Friday, January 29, 2016


Having no destination,
I am never lost.

I am an iconoclast and a heretic. I reject all claims and assertions of supernatural religion and authority. In the words of Thomas Paine, my own mind is my own church. So, it is no surprise that I have a soft spot—no, not that one—for other iconoclasts, heretics and freethinkers. Ikkyū [pictured left] was one such man. He was a 15th century Japanese Zen Buddhist monk. He not only revitalized Zen but also had a profound influence upon the Japanese tea ceremony

Now, Zen has always sought to cut through the crap so as to arrive at a direct, immediate and largely intuitive experience of life, but Ikkyū’s radical approach was really something to behold. He was an iconoclast extraordinaire. In any field of any endeavour we need the man or woman who says, ‘But the Emperor has no clothes!’ That is why I’ve always loved the American comedian Groucho Marx, who spent his entire life deflating the pompous, the pretentious and the phony. We need more people like that.

Here’s the second most profound piece of metaphysical wisdom---there is nowhere to go. I’ve told you this story before, but I’ll tell it again. A young man is on his way home. He comes to the banks of a wide, and very deep, river. He finds he is on the ‘wrong’ side of the river. The river is fast flowing, with numerous rapids. There is no bridge or other means available for crossing the river. The young man sees an elderly Buddhist monk standing on the other side of the river, so he yells over to the monk, ‘Oh, wise one, can you tell me how to get to the other side of this river?’ The monk ponders for a moment, looks up and down the river, and yells back, ‘My son, you are on the other side.’ Yes, wherever we want to 'go', we are already there. The young man wants to get to the other side of the river, only to be told that he is already on the other side of the river. To reach the other side of the river is to see that this very side here is the other side. When there is no separation in our mind between one side and the other, then in that very moment we are one with the very livingness of life flowing through us and all things. 

The author at a Japanese tea ceremony.

And the first most profound piece of metaphysical wisdom is this. Well, it follows directly from the first. It is this---truth is right where you are. People strive for worldly success and for the approval and admiration of others but those things will not take you away from yourself—not for long, anyway. Truth—also known as reality and life—is right where you are. All we need to do is to see things as they really are in all their directness and immediacy. That’s where mindfulness comes in.

Listen to these words from Ikkyū:

Like vanishing dew,
a passing apparition
or the sudden flash
of lightning -- already gone --
thus should one regard one's self.

The folly and blind hope of supernatural religion is that we are going to live forever in one place or another, with one such place supposedly being more attractive than the other. I do not believe that. We come from dust and to dust we return. Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. In one sense, we remain part of life’s self-expression—for life cannot other than be. That, as I see it, is the true meaning of those words, ‘The spirit returns to God who gave it’ (Ec 12:7), but I am in absolutely no doubt that at the point of death our consciousness as a separate, thinking, feeling individual together with what we call our personality, comes to an abrupt and very final end. If you want to believe otherwise, that is your prerogative. As I see it, we are, in the words of Ikkyū, like ‘vanishing dew’, a ‘passing apparition’, a ‘sudden flash’. In the words of Shakespeare, taken from what is my favourite play of his, The Tempest:

…       …       …       …     We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

Ikkyū is, however, saying more than that. He is making a comment about how we should regard ourselves. Most of us take ourselves far too seriously, thinking that we will be remembered long after we are gone. A few of us will live on longer in the memories of others. As George Eliot expressed it in her poem 'The Choir Invisible':

Oh, may I join the choir invisible
Of those immortal dead who live again
In minds made better by their presence; live
In pulses stirred to generosity,
In deeds of daring rectitude, in scorn
For miserable aims that end with self,
In thoughts sublime that pierce the night like stars,
And with their mild persistence urge men's search
To vaster issues.

That is very sweet sentiment but the plain and simple truth of the matter is this---most of us will be completely forgotten in two or three generations. How's that for a reality check?

Lake Ashi, Kanagawa Prefecture, Honshū, Japan.
Photo taken by the author.

