Saturday, 31 December 2011


Our beliefs are spookily powerful. They run as sort of unconscious background programs (to use a computer analogy) in such an unobtrusive way that we are rarely even aware how much they influence our thoughts and responses to the events that occur in our lives. Paradoxically, we get our beliefs as a product of our interaction with our environment, our social situation, our culture (they aren’t “hard wired”)...and then we use those beliefs to create the filters that modify our experiences, affecting how we perceive, interpret, assess, and act on those life events.

Belief is rarely a conscious thought, but rather such a fundamental, heart-felt sense of what is right, correct and true, it is often difficult to imagine that others might not share our fundamental understanding of how the world works. Thus we have some people who believe it is best to save your money in case you need it later, and others that reckon if you’ve got it you should use it and enjoy it because you might not even be around later. You have some people who believe it is better to stand up and be noticed (be a tall poppy), while others admire those who choose to work behind the scenes without calling attention to themselves (don’t be a tall poppy). You have some that believe wrong-doers should be punished—‘’let ‘em rot in jail”—while others believe in the power of rehabilitation and redemption, and still others who stand back and refuse to judge another person’s rightness or wrongness, believing that is not their place. It’s funny stuff, this belief business.

Belief is a powerful theme in a couple of books I’m reading at the moment. I often read more than one book at a time, and sometimes I find myself surprised at how seemingly incongruous books echo similar or related themes, because I don’t intend or expect that when I pick them up. Such is the case at the moment.

Gregg Braden’s book The Spontaneous Healing of Belief: Shattering the Paradigm of False Limits examines the nature of belief from a scientific, quantum physics level. Frequently using a computer analogy, Braden develops a serious of belief “codes” in the book. For example, Belief Code 5: “Our beliefs have the power to change the flow of events in the universe—literally to interrupt and redirect time, matter, and space, and the events that occur within them.” It’s the seemingly little choices we make in our day-to-day life, based on our beliefs, that can have implications far beyond our personal lives. We are, according to Braden, “interacting with the essence of the universe.” The old butterfly flapping its wings in South American affecting the tropical storm in Vietnam.  We see it happen all the time: one person says something that gets someone else thinking about something else and then they say or do something they wouldn’t have said or done if the first person hadn’t said something, and then it gets carried on. Sort of like Chinese whispers. And things change.

Or Belief Code 15: “Beliefs, and the feelings that we have about them, are the language that “speaks” to the quantum stuff that makes our reality.” On a health level, for example, science still puzzles (but fully acknowledges) the power of placebo: if you think something will help you get better, it probably will. In a religious sense, it may well be the power of belief that creates miracles ranging from divine healings to stigmata to levitation.

Braden’s book is easy to read and interesting, taking an almost mechanical approach to how beliefs work and how we participate in creating our own reality. For a compelling example of applied belief theory, however, I cannot more highly recommend the other book(s) I’m concurrently devouring: fantasy writer Karen Miller’s Godspeaker Trilogy. In the first book, Empress, Miller creates Mijak, a world and society so totally caught up in a culture and religion of such violence and bloodshed that even the ancient Aztecs would blanch. In Mijak, godspeakers and warriors divine the god’s will through sacrifice, torture, blood-drinking, and total emersion in a bath of blood (or a pit of scorpions), and life is very, very cheap; it is hard to imagine that we could “buy” into this world based on beliefs so incredibly different from ours, let alone accept the belief structure and thought processes of the characters, and ultimately care about those characters, but we do[i].

 In the second book of the trilogy, The Riven Kingdom, Miller presents a new cast of characters in a  completely different society in Ethrea, an island nation that seems to come out of a 16th century fairy tale complete with princess, toymaker, old herbal wisewoman, and an evil prolate (who wants to put his nephew on the throne when the king dies and will stop at nothing to thwart our doughty princess). One could be forgiven for thinking they’d picked up the wrong book for a trilogy that started with Empress. Ethrea’s society is founded on peace, justice, sanctity of life, and separation of church and state: a belief system that couldn’t be more different from Mijak’s.

There is a connection between the two cultures, though, with the exiled warrior prince of Mijak, Zandakar, who joins the Etherean princess’s unlikely band of helpers. Zandakar’s presence in Ethrea provides the perfect vehicle for examining what happens when someone with a solidly-grounded and fundamentalist belief system comes in contact with those who have/use a profoundly different set of beliefs and values to govern their daily lives, decisions, and choices[ii].

A fantasy writer has the luxury of creating new landscapes, cultures, and social conundrums, and as readers of fantasy, we are able to take off the filtering glasses we inevitably wear in our own everyday realities and accept different paradigms and beliefs within the context of a story. It is useful to realize, however, that we DO see the world through belief glasses that filter what we perceive, how we perceive it, how we assess and judge everything around us, and that ultimately determine what we think and what actions we choose to take. It’s also useful to realize that other people wear different glasses. And although our beliefs feel “true” at any given time, and we acknowledge them as such, truth—like beauty—is generally in the eye of the beholder.  Our beliefs are just filters, and like any filters, they change and modify with time—occasionally in a dramatic fashion but more often by almost imperceptibly subtle shifts.

[i] Many years ago, I tried my hand at writing a film script, and I chose as my subject the (true) story of Boadicea, the warrior queen of the Iceni tribe, a remarkable woman who nearly drove the Romans out of Britain in AD 60. Writing the script was an interesting and enjoyable exercise, but ultimately I could not manage to make the central character a woman one could empathize with. Her world, I decided, was just too different from our own, with a set of beliefs and values that worked then, but are not acceptable now. My hat is off to Karen Miller who manages to do so with her Mijak knife-dancing warrior empress Hecat and her entourage, at least throughout most of the first book.
[ii] In the third book, Hammer of God, the two cultures collide.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

A fire, and musings on the role of fate in a seemingly random coincidence

A couple of days ago, we went camping. Our favourite campsite alongside the Ruamahanga River is fairly remote and unsignposted but popular with locals who know about it[i]. Separated from a paved country road by a grassy stop bank[ii], campers and boaters remain invisible to passing motorists. This particular spot is popular over the Christmas and New Year summer holiday period, and there are often half a dozen or more tents and caravans taking advantage of shady  willows, picturesque river views, excellent boating, water skiing, and water play.

