Welcome to my blog

Hello. I am Sherlock and this is my diary. My job title is "osteopath", and my work is problem-solving. This involves detective work, hence my name. Detective work involves reason and science, but is not limited by them. It also involves the eye of experience, and "hunches". Thus, some would regard my activities as those of a quack, a title I assume here with irony. I am writing this blog because I like writing. I am quite opinionated, and perhaps I suffer from a repressed need for expression. I have no particular prior "agenda"; if I have any bees in my bonnet, no doubt they will make themselves apparent by their buzzing. All names and identifying details of any people featuring in these anecdotes have been changed. Thank you for reading.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

I would be a white willow

Buddhism and hinduism teach that your actions in this life will determine your situation in your next life. This gives us an element of control over our fate, through the choices we make. The ideal is to progress steadily from life to life, through evolution of the consciousness, from the less advanced to the more advanced forms of life until the attainment of nirvana (bliss) and the liberation from the endless cycle of birth and death.

Here is an interesting little exercise in self-knowledge which is based on the idea of karma. You must decide what you would be in your various reincarnations, starting as a flower, tree or some other kind of plant, then moving through the animal kingdom from less to more advanced forms of life. You could include some kind of invertebrate animal, a fish, reptile or amphibian, a bird, and as many mammals as you like. Here is mine.

I would be a white willow,
with silvery leaves blown swirling in the breeze,
which freshens the valley where I stand,
and the tumbling stream my constant companion.

I would be a mayfly,
rising on a sunny evening at the dawn of summer,
to live my life out in a single euphoric day,
before falling again to the water that bore me.

I would be a dragon fly,
cobalt blue and shiny,
flying zig and flying zag, beholding the world,
with my strange eyes and strange brain.

I would be a salmon from the deep Atlantic,
ascending a clear river with leaps and thrusts of my tail,
driven by primeval urge back to my origin,
and exhausted by my trials, to mate and die.

I would be a kingfisher,
and I would dart like a brilliant arrow,
beneath the willows,
you might catch but a glimpse.

But I would be an eagle too,
circling the highest peaks in the rarest air,
a master of the currents,
and surveyor of the world far below.

I would be a bear in the forest,
solitary, powerful and moody,
in winter asleep in my den,
in summer catching salmon up by my friend the willow.

And I would be an otter,
playing in the water,
fishing or just having fun,
with my playful mate.

When I re-read this after I had written it, I could see several themes. The most striking of all is that almost all of these forms of life live near or in water. I do love water, I suppose you could say it is “my element”. The second is that five of the seven animals are naturally solitary rather than gregarious, which reflects my own nature. The third is that, even so, there is another, contradictory characteristic, which is joyful: the beauty of nature, the fun-loving character of the otter, the bear enjoying fishing in the company of his “friend”, the euphoria of the rise of the mayfly. And lastly, the value placed in all-consuming, noble purpose, like the mayfly, like the salmon.

Try thinking about which forms of life you would like to develop through, and write a few lines about each. It doesn't have to be great literature or poetry – just write it as it comes out of your head. Then try to decipher it to reveal clues about what makes you tick.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Esoteric therapies and reasons to believe

I work in a field and live in a place both of which attract a high proportion of people with esoteric inclinations. In my daily work I am faced with expectations of a shared belief in the premises of a whole range of esoteric notions and practices, in particular therapeutic ones. Most of which, in my experience, I don't share. “Why?” I am sometimes asked, or challenged, over lunch or dinner tables. But it is not a thing I am able to explain in a few words over those tables, so here is the mid-length version.

First, what do I mean by esoteric therapies? Let me attempt a description which doesn't fall too foul of my own contradictions, fallacies and idiosyncrasies. Physiology is a verifiable science which anybody can learn about and apply regardless of their belief system. As a body of knowledge it is not esoteric as access to it requires no special membership or uncommon perceptive abilities. But esoteric practices deal in objectively unverifiable phenomena, whose existence is established only through faith in them and a supposed uncommon ability to observe and manipulate them. I am talking of phenomena such as “life force”, “vital energy” or “subtle energy”. Even many esoteric therapies make reference to established physiology. However, they also claim direct and mechanistic physiological effects through means and agencies with no known basis in physiology, being based instead on a notion, an intuition, a belief, or a faith. A brief list could include therapies such as (in alphabetical order): applied kinesiology, bioresonance, craniosacral therapy (some variants), homoeopathy (at high “potencies”), radionics, reiki, “vibrational medicine”.

