therapy journey

My journey to better mental & spiritual health

Tag: happiness

Why do assertiveness training?

I’m halfway through an assertiveness training course and it’s been a real revelation, as if somehow everything makes sense. I’m very happy with how it’s progressing and wrote about it in detail here:

https://therapyjourney.wordpress.com/2016/10/14/assertiveness-training-course-interim-review/

But what brought me to the point where I felt that an assertiveness training course would be beneficial for me? It was something I’d had in the back of my mind for years, but a recent fairly trivial event in my personal life had me thinking ‘I wish I knew what to say here’, whereas in reality I dealt with the situation in my normal manner, namely pretending it didn’t bother me. On the inside I got more and more annoyed and frustrated, sounding off to friends instead of dealing directly with the people involved. The people involved didn’t know how I really felt.

I know you have to pick your battles, but when you spend a lot of your life believing that your feelings are invalid, it clouds your ability to figure out what’s worth your time and what isn’t.

Learning the assertive way really helps, because being assertive means listening to yourself and being attentive to your own needs. It means being able to stand up for yourself when it is appropriate to do so. It means recognising what is worth your precious, finite energy, and what isn’t. And the way in which you act is so much more pleasant to others, because they know what they can expect from you. They find themselves feeling relaxed and happy around you, instead of having a general sense of unease but not being able to put their finger on it.

Although I have struggled with being overly aggressive at times in my life, my main problem at the time of taking on this course was acting too passively. Many that know me now wouldn’t think I’m a passive person but that’s largely because I work so hard at hiding my passive tendencies because they have not served me well in the past. Now I have decided I want to let them go once and for all.

These were some of the things I found myself doing, some recently and some not so recently. I started to pick myself up on a few of these things:

  • Agreeing with the general consensus way too often, even though I have opinions to the contrary.
  • Pretending something doesn’t upset me when it does
  • Saying things are fine when they are not to avoid a fuss
  • Avoiding people in order to side-step talking about an issue
  • Bending over backwards to please others
  • Ordering my own life around others, even those who are not close to me and don’t care about my efforts
  • Abandoning my own opinions, values, belief and judgments and being easily swayed by other people whose ideas were contrary to mine
  • Uncertainly about my own mind because I was always so willing to go along with others and let them decide things for me
  • Lack of disclosure about myself to others that I’m never going to get to know on a personal basis, because there seems little point ‘being myself’
  • Being unable to say no if someone wanted to employ me/ go out with me/ select me for something – they would make the decision and I would be powerless to resist
  • The constant nagging feeling that I am inferior to everybody else
  • Conviction that I can’t rely on myself to be consistent in my decision-making
  • Feeling that I can’t trust myself to have control over my own communication
  • Belief that my self-confidence fluctuates like the weather and is therefore not something I can control
  • Inability to say what I really mean in the moment without it turning into either self-pitying or aggressive remarks/behaviour
  • Angry outbursts when communication becomes simply too frustrating
  • Being unfairly judgmental and harsh towards others, but keeping these opinions to myself. Not valuing others as individuals perhaps because I didn’t value myself and our collective rights

That list was longer than I was expecting and makes me sound like I really had it bad and went through life in a depressive, submissive and powerless way. I didn’t – not for the last 2 years anyway. In fact, to the contrary I have better confidence now than at any other period of my life. I have good self-knowledge having spent years already working on myself. I have the best attitude towards the future I’ve ever had, largely because I’ve a lot to be happy about but also because I’ve the developed the skills needed to cope with life, whatever happens.

The passive person spends much of their time lying both to themselves and to others. This is hugely counterproductive and very destructive. Others may feel guilty for taking advantage of the passive person, or superior because their passive behaviour marks them as inferior. Probably others will feel irritation and pity towards the passive person and may cease to respect them. I was very intrigued to learn that others may actually feel awkward around passive people – because they cannot know what the passive person wants or likes. And of course, that makes perfect sense. Being around an assertive person makes them feel great, because they know you’ll always be honest and say what you really think. You’re open. People like that. So, to be a true ‘people pleaser’, if that’s in your nature, be assertive because that way people will feel safe and know what to expect around you.

