Monday, August 24, 2009

Beyond words

(This pic is one of my new 'Beyond the Form' series)

I have really done very little in the way of blogging for some time now; I guess when I resumed this blog earlier in the year it was as part of my ‘Artist’s Way’ program, which I’ve spoken of before (basically it’s a 12 week system devised to overcome creative blocks - and, by heck, it worked!). Right now, I have a number of different balls that I’m juggling - my new novel (I’m now 4 chapters in and I'm enjoying it, it’s fresh, fun and exciting!), my old novel (I’ve gone back to scrub it up, correct mistakes, change bits I’m not happy with and create a new cover - all in preparation for a new push to sell the darn thing!) and my artwork. I have plans for an exciting new website which are gestating and formulating right now, I am in the long and rather frustrating process of mastering and mixing my first album. Oh, and another new book is on the horizon - something very different, unique and personal, probably quite a small book but hopefully something very inspiring.

So, I’m trying to use what energy I have - and sadly it’s still very limited! - in whatever project I feel is most pressing. Pretty soon I will have a body of work that I can get out into the world, not just so I can make a living from it, but also so it can bring something to the world. As ever, I endeavour to make art not just for the sake of it, but that it might bring something beautiful or inspiring to others. There’s always a deeper level to my work, a deeper meaning or purpose. I don’t own it, either, it’s not coming from ‘me’, the little ego ‘self’. I simply open myself and allow life to create through me...whatever wants or needs to be created.

Well. I was about to say that I don’t have any more words to share today, but that’s probably not true. I have some words to say about...words! Earlier I mused that for some people words can be more hindrance than help. The mind was developed as a survival tool, enabling us to function in the world and we can see this rudimentary intelligence in animals. Somewhere along the line we humans developed language. We stepped from a non-verbal world into a verbal world. This had the great advantage of enabling us to communicate with each other; our wants, needs, desires, affections, dreams and hopes. It was necessary in enabling us to begin to create nation states and achieve the level of cultural and technological sophistication we now possess.

However, here’s something to consider: how much have we lost by entering this verbal world; a world in which everything becomes an abstract concept in the mind. We no longer relate to life, to things or people or nature directly anymore - we relate to them through the concepts we have of them in our heads, concepts rooted in language and the symbols we call 'words'. We slap labels on things and then think we ‘know’ those things. We call a tree a ‘tree’ and whenever we see a tree, we only tend to see the label we have of it (“oh that’s a pine tree”). We never really LOOK anymore, we never take things in or appreciate them for what they are. All we tend to see is a world of abstract concepts and labels. As a result we’re stuck in our heads. Eckhart Tolle sums up the human race in three simple words: “LOST IN THOUGHT”.

Now I’m not saying that thinking or language is BAD. I wouldn’t be here writing this without it and you wouldn’t be reading it. But, the essence of spiritual awakening is actually learning to stop identifying with your mind and its concepts and to come into awareness of LIFE around you and within you. To really SEE things, to FEEL and TOUCH and TASTE and to be aware of the spark of life which animates all, beneath and below the surface. Getting stuck in the mind, forever trapped in a world of abstract concepts and ruminations, relating to others and life only on a superficial mind-level is a dreadful affliction and one that surely strips life of all joy, aliveness and wonder.

Try living in a non-verbal world, at least for five minutes today.

Forget your name and whatever stuff is sailing through the sky of mind (if you ever stop to observe your thoughts, and I do recommend that you do, you’ll notice that they drift across your mind like clouds in the sky: some fast and filled with bluster, others lighter and more transient. But you come to realise that you are not your thoughts. How could you be if you are able to watch them? You are not the clouds, but are the sky in which they form. But don’t take my word for that, or anything else that I write - try it for yourself!).

Walk about your house or garden and be aware of every perception, every sight, sound and texture and don’t label anything. Don’t impose words or names or judgements of anything. Just witness, being open and alive and fresh with wonder. Instead of seeing trees and clouds and sky; just observe shapes, colours, textures and don’t name any of it. This is a wonderful practise. But again, don’t take my word for it...try it! You might just recapture some of the freshness, openness, joy and innocence that we all possessed as children...before we were taught to compartmentalise and cut up the world into chunks, using WORDS. Just because you know the word for something does not mean you KNOW that thing. Quite the opposite. I’m coming to see more and more that words actually come between us and a direct experience of life, as it is. Just be alive, be open to sights and sounds - and even people! - without having to plaster and strangle them with words. Words have their place...but when you are only living in a reality of words and abstractions, then I suggest that you are actually out of touch with the true essence of life, which is beyond words, beyond mental conceptions - and ultimately beyond form itself!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Upholding our importance

I read these words by Carlos Castaneda (I once read some of his books, which I found fascinating but difficult to get into at times). They really spoke to me, so thought I'd share them.

