Sunday, November 13, 2011

The (Neo) Advaita Trap

Back already! Wow. So I realised I will pop in from time to time when I have something to share.

This video is actually rather hilarious; certainly if you've had an experience of the "neo advaita" crowd that seems to proliferate the internet and that has spread across the spiritual marketplace like fungus. Now, I am very drawn to authentic advaita and could write at length about it. I've found the teachings of sages such as Ramana Maharshi and Nisargadatta, and some of the advaita scriptures to be extremely helpful.

What seems to have happened however is that advaita has been distorted by a great many people, mainly westerners I believe, who have created a distorted variation and who sadly tend to become exactly the kind of obstinate, superior pains in the arse portrayed in the video. I'm sure you'll have encountered some of them. I feel there are a great many people out there who genuinely believe they're enlightened simply because their mind has latched onto a certain set of perspectives and beliefs relating to nonduality. They maybe have awakened a little, but if they have to spend all their time 'teaching' others how wrong they are and how 'enlightened' they are, then...meh. There's nothing stinks more than the spiritual ego. They serve as a lesson to us all how easy it is for the ego to hijack virtually anything. Truly, nothing is sacred to the ego! Nothing requires greater vigilance than the 'spiritual path'.

Enjoy the vid, it's really funny:

The Advaita Trap - The Cartoon
by: nondualxtra

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Silence is golden

It's funny, I keep starting to write blog posts, but I can never seem to get beyond the first couple of paragraphs. It's like trying to build sandcastles when the sand is too dry and the whole thing just sort of collapses! 

Perhaps it's because I don't have anything that really, truly needs to be said. I've had a few ideas for topics, but the moment I get down to the nitty-gritty of writing, I realise that it's either something I'm not fully ready to write about, or it's something that doesn't need to be written about. I'm not going to churn out stuff just to fill up a quota. I'd rather just sit in the silence and watch clouds (it's neat - I recommend it).

So, for now the blog is on hiatus. Whether it'll be a long or short hiatus I have no idea. I do know that I've been meaning to wind this down for a while now. I have two new blogs in the planning stages, so I'll still be around. But those are on hold as well until I feel I have something worth writing about, something that needs to be written. Until then, take care and have fun. 

Friday, October 21, 2011

Is Art Important?

