Forgive us Mr Zuma

Forgive us Mr Zuma, please favour us with your forgiveness.
For we are profoundly sorry that we were asleep and thus beg forgiveness.
But your forgiveness once found will flow forth filled with our love and gratitude for you.

An implementation of an ancient Hawaiian practice: Hoʻoponopono.

“Beyond our ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing is a field. I’ll meet you there.” – Rumi.

Evolution demands that if we are to survive, we must adapt to stress.

Our sorrow emanates from our slowness to awaken to a new awareness. This mindless dozing led to our inability to protect and preserve what is important to us. In our slumber of complacency we were not vigilant enough to act. Our gratitude and love is bestowed upon the one who accepted the role to arouse us from our sleep. That one was trapped there having to play out that role repeatedly until we became fully conscious. Therein lies our sorrow and our need for forgiveness for we held you there. You, Mr Zuma united a nation, not in the way your predecessor Mandela once did, but differently. Beyond the bounds of colour, creed and political persuasion again now emanates the voice of the Rainbow Nation like the faint and familiar song of yesteryear. Soft though it may be at first, it is strong and will grow stronger every day, calling for change and for us all to awaken. Please, through the gentle act of sharing this message with others, awaken with us in peace and with perseverance into a new collective consciousness.

A Circle of Friends: Including Aiden Lottering, Lorraine Burne, Martin, Nevil,Nicci De Wet-du Toit, Pam Quin, Peggy, Pieter, Thomas Budge, Ulrike Lottering, Yvonne Munshi and everyone else sharing this message.

‪#‎zumamustfall‬

 

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Important insights that all unhappy Jehovah’s Witnesses should read

I have a hunch that this blog is going to raise a few eyebrows and, sadly, it could deepen a rift that already exists between most of my family and me. It’s an outcome I loathe to anticipate but a risk I am obliged to take. I have reached a stage where an inner light urges me to share my thoughts and experiences in the hopes of benefitting those as trapped as I once was. Please share and distribute this blog freely if you believe it might help someone you know in a similar situation. I have personally helped countless trapped Jehovah’s Witnesses find liberation. In most cases, they chose to fade from active service but still, their deep-seated anxiety over the emotionally devastating consequences of expulsion generally holds them captive in the metallic grip of a cult from which there is no clean exit. Once inside, one no longer has a right to choose one’s future without incurring huge collateral damage. If you take exception to what I say, I invite you to express your thoughts so that we may debate this some more.

—oooOooo—

I was once a Jehovah’s Witness. It wasn’t my religion of choice but it happened upon me in an involuntary way as a child growing up in a Jehovah’s Witness family. It’s an active religion, demanding a lot of time from its followers. The daily routine of intently moving from one scriptural activity to the next shaped a household. Whatever worldly goings-on there were, like school, playing with friends and other social events, they were always kerbed by an elaborate set of rules governing acceptable Witness behaviour. There were many things we couldn’t do as children, like having or attending birthday parties or celebrating Christmas and Easter. We learned from young that we were different. We would not sing the national anthem at school or stand up during morning prayers and because of our defiant attitude, we were often ridiculed and badly bullied. Nevertheless, those things didn’t really deter us much because we were taught from little that that’s what we as faithful servants of God were to expect from Satan’s wicked world.

It’s a black-and-white belief system based upon mutually exclusive segregation: the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the only true and faithful servants of God against the rest of the world, heathens, the Devil’s progeny. The Witnesses mission is equally simple: through intense involvement and close association with each other, one stays faithful at all costs, actively persuading and enticing the non-believers to switch allegiance to the only religion approved by God, the Truth. It’s a funnel-and-gate system, similar to the ones used when capturing game to relocated them from one wild habitat to the next. Witnesses stand with warm open arms, sincerely and heart-warmingly funnelling in anybody remotely interested in belonging to their spiritual family of brothers and sisters. Once inside, the gate is closed and there is no way out. The only exit from this society is by expulsion.

If any member transgresses Witness dogma, he or she must appear before a tribunal of elders who alone consider the evidence and pass judgement. If the offender shows neither repentance nor willingness to conform, the elders have jurisdiction to excommunicate (or in Witness jargon, disfellowship) that person. To preserve pureness, those inside the faith may not have any form of contact with any expelled member. It’s a well-documented practise termed shunning which, at a cursory glance, may well seem like a prudent thing to do. Surely, one should throw out the rotten apple before it contaminates the others. However, when dogma leans ludicrously towards fanaticism, the organisation has expelled and shunned many of its members for an assortment of absurd reasons. One only needs to perform an online search, looking for ex-witnesses support groups, to read the first-hand accounts of the awful consequences of shunning. It splits families, hearts are broken and children are left bereft of parents and parents of their children. I was disfellowshipped thirty-five years ago and have been the recipient of shunning ever since.

Since puberty, I found it easier to explore my sexual development with same-sex partners but I didn’t know that I was gay until I was introduced to the word and adopted its labelling much, much later on in life. Deeply burdened by this realisation, I tried to hide it from everyone for years because I knew damned well that, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t change the way I was. Without the comfort of knowing that change was possible, I couldn’t seek help because any disclosure would certainly result in my disfellowshipping. It was a terrible conundrum and a predicament without solution.

