Staying Mindfully Calm Under Pressure

It always seems amazing when a dramatic situation develops somewhere in the world and, what seems to be, the whole of humanity come together in a spirit of good will with the desire to get something right. Do you remember when the Wild Boars football team became trapped in a cave system alongside their coach. Luckily the coach was an ex Buddhist monk, of ten years standing, who taught the team to be mindful, meditate and await a rescue that non of them knew would come.

In the ‘Intention Experiment’ quantum physicists tell us that it is now possible to measure energy leaving one person and measure it arriving at another person. You might call this energy good will, love, prayer, absent healing and so on but I suspect that a lot of positive energy was raining down on these guys in the cave and, amazingly, they all got out. Though we do have to offer our prayers and thanks to the Thai Navy Seal, and his family, who lost his own life in helping those trapped children.

The fact that the coach was trained in Mindfulness and meditation was probably the deciding factor in their survival. That had a limited oxygen supply and they were on the edge on hypoxia when they finally got out. In calmness the respiration would have been slower and they would have used less of their vital resource of oxygen. When people are anxious they breath shallow and fast.

Considering that all beings on planet Earth can count their breaths in an average life time at around 700 million breaths each breath has a value that should not be wasted. This amount of breaths is as true for an elephant as for a mouse. Mice have short fast breaths and get through their allotted amount much quicker than an elephant who has deep slow breaths. Those of us who are anxious and suffer from a raised heart rate and a raised respiration will die sooner than those of us who are calmer with a slower heart and respiration rate.

Unless we learn to be mindful and observe our breath we will never be truly aware of what is going on in or system. Using mindfulness, relaxation, exercise and meditation we can slow both our heart rate and respiration and increase our chances of living a longer and happier life.

Being in your own cave
The cave metaphor is often used to describe that inner space that we all retreat to when we are under threat. We would say that a man goes to his man cave, well so do women but in a different way to men.
Sometimes when life feels like it is too much the only place we can go is within. Our computer inboxes maybe full to bursting, our emotional inbox may be full to bursting and our mental inbox likewise. Our systems are in overload, colleagues and family are now too much, and all too often deliverables seem, well, undeliverable.
However hard we work hard, we don’t always meet our goals for the day or the week or the month. New urgent tasks come to us before old ones are done. Sometimes we react by behaving badly, or perhaps we agree to everything, even knowing that we cannot do it all, and the pressure builds inside us. Sometimes we blame ourselves for not being good enough, or our colleagues, family and friends, and we forget we are all in this thing called life together.
Could this be positive?
Seen another way pressure could just be a positive force; it can help us to be better at our jobs, relationships and lives. Pressure can motivate us to be a better person. It can trigger incredible creativity, and boost our productivity. The trick is to mindfully manage what we are thinking, feeling and doing. We need to re-examine how we deal with it, and we can be there for each other. In mindfulness we are gathering tools that work best for each and all of us.
If we all look after each other we will all be okay
There are massive changes coming to the Uk with the war in Ukraine and the financial crisis. The whole world is changes in the focus of economic power and global warming. There is a great deal to do, especially in the coming months. However, if we are mindful of the responsibility we have for ourselves, and if we support each other, we will, in the end, all be alright.
The basic premise of mindfulness is that being present with what is happening now, in this moment, stops us from ruminating about the past or future, and brings about clarity and focus. This does not mean that we deliberately allow ourselves to stay focused on how overwhelmed we feel at this moment. In fact, by stopping the flow of ruminating thoughts and being mindful, we are able to change the way we experience what is going on right now in the moment, and turn the negative aspects of pressure into the positive ones.
We don’t have problems we have learning opportunities
When we feel pressured, for example, if we are working under a tight deadline at work or at home, our concern can become the belief that we won’t meet the deadline, that we will fail and because we believe we can’t, we don’t.
Thoughts become things.
Rumination and disbelief is the way that thoughts become things.
However, we have a choice. Rather than reacting to a feeling of being under pressure by assuring ourselves of our failure, we can for a second or two, notice ourselves breathing in and out, and give ourselves a moment to observe what is really going on. This way we are able to change our reaction, which is mindless, into a thoughtful response, which is mindful.
Stop. Breathe. Respond.
Observe the pressure; don’t become it
Having a positive self-perception is a key component in transforming our ability to manage pressure. This is called self compassion. We need to like ourselves and to know we are worthy as human beings. However, we should also have compassion for others. One person should never think that they are better than another person. It is only when we can recognise the positive aspects of ourselves that we are then able recognise them also in others.
Reflecting on the football team in the cave, it is when we find ourselves in a negative internal cave, in the darkness and unable to see the light, that we need to remain calm, relax, meditate and await our own rescue. In this case it is the rescue that comes from mindful practices and the insight that allows the light to penetrate our darkness. So often that light will be self compassion.