Ikkyū had much to say about so-called sacred texts. Now, don’t get me wrong. Most sacred texts contain some helpful advice on the art of living—along with a lot of unhelpful and divisive nonsense. The task is to separate the wheat from the staff. Listen to what Ikkyū has to say about sacred texts:

Studying texts and stiff meditation can make you lose your Original Mind.
A solitary tune by a fisherman, though, can be an invaluable treasure.
Dusk rain on the river, the moon peeking in and out of the clouds;
Elegant beyond words, he chants his songs night after night.

…       …       …       …

I've burnt all the holy pages I used to carry 
but poems flare in my heart.

The concept of ‘original mind’ in Zen is a most important one. Imagine for a moment that you had not been brought up in the faith or belief system of your parents or particular culture. Indeed, imagine that you had not been inculcated in any way to believe this or that about life. You would then have a mind which was entirely culturally free and unconditioned. Such is the nature of your ‘original mind’. Is it possible to have such a mind today? Well, people such as J. Krishnamurti say that it is indeed possible for the mind to decondition itself entirely. For my part, I am still working on the task.

I love what Ikkyū has to say about poetry. My late father used to say that there was more wisdom in the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám than in The Bible. Maybe. Maybe not. I think Dad was telling me more about what he didn’t or couldn’t believe as opposed to which work contained more wisdom. After all, The Bible contains some great poetry as well, and the Book of Ecclesiastes has a similar tone to much of its writing as the Rubáiyát, although the latter does seem to be promoting a more earthy approach to life and its fleeting pleasures.

Take a good look at the religious fanatic. It does not matter which religion he or she is fanatical about. The fanatic has completely lost their original mind. He or she can no longer see and appreciate things as they really are. Everything gets filtered through, and distorted by, their belief system. Yes, the same thing can happen to the atheist and nonbeliever. However, Ikkyū is making the point that any study of sacred or spiritual books, as well as meditative practices, can result in your losing your original mind. One good way of deconditioning your mind, and returning bit by bit to your original mind, is to spend more time communing with nature. That is very good advice.

Well, I haven’t burnt all the ‘holy pages’ in my home library. There are still hundreds and hundreds of books on religion and spirituality, as well as on many other subjects, on my bookshelves. However, I have burnt something, and that something is this---the mindset that says, ‘This, you must believe’, ‘The Bible says …’, ‘God has spoken His final word in …’, and ‘There is only one way … .’

You are never lost when you know the way home. And where is ‘home’? Well, it is right here, where you are now. Look around you. Look within you. What do you see? What do you feel? It is life. You are an expression of the spirit of life. That life did not begin with your birth. It will not end with your death. Recover your original mind, and start seeing and experiencing things as they really are.






Thursday, January 21, 2016


Mindfulness in parenting significantly reduces children's stress levels, according to a new study by Professor Lea Waters [pictured left], who holds the Gerry Higgins Chair in Positive Psychology and is the Director of the Centre for Positive Psychology, Melbourne Graduate School of Education, at The University of Melbourne

Professor Waters said that child stress is becoming increasingly widespread with 31 per cent of Australian children feeling ‘very stressed,’ and 40 per cent feeling that they worry too much.

‘This stress and tension often leads to children having physical symptoms such as headaches, abdominal pain and difficulty sleeping,’ Professor Waters said. ‘We know from past research that when a child is stressed they draw on their parents for support, and that their parents have the power to diminish or increase their children's stress levels. We now have strong evidence that children benefit when they're parents are more mindful of their emotions, and pause before they react with anger, stress or frustration.’

Professor Waters said mindfulness can aid emotional support by helping parents to regulate their own attention and emotion.

‘Mindfulness is more than just a “buzzword”. It's about being present and giving each task your full attention,’ said Professor Waters. ‘Taking the time to listen and understand your child's problems, promotes trust and emotional connection leading to a richer and more authentic relationship.

‘It also teaches children how to be open and aware of the whole situation including their own thoughts, feelings and sensations, which in turn makes them less stressed.’

