Friday, 16 August 2013

Spiritual Journeying and Transformation – the Battle Within

In the great mystical Hindu text, the Bhagavad Gita, the main protagonist, Arjuna, is in the midst of a great war about to be waged.  But the battle is to be fought is against members of his own family.  His family members are divided down the middle, filled with nothing but anger for each other, the sound of conch horns all around.  His anguish over how he can move forward under such circumstances is what sparks his spiritual quest.  Some have said the battle is an allegory of dark and light forces within and the battles we all have to undergo.  This is something I can relate to. 
This last year has been incredible for me.  I’ve met Amma and been stunned at her presence.  I’ve had a 2 week silent retreat, and felt great solace in deep meditation.  But the most significant experience was to partake in an ayahuasca ceremony.  Every word that I say to try to encapsulate this experience seems to cheapen it and lead me away from it – a little like the first line of the Tao Te Ching ‘the tao that can be told is not the eternal tao’.  Some poems can touch upon it.  But no words can directly even touch the beauty of this. 

Every day there is more distance between me and the experience.  And yet.  My need to want to share this with others is still huge.  Because for years I had been reading about the idea that we are all one consciousness, that this individual ‘I’ is in part, illusory – we are all part of something far greater and something beautiful.  And ayahuasca took me there – it was a deeply awakening experience.  My ego consciousness dissolved, the little ‘I’ that makes that which I call ‘me’, was transcended.  The experience was both transcendent and imminent.  I was plunged into a deep sea of universal loving consciousness so vast, and so way beyond anything I have ever experienced, that I was just in floods of tears.  The love was unconditional.  I realised that beyond all our daily ego chatter, beyond everything we do or think important, this love awaits us all.  That daily experiences we term ‘good’ or ‘bad’ are all under the umbrella of this love. 

After that, I initially felt transformed.  But the experience is fleeting.  And once it leaves, the ego once more kicks back into place with all its chatter and dreams of self-importance.  I thought I was perhaps ready to leave the UK and go live in India in an ashram for a while.  And maybe I will.  Meantime, I’m drinking more alcohol, smoking like a trooper and involved in a relationship that plunges me back very much into the blood and guts of day-to-day existence, that I have been actively wanting to disengage from in order to pursue my spiritual dreams.  My family too, pull me back into daily life.  I don’t want to live in an ashram because I’m running away, however.  Spiritual experiences are our birthright.  We all need to know that we come from something that never dies.  That our bodies are temporary vehicles, housing us in lifetime after lifetime.  That at the heart of existence, there is great love.  And how much would our suffering lessen, if we knew this to be true on an experiential level.  How much more compassion we would be able to show others, and how much would we be able to drop some of our ridiculous ego posturing.  Perhaps by focusing on whether or not I make it to India, I'm missing the point -- there is always transformational work that needs to be done whatever continent I'm on.

But how do I reconcile what feel like irreconcilable forces within?  The force that draws me towards life, and the force that wants me to follow a more disengaged, renunciate, existence. And the battle against old habits which I know aren’t good for me.  There have been times when I’ve felt hugely torn, and like Arjuna, it can feel like a battle on an epic scale.  I can’t help but feel amazement – I’ve had the most amazing spiritual experience of my life and yet I’m still not kicking old habits to the kerb.  What is wrong with me?!  But I guess sometimes these things take time.  One idea is that we need to purify our thoughts.  Because where our thoughts go, action will follow, and where action follows, so habits begin, and then we are plunged deep in the dungeon of our karma, once again. 

Atheism has become popularised by the likes of Richard Dawkins, with his book, ‘The God Delusion’.  Some people believe that religions are no more than a comfort blanket, and a pretty skewed one at that.  But to jump on any kind of bandwagon without great investigation is to miss the point entirely, and to be a bit of a sheep.   We shouldn’t take anyone else’s word for what makes up this existence.  Life is too wonderful to allow ourselves to become blinkered and close-minded.  Because once you become an atheist, effectively you are shutting the lid on a pretty damn big set of questions, no?  How did we get here?  What is consciousness?  Could there be a God?  What is our purpose on this amazing planet?  Etc.  Until science can lay claim to 100% answers, then atheism is just a hypothesis.  And a comfort blanket in its own right.

These are questions everyone should think about – not just once and then dismiss.  We take so much for granted.  We worry about stupid little things of no importance, and our minds are full of clutter, some thoughts perhaps useful, some not.  We worry and get fraught when stuck in traffic.  We allow ourselves to freely rain down judgements upon others without examining ourselves first. We can become drawn into battles with desires, selfish goals.  Many people might believe their sole purpose in life is to become ‘successful’, because this is a notion our western society currently champions.  That to be rich, or famous, or respected, is what is important.  Is that true?  I believe it’s the journey that is important.  It’s all those in-betweens.  It’s the times when you were busy looking the other way.  To be successful or not is not the point.  To to find greater compassion and love for others, to live with our eyes and hearts wide open, is the point.  To be kind.  To follow our own true purpose, our individual callings – because we cannot lead the life another has proposed for us, only we can know what dwells deep in our hearts.  To allow ourselves a little joy that we are here at all.

