Monthly Archives: January 2014

The MWS Podcast: Episode 12, Paul Gilbert

In this episode Paul Gilbert, a clinical psychologist and author of the Compassionate Mind talks to us about compassion and how he came to develop Compassion Focused Therapy. Among the topics discussed are its practical applications, Jungian archetypes, the role of values, the Middle Way, mindfulness and the complexity of forgiveness.

For a brief overview of Compassion Focused Therapy see the following paper. If you would like to find out more about Paul’s work, his books, Compassionate Mind Training etc follow this link to the Compassionate Mind Foundation.

MWS Podcast 12: Paul Gilbert as audio only:
Download audio: MWS_Podcast_12_Paul_Gilbert

Previous podcasts:

Episode 11: Monica Garvey on Family Mediation
Episode 10: Emilie Åberg on horticultural therapy, agnosticism, the Quakers and awe.
Episode 9: T’ai Chi instructor John Bolwell gives an overview of this popular martial art.
Episode 8: Peter Goble on his career as a nurse and his work as a Buddhist Chaplain.
Episode 7: The author Stephen Batchelor on his work with photography and collage.
Episode 6: Iain McGilchrist, author of the Master and his Emissary.
Episode 5: Julian Adkins on introducing MWP to his meditation group in Edinburgh
Episode 4: Daren Dewitt on Nonviolent communiction.
Episode 3: Vidyamala Burch on her new book “Mindfulness for Health”.
Episode 2: Norma Smith on why she joined the society, art, agnosticism and metaphor.
Episode 1 : Robert M. Ellis on the skill of critical thinking.

Meditation 3: Balanced Effort

One of the most important ways that the Middle Way can be applied to meditation is through the idea of balanced effort. In fact, I think one could put it rather more strongly than that. One could even say that the practice of meditation, in a broad sense of the term, is balanced effort. That is, whatever one is doing, whether it is formally labelled ‘meditation’ or not, one gains more effective awareness through an immediate experience of balancing between extremes.

The two extremes that one is avoiding can be conceptualised in all sorts of ways, as the assertion or negation of ill-adapted fixed views. However, those extreme views are likely to be associated with reasons for either straining or slacking in meditation. For example, you might be too wilful in meditation because of anxiety about what your meditation teacher or other people in your meditation class will think – which could be identified with a fixed view about absolute value being placed with the authority of the group. On the other hand, you might be too lackadaisical in your meditation because of a fixed view that whatever you feel you want now is OK – which could be identified with a fixed view of yourself.

It is the views behind it that make the practice of balanced effort a practice of the Middle Way, but actually it’s probably not helpful to spend too long analysing the views behind your feelings in meditation. Rather, you can just experience extremes of feeling, whatever the reasons behind them, and respond to those extremes by relaxing what is too stressed or tightening what is too slack. The Buddha used the analogy of a lute-string for the Middle Way, and this applies very well to balanced effort as well. You need to be sounding just the right note.

Too much wilfulness may well be detectable physically, in the form of tension in your body. The shoulders and the face seem to be particular barometers of it, so initial relaxation as you start off in meditation needs to pay attention to the muscles in these areas. It can help to clench each muscle and then relax it. Other indicators of tension might be a tight chest or clenched teeth. I find it very helpful to deliberately open the chest at the beginning of meditation, and an openness of the chest seems to be associated with warmth of emotion.

On the other hand, too much relaxation may well result in a slouched posture. Assuming you’re doing sitting meditation (which you might not be, following Peter’s previous contribution on standing meditation!), you can try to find a balanced uprightness by imagining a thread attached to the top of your head, that is gently pulling your body upwards. If you follow the sense of such a thread, it should lead to a straightening in the shoulders and neck, though without rigidity.

Apart from developing the conditions for balanced effort through posture, there is also an ongoing process of responding to distractions that drag you one way or the other. If you are encountering high-energy distractions such as anxious thoughts or obsessive desires, you can try to balance them out Blondin_sculpture_Ladywoodby focusing more on your rooted body, particularly your abdomen. On the other hand, if you are feeling torpid or sleepy, then opening your eyes slightly, or making your object of meditation more stimulating, may help.

Every time you sit down (or stand up) to meditate, you are also tightrope walking. To practice their skill, though, I imagine that tightrope walkers have to get used to regularly falling off. Let’s hope there’s a safety net.


Picture: Sculpture of Charles Blondin, tightrope walker, at Ladywood in Birmingham

Rain, Steam and Speed 1844. J M W Turner 1775-1851.