Yet life had its way of unfolding and it was inevitable that I would eventually be discovered and disfellowshipped. How that came about was sad and sordid. I was twenty-seven when a relative set a trap and snared me. He then took some glee in exposing and disposed of me. I couldn’t have hated an organisation and its people more at the time and it took lots of introspective self-realisation to shift my hatred and to find a way of honouring them today. I wrote about it in my book: It Is What It Is, Grace through Acceptance, www.iiwii.co.za.

Loyal adherence to the faith works well for my family and I’m happy that they use it to find purpose in in life. Most of them are lovely, sincere, amazing people and I need no convincing that these folk are true to life, even though they look at it through the Jehovah’s Witness lens. If culpability were to lie anywhere, it ought to be with the clique of men at the core of this society who, as a governing body, sadly twist the inspired teachings of Jesus into such literal contortions.

Ours is a family of matriarchs. Three sisters of Scottish origin who joined the Jehovah’s Witnesses in their youth and then zealously passed their beliefs on to most of their children and grandchildren.

The oldest of the sisters, my aunt Maureen, passed away last month (March 2015) at the age of eighty-eight. Since the death of my grandparents, she was one of only a few close relatives to pass on: my father died first in 2000, followed by a cousin, a close uncle and now my aunt. One would ordinarily pay one’s last respects at their respective funerals but my attendance has always been a complicated decision for me. There was such a hullabaloo at the Kingdom Hall at my father’s funeral because some elders decided that I, as a disfellowshipped person, should not gain entry. As this group of men obstructed my passage at the side door, a woman whom I have known from young, bravely ignored protocol and came to my aid. She let them know how unhappy she was and then, by my arm, she led me around these men, walked me up the central aisle and arranged a place for me to sit in the front row next to my mother.

A buzz of concerned conversation filled the hall as people tried to grasp what had happened. More than a dozen work colleagues and a large contingent of close friends, including Johann, my life partner attended Dad’s funeral to offer their support and condolences. All of them expressed their astonishment at the incongruity of the events of the day. One of them, a journalist for Die Beeld (an Afrikaans Sunday newspaper), so disgusted by what he had observed, published a half-page article about it.

When my uncle, the husband of the youngest of the three sisters, died, I considered going to his funeral but decided against it because I wasn’t prepared to put myself through that sort of ordeal again. This time, I got a reprimanding for being too callous. Perhaps they expected me to attend and subserviently take up a seat at the back of the hall where I wouldn’t draw attention.

Given all the hoo-ha over past funerals, I was in quite a dilemma as to whether I should or shouldn’t attend my aunt’s.  I like canvassing opinion from others and asked close friends and family for advice. Some were quite militant and suggested that I go with guns blazing; others proposed a far more passive approach. It wasn’t an easy choice to make but I decided to take a risk and attend for the sake of my two cousins, Maureen’s daughters, whom I love very much. We are a reprobate sub-clan amongst the otherwise pious tribe of cousins.

I didn’t reach my decision to attend my aunt’s funeral in haste. The evidence that leaned heavily in favour of me choosing to be there was a mounting body of tiny realisations I had come to adopt over the past couple of decades. Collectively, they have radically changed the way I think and act. Having elected to go, the next decision I made was how to behave. What would I do if they tried to ban me? Would I make a fuss or would I quietly comply? A fantasy I considered was picketing in silent protest outside the Kingdom Hall. I imagined myself wearing a clapperboard bearing the words: ‘I choose love and forgiveness. What is your choice?’ but I decided against it because Maureen’s funeral was not the right occasion for this.

I arrived at the Kingdom Hall on the Monday afternoon, wearing my dark suit and tie. Entering through a side door, I paused just inside the hall and as though it were possible to inhale the entire room, I drew in a deep breath, blessed the space in my heart and symbolically took ownership of the room and all the people there. The little unseen ritual helped me calm my nerves and gain composure even though I continued to sweat profusely thereafter. Despite the butterflies in my tummy, I tried to make my way across the room in the most dignified and gracious way. Halfway to my seat I met my sister who had travelled with my aunt, the youngest of the three sisters. I hugged and kissed them both, offering my condolences. My sister embraced me warmly and it felt like the universe had folded, hiding the past thirty-five years, and in its folds it had created a wormhole through which her and I time travelled back to an emotional space where we had once been decades before. It was a profoundly tender moment. My aunt received my greeting stiffly and coldly for she needed to be seen to obey the shunning rule in front of everyone there. As I walked away from them, two other exceptionally caring female friends flanked and accompanied me to a seat in the middle of the second row. They knew what was happening and vowed to look after me. My cousins sat in the front row and we took our seats directly behind them. There, in the centre of this feminine cordon of unwavering patronage, I couldn’t be reached.

I sat apprehensively waiting for the talk to begin, fully anticipating a tap on my shoulder and a whisper in my ear asking me to move. I chose to sit in my seat and meditate and decided that, if anybody asked me to leave, I would have quietly allowed him to usher me out without resistance but I would not have moved voluntarily. Under his escort, he would have had to take action and responsibility for having disrupted my aunt’s funeral. Surprisingly, nobody challenged me but I believe the reason was that none of congregants there knew anything about me.

I closed my eyes as the talk began, clasped my hands in my lap and sank quickly into a very deep trance. It then occurred to me that Witnesses are strongly discouraged from meditating because it supposedly opens one’s mind and invites Satan and his demonic hoards to take control. I smiled wryly like a defiant, naughty schoolboy.

