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

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Life on the road

At Starbucks in Middlesbrough availing myself of their free WiFi as I travel between Manchester and Teesside Universities on the northern leg of my Book Tour.
I say 'book tour', but that is too grand for the series of small meetings that I am driving hundreds of miles to attend.
I went for University Chaplaincies, as they seemed organisations who might want a bit of 'left field' thinking to drum up a crowd of a few more than the usual suspects.
But invitation and happenstance has broadened my destinations to include church groups and meditation collectives.
It is a strange sensation to head off onto the motorway, leaving loving family behind and drive towards who knows what. Strange people, strange beds, stranger loos and bathrooms. I take my own pillows to make sure that I at least have the chance of a good night's sleep.
But so far the hospitality of my hosts have been amazing. Kind people willing to open their homes to a strange man they have never met, feed him, talk to him, and deliver him to the venue. They have all provided lovely food and an understanding of some of what it means to be 'on the road'.
It is, however, a humbling experience to arrive at a destination with a car load of flip charts and aids to the sort of spiritual giggery-pockery that constitutes and evening of 'Developing Consciousness', only to be confronted by a crowd of 9. All who are as embarrassed as you are by the paucity of their numbers.
We all consider whether or not the evening might have been a mistake both in the 'putting on' and in the 'deciding to go to'.
But nevertheless you are in blood stepped in so far, and so you go ahead. You raise the hammer, like Thor, and bring it crashing down to work the magic. And sure enough, with only 9 present the light comes out and we are all transformed, however briefly, by the glimpse of the eternal that we all catch and marvel at, before shuffling off into the night to go our separate ways.
But it is not all like that. There were 33 in Leeds, two groups of 18 and 10 in Loughborough and the same 20 people turned out twice in Wells, Norfolk.
It may sound a bit dispiriting and small, but there is a strange sort of satisfaction in setting up camp, displaying one's wares and then for people to be really quite kind in their responses.
Which is not to say that you do not doubt the efficacy of what you are up to. In other words, you sometimes think you must be bonkers.
Travelling round the country peddling a kind of pseudo-intellectual culturally relevant take on the nature of reality, and why there is a force for good behind everything, and why that makes all the difference.
As you pull into another motorway service station and pour £60 into the tank that you are not sure you will get back as 'expenses', you do begin to doubt it all.
You continue doubting as you roll up to the next 'hosts' house, as you are driven, like the condemned man, to the venue; As you clear away the mess of a University function room to make it presentable, and as you wait for the 9-33 people to arrive.
It is only when you spring to your feet with a 'good evening everyone' that the blood begins to flow and out of nowhere the road ahead seems clear, and you have all the gears you could possibly want to enjoy the ride.
Roll on Teesside University 12.15 tomorrow.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Quo Vadis?

It takes patience to recognise the path that is laid out for us to take in life. As Robert Frost said in his famous poem "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both".
We get a choice, if we look hard enough.
Most of the time we do not look, we just take the road of common sense. But if we look, there is always the other path available - the path of love.
Less obvious, more difficult, yet once perceived it is the only one that we can take, while maintaining our integrity.
It may be harder, but it will take us somewhere we could never have imagined.
It is the path that can only be seen when you are looking with love in your heart, because it is prepared for you by that which is infinite. It is the path you were meant to take.
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Don't worry, be effective.

Living with uncertainty is never fun. I much prefer to know what is going on, or more's the point, what is going to happen.
Right now I'm not clear about either.
And yet that unclarity does not seem to impose itself on the present moment.
When I do not think about it, things just present themselves to be done:
Have breakfast, go to my desk, do some writing, make phone calls.
The great scheme of things does not have a huge bearing on the day to day.
So why the worry?
I think it is my desire to be in control. To know is to be in control. So when I do not know, I feel out of control.
In the same way as 'if you look after the pennies, the pounds will look after themselves', if you look after the moments as they go by, so the future will look after itself.
I can't do anything about the future. I can do something about the day ahead: Be conscientious, do my best, be optimistic. Just thinking that way makes me feel better.
We spend so much time worrying about the things we cannot effect, but which might happen. Much better to stop worrying and do something positive.
There, blog written. Good positive start for the day.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

How to discover what you are meant to be doing in life.