The last few days over Christmas this week have been sunny and hot. The farmer who maintains the land has cut the hay, leaving dry, brown, stubbled grass, both where we camp and alongside the road. 

In the sultry heat of mid-afternoon, I headed off on a walk along the stop bank. I had ambled along for some distance, and then dropped down onto the river-side of the bank to investigate an area of trees where high water had flooded around their roots, creating an under-forest-canopy lake—unusual and pretty. When I came back up onto the stop bank and headed back towards the campsite I noticed a thin tendril of smoke rising up from the grass by the roadside. In the couple of moments it took for my brain to register “fire”, the grass caught and flames licked up. “Fire!” I shouted, as I ran towards two women I saw standing on the stop bank closer to the camping area. They turned towards me, saw the smoke, and began to run back to camp as well.

I arrived back to our tent-site along the river breathless and gasped out, “Grass fire” and fast as anything we loaded our two big jugs of drinking water into the back of my car, and I ran down to the river to wet a couple of towels and the sheet I’d used to protect the backseat of my car from dog hair, and then I jumped into the car and headed back to the fire. By the time I got back to the fire, just a couple of minutes, the fire had spread from a few tentative flames to an area covering several square meters. Other campers were running with buckets of water hauled from the river. We poured on water and beat out the flames until all that was left was a good-sized patch of blackened, smouldering earth. We also found the tossed cigarette butt of the passing motorist who undoubtedly was the culprit.

Later, back at camp, the “what ifs” set in. What if I had not gone for that walk at that particular moment? What if I hadn’t seen that tendril of smoke and raised the alarm? In just a few minutes we could have had a serious, perhaps life-threatening fire on our hands—the grass was very dry and the fire spread fast. The roadside (and spot where the fire started) was invisible from the camp area, and the fire was right by the gate through the fence that was the only entrance/exit point for the camp area. We could have been trapped there with no place to go but into the river, abandoning camps and cars.

Like so many of these things, we’ll never know if it was just a coincidence that I decided to go for a walk at that particular time, or go in that particular direction, or be there right when the first flames caught. We’ll never know if the fates decreed that the person driving by with the cigarette butt would toss it at exactly a place and time where and when someone would see the start of the fire and there would be enough people in the vicinity to put it out. This country road out in the Waiarapa is pretty isolated, and there might only be ten cars in an hour go by, maybe fewer.

What hand does fate play in an incident like this? I felt no foreboding compulsion to randomly “go for a walk,” and it was the hottest part of the afternoon, so why did I do that just then?  A rationalist would chalk it all up to mere coincidence, but I dunno. And if there was an element of divine manipulation here—and I open-mindedly wouldn’t discount it—then how far ahead did that manipulation begin? Before I went for a walk? Before the smoker lit his/her cigarette? Before I went camping? Or is it all just one of those random coincidences? I dunno, but it’s funny stuff to think about...

[i] In New Zealand, camping in officially undesignated areas is known as “free camping” or “freedom camping”. The practice has a long tradition in New Zealand, but is increasingly discouraged as, without facilities, such camping can degrade the environment when people leave behind their rubbish and waste materials. Always, please, if free camping, leave the area at least as pristine as you found it and pack out all waste materials!
[ii] In much of American they call this a levee.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

The Reconnection and Dr Eric Pearl

In my last blog posting, I mentioned the rather circuitous journey that brought me to the book The Reconnection: Heal Others, Heal Yourself by Dr. Eric Pearl. In this post, I’d like to share a little about the book and my thoughts on Dr Pearl’s reconnection movement.

I found the book a fascinating and compelling read. Pearl, who maintained a thriving practice as a Los Angeles chiropractor for over a decade before becoming a practitioner and advocate of energy healing, begins the book with his own story: of a rather ordinary childhood and young adulthood punctuated with some extraordinary, inexplicable moments. His journey to figure out why these “odd” things occurred led him to some strange and unusual people and places, and ultimately transformed his understanding and appreciation of life, the universe, and everything[i]. A natural sceptic and entertaining raconteur, Pearl’s “you’ve got to be kidding me” response to many of these “woo woo” events and people had me laughing out loud, and at the same time appreciating his sense of bewilderment, wonder, frustration, and insight.

In the middle section of the book, Pearl takes on quantum physics, string theory, the multi-dimensional universe, matter vs. energy, the nature of vibration, and genetic coding, and how all of this applies to energy healing as he understands it. (Don’t worry—you don’t have to be a brain box to get the gist.) The final section of the book deals with the actual practice of energy healing, not only how he does it and what happens, but how anyone can do it, or learn to do it. Pearl explains that as human beings we’re not actually “doing” the healing, we’re simply acting as a channel for the healing energy to move through. At the end of the book, Pearl presents several easy exercises for developing one’s own energy at the vibrational level of healing, and offers suggestions for working with clients.

The book as a whole is easy to read, enjoyable, and inspiring, and Pearl seems down-to-earth and thoughtful with his suggestions and analysis. He wrote the book ten years ago (© 2001). I am less impressed with Eric Pearl’s current presence on the web. His website at shows him to be not just a healer but a whole industry offering seminars, trainings, conferences, CDs and DVDs, all claiming to be part of the process of “reconnection”, the rediscovery of our connection to universal forces, the elevation of human energy to a higher frequency, and the restructuring and transformation of our DNA. Even kids and pets are targeted in a sort of “This is so wonderful, why wouldn’t you want it?” online advertorial. It all seems rather “cultish” to me, and I’m not nearly so comfortable with that.

When—in the book—Pearl starts talking about channelings from Kryon (“a loving angelic entity” via Lee Carroll to help him understand what is happening with the healings, I start feeling like I’ve truly gone down the rabbit hole. Still, I’ll keep an open mind here. I DO have some experience playing with energy myself, and I DO believe that energy healing happens. Whether this guy is the new Messiah, I have my doubts. (Not that he claims to be, it just sort of looks that way.)  Still, he’s written an interesting and thought-provoking book that’s also remarkably entertaining and occasionally moving. Recommended, if you’re into this sort of thing.