The talk followed a familiar format and its contents conveyed the same theme I had heard as a teenager at past funerals. When one takes similarly themed scriptures and carefully sews them together, one can weave almost any persuasive story of one’s choice. Biblical ambiguity lends itself to infinitely varied interpretations thus creating a hugely diverse spectrum of Christian belief. Some apply scripture very literally; others lean more towards its symbolic interpretation. I have heard many persuasive arguments from different authoritative speakers who utterly contradict each other because they construed the meaning of the texts differently. Who owns the correct cypher? Whose interpretation is right? Witnesses may not challenge the explanations fed to them. To dare contest the Governing Body’s version could easily lead to dismissal on the grounds of being an apostate nonconformist, an official title conferred upon me ever since I published my book.

Being in deep meditative trance at the funeral transformed my experience. Instead of seething at the narrow-minded, literal interpretation of scripture, as I would easily have done before, I discovered a new space of indifference to the information given there. I recall thinking that religion in the global human context, somewhere in our very distant past, surely had to have had an undifferentiated, uncontested, common starting point, regardless of whether God handed our sense of spirituality to us in the way the Bible suggests or whether it spawned from our cognitive realisation of having to contextualise our own mortality. If it had a common origin, surely we should find a common interpretation. With that single meaning in place, Jesus’ teachings could neither fundamentally contradict those of the Buddha, the ancient Jewish teachings found in the Kabbalah, the teachings of Mohammed nor even the Vedic teachings at the core of Hinduism. Please take time to study Paramahansa Yogananda’s unprecedented masterwork of inspiration: ‘The Second Coming of Christ: The Resurrection of the Christ within You’.

Deepak Chopra spoke about of the seven stages of God in his book: ‘How to Know God’. He said that our perception of God changes depending on where we stand spiritually in life. The psychologist Abraham Maslow proposed a Hierarchy of Needs predicated on fulfilling innate human needs in priority. There are interesting parallels between Chopra’s Stages of God and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Simply put, Maslow describes our most primitive need as that of survival, above it is our need for safety, followed by a need for social belonging, then by a need for esteem, and it culminates in a need for a sense of self. We cannot possibly attain self-realisation while struggling to meet all our underlying needs. As we transform and satisfy each of our needs, new possibilities arise for us to redefine what God means to us. When fighting for survival, God is our Provider. When we seek safety, He is our Saviour and Protector. When we yearn for love and social acceptance, He becomes our Father. As we build esteem, our need to respect self and earn the respect of others, He becomes our Certificate of Authenticity. Once we reach fully realisation, however, God the Father and God the Son merge and become One.

Just this past December in Lenk while writing, seated at the dining room table and overlooking the magnificent Swiss Alps blanketed in snow, I asked the question: ‘If I was certain to find God somewhere, where would the most likely place be to begin looking for Him?’

It’s easy to understand the common perception of God as a wise old man, sitting on a heavenly throne and thronged by a literal army of angels, situated somewhere out there above the clouds. Having been fascinated by astronomy and having lectured at the Johannesburg Planetarium for nearly a decade, I know that there isn’t a spot in space where we might find this literal form of God. The Hubble Space Telescope with its incredibly keen eyesight is capable of seeing to the outer edge of our known universe, yet it has never once shown any evidence of any kind of celestial kingdom.

At the lower tiers of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we anthropomorphised Him. We created God in our likeness and image. It was our only way of describing the indescribable using early human superlatives. We gave God masculine gender. We elevated Him to the highest rank in our social structure, namely that of Father. Yet, as if that weren’t enough, we elevated Him above all men by giving Him sage-like qualities with feet that would never stand upon the same ground we walk upon. God, through us, acquired His heavenly kingdom.

So if God isn’t literally an old man supporting a long white beard somewhere out there, then who or what is He? I’m somewhat torn between the mere symbolism of God and the possibility of an actual presence of some sorts, a yet undiscovered intelligence which is the designer and creator of our universe. If this intelligent presence actually exists, I would then agree that it is accurate to say that God is nowhere (not in any specific place) yet found everywhere (in everything throughout the universe). It would be equally true to say that He is nothing (neither this nor that), yet found in everything. That would make Him omnipotent, omnipresent and almighty.

The closest plausible scientific theory that supports all these attributes of God is perhaps the Zero-point Field of quantum physics. This field is supposedly the coordinating intelligence of the vacuum of space, which in quantum field theory is defined not as empty space but as the ground state of all other fields. It is theorised that this field carries all the information necessary to maintain consistency across the universe.

Yet every holy text I have ever read speaks of God far more personally than a mere compassionless backdrop to space. Besides the Old Testament’s notion of a jealous, tyrannical and dictatorial God, we also think of Him as kind, caring, and loving, a being with whom we could forge a relationship. Unless I am now being trapped in my own anthropomorphic snare, the aforementioned don’t seem like attributes I would readily ascribe to the Field. If God is plausibly neither an old man in space nor some theorised ground state of all universal fields, then who is He, She or It?

Perhaps we must look outwards in our quest to find God when we stand fighting for survival but at an elevated position of self-realisation at the apex of Maslow’s pyramid, we have panoramic understanding and can find God elsewhere. I find it uncanny that the chakras loosely map to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which in turn loosely map, as we have seen, to our understanding of God. Starting at the heart, the seat of human emotions, all lower chakras symbolise our physical struggles as humans: our physiological need for air, food and water; our need to reproduce; and our need for safety. The heart chakra neatly matches our need for love and belonging. All the upper chakras tie in nicely with Maslow’s classifications of esteem and self-realisation. It seems that during our primitive states of neediness, we seem to go downwards and outwards from the heart chakra into the material world in order to find spiritual meaning. Otherwise, to satisfy our sophisticated psychological and spiritual needs, we go inwards and upwards from the heart chakra to discover a more abstracted form of God within.

