therapy journey

My journey to better mental & spiritual health

Tag: California

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

Advertisements

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.

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

I am filled with gratitude for the love that I am here to create.

Monday 3rd November 2014

On the same day I attended TJ Woodward’s Authenticity Group, I went to a meditation and conversation group run by Claudia on trusting your intuition in order to improve your outcomes. I have written about my previous block in this area. In contrast, the new me has promised to trust myself. There were long stretches in my life when I truly believed I was less than human. I heard so many positive messages around me and I didn’t miss out on the one about trusting yourself, but I thought it didn’t apply to me because I was ‘different’, a cosmic mistake somehow. I sought direction and validation from other sources, everywhere but within.

I feel very relaxed when I attend these groups. Even though typically I don’t know anyone else there, because I am trying a lot of things for the first time, I feel more filled with confidence than if I were alone. I speak, I share, and I really get in touch with my deep spiritual self. I receive great responses from people which make both my ego and my soul sing. I connect. I write down avowals like ‘I so want to be true to myself’ and ‘I so want to leave behind the spiritually vacuous’.

In this Intuition group, we sat on a comfy sofa in a homely environment. I was 45 minutes late because I had overslept and so was late for my lift, but even so I felt instantly welcomed. Claudia speaks so fluently and with deep conviction. She said that we are God and we are created in his image. The body is part of who we are but we are so much more than that. It allows the God within us to exist on this plane. As the only vehicle we have, the first gift back to God is to give our body temples our ultimate love. She gives us the gift of life so we give her the gift of health. Today I promised to look after my body.

The guided meditation was beautiful and peaceful. To trust our intuitions and call into being greater things, we seek oneness with our higher selves. Of course, without negative emotions we wouldn’t have access to the doorway that leads to oneness. Without ego we would not exist. But when seeking the God within us, the way is silence. It’s a straight and very simple line between me and God. We love and respect our ego but we sometimes we turn it down, tune it out and listen to the higher self. Organised religion is created by man and isn’t pure. In fact it’s pretty filthy and most them are as far removed from spirituality as it’s possible to be.

Claudia calls the meditative state one of being in-between. I now see the benefits in and of itself. Three minutes every day is enough, though one member of the group meditates for three to four hours each day. When you practise, Claudia reckons, what comes will be greater than our imaginations. I believe this. Trust, faith and belief are what comes. Don’t let doubt creep in. One technique she used was visualising white light flowing into the crown chakra or through the third eye. It’s very powerful imagery that helps when entering the in-between state.

This is just so beautiful, isn’t it? Living a life of giving to receive automatically. Being a conduit for whatever energy is waiting to be expressed. I felt it when I meditated there. This was a day that I realised how powerful energy is. I knew for the first time that I am made from the same spirit as the universe.

We were created in the image of God to thrive, not just survive. The reality of making a living is illusory and the result of indoctrination. We are all already hypnotised. We multitask by driving, talking on the phone, listening to the radio and drinking coffee all at the same time. The unconscious does all the work! Harmony comes when the lower and higher selves work together.  Ask your higher self whether something is real or not and you will know.

During one of the meditations Claudia used a well-known NLP technique (called anchoring or the power button as I like to say) in which we learn to associate a happy memory with bodily sensations of happiness. Coming back to the memory using the accompanying bodily trigger creates a neural pathway which supposedly allows us to relive the happy time. It’s never really worked for me, but one thing at a time.

The experience was wonderful. It is lovely to speak openly, to meditate together, to learn so much, to feel connected and to meet others. I feel very calm after these events. I know I have used my energy to improve my entire life.

always the sun

Authenticity, energy, abundance, the universe.

Saturday 1st November 2014

Today was all about energy. I learned something very special today, that energy is real and I am very susceptible to it. I have been given a gift, like every sentient being, that means I am a conduit that can sense the energy of others. I gave even more than I received today which has been extremely tiring and fulfilling. Straight after the experience I’m about to describe took place, I returned home and fell asleep making me late for my next appointment. I’m new to energy exchange and I think that because my receptiveness is so high – and I am so keen to give of myself – I end up wearing myself out. This is probably why being in amongst big crowds is my worst nightmare. They take so much from me.