As an artist who hasn't exactly made it 'big' (think considerably less than big), I was recently questioning my future and wondering whether I should be devoting my energy to something else. As the economy continues to flounder and as our esteemed leaders continue to make things worse, people are tightening their belts and luxuries such as the arts are obviously the first things to be abstained from. 
Always one to question just about everything, I found myself wondering whether art really matters. Is it really important? Is it worth pursuing? Or is it just a self-indulgence that has no real value to our lives? (When considering this question, I was reflecting not merely on visual art, but also music, prose and poetry, sculpture, film-making, etc)
I instinctively feel that art has importance. But there are two kinds of art, I think. There's art that's created simply to make money and is tailored to a specific market or audience and which usually adheres to a specific formula while perhaps simultaneously attempting to pass itself off as something 'different'. This might sound exceptionally snobbish, but to me, that isn't art, it's merely product. Most of the music industry is product and in our X-Factor era that's a fact that's hard to dispute. I feel the same about a great deal of the publishing and film industry. It's driven by profit and the desire to sell; any claims of wanting to find genuine artistic innovation are usually just lip-service.
Product  generally has mass-market appeal and is largely consumed as entertainment. Nothing wrong with entertainment, I like to be entertained as much as the next guy (although maybe perhaps not QUITE so much), but entertainment rarely transcends its function. There are certainly lots of instances where it does, where films, music and books actually do take risks and wholly deserve to be called 'art', but in the vast marketplace it's still the exception rather than the rule. I’m not decrying this, simply pointing out a fact. People need to make money and they do that by selling products to as many people as will buy it. It’s the way the world works. 
With regard to the visual arts, it's a little harder to find the distinction between art and product. It's a grey area. Artists need to eat like everyone else, so they usually need to have some kind of target market in mind when they create. The quality and importance of the work is entirely subjective and that’s probably the way it should be.
I was at an exhibition just last week and it reinforced my feeling that in order for art to be taken seriously as 'art' it helps if it's grim and bleak. In order to be a 'cool' artist the general criteria seems to be that your work has to be edgy, dark and a little depressing or -- even better -- repulsive! Now this could all just be in my head, and I don't even take my own thoughts and opinions that seriously any more, so I urge you not to, either. But it's possible that even some of the most fiercely independent and 'out there' artists are still just creating stuff that they consciously or unconsciously think fits a formula of ‘cool’ and ticks the right boxes. 
Myself, I really don't care what's cool or not. Generally I'm drawn to create things that inspire people rather than nauseate and repulse them. I mean, life is difficult enough, why should art confound that by making us ever more miserable? But that said, when I view someone's work, even if I don't like it, I still usually respect it as a creative endeavour, as an expression of the artist and an artistic statement -- whether or not I agree with that statement.
So why is art important then? 
It's not important simply for making statements. Anyone can make a statement and like anything that's mind-generated, it ultimately doesn't mean that much. A lot of the time it's straight from the ego, and there's already enough of the human ego stamped over this world of ours. Art in service of the ego may still be art, but it's not, in my view, important art.
I believe art is important when it has a transcendent quality; when it points us beyond the surface-level miasma of humdrum human existence -- what Buddhists refer to as samsara -- and hints of the possibility of something greater, something beyond. I believe art, in its highest expression, serves to remind us who we are. Through images, stories, narratives and sound, it reflects back to us what we truly are. There's a place for examining the surface-level world of maya, but we don't really need art for that, we simply need to look around us or turn on the six o'clock news. 
But it's possible for art to take us deeper into ourselves, inviting us ask questions about ourselves and life itself. Who are we? Where did this consciousness come from and where is it going? What is the world? Where did it come from and where is it going? Is it everything we've always assumed it to be, or is it possible we've somehow misperceived the universe, ourselves and our relation to it?
I've come to learn that the answer is never in the answers. It's in the questions.
At best, I believe, art can make us reflect upon these questions; questions that serve to bring us back to ourselves. Just about everything else in the world is pulling our attention outward and distracting us from OUR SELVES (which is actually the very thing we're truly seeking in life -- direct, conscious awareness of our own being).
Some time ago I was sent one of those email questionnaire things and one of the questions was "do you prefer art or technology?" and I was amazed at the number of people (practically everyone) that said technology. I probably shouldn't have been, for nowadays technology is almost like a drug or religion for many people. There’s nothing wrong with that in itself, but what can technology do but distract us from ourselves? It's never going to compel us to venture inward and perhaps, in time, stumble upon the in-built but long-dormant self-realisation mechanism -- which is the only legitimate end to the cycle of suffering that drives us to seek out distractions in the first place.
I still feel compelled to create art, to write and create music because I feel something within me wants to be born into the world. I don't think it's in service of the ego or just to express emotions or viewpoints (although the latter point I suppose you could debate). If there's any purpose at all behind what I do, it's because there's some element -- and it's not really on a conscious level -- that would like to use this channel to spark something in others. A spark of inspiration, of remembering, of insight? Or just an opening that might prompt further questions? I'm not entirely sure. I don't feel it's entirely 'me' that's controlling the process. It just is. It's unfolding as it wants to.
I first had an inkling as to this when I began my first novel, a number of years ago. I thought - "yeah, my novel is going to change the world and make people happier and more enlightened." I think my ego crept in, in the nicest and kindest possible way. Now, I have no such expectations. I don't know if what I make will sell or interest anyone, much less whether it will enlighten them. That's really not my business and I no longer have any investment in the outcome. I just do what I feel compelled to do, because I have to and because a little part of me would wither away if I didn't. A rose doesn't bloom in order to make people happy and get some kind of a reaction. It doesn't hold itself back, either. It just does what it does, because...!
So that's basically why I feel art is important. There are many artists (not necessarily mainstream ones or ones with great followings and publicity) whose work serves as kind of opening into something greater. It can serve as a catalyst that makes people stop, reflect and open themselves to new possibilities and new ways of seeing life. It can pierce the dream bubble and spark something quite wonderful, enabling the viewer/experiencer to blossom themselves. Maybe they'll then bring that same essence into the world where it will have a similar effect on others, whether it's in the form of art, behaviour, actions or simply BEING.
No motives though. It just happens -- or it doesn't. And it has an effect on others and the world -- or it doesn't. Art is alive and when it comes from a place beyond the ego and beyond consumer concerns and market pressures, it has the ability to change us and to change the world. Not change us in the sense of making us something other than we are, but simply removing the clouds of illusion that currently obstruct so many of us from being what we are. Art then can be a great wake-up call, which will resonate for those that are ready for it and go straight over the heads of those that aren't.
For now, if I'm able, I'll continue to respond to the creative impulses that compel me to create art in different forms, knowing that the impulse to create is there for a reason, that I'm not truly in control of it and that the reasons and outcome are way beyond my control. Some artists fall into the trap of ego, mistakenly believing it's them that is responsible for their creations. But for me, it's the humblest job in the world. I don't own creativity, I can't control it and I'm fully aware that it's not really me that does anything (and frankly I don’t even consider myself particularly talented). 

It just happens and I’m very cool with that, because it feels good. I'm really very clear on that point -- and it's a strangely liberating realisation!

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Headless Way

Hello! Long time no blog! There is a new entry in the works - I know what I want to write, but I just haven't figured out how to write it. It'll come, when the time is right.

In the meantime, check out this -  It's a website based on the work of Douglas E Harding and his rather novel, quirky and fun method of self-inquiry: "the headless way". 

I've never come across anything quite like it. Try doing the "experiments", which are fun experiential too for leading us into a deeper awareness of what we truly are. I haven't done them all yet, I've been doing them one at a time over a period of weeks, but I love them so far and wouldn't hesitate to recommend them. I've come to view self-inquiry as THE most important spiritual practise there is, particularly in terms of self-realisation. This is an offbeat and neat way to approach it :)

Some notes I found on the website, in the words of Douglas Harding:

"So much unnecessary stress has its origin in identifying exclusively with the way others see us. Overlooking and invalidating my own point of view, I make a mistake about my deepest identity and find myself up against the world, separate from others, limited in my resources, vulnerable to all kinds of danger, and in the end, destined to die. It was vital to become self-conscious, to grow out of infancy into adulthood, but this need not be the end of the journey.

