Sir: I hope that people are not unduly put off by Melanie McDonagh’s misrepresentation of mindfulness as a cop-out for navel-gazers who lack the moral fibre to engage in ‘proper’ religion (‘The cult of mindfulness’, 1 November). She describes it as a ‘practice of self-obsession’, but it is the opposite: it creates a space in which the self can be seen for what it is as it hops around, generating superfluous judgments. You begin to obsess less about what your ‘self’ compulsively comes up with, and to approach life from a more anchored perspective. May I invite those who think that sounds bogus and flaky to engage in a short experiment? Take two minutes to sit still, close your eyes and focus only on counting your breaths in cycles of ten. Just two minutes. That should be easy enough for an intelligent person with a smidgeon of concentration, shouldn’t it?
Sir: Melanie McDonagh is concerned that ‘mindfulness’ will replace faith. There is no need for concern, because it is just the latest packaged formula for self-improvement. In the 1920s we had Couéism, where all you had to do was repeat up to 20 times a day, ‘Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better.’ Now we have mindfulness. It has nothing to do with the Buddhist way of enlightenment, which requires its aspirants to commit themselves to the Eightfold Path: understanding and accepting that life is frustrating because cultural and social pressures make us grasp at illusory ‘goodies’. To extinguish these illusions, we must practice right speech, action, livelihood and effort. Only then can we practice mindfulness and contemplate the world as it is. Expecting self-improvement without such discouraging preliminaries is like expecting to win an athletic event without exercise.
Hailsham, East Sussex
Sir: Matthew Parris is obviously in need of some advice in his search for an avenue to addiction (1 November). Having worked in the addiction field for seven years, one thing has become clear to me. Addiction is not limited to heroin, alcohol and tobacco. I would suggest that Matthew ask himself, ‘What in my life can I not do without?’ Then do without it. What he subsequently experiences may help him understand addiction and its grip. A friend of mine, addicted to both heroin and alcohol, was working on improving a house for me here in Shetland. One lunchtime he went to the pub and a drunk at the bar asked him why he was helping those ‘dirty junkies’. Addiction takes many forms, many of which are socially acceptable. This, sadly, allows us to too easily judge those at the extreme edges.
Andy Holt Papa Stour,
Sir: Mary Wakefield’s article on studying pamphlets in schools (25 October) was very accurate and informative. As a student myself, I find it highly agitating when our teacher tells us we must study a badly written leaflet for our English language GCSE. I hope the article spreads awareness of the way pupils feel when we are expected to write a good piece of English about such a prosaic leaflet.
Sir: In the 25 October issue, Peregrine Worsthorne (‘Encounters with eight president’) takes a cheap shot at President Nixon, John Aspinall and me over a conversation at Jonathan Aitken’s house where the ex-president was seated between Aspers and myself. Worsthorne was at the same table but seated on the other end. He assumes that Aspinall ‘harangued Nixon on gorillas, and Taki on girls’. In fact, Aspers talked about ecology, and I about Washington newspapers’ double standards. He thanked us at the end, and that’s all Worsthorne heard. Close to 40 years later, it sounds to me as though Worsthorne still suffers from sour grapes at not being seated next to the president.
Sir: Matthew Engel (‘Why counties still count’, 25 October) is correct: no county was messed around with in the reorganisation more than Lancashire. Its northern segment was hived off, along with Cumberland and Westmorland, to form Cumbria. Its southwest became part of Merseyside, its southeast part of Greater Manchester, and the centre-south was tacked on to Cheshire. So Britain’s first intercity highway, the A580 East Lancashire Road, is not in Lancashire, Lancashire county cricket club’s ground at Old Trafford is not in Lancashire — and neither are most teams in cricket’s Lancashire League. Those of us living in the village of Lowton are utterly confused, for officially we are in Greater Manchester, our postcode is for Cheshire and our postal sorting office is in Merseyside. Yet we are Lancastrians, and proud of it!
Dr Malcolm Greenhalgh
Sir: Barometer (1 November) drew attention to the loss of servicemen in Afghanistan and other post-second world war conflicts. May I remind your readers that 718 British servicemen lost their lives in Northern Ireland during the Troubles between 1969 and 1998?
Brigadier (Retd) G.C. Barnett
Sir: Rod Liddle’s polemic ‘My top ten most fatuous phrases’ (1 November) rightly includes politicians claiming that they are about to be absolutely clear about something. It reminds me of that useful rule of grammar that states that the word ‘clearly’ is always followed by a lie.