therapy journey

My journey to better mental & spiritual health

The stream of warm impermanence.

I wrote recently on someone else’s blog that embracing impermanence is so beautiful yet many people are afraid of its emptiness. We are led to believe from an early age that only that which is sustainable forever is worth pursuing. Of course, our lives are much too long and complicated to hold fast to such idealistic and rigid statutes. There is not only beauty but meaning in passing through situations, places and people and above all much we face up to about ourselves in the process.

I have designed my life in such a way that everything in it is temporary. My job, where I live, my relationships, my pursuits, even my very philosophy of life is always evolving. Sometimes, it’s scary. I worry about being untrue to myself because I’m perhaps not looking after myself, or going after salvation in the wrong places. But what it comes down to is that everything’s a phase. This whole journey is nothing more than a miscellany of phases, plots and subplots, strung together by a flimsy narrative. It’s the narrative that I’m working on. Everything else is change – it has to be.

I’m finally reading The Road Less Travelled which has been on my reading list since I started writing this blog. I’m only a short way in but already it has compelled me to start writing as it’s too inspirational and revelatory not to capture and share. M. Scott Peck believes that life is a series of problems, and we should accept this rather than denying or avoiding them. It is the process of meeting and solving problems that gives life meaning. Discipline is the basic tool required to tackle problems and consists of delaying of gratification, acceptance of responsibility, dedication to truth, and something he terms ‘balancing’.

One of the things that struck a chord with me was the idea that feeling that you are valuable is a cornerstone of possessing self-discipline, because self-discipline is self-caring. “It is a direct product of parental love. Such a conviction must be gained in childhood; it is extremely difficult to acquire it during adulthood”. Do I think myself valuable, do I self-care? In many ways, no I don’t. Although I have narcissistic tendencies, these are more coping mechanisms. On the inside I really do not think of myself as valuable, and am all too amenable to the whims and fancies of others. I had a moment of feeling out of sorts yesterday and what was underpinning it I believe, was the sense that I’m out of control. My not feeling valuable has manifested itself in having no life plan at age 30 and never, ever having had one. I continue to exhibit a careless, come-what-may attitude to many aspects of my self, and I call this freedom and crazy subplots, but just occasionally they concern me.

Peck describes the two types of therapy patients, and typically most will fit into one grouping or the other. Neurotics assume too much responsibility, essentially believing that they are at fault. Those afflicted with character disorders conversely believe that the rest of the world is the problem. The issue of where our responsibilities lie is never solved. Continually throughout our lives we assess and reassess shifting responsibilities and figure out what is within our remit and what isn’t. No problem can be solved until an individual assumes responsibility for it, and solves it. I learned for myself a few months ago that taking responsibility – and doing something about it – ends up being the most freeing thing in the world.

Our view of reality is like a map with which we negotiate the terrain of life. We make our own maps as we go along, and those who do not review their maps, or falsely believe them to be complete, will have a Weltanschauung which is narrow and misleading. If we are to be dedicated to the truth, we expect a life of never-ending, stringent self-examination. We expect pain, because to avoid reality is to avoid pain. But why would we live a life of dedication to truth, when it is going to be painful, uncomfortable and as is so often the case, downright inconvenient? Because truth is more vital than comfort, which is often its opposite. We should welcome personal discomfort when it is occurs in service of the search for truth. Mental health is a process of dedication to reality at all costs.

The fourth and final facet of discipline is balancing. Balancing allows for flexibility and degrees of things. Life does not have to be all black and white – either letting everyone in or letting no-one in. Always expressing anger in a loud and hasty way. The essence of balancing is ‘giving up’, or depriving oneself of a luxury that is not serving the individual or is hurting others. The ‘giving up’ of the old self is a necessary and painful part of the transitioning that psychotherapy enables. This can manifest itself as a type of depression, which is something I must happily tell myself when I let it all get to me.

What I am going through is the growing out of a previous stage of life into a new stage of maturity. The rebirth is joyful and also brings with it plenty of delicious doubts, fears, anxieties and pain. Most of all I’m learning how to be true to myself. I’m learning to think of myself as valuable and to love myself because that is the root of everything good that I can achieve.

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The process is the outcome.

“When you buy something from an artist, you’re buying more than an object. You’re buying hundreds of hours of errors and experimentation. You’re buying years of frustration and moments of pure joy. You’re not buying just one thing, you are buying a piece of a heart, a piece of a soul. A small piece of someone else’s life.”

This quote (I couldn’t find to whom it was attributed), was read out at my group’s meet last night. A member brought it along for me, and at the end, shared it. After he read it I thanked him and told him it made me feel emotional. Almost like I was going to cry.

The group last night met to take part in a spot of intuitive painting. I found some great guidelines and drew on my own experience taking part in a group like this in Oakland, CA. Intuitive painting is a process and a form of therapy. We allow ourselves to be inside paint and colour. We uncover images of our inner selves.

The very experience of it is the transformative aspect of intuitive painting, not the work that is produced. I have half a mind next time to bring to the session the process of burning our paintings after we’re finished, to underline the point that what’s produced is of no consequence. This is the one place in art where we can do away with fetishising our objects. Paraphrasing Nancy Fletcher Cassell’s document, here are some ideas for intuitive, or process painting.

1. Painting as meditation
After correct preparation with necessary materials, use the session to allow your mind to wander to wherever it goes. Allow no interruptions. Don’t stop painting until the allotted time runs out.

2. Painting as healing
Be aware of what the painting is trying to say. Use affirmations which validate self-expression and stimulate self-acceptance.

3. Painting as journaling
Use journals to start with. Then trust the process and move to painting. Without forcing particular results, deep issues can come up.

4. Painting to silence your inner critic
This is play, there is no good or bad, right or wrong. Free your body and spirit. Accept and allow your responses. Release yourself.

5. Painting to live a full life
It’s never too late to start painting. The spark of creativity exists in everyone regardless of age, perceived ability, background etc.

6. Painting to relieve stress
Small message cards with affirmations encourage freedom and help us get past fear and beliefs about our limitations. They might include: Offend yourself. Allow the light. Use your anger. Forget who you think you are. Steal your own heart.

7. Painting to rest & renew your spirit
Become your instinctive self. Take a holiday without leaving home. Know that all you need exists within you.

8. Painting to feed your professional art practice
Take away all expectations. Forget that part of your creativity which receives praise and reward. Forget about what others in your field would think of you.

9. Painting to release creative blocks
Dive deep into the process, staying alive and awake. Use as many tools as necessary, while reading poems, listening to music, viewing objects and using personal experience both positive and negative.

10. Paint to give yourself life
“Don’t wait. Painting is only an idea until you begin. Forget about wanting, needing, or expecting support from others. Forget about people liking or praising your art work. Painting in this manner can help release fear on all levels in all areas of your life.”

Another thing I found with the process is that even though we’re sitting there, each working on our own pieces and not speaking for 45 minutes, and we’re painting incessantly, it is a sort of collaboration as what we’re exchanging is energy.

There was lots of surprising synchronicity at the session. The two guided imagery visualisations I ended with, referenced planets and rose gardens, which coincidentally had come up in the participant’s work. At the end there was no critiquing, no mutual admiring of each other’s work. There was just a great feeling of energy rejuvenation and renewed faith in myself and my creativity. I hadn’t painted since I was in America.

