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Posts Tagged ‘Eckhart Tolle’

A portrait of a lady reading a book. William Oliver II  1823As children we map our reality using as waymarks the things we touch – the walls of our house, our relationships with parents, siblings, friends, and we map it by the feel of our environment, by the town, city, or green under our feet, by the places we visit – by schooldays, Saturdays, market days, holidays. We map it by the experience of life, and although we are aware of a greater reality beyond what we can see and experience, we feel it more as a strangeness, a reality we can, as children, ignore. And we ignore it because it is a reality that need not be true. Any of it. Truth, rather, is wherever we are in the moment. It is what we can see and touch, right now. It is the story we are living. Right now. This and only this is the truth of us.

My childhood was a small, semi-detached house, built in the 1930’s, bordering meadows which are still mostly there today. It was a village from which the mines had already gone by the 1960’s, fallen to economic ruin, leaving only their sulphurous slag, glowing by night like something volcanic. But mostly it was green. It was corn and it was cattle. And it was big booted farmers selling vegetables door to door. It was duck-ponds in the corners of quiet lanes.

The technology of the broadcast media did not shape this reality much. It was more the window on an accepted fantasy, a world of stories other than my own, and of less importance: Stingray, Thunderbirds, Joe 90, Crackerjack, Jackanory, The Magic Roundabout. I don’t recall teatime news broadcasts using the lurid language they use today. I presume the bad stuff was held back until after the 9:00 p.m. watershed when we kids were safely tucked abed, that it was then the floodgates opened to dose the adult world with its night-time terrors.

I did not know what sex was until I was fourteen, and then only as a theoretical concept, gleaned from the less fantastical speculations of my fellows, and which turned out in the end not to be too far from the mark. And like the sex, the wider world too remained couched in mysterious terms, its unimaginable largeness filtered into more manageable grains through the medium of the stories others told.

Beyond that which we can touch, the world can only ever be a story. And only what we can touch can ever be the truth of our own lives, a thing verified, crystallised by the medium of an immediate, and tangible experience. The truth, or otherwise, of the wider world is always less certain, yet as adults, like imagination, these other stories – lurid, violent, dangerous, frightening – try to convice us they are part of the truth of who we are.

We think, as we grow, we should leave behind the simpler realities of hearth and home, that the world of immediate experience is not enough, that we should grow up, assimilate more of that which we cannot touch, more of the world as presented to us by the pictures and the words of the various media, that we should become conversant in the world of current affairs. But none of these stories are true, except perhaps in the most simplistic of terms and therefore pale into insignificance when compared with the authenticity of our own lives.

It is like those Hollywood movies that are “based on a true story” in which the details making up the whole of the truth are never allowed to get in the way of the telling of the story. This is not to say it is an outright lie, only that a truth can be spun in misleading ways. And stories always have morals, they have plots, they have a meaning and a purpose of their own, while life – real life – may not. We all know this.

And then the choice of which stories we listen to can itself suggest a truth about the world, one less than authentic than reality, creating false emphasis, pushing centre stage some events in favour of others, suggesting importance, urgency. These are the stories collected, edited for our convenience by the master storytellers, by the BBC, Russia Today, Fox News, events selected and spun, and while they may not be lies exactly, they do not tell the true story of the world, but more instead, and if we listen carefully, the story of the story tellers themselves.

But now we can move away from the edited stories. We can dig deep into the eclectic machinery of the Internet, keeper of all video memory, a marvellous, and quite endless source of story. Here the choice of what to feature large, and what to suppress is ours. We choose the truth of the greater world to suit ourselves. But is this any better?

My choices at present are the stories told by Noam Chomsky, Jeremy Corbyn, Julian Assange, Carl Jung, Stanislav Grof, Ken Wilber, Eckhart Tolle, but these choices are of stories no more true than any other. I might have chosen 9/11 conspiracies, UFO’s, David Ike, Donald Trump, and from these spun a story of the world as good or bad as any other, as essentially true or untrue as any other, though perhaps one that did not resonate as well with my own preoccupations.

I fell asleep last night plugged in to You Tube. I was listening to a lecture by Noam Chomsky, but a deep fatigue withdrew me from his story. And I woke this morning to a an autumn sun, and one of the last warm days of the year. I pulled a tree-stump from the garden, took a last cut of the lawn, repaired a gate, washed the car, and as the sun set I drank cold beer. This is my only authentic reality. I am not big enough to know the world in all its colour, in all its shape and size, and for me to try is to be eternally deceived, eternally swept from one incomplete view to another. I become lost in what even as a child I recognised, as being of less importance than the day to dayness of my immediate experience.

I have lived today slowly, measuring each breath, trying to savour each moment of the smallness of my being. It is the only reality I shall truly know. That I experience it, that I at least know my own story, is what I think I am meant to do here, to perceive at least the truth of that one thing, instead of seeking a somehow bigger, cleverer or more complex truth among the duplicitous tellers of all the stories of the world.

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The_ScreamCome Friday my flexi-time balance is usually in credit, so I finish at lunch-time, then head up to Rivington Barn for an egg and bacon butty. It’s a popular spot, and you’ll probably have to queue. I was there last Friday, and I was about half way down that queue before realising what I was doing would once have been impossible. When was that? Ten, fifteen years ago? It wasn’t just queues either – the cinema was out of bounds too, and music concerts, and the theatre – anywhere with lots of people in a captive environment, so to speak. Some things you can avoid, of course, while some you can’t, and the ones you can’t are a nightmare. You live in dread of them.

We do not always realise the distance we have travelled; nowadays, I’m pretty much functioning with a level(ish) head, and grateful for it because living like that was awkward. Panic and anxiety, these are manifestations of the psyche, a storm of sorts, and therefore a reaction to living in a way we find somehow threatening. But when we watch the news bulletins, we see so many have died now on the long migration routes to the west, gambolling their lives on a chance at sharing even a little bit of what I take for granted, it seems immoral I should even question it. After all, mine is an ordinary life, secure in the bosom of the west, and it’s irrational to panic, when my life is clearly not threatened. But I never said it was my life I felt was threatened, more my sense of being.

I worry now if even writing about it will open a door on the past, that the next time I stand in a queue, I will have cause to regret it. A panic attic is like being turned inside out. We focus obsessively on our own mental noise and we imagine the eyes of others upon us, imagine ourselves seen through their eyes, this person, wobbling, perhaps looking strange, perhaps about to faint. The fear feeds upon itself, reaches a terrifying resonance in which we simply must flee the scene. Anyone who has suffered this will tell you it’s deadly serious. It’s also becoming commoner in the general population.