Each of us can now go on to see Who we really are. This doesn't mean that we regress to infancy - we can be aware of both our True Identity and our human identity. However, becoming aware of our True Identity means we discover a stress-free space at the heart of our sometimes stressed lives. It is up to each of us how much we pay attention to this Resource.

If we don't drink from this Well, we will probably find ourselves complaining of thirst, or even dying of thirst. And all the while the Water is so close, and free! Take a drink. Now. What have you got to lose? Your self! What have you got to gain? Everything, including your self!


If I fail to see what I am (and especially what I am not) it’s because I’m too busily imaginative, too “spiritual”, too adult and knowing, too credulous, too intimidated by society and language, too frightened of the obvious to accept the situation exactly as I find it at this moment. Only I am in a position to report on what’s here. A kind of alert naivety is what I need. It takes an innocent eye and an empty head (not to mention a stout heart) to admit their own perfect emptiness.

Forgetting what I'm told and imagine, what society with its common sense and the science of the object tell me to believe, and at last daring to look for myself and to take seriously what I find - well, what do I find? I find surprise upon surprise, beyond my wildest dreams. I see that what I had believed to be true of me and of the world is a pack of lies! "

Friday, September 16, 2011


(I wrote this post a few weeks ago but for some reason held it back. Now seemed like as good enough a time as any to share it though, so here goes)

What does integrity mean to you?
I get the impression that people generally take it to mean being true to their word and treating other people well. But I think there's a lot more to it than that. When looking up the word in my handy little dictionary app, it comes up with three meanings.
- noun
1. adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.
2. the state of being whole, entire, or undiminished.
3. a sound, unimpaired or perfect condition.
The first definition doesn't appeal to me that much. Moral and ethical principles are mind-generated and are therefore coloured and distorted by the mind's inherent limitations. I agree with Lao-tzu that the highest virtue comes not from following mind-made morals and ideals (which are usually just conditioned into us by the culture we live in), but from being rooted in our own sense of BEING. 
When we're aligned with Self, we spontaneously act from 'rightness' because we're in alignment with the innate flow and perfection of Life expressing through us. 
The one word that does jump out at me from that first definition is 'honesty'. 

I believe the essence of integrity is being honest to who and what we truly are. This is something so few of us actually do, because again we're indoctrinated by a culture that demands we do the exact opposite, wanting us to follow its ideals and nothing more. The only problem is, it's impossible to be true to anyone or anything other than our Self. For truth isn't out there and it never was. "To thine own Self be true" -- great words by Shakespeare, and perhaps the best definition of integrity there is.
I love the other two definitions of integrity because they perfectly point to this Self-honesty I'm talking about. 

When we know what are, when we've really delved deeply beneath the surface and journeyed through all the layers of mental sediment, conditioning and ego-identification, we come to that place of expansive emptiness/fullness within us at the core of our being, the very ground of our awareness. You've either experienced this or you haven't, which will make all the difference between understanding what I'm trying to point to and thinking I'm just talking utter gibberish. Because you're reading this at all, I'm going to assume that you've had at least some taste of the deeper Reality of Being.
When we've experienced some degree of Self-knowledge, when we've seen through the screen of our minds, egos and conditioning to the deeper Reality beneath, then part of us is never the same again. Sure, it's extremely difficult to hold onto and sustain this realisation. It's one thing having transcendent spiritual realisations in meditation and quite another thing maintaining them in our daily lives. Our minds and egos have deep grooves and exert a tremendous gravity that keeps the old structures firmly in place (and let's face it, everything in the world around us is also designed to keep the ego in the drivers seat). 
But when you've seen the TRUTH, even just a little glimmer of it, you can never go back to the way you were before, at least not entirely and not forever. A little sliver of sunlight has got through a crack in the brick wall of your mind/psyche/ego (a hefty construction if ever there was!), and it wants to shine again. It'll take any little gap it can get and surely, in time, as the bricks start to erode and dissolve -- as they inevitably will, whether by grace, by pain or by death. As this happens, the light gets its chance to shine through, ever stronger and brighter, dispelling the darkness of ignorance and illusion and allowing the truth of life to be seen, experienced and realised.
Perhaps you can now see why I was so enamoured by the dictionary definition of integrity as being "the state of being whole, entire, or undiminished" and "a sound, unimpaired or perfect condition." Isn't that a pretty much perfect description of enlightenment? Is it possible that integrity is in fact synonymous with enlightenment? I'm beginning to think so. 
My feeling is that enlightenment is the seeing through of what is false and the realisation of what is true. First comes the recognition of truth and then the integration of that into the entirety of our being. For enlightenment to be true, it has to penetrate every aspect of our being and lives. It's no use having a strictly mental and/or conceptual understanding of reality -- lots of people have that and they're about as enlightened as plant pots. Some people might understand what I'm talking about, and they might even have experienced it, and yet still don't truly GET it on the deeper levels of their being. They might intellectually know that they're the  transcendent Reality, yet in their daily lives still behave not unlike like the most monstrously insane egos out there.

