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Mind

Image scanned from Marcel Paquet ‘Magritte’ (Taschen)

My much earlier post on interconnectedness included a declaration of intent – I was going to seek a deeper understanding of the concept both by reading and by the practice of mindfulness, amongst other things. So, how have things been going in this phase of mindfulness practice, drawn from Mark Williams and Danny Penman’s book on Mindfulness?

I was dreading the Mindful Movement meditation. For a start it just feels weird, standing in a room with windows to the outdoors, following softly spoken instructions to reach in the air for an imaginary apple. The other stuff simply amounted to sawn off flexibility exercises. I couldn’t see how any of that could be conducive to mindfulness. The succeeding Breath and Body exercise was bread and butter to me – it made sense and was very like what I have been practicing off and on for years.

The Mindful Movement meditation has not proved as bad as I expected but it still leaves me feeling slightly bewildered every time I do it. I think that part of the problem is that, in spite of the constant reminders to the contrary, I am still holding onto to a hope, which I even keep secret from myself most of the time, that at some point there will be a dramatic breakthrough.

It’s the poem at the top of this post again. I’ve kept it there for now as a reminder. Mindfulness is about making me aware of inner scenery, not about changing the furniture.

It must be working at some level as I catch myself, far more often than before, pausing as I put the coffee grounds into the cafetière, to savour the aroma and scrutinise the subtly different shades of brown and varying sizes of the coffee grains. Also this morning I noticed that there were three different kinds of snapdragon in the pots outside the front door instead of just glancing and categorising them all as the same thing.

 

Pizza base eye blend

Perhaps most tellingly I noticed, as I was preparing the pizza dough, that the shadow the oil made on the glass base behaved not quite as I supposed at a casual glance. The shadow on the window-side fell inside the ring of oil and the shadow on the opposite side fell outside the edge of the oil. It was obvious why as soon as I spotted it, but until I spotted it had never occurred to me that the orientation of the light would make shadow a prisoner of the oil on one side and a free shade on the other. Looking at the photograph I took showed that the same is true for the shadow of the glass base on the wooden chopping board. I had never troubled myself to catch sight of this fine distinction before.

The discovery of this deficiency did not come as a complete surprise. When my wife and I visit someone in their home, often when we leave my wife will exclaim, ‘Did you see that lovely vase on their sideboard?’

To which I usually reply, ‘What sideboard?’

This brought back the story I had first read in Assagioli’s book – Psychosynthesis. He describes the approach Agassiz took in training his students.

After the experience with the oil I came across another account of the same situation in Paul Jerome Croce’s book – Science & Religion in the Era of William James – (page 119):

His most important innovation in the classroom was his use of primary materials. Instead of lecturing, Agassiz preferred to give his students specimens or to take them into the field. Many of his former students report that their first assignment was simply to look at a single fish for a few days, observing it in minute detail. Each time the students brought an abundant and “complete” reading of the fish, Agassiz would insist that more could be found; and the students invariably amazed themselves with the new things they would see.

I first read that story in 1976. It seems I am a slow learner.

I will be coming back to Croce’s book on William James at a later date. In the meanwhile I will push on with my mindfulness practice.

Louis Agassiz (for source of image see link)

Louis Agassiz (for source of image see link)

 

 

My recent visit to Kelmscott and Inglesham made it seem appropriate to post once again a sequence which looks at the significance Morris’s life has for me. It might help make sense of why I felt it worthwhile trudging across wide fields between crowds of cows to reach a small and simple church in the middle of nowhere – though I suppose that was the place from which Morris wrote one of his best loved and most popular works. This is the last of three: the first two appeared yesterday and the day before.

SDF founder Henry Hyndman

Henry Hyndman, SDF Founder

William Morris was acutely aware of one way in which his greatest strength disabled him as the would-be leader of an activist movement (page 496):

Morris saw how day-to-day political commotion was damaging his intellectual concentration: ‘my habits,’ he explained, ‘are quiet and studious and if I am too much worried with “politics” ie intrigue, I shall be no use to the Cause as a writer.’ He saw his real value as his capacity to stand back and take the broader view.

