Velcro or Teflon?

I’m a long-term devotee of Franciscan friar Richard Rohr’s many books and (enthusiastically recommended) daily meditations. He’s currently writing a series under the banner Alternative Orthodoxy and today’s piece hits a large nail squarely on the head. I hope that this “taster” will encourage readers (of all faith traditions or none) to follow the link to the full piece, and maybe go on to subscribe to the daily emailed Meditations.

Dan O’Grady, a psychologist and Living School student,
told me recently that our negative and critical thoughts
are like Velcro, they stick and hold; whereas our positive
and joyful thoughts are like Teflon, they slide away. We
have to deliberately choose to hold onto positive thoughts
before they “imprint” …

Neuroscience can now demonstrate the brain indeed
has a negative bias; the brain prefers to constellate
around fearful, negative, or problematic situations. In
fact, when a loving, positive, or unproblematic thing
comes your way, you have to savor it consciously for at
least fifteen seconds before it can harbor and store
itself in your “implicit memory”; otherwise it doesn’t
stick. We must indeed savor the good in order to
significantly change our regular attitudes and moods.
And we need to strictly monitor all the “Velcro”
negative thoughts.

Excerpt from Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation
Alternative Orthodoxy: Week 2 – Turning toward the Good
Thursday, February 18, 2016

This is game-changing stuff, I think, if we reflect a bit on the fact that the world’s contemplative and / or praying traditions have long intuited instinctively what sticks – and what doesn’t, what makes human persons feel positive, happy and fully awake – and what doesn’t.

Whilst some undoubtedly continue to think of prayer as ceremonial, or as a shopping list, or “Life” insurance policy, many, many others around the world have recognised, and are recognising the literally immeasurable benefits of savouring something ‘consciously for at least fifteen seconds’ so that ‘it can harbor and store itself in your “implicit memory”; otherwise it doesn’t stick.’

What a difference 15 seconds, or 5, 10, 15, 20 minutes-worth of conscious savouring could make to everyone’s daily life. How did humankind manage to get something so fundamental to personal and corporate peace and concord holed up in exclusive religious institutions and complex commandments for so long? Consciousness-capability is an already-present charism or gift, in and for everyone. Let’s teach our children that, early.

It’s truly no wonder that the great teachers – the Prophets, the Buddha, the Eastern mystics and Jesus of Nazareth, together with the Dalai Lama and Pope Francis in our own time, and all the other great bodhisattvas, gurus, natives and sages through the ages – have been a bit suspicious of religiosity. Each, in their own way, has pointed humankind to the obvious fact of our evolving and growing.

Loving “success” in the growing process will involve appreciating (giving worth to or worshipping), considering, contemplating, feeling, hearing, knowing, meditating, praying, remembering, seeing, sensing, smelling, tasting, touching, uniting and velcro-ing-in goodness!

In the zone

Never even remotely sports-minded I’ve nevertheless noticed that the best amongst athletes are people who are, as the pyschologists would have it, “in the zone”. There’s an unmistakeable Presence about sporting people who are fully focused: Jessica Ennis-Hill. Mo Farah.

Or on stage and screen: Dame Judi Dench has it – her presence felt in a crowded room. A lone Edward Fox fills an empty stage. And in the wider public life: Pope Francis. The Dalai Lama. HM the Queen. In graceful flow, fully occupying their space, these people are frequently seen smiling. Unmistakeably alive, buzzing, energising, giving. We take notice.

Just back from rowing at the gym – more to do with time-of-life necessity than with any love for sport – I have a smile on my face, fully present. The rower’s a good place for just being, for contemplation, for the lithe, smooth movements of endorphins-encouraged fully-physical flow – a kind of “being plugged into” the energy shared by other focused people, there, and in the know. Yes. Smiling. Home in the zone. Communion.


Two Kinds of Intelligence

There are two kinds of intelligence: one acquired,
as a child in school memorizes facts and concepts
from books and from what the teacher says,
collecting information from the traditional sciences
as well as from the new sciences.

With such intelligence you rise in the world.
You get ranked ahead or behind others
in regard to your competence in retaining
information. You stroll with this intelligence
in and out of fields of knowledge, getting always more
marks on your preserving tablets.