[i] Okay, alright. This is also the title of the third book in Douglas Adams “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” and the answer is 42. But that’s another story...

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Of Connections, Reconnections and Play with Energy

The other day my friend Richard Bolstad posted this youtube link on that great social connector Facebook. 

The video is of an Indonesian energy healer whose touch is so powerful that not only does the patient respond with uncontrollable involuntary movements, but others in the room respond as well. Later the man demonstrated the ability to use qi (or “chi”) energy to set a piece of newspaper on fire. Filmed for SkyThree TV, it appeared that the camera crew, at least, found him to be pretty genuine. The clip has had more than 481,000 views, which in the youtube universe is quite a lot.

Of course when you view a clip on youtube, youtube gives you a selection of other clips on a similar theme that it thinks you might like. So I clicked onto a couple, and I found this one

In this video, Mark D. Meurs demonstrates a very simple exercise anyone can do to play with qi energy with their hands. Now I’ve been doing this one for years—nobody taught me how, I just discovered it on my own—and I was delighted to discover someone else played with energy like this. (Try it!) I was also caught by the background music Mark used in the clip because it sounded Hawaiian (slack key guitar), so I clicked into Mark’s website and discovered he’s based in Chiang Mai, Thailand, but he used to live in Hawaii, and that’s where he first studied Chinese medicine, qi gong, and Reiki .

Now I haven’t been to Chaing Mai (yet), but I grew up with Hawaii not exactly as a second home, but I lived there some of the time when I was growing up, and my parents retired to Hawaii, so I’ve been back and forth to the islands quite a lot. I spent several months in Hawaii when my mother was terminally ill in 2004, and it was then that I first discovered Reiki, although I didn’t actually train in Reiki until I returned to New Zealand after my mother’s death.

In spite of the training (1st and 2nd degree), I’ve never touted myself as a Reiki practitioner. I believe in the power of energy healing, but Reiki just never resonated with me, and although I feel capable of using it to alleviate my own minor ailments—sometimes—I’m not convinced of my ability to make any discernible difference in anyone else’s health with it. What’s more, the secrecy and power symbols and all that just seemed a little too hokey for my grounded Capricornian sensibilities.

Anyway, Mark calls what he does now “Reintegrative Healing”, which apparently comes out of the "Reconnective Healing" stable. So I googled that, and discovered the “doyen” of Reconnective Healing seems to be a man named Eric Pearl. I’d never heard of him before, but his website ( touts him as “the world’s leading authority in energy healing and beyond,” and he’s clearly a bit of a showman, doing the rounds of American talk shows and doing stage shows and the like, and I'm not so into that. I like books, though, so when I discovered he’s written a book, The Reconnection, I first jumped over to Amazon to see what folks said about it. The reviews at Amazon were all pretty good, so I clicked into my local Hutt Library—isn’t the internet wonderful?!— and I put the book on request.

I finished reading Pearl’s book yesterday, but more about that, and Eric Pearl’s reconnection energy movement, in another post.

You know the ad on tv for The one where the guy says “So I followed this little leaf, and it lead me to another little leaf...” That’s what it seems like these connections are all about. Richard’s video link lead me to Mark Meur’s video, and the Hawaiian music in that made me click into his website, and my brain connected “Hawaii” and “Reiki” and “qi gong”, and also tallied in “Chiang Mai,” and that made me look for new connections on a healing energy theme. Now I’ve read Eric Pearl’s book, and it makes me think maybe it’s time for me to reopen the casebook on this energy healing stuff. I wonder why I didn’t discover his book back in 2004/2005 when I was exploring energy healing —after all the book is ©2001—but maybe this is just the universe working in mysterious ways. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to read it until now. Maybe this really is about reconnections. (And then again, says my earthy Capricornian internal reality checker, maybe it isn’t.) Anyway...

There’s one final connection to note in this story. Richard Bolstad, who posted the link mentioned on the top of this page, does an annual week-long course in Chiang Mai in qi gong and spirituality (along with partner Julia Kurusheva) every year[i]. I found out about it while browsing the net three or four years ago, long before I did my nlp training with Richard, and have been thinking about going ever since. Maybe this is the universe giving me a little nudge about putting it on the agenda for 2012.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

60 Minutes: Unhappy Pills

Last night on TV3’s 60 Minutes they ran a story on antidepressants. Titled “Unhappy Pills”, the story explored the link between antidepressants, suicide, and violence, and hinted at the unhealthy relationship between pharmaceutical companies and our health regulators. Dr David Healy, well known for his “we need to be very careful because they’re dangerous” stance on antidepressants, was interviewed along with a young lad who’d lost his mother and brother to the drugs, and a mother who had lost her teenage son. You can watch the video here:

Sharing the dark side of the antidepressant story has long been one of my most passionate causes. Earlier this year, I published my master's thesis on antidepressant use, called "Collateral Damage", which you can find here if interested: It is, of course, written in a style appropriate for a psychology thesis, which is hardly anyone’s cup of tea, but the first couple of chapters deal with the history and development of antidepressants (a fascinating story), and there are sections on antidepressant effectiveness, suicide, violence, side effects, and off-label prescribing (e.g., to children, pregnant women, the elderly), as well as a few asides about pharmaceutical marketing--before the reader gets to details of my particular research project which looked primarily at patient-perceived effectiveness, side effects, and withdrawal issues.

Probably the best, most readable, and most powerful book examining the role of psychiatric drugs and their marketing is Robert Whitaker's "Anatomy of an Epidemic" (© 2010). David Healy, who was interviewed on the 60 Minutes program, wrote of Whitaker's book, "In making a compelling case that our current psychotropic drugs are causing as much--if not more--harm than good, Robert Whitaker reviews the scientific literature thoroughly, demonstrating how much of the evidence is on his side--the case is solid..." and Nils Bruzelius of the Washington Post wrote "Every so often a book comes along that exposes a vast deceit. Robert Whitaker has written that sort of book. Scrupulously reported and written in compelling but unemotional style, this book shreds the myth woven around today's psychiatric drugs." I highly recommend the book, which is newly available in paperback from Amazon (see for the book and reviews of it).