Self-deprecation seems to be part of the British sense of humour but it can mask a seriously damaging self-image. Putting yourself down, like I do quite a lot, isn’t really a very nice thing to do – after all, if you wouldn’t speak of others in that way, why talk to yourself like that, e.g “I’m so stupid”, “Could I be any more pathetic”? If you’re a passive person, take the time to pay attention to your self-talk because it might be feeding an unhealthy self-image.

Passive people may make few demands of others, but make unrealistically high demands of themselves which they are bound to fail to meet. It is the same low opinion of oneself that makes passive people put others first, belittle their own views, and seek approval from others above all else. Really it comes down to a lack of self-esteem, and a double standard when applied to other people’s rights and opinions as opposed to one’s own. Why should we treat ourselves with any less respect than that which we afford to others? Surely, if we want to be respected we must respect ourselves first?

What I’ve written about here are the slow penny-drops of the passive person. I’m finally starting to face up to the less-than-perfect communication style I have, and problems with self-esteem and self-image. The specific goals I have with learning assertiveness include having more control over my communication; experiencing a better quality of life with overall needs being met; having the tools to deal with uncertain or unpredictable situations; having less anxiety (especially first thing in the morning when I can feel quite daunted by the day ahead); having more respect from strangers and loved ones alike; being better able to command attention; and having improved wellbeing overall as not so much is pent up.

Assertiveness is a communication style that informs all our interactions with others, but it really starts with recognising what is lacking in our own self-opinion. Only when you’ve accepted your own individual rights as the foundation for living life can the assertive way take hold and flourish. Breaking the patterns of the past is no mean feat and certainly change can be very wrenching and even destructive if you’re not prepared for all that it can entail. But when you’re ready to take control of life and to break the bad habits of the past, it can be very, very liberating.

reasons-for-assertiveness-training

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Assertiveness training course interim review.

“Forthright, positive, insistence on the recognition of one’s rights” – Oxford English Dictionary

Assertive is a style of communication which contrasts with the passive, aggressive or manipulative styles. It is a way of expressing our needs while at the same time recognising that they are no more important or less important than the needs of others. When we act assertively, we are respectful of others, understanding that both parties are equal and accepting that someone else may say no or disagree with our viewpoint. Assertive people communicate clearly, directly, openly and honestly. And yet the assertive person can recognise in fact when to act assertively and when it may be strategic to lie, to walk away, back down, to be deliberately passive or aggressive.

The training course I’m currently attending at a local branch of Mind (a mental health charity operating across the UK) has been instrumental in helping me to see where my communication falls down and what I’m doing wrong. The reasons why I felt I needed assertiveness training are available in this post:

https://therapyjourney.wordpress.com/2016/10/16/why-do-assertiveness-training/

It has challenged me in quite significant ways which have sometimes felt a little uncomfortable but not as uneasy as some of the exercises on my recent psychodynamic counselling course. That’s because the nature of assertiveness training is essentially forward-looking.

With assertiveness being the goal there is the inbuilt premise that change is possible. One has to believe in change in order to achieve an identifiable goal. We spent the first session understanding the cycle of change adapted from the work of Prochaska and DiClemente. Upheaval brings with it pros as well as cons and can be a painful journey, but as long as the pros outweigh the cons it is a risk worth taking. There was a degree of healthy self-examination in the first couple of sessions as we pause to understand the rights we all have as individuals. This is the basis that must be understood if any lasting changes in our interactions with others can be made. What it calls for is an acceptance of certain rights which are:

  1. To state our own needs
  2. To be treated with respect as an intelligent, capable and equal human being.
  3. To express our feelings
  4. To express our opinions and values
  5. To say “yes” or “no” for ourselves
  6. To make mistakes
  7. To change our minds
  8. To say I do not understand
  9. To ask for what we want
  10. To decline responsibility for other people’s problems
  11. To not be dependent on others for approval
  12. To be unassertive

For many on the course, myself included, this brought a painful realisation of the rights we had denied ourselves over the years, perhaps over entire lifetimes so far. For me the ones I selected as needing the most work were 6. To make mistakes and 7. To change our minds. I was brought up believing that to make mistakes was a sign of weakness – and when I did make a mistake, I certainly didn’t own up to it, because it was so shameful! Similarly with 7, I guess there was an assumption I latched onto as a child that to change your mind was a sign of a weak character. The assumption went unchallenged and was in fact fed by significant others in my life for so many years that reading this Bill of Rights in class made me feel kind of emotional. It was like a great veil had been lifted and finally the unspoken could be said out loud. The great realisation was that I wasn’t weak or stupid if I changed my mind. I am human and it is my right, like it is everyone’s right.