Caveat number 1: Am I saying these therapies don't work? Absolutely not. Of course though, we have to define what we mean by “work”. An acceptable definition might be on the lines of “achieving the expectation agreed when the patient is taken on”. Generally this would include a medium-term improvement in the symptoms for which the patient sought treatment. I am quite sure that all esoteric therapies are capable of achieving this, but whether they can do this more effectively than an elaborate placebo is an entirely different question; with, I suspect, a different answer. Another way of putting this would be, is the effect due to the claimed mechanisms or to other (probably much simpler and cheaper) things?

Caveat number 2: Am I saying I disbelieve in “life force”? No, I keep an open mind. I am open to the existence of a transcendental domain, for in my opinion only from this could a specific “life force” derive, if indeed it can be said to manifest at all. I do not positively believe nor do I disbelieve – that is the real meaning of keeping an open mind.

So, why am I unconvinced in esoteric therapies?
Reason number 1: They frequently abuse science. Example: many esoteric scientists today talk about “quantum” effects. It is a fashionable buzzword. I asked my father to explain quantum mechanics to me. My father had been a post-doctoral research physicist, and he chuckled at my question. He told me that it is such a specialist, complex and abstruse field that even most physicists can't really understand it. One meaning of “abstruse” is “esoteric”. That is why esoteric therapists like “quantum” things. But they don't understand them.

Reason number 2: They are fond of dogma. I asked someone why they believed such and such a thing and they said it was a feeling. That is one kind of good answer, I think. But while the journey from feeling through to an interpretation may be the justifiable province of intuition, the onward journey to a detailed theoretical model is not, and especially so if it is sold (literally) as established fact. When that happens we are in the realm of fantasy and dogma, not of reality and science. Esoteric therapies tend to inhabit the former realm and not the latter.

Reason number 3: They thrive on the easy comfort of a convenient belief. Many things are possible, but that is no reason to commit to a belief in them. Belief must be earned. Only a belief forged or gifted through trial and tribulation is a worthy belief. For something to earn my belief, I need to start with some criteria. And when we are talking about therapies offered with a theoretical base, only rational criteria will do. MY own criteria go something like this:
  • I do not believe it “works” just because somebody tells me it does. Wouldn't that be a little foolish? I might give credence to such anecdote if told at first hand by somebody whose reason, honesty and perspicacity I know and esteem. I might do so too, if the anecdotes are so numerous, from so many different sources, and so impressive in their specificity, clarity, detail and implications that it would seem foolish to discount them. On the other hand, if the person talks a lot and has a lot of charisma, I have to say I tend to have a prejudice against their stories. I also tend to scepticism about the opinions of experts and authorities of all kinds.
  • I do not believe it “works” just because it fits in with my lifestyle or sense of identity or because it gives me an easily won comfort to do so. These seem to me to be somewhat superficial reasons for holding beliefs.
  • I am inclined to believe a proposition more readily the more it seems plausible. Plausibility is a good rule of thumb. However, plausibility can only ever be based on our current understanding of the way the world works. That is its limitation. I understand that limitation. I do not discount absolutely propositions which do not fit my world view. But my world view is not just something that happened. I have thought about it for 53 years; it must be worth something, to me. A balanced attitude, I think, is to say: “That seems plausible, let's observe it further and see what happens”, or “That seems entirely implausible, I may be wrong and I'm ready to be proved wrong, but as things stand I'm not going to spend my time or money on it.”
  • I am inclined to believe a proposition more readily the greater the supporting evidence from well planned and conducted systematic studies. To me that seems sensible. This helps to cut through the lapses and faults in perception, thinking, logic, memory, judgement, objectivity, honesty and sanity that plague individual human beings, the egos, dogma and inconsistency of “experts” and authorities, the self-interest of the trade.
  • However, in the absence of much of the former, I am well disposed towards collective therapeutic experience of thousands of years (e.g. ayurveda, TCM), so long as the utility of its propositions are not actually disproved or convincingly refuted.
I think it fair to say that esoteric therapies frequently do not satisfy my criteria for belief.

