Monday, 15 December 2014

Someday At Christmas

                   Magical Christmas Past Present and future.

               "Someday at Christmas men won't be boys Playing with                                                          
                        bombs like kids play with toys" -Stevie Wonder

Memories are brought back so easy when you play the songs that were played to you as a child.
I received Motown at Christmas album and The Partridge family Christmas album the year Santa brought me a record player. I played them over and over, especially 'Someday at Christmas', and 'One little Christmas tree' by Stevie Wonder.
Every year I will get them out and dust them down. This year they are still brought out (in fact it was this morning), no need to dust them off these days as it is all digitally mastered, and with one magic click the oldies of yesteryear are brought back into the living room, bringing with it the Christmases of the past. 

My friends were listening to Queen's 'Bohemian Rhapsody' about that time, and Boney M's 'Mary's Boy Child', closely followed by the classic Wham's 'Last Christmas' and Shakin Stevens (aging rocker, wears denim, Elvis look about him) with 'Merry Christmas everyone'!
 I haven't heard it in every shop like usual from Halloween onward, probably because I actually shopped more online this year than previously, due to one of us or the other in our household being poorly.
 Now that I have said that, it will no doubt be the very first song I hear upon setting foot into the forums and malls this week.  
I was all Motown and Partridge family. I loved those songs long before I was  aware David Cassidy or Stevie Wonder were popular.

So what does Christmas mean to you?
It meant family time to me as a young child. 
I put that question to my children and their views are similar to mine as a child. 
Children's views are mainly molded from their own experiences, still young enough to be influenced largely by your parents/guardians and surroundings they grown up in.
My youngest told me that her best friend celebrates Christmas going to church most of the day, and her other best friend (you can have more than one bestie apparently) thinks Christmas is no big deal and doesn't really celebrate Christmas time.
She wanted my opinions on that. 
How to put it into words. 

My thoughts were along these lines - Christmas is celebrated so many different ways to some, and not at all to others. Which is right?
Well the plain simple answer is if it feels right to that person, then that way is the right way. 
Do we have the monopoly to tell someone how or even whether to celebrate at all? Certainly not in my opinion. I don't think society should dictate 'this is the done way and any other way is wrong' or feed us information to brainwash us one way or another. Let us be happy, let us celebrate, or not. Let it be our choice.

They say Christmas has the highest suicide rates, because a lot of people feel alone more at this time of year, and see no way out. A time where some have lost loved ones, or don't know where the next meal is coming from. I'm not talking about the Victorian ages here. You could be forgiven for thinking the Victorian age has caught up with us in some ways. Society is more aware of the poor needing care and support these days and not just through the media, but through living it. It isn't just happening to someone else, it is happening to your good friend, or neighbour or you. 
True richness comes not from your income but your outcome, your own out put of a smile or a gesture to offer support or care. Whether it be a kind word on the internet, or a smile to your neighbour or a positive step in getting in touch with someone you have not heard from, for one reason or another. 
Giving a kindness.
It goes a long way, and is the only real richness a person can accomplish and be worthy of. 

So today Christmas* or whatever word you want to put there in its place. means to me, the well-being of mankind.

                                   A world were men are free*

                                   maybe not in time for you and me, but someday....

                                  I hope.

                                 I hope it is in our time.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Imagination -Our whole experience of life is filtered through our minds

 A growing body of research supports what spiritual contemplatives have known for Millennia—that the human capacity for imagination not only shapes our minds but also weaves the fabric of reality itself.- By Gabriel Cohen.

Do you have a lemon in your kitchen?
Put this down or a moment if you have, go cut the fruit in half, and squeeze some juice into your mouth. Notice how you react.

Don’t have a lemon? Try this little thought experiment: Imagine that you have one. Picture yourself slicing through the bright yellow rind, exposing the translucent fruit inside. See yourself holding it up, squeezing it, and letting a stream of tart juice splash onto your tongue. Can you feel yourself puckering and salivating—not in your mind’s eye, but in “real life”?

Western thinkers have tended to draw a line between reality—that which we “actually” experience—and imagination, seen as a frivolous, dreamlike diversion. For millennia, though, spiritual contemplatives and artists have taken flights of fancy much more seriously and challenged the firmness of that line. And surprising recent advances in neuroscience, particularly in the field of brain scanning, have added support to their conviction that our imagination and sense of reality are closely intertwined.

