The name of this blog, Rainbow Juice, is intentional.
The rainbow signifies unity from diversity. It is holistic. The arch suggests the idea of looking at the over-arching concepts: the big picture. To create a rainbow requires air, fire (the sun) and water (raindrops) and us to see it from the earth.
Juice suggests an extract; hence rainbow juice is extracting the elements from the rainbow, translating them and making them accessible to us. Juice also refreshes us and here it symbolises our nutritional quest for understanding, compassion and enlightenment.

Tuesday 28 May 2024

Story Of Awe

This story starts a long, long time ago, in a place far, far away, and involves something very, very small.

How long ago? Up to 100,000 years ago. Homo sapiens was yet to move out of Africa when this story began.

How far away? Think of it this way: if you were to get in a car and drive at a steady 100 km per hour without stopping, it would take you more than 170 years to travel the distance. So, if you left at about the time Charles Dickens was writing some of his classic novels, you would only just be arriving now!

How small? Do this: place your thumb and forefinger together. Imagine the space between. This thing would fit inside that space, with room to spare.

What is it?

A Photon.

150 million km away in the core of our Sun, hydrogen atoms smash into one another in a process known as fusion. In doing so, energy is released in the form of quantum packets of energy. We call these photons, or more commonly as light. Because of the extreme density at the core of the sun, a Photon gets blocked and slowed so that it can take as much as 100,000 years to travel to the surface of the Sun – a distance of slightly less than 700,000 km. (Remember that car travelling at 100 km per hour. It would travel that distance in roughly nine and a half months.)

But, having spent that long, long time getting from the core to the surface of the Sun, this tiny Photon sprints to the Earth in just eight minutes, travelling at the speed of, well – light!

When it gets here, what does this highly energetic, very small Photon do? It lands on leaves in the forest. In those leaves Photon meets a character called Phil, first name – Chloro. Photon and Chlorophyll shake hands. Chlorophyll says to the Photon, ‘I’ll take all your colours, and just reflect back the green.’

Photon replies, ‘Okay, let’s make some energy too.’

And so, the dance of energy continues on. Wow!

From that dance something else emerges, is created, and is released. Oxygen. Literally, the air (along with nitrogen and a small number of other elements) that you and I breathe.

Thus, when I breathe mindfully, I am thanking the Sun, thanking Photon. I say thank you to the leaves of the tree, thank you to Chloro Phil.

Then when I breathe out, the tree in turn says thank you to me, for I am breathing out carbon dioxide, Tree uses this molecule in conjunction with Photon to make glucose and other organic molecules, which are used as Tree’s energy source.

Isn’t that Awesome?

When I enter a forest and stop and look, listen, feel, taste, and smell I know that I am part of this endless cycle that began a long, long time ago, far, far away, and with something very, very small.

But wait. There is more.

I can’t look into the Sun, I can’t see the Chlorophyll in the leaves, and, unless I dig, I can’t see what is beneath my feet in the midst of the forest. But, I can know.

When I sit under a tree amid a forest, directly beneath me there could be a network of 50 km of communications, resource sharing, and warning systems. A Wood Wide World of mycelia.1 Staggering!

Mycelia are fine, thread-like, network of fungal strands that connect trees together. Through this complex and entangled network trees communicate with one another, share resources, nourish the young, and even send out warning signals.

That 50 km is just what is beneath me as I sit. Imagine the extent of this network throughout the entire forest. Marvellous!

When I take the time in a forest to consider all this, with a little knowledge, and my own 5 senses, plus inner senses, I am connected to a network of events that are thousands of years old, that are very, very tiny, and are very big.

This magnificent network is what sustains me (literally) and allows me to write this story here and now.

Isn’t that Awesome?!

Note:

1. This excellent video by renowned forest researcher, Suzanne Simard, more fully explains the Wood Wide World and the role of mycelia. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oVK9TCXZz6I

Thursday 23 May 2024

Less Pointing, More Listening

Last week’s blog bemoaned the pointing of the finger in religious circles. The theme of that blog could just as easily be applied to many other human spheres: politics, economics, philosophy, history, statehood, even opposing football teams.

When we consider the many interlocking, and mutually reinforcing, ills of the world today, they can all be traced back to three basic disconnections: disconnection from nature, disconnection from each other, and disconnection from our own selves.

