I’d been watching a student rehearse his monologue for several minutes when it suddenly struck me how disengaged I’d become. I’ll call this student Tim. I placed my attention on what I was feeling. My eyes were tired and it was a struggle to focus, I had a dull ache at the back of my head, my mind was wandering and I couldn’t connect with anything he was saying. Was this disconnection about where I was at or was it to do with the way he was working or was it a combination of both?
I checked in: no I’d worked with a student in the previous session and had felt focused and effective so I put that to one side for the time being. I decided to ask Tim some self-reflective questions to see if I could deepen my understanding of what it was I was feeling and what indeed he might be feeling.
M. Tim, how were you feeling as you worked just then?
T. I guess I felt a little nervous and tense and I suppose right now I’m feeling a little frustrated and dissatisfied with my monologue, I’m not really in it at the moment.
M. You say you’re feeling tense. What is the source of the tension?
T. I think I’m feeling tense because I worry if I’m making the right choices and whether or not you think it’s any good.
M. What’s a “right choice”?
T. Something that works. Something that gets me in the zone. A choice that I know you’ll like.
M. What do you mean by something that works?
T. It’s when I feel strong and connected and inside what I’m doing, fighting for my objective and not worrying about my acting.
M. And why is it important to you that I like it?
T. I guess because if you like it I’ll feel like I am doing a good job and that other people might like it too.
M. OK I understand that, so let me ask you this: when you’re doing your piece, how much of your attention is on the work itself and how much of your attention is focused on watching yourself as you work? Let’s call the first part, the actor part of you and let’s call the other part of you, your watcher.
T. Putting that way I reckon about 30% is actor and 70% is watcher.
M. OK good, so how does it feel to be 30/70 split when you’re working?
T. It feels a little frustrating, incomplete and I guess dissatisfying.
M. Do you feel that the state of tension you mentioned earlier is connected to worrying about getting it right and if I like your work, and that this is related to the 30/70 split?
T. Yes I think it is.
M. Yes I think it is too. OK so what do you want to feel when you’re working? How much of the actor/watcher split do you want to have?
T. That’s simple I want to feel secure in my choices and I want to be 100% actor.
M. OK so is it possible that the energy you’re using to watch yourself is a form of self-protection, guarding against you feeling insecure? And that this energy is actually holding you back and contributing to the dissatisfaction?
T. I can see that this is possible.
M. As I understand what is happening it’s the habitual mind interpreting the situation as an occasion where you need to be protected because you may be setting yourself up for criticism. The habitual mind says that because you’re being observed you need to be more watchful and outwardly aware, like a soldier on guard at a campsite. The dissatisfaction comes because there is another part of you that deeply desires to get into the piece you’re doing and connect and commit to the action of the character, and it’s not getting that satisfaction. As you said you want to really be ‘in it’ but it ain’t happening.
Earlier you said you wanted to feel secure, engaged and deeply satisfied in your work, lets say you want to be immersed, you want an immersive experience that gets you closer to the 100% you want to feel. What do you think you need to do to achieve this? What do you need to let go and what do you need to find?
T. From what you’ve explained already I probably need to let go the need to please you and the feeling that I have to get it right all the time.
M. Yes this would be a good idea. Is it possible for you to do this?
T. Yes I suppose it is.
M. Then let’s call this a process of acknowledging something in order to be able to let it go and then naming the things you want to find. Let’s make up an exercise where you can freely go about the room expressing your thoughts and feelings spontaneously. Name out loud the things you want to let go and state your desires in finding the things you need.
T. OK. I’m letting go of my need to get it right. I’m letting go of the need to please Martin. I’m letting go of the pressure I put on myself. I’m letting go of watching myself work. I’m letting go of being so protective. Hey I feel lighter already.
M. Keep going.
T. I’m letting go of censoring myself. I’m letting go of caution. I’m letting go of listening to my words when I speak.
M. And what do you want to find? What is it you want?
T. I want to be free. I want to make strong choices. I want to feel secure, to engage, to connect to others, to see my images. I want to experience the monologue. I want to fight for what I want. I want to be immersed in the experience. Hey it feels so great to say all this out loud.
