Beautiful Poem - You Darkness - By David Whyte

A Translation of a poem originally by Rainer Maria Rilke

 

You darkness from which I come,
I love you more than all the fires
that fence out the world,
for the fire makes a circle
for everyone
so that no one sees you anymore.
But darkness holds it all:
the shape and the flame,
the animal and myself,
how it holds them,
all powers, all sight —

and it is possible: its great strength
is breaking into my body.
I have faith in the night.

A Poem for National Poetry Day: Enough

Enough

 

Though the road is long and I am far from the end

I have a glimpse of what it means to be the man I dreamed of being

I have a window to the wonder in my soul

And in moments

I find

I can be content with this…

This warm-hearted

This soft-eyed

This broad-shouldered

This deep-rooted

Man

I breathe

Deep and wide

And know the ancient longing

The friendship of pain and joy

The companionship of melancholy and grace

And I feel

Where the past and future meet in me

And I can be proud

Of what I have done

And who I have become

And how

From this place

I can face the challenges yet to come

With dignity

With vulnerability

With wildness and tenderness and strength.

 

I know now

That my capacity for love and hope

Is greater than my tendency towards fear and desolation

And I can look back when the world turns its gaze upon me and say:

“This is enough.  I am enough.”

I am a Chimaera: Wildly Imaginative and Implausible

I have long searched for a tribe.  A place of belonging.  Somewhere I ‘fit.’  And I have come to the conclusion that there is no clear place for me.  It’s been too long a search and no category, place, group, field of study, practice, spiritual tradition, community, or profession I have explored has ever felt like home.  I feel a growing acceptance of this: I am a beautiful mutant, a monster with a heart, a fusion of reclaimed oddities.  I am a Chimaera.

The Chimaera was a mythical beast of ancient Greece made up of parts of several animals, and as the Wikipedia entry puts it:

“The term chimera has come to describe any mythical or fictional animal with parts taken from various animals, or to describe anything composed of very disparate parts, or perceived as wildly imaginative or implausible.”

I like the idea of being wildly imaginative and implausible. 

I feel heartened by what Joseph Campbell, who many would consider a specialist in studying mythology, says in talking about his own life and work as an academic:

“In our sciences today – and this includes anthropology, linguistics, the study of religions, and so forth – there is a tendency to specialisation.  And when you know how much a specialist scholar has to know in order to be a competent specialist, you can understand this tendency….

Specialisation tends to limit the field of problems that the specialist is concerned with.  Now, the person who isn’t a specialist, but a generalist like myself, sees something over here that he has learned from one specialist, something over there that he has learned from another specialist – and neither of them has considered the problem of why this occurs here and also there.  So the generalist – and that’s a derogatory term, by the way, for academics – gets into a range of problems that are more genuinely human, you might say, than specifically cultural.”

Although I have studied a number of topics to significant depth, I don’t think I am a specialist by nature, I am a generalist.  And I think that is often harder for others to understand, not least of all because it’s very hard for me to accurately describe.

To put it in a positive light, I have been blessed with a life which has been rich and diverse.  I sometimes joke that I have a checkered past  - not legally but in terms of my ‘career path.’  I remember having a chat with my friend, Kate, when I was applying for a job once and the conversation going like this:

 

Me - “Who’s going to hire me?  My CV looks like I have no direction whatsoever!”

Kate – “That’s what a CV is for isn’t it?”

Me – “What do you mean?”

Kate – “Taking the mess of your life and making it look like you did it on purpose.”

 

So perhaps this is me creating my tribe like Kate suggested making my CV:  taking this messy creature that I am and saying “THIS is where I belong, I am my own home.”

On a bad day I can feel like a creature cobbled together from clunky and ill-fitting hunks of experience, a monster without a home.

But on a good day I know I can be a fascinating and fascinated bundle of wonder able to dance across many domains, to find connections between people and subjects others can’t see, to be a gifted generalist helping make the world more whole.

 

I have found my new prayer:

 

I am a Chimaera.

Wildly imaginative and implausible by nature,

Perfect and problematic,

Wonderful and terrible,

Fabulous and flawed.

I am my own home,

This is where I belong.

 

With Love.

Death and Life

You are going to die

You

Are going to die

There is no avoiding it

Pretending it won't happen won't prevent it

And more than that,

Everyone and everything you love will die too.

There is no solace in this world, no legacy great enough to ensure your immortality.

You are closer to death now than when you started reading.

Take another step my friend,

There is no avoiding it.

There could be misery in these thoughts...

Terror,

Disillusionment,

Pain.

But there is a gift as well:

It is only by embracing the reality of death that we truly learn how to live.

There is a fierce urgency that is yours to claim,

A freeing knowledge of your own doom

That waits

Like death

Just around the corner.

Many imagine the knowledge of imminent doom

To bring a rush

Of hedonism,

A selfish 'fuck you' to the world as you pursue your own pleasure.

...But that is not what I see.

That is not what I feel in myself as I contemplate my own demise,

No.

I want to share,

to give,

to love.

I seek belonging

Not belongings,

I welcome simplicity and peace, not a chaotic feeding of my inner glutton,

I seek substance not substances,

Because.

In confronting my death

I have to confront my life,

In facing the fact that I could disappear at any moment

I have to ask the question

"What if I could appear at any moment?"

What if...?

What if...?

What if I stepped out from behind the cloud of my own inhibitions and really lived?

What if I grasped the opportunity in my life

Not for fame,

Or greatness,

Or money,

Or any of the other egoic delights

I may pick up

Incidentally along the path,

What if I grasped the opportunity in my life

for ordinary wonder?

What if seeing death could help me to see life?

What if the marvel of life lies not in the marvels but in the minutiae?

The light on my cup,

The moment of satisfaction after eating a meal,

Or speaking to a friend.

What if I could appear to myself at any moment?

What if I could see myself with fresh eyes now, and now, and now

And know:

This is who I am.

And tomorrow I will be someone else,

And that is wonderful and terrible.

Wonder-full and terrible

To have to face

My own death

Every day,

The possibility of my physical death

And the reality of dying to myself every moment,

Because I am not the same person now as when I started writing this,

You are not the same person who started reading this,

You are not only dying but dead.

You are dead.

You are dead already.

You don't owe anyone anything,

And you owe a great legacy in every moment

Because you are your own ancestor.

Are you going to let the million you's who died so that you could live

Die for nothing?

Knowing that you will die anyway, can you sacrifice yourself in this moment

So that the you who is being born

Might receive a legacy of choice?

 

Can you embrace death, dear one,

so that you might learn how to live?

Spiritualising the Body

Often in the modern dialogue around spirituality we can be disconnected from the body. For various reasons with roots ranging from certain periods of Christian teaching, to Descartes' philosophical mind/body divide, right through to very contemporary ideas about spiritual 'transcendence', many of us seem to have ideas that the body is somehow less spiritual or even not spiritual at all. I have observed many times in many people some version of the thought that in order to be spiritual we need to disconnect from the physical. While materialism and fear of physical threat can be traps which keeps us from really focusing our attention on our deep values and higher ideals, if we are ever to reach towards enlightenment or any other kind of spiritual development, we must do so in our bodies, with our bodies, and through our bodies. I would suggest that our dissociation with our own bodies is a large contributing factor in creating the behaviour which has damaged and is destroying our planet. If we dismiss our own bodies as 'un-spiritual' and therefore not worthy of care, then how likely are we to bring deep care and attention to the 'body' of Mother Earth? I would also suggest that while we need large scale cultural change around how we relate to our environment, large cultural change can begin with small personal change. One way to approach this is to Spiritualise the Body. It doesn't need 'spiritualising', it is full of beauty and spirit already, so really this is more about remembering that. Remembering is a wonderful word in this context. We have been dis-membered, taken apart by these ideas of an 'un-spiritual' body and it is time to put ourselves back together – to re-member. This exercise is a first step towards that by taking something we do all the time – washing – and turning it into a spiritual practice.

