• Tag Archives therapy
  • My Way

    There is no teacher who can teach anything new, he can just help us to remember the things we always knew” –
    Michael Cretu: Engima – Odyssey of The Mind

     

    My journey into the spiritual, the metaphysical, the awareness of Buddhism, of philosophy, and my interests in the ways of Zen, is a unique one. In a way these things have always been with me, but as my understanding grows I can now identify these things that have always been present in my life. By identifying them I mean I can now put names to the things that have always been with me, however I never really held much stock for the name of a thing.

    My earliest and retrospectively my most fundamental discovery of meditation, of observing ones thoughts from a higher consciousness, started when I was five. Understand that it is difficult to describe this awareness without diminishing the essence of what I experienced. I have always felt selflessness. Even as a young boy I felt there was something inside of me that is bigger than me, connected to everything.

    In a way I feel there have always been two parts of me, or perhaps to put it more succinctly, I have always believed there have been two of me. The outer me, that which bears my personality, and the inner me, that which is beyond perception. The inner me resembles a still empty space, not dormant but attentive, a passive watchfulness.

    Like many people of today whose parents have divorced, I experienced unhappy times in my younger days, surrounded by confusion and grief. As a five year old I remember going to bed and simply crying for attention, I would stay awake for hours listening to the fighting downstairs. One particular night I became entirely exhausted through upset and sadness, and after a time I quieted. I withdrew completely into the darkness of my bed. Instead of seeking attention I decided to try and make myself disappear, to close myself off completely from everyone and everything. I remember fantasising about dying and that if I remain completely still and slowed my breathing I would eventually fade away. So I decided to focus all my attention, my vision, my thoughts, on a single point on my Care Bear wallpaper. Not looking at the wallpaper but looking into the wallpaper, not moving my gaze to any other point. Slowly and with practice I found that by staring at a single point for long enough everything would go dark, all sight was lost to darkness, this void was not that associated with sleep but that of a waking darkness, eyes open and alert.

    Over time I explored this new sensation by focusing on different objects, a lamp, the ceiling, and found that each time I did so my feelings, whatever emotion I brought with me would be lost. I had found something amazing, a secret sanctuary known only to me, a space I could go to anytime I wanted. By focusing long enough I would enter a space where all conflict, unhappiness, people and life’s problems were no longer there, they existed outside this place, and as I grew older I realised they don’t exists at all. My five year old self believed I was floating in space, observing thoughts like distant stars.

    I remember on several occasions this experience became too intense, all senses would become hypersensitive, every sound became amplified, time seemingly slowed down to the point where I could hear everything, my breathing would become a loud rhythmic beat and I could almost sense myself floating above me – a peripheral vision or feeling above my body. And as a five year old this experience was frightening, something I tried to explain to my mother but was unable to describe it.

    The Zen Mind is the beginner’s mind, 
    which sees everything as if for the first time
    Daniel Levin – The Zen Book (2005: inlay)

     

    Now being 31 I am able to recognise this story as one of meditation, of finding the present moment. I regard these early accounts as something truly profound because at the age of 5 I was unable to recognise these very acts as ones of meditation, of mindfulness, to me these things had no names, no actions or correct practices, they were totally natural. To my 5 year old self it was a secret I used to escape my emotions. At the time I certainly had read no books on the subject nor was I influenced by media or other people. And so I stumbled upon a practice that was pure without even being aware of such a thing – and to me this is something as adults we spend our lives trying to achieve. When we are older it is difficult to perceive without the interference of concept, we are constantly driven to name things, to think about things we see instead of simply seeing them, of simply being present.

    That is how my journey started, but maybe it would be more accurate to say that at the age of 5 I re-joined my path to awareness, my path to knowing who I am. This practice is not something that can be learned, this practice is something we already know, it can only be experienced, and by doing so we remember that which we always knew, a bit like life really.

    A note on the opening paragraph:

    In the opening paragraph I described my experience as a journey into the spiritual and philosophical realm, I mentioned my belief in Buddhism and Zen, but to now end this discussion I would say this. These established arts, these beliefs and interests are useless, they are irrelevant. Simply put they are all based on memory, they are learned but not in the true sense. One can study Zen, one can be learned in the many teachings of Buddha, but these are static, they are memorised and recalled at will, but learning is always in motion, and my approach is to experience these things, spirituality, Zen, and then forget them, to look at them without knowing, to experience them from a fresh naive perspective always. Jiddu Krishnamurti discusses this most succinctly in his opening to The Limitations In Our Mind.

