Title Image

Glorious

human crush“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives,” wrote Annie Dillard. There are times when the silt of our experience clogs up the arteries of joy. When we spend our lives in days devoid of mystery and wonder.

Finding fault with things outside ourselves becomes habitual, a dripping tap that depletes our lives of the glorious rush of joy and wonderment.Our obsession for thrills, shock and catastrophe corrupts our innocence with the corrosive cyanide of cynicism.

The stories we tell ourselves shape our world. We see what we expect to see. Mystics and shamans, artists and poets have known this for centuries.  “Where you look affects how you feel,” says psychologist, author, and developer of brain-based therapy, Dr David Grand, author of “Brainspotting”.

Psychologist, Ken Wilber, suggests that each decision we make, every action we take, requires a construction of boundaries. We can choose and choose again to remain in our relationships or our jobs. We can draw a boundary around what we choose not to choose. We can choose to be grateful and we can choose to be unhappy. We can choose to spend our days trawling through Facebook or watching news which  drowns  or lifts our spirit.

To the alchemists mercurius was the world-creating spirit. And the spirit imprisoned and concealed in matter. So our mind (Mercury) determines the boundaries of world we live in. We may trap ourselves in a world that we have created by our own perception of reality. We may stay stuck in our own creation. Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle states that the very act of observing itself affects that which we observe. The way we observe and evaluate our inner and outer landscape will predispose us to notice a sunflower thrusting its face towards the sun or a discarded cigarette butt lying in the gutter. The way we observe and evaluate our inner and outer landscape will predispose us to see the love we have been yearning for in the eyes of our partner. Seeing with the heart requires faith and hope and a willingness to look through and beyond the boundaries that confine us.sunflowers_mariapopova

Pollyanna said, “there is something about everything that you can be glad about, if you keep hunting long enough to find it.” And in the midst of the horror surrounding her family during the German occupation of the Netherlands, Anne Frank wrote in her diary, “Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart.”

So if we can learn to see with soft eyes this world around us. And if we can be patient and self-loving in our hunt, we may seek out the magical, the wondrous, in the ordinary everyday things that gladden our hearts.

Seeing with our hearts is an art that comes naturally to the very young and those fortunate few who “trip the light fantastic”  all through this lifetime. It is an art that must be cultivated with gentleness and diligence in our relationships.

The Magical Child archetype can be constellated more easily by those that notice the dragons swirling in ouroboric circles through diaphanous skeins of cloud than those who consult an app to know that today will bring rain. Faith and hope come so naturally, so easily to the very young and to those courageous enough to allow Hope to fly on white wings. Hope and Love endure in all great works of literature, art and film. And yet, for some, “hope is a tease,” as the Dowager Countess of Grantham of Downton Abbey says to her former lover Prince Kuragin, “designed to prevent us from accepting reality.” Perhaps the magic trick is to balance discernment and intelligent thinking with faith and hope. To make space in the busyness of our lives for unbounded dreams and curious observation. To trust our intuition to guide us into chance encounters and surprising new experiences.

city in cloud

Anna Quindlen writes, “you are the only person alive who has sole custody of your life. Your particular life. Your entire life. Not just your life at a desk, or your life on the bus, or in the car, or at the computer. Not just the life of your mind, but the life of your heart. Not just your bank account, but your soul. People don’t talk about the soul very much anymore. It’s so much easier to write a résumé than to craft a spirit. But a résumé is cold comfort on a winter night, or when you’re sad, or broke, or lonely, or when you’ve gotten back the chest X ray and it doesn’t look so good, orbirds and full moon when the doctor writes “prognosis, poor”… Look around at the azaleas making fuchsia star bursts in spring; look at a full moon hanging silver in a black sky on a cold night. And realize that life is glorious, and that you have no business taking it for granted.”

So look around. Allow your eyes to soften as you gaze without words into the face of the one you love today. Life is Glorious.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Natalie Imbruglia – Glorious

 

 

 

3

My Oh My

20150115_portraitWe may not be who we think we are. Our mistaken identity lies at the core of our searching. It is the denizen of collective and personal beliefs and eons of conditioning. It’s a theme that’s stitched into the warp and weft of myth, fairy tale and literature,  superbly depicted in movies like Maleficent.

“We are caught in a trance, a belief that “something is wrong with me” that can be fixed or controlled by growth hormones, mood sensors, happiness meters or surgery, smoothed away by Botox, cured by finding a new therapist, improved with a new lover.