The cure? Well, obviously there is a cure, or I could not have waited the five minutes for my bacon butty, and received it in the same calm mental state as when I had joined that queue, nor even sat and enjoyed it. Medication? No, I don’t take medication. I have nothing against it these days, though I’ve been guilty of an anti-med zealotry in the past. Medication can save lives, so I accept it has its role to play. But medication is never without risk or side effect, and it’s true to say I have also felt uncomfortable with the psyche that remains, after medication, a psyche that is, in a way, still imprisoned, and prevented its desired freedoms, only this time, apparently, for its own good.

But for all the cherished values of the west, the way we live is the cause. If you want to get philosophical about it, it’s the feeling that in our guts we are more than the material world gives us credit for, that we are not machines, yet are being squeezed at every turn so we might fit into a machine-like world, a machine driven in such a way that even a dollar profit will outweigh the most basic, uncosted, intangible human need.

Happiness? Who needs it? Purpose? So what? Love? Buy it. A sense that things can never be any better than this, that we have killed God, and even the priesthood seems not to have noticed? Who cares? Well, we all care, but we feel powerless to bring about change, so we do nothing. And some of us panic.

But standing in that queue, I was no longer aware of my own mental noise. My thoughts were few, my head was quiet. I was aware of my body, my breath, and I was aware of others, but not in the sense of morbidly and self consciously wondering how they saw me. I was more the observer, observing them – snippets of conversation, body language, their choices, demeanours. I had become the watcher, rather than the watched, but not in the sense of judging others – just watching, and I was no longer inside-out of myself. I was simply more my self. It is a state that allows one to become quietly curious of the world and all that’s in it. We become more grounded.

But one should never take these things for granted, hence my abiding interest in the secrets of the psyche, and its various palliatives. Meditation is perhaps the most powerful of these, but also methods that reconnect the mind with the sensations of the physical body, both in motion and at rest – things like Tai Chi and Qigong. Notably these are not western techniques, but things we borrow from the east.

As I sit now, I am aware of my energy body. This will already sound unpalatable to many who are steeped in the materialist tradition. But there’s nothing spooky about the term “energy body”. If you close your eyes, how do you know your hands are still there? Obviously, you can feel them, but what you are feeling is the mind created sense of your physical being, the energy body, for want of another term. If you wiggle your fingers you can feel it more strongly. If you take an inward breath, and let it out slowly, the feeling becomes stronger. You can play with it.

Once you show the mind a way back inside the body, it will crave a deeper exploration: arms, legs, chest; there is no part of the body that cannot be felt this way, and in feeling it we ground ourselves, root ourselves back in our selves, and in the world. The feeling is one of great calmness, and allows an alert resting awareness in which the world seems all the more alive for the undivided attention we can now give it.

There is no single reliable method of attaining this state. You have to experiment and find the one that works for you. This is part of the journey into the inside of yourself and worth undertaking. Although it takes years to de-program the stress response entirely, meaningful results should come within months or even just weeks of daily practise. That said, I find having been once been prone to panic and anxiety, it is something one needs to keep working at.

I have not suffered much hardship in my life, but it’s an unfortunate fact that the mind can create hardship where there is none. Our quiet backwaters then become personal warzones, and the most innocuous activity fraught with imagined danger. Returning to our selves then, we are also reminded that, compared with the actual physical suffering of so many others in the world today, how lucky we really are.

And yes, that egg and bacon butty was well worth the wait.

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jungI’ve had a few pieces lined up for the blog recently, all smoothed and polished and ready to go, but something held me back, a little voice asking if that’s who I really was, that person, saying those things. And the answer, on reflection, was no, so I deleted them.

As bloggers, online writers, independent authors, whatever we want to call ourselves, our voices are often vanishingly small but we still have a responsibility to be true to ourselves, to say what we think we mean and to avoid saying that which is only a reaction born of personal prejudice, which is itself a reaction to the prejudice of others.

Sniping and grumpy, I had fallen foul of what Eckhart Tolle calls the pain body, the entity within that awakens when we are out of sorts, low on energy, or just lost in that nameless malaise that comes out of the shadier places of the collective unconscious. His name is Grouch.

I have a sketchbook in which I keep drawings of personal meaning – inspired by dreams, and journeys into guided imagination. They form threads of fertile thought, little half trails leading through the forest of the unknown. In the quest for wholeness, for the truth of us, the mythic trails lead first to a confrontation with our only real nemesis, the shadow, the grouch. Neutralising the grouch (if we are a guy grouch) releases us into the care of the unknown woman who, if we can avoid corrupting her into a sexual fantasy, or just as uselessly projecting her onto real women, will lead us to the wise old man, to the Senex. These are ancient trails concerned with the transformation of psychic energy. They are little understood, also quickly overgrown if we neglect them.

My drawings petered out some time ago, the trail lost, ending with a curious, unfinished portrait of Carl Jung, a man whose writings on depth psychology introduced me to these arcane concepts, and prevented me from becoming rigidified in an unexamined and entirely unconscious life. To what extent I’ve been successful in exposing my shadows, I don’t know except to say there are many fragments left and I suppose my challenge is always to recognise them for what they are before I do or say something stupid.

It’s a start at least.

i ching

I remember during one of our earliest encounters, Jung said: “Take three coins,…”

So I took the coins,…

There have been coincidences too – trivial things, but each of them pregnant with a personal meaning. Jung called them syncronicities, valuable for their ability to release trapped energy, to open up a path in the personal psyche, to open up the trails again, if we can only discern their traces after long neglect.

That which changes remains true, he said, and conversely that which does not change cannot be true – or something like that. And of course the pain body never changes, is always bitter, always sniping, always disapproving of some thing or another, or some one or another, always shouting warnings of the Apocalypse if we give but an inch to the shadow forces that have put our pipe out. You’ll see him in his various guises on the news tonight, or in the headlines of the tabloid press tomorrow – whatever article or snippet gets your blood up.

Do not blog when drunk. Do not blog within 24 hours of an emotionally upsetting incident – two valuable maxims, to which I would add another: be careful of your shadow, and ask: for whom do I write? The shadow or the light? The grouch, or my self?

I finished that drawing off, added some depth to it, then deleted the stuff I’ve been writing, writing that poked a shallow kind of fun at things that ran up against my pain body, and which in turn I was looking to run up against someone else’s. Left to his own devices, the grouch resorts to a vitriolic rhetoric that only reinforces the negativity the grouch apparently derides. It adds to the black cloud, to the gathering zeitgeist of doom that would enfold us all in its shadowy wings. The grouch resists change, but that which cannot change is not true.

Speaking for myself I think I write best when it’s with a smile, or more often with the pursed lips of a sweet longing for something that perhaps never was, but one day might yet be.