Eventually, we will all get a call to deepen our awareness of something beyond our physical senses.  And the times of hardship in our lives are often the times when we seek answers the most.  Because at these times we realise the transient nature of everything, that nothing can be held onto forever.  It’s human nature to want to cling to our achievements, family and friends, whatever we think constitutes our ego identity.  But all of it will eventually slip away.  Religions try to cling onto their version of what God is – and some have distorted some very simple and beautiful truths.  Some people choose to follow a religion out of fear, or perhaps sheer exhaustion, life having given them a good kicking, they don’t want to think anymore, just follow meekly.  But they are not good reasons for becoming religious!  We should all do some work ourselves to find answers.  Humans have a natural herd mentality at times, we want to belong to a group (just look at the behaviour of some football fans!).  But we need to move beyond that, and do some investigative work ourselves to find the answers.  One reason I love the Baha’i faith is because it very logically says all religions point to the same God and that they all equally hold the same message.  Some people would say that this idea alone is blasphemy.  But we have to move beyond old, antiquated ways of thinking now and embrace truth, not fear-led superstition.  The times we live in urgently call for greater co-operation, not divisive behaviour.

Jesus said ‘love your enemy’.  Whether or not you believe in Jesus, what a powerful statement. Could he have been alluding to the fact that we are all one, all part of God, and therefore what we do to others we literally do to the self?  Either way, what a huge spiritual challenge, to ‘love your enemy’.  How many of us ever try?  Yet love is the most powerful healing force there is.  Carrying hate in your heart is self-poisoning.  In Buddhism, there is a meditation called the Metta Bhavana, the loving kindness meditation.  In this, you are encouraged to think kindly towards someone you struggle with – not hate, but have difficulty with.  The more often this is practised, the more you can begin to see the good beneath the flaws, perhaps even be able to see another’s reasons for behaving in a way you find difficult.  We are all odd creatures really.  We all see saw between feelings of compassion or annoyance, indifference and callousness and greater kindness.  We all have driving forces within we need to be aware of.  We always associate violence as being ‘out there’.  Yet the battle is very much inside.  We cannot transform another through violence, or hate, or anger, all these forces simply incite others to think or act in kind.

Love truly is the greatest transformational force there is.  We are already all on an incredible spiritual journey.  Just don’t take my word for that. 

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Terence McKenna ~ Dreaming Awake at the End of Time

"the world is made of language ~ the implication for the digerati is that reality can therefore be hacked" ~

"is DMT dangerous?  Only if you fear death by astonishment..."  :)

Monday, 20 May 2013

Ayahuasca - my first experience: magic under the stars

Friday 26th April - Tuesday 30th April 2013 (4 nights)

"What you seek is seeking you.”  ~Rumi~

First night - Friday

It's taken me 2 years to go on this retreat, from first hearing about it from a wonderful man who communicated the beauty of his experience just enough for me to be intrigued and to allow that intrigue to carry me through the sense of inevitable trepidation.  I have joined many others in the huge privilege that is to drink the 'vine of souls', to find deep solace from Mother Ayahuasca.  And in doing it, I have finally joined my tribe and come home.  (I should add, it is likely that we drank Syrian Rue and not the traditional ayahuasca mixture.)

Something compelled me to do this retreat -- I understand why now. The first night I experienced a huge feeling of trepidation coupled with mild panic... what the hell had I been thinking? :)  One of the first people I spoke with said he had experienced an alien abduction on his first night (not an uncommon thing to happen on ingesting DMT, but still this was a bit alarming for both him and myself!  He was brave enough to go back for more on the next night and his experience was much better this time.)  

I drank the medicine, and as I lay down I thought 'oh shit, here we go!', as some 20 minutes later the visuals began to kick in.  At one point, I saw a demonic face peering at me through the large tent in which we were all 'dreaming awake', which initially made me recoil. And I just thought that underneath that scary looking image, there once was a human who allowed himself to become demonic through holding onto bitterness, hatred, etc. and I just showed this being, love.  And as I thought this, the face peeled back layers, showing a human being -- emotional pain clearly etched on his face. I remembered someone saying, 'whatever happens, show your experiences love'.  

The visuals were as trippy as I was expecting.  Dancing bugs, dragons, weird alien creatures, vivid colours.  There was one moment where I suddenly realised it was a bit like the moment in the film Contact, where Jodie Foster is in the machine waiting to go, and the walls change colour and she's off -- it felt a bit like that.  I felt normal reality start to dissolve and become overlaid by an entirely different reality. The music played throughout was wonderful, a mix of traditional icaros and deeply spiritual songs.  Just divine.