'Most of our energy does upholding our importance. If we were capable of losing some of that importance two extraordinary things would happen to us. One, we would free our energy from trying to maintain the illusory idea of our grandeur and two, we would provide ourselves with enough energy to catch a glimpse of the actual grandeur of the universe.'

Just liked those words and thought i'd share.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Byron Katie

I originally posted this on my old myspace blog, but I have re-posted it here on the off-chance it might be of help or inspiration to others.


I'd like to talk about a woman named Byron Katie, an incredibly inspiring woman who has achieved a remarkable degree of 'enlightenment' and a total peace and oneness with life. More than that, I want to share a simple process she calls 'the work', a process that has helped me immeasurably. Whereas once I used to suffer depression at various times in my life, I now find that depression is pretty much impossible. And although challenges and stressful things continue to happen in my life (for such is the very nature of life), I find that things simply don't 'get to me' like they used to. I don't get hooked and pulled in by them nearly so often and even when I do, I usually manage to re-align myself pretty quickly. The key thing I learned from Katie was to question my thoughts. The core of her teaching is that when you unconsciously believe every thought that passes through your mind (especially the negative ones!) you suffer. When you learn to look at them objectively and question them, you're no longer at the mercy of them. You are at peace with what is. Katie's process of 'enquiry' is an incredible tool that anyone can use and which cuts through suffering like a sharpened blade...

It's helpful to consider Katie's own story. As her website explains:

Byron Katie became severely depressed in her early thirties. For almost a decade she spiraled down into depression, rage, self-loathing, and constant thoughts of suicide; for the last two years she was often unable to leave her bedroom.

Then one morning in February 1986, she experienced a life-changing realization. There are various names for an experience like this. Katie calls it "waking up to reality."

In that instant of no-time, she says,

"I discovered that when I believed my thoughts, I suffered, but that when I didn't believe them, I didn't suffer, and that this is true for every human being. Freedom is as simple as that. I found that suffering is optional. I found a joy within me that has never disappeared, not for a single moment. That joy is in everyone, always."

She realised that what had been causing her depression was not the world around her, but the beliefs she'd had about the world. Instead of hopelessly trying to change the world to match her thoughts about how it should be, she could question these thoughts and, by meeting reality as it is, experience unimaginable freedom and joy. As a result, a bedridden, suicidal woman was instantly filled with love for everything life brings.

The essence of Byron Katie's teaching is that suffering is the result of waging our own little war with reality. Not only is it a war that we'll never win, but it's one that will inevitably cause us suffering. "Any thought that causes stress is an argument with reality. All such thoughts are variations of a theme: 'Things should be different than they are.' 'I want...', 'I need...', 'he should...', 'she shouldn't...' It always hurts when you argue with what is.'

You stop arguing with reality by using a process of self enquiry called 'the Work', in which you identify any thought or belief that is causing you pain or suffering, and use four questions to examine it. Whenever you feel upset about anything, you can ask yourself 'what would I have to believe in order to be upset about this?' Ultimately we confuse our thoughts and beliefs and interpretation of reality as being reality itself. Believing that we know best, that are supreme arbitors of what 'should' and 'shouldn't be' is the ultimate delusion and it's a recipe for a life-long dose of suffering, because we suffer each time life doesn't match up to our mentally-fabricated story of how it should be.

"As you inquire into your own thoughts, you discover how attachment to a belief or story causes suffering. The mind's natural condition is peace. Then a thought enters, you believe it, and the peace seems to disappear. You notice the feeling of stress in the moment, and the feeling lets you know that you are opposing what is by believing the thought; it tells you that you are at war with reality. When you question the thought behind the feeling and realise it isn't trye, you become present outside your story. Then the story falls away in the light of awareness and only awareness of what really is remains. peace is who you are without a story, until the next stressful story appears. Eventually, inquiry becomes alive in you as the natural, wordless response of awareness to the thoughts that arise."

It's not about ridding your mind of thoughts; that would be like emptying the sea of water. It's simply about being aware which thoughts work for you and which don't. If a thought brings peace, it's working for you. If it doesn't, identify it and question it.

The Work involves taking a stressful thought and applying four questions and a turnaround. This is best done in writing rather than in your head (because as you know it's easy to go around in circles in your head, but on paper everything is given concrete clarity).

