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22nd September 2014

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Under the gathering gloom of the brainstorm

They were shadowy figures with a pungent smell of electricity, a sensed presence, but no one there. Odd to identify the smell of a seizure with electricity, which is odourless, but apt for an electrical storm in the brain.

The ethereal visitors are part of the epileptic aura, a state of altered awareness that serves to forewarn of an approaching seizure. It also has another, more visceral, feature. Naomi says it feels like a sparrow fluttering its wings in the pit of her stomach. The bird ascends to her throat, becomes trapped, and struggles to escape. Up to this point, under the gathering gloom of the brainstorm, in the company of the empty shadows and the sparrow, she is fully conscious and can articulate her experiences. Then the storm breaks and she is swept beyond reflection.

Paul Broks, Into the Silent Land: Travels in Neuropsychology (2003)

Tagged: booksepilepsypsychologyneuropsychologyelectricity

15th August 2014

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Dying before dying

I understand that the ancient mysteries of death and rebirth, and also the rites of passage of the native cultures, enabled people to go through a kind of dying before dying. The 17th-century German Augustinian monk Abraham of Santa Clara put it very succinctly: The man who dies before he dies does not die when he dies. Once you have this experience, you do not see death as the end of who you are, but as a fantastic journey, as a transition to a different mode and level of existence. Whether this is a profound cosmic truth or a merciful delusion, as some of the materialistic critics of transpersonal psychology assert, it can certainly transform people’s lives.

Stanislav Grof, The Consciousness Revolution: A Transatlantic Dialogue (1999)

Tagged: bookspsychologydeathmysticismtranspersonalStanislav Grof

15th June 2014

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The backstage language of human behaviour

Throughout Western society there tends to be one informal or backstage language of behaviour, and another language of behaviour for occasions when a performance is being presented. The backstage language consists of reciprocal first-naming, cooperative decision-making, profanity, open sexual remarks, elaborate griping, smoking, rough informal dress, ‘sloppy’ sitting and standing posture, use of dialect or sub-standard speech, mumbling and shouting, playful aggressivity and ‘kidding’, inconsiderateness for the other in minor but potentially symbolic acts, minor physical self-involvements such as humming, whistling, chewing, belching, and flatulence. The frontstage behaviour language can be taken as the absence (and in some sense the opposite) of this.

Erving Goffman, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1959)

Tagged: sociologybehaviourlanguagesocietypsychologyethologyErving Goffman

7th June 2014

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Self-consciousness of the causes and limits of one’s own culture seems to threaten the ego structure and is, therefore, avoided.
— Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media

Tagged: philosophypsychologycultureanthropologysociologyMarshall McLuhan

25th April 2014

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An epidemic of laughter

Before finally abating two and a half years later, in June 1964, this plague of laughter spread through villages “like a prairie fire,” forcing the temporary closing of more than 14 schools and afflicting about 1,000 people in tribes bordering Lake Victoria in Tanganyika and Uganda. Quarantine of infected villages was the only means of blocking the epidemic’s advance.

Robert Provine, Laughter: A Scientific Investigation (2000)

Tagged: bookslaughterpsychologyscienceAfricacontagionodditiesbiologyRobert Provine

1st April 2014

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Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.
— James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time

Tagged: bookslovepsychologyJames Baldwin

25th March 2014

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In love is hidden an infinity of egoism, vanity and selfishness. Love is the potent force that tears off all masks, and men who run away from love do so in order that they may preserve their masks.
— P. D. Ouspensky, Tertium Organum (1922)

Tagged: lovepsychologyphilosophyouspensky

30th January 2014

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The length of mourning

Continued incapacitating grief is the commonest variation of the usual pattern of mourning. There is evidence that the people who at first do not demonstrate their grief may later show this troubled, chronic state. To recognize a state of grief as being unduly prolonged, however, infers that there is a generally accepted length of mourning. In fact the duration of sorrow varies enormously.

John Hinton, Dying (1967)

Tagged: booksdeathdyinggriefmourningJohn Hintonpsychologyloss

25th January 2014

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Only saints have diabolical visions

[T]here is no position without its negation. Where there is faith, there is doubt; where there is doubt, there is credulity; where there is morality, there is temptation. Only saints have diabolical visions, and tyrants are the slaves of their own valets de chambre. If we carefully scrutinize our own character we shall inevitably find that, as Lao-tzu says, “high stands on low,” which means that the opposites condition one another, that they are really one and the same thing. This can easily be seen in persons with an inferiority complex: they foment a little megalomania somewhere. The fact that the opposites appear as gods comes from the simple recognition that they are exceedingly powerful. Chinese philosophy therefore declared them to be cosmic principles, and named them yang and yin. Their power increases the more one tries to separate them. “When a tree grows up to heaven its roots reach down to hell,” says Nietzsche. Yet, above as below, it is the same tree. It is characteristic of our Western mentality that we should separate the two aspects into antagonistic personifications: God and the Devil.

Carl Jung, Psychology and the East

Tagged: psychologyphilosophybooksCarl JungNietzscheLao-tzuEastern philosophyyin and yangreligion

6th May 2013

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For certain fortunate people

For certain fortunate people there is something which transcends all classifications of behaviour, and that is awareness; something which rises above the programming of the past, and that is spontaneity; and something that is more rewarding than games, and that is intimacy. But all three of these may be frightening and even perilous to the unprepared. Perhaps they are better off as they are, seeking their solutions in popular techniques of social action, such as ‘togetherness’. This may mean that there is no hope for the human race, but there is hope for individual members of it.

Eric Berne, Games People Play: The Psychology of Human Relationships (1964)

Tagged: psychologybooksreadingsociologybehaviourpsychoanalysisEric Berne