These drugs are dangerous, and what's most frightening, doctors--in their ignorance--hand them out like sweets. We trust our doctors to make important health decisions for us. However, pharmaceutical companies--ranked the 3rd most profitable business sector in 2009 by Forbes--are far more concerned about returns to shareholders than they are about the health and well-being of the end users of their products, and they market their drugs primarily to doctors, who ultimately are just middlemen passing them on to users. (In the sex industry we call these middlemen “pimps”; in the illegal substance world, “dealers”.) Pharmaceutical regulators, as 60 Minutes showed, are all-too-often shareholders in the pharmaceutical companies they regulate. It is an insidious, nasty, and frightening loop.

If you are one of the 10% of Kiwis (or Americans) currently taking antidepressants, it is essential that you don’t toss them out and quit taking them “cold turkey”. The side effects of withdrawal—including the potential suicidal/homocidal ideation—are often emergent upon withdrawal, along with a whole collection of other nasties like nausea, dizziness, and brain zaps. The drugs must be weaned off slowly, ideally with the help of a supporting physician. I also recommend the excellent forum  Paxil is the US trade name for paroxetine, one of the most common SSRI antidepressants.

(P.S. On a completely irrelevant--to this topic--note, I can't figure out why the last three paragraphs are appearing in a white box! I've even tried deleting and starting over with a repaste from Word and it's still happening. If you have a clue, let me know! :))

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Political Evolution--The NZ Green Party

Saturday was Election Day in New Zealand. New Zealand has two major political parties, Labour and National, and a variety of minor parties that usually manage to pull one or two or sometimes a few members into parliament under our MMP (Mixed Member Proportional) electoral system.

A strong supporter of the Greens, I crossed party lines this time to vote for a return of the incumbent National Party (with my party vote) for a very strategic reason. At a time and in a world where central governments seem to be failing and falling left, right, and centre, either in violence (think Libya, Syria, Egypt) or in economic disarray (think Greece, Italy), I believe it is important for New Zealand to be perceived on the world stage as a country that is politically and economically stable, with a Prime Minister who comes across well both domestically and abroad. And although I don’t agree with some of National’s philosophies and policies, I do believe that Prime Minister John Key and his crew have the best interests of this country at heart. Forty-eight percent of New Zealand voters agreed with me, and National has held on to their leadership role with very little fanfare or political manoeuvring required.

(I will also add, as an aside, that I voted for Green MP Holly Walker as my local electoral candidate of choice. Holly, a 29-year-old Rhodes scholar, was once one of my students at Hutt Valley High School when I taught there, and I remember her with much fondness. Even then, she was bright, able, dedicated, reliable, astute, and delightful, with a level of maturity well beyond her years—rare traits in a high school student. There was no hope of her getting into parliament via the Hutt South electoral vote, up against veteran Trevor Mallard (Labour), but I am delighted that Holly is high enough on the Green party list to be included in the newly-elected parliament anyway. Go well, Holly.)

But talking about my personal voting choices isn’t the reason I’m inspired to write this blog entry.  I find the rise of the Green Party very interesting from a social evolution standpoint. In the last election, the Greens polled about 5%; this time they crossed the 10% threshold, in spite of a dearth of pre-election coverage. I think there was more press about Peter Dunne’s hair and John Banks’s cup of tea with the Prime Minister than there was about the whole Green Party. Dunne and Banks are one-man-bands now—solo reps of their respective parties—and sure, the tea party ultimately had big repercussions (thanks, media...NOT!) but the Greens just silently went about their business virtually unnoticed.

The day after the election, on TV1’s Sunday program, they ran some good material on the Greens, obviously filmed prior to the election, including a nice shot of co-leader Russell Norman kayaking to play up the Green “we need to clean up our rivers” party message. And the commentator on the tv made the observation that it was a decidedly more “active” and “positive” photo op than the two Johns having tea and the ensuing media scramble, which left me wondering why was it was played on tv AFTER the election. TV3 also virtually ignored the Greens throughout the campaign, in spite of pre-election poll results that suggested they could be coming in as high as 12-13%.

Green supporters with a conspiracy-theory bent could be forgiven for wondering if there was a deliberate media move to ignore the Greens, but I suspect it is something else entirely. I suspect the media simply don’t understand the Green movement. And this makes me think about human and social evolution and spiral dynamics.

In the 1970’s, US psychology professor Clare Graves developed a theory of human evolution and social development based on values systems, a model which he described as a holistic spiral, each tier of development encompassing and expanding upon the previous tier. Later adapted by Chris Cowan and Don Beck, and nicely colour coded, it has become a useful model for understanding human nature. I’d like to share my thoughts on the roles of New Zealand’s three main political parties—Labour, National, and Green—within the spiral dynamic framework, and what I think that means for the evolution of politics in this country.

Whole books have been written about the spiral dynamic tiers, but I’ll try to summarize them very briefly here:
    1st tier: beige. Think baby. Think survival, biological needs, food, natural reflexes.
    2nd tier: purple. Think child. Think family. Think tribe. Think safety and security. Think learned traditions.
    3rd tier: red. Think teenager. Think assertive self. “I want to control my world.” Egocentric. “My way is the right way.” “This is my patch.”
    4th tier: blue. Think parent. Think safety, stability and order. Follow the rules. Conformity. Care for your brother and sister, your children. “Everyone deserves two kids and a dog, a reliable car, and a house in the suburbs.” Work hard and get a just reward for your labour—a holiday in Fiji would be nice—but don’t be a tall poppy. Avoid risk.
   5th tier: orange. Science and business are important. Assumes the world is rational and objective. Competition creates excellence. Rugged individualism. Don’t just follow the rules, use them to your advantage. Tall poppies are to be admired (and you can’t have tall poppies if you don’t have short ones to compare with). It’s all about opportunity and success and taking strategic risks. Ultimately, it’s up to you to achieve good results and get ahead. You get what you deserve.
   6th tier: green. Joining together for mutual growth. We are all part of an ecosystem. Think the internet, Facebook, social media. Think harmony, acceptance, and community. Think cooperation. Think sustainability. Think environmental awareness and preservation. Decisions should be reached through consensus and reconciliation. Dislikes hierarchy. Life is situational, values are relativistic.
   7th tier: turquoise. Earth consciousness. Holistic. Transpersonal. A global/universal community in harmony. Experiential. (Kind of beyond politics as we know it.)
   8th and 9th tiers: (Just evolving, and largely irrelevant from a modern political perspective.)

