed’ meaning the same. It’s a state of mind, my friend and I feeling it contemporaneously in empathic triggering of a brain region known as the Periaqueductal Gray; mirror neurons firing sympathetically, some might claim. It matters little; what counts is its vividly transcendent actuality, its negation of isolative self-consciousness. Most interesting, is it being a state susceptible to nurturing in Buddhist mental culture practices.

I’ve no interest in quasi-religious cosmologies or in ritualistically indulging spiritual performances of any hue; although I do enjoy evensong at nearby Wells Cathedral, imbibing both quietude and its glorious choral music as an uninitiated yet appreciative bystander. Still, there exist practices of mental culture advanced in ancient canonical texts that benefit us in contemporary life, easing burdens and providing solace; moreover, quieting our troubling, nascent neuroses and supplanting them with those feelings of Mettā — the amity and benevolence that so readily mirrors in encounters, be they with friend, stranger, or foe. Yes, foe too, as in the culture of Mettā we extend the feeling even to those to whom enmity is harboured, reorienting our former negative emotional predispositions. In our polarised, hate-drenched world, now moreso than ever I find this quiet mental skill an incomparable boon.

People are hurting; they are fearful in a world at its most perilous juncture since October 1962; greater still given AUMF and AGW. Our individual deep traumas arising from horrifyingly common sexual and physical abuses, and the acute stress disorders brought on by profound adversities or our innate neurological imbalances, must be addressed by professional clinical means. Mettā is not a cure-all or some nostrum for the naïvely credulous; rather it is an engaging of focused, potent feeling which conciliates an agitated mind, loosens nervously held tension, and eradicates discordant enmity. Buddhist psychology addresses the subtle absence of contentedness which pervades consciousness in varying degrees, ubiquitously so. We tolerate this just as we might static in radio reception, or the buzzing of our refrigerator. Mettā ameliorates this negative hum, softening our mind and social interactions.

Mickie his name was, the weaver betwixt buses, he of the mirror neurons, my fellow choker in the pack. After that day he began to develop the mental culture of Mettā so as to be able to auto-intuit that same sense of amity and connection whenever it was helpful. He dissolved his former self-centricity — an affliction common to us all — and others would quietly remark to him that something was different, he’d changed, in subtext asking what alchemy had caused this. Yet there was nothing in Mickie’s nature that isn’t present in others too; he’d simply learned to access the contentedness and amity lying dormant within humankind. I so admired him for cultivating his mind with Mettā, that faculty of intuiting a kindly benevolence which he gifted to others as much as to himself, they mirroring silently, unbidden. I think of it as him having gone soft in the head. If only I were wise enough, I would too.

Mettā very much: Marie Williams & Mickie Brough-T.

305 thoughts on “On going soft in the head

  1. I’d like to wish you and your family a very happy and contented New Year 2018, dear Hariod. Thank you for being such a wonderful support during last year with your wisdom and humour in equal measures. Very best wishes, Marie.

    • That’s extremely kind of you to stop by and offer your best wishes, dear Marie. It’s always a great pleasure to see you here, and elsewhere too, so I do hope that 2018 brings much more of that; you’re invariably such a lovely presence in the blogosphere. I also hope it brings you good health, contentedness and tranquility throughout. With love and best wishes, Hariod.

  2. A very belated Happy New Year, dear Hariod! I hope you’re doing well as it’s been a year since you last posted something (perhaps you’re working on a project of the paper kind?). Wishing you health and minimal suffering throughout the year!


    • Thank you very much, Tom, and allow me to reciprocate with tardier still best wishes for 2018. Yes, I have been doing some long-form writing, and easing away from blogging as a related necessity, whilst other familial issues have impinged upon my time too. We’ll see what the year brings, eh? All the best, Hariod.

        • The article isn’t intended to convey any methodology, although elsewhere in the comments I do point to some. I learnt through the orthodox Buddhist practice of Metta, which is a formal (i.e. seated) concentration meditation. So there, the focus is on a rigorous application or exercising of the mind in order to free it from states of enmity or ambivalent uncaring towards other beings. The resultant softer state of mind — which is a pure delight with all manner of real benefits — carries forward once the period of practice ends.