I'd like to look briefly at the ideas of “vital energy” or “life force” that underlie many esoteric therapies. Many esoteric therapies based upon these ideas also like to use words like “quantum” and “vibration”. In my opinion these words are red herrings. They are effective in dressing up ritual to create the makings of an elaborate and effective placebo. But it is my belief that any effect of these therapies above that of placebo is determined not by the specific characteristics of the therapy, but those of the therapist, in particular three: charisma, empathy, intent. However, a therapist who can effectively apply charisma, empathy and intent has no need for a theory of life force, other than perhaps to sustain the belief of the therapist.

The use of such words as energy, force, vibration, implies a mechanistic explanation. But firstly, these very same therapies often are at pains to exude a spiritual aura. Why does an effect deriving from the spiritual domain need a mechanistic explanation, if not to also take advantage of the false credibility scientific sounding language may afford? I have used three words above: charisma, empathy and intent. The last two, combined, are implicit in a very simple action that ordinary people have done for centuries: prayer. It is not such a far-fetched thing to suggest that prayer can help the prayed-for (indeed people used to like the idea): here is an scientific article published in 2001 in the British Medical Journal which claims to demonstrate such an effect.

Is it divine intervention, or is it a vibration, or both? I do not know, but I would take a bet, if such a thing were verifiable, that many esoteric therapists, with their energies and vibrations, do not know either.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

My five most popular posts

This blog was started nearly 3 years ago so I thought it might be a good idea to review the most popular posts. An author's most popular writings are not necessarily those he/she considers his/her best, and I have to say I have been quite surprised by your choices. Here are the top five:

(1) Bottom-dwellers shall inherit the Earth

I didn't think too many people would be interested in this cryptically-titled rant, but it picked up almost twice as many hits as any other post, mainly from America. Perhaps that can be accounted for by it's biblical reference?

My theory about this subject is not esoteric and it is rather vague, but it fits, and I think it is pretty much the most that can be said given our current state of knowledge. Predictably a lot of hits from China.

This one was a dark horse. A very large number of hits from Russia, where there is perhaps slightly easier access to the Tashkent scene than from many other parts of the world. 'Nuff said maybe.

I have produced more complete posts about coping with stress (just click on “stress” in the keywords list on the right) but this little trick to help train oneself out of negative thought patterns seems to have caught peoples' interest.

A patient's attitude to the treatment makes a world of difference. Here I gave some pointers from my experience as a clinician.

And now I have to eat some humble pie. Three months ago I published a spoof post entitled The amazing secret of how to cure chronic back pain forever in one simple step, between two posts I thought might have received more attention. The idea was to test my theory that people in general are a pretty superficial lot by attracting a large number of hits to this most superficial post. Well, I was wrong and I apologise. It received not appreciably more nor less hits that its neighbours (i.e. not many). Well done, readers! You are clearly anything but superficial, just surprisingly interested in Tashkent.

A little disappointingly, very few people have commented on my posts. I would welcome a few more comments, so long as they are constructive and without aggressive or hostile intent.

Finally, if you are stimulated to read any of the above posts, don't stop there – please do browse, you might find some interesting or useful stuff.             

Sunday, 20 April 2014

E = mc2 - Part 2

In my post e = mc2, I was perhaps a little pedantic in my disingenuous assumption that there were only one correct usage of the word “energy” (the scientific one). Of course this is not true. The word may legitimately be used in different ways.