 

In many traditions there are ways of physically cleansing the body which are also considered to be deeply spiritual acts. This can take the form of internal cleansing or external cleansing.

 

A number of shamanic traditions from around the world feature some form of 'purging' which often literally involves spitting or vomiting up matter which is considered to be linked to negative energy. Perhaps the best example of this is the Ayahuasca traditions of Brazil where they are ingesting a 'teacher plant' which has both hallucinogenic properties and purgative properties. The plant brings the shaman or practitioner visions which are considered direct interactions with the spiritual realm and at the same time the body is purged of negative energies, sometimes through vomiting - you don't need to worry that I'm going to get you to do that! A less extreme example of internal cleansing might be the use of fasting. When you fast, typically toxins are purged from the body, that's part of why you often get headache's and bad breath during a fast – that's the nasty stuff that's collected in corners being swept out of the body. While this has physical health benefits, in some of the traditions which work with fasting, the evacuation of physical toxins from the body is also seen to have a spiritual correlation so that your spirit or energy body is being cleansed by the process of the fast as well.

 

An example of external cleansing can be seen in the First Nation (or Native American) tradition of the sweat-lodge. The sweat-lodge is one of the most common traditional ceremonies that I have come across in the North American tradition and there have been suggestions that similar ceremonies may have been used in Europe too. The sweat-lodge is a small dome built from bent branches and then covered with hides or blankets with a pit inside to put heated stones in and a fire outside to heat the stones. The precise construction of the lodge and it's alignment to the cardinal directions (north, south, east and west) varies but is always considered to be of great importance. This was a sacred place, not unlike a church. The symbolism of the sweat-lodge is that it represents the womb of Mother Earth and you go into the be ritually 'reborn' after the ceremony. The emphasis that I have experienced is always on the spiritual dimensions of the 'sweat' but there is a reality that this is a very real physical cleansing process too. Not unlike a sauna, the heat makes you sweat and by sweating you are releasing toxins from the body, on top of that the steam in the air means that once you towel off after the ceremony you are actually pretty clean, not just caked in sweat! Another example of external cleansing can be found in the Hindu tradition. Within Hinduism it is considered that each of us carries a seed of the divine within us so if we don't take care of ourselves then we are failing to take care of the divine within. As such, personal hygiene (for instance) is of great importance. You have probably at least heard of Yoga, and may know it was originally a Hindu discipline. What is less well-known is that what we commonly call 'Yoga' is actually only one of the 4 primary Yogic paths. What we usually call 'Yoga' is Raja Yoga. There is also Jnana Yoga which primarily involves exploring the nature of being through certain types of dialogue and enquiry; Karma Yoga which involves engaging in good works in the world; and Bhakti Yoga which involves devotional practices (ritual expressions of loving the divine). One of the traditional devotional practices of Bhakti Yoga is bathing statues of Gods and Goddesses, sometimes just bathing the feet.

 

So... what I want to invite you to do draws on the principles expressed in all of these traditions but most directly on these last aspects of Hinduism. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to make a ritual out of having a bath and bathe yourself like you are bathing a God or Goddess! Once you have done one really special one, you could make your daily shower, bath, wash, teeth-brush or anything else into a small personal ritual or spiritual practice. However, I really recommend doing one really special one and setting aside time to do it with great care and attention. If you can, I suggest a bath because showers tend to be quicker and more functional so a bath lends itself more to slowing down and taking greater care. Rituals or ceremonies typically have a beginning, a middle, and an end – like a story. The beginning tells your mind and being that something special is about to happen and helps to raise your levels of awareness and attention. The end lets you know when you are done and can step back out into a more ordinary awareness. The middle is whatever journey you want to craft for yourself in this special space of heightened awareness. So for this ritual you need to find a way to mark the beginning – this could be anything. Some simple ones could be the 'ding' of a Tibetan singing bowl, playing a special piece of music, or lighting a candle. At the end you can just do this same thing again (the 'ding', play the music again, or blow out the candle) – or you can find some other way to mark the end point such as writing a list of 5 things you are grateful for, reading a beautiful poem out loud, or a moment of silence. Then in the middle your task is to make your bathing as nurturing, loving, beautiful, present, and aware as you possibly can. Light lots of candle, use scented oils, have a lovely soft towel waiting afterwards, or even without any special 'stuff' you can bring deep care and attention to how you wash every part of your body. Slow down and take sensual pleasure in it all. As you pour water over your feet, pour love over them too. As you rub soap into your hands and face, be gentle, loving, kind, and deeply attentive to how it feels and how you could make it even lovelier, more caring, and attentive. Move through it all at least a little slower than you usually would and love every part of you, encountering it as if for the first time: with fresh eyes and wonder in your heart. Allow yourself to be newly amazed at this wonderful bodied being that is you, this awesome embodiment of your consciousness, this body that does so many amazing things – moving, and healing, feeling, sensing, touching, stretching, breathing, eating, connecting you with yourself, your loved-ones and your world. Love every inch of yourself, especially the bits you usually struggle to love, with the idea that this body-being is a vessel for the divine. God, the Goddess, spirit, soul, Love, the Tao, Buddha-nature, or Christ-consciousness – whatever name you give to that ineffable thing from which all things come, all things return, and which connects all things, play with the idea that some part of that divine awareness lives in you and by this act of loving and caring for yourself, you are loving and caring for the Divine.

 

Wishing you a beautiful time!

 

This article is an excerpt of the online Spiritual Exploration course I will be releasing soon.  Sign up to the email newsletter to get access to a 30 minute guided visualization which is also part of it along with many other free resources.

Fudoshin

This is a Japanese word most commonly used in the martial arts. Broadly speaking, Fudo means immovable; and Shin means spirit. As you can probably guess sometimes this is used to describe a martial quality of being so firmly rooted and grounded that you cannot be moved even with great force. However, the deeper philosophical meaning has as much to do with flow as it has to do with solidity. The "immovable spirit" is the essential nature at the very heart of our being that is unchanging; that within us which is constant, absolute. It is considered that when we are deeply connected with our unchanging core, then everything else about us can be fluid, graceful, and able to blend with the changes and challenges life brings to us.

So Fudoshin, is both the mountain and the waves that surround it. The mountain, immovable, a constant of the landscape across millennia. The waves, always changing, always flowing; rising and falling with the tides; fierce and dramatic one moment, still and tranquil the next.

For me, developing Fudoshin is a journey of contacting and cultivating our immovable, essential spirit, while also growing our capacity to flow gracefully in the dance of life. That is what I seek to grow in myself and to develop in others.

Environmentalism and our relationship with the world

I’m a city boy.  I also love nature.  The tension between these two things is not always easy, especially as nature doesn’t always seem to love me.  I have bad hay-fever and pale skin so I burn easily in summer.  The times when most people spend most time in nature and when many people state frequently that  “it’s a lovely day,” I find myself most often responding by saying “well, it’s a hot day.”  I am to summer what the Grinch is to Christmas!  I am however passionate about caring for our planet.  I love Mother Earth and I have spent enough time studying shamanism and indigenous tribal cultures from around the world that my world view is heavily influenced by animism.  I see the world around me as deeply alive and I am one of those people who sees the destruction of our rich, natural environments by the steady progress of unthinking industrialisation as deeply concerning.  However, unlike many of the people who are seeking in some way to save the planet I also love cities.  I don’t subscribe to the view that some people of the earth loving persuasion seem to have adopted that human beings may just be the worst thing that has ever happened to the planet Earth.  I love people.  And there is a reality as far as I can see that more people live in towns and cities, and in the future even more people are going to live in towns and cities.  Short of a mad Max-style apocalyptic Armageddon lots of people are going to continue to live in cities.  I deeply admire the people who are caring for our wild natural environments, and leading others out into this wilderness to experience its beauty.  However, while all of our attention in caring for the environment is focused on caring for the wild natural environment then for those many people like me who live in a town or city, we are at best stuck caring for something that is all too often distant, abstract, and insufficiently integrated into our daily lives.

