therapy journey

My journey to better mental & spiritual health

Tag: mental health

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.

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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

Toxic Faith: The traits of hyperreligiosity.

A post I wrote 2 years ago on hyperreligiosity has gained thousands more hits on my blog than any other post. Clearly a lot of people are Googling the term hyperreligiosity. But why? We must be experiencing a spike in instances of ‘religious mania’ and ‘toxic faith’ – so-called hyperreligiosity. As Western society grows more secular with each generation, on the world stage hyperreligiosity is something we as a world community must contend with on a regrettably regular basis. Yet this is a fact of life that it seems strictly taboo to allude to.

On an individual basis, people want to understand the condition, either as mental health practitioners or because they are more personally affected; perhaps it is a close friend, spouse, child or parent who is suffering with hyperreligiosity. I am not a mental health professional. For me, it is because somebody close to me has chosen to become ‘lost’ in religion for the past ten years which has led to the sorrowful reality of losing that relationship with them. It is a parental relationship which makes it especially painful.

The term hyperreligiosity is defined by R.S Pearson (the author of the only book on this specific subject so far to be published), as “when the outward forms and other aspects of religion become life disabling. It is the ill-fitting grasp of the role of religion and God in one’s life.” [i]

As I explored in this earlier post [ii], hyperreligiosity is very different from overenthusiastic piety. It is not simply an exemplified form of keeping up the religion’s key principles in an admirable fashion. It is essentially dangerous and destructive, producing nothing of social value.

Through my research I found some common traits of the hyperreligious. Individual sufferers may be affected to a greater or lesser degree by each of the following:

 
Disempowered by others
They may have undergone experiences in which they are disconnected from and disempowered by others, so they have devalued others and created value in the form of their own religious practice. Negative experiences with others can be turned into fuel for increasingly ardent religiosity. They are often extremely disdainful and intolerant of people with opposing beliefs, sometimes even believing that killing in the name of God can be justified. Isolation from others might also be reframed as a positive choice.

They live by finding favour from God
God answers prayers and cares about us. But the hyperreligious get stuck in this mode. They see their relationship with God as more important than anyone else’s and will do whatever they believe God is telling them. They will often punish themselves when they believe they have not lived up to God’s unattainably high expectations of them. They may have sanctimonious attitudes, berating others for not being as friendly with God as they are.

The chosen one
Hyperreligiosity happens most often when one thinks that they know the mind of God, even though this is specifically stated as impossible in many major religions’ sacred texts. They may view others as unworthy or inferior. They may think of themselves as special – the chosen one. There are psychological reasons why a person with hyperreligiosity needs to have the assurance that they know the complete mind of God. Perhaps part of it is to fulfil the psyche’s need for validation when it is not present in interpersonal and other relationships.

Spirituality gone wrong
What might start as a desire to be a spiritually-enlightened, virtuous person can descend into an isolating disease of the mind. Spirituality is the embodiment of virtue. Hyperreligiosity isn’t simply an extreme form of spirituality – it is quite the opposite. It proves an ill-fitting grasp of the role of religion and God in one’s spiritual pursuits. The hyperreligious cannot use their thinking faculties in the way in which God intended. Their religious devotions obscure any notions of how to be the spiritually-rounded person God wants them to be.

Life-disabling
There is no good outcome of being hyperreligious. The sufferer does not end up being ‘hypervirtuous’ or ‘hyperspiritual’ or a better person overall. Dedication to the beliefs of religion does not produce anything of personal or social value; to the contrary, it is in fact is often paralysing and very destructive. Mother Teresa for example could not be termed hyperreligious – the description does not fit with the deeds that she performed. Hyperreligiosity produces painful results in the way other mental illnesses do too.

Conspicuous in their non-materialism
The hyperreligious might not care about material possessions, and actively seek out material lacks. These conspicuous lacks of for example marriage and money – things that make life more comfortable and complete – supposedly leave more space in their lives for religion. It might also be a way of justifying certain attitudes or proving that they are different from others and don’t want what others want; their desires are of a higher order. Any residual emptiness is filled with religious fervour. However the hyperreligious can become double-minded: renouncing certain things as worldly and therefore unnecessary, then praying for them. The hyperreligious person is not a perfect model of consistency.