This is why I think integrity is such an important thing to reflect upon, particularly for ‘spiritual people’. Integrity isn't as big an issue for people that are completely under the spell of their minds and egos, because they’re too deeply immersed in a world of dreams and illusions and have no conception of what they truly are. Self-integrity is impossible when you don’t even know your Self!
But those that have had some degree of awakening, yet are still operating from the level of ego, then I think integrity is a huge issue. As I said, it takes a certain amount of time and effort to break free of the gravity of the old mind structures, but it's something that ultimately has to be done. Until we do, there's a deep divide at the core of our beings; a gulf between who we truly are and who we're choosing to be in our daily lives. Whether we're aware of it or not, this inner conflict causes enormous pain and is most likely reflected by all kinds of difficulties and problems in our outer lives. It's impossible to be at peace and to flow with life as long as we have this fundamental lack of integrity eating away at us from the inside out.
The ego can deceive us in a million different ways. That's not to make the ego into an enemy, or even something tangible and real, because it's not; it's really just a detour from truth and can be overcome each and every time we move back to that truth. Whenever we catch ourselves suffering, even if it’s just a bad mood, it's likely a sign that we're out of integrity, that we're lost in our thoughts, concepts and egos again. When that happens we’re probably trying to hold life to ransom, as we so often do when we're relating to life from that level. Above all, it's a sign that although we know the truth, we aren't in that moment LIVING it.
I hope I've managed to convey why I feel integrity is so vitally important, especially for those of us in the process of awakening. Perhaps enlightenment (the recognition of truth) is just the first step, while integrity (the embodiment of that truth) is the crucial second step. Enlightenment is actually pretty easy because when we lay the appropriate foundations and invite it in, it comes more or less of its own accord. Integrity, on the other hand, requires a massive amount of vigilance, honesty and persistent effort on our part...

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Future

“I used to think about the future and then it became the present, so I thought about it quite often then and then it was in the past, so I didn’t think about it that much.”

Father Ted

One of the things that has frequently tripped me up over the years is the notion of future. It’s easy to get lost in it and for concerns and insecurities about the future to overwhelm us, causing untold stress and turmoil. In fact, when it comes to mindstuff, the ‘future’ can be like a gaping black hole, ravenous, all-consuming and virtually impossible to escape.

The ego loves its security and in a world where security is ultimately an illusion (after all, anything at any moment could compromise your sense of security), that can be something of a problem. The future is the great unknown and that is something that utterly terrifies the ego!

To minimise this sense of unease we adopt all kinds of strategies for trying to control circumstances and outcomes as much as possible. Again, going back to what I wrote previously about control, that can only work to a limited extent. We can pursue the things that we think will bring us fortune and security and we may even succeed; but even when we do, it’s rarely enough to dispel our fears and insecurity. This is because our insecurity is a structural component of the ego.

In a sense, our insecurity over the future is a legitimate concern, because we really don’t know what the future holds. Bad things can and frequently do happen. I think it’s likely our fear of the future/unknown is a survival mechanism that’s developed to protect us from potential harm by always keeping us on our toes. Yet in our modern world, where our immediate physical survival isn’t usually an issue, this survival mechanism has become a stress mechanism.

In this media-dominated information age, it’s virtually impossible to escape the news and the news is rarely good. We don’t just leave it at that though. We take what’s happening and project it into an imagined future, playing out all kinds of horrific scenarios in our minds. Sometimes it’s necessary to project ahead in this way as it allows us to make prudent choices that avert unnecessary catastrophe. If I’m walking along a train track and a train appears in the distance, it’s prudent that I project into the future and realise that if I don’t step aside, I’ll get squished.

There are times when this is a useful practise and times when it becomes highly dysfunctional. For we tend to get lost in our imaginings, creating entire alternate realities in our minds. We forget that it’s just fantasy and actually believe that what we’re imagining is real. I believe it’s this tendency that creates much of our anxiety and fear over the future.

Two things have helped me to deal with this. The first is the recognition that the future is actually an illusion of the mind; and so, for that matter, is the past. The only thing that actually exists is the present moment and that present moment NEVER ENDS. In spite of this concept we have of past, present and future, there’s never an instance where the present becomes the past, or becomes the future. It’s a continuing, unbroken, unfragmented whole.

The present moment just IS -- and it always will be. Of course the CONTENT of the present moment is always changing and it is from this that we’ve derived the notions of ‘past’ and ‘future’. But past and future don’t actually exist. However hard you were to look, you could never actually find them because the only place they exist is in the mind; the past as memories and the future as imagination, expectation or anticipation.

What a terrible mess we get ourselves in over something that exists nowhere other than our own minds! However long we wait, the future will never arrive. All we have is this moment, this timeless, eternal moment, the form of which is continuously shifting and changing.

The second thing that’s helped me deal with this structural insecurity is the recognition that I’m not what I think I am. Along with the concept of time, another core human assumption is that we are our bodies. I’m not going to go too deeply into this for now and I’ll assume that if you’re reading this you’ve already got some sense that what you are is something more than just a bag of bones, tissues and liquids.

But even when, on a conceptual level, we know that we are something deeper than the surface-level appearance, it takes a while for us to fully embody and integrate that realisation. In other words, we usually still act and react as though we are just our bodies. And because we know that ultimately our body is going to die, we have a fundamental insecurity that underlies every second of our existence, whether we’re aware of it or not. I’d even go so far as to say that the root of our fear of the future is fear of the termination of the body.

