Monday, 19 May 2014

Seizures & Bliss. Ian Stewart

I have been looking at an article (New Scientist 24 January 2014) passed to me about people suffering from epilepsy who have experienced bliss with the onset of seizures. Fyodor Dostoevsky described it as “A happiness unthinkable in the normal state and unimaginable for anyone who hasn’t experienced it…I am then in perfect harmony with myself and the entire universe” (The Idiot).

Scientists are trying to find the cause of this state through electrical stimulation of the brain and it is with this in mind that I draw from my own experience, not of epilepsy but of meditation. Subjects with epilepsy who have experienced this profound momentary experience immediately makes me think of the TM technique (transcendental mediation) and the experience of what is described as the ‘transcendent state of consciousness’. In fact, the article in New Scientist ends by saying there are fortunately safer ways of experiencing the same feeling through meditation.

I practice TM, which cannot be learned from a book but once learned opens up a whole new world to the initiated and experience of bliss is one aspect of this. Perhaps it could help epilepsy sufferers lessen the more unpleasant effects of a seizure? Science is a wonderful thing! 

Learning Disability: Then & Now. By Dev Chatterjea

Learning disability is defined as ‘a reduced intellectual ability and difficulty with everyday activities’ (Mencap).  This definition is only touching the surface, but 20 years ago it was a different story.

During the 1980’s and the first half of the ‘90’s understanding of learning difficulties were very different to how we view them today. One of the reasons for this was the lack of knowledge in this field. In fact, very little was known about them. In the ‘80’s, little or no testing for learning problems were done; this meant that there was less help for people who had them. This was especially common for people not in education, and even those who were would get minimal support from “Special Needs staff”.

Computers had just started out and Windows’ Word had not replaced the DOS (Disk Operating System) version of Word, which did not have any spell checks or altering function other than save, open and close. The Internet was still to come. This meant everything was done by hand.  For a person with learning disability it may have been a problem, because the person may have made spelling and grammar mistakes causing them to re-write the work several times over. As for finding work, they would have to go to the library, where it could be difficult if a person who has trouble reading.

This is, however, different nowadays. At present, children can get better one-to-one support with their studies, because of the better understanding of learning disability. This includes adults who back then had virtually none or were worse off then their younger counterparts. Now, both children and adults are able to get tested for learning disabilities. With the invention of the Internet, Word, mobile phones, and other technology, people are able to gain information visually and audially, where as “back then” you were only had text and a few pictures. New technology allows people with learning disabilities to achieve better skills and qualifications.

Different types of therapy. By Kate

There are lots and lots of different types of therapy out there – probably more than you could ever imagine. Some of these are more common and available on the NHS, and others you might have to hunt a bit further for. It can get confusing and perhaps seem overwhelming with so many options available, so here’s a short breakdown of some commonly used types of therapy. If you think you would benefit from one of them, speak to your G.P. and find out what the options are. It may be that there is a long waiting list, or it is not available in your area, but by starting that conversation and asking questions, you might be pointed in the direction of a helpful source of support. The following descriptions are very basic, but hopefully should provide a starting point for further research if you are interested.

 Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

CBT has become a very popular therapeutic approach and one that has gained a lot of credibility over the last decade or so. It is a ‘forward-thinking’ form of therapy, which looks more at how to cope with your present difficulties, rather than delving deep into your past; it is ‘problem focussed’ – honing in on the specific difficulty – and ‘action-orientated’ – trying to find a workable and active solution to that problem. It is primarily concerned with ‘unlearning’ the patterns of thinking which cause us unhappiness, and is thus most used in the treatment of anxiety and depression. The way we think (our cognitive processes) impacts on our feelings and behaviour, so if we can start to recognise the thought patterns that trap us (blowing things out of proportion, seeing things in black and white, etc.) we can start to feel more grounded in reality and hopefully calmer. CBT also uses mindfulness meditation and body-calming techniques to help centre us in the here and now. In 2008, the NHS trained a lot of professionals in CBT as part of an initiative called Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT), so that it could be used to treat more people and hopefully mean fewer people were prescribed medication without access to a talking-therapy. It is popular with both health services and patients because it is quite a short, focussed process, and doesn’t require months of therapy.


