Why being faster, better or stronger is not enough
The pace and rate of technological change over the last few decades has been extraordinary. We have the potential to be and do things faster, better and more efficiently in ways previous generations could never have dreamed possible.
But there is also a sense that there has to be something more than just what we see around us. One writer, Tom Wright puts it in terms of four areas of concern in our culture. In these areas just being or doing faster, better or more efficiently is inadequate:
- the quest for spirituality
- the longing for justice
- the hunger for relationships
- a delight in beauty.
There is a way in which all of them point beyond themselves and we hear them as if they are echoes of a voice coming from just around the corner out of sight.
On this podcast we have our final conversation with Andy Parnham on his book “Lasting Happiness: In Search Of Deeper Meaning and Fulfilment.”
Do join us as we explore:
The limitations of a materialistic worldview when we have such deep longings for meaning.
Why secular health experts like Allan McNaught come to the conclusion that trying to define wellbeing is "fruitless. frustrating and ultimately impossible."
The hunger for meaning in our lives. As the writer Dostoyevsky poetically said,
“Every ant knows the formula of its anthill,
Every bee knows the formula of its beehive.
They know it in their way, not in our way.
Only humankind does not know its own formula.”
Longing. Its something we all experience at one time or another, but find so hard to explain or define. On this podcast Andy Parnham and I discuss this "reaching out towards or yearning for something that you can't describe but which draws you very powerfully with a mixture of joy and sadness."
The writer C. S. Lewis put it even more potently when he called this longing 'joy' and described it as 'an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction...... anyone who has experienced it will want it again.' As you can see these are deep areas we don't often discuss!
Do come and join Andy and I as we explore
How a want for something (usually in the areas of wealth, health or happiness) tends to be clear, purposeful, driven by the will often with a sense of urgency.
By contrast with a longing the focus is not on ourselves, but someone or something that occupies our view and yet lies beyond our grasp or control (usually in the areas of relationships, meaning and fulfilment).
Our age-old quest for beauty vividly described by Lewis:
”The books or music in which we thought the beauty were located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them,it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things - the beauty, the memory of our own past - are good images of what we really desire, but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”
Examples of this in longing for a person, place or people.
How homesickness and nostalgia as forms of longing combine very powerful emotions of loss and disappointment combined with hope and desire.
How these experiences are also understandable through neuroscience and the two sides of the brain.
Understanding the difference between what Henri Nouwen called ‘first loneliness’ (the emotional need for family, friends and home) and the need for a deeper life, which he called a ‘second loneliness.’ Here is how Nouwen described it:
”A deep personal intimacy and it is an intimacy that is very demanding. It requires letting go of many things that are emotionally, intellectually and affectively very satisfying. You must grow to realise and to trust that the deeper loneliness is not to be overcome, but lived. You must live it with trust, standing tall. You must try to say, ‘Yes I am lonely, but this particular loneliness sets me on the road to intimacy...It brings me closer to the source of love in the depths of my being.”
While this conversation may seem rather deep and esoteric, I do assure you we talk about practical implications for all of us in how we live our lives on a day-to-day basis!
Happiness! Who doesn't want it? A recent google search on 'how to be happy' turned up 626 million results. Compare that to typing in 'Donald Trump' and you get 237 million items or 'Brexit news' where there is just 90 million! We all want to be happy. But what do we mean by happiness? I can be happy eating an ice cream and I can be happy meeting a long lost friend. But those two experiences are clearly very different. How can I find a happiness that leads to deeper meaning and fulfilment?
On this podcast we interview Andy Parnham, author of the book, "Lasting Happiness: In Search of Deeper Meaning and Fulfilment." Do come and join us in this opening 30 minute conversation as we explore:
Andy's fascination with exploring this important subject.
Western's society obsession with defining the good life only in terms of health, wealth and the pursuit of pleasure while at the same time avoiding pain.
How the research and our own personal experience shows lasting happiness is ultimately found in relationships, meaning and fulfilment.
How the research shows the most significant factor in overall wellness is the presence of strong relationships.
The two problems of material pleasure being they fade with time and need ever increasing consumerism to produce the same 'buzz'.