But when the realisation that we are something far transcendent of form takes root not just in our head, but in our heart and our gut, this underlying existential insecurity begins to loosen its grip. When we truly know with the entirety of our being that we are eternal and deathless, then we cease to fear the inevitable dissolution of our form. Our bodies change throughout the course of our lives and the content of our minds and psyche changes from moment to moment. But this timeless awareness that we are remains unchanged.

If you’ve ever explored and moved into this primal awareness, you’ll notice that it at its core is a deep and expansive acceptance. It doesn’t hold life to ransom and it doesn’t have demands or like and dislikes or even goals and directives. It just allows life to be as it is. It remains open, untouched and untouchable.

Knowing what we are and questioning the content of our minds lead us to a deeper and infinitely more secure state of being. Life still happens around us and at times it’s distressing and grim, but when we’ve removed some of our investment of ‘selfhood’ from what is ultimately transient and insubstantial, we experience far greater freedom than ever before.

The need to desperately control the future lessens. We come to see the primary importance of living well in the present moment. We can surrender to a greater intelligence, of which we are an inextricable part, and allow that intelligence to guide us rather than our fears and doubts.

When we surrender to the flow of life, we come to see that that no matter what the ‘future’ (or, rather, the forthcoming configuration of the eternal present) holds, we will be fine. That which we are is ultimately untouchable. Whether our future contains fortune or misfortune, we will be fine. We will always be fine.

When we’ve let go of our insecurities, our attachments and our desperate need to control life, we’ve let go of the very obstructions that make life difficult in the first place. And when we do encounter life’s inevitable challenges, we deal with them with greater ease and grace, always returning to our innate sense of balance and wellbeing.

I believe that when we’re in this Tao-centred state of being, connected with the flow of life and the truth of what we are, then life is often kinder and gentler. Moreover, our state of being has a positive effect on those around us and the world at large.

So why worry about the future when we can instead move our attention inward and allow life to guide us? We can flow gently and smoothly with the current of life and be led exactly where we need to be.

Maybe life really CAN be that simple? Even if I’m wrong, what a way to live!

Friday, August 05, 2011


I’ve been using the Sedona Method technique of emotional releasing for a while now and I’ve found it immensely helpful. It’s the simplest, easiest way I’ve yet come across for releasing negative emotions. What’s especially interesting is that whenever you feel bad, you are urged to trace the emotion back to one of four underlying WANTS: wanting control, wanting approval, wanting security or wanting to be separate.

I’ve found it amazing that just about every negative emotion can be traced to a basic sense of wanting control. It seems to me that at a core, fundamental level, human beings (or more specifically, human egos) are control-freaks. However subtly or overtly this manifests itself, we’re in the business of wanting control just about everything, just about all the time.

I suppose from the moment we’re born we learn that to get our needs met we have to try to control our environment and those around us. When we’re hungry or uncomfortable or have a poopy nappy, we don’t hesitate to make our discomfort known - and the louder the better. This in itself is a basic means of control, because we quickly learn that crying gets us what we need. The art of control is thus learned at a very young age and as we grow up, it continues to develop in an infinite number of ways. Life, and other people, are seen as things that we have to control in order to get our needs met and in order to be happy.

It’s not until we stop and think about it that we realise the countless ways in which we try to control our environment, our lives and other people. Sometimes the ways in which we desire to control things are quite obvious, whereas other times they are so subtle as to be imperceptible. But, make no mistake, it’s going on all the time!

From the moment we wake up in the morning (which is normally controlled with the aid of our alarm clock), we enter each situation in our daily lives with an agenda. We want to do and achieve certain things and we want situations, meetings and transactions to go a certain way, so we invest a great deal of effort to ensure that’s what happens. We want people to treat us a certain way, so we spend inordinate amounts of time and energy trying to control them and influence how they respond to us.

If we look closely enough, we can see how we try to control virtually aspect of our lives: from our bodies, health, appearance, diet and sleep patterns to our activities, jobs and careers and our relationships, social standing and the opinions of other people. What is the average human life, if not an exercise in extreme control-freakery?

Now I suppose you could argue that it’s necessary to try to control such things, otherwise our lives would spiral out of control and implode in a catastrophe of chaos and disorder. That’s the way the ego sees it and that’s how it justifies its pathological need to try and micro-manage the universe.

But I’ve come to see that control is ultimately an illusion.

It’s a fiction the mind gets hooked into, a mode of functioning that underlies every nuance of its operating software. It fails to see that its perpetual attempts to control are akin to a hamster running in a wheel. No matter how much energy and effort it invests in trying to control every aspect of life, it’s not going to get you that far.

Because just how much can we actually control in life? Honestly?

I’d argue that ultimately there’s very little we really have control over. As valiantly as we might try, we can’t control other people - at least not completely, and not all the time. Aside from ensuring we give it the proper fuel, rest and exercise it needs, we don’t control our bodies; our bodies do what they do and they’re inevitably going to get grow old and die. We don’t have much, if any, control over our environment and culture, or the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

And here’s the thing: the more we try to control anything, the more we suffer.

We suffer when we don’t get what we want. And we often suffer just as much when we do get what we want. Perhaps this is because we’ve created so much tension and resistance in ourselves that we’re unable to relax enough to enjoy the fruits of our labours. In any case, the mind is rarely satisfied with what it’s got and is immediately ready to fixate on its next object of conquest. It’s a vicious cycle. The more we control, the more we’re dissatisfied and the more we suffer.

