Thursday, May 21, 2009

Two worlds

I feel very much like I’m at a crossroads. It almost feels as though I stuck between two worlds (and I’m talking subjective, abstract worlds here!). I have a foot in both worlds but I don’t permanently reside in either; I’m just stuck between the two in a state of constant flux and it’s extremely uncomfortable, confusing and disorienting. I know it’s time to stop trying to reconcile these two separate worlds - being caught between the two is actually quite painful and unhealthy. The word ‘stress’ actually means being pulled in two or more different directions...and I get that, really I do. I know I have to make a choice now as to which world I’m going to step into and permanently reside in. The question is; which one? I think one of these worlds is the world of duality; “the world” as most people perceive and experience it. It’s the world of getting ahead, forging your way, caring a little too much about what other people think of you and basing all your actions and choices upon this ‘presentation of self’. It’s the ‘worldly world’, the rat race, the ego’s top choice...because it’s all really about ego - ego management, ego enhancement, ego damage limitation. The other world is a much more subjective and individualistic realm; it’s the realm of following your heart and daring to do what you really KNOW to be true deep within you. Contrary to the other world, the prerequisite for entering this world is to leave your ego at the door. It’s necessary to let go of all concern of what ‘others’ think, and to fearlessly, relentlessly follow your own path regardless of all criticism, judgement and misunderstanding that might be thrown in your direction. It’s the scarier path to take in some ways, as we all have an innate ‘need’ to be validated and approved of by others. But, I keep asking myself - at what cost? To paraphrase a very famous quote: ‘what does it profit you to gain the approval of the world when you’ve lost your own soul?’

Most people, in the grips of their ego, base their every action upon the perceived reactions of others. This unconscious need to be validated and approved of drives so many people’s every action....unbridled people pleasing on a grand scale. I love Byron Katie’s book “I Need Your Love - Is That True?” In it, she gets us to question some of the underlying assumptions we unconsciously carry with us, assumptions which render our lives little more than continued and insipid attempts at mass people-pleasing. For some people it’s actually like a religion. But do we really need everyone - or as many people as possible - to approve of our every action? Can we absolutely KNOW that we need that? Are the opinions of faceless strangers really more important than following what we, ourselves, know to be true? Katie relates an amusing story about a woman who bought a magazine and then left it in the waiting room at her doctors surgery. The woman knew she wanted to go back to get the magazine, but she got all flustered and rehearsed and delivered a speech just so everyone else in the waiting room - none of whom she actually knew - would know she wasn’t stealing the magazine. Because the opinions of strangers are just so darned important!

I laughed at the story but could recognise all the ways in which I’ve given the opinions of others (or my PERCEPTIONS of what their opinions might be) so much credence that I couldn’t sleep at night. It’s crazy actually - particularly when I suddenly realised that I DIDN’T “need” other people to approve of me. Sure, it’s nice to feel approved of, but it’s not a necessity in life and besides, no matter how much energy and effort you expend, there will always be people that don’t approve of you. I should have learned that by now. In fact, being gay is a tremendous lesson in letting go of the need to have absolutely everyone understand and approve of you, because no matter how hard you try to be a wonderful person, there are sadly many very unconscious and bigoted people out there that will automatically disapprove of, and even hate you. Not because of you per se, but simply because of this dehumanised label and concept they automatically have of you. Besides, it’s sad that a great many people don’t have clear vision; their experience of reality is clouded and filtered by a great deal of erroneous and downright toxic mindstuff. Desperately seeking the approval of people that are actually very mentally dysfunctional itself very mentally dysfunctional.

“Be true to yourself”, goes the cliched - but very salient - saying. Because being true to anyone else is actually quite impossible.