The distinction is frequently made between what is natural and what is man-made and while I understand the making of this distinction I think it may be our biggest problem, our biggest barrier to really transforming our global attitude towards care for our beautiful planet.  It’s interesting to me that this distinction is so often used in the language of those who seem to care most about the preservation of our planet.  I would suggest that this language, this distinction, is the language of separation and it is this separation which is the enabler or even creator of the tragic human mind-set which leads to relating to the planet as a resource to be used, a thing to be objectified, and an environment to be conquered and dominated.  As long as we see man as separate from nature we support a view of nature as other, and as long as nature is other we can be better than it, above it, instead of recognising our total interdependence with this beautiful entity that is planet Earth. Mankind is not separate from nature, it is a small part of nature, perhaps a growing part but the oceans, mountains, forests, the great mass of animal kind in all its beautiful diversity are still pretty substantial members of this grand collective entity too.

Returning to where I began this article, within the language of separation cities are often seen as the embodiment of the man-made.  As long as this attitude continues even those of us most concerned with the preservation of nature unconsciously continue this language of separation and in doing so sustain the very attitude of arrogance which has led to mankind’s use and misuse of our beautiful natural home. While most people who are aware of our global ecological situation would agree that the march of urbanisation cannot continue with its current trajectory if the human race is going to find a way not to wipe itself out, a total rejection of urban environments seems unlikely to be a viable option short of catastrophic, mass destruction.  My hope, and to some degree my faith is that the transformation of these environments is what is necessary, and possible.  Like I say, I’m a city boy, and I think if we are to see this necessary transformation then we need to reclaim our cities as part of nature. Other animals than us build things. I have yet to meet the ecologists that look at the giant termite mounds with the distaste they might look at cities saying “what a shame they chose to build there, it’s ruined the landscape!”  Of course, I know what we create is not the same as what termites create.  What I am wanting to illustrate is how distain for the city, no matter how well intentioned in terms of environmental impact and ecological concern, is just as much an expression of the mind-set of separation that has led us to this mess, as the executive who looks on our countryside and sees only its potential to provide fossil fuels.  The intention is different, but the underlying assumption of separation is the same.

John Perkins in one of his beautiful books relates the story of a first visit of an elder shaman, who has lived all his life in the Amazon basin, to New York City. This elder who would speak of great trees, mountains, and rivers as having genders, characters, and names; on first seeing the Empire State building made the comment “very beautiful, very feminine.” The irony of such a statement regarding so phallic a construction is quite a thing in itself, but something else stood out for me when I read this story.  What was transformational in terms of my view of the world, was the fact that this elder shaman, this man who would have every right to come to a great Western city such as New York and see its industrialised opulence and be critical, instead saw this great building in the same light as he would look upon a mountain, a great tree, or a river. What this says to me is that so deeply rooted in his psyche is a total identification of himself and all mankind as just another part of nature.  It is my conviction that if we are to successfully shift our trajectory in relation to our ecological crisis, then we must change the deep assumptions in our psyche’s which set mankind and our creations as separate from nature instead of merely a part of that great entity. Yes, we need change, I think we must change the way our urban environments operate and coexist with the wild and natural environments that surround them, but if we do this out of distain for those urban environments we continue the story of separation and domination, we continue to conquer instead of collaborating. To change your cities I think we must love our cities. I don’t think it’s going to be enough to take people out into wild nature and help them to love that. That work is wonderful, and beautiful, and necessary, and close to my heart but we must take the work of nature awareness, we must take the work of mindful interaction with our environment, and apply that to our cities just as much as we apply that to our parks, Forests, or places of natural beauty.  It is said that part of why, when Europeans arrived in America, it was so easy for them to rob the indigenous tribes of their land is because the idea of land ownership was a nonsense to those indigenous tribes.  The land did not belong to them, they belonged to the land.

Even if we managed to completely transform our way of relating to natural resources, unless we change the story of separation, at best we will become beneficent dictators and I suspect that all we will do is delay the inevitable.  If we see ourselves as rescuers “saving the planet,” I believe we will fail to save the planet.  I passionately believe that we need to tell a new story, the story of community, belonging, and collaboration.  And maybe if we can learn to become loving, trustworthy, contributing members of the communal entity that is this beautiful blue green planet, then maybe that community, this planet will see fit to save us.

The 7 Days to Spiritual Enlightenment Game!

 

OK, so the likelihood that your crown chakra will spontaneously combust with spiritual go-go juice and you’ll become an overnight guru and world-saviour as a result of playing this game is slim, but this game could help you breathe more deeply, love more fully, see your everyday world in a new light, explore life more freely and live more vividly.  If that’s not worth investing a little attention in then I don’t know what is.  Just take it one day at a time and know that as long as you put in a bit of effort, there is cake at the end of the rainbow… mmmmmm … cake…..You will need a notebook and pencil, or phone (etc) to keep note of your score on each day and the following instructions for the 7 days:

 

  1. Dolphin Breathing:  Did you know dolphin’s have to consciously breathe so they don’t drown? Crazy huh?!  So on day 1 your mission is to pause and consciously breathe as often as you can during the day (without it becoming debilitating!).  Score a point for every time you pay attention to your breath.
  2. Hello:  Day 2’s mission is to say hello to each new experience, space, moment that you can.  So, for e.g. when you enter a room, go outside (having been inside), see someone, sit down at your computer…  Just internally say a really present and aware “hello” to as many things and people as you can.  Score a point for every time you do it.
  3. Gratitude:  This one is simple, but not easy… Notice and be grateful for all the gifts in your life.  Big things like home, friends, job, etc… And the little things like lunch, the traffic or crossing light being green, a spring in your step.  Score a point for every moment of gratitude.
  4. Counter-Blessing:  People think certain words with asterisks where letters should be are curses (like F**k) but they’re not really.  The real curses are the million ways we trash-talk the world in our thoughts.  All that negativity builds up!  Today is for counter-acting that: every time you have a negative thought (even if it is a justifiable one like “Man, I hate that political policy”), counter it with a positive one (it doesn’t have to be the same thing, it’s about the balance.  So you could counter the politics comment with “look at that beautiful flower!”).  Score a point for every curse you notice and counter.
  5. Blanket Blessing:  Next step is to just bless the bejeesus out of the whole world!  Choose things as you make your way through the day and get really specific about what it is you appreciate about that thing.  What qualities make it fantastic?  It’s great practice to choose things you either don’t like or that you find mundane or boring.  Ask yourself what makes even these things wonder-full.  Score a point for each thing you bless today.  Everything has value, if can’t see it yet, keep digging until you find the gold!  Score a point for each blessing.
  6. Breaking Enchantments:  You may by this point have noticed in your mind a negative story you carry about yourself (usually some version of “I’m not good enough”).  Today is for turning these around.  Choose one of your personal enchantments and invent a phrase that’s the opposite (like “I am wonderful”).  Whenever you hear that curse in your head, break it wide open by asserting your opposite statement – your self-blessing.  Score a point every time you do it.
  7. Goodbye:  The end is here so it’s time to practice endings.  Just like the day saying hello only this time you are saying “goodbye.”  Whenever you are leaving something behind (even if it is just leaving a room) pause inside yourself and say goodbye.  Score a point for every time you do it.

 

If you score 70 points or more then you rock – go buy yourself a piece of cake to celebrate your own awesomeness!  If you score 140 points or more then you rock da house, go and buy yourself cake and ice-cream!  If you score 280 points or more then buy a whole cake, invite some friends round and share your wisdom – you are clearly a spiritual legend!  If you score more than 350 points then you are about to transcend this life, turn into a beam of light and join the enlightened masters in the heavenly realm of cake-y wonder.  Hang tight where you are, cake, and eternal life as a bodhisattva is coming to you.