Our willingness, often eagerness, to point the finger of blame is one of the most perfidious behaviours that reinforces the disconnection from each other.1

The blame game sets up, and maintains, an us/them separation. The dualism of this results in further dualisms of right/wrong, good/evil, and superior/inferior. Blaming says ‘I am right, you are wrong,’ and that no further discussion can be entered into – the judgment has already been formed and delivered.

We may not realise that in pointing the finger, not only does this help disconnect us from others; it also serves to disconnect us from our very selves.

Without realising it, blaming others is often based in fear. Fear, in turn, drives three possible responses – fight, flight, or freeze. Pointing the finger is a fight response. It increases adrenalin in our body, priming us to prepare to fight (even if fight may solely be a war of words.) Physical or verbal, this fight disturbs our emotional state, and our sympathetic nervous system takes over. Of course, this response can be useful, but not if it remains on high alert.

The negative mental state that this fosters can lead to heart problems.

Once we enter the blame game it is very easy to get hooked when others are playing the same game. When other players point their finger at us, our response can easily be to return the gesture. Blame stimulates and encourages blame. Blame does not eliminate our fight response; it keeps us ready to fight.

When the act of blaming becomes habitual (as it can) the negative effects of continued heightening of the sympathetic nervous system become chronic. Heart problems are the symptom.

An Antidote – Listening

How can we relieve ourselves of this state? One of the antidotes to blaming is listening. Not the sort of listening which is simply a vehicle for finding a space in which to voice our own opinions, thoughts, or retorts however.

What is required is creative (sometimes called active) listening. This sort of listening involves various techniques and behaviours that can be learnt. Examples of some of these techniques are as follows:2

Reflecting:  A speaker may use a word or a phrase at the end of a thought.  Reflecting that word or phrase back encourages the speaker to continue or to expand on the thought.  Reflecting also helps the speaker to realise that they have been accurately listened to.

Paraphrasing:  Closely related to reflecting, paraphrasing is summarising in the listeners words what it is that they have understood the speaker to have said.  This enables the speaker to know that they have been accurately heard and to correct any misapprehension that the listener may have.

Non-verbal Actions:  It is important to realise that communication involves so much more than the words being spoken (or heard).  For the listener this means using non-verbal actions that show an interest in what the speaker is saying.  A simple smile, a nod of the head or eye contact help to convey such attention.  A word of caution however; in some cultures eye contact can be interpreted as a sign of rudeness, so be warned.

Clarification:  Questions of a clarifying nature can be useful to help a speaker know that they have been listened to and to more fully explore what it is they wish to convey.

Positive Reinforcement:   Words such as “go on,” “tell me more,” can be encouraging but should be used sparingly so as not to become distracting.  Words that imply agreement (e.g. “yes,” “very good,” or “indeed”) can become annoying and it is usually better to wait until a time when it is appropriate to indicate agreement on behalf of the listener.

When listening in this way is practiced it becomes very difficult, nigh on impossible, to judge and blame another person.

Furthermore, creative listening allows our parasympathetic nervous system to settle us. The parasympathetic nervous system is the system that restores us to a state of calm and maintains that state. Ultimately, this eases the stress on our body, especially our heart. It’s got to be good for us!

In conclusion then: Less pointing and more listening can help overcome our disconnection from others, and from our own selves.

Notes:

1. In my life I have struggled frequently to remove myself from the blame game. Hence, I know how hard it can be to do so.

2. When first learning these techniques they can feel mechanical, contrived, or clinical. However, with practise and continual use, they eventually become natural and simply part of our listening style.

Wednesday 15 May 2024

Scripture Pointing

Below are six scriptural verses. Three are from the Bible, and three are from the Qur’an. Can you tell which is which? My guess is that, unless you are a religious scholar or an ardent believer in Christianity or Islam, then you are likely to have trouble identifying which is which – Bible or Qur’an.

A.    ‘Whoever would not seek (the Lord) should be put to death, whether young or old, man or woman.’

B.    ‘As for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me.’

C.    ‘Slay the idolators wherever ye find them, arrest them, besiege them, and lie in ambush everywhere for them.’

D.     ‘Remember when your Lord inspired the angels…I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve…Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them.’