Zeitgeist. Mood. These things are important, and as writers we must decide which side we’re on, because we are not only subject to the zeitgeist, we are also the shapers of it – not as individuals of course – we are, individually, too small for that – but collectively we each add a little power. Shadow or light – we take our choice.

So I began afresh. Began to write what I’m writing now. And I’m listening to Joni Mitchell as I write, to Shadows and Light, an album I enjoy, but haven’t listened to for a long time. I’m waiting for one track in particular, in my opinion the best rendition of “Amelia” in all of Joni Mitchel’s recordings. And in it there’s this one line. She sings:

It was the Hexagram of the Heavens, the strings of this guitar,..

The Hexagram of the Heavens is a reference to the Yjing, the ancient Chinese oracle, popular in western counterculture around the time of this song’s writing, popular still among spiritual wanderers and psychological depth workers. That’s why Jung gave me the three coins, to get me going; it’s how you consult it, after first suspending disbelief and being at least willing to dissolve your own prejudice.

The Hexagram of Heavens is also translated as “the Creative”. It describes inspiration, the urge to write, to express oneself, to achieve something. It is positive, it is lightness, it is spring, and summer. It is life.

Nobody else I know likes Joni Mitchell, but I connected with her music as a boy, and she’s always been there; she touches chords, some of nostalgic longing, others of an eternal capacity for love and for life, singing always sweetly through the rain and the pain of her own life. And listening to her now I feel something stirring.

I did Tai Chi, today, after a long break, born of the grouch’s resistance. The knees were creaking for want of practice, but the heart eventually attained the soft current that subdues the pain body, and then one is left looking at the world afresh: ruby leaves of Japanese maple, freshly unfurled over green lawn, all washed to deeper shades by dusk and spring rains. It vibrates, it dissolves the vitriol, it lives and lets live the freed soul. I must do it again, soon.

Small indeed is the individual voice, typing things into the metaverse. We will not change the world on our own, but like all lone voices writing out into the inky dark of night, we need to know which side we’re on at least, and what kind of dawn we want to usher in. I prefer my skies red at night, that they will bear the promise of future delight, rather than the blood red warnings of the morning.

Come out of the shadows then, dear writer, and write for the light.

Goodnight all.

Sunset, Lancashire, England September, 24 2009

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TPON_Cover_LGFood for the soul or new-age mumbo jumbo?

Spiritual books are ten a penny, always have been, and in our cynical, secular times the pedlars of such material are often viewed with suspicion – and, sadly, frequently, not without good reason. And amid this plethora of colourful and often-times bizarre pathways to enlightenment, some of these works occasionally break the mould and top the best seller list for a while, promising a radically new way of thinking that will turn the reader’s sad life around, attract millions of dollars to their bank account and transform them overnight from abject losers into white toothed entrepreneurial winners.

The power of now is different. Published in 1997, it came out of the author’s personal mental breakdown, and a desire to understand the profound psychological metamorphosis that followed. It had a quiet start, selling modestly by word of mouth on the spiritual circuit, but by 2009 it had reached 3 million copies and been translated into 33 languages. Of the author, Eckhart Tolle, I had heard nothing until I was loaned a copy of the book by a Buddhist friend who was of the opinion that most self styled spiritual teachers were either insane or merely egotistical poseurs. This man, however, he said, was possibly the real thing.

Personally, I fell away from organised religion early on in life, but have had a number of spontaneous mystical experiences that have denied me the easier option of a godless secular materialism. In short, I know there is more to life, but I have paradoxically struggled to find anything in conventional models of spirituality that address the very personal nature of the spiritual experience itself. The Power of Now confounded my initial expectations by doing just that, and by answering many of the existential questions I had been asking for decades.

What impressed me about the language of the book was its simplicity. Many spiritual works convey a “method”, they invent terminology, ritual, prayer, they invent arbitrary self important lists, a set of steps, exercises and vast labyrinths of mystery for the adept to follow. And there is always the suspicion that the method is there only to show how intellectually superior the author is, and how stupid we poor adepts are for not being able to follow in their footsteps. But The Power of Now describes none of these things. Instead it has the audacity to suggest that the answer we’re looking for is something we possess anyway but have merely forgotten, that from birth we have become so overwhelmed by our own thoughts, we can no longer remember who we really are. The power of the Power of Now lies in its ability to reunite us with the very thing we have lost touch with: our real selves.

With the birth of consciousness comes self awareness, and the faculty for thought, but a problem arises when we become so identified with our thoughts we believe that is all we are, this self constructed narrative, this story of our lives: the memories, the aspirations, the self-critical expectations. And most of us alive today do indeed believe we are nothing more than this thought-constructed entity – that anything else is simply inconceivable.

For Tolle, the awakening came one dark night of the soul when, tortured by lifelong depression and anxiety, he decided he could not live with himself any longer. Sadly this happens a lot in modern society and it rarely ends well, but for Tolle it was the catalyst. It was the thought to end all thoughts, when he realised that to even consider the idea of not living with himself implied there were two parts to his consciousness – the thinking part, and the part that was aware of the thinking part. By allowing the thinking part to dissolve, Tolle was then released into a state of primary awareness. What’s this? Well, it’s like viewing yourself in the first and the third person at the same time, and the feeling that accompanies it is one of deep bliss.

Some critics of the book complain that Tolle merely reworks ideas from eastern religions and gives them a new age spin, peppered here and there with quotes from the Bible. In a sense this is true, but only in so far that Tolle gets at the vital essence at the core of all organised religions, east and west, the key message if you like, underneath what is by now millennia of obfuscating cultural over-painting, and presents it in a simple language, entirely void of spiritual affectation, and which is above all accessible.

That we are each of us mostly a self invented fantasy is at first a hard message to swallow, and again one needs perhaps first to be open to the message if one is not to be deeply offended by it. Everything that happens to us in reality takes place in the present moment, obviously, yet we spend an awful lot of time raking over the past and worrying about the future. These are the natural realms of the thinking entity we believe ourselves to be, yet neither past nor future actually exists in real terms outside of memory or anticipation at all. What exists is the present moment, a moment so infinitesimally small it cannot be measured and we might pass our entire lives in ignorance of it, but it can be entered and experienced when the thinking mind is quiet, and when we do enter it, the world looks and feels very different indeed.

Tolle covers a lot of ground here. As a work of comparative religion alone it’s very powerful in illustrating that the spiritual principles underlying all traditions are essentially the same, and that they point to a further level of evolutionary development that is inevitable, and must happen sooner rather than later because if it doesn’t the energies thus far unleashed by the collective egoic mindset, are already well on their way towards destroying us. Powerful and sobering stuff!