Can we achieve reconciliation of the primitive conceptualisations of God with the more enlightened views of oneness without changing God? Can the Wise Old Man in heaven be the same God in the mindful experience of the enlightened being?

I read a beautiful analogy in Yehudah Berg’s book: ‘The Power of the Kabbalah’. He draws a symbolic parallel between the mechanisms of the solar system and our relationship with God. The sun knows only how to give and all of Mother Nature knows only how to receive that gift. As the sun gives, so nature takes. This establishes a harmonious balance. Nature takes without conscience. It also never takes with any form of greediness. We were, in our early evolution, reactive beings that belonged to nature. The Garden of Eden, is symbolic of an uncomplicated, harmonious coexistence with all else. However, it came with a warning, a kind of sinister prophecy waiting to happen: do not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. I can’t imagine this as anything other than being akin to our ability to think rationally and to judge.

The moment we developed a frontal cortex with a capacity to judge good from evil, we started to separate ourselves from the rest of nature. We were no longer content, reactive beings living in total harmony with our environment. Instead, we became restless in our quest to be much more as we strove to be godlike, co-creators of our universe. We sacrificed our reactionary place in nature to become proactive and God thus symbolically barred from His paradise garden of natural balance. Slowly at first but with increased rapidity, we learned to have dominion over all nature, we began to control it, to exploit it, to re-engineer it and perhaps soon, to even create it. Since our eviction from Eden, we have remained trapped in dissatisfaction and discontent. Egoism stands in opposition to godliness. Earth, as symbolised by the lower chakras and Maslow’s primitive needs, rebukes Heaven, our enlightened state of self-realisation and our unification with God. Egoism is the idolatry, the false god, to whom so many devote themselves so fervently. To go down and out into the material world is hell. It separates us from God and necessitates an external search for Him somewhere above the clouds. To go inwards and upwards, aligning ourselves with our highest self is heaven.

One day, we might fathom out the intricacies of this universe and thus solve the intriguing puzzle of how all things work. That will make today’s knowledge and technology seem like relics of some bygone past. What if we had the Mind of God, to know all things, to understand the infinite complexities and interrelationships throughout space and time, and to know the true balance and harmony that keeps this universe in place? Perhaps, when we learn to stand in our godliness as noble co-creators of a new-world paradigm and find newfound balance with all else, only then might we regain the paradise we had once lost.

Tucked away in an infinitesimally small point of nothingness lay the potential for an entire universe. In that point of cosmic singularity, milliseconds before the Big Bang, lay the blueprint for every galaxy, star, planet, life form, action, word, idea and thought. Somewhere in that point of nothingness lay the possibility of these very words and speculations. We could say that our physical universe, from its embryonic beginnings of pure possibility, is still, through the laws of nature, expressing itself. When those laws exhaust all possibility, when there is nothing more for them to express, we could say that the universe would then be fully realised.

God made mankind in His likeness and image. To believe Him, I would expect Genesis 1:27 not to be describing my body. God made our bodies from the same substance as all the other creatures. For us to receive His highest honour and favour, sculpting us in his likeness and image, must mean a lot more to us than just our having acquired some physical, living form, common to all other living creatures. It had to describe attributes that separates us from everything else. We are creation that was to glorify our Creator. Our understanding grasps Divine things. For us to exist in the image of God might imply that we must also exist in some formless manner. Perhaps there is a part of us which was never born and which will never die; a part of us that survives death.

Neuroscience is a new and complex study of our neurology. It shows us how thoughts propagate electrochemically through the brain, giving rise to sensory and motor tasks located in various regions and how information is encoded, stored, and retrieved. Some research suggests that DNA methylation, or prions, maintain long-term memory storage in humans. However, other research isn’t certain that memory is stored inside the nerve cells but in the synaptic gaps between neurons. Karl Lashley was a psychologist and behaviourist remembered for his contributions to the study of learning and memory. He sought to deactivate portions of rats’ brains to find which part held specific memories. Lashley found that despite serious physical impairment from having burned off parts of the rats’ brains, they never lost the memory of the routines he had taught them. Walter Schempp, who revolutionised the construction of MRI machines, documented his theory of quantum holography, having discovered that all sorts of information about objects, including their three-dimensional shape, is carried in the quantum fluctuations of the Zero-point Field, that vast universal memory store I spoke of earlier. Is it possible therefore, that memory and consciousness don’t lie within the tissue of the brain but somewhere outside it? It is worth reading Lynne McTaggart’s book: ‘The Field’ and Ervin Lazlo’s book: ‘Science and the Akashic Field’ for a comprehensive and intellectually stimulating explanation of the integral theory of everything.

The part of us made in God’s likeness and image is incapable of sin, and to propose so is gross blasphemy. There is nothing in the rich spectrum of human activities that could ever offend God, for if we could perturb Him in any way, we would be capable of controlling God’s mood and attitude, and that’s just not possible. God will always remain holy indifferent to anything we do. Our challenge is not to curry favour with an external entity somewhere out in space but rather to question whether we are living in a manner that fosters a better relationship with self. When we strive to find God, we must ultimately go inwards and upwards to reach Him there. I would then instantly find myself in pursuit of my highest truth and in unwavering devotional service to God. To grasp these teachings properly, one ought to read the book: ‘A Course in Miracles’ which is widely regarded as Jesus’ unabridged teachings to his disciples in the upper room.