Resource: Waters, L. ‘The Relationship between Child Stress, Child Mindfulness and Parent Mindfulness.’ Psychology, 2016, 7, 40-51. Published Online Jan 2016 in SciRes.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: Please read the Terms of Use and Disclaimer. The information provided on or linked to this blog is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your medical practitioner or other qualified health provider because of something you have read on this blog or elsewhere. For immediate advice or support call (in Australia) Lifeline on 13 1 1 14 or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800. For information, advice and referral on mental illness contact (in Australia) the SANE Helpline on 1800 18 SANE (7263) go online via In other countries call the relevant mental health care emergency hotline or simply dial your emergency assistance telephone number and ask for help.

Friday, January 15, 2016


Zeros -- that is, persons who are nonentities -- are not born. They are made. Many are almost entirely self-made. Of course, society plays a significant role in the creation of a zero. 

Are you a zero? Do you live with one? Do you work for one? (It's always easier to see the 'zero factor' in others.)

Of course, in truth no one is really a zero. Each human being is a person of inherent and infinite worth and dignity -- a person among persons -- and a vital part of the interdependent web of all existence. However, many people think and act as if they were zeros, and in so doing they tend to become zeros over time. That's a very sad state of affairs.

Now, one of my favourite playwrights is Elmer Rice (1892-1967) [pictured right]. He was also a screenwriter, novelist, essayist, theatre owner, producer, director and activist. Previously, he had studied law and was admitted to the Bar in 1913. In the late 1930s he organized the New York office of the Federal Theatre Project, the Roosevelt Administration's New Deal program to employ out-of-work theatre people. He was also a founding member of the American Civil Liberties Union, cofounded the Playwrights' Company, a theatrical production company, and served as president of the Dramatists Guild of America. Known for his use of experimental technique, Rice is often credited with having been the first to employ on stage the motion-picture technique of flashbacks in the court-room drama On Trial. He also wrote an autobiography entitled Minority Report (1963) as well as The Living Theatre (1959), being a collection of essays on the theatre.

Rice, who was greatly influenced by expressionism, wrote over 50 full-length plays, as well as a number of screenplays, teleplays, one-act plays, novels, short stories and articles. His major plays include the Pulitzer Prize-winning Street Scene, a gritty, realistic portrait of life in a New York tenement block in the late 1920s, the equally gritty Counsellor-at-Law, being a powerful drama about a Jewish lawyer whose past comes back to haunt him, The Subway, in which a woman is driven to suicide as a result of the corrosive effects of puritanical morality and guilt after having been victimized by an artist, and We, the People, being a powerful indictment of Depression-era social injustice as well as racial prejudice. I’ve already discussed another of his well-known plays, the romantic comedy-modernist psychoanalytic fantasy Dream Girl, in a couple of previous posts [see here and here]. In this post I will discuss the tragicomic The Adding Machine, which is a modern classic. (Yes, I know that’s an oxymoron.) John Russell Taylor, in The Penguin Dictionary of the Theatre (London: Penguin Books, 1966), writes that The Adding Machine was ‘one of the first plays to adapt expressionist techniques to the English-speaking stage’ (p 228).

By way of background, in 1915 Rice, a realistic leftist but not a member of any political party, had made a visit to the Ford Motor Company plant in Detroit. The visit apparently left a lasting impression on him -- mainly a negative one, it seems -- and is said to have been the direct inspiration for The Adding Machine. One thing is clear. The Adding Machine, a ‘dark’ play written by Rice in 1922, ‘presents the universe as a heartless corporate enterprise in which human beings are raw material’ (Trevor R Giffiths and Carole Woddis, The Back Stage Theater Guide, New York: Back Stage Books, 1991, p 307). In his writings the always politically progressive Rice exposed the shallowness and selfishness of the American dream while rejecting as unrealistic the notion of a socialist utopia. He saw the theatre as a platform that could be used to exhort much-needed social reform. Disliking commercial Broadway, Rice once wrote that the Broadway stage need not 'be devoted exclusively to gags, wisecraks, tap-dancing, knockabout farce, fustian romance and polite adulteries', and railed against church-dicated morality, censorship, theatre critics, militarism and resistance to political change.

