Tuesday, 12 October 2010

The story-teller is you

We are all story-tellers. Every moment of our lives we are telling ourselves and others, stories; consciously or unconsciously.

Those stories dictate our experiences and create our lives. It is wise to be aware of the stories that you tell yourself.

Most of our unhappiness comes not from our experiences but from the stories that we tell ourselves about what is happening. And here’s the secret, well, it is not really a secret, just forgotten knowledge; since we are the story-teller, the creator of our stories, we can change our stories anytime that we choose.

Once we learn to become observers and responders rather than reactors, we can observe our stories and decide if we want to accept them just as they are; reject them just as they are or re-write some or all of the story.

It is rare, until we become mindful, that our stories come from a conscious place. As often as not they are the end result of instinctive reactions to certain circumstances where the mind/brain draws upon all previous knowledge and experience to try to make ‘sense’ of what is happening.

They are stories which come from our programming not our awareness. Often they are stories, which, if we took the time to think about it, we would not accept but which we have taken as a given from our parents, our family, our peers or our society.

And the mind does this because nothing frightens us more than the feeling that we do not understand why something is happening or what it means. Often we don’t care what the explanation is; all that matters is having an explanation. And, human nature being what it is, the faster we get that explanation the better. That is why we so often settle for the ‘explanation’ our mind, or others hand us without questioning its origin or validity.

Once we have an explanation, and usually it is one where responsibility for our experience can be projected onto others in the case of family, friends, employer, colleagues or government or handed over to others in the form of parents, boss, doctors, priests, employer or government, we tell ourselves we can relax; that we are 'safe.'

We tell ourselves we are ‘safe’ or that we have the 'illusion of certainty,' when we have somewhere to place our experience, or rather, the story we have told ourselves about our experience. The demons cannot get us because we ‘know’ what is happening, we tell ourselves. Well, we don’t tell ourselves consciously most of the time but this is the unconscious message we receive and to which we react.

We have recognised our ‘monsters’ and given them shape, form and substance; we have named them and that frightens us less than something without a name. Because, once we have a name, we can call upon our knowledge and the knowledge of others to make a plan, to take action, to do something.

We always feel better when we can ‘do’ something even though that something may be ineffective, unwise or plain harmful. Doing makes us feel stronger and so we embrace it no matter the outcome.

The fact that, as often as not, these demons and monsters are purely of our own making, never occurs to us. In fact, we don’t want it to occur to us because then we might have to take responsibility ourselves. And that is the scariest thing of all.

Much of the drive to understand, to categorise or find a place for our experience is sourced in wanting to find a way to absolve ourselves of responsibility. The most frightening thing we can learn, decide or realise is that we are ultimately absolutely responsible for what we experience. That is a truth most often denied, forgotten, dismissed or damned.

But, within that truth lies freedom. It is terrifying at first sight, but, moving through the terror is the only way to true freedom. For, it is only when we accept responsibility for ALL that we experience ... and I do mean all ... that we can be free. That is because freedom comes from trusting the only thing which will ever be guaranteed in our lives; ourselves. We were here at the beginning and we will be here at the end. Other people, this world, this country, this house may not be – but we will be. The only place of ‘safety’ if there is such a thing, is in ourselves because as long as we live we will have our own Self.

And I believe we have that Self, whether we are in this life or the next. But it is not important to believe that in order to live a better life or a spiritual life. What matters is as the ancients taught: ' Every mind is a world.' We are our world; we are mind and in that we find our source and our freedom.

It is only when we are free that we can choose to draw upon our strength and to change things. To change our stories.

Fear of illness, which is really a fear of pain or death, has given power to the competent and incompetent in equal measure both in ancient and modern times. We lack faith in our body, our greatest friend and the true healer in all situations. Or, for those who believe in a greater force at work in this world, whatever name one wishes to give, the true healer is our mind and body as an expression made manifest of that greater force; god or cosmic consciousness.

This is not to say that healers are not valuable or even life-saving, whether they be the shamans of ancient times or the shamans of modern times who practice both allopathic and what we call alternative medicine, because there are times when we need help.

But, we need less help than we think. Our need is greater because we lack faith in our bodies and we lack understanding of how our minds work. We feel powerless not because we are powerless but because of what we believe; because of what we are encouraged to believe. Because of the stories we tell ourselves.

We do not believe in our power and so it does not exist for us. However, like fairies, once we believe, that power lives again.

What would your life be like if when you next observed yourself telling a story, particularly a negative story and most of them are, you changed that story into a positive one?

There is an old Arab tale about how stories can be either positive or negative, depending upon how you choose to ‘see’ the experience. When a series of terrible things happened to an old Arab farmer and his companions commiserated with him as to how awful it was he always replied along the lines of: ‘Maybe, maybe not.’

And, by the end of the tale it was clear that all of the ‘terrible’ things actually led to something extremely positive; they saved his son’s life.

While everyone else was bemoaning the tragedies which befell him, he was taking the view that ‘it might be bad- it might be good’, who knows?

But to bring it all into the present, the gift of the moment. Let’s take a story and see how it looks from a different perspective. You can do this with any story and the more you do it, the better you will get. But here is one example:

You are gardening and you fall over and break your arm. The usual story for such an event is that it is all bad. There is pain, there is inconvenience, there is handicap, there is limitation, there is regret and there is a lot of suffering.