I went into it with all ten of the intentions above. I gave a lot to the experience and received good vibes and energy in return. Writing about everything kind of sucks the living out of life, makes it all sound so serious. I want to play, to have fun, to dance and sing and paint and make other people feel good and feel OK making a fool of myself. To feel! I want to say everything’s OK, because it is. It’s more than OK! It’s stupendous!

The active mind.

“How wild it was, to let it be.” ― Cheryl Strayed, Wild

At last night’s meditation class, I had a startling realisation. I can’t meditate! It was freeing. Things we had learned were reiterated: meditation is the ability to look inside yourself. Breath is connected to thought. Sound is to do with emotion. You become the observer of your thoughts, like an audience watching a play, without making the drama a reality. Meditation is said to give energy, and for this reason it is wise to meditate in the morning.

We were instructed to focus on the sound of the heartbeat without consciously trying to stop, slow, or control thoughts. Apparently, by carrying on like this, eventually during the meditation and perhaps after some practice, it is possible to transcend them. It seems like an impossible game. It seems exactly like ‘the game’ – that you lose by remembering the fact that you’re playing the game. During this session’s 45 minute meditation, I believe I truly meditated for no more than 15 seconds. I started feeling a little sleepy towards the end but that was drifting off, not meditating.

For all the talking and writing I do about hardcore meditating, even running a group in which guided meditation is an important part of it, I have never really been able to do it. I enjoy trying and I like the idea of it, but it’s beyond my spiritual capabilities at the moment. I sit there and think, think, think, about every subject under the sun from pop trivia to people I know to mundane matters. I cannot sit still. This is the hardest part for me. I know it’s going to be 45 minutes and I feel every second of it and it practically aches. I don’t have the discipline when it comes to sitting still, doing nothing, thinking nothing. It is literally beyond me.

I know meditation isn’t easy, in fact it’s incredibly difficult. But I have tried it so many times with many different leaders and approaches. Nothing sticks. I’m fine with that, it’s not my time, it’s not in my scope of possibility yet. I’m stubborn so I probably will continue with it, only now I have no expectations.

I think my path is going to be one that’s more jubilant, joyful and active. I’ve heard of ecstatic dance in a few cities and it’s something I’d like to try, maybe in California. I would rather connect outwards than inwards, and use and feel my body and be joyful rather than focussing on the impossible. I’ve started going to acting improvisation classes, which is wonderfully terrifying. It’s early days but I enjoyed the first session and felt like I was alive and not wrapped in the suffocating comfort of home.

There were many exercises including forum theatre, where the two actors improvising a scene change their situation on the audience’s command. There was an activity in the round which a new participant would join a scene and when they do, they change it, and then when the whole group was involved, the same process each time an actor left. There was an activity in which one person reads lines from a script without deviating from that, and the other adlibs. That particular one was such a hoot and I laughed uncontrollably – not great when it was my scene but a real chance to give in to the moment while watching the other performers. There is a chance that down the line we may be able to put on a show at the theatre space where we meet.

So my mind is like that drunken monkey being bitten by a scorpion. It’s hard to shut it down through meditation but I’m not truly ready, willing or able to do that yet. And that’s just fine. It will come as I break free, as I grow up, and I pull in influences, and I experience more life, and when the time’s right. For the minute I’d rather direct it into pursuits that help connect me with others, have fun and fulfil my goal of overcoming fear.

Fear and loving.

“The seat of fear is in your heart and not in the hand of the feared.” – Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

Life continues on its mad meander, always. Finding myself returning to a community I always thought of as indifferent, I’ve made efforts to reach out and feel a sense of oneness on a par with true nature. I launched a group which aims to help other people to explore themselves, exchange ideas, embrace spirituality, engage with our fellow adventurers, and let go of fear, negativity and anything else that holds us back. I would like this group to unlock participants’ childlike inner states such as joy, creativity and being outside of time. It is my fond hope that as we build momentum through deeper connection and diverse activities, we find some measure of peace, happiness and unity.

We met for our first session a few days ago and had a great connective experience, meditating and reading. One participant read from Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet. Freedom, according to the speaker in the story, is in rising above physical concerns. Freedom is painted as a strong, glittering chain, as a ‘yoke and a handcuff’. There was a line that refers to casting off ‘fragments of yourself’ in order to become free, which highlights the absurdity of that which, through sentimentality, materialism or notions of ownership, we think of as part of ourselves. All that we need for freedom is already an intrinsic part of the self, though expressing freedom requires self-discipline, integrity and sacrifice. Casting off the shackles of the slave’s imprisonment becomes itself the fetter of a greater freedom.

Peace and freedom are very noble, but days like yesterday remind me that I still have a long way to go on my little journey. I felt the resurgence of anger, and I took it out on someone. A stranger, who happened to get my goat and validated every stinking rotten suspicion I had about the people in this village. Of course, that makes me a hypocrite: what happened to engaging with community? The feeling of love for all is not automatic; it’s beyond hard, and for me right now, impossible. Not being able overcome the instinct to lash out makes me worry. I worry that all the time I’m being nice I was merely pretending. I wonder whether loving and respecting everyone ever can become automatic.

It comes from consciously choosing what we want in our lives. It comes from choosing what thoughts to have. So, I made a decision to become angry. While I regretted it almost immediately, I have to accept that it’s OK to feel less than OK. With everything I’m doing, I am learning. I haven’t yet had an experience that has changed me fundamentally. The last thing I would want is to miss out on my own humanity in single-minded pursuit of high-end spiritual programs.

When I am utterly frustrated, which seems to be happening a lot lately, I don’t feel very myself. For someone who runs a group about being authentic, this could be troubling. But what I want to say to myself is, “it’s OK”. Sometimes I sit and feel sorry for myself. Sometimes I silently sulk and stew. Sometimes I act like a giant baby. Sometimes I cry with epic frustration and total sadness. I both love and hate the fact that my life is so comfortable at the moment. I hate what that makes me.

To step out of my cushy comfort zone, I’ve developed this game in which every day I try to do something that scares me. I’m going to try and push through this every day I am in England. Years ago I attempted to commit to a guiding mantra of “let nothing and nobody scare me”. It was conceived at a time when alcohol provided me with a handy Invincibility Cloak. I’ve carried it around all this time. Now, rather than that motto be full of spurious braggadocio, I’m coming at things from a humble and loving standpoint. I’m seeking out fear, challenging its very existence and staring it down. It’s shown to be nothing more than a figment of my imagination.

Into the heartspace.

We’re bored. We’re all bored now. But has it ever occurred to you, Wally, that the process that created this boredom that we see in the world now may well be a self-perpetuating, unconscious form of brainwashing created by a world totalitarian government based on money and that all of this is much more dangerous than one thinks? And it’s not just a question of individual survival, Wally, but that somebody who’s bored is asleep, and somebody who’s asleep will not say no? – Andre, ‘My Dinner With Andre’.

Some time has passed since the last time I wrote on therapy journey. In that time, therapy journey has turned one year old, and a new calendar year has also commenced with haste. It has been a period of readjustment and coming around. It has been a time of cold winds and hot baths; long goodbyes and short days; high hopes and low pressure; a time for shining brightly in the dark. I feel like I’ve been gathering myself up, and expressing what I am in all that I do more clearly than ever before.