For more games and resources to make life more awesome visit www.fudoshin.org.uk and check out www.ask-the-rev.net for spiritual responses to life’s questions.

Things my friend taught me…

A friend of mine died recently, left this world for the next and while I feel strongly that she is nearby, just over the border into the spirit world I miss her.  Whatever the larger truth of the spiritual life, I cannot now go and sit with her while she makes things out of clay, or have dinner with her and her family, or share a hug.  I learned many things from my friend.  She carried such a powerful commitment to love and being loving in the face of every situation.  That’s not to say she was perfect – part of what made her so much fun to be with was her humanness, and humour – but I saw some amazing social transformations as she stubbornly radiated love towards awkward or obnoxious people.  She was a witch, an artist and a mother, and in all these things (along with many others, I’m sure) she was incredibly skilled.  I learned a great deal from her about myth, magic, creativity, and parenthood, but the learning that stands out for me most is to do with yearning.

 

            I’m going to offer this story with an open heart.  If you have particular beliefs about the way the world works or doesn’t work, whether it is a magical place or an entirely pragmatic one, I invite you to lay them aside for a little while and see this story as just that – a story.  It’s my story and in my own small way and my own life it is part of my personal hero’s journey.  So please, if necessary, suspend your disbelief for a while and join me on my adventure with an open mind and open heart for a little while.

 

I’m a yearner.  I think I probably always have been and certainly I have been for many years.  I couldn’t have told you what I was yearning for, precisely but it most commonly found expression through my falling in love.  As the band ‘My Life Story’ say in one their songs, “I don’t so much fall in love, I dive”.  I don’t know if you who are reading this know that feeling of yearning, that ache in the heart, the melancholy of the stargazer, but it’s painful.  It is an aching which is hard to be with.  Through my studies in theatre, personal development, shamanism, spirituality, meditation and other fields I had tried to find the centre of this yearning, the cause so that I could face it and relieve the pain.  The most common guidance I received from teachers was to do with looking underneath the yearning, to find where it came from.  I think this was essentially good advice - therapeutically sound – but when I looked underneath the yearning all I found was…. More yearning!  I continued searching, questing, healing, growing and developing and still the yearning was there.

Then, after many years of having been out of contact, my friend and I were back in touch.  Our families are connected so there was a sense of parallel tracks and shared history that meant we could be close again quickly – like family.  She was soul-family.  She had deeply studied witch-craft and I had studied shamanism so there was lots of common ground.  So one night after a party we were sat on her sofa talking and I talked of my yearning, how I had never found the bottom of it, and she offered a different perspective.  She said that in her tradition that yearning simply meant that I had a soul-mate.  The yearning was my compass to keep me on track, to keep me seeking for the companion of my heart.  This was a revelation to me!  For the first time this yearning was not a pathology to be healed or fixed, it was a sacred gift: a guiding light in the darkness.  There was a subtle permission in this view to let the yearning be – even to embrace it.  There was also the promise of the possibility that there was someone out in the world waiting to meet me too, just as I wished to meet that someone. 

From this turning point conversation many good things in my life sprang.  I got clear in myself that while I had no evidence that the concept of ‘soul-mates’ was true, I refused to live in a world where it couldn’t be possible.  As such I began to engage with the world as a magical place where profound and miraculous things can happen in a much deeper way than I had before.  I opened my mind to possibility and I opened my heart to love.  In the coming months I received numerous omens (magical signposts from the world) which helped to lead me to the relationship which blossomed into my marriage, to my beloved, and much more recently the birth of our son.  That’s another story, as JRR Tolkein liked to say “to be told another time”.

That alone would be learning enough, but there has been more to it than that.  The yearning has not gone away… it has become a great gift.  That yearning I have learned is a kind of bitter-sweet melancholy which holds within it the possibility for great joy and deep grief.  In the holding of these apparent opposites I have found a state where I can deeply embrace mystery and have a real experience of loving the world just as it is – broken and perfect.  Embracing this yearning rather than trying to fix it has become the gateway for me to be more present, flowing, compassionate, connected, human, and loving than at any other time.  The yearning was my gateway to the divine.  Smack-bang in the middle of my yearning is where I am most creative and most effective.

So… my friend taught me many wonderful things, but more than anything she helped me open the doorway to living life in Love.

 

Thank you dear one.  May your spirit fly freely and your body rest in peace.

 

Love

God is a difficult word

God is a difficult word…

It is loaded with so much cultural baggage, so much heaviness of meaning, so much poe-faced seriousness – both from those who love the word and those who hate it.  God has become this figure of judgement, marker of seriousness, and symbol of patriarchal oppression.

I feel sad about that.

I have a relationship with the divine that I really enjoy and because I grew up with a Christian mum, God is the word I most comfortably use for that divine presence.  When I talk to myself, I say God.  But… I sometimes feel uncomfortable using it even with my friends because it is so weighted with meanings I don’t agree with, and don’t want.  My sense of it is that I’m not the only one. 

I read this poem today from Daniel Ladinsky’s ‘Love Poems from God’ (a beautiful book of translations and transliterations of devotional poetry from many traditions, although Ladinsky is best known for his Sufi poetry) and it inspired me. 

 

First He looked Confused – by Tukaram

 

I could not lie anymore so I started to call my dog “God.”

First he looked

confused,

 

Then he started smiling, then he even

danced.

 

I kept at it: now he doesn’t even

bite.

 

I am wondering if this

might work on

people?

 

 

It feels to me like many of us have abandoned the word God, but what if we didn’t?  What if we reclaimed it instead and used it for our own purposes? 

 

What if it became once more the most beautiful thing you could say to someone, a gift so great it even stops dogs biting?

 

What if, like the Sufi’s, God became for us the name of our beloved?

 

What if the word God could drip from our mouths like sweet nectar from exotic flowers overflowing with sticky abundance?

 

What if there was no confusion in our minds about God and we each lived in a personal and glorious relationship with a sense of wonderous un-knowing-ness and love of the great and mysterious nothing-that-is-everything?

 

What if, when making love, we cried out “Oh God” and really meant it because sex felt divine and the divine felt so tantalisingly, viscerally sumptuous?

 

What if in prayer, we spoke to God like one of our best friends who can’t always change the situation for us, but it feels great to talk to them about it anyway?

 

What if no book could tell us what God thinks because it’s so sublime and subtle?

 

What if, once in a while, a piece of poetry, or art, or something in nature seemed to nudge us towards an understanding of how God feels about the world?

 

What if speaking of God wasn’t controversial but was joyful?

 

What if God wasn’t masculine or feminine?

 

What if God was common ground where we could all connect rather than where we come into conflict?

 

What if loving-ness was the closest thing to Godliness?

 

What if we could build a bridge of my “What if’s” and dance out across it together with joyous, clamorous shouting that comes right up from our bellies and out through our hearts?

 

What if…..?



The Real Meaning of Taboo

Magic hidden in the Shadows

The contemporary use of the word ‘Taboo’ is usually meaning something we shouldn’t do or speak about.  In some contexts it is referring to something which is socially unacceptable in a specific environment, but in common usage it has a definite flavour of something being a bit grubby or unmentionable.

The word ‘Taboo’ has its origins in referring to something deeply sacred.  I think that this original meaning and the way the word has come to be used today may offer us an insight into how the human psyche relates to the divine and the sacred, and that is what I want to un-pack a bit here.

In order to do this unpacking, I need to give you a bit of information on the history of Polynesia and its languages because ‘Taboo’ is an anglicised version of a Tahitian word.  So here goes…

The Polynesian people were pretty awesome seafarers who colonised a number of islands including Tahiti (known as French Polynesia), The Hawaiian islands, and New Zealand.  Those who are now referred to as the ‘native’ inhabitants of these islands had travelled there, and in some studies of New Zealand it is thought that the Maori’s may have arrived in New Zealand only a few generations before Europeans arrived.  Because of this common heritage there is also a commonality in the language of these peoples.  In some instances as the words are written in Roman script (conventional European letters rather than image based pictographs) it is just a matter of switching some consonants and you have basically the same word with the same meaning.  For instance:

In Hawaiian, a Shaman or someone who has achieved a transcendent level of mastery in something (like herb-gathering or surfing) is called a ‘Kahuna.’  Apparently the same word in Tahitian is ‘Tahuna’, and the same word in Maori is ‘Tahunga.’