M. Good. How are you feeling?
T. Lighter. Freer. Less serious about this acting stuff.
M. Good. Now we need to go back to the monologue you’re doing. As an actor you want to feel secure when you’re working, but the character you’re playing doesn’t feel secure at all. What do you imagine the character is going through?
T. My character is afraid and desperate. He is terrified of being caught for a crime he committed and is appealing to his friend for help.
M. Is it possible for you to imagine yourself in this situation, pleading for help from a friend of yours? Can you see your friend sitting in front of you? Can you work to experience the fear of getting caught, the regret for doing a crime? Can you involve yourself ‘as if’ this were true for you right now?
T. Yes I can.
M. Are you able to work from a secure place as an actor in order to experience some of the discomfort and insecurity of the character?
T. Yes I am confident I can.
Tim proceeded to explore the monologue with different choices. He involved himself deeply in the person he saw in front of him. He did not work to get anything ‘right’ or please me in any way. He fought hard as his character to get his friend to agree to help him avoid prosecution. Tim began to explore the monologue experientially. He immersed himself in the struggle ‘as if’ he were fighting for his own life. He proceeded to make discoveries about his character and about the relationship he had with his friend. He found deeper tangible links to the situation even though he had never committed a crime. He made deep human connections to the situation and the need.
Suddenly I realised my eyes were no longer sore. The headache had gone. I was completely caught up in the story. Could this be the same piece Tim had been working on a few minutes earlier? His involvement and commitment to the piece had me completely engaged. I had started to care about the characters and was interested to know what happened next. And I realised we had both used our feelings scientifically. We had used them in such a way to determine what felt more and less satisfying. We had used our feelings as a source code to determine what needed to be de-programmed and what needed to be re-programmed.
M. How do you feel after exploring your piece with greater freedom?
T. Fantastic. I felt really connected like it was personal. I really needed his help. I saw him struggling when I confessed the crime. I saw how conflicted he was and I experienced deeper conflict myself. I made discoveries about my character. I found out things I never thought about before. I discovered how uncertain and uncomfortable he is. How he truly feels he can get away with it if only he can convince his friend to help him.
M. Yes I am very happy for you and very happy that you experienced so much freedom to immerse yourself in the piece and on top of that make deeper discoveries about situation, relationship and character. That is a real testament for going to that deeper, experiential place. I must thank you for confirming for me the value of such an organic process. One we undertake without the constraints of rightness and correctness. It is such a beautiful irony that we achieve security and engagement in our work when we trust the experience of the immersive state over the tentativeness of the protective state of watchfulness and guardedness. We make bold choices, when we personalise the need and when we engage our audience through immersion.
T. Thank you for deepening my understanding, Martin.
M. And thank you Tim for deepening mine.
My father lay dying. It was 5am in the morning. I leant down and kissed his forehead. I love you dad, I whispered not sure if he registered. I walked over to my mother who had been standing a little away from his bed and held her in my arms for a good while. The taxi would arrive any minute. The plane back to Brisbane departing at 6 am. Whatever happens you’ve done your best mom, I told her. I could see she wasn’t convinced. She had loved this man for over sixty years. A dutiful devoted wife. He is my life she told me. With that I kissed her on the cheek and left her tending to her waning paramour. My mother had nursed him for almost 5 weeks single-handed and as his health declined over that time so had hers. She looked tired and frail. She was afraid.
Before leaving I had counselled her to call for medical assistance. Because of her faith she had not yet done so. Ultimately it was her call as Dad was by now incoherent. As much as I disagreed with her position I respected it was her decision.
Returning to Brisbane that afternoon, I received a phone call from a family friend. He informed me that my mother had finally conceded she was no longer able to care for my father at home by herself. She also conceded that it was time to seek medical assistance. She had called a doctor to the house and he had acted immediately calling an ambulance, which rushed my father to hospital. My friend told me the doctor took one look at him and said; call an ambulance.
Five weeks earlier it turned out, he had experienced kidney failure and that had been the main reason for his demise. He was saved at the last minute by miraculous medical intervention and ultimately recovered in hospital, albeit with some complications. For a man in his mid eighties he did very well and as I heard, gave the nurses plenty of cheek whenever he got the chance.
Why did my mother and father take so long to call for medical assistance? The reason is that they are practicing Christian Scientists. Part of their faith is that they use the power of prayer for healing. They do not believe in medicine.