I felt blissful waves of gentle love at this point, but my ego was too distracting.  I felt I could go deeper, and so, when they asked if anyone wanted a second dose, I went up.  Part of me thought 'for the love of God, are you sure?!!' but part of me felt instinctively I needed to go deeper. 

After this second dose, my surroundings fully dissolved and we were all in the rainforest, one girl beside me transformed partly into a big cat, but the jungle loved us, it was pure love.  We were it and it was us -- really I felt that our being human was just a part of who we are.  I felt I was coming home.  At the same time, the fear of complete ego dissolution had sent me into mild panic - and I felt my body was going to dissolve into a thousand pieces if I didn't try to keep my ego involved by talking (the guy running the event had said, 'by the way, if anyone wants to die tonight, just die. It's only ego death anyway.' - But it was hard to let go.)  The helpers were amazing though.  One of them was stroking my hair, another holding my hand.  There was so much love in that tent that night.  One of them was grinning at my panic and said 'admit it, you're loving it, aren't you?!'  And I was, despite my concerns.  It was quite funny, the minute the medicine kicked in after my second dose and I purged, I was just lying there saying 'why did I do that... oh God?... WHY?!!' which made one of the people giggle.  And my panic meant I made a bit of a spectacle of myself, but the support and shared laughter was amazing -- I was so grateful to the people I was there with and the helpers for their support.  :)

Then I was back in the tent but the guy running the event was walking around in Native American headgear, and suddenly I saw him in what I felt to be a past life, I felt certain I knew him - it was the most extraordinary, sublime, moment.  I felt he had been a Native American and he was a leader somehow, a Shaman or Chief, perhaps. I kept feeling, and saying, 'I've come home'. This sense of overwhelming connectedness was simply a huge relief, and I felt overwhelmed with love, and I was crying.  And I felt so much love!  I felt that that the universe deeply loves us all unconditionally, that we are all connected, death doesn't matter because this is just a temporary experience, we are eternal beings, eternal sparks of divinity. Words seem like such crude tools in the face of such overwhelming beauty.

Later, when my ego was chattering away, I showed that love too, and I thanked it, thanked it for doing such a great job, it's perfect at what it does! I suddenly realised how rare it is for the ego to receive love. 

Later that night, at around midnight (time gets utterly warped after ingesting ayahuasca, four hours felt like about 10, but in the nicest possible way) I went outside to where one guy was busy keeping the wonderful bonfire alive.  I was sitting by the fire, recounting my experience with an amazing guy who also had links to Native Americans, looking up at the beautiful starlight night.  Really, I found everything I have ever wanted, in that one night.  I've been searching for God, for a connection to Mother Nature, for years.  I've been aching for it.  And that night, my call was answered, and I came home.

Second Night:  Saturday

So after this incredible experience, I was thinking 'what the heck more can I possibly need?' :) I felt it a bit greedy for me to stay and I had been thinking of going home on the second day.  But something compelled me to stay, I wasn't sure why.  The second night was a much more gentle experience, I asked Mother Ayahuasca if she could give me a gentle time of it, and she did.  I just enjoyed the visuals, and experienced waves of gentle bliss.  I'd also has a second dose on this night, but the experience was still not that intense.  Still, I felt there was more I needed to do.  I felt a bit vulnerable and unhealed still the following day. Other peoples shares were beautiful, too.  One guy got told he could download places he loved, that they were 'in his aura'.  One other guy said to us, 'hey, there is nothing to be afraid of people.  There is no real death, we're eternal beings'.  Later it felt like something was tweaking my thyroid (I've had an overactive thyroid for a while).  One of the helpers said later that angels were walking amongst us that night helping us to heal.

Third Night:  Sunday 

Again, I wasn't sure how I felt about staying for another night -- it crossed my mind, I dismissed it and I actually got to the train station and then realised I couldn't leave.  So I turned around and came back for a third night.  Instantly, I felt relief.  There was more I needed to do. Ultimately, this was not a decision I made.  I was called.  Beamed in by the Mothership. :)

This night I had what seemed a fairly decent sized dose, but I was still ‘half in’.  Comfortable, warm, safe, but aware of my ego. I was thinking of my parents and holding them and sending them love -- seeing their pain and feeling compassion towards them. (One thing that was quite interesting the next day was how all our experiences that night were to do with our parents - it was like a cool, psychic link that we all had.  That link was further demonstrated when anyone experienced difficulties as other people would send them love, and they would later say they could feel the love being sent - beautiful.)

The images I kept seeing were quite dark, dragons, demons etc.  But then a really fun thing happened.  The guy running the event put on a really light-hearted and fun song, and all of a sudden the scene changed, some cool chicks in luminious dresses started dancing to the music and a fire-breathing dragon joined in!  I was aware that my thoughts would change my trip and I tried to focus on love and send or give love to any dark images.  But then I started to think about thoughts of self-worth, inadequacy, all the things I’d failed at.  Then I got an answer: ‘failure is good, it keeps me humble, keeps me seeking God’.  