Just as that non-existent, infinitesimally small point of cosmic singularity held the blueprint for an entire universe, so might we, as infinitely great beings of pure potential, hold the blueprint to be anything of our choosing. At the core of every human is an amazing propensity for greatness. In the non-unquantifiable, incorporeal, ubiquitous essence of every human lies vast potential. Our only inhibitor, the glass ceiling through which we seem incapable of transcending, is our ignorance of our true self.

As I sat there in deep meditation at the funeral, the full impact of these insights coalesced in my being. It had taken thirty-five years to come full circle, to reach a point where I could sit inside a Kingdom Hall, listening to a talk and comfortably identify my highest spiritual self, using the two words that I once detested more than all others: Jehovah and Witness. Having once called myself a Jehovah’s Witness, I realised I need only drop the indefinite article ‘a’ to embrace a much greater state of being: God finding expression through me.

My mother regularly asks the question: ‘When are you coming back to the Truth?’

I can now answer her sincerely: ‘My dearest mother, I am Jehovah witnessing and that is the truth.’

—oooOooo—

If you live in Gauteng, South Africa or plan to travel through here in the future and would like to meet me and share ideas around this topic, please signup to I Am Jehovah Witnessing Meetup to be informed of these regular events.

Why rare moments dig deep into my soul

There are rare moments when experiences dig deep into my soul.

The first time I saw a television set was during the cold wintery days that followed the first landing on the Moon on July 20 1969. Television broadcasting started in South Africa only in 1976, quite a few years after the landing on the Moon. To follow the Moon landing, one had to queue for hours to get a seat at the Johannesburg Planetarium where one could watch the special black-and-white broadcasts that were delayed by a few days. I sat there as a high school senior not knowing whether I was more impressed by the landing or by the miracle of television.

Another such occasion was when I was with a film crew at the Boyden observatory in Bloemfontein waiting for the first visible signs of the impact of a fragment of comet Shoemaker-Levy-9 into the gaseous atmosphere of Jupiter. The comet broke into more than twenty pieces when it strayed too close to Jupiter. Astronomers had observed the comet’s trajectory over preceding weeks and predicted with uncanny accuracy, where and when each fragment would impact. Nobody knew exactly what would happen. That night was a bitterly cold July winter evening in 1994. I stood shivering inside the darkened control room inside the open observatory dome. The telescope peered out into the dark night sky with an unblinking gaze on the largest planet in our solar system. I was anchoring a show that was being broadcast live around the world as all eyes were on Boyden because there in South Africa, we were the first to have a chance to witness it. Not everyone got to see the spectacle unfolding live because they could have been on the other side of the Earth at the time. We were also very lucky because the first impact was on a side of Jupiter visible from Earth. At their closest approach, Earth and Jupiter are some 588 million kilometres apart, so we knew it would take around forty-five minutes for the light emitted by the impact to reach us. Everyone waited very expectantly for any visible evidence and it gave me chance to mull over how amazingly clever humans are to predict the exact time and location of the impact, given the enormous complexities of the orbital equation. On cue, a tumultuous uproar of excitement sprang up in the dome as we clearly saw a dark spot emerging like a growing wound in Jupiter’s atmosphere where the first piece of the comet plunged deeply into the dense gas atmosphere and exploded under the enormous forces brought to bear upon it. The explosion fired back along the entry tube of disturbed atmosphere spewing out a plume of debris.

It’s hard to describe how that experience dug deep into my soul but I now live in a world saturated with the information of similarly incredible discoveries which I can access instantly, anywhere. Younger generations often fail to appreciate how far we’ve come in such a short period of time. I too have become somewhat jaded by the rapid changes in technology and no longer really get excited by them anymore. I now almost expect technology to change and I take it for granted when it does. For anything to really dig deep it needs to be emotional, like the news of an infant rescued alive from the Kathmandu rubble two days after the earthquake, or the dog that risked its life to rescue another dog from sure death on a busy highway.

This week, the outcome of a certain science experiment dug deeply too. The experiment isn’t a new concept and so I was very surprised at my response when I saw the results. I imagine that it was my real, live presence during all of these past events that makes the difference to the way I’m affected by them. Seeing something on television or reading about it in the news creates a mental abstraction which separates me from it. I then appreciate it cognitively and intellectually but not emotionally. Observing it for real has a very different effect on me. It’s the emotional connection that gives it it’s specialness in my soul.

The experiment I saw was with fibroblast cells. They are the main connective tissue cells present in the body and are responsible for making the extracellular matrix and collagen forming the structural framework and playing an important role in tissue repair. Scientists, using some incredibly ingenious methods, deprogrammed a collection of fibroblast cells, regressing them to their undifferentiated stem cell form. Undifferentiated cells have no specific type identification. These fibroblast cells had lost their identity and were no longer behaving as they should. Then using more science magic, the experimenters reprogrammed them, giving them new differentiation and thus a new identity. These cells were successfully transformed into cardiomyocytes, specialised cells that contracted as a single coordinated unit giving rise to a heartbeat.