Take care, be happy and be calm

Sean x

Donor or not?

Somebody reminded me this week that we had previously done a podcast and blog in which I stated tat as a vegetarian that I would never accept a body donation from a pig and yet twelve weeks ago which undergoing heart surgery I agreed to have a pigs valve fitted in my heart. At the time of the operation I decided that’s I would accept the valve as I had just had three units of blood in transfusions. In my meditation I came to the conclusion that in creation life lives off life and I accepted that if I was to live it would be as a result of the donation from the pig.

Below I have copied the original blog fro the previous podcast. I would be interpreted in your thoughts and comments.   

This weeks podcast and blog has been inspired a listener who directed me to an article about a little girl who had died. They pointed out how many people she helped to live by the donation of her organs. This was a hot and difficult topic for the listener as they are now in a similar situation where a relative close to them will shortly die. Their family are currently discussing the rightness or wrongness of donating organs. Their discussion also raised the issue of the rights of the family versus the donor. Should the family have a say in someone’s decision to become an organ donor.  They suggested that Ed and I do a podcast to look at these difficult issue. I started asking people, checking some services and ideas online. The first issue seems to be is it right or wrong?

So, is it right to give part of your body to another person? Some people who become donors donate their body once they are dead while others do so while they are still alive giving away a kidney, bone marrow, eggs and semen, blood and so on. The whole issues raises so many questions. The main one being just because we can do something should we?

Would you be a recipient?

Ok, so would you accept an organ from a donor? Would you accept a blood transfusion?

As a lot of these issues are so personal I have put in quite a few links, some to people who have actually had the transplants described. The issues of both accepting and giving body parts hits at the very core of what do we believe, issues of morality and what is right and wrong.

Would you donate?

Would you give an organ? Do you carry a donor card?   Sixty two percent of people in Britain do carry a card, while only 4% of us are prepared to give blood? And each year hundreds of people donate their entire body to anatomical and medical science.

It would seem that donating your very skin and bones is the ultimate act of altruism. For many the feeling is that once you are dead you no longer need them and the may as well be recycled. For others a desecration of someone’s remains is the ultimate act of disrespect. 

I have worked with people who have waiting a very long time for a suitable donor and some who have died while waiting due the lack of suitable donors. I also know someone who chose to donate a kidney to a complete stranger on the basis that they had two and only needed one. they literally just put themselves on the register and eventually a suitable recipient came along.

I have also worked with both heart and liver recipients of transplants who despite their gratitude to the donor experience the development of odd behaviours, habits and cravings, as though the organ brought a certain amount or memory with it. Not all donations are easily received. 

Man who rejected donor hands

Even those that do receive an organ or as in the link below a pair of hands are unable to accept and accommodate the gift. This man decided that he would rather have them removed.

Face transplants

It may equally be true of the recipients of another persons face. In this link the man has had an astounding reconstruction. I look in the mirror now and find that the effects of age have changed the person who is looking back leaving me with the question ‘who are you?’ Am interesting and education journey.

Blood transfusions

In the Christian faith Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that the Bible says taking blood is wrong and would not accept blood transfusions. Therefore, they would not donate. They also keep their own blood for future transfusion. Many non-Christians would concur and refuse to give or receive blood. For me I am happy to both give a receive blood.

Animal organs – pigs

This a big one. Is it right to create an animal that has been engineered so that its body parts would be acceptable to the human body? Does this raise the issues of animal rights? I guess that if you are happy to eat meat then organs are a byproduct of the same process. For me, as vegetarian, the idea of breeding an animal to harvest it’s organs in outrageous. But is is a personal issue.

Faecal transplants

This is a very interesting area of research. With the development of neuropsychology the relationship the gut and our brains and between the gut and our emotional self is being investigated. It seems that we can say ‘happy gut happy brain’. We know that many medications, including antibiotics rip the natural flora out of the gut. This can have many consequences including emotional issues such as depression. Current experiments where faecal matter from people with a health gut/brain is transplanted into those lacking in appropriate flora is showing good results. Have a look at the link below it might open your eyes to the possibilities. How would you feel about having someone else’s faecal matter transferred into your gut?