So how does this relate to my crossroads between worlds? Well, basically I’m feeling that in one world I can live after the world’s opinion, as I have done in the past for very many years. I can try to do and be what I think ‘others’ think I should do and be. I can try to make myself as ‘cool’ as possible, as ‘successful’ as possible and I can try to create and project the ‘ideal me’ as I would like the world to see it. But the more and more I think about that option the more it seems hollow, vacuous and totally unfulfilling. It’s how a great many people live their lives (and I mean that with absolutely no judgement, for a lot of the time it’s a very unconscious motivation). The other world, to which my heart really calls me, is one in which I really don’t give two hoots what “the world” thinks of me. In this world, I just follow my heart. I do what feels right to me and what I feel called to do without the need to ‘spin doctor’ everything. I can really do and be what I feel I was born to do and be: I can be a crazy artist, an inspired writer, a natural-born mystic. I don’t have to subscribe to the ‘general consensus’ of “what goes” and I’m not bound by the hegemonic notions of “the way things are”. Hah, I realise that I already inhabit this world on a part-time basis anyway. But I feel I have to inhabit it fully and unapologetically. By virtue of keeping a foothold in the other world (perhaps “the road more travelled”), I’m still filled too much with fears about how I appear to others and what people would think if they really got to know the ‘real me’. So what if more ‘normal’ people think I’m a nutcase? I’d actually like to give myself permission to be a nutcase if that's what I feel like being.

The old world of ‘normalcy’ or ‘averageness’ has lost its appeal. If I stay there I’d lose all inspiration and drown out the voice of my art would dry up and all these ideas I have for bright, bold paintings and all the books I want to write would scatter in the wind. I’d be too busy trying to fit in and be like everyone else - and that, I know from experience, uses up a heck of a lot of energy - in order to pursue my creative dreams. I know to which world my heart is calling perhaps it’s time to move out of the crossroads and go where I need to be going. Which is really just to ditch all concerns and fears about what others think, and to just unapologetically be what, in my deepest heart, I truly want to be.

Maybe you’d care to take this journey with me??

Friday, May 15, 2009

Why my life (and yours) is only RELATIVELY important!

I kind of like watching old films or TV shows that were made way before I was born. As I’m watching, I realise that I’m seeing a world that existed before I was born and, although I am the locus of my own little world - the centre of the universe as I perceive it - it’s really rather humbling to see that, shock and horror, the world, the universe - and life itself - really did just fine before I shuffled onto this mortal coil. The trees still grew, the sun still shone, the seasons still progressed in their cyclic rhythm and people still lived and loved and ate and sleep and endured all their own particular joys and sorrows. In short, the world did just fine without me - and I have no doubt that once the journey I’m on here ends it will continue to do just fine.

This might sound quite obvious to you, but if you think about it, it’s quite an important realisation. Each of us is the centre of our own particular universe and all too often we get unconsiously inflated with our own importance. Our problems, our difficulties, our fears and opinions, likes and dislikes, hopes and dreams are endowed with an ABSOLUTE IMPORTANCE that, in reality, they simply don’t possess. We take ourselves, our thoughts, our beliefs and our determination to manipulate the outer world in a way that makes brings it in line with our personal preferences so very very seriously.

It's one of those things that is sometimes easier to see in others than in ourselves. I'm sure you've encountered many people who take themselves and 'their lives’ so very seriously that they base their every waking moment under the delusion that the world will spin off its axis if they don’t get their way, if they can’t resolve their particular difficulties or make life conform to what they think it should be? Living life with this intensity and seriousness, always struggling and striving and viewing your internal map of reality as being ABSOLUTE truth rather than merely subjective truth...well, it can’t be good for your health, can it? And surely it also strips the joy out of life? When we’re so busy trying to make things happen, trying to force life, the world and others to be what we think they ‘should’ be, we miss what life actually is. Go out for a walk somewhere - anywhere. I guarantee you that you'll see lots of people that are walking about, present in body but absent in mind. You can just tell by looking at these people that their minds are completely elsewhere, no doubt worrying about various problems and constructing mental scenarios and re-running arguments in their heads. And it doesn’t matter how beautiful a day it is, or how gorgeous the scenery; that person isn’t taking in any of it. They are too busy worrying about their ‘life’ that...well, they’re completely missing life!

I guess what I’m saying is that we all need to lighten up. We tread so heavily upon the earth, always wrapped up in our mindstuff (or ‘mindcrap’ as I often prefer to term it), totally believing that our thoughts and difficulties have the utmost importance and the universe will abruptly implode on itself if we can’t get things to work out the way we think they should. We struggle and fight against life, always trying to make it adhere to our own opinion of how it should be, unconsciously believing that our mental conceptions of reality and our fears and hopes have an ABSOLUTE IMPORTANCE...when in fact, they have only a very RELATIVE IMPORTANCE (relative to us, and perhaps a few people in our small sphere of influence).

