Do I really need to learn that? Really?

In reference to karma, sometimes I catch myself (and hear others say) thinking that I must be finding something hard because I still need to learn about what this thing is throwing up. After all, this is how some of the ancient traditions challenge us to think about things we are (choosing to) find(ing) ‘hard’.

But equally in the West many of us have come from oppressive backgrounds in one way or another. Even if we are privileged to be ‘white’ or even ‘male’ if we were growing up in the ’70’s or ’80’s (y’know the days before the Internet or iPhones) some of us were quite poor. A meal was not guaranteed every day. And even if not poor then oppressed in some other way – perhaps by our community or by our church. Taught to obey. Taught to fit in. Whatever it is.

So perhaps because of that we have a tendency over here to internalise things – to blame ourselves for things. And this trait is by no means universal.

So when we hear our traditions or our spiritual gurus say that perhaps if we’re finding something hard we still need to learn something; so sit with it, go into it, don’t resist it and so on. And sometimes that’s exactly right.

But sometimes the right thing to do is simply walk away or cut that thing out of my life. Sometimes I don’t actually need to learn anything more about a situation that’s hard. I really don’t; I’ve learnt enough already. In fact, if I don’t walk away from it then I still haven’t learnt what I did learn about that thing.

So do I really need to learn this thing? Like, really? Maybe not. Maybe not this time.


The Law of Attraction is a Half-Truth

The law of attraction is so appealing. I hear more and more about it online each year. People trying it out, talking about it.

It’s appealing, I think, because it’s truthy. It has truth in it. But it isn’t the whole truth. And for that reason it may even be a dangerous teaching.

My own summary of the law of attraction goes something like this; and this is of course a summary and a personal spin on it so it won’t do the whole thing the justice it does perhaps deserve. ‘Reality is such that we live in a quantum hologram and our perception influences the outcome. So if you believe bad things will happen then they will. And if you believe success or good things will happen, they will’.

There’s truth to that. The universe wants us to be well. Also, if I believe bad things will happen or are due to me, then that will be my mental story and I will go about organizing reality to fit my belief. I will be an agent of change to my reality in as much as I will sub-consciously filter information, influence relationships, change circumstances, blank things out until they fit what I believe is going on. When the bad luck comes, I am then able to say “this always happens to me” or “there, I told you so”, and this feeds my pain body. My pain is fed. I can continue to justify to myself my pain and my drama. And so it goes on.

On the flip side, if I believe good things will happen or are due to me, then that will be my mental story and I will go about organizing reality to fit that belief. I will be an agent of change to my reality in as much as I will sub-consciously filter information, influence relationships, change circumstances, blank things out or allow things in until they fit my belief. When the good luck comes I am then able to say to myself “that was the law of attraction. It works”.

All that’s going on here is that our default state as human beings is that normatively we expect negativity. We all have a drama; a karma; a story. Quite often that story will be based on our conditioning. And quite often our conditioning has been negative in one way or another. And so nine times out of ten we are following the law of attraction negatively.

All that the law of attraction does is say that there’s a principle here and if you believe you can have positive change in your life you are more likely to get it. Now, that’s true. But not becuase the law of attraciton is true, but because through that discipline, that new habit, we thereby jettison the sub-conscious negative patterns. In doing so we are more awake to what is really going on; less likely to filter out information that would fit our negative story and so on.

All that the law of attraction is doing is encouraging us out of our everyday negative micro-dramas and mini-stories. Our subconscious controls. Once we have a method of doing that (of any kind) then of course we will see change in our lives.

But you don’t have to follow the law of attraction in order to attract all the success you can get, all the happiness you can get, all the joy you are able to experience. You just have to be awake. Alert to the present moment. Aware of what is really going on rather than what fits your drama.

And that’s really really important. Because sometimes reality will give me a wake-up call. Buddha was right, you know. Life is full of impermanence. Impermanence and entropy are the staple diet of the fabric of reality. And from those things arises pain and suffering. Pain and suffering can jolt us into awareness, and there comes the benefit of them. Enlightenment is often found the hard way. Again and again. And that will always be the case.

Now, a heavy jolt – some bad news – won’t fit a picture of the law of attraction alone. Sometimes it will disrupt that picture. What will we do if it does, and we believe in the law of attraction? Blank it out and blame ourselves. Maybe I wanted this to happen subconsiously! Maybe I wanted my cat to die! Maybe on some level I needed this bad thing to happen!

No. It’s just life. Deal with it.

For me the law of attraction is a new age version of the American prosperity theology. It’s no better than “go with bliss”. “Go with bliss” and “happiness bubble” and “avoid negative people” is not enlightenment. Enlightenment is sitting next to a difficult person until they are no longer difficult. Enlightenment is going with pain until it is nolonger pain.

Enlightenment is a knife edge. You are god but try holding on to that without ego. You can change your reality, but really you can only do that by being awake to the ways you tend to manipulate information to fit a picture and choosing a different set of options. It’s good to have dreams, but you can’t have dreams without a self; and the self is an illusion.

I’m learning to have dreams. I’m learning to set plans that will be a happy way to carve out a future. And that feels alien to do because of my karma. So I know I need to do it. And those plans may come to fruition. They may not. But I’m not going to get them to become real if I don’t believe they will (the law of attraction). Then again, they may just not; and that will be just how it is if that’s what happens.

Reality is not a vending machine or a self-service website. The Way is not a magic trick. And the law of attraction is not the whole truth.

The Mind Cannot Know Itself

The mind is a reference engine.

Actually, language is self-referential. It’s a web of “signifiers”; we can only explain one “thing” by using a bunch of “signifiers” to explain it; and we can only explain signifiers by using other signifiers. It’s even how we learn a language.

And we haven’t found out whether language comes at the same time a thought arises, or after the thought.

But it’s probably safe to say that the mind is a reference engine, or system. It is constantly comparing things. I like/don’t like/remember/want/have/did/did not. Knowledge is built on comparison or categorisation.

Our internal chatter is self-referential too. “But I didn’t do this, or I wanted this”. It continually energises the illusion of a self.

When you tell someone that they are “like” a particular characteristic, or “not like” something, you see their eyes go off to an angle. “Am I?!!?!”  Their mind starts calculating. “How much of that statement is true? How much of it false? What does it mean for my social status right now? If it is true, what does it tell me about myself that I didn’t already know? And if I didn’t already know it – why didn’t I know it? How infuriating that others can see me better than I can see myself!”

The illusion of the self has to be believed as absolute. But really it is a mental construct. So the mind is easily perturbed by anything that offers to revise it. Self-revision or self-recreation on the other hand is OK as far as the ego is concerned. (And it’s a further illusion.)