There was another side to this coin though (page 497):

. . . neither May [his elder daughter] nor later commentators with a vested interest in promulgating the ‘dear old Morris’ legend make proper allowance for his streak of ruthlessness. He did not seek the quarrel [with Hyndman, the President of the Federation, and his followers]. But once the quarrels were upon him Morris could pursue them with a strength of purpose and a weight of anger . .

Morris pursued the split to breaking point. Writing to his wife he said (page 500):

The question only is now whether we shall go out of the SDF or Hyndman: we are only fighting for possession of the name and the adherence of the honest people who don’t know the ins and outs of the quarrel.

His ambivalence is revealed later in the same letter (ibid.):

All this is foul work: yet it is a pleasure to be able to say what one thinks at last.

I can’t help wondering whether there isn’t more than a touch of Gwendolen here:

On an occasion of this kind it becomes more than a moral duty to speak one’s mind. It becomes a pleasure.

(The Importance of Being Earnest: Act II)

In the end, though he won the vote against Hyndman, Morris left the SDF to form the Socialist League (page 502-503):

The SDF membership could only suffer damage when Morris formed a rival body, the Socialist League. Morris acted as he did because he felt an urgent need to redefine Socialist policy: Hyndman was pursuing policies of notoriety and intrigue that were giving Socialism, already, a bad name. Morris was reluctant to embark on a long programme of obstruction, tabling motion after motion, amendment after amendment.

According to Shaw there was a streak of the dictatorial in Morris. What is very clear is that the Federation offered him no hope that he could see of consulting his way towards a principled unity of thought.

'Void Devouring the Gadget Era' by Mark Tobey

‘Void Devouring the Gadget Era’ by Mark Tobey

In the late 1960s this was still the problem I had with the Socialist/Communist cause. Violence had been added to the lies by that stage, making a mockery of the humanitarian rhetoric. I needed something that offered a more attractive and convincing route towards radical social change. The Bahá’í Faith turned out to be that something.

It is worth mentioning that in the aftermath of my conversion experience some close friends took me to one side and warned me that if I continued to attempt to bludgeon into submission everyone I met with my absolute conviction I’d soon have no friends left. I knew that I was prohibited from using a sword to change someone’s mind so I’m afraid I fell into the trap of sliding the ‘s’ to the back and used words as my weapon instead. I learned from humbling first hand experience that the human tendencies towards schism, personal advantage and the dogmatic imposition of deeply felt views upon the unconvinced have to guarded against with unremitting vigilance.

The core beliefs of the Faith are clearly antithetical to any use of force or compulsion in belief and this is explicit in the Writings of its Founder.

Consort with all men, O people of Bahá, in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship. If ye be aware of a certain truth, if ye possess a jewel, of which others are deprived, share it with them in a language of utmost kindliness and good-will. If it be accepted, if it fulfil its purpose, your object is attained. If any one should refuse it, leave him unto himself, and beseech God to guide him. Beware lest ye deal unkindly with him. A kindly tongue is the lodestone of the hearts of men. It is the bread of the spirit, it clotheth the words with meaning, it is the fountain of the light of wisdom and understanding . . .

(GleaningsCXXXII)

Also vigorous measures are taken to prevent splits and disunity while preserving freedom of thought and individual investigation of the truth.

In these days when the forces of inharmony and disunity are rampant throughout the world, the Bahá’ís must cling to their Faith and to each other, and, in spite of every difficulty and suffering, protect the unity of the Cause.

(Shoghi Effendi: Dawn of a New Day)

None the less, untrammelled enthusiasm can easily erupt into milder variants of these disruptive and divisive ills, and the supreme governing body of the Bahá’í community spells out in many places very clearly the standards of conduct we must adhere to. For example:

Apart from the spiritual requisites of a sanctified Bahá’í life, there are habits of thought that affect the unfoldment of the global Plan, and their development has to be encouraged at the level of culture. . . . . [The friends] are called upon to become increasingly involved in the life of society, benefitting from its educational programmes, excelling in its trades and professions, learning to employ well its tools, and applying themselves to the advancement of its arts and sciences. At the same time, they are never to lose sight of the aim of the Faith to effect a transformation of society, remoulding its institutions and processes, on a scale never before witnessed. To this end, they must remain acutely aware of the inadequacies of current modes of thinking and doing – this, without feeling the least degree of superiority, without assuming an air of secrecy or aloofness, and without adopting an unnecessarily critical stance towards society.