The Adding Machine sums up the human condition pretty well, at least the condition sadly ‘lived’ by all too many people. The play’s protagonist Zero, a white-collar slave, is quite literally a … zero. A cipher. A nonentity. A nobody. He says, 'I'm just a regular guy like anybody else.' A sex-starved accountant, he lives a dull, dreary, dehumanized, mindless and conditioned life, adding numbers at a desk in an office at a faceless company, performing the same operation over and over, day in and day out, for 51 weeks of the year. Hardworking and dedicated, Zero is exploited by his heartless, unappreciative capitalist boss, and his life at home with a constantly nagging wife, who seems to get a perverse pleasure out of telling Zero that he’s a failure, is pretty awful as well. ‘Sittin’ for twenty-five years on the same chair, addin’ up figures. What about bein’ store-manager? I guess you forgot about that, didn’t you? … You ain’t much to be proud of’, says the wife.

Zero’s existential angst and self-blame are palpable, but he has little understanding of the hopelessness of his condition and is unable to learn from his mistakes. His only pleasure in life, at least for a time, was in peeping at an undressed prostitute in a room across the tenement airshaft, but even that pleasure goes after Zero’s wife forces him to report the woman to the police. Sic transit gloria mundi. However, lest we start feeling too sorry for Zero, he is very much an anti-hero. He is a racist, a misogynist and an anti-Semite. He may be trapped in a small machine-dominated world, but he is very much trapped by his own limited, negative thinking, lack of vision and general state of mindlessness. How many of us are like Zero? Ponder on that thought for a moment.

After 25 years of faithful service to the company -- he never missed a single day of work -- Zero ends up stabbing his boss to death with a bill spike after being told that he was being fired and replaced by, yes, a machine (‘efficiency must be the first consideration … no other alternative .. efficiency—economy—business—business—BUSINESS’, said the boss immediately before his despatch). 

Zero is tried, found guilty -- he admits his guilt but blames the boss as well as ‘them lawyers’ and ‘the figgers in my head’ -- and is duly executed. He is sent to the Elysian Fields which turns out to be such a ‘pleasant place’ that, as an after-life, it is almost as insufferable as life on earth. Zero is put to work on a celestial adding machine. Worse is yet to follow, for Zero is told that he is a waste of space, so his soul will be sent back to earth to be reused. Put bluntly, the greatly embittered Zero will have to ‘do it all again’ (shades of Friedrich Nietzsche’s ‘eternal return’). The play ends with Zero following a very attractive girl appropriately named Hope (who may not actually exist) off stage. ‘Oh, Hope! Wait for me! I’ll be right with you! I’m on my way!’ says Zero. The stage direction says, 'He stumbles out eagerly.' Ha! Like so many of us, Zero stumbles his way through life, forever clutching at a vain hope -- actually, an illusion -- of a lasting and satisfying pleasure.

A photo of the original stage production of The Adding Machine.
The influence of expressionism is obvious.

There are some wonderful lines in the play. Take, for example, this exchange between Zero and Lieutenant Charles, who is the boss of the Elysian Fields, that occurs near the end of the play:

CHARLES. You'll be a baby again—a bald, red-faced little animal, and then you'll go through it all again. There'll be millions of others like you—all with their mouths open, squalling for food. And then when you get a little older you'll begin to learn things—and you'll learn all the wrong things and learn them all in the wrong way. You'll eat the wrong food and wear the wrong clothes and you'll live in swarming dens where there's no light and no air! You'll learn to be a liar and a bully and a braggart and a coward and a sneak. You'll learn to fear the sunlight and to hate beauty. By that time you'll be ready for school. There they'll tell you the truth about a great many things that you don't give a damn about and they'll tell you lies about all the things you ought to know—and about all the things you want to know they'll tell you nothing at all. When you get through you'll be equipped for your life-work. You'll be ready to take a job.

ZERO. [Eagerly] What'll my job be? Another adding machine?

CHARLES. Yes. But not one of these antiquated adding ma­chines. It will be a superb, super-hyper-adding ma­chine, as far from this old piece of junk as you are from God. It will be something to make you sit up and take notice, that adding machine. It will be an adding machine which will be installed in a coal mine and which will record the individual output of each miner. As each miner down in the lower galleries takes up a shovelful of coal, the impact of his shovel will automatically set in motion a graphite pencil in your gallery. The pencil will make a mark in white upon a blackened, sensitized drum. Then your work comes in. With the great toe of your right foot you release a lever which focuses a violet ray on the drum. The ray playing upon and through the white mark, falls upon a selenium cell which in turn sets the keys of the adding apparatus in motion. In this way the indi­vidual output of each miner is recorded without any human effort except the slight pressure of the great toe of your right foot.