In our ‘everyday minds’, we cannot know ourselves. We cannot fully objectively understand our ‘self’ because our selves are simply constructs of our minds – and our minds cannot step outside of themselves to look at themselves, so we never have a complete picture of the construct of ‘self’ which we believe ourselves to be.

Only One Mind, Big Mind, the All aspect of consciousness can be at peace with Knowing. From this dimension of consciousness the perturbations abate. We are no longer flustered by the fact that we can’t objectively know what we believe to be our objective self; because we see it as a construct; because we know it is not who we are.

The consciousness of the universe that every living being shares is at peace with itself; it is peace. That inner peace within us does not question itself. That inner peace within us looks at our mental preoccupations with a smile.

My mind might be bothered about its limitations. How can I master myself if I don’t understand myself? It’s true that if I have self-mastery I can “win at the game of life” and also that I can know others better. So it’s something my ego yearns for  but can never have. The All within me knows this to be just a self-referential game.

Mastering my ‘self’ by letting my ‘self’ melt away, I have mastered myself. I am a winner with life and Life Itself smiles. And only when I have mastered myself can I truly understand others, and smile at that. No more game.


Mind is One

What does this mean? “Mind is One”?

We have our individual consciousnesses as beings. But on the spiritual path we are also aware that there is this ‘oneness’ aspect to all manifest things. We hesitate to say that there is ‘mind’ in inanimate objects; stones, bricks, cars. Yet we are aware that everything is energy, and everything is connected.

Some mystics say that even stones are conscious that they are stones.

I’m sure that one day our scientists will “crack the problem” of how self-awareness arises out of billions of neurons talking to each other. But even when they have, they will have missed a fundamental aspect of Mind, because the ground of everything manifest is also conscious.

We could stop there and say we have our separate minds, and the source is a consciousness. But that’s only part of the picture. The universe experiencing itself as me has both a me mind, and its own mind at the same time. My thoughts are my own, but they are also thoughts the universe is having as me.

Spiritually, I don’t think the human race has changed that much since Buddha sat under the Bo tree over 2,000 years ago. And some of our wisdom traditions haven’t changed that much either. Not that they need to. They are spiritual technology geared at enlightenment. They’re good at what they do, and have stood the test of time.

But I look forward to the day (perhaps it’s coming very soon) when our nascent human abilities become everyday normal. And it appears to me that key to this happening is that we understand that Mind is One.

All of the nascent abilities that Patanjali talks about in his Siddhis, or all of the nascent abilities Dōgen mentions off-the-cuff in Shōbōgenzō, or all the tricks Derren Brown performs perhaps – these are all just one trick.

The one trick is Mind is One. My thoughts and sensations are local to me. But they are also non-local. I am having them, but Mind is having them. Telepathy, knowing the mind of others is really just sharing Mind. But it gets stranger. Mind is One outside of space-time-movement. Seeing the immediate future is really just being a being in a moment whilst at the same time being any being in any moment. Energy healing in the dualistic reality is one being appearing to miraculously healing another being. But it’s really just the universe birthing stars. Understanding bird song.

I could go on. Telekinesis. Levitation. But I have never moved objects remotely to my knowledge. And I have never walked on water. So I stopped at understanding bird song.

The first time I experienced what we call telepathy I told a Zen Nun about it. She just said matter-of-factly something like, ‘yes. But you can’t own these things when they happen.’ For one thing ego is a dualistic sense impression getting in the way of that bigger reality. For another thing, it’s literally true. Super normal abilities are not located just in one individual. They are Mind is One.

It’s a good job these abilities are nascent for now. We have so many computer passwords and bank cards. One day we will have to come up with computers and banks that don’t need us to use letters and numbers to access them. But when that day comes all of our institutions will change. Science academy ashram mash-ups. Mental health energy healing centres. Sangha hospitals.

Sci fi films have explored the dangers of artificial intelligence reaching the ‘singularity’ point and then taking over the Internet. We already live in an inter web of Mind. We always have. It’s beautiful.

Are We Post-Buddhist?

Many of us on the mystical path are post- something. Post-Christian perhaps. Post-Materialist maybe. Post-religion. Or at least we’d sort of awkwardly sympathise with those who are.

And that’s just it. In the same way that Europe’s Christian churches have emptied out since the 1960’s, traditions new to Europe’s culture – wisdom traditions from the far East – aren’t sticking either. At least not in my experience. They’re forming and dissipating at a similar rate; I think one could argue that much.

Here in Oxford there are several schools for different dharmic traditions. Tibetans (two kinds), Zen, Ch’an, MBCBT… you name it. And a small flock attend each, coming and going with the seasons; sometimes migrating between groups. Sometimes not.

It’s a transient city, so a lot of the group transience is about that. But some of it isn’t.

In a sense, Buddha himself would be post-Buddhist. Buddha himself is said to have proclaimed, ‘if you meet Buddha on the road, kill him’. To be “Buddhist” or indeed any “ist” or “ian” is to identify with a thought formation which is already not the thing that it points towards. Hence some Buddhists shy away from calling themselves ‘Buddhists’ or religious at all.

It doesn’t matter much of course. The Way is the Way. It is always what It is, and would be so with or without humans around.

I’m just curious about whether it’s possible to take the essence of the dharma and take refuge in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha in a way that’s true to dharma’s apparently-tough love yet authentically X. Authentically British (if you’re British, which many of you reading this are not, but replace X with anywhere).

People have already of course. Thich Nhat Hanh. Western Buddhist Order.

But it would’t just have to be sensible the culture of X to stick. It would also have to be sensible to the culture of Post-X; the way we share, live, express ourselves now as individuated high-technological citizens of the world who care little for creed, flag, book, state, hierarchy, but a lot for humanity and increasingly our world.

It’s a question that has many a missionary baffled; I should know. I was a Christian missionary for a while. But I don’t come at this as a missionary wanting to promote Buddhism to the world.

I come at this question because I wonder where my people are and what to do to find them.

Thousands of enlightened souls across the world feeling at sea and connecting with one another through brief social media memes, blog posts, webinars and retreats.

Of course the answer is staring me in the face. My people are nowhere because my people are every people. They are even the tall grasses blowing in tonight’s harsh wind. The wind. Tonight. The blowing.



Ministry of Silly Walks

Before too long on mystical travels, one finds oneself observing one’s own (and other people’s) silly walks.

These are the habits, the psychological nervous ticks, the background dramas we all have; the familiar comfortable painful mental patterns we walk with and freely share with others without a care for why we have them and let them take control all the time.

There’s one over there. Every third step in the walk has to be a bow, a hip rotation, and a salute. And another one there. See him wringing his hands and looking nervously around as he makes his way down the path. What about this one? She’s crawling along on her hands and knees. I wonder why that is? Then there’s me. Keeping my head artificially high whilst nervously clutching to my belly so nobody can see my soft underside.