(Universal House of Justice: 28 December 2010, paragraph 36)

Combining highly motivating conviction with this degree of humility and tolerance of others is a difficult trick not often consistently mastered in a lifetime. It’s hard to see, though, how we could build a more humane and genuinely united society without learning it.

Someone as warm, generous and creative as Morris found it was beyond him, even though he grumbled about it. One hundred and fifteen years after his death the same task he grappled with from his perspective confronts us still in our situation. We each have to learn the best way we can how to combine compassion with conviction in a world-transforming fusion.

I haven’t found a way better adapted to the conditions we are currently facing than the one described in the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, not because His core Message was essentially different from or superior to that of the other great Faith Traditions but because the way the spiritual insights they all hold in common are translated into patterns of practical action is not bettered anywhere else that I can find.

So, this is my choice, the path along which I am navigating my way through the complex jungle of modern materialism. We each are free to choose our own way through. What we are not free to do without dire consequences, it seems to me, is to ignore the need to choose. For all his errors and his frailties, no one could accuse Morris of ducking that challenge, and if I had his energy and courage I’d be a better human being, I believe.

Nativity window at Trinity Church, Boston, designed by Burne-Jones and executed by Morris

My recent visit to Kelmscott and Inglesham made it seem appropriate to post once again a sequence which looks at the significance Morris’s life has for me. It might help make sense of why I felt it worthwhile trudging across wide fields between crowds of cows to reach a small and simple church in the middle of nowhere – though I suppose that was the place from which Morris wrote one of his best loved and most popular works. This is the second of three: the third and last will appear tomorrow.

There was much that remained very positive to William Morris about his ‘conversion‘ to Socialism and his joining the Democratic Federation. Fiona MacCarthy, in her absorbing biography, writes (page 466-467):

Morris joined what he referred to as ‘the only active Socialist organisation in England’ with the deep and pervading contentment of the man who has at last found his proper métier. He writes of it in terms of the rebirth, the homecoming, the recognition that the thing so much desired has in a sense been always there.

But there were the seeds of later tensions already to be detected (page 468):

Something which distinguished him from many of his intellectually narrower new Socialist colleagues was [a] greed for new experience, Morris’s enormous Catholicity. Cobbett, the early nineteenth-century roving radical, self-educated son of a southern English farmer, was a man after Morris’s own heart in his view of the countryside, irascible but genial, and in the vigour, almost the innocence, of his response.

This did not sit well with all his new-found colleagues (page 471):

There was always to be a rift between political progressives and the aesthetic avant-guarde.

Initially though the calibre of the man carried people with him (ibid.):

But anyone could recognise Morris as a man of stature. . . . . Moreover Morris’s integrity shone out of him. Once he began to talk on any subject which interested him, he was caught up in it completely in a way that was inspiring and totally convincing.

But his new found faith changed him in many ways and confronted him with more tests and challenges than simply coping with the drudgery of activism (page 480):

In these years of his conversion Morris changed his personality . . . [His friends] evidently found Morris’s transformation baffling. The loved friend, whom they had teased and even patronized a little, now seemed removed into new realms of moral earnestness and obduracy. He had become a threatening and even fearsome figure, with the other-worldliness of the Old Testament ascetic.

. . . . Politics dominated all Morris’s conversation, to some of his old friends’ enormous irritation.

It also led him to mistake agreement on an issue for complete conversion to his cause (page 480):

Edward Burne-Jones (left) and William Morris (...

Edward Burne-Jones (left) and William Morris

William de Morgan . . . complained: ‘I was rather disconcerted when I found that an honest objection to Bulgarian atrocities had been held to be one and the same thing as sympathy with Karl Marx, and that Morris took it for granted that I should be ready for enrolment.’

