Posts Tagged ‘spirituality’

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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androidSeeking change: a new laptop, a new car, a new way of making notes on my ‘droid, a new ornament for my garden, a new pair of shoes, a nicer shirt, a fancier wristwatch,….  anything to satisfy this suddenly insatiable craving for change, for renewal, for improvement. I know this is not the right way of doing things. I know that all this seeking completeness in some “thing” betrays only my unquiet heart.

Yet still it gnaws at me.

I was like this when I was a child, seeking transformation in the next perfect toy. But it was a transformation that lasted only for the weekend, until the Monday morning when the same-old-same-old would rear its head, reminding me of the fragility of dreams, that no sooner sated and the thirst would return, as if the unscrupulous vending-meister had added salt to my beverage,… a salt called Ego.

One need not be consciously egotistical to be driven by one’s ego. We all do it. The ego is simply that part of ourselves that seeks to be something more than it is, something cleverer, something more satisfied, something richer, faster, bigger, more complete, more aware, more human than we think we are at present. It also works in reverse. If we seek smallness, stillness, calmness or spirituality, our ego will help us, seeking ways in which we can become smaller, stiller, calmer and more smugly spiritual than all the other poor soulless losers out there.

This is clearly not the answer either.

Ego compares, it measures, and seeks adjustment to the next level. It’s not really helpful, but even knowing this cannot overcome ego’s innate lack of wisdom when the mood is upon us. Ego is far too clever, far too slippery for that.

I know I don’t actually need any of these things. I know they’re not worth striving for.  Instead, I’ll do what I always do: sleep, let my dreams dissolve the longing over time, or I’ll talk to my private journal, flick back to hear the voice that is my own, explaining all of this to me. Again. Old lessons,… decades old.


I might also blog it, this idea of the unquiet heart,…

Yes,… that sounds interesting!

Except there’s my ego again, living through the imagined eyes of others, attempting to recalibrate itself, measure the degree of moreness to be gained by having others read my words, when what I really need is to pull the plug on this blog, and keep my words entirely between me and my inner self, and thus, like a celibate, preserve my power. Sure, the intrusion of an imaginary third party all the time is just another symptom of the craving for moreness.

But wait!

I realise my blog now references itself. This is becoming really interesting. It’s become a metablog, which is the kind of in-speak they’d use on university courses to describe a form of words, instead of simply experiencing those words and deciding if you like them or not. Interesting! Yes indeed! I’ll blog about it, except “interest” is the bloodhound scent that ego follows in its desire for moreness. It seeks interest in the forms of the world and if it doesn’t find them interesting, labels them dull instead, then moves on to something else.

Yes. That’s interesting! Now all we need is a picture to draw the eye of the passing reader, something really interesting to interest them. Let’s see, what have we?… I lknow, how about my ‘droid. Goodness my laptop is slow tonight,… what I really, really, need is a new one. How much better, faster, bigger I could be then!

Some doggerel to finish:

Be still my heart,…
Don’t let your craving start.
Seek not your thrills in toys,
Lest we lose ourselves in noise.
Nor grasp the world so tight,
We fail to see the light.
The world be found in its embrace,
An endless, fruitless, uphill race.
But if it’s ourself we seek to know,
Then chase it not,…
Just let it go.

Enjoy yourselves, and stay safe.

Graeme out.

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The Dao that can be told is not the eternal Dao
The name that can be named is not the eternal name
The unnamable is the eternally real
Naming is the origin of all things
Free from desire, we realise the mystery
Caught in desire, we see only the manifestations
Yet mystery and manifestations arise from the same source
The source is called darkness
Darkness within darkness
The gateway to all understanding

Carina NebulaSo runs the first chapter of the Dao De Jing, the seminal text of spiritual and philosophical Daoism. Although attributed by legend to the archetypal  and possibly mythical white-bearded sage figure Lao-tse, its true authorship is still debated. What is not in doubt is its antiquity – the earliest surviving versions thus far uncovered dating to around 300-400 BC, while tradition dates it much earlier to around 500-600 BC. In archeological terms its existence provides evidence of a remarkable awakening of a deeply spiritual, philosophical and self-reflective human consciousness – an awakening that seems to have taken place across many cultures, both east and west, around the same time.

The  Dao De Jing  is also a troubling text – just eighty one short, enigmatic verses that have been translated and interpreted in different ways. The above quote is from the opening of the Stephen Mitchell version which, although frowned upon by some scholars of Daoism, remains popular – perhaps, like the Dao de Jing itself – for holding more to the heart, than to the letter of an idea.