    Profound Related Links / Posts:

    Conversations on Compassion with Eckhart Tolle
    How do we break the habit of excessive thinking?
    Krishnamurti – How Does One Learn About Oneself ?
    Jiddu Krishnamurti – The Limitations In Our Mind.

  • On speaking and listening

    “The louder a man shout’s, the more profoundly he’s wrong” (Gallagher 2009)

    One early evening, around 5.30pm, I caught a bus from Northampton town centre, a routine commute after work, travelling back to my home town Kettering. It was a slow journey and I was in a particularly stilled frame of mind, senses keen and thoughts clear. I decided to listen in to the conversations of my fellow passengers. It dawned on me that many of us, given the correct social setting, will talk and talk and talk, without communicating a single interesting idea, without contributing anything of substance to the discussion. Why is it that we to0 often invest such energy into talking but fail so triumphantly at not actually saying anything of consequence.

    The art of storytelling, of truly connecting to a person through speech has been lost. Television, smart phones, social media, and cultural shifts at large have made the once tribal celebration of speech, the art of talking, unnecessary. We now communicate feelings more aptly through abbreviated digital messages than we do through talking. Spiritually connected to the wafer-thin glass-fronted box of lights than we are with each other.

    And if we have lost the art of talking, how then does this affect our ability to listen?

    Like those on the bus, often our egocentric nature relentlessly drives us to have our say. Our inability to sit back and absorb a conversation results in nothing more than driving a conversation into a debate, a verbal abyss where no wisdom is conveyed nor any connection made. Now this may be expected on a cramped bus, already swamped with the noise of traffic and commuters, but let’s now take this example and place it in a care setting, or among the elderly, or in a therapeutic environment where listening is fundamental to all those involved.

    In a care-home environment, often the only pleasure for its residents is to be listened to – the opportunity to tell a story and rejoice in having somebody kind enough to listen, to share in their experience. Empathy cannot be achieved without being able to listen, and in the fields of psychotherapy this is essential, it is primal and it is something modern man has forgotten. When working with Kettering MIND the following exert was given to me on the instruction that I read it before beginning my training in the skills of listening:

    To hear, one must be silent, says a wise man to his apprentice in a fantasy novel. The silence extends to calmness, as far as possible in the physical setting, but in any case within the listener. Yet the silence is far from passive: active listening, albeit watching, thoughtful monitoring of oneself – all go to make up the skills of listening, enabling us the better to hear what the speaker is really saying. Only then dare the helper presume to speak.” (Jacobs, 1985)

    At the end of a particularly riveting lecture on Business Information Systems I, having remained silent throughout the discussion, I was asked my opinion on the subject. More to satisfy my tutor’s curiosity than contribute, I spoke my mind. Just before I left the lecture hall my tutor pulled me aside and said this: I talk little but what I say is profound. This has stayed with me over the years, and has confirmed the importance of active silence, of truly listening.

    Like a virus, this slow decay of our ability to talk and listen may affect our other senses, a slow death of the instincts transforming us into slaves of our own advances.

    We live busy stressful lives, always connected and available on-demand, indeed actor and comedian George Carlin one described modern man as “a high-tech low life”, “a top gun bottom feeder” “a raging workaholic, and a working rageaholic” – spoken with true wisdom during his his 2005 stand-up, Life is worth Losing

    During a 6 mile walk through rich fragrant blossom filled streets my senses were on overdrive, I stopped at nearly every tree, every flower, and simply breathed the air, filling my very soul with sunshine. I realised then that smell is potentially another endangered sense – think about it – when was the last time you walked down the street and simply smelled? When did you last smell a flower, when was the last time you acknowledged the freshness early morning rain or the sweetness of blossom, the earthy smell of fresh tilled soil?

    This deprivation of sense may be seen to effect memory – and with dementia on the increase in the over 60s are all these things contributing factors? Are we really that disconnected to our instinctual primal abilities – are we dead on the inside?

    [recommended reading: The Alchemy of Voice by Stewart Pearce: yes it’s a form of self-help book but I discovered this great read during my studies in 2004, its informative writings on the origins of speech and its use in modern times was enlightening, and complimentary when looking into the art of listening – how often do we listen to ourselves (listen to how we speak not just what we say)?

    —[more on this to come]—

    * Gallagher, B: The Prisoner: 2009, AMC and ITV television miniseries.

    * Jackons, M, 1985