How this is not just a Western issue, as the examples of Qatar (the richest country in the world), Japan and Bhutan illustrate.
A psychological understanding of happiness as 'subjective wellbeing' with the three components of pleasure, engagement and meaning.
Understanding the what, how, who and why of lasting happiness.
We will be talking with Andy more in future podcasts, but for now if you would like to explore this further also see:
How do I handle all the overwhelm and the many distractions I find myself having to deal with not just on a daily but even moment-by-moment basis? We have been looking at this 18 minute video by David Allen that gives much wisdom into this increasingly common life challenge:
David Allen's fundamental point is that the best way to deal with feelings of overwhelm is to get everything that is on your mind out of your head into some trustworthy external system. The simple act of writing it down is the first step in the process - but only the first step........
I know that can seem hard to believe - but trust me on this! One of the marks of modern life is the nagging sense of all the things that need to be done. The list never seems to finish and it is so easy to feel overwhelmed and exhausted thinking about all you have to do. But does that have to be the case at all? This 18 minute TED talk by David Allen gives a helpful perspective on how to deal with the feelings of overwhelm and never-ending distractions we all experience at one time or another in our lives.
One of the key points David Allen seeks to get across is that we don't actually need more time, but what we need is more room. Or in other words, enough space in your mind to be fully present in the here and now with what is most important to you at this moment to get your most important work done......
That might well seem like a strange question for me to ask, especially as I work as a psychiatrist! It is actually from this 18 minute video by David Allen, who has spent many decades researching how the most productive people use their time in the least stressful way possible. I have been following David Allen's work for approaching a decade and found his insights enormously helpful. I think you will too.
Here are three ways our brains can help or hinder us:
David Allen's first main insight is that the incredibly complex and marvellous brains we have been blessed with are in fact very poor at organising the different priorities in our lives. If you need to consciously remember something, remind yourself about it, decide how important it is compared to everything else going on or manage your relationships, your brain is in fact very clumsy. Allen's figure of our brains only holding 4 items in those categories at any one time is infinitesimally tiny compared to the billion bits of information our brain is processing internally and externally in the environment around us right now. At medical school over 30 years ago we were taught the conscious mind holds between 5 to 9 bits of information. With our increasingly complex world and all the distractions we have to deal with, as well as the overwhelm of information, it means our conscious attention is severely curtailed. If you don't believe me just try getting through your day with a shopping list of 7 items in your head and not writing them down somewhere! Without an external up to date system in place to routinely store, retrieve and review what is most important to us at any one time, we are continually at risk of just reacting to whatever is the newest thing or most pressing demand (the latest and loudest).
Allen summarises this with a major principle of stress-free productivity:
"Your mind is for having ideas and not for holding them."
Your mind has incredible potential and resources, but it is a very poor organising system or office! That is why you have to get out of your mind!
The second major insight is that we are the most productive and engaged when we are fully present in the moment with no other distractions pulling at our attention. The phrase 'mind like water' captures this with the metaphor of water being highly flexible, fluid, in balance and always completely appropriately engaged with the environment. If you imagine a calm pool of water perfectly still then the water will respond to whatever you throw into it in just the right way. Throw a small pebble and you get a small ripple. Throw a large rock and you make bigger waves. When I am fully present and a challenge or opportunity comes into my life I can respond cleanly without too much or too little emotion. I just respond with the right amount of engagement and activity that the challenge requires. I don't react or under react. I just do what needs to be done and move on.
The third major insight is understanding our basic problem is not a lack of time. Allen challenges us with our tendency to say we don't have enough time by provocatively asking, 'How much time does it take to have a good idea? How much time does it take to be strategic? How much time to be present and loving with someone?'
The issue is not about having more time, but instead having enough space in your mind to be fully present in the here and now with what is most important to you. To be fully engaged in the present moment is a powerful place to be. It is relaxed focus and situational awareness of what is going on around you. Being in such a state also means you are in the best possible state to do deal with the unexpected.
These three insights are radical concepts that can take a lifetime to fully apply.