Ken Wilber suggests that internationally, approximately 20% of the adult population is 3rd tier red, 40% of the population is 4th tier blue, 30% of the population is 5th tier orange (but they hold 50% of the power), and 10% of the population is 6th tier green (the latter rising to around 20% in the Western world)[i].

New Zealand has traditionally had just two major parties, National and Labour, so I’d like to talk about them first. Labour, in spite of their red banner, is a “blue” 4th tier party. Strong on justice and social and family values, Labour—which historically originated as a “blue collar” labour party, hence the name—campaigned this year on tax breaks for struggling families, instituting a capital gains tax (cut down those fat poppies who own multiple properties), creating a GST exclusion for fresh produce, and keeping national assets. They polled just 27% in this election.

National, in spite of their blue banner, is an “orange” 5th tier party, keen to balance the country’s books with partial asset sales as need be because it makes good economic sense. So does mining and drilling for oil, ensuring farmers get adequate cheap water to enhance croppage, simple tax laws like GST on everything (thus less bureaucracy), and a clamp-down on anyone expecting to get something for nothing (e.g., dole “bludgers”) because they’re not doing their fair share. At a time when most countries are experiencing pretty significant economic strife, National’s number one priority is to get New Zealand’s financial books in order and the country out of debt and into surplus, even if it means some people will be hurting. They polled an unprecedented 48% of the vote in this election.

The Greens, the new kids on the block, have now moved into significant third-party status with over 10.6% of the national vote. They are 6th tier “green”, advocating environmental clean-up and sustainability, social policies to ensure Kiwi kids don’t grow up in deprivation, warm houses, and the creation of “green” (presumably that means environmentally responsible) jobs. In keeping with 6th tier dynamics, they have not one leader but two, male and female, who work together and cooperatively towards these goals. They are more interested in creating a sustainable future than in a right-now fix, and are holistic in their assessment of the pros and cons of various policies. Willing to work with other parties on issues of mutual interest, they have declined to align themselves wholeheartedly with either of the two bigger parties.

A couple of things are interesting about this. Firstly, there seems to be a general assumption that the Green party pull the majority of their votes from the Labour Party. After all, both parties tend to lean left in a social welfare sense. Yet the spiral dynamics evolutionary model would suggest that the Greens would pull from National, the previous tier. Indeed, the model suggests that individuals and cultural groups rarely if ever skip over an evolutionary level. Furthermore, because this is “evolutionary”, the general trend will be for 4th tier Labour to diminish, as Labour supporters move to National, and for 6th tier Greens to grow over time.

The thing is, for people/groups operating primarily at lower-tier levels, the upper tier mentality is a mystery. They don’t get it, and they don’t necessarily even recognise that they don’t get it. Individuals and groups who operate on upper tier levels, however, generally have an understanding of earlier tiers, even if they now reject that perspective of the world. Blues cannot understand Greens, but Greens can understand blues, if that makes sense. With this thought in mind, if the Greens polled over 10%, and Wilber suggests maybe 20% of the population is 6th tier green (but maybe didn’t vote—almost a quarter of Kiwis chose not to vote in 2011—or, as in my case, opted for National for strategic reasons), that means perhaps 80% of the population just don’t “get” the Green Party. And that undoubtedly includes some of the media. (On the other hand, from a media perspective, maybe the NZ Green Party just isn’t interesting enough to cover, compared to the shenanigans of the other parties!)

I predict that the Green Party will continue to grow, maybe polling 15% or more in the next election. And Labour is likely to continue to diminish, unless they reinvent themselves. Which is, of course, possible. After all, “Labour” and “National” are just names, titles, and the people within them can choose what they want to be, what they believe their constituents want them to be.

As a final thought—this is already getting long and beginning to drivel—I can say at least that I’m glad that I live in a country with the political opportunity for many voices. In the U.S., where I come from, there are two main political parties and that’s it. I believe that President Obama is actually “green” (6th tier), and that has been part of his problem...the majority of the U.S. doesn’t understand 6th tier thinking. But as the world’s democracies evolve, I believe there will be more 6th tier thinking, and it will change the way we all relate with each other and with this planet. And from my rather “green” perspective, politically, I think that’s a very good thing.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Eaarth Numb-ers

Life on this planet’s getting tougher. That’s the main message of eco-warrier Bill McKibben in his new book Eaarth. McKibben paints a despairing picture of our evolving and increasingly alien planet—he even gives it a new name with an extra ‘a’—in the era of global warming. To be honest, I found reading the first part of the book so depressing I almost didn’t want to read on, yet felt like this is stuff I really should know about. Thank goodness in the latter part of the book he explores things we can do to cope with our new and changing habitat.  Not enough to fix it, unfortunately, but enough to allow survival. The future is not, however, rosy.

Let me share some of McKibben’s themes here:

Firstly, there’s the increasing amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere—this is the CO2 greenhouse gas stuff that’s causing our planet to heat up. Historically, the earth’s atmosphere has been about 275 parts per million of CO2, and for a long time scientists could only guess how much we could allow that to increase—as a natural product of industrialization and the burning of fossil fuels—before the earth would be seriously, irrevocably in trouble. Today, the number scientists fix on is about 350 parts per million as being “safe”. But here’s the catch: We’re already well beyond that: approaching 390 ppm at the time McKibbon was writing the book (©2010), and at 391 now (see and rising. One computer model suggests that even if we take the steps pledged at the 2009 Copenhagen Conference, the earth will hit 725 parts per million of CO2 by 2100. And that might not even be survivable.

So, what happens when the CO2 level goes up?  Well, the world gets warmer. When the world gets warmer the polar ice caps start to melt. Weather gets wilder, and more unpredictable. The permafrost in the Arctic starts to melt, both on land and under the water, letting off methane, another warming greenhouse gas.  And it’s already happening. One Arctic researcher reported methane bubbling to the surface of the sea like from a soda pop can, in some areas with concentrations 100 times greater than normal. And this is scary, because this isn’t global warming coming from our tail pipes, but a totally uncontrolled earth reaction to human-induced rising temperatures. Kick-start the global meltdown, and it becomes self-sustaining.

