Saturday, 6 July 2013

Why the end of the world is more nigh than it has ever been before

The idea that the world is speeding up is not an illusion.
In the beginning there were only a small number of people on this planet and each generation passed on a part of what they had learned to the next.
Gradually a body of knowledge was built up and cultures began to emerge. These cultures joined together and became civilizations.
And these Civilizations rose and fell; some becoming lost in time, others bequeathing their knowledge to subsequent generations.
Those who wrote things down stood more of a chance of surviving. But still whole areas of knowledge were lost and had to be rediscovered again centuries later.
As more people populated the planet, so the spread of knowledge became quicker. Like some vast game of Chinese whispers, knowledge continued to be passed on and used to create the world for subsequent generations.
People travelled, and brought knowledge with them. Civilisations merged and emerged in different shapes and sizes; some benign, some aggressively destructive.
But the body of knowledge and understanding continued to grow.
As it does to the present day, when an idea can emerge on one side of the world in the morning, and be shared with a whole continent on the other side of the world on the same morning. In the past such a journey would have taken decades or even centuries.
And so the world is speeding up.
We are going faster and faster. Sharing new ways of doing things and new ways of being.
More than ever we are now conscious of this development. And as we become more conscious of it, so our very consciousness is expanding.
It is said that what created ‘human beings’ from ‘homo erectus’ was the 7 billionth neuron in the brain.
Once we had those 7 billion neurons, so we became conscious of ourselves.
And now we have 7 billion people on the planet, and so the planet is becoming conscious of itself.
It is waking up to itself as an entity. Just as we woke up to ourselves as human beings all those years ago.
And that entity is learning faster than it has ever done before.
What took two centuries 10,000 years ago, now takes 5 years.
If there is such a thing as the end of the world as we know it (and I am not talking about destruction here, rather a transformation of consciousness) then we had better be preparing for it.
Because it is coming towards us now faster than it has ever done before.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Whose life is it anyway?

We are never truly free.
Society is so complicated these days that there is always someone telling us what to do: When to shop; how fast to drive the car; how much tax to pay; what alterations you can make to your house, or your flat, or your room; when you can drink; what you can eat.
The list is endless.
And there is more than regulation that takes away our ability to live free and independent lives.
Often we develop habits and attitudes that stop us really expressing who we really are.
Too often we look to others to approve of what we do.
Our friends, our parents, our colleagues – all of them seem to have expectations as to how we are to live our lives. And woe betide you if you fail to live up to their expectations.
We are labelled as difficult, uncooperative, odd, bad, wrong, disrespectful and worse - not a good son or daughter.
Our lives are so interwoven with the need to be approved of, and the desire to be accepted by others that we are often living our lives vicariously on behalf of these expectations.
It starts with our parents. We want them to approve of us, so we try to do that which they will approve of. Or the reverse, we are so determined that we will get away from them that we rebel that we consciously do those things that will offend them, either way we are not making a free choice.
Then it is our peer group. What sort of behaviour do they expect of us? How do we measure up? We try to fit in.
And as we get older we conform through economic necessity – to get a job, to make our way in life.
Soon we are being told how to live our lives by everyone: Doctors tell us what pills we should take, Lawyers tell us if we are in the wrong or not, newspapers tell us who is good and who is evil, pop stars tell us what to wear ….the list is endless.
Our lives are spent trying to fit in. To live up to the expectations of those around us, and in so doing maintain the illusion that we are all right with the world.
But, of course we are often not all right.
We can lose the will to live.
Lose that innate spark that is in us and that refreshes us.
Because that spark comes from an inner voice that tells us what to do. That innate sense of rightness that each of us has that seems to speak out of our very soul.
That voice is all but drowned out by the cacophony of noise coming from others who tell us what is best for us.
We end up depressed, trapped and unable to escape from a prison that we have constructed around our lives out of the exceptions that others have of us.
That is not to say that we should not heed good advice. Experts often have views that will help us. But that does not take away our own responsibility in making our own way.
It was the Buddha who said
“No one saves us but ourselves.
No one can and no one may.

We ourselves must walk the path.”
To lose sight of that is to lose sight of our ability to live life to the full, and that is too much of a price to pay for good advice.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

How Spiritual are you?