      • After a second read through I think maybe I get it. But, like you, perhaps I’m not wise enough.
        P.S. I think I spotted a typo: “twixt which our body’s wove” should be “twixt which our bodies wove”. See? I’m not even wise enough to be content to let a typo be.

        • Thank you so much for pointing out the typo. I’m very happy to stand corrected and am rather appalled at myself for having let that one get through. Thank you again, Pendantry. 🙂

  3. Dear Hariod, I Trust you are well? No need to reply; I just came by to say ‘hello’ and to thank you for your likes. I was hoping to see another post from you; its been a while. Wishing you a wonderful weekend. Take care my friend. Love and Hugs, Sue. ❤

  4. Hi dear Hariod, I saw you had called, thank you my friend, and then saw I had somehow stopped following you. So, in the hope you may post this year. 😀 Sending well wishes your way and hope all is well with you. Love and thoughts your way Hariod. Stay blessed. Sue ❤

  5. Just back in your blog world again, dear Hariod. Read a comment that you had been away from blog land yourself. Just dropping in to wish you well my friend, and hope all is well with you. Sending continued thoughts your way.

    Take care and stay blessed, Sue. ❤

    • Sending well wishes as well, Hariod. I’ve been away and have totally lost touch with the blogging world, I’m afraid. Hope things are well with you ‘across the pond’. 🙂

    • Thank you, Sue, and thank you, Carmen, for your well wishes and visits here to what is now my quiet little place within the blogosphere. My fiction writing has become rather more ambitious, having decided to complete a trilogy of novellas which will take me a further eighteen months, I anticipate. In the meanwhile, the site here is largely dormant save for occasional comments and conversations happening on old posts and pages. I am still visiting others’ sites (as you know), though simply don’t have the time and energy to keep this place buzzing with posts and interactions as I have in the past four years. Once the trilogy is away, I’ll come back with renewed enthusiasm for short-form blogging, I daresay. Thank you both once again, dear friends, and here’s wishing you and yours a happy Christmas, a peaceful and healthy New Year. Much love to you both, with gratitude. Hariod ❤ ❤

      • Good to know all is well with you Hariod, and fantastic you are writing a trilogy. Good luck in all you do, and sending much love and well wishes for the holiday season, dear Hariod. Take care — you are special. ❤

  6. Dear Hariod,

    Upon returning from an adventure my partner said a large dictionary that I ordered had arrived. Not remembering any such dictionary I was surprised by the size of your package. Such a wonderful, precious gift, thank you so much. Perhaps I should consider some ghosts and ordinary folks to pass these sweet copies on to? While my simplistic adaptions of Zen practices have helped me experience relative contentedness, I’m in awe of your mastery of mental formations and their psychoanalysis. I’ve found your writings academically and practically therapeutic both for mind and funny bone. Such needed balm anytime, but especially in these rather scary times. Seems my blog has evolved away from highlighting social and environmental cautions into short, simple encouragements to touch inner beauty, and hopefully nurture resilience. Simply reflections of my personal “practice”. Should a fresh post of yours appear, I’d certainly find it a source of inspiration. Until then, I have all these pages prepared for swaying me in the right direction.

    Smiles, David.

    • Glad they arrived safely and in good time, David. Please feel free to distribute (freely) should you consider there to be anything of merit worth passing on. My eBook variant has gone into the U.S. in reasonable numbers, although I’m not keen on eBooks and would rather hard copies found their way into hands over there — unfortunately, I have no U.S. distribution for physical books, though. Hopefully, the copies sent will eventually find homes and be of some encouragement. Thank you for your interest, David; it’s much appreciated. All best wishes, and with metta, Hariod.

  7. A beautiful post, Hariod. I think the cultivation of Metta lies at the very heart of our existence. After watching the goings on in Parliament these last few weeks we would all do well with a surge in Metta. We need it, the country needs it, the world needs it. Good to experience your blog again.

    • Many thanks for your generous words of encouragement, Don; and thank you for visiting. I’ve been rather quiet here on this site these past couple of years as I’m trying my hand at some long-form fiction writing. Not sure about the results yet, though it makes for a fun time and stimulating change. All best wishes, and thank you again for reading and commenting — it’s much appreciated. Hariod.

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