I’ve cast out the old. In a literal sense, I’ve got around to a task I’d been putting off for years, namely selling, giving away or throwing out hundreds of old possessions that I no longer need. This has been a difficult operation to get my head around, as many of the things I’m disposing of still fit, are current or have plenty of use left. But I’ve realised I simply have too many of these things – mainly clothes and accessories – and rather than hang on to them while they depreciate (and for it to cost me, in various resources, for the privilege), I made the decision that it would be better for them to find a new home while they still hold some value.

It’s been a shaming but humbling experience. From the spiritual side of my being, I can say with certainty that things don’t matter. But from the point of view of minimising waste, allocating resources efficiently, enabling others, sharing my prosperity and respecting the abundance of the planet, it has been important to me that my unwanted possessions go to homes where they too can find a new lease of life until planned obsolesce kicks in, as it inevitably will. I aim to live not only more frugally but with what I already have, which is perfectly adequate in every way. Items may need to be replaced over time but at a more ambling pace. It is my hope that while adjusting to less, for every new item in my wardrobe I get rid of two already in it.

I wrote on this blog some weeks ago about the awful situation that befell me when I unexpectedly ran out of anti-depressant medication. Recently I wrote a letter to my GP informing him of exactly what my predicament was. I chose the letter format to express this because I didn’t want to miss anything out, and one can be more formal and cogent in writing. It also served to express how cut off I was when I requested his help, as I was rebuffed contact by phone and email, leaving only the medium of fax which has been entirely useless for the past fifteen years. I was jubilant after delivering the letter, if only with the hope that the doctor thinks twice about prescribing this medication without a well-thought out weaning-off method worked out. It was my own fault however, to leave for an extended trip without thinking through how to resupply, but I naively thought it would be easy.

In that letter I was able to express some of my darker moments which while I am not proud of, were important to keep hold of during my recovery. “I had an episode where I became convinced that I would kill myself, not out of depressive thoughts but because I became paranoid that the drug was intended to kill me, control me and rot my mind and I would never be free of it. I phoned a couple of my friends and they talked me round.” I am more grateful to the people (and dogs) that surrounded me and comforted me, than to the medical establishment and its wider structure of red tape and loopholes which let them off the hook.

These matters are behind me now, thankfully. Tonight I took myself off to a local meditation group in its second week. This meditation aims to go deep into the heartspace, using sound and our ability to listen to our own heartbeat to focus on emotion. This is in contrast to breath meditation in which mental thought is channelled or invoked. We allow our inner processes to interact with the outside. But we wore earplugs, so all we heard was within ourselves.

Others reported peacefulness, space around them, seeing flowers and wanting to smell them, being enveloped by a cushion that turned liquid. I have to admit that during the powerful 45 minute meditation, I didn’t feel anything profound, no vital energy bubbling up within, nor visions nor even a clearing of the mind. I felt acutely aware of my body and of time passing. I didn’t “go” anywhere. It was beyond me, a beginner, to give into the fullness of the meditative experience, especially one that wasn’t guided. We are meant to learn about our inner nature but I only learned that my energy is not settled in this place. It is shifting, it is unsettled. No matter what I do to gloss over the fact – and I am not consciously aware of it, but I found out tonight that it is wanting to return to a place that is more home than this one.

And then I realised I was the earthchild.

The title of this post comes from a creativity meditation I attended a couple of nights ago. I felt it strongly and powerfully and it made my aching soul sing just a little bit. I’ve been feeling strangely misaligned recently – that really is the best word for it. My intentions are out of kilter with my reality, my perception isn’t in accord with true nature, and I’m failing to see abundance and joy some of the time. I’m experiencing anger rising sometimes. I’m rubbing up against people’s bad sides. And I’m experiencing that most ungodly of all emotions: fear.

However this is just one small part of who I am today. Yes there’s fear, neuroticism, panic, worry, anger, paranoia and doubt. But there are also measures of true authenticity, joy, laughter, the ability to see absurdity, as well as magnetism, happiness and the pure sublime. Above all the feeling is freedom, which propels me forward in a world without limits.

My wishes for this most sacred of times, the winter solstice of the year 2014, are to trust myself, to live with authenticity and to see the abundance that is all around. I also wish to be kind to myself, although I find this concept the hardest to understand let alone put into practice. I wish to acknowledge some of my struggles of the past as I work hard to put them behind me. There is literally no time for the past.

A friend sent me the link today to an article which puts everything I wanted to say better than I ever could on this auspicious day. We learn that by facing up to our deepest, darkest emotions we can move forward.  I believe that no-one is broken and ‘healing’ is a redundant concept but I agree with the sentiment that self-forgiveness leads to the release of toxic and self-sabotaging patterns. However challenging this may prove to be, writing about it here is one of the steps to making it reality.

As part of the ‘releasing the darkness’ stage, we are urged to write an intention, and then burn the paper on which it is written, followed by smudging sage. I am not doing this myself because I can’t get my head around rituals yet, coming as I do from a tradition full of them, and finding pain and inauthenticity there. Rituals still freak me out. Nevertheless the words Syma Kharal uses are beautiful and I wanted to share them here:

“Dear Higher Self/God/Spirit/Universe: No matter what has happened in the past, I am now willing to release everything about it that brought me fear and pain. I surrender to you all that no longer serves me for healing, cleansing and purification. Help me to forgive and be forgiven by all involved. Align my vision that I may see everything from your enlightened perspective and move forward with wisdom, grace, strength and love. So be it.”

Speaking of rituals, it is my fond hope that in the future I overcome my fear of ritual and prayer, and participate in spiritual rituals in order to experience what’s called “liminality”, derived from the Latin limen meaning boundary or threshold. These boundaries might separate the sacred from the profane. A ritual is a dynamic and engaged creative prayer that allows us to set aside the time to recognise, honour and celebrate seminal aspects of life. I’m currently reading about this in ‘The Red Book’ by Sera Beak. The book is all about igniting one’s divine spark and is intended as a no-nonsense guide for young women.

It’s a very inspirational book that I wish I could have read fifteen years ago. But – no regretting the past in any way, shape or form, as the present time is all we have. That’s why the present is a gift. Beak writes that when we open ourselves up to the divine,

“[…] life becomes much  more flavorful. Profound meaning illuminates even the most mundane of events. My relationships deepen. My voice becomes clearer. My work excels. My personal issues become less draining and dramatic. I am less affected I require less outside approval. My self-confidence beams. I laugh more. I judge less. My sexuality roars. Random acts of kindness become a necessity, not just a whim. […] My perspectives are amplified. I see the world around me at much more than face value, and as a result, I make clearer choices across the board […] I realize I’m not just some well-dressed biped trudging through life but actually an incredibly powerful and integral piece of the divine pie.”

She’s a spunky chick and I aim to go deep with my learnings into my divine spark and how to enhance it and be true to myself. Remembering always that authentic divine truth never separates people from each other, countries from each other, religions from each other. I’m receiving the tiniest spark of divinity but it’s possible to smother it with too much kindling, or to let the fire go out without the right nurturing. I want to see this through. Intention is everything. There will be times when I am rude to people. There will be times I am frustrated and utterly disappointed. I will continue to be angry some of the time, because this is a divine part of me, but these will be fewer and further between, I hope, as intentions and reality align. I am the earthchild, I am divine, I am myself, I am everything and nothing.