Oriental philosophy and traditional medicine has developed some concepts the words for which have been translated into western languages using words such as “energy” or “force”, notably prana from Sanskrit and qi (chi) from Chinese. Psychiatrists such as Freud (in connection with his conception of the libido) and Reich (in connection with his orgone) have described psychological phenomena in terms of some kind of energy. In common language lay people often equate feelings of enthusiasm and psychological well-being with feeling energetic. So no, there is no one “correct usage” of the word “energy”; all of the above usages have equal legitimacy in describing the human condition.

It is just that I think that it is a word often used so loosely as to impoverish any meaning attached to it, and also, personally, I have a problem with some of the ideas entailed in common usages of the word. The usage as a translation of qi and prana, as well as those of Freud and the Reich, are better understood as metaphors rather than relating to any kinds of substantive entities.

Is this distinction important? Perhaps, perhaps not. However, I would point out that since the late 60s an army of alternative medical practitioners has grown up claiming possession of the special knowledge and the amazing methods which allow them precisely and at will to manipulate the flow of your energy or life force. This depends upon the belief in an “energy” that is present in living things and vitalises them, quite apart from the forms of energy known to physics and chemistry, that is however some kind of substantive entity, some sort of “spiritual stuff”. Perhaps there is such stuff – the God Particle? But even if that is so, I have a suspicion that a good many of its New Age advocates do not actually know very much about what they speak of, and that a good many alternative “energy” therapists are well deluded by their own egos.

But what about the traditional Oriental systems like Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)? Traditional (and traditionalist) practitioners of TCM believe in qi, and believe that all therapeutic efforts act through its medium. I have considerable respect for TCM. I am not sure that its translation as “energy” is good, and I am not sure that anybody not brought up in the Orient can truly understand the meaning of“qi”as intended by native speakers. But let's let that pass. My suggestion is this: perhaps we could understand the effects of TCM more truly and more deeply (and therefore, if we are practitioners, become better ones) if we relinquished this mechanistic notion of qi as an entity, simple, substantive, and manipulable.

Friday, 11 April 2014

A walk in the quarry, with reflections

The bay is still in shadow as I wind a way down from the cliff edge, choosing my own combination of the various paths that have been trodden through the stunted pine and juniper and thorn bushes. In places the path is rocky but in others the underlying sandstone has broken down to produce areas of fine sand. The cool early morning air stings my skin and I feel fine and exhilarated to be abroad in nature on this fine day. A lone fishing boat glides softly in the bay way over to the east, and two cormorants scud away low on the water at my approach. At the bottom of the descent a wide table of flat rock extends to the edge of the sea. It is beautiful here, not the most beautiful bay around here, but surely the strangest. I regard the many little cairns that have been built, the New Age patterns laid out with piles of rocks, the carvings made in the soft stone depicting faces, or ancient Chinese or Sanskrit symbols.

I sit and reflect on man and nature and reality and symbolism and magic, as what must one reflect on sitting alone in a place like this? I am fascinated by man's fascination with magic, this being ever evident in the field of health and healing, my professional interest. I remember a conversation with an acquaintance, an enthusiastic advocate of homoeopathy. Homoeopathy is one of those things the belief in which more often than not is primarily a lifestyle choice rather than a reasoned choice. You believe it or you don't, and I am not a believer, at least so far as its classical formulation is concerned. I reflect instead that I am a believer in the workings of nature and in the power of the human mind. I have found no reason to believe that the sugar pill, homoeopathic or not, has any specific curative action in nature over and above that perpetrated by the power of the human mind. Or why indeed it should be more potent than the latter. But homoeopathy, I think, is not a science, it is magic.

Then again I reflect that while I find it unconvincing, the theory of homoeopathy reflects an attempt to describe an aspect of reality, such that reality may be manipulated to achieve practical ends. Magic too is such an attempt, and so is science. But though some such attempts are more sophisticated than others and more practically useful within their domains of application, ultimately all are fabrications of our minds. The further in one looks, the deeper or the wider one sees, our certainties about what constitutes reality crumble further, as the sandstone I am sitting on has crumbled into the sand I have left on my path. I have an insight that the people who carved these marks into the rock have found themselves in awe of this place, and, struggling to place the wonder and affinity they feel for it into some kind of understanding or scheme, they have embodied it in symbols. Their system of beliefs, here affirmed by the marks they have left, creates a kind of personal and communal reality. And these things, in the mind, are powerful catalysts. At this thought I feel a little ashamed for holding my advocacy of science superior to these more animistic approaches to our world.