I got caught up in mindcrap this week and it dragged me right down and triggered the emotional chain-reaction that tends to perpetuate and feed it. Heavy, negative thoughts, when invested with an illusory ABSOLUTE importance and sense of ‘self’ (for instance ‘I think this’, ‘I think that’ - a conceit in which we mistake the essence of WHO we are as being synonymous with mere thoughts or concepts) generate painful emotions, including fear, anger, depression. The body can’t distinguish between an imagined threat or an actual threat, which is why it produces the same emotional responses in either case (to test this, start imagining that someone close to you has died - and you’ll begin to elicit the emotions of sadness and grief as if that person actually had died. That is the power of the mind!). I kicked it, however! I recognised that all the problems and worries I was getting so anxious about were really all just in my mind - thoughts of ‘what if’ and ways of interpreting current situations in a negative light, forgetting that events in themselves are always neutral - it’s our interpretation of them that renders them 'good' or 'bad'. This ability to step out of a heavy depressive state by questioning the mental content that is generating it is worth more than all the money and gold in the world. I hope that by sharing this, I might in some way help others to do likewise.

My basic message is to stop taking the content of mind so seriously. Recognise that all your thoughts, beliefs and interpretations of reality (including how you think things ‘should’ be) are a fabrication of mind. The ABSOLUTE IMPORTANCE you attach to your hopes and fears and your attempts at making life what you think it should be is also an illusion; these things have only RELATIVE IMPORTANCE and, really, in the grand scheme of life in all its infinite and eternal complexity - not very much importance at all. As I said before, I like to remind myself that life ran quite smoothly before I was born (and proceeded to assume a role of supreme importance as the centre of the universe, as most people tend to do!). And there’s every evidence to suggest life will continue to do just fine once I’ve gone.

In the words of Walter Hagen:

"Don't worry, don't hurry. You're only here for a short visit, so be sure to stop and smell the flowers."

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Death, the ocean and eternity

(This pic is entitled 'Emancipation' and is an oldie from 2001 - and it's still perhaps my favourite painting. It's acrylic ink and watercolour on paper, cut out into different layers)

Get ready for this...

We’re all going to die!!

Don’t worry, that’s not a threat, there’s not some kind of cyber-bomb embedded in the HTML of this blog entry. It’s simply an acknowledgement that we’re all going to die - myself, everyone that’s reading this, anyone that’s ever written or read any blog entry ever, everyone that you - and I, and they - have ever met or will ever meet....our lives always end the same way. It doesn’t matter how the circumstances of our lives transpire and whether we begin a hugely successful billionaire or end up living destitute and homeless, sooner or later it all amounts to nothing: rich men die just the same as poor ones. It doesn’t matter how much knowledge, power and influence we gather to ourselves; no one can outwith death, No matter how much we struggle and strive to ‘do something’ with our lives, there’s simply no escaping the fact that every one of us is born with and will die of the universal and terminal condition called ‘life’.

this will strike many people as a very morbid musing, but that’s simply because as a culture we have a rather retarded attitude toward death. It’s a taboo subject; it’s something we try to ignore, deny and pretend will never happen to us. It’s seen as an immense tragedy when it happens, and this is something we perhaps need to re-evaluate. It just is what it is. It’s part of life, part of our existence in this mortal realm, and in fact if we began to re-evaluate our attitudes on this most important topic we might even begin to see death in a different light; as something that’s actually quite beautiful...the form returning the the formless essence from which it emerged, much as a wave dissolving back into the vast ocean of which it is a part. The wave never truly left the ocean - it simply appeared to be an existent entity with a separate momentum and inherent existence, but truly it was merely a movement of that vast oceanic unity. It had a beginning, a middle and an end, much as our forms do; we born, age and then die. For the brief span of our existence (certainly a longer existence than that of a single ocean wave, but in the vast span of eternity, it’s infinitesimally short), we rise out of the realm of the formless (which I perceive as an almost oceanic oneness; pure potential energy, as real as anything in this phenomenal world - or realer - the state of pure unmanifested consciousness) and then in the brief flicker of our phenomenal existence, in which we perceive ourselves as being separate from our originating source (in fact, most of us are totally unaware of our formless origin altogether, so wrapped up in our brief phenomenal form)...we grow, mature, spend time doing whatever it is we deem most important for us to be doing - in the case of most people, working, making money, having a family and watching television - and then, after all that, we die. At least, the form dies. ‘We’ return to the formless, originating source of being. What would be the point in grieving the ‘death’ of an ocean wave when we see it merging back into the ocean and know that it never truly had an inherent, independent existence of its own - that it was just a movement of a much greater originating source, of which it never was truly separate from?