This is pretty much the same story that most people would come up with in the same situation and you would get a lot of sympathetic nodding and understanding as you told your story. But would that really help you?

Having people fuss might be nice for a few hours or even a few days, but the reality is that once the initial moment has passed, you are going to be pretty much left alone: just you and your story and your sore and immobile arm. It’s going to take weeks before you need or are able to exchange your story for a new one – unless you decide to change your story immediately. The choice is always yours.

So, how about same scenario but different story. How can you turn breaking your arm into something positive? Ultimately that is up to you. We are all different and we will come up with different stories. The only rule is that you have to find positive things to tell yourself about the experience.

That doesn’t mean there won’t be negativity within the positive; pain can be very real and is in fact a great teacher, but it does mean that ultimately you will be glad that you have had this experience. Or, if you can’t be glad, at least less unhappy or angry that you have had the experience.

After all, the core point is that you are having the experience anyway – that part can’t be changed, except perhaps by true masters which few of us are likely to be – so you may as well make it a positive experience instead of a negative one.

Let’s start with pain because that is going to be the most challenging and perhaps overwhelming part of the experience. And yes, there’s nothing wrong with taking painkillers some of the time but here’s a great opportunity to practice ‘being’ with pain.

Pain is in fact a brain experience, not a body experience. That’s why people can train themselves to walk on nails or hot coals. They can also 'tell themselves a story' which prevents the nails cutting or the coals burning but that’s rather more advanced and not the point here. It is however a reminder of the power that 'stories' have to impact our body responses.

The reason why drugs work to stop pain is because of the effect they have on the brain. They don’t target your injury; they target the brain. They stop the 'pain messages' from the injury from reaching the brain. No brain; no pain. In other words there is no pain if the brain does not 'get the message' that there is pain.

As studies into brain function are now beginning to show quite clearly, thanks to advances in technology for brain imaging, what you believe has a major impact on what you feel, or what your body experiences.

Hypnosis long ago demonstrated that in certain states people don’t feel pain when they should, or rather, when they would be expected to feel pain. And yogis or mediation masters continue to demonstrate the power of mind over body by sitting in freezing conditions while maintaining body temperature and not suffering any discomfort; nor for that matter ending up with frostbite.

It is also why people suffering major injuries in accidents as often as not report feeling no pain. The pain comes later when they have time to think about it. And it is why the phenomenon of pain in ‘phantom’ or amputated limbs is a reality; the pain is felt in a limb which no longer exists because the pain is in the brain or rather, the mind.

In short, if a drug can stop pain so can your mind without any drugs. So, in this painful experience here is a fantastic opportunity to practise just that. You might be good at it, you might be bad at it, you might be better at it than you think but a bit of practice might teach you things about yourself and your body you did not know and stand you in good stead for some future, painful experience, where, for whatever reason, you do not have access to drugs.

You could explore other methods of pain management or mind-management, which is what it is really about. Try acupuncture or meditation. You might find that you have discovered something new which brings great benefits to your life. Without the accident this would never have happened.

One tool you can use in this pain practice is mindfulness; being in and with the pain without judgement or desire. In other words, allow yourself to feel the pain, to flow with the pain to go into the pain without demanding it be other than it is or that it stops.

There is a strong argument that a lot of pain is worse because we fight it. Just practice surrendering to pain and see where it takes you and what happens. Practice meditating through and in pain and see where it takes you. You might be surprised.

And if not, it has still been a worthwhile exercise and your drugs are waiting for you. And no judgements please. Everyone is different and there is no right or wrong way; no medal of success for this sort of practice. You are simply exploring something which the experience of pain enables you to do.

Another way to work with pain, injury or illness is to find meaning in it. Anything which has inherent meaning is easier to bear; just ask soldiers in war (where they believe in the integrity of what they are doing); mothers in childbirth; athletes training for the Olympics or ballerinas learning to dance on points.

If you ‘saw’ your injury, your pain or discomfort as an opportunity to grow emotionally, psychologically and/or spiritually you would ‘mind’ the suffering less. Ballerinas end up with deformed toes and feet and experience a lot of suffering for their art, but, as with Olympic athletes, they mind less because society and they say it is worth it. They focus on the goal, not the discomfort or pain.

This is something else to practice. You can only put your focussed attention in one place. If your attention is on something else - it will not be on the pain. One reason why people find it difficult to take their attention away from pain is because they fear it; they feel they need to remain alert and 'watch' the pain instead of simply releasing it.

Play some music and see how long you can keep your attention focussed on the music. See how well you can 'enter' the music to such a degree that you move beyond pain. Even if you can only do this for a minute it shows you that it can be done. It's another form of 'spiritual athletics' and is no different to physical athletics; practice makes perfect.

You can choose to say your experience is also worth it and a gift from God, angels, cosmos, life, whatever. You can welcome the experience and in the doing reduce or remove your suffering.

How much suffering would be reduced if the ill and the injured, mental, physical and emotional, were taught to see their experience as positive; as a gift offering the opportunity to lean and to grow; as an initiation which others envy?

Yes, I realise it is a fanciful concept in this world but it is a concept which any individual can embrace and thereby raise the quality of their life and lower the amount of suffering. Other people do not have to agree with you or your story to make it worthwhile. It is your story and while you may find you cannot easily share it with others, all that matters is that your story works for you.