I asked the healing medicine how I could integrate what I learned, and I got told very firmly: ‘shed your skin!’.  I had accidentally left all my clothes on the coach upon arrival, and I thought this symbolic, I had to let go of my old identity, my various personas.  I felt very strongly that I came back for a reason, to help me ‘rebirth’, and to shed my old identity (or my old ways of seeing my identity).  I had also asked the medicine who I had been in this life, and I got 'medicine woman'.

Final Night:  Monday 29th April

“My soul is from elsewhere, I'm sure of that, and I intend to end up there.”  ~Rumi ~

Wow, where to start.  I'd written in my diary of this night that 'I came through the darkness. I lost myself in order to find myself.  And the people I was there with, the Universe, God, Mother Aya, all perfectly supported/orchestrated, this'. Blimey!  :)  But that was how it all felt.

The medicine kicked in fast and hard.  It laid me out pretty quickly and tasted much more bitter this night.  Someone later said to me that the guy running it knew all the various brews etc. and that it might well have been slightly different.  I was feeling a bit shaky and nauseous. As we began, it felt like something was going to go down this night.  I felt lots of energy pouring into me, and I also saw Native American Chiefs with us.  I felt like our ancestors were with us that night, giving us their support.  

But now, lying down, I felt fear.  My ego started to kick in, 'I should have left earlier, I was asking too much by staying, there was nothing more I'd needed'.  I thought the guy organizing it had also taken a drink (it turned out he hadn't -- but I suddenly felt quite vulnerable as the other helpers were also drinking the tea that night).  One other lovely lady was experiencing difficulties and the guys were hugely immersed, having dosed themselves crazy!  I suddenly thought 'I'm on my own'. Panic crept in. My trip became dark, everywhere I looked there were demonic creatures.

Then I felt that this fear was what I needed to work through, that I had to come through this on my own. I got the sense that 'you can do this, you can come through this.'  Also I realised I wasn't alone, I had the support of everyone in the room, and our ancestors, spirit guides.  I silently asked the ancestors for help.  Meanwhile, it felt like my brain was being unknit, as though I were on the brink of insanity and fear was dancing around the edges.  The music felt discordant, everything felt very strange that night. But I got the very firm sense of 'you will get through this; you can!'.  I suddenly remembered I had wanted to work through fear, that this is one of the intentions I had initially held when coming to the retreat.  And a book I'd been reading earlier had been about  how to transform fear.  I realised there are no accidents, that everything happens for a reason.  I focused on the breath, and love.  I remembered it's all love, so really if I were to die, it is only death of the physical vehicle, it doesn't matter. I crawled on my hands and knees to the toilet.  And then I got the sense I should  'stand tall'. That I could stand among my ancestors and take my place among them.  It was a beautiful feeling.  I walked back to the room.  At this point, I felt I wanted to purge, and reached for the bucket, but I got the sense I didn't actually need to purge, it was symbolic of my rebirthing.  

Then, things became utterly mental but in the nicest possible way.  One of the guys who had received quite a large dose, started giggling, and rolling about on the carpet, just saying 'I'm in so much bliss!'   And giggling uproariously.  And this set off another guy who had also found himself immersed in a serious dose of loving, divine, bliss.  They were both in peals of infectious laughter. At this point, I couldn't help but join in, and feel enormous gratitude for my experiences.  And now we were immersed in some crazy, impromptu, Ayahuasca healing, after-party.  We got up and danced (a wobbly dance, as we hadn't quite come back to planet Earth, yet). Then we went out to look at the stars and wow!  They weren't just dots on a flat canvas, they were alive, pulsing orbs of intelligent energy, joining in our celebration.  Two of us saw shooting stars at that point.  We had group hugs and shared so much love and gratitude.  I found everything I had ever wanted and I know where I can go to find home again. I am still processing what happened, as it was the most beautiful event of my life to date.  And I hope I can 'shed my skin!' and move forward in a way that mirrors what I feel inside, even just a little bit.  Will I go back?  I hope to.

In modern life, the human spirit can feel so demeaned by so much, such as with allowing a job title to determine our identity.  Job titles can serve to diminish our spirit -- at what point did we decide it's more important to talk about what you do for money than who you are as a human being?  We can feel crushed and trapped by this one simple title - it serves to reduce us to a tiny fragment of who we are!  This experience has driven home how you are not your job.  You are a beautiful spark of eternal divinity.  You are more powerful than you can possibly imagine.  You can find all the love you can ever need by going inside.  God is within all of us, and no being is excluded.  We are all star stuff, and we can make magic by focusing on love and gratitude and compassion.  These are the tools we need to instantly transform ourselves and the world. 

I'm reminded of a recent snippet of an email I received:


There is only love. And focusing on love is pretty transformative in itself.  Don't allow yourself to be dragged down by grief and despair, but lift others up to a place of joy with the light of your own spirit. And if you need help to do this, we have magical elixers such as ayahuasca to help us be all that we can be - to dream awake, to dance among the stars for a brief time. To go back home.  We are really not alone in this wild universe. 