ZERO. [In breathless, round-eyed wonder] Say, that'll be some machine, won't it?

CHARLES. Some machine is right. It will be the culmination of human effort—the final triumph of the evolutionary process. For millions of years the nebulous gases swirled in space. For more millions of years the gases cooled and then through inconceivable ages they hard­ened into rocks. And then came life. Floating green things on the waters that covered the earth. More millions of years and a step upward—an animate or­ganism in the ancient slime. And so on—step by step, down through the ages—a gain here, a gain there—the mollusc, the fish, the reptile, them mammal, man! And all so that you might sit in the gallery of a coal mine and operate the super-hyper-adding machine with the great toe of your right foot!

ZERO. Well, then—I ain't so bad, after all.

CHARLES. You're a failure, Zero, a failure. A waste product. A slave to a contraption of steel and iron. The ani­mal's instincts, but not his strength and skill. The animal's appetites, but not his unashamed indulgence of them. True, you move and eat and digest and excrete and reproduce. But any microscopic organism can do as much. Well—time's up! Back you go—back to your sunless groove—the raw material of slums and wars—the ready prey of the first jingo or demagogue or political adventurer who takes the trouble to play upon your ignorance and credulity and provincialism. You poor, spineless, brainless boob—I’m sorry for you!

Another photo of the original stage production of The Adding Machine.
Once again, we see expressionism in action.

‘You’re a failure, Zero, a failure … [a] waste product … [a] poor, spineless, brainless boob.’ As I said, Zero is very much an anti-hero. After he’s told by Lieutenant Charles what is going to happen to him, Zero cries out, ‘What did you tell me so much for? Couldn’t you just let me go, thinkin’ everythin’ was goin’ to be all right?’ Zero is like so many people who prefer the supposed bliss of ignorance, delusion and conditioning to the light of truth and wisdom. Very sad. Elmer Rice would have us—wake up … and get real! However, for the Zeros of this world it’s a case of … plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

The Indian spiritual teacher J. Krishnamurti railed against conditioning and its effects. Conditioning, in Rice’s words, means that we ‘begin to learn things’, ‘learn all the wrong things’, and ‘learn them all in the wrong way’. It means, again quoting Rice, being told ‘the truth about a great many things that you don't give a damn about’ while being told ‘lies about all the things you ought to know’. It means becoming ‘equipped for your life-work’ and being ready to ‘take a job’. In the process, we lose so much of ourselves and become slaves to others, to machines, and to technology. We cease thinking for ourselves. We become normopaths, but the truth is we are hardly normal at all.

However, in order to live mindfully we must let go of our conditioning, that is, our many beliefs, dogmas, opinions, speculations, prejudices and predilections about how life supposedly is or ought to be. Conditioning is the past, and locks us into the past. When we are trapped in the past, we are no longer present to life as it unfolds from one moment to the next. That’s not the end of it. Conditioning represents other persons’ understanding of reality or truth, it is not truth itself. We need to see things-as-they-really-are in all their directness and immediacy, and that requires a deconditioned and free but responsible mind. The good news is that the mind can indeed free itself from its own conditioning, but first you must be prepared to let go of the conditioning spoken of by the character Charles in The Adding Machine.

Some of Zero’s last words before his execution are these --- ‘Suppose you was me, now … Suppose you was me---.’ Don’t be a Zero, a failure, a spineless, brainless boob, a normopath. Live mindfully--and freely. Refuse to be trapped in someone else’s world or one of your own making.

Note. A generally disappointing film version of The Adding Machine appeared in 1969, with Milo O’Shea as Zero and Phyllis Diller as Zero’s wife.

Acknowledgments. The Adding Machine: A Play in Seven Acts (New York: Samuel French, Inc) by Elmer L Rice, with a foreword by Philip Moeller. Copyright © 1922, 1929 by Elmer L Rice. Copyright © 1923 by Doubleday, Page & Company. Copyright © 1949, 1950, 1956 (all in renewal) by Elmer L Rice. All rights reserved.


