It’s the very beginning of 2019 which reminds me of the beginning of a school term. You know, when our exercise book was so fresh, you could smooth your hand along the cover, which didn’t yet contain scrawly doodles, coffee stains, ink blots and creases and didn’t even have the name very neatly filled in on the dotted line because it was so new. That pristine text book reflected very positive possibilities for the rest of the term just like the sense of energy and endless creativity that comes from goal setting and New Year’s Resolutions. Back in school days, I generally had the feeling that all my bad habits would dramatically disappear at the beginning of a school term and that the same neatness would continue through to the end of term. Along with the discipline, there was going to be early bedtimes; no floor-drobe would be appearing; homework would be done on time and somehow I wouldn’t be leaving my battered brown briefcase on the train (housing the hope-filled new textbook) only for my mother to call me “utterly irresponsible” as she begrudgingly paid 50p, yet again, to get it back all the way from Brighton to Angmering.
Setting out on a new course is also filled with promise, though hopefully a more realistic type of promise. In the back of the mind though is ringing the experiences from the past when there was commitment on day one, then something happens to challenge that commitment – life comes along – and all of a sudden something else takes priority. My invitation to new course members to to attempt to keep that “day one freshness” you are feeling now, aware of the hurdles you may need to overcome to keep the freshness alive. It is part of the human condition to allow ourselves to become disappointed with our other performance or that of another in fact endless dissatisfaction is part of what we aim to move away from if we commit to a meditation practice because we come aware of the tendency of the human mind to become dissatisfied easily and quickly. If you give yourself only one challenge this course, make it that you remain in integrity and continue to attend all of the course and play full out both inside and outside the classroom and see what shows up in your life…. It may not be all positive. In fact it might be kicking and screaming all the way but at least you will learn something about yourself either way.
Unshakable happiness can come from within and it’s the sort of change in consciousness that is long lasting it doesn’t depend on your new course going exactly as you expect it too. It’s not the sort of happiness that comes from new text books, or any outside circumstance and it isn’t affected by the internal weather within. I have understood more clearly than ever before how I am not my thoughts. This isn’t an intellectual understanding but a change in consciousness brought on by experiences in hours of contemplation and Yoga practice. So much of my understanding about how I become happy has previously come from egoistic thinking without me really realising how much of my life is ruled by this. It has produced the kind of happiness that is dependent on me getting what I think I need and want which has only produced fleeting happiness which has an insatiable need to be fed with the next desire. It actually takes very little time to get to know for sure (in an experiential kind of way) that egoic needs can never be satisfied so it isn’t the right place to look for lasting happiness and peace… In some ways a long Christmas break offered more opportunities than normal to watch the ego at work. I give myself permission to want more indulgent things, because it’s a festive holiday. The more I feed the next desire and then the next, the more the desires increase!!!! Which means this type of very temporary satisfaction becomes even more fleeting in order to get even more desires in there during a day! I’m talking about the kind of happiness that is dependent on these desires all being satisfied within a very specific agenda. The trouble is, quite often they are conflicting desires. I’m thinking things like this: “I can’t waste this holiday and must make the most of being here (in some amazing rural location with lots of possibilities for exploring the countryside) but I’m oh so tired and I need to sleep some more”. Some of them I re run again and again. Especially “I’m on holiday so it’s time to indulge in this Eton Mess but I’m going to want to be slim and be admired for my fitness, oh dear, I can’t have both…”
This kind of fleeting happiness, which is dependent on circumstances outside the mind, is part of what makes us human and also what makes us suffer immeasurably. In order to experience lasting happiness, it’s a question of “shutting up” the egoic mind (by not feeding it by listening to it) so that we can experience peace and calm that “passeth all understanding”, quite independently of desires which come from “identification with form” as Eckhart Tolle puts it. By this he means that earthly desires come from me developing a persona as a result of being alive on this earth. In order to keep the persona alive, other people must validate me. Every time I post a video of what I’m up to on Facebook it’s a rehearsal of the story of me and my larger than life personality and there is even a whole system of public validation through those smiles and thumbs up signs that I get in return… I must have and own things that verify this persona and everything I do must match this identity which makes me me, including having like-minded friends to give me a sense of belonging to ‘my tribe’. Further to this, others must be seen as being very different from me so that there is a very definite experience of me through people being “not like me” in every way too… Even better if I can find one or more friends that will engage in “othering” in order that I can distance myself from ideals I do not consider worthwhile and this might even mean that the people themselves become “not worthwhile”. It’s especially easy to put people in that category when they have hurt me of course, since it means I can rehearse a story about the fact that I would “NEVER treat anyone the way they treated me”. If I’m part of a big tribe that agrees about the difference and wrongness of the ‘other’ tribe, then I can justify treating them badly, even putting them in their place and possibly even ridding the world of them all together!