Yet letting go of control is a truly heinous notion to most people. The thought of being out of control is unthinkable and is tantamount to a kind of death (and it is a kind of death in a way; death of the ego!). Yet if we take an honest look at the ways in which we try to control life, the ultimate futility of our efforts, and the way it causes us pain, we might find the courage to adopt a totally radical and quite revolutionary approach: letting go of our control over life.

What I’ve discovered is that the moment I let go of wanting to control anything, I feel free and at peace. I believe letting go of the need to control is one of the greatest keys to freedom and peace of mind. Paradoxically, when I know that I’m not in control of life, I feel at one with life and things just seem to flow; no stress, no worry, no resistance!

Whenever I feel bad, or whenever things have become sticky and messy, it’s usually attributable to trying to impose control on things. This has happened with my physical health. The more I’ve tried to improve my health, the more determined I’ve been to get better and the more regimented I’ve been with my diet, supplements, and so forth, the worse I’ve actually become. I can only assume it’s because the more we struggle with things, the more tension and resistance we create within us. This tends to close us down, cutting us off from the innate flow of life, whereas when we relinquish the need to control, it releases tension and promotes lightness, ease and flow.

I invite everyone to experiment with letting go of their need to control life. If something’s been causing you pain or suffering, it’s a sure sign that instead of trying to exert more control over the situation, you need to do the opposite and practise letting go. It’s so simple yet miraculous in the way it shifts our energy and reconnects us with our innate sense of wellbeing and flow. At the very least, whether the situation changes or not, you’ll experience a deep sense of relief, release and inner peace. But don’t take my word for it - try it for yourself!

When we let go of our attempts to control life, life takes over: and life can do things infinitely better than our precious little egos ever could. It’s as though a deeper intelligence springs into action and gets things back into balance again. When we’re no longer creating obstructions (and our obstructions almost always originate in the mind), things naturally settle themselves and come into harmony. This can be seen in nature. As long as there are no obstructions, a lake remains placid and still, for that is its nature. Our attempts to control creates waves in the water, shattering the calm and stirring up all kinds of muck and debris. Pretty soon the water is choppy and muddy, as a result of our desperation to impose our will. Just letting go is enough to allow the water to naturally balance and settle itself. There’s nothing we need to do. Why not let go of control as much as you possibly can and allow life to flow? You might be amazed at the results.

“Let go of your hold on life and allow life to simply flow around and through you.” John C Parkin

Ahhhhhh. The sense of relief is amazing!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Life Strips us down

On a couple of occasions I’ve seen the Dalai Lama quoted as saying that the purpose of life is to be happy. On the surface this seems like a somewhat superficial statement, but of course there’s a lot more to it than that. I’m sure if he was to elaborate on that, he might explain that in order to achieve any stable and lasting sense of happiness, we must first transcend the ordinary state of human consciousness, which keeps us locked in perpetual bondage.

The predominant state of human consciousness is what Buddhists call ‘samsara’ and is a vicious cycle of craving, grasping and suffering, all the while being lost in layers upon layers of mind-created illusion. The hallmark of samsara - which is the software that just about everyone on the planet is operating from - is suffering. It’s a divisive, fragmented and distorted state of consciousness, in which awareness temporarily fixated upon and loses itself in form.

This isn’t to say that samsara is somehow ‘wrong’, or that it shouldn’t be. It is. Maybe it’s a necessary evolutionary stage for the unfolding of consciousness. What happens with the average human being is that consciousness arises in form and then loses itself in a thick treacly soup of mind-stuff; concepts, beliefs, ideas and delusion. That’s not the end of the journey though.

I believe there’s an in-built mechanism by which, at some point, consciousness transcends the limitations of samsara and awakens out of all false identifications and begins to become aware of itself again. Instead of seeing life through a screen of mind-made concepts, the barriers of belief and false identification begin to crumble and we begin to see and experience life simply as it is. When this happens there’s a great purging and stripping away. It’s not that something is added to ourselves, it’s not that we learn or become anything new. It’s more that on a mental and emotional level, layer after layer of sediment is scoured and dislodged and for the first time we can see reality clearly.

To be free of the dense conditioning of mind is the great liberation and a true flowering of human consciousness. Freed of the accumulation of thoughts and beliefs, conditioning and prejudice, likes and dislikes, expectations and interpretations, life is simply experienced as it is, and separation is supplanted by a realisation of the great oneness of all life. This process of awakening has been described in different ways and called by different names by many different people and cultures. It’s something that fascinates me and I am convinced that this unfolding is ultimately a natural part of the evolution of consciousness. It’s still very rare in this world, which is so coarse, dense and heavy, for everything about our society is designed to keep the rigid structures of mind and ego firmly cemented in place.

The importance of this process of awakening cannot be underemphasised and I believe that life actually wants it to happen. Alas, the human mind is so deeply entrenched in the delusion of separation and false identification, that we dig our heels in the mud and are generally resistant to the natural flowering of consciousness. We don’t make it easy for ourselves at all. Even people that have a degree of spiritual awareness and have embarked on a quest for enlightenment tend to block the process by continuing to cling to beliefs and mind-stuff, looking for things to add to themselves rather than surrendering and allowing all that is untrue to be stripped away from them.

