therapy journey

My journey to better mental & spiritual health

Tag: healing

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.

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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.

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

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

Inflammation, mutation, sex in the religious biosphere. A token mother rant.

Tuesday 28th October 2014

I’m going to continue my musings on how believe I religion is a virus after reading Darrel W. Ray’s excellent book. I had talked about the parallels between religion and a biological virus, both of them infect people, propagate the virus, create antibodies to make itself stronger, spread to viable targets using certain covert methods and ultimately take over the host to the point where they are no longer a useful, intelligent member of their wider society, and unknown even to themselves. So, the God virus infects the individual and inoculates that person against other viruses.

On a pathogenic level a strain of virus mutates over several generations. Mutations can either be eliminated by the original virus or as in biology they survive even the strongest defences and the mutated strains infect totally new populations such as Martin Luther’s god virus of the sixteenth century which swept through uneducated populations of northern Germany faster than the original Catholic virus had done a thousand years previously. Buddhism similarly swept through India from 480BCE – 180BCE which was a mutation of Hinduism; Islam in the Middle East from 600CE – 800CE.

Sometimes it pays to exist in a crowded religious biota or in the highly pluralistic Western world, as an ecosystem develops in which viruses actually depend on one another to strengthen each other, as well as giving the illusion of choice to the infected, but only where there is little threat to each competing pathogen. In Islam for example the polytheistic viruses that live side by side are weak in comparison. Judaism is not parasitic and Christian sects are fragmented. Islam is in fact the only virus to combine religious and political controls – it is institutionally incapable of separating the two.

Fundamentalism is an inflammation of the virus. Just like in human immune systems, inflammation is a tool for fighting infection but should only occur for a short time, until the threat has subsided. Otherwise, uncontrolled fundamentalism can feed on society itself, upending it, left unchecked. But unfortunately inflammation can continue even after the immediate threat has passed as in the case of hay fever and rheumatoid arthritis. Fundamentalism, and with it terrorism, serves the parent religion well for the short term but causes collateral damage to institutions and the very fabric of society after it has served its purpose and the usefulness of the inflammation has passed.

So what is the antidote to the virus?  Like a hangover there is no cure, only prevention. Time can also have a healing effect, but unlike a hangover, to many infected the effect of time only makes the virus stronger. A preventative measure as far as one exists is a solid education in the sciences.

“Rational parents want to raise well-educated and well-balanced children with full logical and critical faculties. But once infected, no parent is rational. As a result, parents are unable to teach their children critical thinking skills with respect to religion, especially their particular religion.” – Darrel W. Ray, ‘The God Virus’.

Infected parents use guilt and fear, more related to the emotion of shame which feeds off anxiety. They ensure that every available resource is utilised to infect the child. Thoughts are sure to evoke primal fear of letting god down and failing in the eyes of others. Anxieties in sex-negative religions such as the one I grew up with centre around sexual shame and guilt. This prevents rational discussion about sex and relationships.

I have always been privy to adult matters, even as a child. When I was undergoing therapy recently in the village where I was raised, my mother grew suspicious of me. I came home once and told her that I had been out at an appointment, and she demanded to know where. I told her only the name of the road, and later heard from my father that my mother believed I was sneakily visiting a childhood friend of mine (who in fact lives 130 miles away, incidentally) – and by simple virtue of his being a boy, of course mum had cooked up in her head a scenario in which he was living in her village, corrupting her angelic daughter.

I thought this was so disgusting and pathetic of her, on a few levels. It demonstrates total lack of trust, it represents invasion of privacy, it betrays her paranoia, and I think more than any of that it’s really f***ed up. She has raised me to be pretty much asexual – I’m not supposed to have a sexual side to my being until I get married. Yet when I exercise the teensiest bit of freedom while under her roof, the conclusion she jumps to is that I must be with a boy? And surely as she knows so much about my life over the twelve years I’ve been away, it must be that I’m seeing the one and only male that she knows I am close friends with?

Is there any wonder that having been raised by a woman who expects me (even now) to be a nun, I have always sought illicit thrills wherever I could? I actually avoided meaningful relationships until I was 23 years old, and I only then renounced sluttiness because a boy that loved me very much pursued me relentlessly for two years. Before him, I was so deliciously wrapped up in creeping around, getting drunk and laid wherever and whenever I could. It was a taboo in my household growing up, despite it being talked about a lot and having to keep my dad’s affairs secret – the idea that I might have boyfriends growing up was an unequivocal no-no. For my entire sexual youth I had no idea about respecting myself, being safe, and falling in love. For me, it was all about screwing. Love didn’t exist.