“It’s all about paradox, mystery, meditation, sexuality, long walks, and momentous haircuts.” – Sera Beak, ‘The Red Book’.

abundance

Own it.

The things you own end up owning you. – Tyler Durden.

The idea of owning something seems so normal, and indeed property is an ancient notion: but make no mistake, ownership is an invention, and a costly one at that, spawning so much waste and inefficiency which is at the heart of our current money system. It’s wasteful because of the care that’s needed to look after our things. In no small part due to the money system’s inbuilt planned obsolescence. It’s wasteful also because of having to protect our accumulation of things from those who might covet them due to inequality and perceived scarcity in or society which creates what we call crime.

The Earth itself is largely owned by individuals and by national governments. On the whole we have rigid notions of property (‘a thing or things belonging to someone’), and as long as we have the means to pay for something, we can call it ours. When an item becomes waste however, it ceases to be our property – our problem – any longer. If something is abundant or has no use, it has no value and falls into the category of waste. Use creates value when we acquire something such as a plate. But we have no such claim of ownership to our poop, because it is abundant (we can always make more) and has no use (at least not for most people). However the idea of waste is entirely antithetical to how natural ecosystems operate.

The Venus Project’s most recent newsletter picks apart notions of ownership and waste. It’s clear that owning property enhances status is society, because stuff equals wealth equals power. Consider the average car owner in the US. He drives 36 miles per day, or less than one hour. That means his car is not used for 23 hours per day. In this country there are 2.28 cars per household. 35% of households own three or more cars, with 1.2 billion cars in the world and 65 million produced every year. What a waste of the Earth’s resources it is for each car owner to buy their vehicle, store it, take care of it and dispose of it, for the sake of the mere 4% of the time when it’s being used.

With the case of food waste, it’s estimated that 30 – 50% (1.2 – 2 billion tons) of all food that is produced remains uneaten. This is in large part down to the fact that someone owns the food and someone else has to acquire it to gain ownership and the right to eat it.

Our notion of property is the result of cultural conditioning and it is not necessarily the same everywhere even in today’s homogenised world. A remote tribe was brought to a city in the UK and taught the whys and wherefores of our societal norms such as why not to poop in the street or hunt cats. Without such guidance, they would have had no clue how to survive in a modern Western city. In the same way, there needs to be a shift in consciousness for our ownership hang-ups to change, and people might be taught how things could be different. This touching example of cross cultural naiveté that can teach us a lot. On seeing a homeless man sleeping outside an office block, a tribe member remarked, “Aren’t there any places left for this man in these big buildings?” In the tribe’s culture, when an outsider with no home arrives, a new place is built for him or he is welcomed into someone’s hut. The tribe member had no notion of property.

Everything that falls under the money system’s pervasive remit is tainted by overconsumption and waste. Clothes for example. 12.2 million tons of the 14.3 million tons of textile waste generated in 2012 wasn’t recycled. That’s equivalent to three times the mass of the world’s African elephant and blue whale populations combined.

Is the solution to rent rather than buy stuff? No, because waste is a part of the system of overconsumption. Being in business means selling a product or service, if you don’t sell enough, bankruptcy ensues. Also, décor and fashion objects are specifically designed to be owned as they represent social status. Even if we could conceive of a world in which we solely rented our cars, clothes, appliances and only ate in restaurants, it wouldn’t stop the artificially manufactured desire that is created by advertising. We’d be encouraged to rent more, as planned obsolescence would just involve constant updates to our mounds of rented stuff.

The Venus Project’s idealistic solution is a system which monitors all of the earth’s resources, tracking them in real time. In their utopia, there would be no barter or exchange and all products would be easily upgradeable. I would add to this, no ‘thing’ in itself would be seen to make a statement about its user. Without advertising, there’d be no false needs created. Stuff as a means of defining one’s shaky sense of self would disappear.

I would love to discard the mountains of stuff that prevent me from moving around the world at will, and instead use what I needed when I needed, wherever I happened to be. The Venus Project is optimistic about this happening but I think the current system would collapse and be plunged into chaos before mass consciousness voluntarily changes. Yes, the example of the tribe shows it is possible, but this is a small community that has never been bitten by the affluenza bug. We collectively are a tribe of more than seven billion people and a huge proportion of us, whether we live in China, Russia, America, Europe or Australia, know nothing else except buy what you want and trash what you don’t. I suspect near-Armageddon would have to happen before we decide it’s time to stop trashing the planet.

The bottom line is this: when your time comes and your whole life flashes before you, will it hold your interest? How much of the story will be about moments of clarity and grace, kindness, and caring? Will the main character – you – appear as large and noble as life itself, or as tiny and absurd as a cartoon figure, darting frantically among mountains of stuff? It’s up to you, and indeed, it’s up to all of us! – ‘Affluenza’

I have no self. I am not a self. There is no I. There is nothing.

I chanced upon an entirely philosophical idea recently that has mind-boggling power. There is a universal notion that we all take for granted – the notion of I. Me. That is, the first person self or “unified being which is the source of consciousness”. The thing I refer to as I is separate from the whole. It is unique and we each have a special personal duty to our individual Is. It is almost impossible to dispense with oneself as the source for the individual’s thoughts and actions. Every society has the idea of accountability or personal responsibility once we become adult.

It is interesting to see what happens when we shift our understanding and start to see this I as a fictional creation. What happens? We now the world as the seamless, dynamic and discrete organism that it is. Now consider that I am a part of this thing without an enduring ego or self. Suddenly there are no static pieces of the puzzle to be removed, reassembled and replaced at will. There are no meaningful boundaries between one organism and another. There is just what is. The detail dissolves into the bigger picture. It helps if we imagine consciousness as a mistake.

Of course we need Is in order to function in society. On the whole, we avoid what is threatening and seek out that which is beneficial to our survival and personal fulfilment. I search for ego validation constantly to confirm my sense of self. We all do. Self-affirmation proves that people that matter understand me, love me, accept me, respect me or whatever it is I’m craving at any given moment.

I’m considering the idea that the I is not real in an ultimate sense. It’s a meaningless fiction that only exists in our minds in the manner of a useful collective delusion. It represents a shallow and restrictive way of being that for many people, is absorbing to the point of obsession.

I know I am quite deep and self-obsessed. I like the I that… well, I have constructed. Not only does it serve me well in my interactions with other people, but it is endlessly fascinating. But suppose for a moment I consider the alternative. The Śūnyatā is a beautiful Buddhist concept which refers to emptiness, vacuity, openness. I have been watching a lot of maths programmes lately and an interesting connection is that Śūnyatā comes from the very culture that gave us the zero (śhūnya). The scriptures of the Theravadan Buddhist tradition, called the Pāli Canon, uses the Śūnyatā term in three ways. Firstly as a meditative dwelling. Secondly as an attribute of objects. And lastly as a type of awareness-release. It’s Śūnyatā as awareness-release that I’m most interested in.

One simply notes what is present without identifying those things with one’s own self. It is achieved through intense concentration and increased awareness of shifting and subtle levels of disturbance. This is an exchange between the Buddha and his attendant Ānanda:

Ānanda: It is said that the world is empty […] in what respect […] is it empty?
Buddha: Insofar as it is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self: thus it is said, Ānanda, that the world is empty.