How to navigate your way through life? It is surely a key question.
Most of us take bearings on our situation, and then set a course and plough on. Our minds control the action.
I can honestly say that from the age of 19 I have decided what I wanted to do, and then gone out and tried to do it.
Sometimes I succeeded, and sometimes I did not. But in all cases the journey was pretty much an exercise of will: Attempting to impose my will on the circumstances that confronted me in order to make the best of those circumstances.
Nothing really wrong with that, except that the great limiting factor in the whole equation was the extent of my own imagination. All my horizons were set at the limits of that imagination, and as a result they were severely limited.
When your mind is running the show, it can only ever create that which it has some experience of. And therefore it always tries to make life conform to what it believes it to be.
If it thinks that people are unreliable, it will gather evidence to that effect.
If it thinks that life is unfair, it will find the proof.
Therefore a life that is controlled by the limited imagination of our minds will always be limited to the capacity of our minds.
I have begun to try to let go of my mind’s insistence on what it thinks I should do, and open up to seeing what life out there wants me to do.
The difference is subtle. It involves taking bearings on my situation as before, but then not setting a course, but simply taking more bearings and allowing the wind to take me where it will: Allowing life to lead me to the actions that I need to take, rather than dictating those actions and trying to make life conform.
The key to acting like this is to give our lives the credit of having a natural intelligence that will guide us into the right place at the right time, if we will let it happen.
We have to give up the desire to control, and simply allow things to happen.
That is not to say that one should take no definite action; just that once action has been taken, we then review the situation, rather than deciding what to do next.
It means holding our ultimate goals lightly, and willing to change them as circumstances unfold. Not always deciding what one wants to do beforehand, and then ploughing on regardless.
Doing this frees us from the limits of our imagination and gives us whole new horizons that we could never have thought of on our own.
Life then becomes more like a voyage of discovery, rather than a race that has to be won.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Do people really change?

I’d never been interested in religion. I always saw the church as the bag lady of spirituality, wheeling around a load of old tat for no obvious reason. I preferred a large joint, an available woman or the rush of a career that aimed for the top.
I began in broadcasting, working alongside the young Turks of the 70s such as Kate Adie and Jennie Murray at the BBC in Bristol. But when I found myself lacking in the necessary talent to really make it big, I switched my attention to the dark arts of advertising (more smoke and mirrors to hide behind than in broadcasting), and ended up at Saatchi and Saatchi in the late 1970s.
My long term goals included a Bentley Continental, a large property in the sun, and enough money to use whenever I couldn’t get no satisfaction.
So it is with some surprise that I find myself 30 years later living in a small vicarage in Norfolk working as a vicar with a wife and two young children. I have less money now that at any time in my life, and yet I have never felt richer.
Do people really change? It is a question that still needs a clear answer. But in my case I can see a definite before and after. Before in my flat in Notting Hill Gate, at the Carnival with a party on the balcony overlooking the police barracks in the school below; joints all over the place, the stereo blaring out ‘Let it be’ in the vain hope that we could lessen any potential for violence.
Today making marmalade, while the children plant sunflowers in the garden, ready to show at the Harvest Festival Service.
Where did it all go right?
Well, of course, I had a conversion. First the obligatory trip to the Himalayas, then the Damascus road and ‘seeing the light’ (you really do see light actually!), and finally the dreadful realisation that I was becoming a Christian (a crushing blow to my self image and having the same effect as the bubonic plague on my friends).
Goodbye advertising (in spite of Tim Bell’s attempts to appeal to my sanity), hello Jesus.
Do I regret it? Not a moment of it. Someone the other day accused me of being content. And I had to own up to it. Gone was the ravenous black hole of need that consumed anything in its wake: drugs, drink, women, cars, music, shopping, holidays, and acclaim. Anything that promised to satisfy, but never did. And in the place of ‘getting what you want’, was ‘wanting what you get’.
Albert Einstein was once asked “What is the most important question you can ask of life?” and he answered ,“The most important question you could ask would be “Is the universe a friendly place or not?” Being able to answer ‘yes’ to that question changes everything. You are no longer fighting life, you are working with it. You may have various problems and issues, but if the universe is a friendly place and you cooperate with it, then what was previously dysfunctional becomes ordered.
A Buddhist friend once told me that the purpose of practicing Buddhism was to live life more skilfully. Somehow I had stumbled upon a way of doing that – God knows how.
When you accept that the circumstances of your life are in some way the means you have for transforming yourself, rather than something you have to fight against, everything becomes a lot easier.
It didn’t all happen at once, but gradually I noticed how I was less driven, and appreciated what came my way more. True, I lost most of my old friends and ran out of money, but I gradually began to recover my love of life. I was happier with less.
Accepted as a priest in the Church of England I went to train at Durham University. Finding myself slightly pissed at a Fresher’s fair at the age of 40 was very liberating. I joined ‘dramsoc’, acted in Romeo and Juliet, began reading the Guardian in Cafés and was elected President of the college. It was as if I was starting adult life over again and I was being given a second shot at it.
I met my wife in my first parish and married after 46 years of being single (Kingsley Amis once said the male libido was like being chained to a lunatic for 50 years). I have never been happier.
I do experience being a changed person. Deep down I am of course the same, but it is the way I have learnt to negotiate my way through life that has changed.
Someone once said that after 30 a man has nothing to learn from success, but everything to learn from failure. I think I know what they mean now.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