The most famous psychoanalyst is Sigmund Freud, and when you picture someone lying on a couch talking about their dreams to a man with a beard, this is the school of therapy that originates from. Psychoanalysis is concerned with our subconscious mind, digging deep into the thoughts and desires we didn’t know we had, but which manifest themselves as unhappiness or anxiety in our day-to-day lives. Psychoanalysis can take many years and can be a big commitment; some people attend five times a week, although on the NHS this is unlikely. Although we have moved on from many of Freud’s theories (such as the famous Oedipus Complex, which suggests all men want to marry their mothers and murder their fathers), psychoanalysis does still concern itself with dreams and symbolism.

 Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
ACT, developed in the late 1980s, is less well known than the previous two, but – like CBT – uses mindfulness strategies, and is focused on acceptance. It is designed to increase psychological flexibility, and can be run in groups on individually. ACT’s main difference from CBT is that whereas CBT tries to teach people to unlearn or change ‘unhelpful’ ways of thinking and behaving, ACT teaches them to simply notice, accept and embrace these thoughts, feelings and sensations. It encourages you to act in accordance with your values, working out what’s important to you and then committing yourself to goals which align with your values.    
Cognitive Analytic Therapy (CAT)

CAT is a type of therapy which brings together ideas from different therapies – both cognitive and analytic, as the same suggests. In this way it both looks back at your past, like psychoanalysis, and forward at your future, like CBT. Together the client and therapist explore the events and relationships in a person’s life, often from a very young age, which affect how they think, feel and act now. It has a strong focus on an empathic relationship between the client and therapist, within clear therapeutic boundaries, and is also time-limited, usually lasting for 16 sessions.

The Fruit & Veg Mountain

There I was, on the cusp of something extroadinary, a grand shift in the dietary habits I’d acquired over a lifetime. The goal to eat 5 portions of fruit and veg a day: the Holy Grail of healthy eating. And I was so near to my goals; I was up to three portions a day. And then it happened.  An apocalyptic turn of events occurred, dashing my hopes against the wall. We must DOUBLE are 5 a day intake of fruit and veg in order to stave of illnesses. The cruelty of this blow is hard to put into words. Would it be an exaggeration to say this is akin to being in striking distance of K2’s summit, only to be told someone has added another 
10,000 feet?! Probably.

So why the change? Needless to say there has been research to back up these findings. And so it can’t be argued, alas. The research, which involved a 12-year study, also found that vegetables were four times healthier than fruit. Or if you prefer, fruit are four times more useless than vegetables.

So this increase in our fruit and vegetable intake, it should be mentioned, is about significantly lowering the risk of premature death. People who ate at least seven portions of fruit and vegetables each day were 42 per cent less likely to die from any cause over the course of the study. The researchers also discovered that canned and frozen fruit increased the risk of dying by 17 per cent. Yes, I had to do a double take on this. It is perhaps worth repeating: canned and frozen fruit INCREASED the risk of dying by 17 per cent. Death by canned peaches? Fruit juice was found to have no significant benefit. And there goes the easy option. Onward and upward...

Nigel Prestatyn

The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland. By Polly Mortimer

The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland - Ridiculismus - Shoreditch Town Hall Council Chamber

This four hander (two actors each side of a screen that became windows and had meaning) with an fascinating title attempted to give the audience an experience of psychosis. It was based on Open Dialogue the revolutionary technique pioneered in Finland that has virtually ‘eradicated’ ‘schizophrenia’ in western Lapland.
They aimed to ‘conjure up a comic nightmare of delusion’. I’m not quite sure whether this was achieved. Delusion is a very personal and internal thing, I think, and a man reciting his delusions about Margaret Drabble and the Nobel Prize was a tad trite. 
Into the mix swirled folk dancing, endless conversations about what was for supper, a boorish psychiatrist shouting at his partner down a phone, imaginary or real partners who could be Mark or Marnie, crisps, and death.
It had the aroma of a student production, bit devised, bit raw, slightly embarrassing. But it made me want to find out much more about Open Dialogue and maybe that success in Finland could spread worldwide.