I love this idea of emptiness as a huge positive affirmation of life, its interconnectedness and oneness, rather than a sadness. Tonight I went to a creativity meditation class, in which we focussed on feeling awareness in our bodies rather than minds. It was a welcome relief as my mind has been chattering incessantly since I stopped taking paroxetine a week ago. The good news is the withdrawal only lasts between 2 and 6 weeks. I’ve started a heady cocktail of herbal medication which should combat some of the side effects of the withdrawal. The remedies I’ve started are Omega 3 EFA complex (for head zaps); B-Complex 100 (to boost mood as well as supporting metabolism and nervous system); melatonin (for sleep); ‘Scullcap’ (Scutellaria lateriflora for sleep, relaxing and overcoming anxiety); and an anti-anxiety blend of kava kava, passionflower, bacopa, albizia & lavender. I took my first dose of the anti-anxiety stuff a few hours ago and feel a little better already, plus the head zaps have abated touchwood as my brain readjusts.

Last night was one of my worst experiences. I didn’t fall asleep until 11am and then only for two hours. During the night I took six herbal sleeping tablets I had lying around to no avail. By 7am I was cold, bored and at my wits’ end so decided to go for a run around the neighbourhood. It helped warm me up, but I just couldn’t feel tired. The insomnia wasn’t even the worst part. That was saved for the fog of confusion in my head, the uncontrollable crying, feeling sadness so palpably, sheer irritability, feeling nauseous, diarrhoea every few hours – and the mind zaps.

That’s one of the worst things. Mid-morning, before I fell asleep, I counted how often they came. There were between one and four zaps every five seconds on average and this is for a few hours. Coming off paroxetine it feels like my mind just does not work. It takes a long time to do very simple things, and they feel utterly pointless. Earlier all I wanted to do was curl up and shut the doors on the world, but I’m making a huge effort to go about my life in a normal way, meeting friends for coffee, going to spiritual meet ups, doing my artwork, feeding myself, writing, playing with the dogs etc. I have faith I’ll get there, even if I have to go about everything in a slow and forced way for the time being.

Love is the drug.

I had some realisations about love recently. I don’t doubt that love is all that the universe is made from. I don’t doubt that to love is to live authentically. But I have my doubts about the existence of the love between two people in a romantic sense. This hit me like a punch in the stomach in the not so wee hours of yesterday morning, at a moment when I needed the kind of solace that only I can provide to myself. A shroud lifted and I felt strangely brighter. I felt relieved rather than saddened. It put an abrupt end to my epic and ridiculous nighttime weeping.

I’ve been living with more fear than I am used to because a few days ago I unexpectedly and suddenly ceased taking my anti-depressant paroxetine. I’ve found myself cold turkey just before Thanksgiving. The circumstances are somewhat convoluted but I will outline them so that others can see how easily these things can happen in the fractured world we live in. So, I came to the States a few weeks ago with a small supply of my anti-depressant, thinking that it would be easy enough to get hold of more. I intended for my friend to post me a couple of months’ supply, and provided her with the paper prescription. Unfortunately she informed me it turns out that all items entering the US through the postage system are scanned and medication isn’t allowed in.

My second idea was to see a doctor out here and get him to write me a prescription. Medical care is covered under my travel insurance so I thought I would claim back the costs of the physician visit plus the meds. Wrong. Because the meds treat a pre-existing medical condition, no costs associated with obtaining anti-depressants will be reimbursed by the insurance provider. And as the cost I was quoted was $220 for the appointment alone, I won’t be going down that route. My final idea was to buy from an online pharmacy, the kind that dispense anything you want without a prescription. After a bit of searching I was surprised to find the cheapest option would work out in excess of $2 per single 20mg pill for a small order. So that also isn’t going to work for me.

The upshot of all of this means going through real or imagined withdrawal symptoms of coming off paroxetine. These for me included complex and very disturbing dreams, severe difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep at any time of day, fear, anxiety, irritability, vertigo-like “welling up” short waves in my head not stomach, and bouts of crying for no ostensible reason. I did some research online and found that the following symptoms were reported in patients coming off Paxil. This is from the Royal College of Psychiatry website, with the rate of reported incidence in brackets:

anxiety (70%)
dizziness (61%)
vivid dreams (51%)
electric shocks/head zaps (48%)
stomach upsets (33%)
flu-like symptoms (32%)
depression (7%)
headaches (3%)
suicidal thoughts (2%)
insomnia (2%)

I have had all of them apart from suicidal thoughts. That’s probably a good one to skip out on.

While I didn’t plan coming off anti-depressants to be so sudden, I plan on weathering this storm. My doctor back home suggested staying on paroxetine until I am successfully installed in a more permanent and stable living arrangement in the UK, and I agreed with his advice but the non-availability of my drug here in the States has rather scuppered that plan. No matter though. I will stay off the meds even if by some weird chance there is a way for me to get my hands on more. I just hope the withdrawal symptoms abate soon. Not that I am letting that stop me from doing all the things I normally do, most of which includes “venturing into the complete unknown” which is awfully good fun.

The realisations I’ve had have made me feel somewhat disillusioned but at the same time grateful that a veil has been lifted that kept me encased in a bubble. I was willing to believe anything other than what was right in front of my eyes. Love is indeed all, and it’s simpler than I ever imagined. It is oneness without the complication of romantic relationships which are by their very nature confused, conflicting, contradictory, frustrating, complex and impossibly, horribly, resolution-free. I’ve heard it said  ‘let each soul walk its path’ and I understood the meaning of those words for the first time.

amor y respeto

The system. Activism. Shopping.

It is impossible to escape the institutions that for us, in sum, become the preposterously insane thing that we intuitively call ‘the system’. The institutions that comprise it include those of the economy, kinship, culture and politics. We are all involved in every one of these and they are all completely interconnected. A shift in consciousness is what’s needed.

In The Trajectory of Change, Michael Albert gives three facts in regard to activism:

  • A movement that can win change in international trade relations needs millions and even tens of millions, not merely thousands, of participants.
  • People aren’t really movement participants unless they are doing things in a sustained and ongoing way within the movement.
  • To grow sufficiently enough that we can win, our movement needs to offer things for people to do where they live and in accord with their dispositions and possibilities.

This will take generations of children learning that there are alternatives. Unfortunately we are raised on the notion that despite how bad things are, nothing better is possible. An example from Albert’s book: there are 3 million people in the US without homes to sleep in, though we have roughly 50,000 hotels that are generally only about half full and able to house 15 million people. So, 3 million homeless people and 7.5 million empty rooms that they could, but can’t, occupy. It takes quite a leap of imagination to realise that there are alternatives but then disillusion follows when you realise they simply cannot be implemented in our current system. The robbing of humanity that the system engenders is an integral part of it.

Change is a combination of a sequence of reforms or limited victories that string together in a coherent pattern. A shift in mass consciousness over generations will lead to ringing the changes. Either that or a major catastrophe will force systematic overhaul. Zeitgeist: Addendum recommends peaceful and strategic action in the wake of such a system failure. It urges us to stop supporting the system. The system will have to fail, and people will lose confidence in their elected leaders. The Venus Project predicts that the US will go bankrupt within the next ten years and so a military dictatorship will be installed in an attempt to prevent social breakdown. This will spread to all parts of the world tainted by the global economy. The fractional reserve banking system is reaching the theoretical limits of its expansion, leaving nowhere to go but down, rapidly. Contraction will begin on an unprecedented scale. Before then, whatever happens surely starts at a grassroots community activism level.