“You were born with wings, why prefer to crawl through life?”  ~Rumi ~

--And a clip from one of my favourite films, Jodie Foster from Contact

Friday, 19 April 2013

Modern Man Under a Spell: Spirituality in the Material Age

It began as a feeling of uneasiness that something was off. Way off.  I was 25 and beginning to feel compelled to read more and more spiritual books, turning my back on the world of fiction which I’d loved.  For the next ten years, through ups and downs and riding some bumpy terrain, it was the spiritual books (and occasional experiences) that pulled me through.  A sense that we are more than just a bunch of random atoms that have somehow cleverly learned how to work together to form a human being - that somehow we are supposed to have evolved over the years from a bloody fish.  That if there is no God, there is certainly a positive and loving force that holds us all.  That we are all connected.  A spiritual epiphany was to follow, when reading the second of Neal Donald Walsh’s trilogy ‘Conversations With God’.  I suddenly realised, with tears streaming down my face, that I’d come home.  A friend who I told about this, said he thought there was one book out there for each of us, one book alone that could speak to our souls.  (I have now added two more books to this list, however!)
All this was in the backdrop.  I thought I had to do the same as everyone else, keep the day job and then do all this searching in my spare time.  But now, as though waking from a dream, I’m realising that we don’t have to dance to another’s tune, even if that ‘other’ is a huge, slick, consumer-driven, society.  We can quietly slip off the beaten path and find our own way.
I look around me, and feel a huge sense that mankind has really lost his way.  I am confined to a house made of bricks on a street lined with lights that prevents me from marvelling at the stars at night before I go to sleep.  This house keeps me from much interaction with neighbours.  It’s a cage that has not been successful in trying to tame me.  It tries to lull me into thinking thoughts concerning stability, permanence, to lull me away from the true nature of existence.
Inside this house there lies a thing called a television, a big, black, commanding, monolith standing in the corner of the living room.  We switch it on to amuse ourselves, watching fictionalised accounts of how we should live, or the ‘news’ whereby we are told what to think.  Television tells us in no uncertain terms “life outside, BAD!  Scary!  Stay indoors.  (As I write this, because of the Boston bombings in the US, people of Boston are currently being advised to do just that.) Bill Hicks, that brilliant comedian who is now sadly no longer with us, had a cool take on this.  What if we had a positive news story for a change?  Wouldn’t it be great if you turned on your TV and saw a newscaster say this: 
"Today, a young man on acid realized that all matter is merely energy condensed to a slow vibration – that we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively. There's no such thing as death, life is only a dream, and we're the imagination of ourselves.
Here's Tom with the weather!"
Because what Bill knew, is what Buddha knew on an experiential level (heck Bill might have known it on an experiential level too, he took enough mushrooms, apparently!) and what all the great gurus have been trying to tell us for years.  “We are all one”.  Simple.  We all think we are individual because our consciousness has been funneled into our bodies, thus giving us the illusion of separation – but it is just that, an illusion.  The vast sea of consciousness is collective.  Allegedly.  (Incidentally it makes for interesting reading, checking out the etymology of the word guru on wikipedia, if you feel so inclined:
But we get it drilled into us from a young age that safety, permanence, mortgages, job security, all these things are important.  So we swap actually living our lives for this illusion of safety.  What is a life well lived?  It is YOUR life so only you can know.  As Jeff Brown (author of Ascending with Both Feet on the Ground among other books) would say, ‘don’t hand your tools to anyone else’.  So many people are just surviving – many have little choice.  You may have had to listen to well-meaning parents or guardians when growing up, but they probably simply tried to hammer into you the story they were told by their parents, or what they have learned through fear of life. 
“Take the safe job.” 
“Life is hard.” 
“Don’t take a risk.”
“What’s that you say?  You hate your job? EVERYONE but for the very lucky, hate their jobs!  That’s just the way life is!” 
Every time you hear that barrel load of crap, you just run for the hills, OK?  It’s all rubbish.  It is based on a fear-based system, in which we are taught to believe it’s a dog-eat-dog world and everything you do had better be self-serving coz their ain’t no-one else going to help you. 
“Toughen up!  Only the strong survive!”
All of this is simply what they were told, and they are unthinkingly passing this on, believing it to be true.  The weak are often the most difficult to be around, or the most cruel, because it is harder sometimes to be openhearted that it is to close your heart.  We think closing our hearts makes us strong.  It doesn’t.  It just makes our world more lonely.  Expansion is key.  Opening up, taking risks.  Allowing your heart to embrace compassion.  Yes, it is painful, but not so bad when you know this world is but one aspect of existence.  Life can be hard, yes. But we can find ourselves in much greater emotional pain if we don’t try to follow what our hearts and souls are trying to communicate to us.
And here’s another gem:  Did you ever hear how what we all need is a “good war, so that young men will be able to get out all their anger in a ‘healthy’ way and it will pull us together as a country?!”  I grew up with batshit logic like that!  If you too grew up with similar and felt it was crazy, then at least you’re not alone.  As the Indian spiritual philosopher, Jiddu Krishnamurti said: 
“It's no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”
And is our society sick?  As I write this, we are bulldozing  vast swathes of rainforest to make dams to create electricity – literally killing the lungs of our planet.  We have crimes of hatred for different skin colour, or simply for supporting a different football team.  We cram our children’s brains with facts, but do nothing to prepare them fully for developing their own psyches in an increasingly fractured world.   
Many of us go out to work in a firm we couldn’t care less about.  We knee-jerk react en masse to news stories, stories which allow us to feel a sense of justification to be angry at others instead of taking a look at our own ego-based issues and problems.  We never go within to find any answers, even though that is the first place we all should go.  We create genetically modified food - why, when nature is so abundant? (1) 
We spray our crops with poison and wonder why we all get sick – we even put some industrial ingredients in our food (2)
We spend weekends listlessly milling about in vast shopping malls, great big churches dedicated to the empty pleasures of consumerism, buying stuff which in a couple of weeks will have been forgotten about.  We kill animals – huge amounts of them (according to in 2011 we slaughtered over 958 million in the UK alone), for food when the vast majority of us could very well easily eat only a vegetarian diet.  And we don’t kill them without often inflicting great suffering.
And, as I write this, our country is a bit strapped for cash, and so it is trying to claw it back -- not from the rich (which would be more humane and logical) but from the disabled (or so it seems). (3)
We try to anaesthetize ourselves from an internal pain we can’t quite find the reason for, and huge amounts of us take antidepressants because Western medicine doesn’t have a clue about what to do when your head feels a bit broken inside apart from ticking boxes and putting you into a category.  And we drink.  Oh how we can drink here in England!  As a nation of barely functioning alcoholics, we're doing really well.  What is it we're doing?  Sleepwalking our way through the part of existence we should be enjoying, the bit when we're not working.  Why?
What then, is missing?  So many don’t know.  They don’t know that’s what they’re missing is our birthright, a divine connection with God, with Mother Earth, with Nature (because yes, we really can communicate with Nature herself, with animals and other creatures, too).  And often we are overlooking our own souls, smothering their voices, believing we have to conform to rules which stifle our hearts.
Many turn to God out of desperation.  Life has kicked the hell out of them and they are willing to surrender to anything at that point.  Don’t be those people.  Surrender only to a path to God that resonates with your heart.  That cool guru, Osho had this to say:
“My work is hard because the first thing is that I would like you to be uprooted from your misery, then only can my work start. This is a prerequisite, an absolutely necessary requisite. It cannot be avoided. It cannot be put aside, it has to be fulfilled. First you have to become a little happier, you have to learn to be a little more love-full, joyful; your life has to have the color of a little happiness.