Belief that human life lacks value
Life, to the hyperreligious, may be just a meaningless, temporary state of being – merely a necessary and unremarkable part of the journey or cycle of life. There may be nothing intrinsically valuable or particularly interesting about a human life because our real life is the afterlife. When we realise that humans are created in the image of God then we can experience this elevated value in all human beings. The experience and value of just being human is denied by the hyperreligious and obsessional, sometimes to themselves and often to others. Denying the value of themselves is often the mirror image of another moment in their life when they deny the value of others.

Destruction of self-image
The general destruction of the hyperreligious person’s self-image may be what is inadvertently sought. The creation of the Thanatos state, the death impulse, is often seen as a desirable goal. At least, the dissolution of the self may be sought. This may go back to some previous unmet need which brings with it memories too painful to process or too early to remember. The inner reaction of those with the hyperreligious mindset may be obsessions and intrusive thoughts which try to create an excuse for not being allowed the human privilege for just being a valuable human being and having needs met.

Mental hallucinations

Projections can form in the mind that then direct the hyperreligious person. These figments of the imagination, believed to be God or angels could more closely fall under the heading of the demonic. That which is real and full of truth does not destroy or make suicidal. The voices do not have the best wishes of their object in mind. Psychiatrists see hyperreligiosity in someone having psychotic episodes or epileptic fits in which they experience God. There might also be a distortion in cognition that happens to people where they hear their own inner speech as voices from the outside.


References

[i] Hyperreligiosity: Identifying and Overcoming Patterns of Religious Dysfunction, by R. S. Pearson (Telical Books, 2005)

[ii] https://therapyjourney.wordpress.com/2014/10/06/hyperreligiosity/

hyperreligiosity

Grace. The unconscious mind. Personal religion.

I’m not going to wax lyrical about being in any way spiritually enlightened, because I’m not. I’m no guru or saint, I’m just starting out and I’m learning a lot of things. I like to keep them safe and close to my heart by writing about them. I hope to remember my learnings and make them part of me. The Road Less Travelled has obviously made a big impact on me, as I don’t seem to be able to stop writing about it.

There are a couple of loose ends from Peck’s book that I’d like to tie up. We have discovered Peck’s belief that the ultimate aim of personal evolution is to be like God. Spiritual growth is how we as individuals evolve. And love is the force that overcomes the entropy intrinsic to the natural law of the universe. I wanted to explore the idea of God being a force within our unconscious, as this really stood out for me while reading this book.

We still have no idea why the unconscious mind possesses knowledge that we have not necessarily already learned. Peck suggests that the interface between God and man is at least in part the interface between our unconscious and our conscious. Perhaps we can go further and postulate that where God inhabits is Jung’s collective subconscious that we all share.

I find it very interesting that Peck’s view flips around the beliefs of the preceding age of psychotherapy, which held that the unconscious with its tumultuousness, nightmares, mental illnesses and assorted demons, is the seat of psychopathology. In Peck’s version, diseases of the mind occur because our conscious self resists unconscious wisdom and it is amidst this conflict that the unconscious seeks to heal. Far from being dark, unruly and fearful, our unconscious mind is an expression of a far greater power.

But, we are in the dark about what our unconscious mind – God – is telling us. Dreams are open to contradictory interpretations, dark nights of the soul seemingly serve little purpose except making us miserable, and we are very quick to discount those situations when we intuit something but cannot figure how we could possibly ‘know’ it. Perhaps on occasion we are being assisted by a force other than our own conscious will. This is where grace comes in.

Grace is a “powerful force originating outside of human consciousness which nurtures the spiritual growth of human beings”. Examples of grace include near-misses in potential accident situations, dream phenomena where revelations are made; miracles of health; examples of extra sensory perception; and other fortuitous incidents, peculiar coincidences, synchronicity or serendipity that we cannot explain. The following four conditions define them:

  1. They nurture human life and spiritual growth.
  2. They are incompletely understood by scientific thinking.
  3. They are commonplace among humanity.
  4. They originate outside the conscious human will.

Peck goes on to assert that the fact of grace basically infers the existence of God. Whether or not one believes in God is a personal matter which no argument from a book is going to change – but unbelievably it can and does change over time. This got me thinking about my own faith and asking the question, how did I go from being a hardline atheist who pretty much felt like punching every devout religious person squarely on the nose, to someone who only today over breakfast, told my flatmates that I believe in a God as a soul of the universe, a oneness, source, a spirit that unites us all?