Donor eggs and sperm

IVF and fertility clinics would not normally be associated with ideas of donation but that is exactly what they are. Even if the couple involved are known to each other and the IVF follows the same route that would have been taken naturally we are still moving bits of one person into another. One thing that concerns me in this area is the idea of designer babies, either to create a certain quality of child or a second child whose blood or umbilical fluids might be used to cure a brother or sister.

Looking this are overall I ask myself again the question ‘just because we can do something should we do it?’ Once we play with the gene pool we are releasing unknown consequences into the future. Lots to thinks about in this podcast and blog.  

Take care and be happy. 

Sean x

Is gossip a good thing?

Historically when a pregnant lady went for her ‘lying in’ as she was in or coming up to labour she would invite a group of women to accompany her and help her through the experience. The professions of midwife came from this sort of process. However, so did gossip. The women invited to the lying in were known as the gossips. It was one of the few instances when women were able to be alone together without men and could say and discuss whatever they wanted. It was from this that the word gossip moved from the simple title given to the participants to this lying in concept to people sharing things behind someone’s back. The people most effected by this were the men who were excluded from the event and therefore the women were able to talk about them without them knowing. Eventually the word gossip was taken to describe this talking behind someone’s back and was seen by men as an exclusively female thing. If you listen to the podcast you will hear Ed admitting to gossiping with his friends. The reality is that all people, men and women gossip. That is they talk about other people without that person knowing what is being said about them. It is maybe good to mention at this point that gossip, in the sense of what is spoken about someone without their knowledge, behind their back, may not be negative. It could be that people are talking about someone’s good points and their good qualities. 

So why do we gossip? The assumption by evolutionary psychology is that creating a small gossiping group was a way of bonding the group together. The gossip would normally concern people outside of this small group that would be open to criticism. Yet, we can be a part of the group and still be the subject of gossip when we are not there. Have you ever walked into a room and suddenly it goes quiet and the question is ‘what were you all talking about before I came in?’

Is gossip a good thing? Over all I would say yes but with some caveats.

Gossip is a form of stress management. If in the workplace we have a colleague or a manager that is difficult but because of their position we feel unable to challenge their behaviour then gossiping with colleagues can be a form of active stress management that enables us to to off load and deal with the stress and frustration that we are experiencing.  Yes, it would always be better if we could talk to the person directly and give them the feedback about their behaviour, that does give them the opportunity to change. In that sense being honest to someone’s face about their behaviour is feedback and doing it behind their back is gossip. It would seem obvious that the feedback route is the more positive but not always possible in which case the stress management of gossip does have a valid role.

During my current illness and hospitalisation both Rie and I have been the subject of gossip both positive and negative. The problem for those sharing negatively has been that the people that they gossiped to have come back to us and told us what has been shared. This is the one big problem with gossip. It only works as a stress release function when it is kept within the gossiping group. As soon as it leaks out is become destructive and can wreck both relationships and even organisations. 

Social media can be a problem in this regard. We have just seen the ‘Wagatha Christie’ trial all based around who said what on social media. Both in workplaces and in family relationship the cases I am having to deal more and more to do with the damaged relationships caused what people have been saying on social media. 

In a world that has become so immediate it is important that we learn to be more aware of what we are saying and what we are sharing on social media. I would include all forms of trolling and accusations or innuendo in this as well. these can be the start of gossip that is shared and re-shared until it is believed to be the truth and lives can be ruined.

My resource for this podcast is to re-visit the first three steps of the live in the present course and consider how you see yourself and other people and decide if you need to adjust your behaviour. Remember:

If we all look after each other we will all be okay

Take care

Sean x


Ok, so what is a family? Well, it all begins with the individual as the basic building block. Then we get into sexual mathematics. One individual meet another individual and we have  gone from onto two people and we have a couple. In most cases the sexual mathematic means reproduction and then we have three as baby number one comes along. In modern society  a family is a socio-economic unit that was preferred by the government and the church. In evolution the family unit meant safety. Groups of families became tribes, became communities, became societies, became nationalities. Ultimately they became the factions of ‘us’ and ‘them’. Either you are in or you are outOne of us or one of them.

Now, it would make sense for a family to be a self supporting caring unit where each persons need were met. Sadly this is so often not the case. My own natal family was not a supportive unit it was a snake pit where the individual member sort to dominate and out do the the other members to gain supremacy. I left home at the age of 15 to get away from it. When I left I had no faith in the idea of family that I saw as a destructive thing. I then went on to play out the role models that I had learned as a child and made bad relationships with dysfunctional people who supported my beliefs and understanding of what a family was.