E.     ‘Slay them wherever you catch them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out.’

F.     ‘Now go and strike... and devote destruction to all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep and donkey.’

Can you do it? Can you identify which verses are from the Bible, and which from the Qur’an?

Often we hear people pointing at the verses from one or the other of these holy books in order to claim that the other (i.e. not their own) religion is not peaceful or proclaims that killing is justified.

Yet, for those who would point to passages in the holy book of the others, half of the passages quoted above come from their own holy book.

My intention in quoting these scriptures is not to disrespect the Bible or the Qur’an. Nor is it my purpose to dishonour the believers of either religion. My intent is the following:

By pointing at a piece of scripture from the holy book of the other the (often tacit) inference is that those belonging to the other religion are heathens, infidels, non-believers, idolators, or at worst - evil. After all, “they” condone killing.

The scriptural texts quoted above are not, in and of themselves, the source of these issues. The source is the willingness – even eagerness - to point the finger at others, meanwhile ignoring the fact that each of us is as guilty or blameworthy as anyone else.

Thus it is that the pointing of the finger of accusation (or blame or guilt) at other people is at the core of the mistrust, polarisation, and violence (both latent and explicit) of the world.

Those who do point the finger, at either the scripture or the person, might do well to remember another piece of scripture, viz.

‘Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged...And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye. Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me remove the speck from your eye”; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.’

-        Matthew 7: 1-5 (the Holy Bible)

That is a verse we all, believers and non-believers, might well try to remember as often as possible. If we were to do so, we would find that we are indeed all brothers, all sisters, all family.

Regarding the six passages quoted at the beginning of this post, it should be noted that they are all quoted out of context. Quoting out of context is very easy to do, yet by doing so it is possible to bestow meaning on a piece of text that the full context may not support.

And, in case you want to know the source and context of each of these quotations, they are as follows:

A.    Bible, 2 Chronicles 15: 12-13

B.    Bible, Luke 19: 27

C.    Qur’an 9:5

D.    Qur’an 8:12

E.     Qur’an 2: 190-191

F.     Bible, 1 Samuel 15: 2-3

It is worth noting that the comments above are not restricted to the religious realm. The pointing of the finger of blame occurs in many fields of human endeavour.

Finger pointing is, arguably, one of the biggest barriers towards a peaceful, tolerant, and harmonious world.

Wednesday 8 May 2024

Empathy: Learnt or Reflected?

A few days ago, on a cycle ride with my neighbour, I reached down for my bidon (cycling water bottle) to take a drink. My cycling companion did the same a fraction of a second later. I was reminded of the role of mirror neurons in empathy.

The actions described above are often described as automatic imitation: the situation in which an individual observes a body movement in another person and unintentionally performs the same body movement themselves. Many researchers attribute this imitation to mirror neurons in the premotor cortex of our brain.

Mirror neurons have been studied since the 1980s and are considered to be a major factor in our ability to empathise with others, including, sometimes, with non-human species.

The word empathy itself is a fairly recent immigrant to the English language. In 1909 it was translated from the German word Einf├╝hling (in-feeling). It was to be over one hundred years before the neuroscience of empathy was revealed. Only in 2010 did Californian neurophysiologists identify individual mirror neurons in the human brain.1 These neurons effectively mirror in our brain what is happening emotionally for another person. Via this mechanism, our brains react as if what we are seeing or hearing from another person is actually happening to ourselves, within our own bodies.

Fortunately, our mirror neurons don’t confine themselves just to feelings of suffering. When others are happy, joyful, or having fun, we can feel those emotions also via our mirror neurons. We have the capacity to feel empathetic towards someone experiencing ecstasy just as easily as we can towards someone in pain.

Although we may have mirror neurons and hence the ability to be empathetic, that does not mean that we are automatically highly skilled empathic people. We are able to increase our ability to empathise. Neuroscientists are discovering that the brain has the ability to adapt and change its neuropathways. Neuroplasticity is a very recent science, but already the findings from that science have radical implications for the way we relate to one another. One of those implications is that we can learn to become better empathisers. We can improve our empathy quotient if you like.2

In order to be able to empathise with someone else, we must be able to identify with our own feelings and emotions. The more self-aware we are the better we are at empathising with others.3 Thus to be able to outwardly empathise we need to inwardly become attuned to our own feelings and emotions. When we can better understand and identify our own feelings and emotions then we become better empathisers.