I can’t help but see this as a pertinent metaphor for our existence and the cosmic dance of life of which we’re all unwitting participants. Our scientific understanding, for all its ‘remarkable achievements’, such as ever-faster computer chips, Xboxes and nuclear bombs, is still in its infancy and yet recognises only the outer level of existence, the form-level. But form cannot exist without the formless, just as words cannot exist on paper without the paper itself; the blank paper representing the unmanifested potentiality, the formless essence upon which form can then be inscribed. Our current scientific methodology allows us to decipher and understand the words inscribed on that piece of paper, but we currently have little or no understanding of the paper itself. Where did it come from? What is it? Some people are so locked into the form (the writing on the paper) that they are unable to even recognise the formless at all (perhaps they take the paper for granted so much that they don’t even recognise it’s existence at all - they can’t see what’s right in front of them because it just IS and they have never questioned that).

My point is that most people, including the current scientific worldview - which frankly is in many ways as limited as the old conventional religious worldviews and often just as blinkered - negates the formless essence without which the form could not exist. We’re so locked into form that we can see little else - so when the form dissolves and dies it’s seen as an immense tragedy. We are totally unaware that our form is just a wave rippling on the surface of the ocean. We’ve spent so long focusing on the outer manifestation of the wave that we forget it’s simply a temporary manifestation of something infinitely greater and vaster, of which it was always a part: the ocean.

We’re all just waves rippling upon the surface of a vast oceanic field of energy; one with no boundaries and no limitations. Our forms appear as a temporary ripple upon the surface much as a wave upon the ocean; it has its own short life-cycle and then it dissolves back into this vast formless essence, its originating source. If we had a greater understanding of this - if we could FEEL the truth of our existence on a deeper and more profound level - then we wouldn’t fear death, because we’d see that there is no death. And in many respects, there is no life as we view it...we think of ourselves as isolated disconnected separated entities in time and space, but that is no more true for us than it is for the oceanic wave. There was never a time we were separated from our originating formless essence, call it what you’s no more possible for us to be separated from our source than it is for a wave to be separated from the ocean.

In the immortal words of Albert Einstein, who was one of those pioneering scientists who actually bridged scientific understanding with the deeper spiritual truth of our true existence:

“A human being is part of a whole called by us the universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” I guess the point I’ve been trying to make here is to wake up from what Einstein refers to as this ‘optical delusion of consciousness.’ Basically, we’re not separate entities - that is the delusion. We have always been, and always will be connected to our originating formless source and to each other. To realise this is what the masters call to ‘die before you die’ other words, to wake up to the truth of your existence, to let go of your illusions and distortions of reality and to then, as Einstein suggests, stop fighting with life, stop fighting to uphold this fiction of being a separate entity isolated in time and space and to start seeing the inherent ONENESS of life. In that realisation comes the awakening of compassion for all - because, quite simply, WE ARE ALL....

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Words by Krishnamurti

I don't have any words myself today - at least none that I particularly want to share, I think I'm gonna curl up and have a rest instead, get some strength back up - but I came across these words by J Krishnamurti and instantly had one of those 'wow' moments. It resonates deeply.

"When we stop fighting with ourselves, we aren’t creating anymore conflict in our mind. Then our mind can for the first time relax and be still. Then for the first time our consciousness can become whole and unfragmented. Then total attention can be given to all of our thoughts and feelings. And then there will be found a gentleness and a goodness in us that can embrace all that is been given in the world. Then a deep love for everything will be the result of this deep attention. For this total attention, this soft and pure consciousness that we are, is nothing but Love itself."
- J. Krishnamurti

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Bend with the wind

(I've decided to start posting some of my artwork to spruce up this blog. Like the piece above, most are untitled and are left often to the interpretation of the viewer. This one is from a spacey-themed series I began in 2007 and which I want to go back to sometime soon. Hope you like)