This oil painting was first exhibited in the Royal Academy in 1844, it now belongs to the National Gallery, London. Turner was 76 years old when Rain, Steam and Speed was exhibited. As a young man he lived with his father in London, who would prepare his canvasses and varnish the work when completed, he was deeply affected by his father’s death in 1830, his mother had become insane in later life and her illness may have formed Turner’s melancholy nature, the death at 28 of his friend and fellow painter Thomas Girtin also affected him deeply. During his lifetime he had witnessed many changes in society as a result of the Industrial Revolution, I have chosen the steam train as a metaphor for this transformation from a mainly agrarian society to an industrial one. He moved many times, having lived in Harley Street, Queen Anne Street and in Hammersmith, he liked to live near water and moved later to a house in Twickenham. He is famed for his seascapes, he would go out in wild seas on board boats and for his landscapes painted in Britain and Europe. His life was dedicated to painting in oils and watercolours and he left many sketches to the nation, he remained single. Turner began his working life painting wash backgrounds and skies on architectural drawings, once he became well known he became a tutor at the Royal Academy and painted many commissions for wealthy patrons like Lord Egremont who lived in Petworth, some of his paintings still hang in Petworth House.
The train in this painting ran on the Great Western Railway, one of a number of privately owned railways, this line ran from Taplow to Maidenhead, then over the Thames on a bridge built by I K Brunel, heading towards East London. Railways had evolved since the first engines were built in the early 17th century, trains pulled wagons which ran on wooden rails to carry coal from mines to canals, where canal boats were pulled by horses along tow paths to the growing towns. Cast iron rails were replaced by stronger wrought iron tracks. By the 1850s people as well as goods were being transported by trains as they became popular and there was plenty of coal to fuel them.
In this painting the train is crossing a bridge, people are seen sitting in open wagons, steam billows from the funnel, we can see a rowing boat on the river, someone holds up an umbrella, the sky is filled with swirling rain clouds. I cannot see it, the copy is too small, but there is in the lower right hand corner a hare, maybe a comment on the times, trains were ‘destroying the sublime elements of nature’ said one critic. Technology perhaps was feared as progressing too fast.
Turner was a British Romantic painter, his work is full of light ‘to whom a cosmic vision was more significant than a precise observation of reality. The world was merely an alibi for his canvasses where forms all but dissolve.’ Form, definition and photographic truth were abandoned,’ each particle of matter is part of a whole that is in a constant state of change’ I particularly like that phrase! His work would influence future painters, Impressionists such as Pissaro and Monet.
Turner was elderly and sick in 1844, he carried on working, his life had always lacked comfort, he took little interest in his dress and could be miserly at times, at others very generous, especially to young striving painters, he had an affection for birds and animals which softened his grumpy character. He held no religious or supernatural beliefs. He had loyal friends like Ruskin but also many critics, Ruskin admired his work in articles he published.
During his life he constantly travelled in England, Scotland and to Europe, he appreciated the light in Venice, always sketching and painting, he also visited other areas of Italy, France and Switzerland, forever searching for subjects. The Tate Gallery holds a collection of his watercolours. His memories of light, colour and atmosphere were not dimmed by his ill health when this painting was created.



Critical Thinking 4: Joining Arguments

A simple argument consists of a conclusion supported by reasons (see Critical Thinking 1). However, most arguments are actually constructions that join these simple blocks of argument together in more complex ways. Just as a novel consists of various parallel sub-plots coming together into the conclusion, so arguments may bring several strands together in a great variety of possible patterns to support an overall claim. If you read a comment column in a newspaper, or an argumentative blog, for example, there will probably be more than one simple argument.

Simple arguments can be joined together in chains in which the conclusion to one argument becomes a reason for the next. The first conclusion us then called an intermediate conclusion. For example, in the following chain argument, the initial reasons are in green, the intermediate conclusion is in blue, and the final conclusion is in red:

Most cats purr when they are stroked.

Purring is a sign of contentment.

So most cats like being stroked.

Felix doesn’t like being stroked.

So Felix is an unusual cat.

Chains can be as long as you want them to be. Having laid out an argument you might also find one of your assumptions being questioned (or anticipate it being so), so you then go back and offer further justifications for your assumption, thus extending the chain backwards.

Arguments can also work in parallel. For example, a list of reasons can be used to support one conclusion, or several chains of argument can all converge on the final conclusion. Complex arguments can also include counter-arguments, where objections are considered and then refuted. The refutation then serves as a reason to support the conclusion.

To make these kinds of arguments clear, diagrams can be very helpful. Austhink have some very useful argument-mapping tutorials if you want to go more deeply into mapping arguments diagrammatically. They sell software for mapping arguments, but it can also be done using Windows SmartArt (examples below) – or, of course, freehand on a piece of paper!

Here’s an example of a ‘list’ style argument with a diagram to illustrate it:

There are all sorts of reasons why hunting with dogs should be banned. Animals hunted with dogs, such as hares and foxes, undergo terrible stress when they are pursued by dogs. It’s impossible to make sure that the animal dies humanely when it’s torn apart by dogs. Fox-hunters argue that numbers of foxes should be controlled, but they can do this by shooting, which is far more humane. They also claim that it is a country tradition that townies could never understand, but merely appealing to tradition does not give justification for a practice.Hunting argument diagram2


1. Analyse the structure of this argument by stating which sections are the conclusion, intermediate conclusion(s) and initial reason(s). If there are counter-arguments state the objection and the counter-argument.

It is often assumed that world religions all involve different ways of worshipping God or gods, but it can be seen that this is not the case when Buddhism, Daoism and Confucianism are counted as religions. These Eastern religions are not focused on God or gods, and the gods that do appear are incidental to them. Scholars of religion have been overwhelmingly influenced by Christian ideas of what ‘religion’ means, but if you look at a wide range of religious practice around the world it becomes clear that the model of religion as belief in God is just one amongst many.

2. Make up an argument (about anything you like) that follows this structure:Blank argument diagram