We all have a longing to be seen, to be understood (mindful seeing) and to be loved for what is seen. The wound of unlove is heart-breakingly evoked by Debra Nystrom in her sublime poetry. When we feel unlove we feel we do not belong, we are invisible, cast aside, uncared for. The wound of unlove festers, becomes a necrosis. Our inherent sense of our unworthiness sleeps lightly and wakes each new day when our inner world meets the outer world. For most of our adult lives we learn to re-parent ourselves, to weave together new narratives, new ways of being accepting of who we are. Yet for most of us the voice within keeps asking, “how am I doing? Or am I enough?”

150119-dvd-people-320-240

 

South African poet, Arthur Nortje wrote of his own exile from his country, his people and from himself. He was exiled in the darkness of depression, his life force dissipated by drugs. He wrote, “The isolation of exile is a gutted warehouse at the back of pleasure streets,” and died at twenty-eight years old, never having known his true face, his spiritual heart, his pleasure street.

There are many paths to awakening.

For some of us it is a descent into the Underworld where we are dismembered by depression, an illness that ravages our body, a loss that dissolves the life we once knew, exiles us from ourselves. We cannot see past ourselves until the time comes when we are ready. “when the veil of the trance lifts, the pleasures and pain, the hopes and fears of our small space-suit self still come and go, but they no longer define us,” writes Tara Brach in her book, True Refuge.  

The characters in the 16th Century Commedia dell’ Arte were stock characters. The actors had no lines to memorise though they did need to understand and embody their roles –they improvised, fleshing out the plot, making up the dialogue as they went along. Shakespeare knew that “All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players,” and as we go through the scenes in our lives we make up the dialogue and the action, the conflicts, the dramas. And yet, writes Byron Katie,“reality is always kinder than the stories we tell about it.”  In her work she brings fear-based beliefs and the wound of unlove into the light of awareness where they dissolve with questions that deepen our attention, invite us to pause, to inquire whether the assumptions about our “reality” are really true.

Sometimes we may pause long enough, breathe deeply enough, to recognise a purposeful pattern, a deep Intelligent Design at work. We may feel a connection to the Greater Whole, or be reminded of the gossamer veil between life and death.

ruby red slippersRam Dass in Polishing the Mirror: How to Live from Your Spiritual Heart says that like Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers what we have been looking for has been here all along. And yet, “spiritual practices can themselves become hindrances and obstacles.” Our lives can become performances requiring perfect delivery, problems seeking a solution, reminders of the rigid roles we play that mask our  True Self. Tim Leberecht writes in his excellent piece, Un-Quantify, we “focus on measuring multiple aspects of ourselves to achieve an unreachable nirvana of human optimization.”

Nikos Kazantzakis, Greek philosopher and celebrated author of Zorba the Greek, said pragmatically, “you think too much, that is your trouble. Clever people and grocers, they weigh everything.”

“Only the examined life is worth living,” another wise Greek philosopher famously remarked.

innovation“But it is important to remember that we can examine it without quantifying it. In business and beyond, we can manage what we can’t measure, and in fact we do it every day,” says Tim Leberecht.

To claim a life worth living, he recommends “unplugging from your tools and your carefully cultivated matrix of data. Instead of tracking how many calories you torched during a workout, concentrate on the movements you make, what burns, and what doesn’t—are you able to get out of your head and let go of earlier stresses? To be truly open and present for moments that will bring you what tools can’t track—joy, laughter, happiness, wonder, and love—it is necessary to be attuned to the world around you. What will make you feel more satisfied? Six-months of sleep data, or a belly laugh with a co-worker? You will maximize and optimize but lose the romance of getting to know.”

To claim a life worth living, Buddhist teacher, Ajahn Buddhadasa suggests that we “don’t do anything that takes you away from your body.” Mindful awareness is one way to connect with a safe home base when we are flayed by worry, lacerated by fear. Our bodies live in the present. So when we become aware of our bodies, our inner landscape;  when we quieten our minds, connect with our own breath, we connect with the earth that is our Home.

Leonard Cohen’s voice as smooth and dark as molasses sings out for all of us who have loved and lost another or ourselves …imagesEM1MOPTM

“Held you for a little while
My, oh, my, oh my
Held you for a little while
My, oh, my, oh my…”

Yet we are not in exile. We are Home. We are here now. Doing the best we can.

My Oh My from the album Popular Problems by the inimitable Leonard Cohen

3

Guardian

twin pencilsWe say we want peace on earth. We want wars and genocide to end. We say we want forests to grow and rivers to run with sweet water. We say we want to watch our children play. A Course In Miracles says, just like a sunbeam can’t separate itself from the sun, and a wave can’t separate itself from the ocean, we can’t separate ourselves from one another. We are all part of a vast sea of love, one indivisible Divine Mind.”