The name of this strange place means “the quarry”, and at the western edge of this flat sandstone is a rectangular area almost like an open topped room, with high walls, straight corners, and extraordinary regular geometric patterns carved out of the rock. Here the patterns and the graffiti continue, some profound, others banal, some poetic. There is a nearly worn-down dragon. A phallus. Poseidon's trident. People's names or initials with a date. Somebody has carved in the stone that he or she is the starlight the other's path. A beautiful sentiment.

I walk to the other, eastern side of the flat rock, where it drops five metres into wide inlet of the sea forming a bay between two promontories. Cormorants sit on the rocks below the cliffs, turning and craning their necks, and regarding me warily as I sit on the edge of the rock shelf regarding them. Voices come from back above. It is only 10 o'clock. Usually on my morning walks nobody else appears until at least 11. This place I think will become crowded in the summer. I am glad I came now to experience it alone. The people in this region are gregarious, but I am not. It's time to go.

I do not retrace my steps - I want to avoid other human beings right now. Looking up I see high above two rocky bluffs rising out of the cliff edge, and decide that I can climb up and, going between them, come out on the other side at the top of the cliff. After half way the going gets rough and tough: the gradient increases, the sandy soil and gravel will not afford grip to my my feet, and the dry, dead juniper branches trip me up repeatedly. My arms and hands become covered in scratches from my attempts to negotiate the juniper thickets. I like the scratches though. I am of the opinion that scratches are good for you (as long as you are not debilitated or a bleeder or the source of the scratch is not a likely source of infection): they prime and condition the immune system, and they tell the brain to start a healing response, in much the same fashion as I think acupuncture does.

Further up still it is rockier and in places very steep. Do you know that moment of sustained exertion when you feel there is not another cubic centimetre of air left in your lungs, or a mousepower of strength left in your muscles? But, you know, there always is. There's always one more step. So far at least. And the views over the bay and to west and east are stunning, worth all the effort of discovery a hundred times. At the top the rocky bluffs and cliff edge are weathered into stupendous formations and hollowed with many small caves. The way along the cliff just below its lip is at times precarious. An improbable natural bridge arches over a deep gully. Round another rocky outcrop, I come over the hill and the scent of warm pine off the warm earth takes me by surprise. Now the way is gentle, and meanders through the pine wood down to my starting point a little way below and to the west.

I walk up the large hill to the west of the bay and sit on the roof of the ancient watch-tower, where I imagine the watchman looking out over the sea, watching in trepidation the approach of a pirate fleet. I can see the fire burning to raise the alarm, and runners making headlong for the settlements and villages to warn the villagers. To arms men! Women and children to the hills! Offshore at this point a vast rock, as big and craggy as a whole mountain, rises out of the sea. The Greeks thought mermaids lived there. People I know think flying saucers come out of it from deep in the Earth. Myths to suit the times. I think again of all the symbolism inspired by this place. Somebody has left a cardboard Big Mac box on this roof. Another sign of the times.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Bottom-dwellers shall inherit the Earth

I write with a philosophical question which I will arrive at with a little context.

It is written that the meek shall inherit the Earth, and there is not much meeker than the bottom-dwelling invertebrates that some scientists believe have ensured life has continued on Earth despite cataclysmic disasters of the kind that wiped-out 90% of marine life and 70% of terrestrial vertebrates in the Late Permian period.

There are people I know who hold a firm conviction that human ingenuity and technological advancement are able to solve all practical problems faced by humanity. I do not share their faith. I think it is entirely possible that human life on earth will be decimated due to its own self-harming.