So you can see that there is a very close relationship between these languages.  Now, back to ‘Taboo’…

‘Taboo’ was originally translated into Roman script as ‘Tabu.’  I’ve not studied Tahitian culture, but I have studied Hawaiian spirituality and the Hawaiian equivalent word is ‘Kapu.’  When something was labelled as ‘Kapu’ this made it ‘out of bounds’.  At first glance this may suggest a similar usage to the common contemporary one, but when we explore why the place or activity was out of bounds the word takes on quite a different meaning.  Something was designated ‘Kapu’ when it was so sacred, so magical, and so energetically potent that it was considered dangerous for people to mess around with it unless they knew what they were doing.  Clearly any restriction on behaviour can be abused if the authorities applying it are lacking integrity but if we stay with the original intention of ‘Kapu’ then I think it has something to teach us.

Let’s take an example.  A particular glade in the forest could be designated Kapu because it has a particularly strong spiritual energy (whether you believe in this or not, it was a concrete understanding for the ancient Hawaiians so go with it for a minute).  One possibility if someone went there unconsciously is that it could harm them.  As the Hawaiian teacher Serge Kahili King says “there’s no such thing as bad energy, only too much, or a kind you haven’t learned to blend with yet.”  With this outlook maybe it is possible for a human being to not be harmed by nuclear energy but we have to learn to shape-shift our energy field in order to blend with the energy and have sufficient skill to deal with the amount of energy present.  If you have not yet learned to blend and work with nuclear energy then it’s best to follow the guidance when a sign in a power-station says ‘No Entry’ (the modern equivalent of ‘This area is Kapu’)!  So if the glade in the forest I mentioned had a particularly strong spiritual energy that could be really useful to a skilled Shaman, but harmful to someone who doesn’t have the skills or equipment to manage that amount or quality of energy.  It could make them ill. 

Another example might be a particular ritual which is used to communicate with a God or Goddess.  Let’s say it’s the Hawaiian Goddess Pele – the Goddess of fire, lava, and the volcano on the big island.  If you skilfully call on Pele and ask politely for her help then she could be a powerful ally.  If you mindlessly poke her to get her attention then she could get irritated and burn the village to a crisp!

These are examples from within the belief-system of ancient Hawaiian tribal culture so they will be more or less easy to digest as fact depending on your own beliefs, but what I hope they do adequately is illustrate that things were made ‘Kapu’ (or Tabu) not because they were dirty and bad, but because they were powerful, sacred, and magical.

This then, for me is the message: 

That which we cast into shadow, that which we see as unspeakable is probably a great place to go looking for the powerful, sacred and magical.

One description of the Shaman’s role in tribal communities was to speak the unspeakable.  I’d say one version of the role of therapists – especially in the Jungian tradition – is to help people become conscious of their shadow and make peace with it.  What we have made ‘Taboo’, either personally or culturally, may be a rich mine of untapped power, magic, and even beauty and joy.  In the UK, USA and I’d say probably many countries that have been influenced by some versions of Christianity, sexuality has become ‘Taboo’.  If we can welcome this vast and powerful aspect of our being out of the shadows and into the light of consciousness then not only can we reclaim a beautiful and potent part of human life but I think we could also make our cultures safer places to be.  It has long been understood within psychology that what gets repressed will leak out somehow.  If I repress anger then eventually it will either leak out through passive/aggressive behaviours or I will manage to bottle it up for a while but will eventually have some kind of emotional explosion.  Sexuality has been repressed for so long in many places that it has understandably begun to leak into our culture in what I would judge to be less than healthy ways.  There are other cultural models where sexuality is both more sacred and more ordinary – broadly speaking, more accepted.  In this way sex is appropriately ‘Kapu’ – held in trust as a sacred thing to be fully explored once you have the capacity to manage the powerful energies involved i.e. once you are an adult and have been educated about it.  This is as opposed to the authoritarian version of it being ‘Kapu’ where it’s an unacceptable topic for discussion, everyone is embarrassed about it, there is a dearth of proper education and people stumble on it’s power but have no idea where to turn to for advice – after all, it’s taboo.  Rant?  Moi?  Joking aside, my intention is that this serves as an illustration of how Taboo or Kapu applies today.

I’d offer to you that what I’ve just described culturally applies just as well personally.  It may not be sex for you, but all of us have things which we keep hidden away, stuffed into the cupboard under the stairs in the house of our psyche.  I’m not saying you should go out and share these things with all and sundry, but for many of us these things are hidden away because we are embarrassed about them or have labelled them in some way ‘Bad and Dirty’ (to use my own phrase from earlier on).  I would suggest that if you can find it in yourself to re-look at that which is concealed in your personal shadow, you may find some buried treasure or hidden gold.  It may be worth having some support while you do this exploration, whether from a friend, partner, minister or therapist, but it can be awesome and beautiful work.

Just as the lotus flower grows from the muck of the swamp, and a candle’s light is only visible in darkness, the divine spark is most often found in the shadows.

 



My Taoist Foolish Heart

I have had lots of good feedback about the first chapter of  My Tao Te Ching - A Fool's Gide to Effing the Ineffable which I posted a little while ago so I thought I'd share some more.  So... Here's one of my other favourite chapters of the 30 I've written so far.  For those of you who didn't see the last post and want to read the intro follow this link.  The short version is that I'm re-writing a thousands of years old chinese text for modern times, in my own admittedly slightly eccentric language!  I'm hoping to get the book published in the coming year.  You can read an excerpt of the book I have just published which is also Taoism inspired and is called 'A little book on finding your Way: Zen and the Art of Doing stuff.'  It's not on full release yet but will be early next year.  To get an advance copy click on this link.  Anyway, here's the Chapter!

 

Chapter 13

You are going to lose and look a Fool time and time again - get used to it.

Life is painful and often hard work - deal with it.

It's the way of the world:as soon as you gain something you're at risk of losing it.

If you didn't have a body you couldn't feel pain or do work, but being human entails having a body.

Trying to deny these things is like trying to arm-wrestle the moon:

It's way bigger than you....

....and....

....It has no arms.

 

Accept the world on it's terms and compassion will come naturally.

Love the world - and yourself as part of it - just the way it is, and you are truly ready to be trusted.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I'm feeling like spoiling you so here's one more chapter as a treat!

 

Chapter 22

 

Heart broken... open

Confusion and mystery lead to clarity.

To fill up, empty out.

Embrace dying to foster living.

Give to receive.

 

The wise fool lives from the Tao, listening to the still, small voice in her heart.

Quietly blossoming, people see her beauty.

Like the sun behind a cloud: Her brilliance is hidden but people feel her warmth.

When she makes a point, there's no arguing: she's got nothing to prove.

She offers an open heart and people see themselves in her eyes.

With no ideas of good or bad she's wonderful at everything!

 

When the ancients said "Embrace dying to foster living," was that crazy?

 

Surrender to the Way and find yourself where you are

Here and now

Here and now

Here and now.

 

Stop trying to be something and be something.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I hope you've enjoyed this 'borrowed poetry.'  The Tao Te Ching is such a rich and beautiful tome.  If you'd like to know more about my books, be on the mailing list for our courses, or be told when a new book or the online Spiritual Exploration course is available then please get in touch and we can put you on the mailing list.

 

Thanks for reading y'all.

The Art of Dad-Fu

 

Not long ago I became a dad.  There are lots of things that come with being a dad both wonderful and challenging much of which I was kind-of expecting.