However, over time and a lot of anguish I learned and gradually get better at it as my understanding has grown so that now I live in an amazing extended family who in the main think of each other first and look out for each other’s needs. This is really weird for me to be in a place where you do not have to look over your shoulder to see who is going to stab you in the back.

This has never been more obvious than how they have all responded to my recent stay in hospital for heart surgery when they all piled in to support both me and Rie. It all got me quite emotional to realise that these people lovers me and accepted my as on of them.  I was reminded of when I was 13 or 14 years of age and I had to go to hospital to have a large and manky mole taken out of my back which was suspect CA. It wasn’t that was good. Anyway, I walked three miles or so to the hospital on my own, no one from the family thought that I might need someone with me. When I arrived the surgeon looked at my face that also had a large mole on the chin and said ‘I’ll have that one while I am here as well’. A few hours later with both wounds bandaged I walked the three miles back home again. 

My current experience of family is mind blowing. I recently had ten weeks in hospital and the family were in daily contact, wishing me well, enquiries, food and gifts. What a difference. Back in my childhood home I could have felt abandoned. Though it is true that in extreme emergencies they would gather round and act.

It would seem that in the end I have found my family. Which is great.

I suspect that it is my early childhood experience that led me to…

…If we all look after each other we will all be okay

Family is community and community is humanity.

Take care

Sean x 

Power, Win, Lose

All around us people enact their power in order to win. It might be that we are at a crowded bar trying to get a drink so that we and a whole group of other people are trying to gain the attention of the bartender to get their order met. Who gets to the til first, gets on the bus first? The general winning in our society is when people play out the very basic human need to survive which I see as the enactment of ‘I, me, my, now, I must have.’ It is the ultimate selfishness which goes 100% against my mantra of 

‘if we all look after each other we will all be okay’.

Ed was referring to a player at Wimbledon this year who was using bullying power tactics to win in being difficult with his opponent and the umpire. The crowd got angry with him that seemed to give him more energy to get even more empowered. He had got a response. A lot of the use of power between is to create a response that will lead to someone winning. Sadly I see it in relationships a lot. One person exercises power over the other in what becomes domination. It might be physical, sexual, financial, social and so on. It also happens in the workplace in both the public and the private sectors where people will exercise their power to get up the greasy pole of promotion and increased salary. And, of course, we see it in politics where power is often…

‘it is not what you know it is who you know’

The need to win and the exercise of power is everywhere. When I was travelling in the hippy days traveller would gather together in evening camps each had been to different ashrams and attended the courses of particular teachers or gurus. Even in that setting the need to win came to the fore in the form of…

…’my guru is better that your guru’…

I love it when there is a race, maybe a marathon, and someone collapses before they cross the finish line and the other runners stop help them up and help them across the line so that they too can finish all together. This is not power, win or lose, it is that when we look after each other. It is then that we are all winners.

Sadly our leaders and politicians do not promote the cooperation between people they support conflict, argument and domination. When we look at the trolls on social media we see the same domination, power and the attempt to win over another person. 

The way that his changes is when we begin to see other people as ourself and treat others as we would like to be treated. Then when we win we all win and their are no losers. This may sound idealistic but it is the world of spiritual and social equality. 

When we look after each other we are all winners and their are no losers

Take care. 

Sean x

Is It Better To Be Polite Or Honest?

Have you ever heard those words? ‘To be honest….’ Normally they are the precursor to someone saying something bad about something or someone. It could be about you…

‘To be honest (usually a pause) your bum looks huge in that dress’

It could be about how you present yourself…

‘To be honest you were rubbish…’

The phrase ‘to be honest’ is our way of trying, politely, to tell somebody something that we think that they ought to know. It could be that our motive is built good intention. That is because we know that what we about to say may offend or even hurt the other person.

Is it better to be polite and to say what you know, or think you know the other person wants to hear. Or to be honest and say what you actually think or feel?

‘Wow, that dress really shows your bum off. It looks very round in that dress’

To be honest (just used that phrase) I think that in many ways we have all become politically too correct. Often the words that come out of our mouths do not reflect what is going in our head.

I am a big fan of kindness. To be kind to others makes for a happier world. There are times when being polite is not kind. If your bum does look awful in that dress you might actually need to know it so that you can do something about it to make your situation better. But how will you ever know if no one has the honesty to tell you how it is? Politeness can equal dishonesty.

It’s not what you say it is the way that you say it

A diplomat is someone who can address difficult issues honestly without offending he person they are talking to.

It is actually possible to be diplomatic, honest and kind.