But for now, when there is a threat from the masses, the powers that be have responses up their sleeves such as the invention of terrorism, economic collapse, war, manmade disease epidemics, political wrangles, the illusion of democracy, advertising and false wants, to keep us in our place. People are bred to be apathetic and ignorant of alternatives and that is not their fault.

The never-ending and self-perpetuating false wants created by advertising are incredibly powerful social regulators. The title of Lee Eisenberg’s book, Shoptimism: Why the American Consumer will keep on buying no matter what’, says it all. We use our possessions to define ourselves. “Our accumulation of possessions provides a sense of past and tells us who we are, where we have come from, and perhaps where we are going”, writes Russell Belk of the University of Chicago in his essay Possessions and the extended self. Of course the very idea of owning things is itself ridiculous when you get down to brass tacks. Even more absurd is the notion that these things that we drag around with us can somehow define us, make us happy, make others like us. Yet we all fall into this trap, some more headlong than others.

In a paper entitled To do or to have: that is the question by Leaf van Boven and Thomas Gilovich of the Universities of Colorado and Cornell respectively, buys are either experiential (with the primary intention of acquiring a life experience) or material (with the intention of acquiring a tangible object). Guess what? Experience, relative to stuff, allows for greater “positive reinterpretation” – that is we think back on the experiential aspect of life more fondly. Further, experience is “more central” to one’s identity and provides greater social value.

Shopping as an activity is so legitimised in our society it is downright odd to be against it. We shop when we want a little pick-me-up, when we want to feel better about ourselves or when we’re a bit bored. We shop to celebrate, to prepare for life’s big events, to treat ourselves and because we are conditioned to believe we ‘need’ certain things.

What a worthwhile expression of our life force it would be if instead of pandering to needs that don’t exist, filling our homes with more things that it takes further resources to look after, and disconnecting us from nature and our communities, we could take step back from our rabid overconsumption and see what is really in front of us? As more and more of us live in cities, we engage in competitive loneliness rather than conscious engagement. Write Ken Norwood and Kathleen Smith in Rebuilding Community in America, “Like fish who always swim in water and therefore remain unaware of it we live in a toxic fog of frustrating living situations”. Let’s see if we can lift that fog and make our own living situations, particularly if we live in cities, less frustrating. I suggest that any kind of engagement with others in the community will contribute towards a feeling of true value. I may not make changes involving tens of millions of people or even tens of people but this is a life lived authentically.

Self-transformation leads to global transformation.

I truly believe in the providence that is all around me. It gets a bit cloying me banging on and on about the universe this and abundance that, but it’s the most important thing I’ve learned on my journey so far. There is enough air to breathe and land to plant crops. There is only an imbalance where humans intervene and upset the natural order of things, and made-up nonsense like money, politics and greed are invoked. There is also enough happiness in our souls, enough potential that exists in our minds like seeds in a tomato. With this potential we can achieve anything – yes, anything!

In crisp soundbite form: Self-transformation leads to global transformation. Think about all the amazingness and truth that that statement contains. Our biggest mistake is thinking that we don’t matter. When we believe our voice doesn’t count or our happiness is not paramount or we somehow don’t matter or don’t deserve the good things in life, the universe is so sad, it cries. Its tears permeate every solar system, every galaxy. The only reason you are here is to embrace the benevolent energy of the universe, to share in her innate and singular state of happiness.

We each deserve the best for ourselves, whatever that happens to be and it is different for each of us. We are here to learn and grow through change, challenge, belief, observation and simple enjoyment of every moment. We create our own reality as the universe lovingly feeds and nurtures us. Feeling good about ourselves helps other people. I know with absolute certainty that the more I give, the more I receive. I know that by focussing on what I would like to be, do or have I bring it into existence. My thoughts radiate out to every part of the universe and that influence never diminishes for all of time.

A lot of incredibly fortuitous things have been happening lately and I am convinced it’s because of the place I am in. I have spent my time so far in Oakland, San Francisco and Berkeley: together quite a large area hosting almost a million inhabitants. And yet I keep running into people I’ve met before, and that help me somehow and vice versa. On the day I twigged on that I really should look for somewhere to live when my current accommodation ends on Monday, I ran into a guy I had met at the hostel in the City and the first thing he told me was about a shared house which is cheap and creative. The next day I ran into him again at San Francisco Public Library. A couple of days before that I ran into an artist that I knew from the painting class she runs. It turns out that someone I met at a spiritual event just happens to rent studio space with the artist from the class.

Most fortuitously of all, while I was planting beautiful redwoods at a primary school in Oakland on Saturday, I got distracted by a couple of cute dogs on the other side of the fence. I got chatting to their owner and in fact one of the dogs was found two days beforehand and he was looking after her. I said I’d be happy to look after her while she goes to work. And it just so happens that he and his housemate have a spare room and I’ll be moving in there and dogsitting in the daytime. What a great connection – thank you universe!

The people here are giving me so much and I like to think I am contributing positively to society too. I was privileged enough to have the second show of my prints last week, at not one but two galleries, which was a wonderful experience. It’s all thanks to the amazing people that I’ve met here and the friend that lets me tag along and exhibit at her shows. I’ve never been so creatively engaged, except for when I was a mad teenager. I am making all the time, reading, researching, pulling strands of thought together and doing positive things that benefit the community.

I’m lucky that my finances rarely cross my mind but that’s because I live humbly and within my means. I’m making an effort not to buy more stuff especially not after having shipped a load back home. I’ve also adopted a vegetarian diet for the moment and feel much better for it both physically, from an animal welfare perspective, and knowing that fewer of our precious resources have been wasted (70 percent of the grain and cereals grown in the US are fed to farmed animals); land hasn’t been wrecked (grazing uses a staggering 30 percent of the Earth’s land mass) and my meal hasn’t contributed to the 80 million metric tons of methane produced annually by the world’s livestock.

Every day I wake up thinking “I have never been happier”. That is pretty awesome. You should try it.

I cant find the map

Abundance & scarcity.

The seeds of the idea of living outside of the rat race were sown a while ago and have truly taken root now. Sometimes, with a heavy heart, I think of what I will do when I return home to the UK. I had an idea before I came to the States that in 2015 I’d move to a small town by the sea in southwest England, buy a house and get a job and a kitten. The more time goes by the more I am convinced that a life of servitude working for a company, supporting the system which by its very nature is corrupt and disrespectful of human wellbeing, is not for me. Something fundamental has happened out here in California. I don’t think that the kind of cosy life I’ve described would be possible anymore. It’s just too big a sacrifice not to keep doing what I love. It’s too big a sacrifice not to be authentic when the universe wants it so much.

This is a planet of mind-blowing abundance. But the monetary system by which we are ruled creates scarcity as a means of control. For example if a diamond company mines ten times as many diamonds as usual, it represents a spike in supply which means the cost and profit per diamond drops. So the excess diamonds that would threaten the perceived scarcity of the product are burned or locked away in vaults, a practice that has been happening since the 1870s when enormous deposits of diamonds were discovered in Kimberley, South Africa. Abundance is the enemy of our system.