Then go into the search for truth and you will be moving in the right direction, because then no lie can ever deceive you. You are no more interested in lies, because you are no more interested in consolation and comfort. Now you are ready to know the naked truth as it is. And to be a seeker of truth is the greatest thing in life. Okay!”
The sheer magic of things like the fact we are alive, of the fact that scientists still can’t tell us how consciousness works, of marvelling at the sights of nature, all of these are often forgotten as we trudge along in a collective fog, often pharmaceutically induced.  Just trying to get through another day.  Just... trying.
And so, perhaps after many years of feeling comfortable yet dull, of not taking risks, of perhaps feeling like we have lost a bit of our own souls somewhere down the line because our joy is missing -- of not attempting to develop our own characters or simply even just becoming aware of our full potential, we go and cark it. :)
Does this sound like a life worth living to you?
This passes for normality on a planet teeming with mystery, spinning around a sun in a galaxy with 200 to 400 billion stars, a galaxy that is one of perhaps 100 or 200 billion (maybe more).  To me what passes for society is a real waste of a huge exploration into human consciousness. 
I want to go within and I want to find my tribe of other people doing the same. I want to take risks, to allow my own intuition to be my guide.     And I want the freedom to be able to travel where I please, to dwell under the stars if I so wish, but definitely not to stay put in one house until the day I die.  I want people to be able to live a nomadic existence without stigma. 
To me, so many of life’s problems would melt away if we all turned, en masse, to a more spiritual way of life.  Sitting together of an evening and really talking.  Allowing someone you love to reveal their pain, and you, in turn, revealing yours.  To gently hold a sacred space for that pain to be let out.  And to allow both men and women to cry, because crying is such a beautiful release and we shouldn’t deny anyone that.  To sit together and sing songs or share poems that speak to the soul. To give thanks towards something greater than ourselves and feel a sense of awe of the sheer magic of existence.
We can start by simply paying attention to our souls.  Carl Jung, that ‘modern day shaman’ and behemoth of a psychoanalyst, spent years in search of his which culminated in his astonishing work, The Red Book.  If he spent years in search of his, that alone should be good reason to keep hold of yours and pay attention to it if it’s not happy – and, if it isn’t, be prepared to have to do whatever needs doing to go in search of it, even at the risk of total ridicule.  The payoff for that is much greater than we can ever know, it’s a real step towards healing.  This is YOUR life you are weaving – your song to contribute to this strange, collective and beautiful madness.  So sing it.  And switch the TV off!  