Honest feedback is an art form. Most of my life I have run self development courses. They all include feedback sessions from the other group members. ‘The way I experience you is….’ That might feel a it scary is twenty people tell you how they experience you to be. In reality the feedback is a gift.
I am biased about myself, we all are. Life experiences have created my self image. My self image maybe positive or negative. Honest, kind feedback from others challenges my own stereotype and enables me to grow as a person either by accepting things that I deny or developing things that I need.

On the courses I joke that ‘I see myself as six foot bronzed and muscular’. Most people laugh because I am actually five foot six, small and skinny. So then we reach the decision point. Do we act politely and go along with my delusion and all act like I am a hunk. Or does someone explain to me that I am not actually like that and I ten have to face up to something?

When we see politeness and honesty as feedback it is a useful tool for self development. We can then learn. As long as the feedback is done with kindness it is of great help to us. And that is the point.

Politeness is of no use if it is not honest
Honesty is of no use if it is not polite
The thing that puts power into both politeness and honesty is kindness

You could say that honesty with kindness is true politeness.

Take care

Sean x

Leadership and kindness

I have been watching the Jubilee celebrations and it struck me how many people when interviewed described the Queen’s kindness. Many where describing how they had used her example as a way they had gone on to act in their own lives. They made me think about our relationships between our leaders and our own behaviour. If we follow the like of Putin does that mean that we learn that it is okay to just go and violently take whatever we want from who ever we want? Or if we have a leader like Gandhi do we learn that with love and tolerance we can win the argument?

Think of the leaders that children are influenced by. Obviously we have parents and siblings, teachers and friends and their families. Politicians and social or celebrity icons. What are these leadership figures teaching us. Only you can decide what the lasting lessons of Boris Johnson will be on the generation who are growing up under his leadership. The Queen’s model of leadership could be seen as very different to his yet she id probably a very remote figure for our media hungry youth where celebrity had so much status. How often do we see kindness.

Kindness is a fundamental aspect of all successful human communications and relationships. In many ways we can’t talk about kindness enough. You would expect me to say this because I always do…

…If we all look after each other we will all be okay…

We all have such great potential for love, care and kindness if we just stop long enough to listen and respond appropriately.

A couple of weeks ago Ed and I went to Amsterdam to attend a conference and exhibition. While the event was completely amazing there was something else that was in the air and in water in Amsterdam. It was in the looks of the people as they went about their daily lives. It has really stuck with me. It was so powerful. It was kindness. There we were in a community of people who were concerned with ensuring that each other were okay. It felt so good.

Scientific evidence shows us the positive effects of doing kind acts for others, as well as receiving or even witnessing kindness, has upon our brain and our emotional chemistry. Neuropsychology measures the increase of the positive endorphins in the brain that enhance our sense of wellbeing. Even the smallest act of kindness can change a life and being the one doing it can change your life aswell.

Each year kindness week and a kindness day. This year it was in mid February. I am using, as my resource for this week’s podcast. However, I am left wondering why we can’t have a loving kindness year or even a loving kindness life. Back to my mantra…

If we all look after each other we will all be okay

The concept of sharing loving kindness is common in most schools of meditation, known as Metta. Metta or as loving kindness meditation that often comes at the end of normal meditation practice, though it can used as a full meditation of loving kindness. In Metta we are expressing caring and empathy for others and even all sentient, feeling and beings. Traditionally this begins with yourself and then, like ripples from a pond, it spreads in ever increasing circles to encompass all of creation.

In this blog I am partly quoting from Bodhipaksa who is a Buddhist practitioner and teacher, and founder of Wildmind in 2001. Well worth a visit

In the current time we need to be building positive emotional connections with all those around us. For many meditators Metta is not limited to meditation practice but is a way of life.

Metta is recognising that all sentient beings (including all animals) can feel good or feel bad, and that all, given the choice, will choose the former over the latter. Such contact with feeling implies that there can be suffering for all beings. This is the point where I became a vegetarian. The bottom line for me is that other animals do not have to die in order for me to live and that other animals do not need to suffer so that I can live.

Metta is the solidarity that we have with others, this sharing of a common aspiration to find fulfilment and escape suffering. At this time, dealing with Covid and the aftermath of Covid, we can choose to help others and they choose to help us we could reclaim community. The way that I see it is that if we all work together we can achieve anything.

Metta is empathy which is the willingness to see the world from another’s point of view: to walk a mile in their shoes. When we are consciously awake and are aware and switched on we can learn from the experience of other people. When we are consciously asleep and switched off we often have to suffer individually in order to learn and grow.