This is spectacular science indeed. You can read much about it on the internet. As you read my blog however, notice your response to what I’ve just described. I bet you are intellectually impressed (or frightened) by what we as humans can achieve but I’m sure that this information isn’t going to change the way you think today. In the next few hours you might forget about it altogether. That wasn’t my experience. Actually observing the results of the experiment affected me greatly, so greatly in fact that it prompted me to write about it here. As I placed my eyes against the microscope eyepieces and peered down into a plastic container housing a translucent gel no larger than a peppermint, my eyes adjusted to what I was seeing. A multitude of cells lay there in the container and then, in absolute unison, they all contracted together. It was a twitch, a coordinated spasm. These cells were alive and they reacted as one organism. Humans had successfully altered their destiny and the idea blew my mind!

What made all of these events stand out from the multitude of other stuff I’ve learned and experienced? I lived the experience! I write about it in the hope of getting you more involved in life. Whenever you have the chance to experience, observe and interact with real things around you, please do so. Visit the theatre, take a walk in the veld, touch and smell the things around you. The real experience will be far richer than you can ever imagine because all the electronic forms are just that – imagined.

Je suis Charlie

We’re huddled up in a friend’s apartment here in the quiet Alpine village of Lenk to escape today’s grey snowy weather.

The majestically magnificent snowy mountains rising up around us symbolise permanence. Essentially, these mountains are as they have been for millennia. Nature’s change is slow and determined. But today, these mountains are oblivious and unperturbed by the huge shift that took place in the space of just one day in the heart of humankind.

As the Twin Towers crumbled and fell in New York City, so did the hopes of many. After that event, the world would never be the same again. People were no longer trusting and naïve. We became suspicious and fearful and, in as much time as it took gravity to pull the buildings to the ground, it tore apart the old-fashioned ideas of a safe future for us and our children. The free were imprisoned overnight. New self-imposed security measures pried into our personal lives, tearing away our rights to anonymity and privacy. We stretched out our arms and willingly wore the handcuffs that have restrained our movements and undermined our liberties ever since. What else could we do but surrender our fairy tale dreams of safe neighbourhoods, call our children in from the streets, locked our doors and huddle up under our blanket of fear?

Our very own brother began watching – too closely for the likes of many – peeking into our communications and thoughts but we allowed it as a price worth paying to secure our values and ideals. The rights of life we treasured so much, the ones we wrote into our constitutions, somehow slipped into the hands of a few whose ideologies were radically different from our own. As our fears grew, our power haemorrhaged. Further unpredictable acts of violence undermined the ideologies of most liberal societies.

But somehow something changed today. France, and in particular, the people of Paris, showed the world that hope still exists.

Charlie is not a story about a tiny office of cartoonists, satirically poking holes in society, it became a world statement of reclamation: enough is enough; no more. Trust the French to find peaceful solidarity to flip the coin that was once flipped in New York back over again. When people set their minds to it, society can change instantly.

In one day the world changed as quickly as it had in New York. Today, something special happened: a million Parisians marched in patriotic defiance. Je suis Charlie. We are not afraid. They showed the world that things can tilt the other way. I am not afraid of where this world is heading because, as the French proved today, when the chips are down we, the human habitants of this planet, have the power to reclaim what we once thought we’d lost.

Debate around the principles and ethics of hypnosis that arise out of an allegation that a ‘client committed suicide after undergoing hypnosis’

Following a healthy online debate regarding this topic, it’s important that the reader is aware of the following:

The medical doctor who wrote the email heads a well-know facility near Johannesburg and is very well respected in his field. I can’t mention his name because I don’t have his permission to do so. I chose to embed our communication verbatim as it gives the reader chance to draw his or her own conclusions. There is a strong possibility that the doctor may have injected drama into his email to get the urgency of his message across. I have no way of ascertaining whether the patient did or did not commit suicide after visiting a hypnotherapist. I also don’t know whether such a patient exists or not. At this time, the doctor’s comments remain allegations until further evidence emerges to corroborate or dismiss them.


 

Here follows my original post:

A Gauteng-based medical doctor wrote in to the Hypnosis in South Africa website. His email was forwarded to me for comment. It read:

I have recently encountered a case of suicide following hypnosis, when some suppressed memories “came to the surface” during a session and could not be appropriately addressed by the person inducing the hypnosis.  Within the professions we believe that anyone opening the “vault” housing the subconscious, should have a proper background and first hand knowledge of the possible implications. Since hypnosis does exactly that, we consider it a potentially dangerous intervention that should be restricted to health care professionals. Please advise how you ascertain that members of this community have the necessary background to practice this potent intervention safely. Thank you in anticipation for your response.

By absolute coincidence, I know the doctor very well. Ten days before receiving his email, a client consulted me who so happens to be a member of staff in this doctor’s employ. My heart sank. The client hadn’t been too distressed at the time of the visit and showed no signs of suicide ideation. Might it be that she hid something so deeply from everyone? Had the client gone away and committed suicide? What ramifications could flow from this for me and for hypnosis in South Africa in general? This is a situation every hypnosis practitioner fears, especially in a country where the law is a bit fuzzy on the matter.

I quickly placed a call to the client’s telephone and hoped for the best. She answered and I replied: ‘I’m so sorry, I seem to have called the wrong person, but anyway, it’s nice to say hello.’ It really was nice to hear her voice! I was obviously very relieved that it wasn’t the client I worked with but soon transferred my worry onto the other unknown practitioner who might now be in deep trouble. I formulated my reply to the doctor (I’ve edited it a bit to protect the doctor’s identity):

Well I never. I wouldn’t have imagined that I’d have the pleasure of this conversation with you, given that we chat so frequently about [other] matters.