At first glance, the Dao De Jing reads like nonsense, and many of us will discard it as being too enigmatic for its own good. It’s only as we deepen psychologically and spiritually that more of the text begins to make sense. As children of a material and rigorously rational paradigm, we prefer our lessons delivered in plain words, our descriptions of reality literal, and our proofs of phenomenon to be demonstrated with an irrefutable logic. But the Dao De Jing suggests the ultimate nature of reality simply isn’t like that. This makes describing it in literal terms impossible, so the text uses paradox to provoke, twist and even to paralyse the mind into a logical impasse from which the meaning arises of its own accord, not as words but as visceral insights.

The unnamable is the eternally real. What’s eternally real is beyond language.  We know what it is, but not its nature. It is the ground of being, it is the gap in the perceivable quanta of the manifest world, but if we try to define it or even imagine it,  we limit our understanding to what we can perceive with the inadequate apparatus of the logical, thinking mind. It’s better then to have no mind, no convictions about the eternally real than any mind at all.

This is not to say the eternally real cannot be experienced. We are, after all, part of the ultimate nature of reality ourselves, our minds holographic reductions of a greater conscious whole. It’s through the mind therefore we can tune in, if we can first of all tune out the mind’s more daily preoccupations with material things or rational thoughts – for what we think about things is paradoxically our biggest hurdle to understanding any-thing at all.

If we can use our minds this way, and by a process of mindfulness seek nothing but the stillness in every moment, we might eventually glimpse the darkness of our immaterial self, and in so doing realise we can only be experiencing this self from the perspective of a deeper blackness, a more authentic all-encompassing formlessness that seems both self and no-self.

Impossible to define in intellectual terms this no-thing-ness is experienced as a sense of oneness, familiar and comforting as a passionate lover’s embrace. And with it comes the reminder this exquisite state is our most natural state, our own ground of being. It is who and what we really are – and we have merely forgotten it for a while, temporarily lost as we all are, in the world of forms.

Self in no self. Darkness within darkness.

The gateway to all understanding.

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parcelI know this traditional bookshop where they still wrap things with brown paper and string. Here, you’ll find a vast collection of second hand books, all neatly categorised and arrayed in labyrinthine rows on three creaky floors. It’s been there for generations, catering for the full spectrum of tastes, from the pre Socratic philosophers to the latest Fifty Shades. It’s a rare, book-scented treasure house, a bastion of colour and pattern and calm in an increasingly bland world.

I don’t always buy a book when I go there. At least half the pleasure in visiting this place is in browsing with no particular aim other than the search for something inspirational. My choices are therefore driven as much by mood as by the titles. My price limit also varies widely according to mood, and for all I know the cycles of the moon as well. I once parted with £25.00 for a copy of Jung’s Mysterium, a book much revered by psychoanalysts – and which I have not the Latin to decipher. At other times I am loathe to part with £5.00 and come away empty handed, dejected that nothing has taken my eye. To be sure, bookshops like this are mysterious places.

Last Saturday it was Wordsworth – well, not so much him as an idea inspired by him. I’d been revisiting the Romantics, thinking back on things I’ve written about Romanticism – most of it rubbish, but some of it still holding the test of time. And there it was, lurking upon a shelf of rather lack-lustre books, pressed a little to the back as if shy of the limelight: Wordsworth’s collected poems, dated 1868.

It was a handsome little volume – red cloth binding, the pages gilded, and the backing boards beautifully bevelled so the book turned smoothly in my hands like a bar of silky soap. Inside, among the familiar poems, there were engravings – intricate drawings, each protected by its own little insert of tissue paper. It was delightful. It might have been placed there only recently – or been there for twenty years, always escaping my eye until now. Only now did it speak to me. But what was it saying? Here are the poems of William Wordsworth, Michael? Read them? No, I already own a copy of his collected works. It wasn’t that I needed another. There was more going on here. All I know is I wanted it.

An expensive book, I feared, but no – £4.50 was its considered worth, which placed it within the means of my capricious and, of late, austerity-conscious pocket. It could be mine. It would be mine.

I am not a book dealer or a collector. I do not browse these shelves for unknown money-treasures in order to sell them on. The vendor is, after all, an antiquarian dealer of some renown, so I presume the real collectors’ items have already been filtered out of this very public domain – leaving only the dross, where treasure is to be found only in sentiment. I was under no illusions then; to a dealer in books this book, pretty thought it was, was worthless.