But of course, Tolle is not without his detractors. Setting aside his ideas for a moment, Tolle’s publishing success is, in part, of course due to celebrity endorsement. Many familiar famous names now claim to have been helped back from the brink by his book and, since critics like nothing more than to get their teeth into a foolish celebrity baring their souls and possibly also their arses, they are also quick to label anything held dear by said celebrity as being vapid by association. And then some critics point out Tolle’s history of depression and anxiety, as if a history of mental illness disqualifies him from having any valid opinions on anything. Of course it does not, if only because to be content in a world that is plainly mad is no measure of sanity, indeed it is perhaps only those who have suffered such profound disquiet as Tolle himself who have the most valid, clear sighted perspectives to offer on modern living anyway.

Unlike many titles of this genre, the Power of Now was not intended to propel its author onto the international stage – indeed I can easily imagine him wishing by now it had not. But that it has done so, that it has fallen foul of the curse of its own popularity, should not detract from the sincerity of the message and the ideas the book contains. This is real and substantial food for the soul.

The Power of Now – a guide to spiritual enlightenment. Sounds like new age mumbo jumbo, but it isn’t.

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Burne Jones and WIlliam Morris 1874Eckhart Tolle is a spiritual teacher, and a successful author. His books “The Power of Now” and “A New Earth” have been devoured by a worldwide audience in search of that intangible “something” that is missing from our lives. Tolle brings together insights from all the world’s religious traditions and, for me at least, his success lies in his non-religious, transcendental approach to matters of mind, body and spirit, also to his humility and his engaging sense of humour. It’s no secret that Tolle has suffered from depression and anxiety, no secret either that his success is due also in part to the way he has dealt with his own mental illness.

In a society built on rationalism, determinism, and materialism, people who are mentally ill are not seen as reliable witnesses to the facts of life, at least not usually by those who control the gateways to employment, and financial remuneration. But if we think about it for a moment, the statistics suggest one in five of us have or will suffer from a mental illness. Then, since 80% of mental illness goes undiagnosed, this suggests very nearly one in five of us doing valuable work right now is already mentally ill, yet managing to hold the place together somehow – so we can’t be that unreliable either, can we? What’s even more interesting is that by implication, statistically, probably one in five of those people who hold mental illness low regard, are themselves mentally ill.

As a student in England, Tolle, suffered terribly from feelings of anxiety and depression. One night he lay down so overcome, he told himself he could not live with himself any longer. Sadly, this is the fate of many – an illness held in secret, ending suddenly with a tragedy that leaves others shocked by its unexpectedness. But what happened to Tolle was not what usually happens. He experienced an inner separation and an insight that was to be the catalyst of his life’s work. I’m paraphrasing here but he asked himself something to the effect of: who is the self that cannot live with my self any longer? The self he could not live with, he concluded, was the bit he associated with the pain, the egoic self. And he reasoned that the essential part of “Tolle”, indeed of all of us, was something else, something above, and not part of the pain.

He went on from this potentially fatal moment to become a teacher, counsellor, and an engaging life coach to millions. His teachings are all over the place – on Youtube, in books, DVD’s, lecture tours. I find in them much that explains the highs and lows of the lives of human beings, but the story of Tolle is itself an inspiration, demonstrating that mental illness does not invalidate anyone from playing a constructive or even a leading role in society.

Yes, we’ll sometimes have a hard time from ignorants and materialists who think the brain is a computer made of meat, and that a part of our brains have gone rotten. But our brains are not rotten. You cannot diagnose mental illness from a brain scan. Our brains are like everyone else’s. There are no bits missing. What mental illness does, however, is it puts us on the edge of something, thrusts us into the depths of an unknown, even at times a frightening inner realm, but the stories we bring back from that place are important – not only for our own healing, but the healing of others like us. So tell the Internet your stories. Use your creative faculties.Get a blog, get a Flikr account, and get busy.

I spoke last time about the three vessels of being – the physical, the mental and the spiritual – and how attention to any one of them can help maintain the others and restore us to ourselves. Creative expression is very much concerned with the mental life, and is the most natural channel for the otherwise jagged and ferocious energies of mental illness. So many artists and larger than life celebrities are mentally ill, yet they are also possessed of the most remarkable abilities. So, write it, journal it, paint it, doodle it, tell it in poetry, sculpt it, and learn by it. Through creative expression we turn something negative into something positive and, as we give external shape to what has up ’till now been only an internal, mental thought form, we realise it is not who we really are at all, that pain. It dwells within us, yes, and it looks like that, but it is not who we are.

The search for who we are is the same as the search for our life’s meaning, whether we are suffering from a mental illness or not. But that you suffer can be interpreted as a sign you sense there is something vital missing from the world, that your inability to fit in with it is more a reluctance to dance with a partner who is not of your choosing. Again, one in five of us will at some point suffer from a mental illness. It is not our fault if society has difficulty in accommodating that fact, or in facing up to the question it begs regarding the nature of society, and the direction it is moving in. But neither can we blame society for its ignorance if we do not tell it how we feel.

Do not say how can I live with myself? but say instead who is the self that cannot live with my self. And in separating yourself from the pain, go seek instead the self you want to be.

I leave the last word on this to Eckhart Tolle:

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rivington pike

Rivington Pike

Rivington Pike, altitude 1191 feet, an instantly recognisable blip in the Western Pennines. When I was growing up in Coppull, my bedroom looked out upon this whole swathe of moor from Great Hill to Lomax Wife’s Plantation, and bang in the middle of it rose Rivington Pike. I knew it in all its seasons, from summer green to winter snow. These are the hills of home for me, instantly emotive, and home will always be anywhere in sight of their profile, which unfortunately isn’t where I’m living now. For much of my boyhood I had an astronomical telescope trained upon the Pike through which I could plainly make out figures ascending and descending. The colours were washed out, and the images would wobble with heat quake and the passing of tractors on the lane behind our house, but it seemed a magical thing and I loved that intimate connection with the hill.

Up close however, it’s not the most attractive of places, not nowadays. It suffers terribly from littering, and the pressures of being a piece of green within easy reach of several million people. That said, it’s been a regular walk of mine this year. In fact you’ll find me here most Friday afternoons nowadays. I’ll have a bacon and egg butty at the Great House Barn tea rooms, around 1:30 pm, then from about 2:00 pm, push myself up the couple of hundred meters of ascent from Rivington Hall. I usually go by way of the Higher house carpark, then snake my way up by the Pigeon Tower, take in the Pike, then descend by various routes through the glorious ruins of the Chinese gardens, part of the former Leverhulme estate.

pike june 2014

The Pigeon Tower, Rivington

Something is happening to me this year, and I don’t know what it is. I don’t think I need to be afraid of it because the feeling is like relaxing as a door opens, rather than panicking in case a door closes. When I started out in the winter, this route would suck the energy right out of me, have me bent over and rasping for breath at every turn in the way. Now I can make it with just a couple of stops, time to feel the air cooling the sweat on my back, as I scan the western horizon through binoculars, and celebrate the start of another weekend.