I haven’t had much to say of late. I’ve just been having one of those weeks - low energy physically and not much energy emotionally or mentally either. ME can be horrible that way, sometimes you find yourself in a sleep-walking state. It’s enough just doing the basics and even then, they’re done in a semi-conscious kind of way. I’d love to wake up one day and have the energy to leap out of bed and really lap life up and do all the things I want to do, the things I feel I’m being called to do. I have a lot of plans, but at the moment they’re dormant, or tightly in bud. In time, I know, the bud will open and blossom...but until that time, you just have to sit tight and let it be. The tree with the buds on it doesn’t get upset that the buds haven’t opened yet - it doesn’t convince itself that it ‘should’ have happened by now and get upset that it hasn’t. Nope, it just IS - it’s fine with what is, because what is really is what ought to be. Only if the tree had a mind would it get upset, thinking it knew better than the actual process of life itself. Mind is both a blessing and an affliction (if it's untamed, that is). This Buddhist saying sums it up so beautifully: “the mind is a great servant but a terrible master.” Thankfully the tree doesn’t have to contend with mindstuff, so it’s just content to be with what is. The buds open when they open. There’s no attempt to rush it, no concerns about what it thinks ‘should’ be; it’s just at one. At one with itself and with the process of life.

I’ve recently been re-reading the Tao Te Ching and the real essence is to get back in touch with nature; to observe the natural processes unfolding and to get back in harmony with that. There’s a brilliant track on the latest Enigma album called ‘We Are Nature’; and how true is that. Get back in touch with the essence of life. It doesn’t fret or struggle, it just unfolds. It flows with what is. When it’s sunny the flowers open their petals, when it’s dark they close them. No recriminations, none of this ‘life isn’t fair’ mentality the ego so easily slips just is.

This approach helps greatly in dealing with life’s bumps and bruises. Whenever I feel lousy and am about to descend into a whole load of mindcrap, engaging in all the old stories “this isn’t fair, I should be feeling better than this, I should be in a different place doing different things, this shouldn’t be happening” I usually manage to stop it and just come back to the simplicity of what is. The fact is that IT IS. No amount of mental argument and complaint will change that. I try to accept. Then, if there’s something I can do about it, I do it. If there’s nothing I can do, I just have to accept it all the more. Arguing with reality hurts...and it’s not an argument you’re ever going to win. Again, that doesn’t mean becoming apathetic and powerless. I guess that’s a trap you could fall into, but ultimately it’s a balance. The trick is to be in a state of non-resistance to what is (because frankly resistance causes pressure and it hurts - and it ultimately exhausts you) and yet also do what you can to change an undesirable situation if that’s what you want to do. I try to do what I can to help various causes, mainly relating to cruelty perpetrated against animals and our fellow people and the environment. At the same time, I have to try to accept it to begin with, because when I get upset about it I lose balance, my energy dips and energy that could be better spent helping is wasted on grief and despair. So I accept the inhumanity and then act to change it, signing whatever petitions I can, writing whatever letters I can, raising awareness, then letting it go.

I guess the lesson I’ve learned from it all is a simple one, yet one that’s worth its weight in gold: accept what is, stop fighting life, yet follow your heart and do what you feel you must, while remaining in a state of inner non-resistance.

You have to bend with life I think. Resistance exhausts and eventually cripples you. The strongest trees are the ones that bend in the wind, whereas older more rigid trees are far more likely to be broken. Another lesson from the Tao. Life can only break you when you’re being rigid and unyielding, when you’re resisting and trying to put up a fight to stand your ground. Let the wind blow you around a bit if it wants to; your putting up a fight won’t stop the wind. Allow it to be there and allow it to pass. Don’t let life break you by trying to fight it too much. It is what it is, it happens as it happen and it passes as it passes. Even nature in all its might cannot create a storm that will last forever, or even for very long at all.

I hope this makes some kind of sense. It does in my mind, but then again my mind isn’t always attuned to the more commonly-received radio stations.

I’ve decided to let the wind blows and it wants for now. When it dies down I’m going to muster whatever energy is on offer and forge ahead with getting my book published. I’ve received encouragement and been told to persevere from so many different people lately, often without even having asked for advice; it’s just been there! A whole wave of synchronicity has been pointing me in that direction. I also feel other books gestating inside of me - there are ideas brewing and concepts forming and it’s exciting when that happens! It’s unfolding....