And so on.

Once it starts to look as ridiculous as it really is, my love affair with it starts to be over. When I notice (those lucky times I do) my own silly walk, I think, ‘why on earth do I do that all the time? Oh yes. I remember now. Well how silly!’ The silly walk can start to turn into what it needs to be; a walk. Not extraordinary. Not slouching. Not tense. Not half asleep. Alert, but not hyper. Just what it needs to be and nothing more.

And then my walk can be a ministry to others, because I’m not giving them my bizarre body movements to contend with on the path as well as their own. I can deal with theirs because I can see mine. And that means I can share the same path more easily.

The strangest dream

I had the strangest of dreams last night. So vivid. But not about me. Like I was someone else entirely.

The dream was in the small hours, but when I woke up about four hours later I hurriedly wrote down some bullet points of the details.

It could have been “just a dream”. But having seen films about “clairvouyants” helping police in the USA, and also of course having an understanding from years of meditation that ‘we are One’; that on some levels the physical boundaries separating all beings are just (what Einstein called a) persistent illusion, perhaps it wasn’t.

Perhaps this ‘dream’ was something that happened to a real person. If it did, then it might be useful for someone. Who knows; maybe even someone will find this and work out who it relates to.

  • 3.26am Thursday 22nd October
  • “I” was driving police car with my colleague up a slight incline road
  • I was driving very slowly not overtaking a cyclist with no lights to see what he would do
  • He pulled in to a lay-by and dismounted
  • He started looking for his lights
  • Myself and my colleague got out of the car and walked over to him and started talking
  • As we were talking the cyclist heard something on my radio and stopped us saying “that’s here” or something like that
  • I listened and then heard my name on the radio
  • We received details and an address. The cyclist said “this way”
  • We followed him. Confusion. There was a lane, maybe a field, some trees. Was it the wrong way? Did we take this lane right to the end and straight ahead, or change direction off to the left?
  • We entered a cul-de-sac through a break between houses. On the opposite side of the road and slightly to the right of the cut way was the house
  • When we reached the house we could see in through the window a kitchen to the right; parallel with the front door and what must have been entrance hall
  • A European man was being violent with a European woman in the kitchen
  • We entered the house
  • I was killed.

Language and Intention

Sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me.

This is of course the biggest bunch of crap.

Reality is that humans care deeply what others think of them. It’s possible to train ourselves away from that behaviour, but it is deeply engrained in many of us (Alain de Botton makes this point well in his book ‘Status Anxiety’).

Reality is that punches knocks and falls hurt bad. But we recover from them. Our bodies are ingenious at that. It will be a long time before robots become as good at self-healing as living systems.

But there are subtleties to this. If someone calls you a shit head but you know they are joshing (playing) with you, then the comment rarely ‘counts’ psychologically.

So the issue isn’t really about language; what people say to us. It’s actually about intention. (I’ve actually learnt this from Tim Field who wrote a not-very-well-known book called ‘Bully in Sight‘. It’s a great book, but the pain the author went through also comes through in the writing so it’s not for the faint-hearted.)

Intention is the key. If someone intends to hurt you and then says something about you or your behaviour then that’s much more likely to ‘count’ psychologically.

But there’s another subtlety to this. It’s to do with time.

A few intended comments, nit-pickings, public shaming, disempowerments don’t actually count for a lot. We all have a level of resilience to this; after all, we survived the playground at school didn’t we?

But our levels of resilience are different and, over time…perhaps even years… any human being can end up psychologically damaged by someone else’s words and actions. Psychological violence.

I was staggered to learn, when bullying happened to me, that because of the way our brains work some of the damage was actually physical. Our brains are psycho-physical things. They’re also very weird because unlike computers the software can rewrite the necessary hardware. In other words our electrical ‘thought’ activity can, over time, reroute neurons as required.

Recovering from poor mental health I was staggered to learn that part of the necessary healing was physical. My neuron pathways had to reconnect, and connect in different and new ways. Sometimes it was like I could even tell that this was going on (but not prove), because I’d get the most profound and unusual headaches and not be able to do much with myself mentally or physically.

And no amount of meditation or anti-depressant drugs were doing to do that work. Only time could fix it. Only the body-mind could do that part. I just had to let the process be what it was.

I found it interesting that my then meditation school had a set of ‘rules of the dojo’. One of those rules was that sick people and mentally unwell people should not enter the dojo. This sounds harsh. But it has something to it. Even the meditation dojo can’t do that fixing work. Only the body-mind and time can do that part. (Self-nurturing will of course aide this natural process.)

I guess my key learning here is, don’t consider people’s language. Consider what they are intending to do with it. ‘Are you intending to hurt me?’ is one of those good questions to ask people. They will rarely say ‘yes’, and when they say ‘no’ they sometimes back down – and that stops their action from ‘counting’.

Because of these subtle things – intention not language, words causing physical harm over time, harmful intention in a short amount of time causing little damage, none of the damage being visible – and of course our collective fear (because any human can be a victim of bullying) we tend to either want to misunderstand bullying, or even if we want to understand it we misunderstand.

After many many years (at least 8 now) of working on myself, I can (on a good day) talk through something I found difficult with someone; ask them if they are OK; and mentally give their own pain back to them. Vindictive behaviour rarely comes from a simplistic ‘evil person’ place. Show me an ‘evil’ person and I’ll show you someone who is suffering. (Many Buddhist authors such as Thich Nhat Hanh have written on this point.)

I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’ve become bullying immune. But I have found this knowledge to be power. Knowledge that vindictive behaviour points to suffering in the other person. Knowledge that names do hurt – really a lot if given enough time to do so. Knowledge to look at intention not words.

A Hidden Majority

Who knows how many people in the world would now connect with, or relate to, terms such as ‘enlightenment’, or ‘spiritual but not religious’?

Members of a religious community of some kind still to this day tend to have visible buildings to congregate and celebrate within. Masses, services, teachings, rituals are held. And the physical building structures add visibility to the given religion, movement, school, belief system.

But for many of us we have drifted away from “religion”. We might not be affiliated to any one particular tradition or organised structure or we might be infrequent ‘hangers on’ to a community with a physical building for want of ‘a better expression’ of our spirituality. We can often share experiences and insights which resonate with each other; for example how life has taken us to the harder edges, wilderness times, times of great questioning and ultimately to a place of a more mystical and less defined sense of reality seen and unseen. Other than that we are expressing ourselves in as many ways as there are people! Some meditate alone at home, join a traditional wisdom tradition (sometimes with a building, sometimes not), join a ‘group’ of some kind – often meeting in a public hire venue or someone else’s religious building.