This is the f***ed up result of bad parenting from my mother. If there are any parents reading this who are infected by the god virus or just prefer to bury their heads in the sand as regards the subject of their young daughters having sex, don’t. Be real, be honest and wise up! It’s going to happen anyway, and if it doesn’t then you’ve raised a freak. Your daughter can either respect herself and not be embarrassed, or she can sneak around and get it from wrong ’uns who fuel her self-contempt because they don’t love her.

beautiful burnout

The God Virus.

Monday 27th October 2014

Once in a while you get a revelation that, like the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle, makes everything to fall into place. You finally see the big picture that was staring you in the face all along. This is how I felt when I read a book that flipped my mind upside down a few days ago. The book was The God Virus by Darrel W. Ray. The truth is that religion affects our society in different ways that we might not realise. It is prevalent and it is a disease. But what makes it so powerful? What makes people blind to the irrationalities of their own religions yet clearly see the problems of others? I wrote about my mother’s painful hyperreligiosity and how it might be some OCD-type condition, but reading this book has got me thinking that the compulsion towards religious devotion works far more insidiously and on a biological, rather than purely mental, level. That makes certain people genetically susceptible, whereas I have never been able to follow a religion or believe in God even when I have very much wanted to in the past.

The book outlines the ways in which is a virus that infects the minds of its devotees in the same way as biological viruses do. Both religion and viruses have the following five abilities that are present in varying degrees:

  • To infect people
  • To create antibodies or defences against other viruses
  • To take over certain mental and physical function and hide themselves
  • To use specific methods for spreading the virus
  • To program the host to replicate the virus

The God virus infects the brain and alters critical faculties. Neurological science has shown that religious visions can be recreated with brain stimulation. William James, in his book The Varieties of Religious Experience wrote about this as long ago as 1902. Dr. Olaf Banks, neurologist at Ecole Polytechnique in Lausanne, explains that the true explanation as to why the supernatural is invoked, is a very natural one, the brain’s attempt to make sense of conflicting information.

To go into the five properties above in a little more detail, infection takes place usually early on in childhood. This is a symbiotic method of infection, a vertical strategy in which one is born into a system and the virus remains strong as it binds the community together. Certain religions such as the Druze, Yazadi and Amish communities even have a further stipulation which prohibits outsiders from joining the group. It pays in these viral communities to preserve the unit of propagation, namely the family. Islam for example limits female freedoms and has always sought to expand male power. Sex is mandated as a procreative activity with extramarital relationships banned.

The other type of infection is the parasitic kind. Cults are the number one form of the virus which go down this route. The Unification Church maintains that for example marriages must be approved, if not arranged, by the Church ostensibly to propagate its virus across cultural boundaries.

The second on the list, the antibodies of the virus offer religious immunity which protects the beliefs and that of the children once they have been affected. Antibodies take the form of the creed of the religion. Ideas such as heresy were developed to protect the faith. Individuals rarely switch allegiances once indoctrinated. Eighteenth century physician Edward Jenner demonstrated that infecting a person with the cow pox virus immunised them against the small pox virus.

The overpowering of faculties occurs as followers fall back on doctrines that they learned as children. It is so strong that it hides even from internal detection. The individual sees their belief systems as self-evident. It might be activated by stress and traumatic experiences, as it was in the case of my mother who lost her high-power management job around eight years ago due to her misconduct, abuse, victimisation and negligence. A lengthy court case ensued, which she lost and in the process many tens of thousands of pounds. It was around this time that she began to turn to religion in an unhealthy turbo-charged way, as if it was going to save her or something when everyone else had let her down – she had no friends, family or partner in whom she could confide, she couldn’t tell me (her only daughter) and her ex-husband had no sympathy.

A virus needs an effective vector – a organism that transmits a disease or parasite from one animal to another, such as a mosquito in the case of malaria. In the case of the God virus it is spread usually by religious leaders who are reengineered to become effective carriers. Vectors are expensive for the ecosystem to produce so they are protected and supported to an extreme degree, as in the case of recent paedophilic sex abuse cover-ups. In the symbiotic strain, where the virus goes down a family line, the vector (priest in Catholicism) effectively commits genetic suicide by remaining celibate in order that his church may propagate. Just as the rabies virus takes over the brain of the host animal and infects specific neurons which induces the host animal to act aggressively without regard for its own life. The animal dies but the virus propagates itself by infecting those that are bitten.

Indeed, groups such as Jehovah’s Witnesses take the view that each and every baptised member has a divine mandate to spread the word to the best of their ability. Members are required to submit regular reports on their evangelical efforts, and failure to do so will result in disfellowshipping. A recent article from Priceonomics projects a simplified formula for viral growth to account for and predict its advancement in the U.S, albeit modest.

The fifth on the list of parallels is programming. The host’s children are not usually immune. They are plied with guilt-inducing ideas that create a sense of security in incur the wrath of God, condemnation from respected leaders, hellfire damnation etc. I remember all of these threats from my own childhood, when I was very little they seemed real. But it only took me until I was ten years old to figure out that there was no God and I was free to do as I please in this life.