Review: Polly Mortimer

Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer
Winner of the Costa First Book award

This is a sad book. The protagonist Matthew lives  a rackety unfulfilled life as a young adult - partly in a pokey highrise flat and partly in a local ward of a psych hospital where he has been given a ‘schizophrenia’ diagnosis - and where he literally has nothing to do, and nothing to fill his days. Except smoking and taking extremely debilitating doses of psychiatric drugs.

He is eloquent and touching speaking of his family - who love him unconditionally and support him through it all. There has been a great tragedy earlier in his life - and he can’t detach from it and feel free of the unnecessary guilt he carries. 

It’s refreshingly written; sometimes illustrated, sometimes changes of typeface and gaps in the text.
Filer is an honest writer and spares his audience not much. He is or has been a mental health nurse so he knows his territory. 
Definitely worth reading.

Polly Mortimer

Lonely? At least I’ve got TED. Kate

I’m not referring to a cuddly toy that lives in my bed; if I was, that would be Lucy the Lemur (all my toys had alliterative names) and yes – she still lives there, and no – I’m not ashamed! The TED I’m referring to on this occasion is, for those of you who haven’t been fortunate enough to encounter it yet, a non-profit organisation devoted to ‘Ideas Worth Spreading’. It has a ‘critically acclaimed, award-winning website’ ( ‘featuring inspired talks from the world’s leading thinkers and doers’. Their mission is beautiful in its simplicity: SPREADING IDEAS.

TED started out in 1984, originally as a conference bringing together people from the worlds of Technology, Entertainment and Design – hence the name. However, since then it has broadened its remit, its platforms and accessibility; now, along with conferences, a collection of the best talks are made available free on the web (and as of November 2012, TED Talks had been viewed more than one billion times), and there are other off-shoots, such as local events run independently (TEDx) and speakers performing and presenting all over the world (TEDGlobal).
 The aim is that the conferences and talks bring together ‘the world’s most fascinating thinkers and doers’, and, with a refreshing lack of hierarchy, how prestigious or well-known they are does not change how long their slot is: they all have to present in 18 minutes or less. This is one of the greatest joys of the TED talks themselves: their brevity. Interesting concepts, ideas and research, communicated clearly, entertainingly and accessibly. There is little pre-amble, navel-gazing or academic self-indulgence; with only 18minutes, the talks are focused, direct and cut to the core of the question or argument the speaker has chosen to tackle. 

When I say they make me less lonely that’s in fact only one of the many emotions their stir in me. Categorized on the website into sections, which include ‘inspiring’, ‘funny’, ‘beautiful’, ‘informative’ and ‘courageous’, you can select what you feel you’re most in need of a dose of – a quick bit of inspiration, something to remind you of the beauty in the world, a cerebral work-out – and choose from the range of talks at your finger-tips. I like having something on to listen to when I’m doing boring chores, and definitely find sorting washing goes more quickly when I’m turning over complex puzzles, weighing up social arguments, or having a giggle. I’m also, if I’m completely honest, not that good at spending long periods of time on my own. Sometimes not even short periods of time! My own pop-psychology reading of this – and one which I think actually holds some weight – is that the root cause of this is that I’m an identical twin, so never had much practice at it. Even in the womb I had company! Regardless of why, I do know I get lonely quickly, and so knowing that I can find a short burst of stimulating distraction in a few clicks is reassuring, comforting. My other go-to is Radio 4, oh and doing crafts, which my friends tell me makes me both ridiculously middle class and middle aged – but my twin sister does tapestries and makes hummus, so I think it’s important we keep things in perspective.

Loneliness can be a wolf howling in your stomach, or a dog scratching at the door. TED talks won’t help with the loneliness we can feel in a crowded room – unless you’ve got very subtle headphones and don’t mind rejecting any attempt at conversation! – but they can be a small form of solace when you’re sitting at home, by yourself, in need of an external focus.

The mental health charity Mind has a page on their website about Overcoming Loneliness, which as well as suggesting ways to connect with the world around you, also mentions the utility of learning to spend time alone, feeling comfortable and at ease in your own company. I sometimes find when I’m on my own, my immediate instinct is to reach for the phone, but I know I’ve personally learnt that if I give myself the challenge of getting through chunks of time without calling someone, it proves to myself that I don’t need someone else there all the time. I don’t need validation; I can chat to myself; if I get bored and restless, that’s not the end of the world and I can find my own solutions. Sometimes I also challenge myself not to put music or the radio on, as well, so that I’m not always blocking out silence or the meanderings of my own thoughts. If we distract ourselves all the time, then when do we think? When do we rest?