Sunday, 24 February 2013

Vipassana Retreat: A Journey into Silence

I went on a ten day Vipassana, or Insight Meditation, retreat over Christmas, at the International Meditation Centre near Chippenham, in Wiltshire. I had some trepidation about going, not least because it was a silent retreat; aside from speaking to the course leaders, we were supposed to not speak for the entire duration. I wondered how I was going to cope, and with a schedule of 6 hours meditation a day, in addition to the Buddhist discourses and tuition time.

But any trepidation I felt was put at ease immediately I arrived and spotted the enchanting pagoda, all lit up like a giant Christmas tree, and I was greeted warmly by a lovely person who showed me around. I was given a quick lesson in the first meditation we would be doing by Roger, the course leader who would be instructing us over the next ten days, and handed over my mobile phone (this wasn't mandatory, but I felt in order to properly immerse myself in the retreat this was a vital step. And so it proved).

It was lonely at times, and it was interesting to see how the mind writhed and wriggled, looking for an external distraction from any kind of pain. I missed people. The combination of a difficult meditation and the adjustment to a heavy meditation schedule meant that my mind thrashed about like a really annoyed mongoose at a heavy metal gig. I got bored and dispirited. It was interesting (and also painful) to see what the mind brought up, both in dreams and also during the day.

And yet. I experienced great feelings of happiness too, along with a sense of profound sacredness; especially in the walk to the meditation hall at 4am in the darkness; in silence, apart from birdsong or the bells on the top of the pagoda tinkling softly. Sitting in silence in the meditation hall felt very special. I cried tears of sorrow and also tears of laughter. Our course leader, Roger, was a very open and gentle person and it felt humbling to be around him. I loved being woken by a gong in the morning, I loved the pagoda with its pretty lights and golden turrets (which looked a bit surreal in the English countryside). And I really enjoyed some of the discourses on Buddhism.

We learned two different types of meditation while we were there, the mindfulness of breathing (anapana) and insight meditation (vipassana, which means 'to see things as they really are'). The anapana really shows how difficult it is initially to calm the mind down. (It was far more difficult than the technique I had learned at the Triratna Buddhist Centre, but because it has given me a greater appreciation of the mind I have far more respect for it.)

The day before we left was talking day, and it felt as though I already knew a couple of people I had been smiling at across the canteen or meditation hall, and I realised just how much we can gauge from body language alone. My joints ached from spending around 5 hours a day sitting on the floor in meditation and listening to discourses, I felt like fleeing for the hills on a couple of occasions and I had an epic battle with myself to not take my phone back from the secure lock-up. And the last couple of days it was a huge battle to do any meditation at all, at times. But, here's the thing. Despite the difficulties, it was still a deeply enriching gift to myself that will stay with me for some time, an inner journey that gave me a sense of achievement and a feeling that the anapana meditation is going to be a great new friend. I would recommend a retreat like this to almost anyone as a way to go into yourself a little deeper. And who knows? Maybe if you have accrued enough good karma you may even become Enlightened.


Sitting in silence, nestled in the embrace of the night sky I hear a blackbird sing- singing for the joy of it all. Singing for love. And it is as though I am hearing for the first time and tears fall, but they are no longer mine alone.

Monday, 25 June 2012

awesome hang drum performance in Goa

~ Hangdrum Performance By James Winstanley &Daniel James Waples,shot in Arambol, Goa, India by Suzi & Rakesh Kashyap, Shimla ~ The Hang Drum Project

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Religious evolution: a short manifesto

Christianity:  “The kingdom of heaven is within you” (from the words of Jesus)
Islam:  “Those who know themselves know their Lord”
Judaism:  “He is in all, and all is in Him”
Confucianism: “Those who know their own nature, know heaven.
 Taoism:  “In the depths of the soul, one sees the Divine, the One

Buddhism:  “Look within, you are the Buddha”

Hinduism:  “Atman [individual consciousness] and Brahman [universal consciousness] are one”

from the Shaman’s Journey:  Supernatural or Natural by Ede Frecska M.D. (printed in Inner Paths to Outer Space)

So many people can become fixated on the differences within religions, and I can understand why. Some of the main religions teach there can be only one path, and only one God, and that anyone worshipping a different path is ultimately misguided.  Oh, and that might mean that they up off to a rather hot destination when their end is nigh.  People are judged not for their good deeds, but rather, which religious box they have happened to tick.  And religious people are arguing for their very sense of purpose, for the ultimate truth, the heart of all existence everywhere.  If you have been brought up your entire life to believe only one truth, it becomes very hard to accept anything else.