It is a question that comes up quite often in my life, and I always struggle to give a cogent answer.
It begs the question as to how you define spirituality.
Is it about how ‘floaty’ we feel on any given day?
Is it about being able to see angels or predict the future?
Or about seeing God in everything?
Or about fighting for justice or the environment?
How we define spirituality obviously affects the answer to the question about how spiritual we are.
If we do not measure up to our own standards we might mark ourselves pretty low. However if we set the bar too low, we might be over-confident about ourselves.
Rowan Williams defines spirituality as ‘The cultivation of a sensitive and rewarding relationship with eternal truth and love’.
It is an amazing definition, because it perfectly captures the nature of spirituality without falling into any religious traps.
He talks of it being cultivation which suggests action. It requires our attention, like growing something. We have to tend it; work out what conditions will enable it to grow, what nourishment it requires.
He talks about sensitivity. Spirituality is never abusive; it requires us to feel our way through - to sense, appraise and re-adjust.
It is rewarding in that it enriches us.
And it is a relationship - we are therefore required to relate, through our sensitivity, to this ‘other’, that we are in fact a part of.
And he describes this other as ‘eternal truth and love – giving us a sense of the infinite as well as the comfort with the self-giving nature of love.
Spirituality is therefore really about sustainability in that it is about developing a relationship with that which is never-ending, and that which will always continue to enrich us in our lives.
It is not something fey, or irrelevant, or disconnected, or separate to the real business of living, but rather it is highly practical, and probably the best hope we have for the future.
And many of us are deeply involved in it.
You don’t have to be reading tarot cards, buying crystals or meditating to be spiritual. You could be digging the garden, appreciating a sunset or occupying St Paul’s. All of which are about sustainability.
Working with nature, appreciating the environment, and fighting for justice can be spiritual. As can being careful about what we eat, or buy or what transport we use, or which detergent.
Just being aware of all these things can be spiritual. In fact anything that constitutes an awareness of the preciousness of life is spiritual. And, of course, that does include all the traditional spiritual practices such as meditation, crystals and sacred texts.
The truth is that many of us discount our spirituality because it does not fall within what we (or others) define as ‘being spiritual’. In doing so we miss seeing the meaning and the power that exists in the simplest things that we do.
Your spirituality is all about how you are, day to day. Forget the big picture and changing the world by revolution, the world changes one action at a time. One decision to lend a hand, or save fuel, or dig the soil. The things we all do on a daily basis. As Gandhi said “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
Our relationship with life is the contribution we have to make, and when we see the significance of that, it makes us want to be even more careful of the way that we relate, in every way.
Revolutions occur when enough people care enough about the future that they make their own lives a sacrifice to that end.
It is all about reaching a tipping point. And the way we contribute is by seeing that what we do on a day to day basis is meaningful.
When we realise just how spiritual we are, then the power of that spirituality becomes apparent and we transform both ourselves and those around us.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

'Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.'

I've been really taken with this quote from Victor Emil Frankl recently.
It just seems to sum up how to take control of our lives.
In one sense the way you do that is by letting go.
By taking an in breath every time you are about to do something and then asking yourself 'do I really want to do this?' and if you do not, then don't do it.
This goes to the heart of what it means to be guided.
If you accept the fact that, as Einstein said, that the universe is a friendly place, and therefore we should spend all our energy trying to work out how to co-operate with it. Then surely a huge part of that co-operation is to listen for instructions.
For promptings towards the right course of action, rather than simply bashing on to whatever our brains tell us is the next thing to do.
For most of our lives we are on automatic. We lurch from one thing to the next. This really does give us the chance of stopping, listening, and creating some real change in our lives

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Wanting what you get is better than trying to get what you want

From a spiritual perspective, we want for nothing.
Materially we might need water or food or other things which, if withdrawn from us, will cause us to die. But from a spiritual perspective, there is always abundance.
Right now, you lack nothing. You lack no insight, no knowledge, no realization – it is all there and available to you.
Because this is it. This is all there is.
How could there be any more?
You have everything you need to make the perfect next step in your life; to solve that sticky relationship that you have always been struggling with; to experience complete union with the divine essence of life.
The only trouble is that we do not believe it. We think that if only I understood this thing, or did not have that pain, or could travel to this place, then everything would be perfect.
Not true. You have it all now.
We think we have to change. We think we have to be different in order to become whole, to become healed, but we do not.
Each of us has been dealt a hand in our lives, and most of us spend our lives trying to throw in the hand we were given, and get another one.
The thing we never figure out is the fact that the game is fixed. We might only have been dealt a pair of fives, however in the game we are playing, a pair of fives is a winning hand. Because the game is set by the same essence of life that dealt us our hands in the first place.
We look at what others have, and we say – “If only I had wealth and fame, then I would be able to have everything I wanted.”
And yet that is almost always not true.
You might have been given a hand where the ultimate spiritual and emotional fulfilment in your life comes from being exactly who you are and where you are.
In fact you are the only person who would be able to be content in the situation that you are in, because that is how life works.
I am not saying that one should not strive to get on and achieve, to go for excellence, and generally to try and make the best out of our lives. We should all do that. What I am saying is that we should play to the hand we have been dealt, knowing and trusting that it is a winning hand, and if we play it correctly we will get our heart’s desire.
As Khalil Gibran says “accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields. And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.”
It is all here and available, right now. The rest is what you think about it.
Real transformation comes when you see ‘what is’ for what it is. That pain is just pain, and joy is joy. They are different. It is about wanting what you get, rather than trying to get what you want. And when you do that you trust life. You trust the hand you have been dealt. You trust your ability to play that hand, and you make no pre-judgements about the way the game is going. You are not running the game; life is running it.
Work with your life and you have everything you need. The moment you try to take over the game, to change your hand, to change the game, you are lost – because it is not your game, you are a part of a bigger game being played by life.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

New Year’s Resolutions? – No change there then!

The years roll by, the scenery changes, and yet much in our life stays the same.
Whereas it is easy to move the furniture about in the space that represents our lives, it is more difficult to see how to make fundamental changes.
We might move house, change cars, swap partners or switch careers, and yet inside it often feels the same. Everywhere you go, you always take the weather with you.
We are so caught up in the process of living that it is often hard to see what levers to pull to change channels, rather than just adjust the brightness or the contrast.
Changing channels requires a deeper introspection than just reviewing how our lives are going. We tend to make such a review at the beginning of each year, because making resolution after taking stock seems to put us control.
Yet a few months (weeks? Days? Hours?) later, we realise that nothing much fundamental has changed. We might have lost a bit of weight, saved some money, or drunk less, but the same mind is still in charge, and it still seems capable of making the same mistakes. So it is pretty much guaranteed that nothing substantial will change.
For real change to take place, you have to change your mind.
Not in the sense of exchanging your brain for another one, but more like changing the way that you think. We have to realise that we are not our minds. That there is more to us than the rational thinking processes that we so readily identify with.
“You are not your mind.” It is not a phrase that many minds take kindly to.
“What do you mean ‘you are not your mind’? Of course you are – what else could you be?” I can hear your mind say. Because the mind does not like to have its authority challenged.
“We’ve done OK together up till now – you are alive aren’t you? We have formed a unique personality together that we are comfortable with”. And so it goes on. The mind’s justification as to why you should identify with it.
It has a monopoly over your thought processes, and won’t let you go that easily. Some people so identify with their minds, that if you show any lack of respect, they will pick a fight with you.
We feel that we are our personalities, and to challenge any part of the way we think is to challenge the very essence of who we are.
And yet the very word 'personality' is an interesting one. It comes from the Greek word 'Persona' which were the masks that actors used to wear in Ancient Greece to signify their roles. The word literally means 'that which is spoken through'.
Our personality is just the mask we choose to speak through. It is a construction that the mind uses to negotiating its way through life. It has no intrinsic reality or value.
The problem comes when we have so identified with our personality that we almost feel trapped by it and we cannot think our way out of it.
Real change only comes when we realise that we are not our minds, that we are not our personalities, and that it is possible to identify ourselves with something much deeper than the constructs of our minds.
When we realise that there is a fundamental essence in life to which we all have access, and if we were to go beyond the limitations of our minds, then we would begin to see a new horizon that we could begin to aspire to.
It is this new horizon that facilitates the real change in our lives that many of us strive towards; that enable us to break the long established patterns of our lives, and therefore explore new ways of being.
Ironically, the way we access this essence is by becoming more aware of the extent to which we are trapped and programmed by our past. Gradually we become aware of new possibilities, and through taking up these possibilities we set off on a new direction in our lives.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Don't forget your toothbrush!

There is nothing quite like having to pack and unpack all your gear every day to remind you how important the physical universe is in your life.
Today Cardiff, yesterday Bristol, the day before Bath, and before that Oxford and Cambridge.
Arrive unpack, do the gig. Pack up, go to wherever you're staying, unpack, sleep, pack up.
Leave anything behind and there is no picking it up as you are probably 200 miles away before you realise it.
We are so dependant on all that material kit. And yet when you do leave something behind (flip charts once, phone charge once) you find you can do without it.
(Actually, that,s not strictly true, on Friday I drove for half an hour to recover my phone charger as I did not think I could do without it!).
I feel panicky when I am loading up, worried that there is a mistake about to happen.
I feel that I have to over-compensate for my possible lack of attention, and that makes me feel stressful.
Then there is the travelling (hopefully not dying) delivering the presentation (hopefully not dying) and generally keeping body and soul together.
It all seems quite a schlep.
But then I am reminded of that old Midland Bank commercial (old admen never die, they just use ads as divine wisdom). "Do what you do best, let the Midland do the rest, and your part of a winning team" - amazing how it is still there.
If you just do what you do, as well as you can, and trust that the universe is a friendly place (as Einstein suggested), then things generally work out.
You can only take life one second at a time. Try to think much further than that, and you enter the realm of speculation. What if.... what might....or perhaps..., and you're off with the fairies.
It is a good lesson to remember that the planet looks after itself, and so do our lives, if we let them.
So we just have to stop worrying, and get on with whatever is in front of us.
The rest can take care of itself