We are no religion and any religion. We are young. We are old. We live in cities and hippie camps. We would all agree that ‘We Are One’ (or ‘It Is One’) and yet to anyone apparently uninterested in “religion” or to anyone strongly committed to a religious community we are invisible.

It doesn’t matter. But it’s there. In the background. Humanity is going through a shift. In simplistic flawed terms the wisdom of the East has flowed into the West and changed our colours. Our old hierarchical structures of organised faith cling on like so many fossils to a rock, but we all are changing.

Again simplistically the materialism of the West is exported East. But that belies the continued strength (in some places such as China) of the wisdom traditions in those places.

We may not have buildings of our own, or a name for ourselves which isn’t problematic. (Who likes “enlightened”?) But we are many and growing.

Change can’t always be seen.

Old Bags of Emotions, and What to Do With Them

black-toast-jute-bag-mediumWhen I was a 9 year old boy, in 1984, my father had a motorbike accident. It put him in a coma for many weeks, and he was on a life support system.

When he did finally come out of hospital, he’d suffered brain damage and also had several serious problems with his motor skills and physical abilities. He had to learn some of his words back, how to write, how to walk, how to use his hands and so on.

Now the details are a little fuzzy, as you might imagine from being that long ago. But there were some days there (maybe weeks; it doesn’t matter how long) where my mother had to go to work at the local supermarket, stacking shelves, and my sister was away.

So it was my job to look after daddy.

There wasn’t a huge amount to ‘do’ as such. Give him cups of tea. Help him eat occasionally. But the key thing was giving him his medicines. He was on a tight regime of drugs. He had about 9 or 10 different ones for different things. And they had to be given to him regularly. Perhaps every couple of hours.

The key thing was that if I didn’t give them to him in the right order he could die. He was entirely dependent on them in the early days after hospital.

Now, however long that lasted for, it was a huge responsibility for a 9 year old to take on. I remember making a sheet of paper with columns and rows on it showing which hour and which drugs, and carefully putting that sheet onto a coffee table next to his make-shift bed in the lounge, and laying out the drugs into the right table boxes so that I didn’t get confused as to which ones were next, and could make sure he got all of them in the right order with none of them missed.

Which I needed to do, because I found the instructions on all the little plastic bottles confusing, and when I was near him I got stressed. His language was foul. He would swear and shout. Not over anything important, and I realise now it was because he was in a lot of pain and confusion. But that was another aspect that was distressing.

His mother, my Grandmother, had offered to care for him at her house. But for some reason my mother refused. I wonder what the reasons for that were. I know that she wanted to ‘toughen me up’, but also she lost her father when she was young and I wonder now if something was repeating itself there for her.

Whatever the reasons were, that was the situation. And I had to deal with it. I could have said no, but I didn’t. I’d been given a job. I had to get it right. And if I got it wrong I could lose my dad. You could say, ‘I would kill him’, because that’s how it felt.

It’s something that I’ve recalled from time to time, and even had therapy about before. But this year, for some reason (possibly because he has now passed away), that memory came back to the surface. And I’ve realised for the first time that surrounding it is a whole bag of emotions.

The emotions in question are a bit like a sliding scale. At the low end of the scale I can just feel trapped and confused. So I have my little coping mechanisms to get me through the day; I check I’ve packed everything in my bag twice before I go out. I plan everything ahead, sometimes rehearsing business meetings days before they happen. And I turned into such a successful project manager that I ended up being the best one on the project management team. Go figure that! Good with detail, forgetting nothing.

Even at that level the modus operandi seems to be ‘preventing a catastrophe’. Enjoyment of my work doesn’t tend to come into it.

Then further up the scale the trapped and confused feelings get a little stronger. I’m great in a crisis (and my sister is, too). But if you give me something mundane to deal with I find it hard. I even remember my piano teacher saying that I found hard music scores easy, and easy music scores hard.

At the top of the scale the trapped and scared feelings reach a sort of climax. And whatever it is that triggers that ‘top of the scale’ the result is a desire to self harm. At the very worst, I start to plan to take my own life.

Whilst that state of mind, feeling suicidal, has only happened perhaps a handful of times in my life, it is a tendency I have and that I live with. So I have been working these last few months to understand where that tendency comes from, and how to make friends with it; how to be at peace with it and forgive it and so on.

I think it first happened when I was 16 and my mother died. She was a passenger on the back of my dad’s motorbike. So he was in hospital again after that accident. Whilst I don’t think I could say that I looked after him when he was convalescing that time, I did go back for a year to live with him. So he would phone my sister (who by that time was at university) to find out how to make omlettes. And I would re-cook the half-frozen pies he had cooked, and iron shirts for him, and I was there as a companion. I offered to stay instead of going away to uni, but he sweetly said, ‘go’.

But I think the second tragedy embedded something in my psyche, because I did want to take my own life then and it relates to a situation involving another motorbike accident, my dad in hospital, and coming out with problems and a stinky temper.

Dads back then…well, it was normal for them to be distant. To let the mother deal with the children. He had been traditional out of necessity in that sense before 1984. And sometimes out of wanting to (he didn’t spend many weekends with the kids). But after 1984 even when he was around he was violent, angry, quick-tempered, foul mouthed. It was hard to love him. And after the later accident he wouldn’t help himself or listen to the advice of others; he didn’t forgive himself. Perhaps on one level he didn’t want to live either. Survivor’s guilt.

When I was 21 and came out as gay I also felt suicidal then. Perhaps the triggers there were religious, but it doesn’t matter what the triggers were; I felt trapped, I wanted an escape route because there was a task I was dealing with here (this time within myself) that felt too hard to deal with. And if I didn’t get the pills in the right order (figuratively speaking) then there’d be a ‘catastrophe’.

And then again when I was about 23 or 24. I cut ties with the church community I’d been introduced to at age of 4. And I hated myself for that. So I felt trapped again. And then again in May 2013 (I had to just check the year in my calendar because I forget important dates) when Dad died, dealing with things after that I got suicidal again.

I’ve been out of work for anxiety and depression twice now. This time round, this year, it was for something different. The ‘breakthrough’ was about many things, but what surfaced was this old bag of emotions; where they came from, what to do with them. What triggers them.

So now when I feel stressed or trapped or confused or like I need to escape, I see that this is because of those 9 year old feelings. And even just seeing that much helps.

It creates distance from them; there is the 9 year old. And here is me now. And the 9 year old deals with things that way because that’s all a 9 year old can do. But I’m not that little boy, so I have different choices now. I can choose a different response to the situation.

I can tell people ‘can you tell me how I might fit that in?’, because I don’t have to take everything on and ‘save it’.

I can observe the self-loathing, curling up inside, fearful 9 year old response and say, ‘I love you, I forgive you, I’m here for you’.