First book launch for ‘Developing Consciousness’.

I was pretty nervous beforehand – not quite knowing what to expect, or how to approach it.
Arrived mob-handed with wife, mother, sister in law and two children (anything to make up the numbers!).
The event was at the Christian Resource Centre in Norwich. They kindly provided wine, juice and crisps (most of them ‘hoovered up’ by my children, aged 5 and 7).
To begin with it’s like throwing a party and wondering if anyone will turn up. All those books spread out waiting to be bought, and the staff hoping that they have not laid it all on just for the author’s family.
But no, people began arriving at about 6.45 and it sort of turned into a drinks party with me rushing about trying to chat while keeping one eye on the door to make sure I welcomed any new arrivals.
By 7.15 there were about 70 people there (phew, thank you for all of you that came) and I got up to speak.
I kept it to 10 minutes with a couple of readings, and then left the stage while I was still ahead.
It was weird signing the books. I wasn’t quite sure when to just sign my name, and when to put a message in it. Still don’t know if I got it right.
But people were really kind, and I think we sold between 40 and 50 books.
It all ended at about 8.30, then it was home for large drink.
It is difficult to gauge how well it is going down as no one has read it yet. It is that blissful time between the launch and the reviews. Then people start telling you what they really think!
So it’s on to Waterstone’s next Tuesday for the second Norwich Launch!