I’m no longer a dyspeptic critic of religion, or of anything else for that matter. I find a lot of atheist discourse self-indulgent claptrap in fact. But with such a convincing argument, I have no choice but to agree with Ray’s elegant and compelling elaboration on Richard Dawkins’ meme concept. Religion is dangerous and doesn’t show any sign of abating as it isn’t seen as a threat to public health, merely a harmless lifestyle choice. The God virus is real, it hurts people and tears families to shreds, it kills people while they are still breathing.

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

Community living & disposable cultures.

Saturday 18th October 2014

I am thinking about my role as a consumer while reading The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard – an essential read that should be on every school curriculum. It is an exposé on the West’s dire overconsumption from a sustainable and human rights point of view, critiquing many of the industrialised processes that we as consumers are not informed about, and lead to our waste being dumped on the doorstep of third world countries, toxic PVC ‘offgassing’ in our homes, and babies being born with over 250 toxins already in their blood. It’s the most disturbing read I’ve experienced in a long time, made all the more scary by the exponential march of what we are forced to term ‘progress’ with its inbuilt planned technology obsolescence, exploitative and cynical practices, human rights violations and moral vacuity.

Reading this book has got me angry – but this time in a good way. There are so many depths to the filthy system we are all trapped in and bound by to whatever extent. What is missing is the social self – the citizen of the local community. The idea of feeling a part of where I live has been on my mind a lot at the moment as I flit from one place to another. I don’t have a fixed abode as such as I am moving around California and have nowhere specific to return to in England. This is a fine situation that I have designed for myself as it allows total freedom but I accept that others may find it disconcerting or unconventional. They may not understand that this is exactly where I need to be at the current time.

I am enjoying slumming it in Oakland, a bosom of enterprise, creativity and the dispossessed. I have never seen so many homeless or hopeless people. Every wall I have seen in my fleabag hotel is pockmarked with dents and craters: scars from murders, scuffles and madness. You would not stay in a place like this unless you had no other choice. Which makes me wonder what the assorted vagrants that pass through are running away from or hurtling towards, that is so terrible that staying at this hotel is their best or only option? One cheerful long term resident gave me some advice to be careful after dark, as one block over is where “murders and injuries happen”. I took heed and wasn’t horrified. I am fascinated by this decrepit run down place, by far the most squalid I have ever visited – and this is coming from someone who has spent her entire adult life thus far in London ghettos in Tower Hamlets, Hackney and Lambeth.

Strangely though, perhaps as a result of being ‘homeless’ myself, I am engaging with this community and this city far more than my previous homes. I am, in true Annie Leonard style, reactivating my inner citizen and I am enjoying the feeling. This place is proud of what it is and there is no pretence there. In amongst the derelict department stores there are reclaimed wood-panelled boutiques and coffee shops that proudly display messages and sell wares declaring civic pride.

This isn’t my city but the idea of my own conscious societal displacement segues nicely with what I am learning about the importance of social relationships. There is evidence to suggest that people with strong social ties live longer and of course feel safer. A small example from Leonard’s book: the filmmaker Judith Helfand made a documentary about a massive heatwave in Chicago which killed six hundred people. She explains that most of the victims were socially isolated and didn’t have trusted neighbours so nobody to check up on them or their facilities at home.

On a planet where we are rapidly running out of resources (since 1986 every year we have been consuming more than the earth is able to regenerate in a year), think how many fewer resources we could consume if only we shared? From cars and vegetables to tools and homes, not only would the planet be saved from having to produce ever more stuff to sustain our insatiable desires, we would enjoy the satisfaction and pleasure that comes from interaction with other humans! Not only a good in itself but it would lead to numerous other benefits like being able to call on each other for favours, having the good company of others, and saving money and time in myriad ways. Participation gives us a warm glow but unfortunately it’s so easy to shun this on the basis that you can’t trust people these days, you haven’t got time (too busy working like donkeys so we can pay for all the meaningless crap we just can’t live without). Or maybe, just maybe, quality of life overall could be improved if we made time for each other and got over our own reserve.

From my vantage point as an elected outsider, I can consider how it might feel to be part of a community. I have never really engaged with my local area before and certainly not considered ways to make local people come together and help each other out. The way I had previously conducted my social affairs was to keep my head down, avoid looking at anyone and set my heart on the next place I’d live, where surely everything would be perfect and I’d have no trouble wanting to play a part socially. The truth is it’s going to be difficult putting myself out there, risking ridicule or worse, being ignored. I might not feel like it. I might be too busy or tired. I might have other problems. But I can try and remember that the community aspect of being human is important to individual and collective wellbeing in conjunction with other socially-aware initiatives.