Was it really only sentiment then that drew my eye? Could sentiment take my breath away like this and fill me with a such possessive craving for a thing that was otherwise of no use nor value to me? Perhaps it was simply its great age and the fact I have a track record in collecting old and useless things. The Sage of Grasmere had not been 20 years dead when this book was issued, and here it was, still in marvelous condition –  a little frayed at the top and bottom of the spine, but otherwise pristine. Clearly it had been respected throughout its life, and was that not reason enough to earn my own respect now? Or was it that the book lain neglected behind the glass of some unfrequented country house library, untouched by sticky fingers – and now at last had come its chance to be handled, to be loved. Is that why is spoke to me?

It was a mystery, but one I was clearly in a mood to ponder in slower time. For now the priority was merely to rescue it, to possess it.

I took my prize downstairs to the lady at the till and she looked upon it with a genuine delight. She ran her long pale hands over the cover as I had done a moment ago, and in doing so shared with me the loveliness of it.  Her actions, unconsciously sensual and simple enough on her part, were to my romantic eye like holy devotions and they amplified an already growing numinosity. Then she wrapped it carefully, folding the paper with a neat, practised precision, deft fingers twisting the knot, an enchantress sealing in the spell of that afternoon – an afternoon possessed suddenly of a richness and a fertility I had not known in such a long, long time.

I emerged from the shop tingling with something that ran far deeper than the mere purchase of an old book. But what was it?

I’ve had that book for four days now and you might think it curious but  it rests upon my  desk, still in its tight little wrapping. I do not want to open it in case the magic of that afternoon evaporates. While I keep it wrapped, you see, the spell remains intact and only good things can happen from now on. The glass will for ever be half full,… never again half empty. But such an obsessive devotion as this is stretching things, even for me, and I realise it’s in my little foible – some might say my weakness – the mystery of that afternoon is revealed.

One cannot really capture a moment like that, any more than one can capture its essence in a photograph. All you’re really left with at the moment of capture is a dead thing. As I’ve written before, and keep telling myself, as if for the first time anew, the moment comes from within and cannot be contained in any “thing”. Curiosity will eventually overcome my obsessive Romantic sentiment, and I will snip open that package to discover all that lies inside is just a worthless old book, a little more world-worn and weary than I remember it.

The real power lies always in the moment and it will always be erased by time until we can find a way of staying in the moment all the time. If we can do that then every moment becomes imbued with a mysterious presence, a presence that has the power to inspire and elevate us beyond the mundane. There we discover that the meaning of our lives – the meaning we might have searched for all our lives – was never really lost. Nor was it such a big secret anyway, nor less a thing to be toiled at, nor pondered over with our heads in our hands, nor winkled out of the dusty tomes of several millenia’s worth of arcane spiritual teachings. It was there all the time; the numinous, the sheer pullulating exuberance of life.

You do not find it in work or wealth or learning, but in random moments of spontaneous inner realisation, like with me on that Saturday afternoon, browsing the hushed labyrinth of an antiquarian bookshop. But we’ve all had moments like this, and perhaps the only secret is that we should allow ourselves to recognise their intrinsic sacredness, then trust the mind, or whatever greater consciousness lies behind it, will grant us the presence to realise them more often.

Of course a more skilled pilgrim than I would have admired that book for what it was and, without losing a fraction of the meaning in that moment, simply left it on the shelf for someone else to find.

Pass me those scissor’s will you?

Thanks for listening.

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southport beachI didn’t see the figures on the sands when I took this picture. I was more interested in seeing how the polarising filter would help bring details out in the sky, while leaving the sands recognisable as, well,… sands. It was only later when I put the picture up on the bigger screen of my PC, then cropped and zoomed,  other details became apparent, and the ghosts emerged.

No, I didn’t know they were there, I don’t know who they are, and of course I don’t know where they are now. They’re simply gone. But for that moment, at 14:53 hours and 53 seconds on the 17/2/2013,  they were everything, creating a living harmony out of what is otherwise nothing.

I get this same eerie philosophical melancholia from watching crowds. There are so many of us alive, and each life of infinite importance to itself, each of us viewing the universe from the centre of ourselves in a uniquely different way.   But for me there’s something about the lone figure or a small group of figures set against a vast landscape that turns up the wick, and applies a more intense heat to the question of what it is to be human in the world.

On the one hand the seeming smallness of our presence can make the individual life appear worthless and futile, while on the other it might be said it’s in the very uniqueness of our  perspective there lies a value that goes beyond the material –  that it’s in adjusting to this perception of ourselves, and seeing more clearly through what one might call the eye of spirit,  we each have the potential to realise the preciousness that is the individual life lived well, no matter how fleeting and superficially futile that life might appear to be.