Please know that I am not going to get into any derisive commentary about their faith or the way they practice it. I am also not going to attempt to fully explain their convictions or the current practices of this religion. What I do want to discuss is the paradigm of what I perceive to be: a closed mind or a fixed belief causing harm. As you can imagine there has been a lot of soul searching in my family around all this. You can probably imagine the conversations. The polarity occurring between the belief at one end and the non-belief at the other. So much so that for some including my mother there is extreme guilt for calling in medical assistance. At the other end there is extreme anger for her not doing so. Another polarity is that once medical assistance has been called then all prayer through Christian Science must cease. One excludes the other. I do not understand this and I have to ask, why?
What I do understand is that our thoughts are a powerful source of energy. In a sense, we are what we think. Thoughts can change the world. One has only to attend an Anthony Robbins seminar, listen to Esther Hicks or read the ideas supporting Quantum Physics to appreciate this. One has only to practice it oneself to realise it. I do understand the reasoning behind attending to good thoughts, to working to keep positive attention and in the case of Christian Scientists to read the bible and the Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker-Eddy to affirm and deepen scriptural knowledge.
What I don’t understand is why a practice or faith has to become non-inclusive of other practices or faiths. Especially when in the case of Christian Science, holding exclusively to a belief, clearly had detrimental consequences.
It is certainly a human trait to lock into mindsets and beliefs, which is most likely an attempt to create security in what is perceived as a world of insecurity where anything can happen and usually does. Somehow it seems that we believe that our fixed beliefs will keep us safe. How often does it happen that we hold a fixed idea about something only to have it wrenched from us at the point of crisis? Why wait for crisis?
Some would say this is an ego state that attaches to fixed beliefs in the vain hope crisis will be averted through the enforcement of certainty and control. Controlling beliefs.
To the fixed state it appears that even when the flow of life is interrupted the indication that something is calling for our attention is not regarded as a signal for inquiry or change.
If a more open state of mind is developed to foster sensitivity to the interruption of ‘flow’, might it be possible to also keep ideas about life in a more fluid state? Perhaps it might be possible to move from controlling beliefs to ‘operating beliefs’? Beliefs that represent our values and yet are sensitive to change, to new dynamics, to interruption.
This is not to imply that we should dissolve all morals and ethics, rather, to see that when disorder and disease arise it most likely is a sure-fire sign that something needs our attention.
What I want to say to Christian Scientists is that—is it not possible for a faith that was born around 200 years ago to evolve? Is it not possible that the practice of Christian Science and medicine, be it eastern or western, can become mutually inclusive? Of course there needs to be respect and consideration for different needs. However what I have always experienced as a young man growing up around Christian Science is that medicine and matters to do with the material world became a source of fear. Not to be talked about. Not to be discussed. In my experience the very act of wanting to talk about or discuss this conundrum was shunned. Avoidance won the day.
I realise I am not going to resolve all the issues around dogma and fixed beliefs in one short reflection. I do want to share my experience around this and trust my family will respect the discussion. What ever happens from here I do know this: there has to be a basis of mutual respect and love when dealing with different faiths and beliefs. If my parents had decided not to call for medical help and my father had passed away I would have been very sad of course but ultimately would respect this as, their way. I do not agree with it and would urge anyone in this situation to encourage an alternate course of action.
In my heart I see that it is not about faith-to-faith or intra-faith exclusion, where one practice cannot work with another. I see that the flow of life is inclusive and inter-connected. Perhaps we will all know this one day soon enough. Perhaps even this last statement might constitute an ‘operating belief’.
MChallis © 2015
the voice of cynicism
with imperious wisdom
informed by circumstances past
where through defeated expectation, corrupted naivety
perhaps wounded vulnerability has been
disappointed on innumerable occasions
and chanting incessantly
in a cavernous register
“there is no hope – there is no point”
“there is no hope – there is no point”
and louder still
“there is no hope – there is no point”
would have you adopt this epigram as your own
in the belief
that if you do
the prophecy of self determined hopelessness
will be affirmed and validated
its unspoken fear of course is that you will leave it there
abandoned and alone in the cavern of its own arrogant despair
so here’s an idea
take it with you
out of the pit
take it for a bicycle ride on the beach at low tide
hump it in a ruck-sack up a rocky ridge
swim with it in a lake with a sandy bottom and willow banks
invite it to the funniest Robin Williams film you can think of
above all else, let it experience your unconditional positive regard
in all the tones and voices
of unrelenting love
I would like to know you
More than I do
You are a gracious presence that in glimpses I have seen influence the mightiest egos acquiesce
Somehow at times I stumble across you yet would know you more as a constant companion
I forget you often and in the throes of reaction and defensiveness catch myself in arrogance or in self righteousness or justification
Which is always followed by regret
How do I know you?