Authentic spiritual unfolding is not a process of accumulation and addition; I think it’s quite the opposite. It’s a matter of subtraction and elimination, in which all that is untrue must be peeled away like layers of an onion until we eventually reach the very core. It’s a process of loss in many ways and it’s not as comfortable and pleasant as we might like. It’s relatively easy to substitute one doctrine or belief system for another. But it takes a lot more courage to be willing to let go of ALL beliefs, all concepts, all interpretations until we are stripped to the core of what we are. Then we stand naked and unmasked, as vulnerable and raw as a newborn child, yet liberated and unfettered by the chains of mind. Something beautiful is born; something that was there all along, but just buried under layer upon layer of sediment.

Just as it’s the destiny of most plants to eventually flower, I believe the same is true for us. Life doesn’t necessarily bring us what will make us superficially happy, but it brings us the circumstances and situations that will eventually enable us to flower. So all the shit that’s happening around you is simply fertiliser! Life WANTS the rose to bloom and all the right conditions and circumstances conspire to allow it to happen. Similarly, life wants us to awaken, to transcend the limitations of our current operating software and to realise the totality of what we are. It wants us to strip away all that’s untrue and it sends us the necessary conditions, circumstances and challenges that will facilitate this process.

Most people are highly resistant, of course. We have a sense of self, a notion of who we think we are, and entire lifetimes are spent maintaining, upholding and strengthening this ultimately fictitious entity. Whenever life tries to strip that identity away from us, we resist and we suffer. Ultimately life is going to get its own way, whether we like it or not. No matter how much we struggle against the inevitable, eventually our form identity will die and the illusion will be forcibly ended, at least for a while.

Death is a kind of Ctrl+alt+del. But the sages invite us to perform a ctrl+alt+del while we’re still alive; to allow life to strip away all the layers of accumulated mind-stuff, to peel away all that is false and illusory. Ultimately it’s going to happen. No dream can last indefinitely; eventually the dream ends and the dreamer again regains self-awareness. Life is continually trying to nudge us awake, to enable us to become self-aware during the dream.

Why do we resist so much? We’ve been told that the only way to true peace and happiness is to awaken fully and transcend samsara. Why do we so rigidly cling onto our false little dream? Perhaps it requires a great leap of faith. That’s the challenge we face. We can either keep resisting and holding on to a fading dream or we can cooperate with the unfolding of consciousness within us. We can allow life to strip away all that is false. That which is Real, that which is truly what we are, can obviously never be taken from us, so no matter how much is pruned away and no matter how much we seem to lose, we can never lose ourselves.

Perhaps that’s what self realisation is; realising That which can never be taken from us, which alone is real. Only the Real can bring us happiness -- and I truly believe that whether we choose to cooperate or not, life is leading us toward that. Whatever is happening in your life, you can be sure the message is something like this: wake up, wake up. You’ve been in bud for so long. Now it’s time to bloom. Let go and allow it to happen.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Words from Eladria

I'm a bad blogger. I admit it. I've hardly written anything in months. In my defence, I've been distracted by health issues and struggling with other creative projects, but I plan to write much more in the future - in fact, I have a whole new blog planned. Until then, here's a little extract from one of the aforementioned creative projects - 'Eladria', the novel I'm just finishing off (and I'm getting there, it's just a matter of continually polishing away!). I think these words and snippets of dialogue make sense out of context. I'm not sure why, but I felt like sharing them here, in the hopes they might make sense to people. To me, they sum up the truth of our existence, and all that we strive to realise (I was going to say 'strive to become', but we already ARE that! Strive to realise is probably closer to it).

“The universe is but a play of duality, cradled in an infinite heart of unity, infused with a single life essence, a fount from which all forms arise. Darkness has its part to play. Without darkness, there could be no recognition of light. Always the balance must be maintained: night must follow day, autumn must follow summer and death must follow life...all in succession, a never-ending circle -- no beginning and no end.”


“The tendency of the mind is to create a false sense of separation. The gravity of the mind, of thoughts, beliefs and conditioning is strong and exerts a tremendous pull. But once you have touched the core of what you are, once you have tasted truth, you can never be the same again. The prison of mind will eventually, inevitably, dissolve. Now, I ask you..setting aside this illusory mask you have worn all your life, this illusory sense of being a person separate from the unity of life...what will you do now? Where do you feel your destiny lies? Answer from the heart, from the root of your existence and not through the filter of your habitual patterns of mind.”


She now had to take a leap of faith. She vowed to deal with whatever lay ahead of her while endeavouring to retain the knowledge, awareness and understanding she now possessed regarding her true nature and the inherent oneness of life. All of the dramas were but expressions in an infinite play of the primordial essence. She was what lay behind, beneath and beyond the outer manifestations. On this level, she was invincible, invulnerable and could transcend whatever came her way. She was beyond the happenings and events of life. She was life.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Useless Tree

From Chuang Tzu - The Inner Chapters, the Classic Taoist Text translated by Solala Towler. Not sure why this struck me so much but it did. I guess I'm a useless tree myself!

“Once a master carpenter named Shih was travelling with his apprentice on his way to the state of Chi. When they arrived in Chu Yuan village they passed a huge old oak tree sheltering the village shrine. It was huge, large enough to fit several thousand oxen under its branches. It was 100 spans and towered over everything else in the village with its lowest branches a full 80 feet in the air. These branches were so large they could have been made into a dozen boats. Many people were standing under it, their necks craned as they tried to see the top. But the master carpenter did not even turn his head as they passed it; but walked on without stoping for a moment.