A conflict of priorities that would play out in Morris’s pattern of activities for the rest of his life emerged starkly in an interchange with Swinburne. His closest friend Edward Burne-Jones, known to him as ‘Ned,’ opposed Morris’s Socialism partly on the grounds that (page 481):

. . . it was out of character, an aberration in someone who was ‘before all thing a poet and an artist;’ this was Swinburne’s argument, that public protest was a dissipation of energy that an artist as an individualist could not afford.

Morris was decisively moving away from this position (page 482):

He was reaching a point at which he regarded both his poetry and his design work as irrelevant: ‘Poetry goes with the hand-arts I think, and like them has now become unreal.’ . . . . . He would not abandon his writing and his ‘pattern work:’ he still took pleasure in them. But he could no longer see them as his ‘sacred duty.’

More troubling shifts in his attitudes begin to show themselves (page 490):

Temperamentally Morris was not for violence. Many times he spoke out decisively against it. But over these months one detects in him a certain hardening of attitude, almost a resignation to armed conflict as a necessary phase.

This is the trap idealism springs upon the unwary who feel that noble ends can justify even the most heinous of means (I will shortly be reposting a sequence of articles dealing with that exact issue in more detail). Morris certainly came to see Socialism as the only way forward and this may underly his grudging acceptance of violence. In an address on ‘the condition of workers as slaves’  (page 491):

. . . ‘showed that Socialism was the only possible remedy to the evils arising from competition and the private use of capital.’

Equally troubling in terms of the characteristics of the group he had committed himself to was a tendency to split into bitterly contentious factions. The Democratic Federation offices were in Westminster Palace Chambers where tensions began to show (page 493):

Hubert Bland had been aware [of this]: ‘There was always a good deal more friction than fraternity at Palace Chambers.’ He attributed this to the innovative temperament: ‘The type of man who has the intellectual and moral courage to join a new and unpopular movement has also fully developed the faults of the qualities – obstinacy, vanity, a sort of prickly originality, and a quick impatience of contradiction.’ By the summer of 1884, bitter dissensions were coming to a head.

Morris brought his own brand of obduracy to the banquet of vanities. He wrote to one confidante (page 495):

‘As you know, I am not sanguine, and think the aims of Socialists should be the founding of a religion, towards which end compromise is no use, and we only want to have those with us who will be with us to the end.’

An interesting analogy to come from a convinced atheist, it tells us more about him perhaps than it does about religion.

The steel in his character had nothing to do with personal ambition though (page 496):

History is riddled with politicians who disclaim interest in power only to seize it as soon as it is offered. This was not true of Morris. His letters of this period show him moving towards leadership with a deep reluctance, based on his conviction that he was neither ready for nor suited to the task.

There is much that could be said about the flaws in the whole concept of leadership. For the moment it’ll have to be enough to short-hand it by saying that the problems are as much in the concept as in the men (and it was almost entirely men in those days) who donned the mantle.

Further examination of how Morris rose to these challenges and the light the Bahá’í Faith sheds on them will have to wait until the next post.

My recent visit to Kelmscott and Inglesham made it seem appropriate to post once again a sequence which looks at the significance Morris’s life has for me. It might help make sense of why I felt it worthwhile trudging across wide fields between crowds of cows to reach a small and simple church in the middle of nowhere – though I suppose that was the place from which Morris wrote one of his best loved and most popular works. This is the first of three: the second will appear tomorrow.

I felt, after the unsupported assertion I made in an earlier post of the relevance of Morris’s life to us now, I’d better return to that theme and explain some of my reasons for feeling this so strongly. I also have to acknowledge that a closer inspection of reality revealed a somewhat more complex and mixed picture even though the basic idea of it remained the same.

William Morris‘s life trajectory has a familiar feel to it, at least in my view. His move from indifference to activism, as plotted by Fiona MacCarthy in her excellent biography, is one that many of us have experienced in our own lives or vicariously in the lives of our close friends.