How do I find you in the moments when I am alone and embattled?
How do I find you in that first breath?
“In the dim light of the forest’s heart
That is my own heart“. John Pass
Long into many memories
Are seeds and tender shoots
Upon my awakening
Into many happenings
Are flowers and reaching branches
Upon my flourishing
Into many eventualities
Are husks and drying leaves
Upon my returning
Long into many possibilities
Are seeds and tender shoots
When we find fear
has contracted us
know that courage
will expand us
Your power lies within you. Life endowed you eons ago.
Your work today begins with knowing this deeply.
Your power does not lie in the minds of others,
you do not need their approval for what you already posses.
As you practice today keep your attention on giving,
on being generous without the conditionality of it being reciprocated.
In this moment now and in this breath you are free.
In human history
For the centuries
that can be remembered
Perhaps the most destructive force
That has lived among us
Is the human mind
That does not observe itself
Is human thought
That is unaware
MChallis @ 2014
When you likened missing her
(in ways you didn’t know you could)
to muscles aching after
exercise you hadn’t done before
You said for you this was telling of a deeper love
And almost as if finding out for the first time
that love and pain are twins, you discovered
as a pair, that they, like both of you
are never far apart.
It is the time for love
Of course it is
What a thing to say
When is it not that time?
Perhaps it is never more
Never has been more
Yet somehow we wait
Wait for what?
Wait for a higher authority?
When there is none to wait for
Wait for permission?
When it’s there to give ourselves all along
Wait for someone else to go first?
When we are that someone.
Now more than ever
Is the time
For love, for
The living of it
When you are where you are
And not elsewhere
In the breath of being
Just now my darling
A universe at it’s centre
The boy who hangs his story from the bridge.
As if in fairy tale told in detail to a desperate lover.
The bulging eyes of his spine
staring out a broken neck;
his story told in the lingering art of death. Or
he who faces the train to Ferny Hills
and each commuter who remembers
that day’s monotony interrupted as bits of him
slapped against the carriage like
someone throwing wet fish. Or
the pass-over traffic
grumbling at the fall of tragic demonstration – a
boy not welcomed anywhere except by the earth
that took him in with a kiss of bitumen. Or
balanced on needle point, a
thousand thousand weights pressing death
into an arm embracing the tv-cable guide and
a torn photograph of jennifer the mud wrestler.
And all this waste
sending little statistic waves of shock that don’t anymore.
Gone to sleep like the boys who left us.
Early sleep. Early rise and forget the
sons who disappear in a magician’s finale.
The cloak of social history that accepts this. And the magic
abra-cadabra of unhappy youth
Two friends circle the air
three moons from Monto
friendship is measured in wingspan
in the joined eye of hunters
Dusk before day break, a loud cloud red,
Overlooks a dark steer
as it stamps its metallic breast
along the great snake’s back,
a voice of rumbling rock
in a throat made for slaughter
Hearing this drown the language of insects
Peewees and Crows hop clear, but
the Wedge-tail Eagle is too late for soaring
and is stunned in the way
of its death
Now one friend circles the field
The dark steer moves on
hungry to interupt the silence
Two moons reach into night
and for a third up near Monto 2005/2014
In dust that walks
before the pale drive
of winter on Black Mountain
Beyond cold spidering shadows
where Cotter-River trees are with-holding
In mist whispering
in the margins
of frost at Adaminiby
Up under bogong wings
collected in the granite caves
I sense my dreaming
And wild pig foraging down-wind
south south-east of Franklin
The brumby kicking at
stars up on Scabby Ridge, where
lichen rock was a cradle
Mallee root nubbed into the fire
and the yarn over red-embers and billy-tea with
condensed milk sweeter than mother’s
And old Dido (grandpa’s labourer since time)
wearing bib and brace
pressing down hard
on tea-softened arrow-root,
his gums and fingers kneading the kind of tobacco that came in a tin
where cedar creek
love of river rock
my gaze follows
one wayward drop
by the breeze
of this place
is kept by the rill
and told by
who chorus in screams
I see her back
and the delicate way
touch the water
By Amanda Page
The way the stomach detects and tells the brains it’s full becomes desensitised in people with high-fat-diet-induced obesity and doesn’t return to normal once the weight is lost, according to a study my colleagues and I recently published in the International Journal of Obesity.