I know through my theoretical bent as an academic psychologist that this persona is a false one, however I have not used that knowledge to stop listening to my desires and trying in vain to get these needs met as quickly as possible in order to get a bit of joy. In the busyness of my crazy work-a-day life, I can easily forget another kind of long-standing peace and joy that doesn’t come from meeting the desires of my ego. This unshakable happiness is not a place to reach for, like the top of a mountain which must be climbed a certain way in order to get to the coveted top, it’s an un-graspable experience, like a spirit which I can now travel through life with. It started with noticing a long, long time ago that there is another me. This other me, lets call it ‘capital M’ Me, is only available in stillness and quiet when wanting (grasping as the Buddhists so aptly put it) begins to disappear. This is what Jesus meant when he talked about “coming to the Father” through this Me (more of that next week). This Me is what other Spiritual Traditions call Buddha Nature or True Nature and opportunities for stillness facilitate the chance to know Me again. This Me is beyond language, beyond ego, beyond all identification with this body, this hair cut, this everything my ego attaches to the worldly, earthly me. There are no rules to follow to find Me. Me just sort of pops up from the quietness which it seems is more easily acquired from sitting and meditating but isn’t a requirement. More importantly, Me arises from letting go of ‘little m’ me in all circumstances possible. It comes from observing little me at work in my head and becoming aware of the thinker without being the thinker.
I have seen that some of my (little ‘m’ – ego) thinking patterns can be connected to the Somatic Reflexes we talk about in Yoga. So for instance, if I’m thinking a lot about what I need to do, and ego identifying with my roles in life (I am what I do) as head of Move and Inspire Me and as Dog Mummy and House Manager and Head Gardener then it’s so easy to get into that Green Light posture – chest thrusting forward, shoulder’s back, sergeant majorish and ready for the onslaught of a totally undo-able task list. This state of mind I am calling Green Light Consciousness and it is filled with over confidence based on achievements and a grand old sense of entitlement. My worth is all wrapped up in getting things done (as fast and as efficiently as possible so that everyone can validate my genius and efficiency of course). My mind is very much stuck in the future, plotting and planning and seeing the goal in my sights as well as rehearsing how I want things to go in an ideal world and worrying about that not coming to fruition (usually because of the unreliability and uncommittedness of everybody else involved of course). This means I’m very definitely not in the present moment and in many cases I am way, way ahead into the future – did you know the M&IM online calendar, complete with all payment weeks and other deadlines has been done (since June 2018) until 2020? Whilst I am fully immersed in this Green Light Consciousness (GLC), there is a trap. The tendency is to design my life with far too much in it. There is even a kind of invisible calendar laid on top of the actual calendar which is filled with all the possible ideas that I could fulfil if a moment appears in the current calendar. You know, things like building an online YouTube presence ha ha ha! Since happiness comes from achieving, it stands to reason that the more there is to do, the more happiness is available….
The problem with over achieving is two-fold. Number One, the more there is to do, the less likely is that it will actually be done in a perfect way. Number Two, the more you do, whilst attempting to maintain impossibly high standards, the more likelihood there is of burn out. A further trap in this GLC is that no one else is good enough to do it for me so asking, getting and being grateful for help are somewhat of an un-reality for me! This drivenness serves to bring about anxiety – as all future-focus thinking has the tendency to produce – with all the attendant worry and tension and a whole lot of sleeplessness. The happiness that comes from getting more and more organised and achieving some task in a perfectionist manner is only fleeting and there really only a split second before the next set of tasks needs to be tackled, since inside this GLC there is only worthiness when there is achievement and I mean ENDLESS achievement.