His apprentice took one look at the immense tree and ran after his master saying: “Since I first took up the ax to train with you Master, I have never seen a tree as magnificent. Yet you do not even look at it, much less stop. Why is this?”

The carpenter said, “Enough! Not another word about this tree! Its wood is useless. A boat made from its timber would sink; a coffin would rot before you could put it into the ground; any tool you made from it would snap. It has too much sap in it to make a door, and a beam made from its wood would be full of termites. Altogether it is a completely useless tree and that is why it has lived so long.”

One night, after he returned home, the ancient tree came to the carpenter in a dream and spoke to him. “What are you comparing me too,” it asked, “useful trees like cherry, apple, pear, orange, citron and all the other useful trees? Yet for these trees, as soon as the fruit is ripe they are stripped; their branches are broken and torn off. It is their usefulness that causes them so much abuse. Instead of living out the years heaven has given them they are cut off halfway through. So it is for living things. This is why I have worked so long to cultivate the spirit of uselessness. I was almost cut down several times but I have been able to attain a great level of uselessness and this has been very useful to me. If I had been more useful I would never have attained the great age that I have, and grown so large.

“The two of us are similar. We are both just beings in the world. How is it that we go about judging other beings? You, an old and worthless man, about to die, how can you judge me and call me worthless?”

Shih the carpenter awoke then and spent a long time lying in his bed trying to understand this strange dream. Later, when he shared his dream with his apprentice the young man said, “If this ancient tree is so interested in being useless why has it allowed itself to become part of the village shrine?”

His master said, “It is only pretending to be a shrine. It is its way of protecting itself. Even though its timber is useless, if it were not a shrine it would have been cut down long ago. It is totally different from other trees. You cannot hope to understand it!”

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Surrendering to life - 1

The word 'surrender' has bad connotations in our culture. It's equated with defeat, weakness and failure. So much so that we probably need a whole other word for 'surrender' as it's meant in the context of spirituality. This form of surrender has nothing to do with defeat and failure and is actually more synonymous with strength than weakness. It takes a lot of strength and wisdom to know when and how to surrender to life.

Eckhart Tolle defined this form of surrender as simply "yielding to rather than opposing the flow of life." The Tao te Ching is an extended meditation on the art of surrendering to the flow of life. It draws our attention to the inherent perfection of nature, which is driven by an inner force, an underlying principle of balance and harmony. The sun and the wind and rain just do their thing. Animals exist, just doing their thing. In spite of the seeming chaos and violence we might observe in the natural world when viewing its constituent parts and their interaction, when the whole is taken into consideration, we see it is all driven by balance and perfection. Whenever it resists and constricts, something usually happens to bring it back into balance again.

We are not separate from nature or from the natural world. Only the human ego would assume otherwise. And so our lives are really meant to flow in perpetual balance as much as anything in the natural world. This balance is lost the moment our egos interject the notion of 'doership'. Doership revolves around a sense that “I” am living “my life” and “I” am the creative force behind everything that happens in it.

Now, we can shape our lives and destinies to an extent. But it is limited and in our overwhelmingly individualistic, 'power to self' kind of culture, it is greatly overemphasised. We lose touch with the underlying balance of life because when we think that we're the one doing everything, that we have to control and direct every single part of lives. If things go the way we want them to go, we're happy. If things don't conform to our idea of what they should be, we're unhappy.

From an early age we learn that if we manipulate situations in certain way we can get results that are favourable to us and there's nothing wrong with that. Until, that is, it gets out of hand and before we know it we're in a megalomaniacal relationship with life. We become the ultimate dictators. Instead of flowing with life, life has become something separate that we need to endlessly control and manipulate. As a result we're perpetually at war with life.

I believe this is at the root of much of our suffering. We devote years of our lives and exhaustive effort to manipulating life into what we want it to be. Sometimes it works, but often it doesn't...and when it doesn't, we suffer. No matter how much we fret and struggle and strive, life is ultimately going to get its own way: we're going to grow old and die. It's a shattering realisation that when it comes down to the war between us and life, life is ultimately going to emerge victorious. So why fight?

Surrender is acknowledging that there's a deeper flow, a deeper reality beneath the myriad forms of this world which have hitherto absorbed and imprisoned our attention. It's only when we let go of our need to control everything and recognise that our reign as supreme dictator of our lives has caused more pain than gain, that we can begin to form a deeper connection with life.

Contrary to everything we may have been taught, accepting and yielding to the flow of life gives us infinitely more power than trying to control and manipulate every aspect of it. The latter wears us out, grinds us down, tending to make us bitter and disillusioned. The former makes us as fresh and innocent as a young child; we regain some of our wonder at the miraculous gift of life. We connect with a far deeper power and come to experience a profound joy at simply being alive and open to life as it unfolds.

It's also possible that when we approach life from an attitude of surrender and acceptance that situations become more harmonious, because we're no longer creating tension and constriction by trying to control everything. Letting go of our stranglehold on life frees up a whole lot of energy that was otherwise being wasted. Perhaps if we are a little friendlier and kinder to life, life will return the favour? Why not surrender to the flow of life and just see what happens...