When we eat, nerves within the stomach wall signal to the central nervous system, indicating how much our stomach needs to distend and that we feel satiated or full.
Our previous laboratory experiments showed that these nerves are desensitised in mice that became obese via high-fat diets. As a consequence, their stomachs need to be a lot fuller before they feel full.
In the latest study, we found this dampening of nerve signalling is not reversible, which may explain why it’s so hard to maintain weight loss after reaching your goal weight.
Obesity is a serious risk to both physical and mental health, increasing the likelihood of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and even some types of cancer. It is these health risks that often prompt obese or overweight individuals to modify their diet and lose weight.
But the experience of most obese people who lose weight through modifying their diet, is they return to at least their previous weight within two years. In fact, 80% of people who use a diet regime regain the weight (plus some extra) within two years.
So far, drug treatments mainly aimed at appetite control in the central nervous system have had limited efficacy or come with unacceptable adverse effects.
Targeting the initiation of the satiety signal in the gut – which tells the brain we’re full – is an attractive therapeutic option. However, before we can develop therapies for the treatment of obesity we need to fully understand how satiety signals in the gut are initiated; this is the research we are undertaking.
It’s a complex process, but in summary, the satiety signal from the gut involves the integration of both gastric and intestinal feedback signalling. Vagal nerves are a major pathway by which food-related signals, from the stomach and small intestine, access the brain to modulate food intake and associated behaviour.
Our brain’s perception of fullness following food intake depends on activation of these vagal sensors via two principle routes:
mechanical distension of the stomach (in other words, the stomach stretching)
the presence of nutrients which trigger hormone secretions from the stomach and small intestine.
A hormone in the body, leptin, known to regulate food intake, can change the sensitivity of the nerves in the stomach that signal fullness. In normal conditions, leptin acts to stop food intake. But in the stomach of those with high-fat-diet-induced obesity, leptin further desensitises the nerves that detect fullness.
These two mechanisms combined suggest that obese people need to eat more to feel full, which in turn continues their cycle of obesity.
We aimed to focus on how the nerves in the stomach respond to stretching of the stomach, how this is changed in high-fat-diet-induced obesity and importantly, whether any changes were reversible.
We designed an experiment with three groups of laboratory mice. Group one, the control group, was placed on a standard diet (with 12% of its energy derived from fat) for 24 weeks. The second group was placed on a high-fat diet (60% of the total energy of the food was from fat) for 24 weeks. And the third group was placed on the high-fat diet for 12 weeks and then put back onto the standard diet for a further 12 weeks.
At the end of the 24-week diet period, we tested the stomach’s response and found the high-fat diet group’s nerve response was dramatically reduced compared to the control group. In the group that was initially fed a high-fat diet then put back on to the standard diet for an equivalent amount of time, the response was still dramatically reduced. There was no sign of reversal.
In addition, this group ate considerably more food than the other two groups and though they initially lost weight, by the end of the 24-week diet period, they were on a trajectory to regain all of the weight lost.
Although we studied animals, the results help explain the lack of success of weight-loss management. This leaves one key conclusion: prevention is better than cure.
The fundamental mechanisms involved in the activation of these sensors are just beginning to be understood, with more work to be done in investigating the role of these physiological processes in appetite regulation.
Further studies by myself and colleagues aim to determine how early this desensitisation occurs and thus whether it is the high-fat diet or the obese state that is causing the changes in nerve responses. We also need to investigate whether nerves regain their sensitivity in longer experiments.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we need to determine what is causing this desensitisation and whether it can be targeted as a therapy for obesity.
Amanda Page receives funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council.
Within and beyond
And other selves
within and beyond again
Within and beyond
are all selves
c. 2013 MChallis