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Living with borderlines: anger.

I first started writing this blog in January of this year. The very first thing I ever wrote was in regards to my anger problem:

“I am a very angry and aggressive person. I guess it would be true to say that over time, I have developed strategies for dealing with and managing this in front of other people. But often I find myself seething inside, with terrible bad feelings often mixed with neurosis and circular thought patterns.”

Back then, I didn’t know how bad things would get. I couldn’t have predicted my ever more violent rages, bouts of drunken grappling and harsh words spoken with the intention of wounding. Nor did I know how much hope I would eventually muster up from within, which would help me to face my demons. Being understood (albeit by a textbook) is a great relief.

I am thinking about anger in relation to borderlines – what makes their anger different, at whom it is aimed, how and whether it can be understood and what can be done to help them, at least as a damage-control measure. Of course, what I’m about to discuss will be a generalisation and for every rule there are a great many exceptions, but the following certainly rings true for me and was originally written about in greater detail by Kreisman & Straus in their book Sometimes I Act Crazy, about living with Borderline Personality Disorder, or surviving a loved one who has it.

What sometimes distinguishes borderline rage is its concealment and its unpredictability. Some borderlines supress anger, believing its expression will lead to what is most feared: abandonment by a significant other. It has also been said that depression is anger turned inward, and in fact BPD has a high rate of comorbidity with depression. However, interestingly there is a trend for anger to be less intense in those borderlines who are depressed, in contrast with other psychiatric patients, studies have shown, in whom high levels of depression are correlated with increased anger and violence. How can this be? Perhaps depression somehow diminishes the experience of anger, or maybe anger is a defence against depression. After all, both are associated with serotonin irregularities and are two sides of the same coin.

Aside from supressing rage, other individuals deflect their rage back on themselves and become self-destructive. For others still, anger is unplanned and startling. There appears to be no observable progression from minor incident to violent eruption. What is clear though is that borderlines feel angry much of the time, even when the anger is not expressed. Frustration and self-reproach can unleash rage which is often directed towards the borderline’s nearest and dearest. A study of male domestic violence perpetrators demonstrated that they had a greater likelihood of exhibiting borderline characteristics than control subjects.

Anger is one of the most enduring characteristics of BPD and intertwines with other criteria that define the condition such as mood instability, destructive and self-harming behaviours, unstable relationships, fear of abandonment and persistent sensations of emptiness. One study found that over a two-year period, intense anger remitted in only 7% of subjects in contrast with suicidal behaviour resolving in 54% of cases over the same timescale.

Anger for borderlines stems from frustration and as a preemptive measure to guard against perceived expectation of disappointment at a later date. This was how it was for me, if you can imagine a person who feels she is utterly empty, that everything is pointless and worthless, so get it over with already. In other cases the anger may be camouflaged by opposite behaviour such as attempting to please everyone, though ironically this fruitless quest only leads to more frustration as the need for reciprocal nurturing isn’t met.

According to the authors of Sometimes I Act Crazy, it is essential to understand that in some situations the borderline needs to be angry. This is quite a difficult subject to write about, much less to do, as it seems counterintuitive to encourage a person experiencing irrational anger to let it out. Rational argument, apparently, doesn’t work – logic goes out the window during a borderline’s debate. He may even switch sides halfway through. So what is the proper response to a temporarily insane person’s uncontrollable rages?

The advice given sounds very simple on paper but must, I fear, by almost impossible for anyone not noted for their Mother Theresa-esque appearance.

1. Understand
Anger usually is the outward expression of fear and pain. It is easier to be angry than scared. Anger can be a way of gaining control over an unmanageable situation. Anger might be used pre-emptively or in a variety of different ways.

2. Prepare
Borderline rage is like no other in its intensity, irrationality and apparent whimsy. But you can prepare for it, and learn to read the signs and the cycles, as you both begin to unpack the triggers of rage.

3. Communicate
Communicating with a furious borderline is a delicate balancing act. On the one hand, empathy and self-control are needed. On the other, he must be made aware that his outbursts are unacceptable.

4. Don’t fight fire with fire.
Borderline rage feeds upon itself and off that of others.

5. Don’t tolerate anger.
If you show that rage is acceptable, this will only reinforce this idea in the mind of the borderline

6. Leave
If the borderline refuses to settle, take a brief respite until he calms down. Accept that change takes time.

It sounds a bit like training a dog, and it is just as absurd probably.

Right now I can honestly say that I have never been less angry in my entire life. I was an angry child that grew into an angry adult. I believe I have truly changed for myself as I continue learning how to appreciate what is around me, how not to feel everything is pointless and worthless and ugly. I am in love with nature, I love animals – even insects! I can control my moods far better now, in large part thanks to previous relationship issues being over. I know the beauty of the universe and the beauty that is me.