It feels good, this change in me.

I drove up in the Mazda today. I can hardly call myself eco-friendly, being the owner of two cars now. The Mazda cost me £500 last night, a full set of pads and disks and a new caliper on the nearside rear, because it was leaking fluid. In other words, it was a serious pain in the wallet, but it seems I’ll forgive this car anything, because I barely blinked as I slotted my card into the machine. Had it cost me a grand, I’d still have paid up with a smile, just for the way this car makes me feel. By contrast I’ve resented every penny I’ve spent on my other vehicle, a seven year old Astra, which I use as a commuter mule, clocking up around 12,000 a year, simply earning a living. There’s something interesting in my duplicity here and I want to get at it this evening.

I’m stuck on this quote at the moment – it’s from the Talmud, but I got it from Eckhart Tolle – we don’t see the world as it is, but as we are. I think it’s true, but I’d change it slightly, and say that we see the world , not as it is, but as we see ourselves, and for a long, long time, I’ve seen myself as this sensible, reliable, grey commuter mule, when what really I am, and what I have always been at heart is this small, fast, blue sport’s car, built more for fun than to be subsumed by the grey world. I’m sorry, but there it is. This is the real me. It seems I have spent my whole life being practical and dull; now I wan tot to be frivolous, fun and Romantic.

The sky was an oppressive grey this afternoon. Something thundery about it too as I climbed the badly eroded track towards the Pigeon Tower, But the air had too much of a coolness about it for the weather to be a real threat. Getting struck by lightning is a genuine hazard in the hills at this time of year, so it pays to watch the skies, but I could tell it was just bluffing this afternoon. Further south of me, in the heart of England, the Glastonbury rock concert, just getting under way, was  suspended and the stage cleared as lightning split the sky. Meanwhile I sat on the Pike, sheltering from a stiff eastrly, watching a guy playing Frisbee with his dog.

Poetry features large these days. I write it and I read it – not the poets of old, nor the famous contemporary bards, but the amateur poets I follow on WordPress, and who somehow get under my skin. It makes me realise I am not alone in what I feel. Everyone else feels it too. It’s just that some are better at expressing it than others, but all are capable of expressing it – this thing I feel. It’s half way between rage and confusion, that I am here and I don’t know why – rage and confusion that I too am compelled to express myself.

There was a wedding reception at Rivington Hall. As I set out on my climb, I saw the bride in her white dress, and all the pretty bridesmaids as they arrived, like exotic orchids displayed against a background of dull olive. On my return from the Pike, as I pulled off my boots and sank back into the snug capsule of the Mazda, I heard the rousing cheers from the toast and recalled my own wedding, twenty five years ago next month. Another young couple starting out; a stage of life; children next; then the death of aged parents, aunts, uncles. I look at the group photograph from that wedding and note each time the passing of yet more faces, year on year.  At some point all will be gone, including my wife and I, and all that will remain is the potential of that one special day which led to the births of my own children, who will each enter marriage and hear those same cheers that celebrate it.

It’s a passing on, of sorts; a natural cycling of life.

I drove home over the moors, up the stiff climb by Lester Mill Quarries, the Mazda climbing like a rocket and leaving the cockey van driver who’d been pushing me since Rivington floundering in bottom gear and a haze of blue diesel fumes. Then it was Jepsons Gate, under glowery skies, and down by White Coppice. It had begun to rain by this time, so I couldn’t drop the top like I’d wanted. She’s noisier with the top up, but no less fun. She also stops better now for having fixed the brakes, which I knew were shot. I’m fitting into her better as well. I’ve pushed the seat right back, so my left leg is stretched fully when I press the clutch. I’m a lot smoother through the gears, and she doesn’t bounce off the clutch like she used to. At home, I dried her off with an old towel to keep the humidity levels down in the garage, because I don’t want her rotting from the inside out. She is a dream I want to preserve as long as possible, and its nice to have a car once more that I enjoy pampering, and the means to pamper her.

I repeat, I am not a grey commuter mule. The Astra, old Grumpy, stands outside in the rain tonight and must take its chances. What I am inside is this small, blue, sports car. I shelter it, and cherish it, not for what it is, but for how it makes me feel. I have seen myself as a grey commuter mule for far too long. So take care  how you see yourselves, and make sure your vision is true, because how you see yourself is how you’ll see the world.

And the world is not grey. It’s definitely  blue.

mazzy at rivington

Mazzy, Rivington Hall Drive, Summer 2014

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The_ScreamThe question the soul asks is this: why do some aspects of my life make me happy, while others make me suffer? Then we add the corollaries: number one: why is happiness so elusive, yet the potential for suffering so abundant? Second: how do I nurture more happiness and keep the suffering to a minimum?

The first corollary is concerned with philosophy and metaphysics: what is suffering? The second is more concerned with the practicalities of every day living: How do I make the suffering stop? How do I feel good about myself, about others and my place in the world?

The nature of suffering is a complicated thing; a good deal of Buddhism is devoted to its study, so I’m never going to boil it down to a thousand words. It can however, be usefully personified as an entity, one we imagine living inside of us. The spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle calls it the pain body. This is just a way of thinking, you understand. The pain body is not an evil spirit, nor an autonomous being – though it can behave like one; it’s just a very primitive part of who we are, and it loves to suffer. And where there is no suffering, the pain body is adept at creating it for us.

It’s hard to believe anyone would choose suffering as a way of life, but many of us do – not consciously of course, but more by misunderstanding the dominance of the pain body in our lives. Unchecked, the pain body grows and dictates our responses to more and more of life’s situations. But all is not lost; to shine a light on the pain body is also to shrink it. And a world observed without the presence of the pain body, is a very different world indeed.

One of the most powerful tools in this respect is nurturing “presence” in our lives. This is a very simple concept, but since the way of the soul is also one of infinite paradox, it can at the same time be rather a difficult concept to grasp, instinctively. As a first step we try to attain an awareness of our essential “self”. If we can do this, then all other things follow more easily. The “essential self” is not a vague new agey term. It means what it sounds like: it is the being we are, unhampered by all the thoughts and emotions. It is what lies underneath the storm tossed psyche. It is the very essence of who we are.