Monday, January 11, 2016


Mindfulness meditation helps people with intellectual disabilities and autism spectrum disorders (ASD) reduce their mental and physical problems. 

That is the thrust of the research findings contained in a recently published eBook entitled A Mindfulness Intervention for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders: New Directions in Research and Practice.

The book presents emerging research on the effectiveness of mindfulness methods in reducing behavioural problems associated with ASD in children and synthesizes current research and theories on the therapeutic uses of mindfulness, specifically for people living with developmental disabilities.

In addition, the book examines a promising new study in which mothers of children with ASD learn mindfulness techniques for their own use and are then trained to teach the methods to their children. The book concludes with a report of post-study findings and a discussion of practical and methodological issues regarding mindfulness interventions for ASD.

In short, mindfulness meditation has been shown to be effective for reducing aggression, both physical and verbal, as well as deviant sexual arousal, for quitting smoking and losing weight in people with ASD conditions, and for alleviating anxiety, depression, and stress-related physiological symptoms. These effects were either assessed against the condition of participants before their mindfulness training or individuals with similar disabilities who did not learn mindfulness.

eBook: Hwang, Yoon-Suk, and Patrick Kearney. A Mindfulness Intervention for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders: New Directionsin Research and Practice. ISBN 978-3-319-18962-8. Springer. 3 September 2015. 150 pp.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: Please read the Terms of Use and Disclaimer. The information provided on or linked to this blog is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your medical practitioner or other qualified health provider because of something you have read on this blog or elsewhere. For immediate advice or support call (in Australia) Lifeline on 13 1 1 14 or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800. For information, advice and referral on mental illness contact (in Australia) the SANE Helpline on 1800 18 SANE (7263) go online via In other countries call the relevant mental health care emergency hotline or simply dial your emergency assistance telephone number and ask for help.

Monday, January 4, 2016


Over the years I have been called upon to commit to memory a speech, poem or monologue from a play. On a couple of occasions I have acted in plays where I needed to learn whole lines of variable length and complexity. I have never found this an easy task, and I must confess that I find the task even more difficult as I get older.

I used to learn the material off by rote. That method sometimes worked, but it failed me on one memorable occasion that I can recall. I had to learn a very long portion of a piece of Masonic ritual. The piece was in three parts. I spent months learning the material line by line, obviously beginning with the first line, and when I had committed that to memory, I went on to the second line, and then the third, and so on. In my mind, the second sentence had become ‘attached’ to the first, and the third ‘attached’ to the second, and so on, right to the very last line. 

Now, on the night I was to deliver the speech, I was told that three people would share the delivery of the speech, and that I would deliver only the final third part of the speech. Well, I didn’t know where to begin. Not being able to start with the first line, I stumbled on almost every line and had to be prompted. It was most embarrassing. So much for learning one line after the other by rote. However, if that method works well for you, use it.

Here’s some philosophy that, in my opinion, is worth its weight in gold. It says much about life as well as linguistics. Now, David Hume (1711-1776) [pictured left] was a Scottish philosopher of very great renown. He was an empiricist who saw the world as a continuum -- actually, more of a drift -- of ideas. Think of your speech, poem or play lines as a drift of ideas, one after the other, for such is the workings of the human mind – one thought, feeling or sensation after another. After all, the primary purpose of words is to convey ideas. Get into the ‘look’, ‘feel’ and ‘sound’ of the idea—and make the idea your own. Pay attention to the idea above all else. Once the idea has been committed to memory, then you can direct your attention to the words themselves.

Now, no matter how tenuous the connection, there is always some sort of connection (‘association’) between one idea and the next. This is what Hume had to say about the matter:

It is evident that there is a principle of connection between the different thoughts or ideas of the mind, and that in their appearance to the memory or imagination, they introduce each other with a certain degree of method and regularity. (An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1784), I:I:3.)