The tragedy is perhaps that while people are busy arguing over who is right, and incorporating their arguments into their egos, they can forget the essence of the spiritual messages that cross all religions.  The messages are simplicity itself, with love at the heart of them all. Love, unity, laughter, compassion, gratitude, humbleness are words that immediately spring to mind. And a deeper connection can be found only by going within, by deepening our spiritual journey. The spiritual path can sometimes seem a lonely one.  Going within is a job that requires nothing outside of yourself and only you can get you there.  Yet anyone who has been on a spiritual path for a time will tell you the rewards far outweigh anything previously encountered.

Religion can be incorporated into peoples' lives for many different reasons and we are very much fallible creatures.  To believe in a God, or an afterlife, these are huge concepts.  We're going to want to protect deep beliefs such as these as much as possible, and if our beliefs are very narrow, fear-based, or very deeply ingrained, the idea of allowing a little flexibility into the equation can be damn near impossible.  And that is perhaps a real tragedy if people are unable to see anything beyond the confines of their beliefs.  Their restrictions can lead to a life perhaps lived akin to the people in Plato's Allegory of the Cave, seeing the shadows of people cast against the wall of the cave and believing that world to be the ultimate reality.

Some people want to wear their religions like a badge, quote a little from the Bible, attend Church and yet, even whilst acknowledging the beauty of their belief system, they may be unable to allow that beauty to do its transformational work on them.  In this way, they are perhaps still more concerned with status.  They are less self-aware than they need to be in order to develop.  But haven't we all been a little guilty of this?  I remember when I used to go to Buddhist meditation while simultaneously thinking myself just a little 'cool' for being there.  The ego can be slippery and elusive!  We can't eradicate it but we do need to be aware of it.  Because religious beliefs can be so powerful, it is often hard for people to disentangle their beliefs from their true identity.  We all want to be right.  And if we believe there can ultimately be only one path, everyone else potentially threatens our position.  And some religious teaching can be a little like brainwashing.  There is simply very little room for ambiguity, for allowing other religious to co-exist, peacefully, alongside. 

This all might be OK, if say, there were only several thousand people on this planet.  But we currently stand at just over 7 billion people.  And there are some pretty urgent issues that need our full attention.

So how to go forward?  We need to pare things down to basics.  To being Humanists first and foremost, being kind to fellow humans and animals and our planet which lovingly sustains us.  And being kind for its own sake, not for an imagined reward in a life hereafter, not for fear that a God might strike us down.  We need to develop an attitude of compassion and kindness.  Blind faith needs striking off the list.   We should be able to test our faith by allowing ourselves to have our own religious experiences, whether through meditation, prayer, fasting, walking in nature or just being kind to someone.  We need to allow everyone else their own beliefs, providing those beliefs do not harm any other lifeforms.  Co-existence simply has to be the way forward.  Life on this planet is starting to feel a bit crowded, and we need to collectively turn our attention towards more urgent questions, such as the problem of mankind's impact on this world.  We can't do that so effectively if we are too busy fighting to protect our beliefs.  We are currently having a pretty devastating impact on this planet -- it's huge.  From the threats to coral reefs, the amount of rubbish we produce, to GM crops or the amount of trees we needlessly chop down.  We often don't want to acknowledge the mess we're creating, and we can find all sorts of ways to distract ourselves, from fighting about pointless things, to going on a consumerist binge through vast, soulless, shopping malls.  Our ability to walk through life, blinkered to all the terrible things that are currently going on, shouldn't be underestimated.  But we all need to participate more in the care of this world.  Turning a blind eye simply isn't going to work as a long-term strategy.  We're threatening our own survival as a species through our current actions.

Initially, for all those who are spiritual or religious, we need to allow ourselves space to worship, to feel reverence, but to back off and allow others to feel perfectly entitled to the same whether for 'our' religion, or a differing one without feeling the need to become self-righteous (or to relegate their belief system as being 'less').  Respect for other religions is key.

We need to be able to let go and allow gentle scrutiny to replace blind faith; and allow ourselves to be able to laugh at our indignant and childlike, egos.  The more self-awareness we bring into the whole affair, the more we develop understanding and compassion for ourselves and others.  I imagine the most judgemental people are the ones who practise the least self-awareness and humility. 

Ultimately, perhaps, we also need to lighten up.  We can take ourselves so very seriously. How would we act if we truly knew the heart of all life was love and joy, that we are truly all One consciousness experiencing itself subjectively (as Bill Hicks used to say!), and that God is perhaps being revealed at all times through endless acts of creation.  And,that at any minute if we stop and listen for just a second, we might hear the song of God, softly woven into the fabric of the universe -- just waiting for us to notice.