She summarises this on page 462:

At the beginning of 1883 Morris underwent what he was always to refer to as a ‘conversion.’ This was not, as has often been claimed, a blinding revelation. Morris himself understood, and explained very straightforwardly, the nature of a change of attitude which had been gradual and inevitable. The sequence of events of his whole life had led on logically to his espousal of the Socialist cause.

She goes on to list what the key events in that sequence were (ibid):

His pampered but solitary childhood; his edgy years at Malborough; his rejection of religion during Oxford; the emotional breakdown of his marriage; the severe epilepsy of the daughter he loved and had such hopes for; his accumulating doubts of the value of the work he had embarked on with such success and with such great enjoyment; Morris’s ‘conversion’ was a drama that had a built-in momentum and a quality of splendour. The New Testament word in Greek – metanoia, ‘mental reorientation’ – is more appropriate.

Her list gives the gist of the context but I would like to focus on some of the later elements as well as adding Iceland into the mix.

His love of craftsmanship started early and lasted all his life. It often entailed an altered state of consciousness, something modern psychology calls ‘flow‘ (page 269) and this was to be a key to the formation of his later attitude to debasing forms of work:

Morris, when illuminating and hand-lettering, entered what was almost an abstracted state, an enclosed serenity of manual activity, like the therapeutic net-making he used to do at school.

Sometimes he expressed his generosity in his most intimate personal relationships at extreme cost. Dante Gabriel Rosetti‘s long affair with Morris’ wife is well known. What is perhaps less well known are the sacrifices Morris made to ensure his wife’s happiness at the cost of his own (page 276):

He and Rosetti took Kelmscott Manor in a joint tenancy in June 1871. Early in June Janey (his wife), Rosetti and the children were installed. Morris visited frequently before setting off for Iceland . . . He was torn on departing. He wrote to Janey: ‘How beautiful the place looked last Monday: I grudged going away so; but I am very happy to think of you all happy there, and the children and you getting well.’ . . . He ended the letter ‘Live well and happy.’ It was for its time – and even in ours – a socially unusual solution and Morris’ generosity verged on sublime.

This has its roots in the Arthurian idealism of the pre-Raphaelite brotherhood to which Rosetti also professed to subscribe but which Morris had more genuinely internalised.

640px-KelmscottManor1

Main Entrance to Kelmscott Manor (for source of image see link)

His developing consciousness had its roots in buildings as well as crafts (page 314):

Within a radius of five miles from Kelmscott [the first house incarnating that name in Oxfordshire], Morris claimed he could point to ‘some half-dozen tiny village churches, every one of which is a beautiful work of art.’ . . . . What Morris found moving in these buildings was their apparent spontaneity, arrived at because  of their directness of intention. They were not put up to make money or impress but were built, in effect, by the people for the people . . . .

His sense of the community basis for the beauty of these structures was immensely strong.

His powerful drive to master the crafts that were the basis of the products he sold to generate his income brought him up against the harsh economic and class realities of his time. He spent months, for instance, in Staffordshire learning the vanishing art of dyeing with natural dyes (page 350):

[In Leek] Morris, the newcomer, was more sharply conscious of the social dynamics of the town and the hierarchies of the workers in the silk trade . . . . Even after the second spate of Factory Acts of the early 1870s the hours of work were long. Morris, who worked frantically, saw no harm in long hours when work itself was pleasure. Nor did he argue that unpleasant tasks could ever be eliminated totally, though in theory he insisted such tasks should be shared out. What he saw as iniquity – and after Leek attacked with a new insight of experience – was a system of production that relied on human beings carrying out tasks that by their nature were repetitive and arduous, often for longer than fifty hours a week.

The Icelandic experience was also crucial in my view, not only because of the sagas he loved so deeply and translated so devotedly and because the early history of the settlers there tracks the sturdy if rough and ready democracy of their parliament, but also for other more intensely personal things (page 371):

'Jane Morris (The Blue Silk Dress)' by Dante G...