Screen Shot 2015-08-16 at 10.39.44Perhaps I can’t be entirely at peace and present with the present moment of ‘Now’ in such situations (wherever they feature on that ‘scale’) quite yet. But the grip of those emotions is loosening. My modus operandi is changing.

Shortly after the latest spell out of work I realised that the name people give to children who go through this kind of thing these days is ‘child carer’. So I was telling all my buddies ‘I was a child carer’ in the hope perhaps that they’d help me understand some of all this. They couldn’t, of course. And even if they could, it wasn’t theirs to do. And I remember saying to my husband, ‘I could run a half marathon for this child carer charity! What do you think?’, and he said, ‘I think you’re still caring for your dad there.’

So here is me now, not caring for my Dad because he’s gone. And I have already been such a great success in my life because he didn’t die that time. I kept him alive with my effort and my care. So here is me now caring for myself, loving myself, nurturing myself, and knowing it is needed.

(If you are reading this, and do want to help young carers, you could donate to CarersUK or another charity for child carers where you live.)

I love you. I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you. (Ho’oponopono)

The following is a translation of an excerpt of ‘Ho’oponopono’ by Dr Luc Bodin, translated from the French by my Aunt.

‘My research conducted me after my medical training to look at ‘la medeceine energetique’. On researching the undeniable results obtained by that energy. I decided to study quantum physics. …all the atomic particles that make up our world are composed of infinitesimal waves of energy that vibrate like a chord and each chord vibrates on its own frequency like the different notes produced by a violin. Its these notes that compose our universe.’

‘Human thoughts are nothing more than information carried on a wave. There is Russian research that has established that thoughts are capable of affecting and transforming matter. So this theory of waves explains that all the universe is linked together. …There are allusions to God, or divinity. Divinity in us. All religions have the same ‘essence’ or the same ‘vibration’ in that sense. Words only indicate simply the presence of an element superior to us; an element that is situated above our manifest dimension…

‘When I started to study Ho’oponopono I realised it amplified the theories of quantum physics. Our interior and our exterior are one, and it is easy to see that we create our own world.’

Ho’oponopono is a wonderful tool that does not need long hours of study. You do not need a master guru or scientist. The technique is of childish simplicity and curiously if we listen to our intuition we sense within ourselves that the way is just.

‘With the principle to repeat in our environment anything that does not go well, any suffering or disharmony.. from there you have to say that any disharmony is the reflection of our interior suffering coming from our past memories, and the key the solution consists simply to send love, pardon to the memory…in order for it to disperse by enchantment. It appears to be too simple to be true.’

‘It is sufficient only to try it. Once the problem diminishes our reality is profoundly transformed. Ho’oponopono shows us that we live in a reflection of our internal reality; everyone creates their own reality like an artist creates a canvas. We are capable to create within ourselves paradise or hell depending on our reaction to our memories.’

‘Memories never go on vacation or retire unless you retire them. “I love you” dear memories. I am grateful for the opportunity to free all of you, and me. (“I love you” can be repeated quietly again and again.) “Thank you” – This process can be used with or in place of “I love you”. As with “I love you”, it can be repeated. …There are simply four statements that you say in order:

I love you.

I’m sorry.

Please forgive me.

Thank you.

When we experiment with Ho’oponopono, we see results in our life and are never the same again.”

Meditation Piece

Let us make our bodies comfortable. Taking in one deep breath, become aware of the tension in our muscles. Breathing out, let us start to relax the tension we feel. Breathing in, being aware of tension. Breathing out, letting a tension go. Breathing in, finding more tension. Breathing out, letting tension go.

Our minds also have tension; favourite negative thoughts, favourite distractions. The constant internal monologue. A radio station with one channel and favourite records to play. Continuing with our deep breathing we can permit ourselves to see that we are not our private monologue, and our private monologue is not who we are. Hearing this monologue we can allow ourselves to identify with the part of us that is doing the hearing; the part that is doing the listening to the radio station. This is the part of ourselves that does not need to talk or analyse endlessly. This is the part of ourselves as One with the Ground of All Being. It is. Unrestricted. Ever peaceful. Ever loving. Endlessly resourceful. Never dying.

In this way our monologue can cease to own us; can die down – leaving us free in the here and now to enjoy the vitality and peace of simply being, and being alive.

Continuing with our mindful breathing, let us be centred. Grounded. Identified with the peaceful vitality that we always-already are. Thoughts arise, then fall away. Freely letting them do so, without reflection or judgement, we are free to be empty of all desires and judgements, because this is our original nature. The face we had before we were born.

Let us empty ourselves of any desires, judgements, or expectations about tonight. They arise, they leave. The inner peace, freedom and calm that we are is a constant, and always remains.

Being aware of the light and energy qualities of simply being, we can allow ourselves to become aware of the light and energy within our bodies. We can turn our attention to this, and to our central chakra. This chakra, sometimes called the hara chakra, is where we feel this energy most strongly. It is the power centre, level with our navel, and a little bit behind the navel; at our core. The spot from which we grew in our Mother’s womb.

Being aware of our energy in this way we can allow ourselves as we wish to sense this energy going down through our body and out of our body into the ground beneath us. Once at one with the ground beneath us, we can sense and be aware of all the ground of the Earth; the vastness of this beautiful planet we call home. We can then sense its energy and our energy without separation, and we can see that the source of life is in the Earth just as it is in us and is us and is the Earth.

And with this, we can sense all beings upon the Earth, that they are living and being supported by, and not separate from, this life energy – the Source. We, the Earth, and all living beings upon the Earth are, in fact, as One. So it is that we can feel life’s energy flowing in our body, in the Earth, and from the Earth and into each being, and from each being. The other is the same as us. We are the same as the other. Yet all unique, and all wonderfully different.

So it is that we can know intuitively and esoterically that all beings in the cosmos know life and know love in the same way that we know it; emanating from the Source, its character of light and love is familiar to all creation because all creation is in it, and it is the origin of every vibration and frequency.

Now and here we can intuit all beings being unique and separate at the same time; sharing the same mystery of existence, and of life itself. Held in God’s arms. Starkly different, yet all as One.

Unbounded now by our bodies, and unrestricted by our mental records, we can now permit ourselves to expand our boundaries of knowing further yet; to the upper atmosphere, to the moon, and towards our Sun, Venus and Mercury. Expanding outwards away from our Sun we permit ourselves to be conscious of our Sun’s other planets: of Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, the Plutoids, and the Kuiper Belt. And then into interstellar space, and the vastness of our whole milky way. Then onwards again, to intergalactic space, to Proxima and Alpha Centauri and beyond. Then we know our galaxy supercluster – Laniakea and from there all of the beautiful vast cosmos.