When we sit quietly, our mind fills with thoughts, some good, some bad. We might remember with fondness the good things, or we might feel something akin to physical pain at the memory of the bad. We might be fearful of upcoming events, things that worry us, or we might be looking forward to things we hope will make us happy.

If we try, we can sometimes rise above this stream of thought. The thoughts are still there, but we can now observe their coming and going without engaging with them, emotionally. We simply let them be. But if we think about it: in order for us to be aware of our thoughts, there must be an awareness beyond our thoughts, just as there can be no ripples on the surface of the lake without the water to carry them. So, are we the ripples or the water? What is this awareness that is aware of our thoughts?

Since we are most of us entirely identified with our thoughts and our memories, it can be difficult to imagine there is anything else beyond them. If we try to imagine it, we imagine it might be another way of thinking, but it isn’t. Primary awareness, the awareness of our essential self, is a place of deep stillness from where we can observe our lives without judgement, or thinking. We take the input from our senses, and make no comment. We let whatever is, simply be. It’s from this place, we get to observe the pain body at work, both in ourselves and others.

Do you know someone who never has a positive thing to say? Do you never feel positive yourself about anything? Are you a glass half empty person, or a glass half full? You might think it’s not your fault, that it is because of the insensitivity, the stupidity, or the downright cruelty of others that you suffer, or that you are somehow so “unlucky” circumstances seem always fated to thwart your happiness. But two people can be presented with the same life-situation, and see it entirely differently – one negative, one positive – and the difference is entirely a state of mind. It is the lack or presence of an active pain body.

Attaining presence we create a space in which we can observe, consciously, both ourselves and others, and it is from this enhanced perspective we can tell when pain bodies are active. The curious thing is, when we identify our own pain body, it shrinks back into the shadows. When we are aware of pain bodies awakening in others the important thing is to avoid them activating our own pain body, for pain bodies each know their kind and are most at home in one another’s company where they can feed upon the mutual suffering they whip up between them.

The pain body is responsible for much personal suffering and, through our relations with others, it is also responsible for much of the damage we do to them and them to us. Happiness is therefore a life lived without the pain body, but it requires us first to raise our self awareness beyond the level of the ego, or we might not even know of the the pain body’s existence. We mistake its painful emotional reactions as our own , and nurturing presence in our selves is the key to realising they are not.

But that’s my thousand words.

I’ll explore more on the subject of nurturing presence some other time.

Here’s more on the pain body.

And here’s Eckhart Tolle with the last word:

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Resistance is futile (the Daleks)

Around this time last year, I was writing about the rising price of fuel, and about it being a proxy for a general feeling of unease regarding the future. I don’t know if it was my own personal future I was talking about, or if I was picking up on the zeitgeist of the western fuel-driven world – in other words picking up on what the news-media were telling me to get upset about.

My alarm was not unjustified, I thought – the price of petrol having hit a record high, at around £1.38 per litre, and it seemed incredible to me that it was costing more to fill up my car than I was paying for the mortgage on my house. Last weekend though, the price of fuel reached a new high of £1.42 per litre.The difference now however, is I’m finding it harder to get upset about it. Even the sight of long queues of panic buyers on the petrol station forecourts this afternoon – result of government “advice” to top-up just in case the proposed strike of fuel-tanker drivers goes ahead – leaves me unmoved.

I don’t think this is a sign of world-weary fatalism on my part. Fatalism implies a resignation to one’s fate, while retaining the awareness of an ongoing menace, like sitting with an unstable bomb in your basement. You know it’s going to off at some point, and though you tell yourself you can take it – that life is but vale of tears, and then you die – subliminally, we still resist and resent the presence of that bomb. It still gets under our skin, and eventually it makes us angry and ugly, and ill. No. Fatalism isn’t an attractive way to view the world; it’s more of a last resort, I think, when the way we see the world refuses to shift out of bottom gear.

What I think I’m feeling now is more of a letting go of those things I cannot control. To stick with the motoring metaphor, we’ll call it getting into second gear. We accept the world changes, that fuel, like fine single malt whiskies, become prohibitively expensive and occasionally scarce, that rich nations become poor, that the healthy fall ill, and those we love are taken from us.

But second gear is still a long way from cruise control, and we might worry that in becoming so passive and withdrawn from life’s events we also risk losing our essential passion for life. We no longer rant, we no longer cry, but equally such passivity can insulate us from all the things that remain in the world to be joyful about; we no longer laugh at jokes, we no longer take the time to stand and stare at the beauty of things, we become dead from the neck up, we become impotent, incapable of a bone-hard arousal, let alone making love to the world with the all the spirited abandon of our youth. And who wants to live like that? It’s inhuman.

It’s not about being passive then – not entirely. It’s more about not resisting what happens – which isn’t the same thing. We hold an image in our minds that defines what we think is good for us, what we think we want for ourselves, and if we’re not careful anything that doesn’t fit that narrow minded model, we try to protect ourselves from. We resist it. We reject it. We throw up the shield of our ego in an attempt to deflect it, but it breaks through with a force equal and opposite to the strength of our imagined defences. So, we take the blow and absorb it as a dark energy, which transforms into an imagined injury. But imagined or not, we take it deep into our bones where it make us weary and sad.

So, rather than remain in passive second gear, we need to snick our mind quickly into third gear. Rather than being simply passive, we must redefine our state of mind as being one of no longer offering resistance to those aspects of life that don’t fit in with our narrow view. We open our arms and welcome the whole of life, the good and the bad of it. And in not resisting life, we find there are more things to be joyful about, rather than less. And the bad things? We no longer label them as bad, but more as object lessons on the road to a growing awareness of the nature of life and how we can best relate to it.

When the wind blows, the meadow does not stand firm; the grasses part and sway, and the wind passes safely through, leaving the grasses upright. I’m sure Lao Tzu has a better aphorism for the same thing, but you know what I mean.

Getting into third gear is difficult of course, because – to stretch that motoring metaphor possibly to destruction – there’s no syncromesh on the box we were born with and we have to spend a while grinding those gears before we can find it. But when we do find it, we get a kick, and a sense of movement like no other. Of course third gear’s still a long way from the fabled luxury of cruise control, but at least it comes with a sense we’re finally heading in the right direction.

If you resist what happens, then you will always be at the mercy of what happens, and your happiness or unhappiness will be determined by the world.

Ekhart Tolle. (A New Earth)

Michael Graeme

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The question of identity is one that reaches to the core of who we think we are, obviously, but it also has a bearing on how we view the nature of reality and our place within it. It’s unfortunate then how we often misinterpret our identity, mistake it for the mask of what we think we are, or even what we think we’d like others to think we are. We parade this mask every day and we sell it on the world’s stage, trying to convince even our own selves it’s the nearest thing to who we think we really are.