But if ‘the rest is silence’ (Hamlet pun – couldn’t resist), then my head will probably explode. Anyone who knows me can confirm I don’t do silent for very long. All things in moderation, I say, and sometimes I get more of a break from an eighteen minute mental holiday into the world of a fascinating idea, than my own internal monologue. And being stimulated stirs me out of loneliness and boredom; it energizes and invigorates. Like Lucy the Lemur, I can cuddle up to an idea (although in a less literal and physical sense), cling  on to it like a rock in a storm, enjoy it like a chocolate chip in disappointing cereal, hang out with it like teenagers at bus stop, or run with it like a hare on ketamine.

Five tip-top TED talks to get you started:      

·        Ken Robinson: How schools kill creativity
·        Brené Brown: The power of vulnerability
·        Jill Bolte Taylor: My stroke of insight
·        Barry Schwartz: The paradox of choice
·        Kelly McGonigal: How to make stress your friend (Lando wrote about this talk in Issue 50 of Equilibrium)

Beauty & Preservation Anthony Parke

Britney Spears wants to be cryogenically preserved, as did Michael Jackson. The apocryphal myth has it that Walt Disney did too. We have the lucrative field of cosmetic surgery with its desire to stave off the degenerative processes of old age. The pervasive desire to keep youthful, to preserve our existence. and the many variations that exist, are attempts to deny Mother Nature her destructive processes.

I have to say, I am not entirely adverse to the concept of preserving one’s existence, albeit in a metaphorical sense. As an artist there is always a desire to create a legacy beyond the here and now. I am ever conscious of wanting to pass something down the line, or a vainglorious attempt to leave behind a body of work which may somehow be appreciated in the future.

I have recently increased my minor amber collection. There is a distinct difference to my latest piece: it contains a biological inclusion: fossil. I am reliably informed that these flies, in their perfectly preserved form, are approximately 40 million years old. This strikes me as an instance of where Mother Nature and her desire to yield all matter back to the earth, has only partially suceeded. This is nature’s cryogenics of sorts, as are the instances of mammoths frozen in time within Siberian glaciers, or the Tollund Man found in a peat bog - a naturally mummified corpse of a man who lived during the 4th century BCE. Apparently, the man’s physical features were so well-preserved that he was mistaken at the time of discovery for a recent murder victim.

The butterfly has long been a symbol of the zenith of beauty in nature, and not necessarily in living form. We still manage to appreciate the beauty of these creatures in books, and in specimen cases. I have four butterflies which are mesmerising and beautiful to look at. However, they are dead and pinned to a board! Observing their beauty is not an experience altogether different from the butterfly exhibition I viewed recently at the Natural History Museum last year – though these were alive! Their beauty, dead or alive, somehow still remains.

I have raised Peacock butterflies from caterpillars, watched half a dozen hatch and fly around in a special net nursery I keep in my living room. The kids love it, as do the adults in the family. This beauty can also be seen in amber, in specimens of incarcerated butterflies, just like the specimens I have on my wall. So, in a sense, beauty can exist for 40 million years in a state of perfect preservation -  though dead.

Some 12 years back I went to a fascinating exhibition by the German doctor Gunther von Hagens. Michael Jackson missed the time period for cryogenic preservation, but von Hagens had apparently agreed with Jackson’s people that he would be plastinated: Bubbles, Jackson’s pet monkey had been plastinated some years before - alledgely. It was apparently Jackson’s final request to be united with Bubbles. So it seems his desire for immortality had a spiritual as well as aesthetic dimension. To take a creature’s veins and arteries and fill them with plastic, to preserve this vast arterial network truly seems a thing o fiction.

Nature has a fascinating way of returning all matter back to earth, and yet reveals glowing instances of where it manages to preserve aspects of its own creations.