Metta is the desire that all sentient beings be well and are doing well, or at least the ones we’re currently thinking about or in contact with. It’s wishing others well. When we look after others the chances are that they will look after us and wish us well. Creating the positive and peaceful family of community. This takes me back to that feeling in Amsterdam.

Metta is friendliness, consideration, kindness, generosity. Charity is when we offer friendliness and support to others. It may be money though the most charitable thing that we can do is to be there for other people when they need us.

Metta is an attitude to action rather than just a nice feeling. It’s an attitude of friendliness but friendliness in action.

Metta is compassion. Compassion means ‘with feeling’. When our loving kindness meets another’s suffering, then our Metta transforms into compassion and we feel and respond to their needs.

Metta is shared joy. When our Metta meets with another’s happiness or good fortune, then it transmutes into an empathetic joyfulness. We feel better and more joyful from having made that compassionate connection with another person.

Metta knows no bounds. We can feel Metta for any sentient being, regardless of gender, race, nationality species, ethnicity, orientation. When trained in psychotherapy we are encouraged to treat all those people that we work with, with unconditional positive regard. We also need to treat ourselves in the same way with unconditional positive self regard.

Metta is the most fulfilling emotional state that we can know. It’s the fulfilment of the emotional development of every being. It’s our inherent potential. To wish another well is to wish that they also be in a state of experiencing Metta.

Metta is the answer to almost every problem the world faces today. Money won’t do it. Technology won’t do it. Metta will.

That last point is so simple, yet is is so true. All the world problems could be solved right now with a little loving kindness. Too often politics and the media go out of their way to reinforce the differences between people. Metta shows how similar we all are, and not just human beings all animals, all of creation.

Have a go at the meditation of loving kindness on the Palouse site and enjoy the other great links, knowledge and facilities offered there.

Here is a link to a full metta loving kindness meditation…

Be happy and share your Metta

Take care

Sean x

Living In Flow

Ed and I have just come back from a conference and exhibition in Amsterdam, ‘Fully Charged Live 2022’. This had everything from electric cars to electric cargo bikes that became a boats and also a caravanette. We tried pedal assist bikes, GoCycle, and Ed test drove the electric equivalent of a motorbike. They had iconic electric conversions and even motor homes. All in all it was an education in what you can do using pure electric power. The potential of adding a little pedal assist on some vehicles made simple journeys and even local deliveries perfectly possible. I was blown away. We came back buzzing and full of ideas.

The event was held in Amsterdam that I had only ever driven around on my way to somewhere else. Ed had been there for a stag do years earlier so for both of us this was the first time that we had actually really been and and looked at the city.

It had a profound effect on us both.

A city is a dense collection or people living and working together, yet all cities feel very different. Many cities are busy and often frantic places. People are trying to get where they need to be and as quickly as possible and other people just get in the way. This can lead to short tempers and aggressive behaviours and even violence. The intolerance of other people and other road users intensifies at different times of the day, the rush hours, and tensions mount. We were both struck by how easily, calmly and peacefully the city of Amsterdam went about it’s business. People had time for each other, showed a respect and awareness of others that was quite profound. 

You will doubtless have heard about the many bicycles that fill the streets of Amsterdam, it is true. To my psychologist observer eye the bicycles changed the way people interacted. To have many more bikes than cars meant that the cars had to give way for the bikes. This was a change for me as in the UK the bike is often seen as a hindrance to the progress of the car. In Amsterdam this went one stage further as the bikes gave way to the pedestrians. No form of transport is dominant. Cars, bikes and people flow together the achieve the needs of the day. 

This sense of cooperation and attention created a sense of calm across the city that is a rare experience. Within that calm is a sense of safety. It feels like people are looking out for each other and there is very little I, me, my and ‘pay me attention and get out of my way I am coming through’.

Getting the Eurostar back to London we stepped out at St Pancreas onto the Euston Road and both felt the uptight aggression that we know as city life which is so completely unlike Amsterdam.

I came away from the experience feeling that the big difference between the atmosphere of Amsterdam and London was the bike. The bikes slowed and calmed the streets and initiated the flow with both pedestrians and car drivers. This spreads into the everyday interactions between people in general communication. There is a sign suggesting that the car is really a guest invited into the pedestrian space. In a system where the car driver is seen as top of the pile and that the bike riders and pedestrians need to work around them it is impossible to get the balance of equality between different members of society.

From now on I shall use my bike more and try to understand how my local community can better flow together in greater social harmony.

Take care and enjoy your flow

Sean x

Well, you have just got to laugh!