We know this in the deep stillness at the Centre of our Beingness. And then we fall asleep once more to waken to the savagery and tragedy in the offices of satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo and brutal scapegoating of Raif Badawi.

We’re crucified by polarity, still living in the tribal mind that acts out of scarcity and survival. Still demands an eye for an eye, a precious life for a precious life that must be weighed in the bloodied scales of blind belief or castrated custom. The ponderous form of Pluto’s slow transit through Capricorn will bring the darkness of our personal and Collective Shadow into form: Stasi States, the Cyclops eye of Big Brother, the silent trawling through great lakes of data by Google and Facebook, the porous walls of private chat rooms.don't speak

Religious oppression, where human dignity, creativity, uniqueness and freedom of expression cower in the shadows. Where whistle-blowers like Edward Snowden and Julian Paul Assange are silenced. Where Raif Badawi faces, what astrologer and blogger, Joanna Watters calls “barbaric consequences” for his thoughts and words which challenge the tribal mind and threaten the status quo.

Bruce Lipton writes in his book, The Honeymoon Effect,  “There is a fundamental biological imperative that propels you and every organism on this planet to be in a community, to be in relationship with other organisms. Whether you’re thinking about it consciously or not, your biology is pushing you to bond. In fact, the coming together of individuals in community (starting with two) is a principle force that drives biological evolution.”

And yet how are we bonding? Are we seeing without sight, hearing without ears when we grip so tightly to our need to be right?

We all see the world differently. Or we like to think that we do. It depends on which lenses we choose to wear. And it depends on how we wear the lenses that are chosen for us.

“Some toxic co-authors live in our world, and others live in our minds,” writes clinical neuropsychologist Mario Martinez in his book, The MindBody Code.Discarding toxic co-authors involves both literal and figurative action.”

 imagesCA3M04XGNelson Mandela said, “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” Tolstoy believed that if only we managed to see through our superficial differences and our fear of the other’s otherness, we’d recognize instantly the universe’s basic “law of love”. It is something to which we are born and attuned, only to forget as we enter adulthood; until we choose, consciously to question, to let go of our learned bias and to see in the other their differentness, even as they brush against our tender places.

Where and how will we be the Guardians of each other’s hearts? How do we demonstrate by our words our actions, Tolstoy’s “law of love”? How can we be the Presence, the Peace, the Generosity we want to see in this world, if not by daily remembrances, daily demonstrations of Grace, of compassion for ourselves and all other sentient beings?

How do we guard ourselves from slipping into the stagnant mire of old thinking without sitting back and saying, it’s just human nature, or more eloquently, the real problem is in the heart of man? Where do we draw the line, erect the wall, raise the drawbridge in this permeable, digital world, stripped bare of mystery, bleached of nuance, devoid of dappled delights, empty spaces, pauses in the bustle of busyness? How do we become Guardians of boundaries when our primitive impulse is to become ensnared in hot-blooded, self-righteous outrage at a world where insanity postures as politics and madness dons the cloak of religion?

irish landscapePerhaps we can be vigilant of our own energy leaks, the thoughts that fly like stealth missiles towards nations or leaders who provide a convenient hook for our own Shadow, our own primitive survival impulses which feed on fear and superstition, good and bad, them and us.

For me, it is the poets, the artists, the musicians who live among us who dust our dull minds and open our blackened hearts with the shimmering sparkle of their Divine Vision. 13th-century Islamic scholar, poet and visionary,Rumi writes in this exquisite verse from Wetness and Water:

How does a part of the world leave the world?
How can wetness leave water?

Do not try to put out a fire
by throwing on more fire.
Do not wash a wound with blood.

No matter how fast you run,
your shadow more than keeps up.
Sometimes it’s in front.

Only full, overhead sun
diminishes your shadow.

But that shadow has been serving you.
What hurts you blesses you.
Darkness is your candle.
Your boundaries are your quest.”hearts_2057988a

 

 

 

Three Hearts – Benetton. Photograph by Oliviero Toscani

 

Alanis Morissette – Guardian

4

Making my Way Back

Sample_Pic_19We all have a natural habitat. A place of comfort and ease that connects us to our natural state of Beingness.