The other practical application is to ponder what your body is trying to tell you. Symptoms or injuries are the ‘language’ our body uses to speak to us. Everything happens for a reason and your illness or injury is just what you need at this point in time. It has been chosen by ‘you’ at some level in order that you may heal, learn and/or grow. It may even have been chosen by 'you' in order to save your life.

In that sense it is absolutely perfect. And it is a perfection you will not appreciate unless you learn to listen and observe in order to better understand just what it is your body wants to tell you.

Arms are about protection and defending ourselves; as in we are armed as soldiers. Was it your right or your left arm? The right arm is linked to the left brain and the left arm is linked to the right brain.  The left brain is associated with logical, sequential, rational, analytical, objective and the ability to 'separate' and observe parts while the left brain is associated with intuitive, random, holistic, the ability to synthesize,  be subjective and to see the whole.

Whichever side of your brain was involved is the one you should be pondering in terms of what has been at work in your life and contributing to your experience.

Arms are also about embracing; holding on to people and things, concepts, ideas, dreams – anything really. Arms are about reaching out. The injury makes it harder for you to hold on - perhaps you are meant to let go of something or someone or to hold on with less force.

Do some reading, it will keep you busy and take your mind off things. Whether left or right brain there are signs here of what is at work.

You fell in the garden? Do you hate gardening? In which case did you resent being forced to do it and the injury was ‘pay-back’ for someone else or punishment for you for perceived weakness. Do you love gardening? If so, why have you limited your capacity to do something you love? Why don’t you deserve to enjoy yourself?

These are just some of hundreds of questions you can ask yourself. There are no right or wrong questions; the act of questioning is enough to honour the experience and lead you to greater levels of understanding.

Don’t get too serious about these questions. This is not about judgement, it is about observing and learning. Be kind to yourself. This is a quest not a mission!

What does this injury prevent you from doing? What are the negatives in this and what are the positives? Do you get time out from work, looking after children, doing housework, doing gardening? Do you get more attention, sympathy and care?

And what if being forced to spend a few weeks at home meant you did not get into your car at a certain time on a certain day when it meant you would be involved in a terrible accident which brought greater injury or even death. Your accident may have saved you! That is something you will never know but it is as good a part of the whole story as anything else.

As the Arab said: ‘ Maybe, maybe not.’

Maybe this is a good time to be out of the office or away from the job? Who knows what is going on at work that you will be glad to have missed?

There’s a good chance, like those who thought the Arab in our tale was stupid, that you will look back on this time and think: ‘It really was very fortunate that I broke my arm then.’

You mightn’t but you might. The fact is you do not know. But the other fact, the most important fact is that you broke your arm and you get to choose the story that you tell yourself about that experience.

You don’t have to tell others. In fact, with this sort of approach it is often better to say very little. Many people simply don’t understand. Others don’t want to know. There is something threatening about someone who can see the silver lining in the blackest cloud.

We live in a world with something of a victim mentality and a lot of people get pleasure out of complaining; about having others feel sorry for them; about feeling a victim. It has in fact fed an entire industry of ‘disease’ and ‘trauma clubs.’

However you have suffered there’s a good chance there is an organisation which can and will support you and keep you locked into the ‘story’ which society likes to tell. Don't get me wrong; these organisations can be invaluable support for some people but remember, it is just a story they are telling about your particular injury, illness or trauma and you don't have to accept their story.

And, while there probably isn’t a trauma club for broken arms, although I am sure there would be for chronic pain should your injury lead you into that ‘story’, there also isn’t a right and wrong about how you handle your experience. If the general ‘story’ which society tells about your experience works for you then go for it.

The key question is whether the 'story' the support organisation tells is right for you; is healthy and constructive and allows you to grow, to learn and to heal in every way.

The trouble with organisations is that they become dependent on themselves; they are a system and systems drive behaviour. In essence they 'need' the disease, the injury, the trauma or the suffering to survive and at some level, usually unconscious, the motivation will be to maintain the suffering not end it. Without the suffering there is no need for the organisation to exist.

Healthy growth, physically, psychologically, emotionally and spiritually means we move beyond our suffering and any concept of ourselves as victim. The 'stories' and 'labels' which support organisations use should be seen in the same light as things like anti-depressants: great for getting you over a very bad spot but should not be 'used' for more than 3-6 months. They are, after all, just another 'story' and one which while constructive in the short-term may be destructive in the long-term.

Be aware of the story and decide what is right for you. The more you experiment with potential stories the more you will take responsibility for the stories which create your life. The word here is ‘choose.’ There is nothing wrong with ‘choosing’ to embrace the official ‘story’ about your experience but most people don’t ‘choose’ they just surrender because they believe it is easier and because they don’t realise they can choose.

At the end of the day, all that matters is that your story, whether you ‘write’ it yourself or accept someone else’s, is going to make your life more meaningful, more worthwhile and more fulfilling. That is reason enough to take conscious charge of the ‘story-teller’ in your life and to accept that the story-teller is you.

The fifth lesson on the Spiritual Path is: The story-teller is you and the stories you tell will create your life.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

This is all there is

There is a lot said and a lot written about living a spiritual life but there is probably one simple truth which is the foundation of all of it: This is all there is. This moment, this now, this experience is all there is. You are here and nowhere else; this is the Eternal Now.