I’m less inclined toward what I am calling “Red Light Consciousness” (RLC) and posture (just take one look at that crazy Lordosis in my low back) but eventually, too much GLC is impossible to maintain. Sooner or later, if standards are high enough (which is an inevitable part of GLC) then collapse isn’t far around the corner. I recognise this state when I simply have to collapse in a heap, usually somewhere near my bed! This energy-less state feels utterly depressing, and reminds me why I’m so attracted (and addicted?) to GLC. No wonder that Red Light Reflex inward curve of the spine appears as my body curls into a ball of unconsciousness and collapse. I’m in a state of unease because I’m unable to achieve during these times (pretty tough to deal with for someone whose worth is wrapped up in their achievements). The sense that I am not worthy because of my inertia fills my depressed mind as comparison’s with the achievements of others seem to leap out at me at every turn. And oh how I resent those other over-achievers whilst in this state of being. The over confidence of my GLC state is nowhere to be seen. RLC fixates me in the past where regret and depression hang out and being in the present is again not compatible. Only endless conversations with myself about what I could have done better, how I could have handled things with more kindness etc etc. I notice how many everyday conversations back up this state of being, after all, it’s not socially acceptable for women in particular, to brag about their achievements and more common to share the space they occupy as victims of other people’s treatment of them which is rife in a collective RLC.
Dropping all the ideas of how things are supposed to be and just being present in this moment, without expectation is a skill that takes a good deal of practice. For those who attend our Gentle Somatic Yoga classes, you will notice how much of our practice is about moving from one extreme, say, going into spinal extension and then through to the other, in this case, spinal flexion and then resting in that sweet spot in between. What a fantastic analogy this is for where we are practicing our mind to land – in this neutral mind zone in which the real Me, capital M, can finally creep into existence in those moments of true rest and relaxation.
One of the first requirements of this mindfulness practice is to approach all situations as if for the first time. In this way, you are not holding on to past expectations of how things will go, or hoping for an experience based on future expectations, you are in this moment, fully aware and fully present and this is the place where Me hangs out. Approach this course as if it is the first course you have ever done in your life and see if you can experience and see what shows up in your experience of the course moment by moment as you progress slowly through each week without an expectation of how it should go for you. You can also practice as much as possible experiencing all of your life as if you are doing so for the very first time. It is amazing how glorious a blackberry tastes, if there is time to savour it, straight from the hedgerow, as if you have never experienced the taste, smell, sight and texture in your life before…
Here is Jon Kabat-Zinn (American professor emeritus of medicine and the creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School) giving a good account of how best to do this:
Jack Kornfield, in The Roots of Buddhist Psychology, tells a story of a beggar, sitting on a battered old suitcase, by the side of the road, who asks a passing Buddhist Teacher for money. The teacher says that he doesn’t have any money but asks the beggar if he has ever looked inside the old case he is sitting on. The beggar, firmly stuck in a depressive mind set (RLC) his eyes and spine weighted down with a deeply depressive mind set replies that he hasn’t ever bothered to look into the case he sits on every day. Encouraged by the teacher, he opens the lid for the first time and sees thousands of pounds worth of old notes in the case, enough to buy accommodation and live his life in comfort. This is an analogy of Beginner’s Mind. The idea that there is treasure in the present moment, if we will only leave behind our experiences in the past and worries of the future enough to be in the present moment and experience our life in the now, which is packed with treasures!
The good news is that you have decided to try a new experience and the hope is that it will offer you inner freedom. Over the next 6 weeks of the course, we will talk about all that past sages have taught us – the idea that we can all live in the NOW and experience awakening and liberation from RLC and GLC and as a result be offered what Christians would call Salvation and what Buddhists would call Enlightenment and Nirvana. This is the same thing as experiencing a new You, capital Y. Your egoic self (small s) will have to die but as a result you will experience a new Self (capital S) and the attendant peace, calm and unshakable happiness. Or at least experience this for part of the day, even if such bliss evades us most of the time, the fact that it is possible to attain in a human lifetime is surely worth exploring?