In some ways this is obvious. Back in 1928, the sociologists W. I. Thomas and D. S. Thomas conceived of what became known as the Thomas theorem, which states, “If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences.”
 If we believe that little green goblins are hiding in the woods and we change our route to avoid them, then our fantasy has affected our experience.

That may seem like an extreme example, but imagination plays a very real role in our decision making. Just look at the last two US presidential elections, in which one big chunk of the electorate managed to view Barack Obama as a radical socialist, while another saw him as a moderate saint. Both views are heavily based on myth, but they had a real-life effect on how people voted.

Political races are hardly the only arena in which we project goblins into our daily lives. Too often humanity is ruled by superstitions, stereotypes, and tribal prejudices—resulting in all-too-real suffering, violence, and war. The folly of these antagonisms became especially clear when human beings made the first journey into space and saw that the supposedly entrenched divisions between countries were just imaginary lines on a map. As Frank Borman, commander of the Apollo 8 mission, put it, “When you’re finally up at the moon looking back on Earth, all those differences and nationalistic traits are pretty well going to blend, and you’re going to get a concept that maybe this really is one world, and why the hell can’t we learn to live together like decent people?”

Our mind can run away with us, leading us to act through suspicion or fear, but we can also use our imagination as a tool to change our life—a process we’re beginning to understand through advances in neuroscience.

For centuries, we have envisioned two separate areas of the brain: one that processes the evidence gathered by our senses, and one that spins off into gauzy daydreams. Functional magnetic resonance imaging has helped us understand that these two functions are not as distinct as they seem.

Using MRI scans, researchers like V. S. Ramachandran, director of the Center for Brain and Cognition at the University of California, San Diego, have found that the same cells in the brain light up whether we perform an action ourselves or watch someone else do it—which might explain why some of us find action movies so exciting. But these “mirror neurons” aren’t activated just by the things we see. The effect also occurs when we simply imagine ourselves performing the action.

Talking to a novelist and writing teacher, vivid writing lights up the brain. Recently, I was excited to learn that this is not just a metaphor. In a New York Times article titled “Your Brain on Fiction,” the science writer Annie Murphy Paul surveyed fMRI studies that show that reading about sensory stimuli or physical actions activates the same brain areas that process real-life experiences.

When you read about that lemon at the beginning of this essay, you were activating the same region that would have been turned on if you had actually tasted the juice. There’s more. “There is evidence, “that just as the brain responds to depictions of smells and textures and movements as if they were the real thing, so it treats the interactions among fictional characters as something like real-life social encounters.”

This has a profound import, not only for book lovers, but also for those who hope for a more peaceable planet. Paul cites studies by two Canadian psychologists that show that “individuals who frequently read fiction seem to be better able to understand other people, empathize with them, and see the world from their perspective.”
That doesn’t mean fiction writers should make their work into a gooey project to present characters as positive role models. In fact, I’m often intrigued by authors who create characters who are ornery, difficult, or downright unlikable—a good writer can help us to understand and care about people who are radically different from ourselves and to delve beneath surface differences to the common feelings and thoughts that could bind us together.
It raises the question: if humanity’s embattled factions had to write stories based on each other’s experience, how would that affect humanity’s willingness to wage war?
Imagination can provide us with rich lifelike experiences and give us a powerful opportunity to develop empathy and compassion. But it can do even more: it can literally reshape and retrain our brains.
For ages, scientists have believed that our neural networks become rigidly set and defined in early childhood, but fMRI scanning now reveals plasticity: the adult brain is surprisingly malleable. If, for example, we go blind in midlife, some of our neurons for processing vision can shift to dealing with sound.
What’s particularly exciting is the discovery that focused mental exercise can alter the brain. For example, scans of some of Tibet’s most advanced lamas found that through years of meditation they had strengthened the centers in the brain that deal with such vital life skills as attention, emotional balance, and compassion.
A number of contemplative practices directly recruit the power of imagination to retrain the mind. For many people the Sanskrit word tantra may conjure images of wild sex, but a Tantric practitioner may be more concerned with visualizing a certain deity in order to strengthen her own ability to share in the divine being’s positive attributes, such as patience or kindness.
Of course, contemplation doesn’t have to focus on deities. My introduction to Buddhism started with a simple mental exercise.
What about if you stumble into a Buddhist lecture about dealing with anger. “Let’s say you’re sitting on a park bench,” goes the Buddha teacher, “Now someone sits down next to you and they’re doing something you find annoying, like popping their gum or singing along with the music in their headphones.”
Our first reaction is usually to see the person as an external problem and to blame them for making us angry or depressed. Instead, the teacher asked us to change our thinking. “Imagine that you want to become more tolerant. Then you could say, This is great: Here’s somebody who has come along to help me work on that!”
As the Buddhist author Pema Chödrön argues in her book The Places That Scare Us , “Without the inconsiderate neighbor, where will we find the chance to practice patience? Without the office bully, how could we ever get the chance to know the energy of anger so intimately that it loses its destructive power?”
These teachers showed me that if I can use my imagination to help me perceive situations in a different light, I can turn all sorts of “problems” into constructive challenges—and radically alter my experience of life.
The transformative power of focused imagination is central to Buddhist practice, but the Buddha himself was not content to rest there. Late in life, he confounded many of his followers with a stronger, stranger notion.