I was working with someone this week who told me that we should do a podcast on humour…”for Gods sake why is everyone so miserable?”

There is a time in the madness of the world when I guess all that you can do is laugh. At this time it can be easy to feel that there is nothing good happening in the world. We have covid and the ongoing effects of covid, real wars and not just rumours of wars, the ongoing effects of Brexit, the ongoing antics of Trump and the ego stretching of Putin, what seems to be a collapsing NHS and Boris in number 10. This has to be the time to make a joke and have a laugh I think.

When did you last have a belly laugh?


This is a natural human emotion that is shared by all peoples in all parts of the world. Humour if often and emotional release typified by the fact that as a response to laughter our brain secretes happy hormones that will make us feel good. In many situations humour has a stress management function which allows for the release of tension. In some areas that are particularly stressful such as operating theatres, accident and emergency departments and ambulance or police response teams the humour may become very dark. If this humour is heard by people outside of the ‘group’ it may well be experienced as offensive, yet it’s function for those within the group is vital, it enables them to function.

Laughter as therapy

Laughter is therapeutic it can make the intolerable tolerable and it can defuse the unjustifiable. When we are mindful we live in the moment, in the present, not allowing ourselves to be distracted by the depressive past or the anxious future. When we laugh we laugh in the moment not the past and not the future. To laugh is to be mindful and to laugh with others is joyful.

Laughter may be the best medicine

Laughter will reduce the levels of stress hormone in our body. It enhances and increases the immune cells and the immune response, developing powerful infection fighting antibodies. It improves our resistance to disease and stress related illness. Laughter also has a direct effect on the brain as it releases more endorphins that increase our sense of happiness and wellbeing. These endorphins can also have an effect our experience of pain and lessen its effect. Laughter is a very powerful medicine.


Stress reduction

Sigmund Freud, the father of Psychoanalysis, described humour as a release of tension and psychic energy. This would suggest that we can laugh at, or find funny, what is going on in our head and not necessarily what is going on around us. We might see someone simply walking down the street and laughing at something going on in their head. When I worked in psychiatry I would often see a patient chuckling away in the corner and just letting it out, managing their stress.

Infectious laughter

Laughter workshops are weird. You arrive not feeling at all funny. You might even be feeling a bit miserable. You meet a group of people, complete strangers and the course leader begins to laugh. At first it seem ridiculous. Then you have a go. Just a little laugh. Suddenly you are off laughing so that the tears are rolling down your face. Not sure what you are laughing at or why you are laughing. Just to look into the eyes of a fellow participant who is laughing is enough to set you off again. Laughter is infectious.

The comedy club

It can be the same when you go to a comedy show. In research, if the blood of people entering the show is taken and the levels of stress hormone and happy hormone measured and recorded and then same is done when they leave we find that after the show peoples stress hormone and decreased and the happy hormones have increased.

In her book ‘The Secret’ Rhonda Byrne describes a lady who was given a terminal diagnosis. She went home and watched every video that she could that would make her laugh. She claims that she laughed her way back to full health. I am unsure or the veracity  of this claim though I am sure it would have improved her chances of survival and recovery.

Humour in unexpected places

Some of the funniest times I have had have been in hospices, often with people who were dying. In these situations humour and laughter is a tremendous stress reliever. I have also been at a funeral when a relative became hysterical with laughter which was infectious to some but greatly offensive to others. She was simply relieving her stress in that situation. And humour shared in a disaster situation has often saved the day. Once we see that laughter and tears are both ways of dealing with stress and releasing tension it can make a bit more sense.

Finally, laughter is a good thing and we should do more of it. To be able to laugh, lovingly, at yourself and your fellow human beings is a gift. However in your humour be kind and  mindful and try not to offend others. 

Take care and be happy and keep laughing

Sean x

The power of a smile that says ‘you belong’

This week I am revisited the effects of smiling because it is happening for real right in-front of my eyes. I have a series of team building exercises to do as people who are finally returning to the workplace after the Covid distanced working. That means people are, in most cases, looking each other directly in the eyes and smiling. It is quite a magical thing to watch as people reaffirm their relationships as friends and colleagues after such a long time apart.

A few years ago I had been listening to a TED talk, while on a plane, that was concerned with the neurolinguistic pathways between the brain the muscles of the face. I love research generally but when it matches the Ayurvedic theories that I studied in my early training it does make me smile. How is it the the Rishis (scientific researchers) thousands of years ago knew things that we can only now verify with brain scanners and nerve tests? The ancient Ayurvedic science of Mudra explains how the structure of our body expresses who we are and the nature of our personality. It also explains the emotional and cognitive relationship between stance, expression and gesture.  