As the world gets hotter, droughts will increase. Floods will increase. Water supplies from mountain snow melt will fall—think the great Asian food basins supplied by Himalayan waters, think of Los Angeles getting water from the Rockies, the Sierras. Food production will fall. Sea levels will rise. Low-lying countries will be inundated with salt water from the rising seas—think Bangladesh, Kiribati, the Netherlands. Where will the people go? What will they drink? How can they farm?

And meanwhile, we continue to burn fossil fuels (oil, coal, etc.) and generating more carbon (and thus C02) in the atmosphere. And there’s a catch here too, because the earth has only so much fossil fuel left for us to use. And we’ve built a society based on a need for petroleum products for virtually everything in our lives, from cars to home heating to manufacturing to logistics to plastics, yet we’ve passed “peak” oil, and production is now falling by about 7% a year. In 2009, Merrill Lynch estimated that we will need to find and exploit ten new Saudi Arabias by 2030. And think about this: “Six of the twelve largest companies in the world are fossil-fuel providers, four make cars and trucks, and one, General Electric, is, as its name implies, heavily involved in the energy industry. Just buying fossil fuel requires almost a tenth of the global GDP, and almost all the other 90% depends on burning the stuff.” (p. 30). And the price of oil affects the price of everything in our lives.

Is this scary stuff or what?

McKibben throws out a lot of big, international, economic pictures and numbers like these, but also ties back regularly to his home in quiet Vermont, in the US, where a recent severe storm caused flood damage, and he generates some numbers about the costs of “fixing” the damage even after a moderate disaster of this type that will become more frequent everywhere.  And it is useful, but no less frightening, to have examples like this that as individuals we can relate to. Sometimes it’s hard to comprehend the potential impact of devastation of whole countries and whole economies, and the effect on millions or billions of people. It’s easier to imagine a more local scenario and impact, and imagine that disaster then multiplied out by others in one’s immediate home area.

The second part of the book is more upbeat and practical: how can we learn to adapt and live on this changing planet.  I might (or might not) blog another time on that theme.  I’ll leave this entry just to say that the book, while depressing, is really worthwhile reading for anyone interested in environmental sustainability.  Not everyone buys the “end of the earth is coming, and we caused it” scenario, but the evidence is mounting.

If you are familiar with novelist Barbara Kingsolver, you might appreciate her endorsement from the front of the book: “What I have to say about this book is very simple: Read it, please. Straight through to the end. Whatever else you were planning to do next, nothing could be more important.” I am a fan of Kingsolver’s books, and believe she is an astute and thoughtful woman as well as a wonderful storyteller. McKibben’s book IS an important book, but not for the faint-hearted. You may read this book, and weep.

For more information and reviews of the book, see Amazon. Local readers can find the book in the Lower Hutt Library.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Success Story with a Dark Underbelly

The Dominion Post, our local paper, recently ran a story extolling the clever success of Kiwi company Atlantis Healthcare.  From a small company start-up in 1996, the company has become an international player, having moved into Europe and with big plans now to expand into the even-more lucrative US and Asian markets. How have they done this? By identifying and capitalizing on a unique niche service: getting people to take their medication.

From a business perspective, it sounds pretty good: recognize a need, tap into it, and get paid. What’s more, it’s a service they provide, not a product, so there’s no “stuff” to scoot around the world. But this is a success story with a dark, and I think distasteful, underbelly.

According to the DomPost article, Atlantis claims excellent results with 96 percent of breast cancer patients persisting with treatment after six months compared to 73 percent in a control group, and a 30 percent increase in medication adherence for asthma sufferers after six weeks. How do they do it? With phone calls, emails, personal visits, and advertorial material—cheap, easy, effective.

But think about this. It’s not about better health results, it’s about better treatment compliance. And they’re not necessarily the same thing. Rather than enforce patients’ (consumers’) drug compliance through harassment, how much better would it be if you and I as consumers were encouraged and empowered to make educated personal choices about the chemicals we put—or decline to put—into our bodies?

You might think that Atlantis would be serving the consumer, or perhaps the doctor, with their service, but it appears that the majority of their main clients are actually pharmaceutical companies. Recognized by Forbes as the 3rd most profitable business sector in 2009 (after communications and internet services), pharmaceutical companies have a vested interest in top returns to shareholders. Health, wellness, and an educated, empowered public are a threat to those returns.  The sicker you are, the more pills you (or your insurance company) buy, the more you can be coerced into complying with treatment and taking it long-term (regardless of whether it works for you), the better the profits for shareholders.

You see, it’s not really about your health, it’s about your money. And it’s this sort of money/profit mentality that the Wall Street (et al) protests are all about. Just in case you were wondering.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011


What does the word Gaia mean to you? Until a few days ago, when I came across the word “Gaia” I thought “earth” and “Mother Earth” and then attached to the word the connotations of Greek mythology[i], environmentalists, far-Left idealists, planetary activists, and—because of a BBC drama I once watched —visions of environmental terrorist intrigue. It’s funny how certain words carry with them connotations that may, or may not, be appropriate.

And then a few days ago I started reading A Walk Through Time: From Stardust to Us by Sidney Liebes, Elisabet Sahhtouris and Brian Swimme. I’d come across several references to author and cosmologist Brian Swimme, and when I checked the data base at the local library, this was the only book available with Swimme listed as an author, so I put in an interlibrary request for it. As it turned out, Swimme only wrote the 12-page prologue, the bulk of the book being written by Sahhtouris. (The first listed author, Sidney Liebes, under whose name the book is filed in the library, only wrote the 3-page preface!)

Anyway, the book is about the formation of the earth and the development of life upon it, and at first I didn’t intend to read it all. But it has turned out to be such a fascinating book—apparently written as a companion for the world exhibition Walk Through Time—that I kept on reading long after Swimme’s prologue.  