Feelings and emotions have a language, and like any language, it must be learnt. For men, until very recently at least, this language had a limited vocabulary. Men in my cohort, growing up in the middle of last century, often got told to “man up,” “don’t get emotional,” “big boys don’t cry,” and other inhibitions on emotional literacy.

Fortunately, this seems to be changing, and men are becoming more emotionally literate.

Let us now return to the question posed in the title of this piece. Is empathy learnt or does it come from reflection?

It seems that it is a bit of this and a bit of that. Mirror neurons reflect in ourselves what we see or recognise in others. Neuroplasticity tells us that we can learn to become better empathisers by understanding and learning about our own emotions.

We could say that through the process of reflection (whether internal or external) we gain an understanding of ourselves and of others. Crucial abilities in a fast-changing world.

Notes:

1. Cited in Stefan Klein, Survival of the Nicest, Scribe, Melbourne & London, 2014.

2. An Empathy Quotient (EQ) has been developed at the Autism Research Centre at the University of Cambridge.

3. Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence: why it can matter more than IQ, Bloomsbury, London, 1996

Wednesday 1 May 2024

Pillow Lessons

When I was a child, around the age of 6 or 7, the pillows we had to lay our head on at night were stuffed with feathers: possibly geese or duck feathers. Stuffed in this way the pillow was sometimes lumpy in places when I got into bed. I would spend the first minute or so pounding and manipulating the pillow so that it wasn’t lumpy – the technical term appears to be “fluffing.”

One of these nights it occurred to me that no matter where on the pillow I would pummel it, the feathers would shift to another part of the pillow. The contents of the pillow – the feathers – would remain. They just shifted position.

I cannot remember exactly what I deduced from this observation at the time, except possibly that my pummelling had no real effect upon the whole pillow. The feathers just shifted from one place to another.

Many years later I learnt what it was I was observing with my attempt to re-shape my pillow as a child.

I learnt the basics of systems theory and chaos theory.

I learnt that what we do to one part of a system (pillow) influences another part (the feathers move.)

I also learnt that systems have boundaries (the pillow slip) and limits.

These were important lessons.

We live on a planet where what we do to one part has consequences for another part. Todays globalised economy and interlinked supply chains ensure this. Furthermore, it may only be a small event or incident that we do in one part, yet the outcome in another part may be significant. Chaos theory calls this the Butterfly Effect.

We also live on a planet that has boundaries. Since 2009 the Stockholm Resilience Centre (based at Stockholm University) has been identifying and enumerating nine planetary boundaries (climate change, biosphere integrity, land-system change, freshwater change, biogeochemical flows, ocean acidification, atmospheric aerosol loading, stratospheric ozone depletion, and novel entities.1)

The latest (2023) update from the Stockholm Resilience Centre warns that “six (of these) boundaries are now transgressed, and pressure is increasing on all boundary processes except ozone depletion.”2

My metaphorical pillow is being torn apart.

We have known for some time too that Earth has limits. Exactly when we reached (or will reach) Peak Oil is still being debated. However, we do know from current reserves and expected new finds that oil is likely to run out within the next 50 or so years. We know too, that of all the Earth’s wild forests, only 25% remain.

Each year more than 90 billion tons of biomass, fossil fuels, metal, and minerals are extracted from the Earth.3 Alarmingly, this rate of extraction has more than tripled in just 50 years.

The feathers in my metaphorical pillow are being depleted, and not replaced.

Somewhere in my 7-year-old consciousness these concepts were embedding themselves. Today, decades later, I know what lessons my pillow was offering me.

Notes:

1. Novel entities are created and introduced into the environment by humans (e.g. chemicals, and plastics) that have a disruptive impact upon the environment. There are now estimated to be more than 144,000 such artificially created entities, with 2,000 new synthetic chemicals being released every year.

2. https://www.stockholmresilience.org/research/planetary-boundaries.html  accessed 30 April 2024

3. This is more than 11 tons per person per year for every person on Earth. In the rich nations of the world the extraction rate per capita is staggering: 30 tons per person in North America and over 20 tons for those living in Europe. The extraction rate is highly disproportionate. Data mentioned in these two paragraphs from https://www.theworldcounts.com accessed 30 April 2024