There is nothing we cannot know, and nothing we cannot see. All of us can be held in pure divine nature because pure divine nature is in us all and is all. So with creativity and imagination we can now grant ourselves permission to become aware of sentient life wherever it may be; reaching out to others sharing the oneness and peace that we all are. As we do so, we can be aware that they too reach out to share Oneness and peace with us here now.

In their gentle way, the beings from our own galaxy federation reach out like this; encouraging us forward in our spiritual, mental, and physical wholeness; and in our evolution so that we, like them, can transcend primitive behaviours, can heal the damage we have caused to the Earth and save ourselves from ourselves.

Rising to this challenge, and making ourselves ready to join peacefully and cooperatively with any life wherever it is found, we can overcome the illusion of separation and the delusions we make for ourselves.

The beautiful gentle work of creation transpires to make us all well. Having risen to this challenge themselves, intelligent civilisations advanced beyond our own can share in this precise moment now with us, without separation, through the one thing connecting us all: the Source outside of time and space.

Their beautiful gentle work is our beautiful gentle work.

Reflecting our intention to be whole and know peace, to heal ourselves and thus to heal one another, advanced intelligent life is welcome to join with us here in this place and at this time.

Breathing in and breathing out together. Being peace.

Retracing our steps, let us invite the intelligent civilisations we have sensed to join with us here and now as each of them wishes; and as much or as little as they are willing or able to do; and in whatever form they wish to arrive – be it visual, auditory, mental or felt. From the cosmos to Laniakea, and from Laniakea, to our galaxy neighbourhood with beautiful Andromeda, and from there to our Milky Way, and in one of the outer spirals, our solar neighbourhood with beautiful Sirius, to the Kuiper Belt, the Plutoids, Neptune, Uranus, Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, and to Earth; and to the hemisphere we are in at this night hour with millions of electric lights marking out the perimiters of our land masses, and to our land mass, and to our location here in this place.


It does get easier

There’s a talk (I can’t remember which one) where someone asks Pema Chodron what non-attachment (a fundamental of Buddha’s teaching) gives someone, and Pema Chodron answers that you recover more quickly. She hesitates as she says it – almost as if wondering to herself ‘is that it?’ ‘is that all?’

But it’s so much.

I recently had another phase of poor mental health, and I can now testify that her answer is true. Sometimes life can take us back to a place (with our health, emotionally, whatever) and it can feel like we have stepped backwards in time; reliving situations we thought we’d left behind.

But it’s really true that when this happens, the fact is we are not ‘in that last time’; we are somewhere new. Now is not then. We’re somewhere new because we know more now than we did before. We have knowledge, and with knowledge comes some power over a situation.

Instead of giving up this time, I decided to fight. But it’s a strange kind of fighting. In order to ‘win against’ anxiety and depression, I had to surrender to it completely. I had to learn what the gift of anxiety had come to tell me about. Once that information became clear, the anxiety started to evaporate. Not immediately, but over a few days.

I also wanted to manage this time without anti-depressants. I haven’t managed that, but you know what? It doesn’t matter. I’m back in a job, and I’ve bounced back so quickly this time that it’s almost miraculous.

I couldn’t have done that without the learning which came as a gift from all of those previous tough experiences. Those previous lows. And yes, some help from therapists and doctors, friends, family, and so on.

Mindfulness and meditation were key too, of course. Years of meditating is indeed a ‘storehouse’, and if one is well enough to meditate one can give space for strong emotions to surface and learn from what those strong emotions came to say and then process that information. (Brandon Bays is good on this topic in my opinion.)

It’s exhausting of course. But this time that process took a matter of hours rather than weeks or months. Quite astonishing.

So yes I fought. But I fought by surrendering completely. I had no attachment to my drama, to past pain, to current pain, to my sense of the world. I dropped them all and surrendered to the pit of darkness and there I found the answers I was looking for, and then came light and love.

Hey, 639 email followers :)


So apparently 639 people get notified via email every time I post a new Mystical Wondering blog. I think after six years of writing this blog it’s OK to have a little indulgence and ask:

– do you have an all-time favourite post from this blog?
– when did you start following, and what was going on in your life at the time?
– has this blog ever helped you with a problem, or pointed you at something else that helped later?

Comments are enabled on the site so why not dive right in and share? There’s no need to log in before posting something.



The Siddhis of Patanjali

This is all taken from Supernormal: Science, Yoga, and the evidence for extraordinary psychic abilities’ by Dean Radin PhD, Deepak Chopra books, 2013 (Radin), and The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, BookRix, Munich (Patanjali). I have interspersed the list with my own interpretations in bold and reflections in italics, and am coming back to it as I work through them throughout 2015. (Thanks to my friend Bodhi Saiyan for recommending the book to me.)

First posted: 31 Dec 2014. Latest update: 04 Mar 2015.

‘Approximately twenty-five siddhis are listed in the third book of the Yoga Sutras…”

PADA iii, Sutra 16: Knowledge of the past, present and future, resulting from samyana on the nature of change (Radin) or ‘By self-control over these three-fold changes (of property, character and condition), knowledge of the past and future arises’.

My own interpretation: Being in a state of Oneness, having a single-pointedness of mind, and thus having outside of time awareness beyond your own conditions character or properties you can turn inquisitively to an object or a being. Permitting yourself to see its character in this moment, to see its properties or formation in this moment, and to see its condition as having been something and becoming something else (samyana on the nature of change), patterns emerge. From those patterns can arise knowledge of the future. (When those future events come to pass could be near- or far- future.)

Meditating and observing my cat, I foresaw three movements. Two of those movements came to pass in the immediate future. 

iii.17: Knowledge of the meaning of sounds produced by all beings, resulting from samyana on the ‘third ear’ or the concept of sound (clairaudience).

Yes. On a couple of occasions (one at a Zen retreat) I have heard birdsong spoken like English.

iii.18: Knowledge of previous births and arising of future births, resulting from sampan on one’s latent or inherited tendencies.

Interpretation: Single-pointed mind, and thus Being without thought, seeing thoughts arise and noticing simultaneous arising of language descriptions, formations, opinions. Then permitting oneself to see an earlier or later formation of one’s self.

I had the impression of previously having been an Octopus. Being a vision, it doesn’t matter whether or not I actually was an Octopus in the past. What came strongest was the sense of having a mouth at the centre of my body; a mouth that was in insatiable need of feeding, and arms constantly selecting and dropping food into the mouth. And a sense of being able to simply slip away from any situation that felt disagreeable. 