Monday, 11 July 2011

Death? No Thanks

Death and Taxes, the only two things in life that are certain.
One you can avoid, the other you can’t.
We are all getting older every minute.
And nowadays we are being asked to think more about our pensions, the care that we will have in our old age, and even where we would prefer to die.
But we still do not think too much about our own deaths.
Most of us prefer not to dwell too deeply on the subject.
Apart from not wanting a horrible death, we tend to shove it to the back of the mind.
To begin with we think we will live forever. We have our parents and grandparents to go before us.
Then it is just our parents.
And when they go, we really begin to feel that we are next.
Our mortality becomes very apparent.
We realise that more people are dying around us. We become sensitive to that ache or pain, that mole which seems to be itching – could it be C….?
And so the reality of death begins to dawn. It is no longer ‘way over yonder’, but merely ‘a way off’.
But, however old we get, we rarely make our peace with it.
We still do not want to talk about it, think of our funeral, or plan the details. And if we ever do mention it to others, they quickly move us on – “don’t be morbid… you’ve got years yet”.
Yet, like birth, death is an integral part of life.
You cannot live without dying. It is one of the two bookends of life. And to fully live you have to be prepared to die.
To be prepared for death. When we say that, we generally think of “getting our affairs in order “– wills, funeral, and the mental attitude to actually dying.
But I think there is a more vital stage than that.
During our lives we should carry our deaths around with us.
To be perfectly alive and in the moment, we have to live with the fact that we are going to die.
It is a cliché that we should live every moment as if it were our last, but I am suggesting that we should live every moment in the knowledge that we are going to die.
Not to do so is like playing a football match and thinking that there is no end to the game, whereas in actuality you’ve only got 90 minutes.
That time constraint creates a focus for action.
In life we think we’ve got ‘forever’ (when we are young), or ‘quite a time’ (when we are middle aged), or ‘not quite yet’ (when we are old).
But death is a ‘now’ thing. We are to embrace the possibility of death. To know what it feels like, to reach for it.
We should get to know our death; know how we feel about it; consider its possibility daily; so that when it comes we can say “Welcome friend, you are a part of my life and I have prepared myself for your coming”.
For to welcome death daily is to live in a right relationship with life.
It enables us to treasure what we have, and not to take it for granted. To make correct decisions based upon the idea that what we are deciding is within a finite structure, not an infinity of possibilities.
It also makes us consider the darkness in death, which makes the darkness in life less dark.
To live with death is not to forsake life; it is to embrace life fully.
We cannot fully live unless we are prepared to fully die.
As Shakespeare put it:
“Be absolute for death; either death or life shall thereby be the sweeter.”

Saturday, 25 June 2011

I do not 'Enjoy!'

Why is it that I want to scream every time a waiter puts down my food and says ‘Enjoy!’.
There is nothing outwardly wrong with it, but I find my insides curdle whenever someone says it to me. I think it is the assumption that they are claiming authorship of the experience I am about to have. No! It’s my experience, nothing to do with you!
There are certain words and phrases that we seem to instinctively hate, for one reason or another.
I also hate the word ‘devastated’.
“My hamster died and I was completely devastated.”
“I found out that he was going out with someone else – I was devastated”.
It is such an over-used word that seems to be used out of proportion to the actual meaning. Hiroshima was devastated. The origin is de-vestare to lay waste.
Another one is ‘Hello!’ (pronounce: hell-oh-oh with the intonation going up on the first oh) in the sense of ‘You think I like you? Well ‘hell-oh-oh! Wake up and smell the coffee. You are completely deluded'.
Again it is the assumption that I hate, that I am in some way insane, and not getting the point that I find so insulting.
Hey Ho – getting older makes you crankier!
Any words or phrases that you hate?

Monday, 20 June 2011

What in heaven's name is The Trinity?

Last Sunday was Trinity Sunday. Herewith a go as to what it all means.

(Remember, The willingness to be wrong is all!)

Thomas Aquinas put forward the idea that God is one substance that has three relationships, but that the relationships constitute the very nature of the substance.
This view of the Trinity suggests that essence of Salvation (or becoming ultimately safe and fulfilled) is not based on belief, but on relationship.
Salvation comes from our relationship with God.
Our task is not to literally ‘make disciples of all people’, but really to be in relationship with all people.
The power (God) is in the relationship.
In quantum physics, more and more it is the relationship between particles that is interesting.
God is therefore not something that we can understand with our minds, but know by being a part of a relationship.
Salvation is that readiness, that capacity that willingness to stay in that relationship with God.

Well that's what I thought on Sunday anyway!

Friday, 20 May 2011

Going no-where, and liking it.

Just back from a few days at a monastery near Birmingham (Glasshampton).
How amazing it is to be somewhere with no agendas.
Nothing to get done, no-one chasing you for anything (no kids - I hope they are not reading this!) no phones ringing, no-one knocking at the door.
It really shows what a different experience it is just to 'be' for the sake of it.
So much of our lives are spent chasing our tails; and when we look back - for what?
We always seem to be pretty much at the same place as when we started:
Born naked, die naked - but how do you spend the time in between, that's the question!
Ended up at 'The best tea rooms in the UK' (see www.witleytearooms.co.uk) after a 3 hour walk - bliss.
Except that there was also a three hour walk back.
Still, I got no-where and really enjoyed doing it

Monday, 2 May 2011

The Sound of Silence

I surround myself with noise:
Music, the radio, television, children, chatter, and appliances.
And when there is no noise, I create my own; in my head or out loud.
I feel comfortable with noise.
It reassures me that all is OK in the world. That normal service has been resumed.
That things are going on as they should.
That I am alright with the world, and the world is alright with me.
Noise is the modern comfort blanket: Muzak, iPods, phones – reassurance that we are still living and that the world wants our attention.
But it’s all on the surface and, as with the proverb about the swimming pool, all the noise comes from the shallow end.
When we hear silence it is deep, profound, and life changing.
When we are open to silence we are open to that depth, to the possibility of our lives being changed.
But we do this so rarely.
We get up to the noise of the alarm, we turn the radio on, we clatter about, we exchange inanities with friends and family, we go to work with noise, we work with noise around us, and we go home to sit in front of noise, until we go to bed, where the noise in our heads keeps us awake.
And I am not much better with people.
The worst thing that can happen is for the conversation to dry up and leave us with an awkward silence – meaning a silence that causes us to feel awkward things. So we say something to cover up the awkwardness, to make it go away.
In fact we often shape the way we converse to avoid those silences. I find that my whole relationship with some people is built around keeping the conversation going. Filling the gaps, entertaining the person I am with, rather than letting us both be.
And, of course, there is a complementary position with the other person who tacitly allows you to ‘make the running’, while they just concentrate on getting the ball back over the net – for you to hit it again.
The sound of silence is the sound of the universe speaking to us.
It is more profound, more meaningful, more nourishing than anything that anyone could say, and yet we often do all we can to avoid it.
It brings peace, it brings harmony, and it brings understanding.
The problem is that it also makes us feel.
We are forced to feel what’s going on in our bodies, and what’s going on around us. And because that feeling involves an element of pain, we try to push it away.
However, that feeling, that pain, is what ultimately heals us.
It tends our wounds, and it brings us to wholeness.
Silence between people brings understanding, it allows love to grow, and it fosters intimacy.
Yet we avoid it.
We avoid silence at the cost of our health, of our joy, and of our ultimate happiness.
For it is the silence of the Eternal Nature that brings into contact with who we really are.
In it, we can hear that ‘still small voice’ which speaks to us in our hearts and which leads us home.
And we continue to wonder why we feel lost.
Silence is the most under-rated and under-used free resource that is available to all.
Each of us could seek to experience it more, could seek to practice it more.
To do so would make us all richer.
What is the sound of silence? It is like the sound of one hand clapping.
To listen for it is to hear it.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

I’ll show you mine, if you show me yours

Our own inner world is a very secret place.
It contains all the things we would rather no-one else knew. It is also a treasury of all the wisdom we have ever gathered. And we keep it to ourselves. It is precious. It is who we are, and is it provides us with the information we use to navigate our way around our lives.
And yet it is limited to what we have been told, known or experienced.
We cannot know what we do not know. And because we do not know it we do not consider the possibility that it might exist – whatever it is.
We learn from each other. We learn how to love from our parents, from our friends, from those we come into contact with.
Before I began to learn how to love, I did not think there was any other way, than the way I was doing it. And yet I wondered why I wasn’t able to form any lasting relationships. I thought that there was something wrong with me. But there wasn’t, I just hadn’t been shown how.
We cannot know what we are unconscious of.
Consciousness is such a difficult thing to get a hold of. The International dictionary of Psychology describes consciousness as “ impossible to define except in terms that are unintelligible without a grasp of what consciousness means” and goes on to say “it is impossible to specify what it is, what it does, or why it evolved. Nothing worth reading has been written about it”.
Which is very liberating for us ‘non-experts’. Normally science tells us what to think about everything, and here is a scientific tome admitting that it doesn’t know – pretty amazing. Science giving us permission to work it out for ourselves.
And that is what the meaning of the word consciousness implies – ‘con- scious’ , from ‘scius’ – to know, and ‘con’ – together, ‘to know together’.
By sharing the truth together about what we experience we can form a library of knowledge, beyond our own experience.
A range of perspectives, rather than our just our own.
We are very attached to our own perspectives. We will often be prepared to die for them. And yet they are only the sum of all the good ideas we have ever had.
To live our lives to the full we have to be prepared to broaden our outlook. To really hear from others as to how they experience life; what other dimensions of experience might exist; what other ways of being.
Being open minded is more about hearing than it is about considering. Because when you hear something that you have not heard before it broadens your mind and gives you a different perspective.
The considering of the implications of that perspective comes later.
Love is just one of the areas we can develop a perspective on.
We can open ourselves to different ways of thinking, of experiencing and of being. And this can take us into new dimensions of existence - in spirituality, in healing, in self-acceptance, and in the very nature of reality.
Because consciousness, like opinion, is not fixed. There is more to life than any of us ever know, and there is always more to experience.
So be prepared to explore, open yourself to what others have to say, and don’t think that all life is as you experience it.
There just might be a whole new world out there.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Guess what makes the world go round?

It was Eric Fromm who said that “The deepest need of man is the need to overcome his separateness, to leave the prison of his aloneness”. Failure to do so, he goes on to say, leads to insanity, because the only way of escaping the isolation from the world is to pretend that the world does not exist.
We try many ways of dealing with our aloneness before we resort to insanity. We take drugs, we drink, we sleep with anything that moves, we throw ourselves into careers, we undertake creative endeavours, we busy ourselves, quite literally, to distraction.
Ultimately, however, there is only one holistic way of overcoming our separateness, and that is to love.
In his masterpiece “The Art of Loving” Fromm describes loving as not ‘falling for’ but ‘giving’.
Love is what makes the world go round. Not money.
Love is the most basic of all currencies.
We are given life out of an act of love. None of us asked to be born, we are freely given life. And from that moment on, all our relationships are built around the principles of love, even the bad ones.
The best definition of wealth I have come across is ‘the ability to give’. By that definition, even the financially richest of us can be actually seen as being poor.
The more we are able to give, the richer we become. We become more alive.
The secret of love is in giving.
When we moan that we are not loved enough, or we cannot find love, the answer invariably lies in what we are prepared to give, rather than what we are wanting to receive.
The laws of nature even comply. Every schoolgirl knows that ‘for every action, there is an equal and opposite re-action’. Now why should that not be true in personal relationships.
And yet the perceived wisdom is about ‘getting a partner’, ‘getting love’, of lack, of missing something, of not being given to.
Love has been ‘comsumerized’. We try to consume love, like everything else – as proved by the mushrooming trade in pornography.
We try to buy love wherever we can, to trade for it, to scheme for it, but it will not be ‘had’.
Love is the natural flow of energy from one part of our universe to another – it is the very building block of life.
As humans we have to learn to manage it as we have learnt to manage electricity or nuclear power. Until we do that we remain in our own shells, isolated, resentful, and in danger of going insane.
It is amazing that we do not teach ‘how to love’ in school. It is assumed that parents will know – but they often do not.
How can you teach your children to love, when you have never been loved yourself?
Whether we know it or not, the chief lesson we have to learn in life is ‘How to love’.
It is the ultimate lesson that lies at the root of most of the problems that we face today: war, poverty and man’s inhumanity to man.
Surely it is something we should all be working at.

Monday, 28 February 2011

Happiness is…?

What makes some people happy and others not? It is the great conundrum. We are all faced with it every day. Should I do this or do that? What is going to bring me the greatest happiness and satisfaction? Is there a gap between what I ought to do because it is the right thing to do, and what I want to do – for me?
If we must grapple with definitions, what we are talking about here is contentment. That great peace that enables us to rest in what we are doing.
We struggle to see the wood for the trees. “I know I should go and visit my aged aunt, but I would prefer to stay at home and dig the garden.” “I know I should go and exercise, but can’t I just potter around the house?”
Our level of contentment is definitely down to the choices we make. The effects of those choices visit us in the future as the feelings we have about the circumstances we end up in.
“I have decided that the love of money is the root of all evil, therefore I am going to live an ecologically balanced lifestyle” often leads us into struggling on benefits, fighting for the next pound and being miserable because “life is all about the money I haven’t got”.
Similarly “ I am going to make sure the my family never wants for anything” can lead to a lifetime of commuting where one never sees one’s family.
We have to somehow make wise choices that leave us in a state of peace about where we are and what we have got.
The great cliché about this is “It is not about getting what you want, but wanting what you get”. And like all clichés it has a lot of truth in it, if you can deal with the triteness.
If we objectify our happiness – make it about some object or other - then we are distancing ourselves from our contentment and saying “ I am nearly happy now, because I know that when I get the thing I want, then I will be really happy”.
The trouble is that often, when we get what we think we want, we realise that we are still not happy. “I am chairman of the Board, my lifetime ambition, and I am miserable. My husband has left me, I am surrounded by sycophants – what has my life been about?”
The key is that we have to make peace with where we are now. To know that we are in the right place now, and that we have everything we could possibly need to make us happy, now and in the future. And if that means we are hungry for something, we have to be at peace with that hunger, not try to get rid of it.
This is not some passive surrender to all that life throws at us, it is an active acceptance that where we are is the perfect place to lead us to where we need to be next.
Albert Einstein was once asked what he thought was the most important question in life. His reply: “Is the universe a friendly place or not?”.
Your answer to that question will affect your whole attitude to life.
Can you be happy where you are right now, and with what you have right now?
Only you can say.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

The Power of Wow

Name the seven wonders of the world.
When asked that question, most of us probably start with the pyramids, move on to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and then start to scratch our heads for the others.
Legend has it that when a children’s class was asked the same question one came back with the answer: ‘Touch, taste, smell, sight, feeling, laughter, and love.’
We take life for granted.
We take the fact that we are alive for granted.
We take the miracle of our senses for granted.
And we miss the real wonder of being alive.
We struggle to be happy, to change our circumstances, to make things better; when all the time we have the miracle of consciousness right in front of us.
But it never quite feels like that. We have got used to it. Made it ordinary. Downgraded the wonder to a point below even awareness of it being special.
The nature of reality, what is really around us, has become dimmed.
We see reality as facing up to the problems that we encounter. As ‘water is wet and stones are hard’. As a gloomy, harsh and imposing structure that contains us, and upon which we are fated to dash ourselves in some Promethean horror (Prometheus was the God who was punished by having his liver torn out every day, by an eagle, only to have it grow again in the night so the eagle could do it again the next day).
OK, so life isn’t that bad, but we have made it pretty dreary. Our level of engagement with the world around us is at a pretty low level.
The ‘wow’ factor in our lives is not the most overused of our expressions, and we tend to endure more than we enjoy.
It is up to us.
We are the ones who are receiving the data about life around us through our senses.
We are the ones who decide what to focus on – the beautiful colour of the trees, or the fight to get into town.
The way we make sense of the information we receive governs the way we respond. And it is completely different for all of us.
Two people, standing side by side, can witness the same event. One will be cynical about it, another will be inspired.
And it is all down to the way that we have painted the picture of the reality that is in front of us.
One person will see the event, remember times in the past when similar things happened to her, remember that nothing good came of it, and will see the worst in what she has seen.
Another will see the same event, remember having had the same thing happen to him and the good that came out of it, and be inspired by what he saw.
Same event, different realities created for each person.
Which begs the question – What is reality?
Reality is that which continues to exist, after you have stopped believing in it.
Reality does not depend on our belief to make it so. We do not have to believe in gravity for it to be true.
Whether we believe it or not, we will still plummet to the bottom of the building if we jump off.
Reality is something that we discover by looking for it.
It is not enough to simply draw conclusions from our own life because we are all biased.
Each of us has built up a different picture of the way life is, and none are absolutely true.
When we look with only one eye we get an incomplete perspective. So when, similarly, we look at things from the perspective of our life alone, so we miss part of the picture.
Which is why the word CONSCIOUSNESS comes from two words – CON (together) and SCIOS (to know)- to know together.
It is by listening to others, getting their perspective on the way life is, that we begin to truly understand the nature of reality.
And that also means listening to all our senses.
Even the ones we have begun to take for granted.
Next time you are going to town, decide to fully engage your senses: The sights, the smells, the tastes, your feelings, your thoughts, the way you are touching the ground.
Become aware of all that is around you, and keep that awareness going for the length of your journey.
See how different you feel about life.
Consciousness is not just about what you think of life.
It is about synthesising all the information you receive, even that which you have learnt to take for granted.
When you do that, the power of WOW! begins to re-appear in your life.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Aggghhh – Not Enlightenment again!

Enlightenment seems to be a dirty word these days.
“The Enlightenment”, by which we mean the age of reason (as opposed to the age of superstition which preceded it) no longer gets a particularly good press.
Scientists and modernists and other rationally based ‘ists’ are often portrayed as the ‘baddies’ of the new age:
Responsible for a lot of harm, and for stopping new ideas entering the marketplace by insisting that all ‘valued’ ideas be measured by the yardstick that they themselves created – rationality.
Then there is the other sort of enlightenment: The one that you used to get by sitting at the feet of an Indian guru for 20 years.
The Gurus all moved to the west and set up shop in Central London Hotels. They promptly bought Rolls Royces and left a generation disenchanted with the search for knowledge.
Lesser gurus took their place and set themselves up in the far flung corners of the UK: Totnes, Wales, Findhorn – all sorts of places began offering ‘The Infinite way’ in different low key forms.
The more strident aspects of the teaching were appropriated by modern corporate culture and took the form of sales training manuals and ‘Intensive Management Programmes’ .
Books with names like ‘The Tao of Success’ or ‘Sun Tsu for the modern Salesperson’ became readily available.
Once again ‘Enlightenment’ had become a dirty word. Tainted by those who sought to use the teaching for financial gain.
It was for losers, opportunists, charlatans: poor sad weak people who obviously couldn’t cope with life.
All of which is the way it should be: It screens out all those who are not truly serious about seeking ultimate truth.
Such a search flies in the face of reason, common sense, rationality, conventional wisdom and all the other clichés that are used to describe the status quo by those who have a vested interest in it staying the same.
The true seeker is encouraged by the fact that the truth, as Aldous Huxley wrote, “may be found among the lore of primitive people in every region of the world, and in its fully developed form, it has a place in every one of the higher religions”.
The search was there before us, and will be there long after we have gone. It will survive every vagary of fashion, every dictator, country, people, and disaster.
Wherever there are sentient beings, the search for true knowledge and reality will continue to be the ultimate search.
Many are called, but few stay the course.
We say “no…. not now… not for me…. not true…. not the right time…. surely not….. it will never happen to me…. I can’t… I won’t…… it won’t…… anything but start in earnest on that search that will take us further than Armstrong and Aldrin ever went, to the centre of who we are.
The transformation of consciousness is surely the one thing that will make poverty history. It is the very nature of our evolution. It is the one thing that will ultimately make a difference.
Knowing that you are in me, and I am in you.
Knowing the nature of our connectivity.
What do you believe?
Whatever it is, it’s worth remembering that the truth will continue to exist long after you’ve stopped believing in it.