When seen through the eyes of this mask, however, the nature of reality becomes distorted, our vision clouded. It renders us vulnerable to seduction by things we should value the least, vulnerable to injury from things to which we ought to be naturally impervious, and it renders us prone to discarding as worthless the keys to unlocking a deeper understanding of the authentic nature of our selves.

When tested, when challenged by life, our imperfect mask can slip, it can tear, fall apart, disintegrate. If we identify too closely with the mask, we imagine it is our own selves under threat, our own selves tearing, falling apart in the face of the seemingly insurmountable pressures reality imposes upon us. We see it as a battle for our lives against a myriad unseen foes. It can be a terrifying experience.

We lose our footing, and we fall.

It’s important then that we pause occasionally, lift the mask and look beneath in order to get a glimpse our original self, our immortal and indestructible self. We needn’t worry; we are none of us as ugly as we fear – unlike the mask which is guaranteed to be a misshapen parody of our life’s potential, our true self.  Seeking our original face, remembering who we really are, and being content with that, is the only way of being truly grounded in the world and, being grounded, impervious to its storms.

I’m reading Eckhart Tolle’s “Power of now” again, a much thumbed copy, one I borrowed from a colleague who has already loaned it out to various people, countless times, but always seeks its safe return. In its current condition, you wouldn’t get ten pence for it in a charity shop, so battered and creased it is, but I take its fragile state as a testament to its resonant power, that people want to come back to this precious little book, time and time again, in order to refresh themselves, and remember who they are.

Like many spiritual teachers, Tolle is at pains to point out that we are not our thoughts. He tells us it was Descartes who coined the phrase: “I think, therefore I am”, but he urges us not to listen, that who we are is actually not defined by our thoughts at all. A more accurate phrase then might be: “I think, therefore I forget who I am.”

This is a difficult concept to grasp in a culture where we are taught from an early age to identify very strongly with ego consciousness. Ego is easily bruised, and then we find ourselves pointing fingers at the bruiser, seeking redress or even financial compensation for our woes. I’ve read and written about, and pondered on this over the years, but reading and writing, and pondering aren’t the same as getting it. I’m still in the process of getting it, and it looks like being a lifelong journey.

When we sit down to meditate, we are immediately confronted by the rush of our thoughts, chattering, nagging, slipping in under the radar of awareness, so that suddenly we wake up in the middle of our meditation, realise half our time is already gone and we’ve been lost in a storm of anxieties, instead of forgetting them – which is what we originally sat down to do.

Once in a while though, we catch ourselves. We say, no, I don’t want to think about that right now, and we brush our thoughts gently aside. They always come back, but in the between times we eventually become aware of a mysterious part of our selves observing our thoughts. This silent observer seems to sit in the background, watching their ebb and flow from a perspective that is one step removed from the self we think we are. This observer, this silent watcher, is clearly a part of who we are and it’s interesting to note how disconnected from the material world this normally hidden part of our selves is.

To this mysterious, and possibly higher self, all the worldly goings on are no more than froth; all the wars and the famine and the strife are no more than the fleeting interplay of a moment’s light in the deep, dark stillness of eternity. Finding our way into the unambiguous presence of this almighty sense of inner knowing is one of the hardest and most ambitious adventures any human being can undertake but, unlike climbing Everest or voyaging to the moon, it is an adventure open to any one of us.

Such existential musings have been brought into sharper focus for me recently – this business of who I think I am. It started when I saw some of my self-published novels for sale on the Amazon Kindle Marketplace. They were being sold under my name, but I’ve no idea how they got there or who was really selling them. For a moment, it was like staring at myself from across the threshold of an alternate reality – and even though I knew someone had simply stolen them, my sense of identity had been sufficiently shaken to make me think again about who I am and what my purpose is in the world.

The novels – three in all – were the sum labour of about five years work – pleasurable hours gleaned in the evenings and weekends of my day to day life. I’m not saying they’re great novels. They are what they are, I write the way I write, and when I’m done with my stories, I give them away. Certainly, they are of personal significance to me, but only in so far as the events and dialogues they describe are the roadmap of  a personal psychical journey. They plot my trajectory from the immature and egoic masks of youth, to this middle aged guy who sits blinking up now into the starry skies of an evening, partially unmasked at times yet still, it seems, none the wiser for any of it.

That someone else came along, cut and pasted those five years into a hastily cobbled e-book, called themselves Michael Graeme, and tried to make a few bob by pirating stuff I give away for free, should be neither here nor there to me – that is if I’m thinking straight and can avoid my ego feeling bruised. Even the fact that I have to prove my identity, and my legal right to call my thoughts my own, to the almighty Amazon, again, should be of no account to me,… that is if I am sufficiently secure and grounded in the knowledge of my own identity.

On this matter, the muse quietly takes my ego in her arms. She soothes away the angst with the warmth of her embrace, then she brushes off the dirt and reminds me I am not my thoughts, not my words. I am the silent watcher, she says, and like her, always a few steps removed from the tangled web of collective hope and expectation we mortal beings cling to, and which we call reality.

My mysterious Amazon doppelgänger did not make that journey. Their actions betray only the fact that they have not evolved emotionally, spiritually, or philosophically very far at all in human terms. Their life’s journey has been perverted by a misidentification with a mask they take as being the most fitting, but sadly one which makes them only ugly to the rest of us.

One of the hardest things to grasp in the quest for  maturity, and a sense of groundedness is that the right thought, the right deed, is right whether anyone bears witness to it or not, whether you profit personally from it, or not, whether the intrusive cameras of that reality TV show are switched on, or not.

The existential contract outlining this, our three-score years and ten of material reality, requires no verifying witnesses, and the presence of only two signatures, in order to make it valid and spiritually binding – our own, and that of the eternal sense of being rising beyond even the silent watcher of our thoughts.

I am, but what I am none cares or knows (John Clare, 1848) – we are each the self consumers of our woes. For “woes” here, we can read “thoughts”, which are for ever poised ready to warp into woes at a moment’s notice. We must all try therefore to remember we are not our thoughts, otherwise we end up consuming what we perceive to be our only self. This in turn results in a distorted vision of reality, one in which we see only a barren wasteland of broken promises and ruined hopes – or to quote John Clare again – the shipwreck of our life’s esteems.

But much as I revere John Clare, it really isn’t like that.

The times when reality comes most sharply into focus are the times when we are thinking about it the least, when our thoughts are stilled. Then a truer vision comes rushing in, presenting the nature of all things in their sublime glory – not as separate, but as an integral part of who and what we think we are.

It’s always been this way. It’s just that we’ve forgotten.