 

On the wonderful side I have got to see my wife blossom into motherhood, I got to witness her awesome strength in giving birth, I get to play with and generally enjoy my gorgeous baby son, and perhaps most importantly we get to put various cute and funny hats on him and take pictures!

 

On the tougher side of things it was not an easy birth and it was very difficult to see my wife work so hard and not be able to help, I have occasional bouts of terror about providing financially for my family, and it’s hard running my own business to find the right balance between work and family time.

 

One thing that I didn’t expect when becoming a dad was to put on weight.  It is apparently very common though and it has happened for me.  I’m a stocky build and am never likely to be either skinny or conventionally ‘Buff’ but I keep in reasonable shape through martial arts training and walking.  I am now heavier than I’d like to be.  During pregnancy when the mum-to-be is being flooded by hormones, the man does often have hormonal changes too.  In many men their testosterone production goes down (the hormone that makes you manly, active, lusty, and when there’s too much of it – aggressive!) and progesterone production goes up (progesterone goes up in women too and is often associated with ‘nesting’ tendencies).  This shift tends to bring with it a weight gain.  Also once the baby is born it’s common for a new dad to gain between half a stone and one stone just because you end up eating more and being less active.  So while I didn’t expect this change, it looks like I’m not the only one.

Now, pre-baby I would have got back into training Karate and Kung-Fu with my teacher, upped my solo training and not worried about it too much.  That was what I first set my sights on.  However, finding an hour or so a day plus the 2-3 hours I would spend with my teacher each week doesn’t seem very realistic in the post-baby new world.  That doesn’t mean I’m giving up on my training, but it’s clearly something I’m going to have to find my way back into more slowly than I would have hoped.  Right now, I need to up my exercise… so what do I do?!  If I take time out of my work day then I get less hours at that when my time already feels squeezed; if I take time out of my family time then that’s less time with my wife and child and my wife having to manage without my support more than is the case already.  It’s a bit of a rock and a hard place.  Well, it was… Until I invented the art of Dad-Fu!

 

Anyone who knows me or my work will know that I am passionate about creating practices – taking regular activities and making them conscious and meditative processes to engage in.  I even have a book coming out soon on this very subject: A little book on finding your Way – Zen and the Art of Doing stuff.  Watch this space for more news if you’re interested or get in touch and we can put you on the mailing list.  The art of Dad-Fu is a practice.  What it involves is taking my son, Samson out for a walk for an hour every day in the sling.  Doesn’t sound like such a big deal?  Let me explain…

 

It meets my need for getting some good basic exercise (walking is great cardiovascular exercise providing you walk swiftly enough to raise your heart rate slightly and keep it raised), Samson is perfectly happy wrapped up in his furry super-suit (and usually goes to sleep within about 10 steps), and my wife gets an hour to herself to do with as she pleases!  It meets everyone’s needs and I get some more bonding time with Samson.  If he’s awake I often talk or sing to him (I don’t look any more crazy than your average blue-tooth headset user!) and if he’s asleep then at least he’s still in my energy field.

This has taught me a valuable lesson about developing practices: whatever high ideals we might have and as wonderful as some practices may be, sometimes what’s most important is that the practice fits your life not the other way around.  If your practice is not supportive of you taking this one precious life you have and making the most of it then what’s the point?  That’s not to dismiss taking special time out to meditate or do Karate or have a tea-ceremony or whatever floats your boat.  That can be vital to living a fulfilled life too, but right now my highest priority is being the best dad I can so I practice Dad-Fu.  I think the key question to ask ourselves here is: “What is this in service of?”  It’s a big question and one that comes up a lot in the Samurai Game when I run it.  ‘Samurai’ translates as ‘One who serves.’  I see the warrior archetype as an archetype of service.  The warrior serves the ruler or King, so what rules you?  Negative habits and addictions can rule us whether that is alcohol or shopping or too much TV (and I’m not against any of these things per-se, see my previous article on TV as a practice!).  Equally, apparently positive practices can end up harming more than they help if they rule us.  A meditation practice, or going to the gym can be great for your spiritual or physical health but if it takes up loads of your time and damages your relationships, is it worth it?  You need to take into account the fact that devoting time to a solo practice may be what makes it possible to be really present in relationships so it is not a simple equation to solve but definitely one worth considering.

 

You may be wondering “Why Dad-Fu?”  Well partly because I think it sounds cooler than “The art of going for a walk in the cold with my son” but also I think there is a valuable parallel between Kung-Fu and being a dad.  Kung-Fu can be translated many ways from the original Chinese but one of those translations is ‘time and hard work.’  I find it a heartening reminder of the nature of committed practice whether that is to a martial art or to being a father.  It is going to be hard work sometimes: deal with it.  It also takes place in an extended time period and while that means that the hard work keeps going, it also allows lots of time and space to make mistakes (and we’re all going to), to learn from them, and to heal from the disappointments (and these will happen).  Taking up any form of committed practice is both a burden and a gift – I think that’s doubly true of parenting – and that is the wonderful, mysterious dichotomy of life. 

As with any new practice, Dad-Fu has had some unexpected delights.  Brighton is really quite beautiful at night in a way that you just don’t see during the day.  The sea-front is wonderfully quiet and peaceful, the sea dark and mysterious in its murmurings.  I also get time to just ponder things as I walk.  An hour largely devoted to pondering and walking feels like quite a treat!  I have also discovered hidden architectural delights, sometimes just on regular houses, sometimes in more obvious places like the beautifully repaired bandstand on the sea-front (the pictures throughout this article are from my walks in the last week or so).  It feels like a really magical space to be mostly on my own, Samson asleep on my chest and find a spot, view, or moment which conjures something in my imagination or sparks a story in my mind.  I am really enjoying my new practice.

 

So what can you take away from this article?  Maybe just consider your own practices (and whatever you’re doing again and again is a practice) and have a think about what you want to be in service of and whether those practices are the best use of your time.  There is a saying which has been attributed to various people over the years (right back to a Latin version from ancient Rome):  “Necessity is the mother of Invention.”  I have certainly found that to be true in creating ‘The Way of Dad-Fu.’  Perhaps you have necessities which are calling for your creativity…?

 

Whatever you practice, I hope it brings you joy in the easy times, strength in the tough times and growth all the time.

 

TV as Spiritual Practice

TV has a bad rap.  That’s not a new thing, when I was young and liked watching TV probably more than average my parents were concerned about it.  I have since found out that it was particularly my Dad that was worried about it and when I went on to train to be an actor he realised that maybe there was some wisdom at play – I had started studying acting young!  When I wrote this poem in my 20’s my mum thought it was pretty funny:

 

My Televisual Youth – a taste of things to come

Oh lovely TV set

You’re so warm and crumbly

Like a moist current bun

Just baked by my mum

Filling my tum

With a wholesome satisfaction

Playdays or World in Action

It’s all the same to me

From my extra surrogate parent

That is the TV

 

Even the generation before my parents talked about the TV as the ‘goggle-box’ and said you’d get square eyes if you watched too much.  In ‘alternative’ circles TV is often considered a very poor activity and if you say you don’t have a TV you’re celebrated!  I should know: I don’t have a TV – but… I do watch a fair amount of TV programs online.