Your thoughts and feelings may be in many places, or nowhere, but your consciousness, when you return to it, is only in this moment. The more you are in this moment the more you live.

As Eckhardt Tolle said, and I paraphrase: 'There is no fear in the now; fear is always about the future.

And I would add: Regret is never about the now; regret is always about the past. Doubt is never about the now; doubt is always about the past or the future.

It seems simple enough, living in the now, in the only thing which exists but it isn't. It takes practice. There is a lot to unlearn. From the first moment we drew breath and probably even before, we were being 'programmed' to live everywhere but in the Now!

And in a world where change is constant, frequent and inevitable, this 'programming' has only intensified.

There was a time and there were societies and perhaps a few remain, where day-dreaming was believed to be both a gift and a skill. Where being in the moment with no thought of past or future was believed to be a blessing.

How much different would life be if we spent most of our time in the Now instead of the Past or the Future. It's a lighthearted adage but one with great depth and truth: 'It's called the Present because it is a Gift.'

Esoteric teaching says that both the Past and the Future can be changed; but only when we focus our consciousness on the Now. Even modern physics is beginning to agree with the great spiritual teachers that Past, Present and Future are one.

 It's a heady concept. As impossible for us to truly understand as infinity is. But we don't have to understand; we just have to accept. Acceptance, surrender and being are all qualities sourced in the Now.

You can't access them from the Past or the Future and yet when you access them in the Now they can help to change both Past and Future. You don't have to believe that. You don't have to believe anything; you just have to keep an open mind about everything.

Disbelieve nothing is one way to go. Just try it for a day, a week or a month. See what else changes in your life.  If you disbelieve nothing then you remain open to the fact that anything and everything may be possible. You exclude nothing and are therefore denied nothing.

You are surrendering to the lack of belief and opening to the possibility of everything. And yes, such comments can sound trite and fantastical; or even downright silly or stupid. But all of those words are judgements which exclude things we do not understand and may not know we need.

The truth is that much must be simply accepted; not believed but accepted, to follow a Spiritual Path. The more you learn; the less you know. The less you know; the more you will experience.

It's a place where nothing matters and everything matters. And what I mean by that is that in a world where everything has meaning, where it 'matters' because it is a living part of all that is then 'nothing matters' in the sense that everything you experience, feel, think or do is just what you are meant to be experiencing, feeling, thinking or doing in that moment.

'Nothing matters, as in there are no rights or wrongs because everything matters, as in everything is meaningful and purposeful.

In such a world you can remain in the Now as a willing participant and observer in and of all that comes to you. You don't have to choose because you accept. Because you accept you learn. You don't have to do because you can be. When you 'be' you experience and you learn. You live life in its entirety instead of picking up bits and pieces which appeal to you, not because they are right for you but because of what you have been taught to believe.
It is in the stillness, as the ancient Greek philosopher Parmeneides taught, that we are able to access all that is; to be one with the Source. Meditation equates with 'stillness' but you don't have to meditate to be in a place of 'stillness.' You don't have to meditate at all to walk a Spiritual Path. You don't have to do anything to walk a Spiritual Path other than practice being in the Now.

Stillness can be experienced in a moment of love; whether it be of a person, a paintbrush, a plate of food, a plant or a pinot noir! Stillness is in the Now; in the place where you are fully conscious of simply 'being' no matter what that 'being' involves.

In that place of Now there are no judgements of good, bad, right, wrong, beautiful, ugly, cruel, kind, happy, sad, pleasant, painful... there is just the experience, the place of being.

It can all sound a bit bland and pointless but it is like everything in life; you have to experience it to understand it.  There are people whose hobby is to collect barbed wire; it's a passion and a joy which most other people would never understand because they would reject it out of hand before experiencing it.

We spend a lot of time rejecting things without bothering to learn anything about them. We have a whole set of reasons and words as to why they should be immediately rejected, despite the fact that others seem to find joy and fulfillment in them. Spirituality is no different.

People who say they don't believe in God or anything spiritual are saying what they believe but they are not telling the truth. To 'not believe' in something with the sort of determination and passion which demands it be rejected out of hand, means that you actually believe in it quite strongly; but your beliefs are negative.

If you truly did 'not believe' in God, the spiritual or metaphysical then you wouldn't care. You would not have a visceral reaction to it nor any need to reject it. If you truly do not believe in something it does not exist.

It is important therefore to know exactly what it is you do believe or do not believe before you can make any informed decision on what you choose to reject. Everyone is different. Many people are pushed or pulled toward a more Spiritual Life; some live an intensely spiritual life without ever knowing (or caring) that that is what it is and others have to work so hard to survive they don't have time to think about anything. Although, such a life can be the most spiritual of all.

Just as teachers throughout the ages have said it is impossible to describe God in words, so it is impossible to describe this experience. Many things are difficult if not impossible to describe in words which is why we so revere our great poets for they 'paint' pictures with words which help us to understand; to have a sense of the experience. But even that is incomplete.

Take Love for instance. How many words have been written about Love? Even more have been spoken and yet when we Feel loved and it is Feel, not Think loved, it does not come from words but from the experience.

And those deepest experiences of Love are sourced in the Now!

The Fourth Lesson on the Spiritual Path is: Disbelieve nothing!

Monday, 10 May 2010

The I is one with You

There is a time, there is a day
There is a moment too
When suddenly we realise
The I is one with You!
It always was,
And ever thus
A truth so quietly spoke
And yet we choose
To leave it lie
and hold to fear’s broad yoke.

How easy it is to talk 'spiritual' and how hard it is to live 'spiritual.' It is as if we are programmed to 'forget' in the instant of remembering. No doubt that is why all spiritual teachings emphasise the need for 'mindfullness'; the ability to remain in the Now. There is no 'forgetting' in the now and, for that matter, no 'remembering' because the now simply is.
But is that who and what we are meant to be as human beings? What is the point of being human if we do not have a past and a future as well as a present? It is the nature of this three-fold material world. It is this way because it is meant to be this way.
Perhaps the lesson is to learn to live as much of the Now as one possibly can in order to 'train' the mind for more focussed use and greater creativity. The power of the mind comes into its own with focussed consciousness and yet that focussed consciousness must be sourced in diffuse awareness.
The Yin and the Yang; the masculine and the feminine; the I and the You.

Monday, 19 April 2010

That Life will know your name

Photography: Greg Walker

There is no other place than here,

there is no other now

just moments held in time’s sure hands

that we can call our own.

It is the living of the day, the dying

of the night, as all eternal

wandering puts certainty to flight.

And shows us dreams,

so shimmering;

in hopes of what might be ...

casts bitterness upon God’s gift

of true eternity.

So take the now and claim it sure

as truth so clearly found

and place all thought within the here

that Life will know your name.

On being conscious of consciousness

Photography: Roslyn Ross

The world we see
is brought to being
within the Mind and Soul.

Why are we conscious beings? If you think about it, we do not need to be. Animals do fine without consciousness as we know it and many people live much of the time and much of their lives without being really conscious.

We don't need consciousness for our bodies to work; we don't need consciousness for many, if not most of our day to day tasks and in fact, some things work better if we let our unconscious selves do the work.

So why do we have the ability to be conscious, as in self-aware, consciously observant and consciously reflective? Who or what is doing the thinking, or, as I wrote many years ago: 'Who sorts the thoughts within my mind,' and decides what thoughts will be delivered? Who or what decides our feelings and our thoughts. And, when we become aware, or 'conscious,' who is feeling and thinking and who is observing the feeling and thinking?

Therein lies the mystery and the magic. I was in my twenties when I suddenly found a purpose for consciousness and a meaning. I was watching a programme on television about the human body and I was struck by how everything which happened in our bodies had meaning and purpose. Nothing was random. There was a reason for everything. We didn't always know the reason but science and medicine were both continually striving to solve the mysteries. And succeeding, at least in a material sense.

So, if everything physiological has purpose and meaning and nothing happens without a reason then what purpose is served by consciousness? We certainly do not need it to survive or to live reasonable lives. In fact, some of the unhappiest people are those who have a tendency to be frequently conscious or self-aware and some of the happiest appear to go through life on auto-pilot.

At which point the penny dropped: consciousness is the one thing which could survive the death of the body. Our consciousness is therefore our Soul Self, that which endures through this life and beyond. I have read reams of esoteric literature on this topic and whether one believes it or not, the fact remains, that consciousness is not vital for life on this earth, or every living creature would have the same capacity for consciousness as human beings do, but it is vital for life before and beyond this world.

I am not saying this is the case but, for the first time I had a reason and a purpose for our human capacity for consciousness. It made sense. The esoteric teachings, including religious and spiritual, all say that we are more than our material body.

There are countless recorded instances in research and medical records of a capacity for 'mind' or 'consciousness' to exist outside of the body - as in cases of  what has been termed 'near-death experiences' during periods of brain-'death' or complete non-function of the brain. A lot of scientists and medicos don't like this evidence and choose to ignore it or rationalise it as a chemical reaction during near-death situations but the evidence, for those who choose to listen, speaks for itself.

However, the purpose here is not to prove or disprove... it is simply not possible to do so and we must each make up our own minds about that ... the purpose is to find sense and meaning in things.

I have, in the decades since deciding that consciousness suggested an existence beyond our physical bodies discovered another use for consciousness ... and one which applies to this material world. The 'penny dropped' a second time when I realised that consciousness empowers our thoughts and gives a far greater capacity to 'create' or at least influence, the creation of our reality.

It has been a spiritual belief for aeons that thoughts are energy; in fact the belief is that energy follows thought. While the thought itself is energy the more you think about it or the more powerful your emotions are when you think the thought, the more you energise that thought. In recent years advances in brain-imaging have convinced even scientists and doctors that thoughts are energy.

Technology, while still in the early stages, has already been developed which allows the disabled to use the power of thought to 'move' things. Brown University neuroscientist, John Donoghue worked out the basic technology several years ago and founded Cyberkinetics to pursue his vision that someday quadriplegics might be able to care for themselves. He created a computer chip which attaches to the motor cortex in the brain and which picks up the electrical activity (energy) that criss-crosses the brain and controls everything from visual recognition and thought to vocalisation and motor skills.

The brain cells are like broadcast towers, explained Donoghue and the chips are like radio stations which pick up the signals.

We are, as the ancients taught 'receivers' for energy information and not just through our brain. We also have 'brain cells' in our gut and our body 'thinks' in ways beyond imagining.

But it is our mind which allows us to be not only conscious but to focus that consciousness. Research is revealing, what countless spiritual practices have always known and taught, that focussed consciousness empowers thoughts even more. Not only that, in the doing, it changes synaptic connections in the brain and ultimately changes our bodies at physiological, emotional and psychological levels.

Scientists and doctors have long known that much of what we 'see' is created by the brain. In fact, we 'see' the world upside down and it is the brain which puts the image the 'right-way up'. Studies done with people wearing glasses which 'turn the images upside down' show the brain quickly adjusting to this 'upside down world' so people can things the 'right way up.' In other words, no matter what our eyes 'see' our brain 'creates' that which we 'expect' to see. This happens far more than many realise. It is not so much that what we 'see' is what we get but what we 'expect to see' is what we get!

And 'colour', which is energy, is 'created in the brain. In technical terms, colour is the visual effect that is caused by the spectral composition of light emitted, transmitted or reflected by objects. The eyes pick up the 'energy' waves and the brain interprets it.

And recognising faces is a brain interpretation. In reality we do not 'see' faces - our eyes pick up the 'energy' and our brain interprets it. I first understood this in the 1980's reading, The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat, by British neurologist, Oliver Sacks. .

The new word for the brain is 'neuro-plasticity.' The old idea that the brain could not change has been 'binned.' As always, in this beautiful book-full world of ours there are some excellent books on the subject and one of the best is: The Brain That Changes Itself, by Norman Doidge. M.D.

So, consciousness, while not vital to our survival as human beings is a 'gift' we have and one which we must learn to use in order to advance both materially and spiritually. This concept can of course be found in countless spiritual teachings, including those sourced in religion. There's nothing new about it. The only 'new' aspect is that science and medicine are catching up with the spiritual wisdom which has always been with us.

Consciousness therefore, makes it possible for human beings to use their thoughts as co-creators in this material world. At least that’s my theory.

Becoming mindful, or consciously aware is the Third Lesson to be learned on the Spiritual Path.

'Life is more like a great thought than a great machine.'

Photography: Damon Ross-Walker

To flow between the banks of life;
with murmuring earth and whispering sky;
God shapes us gently.

The God word is always bound to get a reaction.

It scares a lot of people. Mainly because most people have a definition of God in their heads and immediately assume that your definition is the same.

That can be positive or it can be negative. Even atheists have God in their heads, it just happens to be the worst kind of God. Atheists are inclined to create a 'religion' out of non-believing and can be just as fanatical as the theists.

Richard Dawkins is a classic example of how non-belief can be turned into a fanatical religious crusade. Agnostics are the ones in the middle and they sensibly take the position that it is impossible to 'know' if there is a God. Many atheists are actually agnostics. You can tell the difference between an atheist and an agnostic because the former tend to be passionate and absolute in their beliefs and the latter take a calmer and more pragmatic position. Which is very sensible because if there is an ordering and meaningful force at work in the world then there's nothing to get upset about and if there isn't, there's nothing to get upset about either because it's all ultimately meaningless.

It's hard to argue with agnosticism because in a sense there is no absolute way of knowing if there is a God. But then there is no way of empirically proving the existence of Love either and most of us believe in that. We believe in Love because we see the evidence of Love; we see signs which demonstrate its existence. We feel something that we call Love - although it may often be debateable if what we are feeling really is what we call Love- and so we believe in Love. Those who believe in a 'greater force at work in the world' which many call God, do so because they 'feel' this presence; because they see the 'signs'; because while it cannot be emprically proven there is demonstrable evidence of its existence. However, that 'evidence' of God, as with the 'evidence' of Love, is always in the eye of the beholder. God, like Love, cannot be empirically proven, but a belief in God, like a belief in Love, can make for a more joyful and meaningful experience of life.

I use the word God because I believe in God. But in what do I believe? My God may not be your God and it definitely is not God in the most common religious sense. You cannot live a Spiritual Life without a belief in some sort of God. Why would you? God and Spiritual are synonomous and that is because 'spiritual' requires a belief of something beyond the material. I do believe there is something beyond the material. I have spent more than forty years reading about religion, psychology, biology, physics, quantum physics, mind-body, anthropology, archeology, history, cooking, art, poetry, mythology, tarot, numerology, astrology, symbolism, literature, spirituality and everything and anything which might throw some light on how this world works. I have read thousands of books and taken from most of them, bits and pieces which make sense and which 'fit' into a philosophy of life.

I have reached a point in my life where I am absolutely certain that there is purpose and meaning in this world and this life and that means there is a God. Or rather, some greater power which can be called God. And by that I mean, a God which represents a consciousness, an ordering force, a purposeful force, a meaningful force. I don't quite know what God is although cosmic consciousness comes closest for me, but I do believe from all the evidence to hand, that this is a meaningful universe. As Sir James Jeans, the noted British astro physicist said in the 1930's:'The universe begins to look more like a great thought than a great machine.'

The more I read the more I saw the connections and one of the most interesting and exciting developments in recent years has been in what is called New Physics where the discoveries echo and validate so many of the ancient spiritual writings about this world and how it began and how it works. And, at a very basic level it is really quite simple. We always have a choice as to what we believe. The glass is half full or it is half empty. Ergo, there is meaning in this life or there is not ... although science, medicine and physics, whether they like it or not, constantly demonstrate the brilliantly ordered meaning and purpose of life. Just as you can't be half pregnant so you cannot half-believe. If something has meaning then everything has meaning. There is either a life beyond this one or there is not. If there is purpose in something then there is purpose in everything.

So the first step is to decide if seeing life as meaningful and purposeful makes sense for you. If I choose to believe there is a life beyond this one and it gives me meaning and purpose and fulfillment then that is a positive thing. If there is no life beyond this one then I will know nothing about it but I will have lived a life of meaning, purpose and fulfillment. Strictly speaking, if one were to sensibly 'hedge bets' then believing in a purposeful life which endures beyond this material world means you are going to be prepared, perhaps well prepared, if you are right. If you are wrong it won't matter in the least because you will not know anything about it and in a random, meaningless, purposeless world anything you believe would be irrelevant anyway.

However, if there is a life beyond this one and I choose to believe there is not, there is only one question to ask:'Does this philosophy suit me?' It doesn't actually, which is why I choose not to take that position but I respect the fact that it suits others. If there is a life beyond this one and people choose not to believe in any form of a God concept then I doubt it holds them back at all on the long spiritual journey through many lives. I suspect they are surprised, pleasantly or otherwise, to find themselves still a conscious being beyond death but I don't believe, if they have lived a meaningful and fulfilled life that being an atheist, agnostic or non-believer matters a toss.

Only one thing matters - how fulfilling do you find your life? Fulfillment is I think a better criteria than happiness, or even peace, because there will always be trying, painful, traumatic times in our lives and we can remain fulfilled even in the midst of the worst of it. Even more so when one finds meaning in the pain. We can endure anything more easily if we can find meaning and purpose in the experience. This goes back to living your own truth.

Some people are perfectly content and live completely fulfilled and comfortable lives believing that there is no greater force at work in the universe and that when you are dead you are dead and that is the end of it. Good for them. That is clearly right for them. But many, if not most, are not comfortable living without some set of beliefs which provide their lives with meaning and purpose. And it doesn't have to be about God. It can be about service to humanity, to the planet, to animals, to birds, to nature, to your children or your parents... that's all God anyway in my book ... but what matters is that there is meaning and purpose. You can actually live a deeply spiritual life without any belief whatsoever in God in any shape or form or any life beyond this one. Some of the most spiritual people I know do exactly this. I happen to be married to one of them.

It might sound a funny thing to say but spirituality is actually far, far more than any belief in a God. So the important thing is to formulate, find, create or discover a set of beliefs about the meaning of life which suit you. For me that is the spiritual and a belief that we are Souls, energy beings, on this earth for one lifetime amongst many to learn and to co-create with God. I don't completely understand this world, or any worlds which may be beyond death and neither do I completely understand my purpose in this life ... perhaps I never will ... but I do strive to gain greater understanding and therein find both purpose and meaning.

It is enough for me that I believe without a doubt that we are all utterly unique for a reason and that uniqueness, or the demonstration and expression of that uniqueness is why we exist. We have only one task in this Life, whether it be our only life or one amongst many and that is to live as our own unique Selves to the very best of our ability and circumstance. But you cannot do that until you know yourself very well. As the ancient Greeks carved upon the lintel of the Temple of Apollo in Delphi, to guide followers of the Eleusinian Mysteries: KNOW THYSELF.

Getting to know yourself is the Second, and probably the hardest Lesson on the Spiritual Path.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

The meaning of the Word

The earth, the sky, the sea..

the bird, the ant, the you, the me...

the rock, the fruit, the tree..

it's all God....

it's called to Be.


I use the word Spiritual a lot.

I define myself as seeking to live a spiritual life.

Spiritual is the word which most seems to reflect my eclectic set of beliefs and philosophy of life.

It's a word which expresses the sacred without being religious. By that I mean a life where I have a lot of time for God and little or no time for religion.

Religion can of course be spiritual but often it is not. And spirituality can be religious but it does not need to be.

For me reacting to life from a spiritual perspective means that I see everything, and I mean everything, as having purpose and meaning as part of my spiritual growth. Nothing happens by chance and good can come out of everything. It is of course far more complex than that. And yet, at the same time, incredibly simple.

Having explored many religions in my life I finally decided to stick with God and stay away from religion. Hence I began to use the word spiritual a lot. So what do I mean? I have started to ask myself that question.

We need to understand what we mean when we use words to describe who we are or how we live. We need to understand what we are saying for our own sake. Dictionary definitions tend to link the religious with the spiritual and that is understandable but they can be, and often are, separate things. A Catholic priest, a wise and sensible man, said to me many years ago that there was nothing wrong with throwing away one's religion but unfortunately many people threw away their spirituality as well. His view was that one needed to discard the religion of childhood in order to return to it as an adult but that it was perfectly possible to reject religion and remain a spiritual being.

I thought about that for a long time and I did try to 'pick up' religion as an adult but, perhaps because I am a woman, there were just too many things I 'had to believe' ... in fact which I had to categorically state I believed ... which I knew I could, or would, never say.

I had enough trouble with the Lord's Prayer and always converted Father to Mother while wishing there was a gender neutral version. The problem with religion, despite the fact that within all of those I explored, it was clear there was a sound and beautiful spiritual foundation, was the overlay of misogyny and patriarchal prejudice. The closest I could come to a structure was the old Goddess religion, or Wiccan in it's modern form, but even that is a structure which defines God as feminine when any God worth having must be all; must be both masculine and feminine and neither.

And that left me with the spiritual which also has its complexities. For some spiritual 'means' ghostly visions; unexpected tappings and movements of furniture; inexplicable happenings ... and of course, spiritual encompasses all of those things. But such 'events' are the results or the manifestations of spiritual energies, not the substance of spiritual nor truly important in a spiritual life. Such things are often distractions from the real work of a Spiritual Life. Interesting distractions, and distractions worth understanding as much as one can, but distractions all the same.

At least for me. Everyone is different, every journey is different, every Soul is unique and that is why each and every spiritual journey is unique. We may learn from the experiences of others but we must always walk the spiritual path alone. Perhaps that is why spirituality and religion make such odd bed-fellows. A religious life demands that we obey rules, that we believe what others tell us, that we conform. While a spiritual life demands that we live by our own inner rules; that we question everything we are told by others and that we are guided by our own truth... a truth which emerges from our intuitive relationship with God.

With religion God is given to us - handed out on a patriarchal platter in the main. With a spiritual life we are called to search for God in every moment of our being. Religion hands God out in defined shapes and forms; spirituality offers God without shape or form.

A religious life is bounded and hounded by rules; a spiritual life has no boundaries and no urgency. A religious God is made in the image of man (mostly men with female support staff) while a spiritual God is in any and every image and yet without image for it is the source and being of all things.

It's interesting trying to define what one means by the use of a word and it makes me realise how inadequate words are to describe such things. No wonder the ancients decided that God was beyond words.

Carl Jung said, 'symbol is the lost language of the Soul,' and the spiritual journey is always symbolic. Within those images we find God without turning God into an image. It is not an easy journey because so much of it is solitary and their are no rules, except for the ones that you discover upon the way. But within that place of terror where you realise that at the end of the day, it is between you and God and your job is to do the hard work, there is freedom. When you depend upon others and the beliefs of others you remain dependent; when you depend upon yourself and your relationship with God, only then are you truly free.

And the beauty of the spiritual path is that you can find God in your own way. It requires a commitment to walk with open eyes ... most of the time anyway ... and to remain open to all that is, knowing that within any 'death' there is always 'rebirth.'

And there will be many 'deaths' along the path. It can be no other way. And that is why so few choose to walk the Spiritual Path for, as W.H. Auden so succintly wrote:

We would rather be ruined than changed.

We would rather die in our dread

than climb the cross of the moment

and let our illusions die.

This is actually the only quote I remember and I am sure there is a reason for that as well. Perhaps as a reminder of how hard it is to let our illusions die. And the most powerful illusion that we have and which most of us refuse to let die, is certainty. For it is such a comfortable illusion that we never cease striving to attain it. But illusion it is.

There is nothing wrong with thinking positive thoughts as opposed to negative thoughts - in fact it is wiser and more sensible to choose the positive - and we do have a choice. There is nothing wrong with setting goals and deciding what we want to achieve, whether it be physical, material, emotional, psychological or spiritual. There is nothing wrong with planning, wishing, wanting, pursueing ... desire is in fact an inherent and vital part of our human nature. Without 'desire' the human race would not survive. It is 'desire' which creates - whether the creation be life, love, food, nature, gardens, machines, sporting achievements, science, books, art or a better world. Before the creation of anything at all comes 'desire.'

When the Buddha warned against 'desire' he meant not a 'desire to bring forth' which is what we all do in every moment of our lives, but 'desire as demand.' When our desire becomes a demand we create unhappiness because we limit the expression of ourselves and our lives in the manifestation of that particular desire. When we need to 'have' something, as opposed to merely wanting or desiring we seek to control the creative process. Artists and athletes in particular know how important it is to train and prepare and then to let go. They may visualize an outcome, they may 'create' the desired result in their minds over and over again, but as soon as they begin to 'demand' the outcome they will put limitations not only on how the goal may be achieved, but if it will be achieved.

Letting go is very hard to do but it is the only way that we allow ourselves to be a part of the creative process and therefore open ourselves to all that may be possible and sometimes, miracles beyond imagining. It is within uncertainty that things are more easily born. The more you can live with uncertainty the more your life will flow. It may not go in the direction you expected but you will have a greater chance of reaching your goals and seeing your wishes realised than if you were demanding to be always in control.

We live in an ocean of energy and  we get where we want to go by understanding, respecting and working with that energy. In the same way that planes stay up in the air and fly safely around the world and ships sail across endless oceans because they work with the energetic environment in which they operate rather than demanding the environment obeys their commands. Some things are bigger than us and we come to grief when we fail to understand not only how this world works, but more importantly, how we work in this world.

The only thing which you will ever be able to control, albeit to varying degrees depending upon natures, is yourself. Life in all of its manifestations will continue to be unpredictable and uncertain but the better you understand and know yourself, the better you will be able to exert some control over your life.

Mastery is actually a better word than control. When we master something we learn a skill which we can then put into practice both consciously and unconsciously. Whether it is playing a sport or playing a piano we need to master the skill and then, if we are to do our very best, let go and 'allow' that skill to be as much expressed through us as by us. And for that to happen we must accept that certainly is only ever an illusion.

Living with uncertainty is the First Lesson on the Spiritual Path.