TJ Woodward’s Authenticity Group offers sharing, support, guidance and the opportunity to transform your life as part of a nurturing spiritual community. The group is part of the same program as Awakened Living. I am part of that group and my contribution was one that only I could make. We started by meditating which is simply to recognise the oneness that exists in the universe and our inner selves. I acted a conduit for the universal. It felt amazing. I opened up after that in ways I wouldn’t have thought possible when I was plagued by lack of confidence and depression. I talked from my heart about recognising the resources within me, loving the abundance that surrounds me, trusting what I feel, doing exactly what I’m meant to be doing, connecting with energy, and feeling the light. I am free and true. I am calm and centred.

We are not here to be healed. We are already perfect and whole. We paired up and thought of a question that our partner would ask us again and again. My partner had some revelations about what it means to have it all, and that letting go of many things is part of this process. My question was how I can be at one with the universe – something that I am beginning to feel as of today, but have struggled with. The answers if they are answers cannot be put into words. They are a feeling to be nurtured. Trust and radiance.

During another meditation I felt again as if I was not only channelling the divine but it was magnified fivefold by the other participants. There was time to think on what we wanted to share next and TJ knew that two minutes in I had mine. He turned straight to me as soon as I opened my eyes and there it was, this revelation about energy – he had felt it. From that we decided to use the Tibetan practice of Tonglen, giving and receiving to centre in the spiritual self. Usually with conventional meditation we are encouraged to breath in love and light, and breathe out fear and anxiety, but with the Tonglen practice we use our energy altruistically, giving focussed relief to somebody in need. Someone who was going through pain sat in the centre and for three minutes we channelled to her. I gave her as much of my energy as I could, just giving and giving. At the end of it I knew that the light had shone into her soul and I would be pleased to know if it has.

It’s the ego that clouds us all and makes us experience sadness, fear, doubt and regret which are not part of the natural order. It’s the stories we choose to believe that makes it so. Connecting to our inner selves, that heartbeat that is part of the very essence of the universe, is such an incredible experience when you know it is there. With this knowledge I can overcome any challenges in my life. With the law of attraction I can call into being only that which is right for me. I have lived blindfolded for many years, paralysed by pain and fear that I mistakenly thought were real. I know this is not my purpose and I am capable of greatness just be virtue of realising what I already am, and forever have been.

It’s hard though, as doubt, fear and emotional pain are part of what it means to be human. Without these tangible emotions we would have no beauty, love and happiness. The domineering mind wants to shout ‘But this is all claptrap!’ ‘This is just a phase, a moment, like the depression was!’ I am doing my best to silence the doubt and give in to abundance which means sharing, giving, forgiving, receiving, trusting, listening, accepting, loving, appreciating. Doubt is not part of my purpose here. Repeat to fade.

forget

How to be a social dynamo. And then some.

Thursday 30th October 2014

As part of my ongoing journey which has encompassed research on academic subjects, therapy for mental healing, and ideas for spiritual wellness, my personal development quest has taken me to the realm of social intelligence, and how I can improve mine. My interest was piqued when I heard about a group called Jaunty here in San Francisco that promises social mastery through use and understanding of social science, psychology, the science of attraction, neuroscience and human behaviour. The organisation calls itself ‘Higher education for social intelligence and people skills’ and is run by Eric Waisman.

It’s a really simple premise and one that is definitely in demand in this city – the class participants numbered over 20 and places were filled up well in advance. A lot of these people were at the top of their games in various fields, and wanted that edge that sets them apart. Social anxiety is an increasing problem for many individuals, and is it any surprise with the varied forms of communication in which we all partake, and the resultant disconnect from actual human beings?

It all starts with our old, reptilian brain which is responsible for our basic survival needs – feeding, fighting, flight and f**king. From that we evolved into our mammalian, ‘middle’ brain where love and bonding come from, with a decreased number of young and a long gestation period. Lastly is the newest part of our brain, the uniquely human logical brain which we use to analyse.