There is another kind of tablet, one
already completed and preserved inside you.
A spring overflowing its springbox. A freshness
in the center of the chest. This other intelligence
does not turn yellow or stagnate. It’s fluid,
and it doesn’t move from outside to inside
through conduits of plumbing-learning.

This second knowing is a fountainhead
from within you, moving out.

Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi
translated by Coleman Barks

The practice of Mindfulness now has a literary genre and a worldwide following of its own. So there’s hope for our fearful, fractious world, a hope, indeed, that is “already completed and preserved inside you” (Alpha and Omega, beginning and end), a hope that dates back not just to the thirteenth century Persian poet Rumi, nor to the gradual emergence of the world’s great faith traditions, but to the very Author, the Creating Power of life itself.

Hope is to be found in this mindfulness, because – wherever we are in the world, and however deeply covered over or entangled by acquired influences – “this other intelligence” remains eternal and unsullied, it “does not turn yellow or stagnate”, it can neither be poisoned nor poison. This “fountainhead” is immortal.

Mindful awareness of this life source, this “other intelligence”, renders human persons capable of reassessing, reordering and making ever-new sense of all forms of externally acquired influence. Wisdom’s primary truth is to be found in the fountainhead within. What great and life-giving, life-saving wisdom is this fountainhead whispering into the man-made noise and too often murderous divisions of our time?

Mindfulness – variously called awareness, confession, contemplation, eucharist, examination, meditation, penitence, prayer, reflection, thanksgiving, waiting, watching or wonder.

Whatever it’s called, this fountainhead is bubbling up in the hearts and minds of world leaders gathered in conference about climate change in Paris today, and this same intelligence is heard in the voice of Imam Tidiani Moussa Naibi from Bangui, in the Central African Republic, who, in thanking the Pope for his visit this morning, said it was “a symbol we all understand.”

Pope and Imam alike are drawing upon the same fountainhead, in company with millions of others. “Muslims and Christians are brothers and sisters” the pope has said, “and we should act like it.” His is a mindful heart that believes the same of all humankind. And this “other intelligence” is being recognised across national, religious and philosophical boundaries everywhere. The world is having a rethink, or, more accurately perhaps, a deeper searching within, so we can dare to be hopeful.


This second knowing is a fountainhead
from within you, moving out.


I’ve been “murmuring” to myself all day about a photograph. Thousands of Africans, dressed in their “Sunday best” have walked for many hours and miles to celebrate the coming of Pope Francis. It’s pouring with rain and the crowd is seated on a hillside of moving mud – in a land of sunshine. It seems so unfair!

And then I catch myself – and doubtless in company with millions of other much-too-certain keepers of traditions, disquieted by life’s upending so much we think of as “what should be” – ecological, meteorological, philosophical or spiritual, I catch sight of my ridiculous, protesting little self in a mirror and, for a while at least, am humbled and silenced.

From the margins, in Africa, the call of the twenty-first century prophet Francis urges two new ecological turning points in history: humankind must stop destroying one another and must stop destroying the earth upon which it depends.

Peaceful coexistence. Wider perspectives. Higher generosity. Deeper humility. Broad hospitality. Common wealth. Quiet speech. Attentive listening – especially, in this noisy world, to the all-illuminating, all-pervasive silent music of God.

From the margins, in North Wales, the twentieth century poet R S Thomas provided a vision of prophetic listening, an antidote to fear or pride, the possibility, having seen oneself in a mirror, of praise:


I praise you because
you are artist and scientist
in one. When I am somewhat
fearful of your power,
your ability to work miracles
with a set-square, I hear
you murmuring to yourself
in a notation Beethoven
dreamed of but never achieved.
You run off your scales of
rain water and sea water, play
the chords of the morning
and evening light, sculpture
with shadow, join together leaf
by leaf, when spring
comes, the stanzas of
an immense poem. You speak
all languages and none,
answering our most complex
prayers with the simplicity
of a flower, confronting
us, when we would domesticate you
to our uses, with the rioting
viruses under our lens.

R S Thomas
Laboratories of the Spirit, 1975

Let me not be so quick to presume!