Whatever natural resource we are talking about, scarcity equals profit because it can be bought or sold. Slowing down production of oil raises the price for those companies that control the market. The world we live in was long ago taken over by a group of business powers who dominate and control the money we need to obtain these resources. The end result will be world monopoly. Nothing produced in our system is remotely sustainable or efficient. It can’t be. There are enough resources – geothermal, solar, wind, tidal, wave – to provide energy for everybody on the earth for free. We have the technological know-how to automate processes to the degree that no-one would ever have to work in a mundane and repetitive job ever again.

The human race could escape drudgery and in a resource-based economy with no monetary system, there would be no crime. Currently, around 95% of crimes are a direct result of the monetary system either directly or by neuroses, inflicted through financial deprivation or drug abuse (which isn’t a ‘crime’ but a disorder). There would be different incentives in a world without work. I am just beginning to see this sickness in our society and wake up to those other incentives that it just might be worth living for. Unfortunately the overhaul of the money system isn’t likely to happen in any of our lifetimes, but once thought it certainly leads to life-changing transformation on the individual level.

Debt, or to give it another name money, is the weapon used to conquer and enslave society and interest is its primary weapon. It is the most ingenious scam for social manipulation ever created. Money is created in a bank and invariably ends up in a bank. These banks are in collusion with governments and corporations. Everyone is in debt by virtue of dollar bills in their pockets and so they are stuck in an endless cycle of slavery. People struggle to keep up with the perpetual debt and inflation cycles that are system is powered by and that is what keeps the wage slave in line. Society as a whole can never be debt free. We work hard to perpetuate an empire that only benefits the elite at the top of the pyramid with financial and corporate power. Those in charge can’t afford to be ethical. The system is not designed to care about people, it can’t do. Money, labour and competition underpin it all.

In a world of increasing desperation, the powers that be had to come up with a new way to deal with anyone that challenges the status quo. Thus the invention of the terrorist.

‘The true terrorists of our world do not meet at the docks at midnight or scream allahu akbar before some violent action. The true terrorists of our world wear five thousand dollar suits, and work in the highest positions of finance, government and business.’ – Peter Joseph, Zeitgeist: Addendum.

What all this means for me is that a sea change has started. One has to know what the grain is to be against it. The society that I live in is rotten to the core but living in the way that’s right for me has brought untold pleasures and fortuitous connections. I am not going to find my life’s happiness in working for forty years, I need to find it some other way, understanding and using the system to my advantage and that of the community I live in. I will continue to try to make changes, however small, and spread the knowledge that I now feel blessed to have. This is the only life there is, and there is no time to spend being miserable or inauthentic. To paraphrase Mark Rothko, who in 1959 said “a painting is not a picture of an experience, it is an experience”, a feeling is not a state of being, it is being. Let those feelings be good ones.

Mountains of mottainai.

I spent the weekend in the beautiful hills of San Anselmo, Marin County. The panoramic views at the huge house were spectacular, taking in bridges, the City, mountains and more species of trees than I’d ever seen before. There were lizards, birds of prey and deer. This was the place where I came to terms with certain losses in my life, certain not-to-bes. It was a melancholic stay in many ways and I battled a mysterious illness involving a streaming nose the entire time. I was allergic to the good life, so it seems, and far from being invigorated I felt tired in my body and mind during my time there, despite the enthusiastic poetry and incredible pecan pie.

While I was in San Anselmo I spent some time when not gazing out of the window reading Affluenza. It hadn’t escaped my notice that the books I have been drawn to during my time in the San Francisco Bay Area have connections here – Affluenza was published in Oakland and The Story of Stuff was written in Berkeley, where I am staying currently. I’m in a student roomshare straight out of that Facebook film. I’m kind of fascinated by everything. It very much feels like leaving home for the first time.

The book has led to recognising hopes for the future. I would like to live in a society without money but this isn’t going to happen in my lifetime. As Affluenza tells us, the more real wealth we have the less money we need. Such real wealth might be friends, skills, libraries, belonging to a community, family, being in nature, and the holy grail of happiness: afternoon naps. There was an example that struck a chord with me, that of Lana Porter, an amateur gardener from Colorado. She views her garden as a logical extension of herself and her way of life. How many of us can say that about our hobbies? She says “I eat very well out of this garden […] and the organic produce gives me energy to grow more produce and get more energy. It’s a cycle of health that has cut my expenses in half. My grocery bills are lower, my health bills are lower, I don’t need to pay for exercise, and my transportation costs are lower because I don’t have to travel so much to amuse myself.” This is a beautiful example of living in the now, enjoying an activity because it is inherently good for you and as a sort of delightful bonus also produces fuel which you burn in order to live! Truly inspiring and so simple.

In the American culture, we give a hundred thousand hours over a lifetime in jobs that don’t inspire us, in exchange for houses too big to maintain, being frustrated by easily-broken consumer goods, connecting superficially with people, eating zero-nutrition food chasing counterfeit rewards. Why? Because we’re programmed to behave like this. The writers of Affluenza however believe that collective human intuition remains intact and as such it is possible to demand a new direction. Oh yes, we can “tap into the power of generosity and trust to override the momentum of a quick-hit culture”. Maybe in Oakland. I remain sceptical that society as a whole can make any kind of meaningful change – the best we can hope for are small pockets of society that choose to live outside the system and thereby create their own communities.

My working time spent in a conventional job is an expenditure of my essential life energy. I will never get this life energy back, all I get in return is money. And what is money? Nothing but debt and therefore slavery. Not an adequate trade-off. What I’m about to write is paraphrased from the first Zeitgeist movie. I want to explore how the money system is institutionally corrupt, no matter what country you live in.

The central bank is the institution that issues and regulates currency of a nation. These central banks control the interest rates and the money supply itself. The central bank loans money to its government with interest. Every dollar or pound produced comes with debt already attached. Where does the money come from to pay off this debt? It can only come from the banks that issue and control the supply of money. This means the banking system must constantly increase its money supply temporarily which we call inflation, to cover the debt created that in turn (because that money is loaned out at interest as well) creates more debt. The end result is slavery. It is impossible for the government and therefore the people to come out of this self-generating debt.

Every dollar in existence must eventually be returned to a bank with interest as well. The problem is this interest doesn’t exist. Only the principal of a loan is actually created by the money supply, i.e. the central banks. Where is the money to cover the interest that commercial banks charge? It doesn’t exist. This means bankruptcy and defaults are mathematically built into the deficit-producing system.

On a personal level, I’m not interested in being a slave to money anymore. Somehow, after five years of studying philosophy and art, I wound up working in the investment banking field for five years. It was a lucky break and I’m not going to knock it for a second because I got to know some incredibly humane people through my work in the City of London (and some unutterable bastards too); I just know that it’s very unlikely I’ll work in that arena again. I’ve learned that I’ll always have enough of what I need. And whatever that is, it sure as hell isn’t worth trading my vital life energy for.

nature

The land of opportunity.