Just one example among a great many. We throw poisons into the sea and then we eat the toxic fish, and we think that's normal and acceptable despite dying of nasty diseases. This video from an Italian television programme succinctly explains (unfortunately for the uneducated masses, in Italian) how:

  • Toxic and carcinogenic fish are freely and commonly sold in Europe.
  • Mercury is toxic, it causes cancer and neurological diseases, and accumulates in the body over a lifetime.
  • High levels of mercury are found in large carnivorous fish such as tuna and swordfish.
  • All tuna fish on the market contains mercury, often at levels far exceeding the legal limits.
  • "Legal limits" means "accepted", it does not mean "compatible with health".
  • No level of mercury in foods is safe, because any amount that is ingested adds further to the accumulated mercury that is already present in the body.
  • All this mercury ends up in fish because human beings throw it into the sea.

Mercury and other toxic heavy metals are used in many industrial processes and technological components. Despite systems to prevent or reduce their escape into the environment, it is inevitable that they will do so. Human beings accept this because it is more important to maintain this way of life (wealth, "progress", "development", consumerism) than it is to live in health and safety.

I do not say this glibly. I recognise that individual people are sometimes stuck between a rock and a hard place with this compromise. The glass-makers of Murano island in the Venetian lagoon colour their glass with dyes made from toxic heavy metals. Their kilns blow these into the air for their children to breathe in, and from there they also enter the lagoon and out to sea where local fishing fleets fish it up and bring it back onto their dinner plates. These glass workshops are small-scale, family affairs, and the craftsmen say: "This is the way we've done it for centuries and lived to tell the tale", and "To change would be too costly". So the organisations responsible for ensuring that environmental pollution is kept within legal limits (but remember, NO amount of mercury, lead, arsenic, cadmium, etc. that can be taken into our bodies is compatible with health) are hampered by resistance all the way. Nevertheless, people see their livelihoods at stake.

Yet this kind of resistance is nothing compared to that put up by large industrial sectors or companies, whose raison d'etre (self-preservation) depends absolutely upon the maintenance by human society of a highly dysfunctional lifestyle driven by novelty, greed and ever-growing consumption.

I repeat: this is just one tiny example among many, the accumulative effect of which means we're all doomed. On the other hand there are those that point to the fact that despite all our environmentally-damaging activities, in modern societies the average human lifespan is higher than it has ever been since records were kept and is continuing to increase, an increase only partially accounted for by the fall in child mortality in the first half of the 20th century. This is a serious objection, but I see this stay of our self-imposed end as a passing phase.

Another objection is that as societies become wealthier, the birth-rate drops, and so environmental degradation slows. Which leads me to ask then why the Mediterranean, a sea bordered on one side by wealthy industrial countries with low birth rates and on the other side by poorer countries without much in the way of polluting industries, is so toxic we can't eat its fish? Who put more mercury in the sea, the rich ones or the poor ones? One thing is certain in my mind: if the whole world tries to follow the road to wealth taken before them by the so-called "developed" world, it would be wildly unrealistic to expect them to achieve equivalent levels of wealth before the sky falls in under the weight of heavy metals.

Now let me confront the reader with my philosophical question: Does it matter?

In the wider scheme of things, if human beings did wipe themselves out through their own folly, would it really matter? The world would go on regardless. There are species of bacteria which have been found living in all kinds of extreme environments: under Arctic ice, inside volcanic vents, in radioactive waste. There are marine creatures that live in near boiling geothermal outlets in pitch-blackness and extreme pressures at the bottom of the ocean. These creatures or ones like them will survive. I'll wager they'll let out a collective sigh of relief at our disappearance and say to each other: "Good riddance to bad rubbish". And if not them the plants, some plants, will thrive.

In this context I can think of only a few reasons why we ourselves should feel sorrow for our forthcoming plight i.e. non-existence.