Jane Morris (The Blue Silk Dress) by Dante Gabriel Rosetti

In Iceland Morris had noticed how invalids and the mentally retarded were cared for in their families. This was the resort of poverty. But Morris, particularly after Jenny’s [his younger daughter's] epilepsy, pursued it as a principle, maintaining that the ill should not be marginalized and proposing that incapacity itself could cause development of special counter-qualities and skills. As so often, he was a century before his time. . . .

His concern for Jenny gave him new perceptions of wider social distress and injustices and the urge to move society on beyond the reach of them. It was another of the decisive stones in Morris’ socialistic cairn.

This was often a painful path to tread and, on top of that, his early activism, mobilised for the protection of the ancient buildings he loved from what he saw as the depredations of Victorian attempts at ‘restoration,’ pained him in a different way (page 375):

How far did Morris seem himself as a public figure? May [his elder daughter] gives us the impression that public work caused him agonies of boredom and frustration. It was work ‘for which no one knew better than himself he was unsuited.’ Early in 1876 he wrote Magnússon: “I was born not to be a chairman of anything.”  Yet at this very period Morris was embarking on his long succession of chairmanships, treasurerships, enduring and even inviting the repetitive detail of committee work that went on until the weeks before his death.  . . . The truth seems to be that Morris was prepared to school himself for tasks he instinctively found dislikeable, the long-drawn-out discussions,the grind of personalities, the aridities of minutes, the tedious scrounging for subscriptions, if the end was likely to justify the effort. It was a means of channelling his new idealistic energies.

Intriguingly there is a discussion that echoes these last ideas in Crystallizations, a book about Bahá’í artists and their work. There is an essay that addresses the challenges posed by the Bahá’í administration to those of an artistic persuasion. In this chapter Ross Woodman quotes the words of someone challenged in this way (page 154):

. . . I’m still not quite sure that when I lay all my affairs in Bahá’u’lláh’s hands that means the Administrative Order. I’m not fully grounded yet. I have this lingering sense that grounded means grinded, ground down. What I really need to understand is the Will of God present to us, present among us, in the actual day to day workings of the Administrative Order. There’s still a split in me. It’s like an open wound that won’t heal.

Morris would have known exactly what she meant. The variegated threads of personal pain, intense idealism, love of beautiful artefacts and architecture, experiences at close hand of how his own class exploited others and the apparent drudgery of striving for the betterment of the world, wove themselves into a pattern of action intended to lift his society to a higher level of caring. For all its flaws, one of his most appealing prose works, News from Nowhere, captures his vision brilliantly, a vision that, for him, made all the sweat and tears worthwhile. The closing words capture some of the spirit of it, words that come to him when he has returned to the grim reality of his contemporary world after a visionary glimpse of a brighter future:

All along, though those friends were so real to me, I had been feeling as if I had no business among them; as though the time would come when they would reject me, and say, as Ellen’s last mournful look seemed to say: ” No, it will not do; you cannot be of us; you belong so entirely to the unhappiness of the past that our happiness even would weary you. Go back again, now you have seen us, and your outward eyes have learned that in spite of all the infallible maxims of your day there is yet a time of rest in store for the world, when mastery has changed into fellowship — but not before. Go back again, then, and while you live you will see all round you people engaged in making others live lives which are not their own, while they themselves care nothing for their own real lives — men who hate life though they fear death. Go back and be the happier for having seen us, for having added a little hope to your struggle. Go on living while you may, striving, with whatsoever pain and labour needs must be, to build up little by little the new day of fellowship, and rest, and happiness.”

And of course that vital work is continuing to this very day and the responsibility for it rests upon no shoulders but our own, whatever the path we tread in peace and co-operation with our fellow human beings. In a strange kind of way, even though I had forgotten about him for so long, in this aspect of his history he has been standing behind me all this time in silent encouragement as I have struggled to follow my chosen path, albeit with less energy, determination and creativity.

I believe that this kind of work is not utopian, in the sense of hopelessly idealistic. I believe such labour can achieve its goals for reasons that I have elaborated elsewhere and are rooted in my faith that this is the purpose we are created for. I also believe there is a hidden power which underlies the all-too-visible distractions of the material world it transcends and which will work with us and through us to bring this into being if only we step with confidence into the field of action and cooperate together.