There is a lot more that can be said about this, but for now what questions or comments do you have about David Allen's insights?
How the left brain has come to dominate Western culture
You can make a pretty strong case for saying that the human brain is the most complex object in the entire universe. It contains 100 billion nerve cells (called neurones). Each of these neurones contains a vast electrochemical complex and powerful micro-data-processing system. As complex as each cell is it would fit on the head of a pin! And in spite of all the research in the last century there is much we still do not understand.
Someone who has thought about this a lot is Iain McGilchrist. He is a psychiatrist, doctor, writer and former Oxford literary scholar. (We were also contemporaries at medical school in Southampton in the 1980s, but our paths did not often cross). In this fascinating animated 11 minute lecture from the Royal Society of Arts McGilchrist explains the main themes from his book, "The Master and His Emissary". It is about the functioning of the human brain. His in depth training in both the arts and sciences makes him uniquely qualified to write on this subject.
McGilchrist has produced a huge masterpiece, and this article and video can only give a simple broad overview. However, one of his key points is that the implications of brain science are highly significant in understanding the development of Western culture.
The main focus of discussion is around the two cerebral hemispheres. By carefully reviewing over 50 years of brain research McGilchrist explains how a simplistic understanding of the left side being just concerned with, for example, reason and language and the right side just with emotion and visual imagery is too simplistic. Both sides of the brain have elements of these abilities, but it is also true that there is a significantly greater emphais of function on one side compared to the other. The purpose of the corpus callosum that connects the two sides of the brain is to inhibit the over emphais of one side of the brain. However, the corpus callosum has been shown to have got less influential over time and the left hemisphere has become in our day and age much more dominant.
Dr John Geater is at the time of writing aged 73. He is married to Jane and has three adult children. He is a medical doctor and has worked in Bhutan, New Zealand and in England. In 2006 he received an MBE from the Queen for his work in setting up the postgraduate medical education charity, PRIME (Partnerships in International Medical Education). He has taught holistic medical education in 26 different countries around the world. Just before Christmas 2017 he was diagnosed with metastatic pancreatic cancer.
Do join us in this fascinating podcast conversation as we discuss John's life and explore questions such as:
How do you respond when bad things happen to you?
How do you make sense of being diagnosed with cancer three times in your life?
How to embrace life's mysteries when things don't go the way you want or expect.
We also ask John:
What was it like running a leprosy hospital in Bhutan at the age of 25?
What would you say to someone who has a terminal illness and is scared?
To explore with us from Bronnie Ware's book the five regrets of the dying:
I wish I lived a life true to myself and not what was expected of me.
I wish I had not worked so hard.
I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.
I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
I wish I had let myself be happier.
What he is looking forward to in the life to come?
It is a commonly held assumption among many people that faith in God is incompatible with a scientific world view. Our largely secular media would have us believe that science and faith in a universal creator God is an irreconcilable contradiction. (See We're All Materialists Now!).Yet the more closely you examine the evidence the more you realise this does not have to be the case at all.
Brian Enderle holds graduate degrees in both science and theology. In this 13 minute TED talk he explains how scientific understanding of the universe is even more amazing and fantastic than we could ever imagine.
The more you look at the findings the harder it is not to use hyperbole and extreme descriptions. Take the finding of how much of atoms are empty space. In case you were wondering a single atom is apparently a million times smaller than a human hair. Within an atom there is, according to Enderle, 99.9999999999999% empty space! That means everything around us that appears solid, physical and real is actually practically all empty space! We assume because atoms are so tiny and so numerous objects appear solid to us, but in fact they are not!
"I need more time!" How often have you said that to yourself? Its frequently how I feel. So much to do and apparently so little time to do what needs to be done. And yet when I have found myself with more time available, I've also found myself too exhausted or distracted to make significant headway with the different projects that I have told myself are important to me. When that happens it is easy to feel guilty or be too hard on oneself. Maybe part of the reason for this is because it is more then than just a time issue.
Part of the problem comes because we don't grasp that we have overloaded ourselves in a number of different ways. Talking about needing more time is way too simplistic.
Here are some examples. I am guilty of all of them on one occasion or another: