Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Rule Number 6

Love this little parable, which I saw in a Wayne Dyer book called 'The Power of Intention' some years ago. Came across it again and it's so true. Makes me laugh - a very good one to keep in mind whenever you get stressed out......

Two prime ministers were sitting in a room discussing affairs of state. Suddenly a man bursts in, apoplectic with fury, shouting and stamping and banging his fists on the desk. The resident prime minister admonishes him: "Peter," he says. "Kindly remember Rule Number 6," whereupon Peter is instantly restored to complete calm, apologises and withdraws.

The politicians return to their conversation, only to be interrupted yet again 20 minutes later by a hysterical woman gesticulating wildly, her hair flying. Again the intruder is greeted with the words: "Please remember Rule Number 6". Complete calm descends once more and she too withdraws with a bow and an apology.

When the scene is repeated for a third time, the visiting prime minister addresses his colleague: "My dear friend, I've seen many things in my life, but never anything as remarkable as this. Would you be willing to share with me the secret of Rule Number 6?"

"Very simple," responds the resident prime minister. "Rule Number 6 is don't take yourself so Goddamn seriously."

"Ah," says his visitor, "that is a fine rule." After a moment of pondering, he inquires, "And what may I ask are the other rules?"

"There arent any."


I'll explain why I found that story so good. It cuts through the ego; it cuts through the mind-stories we tell ourselves. Most the suffering of our life is actually in our heads ("this shouldn't have happened", "how dare she speak to me like that", "it shouldn't be raining today"). We take these mind-stories so seriously, so often. Many people worship their stories and get so caught up in them that they utterly mistake their interpretations and stories about life with life itself. This is the ego, I believe: identifying with the content of your mind, investing it with a sense of self and a solidity and realness it doesn't inherently possess. When you cease to cherish those thoughts and stories, when you stop taking yourself so You actually begin to taste freedom, and become more in touch with life than ever before. You realise that the thoughts you've been terrorising yourself with in your head are just thoughts, just clouds passing through the sky of mind.

When you do that you disidentity for the 'little self' and can access the 'True Self', whatever you want to call it. So, for some people - particularly those who are deeply engrossed in the 'little self' and the content of mind - this story can be a very helpful pointer. For others - perhaps those who already have a degree of freedom from mental bondage - it's not as appropriate. For others, who are completely unawakened and totally identified with mind, telling them to 'stop taking themselves so seriously' would get you a punch in the face, because they really believe they have every right to take themselves that seriously.

Ultimately, we might be the centre of our own universes, and we might often think that our problems and issues and stories have absolute importance. The reality is they only have relative importance - relative to us. And what are we but tiny sub-microscopic particles on a world that's smaller than a grain of sand in all the beaches in all the world. Whenever I remind myself of this vastness, my problems immediately shrink and I immediately jettison my self-importance and so slip out of the realm of 'little self' and into the province of the 'big Self'. As the little self we're actually totally insignificant because it's only an illusion of mind; as the true Self we're...everything.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Thoughts on life, death and beyond

My grandparents with my Mum, taken in the West Coast of Scotland, Summer 2000

A few nights ago I dreamt of my grandfather, who sadly passed on in 2004. I was back in his and my grandmother's house and oh my god, it was JUST LIKE I WAS THERE. Even in the dream i started crying because i realised how much i missed it, how much I missed THEM and how big a part of my life they were. Every single detail was there, even things I'd long forgotten. it wasnt the happiest time i was there in my dream, either - it was after granny had gone into a nursing home and my grandad was alone and really his whole world had disappeared. it was so difficult. i really miss them both. the end almost seems cruel from a certain perspective and yet, ultimately, all was well.

i’d like to believe they are still here, with us. recently i’ve willingly dismantled all my old beliefs and i dont currently know what to believe. ive even been open to the possibility of nothingness after death. nothingness before death as well - and even during life. in my heart, what do i feel? in my heart i totally believe in a continuity - because i believe that the form, the physical self is only a very small part of this whole that we are. we’re just a speck of dust when compared to the vastness of our true self; our true nature. does that true nature continue in an individualised fashion? I’d have to say YES. I know in my heart that my grandparents are still here. still alive. in fact, more alive than ever. the form can only express a limited aspect of our true nature, very limited, and as the form gradually dissolves that expression becomes narrower and narrower, until it's just like a very faint, intermittent trickle of water; the water being reflective of our essential nature or spirit.

I remember once sitting looking at a painting in a glass frame. In the glass I could see a reflection of the neighbours outside; I saw their car pulling into the drive and them getting out and unloading shopping bags from the boot, before going inside. It was all there, reflected in the painting. I'll never forget the dawning realisation that crept up on me as I observed this. It made me feel that this is perhaps all that our phenomenal world is; a reflected image of something on a transparent medium - an illusion, a pale reflection of something that’s actually happening elsewhere. you might look at the picture and the reflection that was happening in it and see it as the whole truth, the whole reality - but in truth, it was but a reflection of something infinitely greater. the small, limited human mind might zero in on the reflection and think it is the whole truth; but in reality, it's just an illusion and there's a whole universe beyond that phenomenal apparition....a universe that's quite beyond the capacity of our minds to even begin to imagine. this, THIS - all of it, all of phenomenal ‘reality’ is just a pale reflection of an infinitely greater reality.

So my grandparents...they've stepped out of my perceived reflection of reality for now, and yet I still feel them, very close. in some ways i often feel them as more a part of my life now than they ever were and thats rather strange, but nonetheless true. before they were separated by space and time, but now i feel those boundaries are gone - and it’s like they are linked with me even more closely. My Grandad was a gentle, unassuming presence so i ‘feel’ him quite subtly, but my Granny was a force of nature; a strong, dominant, loving and vivacious personality and i feel her very strongly; it’s almost as though i can sense her sharing opinions, and comments and laughter, as well as love and support.

phenomenal reality is a strange thing. outwardly, in the world of form i see so much loss - the loss of my grandparents, of much the rest of my extended family, of friends and health and an ‘outer life’, i can see the encroachment of aging as a reminder of the impermanence of this always-terminal condition we call 'life' - in others and even in myself. i watch as a flower i pick from the garden, radiant with beauty and the lustrousness of life gradually crumples and dissolves into a dry, lifeless husk.

and its ok. waves come and then they dissolve back into the ocean. can i be at peace with it? Well, why not? Would you want the waves to be any other way? they are as they are. we are as we are. life is as it is. flow with it, let it be, let yourself ‘be lived by life’ rather than thinking that we have to be in the pilot seat and ‘live life’ (the ultimate ego delusion and yet so so pervasive and convincing at times!). sitting in the garden, surrounded by a slowly blossoming tree, shrubs and plants bursting into life with fresh, vibrant green; cloudless blue skies, radiant sunshine, a gentle breeze rippling so delicately through the leaves and grass and all the various birds going about their business, singing so sweetly just because that’s what they’s life.

Imagine if a bird developed an ego and got the notion that it ‘had a life’, with things to do, achievements to gain, plans to make and appearances to keep; I guess there’s nothing you could do to convince that bird that all of that mindstuff was ultimately a fabrication. The birds don’t ‘have’ a life any more than the blades of grass - or in fact, us. That would be a mental conceptualisation. Ultimately, we just ARE life; life living itself. If we could really get back in tune with nature (of which we are really a part) then we’d see that it’s pointing us the way back to wholeness, peace, purpose and unity: just BE as you are. Let your true nature emerge and be at one with life; you don’t ‘have’ a are life.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

"You haven't failed until you quit trying"

It’s amazing how, when you hold a question in mind and really open yourself to receiving an answer, the answer always comes to you eventually, and it will keep coming to you until you finally heed it. I’m not talking about receiving an answer from your mind - the mind has no answers, it simply regurgitates the same old conditioned mindcrap that leads you to the point of having questions upon questions in the first place. No, you have to be open to receiving an answer from...wherever else. Sometimes the answer arises from a state beyond mind; at a level deeper than thought, where it simply comes as an innate knowing. Other times the answer arises on an external level. You happen to open a book at a certain page which seems so freakishly relevant to your predicament. You turn on the TV or radio and happen to hear an expert dispensing some surprisingly pertinent advice. Snippets of old songs, poems, or inspirational quotations - these can all be sources of answers. How do you know it’s an answer? I guess, if it resonates with your current predicament and FEELS like an answer. Then there are other people - the ones you can go to who always offer sound advice and admirable wisdom.

Since I had my mini-creative meltdown the other day, in which I seriously questioned whether or not to continue persevering with getting my novel published, I’ve received a string of such ‘answers’. The moment I even posted that blog, I had a very deep and insistent feeling rise within me. It’s hard to put that feeling into words, but it was something along the lines of “oh come on, stop the self-indulgence and just get on with it!” tinged with an element of “you know better than this.” Then I started coming across numerous quotations and articles which seemed to directly speak to my situation. The advice was all the same: acknowledge the difficulties and persevere. I started reading the next chapter of ‘The Artist’s Way’ and was struck by the following passage, which I immediately attacked with a highlighter pen:

"One of the most difficult tasks an artist must face is a primal one: artistic survival. All artists must learn the art of surviving loss: loss of hope, loss of face, loss of money, loss of self-belief. In addition to our gains, we inevitably suffer these losses in an artistic career. They are hazards of the road and, in many ways, its signposts. Artistic losses can be turned into artistic gains and strengths - but not in the isolation of the beleagured artist's brain."

The whole chapter seemed to be just what I needed to read at just that time.

I received similar advice from a couple of other people; some in direct response to my blog deliberations (thanks GaySocrates!) and some because it just seemed to spontaneously arise in the moment.

The last straw was when using an iphone application last night when the following quotation popped up on the screen: “The only failure is to quit trying.”

I just about started laughing. OK, I get the message! I really do. I already kind of knew it inside me anyway.

I think genuine art is a sacred act. The artist opens up and connects with a creative force which lies within and yet beyond the boundaries of self. It’s almost like entering a stream or flow. True creativity comes not from the mind, but through the mind. By creating something through accessing this flow, it then seems disrespectful to the creative flow (call it what you will) to then criticise, doubt and give up on that creation. Many artists will probably know what I mean when I say ‘it’s not really ‘me’ who did the work in the first place - it's more like it flowed through me.’ These words that are appearing on the screen right now; they aren’t so much coming from me as they are coming through me, pouring through my mind and, thanks to my deft fingers, are appearing onto the screen, about to be beamed across cyberspace. Where did they originate? Some unknown, mysterious, invisible force. Julia Cameron says that one of the key principles of creativity is that, as artists, it is our job to DO the work and not judge the work!

It would be disrespectful to both myself and the intangible creative force that collaborated with me on my novel to let it sit gathering dust. At least if I try every agent in the world and get rejected by all of them I’ll be able to know that I tried. And heck, if they don’t want to publish my book, then I’LL publish it. Again, it’s not going to be one of those ‘I need this to happen in order to be at peace/happy/fulfilled’. I can be that without getting published. Getting published is just a little extra, just something I want to do because I can; and because I have something I would like to share with the world. The world might like it or it might be indifferent, but either way I’ll have done my part.

So, I’m going to recommit to getting published. And why not? I’m going to try to take the personalisation out of it this time: for instance, my novel being rejected does not equal ME being rejected. It just means a certain someone doesn’t relate to it. They maybe prefer reading celebrity autobiographies. Fair play to them!

We’ll see how it plays out. Who knows, I might even go from hating and despising the whole process to actually finding it strangely fun. I guess stranger things have happened. It’s all in the attitude.

Monday, April 20, 2009

How do you know whether you should give up or keep fighting?

I’m at a crossroads. You see, I wrote a novel (yup, that's it above!). I have tried getting various agents to take it on. No luck. The last one, a friend’s agent, seemed very keen to take a look and I duly sent the entire novel, but two months on and there’s been not so much as a peep. Oh well, I tell myself, I wasn’t actually sure if she was experienced enough as an agent as I didn’t really know what her credentials were. But I’ve reached this place where I’ve been letting go of all my old beliefs and assumptions. I used to have this dream that I’d get my novel published, that it’d be a smash-hit bestseller and that the film studios would be queuing up to make a movie adaptation. And now? Well, that hasn’t materialised. I did my part; I spent years of my life creating, writing and endlessly re-writing what I felt was a more-than-decent novel, filled with twists and turns and an element of depth that I find sorely lacking from most contemporary art. Sadly, 'life' doesn’t seem to be doing its part! I created what I felt - and I don’t mean this in any egotistical, self-aggrandising way - was my gift to the world. It was my story, my vision, with every last ounce my heart and soul poured into it...and the world doesn’t appear to want it. Doesn’t care. Doesn’t matter.

Maybe it really doesn’t matter? I’ve seriously questioned my need to get it published at all now. I’ve let go of my elaborate dreams of bestselling status and glitzy film premieres. I’ve come to a point where I wonder whether the endless stream of rejection slips signify that my book is quite simply not good enough to publish. It’s perfectly possible. And yet, I can never really know that: no one can conclusively determine whether a piece of art, be it a painting, novel, short story or poem is ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Those are subjective judgements and ultimately amount to very little, unless of course like the masses you equate your personal opinions with gospel truth. The primary motivation of agents and publishers is to find something marketable and make as much £££ as possible. Although I tried to make my book as mainstream as I could given the subject matter, I am aware that it doesn’t tidily fit into a neat little pigeonhole; it doesn’t follow trends or take current styles into account. Why should it? I really don’t give damn about trends of current fads in contemporary literature. I’m one of those olde fashioned artists who really doesn’t care about commercial appeal or fitting into certain markets; I had an inner vision, a strong and vivid one and I wrote it as best I could without trying to water it down or tailor it to today’s market. Is this just excuse-making on my part? It has been suggested to me that the UK book market isn’t perhaps very conducive to the type of novel I’ve written and there might be something to that. Then again, it might just be a steaming pile of crap that I’ve written! I’m open to all angles at the moment.

Personally, I have a feeling within me that it’s NOT a steaming pile of crap. Thing is, whenever I reread I actually thoroughly enjoy it - and generally I don’t like reading over things I’ve written because I just tend to criticise every single sentence and the choice of every second word. But I really do get swept away by an engaging and fast-paced story and a character narrative that really compels me. The climax, although I might have written it differently had I done it today, moves and excites me and seems to transcend the normal boundaries of fiction.

So, my question now is really this: do I just accept that I’m not going to get it published, or do I redouble my efforts and give it one last concerted push?

I thoroughly despise sending out queries and whoring my work; I also feel that the initial sample chapters I send off (assuming they are read at all - I can sometimes tell when they aren’t!) aren’t that representative of the book as a whole, simply due to the nature of the story. Maybe I should just get over my dislike of doing this and FORCE myself to give it one last try and not simply fall into what I’ve been doing up til now; sending out 3-4 submissions, waiting for the reply and getting so discouraged when the inevitable rejection slips do arrive that I wait another 6 months til I send out the next batch, and so on.

I could always self-publish, which would give me complete creative control, although by nature I feel really uncomfortable with self-publicity and know I would struggle to get anyone to buy my book. (I would make the world's very worst salesman; even if I had a product I thought was good, my anti-capitalistic tendencies would no doubt cut in and I would lose all motivation to sell it)

Third option is just to give up. Let it go. Chalk it up to experience. And I am prepared now to give up my dream of being a writer. I held onto it tightly for so many years that it was almost a part of me; in reality, it almost seems as though life doesn’t want me to be a writer. If it did, surely it would be easier than it has been? (Then again - who said it would, or should be easy?) Maybe I should just write for myself - I have been toying with ideas for sequels and spin-offs to my novel and I enjoy exploring the various story possibilities. Maybe writing ought to be just a hobby for me. And yet, there’s a part of me wonders - what’s the point? If I can’t somehow put my ideas out there to help the world in some way, to bring just a little more beauty, or inspiration (as I try to do with my every artistic endeavour), then why bother at all?

I really don’t know. When you have ME and everyday is a struggle to get through the basics, you have very little energy left for fighting crusades. I have virtually no fight left. And yet, a little something in me really feels that this particular dream might be worth fighting for. I don’t need to achieve it in order to be happy; I no longer buy into that reasoning (you know, “I need X to happen before I can be happy and at peace”). I can be happy and at peace wherever I am. It’s more like an inner call; I don’t want to share my art out of vanity (personally I’m more comfortable not sharing what I do, particularly if it’s at all of a personal nature and I do put a lot of myself into whatever I do - and then, accordingly want to hide it away). It’s more a feeling that I have something to contribute. So much art out there is soulless and ugly. Maybe contributing something which I know has heart and beauty in it (at least I think it does) is a worthy endeavour.

By the end of this week I will try and come to a decision as to whether I give up or persevere with getting published.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Make the dream sweet - or wake up

There has been a lot of stuff going through my mind lately. Thankfully I’ve learned not to take all of it seriously or give undue importance to the joys of what I’ve unceremoniously labelled ‘mindcrap’. Much of it is complete baloney, and yet unfortunately most people - myself included at times - treat it with the utmost seriousness. Some people even end up worshipping their mindcrap. What’s your religion? Why it’s the thoughts and beliefs in my head. Uh huh. But It’s really not funny. It’s the cause of so much misery on this planet.

I was listening to an interview with Zen/Advaita teacher Adyashanti, who spoke very eloquently of what 'enlightenment' or 'awakening' truly is. Basically, the way he defined it was simply as seeing things as they really opposed to seeing things as we THINK they are. Most people live their lives with a mental commentary running in their heads. Every single experience, individual, occurence and situation is thereby filtered through a screen of mind; processed through a filter of our thoughts, beliefs and prejudices. Every experience of ‘reality’ is in fact quickly and neatly packaged into a story in our minds. We so rarely experience ‘reality’ as it is; instead we’re stuck in our interpretation, our story of what we THINK reality is.

The example he gave was if someone says something that we don’t like; our reality becomes “that person shouldn’t have said that”. We take THAT to be reality; when in fact, that’s simply a story we’ve spun in our minds. The reality was, simply (and it always is so much more simple than we make it) - that the person said such-and-such. Doesn’t really matter whether or not we liked what they had to say; that’s merely subjective interpretation. What is, I guess, IS. We have an in-built spin doctor living in a portion of our brain that is perpetually taking our experience and turning it into little stories and narratives and what’s ‘good’, what’s ‘bad’, what ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’ be happening...and we tend to utterly fall for that and see it as ‘reality’ when in fact it’s merely a phantasm, an illusion of mind that filters our perception of reality.

Is there then some truth in the ancient notion that everything we believe to be 'reality', is in fact just a dream? From what I hear, some quantum physicists actually purport that 'reality' is entirely dependent upon our perception of it; in other words, if we're not there to perceive it, then it no longer exists...that without our brain processing the information in a certain way, then it's all basically just quantum soup - patterns of energy and information with no inherent realness of its own. A possible implication is that with our minds, we create the world as we perceive it, in much the same way as dreams exists. It seems real to us while we're perceiving it, but ultimately we come to realise that it's simply just a dream.

Do you want to take the red pill or the blue pill?!

Now, I don’t suppose it matters a great deal if it's a positive, happy dream - and it will be if your mind-stories (the narrative and beliefs which drive your experience or reality) are of a positive and healthy nature. No one wants to be woken from a pleasant dream. If it works for you and you are happy, then that's wonderful. Positive people are much better to be around than negative people (unless, of course you’re a negative person in which case you probably find it mightily uncomfortable to be around people that don’t share your negative outlook).

If it’s an unhappy dream you're experiencing, then maybe you do want to wake up (unless of course, you’re addicted to the unhappiness, as many people unconsciously are - but that's another story altogether). That’s when you start looking at your mind-stories (“life is terrible and everybody hates me”) and question them. Dissect them. Tear it apart and see if this belief - this religion around which you base your entire experience of life - actually has ANY inherent truth in it. At first you’ll be convinced it does. As Byron Katie said, and I think this is as apt a desciption I’ve ever heard of mind:

“The mind’s job is to validate what it believes.”

You can see that anywhere; if someone really believes something then they’ll filter every aspect of their experience in order to validate those beliefs. When our outer experience doesn’t match up with our inner ‘map’ of reality, the result is psychological stress or what I believe is termed ‘cognitive dissonance’. It’s uncomfortable so we choose to tune out any experience that contradicts our deeply held ‘schema’ (or mental map of reality). Like the person who is convinced that everyone hates him - he might get ten compliments in a day, but he’ll filter those out and use the one negative comment he gets to validate and justify his belief that people hate him. That person isn’t going to change his experience of reality until he questions his underlying belief system. If the operating system has bugs or faulty programming in it, everything's going to be affected!

Waking up to reality is realising that the screen of beliefs and mind-stories with which we interpret, understand and relate to reality are illusory, fabricated and possess none of the inherent solidity or ‘realness’ we assume them to have. None!

I’m guessing most people aren’t ready to completely ditch all their belief structures. I’ve had a taste of that lately - and its disorienting, disillusioning, sometimes painful but at the same time very liberating. It’s not for the faint of heart.

For those that aren’t really committed to this thing called ‘awakening’, then it’s probably best simply to dream better. By that I mean, if your dream of reality (your beliefs, filters and mental maps) is negative and is causing you or others to suffer, then for goodness sake switch it to something more positive. It can be done - and it can be done quite easily. This is a revolutionary concept to many, who erroneously believe that what they believe is static and unchangeable, and that they are in essence a victim to this.

In reality, the mind is fluidic; and our thoughts and beliefs, no matter how solid and ‘real’ they seem to us are merely like clouds passing across the open expanse of sky that is mind. The problem comes when we forget that we are the sky and instead identify with the clouds; which is fine when the clouds are light and fluffy but not so good when they are dark, dense, stormy and violent. If you’re stuck with stormy clouds, then switch them to lighter, fluffier clouds; ones that don’t obscure the sunlight. And if you’re really really eager to get to the truth of reality, then ditch your identification with clouds altogether; realise that you are the essence, not the content. Clouds will still appear, just like shadows will always trail you on a sunny day. Clouds and shadows aren’t the problem; identifying your sense of ‘self’ with them is.

Long long story short: even when you no longer ‘fall’ for the content of mind (the mind-crap, stories and erroneous beliefs), mind has a certain momentum and will still continue to regurgitate all the old conditioned crap for, well, as long as it does. Imagine an experience of reality totally free of mental interference, with no labels such as ‘sky’, ‘tree’, ‘sun’, ‘grass’ to distance yourself from pure experience of what is. That’s something I really strive for. Its not so much about getting rid of mind - mind serves some very useful functions, clearly - as it is simply getting back in touch with the experience of BEING. Getting out of relating to life in conceptual ways, and simply being free to purely, intimately experience the totality of what is, now. Or as a definition of Zen simply, beautifully states; all life is about is - JUST THIS, NOW.

My mantra. It completely gets me out of mindcrap and back in touch with what is....


I hope those pointers mean something to you. Equally, they might be meaningless - but that kind of proves a point; something is only as meaningful to the extent that the mind and your mind-stories and mental map of reality make it meaningful. Remember - the mind’s job is to validate what it believes. Basically, my entire point is this - if your beliefs are good for you, that’s fine. If they’re bad, change them. And if you’re really, really curious, ditch all of them altogether. It’s scary but wondrous when you start to believe nothing, least of all your own thoughts...........

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Say yes to the mess

So what do you do when all your 'stuff' comes rising to the surface. You know the 'stuff' I'm talking about: the fears, irritations, resentments, grievances and assorted neuroses that tend to clog up the sink (the sink being our minds and psyche). What do you do when it all comes rising to the surface? We live in a culture that, for all its incredible technological sophistication, is almost completely emotionally retarded. We're simply not taught how to deal with our negative emotions and pain and the various mental/emotional disturbances that inevitably arise in the course of our lives. Is it any wonder so many people turn to what I like to call the weapons of mass distraction (a term originally from Tony Blair: he once accidentally referred to Iraq's supposed weapons of mass destruction as 'weapons of mass distraction' - a Freudian slip if ever there was! I liked the term and have kept it!) The weapons of mass distraction (basically the things we use to distract ourselves from our pain) are alcohol, drugs, television, internet/computers, mindless chatter and bitching. There are probably others, but those are among the main culprits. We use them to distract ourselves from what we're really feeling, to numb ourselves out. Not that any are necessarily inherently bad in themselves, but when we're using them to paper over the cracks rather than confronting the underlying problems, we become a society of mindless, lobotomised, emotionally deadened desensitised zombies. Harsh indictment, I know. But nonetheless I feel its true.

Our 'stuff' comes up, rises to the surface - all our blocks, fears and issues - in order to be dealt with and healed, not to be drowned out and suppressed by mindless aversion. Right now there's a lot of it going on - on individual and collective's a process of healing. We can no longer ignore what's happening or deny the issues that are coming up for us. we have to confront it. Accept it. Heal it. And let it go. And then be prepared, because just as you've gotten over one thing, another deluge of mental/emotional sludge will spew out! It ALL has to be dealt with - ALL OF IT! - and it takes as long as it takes.

Question is - HOW? You've acknowledged that all your fears and self-sabotaging beliefs are rising up to the light of consciousness. First of all, you just hold them in you awareness (awareness really is half the battle - because until you are aware and make this stuff conscious, you'll unconsciously be living it out and accepting all these toxic fears and beliefs as being 'real'). Then commit to working with it rather than distracting yourself from it.

The process of dealing with it is surprisingly simple (but that doesn't necessarily means it's 'easy' or comfortable). With the emotional stuff, you simply sit with it. Practise the art of mindfulness: just observe your emotion, allow yourself to fully FEEL it, without letting yourself get carried away by all the mental stories as to WHY you think you're feeling it ("he shouldn't have spoken to me like that"). Just accept it. Bring your full attention to it. Treat the emotion like you'd treat a crying baby - it's distressed, upset, so bring your nurturing attention to it. Eventually you'll find that, by bringing acceptance and loving attention to emotional pain, it will begin to dissolve and transmute. It might take a long time or it might only take 2 minutes. Stick with it. For more advice, I strongly recommend you read Eckhart Tolle's books 'The Power of Now' and 'A New Earth' (these books ought to be compulsory reading for EVERYONE). It's a cliche to say 'this book changed my life'...but it did for me and may well for you, too.

With the mental stuff, the negative thoughts or beliefs (which is basically ANY thought or belief that brings you or others suffering in any way) take them and QUESTION THEM. Stop taking your thoughts so Goddamn seriously! For this I strongly recommend you check out the Work of Byron Katie - a four step process of questioning your thoughts. Read her book 'Loving What Is' or simply check out her website ( - it has all you need). It's the simplest, most powerful way I know of stripping away negative thoughts and beliefs. Above all, you've got to OWN your negative thoughts and emotions. Stop projecting onto the world. Resist the tendency to buy into the old illusion that "it's this person/situation that is causing me to feel bad". NO, IT'S NOT! It's YOUR THOUGHTS about this person/situation that is causing you to feel bad. Fact. The world is what it is. We can't really change it, at least not much. Thoughts, however, are as transient as clouds, even though they often appear real and solid. And they can be changed - more easily than you might think. Own your thoughts, fears, interpretations, beliefs - if they work for you, keep them. If they are causing you to suffer, it's time to seriously re-evaluate them...

In times when all kinds of 'bad stuff' comes exploding to the surface, I've learned that the very worst thing you can do is resist it, judge it or think it 'shouldn't' be happening. Resist nothing. Let it all happen. Let it be as it is. Accepting and loving the shadows - as well as examining them deeply and realising that they aren't real - eventually dispels them, or at least makes them seem so much less threatening.

I saw a quote in a book a while back that made me laugh. I find it quite relevant for these times; "say yes to the mess!"

I hope this is of some help to someone, somewhere, sometime. I've been having a fair deal of 'stuff' coming to the surface and this is how I deal with it. Weapons of mass distraction simply don't work for me, and I'm kind of glad. I'd rather face my 'stuff' head on and heal it. It's all gradually diminishing...sure, more always tends to come up, but I know how to deal with it. Hope this helps you too!

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Creativity - rejection, self doubt and bullet proof vests

Still ploughing my way through the Artist’s Way - I'm a bit behind on my reading and tasks this week, but am totally addicted to my trusty morning pages (so therapeutic, I can’t recommend them enough - I’m sure if more people did them the world would be a notably less psychotic place than it is). But as I’ve felt my creative channel gradually opening up, rather like the buds that are upon the trees right now - gradually getting ready to release their spring bloom, with just a little more warmth and sunlight - I’ve been thinking about getting back to writing. It’s been a couple of years believe it or not since I declared my novel ‘finito’, even though I’ve gone back to re-draft and re-write it a few times since. But it’s been too long since I let myself properly write....and I miss it. It’s like a part of myself has been left to wither on the vine. But now spring has arrived, I’m ready to write again - simply because it’s part of my nature.

I realise now that part of my creative block is down to the ruthless and absolutely cruel way I torture myself with layers upon layer of merciless self doubt and self flagellation. Whereas sometimes I feel quite content with my writing ability, more often than not my ‘inner critic’ (he’s a total bastard, I have to say - if you knew this guy as a person, safe to say you’d despise him) convinces me that I’m actually rather pants...that my style is weak, disjointed and devoid of inspiration. My evidence? Well, I compare myself to the greatest literary geniuses ever to live. Of course I’m going to fall short when I compare my writing to that of William Shakespeare. And I do - I did so just the other day. I read a quote from Shakespeare and marvelled at the sheer beauty with which he managed to take words and use them to create such heart-stopping works of art. To be honest, I don’t always know exactly what he’s talking about - I remember reading the part of Romeo in high school English class and struggling with three page monologues in which I had absolutely no idea WHAT I was saying...but even then I was astonished at the richness and inspired beauty of his words, whatever the hell they meant. Next to him, I’m little more than a four year old learning how to spell his own name - and getting half the letters the wrong way round. But then the same could be said for many contemporary authors, I guess. Poetic flourish isn’t something that’s necessarily appreciated in today’s literature. In fact, it’s probably frowned upon. So forget Shakespeare, all I need to do is take my ideas and make them into readable prose. It doesn’t have to be genius...holding myself to such impossibly high standards is just creative suicide.

So, the inner critic has to be silenced! His input is only needed when proofreading and determining whether a sentence sounds right or not (and even then he tends to turn constructive criticism into crippling wretchedness: “see, you can’t even structure a sentence - you’re a complete waste of space, why kid yourself?”). I guess everyone has this inner critic: it’s not limited to artistic types. And I believe it’s part of the egoic structure. It’s deeply rooted in fear as opposed to the expansiveness and openness of our true nature, the essential Self. I also believe it’s a defence mechanism, related to our ego’s inherent fear of rejection. Once upon a time, questioning why I was always so down on myself I realised that it was based upon the dubious notion that “if I beat myself up, it would save other people having to do it”. In other words, in order to avoid the feared rejection of other people, I first rejected myself. That’s a totally self-destructive pathology, but it’s one I’m sure many are familiar with. Recognise it...and root it out. Just being aware of it and realising how daft it is is probably enough....But you have to be AWARE and conscious of it; slip back into unconscious mode and this kind of programming will quickly kick into gear and rule your life again.

I can see how this whole rejection fear has crippled my creativity. It’s the reason I rarely do anything with my paintings; the moment they're done I just tend to stuff them into a drawer. That way, I figure, no one can criticise or judge them. Unfortunately this defeats the purpose of art; art is to be shared. My objective in writing, painting, making music is to bring an inner inspiration - that which is formless - into form. I don’t just create for the sake it it and I don’t even create art just to express emotion any more (I used to - and still have some rather bleak, ugly paintings and horrendously depressing poems created during depressive times)...there is a time and place for that, but ultimately such work doesn't add anything particularly worthwhile to the world. I have a higher vision now. I create art that I feel has a certain quality, a vibration, a level of consciousness (hard to put into words, actually) that I feel the world needs. I endeavour to bring the beauty of the formless into form. It is my intention that my art will bring more light, more inspiration, more beauty into a world that desperately needs it. In my opinion there’s too much ugly, soulless, ego-derived art out there in every medium: music, literature, visual art, films, TV. Art that is hollow, soulless and not created with a particularly high level of consciousness or intent simply can’t have a very positive affect on those that ‘consume’ it: a world filled with hollow, soulless art creates a world filled with hollow, soulless, people.

I’m rediscovering why my contribution is important. Why my book and my weird spacy paintings and the album I’ve finally finished creating after 4 years of work have relevance. There’s still the tendency to stuff them away in a drawer and forget about them, but that’s a disservice. I just realised that I’m running the risk of sounding grandiose (and a bit mental in fact) with this post, but it’s just I’m coming to the realisation that my work has relevance, and deserves to be shared - and it’s maybe even important that I do so. I’m not so deluded as to think that my book can change the world, but if it can uplift just one person’s thinking, or open them to thinking about life in a slightly different way then it’s worth it getting it out there.

I just don’t quite know how. I hate, hate HATE sending submissions out to agents. Rejection slips hurt. Each time they burn and blister, regardless of how much you rationalise it. So now I have a negative association with sending out sample chapters: in the same way that if you burn yourself by touching a hot plate once, you have a deep almost bodily aversion to ever touching it again. I now despise sending out submissions to agents. Each time it’s like, as Tolkien said when he sent out Lord of the Rings to various publishers “I have exposed my heart to be shot at”. There must be an easier way. Or maybe I’ve just got to put on a bullet proof vest and keep persevering....

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Let everything end

The following is by Adyashanti whose work I have found powerful, profound, challenging and transformational...I will speak more about him in time to come. I'm too tired to write anything myself, but these words not only washed over me like healing balm but also helped me wake up out of the trance of mind for a moment of lucidity, fleeting or otherwise. In simple terms he's saying, JUST STOP. STOP AND BE.

"In order to discover the perspective of liberation, which alone transcends this entire movement of ignorance and suffering, one needs to let everything end. "Letting everything end" means to stand in the moment completely naked of attachment to any and all ideas, concepts, hopes, preferences, and experiences. Simply put, it means to stop strategizing, controlling, manipulating, and running away from yourself--and to simply be. Finally you must let everything end and be still.

In letting everything end, all seeking and striving stops. All effort to be someone or to find some extraordinary state of being ceases. This ceasing is essential. It is true spiritual maturity. By ceasing to follow the mind's tendency to always want more, different, or better, one encounters the opportunity to be still. In being still, a perspective is revealed which is free from all ignorance and bondage to suffering. From that perspective, eternal Self is realized. The eternal Self, the Seer, is recognized to be one's true nature, one's very own Self.

This is an invitation to let all seeking end, all striving end, all efforting end, all past identity end, all hopes end, and to discover That which has no beginning or end. This is an invitation to discover the eternal, unborn, undying Truth of being. The Truth of your being, your own Self. Let the entire movement of becoming end, and discover That which has always been present at the core of your being." (Adyashanti)

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Some dog pics

This has become a rather picture-less blog, which isn't great for an artistic guy who really loves working here are some pics I took of my dogs the other day while we were enjoying a mini-heatwave.

The pair of them must take after me: "do I REALLY have to get up now??"

Now the fun really begins. That's my knee in frame at the bottom there in case you were wondering. Normally when I start taking pictures Jamie (my white-bearded friend at the forefront) starts barking profusely. He's very camera shy. But I'm being very subtle and sly here, and he's lulled into a false sense of security (plus I'm using my iPhone to take the pics and not an actual camera - that would be too much of a giveaway)

"OK, NOW you're talking!"

2 dogs + 1 ball = recipe for squabbling! Unfortunately it doesn't matter what ball Millie has, the only one she wants is the one Jamie has. I sometimes swear that dogs have a bit of human ego about them. Maybe they've just spent too much time around humans...

Creative unblocking

I have been working my way through 'The Artist's Way' by Julia Cameron, which is a coursebook designed to unblock and unlock creativity and is designed to help all kinds of artists, from writers and poets to painters, dancers and designers. More than that, I feel it's a book that would benefit just about anyone - specifically those seeking to explore their creativity - and despite the fact that some people tell themselves they're simply "not creative", I believe that's just mindcrap (incidentally, I so want to patent that word!). We all have creative impulses whether or not we recognise them. Creativity can be used in so many different mediums and outlets and can be used to enhance and enliven just about every aspect of our lives.

Anyway, 'The Artist's Way' is a 12 week course comprised of essays to read, tasks to undertake and it also requires you to use two tools in particular that are designed to really set your creative fire alight: Morning Pages and Artist's Date.

Morning Pages sound deceptively simple but I've found them extremely beneficial and I would in fact recommend them to anyone at all, whether they're interested in creativity or not. The premise is simple: write 3 pages of stream-of-consciousness thoughts every morning. The point is not to write art, but simply to get whatever is on your mind onto paper; you write quickly, without censure. There's no wrong way to write these, so long as you commit to writing the full 3 pages and just splashing down whatever thoughts come to your mind. It's a tremendously therapeutic and liberating practise, aptly nick-named the "brain drain" because that's precisely what it does. The Morning Pages can be used to mull over difficult issues, problems, neuroses, hopes and fears, petty grievances, or perhaps to express your delight about anything great that's happening in your life, or even to write your shopping list. It's the simple act of discipline that seems to help fire up the creative juices, and I've noticed a great creative unblocking occurring simply through the act of doing this practise. Again, it has an enormous therapeutic, unburdening effect so I'd recommend it to anyone.

The other basic tool of the Artist's Way program is what Cameron calls 'artist dates'. This is a once-weekly diversion in which you do anything that excites and interests you, more often than not it's something frivolous and dumb, but it's meant to serve the function of inspiring your 'inner artist' and filling up the artistic well with fresh ideas, spontaneity and fun. Whereas I'm addicted to Morning Pages now and actually look forward to doing them, I'm finding the Artist Date more of a challenge - partly due to the fact I rarely have the energy to do very much of interest and partly because I simply haven't grasped the necessary touch of frivolity yet. But I'm working on it and definitely see the value in re-filling the well of creativity and inspiration.

I like the holistic, spiritual approach Cameron takes in the course. She speaks of how we were created by a universal Creative Force (she uses the word "God" a lot, a word I actually now copiously dislike, but she doesn't use it in a dogmatic way at all) and that our very nature is creativity. Using our creativity can be seen as a way of giving something back to that creative force. The essays and exercises deal a lot with overcoming our inner obstacles such as self-doubt, self sabotage and fear...which are the heinous trinity that have long eaten away at my creativity like an insidious poison.

Anyway, I'm not at week 6 and progressing nicely. I recommend the book for any artist that's struggling with inner blocks and for anyone who's interested in exploring their creative potential but are held back by fears and doubt. Approach the book with an open mind, an open heart and a willingness to explore and discovery. You don't have to automatically agree with everything she says, just be willing to listen and take from it what works for you. You might be surprised...

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Beyond mind - into awareness


Self enquiry, don't you just love it? Before I might have been able to answer that with a rattling off of statistics (name, age, nationality, gender, geographical location) along with an assortment of mindstuff (I think this, I believe that, I want this, I like that, I don't like this) and I'd maybe even through in a few memories to give a little more cohesion and substance. Et voila - "me"!

But I don't buy that anymore. That "me" is just a collection of interchangable mental content. Nothing solid, nothing concrete, nothing that has any inherent existence or realness. Much like you could start describing your car; you can name it, give me all sorts of information about it and what it does, has done or can do...but there's ultimately no inherent realness to it! What you label a "car" and assume IS a "car" simply because that's what you've labelled it is in reality just a collection of various parts; metals, nuts and bolts, glass, fabric, mechanics. It's the same with people...and I don't mean that in a reductionist and nihilistic way at all. Clearly we have bodies and we have consciousness....but beyond that, when it comes to this notion of personal identity.....IT'S ALL JUST A MENTAL FABRICATION. Just like the car, we label it with a name and collect an assortment of facts and statistics and think we know what it is.

This is going pretty deep. I'll understand if you want to bail out. For many people losing the sense of ego, of personal identity is a terrifying prospect. But ultimately it's the only real way to be free. If you're ready to shed your illusions then you'll be open to what I say next. If not, if you're quite happy to remain in the dream, then that's fine - sweet dreams. Usually it's not until the dream becomes painful (and it inevitably will) that you really have the impetus to wake up. For instance, have you ever been having a nightmare and you suddenly realise it's a nightmare and you desperately try to will yourself to wake up?! Been there, done that, wearing the t-shirt. I haven't fully woken up, but the more I practise the more I'm getting a glimpse of the twilight state between sleep and wakefulness. And it's delicious, liberating and freeing beyond all previous imagination. And I want to share it with anyone that is open to it.

The more I delve into nondualism the more I’m realising (for the first time actually FEELING) that ‘I’, ‘myself’, this ego entity is hollow, unreal, a mirage, a phantom, an illusion. A chimera. There’s nothing there. So why big it up? Why seek to bolster the ego and solidify it and add to it when...its just a shadow? The real ‘me,’ is pure awareness, is just this sense of beingness; devoid of all identity, devoid of characteristics and personality and even individual likes and dislikes. It’s the screen against which all the projections of the mind manifest - the projections of thoughts and beliefs, likes and dislikes, all conceptualisations of any kind. It’s the only reality....and its this immense, spacious void-like immensity is completely impersonal, almost like the sky or the heavens at night. Objects appear in it; clouds or stars or planetary bodies...but it’s beyond and ultimately quite detached from whatever appears in its vicinity. It’s the space in which all forms appear and disappear. It’s the ‘emptiness’ that Buddhists speak of...I never understood that before, but I do now - moreover I’m experiencing it. Eckhart Tolle speaks of it as ‘space consciousness’....again, it’s not something you can really understand with the mind because it’s beyond mind. It’s the space in which the mind manifests its thoughts. Compared to the mind - finite, quite small and ultimately very limited, the background of spaciousness - this awareness that is at the core of our being - is unbounded and limitless and free. Whereas the mind attaches to concepts and thoughts and beliefs and all manner of conceptualisation, the spacious awareness is free of those.

Albert Camus once said, and I really love this quote: “Gazing up at the stars, for the first time, the first, I laid my heart open to the benign indifference of the universe.”

And when you step beyond mind into awareness that’s exactly what our true nature, the which lies at the core of our ‘beingness’ feels like: a gentle, vast, incomparable benign indifference. The sky doesn’t really mind what kind of cloud formations there are, what shape or consistency they take or whether or not they offer rain or thunder. The sky just allows it all and lets it happen, without judgement or intervention or manipulation or creating any sense of personalisation. That’s exactly what it feels like when you access and tap into the level of pure awareness that lies beneath mindstuff, beneath emotion and sensation, beneath the many layers of sediment of beliefs, memories, prejudices and conceptualisation that forms our perception of ourselves and the world around us.

We create little identities out of this sediment, little selves or ‘egos’. I knew all this stuff intellectually before but now I can actually sense the reality of it for myself. There’s nothing inherently wrong with these egos, they just are as they are. The problems begin however when we give them a solidity and realness they don’t possess, when we identify exclusively with them and believe that our egos are the real and only ‘us’. That’s like continually looking behind you, seeing only your shadow and thinking your shadow is ‘you’. Some spiritual traditions see the ego as the enemy and something we have to battle and rid yourself of....but in reality you don’t need to. What’s the point in battling your shadow? No matter how hard you try you can’t make it cease to be. All you need to do is simply recognise that your shadow is not you and that in itself it has no inherent existence; its an illusion of the phenomenal world and has no substance. When you really understand that, you cease to identify with it. You cease to take your own thoughts and opinions and beliefs as seriously, because they too are like shadows, or clouds passing across the sky (going back to the metaphor of the sky as being like the nature of your true ‘self’ or core awareness). When you get a glimpse into the ‘unreality’ and lack of solidity or inherent realness of the egoic structure and all these notions of identity based upon thoughts and beliefs and let it go. You let go of ‘your story’, the story of who you think you are, who you think others are and what you think the world is about. Thoughts cease to be the buffer between your direct awareness and your peception of reality. You can then become more in touch with life, with the reality with what IS, than ever before...when you don’t buy into your thoughts about a thing, you are free to see and experience that thing as it IS, whereas previously you experienced it only through the filter of what you thought it was...

The best way to get a glimpse of this expanded awareness, and the loosening of all mental constructs is to practise meditation. Many people who have meditated will perhaps have at least some idea of what I’m talking about. Words are really insufficient to describe the indescribable, to put what is essentially formless into form by virtue of language. If you have never tasted the experience of going beyond mind into the stillness of pure awareness, then you’ll probably not ‘get’ a word of what I’ve just said. It’ll be meaningless, confusing and probably insane-sounding. In future entries I will take more about going how to achieve expanded awareness and go beyond the mind. As the Buddhists say, ‘the mind is a wonderful servant but a terrible master’. The vast majority of the human race are trapped in the prison of mind, hostage to layers upon layers of dense and sticky mindstuff. Life is perceived only through the filter of mind. This is the cause of virtually all suffering on the planet. This is the reason all wars are fought and all conflict arises: my thoughts (which I am totally identified with and which I think comprise ‘me’) are contrary to your thoughts (which comprise ‘you’). Deep down of course we know that our thoughts and identity are hollow and that's why we then have an unconscious compulsion solidify our sense of self and sadly most people do that by attacking and making enemies of those we deem to have opposing senses of self. But none of it’s real. A question that Byron Katie often poses is: ‘who would you be without your story?’ That’s a great one to reflect on. The short answer can be summed up in one word: “free”.

I share this with everyone because I came to realise long ago that the solution to the world’s problems won’t be found in better or greater technology or in more scientific advances (observe: despite all the miraculous technological advancements of the last 100 years, wars are still being fought and millions are still starving on the planet). Einstein observed that a problem can never be solved with the level of consciousness that created it. Ergo, the only way out of our problems is a shift in consciousness. I believe that the real exploration of the 21st century won’t be technology or anything outside of ourselves; it will occur within each individual and it will be a journey of consciousness.

Finally please take note that all of these words, all of what I've just said are akin to a finger pointing at the moon. Don’t get too caught up in the finger itself; just try to focus on the direction in which it points.