I’m reading Field and Hedgerow by Richard Jeffries at the moment. Jeffries (1848-1887) was a small-town English journalist, essayist and novelist, who, after labouring long in obscurity, became quietly popular in the late Victorian period. Another of his works “The Amateur Poacher” has been my companion since childhood, and I still find much in him to admire. His particular forte was nature mysticism. To say Jeffries revered nature doesn’t quite get to the point of him, though revere it he most certainly did. Here was a man who could look at  a grain of sand under his fingernail and tease the meaning of life from it  – all without the aid of opium –  but he was careful not to over-romanticise – being conscious and respectful of the red-in-tooth-and claw dimension of nature as well. He was also a man who saw more of God in a Greek statue than in the whole of King James.

Stay with me, this is relevant.

lilithOf course we’re not all blessed with the divine attributes of a Greek statue, and I suppose Jeffries was getting at more than seeing a literal image of “God as deity” in hominid physiology. What the Classical Greeks saw in the human form, Jeffries hints at in his various works, while the rest of us cover it with loincloths for modesty, mistake it for a perverted Eros, and childishly titter at it. What is it? I don’t know, but if you’ll allow me a moment’s nudity, I can gaze for ever at John Collier’s Lillith (Atkinson Memorial Gallery, Southport UK), and see more than just her bosoms. There’s a ghost in her, and like my figures in the landscape, she gives me pause.

Getting back to the subject of nature, in “Field and Hedgerow” Jeffries writes of an unemployed farm labourer rejecting the grim soulless state-handout sanctuary of the Workhouse and choosing instead to survive the winter living rough, sleeping in out-buildings, finding what few scraps of charity he can from the farm wives. Jeffries suggests that in his struggle to maintain a personal dignified independence, against the rigours of nature, there is something noble, even Godlike about him.

Nature is impassive, impervious to our complaints. The rain falls and the frost bites regardless of our wishes, or the quality of our clothes. Still, on a sunny day, when the butterflies come out, you can look for God in it, a God that transcends deity, as the Romantics would say. Indeed when it’s not inflicting pain upon us, there’s enough stillness and sublime beauty in nature to see projections of all sorts of things. But whatever we discover, compassion will not be among its qualities.

In my  photograph, the tide is out. Three hours later it would be in, and the small lives that had scampered across the sands that afternoon would have to scamper for safety or be washed away. The beach is also known for quicksand. An unwary figure going down in them could not rely upon nature, or the gods, for deliverance. For the survival of calamity, or nature’s worst excesses, we’re always going to need the compassion and the selfless intervention of other human beings. We might pray to our deities but it will be another human being who pulls us from the mire, offers reassurance at our tremblings, and a hot cup of  tea to soothe away the aftershocks.

Some might take this as evidence the Divine works through us, that our capacity for compassion is a manifestation of the ineffable at work in the world. I’m coming to the same conclusion. It was Jeffries who taught me you don’t find God in mere deity, (Story of my heart), but only through a higher form of soul-life. And, incredible, as it seems, the fact remains that in a world apparently on fire, torn apart by the darker side of our natures, it’s only in human beings we find the contrary, even paradoxical evidence of a divinely transcendent and infinitely compassionate dimension, a dimension, the existence of which, is the only thing worth all the living and the dying for. If we are to understand the value of the individual life, no matter how fleeting or anonymous, like my figures in the landscape, we must first do what we can to nurture a compassion for the lives of others, and trust we’ll find it in others when we’re most in need of it ourselves.

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The true nature of reality?

Human reality may be exactly what it appears to be: a fragile existence on a rock in space, a speck of life born out of a biological accident, with all our self-conscious ramblings on the meaning of it amounting to nothing when the bag of bones we think of as our body finally quits on us. I may be wrong, but I imagine few of us are comfortable with this idea. Speaking for myself, if that’s the point of it, then it might as well be done with now as at some point in the future and I’d rather my genetic material found some other way of furthering its greedy existence without dragging me along after it and making me think I’m important when I’m not.

Fortunately I’ve come to believe there’s more to things than this, and my voyages into the greyer areas of reality have led to a more positive and optimistic outlook, rather than a negative one. And that’s without getting into religion.

A certain kind of psychologist will smile sagely at all our fanciful musings and tell us we are unconsciously afraid of death and would rather not face the pointlessness of life, so we invent scenarios in which “magic” becomes a part of our reality, thereby granting us the deluded notion of an escape route – reincarnation, heavenly realms, or some other form of personal psychical continuation of life after death. Magical, mysterious mysticism is thus demoted to the level of a childish coping-mechanism.