This work, though, is not without its complications. In the next two posts I will be looking at how Morris’s life highlights some of these and giving a brief sketch of the light the Bahá’í Faith sheds on how to handle them.

Winter

Winter v2

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We may be slowly seeing a greater genuine motivation for those in power and with influence to make mental health a real priority.  As Layard and Clark, in their book Thrive, have argued the current neglect is scandalous.  This latest BBC article is hopefully a straw indicating a change in the direction of the prevailing wind from discount to adequate response. Below is an extract: for the full post see link.

Mental health needs to be more of a priority, with targets for waiting times and more protection for funding, says England’s chief medical officer. Dame Sally Davies said there were signs funding was being cut at a time when the cost to the economy was rising. Her annual report said mental illness led to the loss of 70 million working days last year – up 24% since 2009.

As well as calling for greater emphasis on mental illness in the NHS, she also said employers could play a role too.

She recommended they allowed people with mental health problems the option of flexible working to keep them in employment and maintaining regular contact during sickness leave.

Overall, mental illness costs the economy between £70bn and £100bn in lost productivity, benefit payments and absence from work.

In terms of NHS spending, it accounts for 13% of the budget despite causing 28% of illness.

Dame Sally said there were signs spending in real terms had been cut since 2011 – and called for this disinvestment to stop.

. . . .

Andy Bell, deputy chief executive of the Centre for Mental Health, said: “Better, faster and earlier help for mental health is vital to improve people’s lives and represents excellent value for money.

“Mental health and wellbeing should be a major priority in 21st Century public health.”

Care and Support Minister Norman Lamb said the CMO’s recommendations would be “considered carefully”, adding attempts were being made to make mental health more of a priority, including the possibility of introducing targets.

“I want to build a fairer society where mental health is treated with the same importance as physical health,” he said.

griefThis moving piece posted by Sue Vincent yesterday bravely shows us how extreme and yet how prevalent Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is and how far we are still as a society from dealing with it compassionately and effectively. This confirms how important it is that the case put in Layard and Clark’s book - Thrive – is taken seriously so that adequate funding is made available to provide effective help (see the earlier post). Below is an extract: for the full post see link.

It came out of nowhere. Overwhelming pain more present than memory, as if lifted up and planted back in that moment, that time, with no escape, no recourse but to live, once again, those minutes; to experience again the emotions, visceral as they were, searing as they were that first time.

Perhaps the day had got to me, perhaps I was tired… who knows. Whatever it was, watching my son in the dentists’ chair triggered a flashback of an intensity that I have not experienced in the past three years. It still wasn’t as bad as it used to be. Nowhere near. This time I was, at least, aware of reality and could move through it. The past overlaid the present instead of erasing it as it used to. Even so, I have long since ceased to be on guard against such things and it caught me by surprise.

When it first started, when my son was released from hospital and I could begin to breathe again the hope of a long road to recovery, when there was the possibility of relaxing a little the reins on emotion, the pressure on the floodgates was too much…PTSD set in and the flashbacks were severe. A whiff of a particular aftershave, a colour, a phrase… all could have me frozen for long minutes in a supermarket aisle. Back then it could happen once a blue moon or ten times a day, and at night there were the nightmares that woke you screaming. I feared sleep; feared what I would see in dream. I did not dare to drive. It is difficult to describe how utterly these things overwhelm your senses, emotions and reactions.

. . . . . there is still a lingering stigma attached to PTSD, the insidious trace of shame that defies the circuits of logic because you ‘didn’t cope’. And that says an awful lot about how society handles such things, even today. It took until 2006 before there was sufficient understanding of the condition that shell-shocked, court-martialled ‘deserters’ from WWI were pardoned posthumously by the British government.

It’s worth thinking about.

If you or someone you know may be suffering the effects of PTSD please seek help from your local health professional or through one of the many specialist organisations. Support on both professional and personal levels make a huge difference and there can be light at the end of the tunnel.

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