To enhance our social intelligence, we need to understand how all of these parts of the brain fit together, and sometimes overcome the more primitive parts which threaten to overwhelm us. For example a car crash seems to happen in slow motion because one’s senses open up, everything is on high alert, meaning you take in visual and auditory information that you wouldn’t normally. This was how it was for me when I was involved in a minor car crash twelve years ago, I remember each and every moment of it like it was yesterday: the other car not stopping, the sunroof shattering, the airbags inflating, the sound of the crash.

With practice we can avoid falling into the traps of the reptilian brain, which evolved to deal with threats to survival in a hostile world. Social intelligence is the ability to connect with and get others to get along with you. Let’s say we meet someone new. At the bottom of the attraction pyramid, the foundation on which everything else rests, is our status and our health. So we look at a person’s relative position in the social group, confidence, skillset and belief system, as well as external status such as wealth, possessions and power. This relates to the reptilian brain. Next up is the emotional connection which encompasses their intelligence, uniqueness and the uncertainty of what could happen, which we thrive on as humans. Right on top is the logical part in which we can apply our own rational analysis of this person. (Just as a tangent, confidence is defined as ‘getting as close as you can to mastering a skill’.)

Interestingly in the online dating game which I have had some experience of, this pyramid of attraction is inverted, as the first thing we use to make a judgment is our logical brain, then we make an emotional connection and finally when we get to meet them we can judge their status, health and hygiene! This theory of social dynamics is to my mind just one of the many reasons why online dating doesn’t work, except if you get two people of matching desperation.

We were taught seven skills which will hopefully help us to be social dynamos. They only work if they are practised regularly as by exercising the skills, you break the neural connections that the old reptilian brain has forged unhelpfully in response to non-existent threats – which results in social anxiety.

1. Body language
Anxiety is betrayed by the way you hold your body. Defensive stances cover and protect our vital organs. Open body language helps other people feel relaxed as well. Humans are contagious!
2. Conversational agility
Always have good stuff to say. It’s only awkward if you make it awkward! People respond to whatever you present them with. Make a situation seem like the most normal thing in the world! People will be like ‘Oh this is how we’re doing it, cool’.
3. Assertiveness
The ability to express your views, opinions, beliefs and feelings while respecting the other person. There’s aggressive, passive and assertive. If you truly have good, respectful intentions you are simply not responsible for the feelings of others. So just be assertive!
4. A sense of humour
5. Magnetism & charisma
The art of storytelling. The use of touch to create bonds. Sexual presence.
6. The approach & introduction
First impressions matter.
7. Mental pattern shifting
Positive reinforcement. The attitude ‘what’s stopping me?’

One thing I was surprised to learn about is the strength in vulnerability. We say snooty people stick their noses in the air but what they are really doing is exposing the most vulnerable part of their body – their throat. Moving slowly and deliberately helps to create an air of dignity and grace. I’m known by my friends for my jerky and unpredictable movements, which says it all really!

The exercises were awesome and this is where it really took off. Standing in a big circle, we locked eyes with someone across from us for a few seconds, then caught someone else’s eye. There was a lot of tittering. Then we paired off and were asked to look our partner in the eye for five whole minutes. A lot of people expressed difficulty at first, and the awkwardness seemed to come in waves before settling down. We were told to put aggression into our stares, then gratitude. We all really felt it, and my partner reported feeling a twinge when I first turned up the aggression. Regrouping in a circle, we repeated the staring-across-the-group exercise. This time, guess what, it was so much easier and everyone was happy because we’d spent five minutes overcorrecting, and thus crossed the boundary that made it awkward.

The next exercise was in verbal dexterity. It was a game of ‘threading’, or using our partner’s last conversational titbit as a springboard into one of our own stories, opinions or trivia on a totally different subject. We would latch onto one word they had said then turn it around on us, using the phrase ‘speaking of…’.Very simple and we all learned a lot even though some people said it felt a little weird to commandeer the conversation rather than overcoming nerves by asking questions about their partner’s conversational subject matter.

The final exercise was a ‘cold-reading’ and quite revealing. This is something you can do to bolster a person’s ego because you get to complement them! We followed a script which began ‘so what do you enjoy doing?’ they answer the question, and then it’s ‘so what is it about that activity that you like?’ And when they’re answered, your response is ‘It sounds like you’re a really [insert incredibly perceptive adjective here] sort of person.’ Repeat to fade. I got a comment back from someone that I was ‘introspective’, which kind of riled me a little because while pretty close to the bone, wasn’t that complementary. I said she was visionary.