There’s no simple answer to this. I didn’t see any huge signposts pointing me towards God or grace. I didn’t dodge death or see Jesus in a watermelon. I can only conclude my faith was slowly awakened during the fourteen months I’ve been publishing and asking questions. In searching for mental peace and desperately wanting to shake the problems I used to have with anger, violence, neuroses etc, I found that there was much more blossoming within me given that I had made a commitment to change. I had no idea when I started how much potential I have to be joyful and spiritually whole. This is my therapy.

There was one final point that Peck makes in the ‘Growth and Religion’ section that really hit home. From the theologian Alan Jones “one of our problems is that very few of us have developed any distinctive personal life. Everything about us seems secondhand, even our emotions. […] I cannot survive on a secondhand faith in a secondhand God. There has to be a personal word, a unique confrontation, if I am to come alive”. And if sitting around waiting for God to show himself to us won’t do, we must each of us forge our own religion. This is “a wholly personal one, forged entirely through the fire of our questioning and doubting in the crucible of our own experience of reality.” I love this idea, and I think it’s what I am doing in my myriad ways.

Spiritual growth.

“Genuine love is self-replenishing. The more I nurture the spiritual growth of others, the more my own spiritual growth is nurtured.” – M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Travelled

Spiritual growth as the ultimate aim of human existence crops up many, many times in Peck’s seminal work, The Road Less Travelled. It has got me thinking about what is meant by such a far-reaching and lofty concept as real spiritual growth. Could it be, awareness of universal truths? Truly understanding and accepting the self? Behaving out of love unwaveringly? Knowledge and insight into the nature of God? Cultivating the spiritual growth of others? I have a few ideas, but for now let’s stick to what I understood from the book.

Spiritual growth is the one and only will of love. Love, we remember, is defined by Peck as, “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth”. When real love occurs, we cannot help but extend our limits into a larger state of being. Self-love and loving others go hand in hand because ultimately they are indistinguishable. Loving is self-evolution.

If spiritual growth is the purpose of love, what is the purpose of spiritual growth? It is evolution. The phenomenon of evolution shouldn’t exist. It violates the second law of thermodynamics, which states that energy flows from a state of higher differentiation to a state of lower differentiation – or entropy as it is known. Entropy is the force of decay, of homogenisation, of chaos. Evolution is nothing short of a miracle in our cosmos.

Spiritual growth is the evolution of the individual. While the decline of physical competence is an inevitability, the human spirit may evolve throughout one’s lifetime. Such growth is so difficult and effortful because it is conducted against a natural resistance. The natural inclination is to keep things the way they are. Growth entails embracing and seeking change – not merely for the sake of change, but in as far as making changes allows us to become better and better versions of ourselves, and there is no end to this process.

So, what is the force that pushes individuals and the whole species to grow in spite of our natural lethargy, and against our instincts to keep things the same? It is love. Love is a struggle, it is work. It is the extension of the self, and it is evolution in progress. Love is the force that defies the natural law of entropy which is present throughout the known universe on the micro and macro levels.

I wonder if without a significant other or others to love, can an individual grow? The kind of love that Peck is talking about isn’t the general ‘love they neighbour’ sort, nor the ‘in love’ feeling. By love’s very nature, an individual has only enough energy to manifest real love to a few chosen individuals. Vast amounts of energy are required to extend the self truly to others, and our individual stores of energy are as limited as hours of the day.

I am not nurturing another’s spiritual growth at the moment. I wonder if I ever have. My own growing process is stalling, like all aspects of my life now. I have had some bad times lately and have struggled to identify where they have come from, and what recent experiences or run-ins may have triggered them off. At the end of the day, it comes down to a lack of connection and simple loneliness but this is what I expected as I am in the middle of a huge giving-up/ growing up process. I live a transient lifestyle. So, this lack of soul connection is a hard reset. I know I am lucky to have possessed the wisdom and guts to do something about what I lacked.

