‘We’re here to get each other through this thing, whatever it is.’
Mark Vonnegut to his father, Kurt.
Recent advances in Neuroscience and Psychology present us with an enhanced understanding of how our minds work, and offer us ways in which we can minimize our suffering, optimize our normal function, and help us to achieve our potential to flourish. Coupled with the wisdom of more than 2,500 years of traditional spiritual practices, we have an unprecedented opportunity to blossom individually and as a species. At the same time, we find ourselves at a crisis-point, and if we do not seize this opportunity very soon, we may not live to tell the tale.
From the age of about 14, and filled with teenage angst, my friend Padraic and I set about trying to find the ‘Golden Key’. Sometime later I was joined by my brother Finn on the journey, and over the years we’ve tried and tested various ways of finding ‘The Truth’, most of which were dead-ends, some of which were of value. Of course, some would say that the seeking itself is the problem, but for me to give up seeking just leads to apathy and torpor. So I’ve just had to keep on keeping on.
I was lucky enough to be clever in school, and the Christian Brothers in Colaiste Mhuire in Dublin educated me. In contrast to some others, they taught me well, and I am grateful to them. I was lucky to have the inspiration of a teacher named Joe Costello who saw some potential in me.
Unfortunately, this was never realised and I went to University College Dublin to study Medicine, which I found cloying and uninspiring. I graduated in 1981, and not knowing what to do I went to the wilds of Newfoundland, Canada to work as a General Practitioner. After a year and a half I went home to Ireland and drifted from one medical job to another. I eventually wound up in Psychiatry, which seemed the least worst, and I’ve been there ever since. I can’t say I ever a vocation to be a doctor or a psychiatrist. I got my Postgraduate Membership of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in 1989.
In 1990 I immigrated to England, worked as a Clinical Lecturer in Psychiatry at the University of Leicester for three years, and as a Consultant Psychiatrist in the National Health Service in Scotland, where I met my wife. In 2000 we moved to the south of England, to the beautiful New Forest where we’ve been ever since. I worked in another NHS job until 2007. I then moved to private practice at the Priory Hospital Southampton.
We have two children, Donal, aged 15, and Rachel, aged 13.
From a very early age I had a fascination with science and I had read Children’s Britannica from cover to cover by the aged of 12. I then became interested in Chemistry and did many dangerous experiments in my room, causing explosions and filling the house with toxic fumes on many occasions. I wanted to pursue a career in Nuclear Physics, but I didn’t have the maths brain to pull that off. I was also attracted to Astronomy, but the same thing applied. So I ended up as a physician.
Throughout those formative years, and ever since, the same burning desire to known ‘The Answer’ to Life, Death and the Universe has continued unabated. In my early twenties I discovered Zen and I’ve read everything I could my hands on. I’ve explored Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, a bit of Sufism and every weird and wacky therapy, idea, and philosophy available- all the usual suspects, in fact. Over the years I dabbled in meditation, but it is only recently that I have begun to put my head (and body!) on it.
In the past few years I have discovered Neuroscience, and how its discoveries have informed the age-old quest for self-discovery and realisation.
Happily for me, I have never seen any conflict between science and spirituality, and both sit comfortably side-by-side in my understanding. In fact, I find it hard to see what all the fuss is about, and why, in general, modern scientists seem feel the need to deny their spiritual selves in favour of some impoverished and primitive cosmogony. I’ll have more to say about that later, but for now I think it’s important to say that I believe that the healing of that fracture is one of the biggest tasks confronting us today.
I cannot possibly do justice to the wealth of information out there, but I would like to share with you some of the ideas, practices and therapies that I have discovered and found useful in negotiating the adventure we find ourselves sharing.
This is by no means exhaustive, and merely represents a sample of the things I have come across and found of interest.
In addition, I will describe some of the pit-falls and wrong-turnings we have made in getting to where we are, which need to be urgently addressed if we are not to lose our way.
Above all, I propose to suggest practices and techniques, which you can explore for yourself, which may be of use along the way.
Many times I have retreated from sharing these ideas, believing that I ‘need to sort myself out first’. But I am now coming to the understanding that we are all wounded, and will always be so. If we are until we are perfect before we can live, I think we will, to paraphrase Hubert Benoit, ‘wait in vain until our death’.
The following pages are roughly organised around the these themes:
Rewire your Brain: Attention and Neuroplasticity
The Autonomic Nervous System
The Body and the Brain
The Limbic System
The Vagus Nerves
The Frontal Lobes
Science and Religion
Religion and Spirituality
Worldviews and Philosophy
The Law of Attraction
Meaning and Purpose in life
Practices and Techniques
Consider it a work in progress…