The author of the material has given some thought to the connections between one idea and the next. This is not a matter of chance but rather deliberate determination. Says Hume, ‘Were ideas entirely loose and unconnected, chance alone would join them’ (A Treatise of Human Nature, I:I:4). One or more lines of your material encapsulate an idea -- perhaps more than one idea -- so commit the idea to your memory. Then proceed to note, and then commit to memory, the connection between one idea and the next, and the one thereafter, and so on. 

According to Hume, ‘the same simple ideas … fall regularly into complex ones’, for such is life. Life is simply the continuum of one moment after another. For the public speaker or actor, the important thing, insofar as the succession of ideas is concerned, is to decipher, and then commit to memory, the ‘bond of union among them, some associating quality by which one idea naturally introduces another’ (Treatise, I:I:4). Association is the uniting principle, but it ‘is not to be considered as an inseparable connection ... Nor yet are we to conclude that without it the mind cannot join two ideas ... But we are only to regard it as a gentle force, which commonly prevails’ (Treatise, I:I:4). So, for Hume association is in the nature of a ‘gentle force’ which develops from what he termed ‘original qualities of human nature’ and which ‘point[s] out to everyone those simple ideas which are most proper to be united into a complex one’ (Treatise, I:I:4).

Let's now apply the above mentioned ideas to the task of learning a speech, poem or play. First, read, then re-read, then re-read again, the material to be learned. Get a ‘feel’ for the material as a whole. The ‘secret’ is to get into the mind of the author … and to think, feel and act from there. When it comes to a play, you need to do more, that is, to get into the mind of the character you’re playing such that the ideas -- in terms of the lines spoken -- become your ideas. Become, at least for a time, the character you’re playing. Their thoughts become your thoughts (but not necessarily in ‘real’ life). In time, as you come to identify more and more with the character you’re playing, the ideas, and the associations between one idea and another, will become almost automatic, natural and spontaneous. Get interested in the writer of the material (in the case of, say, a poem) and the character you’re playing (in the case of a play). The more you are interested, the easier it becomes to maintain attention, awareness and concentration … and the easier it becomes to remember.

Never forget this. First, the idea -- that is, the form of the words – then the substance, that is, the words themselves. Not only is there an association between one idea and the next idea, there is also an association between an idea itself and the words that the author has chosen to give expression to that idea. The last mentioned association is especially useful for you, the speaker or actor, for it serves as your mnemonic. (A mnemonic is any learning technique that aids information retention in the human memory.) So, learn the ideas as opposed to the words. This is the good advice of the internationally renowned Australian theatrical and opera director Gale Edwards [pictured right]. When it comes to your lines, look for what are known as ‘key lines’ – the lines that are most central to the idea or image being communicated. The key lines will serve as an anchor in your mind to which the other lines in your material are attached.

Where does mindfulness come into all this? Well, it already has, for mindfulness is the watchful, receptive, deliberate, and purposeful presence of bare attention to, and choiceless awareness of, the content of the action (both internal and external) of the present moment ... from one moment to the next. The word ‘presence’ refers to both physical and psychological presence -- of you, your body, and your mind. 'Watchful' presence means that there you are very much aware that you're aware---or not aware as the case may be---of what is going on in and about you, and this alert and open awareness, attention and ongoing observation makes use of all your senses as well as your mind and proceeds deliberately, purposefully, intentionally and receptively on your part.

I use the word ‘content’ because it is ‘content’ -- of ideas, images, words and actions, all of which are occurrences in time and space -- of which the speaker or actor must be aware, and to which they must give clear, focused and single-minded attention and concentration. The content of the speaker or actor’s awareness will be both internal (eg thoughts, feelings, mental images, as well as bodily sensations and the like) and external (sounds, sights, actions, etc).