Reflecting on this, I considered what the karmic pattern might be from the vision, and I considered my continuing insatiability as well as my continuing need to slip away from situations without facing up to the consequences of my own actions. Also how with observation that insatiability is declining here and there, and that constant slipping away from consequences is also slipping away. Being so, there’s a lot in my life right now that’s hard to face up to – purely because it’s stuff I would have slipped away from in the past (through avoidance or lies), but now I’m choosing not to slip away.

iii.19-20: Knowledge of minds, resulting from samyama on one’s own mind or another’s mind (telepathy)

In Zen this is called ‘knowing the minds of others’ and is written about by Dogen (Zen’s founder). Yes. But it seems to me to be only available in a certain instant. The mind seen only shows what the person is doing and focusing on, or seeing, and perhaps a little of what they are thinking. But it is not a free ticket into all of another person’s mind or memories. It is momentary.

iii.21: Disappearance of the body from view, as a result of looking at the body with the inner eye.

iii.22: Foreknowledge of birth, harm, or death, resulting from samyama on sequences of events in one’s past and present.

iii.23: Loving-kindness in all, resulting in samyama on friendliness, compassion, or sympathetic joy. (Fieldlike psychokinesis.)

iii.24: Extraordinary strength, resulting from samyama on the concept of physical strength. (Lightenning or making yourself heavy.)

Yes. I have recently begun to be able to ‘think myself lighter’.

iii.25: Knowledge at a distance, resulting from samyama on the ‘inner light’ (the light body, clairvoyance)

I have seen my light body once during meditation, but this has not given knowledge at a distance.

iii.26: Knowledge of the outer universe, resulting from samyama on the solar plexus

I have only experienced this through shamanic techniques.

iii.27-28: Knowledge of the inner universe, resulting on the samyama on the ‘pole star’ (microscopic knowledge)

iii.29: Knowledge of the composition and coordination of bodily energies through samyama on the navel chakra (self healing).

Yes. I can sometimes transmute viruses into harmless energy simply by resting as soon as the body becomes aware of the virus entering the body and focusing on the power chakra. I’ve done this twice.

iii.30: Liberation from hunger and thirst through samyama on the throat.

iii.31: Exceptional stability, balance, or health, through samyama on the root of the tongue (kurma nadi)

iii.32-26: Vision of higher beings, knowledge of everything that is knowable, knowing the origins of all things/ the true self, through samyama on the crown of the head. (Clairvoyance).

Yes. The state of ‘Oneness’ incorporates this for meditators in general doesn’t it?

iii.37: Siddhis may appear to be supernormal, but are normal.

iii.38: Influencing others. (Transmit spiritual energy to others through presence and concentration/ distant mental interactions with living systems/ cessation of hostilities for example.)

Yes. I once helped save two adults and two children from attempted manslaughter. A part of this experience involved transmitting peace to the attacker. It was not premeditated, it just happened.

iii.39 and 42: Levitation through samyama on the feeling of lightness. Psychokinesis.

If only! Bus tickets would be much cheaper.

iii.40: Blazing radiance through samyama on inner fire.

Yes. Strangely when I was still professing to be a Christian, and was concentrating on ‘surrender to God’. And once or twice when meditating in a dojo.

iii.41: Clairaudience, through samyama on the area behind the ear.

iii.43: Freedom from bodily awareness and temporal attachments.

Zen focuses on this. The dropping away of body and mind. That said, I’ve encountered it rarely!

iii.44-45: Mastery over the elements through samyama on the elements. (Psychokinesis).

iii.46: Perfection of the body (perhaps incorruption of the body after death).

Bashar’s formula is not quite correct?

Who, or what, ever you think Bashar is – extra-terrestrial alien channeled by Daryl Anka, or something else – you have to admit his teachings and delivery are mesmerising and thought-provoking.

He has quite a following in the US and elsewhere.

He has a formula, which goes something like this (what follows is a scribbled note from one of his recorded sessions on YouTube, so it may well be a mis-quote in places):

‘Always at every moment pick the option that contains the highest excitement. Act on it as best you can. Surrender to the Source. Zero expectation or insistance on what the outcome is to be. Synchronicity will lead you in to joy. The best ‘you’ you can be is the inner child: ‘You’ already knows what’s exciting because it is the higher mind’.

I’ve had this written up on a wall in my home for some months, and I’ve been scratching my head about it. Some days enjoying it. Other days being confused by it.

It just doesn’t feel quite correct.

It isn’t synchronicity that leads us to joy, though synchronicity might cause happiness to arise.

Joy of existence just is. It is in our natural state – our always-already, perfect, Oneness with all things and with the Source that is in all manifested things and yet is beyond the manifested, and beyond time. Joy arises and goes at it does; being enlightened does not depend on feeling it.

And being enlightened does not depend on being the best anything, or acting on anything. Quite often wisdom emerges in the spaces between activities.

There is one Way. Not because there is one true religion, but because there is only one reality we share (a point Bashar would most likely disagree with). Only one structure to manifested things. The Way is harmonious with what Is and, because what Is is not constant, the Way has to be felt rather than proscribed.

There is one Dharma; not because there is one life-lesson, but because there is only one problem to solve – my own Ego.

Going beyond the need to have joy, beyond the need to act on feelings arising, joy arises of its own accord and activity can become more considerate to all beings, more useful, more productive, more joyous – and other things.

Acting on excitement is not ‘wrong’. Surrendering to the Source is wonderful.

In my own personal and humble opinion, that’s why I think this formula (if I have transcribed and understood it correctly, even) is not quite correct; not quite skillful Dharma.

That said, I still think Bashar is wonderful and I …enjoy… listening to him.


The Fermi Paradox (reblogged from

The following post originates from


The Fermi Paradox

Everyone feels something when they’re in a really good starry place on a really good starry night and they look up and see this:




Some people stick with the traditional, feeling struck by the epic beauty or blown away by the insane scale of the universe. Personally, I go for the old “existential meltdown followed by acting weird for the next half hour.” But everyone feelssomething.

Physicist Enrico Fermi felt something too—”Where is everybody?”



A really starry sky seems vast—but all we’re looking at is our very local neighborhood. On the very best nights, we can see up to about 2,500 stars (roughly one hundred-millionth of the stars in our galaxy), and almost all of them are less than 1,000 light years away from us (or 1% of the diameter of the Milky Way). So what we’re really looking at is this:


Milky Way


When confronted with the topic of stars and galaxies, a question that tantalizes most humans is, “Is there other intelligent life out there?” Let’s put some numbers to it (if you don’t like numbers, just read the bold)—

As many stars as there are in our galaxy (100 – 400 billion), there are roughly an equal number of galaxies in the observable universe—so for every star in the colossal Milky Way, there’s a whole galaxy out there. All together, that comes out to the typically quoted range of between 1022 and 1024 total stars, which means that for every grain of sand on Earth, there are 10,000 stars out there.

The science world isn’t in total agreement about what percentage of those stars are “sun-like” (similar in size, temperature, and luminosity)—opinions typically range from 5% to 20%. Going with the most conservative side of that (5%), and the lower end for the number of total stars (1022), gives us 500 quintillion, or 500 billion billion sun-like stars.