So, why does this all interest me? What ties these disparate strands together is preservation. I was raised in a world where, to a degree, the beauty around me often felt as though it was continually being destroyed. I’m not referring to physical beauty but rather the beauty of say a family life, the beauty of my brother and his life which was blighted by illness. And so the beauty of a childhood life often felt like an ephemeral thing, and part of me has always wanted to be able to somehow find a way of preserving aspects of beauty. And I guess this is why I turned to painting, to seek out the objects I find fascinating, inspiring and beautiful and metaphorically preserve them in oil and canvas.

To see these paintings you can go to 
Anthony Parke’s website at:

Fiction: Flight of the Bumblebee (excerpt) Frances C Burton

I kept trying and trying to fly towards the sunlight, but I kept crashing into something. Something I couldn’t even see. There were no other leafed plants, no sound of humming, no other usual garden scents. Soon I was totally disorientated. Even so, it came as a shock to find myself stranded from the colony, completely cut off. There was no escape. Just as I was beginning to feel the fear of never sensing anything, flack!
“Oy!” I hollered. Bang!
“Ow! My eyes! That hurt!” I was stunned.
“No! What’s the matter with me?” I’d flown directly into something invisible—again! It was like an invisible wall.
“Hang on for me, Mayleah!”
I got up and once more prepared for flight. “Wait for me! Hey, wait! This is hard work.” I paused for breath and tried to calm myself.
“Curl forelegs and middle legs and …”
I checked my position. My legs were curled in evenly, and my speed was good.
“One, two, three …”
I felt very confused. My wings were in order, clear and well veined. By rights, I should be able to fly away without any problems.
“It’s so weird.” I was utterly perplexed, and I began to doubt my abilities. “I can fly properly, can’t I?”
It was the first time I had felt so alone, so desperately lonely. I tried again, but with the same painful result.
“Why can’t I fly? Why can’t I even fly to the clover?”
I was starting to feel very anxious. The dense yellowy-white spikes of the clover looked so very appealing, and I was so near them and yet so far.
“It’s a mystery.”
After another failed attempt, panic set in. I breathed in and breathed out as slowly as I could.
“Have I been careless?”
Thump! Stunned again.
“God, where are you? What is this? Some sort of cruel joke?”
My head beat with every collision, and my eyes stung and watered as I crashed around. I became so weary.
“Help! I can see you! Can’t you see me? Help! I can’t fly. Mayleah—look! Neyum! Help me, Ahlon. Ahlon!”
I hoped the others wouldn’t think I was making something of nothing. I could see them, and I buzzed and flapped my wings to get their attention. At last, Neyum spotted me. He was always ready to comfort and encourage any bumblebee.
“Don’t worry,” he buzzed. “We’ve got some honey ready for you for when you get back.”
“Who’s bothered about honey at a time like this?” I felt humiliated and frustrated.
“We’re all here to help you when you need us!” came the reply.
“Ahlon, I’m not joking. I don’t know what to do. How do I fly back?” I rubbed my face with my front legs. “Can you all see what’s happening better than I can?”
I was shocked that even Ahlon didn’t have an answer.
“You must have been put there for a reason, perhaps to learn some valuable lessons,” signalled Neyum. “Spend your time wisely. You’ll be able to fly properly soon, you’ll see.”
Instinctively, I wanted to buzz back shouting, “I’ll give you a few wise words, Neyum. One is ‘help’ and the other is ‘me’.” But I was too exhausted to be angry.
I was badly bruised and my wing joints felt as though they were seriously sprained. Any impetus I had to return to the nest left me right then and there.
The air was still; it almost felt absent.
For the entire time I had been aware of the fact that the garden beyond the invisible wall had beautiful borders. However, the more I struggled to get there, the more I could only focus on my own trapped position. Gradually, my awareness of the soft fluttering of butterflies around the buddleia began to fade. My appreciation for the flowers and even the nectar dimmed. I couldn’t cope with this isolation. All I could see were the edges of my wings fluttering madly. However cruel, this was no joke. I despaired.
“Why can’t they offer helpful advice?”
I lay on my back buzzing, groaning and sighing. It felt futile. I wanted to ask Neyum if a lesson really had to be so painful to learn. I wanted to invite him to tell me the secret to learning it faster.
“What an earth is it going to take?” I asked myself.
I mumbled to myself, then gave one last push with my wings and waved my legs with sudden fury in an attempt to lift myself. But I had no power and I stopped trying. I stopped moving, and I stopped crying. Strangely, there seemed nothing left to cry for. There was no point.
I lay still as if possessed by death itself and hoped I wouldn’t be easy prey for someone or something…It was at that moment that I realised why some bumblebees never returned to the nest, and I resigned myself to the fact that I was next and that nobody would come looking for me.
And then something flat and white sped towards me. It might have been a bird, but it didn’t have any wings or feathers, claws, feet or legs. It had at least four long sharpish edges. One edge slid underneath me until I had the impression that the ground had become pristine, clean, pure. I suppose it could have been a variety of leaf, but it wasn’t one I’d ever seen before. I rolled onto it easily, but immediately I noticed that it had no veins, no stem, no marks at all.
Nonetheless, I felt safe at last. I was raised up! I was saved or being saved, but by what or whom I just didn’t know. Yet I knew that I’d breeze through that invisible wall at last, and I did! I was ecstatic! At long last, I could see the sky and feel the breeze…No sooner had I smelled the flowers and felt sure I was saved than the white leaf tilted and I dropped. Down into the undergrowth I fell. The descent was fast, and it was a long, long fall. I landed with a thud. I had lost all the strength in my body to get up and fly away, and I didn’t believe I ever would regain it. I was too damaged and had lost the pollen I was carrying in the fall. Within seconds, my sense of freedom collapsed. I was overcome with a very deep and real sense that I had lost any ability I ever had to hum, laugh or sing. So I began to cry. In fact, I wailed.
I wept for what seemed like hours. I mourned for others who were caught out in the same way, and I mourned for myself. It was an ordeal which I could not explain and whose purpose I could not begin to grasp.

