What does Krishnamurti invite us to do?

One can’t listen to Krishnamurti without looking at the role that thought plays in one’s life

Krishnamurti is like someone revealing an endless vista of human consciousness, as though some kind of natural unfolding of awareness, of infinite learning, is what it means to be truly alive. But instead of being lured away from reality, from what is, by an enticing mirage of that, he invites me to see and understand where I am here and now. And that will mean not covering up, not copping out from what is experienced in everyday, ordinary life (not perhaps so easy, if as psychiatrist Anthony Clare once said, most of us are in denial of our inner world).

Usually, after some dispute or when lonely or worried, for example, we seek escapes — the company of others, one’s mobile, TV, the Web, or looking for a new partner. Instead Krishnamurti suggests staying with such states, holding them, dwelling in them, observing them in the way already mentioned, without condemning or justifying. So one now has a different option with such ‘negative’ states: to explore them and see what that does.

In a way this is like an all-embracing version of what psychologists recommend us to do with grief. We need to make room for disturbed energy to well up and dissolve, and for what caused it to reveal its roots and story. Without this venting, the disturbed energy will remain intact and repressed, able to flare up again in the future. And what gives extra interest and vitality to such self-monitoring is the sense of exploring human consciousness, rather than something that is exclusively personal.

One can’t listen to Krishnamurti without looking at the role that thought plays in one’s life. What is misapplied, useless thought? And what is its rightful role? Also, a frequent proposal of his is to ask oneself, very seriously, a fundamental question and not answer it, but ‘plant it like a seed in the mind.’

This is how some of the great scientific discoveries have been made, so why not do this to one’s own psyche? Perhaps the most crucial questions are: Am I aware of my self-image and the life-determining effects it has? Are self-images and the images made of others inevitably stunting, blinkered perceptions? Why have them at all, if one sees that they are? And what is intelligence? Is it, for example, understanding what love is? And does putting and exploring such questions in my life wake me up?

It is possible to see what Krishnamurti is asking us to do as very simple: to make wider and deeper use of natural faculties of the mind. But he sees this not merely as a matter of useful enhancement, but as an urgent and deep need, something that life demands. Neglect of these faculties causes us confusion, distress and conflict. And before they can flourish one needs to be aware of and understand the reasons for this neglect. Does this all sound heavy going? Well, unravelling knots in one’s psyche through observation does, at least sometimes, have something of the fun of solving an equation or a tough riddle. Another question for checking whether something helpful happens is: are at least some of my problems no longer problems?

But is this kind of inquiry only for a dedicated few? Here is Krishnamurti’s answer: ‘…let us not make this into an elitist understanding. Any person who pays attention, who wants to hear, who is passionate, not just casual about it, and who really says, "I must find the source of life" will listen. He will listen—not to me — he will just listen. It’s in the air.’

David Skitt was educated at Cambridge. From 1955 to 1985 he worked as a translation revisereditor for the OECD and the European Space Agency in Paris. He is a trustee of the Krishnamurti Foundation at Brockwood Park, Hampshire.
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A swimming pool and a bleeding toe put my medical competency in doubt

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Sometimes the search engine wins. 

The brutal heatwave affecting southern Europe this summer has become known among locals as “Lucifer”. Having just returned from Italy, I fully understand the nickname. An early excursion caused the beginnings of sunstroke, so we abandoned plans to explore the cultural heritage of the Amalfi region and strayed no further than five metres from the hotel pool for the rest of the week.

The children were delighted, particularly my 12-year-old stepdaughter, Gracie, who proceeded to spend hours at a time playing in the water. Towelling herself after one long session, she noticed something odd.

“What’s happened there?” she asked, holding her foot aloft in front of my face.

I inspected the proffered appendage: on the underside of her big toe was an oblong area of glistening red flesh that looked like a chunk of raw steak.

“Did you injure it?”

She shook her head. “It doesn’t hurt at all.”

I shrugged and said she must have grazed it. She wasn’t convinced, pointing out that she would remember if she had done that. She has great faith in plasters, though, and once it was dressed she forgot all about it. I dismissed it, too, assuming it was one of those things.

By the end of the next day, the pulp on the underside of all of her toes looked the same. As the doctor in the family, I felt under some pressure to come up with an explanation. I made up something about burns from the hot paving slabs around the pool. Gracie didn’t say as much, but her look suggested a dawning scepticism over my claims to hold a medical degree.

The next day, Gracie and her new-found holiday playmate, Eve, abruptly terminated a marathon piggy-in-the-middle session in the pool with Eve’s dad. “Our feet are bleeding,” they announced, somewhat incredulously. Sure enough, bright-red blood was flowing, apparently painlessly, from the bottoms of their big toes.

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Often, what patients discover on the internet causes them undue alarm, and our role is to provide context and reassurance. But not infrequently, people come across information that outstrips our knowledge. On my return from our room with fresh supplies of plasters, my wife looked up from her sun lounger with an air of quiet amusement.

“It’s called ‘pool toe’,” she said, handing me her iPhone. The page she had tracked down described the girls’ situation exactly: friction burns, most commonly seen in children, caused by repetitive hopping about on the abrasive floors of swimming pools. Doctors practising in hot countries must see it all the time. I doubt it presents often to British GPs.

I remained puzzled about the lack of pain. The injuries looked bad, but neither Gracie nor Eve was particularly bothered. Here the internet drew a blank, but I suspect it has to do with the “pruning” of our skin that we’re all familiar with after a soak in the bath. This only occurs over the pulps of our fingers and toes. It was once thought to be caused by water diffusing into skin cells, making them swell, but the truth is far more fascinating.

The wrinkling is an active process, triggered by immersion, in which the blood supply to the pulp regions is switched off, causing the skin there to shrink and pucker. This creates the biological equivalent of tyre treads on our fingers and toes and markedly improves our grip – of great evolutionary advantage when grasping slippery fish in a river, or if trying to maintain balance on slick wet rocks.

The flip side of this is much greater friction, leading to abrasion of the skin through repeated micro-trauma. And the lack of blood flow causes nerves to shut down, depriving us of the pain that would otherwise alert us to the ongoing tissue damage. An adaptation that helped our ancestors hunt in rivers proves considerably less use on a modern summer holiday.

I may not have seen much of the local heritage, but the trip to Italy taught me something new all the same. 

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear