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.