The research behind the Ted talk explained that when you are in a good frame of mind your brain responds by releasing positive endorphins. This process initiates a neural muscular response that results in you smiling. The muscles in your face around your mouth and eyes respond automatically. When you see someone walking down the road smiling you know that their brain is full of positive endorphins. Smiling is common to all human beings of all races in every country across the world. Smiling is a universal response saying that things are okay.

Smiling has a powerful social function in that it tells others that we are friendly and not aggressive or that we are not going to kill them it confirms that we accept them into the group. As a social signal smiling bonds groups on two levels. The first is cognitive recognition that things are alright and the second is the collective out pouring of positive endorphins in the group brain and the corresponding warm emotional feelings that are produced.

When I smile your brain creates positive endorphins and you smile. 

How weird is that?

Smiling it would seem has been with us throughout evolution as both an expression of inner feeling and as a social signal of group bonding.

The importance here is in the realisation of the synchronicity between brain and face muscles. The relationships is based in that when the brain produces positive hormones the muscles of the face smile. What we now know is that if the muscles of the face force a smile the brain responds by releasing positive endorphins which can make us feel better. 

Some time you need to fake it to make it

Even if you are feeling really down, sad and blue and your face looks sad. When you force a smile the nerves and  muscles in your face send a message to your brain telling it that things are good or at least getting better. Your brain then begins to responds by initiating the secretion of happy endorphins. I love the brain though its responses can be limited. For example your brain is unable to tell the difference between whether something is actually happening or if you are only imagining it or, in this case, forcing it.

One physical aspect of a smile, that is so important, are the eyes and the forehead. When someone only smiles with their mouth and not their eyes and forehead it is not a real smile and often looks and feels insincere. For a smile to be real and have the required effect the eyes are open wide producing laughter lines in the corners.

Enter Botox 

Consider this relationship between the muscles of the face and the endorphins in the brain. The way it works is as though they are either end of a tube, you can’t have one without the other. Positive brain smiley muscles, smiley muscles positive brain.

Now, what happens if the brain wants to smile but the muscles of the face are damaged or paralysed? The system breaks down. As much as the brain wants to create a smile the feedback from the muscles is that there is no smile to be had. When people use Botox they are paralysing their muscles so that there is limited feedback between the muscles and the brain either way. Positive endorphins in the brain cannot create a smile and a responsive smile in the muscles to a good event cannot tell the brain that there is something going on to make it worth releasing some positive endorphins.

So now we have Botox induced depression. 

Botox can become an addiction. As with any other addictive type behaviour. The problem is that addiction tends to increase as the effectiveness of the substance diminishes. With Botox the drive is towards creating more positive endorphins, the just person wants to feel good about who they. So perhaps, someone is feeling a bit down about how they look and decide to have some Botox to make them feel better. The drive to feel better is the common emotion behind all addictions. 

Because of the muscular paralysis there can be no positive feedback to the brain, the desired effect of the Botox fails to be achieved. There can be no feedback between the muscles of the face and the brain. In fact it can end up having the reverse effect making the person may feel worse not better. They have invested time and money in this procedure to improve the way that they feel and see themselves and their mood in general and now they feel worse.

The standard response in addictive behaviour to such a situation is to use more of the addictive substance because that is what we belief will make us feel better. This is called chasing the dragon in opium dens. The reality is that the more of the addictive substance we use the less is its effect and more we need, or think that we need. This is why all addiction get worse over time. With botox the more that is used the more the problem increases. If the Botox is the very thing that is stopping the positive feedback between muscle and brain we now have what is now viewed as Botox induced depression.

Simply smiling in the mirror could be more effective than using Botox

For me the self induced disfigurement of Botox, fillers, lifts, piercings and tattoos is a huge sadness. The human form has a natural beauty that emanates the positive feelings and attitudes from deep within us. To mask this natural beauty with what is seen as adornments and enhancement is so sad and represents yet another behaviour that we use to avoid facing who we are, and actually sorting our problems out, in the drive to make shortcuts to our happiness. But, then as someone who has never been able to get my head around why people need to wear makeup I must own to being out of step with modern social thinking, I have an anachronistic point of view. 

Perhaps the reality is that when we feel good we look good and simply attempting to make us look good may not make us feel good at all.

Whoever you are and however you choose to present yourself ensure that the end result is increasing your own happiness not making your feel worse.

Take care

Sean X