“We buy a wastebasket and take it home in a plastic bag. Then we take the wastebasket out of the bag, and put the bag in the wastebasket.” – Lily Tomlin, comedian

It’s interesting living in the country where more stuff is consumed and disposed of per capita than any other place on earth, while all the time reading books like The Story of Stuff, Affluenza and watching the Zeitgeist trilogy. This is the country that spends 71% of their $15 trillion economy on consumer goods. The country that spends more on shoes, jewellery and watches than higher education. The country that has more than twice as many shopping centres as high schools. These are surely signs of a sickness, a disease to accumulate more and more while losing sight of what is truly important in life: for me that would be artistic creative pursuits, spiritual development, feeling in harmony with the universe, community living, appreciating nature, experiencing authenticity, being understood by others, living with humility for the Earth’s abundance, giving love and having my basic human needs met and inalienable rights respected.

These aims are noble and rather lofty. Affluenza according to writers de Graaf, Wann and Naylor, is a socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more. It is a virus that, unlike the God virus, I have not managed to avoid. I have succumbed to the ‘need’ to buy something to make myself feel better, or define myself to others. Addiction to stuff is not easily understood. It’s a bubbling cauldron of states such as anxiety, loneliness and low self-esteem. Pathological buying is typically related to a quest for greater recognition and acceptance, an expression of anger, or an escape through fantasy. When we buy, we experience heightened sensations and extreme levels of focus and concentration, similar to drug induced states or orgasm. I think what we need to understand is that for affluenza victims there is no such thing as enough. According to the economist Herman Daly, ‘Consuming becomes pathological because its importance grows larger and larger in direct response to our decreasing satisfaction’. We shop to fill the void but that only makes the void grow larger.

‘Tragedy’, observes Richard Swenson, former doctor turned writer who was interviewed for Affluenza, ‘is wanting something badly, getting it, and finding it empty’. I can relate to that on many levels. I still buy occasionally when I’m feeling down, just to cheer myself up. My purchases may be limited to the Dollar Tree but there is still a guilty buzz I get. I’m conflicted about my relationship to the stuff I own. Yesterday the pain of too much stuff was brought home to me. Coming to the conclusion I had brought too many things to California with me, I thought flitting between accommodations would be simpler if I shipped some of my belongings back to the UK. The $200 price tag to do so was a painful reminder of these things stuff I already have. It takes between 700 and 2,000 gallons of water to produce about a pound of conventional cotton – enough for a single t-shirt. In India, 91% of full time male cotton workers experience major health problems. I’m aware of the earth’s resources that have been pillaged and the workers’ rights that have been violated to get the stuff to me for a low price in the first place. The least I can do is look after it. Right?

Generating more stuff makes me feel uneasy. And yet a big part of what I’m doing here rests on doing exactly that. On Friday last week I took part in an art show which was part of Oakland’s Art Murmur First Friday event. It gave me a huge buzz to hawk my wares in a cleaned-out auto bodywork shop and talk to a wide variety of people (including the wrestler Rocky, who is now an artist himself – only in California), and I sold four pieces of artwork. The feeling I had at the end of the evening was fantastic and I loved to know that my works carry on by giving joy now to my buyers. Ironically the pieces that sold best were from the ‘I do not need more stuff’ series which was delicious to me. I felt that I had the last laugh but not in a cynical way.

What I’m learning is that it really is true that what you transmit, you attract. On the back of that one show and thanks to my good friend whose studio I use, I have four more exhibitions and sales in my diary plus a competition. In four weeks in the states, I’ve furthered my professional art practice more than I had in thirty years in the UK. It seems so easy and fun here and that is addictive – but it’s an enriching feeling, not an empty one.

Spiritual Structures. Energy. Earth

Wednesday 5th November 2014

The San Francisco Bay Area, where I currently reside, is said to express different manifestations of the Earth’s soul. The unique geology and seismology of this place invokes a spiritual connection. Once, all the continents were one, and then Earth’s consciousness divided the form the familiar planet we know today. If we were somehow able subtly to decipher what each continent is doing and giving, we can understand what expression of the Earth’s soul is taking place. The session I attended sought to discover and engage Earth soul’s life-flow, her expression in different landscapes and how it is reflected in each of us. Taking as our end place the sacred land around St. Mary’s Cathedral, the group stimulated personal healing and development, and contributed our responsibility to bringing balance to the land and the world.

Andrej, the group’s leader, said a possible way of understanding what expression of soul is manifesting is by using the chakra system. Different parts of the city (and the earth) correspond to different chakras. Not all places on earth have a planetary function but the Bay Area does. This area acts like engine chugging away in the background – a combination of the reproduction of each cell mingled with consciousness. The place is responsible for the Earth renewing herself an evolving being, apparently. That’s why this area is so diverse, it’s reflected in the culture and the innovation. Most of these innovations, being technological in nature, aren’t in sync with the spirit of the planet and misrepresent her authentic expression, but we are still learning and always expressing.

I love the Earth, I really do. I loved standing in Jefferson Square Park, tittering at a drunk woman who looked like Marla Singer in a ‘thrift store bridesmaid dress, that someone loved intensely for one day, and then tossed’. She was incredibly drunk and inadvertently funny. She picked up rubbish and gave us a running commentary of how she came to wake up in an umbrella in the park. Then there was an old guy who after parking his car made a special effort to come over to us meditators to tell us to get a life. Then there was the fat guy in the superhero outfit who lost his skateboard under Andrej’s car. There were the two young guys making eyes at me while I had turned around to face them and stepped into my soul. I couldn’t help smiling manically at them.

I felt the breath of the universe. I felt it in two specific places within my body. The first place is in my cervix, where I sometimes feel a physical pain. I think it signifies a misalignment between the earth’s purpose for me and my earthly concerns. But it could be my cysts, polyps, bad cells and copper coil. It is a reminder of the cosmic connections of cycles, tides and zodiacs. The second place I feel the earth’s beat is in the soles of my feet. Now I connect with something I learned at a body language session months ago: keep your feet on the ground in order to remain in the moment. (‘Apparently we take in 30% more information with our feet squarely on the ground compared with legs crossed.’)

We walked over to the grounds of the beautiful cathedral and I felt the Earth being happy and receptive. It wasn’t a clear reading as I was put off by the strong energy I felt from people crossing my energy field and driving across the little car park, but she felt calm, settled and welcoming. For me there was no conflict in this place, though others in the group told a different, far more conflict-ridden story.

I loved feeling the Earth’s spirit and knowing she was happy to have me here in her sacred land of San Francisco. I’ve quietly felt since I came here that it’s meant to be. The spiritual shift that I underwent before coming here was filled with trauma. Things fell apart so that they could be put together in a better way. My relationship with J came to a dramatic and irreconcilable end. I had no home, nowhere to go except back with my mother for the first time in twelve years. This, I believe was one of the signs that a spiritual transformation was about to take place. One of the keys to making it through a spiritual transformation is having faith in your understanding of why the chaos had to occur — and get past it to a better state of being. Many people get lost in the chaos and feel that their life is falling apart. Many give up and don’t see the spiritual journey through, and that is their biggest mistake. Not once have I ever wanted my ‘old life’ back for more than five seconds.

Many believe that the same thing happens on a geological level. As our planet undergoes a spiritual shift, there will be physical manifestations that accompany it. The vibration of the planet is rising as more and more people undergo spiritual awakenings. As a result, the energy on the planet is shifting and that is leading to changes that may feel chaotic and destructive, such as the earthquakes in this area. There is nothing to fear. Ever.

mono no aware