The Bill of Rights is the absolute foundation on which assertiveness is built. If you believe deeply that you are entitled to those fundamentals, then what we call ‘assertiveness’ logically follows.

The first technique learned on the course was the ‘I’ statement. It can be used to ask for what we want or to state when a given situation is not working well for us and we want to change something. We express clearly what we really think and feel. We take responsibility for ourselves. We don’t blame or attack others, and stay calm throughout. We only talk about how something affects us (and what we’d like as an outcome) so there is less to argue about. The ‘I’ statement deals with facts, feelings and expectations.

The format of the ‘I’ statement has three parts to it, namely “I feel”… “When”… “What I would really appreciate is”…. To use it successfully, you must always keep the outcome in mind and be specific and concise about it. Crucially, you do not allow yourself to be dragged in to another discussion. You stick to your own agenda. You simply state your case using repetition if necessary and if that is not getting through, it’s fine to say “I’ve told you what I think, it’s up to you what you do with that.” Body language and tone of voice are key. The assertive way keeps in mind that 70%, or whatever the science says this week, of communication is non-verbal.

When we began to practise ‘I’ statements it soon became apparent that even in the safety of the classroom people found it jarring to say “I feel upset by”. The high value placed on feelings in this mode of communication is somewhat at odds with the culture we live in, in which feelings are not readily talked about. Many environments it’s simply not appropriate to talk of our feelings, such as the workplace or interactions with a stranger. The course leader made a very valid point regarding how we can subtly shift the language we use in accordance with the setting. In our culture at large, feelings are not valued but opinions are king. We reformulate our statement as the opinion, “I think it isn’t fair” instead of emotive language, “I feel upset by”.

After learning about ‘I’ statements we moved on to Saying No. This was something that many in the group struggled with. A cliché abounds of a typically passive, doormat-type person who gets persuaded and manipulated into saying, doing, and buying things they don’t want. A whole industry preys on these kinds of people. Perhaps they ‘don’t’ want to make a fuss’ or their motto is ‘anything for a quiet life’. They feel they will let people down or upset them if they refuse a request. This stereotype has some truth to it.

However we have a right to say no. Saying no doesn’t mean rejecting the person, it simply means refusing the request. When you say no, you must actually use the word ‘no’ – not ‘I’m not sure’, ‘it’s not a good time’, ‘I don’t think so’ ‘I’m too tired’, or any other evasion. The other person will be thinking that your answer is simply a preamble to negotiations.

So, clarity is key when saying no. When you are clear, people are less likely to pressure you because they have already heard your answer. They know where they stand. Also, a convoluted answer full of apologies, justifications and guilt can be uncomfortable for the other person to hear.

It’s really very freeing to know that we do all have the right to say no. Again it comes back to the Bill of Rights that we learned in the first session, and being committed to accepting those rights. If other people feel bad about our refusal of their request or try to make us feel guilty or duty-bound to comply, that’s their problem. Realising this is like a huge weight has been lifted from the shoulders of those whose sense of self comes – strange as it sounds – from compliance with others.

What this course has given me so far is permission to stand up for myself. Yes, we all have the right to state our needs. Yes, we all have the right to decline responsibility for other people’s problems. Yes, we all have the right to be treated with respect as intelligent, capable and equal human beings.

Being aware of our rights is more empowering than any of the individual techniques and exercises that we have learned so far, although they have been very helpful and eye-opening too. The effect of sitting in a room with other human beings who all now share the knowledge of our rights makes it very real. This has been the real surprise of the course. Undoing our disempowered self-image and replacing it with one in which we are allowed to express ourselves. That is the key to assertiveness.

assertiveness

Humbled by wonder, joy and truth.

“All Joy reminds. It is never a possession, always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still ‘about to be’.” ― C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy.

The search for truth, which I now realise is what the Therapy Journey always was, is strewn with many obstacles, time drains, wrong turns and false gods. My research was leading me down a route I thought was filled with harmony, joy, peace and spiritual truth. I was quite taken with New Age philosophies and practices. I am going to detail the sorts of things I thought were Very Good Things. Some are from the “therapy” part of my journey and some are related to my supposed “awakening”.