Now I can understand disparaging TV for the amount of advertising shown and the way that breaks up the programs (although we’ve all gotta pay the bills right?), I also have to say I don’t really get the huge flood of ‘reality’ shows there are going.  Some have a kind of story arc I can understand, and Big Brother originally had a kind of psychological experiment cachet about it but now?  Still going?  Really?  All that said, some people love it and just because it’s not for me doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

What I want to offer here is a different perspective on fictional TV – dramas, comedy, series, films, the whole bit, because I think they are often underappreciated.  The reason I think this is because I consider TV as a form of theatre.  If you went and watched a play each evening, you would be considered fortunate indeed and pretty high-brow.  If you watch TV each evening it’s generally considered low-brow, if perhaps not unusual.  One of the things that I think is underappreciated is that many of the best theatrical writers today are writing for TV, some of them exclusively.  Equally, many of the finest actors around are now working in television.  It has been an increasing trend in the last 5 years or so that even actors who previously only worked in film have started working on TV series’.  Some of the writing in TV series’ is really powerful, deeply human, and very moving if you invest yourself in the story, engage with the characters and really allow yourself to be involved.  David Mamet whose background as a writer is in theatre is one of the creators of ‘The Unit’, an American military action drama (which I have loved watching!).  Tim Roth, one of the finest British actors of his generation (in my opinion) and successful film actor including working on cutting-edge pieces like the film version of Tom Stppard’s ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstein are dead’ is now the star in ‘Lie to Me’ a drama series drawing on Paul Ekman’s psychological research.  It is an excellent series, brilliantly written, characterised, acted and directed.  This is some of the best contemporary story-telling going on. 

I think the problem with TV is not the medium itself but how we use it.  All too often I think that TV just serves as a background noise in the house to ensure there isn’t silence.  It can be a way not to spend time ‘in my own company’ and not to sit with thoughts and feelings on the inside.  To quote from ‘The Invitation’ by Oriah Mountain Dreamer:

“I want to know if you can be alone with yourself, and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments”

The negative use of TV in my opinion is a way of ensuring I never have to answer this question.

This doesn’t mean I’m against using TV for escapism.  It can be wonderful to immerse myself in another world and someone else’s cares, concerns, joys and adventures for an hour or two – so long as I don’t do this all the time and lose touch with myself.  What I would propose is that by committing more fully, and escaping more deeply into the stories within your favourite TV you can find a path to a fuller and deeper relationship with yourself. 

There is a technical term from theatre ‘Suspension of disbelief.’  This is something that as performers you have to work for.  You have to create a world on the stage that is so inviting and immersing that the audience commit to suspending their disbelief for the duration of the play.  They commit internally to believing in the world you have created on the stage so that the story lives as a theatrical truth for a while and has the power to move people emotionally rather than just being a body of lies.  In the theatre however, numerous ritual ties have been made to support suspension of disbelief before the play even begins: you have paid for a ticket, you have come together with lots of other people at a special time, many people dress up to go to the theatre, it’s often a treat so you’re invested in enjoying it, you come together in a special room and everyone makes an implicit agreement to be quiet while you all watch, at the end people know to clap their hands to show appreciation… when you think about it, going to the theatre is a highly ritualised act.  From the point of view of the illusion of the story, TV today is better equipped than theatre ever has been.  It is on set’s that are indistinguishable from day-to-day life and with the production budgets, lighting, and special effects it’s completely believable.  But the ritual isn’t there.  The TV gets thoughtlessly switched on and off, ignored, talked over, and spotting continuity errors seems for some people to virtually be a sport… really it doesn’t stand much of a chance!  There is no commitment to suspension of disbelief.  When you’re creating a play you’ve got to do a good enough job to support people in suspension of disbelief, but in TV they’ve done the work.  If you don’t like it, don’t watch it, but if you like watching something then do the artists who have put the work in to create this whole other world a favour and commit to the experience: Suspend your disbelief.  Once you do this I genuinely believe that magic can happen.  You can be transported to other worlds, but you can also vicariously experience emotions that you otherwise might leave buried. 

In therapeutic work we talk about ‘catharsis.’  This is when someone has an experience of fully being in an emotion in a way that releases something for them – often something connected to a traumatic or difficult past experience.  This kind of cathartic release can be very healing and can free up energy and attention in a way that no amount of talking about a life occurrence ever will.  Not a lot of people know that the word Cathartic has it’s origins in classical Greek theatre.  The ancient Greeks considered theatre to be a potentially healing experience and catharsis was when someone was able to allow themselves to feel something when they saw a character feeling it, that they couldn’t feel on their own.  I can certainly identify with some emotions felling almost too big for everyday life – if I am engaged and invested in a story about God’s, Goddesses, Hero’s and Heroines, then the context for the emotions is larger and it can feel safe to experience big emotions.  Sometimes it is less painful to connect with a character’s grief than it is to connect with my own, but that doesn’t mean the tears I shed for the character are not also an emotional release for me.  When my mother died, not long afterwards I saw a film called ‘The Family Stone.’  It is a beautiful film, very funny in places and the mother in the film (played wonderfully by Diane Keaton) really reminded me of my mum.  It helped me to connect with my grief when I was at home, in my own space and snuggled up in a comfy jumper – the perfect environment!  My experience with grief is that it can surface at any moment, and in response to the strangest things so it was a real relief to let some of my grief come, and to shed some tears after that film.  It was much gentler for me to have those feelings in that moment than for them to suddenly surface while I was at the office or in the supermarket (both of which have happened).

The picture I’m trying to paint here is of Television as a true artistic medium, much like stage productions.  For us to find the real benefit of it we need to engage with it more consciously.  What TV requires of us is a commitment to suspension of disbelief.  What TV offers us is the potential to really connect with that which is human within us and potentially to have a healing cathartic release of emotion.

So, “The Rev’s” recommendation for spiritual and emotional exercise for today: curl up in front of your favourite TV program and immerse yourself in the world of the characters.  Make a ritual of it, put on your favourite jumper, get a glass of your favourite drink (whatever floats your boat), and maybe some chocolate or ice-cream, switch off the phone, and get comfy.  Spiritual practices don’t have to be hard work!  You never know what you might learn about yourself or what healing may happen as you sink into the world of the characters...

First Chapter: Finding your Way

I wanted to share with you all the intro and the first chapter of my forthcoming book "A little book on finding your Way: Zen and the Art of Doing stuff."  I've been really enjoying writing it for the last 6 months or so.  It is going to be a short book (hence the title) but I think it 'has legs'.  So short book, but a long journey ahead of it!  I hope you enjoy this except and perhaps it will whet your appetite for the whole thing when it's ready (should be in print by December this year).  Thanks for reading this and joining me on the journey...

 

Introduction: The Way

 

          We all want to be good at something.  Let's face it, most of us who haven't had all the passion squeezed out of us want to be really good at something. It almost doesn't matter what the thing is – just to be that good, to be able to say “I'm World-class.”  But how do we envision this goal?  I'd say that in the western world we have a pretty limited idea of what achievement really means.  It mostly seems to mean Bigger, Faster, Stronger, Taller, just plain MORE!  I think there's another way...

          It's a way that has been around in the West forever but has only been applied to certain disciplines (primarily the arts).  It has been suggested by certain modern and progressive psychologies.  But I think it has been best explored and expressed in the Far East where it has been inherent in some of their oldest philosophical approaches.  What is that way?  Good question.

          It is The Way.  It has it's roots in Taoism (an ancient Chinese religion and spiritual path) and found further expression in Japanese Zen Buddhism.  'Tao' (sometimes Dao) in Chinese or 'Do' in Japanese translates as 'Way.'  So when I say it's The Way, that's what I mean.  And this book is not just about doing stuff it's about Do-ing stuff: taking something you do and making it a Do (see how beautifully I've set up that pun?  That's part of my Way, I learnt it from my Dad).

          The Way is not about Bigger, Faster, Stronger, Taller or More.  It is about someone expressing their essential nature.  It is about blossoming into the fullness of your being – and not in an 'I'm the most beautiful blossom ever' kinda way – in a finding out who you are and living that kinda way.  When you really do that, as the song says, nobody does it better.

          This is not about converting you to some religion, making you shave your head, selling you a line of 'The Way'TM T-shirts, or selling your Soul to Santa.  It could be described as a spiritual path but only in so much as it is a path and if you want to you can involve your spiritual self in the journey.  That's all up to you.  My personal experience is that by taking certain activities and bringing a special mindset to them I have learned about myself and found a deeper sense of who I really am.  It's not any kind of objective truth (if such a thing exists) but it has brought me joy in the good times and peace in the tough times and that's good enough for me.