Local Artist Shows Paintings at Catto Gallery

Local artist Anthony J. Parkés’ hyperrealistic still life paintings are to be exhibited at Catto Gallery situated in the beautiful, leafy village of Hampstead.

Anthony J. Parké lives in Highgate with a studio in Muswell Hill. His skill lies in his ability to create stunningly detailed oil paintings of fruit and other organic materials, whilst also capturing the extraordinary striations of glass vessels which hold these objects. These paintings can often look like photographs such is the level of detail, and as a result each painting can take on average 60-100 hours to complete. 

Anthony J. Parkés’ series of oil paintings entitled “Beauty & Preservation” was excepted by Catto after a meeting with the three gallery directors. Regarding his show with Catto, Parké stated “I am deeply gratified to have this opportunity; Catto is one of the most prestigious galleries in London and for them to recognise the value of my work is a wonderful acknowledgement of the time and effort I’ve put into my art practice over the years.”

The stillness and peacefulness of Anthony J. Parkés’ paintings belies a highly disrupted period in his childhood which continually inform fundamental aspects of his work.

Parkés’ love of natural objects began in his early childhood where he foraged the overgrown lands of an abandoned railway at the back of the family home. There he found his love for all things natural. But in this same period he grew up with a very ill brother. His brother broke all things related to glass. Parké says, “The aquarium was an ideal for the family, something peaceful and beautiful, and when my brother exploded it‘s glass façade, I learnt as an eight year old how ephemeral beauty could be. Within the gushing waters I saw an array of fish and shattered glass fuse into an image of beauty and destruction.” 

These images of beauty beside destruction have haunted Anthony ever since, in particular their relationship to glass. Anthony says, “While such incidences of smashing glass are a thing of the past, glass appears in all my paintings, its meaning now inverted. Now the glass is reconstructed into an ideal state, as something whole and beautiful. The glass is a metaphorical means of capturing and preserving natural beauty, similar to the way the  specimen jars at the Natural History Museum preserve organisms. It’s as though I’m trying to put back together all the broken pieces of my early childhood, and make something beautiful and whole once more which can never be lost.”

The main gallery at Catto also has a lower gallery called Catto Below. Anthony’s’ exhibition of 18 paintings will take place there and the show will run from May 11th-31st, 2014. Catto  has grown to become one of the finest art galleries in London; for this reason Anthony is delighted to be on board. he says, “I can only hope that the exhibition goes well, that many people attend and get to see and enjoy my paintings, and that the overall response is good.” 

For more information visit Catto Gallery is situated on 100 Heath Street, London, NW3 1DP.