-kundalini yoga, Emotional Freedom Techniques, the Zeitgeist Movement, David Icke, chakra opening, chi, Buddhism, ‘Conversations With God’, (some forms of ) meditation, Eckhart Tolle, ‘The Secret’ & the law of attraction, The Age of Aquarius, craniosacral therapy…. Anything connected with New Ageism, ‘alternative’ spirituality.

I’m sure most people will be aware of at least a handful of these aspects of modern spirituality. So what is it that underscores all New Age systems? They are mostly Eastern-influenced, and have a variety of teachings concerning salvation but almost always make man central to the process, for man is the divine co-creator of his reality. It is a theology of feelgoodism, universal tolerance and moral relativism.

Pretty harmless, right? Just tools to help busy, modern people achieve a modicum of calm and inner peace. That’s what I used to believe. But now I have become aware of the truth, that all the above philosophies and more that are connected to New Ageism are nothing but revamped Satanism. Satanism made palatable to the masses!

So what makes these systems Satanic ones?  Look carefully at even the simplified synopsis two paragraphs above, and you will see the belief that the individual can be their own God. Man can look to himself for salvation….

Before I continue with what comes next, I must explain what I reckon my awakening was really about. But first, what it is not. A year ago, I thought it was a spiritual one. Then months later I thought it was a truther / conspiracy theory awakening. I was rather taken with New Agers that reject religion and believe there is a grand manipulation at play which entails sinister power in the hands of the few who control the many. Advocates include David Icke and Peter Joseph. I came to understand at a basic level, the manipulation that is inherent in the structures and strictures of our world today.

Only very recently have I come to realise that the process of my awakening is the path to my becoming a Christian. The truth I have found to be the one and only truth, is directly at odds with the majority of what I have written on this blog in the past. It is incompatible with the New Age philosophies that now dominate mainstream culture, many of which I tried on for size myself. It is at odds with some of my previous writings about belief in God being tantamount to mental illness – a literal mind virus. It was of course, necessary to go through various stages of discovery, because this is part of the journey. Sometimes, you have to go a ways down a road to realise you’ve gone the wrong way, and must turn back.

This has all been part of God’s plan for me and there is no way as a mortal that I can see the smallest fraction of what He can. It is like viewing one pixel for one second and trying to fathom the whole movie. What I can say about the journey to get here, to the very beginning of my eternal walk with Christ, is that I am grateful and humbled to be saved. My turning away from sin and into the light of the truth didn’t happen overnight. There were no visions, no signs, no bright lights or spiritual events. It was a gradual realisation where the truth just dawns on me little by little.

I had tried this religion on for size many times over the past 15 years, since I was a teenager. But in the past there was always a block to actual faith. No matter how much of an academic understanding I had, the faith was missing. I simply couldn’t believe it. Yes, I wanted to follow Christ. Yes, I wanted to believe God came to earth as a man, who then lived the perfect life and shed his blood for our salvation. Yes, I was fascinated by the Bible and wanted to read more. Yes, I wanted to join Christians in worship, not merely as a critical bystander only in it for the architecture and singing. But always there was the nagging thought in my mind, “it’s beautiful, but it’s not real”.

I’ve been aware of belief growing since August 2015, around 7 months ago. I’m truly grateful. I have a constant little thrill in my heart because I have so much in my life to be truly happy and thankful for. That is humbling, that is wondrous.

humble-art-painting

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.

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

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

Monoculture.

Tuesday 4th November 2014

The monoculture tells the story of the time we are living in. Certain patterns of life emerge, rise to the top and dominate culture until they shape every aspect of our lives and we are unable to see an alternative. The monoculture informs our ideas about how the world works, what we can expect from our lives and from other people. In the seventeenth century, the prevalent monoculture was of science, machines and mathematics. Before this, it was a religious age, ruled by the Church, superstition, angels and demons. Our story today is an economic one. It infects every aspect of our lives from work to relationships with the natural world, community, health, education and creativity.