          The Way is not really about the activities that help to cultivate it. The Way is your unique path in the world.  When that's really written in your heart then you can experience all kinds of Ways and all kinds of people and they all help to feed you in your own Way.  In the words of the Hagakure[1]:

 

 “It is bad when one thing becomes two. One should not look for anything else in the Way of the Samurai. It is the same for anything that is called a Way. Therefore it is inconsistent to hear something of the Way of Confucius or the Way of the Buddha, and say that this is the Way of the Samurai. If one understands things in this manner, he should be able to hear about all Ways and be more and more in accord with his own.”

  


Chapter 1: All Zen Masters are Geeks and Anoraks!

 

          I think one of the reasons why we view mastery as we do in the West is because of school.  In school it's not cool to be good at stuff unless it's mainstream.  This will probably depend on the school but at my school, being good at football was cool.  Sports were generally a cool thing to be good at but Football was top of the pile.  Music could be cool to be good at... guitar was cool, oboe was not.  As we got towards driving age, knowing a lot about cars was cool.  Being academically strong was not cool, but particularly maths, the sciences and history were not cool.  Religious Studies didn't even get on the radar.  These are mostly examples from the boys side of the fence and from my school in particular but most of us develop a sixth sense about what's cool and what's not when we are at school and I'm sure you can fill in your own examples. 

          In this environment where only certain activities are safe to be enthusiastic about, is it any wonder that many of us loose our way?  In the rarefied social environment of the playground or the sports field or the canteen you just didn't say “You know what?  I love renaissance poetry!”  If you did you were a geek.  Likewise, it would have been a special kind of social suicide to say “This algebra stuff is brilliant, I could just play with numbers and letters like this all day!”  If you did you were an anorak.

          Most of us will have had relatively little safe space growing up to explore what really excited us.  We have been socially educated to hide away any passions which don't fit the mould.

          I think that to find our Way we have to love something.  It's not always the case but I've often found that the things I fall in love with are things I have some natural talent for.  That doesn't mean I find them easy – the challenge is part of what gets me really hooked long term – but when I first try it there's a zing of recognition like I've done it before and the process of learning is more like a remembering.

          I never really learnt to love football, but it wouldn't surprise me if many of my school friends did.  They learnt to love it but I suspect only a handful loved it straight off.  In my heart there were other things I loved straight away, and some of them have taken years to discover.  Most of the things I love would have definitely placed me in the Geek camp at school.  Karate for instance, but not the high kicking kind of cool 'Karate Kid' Karate, no.... A rare form of old Okinawan Karate that is compact and probably not that impressive to watch.  Another example would be a love of world religions and philosophies.  Definitely not cool.  My most recent discovery is 'Card Scaling'.  “What?!” I hear you cry.  It is the skill of throwing playing cards with enough power to stick in a water-melon or fly for hundreds of feet.  Throwing playing cards like a ninja!  Sound kinda geeky?  Fair enough, but I love it.

          Where in the East people who obsessively train in obscure disciplines are given titles of respect, in the West they are called Geeks and Anoraks.  Take a Zen master as an example.  He (or she) spends years sitting still.  Their other key activity is contemplating ancient pieces of short and confusing poetry.  It sounds like a geek and smells like a geek, it's a geek!  Ancient poetry that doesn't have any immediate or obvious meaning?!  What an anorak!

          If you want to master something, if you want to find a Way that will nourish you and help you grow it's got to be something that lives in your heart; and that means that by the world's standards it might not be cool. 

          There are Ways already defined and laid out for you to pick up: the martial arts; zen flower arranging; calligraphy; brush painting; pottery; carving; the Japanese tea ceremony.  That's not what this book is about.  What I'm looking to do here is set out some principles so that you can take any activity and turn it into a Way.  Hell, if the Samurai and monks of ancient Japan could turn making the tea into a Zen art then why shouldn't we do the same with anything?  Cake baking, accountancy, wine tasting is virtually there already, the application of make-up, dog walking, throwing stones into the sea – anything!

          If you're going to undertake this task and find a Way for yourself you'd better get in touch with your inner geek.  Revere the anorak in your heart.  These are the parts of you that are capable of completely investing themselves in the deep deep detail of their activities no matter what anyone else thinks.  And remember that all Zen masters are Geeks and Anoraks.

 

          Some of you who have an altruistic outlook and want to take care of others or even change the world may be wondering if this isn't all a bit self serving.  Isn't it a bit selfish to dig deep into myself and find what I like to do and really invest time in it regardless of whether it is an activity which serves others?  I would say no.  If you don't take care of the vessel doing the work (that's you) then the work won't get done.  One of my favourite quotes at the moment is this one from Howard Thurman:

 

“Don't ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

 


[1]     Hagakure, The Book of the Samurai by Yamamoto Tsunetomo, Translated by William Scott Wilson



The Incomparable Jim Dodge

I have long been a fan of Jim Dodge.  He is a simply wonderful writer if not the most prolific.  I first came across his writing when I picked up his book 'Stone Junction' in a 2nd hand bookshop.  I loved it - it is an awesome tale of one young man's existence and the existence of the universe at the same time.  It includes some wonderful characters and is one long, very grand adventure.

The next step in my love affair with his writing came when I found his little book FUP.  It's about a duck, a man and his grandaddyy.  It is the most perfect book I have ever read (and I've read a lot!).  I get the sense that it is short because Jim Dodge knew exactly when to stop writing.

I read an interview with Jim Dodge and he called himself a Taoist-Dirt-Pagan.  I like that.

I have now just acquired his book of poetry 'Rain on the River.'  It is, once again, beautiful.  Mr. Dodge has not previously published his poems in a full book, having kept to the old format of publishing shorter 'chap-books' and releasing them locally as part of his modest goal to become "famous for a hundred miles."  In this age of global media coverage it strikes me that it might even be harder to be famous only for that hundred miles!  I guess I'm not doing him any favours spreading word of him in the UK!

Anyway, I thought I'd share with you my favourite poem so far, in the hopes you will feel inspired to investigate this man's gorgeous writing.  Fup is probably the best place to start, but you can't go far wrong.

Love Find - By Jim Dodge

 

After the Oklahoma City bombing

search-and-rescue dogs

were flown in with their handlers

from all over the U.S.

 

But when the dogs couldn't find

any survivors

they became disconsolate,

 

and after another day of nothing

but dead bodies,

if they'd even search

it was desultory at best.

 

So the handlers began taking turns

hiding in the rubble,

letting the dogs find them alive.

First post: What does this Soul long for?

I have prevarricated.  Some of you may know what that is like.  I have been busy - that's true, but more than anything I have been wrestling with what my first post should be on this blog of mine, this new venture in internet communication: What is sufficiently substantial and representative of my intended writing to come to take this pride of place as the first thing I write here?

I don't have an answer to that.  While soul and spirit and heart-focused living are all definitely part of it; and 'human business' as my friend Mark Walsh describes it is also connected to what I want to write here; and Warrior living is at the heart of what I am offering in many of my workshops; it is all of these things and none of these things and something else as well.

So, it will be what it is and perhaps others will define it for me as it forms.

For now, instead of only offering you my prevarrication, I offer you a poem.  It is a wish, for my own soul and perhaps it will resonate with yours as well. 

 

 

What does this soul long for?

 

Love

Love

Love, Love, Love

And Loving

And Loving

And Loving

And longing's end

With space to grow,

And flow

And support

And manifest safe reality

Held

In the hands of Mother Earth

And in the hearth of my own home

And own work

And knowledge of integrated expansion

And magic

And continued learning

In enjoyment and immersion and pleasure and recognition

And tactile, rolling, tumbling fun

And walk, walk, walk

The sea

Hills

Shore

Rising

Woodland waves

Hand-in-hand

Heart-in-heart

Sharing

Wonder-eye-sparkle connection

Without and within

And everything done

And everything yet to do

And

Adventure, adventure, adventure!