Now, what do we mean by ‘bare attention’? Well, bare attention falls short of naming, labelling, judging, analysing, interpreting, approving, condemning, and so forth. In his book The Heart of Buddhist Meditation (San Francisco CA: Weiser Books, [1954] 1965, p 30) -- a truly wonderful book on insight meditation (mindfulness) -- the monk and teacher Nyanaponika Thera [pictured left] defines, or rather describes, bare attention in these words:

Bare attention is the clear and single-minded awareness of what actually happens to us and in us, at the successive moments of perception. It is called ‘bare’, because it attends just to the bare facts of a perception as presented either through the five physical senses or through the mind which, for Buddhist thought, constitutes the sixth sense. When attending to that sixfold sense impression, attention or mindfulness is kept to a bare registering of the facts observed, without reacting to them by deed, speech or by mental comment which may be one of self-reference (like, dislike, etc), judgement or reflection. … [original emphasis]

Bare attention does not mean minimal attention. On the contrary, it means total and unadulterated attention to the action of the moment – without allowing yourself to be deflected by extraneous matters. Bare attention is needed not only when learning one’s lines but also in delivering them. If you are an actor, you also need to have the same level of attention to the action of the play as it unfolds. And the phrase ‘choiceless awareness’? Well, awareness is ‘choiceless’ when there is no preference, and no prejudice -- that is, no judgment or selectiveness -- as respects the content of one’s awareness. Ordinarily, we tend to be aware of some things but not others.

Lucille Ball in a touring production of the play Dream Girl, 1947-48

Now, take these lines from the play Dream Girl (New York: Dramatists Play Service, 1945, pp 69-70) by Elmer Rice. I have used different colours to highlight various connections -- groupings and chains of thought of like character, rhythm, mood and feeling -- in the drift of ideas and images as well as some connections within a single idea or image.

CLARK. Because dreaming is easy and life is hard. Because when you dream, you make your own rules, but when you try to do something, the rules are made for you by the limitations of your own nature and the shape of the world you live in. Because no matter how much you win in your dreams, your gains are illusory, and you always come away empty-handed. But in life, whether you win or lose, you’ve always got something to show for it—even if it’s only a scar or a painful memory.

GEORGINA. Scars are ugly and pain hurts.

CLARK. Without ugliness, there would be no beauty. And if you’re afraid to know pain, you’ll never know the value of pleasure.

GEORGINA. You’re a tough guy aren’t you?

CLARK. Well, I’ve had to fight my own way through life, ever since I can remember. You either get tough, or else you go under.

GEORGINA. It’s not the way I was brought up. I always had people to protect me.

CLARK. If you bandage a muscle long enough, it withers. And that goes for your emotions, too. If you keep smothering them with dreams, they’ll die after a while.

Of course, as any actor knows, you need to know your cues, a cue being the last bit of the previous actor’s line or the event leading to yours. Once again, I find it helps to think not just in terms of the actual word or words but also the ideas expressed. In the above exchange between the extroverted newspaperman Clark Redfield and the daydreaming bookshop owner Georgina Allerton, it is easy to see how the real cues lie in the ideas expressed (dreaming versus life, wins and gains, ugliness and beauty, pain and pleasure, toughness and fighting versus protection, bandaging, withering and smothering).

In summary, make the ‘law’ of association work for you. Think of your speech, poem or play lines as a drift of ideas, one after the other, and learn to give those images visible and audible expression. Act, react, and project. Get into the ‘look’, ‘feel’ and ‘sound’ of the idea, focusing especially on your key lines. Pay attention to the idea above all else, for it is ideas which, first and foremost, you are to communicate to your listeners or audience. Once the idea has been committed to memory, then pay attention to the words. It will then be that much easier. Look for and commit to memory the association between one idea and the next, as well as the association between an idea itself and the words giving expression to that idea. Also, look for and commit to memory any connections within a single idea.  

Finally, practise mindfulness, which as Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn has said, means – ‘Paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.’ Give bare (that is, clear, focused and unadulterated) attention. Maintain choiceless awareness. In other words, be both physically and psychologically present at all times -- and generate and maintain interest and enthusiasm in what you are doing.

Acknowledgments. Dream Girl (New York: Dramatists Play Service, Inc) by Elmer Rice. Copyright © 1945, 1946, by Elmer Rice. Copyrights reserved, 1972, 1973, by Barbara Rice, Robert Rice, John A Rice, Margaret Cooper, Judith Rice and Paul Rice. All rights reserved. The Heart of Buddhist Meditation (San Francisco CA: Weiser Books) by Nyanaponika Thera. Copyright © 1954, 1962, 1996 Buddhist Publication Society. All rights reserved.