This is research carried out by F.S. Michaels, author of Monoculture: How One Story is Changing Everything, a penny-dropping, jaw-dropping read that seems to connect the dots which create a picture of all-pervading economic beliefs that shape our beliefs, values and assumptions at every level of our society. We are so entrenched in our monoculture that we forget our other stories and fail to see our culture in its totality never mind question it. The associated beliefs of our time include rationality, the ability to analyse, and efficiency. The best choice is always the most efficient option that is self-interested and the least extravagant, least scenic, fastest and pleases us most. Entrepreneurs, a phrase coined by French economist Jean-Baptiste Say, shift resources from one place to another to create higher productivity and greater yield, increasing profits and adding value.

Being part of the economic monoculture means our appetites are never satisfied. We’re driven by the desire for satisfaction, but because our individual wants are unlimited, resources are scarce. The gods that rule over our world are the markets. The forces of supply and demand set prices and wages. Peak efficiency is reached when both markets and the competition that occurs within them are as widespread as possible throughout the world. Anything can be bought and sold, and unless it can be shown to be ‘uneconomic’, its right to exist, grow and prosper is not called into doubt.

Competition on a personal level is of course a vital component of the story on a personal level. You compete with others for jobs and with other buyers for sellers’ goods, and other sellers for buyers’ dollars. Relationships with others in markets are impersonal and transactional. The quality of the information we possess gives us an advantage with which we can make the most efficient choice. Economic growth, measured by GDP, is an unequivocally good thing and translates to better standard of living, even if citizens are unhappy, feel unsafe, or live in areas rife with crime. Choice continues to grow, giving us the illusion of freedom and prosperity. One story changes everything.

For me personally all of this seems incredibly sad, but true. I struggle with buying new things as am often plagued with guilt by having made purchases, the momentary satisfaction so fleeting. I have fallen into the pitfalls just like anyone else – striving to define myself by what I own, giving into desires to buy a big-ticket item or unfeasibly cheap fashion piece that will make my life complete, and competing with others over promotions at work.

Now, the way we work has changed. Gone are the days of loyalty, commitment and reciprocity between workers and their employers. In the increasingly global marketplace, companies want a flexible workforce consisting of employees who are themselves expendable, like the products they peddle. Job security is no longer to be relied upon, and less training and investment is made than previous generations. The companies play a clever game by institutionalising values and investments in environmental, social and arts projects which bring higher stock valuations, a more motivated workforce and a boost in corporate reputation.

Markets encroach on our home time as well. In a society where women go out to work, domestic work is outsourced. Researcher Arlie Russell Hochschild wrote, “Efficiency has become both a means to an end – more home time – and a way of life, an end in itself”. Efficiency and flexibility are key. Family life in its traditional sense runs counter to this, making people less available to service the needs of the markets. The markets in our monoculture want us to remain individuals without close long-term relationships: thus ready to relocate, work harder and longer and less likely to defect due to personal commitments.

As well as community, work, education, creativity, public life and health (there is an enlightening chapter on the changing obligations of medical professionals, not just here in America but all over the world) being treated as markets, even our spiritual needs are being met in the marketplace. A church is an efficient and eager firm that exists to create, maintain and supply religion It operates according to the laws of supply and demand, with no particular code of morals, except what consumer preference demands. We are customers with requirements that might be strictness or permissiveness, exclusive or inclusive, geared towards older people or children. America’s most successful churches model themselves on businesses, with MBA-staffed management teams, strategy teams, consulting services and thousands of customers.

Isn’t all of this deeply cynical? That’s one way of looking at it, but the evidence speaks for itself. I, like many others, feel there is something wrong with our society. Something is rotten. I can’t put my finger on it exactly but it encompasses overconsumption; fakeness of people and things; single-minded preoccupation with accumulation of wealth; over-competitiveness; disengagement from others; and the expectation to be able to define exactly where we are in our lives, who we are and what we ‘do’. We live in a throwaway society, each of us ruled by markets and self-interest, that much is sure.

“[The] independent life begins with discovering what it means to live alongside the monoculture, given your particular circumstances, in your particular life and time, which will not be duplicated for anyone else. Out of your own struggle to live an independent life, a parallel structure may eventually be birthed. […] The goal is to live many stories, within a wider spectrum of human values. This is what it looks like to live free from the economic monoculture’s manipulation, to live the breadth and depth of all our stories, to live with dignity.” – F. S Michaels, ‘Monoculture’.

our way

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