Yet, in the straggle of human settlements that stretch like bleached coral reefs across the landscape, many of us are harnessed to thoughts, beliefs, situations that chaff and constrict. In the dissonant babble of other people’s voices we lose our way, forget what it is that we truly need to nurture our soul. We may wander in exile, lost in the endless surge of sensory stimuli that pluck and prod us off course. Our dreams and longings discarded, forgotten in the sweet meadow of  distant memories.

 

little foxOur neuroses may be a response to being removed our natural  habitat. Our pliable brains adapt to places and situations, while our wise animal bodies speak to us in metaphor, show their dis-ease in symptoms.

Like humans, animals have an inner nature. And while some of their behaviours and defenses are not always due to overt abuse, their adaptations to an alien environment may distort and warp or erupt in aggressive behaviour.

Anna Breytenbach  has devoted her life to inter-species communication. In The Animal Communicator, a documentary  in which Anna demonstrates how animals and humans share the same need to be seen and heard, we see how animals and humans display similar trauma and defenses when out of balance with their natural state of being.

imagesTT24EIEHKatrina Clay, publisher of Healing Springs Journal, describes a Navajo Horse Blessing she witnessed recently in Saratoga County. Each race horse was blessed with the intention that they would heal, let go of past wounds. Many of the race horses distracted themselves with habitual behaviours.

She writes, “good race horses have every physical need met in order to perform well. What is often neglected, however, is experiencing life true to the nature of horses – outdoors in strong social groups, eating 20 hours a day on a variety of nutritionally low plants while travelling as far as 20 miles a day finding them. While some horses and people are well adjusted to domestication, others habitually fill the empty time ordinarily satisfied by searching for food with hollow patterns of behaviour… For a horse, it may come out as cribbing or biting. For a human it may be workaholism … or any multitude of obsessions.”

Over the past thirty years we have all experienced Promethean changes in technology which has changed the way we think, communicate, behave. March 2015 will see a solar eclipse and the final Uranus-Pluto square in the series of seven which have reflected global events, particularly in the use and mis-use of power as well as the unprecedented proliferation of new technology. Perhaps this final square will bring a sense of resolution for some of us in some deeply personal way. A decision to take the action needed to make those changes that reflect inner growth. A choice to replace habitual thoughts or behaviours with new ways of being in this world that resonates with an authentic place within.

chimanzeeChange is unsettling, even threatening for humans and animals. We, like the other animals on this planet, are hardwired for danger. Our anxious brains have kept us alive for eons. Many of us tend to become more calcified as we age, more fearful, more sealed into our ticks and twitches. For most of us, letting go of our defenses is threatening. For some of us, we will never be ready or willing to embrace the changes which terrify us. And yet, it is in the taking of baby steps that we can truly follow our bliss and find our way back to a place where we feel a Belonging.

“We have not yet arrived, but every point at which we stop requires a re-definition of our destination,” writes poet, Ben Okri,in Tales of Freedom.

 

imagesOI7HXGM3Beneath the surfaces of our lives our yearnings flutter and soar like the summer swallows on thermals of delight. Our places of nurture which will be different for each one of us. Like the brave green shoots that thrust from cracks in pavements and the trees that stand sentinel alongside swirl and swish of traffic, we live amidst noise and fumes of humans in continuous motion. Yet some of us may know those places of silence. If we allow ourselves to go there, we may re-visit that spacious zone where we expand into our Belonging. Perhaps making our way back will require one day a week where we switch off the phone, leave the incessant demands of our in-box, turn our eyes away from the twitter stream or the distractions that become our armouring and our straight-jacket. Perhaps then we will glimpse our natural habitat. Perhaps then we will know that private place, where we feel our Belonging.

Gemma Hayes from the new album Bones and Longing

Making my Way Back

 

 

2

Damn You

damn you picWe  talk glibly about someone being “a narcissist.” We detonate the word like a Catherine wheel on Hallowe’en; toss it over our left shoulder like a pinch of salt, and like the origins of Hallowe’en or the ritual of tossing salt over our left shoulder, we’re unaware of the moist kernel of meaning beneath the brittle husk. It’s a label that sticks tenaciously in the Victim Perpetrator model of relationships, and in a culture of self-aggrandisement that puts Self above all other sentient beings. It multiplies like an algal bloom in a culture where we consume other people’s ideas, gobble down advertisers’ enticements. We’re plugged in, eyes down, thumbs moving. Tuned out to silence.
In a particular brand of blame and shame psychology that has lodged unquestioned, unexamined in mainstream consciousness, a narcissist is our boss, our ex, a friend who has offended us in some way. They’re the ones who are utterly self-absorbed, aggressive, and abusive. They’re the cause of our divorce or our unhappiness at work. Despite  popular  assumption, a narcissist does not truly love herself. She doesn’t even know who she is . In her self-absorbed flaunting, in his amplified bravado, in her need to stand apart in her frenzied desire to need to be seen, is an emptiness, an isolation, that echoes pitifully across the babble of voices that tweet and twitter and stare into the glazed eyes of a masturbatory Selfie.
As human populations flourish across the surface of the earth, millions of souls jostle for space, air,work and food in Gotham Cities all over the world. We contract our energy, seal our body space, tune out the noise, the smells, avoid the eyes, the bodies, as we weave and glide over dirty streets, plugged into our I Pods, eyes down, caressing the smooth surfaces of our Tablets.