Firstly, please understand that I know nothing of the details of this matter except for the email you sent to www.hypnosis.org.za which was forwarded to me […]. I also cannot speak as a mandated representative of the whole hypnosis community and my comments presented here are purely my personal opinions. These  beliefs of mine so happened to motivate me to form the Hypnosis Guild of Southern Africa in 2011, (www.hypnosisguild.co.za) a platform design to address, debate and solve some of these hot issues.

Furthermore, without knowing any of the details about the practitioner in question, his or her background, where or with whom he or she qualified, the circumstances particular to this case, etc., I cannot comment on his or her competency and can only make generalised statements about the practice of hypnosis in South Africa. None of my comments are meant to directly address the practitioner who is alleged to have been so negligent. There is also a caveat: since we don’t know whether this therapist took the necessary steps to determine his or her client’s mental state prior to working together, it is possible that the client might have obfuscated his or her suicide ideation and thus left the hypnotherapist operating blindly.

Your account about the person who committed suicide after hypnosis treatment horrifies me a lot. I also share your concerns about the educational and ethical standards of some hypnotherapy practitioners and question their technical approach in matters such as this. Regrettably, the art of hypnosis isn’t a difficult one to learn. Inducing trance is quite easily achieved. […] Furthermore, stage hypnosis often gives the illusion of the supposed mystical powers of hypnotic trance. This mystique easily allures some of the young and uninitiated, leaving them with the erroneous belief that, once they’ve learned the art of trance, they will have some kind of superpower to attract girls, baffle their peers and heal the sick.

We have several categories of practitioners in South Africa. Thankfully, the vast majority have undergone properly supervised training with tried and tested curricula, equivalent in hours to those required for NLP Practitioners, Life Coaches, etc. Let’s call them ‘commercially trained therapists’. There is also a growing class of ‘university trained therapists’ too. These folk might often lack the technical finesse of trance induction and suggestion as taught to the ‘commercial therapists’ because academic hypnosis training is usually limited to a shortened version of training within the much wider scope of a psychotherapy curriculum at university. What the ‘university therapists’ often lack in versatility, they make up for in psychotherapy training, diagnostics and intervention skills. The University of the Orange Free State is, to my knowledge, the only academic institute in South Africa offering a government approved post graduate hypnosis qualification (SAQA 15904).

These two classes of practitioner (the ‘commercially trained’ and the ‘university trained’) often find a professional symbiotic working relationship. It’s not uncommon to find ‘university therapists’ happily referring matters like weight management, quit smoking, sports motivation and other such cases to their ‘commercially trained’ counterparts. Properly trained ‘commercial practitioners’ will readily refer suspicions of mental illnesses to psychotherapists for proper investigation, diagnosis and treatment.

I know that ‘commercial’ hypnosis training offered in South Africa meets and exceeds similar training in most other countries, except for Australia and New Zealand, where these governments insist on additional counselling qualifications to augment pure hypnosis training. The trend in South Africa is to follow Australia and New Zealand’s lead and two of our local training centres are already underwritten by the Australian Hypnotherapy Association. Many South African residents moving and wishing to practice as hypnotherapists in Australasia usually enrol as LifeLine and/or Hospice volunteers in order to gain the necessary counselling qualifications needed to be recognised abroad. The Australian Hypnotherapy Association recently accepted Intec’s Counselling Courses (http://www.intec.edu.za/) as suitable qualifications which, when bundled with local hypnotherapy training, is recognised and acceptable prior learning, sufficient for registration in that country. Given that a pilot’s licence requires a minimum of 40-hours experience, most South African hypnosis training institutions require a minimum of some 250 to 500 supervised training hours to qualify for non-medical hypnotherapist certification. Understandably, this is far less than the years of university training that goes into a psychology doctorate, but then, the ‘commercial’ hypnotherapist has a much narrower focus and limited scope versus the far wider licence given to ‘university trained hypnotherapists’ registered as psychotherapists with the Health Professions Council.

Hypnosis practitioners who scare me the most are often self-taught or who acquired their ‘qualifications’ online without any classroom practice or internship – sometimes, through some very dubious means. These ‘self-proclaimed therapists’ often advertise services and compete alongside us professional practitioners. Unfortunately, there is no South African national register where potential clients can perform a certification check before engaging with their practitioner of choice – something we’re trying to do as a community through the Guild and other structures. Psychological damage is surely inevitable when clients entrust complex medical matters to ill-trained, unscrupulous and unskilled practitioners. This is not a dilemma found solely in the world of hypnotherapy – it’s found in all other walks of life too where practitioners step beyond their licensed mandate and into the realms of the specialist. It’s often difficult to detect and equally difficult to police. But, thankfully, in most cases, free-market forces soon weed out these types of individuals. A healthy practice is built on years of word-of-mouth referral. Unhappy clients are bad for business. Sadly however, there are such cases, like the one you brought to our attention that ends tragically.