In my case,  there’s nothing unconscious about it – of course I fear death and I agree speculation on the magical or mysterious aspects of reality may be a coping-mechanism. If so, they are a very effective one  because I feel better about myself and my place in the universe when I explore these things.  I’m also convinced there’s more to them than wishful thinking.

There’s more to my conviction than deluded zeal, as anyone of an open and enquiring mind can surely testify. There are many clues that suggest the nature of reality isn’t so hard and cold as the materialists tell us. In fact its edges are fuzzy, and you don’t need to be religious to find them. I might even go so far as to say a religious perspective is the last thing that’s going to help you. In religion we say our lines, we conform to the group-speak, consider ourselves holier than the Jones’ if we go to church more often than they do, or we feel guilty if they go more than we. As for belief, well,  we trust the vicar knows what he’s talking about and leave it at that. That’s religion. But, if you want to know, really know then you have to blow the dust off the history of the world and you have to examine the experiences of ordinary people.

A certain kind of biologist will tell you the mind – the thing that makes you think you are you – is  confined to that lumpen grey organ called the brain and when the brain stops working, the illusion of you vanishes without a trace. This is the conventional view. It’s a safe position to hold, but when you start to dig you realise the truth is more complicated. A century of study has yielded a tidal wave of evidence that tells us the mind extends beyond the brain, that it can sometimes see around corners. It seems there really is such a thing as ESP, and people sometimes really do experience moments of precognition, and moments of heightened awareness in which time dissolves and all things become one  – like the mystics tell us.

But nothing in this fuzzy realm is certain. ESP can only be demonstrated as a general effect in a large group of people, but when it comes to specific individuals, ESP is difficult to reproduce on demand. It exists, but it cannot be reliably demonstrated in front of a body of hardened skeptics aiming at the gold standard of a peer reviewed publication. The same goes for precognition and so called mystical experiences: they cannot be dialled up, nor paraded for inspection.

What use is it then? We know these things exist, but for all practical purposes, they might as well not.

For me it’s enough we are given the occasional glimpse behind the curtain, for the reassurance it grants us that the cold, hard, physical reality we see is not everything there is. Personally I’d rather not live in a world where magical things are the stuff of every day experience. I don’t want others to know routinely what is inside my head because, like the contents of my diary, I would fear their misinterpretation. Similarly, I would not like the ability to see inside of yours, for fear your thoughts might be hurtful to me.

The most I think we can say for certain is that there is more to the mind than the brain. If we go one step further, we could also speculate, with some justification, that the mind’s ability to exceed it’s apparent biological boundaries suggests it might also capable of some form of psychical existence independent of them. What that tells us about the nature of reality, or the survival of the personality after death is anyone’s guess. Beyond this point the speculation becomes ever more tenuous, and we risk falling over the fuzzy edge of reality into a void that is impregnable to the human intellect – and where our only recourse is to invent stories.

So far as our personal, tangible, non-fuzzy reality is concerned, it seems to be defined by the choices we make. Whether those choices will lead us to happiness or to misery is very much dependent upon what our motives are when we make the choices. A certain kind of thinking will lead us towards a happier and more contented kind of life. Material circumstances are irrelevant: we might be rich, we might be poor, but material wealth is not a goal in itself, and story books are full of moral tales that teach us how its pursuit can lead to personal ruin if we’re not in firm control of ourselves in other ways first. So, while the true nature of reality remains largely hidden from us, there is a feeling the best way of approaching it is to discover what that “certain kind of thinking is”, and to practice it.

Like many of my generation, I’ve come at this down a long, rocky road, through the distilled essence of three thousand years of eastern philosophy, dimly grasped but enough I think to shine a light into my own little corner of the world. I can hazard a guess then at what that certain kind of thinking is, and when I’m struggling I have the eccentric option of consulting the I Ching – which usually puts me straight. For many of course this will seem barking mad. It’s just my way though, and you must find your own. But however we come at it, you can take all the words that were ever written on this subject and disregard them because a lady called Beatrix Potter summed it up long ago in this delightful quote:

“All outward forms of religion are almost useless and are the causes of endless strife. Believe there is a great power silently working all things for good, behave yourself and never mind the rest.”

You heard the lady. Just be congnisant of the fact that there’s something there.  It’s intentions are benign, and beyond that you don’t need to think about it much at all. Just behave yourself and never mind the rest. Behaving yourself is the tricky part of course, and working out what it means is possibly the one thing you were were born to do.

Graeme out.

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