If spiritual evolution could be said to have a goal, what is that goal? This is where Peck loses a lot of his readers. The goal of spiritual growth is Becoming God. Peck writes, “We are growing toward godhood. God is the goal of evolution. It is God who is the source of the evolutionary force and God who is the destination.” Peck concedes that it would be putting it mildly to say this is a terrifying idea. But think about it. While we deny our godliness and shirk our responsibility, we don’t have to worry about the responsibility of spiritual growth. We can reject the hard work, relax, grab a beer, watch TV, stick a hand down our pants and just be human. Of course the idea that there is a path to godliness sounds crazy, because that’s just it, it’s the road less travelled. But once you’re on this path, like I am, you realise you might as well enjoy it because after all, the journey is the destination.

Giving up & growth.

This was a post I didn’t want to write, because it may contain negativity. However, in the interests of honesty and dealing with the rough as well as the smooth, I’m going to attempt an understanding and acceptance of my current mindset. And I’m going to be as positive as I can while dealing with its inherent negativity.

In Peck’s psychology as propounded in The Road Less Travelled, a principal reason why people seek psychiatric help is because of depression. When we give something up, depression is the feeling associated with that process. Since mentally healthy humans must grow, and giving up a part of the old outdated self is an integral part of growth, depression is reframed as a normal and healthy phenomenon. It only becomes unhealthy when something in the giving-up process is unresolved or interfered with. On a fundamental level for me personally, the giving-up process has started in my psyche.

It is quite common for individuals not to know why they are feeling down, but my subconscious knows, for it has already kick-started the process that will prefigure the next phase of my life. The idea of the ‘stages of life’ or identity crises was explored by developmental psychologist Erik Erikson. The stage I am at corresponds with Love: The Intimacy vs. Isolation conflict which is emphasised around the age of 30. This is a stage at which young adults seek to blend their identity with their social group. Our egos have had experience of rejection, which for some is so painful that we will do anything to avoid it, including cutting some of the ties that bound us.

In his 1950 book, Erikson writes, “Intimacy has a counterpart: Distantiation: the readiness to isolate and if necessary, to destroy those forces and people whose essence seems dangerous to our own, and whose territory seems to encroach on the extent of one’s intimate relations”. When I read that, it was another one of those Eureka moments. What I used to call freedom has turned into isolation. What used to be exhilarating is now meaningless. Life was for a time a dazzling blank canvas full of too much possibility to have to tie down just one experience to each moment, but it has become stifling and I have briefly considered jumping in the Thames.

Since excelling at one’s current stage involves mastery of the previous stage, this leaves me in a pickle. I don’t feel that I emerged triumphantly from the Fidelity: Identity vs. Confusion stage. Studies have shown that those with a poor sense of self (me) tend to have less committed relationships (yes) and are more likely to suffer emotional isolation, loneliness, and depression (yes, yes and yes). Damn me for being a late developer.

So what is my subconscious trying to tell me – what am I giving up for Lent and indeed for life? To keep things very broad, this is a time in my life when I am realising just how many of my social peers, that I’d previously relied upon for validation and support, have grown divergently from me – or have stayed in exactly the same place. We’ve outgrown each other. Eventually we all have to choose with whom we want to surround ourselves, because like it or not, they’ll influence what we believe is possible for ourselves. Obviously this growing apart process is going to hurt, and in seeking the new connections I’m yet to make, I’m exposing myself to more hurt. And in between, yes, it’s going to be lonely.

What else am I giving up? Cherished notions, I suppose. A safe, cosy view of the future which I now believe isn’t my destiny. Closing my eyes and hoping for the best – that was always a favourite. I realise how much work I still have to do on myself before I can feel that I am truly authentic and ready to give the world, or at least those close to me, my gift. The gift that is the best of me.

Lastly, I became aware yesterday while stomping through London in a huff, that I am saying goodbye to this city, where I have spent on and off the last 12 years of my life, or to put it another way, my entire adult existence. In just over a week I will no longer be a Londoner, and it is my choice not to return to live here again.

I know in my rare strong moments that this too shall pass. I give myself a pat on the back for giving up my old ways of doing and looking at things. And not a moment too soon, some of my old behaviours. It’s not in my nature to cling to the past for comfort and reassurance. I’ve always been the sort to dream about the future. I’ve not experienced a yearning for ‘the way things used to be’ – perhaps because things always turn out kinda sh*t. Many people are unwilling to suffer the pain of giving up what has been outgrown. They cling forever to their old patterns of thinking and behaving, failing to negotiate the crisis of their time. To grow up is to experience the joyful transition that accompanies our many transitions into greater maturity and I for one am pleased to be on this journey, as f***ing hard as it is at times.