Good night all.

Graeme out.

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It’s been a while since I read Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now, but I’m still pondering upon it, letting it inform the seething mass of my thoughts, and I’m finding it sheds light upon aspects of Tai Chi and Qigong practice.

I’ve read that the practice of Tai Chi and Qigong has a number of distinct phases. First comes the initial enthusiasm, sparked by the interest of doing something new, and something that apparently produces unexpected benefits in the mind and body. I don’t think there’s anything mysterious about these, in spite of the mystical hype perpetrated by self-styled masters in their various self-help programmes; you simply feel more relaxed, and even though the exercises don’t seem very strenuous, you also find yourself feeling physically fitter, healthier and more energetic – less likely to nod off on lazy afternoons. You just need to practice – preferably in the company of others because the social aspect keeps your interest levels up as well. I’m sure many at my Tai Chi group get as much out of the cup of tea and a bit of a natter as they do from the practice, which has them laughing – and that’s also good.

But then your body adapts, and if you’re only putting in the same amount of practice time as before, you may find that while you retain the fitness levels, you lose that lovely tingly feeling at the end of your sessions. I began to wonder if it was no longer working for me, or if I’d started doing something wrong. For me the initial, enthusiastic phase lasted about a year. Then you’re into the dead space of simply turning up for practice, going through the forms and trying to convince yourself that you’re not deluding yourself.

Many students drop out during this phase. You wonder if you might be better off with another teacher, or taking up a different style of Tai Chi, or maybe it’s down to such minutiae as the fact you’re not holding your palm/arm/leg/head the right way – but really there’s no need to fuss. You’re fine as you are, and in fact after learning the basic forms, if it’s the health aspects you’re after, rather than the technical skills of the martial applications, I suspect you become your own best teacher at some point. If it’s martial skills you’re after, then okay, you need to spar against another student and learn from the bumps and bruises under the guidance of an expert bone breaker.

I don’t know how long this second phase lasts, because I think I’m still in it, even though I’m in my fourth year of practice now. But I’m still fairly regular – turn up for class once a week, and do the daily Qigong forms in between,… but I still find myself wondering what the hell I’m expecting.

Tolle’s book answers this question.

When looking for happiness, for satisfaction, for enlightenment, or whatever, we always fix our minds on some point in the future. The experience of meditation pulls us back into the present moment. Thus, centred in the present, we’re no longer interested in whether another form of Tai Chi is any better for us, or if yet another Qigong book from Amazon will contain that one useful gem that will transform our lives. Of course it won’t.

Practicing Tai Chi with a slow deliberation teaches us “presence” of mind. On bad days, when I’m doing the form, maybe with a hangover, from the night before, I can drift off into cloud cuckoo land and find myself lost. My head moves into the future or the past, daydreaming – while the rest of the class, more focussed in the present, stick with the correct movements and make me look stupid. So here’s the first insight this idea of Nowness grants us into the value of Tai Chi: it brings us into the present moment and teaches us a means of holding onto it. In the Yang style for example there’s something deeply relaxing about focussing on the palm as it moves into the Single Whip posture. Practice enough and you start getting the same feeling when drawing the curtains, or loading the dishwasher (all right maybe I’m pushing it a bit with loading the dishwasher, but you know what I mean).

The other thing Tolle’s “power of now” talks about is the value of attaining an intimate sense of the inner body. The inner body can be felt in Tai Chi as a kind of invisible skeleton, or an inner ghost, an energy form, if you, like that occupies your body space. Awareness of it comes most readily to mind when we focus down on the Dantien, this spot in the lower abdomen, but we also get a sense of it in our arms and legs when we concentrate, or when we practice the forms in a relaxed way. The energy body may be imaginary, a figment of  the mind, but it is also “real” in the sense that we can actually feel it – whatever it is.

Awareness of one’s self from the inside out is something I’ve written about before, without fully appreciating its fundamental value. This awareness goes hand in hand with a sense of the Nowness of things. You can’t feel your inner self if your mind is preoccupied with the past or the future. Tolle speaks of the importance of discovering this sense of one’s inner self and cultivating an awareness of it at all times. It’s another thing that stills the mind and brings you back into the present moment, the place where you belong.

Emotional pain, anger, frustration,… all of these things have their roots in our tendency to live with our heads in either the anticipation of some future event, or the regret of something we perceive to have been irretrievably lost in the past. The Power of Now reiterates in very simple language, the message of Zen Buddhism. It makes sense of the idea of an enlightened glimpse or moment of sartori, and grants us the means of approaching it, by teaching us what it feels like.

An hour of Tai Chi, no matter how imperfectly performed will reward you with the feeling of yourself from the inside out. You will feel your arms, legs and abdomen warm and tingling. You will feel them buzzing with an electricity which, if you like, you can put down to your imagination. Whatever it is, it’s a lovely feeling to sink into. This awareness of oneself, is in itself energising. Tolle speaks of its restorative, its rejuvanating properties, and this this sounds like Tai Chi to me.

The forms, be they Chen Style, Yang Style, Sun Style, they all have a set sequence to them, a choreography if you like, but I no longer believe their secret lies in completing the form, in memorizing it or repeating it. The forms are derived from their martial applications, and if all we’re interested in is our health then, a pernikerty adherence to their correctness is no more than dancing.

In Chen Style, it seemed the most important thing to me to gain a knowledge of each of the 72 forms, but having completed them, I now know that all the health benefits are effectively contained in the first five moves – but that repeating them over and over would be boring, so the 72, the Lao Ja or old frame, mixes them up to make them more interesting to practice.

In fact, I suspect it doesn’t matter what you do, so long as you try to achive the Tai Chi basics of an “open” body, wide stance, shoulders rounded, chest sunken, arms relaxed,… then you can make it up as you go along, so long as you can remain focussed on what you’re doing. I’ve begun to experiment now with a mixture of the Yang and Chen forms, mixed in with a bit of Silk Reeling and Qigong moves, just doing whatever the inner body seems to gain the most expression through.

In such free-style practice, the Nowness becomes the essential thing. The blood and the lymph circulate freely, stimulating the body and enhancing the feel of the moves, so that when you stop, this inner ghost continues to tingle and helps you to remember what it feels like, at times when you’re not practicing – like sitting in a ten mile tail back on the M6, or when pushing your trolley around the supermarket. You just take a breath, push it down to the Dantien, and it wakes up. You remember it. You remember your inner self, you are pulled back into the now, and you no longer feel anxious, frustrated or bored. You still feel good, relaxed, aware.

So there seems to come a point when everything is Tai Chi. Maybe this is the third stage. No! Hold that thought right there, you’re letting your mind run off into the future again.

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