Therapist Esther Perel suggests that the merge model of relationship is challenging to the Millennials. I would suggest it is challenging to so many who ascribe to The Cult of the Individual. Working in collaboration with someone requires compromise, empathy, and an ability to accept that being “needy or weak or vulnerable” is part of our humanness.

Solitary bliss has an elusive, dreamy quality that advertisers have crafted into a make-believe bubble of desirability, perhaps even mandatory if we are to be normal well adjusted, differentiated human beings. The pursuit of Happiness has become a full-time occupation in the affluent Western World, the belief that we are worth it, that we have the right to have something more.untitled

According to authors of  The Narcissism Epidemic,  Keith Campbell and Jean Twenge, we are living in an age of entitlement. “The symptoms of the disease range from the extreme (hiring fake paparazzi to follow you around for a weekend) to the more ubiquitous, garden-variety solipsism (Twittering what you ate for lunch or hiring a professional photographer to take your Facebook photo). Translated into the realm of romantic relationships, the message comes across as: I’m great, and you’d better be, too.”
Esther Perel elaborates, “the culture of narcissism is about your personal happiness coming first and your partner coming second,” says Esther Perel. She adds, though, “Narcissism is actually a clinical personality disorder affecting 1 to 3 percent of the population, not an occasional attitude.”

We pay lip service to self-esteem with Botoxed lips and smooth shiny foreheads. We still look outside ourselves for validation and approval. And if we don’t get it, well then, damn you! To find ourselves has become the Holy Grail. We meditate, go to therapy, do yoga, with the same zealous application our great grandmothers used to bleach stained linen. We invest time, money and energy into ourselves. Why would we want to share our Obsession with someone else? We follow our bliss with the same single minded blinkered zeal that our forefathers used to hack down the great forests, alter the courses of rivers, decimate, or convert the indigenous inhabitants. Yet in the frenetic rush to get somewhere, be someone, there is no time, no silence to be still and go within.

narcissisFor me, myths and fairy tales are repositories of wisdom. These age-old stories carry the unperturbed truths that ripple through our lives today. They teach us that nothing has changed, nothing is “trending”. And that all our neurosis is just a minute piece in the large tapestry of evolution and transformation. The story of the beautiful youth, Narcissus, is a tale of self-absorption, spurned lovers, arid intellectualism without conversation with the moist wetness of our soul. So the story begins, as so many good stories do, with a concerned mother of an extremely beautiful young boy. She asks the blind prophet Tiresias “will he live to an old age?” to which wise Tiresias replied, “as long as he does not know himself.” So she hides all the mirrors in their home and her precious boy Narcissus grows up to be extraordinarily handsome, adored by all who meet him. Because he has never seen his own face, he depends on the reactions of others to tell him how beautiful and desirable he is.

Positive self-delusion has resulted in evolutionary leaps in technology, science, medicine and commerce. The bleached bones of many narcissists lie loosely in graveyards decorated with flags marked with marble tombstones. Today narcissism is a me-first Ivy-league requirement for Alpha males and females who deftly play the corporate chess game. It’s a must for those who hanker after their fifteen minutes (or more) of fame or infamy.

google glass“A reality shaped around your own desires — there is something sociopathic in that ambition,” writes Zadie Smith in her superbly crafted essay Find Your Beach. Our self-absorbed ambition pushes impatiently through the crowds. Our desires Tweet and Like. Don’t  question.

In doorways and under bridges of our metropolises  the homeless are unseen and unheard. I was struck by the poignancy of a plaque placed on an unremarkable cement bench along the river in Nashville today. I wondered about the woman who chose this name for her baby and the little girl who grew to be Tara Denise Cole, homeless on the streets of this American city. I wondered, did she live and die unseen, unheard, un-reflected in the shimmering green waters of the Cumberland River.a tribute to the homeless

Lana Del Rey – Damn You

5