And what does this have to do with Gaia? Well, I discovered that in the 1980’s and 1990’s James Lovelock formulated the hypothesis that both living and non-living aspects of the earth are integrated into a self-organised, evolving life system. Called the “Gaia Hypothesis”[ii] and now sometimes referred to as the Gaia theory or Gaia principle, the concept has been adopted by many ecologists, environmentalists, and global warming theorists.

Now I’m very much into the “systems” concept and general try to see all things within a holistic framework. Still, having grown up with a fairly clear delineation in my head between organic and inorganic forms, the idea that rocks, for example, are part of an ecological evolving life system (except, obviously, as homes, tools and building materials for organic life forms) made me pause.

Looking at the relationship between organic and inorganic material through the lens of [very ancient] history and a powerful microscope, was enlightening. The first bacteria, it turns out, were of course created from primary earth elements hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, sulphur, oxygen, and phosphorus—none of that “organic” in a contemporary sense. In death, large colonies of bacteria left behind deposits of concentrated minerals which created the variety of metal ores we mine today—also not “organic” in a contemporary sense. Yet the catalyst required for the transformation: organic.

Certainly, on an atomic and molecular level, the atoms of oxygen you breathe in may have once been part of a molecule of rust on a screwdriver, a raindrop, or a buttercup.  At a molecular level, there is no organic/inorganic, and we are all part of the same great Gaia system. Organic is made of inorganic, and dissolves back into inorganic in an ongoing cycle. That the earth and its inhabitants change with time is a clear sign of evolution in this process, and the interdependence between the earth and living things is very evident.

The word “Gaia” took on a slightly new meaning for me today. My understanding of the primary relationship we share with the inorganic elements of our world solidified a little, and my appreciation for the amazing interactions that go on around us at a sub-visible level has increased many-fold, because it has moved into my awareness. To quote Marcel Proust:

The real voyage of discovery does not consist of seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.

[i] Gaia was the Greek Goddess of the earth and mother of many lesser gods as well as all earthly creatures

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Bruce Lipton's book "The Biology of Belief"

It always takes me by surprise when the universe organises some little synchronicity in my life. Often it’s connected with a book I’m reading, or something I’m thinking about.

Yesterday, a friend posted a link to a you-tube video in which Bruce Lipton and Wayne Dyer are speaking. Now I’m an old fan of Wayne Dyer, but I’ve just discovered Bruce Lipton, and am at this very moment reading his book The Biology of Belief, which was first published in 2005.

Although I read a lot of books of this ilk, I first heard about Bruce Lipton at an NLP seminar only a few weeks ago when the guest speaker, hypnotherapist John Moynihan, suggested that a good deal of our health status was dependent upon our subconscious thoughts and beliefs, and he referenced Lipton’s book. I’ve heard similar sentiments before, and was curious what a cell biologist and renowned professor of medicine might have to say about this topic.  I requested the book from my local library.

Conventional science attributes a great deal of behavioural influence to genetics, the DNA gene code embedded in the nucleus of a cell. What a cell does, conventional science says, is determined by that genetic code. Lipton observed, however, that individual cells respond to their environment in two ways: by moving towards or opening up to environmental stimuli that is nourishing, and by moving away and closing down to environmental stimuli that is harmful, and this occurs even if the nucleus itself is removed from the cell! Although the nucleus (DNA) is essential for cell reproduction, it is not necessary for the cell to be able to perceive and react to its environment. Which, after all, is what thinking is.

While studying cloned endothelial cells (cells that line the blood vessels), Lipton observed that cell membrane response to histamine (which is produced locally) is over-ridden by cell membrane response to adrenaline (which is produced by the central nervous system, which includes the brain)[i]. The nature of scientific publishing prevented elaboration of the obvious implication of the research: that the brain’s signals can over-ride localized body signals. In short:  mind over matter.

In animals and man, the central nervous system controls the organism’s growth and protection behaviours by determining the appropriate response to environmental signals. In his book, Lipton explores the effect of stress on the human HPA[ii] axis, explaining how stressful stimuli over-ride the body’s immune system (adrenaline over histamine again), making it vulnerable to disease.

Lipton then goes on to discuss the power of placebos (believing something will work, and therefore it does—positive thinking) and nocebos (believing something won’t work and therefore it doesn’t—negative thinking), which is well documented, although rarely explained, in research.

In a chapter titled “Conscious Parenting”, Lipton explores the roles of the conscious and subconscious mind, comparing the subconscious mind to the programmable hard drive of a computer. He posits that early learning experiences set value and belief patterns that become so engrained  that we are consciously unaware that they are running in the background, shaping our perception and influencing our environmental responses. He does not, however, go on to say how we can learn to recognize and change unconscious patterns that no longer serve us. This is a pity because the science of NLP[iii] has now been around for several decades and it deserves wider recognition.

If this review of key points in the book seems a bit awkward and disjointed, so does the book. Overall, though, I enjoyed it. Some of his explanation of cell biology and cell reactions to chemical environments was clearer and more insightful than anything I encountered at university studying psychology, and the implications of his work provide significant challenge to several conventional scientific paradigms. However, I found the overall flow of the book disjointed, and the links connecting cell biology to placebo/nocebo effect to subconscious versus conscious thought and its impact on human health tenuous.

[i] Lipton, B. H., Bensch, K. G. et al. (1992) Histamine-Modulated Transdifferentiation of Dermal Microvascular Endothelial Cells. Experimental Cell Research, 199:279-291. (As quoted in Lipton’s book.)
[ii] Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal
[iii] Neuro-Linguistic Programming—see my website at

Thursday, 27 October 2011


Okay, okay, I know. If you’ve read my previous posts (Of Possums,  Villain or Victim, and Oh, Deer), you’re probably thinking, “This woman’s on a mission. I wonder if she ever thinks about anything else besides 1080 and dead animals?” Well, yes I do. But one more post on this theme, and then I’ll move on (for a while anyway).