Love. Newness. Dependency. Cathexis.

While I’m somewhat stagnant in getting to my goals at the moment, I am spending more of my time connecting with fellow bloggers. Thrillingly, I see a lot of parallels between those whose journeys I find particular interesting, and my own. There is a common thread of love binding us, a vibration in our collective consciousness. We are individuals who write about self-discovery, spiritual empowerment, becoming better people, loving others, achieving good mental health. We share something. These bloggers have come into my life at a time when I am reaching a hand into the darkness.

I want to thank everyone that has showed me an alternative to self-hating, self-blaming and seeing the world as a hostile place. I understand now that it is my destiny to create something good for myself and others. This thing’ is my life’s work. I will make whatever it is from scratch and share it with others. I will use everything in me to make this a reality. I am entering into a vibration of its newness. I have written before about being in a transitional state, having lost lots of things and now readjusting. This is ongoing, but I am allowing myself to believe in the next step – aligning with the vibration of the good that it is in my power alone to manifest.

In the meantime, I am filling my cup with learnings from The Road Less Travelled by M. Scott Peck. In my last post I wrote about the idea that falling in love is essentially a trick played on us by biology, vs real love which Peck defines as “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth”. Real love requires effort, discipline and commitment to growth, long after the butterflies associated with ‘falling in love’ have taken flight.

I very much enjoy Peck’s style which is at times as brutal as it can be gentle. On the subject of dependency, which is sometimes confused with love, Peck writes, “when you require another individual for your survival, you are a parasite on that individual”. Love is the free exercise of choice. It is when two people are quite capable of living separately, but choose to live with each other. Dependency, then, is “the inability to experience wholeness or to function adequately without the certainty that one is being actively cared for by another”. It is a pathological sickness, a mental illness or defect. Yet, every single one of us has desires to be cared for by someone stronger than us with no effort on our part.

I wonder how many of us can truly say we have never been dependent? I can’t. Though not dependent by nature (in fact, happiest when I can express my fierce independence in my own eccentric way), I have certainly been sucked into another’s dramatic dependency needs. I fostered dependency out of a misplaced sense of duty. Such passive-dependents are so busy seeking to be loved that they have no energy left to love. Their inner emptiness can never be filled, so they move from one partner to another, constantly seeking relationships that may while seeming intense and dramatic are in fact extremely shallow.

Genuine love is a self-replenishing activity in which the self is enlarged rather than diminished. It involves a change in the self, but one of extension rather than sacrifice. The aim of real love is always spiritual growth. Further, love is an action, not a feeling. A genuinely loving person will take a loving action even towards an individual she consciously dislikes. I am not this spiritually advanced yet, and I cannot guarantee that love towards my fellow man is always the choice I make. I am trying.

Peck makes a distinction between the action of real love and the feeling of cathecting. To cathect means ‘to invest emotion or feeling in (an idea, object, or another person).’ There is a misconception that love is a feeling because we confuse cathecting with loving. We can cathect a person without caring for their spiritual development. The passive dependent in fact usually fears the spiritual development of her cathected partner. Genuine love isn’t an overwhelming feeling, it is a committed decision.

I have been thinking about my mother and how all my life I’ve been the object of her cathexis. Her love for me is not such that she would like to see me grow to fulfil my unique potential, to be the very best I can be. Her love consists of keeping things the way they’ve always been. She wants to shield me from the outside world. She wants to keep me close, forever. She desperately seeks to influence me. Her love is conditional upon my upholding certain religious values and social conventions that she holds dear.

From the earliest age, I was taught that the world was a hostile place. My mother would scare me into believing that there were rapists and murderers hiding around every corner, waiting to pounce. My worldview growing up was that I had no power, and that those with power would abuse it. Bogeymen, ghosts, spirits and devils were real. I was taught to believe in a vengeful God that you can never please except through a lifetime of servitude and self-sacrifice. I thought, until surprisingly recently, that people were out to get me. Even those that seemed nice initially would turn ugly, according to her. Men were not to be trusted; no-one was.