The teacher of my first Buddhist lecture introduced it simply. He held up a book and asked, “How many of you think that this exists independently of your mind?” Like the others, I raised my hand. “How do you know it exists?” he pressed. Answers bounced back. “I can see it”; “I can feel it”; “I can taste or hear it.”
After some discussion, we realized that the only way we knew the book was there was by interpreting what came in through our senses. The teacher pointed out that this is true of everything in our lives: objects, our friends and families, what we learned in school, everything . Ultimately, Buddhists argue, there is no such thing as objective reality out there.
The point is not a nihilistic one, that nothing exists, but rather that no thing has a detached, fixed identity. Phenomena “do not exist in their own right,” says the Dalai Lama, “but only have an existence dependent upon many factors, including a consciousness that conceptualizes them.” Where I see a “book,” a rain forest aborigine might see only “strange object made out of pressed-together leaves.”
Our whole experience of life is filtered through our minds, and we continually project our own sense of meaning onto people and things. As the Buddha put it, “With our thoughts we make the world.”
In short, our imagination is not an alternative to reality.
Our imagination is our reality.

Imagination in the war against reality.

A home where there are house rules of -  ‘no TV or ipad/games you download' can be rare in these times,  Instead of either being sent outside to play, or mother would talk to you about what you had been up to at school, many children fend for themselves to the point when that is the only thing they wish to do; sit in front of a monitor or mobile phone pressing buttons repeatedly, trying to outdo the highest score.
While getting a sentence out of young children -and that probably being no easy feat, your chats can became a building block to their imagination – a tool that can help you on your way to becoming a celebrated children's author. So chatting and overcoming that barrier where it isn't a burden for either party will pay dividends.It will even become enjoyable.

 So if you do this with your children then by the time they go to university they come home after and recite lectures they found interesting to you and love your opinion.

When the TV is on, there is little or no thinking – instead of talking, everyone just sits around in a vegetative state. Even the smallest discussion about what we'd been up to that day had an impact on our ability to tell stories, and enhanced our relationship.

Imagination improves learning
Developing your child's imagination by encouraging their self-expression, play, even day dreaming, has great benefits to their life. Let them have a green sky and blue grass for as long as they can because then they'll realise it's OK to be a little bit interesting. According to Sir Ken Robinson, an international expert in learning, imagination is the "key driver of creativity and innovation" and helps children to -learn with a greater appetite.

Simple ways to build your child's imagination

Turn off the TV and read to your kids. People spend hours, years writing great picture books and stories, and you might as well utilise someone else's time.

Make up stories together
Making up stories and telling them to the kids is another great way to get your child's creative juices flowing as well as your own. Even if you think you're bad at storytelling it's a way to combine family time and creativity.

"The most important thing to remember is your kids will love you anyway, so they're not going to judge you on your bad storytelling – the fact you're there with them is what they love. They can also help you with the story – give the child licence to come up with ideas and to be part of the creative process. It makes them feel special – ‘we're in it together'.

Downtime without the screen time
Having downtime to play also helps kids to unleash their creativity.
Not video games or watching a movie but to be able to entertain themselves effectively because it makes them think.

"If they go into the backyard or into their room they will find something to do every single time – if they can entertain themselves they've got a friend for life."

Building your child's imagination really comes down to encouraging them to explore the world through their own eyes, and to allow them to think their crazy thoughts without always correcting them if it's not realistic.

"It's having their head filled with ideas. Kids often say things that are really amazing but wrong, but it's how they see the world. Encourage them to do that – let them have a green sky and blue grass for as long as they can because then they'll realise it's OK to be little bit interesting."