Don’t worry – this journey will NOT and I repeat, NOT, involve you believing in something. Beliefs are often fear driven and having them makes you religious rather than on a Spiritual path. Beliefs are thought-bound, a man-made doctrine or dogma that is generally used to protect a collective ego identification that makes the unbeliever bad and wrong / sinful etc etc. I’m not asking you to believe in anything at all. In fact I’m asking you to question everything I say and ask yourself if it fits with your EXPERIENCE of life and makes sense to you, without any belief system at all. There is nothing to join. Don’t panic if you do follow a particular religious path – this won’t knock you off it. Your religious beliefs aren’t necessarily incompatible, so long as you follow your chosen religious path with insight and mindfulness, especially if you are being taught that this way is the one and only right way, and every other religion is wrong (this is a collective ego at work and far away from the Spiritual Teachings of the original prophets).
The more I have read and the more audio books I have listened too, the more I realise that all truly spiritual teachings are saying the same thing… All there is to do is to become conscious and wake up to the reality of a collective unconsciousness which is our inherited way of being from which you can escape by becoming present… The Christian religion explains it Original Sin, which properly translated simply means “to miss the mark”. Jesus showed that humans were missing the point of human existence and were causing suffering to themselves and others. Buddhists, in their description of the first two of four noble truths refer to Dukkha – the similar understanding that we miss the mark because, whilst not living in the present moment, in an ego-filled state, life is inevitably full of suffering, pain, and misery which is caused by the selfish craving and personal desire of the ego. Hindus go one stage further in suggesting, in the Vedic Scriptures, that we are living in a constant state of illusion or madness in this egoic state – “Mind is Mayer”.
If you want to be free from this Mayer Mind and become present and awake to the utter miraculousness of life all it takes is something very simple…be still – you need to make time to experience presence… In this practice you begin by noticing then eventually dropping your ego identification and the suffering connected to your attachment to it’s desires. What shows up has been labelled many things but the long and short of it is bliss and freedom.
These are tiny steps toward enlightenment which I have discovered isn’t something that is unachievable. The whole purpose of those wise sages (Jesus, Buddha etc) was to show us the way (that’s what Jesus meant when he said “I am the way”). It’s not a superhuman state! Most Spiritual Leaders were misunderstood in their own time and many of their teachings were distorted and made into ideologies once they had died. They have since been worshipped as Gods and made into the figure heads of religions that bring about division across the world. It is a far cry from what Jesus and Buddha were teaching. For instance Jesus never described himself as divine and the teachings of the Trinity were man made by the Catholic Church some 300 years after his death Religions turn the true spiritual teaching of enlightenment, being saved, or whatever you want to call it, into something that is only available to followers of their particular religion / God; justifying torture and killing along the way.
What I have realised is that the distortion of the original ideologies have made things over complicated. Eckhart Tolle explains that the ego likes to make enlightenment impossible to achieve in a human life time – this state of oneness with what is so and living fully present in the moment. It’s a state of wholeness and peace and it’s available to us all. Experiencing this necessarily liberates us from incessant thinking and, no matter what our outside circumstances, we are free to live in a space of no suffering. Here he is explaining that You are Not Your Mind:
This state of connectedness to something immeasurable and indestructible is a discoverable essence (the real Me within) in which we are at one with what Eckhart calls “Being” and Christians call “God” in which we can be at one with our deepest Self (capital S) or Buddha Nature. Revelation 21 in the Bible is a prophesy about “A New Heaven and a New Earth” which is a collapse of the existing world order. Tolle named his new book “A New Earth” after this prophesy which promises that our collective Divinity can be manifested in these times in particular in which Ego Identification is rife (and killing and war etc) but failing to satisfy those pursuing a different path.
Next week, I’ll be explaining how my background as a Social Constructionist has provided a great backdrop to understanding the teachings behind how the ego creates a socially constructed identity that isn’t fixed (there is no such thing as “personality”) and that can be broken out of (especially if you can leave behind language and just sit, meditating in the moment without all that chit chat) in order to have more of the Divine and this New Consciousness in our lives.