There are a few hard-and-fast ethical guidelines for the professional ‘commercially trained therapist’: medical assessment, diagnosis and medical treatment may only be conducted by registered medical personnel. This limits the scope of ‘commercially trained therapists’ who may not assume these roles under any circumstances. All properly trained non-medical hypnotherapists accept and abide by this rule. As is equally prudent in the medical world, if there is any doubt – to refer to a specialist. Non-medical hypnotherapists are taught to do just that: to refer all medical, mental and physical issues to appropriate medical experts. Problems arise when practitioners step out of line and become somewhat messianic in their approach, believing that they have a miracle cure to solve all problems. Well-trained, ethical ‘commercial therapists’ will check with their clients to make sure that they have recently been checked out by a medical practitioner before commencing any hypnosis trance work. This would even apply to something as routine as weight management, as there could be underlying medical conditions that need to be addressed first before resolving them through any form of hypnosis. A common practice amongst ‘commercially trained therapists’ is to seek a doctor’s note (tacit or written) stating that he or she has ‘cleared’ the patient for alternative therapy. I usually ask: ‘Does your doctor know that you are seeing me for this condition and is your doctor happy that we work together? Because, if your doctor doesn’t know, perhaps it’s best for you to have your condition checked out medically for your own peace of mind.’ This is common practice during the intake interview when the hypnotherapist asks his or her client for a full medical background to their condition. If ‘commercially trained hypnotherapists’ stay within the bounds of their scope of reference, and if they are willing to obey the golden referral rule, sad occurrences like the one you describe, should never, under reasonably practical circumstances, occur.

What we do with unscrupulous practitioners is under much debate. This is one of the many reasons I founded the Hypnosis Guild – to create a common platform for continued education and to encourage the non-medical hypnosis community to act as a self-governing watchdog to monitor local practices. Whilst this email and the objectives of the Guild aren’t consoling factors in this unfortunate incident, I hope they shed some general light on the matter of ethics, training and operational boundaries. There is a useful synergy between the medical world and the non-medical hypnotherapist which offers greater scope to the public at large. I hope I leave you with a warmer feeling of comfort towards professional non-medical practitioners who, with the right intentions and scruples do a lot of good work for a lot of people.

If you’d like to confidentially share more information about your case and the practitioner in question, I’d be glad to discuss this with you privately in person [… and] thank you for taking the trouble to raise your concerns. It’s important for us all to become acutely aware of the implications of our actions.

My reply helped still troubled waters. Here is the doctor’s reply:

Tom, thank you for a well composed and thorough response. It is much appreciated, knowing the value of your time.

From the outset I wish to put on record that if I knew you were involved in this organization I would have had no misgivings about it. I have never had any hesitation to refer the most complex and potentially intense cases to your good self and will continue to take such liberties in future.

It is for the sake of all well trained therapists that we need to keep up the standard of hypnosis practice. I am scared that some people will enter the field with only a limited background and experience which could endanger their clients. As I know your thoroughness and ethics I would gladly accept any therapist having been certified by an organization over which you exert overview.

What concerned me is that the bulk e-mail of which I received one appeared to market this training to just about anyone, which is why I needed to know what overview is done over practitioners qualified by the courses offered in this mail. Do for example they receive adequate training and in particular continued professional development (CPD)? All over the world professionals are now legally required to keep up to date to retain our registration…

Anyway, as always I do regard your professionalism highly and often wish our logistics were more conducive to closer integration and cooperation.

There’s a lot of interesting nuance in the doctor’s reply which we can all take to heart in a variety of different ways. Ethical training organisations can be proud of their high standards and the stringent entry requirements into the profession. We can all be proud of the quality of our training when mapped against other countries around the world. And, we can all become alert to the potential dangers of operating outside our mandated terms of reference. Ethical guidelines, proper training and post-graduate supervision are there for good reason. There is no shortage of opportunity to keep one’s skills current as every solid training institution is this country offers refresher courses, and regular practice workshops, many of which are open to all practitioners, regardless of where you studied.

Link

Turning hypnosis scripts into a powerful learning tool

Turning hypnosis scripts into a powerful learning tool

As twice winner of an international hypnosis scriptwriting competition [2011 & 2013], I was honoured to be asked to judge South Africa’s first competition of its kind. It made me think about the value of hypnosis scripts, whether they work in practice and if there is any benefit to the hypnotherapist. This is the article I contributed to Hypnosis in South Africa.

Link

Quit Smoking using Hypnosis

Quit Smoking using Hypnosis

I’m often asked to help clients kick their smoking habit. It’s a well-known fact that hypnosis is a pretty good way to achieve this. Like most other habits, smoking isn’t only a nicotine addiction but has many deeply rooted psychological issues that often underpin the habit. Having taught this procedure to many other hypnotherapists, and, having won an international scriptwriting award in 2013 for my work in this field, I feel reasonably qualified to make the comments I have in the associated article.

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Madibahood: an essay about forgiveness and non-judgement

Madibahood: an essay about forgiveness and non-judgement

Nelson Mandala’s death last year [2013] brought a nation to a standstill, and the world to the awareness of the passing of another great person. Many people support Mandela’s political ideologies, many don’t. Whatever one’s view of the old man, his life left me pondering some of the greater issues in life: qualities Madiba stood for, and for which the world saluted him. This article is about my thoughts at the time of his death and how they inspired me to do more.

Link

Transcript of my book launch speech: It Is What It Is

Transcript of my book launch speech: It Is What It Is

In August last year [2013] I launched my book, It Is What It Is – Grace through acceptance, and invited a group of close friends to celebrate the occasion with me. Some of them, and others since then, asked for a transcript of my speech. Here it is for you to enjoy.