Stressful thoughts might include: 'he shouldn't have spoken to me like that', 'this shouldn't be happening,' 'I'm so useless,' 'I'm too fat,' 'my mother never loved me,' 'my sister should be more supportive,' 'I should have a better job by now.' You might already have a truckload of justifications to support each one, but let go of all your stories. You have to have an open mind to do this and you have to want to know the truth more than you want to keep holding onto your story. Hold the thought or belief and ask yourself:

1. Is it true?

2. Can I absolutely know it's true?

3. How do I react and feel when I believe that thought?

4. Who would I be without that thought?

You can then turn the original thought around; for instance, try on the exact opposite and see if you can come up with at least 3 reasons as to how this new thought might be as true as or truer than the original.

It's amazing how you can simply transform even deeply-entrenched thoughts and beliefs that you might have been holding for years. Holding them up to the light of truth you might immediately see how thoughts like 'nobody likes me' are ridiculous generalisations and yet you've believed them for years. Then there's the realisation that if we are really honest, we see that there are very, very few things we can be absolutely certain about in life...

When we realise that holding onto a thought that we probably don't even know is true causes suffering and letting go of it enbales peace and freedom, we can go onto the turnaround, in which we identify the opposite of your original thought and find at least 3 ways in which the opposite is truer or just as true than the original statement.

The process is elaborated more fully on Byron Katie's website ( and in her books 'Loving what is,' 'I Need Your Love, is that true?' (an excellent and ground-breaking look at relationships) and 'A Thousand Names for Joy'. The latter is the first book I read of hers and is an extraordinary portrait of a woman who lives at total peace with life. It's not as though she has had an easy ride either; she has suffered from Fuch's dystrophy, a corneal disease that rendered her intermitantly blind and in constant pain. The way she dealt with that was a total revelation to me. Inspiring isn't the word.

I hope that this has given people some food for thought. I really recommend that anyone uses the four question process anytime you are dealing with difficulty in life. I have found it incredible. When feeling very ill and down about it, I realised that the thoughts 'I shouldn't be ill' and 'this shouldn't be happening' were causing more suffering than the actual illness. I questioned them and let them go and felt a peace in spite of the physical symptoms. It didn't mean I didn't want to get better (don't confuse acceptance with apathy and giving up), because I still did everything I could to get better, it just meant I was at peace with what is - and that sense of peace surely did more to help my immune system than all the stress and frustration.

In closing, here are some quotes by Katie which I love:

Peace doesn't require two people; it requires only one. It has to be you. The problem begins and ends there.

The mind's job is to validate what it thinks.

There is nothing that isn't true if you believe it; and nothing is true, believe it or not.

When we stop opposing reality, action becomes simple, fluid, kind, and fearless.

I realised that it's insane to oppose it. When I argue with reality, I lose—but only 100% of the time. How do I know that the wind should blow? It's blowing!

Peace is our natural condition. Only by believing an untrue thought is it possible to move from peace into emotions like sadness and anger. Without the pull of beliefs, the mind stays serenely in itself and is available for whatever comes along.

Who would you be in people's presence without, for example, the story that anyone should care about you, ever? You would be love itself. When you believe the myth that people should care, you're too needy to care about people or about yourself. The experience of love can't come from anyone else; it can only come from inside you.

I can find only three kinds of business in the universe: mine, yours and God's. Much of our stress comes from mentally living out of our business. When I think, "You need to get a job, I want you to be happy, you should be on time, you need to take better care of yourself," I am in your business. When I'm worried about earthquakes, floods, war, or when I will die, I am in God's business. If I am mentally in your business or in God's business, the effect is separation.

Nothing can cost you someone you love. The only thing that can cost you your husband is if you believe a thought. That's how you move away from him. That's how the marriage ends. You are one with your husband until you believe the thought that he should look a certain way, he should give you something, he should be something other than what he is. That's how you divorce him. Right then and there you have lost your marriage.

No one has ever known the answer to why? The only true answer is because. Why do the stars shine? Because they do. Why is the glass sitting on the table? Because it is. That's it. In reality, there is no why. It's hopeless to ask; the question can't go anywhere--haven't you noticed? There is no ultimate answer to anything. There's nothing to know, and no one who wants to know. Just have fun with the asking, because there are trillions of answers, as many as the stars in the sky, and not one of them is true. Enjoy the stars, but don't think that there's anything behind them. And ultimately, do you even care about an answer?