Last night I watched the documentary “Poisoning Paradise: Ecocide New Zealand” put out by the Graf Boys a couple of years ago. I don’t think it’s been run on NZ television—although it should be. (Be warned: the start seems cheesy, like an old come-to-New Zealand tourist advert. Don't flick off and say "nah" before the film really starts. Also, the content is disturbing.) are some facts about 1080:

1080 is sodium monofluoroacetate, a highly toxic poison originally invented in 1896 in Belgium[i] and first patented in 1927 in the U.S. as an insecticide. It is so nasty that most countries have since banned its use (the US classifies it as a “terrorist weapon”[ii]), but New Zealand’s Animal Health Board and Department of Conservation (both government departments) continue to use around 85% of the world’s production of 1080, prepared into around 2,000,000 kgs of laced carrot and cereal/grain bait[iii] per year, much of it distributed via aerial drops over New Zealand’s forests and woodlands as part of an ongoing possum eradication programme. According to Wikipedia, the remaining 15% or so of world production is used by Australia, the U.S. (used only as an impregnated collar on livestock to protect them from coyote predation in some areas[iv], and it is banned in most states), Mexico, Japan and Israel. If you’re in America and reading this, keep in mind that the whole of New Zealand is about the same size as the state of Oregon.

1080 is particularly toxic for mammals and insects; the speed of death depends upon metabolism, but it is slow (up to a couple of days) and clearly an excruciating death by any standards. (See the above doco trailer for some indication, but the actual documentary just made me feel sick, watching animals writhe and spasm in agony.) Only the tiniest amount is deadly, just 0.06 mg/kg for a dog,  0.8 mg/kg for a possum, or 8 mg/kg for a weka[v]. There is no antidote.

There is a myth in New Zealand that the use of 1080 is good for the NZ native bird population, as they are not “targeted”. However, bird loss following aerial drops is significant with several key species including the kea, New Zealand’s cheeky mountain parrot. After one West Coast 1080 drop, 7 of 17 radio-tagged kea were found dead, a 40% kill rate of a protected species. Weka, brown opportunistic ground-dwellers about the size of a chicken, are often found feeding on the carcasses of 1080-poisoned animals and later succumbing to secondary poisoning. Basically, any bird that will be enticed by a cereal/grain bait or bit of carrot, or that feeds off carrion or insects, is susceptible.

Kill of non-targeted mammalian species is also significant. Farmers resident near forest blocks can lose stock if their cattle, sheep, goats or deer consume wayward 1080 pellets or drink runoff water that has been contaminated with 1080. Dogs are particularly susceptible to the poison, and a gnawed on 1080-kill possum equals death for any hapless farm dog or family pet inclined to have a chew.

Lastly, runoff from 1080-treated land can end up in our water supply with contamination not only from the baits but also from dead animals. 1080 poison promoters maintain the substance breaks down quickly in water to become harmless by-products. Anti-1080 activists report little breakdown in cold weather, however, so pellets from a winter drop may linger for months in stream areas if not consumed by animals. Carcass breakdown is also slow because the usual suspects (worms, insects, maggots) which feed on the carcass are also killed.

You can tell this stuff riles me up. I am not fond of killing animals in the first place—I’m the sort that catches spiders and puts them outside, and rescues mice from the cat—but I do accept that for various reasons we do kill animals and our society condones that, and I am a part of that society. However, the wanton broadcast of a toxic poison onto our landscape, a poison that causes indiscriminate and excruciatingly slow and painful death for all manner of living things, from the smallest mites to tomtits, dogs and deer in the name of “conservation” and “protection” makes me want to hiss and spit. We are all one, this is our planet and we share it with all of God’s creatures. We are all part of a single eco-system, and the debasement of that eco-system simply lays a self-inflicted curse upon ourselves and our world. How dumb is that?

Monday, 24 October 2011

Oh, deer!

There are deer in the forests around my house. We know people who regularly shoot deer around here for the freezer. Also considered a “pest” species in New Zealand (like the possum—see previous blog entries), red deer are open season year ‘round. Having grown up in North America where deer hunting is an autumn activity, I am deeply saddened when I hear gunshots in the spring, knowing a doe might be killed, leaving a fawn to die of starvation. A friend offered me a haunch spring-shot venison once; I declined on personal ethical grounds.

Earlier this year I saw a dead deer by the creek that flows past my house. At the time, I wondered if it had been wounded by a hunter and got away, to die by the creek. A friend half-seriously suggested I should scramble down the bank and carve a few chops off the carcass for the freezer. The bank is a steep one, and I didn’t go down to investigate, but it did seem odd that for days after that, the carcass lay there, a brownish hump in the streamside willows, seemingly without significant decay, not even bloating, in spite of warm weather.  But I’m no expert on the decomposition of dead bodies, and wasn’t curious enough at the time to go closer. Finally, several weeks later, after heavy rain raised the creek’s water level, the dead deer carcass was washed away downstream, out of sight and out of mind.

The memory of that deer carcass came back, though, when I was reading W F Benfield’s book “The Third Wave: Poisoning the Land”, and a more chilling possibility than hunter-wounded-deer occurred to me. The forested hills around my house have been aerial dropped with 1080 poison, and poison baits are laid for possums. In Benfield’s book, there are photographs of dead sheep, creekside, who have sought water in a vain attempt to ease the excruciating pain caused by ingesting 1080 poison. Elsewhere in the book he writes, “Remains of possum or deer may sometimes be found by creeks as they seek water to easy their agony.” Seven tasty cereal-based baits, he explains, are enough to kill the average hind, and LandCare estimates a red deer kill rate of up to 54% of the population (and up to 75% of fallow deer population) following a poison drop[i].

Now this bothers me on several levels. First of all, in spite of [highly questionable] claims that 1080 breaks down easily into harmless by-products, it is widely acknowledged that animals which feed on 1080-poisoned carcasses ingest toxic 1080—hence the ban on dogs (which are highly susceptible to the poison) in areas where 1080 has been dropped or laid. So, what is to say that the deer someone shoots in the hills around my home and sticks into the freezer for dinner hasn’t been sampling 1080 baits? Do I want to eat that? (According to Benfield, “Japan already bans the import of New Zealand wild harvest foods because of 1080.”[ii])

Secondly, 15% of the Wellington area water supply comes from the hills around here[iii]. Now they claim that 1080 breaks down quickly in water[iv], but the prospect of 1080-contaminated carcasses in my drinking water (or direct contamination from aerial drops) is not a comforting thought for me.