The worldview and the coddling that she gave me served their purpose, and I love her for it. It is my triumph that despite some of the more distressing and regretful aspects I was forcefed growing up, I am not only being influenced by the wonderful, hopeful works of others but I can feel them changing me fundamentally all the way through.

Love & all who sail in her.

The Road Less Travelled is truly ground-breaking and so brilliantly brutal in some of the conclusions it draws and arguments it puts forward. What follows is a breakdown of Peck’s rebuttal of notions of romantic love, and how it differs (is actually at a polar extreme) from real love in that it doesn’t allow for enlargement of the self necessary for spiritual growth, but instead, temporary release from it.

So ‘falling in love’ is a specifically sex-linked experience. It occurs only when we are sexually motivated whether consciously or unconsciously. The feeling of ecstatic lovingness always fades.

To understand the inevitable ending of ‘falling in love’, he explores what psychiatrists call ego boundaries. When we are babies, we cannot distinguish between ourselves and the rest of the universe. When we are hungry, the world is hungry. When we move our legs, the world is moving. Through various stages of childhood and adolescent development, we learn our identity as individuals, the limits of our flesh and boundaries of our power.

Falling in love therefore represents a sudden collapse of one’s ego boundaries, permitting an individual to merge their identity with that of another.

In this respect, falling in love is a regression. It echoes a time when we were merged with our mothers in infancy. Feelings of omnipotence, much like a child at the age of two might have, make a comeback. What also reappears is the false sense that problems are no more, all boundaries can be overcome and loneliness has been banished.

Sooner or later, ego boundaries snap back into place and two separate identities re-emerge. Either the ties are dissolved or the individuals begin the work of real loving. Real loving occurs in a situation in which the feeling of loving is lacking; when we act lovingly in spite of how we feel, not because of it.

This is because falling in love is not an act of will. It happens even when it is inconvenient and undesirable. While we can choose how to respond to the experience of falling in love, we cannot choose to create the experience itself. Further, falling in love is not an extension of one’s ego boundaries, it is a temporary collapse of them. The experience requires no effort – those who are lazy and undisciplined fall in love just as easily as dedicated and disciplined ones.

From a biological point of view falling in love serves only to terminate loneliness and facilitate successful procreation. Spiritual development is not something that can be summoned through the process, as when we are in love we are at peace, striving no higher than what we already have achieved. Falling in love, according to Peck, is “a genetically determined instinctual component of mating behaviour”.

If that isn’t a passion-killer, I’m not sure what is. I’m sure I have come across the idea before as the book has been around since many years before I was even born, but it makes for an arresting, eye-opening read. As with most things that strike me as exceptional, it’s always better to know them and have the capacity to mull them over, than to ignore the more unpalatable truths that our society avoids dwelling on.

Every day I am making more of a conscious decision that an alternative lifestyle is where I’m headed. I don’t want to be fed on popular media that patronises and perpetuates myths that are flagrantly untrue. I refuse to work in a job which has no intrinsic purpose apart from the acquisition of wealth. Money is the most stupid, ridiculous reason to do anything. I reject spending my vital life energy in an environment which deadens the mind, and which is exactly what it was designed to do.

When I am insulted or misunderstood, I like it because it shows me that I am going the right way. I was told yesterday that I have “a sh*tty outlook on life”. I am delighted to hear such words because they remind me that I am destined for bigger and better things, far beyond what those unenlightened and conventional slaves to the system are even aware of. I’m designing my own philosophy of love, life, self and career.

I’ve been aware of it for a while but I am unconventional. I’ve tried to fight it and spent much of my twenties toeing the line. I thought that if I did the things that everyone else did, I’d truly want them too. I strove to be a normal girlfriend, to want normal material things, to work in a normal job, do normal things on a Saturday night and fit in with anyone who happened to be around me. For a while I kidded myself I was just like everyone else.

It never worked. My relationships were fraught, my friends were merely drinking buddies, I made myself depressed through work, I found emptiness in the things I bought, and drinking made me irresponsible and thoroughly unlikeable.

Now, everything has changed. All the trappings have gone. Friends have gone, my livelihood will change, my lifestyle has uncluttered, my life in England is coming to an end. Fundamentally my priorities have shifted. What is most important to me now, in this period of transition, is to be true to myself.

The stream of warm impermanence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

map

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.

And then I realised I was the earthchild.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

abundance

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