I’m not sure if I’ll remember to put all of this into practice in my day to day living but I will try. The energy and the vitality of the group’s leader, touched us all and inspired us. There was something about the zany start-up culture that was evident in the company’s cool offices, way over-subscribed session and Eric’s infectious humour that I aspired to.

start with yourself

What is truly mine to do in this moment?

 Sunday 26th October 2014

As part of my journey I am attending events and talks that have a spiritual bent, as well as continuing to indulge in a bit of lino printing at an amazing workshop I am privileged to feel a part of. It makes me very happy. I attended a ‘guided meditation’ run by Carsten Spencer called Awakened Living, ‘A truly unique spiritual experience. This is not your normal Sunday morning service. It is a morning filled with interactive processes, inspirational messages, connected community and spiritual exploration!’ The theme for October was ‘BEING in Community’ which seemed appropriate to my learnings at the minute.

Asking the right questions is something we need to open our eyes to, and with it we will find our time to bloom. A question that matters is ‘what is truly mine to do in this moment?’ Who we surround ourselves with in a spiritual sense doesn’t just mean our spiritual leaders, it is everybody in our lives, even those seemingly unenlightened, who strangely enough can teach us very much on this journey. Two favourite sayings Carsten cited were ‘Don’t just do something, sit there’ and ‘Relax, nothing’s under control’.

Coming back to the metaphor of blooming, which I really like, the group mentioned spirals, launching pads, trees and renewals quite a bit. It’s a simple idea but releasing the stuff we no longer need like a tree does, is the only way to allow the new to grow when the season is right. The significance of a spiral is that we often think we are trapped in a cycle or a rut, endlessly the same, whereas a spiral moves in a particular direction and thus is more synonymous with the journey of our lives. We truly grow when we shed the old deadwood. The tree also makes us think of the ancestral tree and that we embody each of our ancestors – they live within us.

There was more beautiful imagery when two of the group’s participants cried, both of them ‘happy tears’ and Carsten pointed out that tears are chemically the same as the ocean. Crying is an ultimate expression of now. I hadn’t thought about that before but I do agree, crying isn’t always bad, it’s just a release though it can bring awkwardness to others. The two women that cried were either side of me in the circle of ten, and I gave them both tissues. Before we left, Carsten put on a song, Van Morrison’s Into The Mystic. The song is about a spiritual quest and being part of the universe. It had personal meaning to the leader of the group who moved to San Francisco after emotional events in his personal life, and now the fog seems like home to him; the melding of the air and the ocean into that unknown place.

When we trust in the unknown of the fog, we make a commitment to human experience and thus we trust in ourselves. In this way we make the best use of the fact that we are expressions of the divine. The best message from the session was: just be present – break the attachment to the outcome. Someone in the group explained in her share how she was going for a job that she wasn’t really that interested in, i.e she wasn’t focussed on the outcome. She was honest in explaining to her potential new employers what she couldn’t do as well as where her skills lay, and she was successful and had a productive strategising meeting which was exactly what the boss was looking for. She was in the now, with all the honesty, trust and submission that that entails. I’d like to apply this learning to my life.

Desires of wanting take us away from ourselves. Wants are what we create to avoid confronting deeper feelings within. Our needs are simple – shelter, food, water, warmth, sleep, love – but we confuse needs with wants. Signals I think get confused in our materialistic world and it is hard to keep your head and rise above the messages of advertising, keeping up with the Joneses and the desire to have our own style and define ourselves by what we own. The group leader read a poetic prose piece he penned in Central Park, New York with lines like ‘Instinct and intuition like digestive juices dissolve the things I thought I knew’.

During my share I explained about my journey, my creativity and my last relationship ending and said that this was only the beginning. Carsten said I was probably further along on the journey than I realise. The choice consciously to reject spirituality that I made in the past (and have since gone back on) was itself of course a spiritual choice. I am glad I realised the errors of my ways and am getting my life back on a more authentic and fun track. On my way back, I walked slowly and unplugged myself from my loud music. I felt lighter and rejuvenated.

light