  1. We are sorry that our children and grandchildren may suffer. I agree, but this will probably not come to a head in their lifetimes. And how far do you want to take it down the blood-line? Great grandchildren? Great great grandchildren? There comes a point down through the future generations where the emotional attachment fades, does there not?
  2. We have a highly egotistical and vain regard for the permanence of our own genes. Narcissistic personality disorder is the technical term for pathological self-regard.
  3. We have a sentimentalised view of future human life on Earth: joyful children laughing and skipping through sunny, flower-dotted meadows, etc. That is probably an unrealistic view, as if they survived, they'd all be glued to their latest technological gizmos. Anyway, if that sunny and happy picture is what you want, the current plan ain't the way to achieve it.
  4. We feel we have some ethical imperative to prolong human existence, an entirely irrational feeling, in the wider scheme of things, if in the absence of (5) below.
  5. A belief in some spiritual design that is served by our continuing existence. Because, for example "...God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good." 
The last, if you hold to it, seems to me to be the only good reason why one might worry about our collective fate.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Don't Be A Leech

Terms such as “energy vampires”, “emotional vampires”, “psychic vampires” have come into use to describe people with negative personality traits which make them an emotional burden to be with.
I think they are rather unkind terms, as the vampires of myth are malign beings, whereas emotionally draining people are usually simply unhappy, their effect on others unintended and unwitting.

Perhaps the word “leech” is, if not exactly kind, at least nearer the mark. The leech is, unwittingly, a parasite, dependent for its being on other creatures' life-blood. It is unaware, beyond responding in its habitual way to its primitive sense of its environment. It is incapable of an alternative choice.

Similarly an emotional leech is also an unwitting parasite, albeit a human one, this time dependent for his or her own emotional status quo on other peoples' emotional attention. Like the invertebrate kind of leech, human emotional leeches lack awareness of what it can mean to be alive, they limit themselves to responding in their habitual way to their environment, as understood through limited perceptual and interpretative horizons. They are not happy with their lot, but their status quo is their widest horizon.

I have often read the advice to avoid “emotional vampires” (who I now call leeches). It is good advice if you are not one yourself. You may be a kindly person who feels sorry for a leech, especially if they have been a friend, but beware that if you try to help them overcome their state of malcontent you will likely fail, as well as being bled for your efforts. Four requisites are necessary for those who would help a leech (a) A full tank and plentiful reserves; (b) To have developed some form of protection; (c) Instruction in the dark art of psychology; (d) Sound good sense. Lack any one of these and you will be parasitised.

But what then if you are one yourself? What if you are an energy leech? Are you an energy leech?
  1. Do you complain a lot?
  2. When talking to people, do you find your conversations are most often about negative things?
  3. Do you frequently express your dissatisfaction to friends and acquaintances?
  4. Do you moan and whine more often than you laugh and smile?
  5. Are you frequently seeking others' sympathy for your woes?
  6. Do you take support from others more often than you give of your own?
If this describes you in whole or in part, the chances are your friends and acquaintances find you a bit of a leech.

What to do about it?
  1. Recognise it. (No, don't say “But...” and justify it. Just recognise it).
  2. Realise that you are harming other people as well as yourself.
  3. Know that optimists live longer, happier, richer, more satisfying lives (even though they may not be right more often than you). It's a proven fact. Ask yourself, do you want to be right or happy?
  4. Start to experiment. Count how often you have a negative thought and how often a positive one. See if you can substitute a positive interpretation for a negative one from time to time. Have a laugh. Smile at people. See if the sky falls in.
  5. Put an elastic band round your wrist and twang it whenever you find yourself having a negative thought. Allow yourself a smile (or occasionally, a chocolate) every time you substitute a negative thought with a truly positive one. Be freer with the smiles than the chocs though or you'll get fat.
  6. Watch others rather than speaking your mind. Do you admire the relentlessly negative people you observe? What about the sunny, positive, optimistic, resilient ones? Copy the latter.
  7. Don't hang around with other leeches. Hang around with sunny people.
  8. Learn to be wrong and enjoy it. Constant self-justification is a pain to all concerned, yourself foremost.
  9. Know that life is about metamorphosis and evolution. You can change. Difficult does not equal impossible.
  10. Are you really very unhappy? See a  professional psychologist/psychotherapist. It doesn't mean you're crazy, and he/she will not steal your soul.
  11. Great! You have done yourself and the world a big favour. Everything is connected.

How do I know this? I used to complain quite a lot but I learned not to do it and that has been good.