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Posts Tagged ‘self awareness’

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To become conscious of one’s self is in part to journey along a path towards the realisation of one’s absolute invisibility. More than this it is also to realise everyone we meet along the way is invisible as well.

No one can ever truly know another person. No one else can ever know what we feel, or think. All we can know of each other is what we express through the inadequate means of the physical body, through what we say, what we write, how we move. But how good are we at expressing ourselves? How good are we at interpreting expression? In a sense, we are all prisoners, isolated, and tapping on the walls of our being, that others might know of our presence. But for all of our efforts, the greater part of our selves, the vital part, remains invisible.

So, when we meet others in physical reality we always do so on terms that are mutually delusional. I think I know you, and you think you know me, but we are only projecting our own prejudice and predispositions onto one another, so seeing in each other instead murky reflections of our own shadows, which are by turns attractive and repulsive. As relationships develop with our more favoured companions we might feel justified in saying we come to know them well, but again it’s only their habitual modes of expression we are familiar with. We will never know what they are thinking or feeling, nor they us.

It’s a necessary revelation, this realisation of one’s invisibility, also a good starting point, the assumption what we say, or what we’re hearing could be easily misinterpreted even to the inverse of what is actually intended. It should make us more cautious, more searching, more conscious of our selves and the effects we might be having on others. It might also make us more forgiving.

There are two sides to reality. There is what we perceive and express in the physical world, and then there’s what we feel or imagine in the inner world, the world of the psyche. We each of us sit at the boundary of an inner and an outer world, and neither reality can be excluded from any true description of the totality of human experience.

But the senses have the effect of drawing us out towards embracing more and more of physical reality, until we identify with it completely. We dismiss the inner world, the world of imagination and dreams, as meaningless, indeed as being “unreal”, since it is not “physical”. Thus we close off the door to inner reality, imprison ourselves in the physical and we suffer accordingly, because the physical world can never fulfil a need for completion that is entirely psychological in origin. Mankind’s suffering in the physical world knows no bounds and is increasingly suggestive of our eventual annihilation. Worse, there are many physical scientists today who express the belief consciousness itself is an illusion, that although we might cherish the sense of our own being, in fact we do not exist at all, and never have. How can we not despair? Not only are we trapped in the prison of our minds and invisible to others, we are led to believe there is no one out there either, not even our selves.

But we do exist. We are invisible, yes, but we still have a profound effect on the physical world. Everything that was ever built, or made began as an idea, and ideas are born already fully formed as insights in the inner world. In order to give birth to them we must express them into physical reality through drawing or writing or construction. But without the idea occurring in the first place, nothing would be built or drawn or written down, and the world would be entirely as nature made before mankind ever came along and began to shape it. And ideas are the stuff of minds, the stuff of that realm we would dismiss as unreal.

The danger for all of us then is the same as it has always been. It is to forget we are invisible and to believe the form we express in physical reality is the sum total of who we really are, similarly that all forms are more real than the ideas from which they were born, that happiness can come only in the endless pursuit of material form, that the solution to all our problems can only come from the discovery of yet one more “thing” in physical reality, and that thing will have a form and a name ready made.

It wont.

Cultivating an awareness of the inner world is important if we want to live a better life, and see a better society, one that more closely reflects our potential in positive ways. The realisation we are all invisible is a useful milestone. But we do not need to withdraw from life into monkish caves in order to ponder its implications, only realise it is the quality of our ideas that determines the richness or otherwise of life. The best of us is realised as ideas that rise from the deeper layers of the psyche, the worst from the regurgitated scum of a shallower kind of thinking, a thinking that expresses itself as an habitual will to power. But I think we’re starting to know that side of our selves a little better now. I think we are all becoming more conscious of our selves.

Only when we realise how invisible we are do we begin to see each other, and the world more clearly.

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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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