There’s also a debate over what percentage of those sun-like stars might be orbited by an Earth-like planet (one with similar temperature conditions that could have liquid water and potentially support life similar to that on Earth). Some say it’s as high as 50%, but let’s go with the more conservative 22% that came out of a recent PNAS study. That suggests that there’s a potentially-habitable Earth-like planet orbiting at least 1% of the total stars in the universe—a total of 100 billion billion Earth-like planets.

So there are 100 Earth-like planets for every grain of sand in the world. Think about that next time you’re on the beach.

Moving forward, we have no choice but to get completely speculative. Let’s imagine that after billions of years in existence, 1% of Earth-like planets develop life (if that’s true, every grain of sand would represent one planet with life on it). And imagine that on 1% of those planets, the life advances to an intelligent level like it did here on Earth. That would mean there were 10 quadrillion, or 10 million billion intelligent civilizations in the observable universe.

Moving back to just our galaxy, and doing the same math on the lowest estimate for stars in the Milky Way (100 billion), we’d estimate that there are 1 billion Earth-like planets and 100,000 intelligent civilizations in our galaxy.[1]

SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) is an organization dedicated to listening for signals from other intelligent life. If we’re right that there are 100,000 or more intelligent civilizations in our galaxy, and even a fraction of them are sending out radio waves or laser beams or other modes of attempting to contact others, shouldn’t SETI’s satellite array pick up all kinds of signals?

But it hasn’t. Not one. Ever.

Where is everybody?

It gets stranger. Our sun is relatively young in the lifespan of the universe. There are far older stars with far older Earth-like planets, which should in theory mean civilizations far more advanced than our own. As an example, let’s compare our 4.54 billion-year-old Earth to a hypothetical 8 billion-year-old Planet X.


Planet X


If Planet X has a similar story to Earth, let’s look at where their civilization would be today (using the orange timespan as a reference to show how huge the green timespan is):


Planet X vs Earth


The technology and knowledge of a civilization only 1,000 years ahead of us could be as shocking to us as our world would be to a medieval person. A civilization 1 million years ahead of us might be as incomprehensible to us as human culture is to chimpanzees. And Planet X is 3.4 billion years ahead of us…

There’s something called The Kardashev Scale, which helps us group intelligent civilizations into three broad categories by the amount of energy they use:

Type I Civilization has the ability to use all of the energy on their planet. We’re not quite a Type I Civilization, but we’re close (Carl Sagan created a formula for this scale which puts us at a Type 0.7 Civilization).

Type II Civilization can harness all of the energy of their host star. Our feeble Type I brains can hardly imagine how someone would do this, but we’ve tried our best, imagining things like a Dyson Sphere.

Dyson Sphere

Type III Civilization blows the other two away, accessing power comparable to that of the entire Milky Way galaxy.

If this level of advancement sounds hard to believe, remember Planet X above and their 3.4 billion years of further development. If a civilization on Planet X were similar to ours and were able to survive all the way to Type III level, the natural thought is that they’d probably have mastered inter-stellar travel by now, possibly even colonizing the entire galaxy.

One hypothesis as to how galactic colonization could happen is by creatingmachinery that can travel to other planets, spend 500 years or so self-replicating using the raw materials on their new planet, and then send two replicas off to do the same thing. Even without traveling anywhere near the speed of light, this process would colonize the whole galaxy in 3.75 million years, a relative blink of an eye when talking in the scale of billions of years:


Colonize Galaxy

Source: Scientific American: “Where Are They”



Continuing to speculate, if 1% of intelligent life survives long enough to become a potentially galaxy-colonizing Type III Civilization, our calculations above suggest that there should be at least 1,000 Type III Civilizations in our galaxy alone—and given the power of such a civilization, their presence would likely be pretty noticeable. And yet, we see nothing, hear nothing, and we’re visited by no one.

So where is everybody?



Welcome to the Fermi Paradox.

We have no answer to the Fermi Paradox—the best we can do is “possible explanations.” And if you ask ten different scientists what their hunch is about the correct one, you’ll get ten different answers. You know when you hear about humans of the past debating whether the Earth was round or if the sun revolved around the Earth or thinking that lightning happened because of Zeus, and they seem so primitive and in the dark? That’s about where we are with this topic.

In taking a look at some of the most-discussed possible explanations for the Fermi Paradox, let’s divide them into two broad categories—those explanations which assume that there’s no sign of Type II and Type III Civilizations because there arenone of them out there, and those which assume they’re out there and we’re not seeing or hearing anything for other reasons:

Explanation Group 1: There are no signs of higher (Type II and III) civilizations because there are no higher civilizations in existence.

Those who subscribe to Group 1 explanations point to something called the non-exclusivity problem, which rebuffs any theory that says, “There are higher civilizations, but none of them have made any kind of contact with us because they all _____.” Group 1 people look at the math, which says there should be so many thousands (or millions) of higher civilizations, that at least one of them would be an exception to the rule. Even if a theory held for 99.99% of higher civilizations, the other .01% would behave differently and we’d become aware of their existence.

Therefore, say Group 1 explanations, it must be that there are no super-advanced civilizations. And since the math suggests that there are thousands of them just in our own galaxy, something else must be going on.

This something else is called The Great Filter.

The Great Filter theory says that at some point from pre-life to Type III intelligence, there’s a wall that all or nearly all attempts at life hit. There’s some stage in that long evolutionary process that is extremely unlikely or impossible for life to get beyond. That stage is The Great Filter.


Great Filter


If this theory is true, the big question is, Where in the timeline does the Great Filter occur?

It turns out that when it comes to the fate of humankind, this question is very important. Depending on where The Great Filter occurs, we’re left with three possible realities: We’re rare, we’re first, or we’re fucked.


1. We’re Rare (The Great Filter is Behind Us)

One hope we have is that The Great Filter is behind us—we managed to surpass it, which would mean it’s extremely rare for life to make it to our level of intelligence. The diagram below shows only two species making it past, and we’re one of them.

Great Filter - Behind Us

This scenario would explain why there are no Type III Civilizations…but it would also mean that we could be one of the few exceptions now that we’ve made it this far. It would mean we have hope. On the surface, this sounds a bit like people 500 years ago suggesting that the Earth is the center of the universe—it implies that we’respecial. However, something scientists call “observation selection effect” suggests that anyone who is pondering their own rarity is inherently part of an intelligent life “success story”—and whether they’re actually rare or quite common, the thoughts they ponder and conclusions they draw will be identical. This forces us to admit that being special is at least a possibility.

And if we are special, when exactly did we become special—i.e. which step did we surpass that almost everyone else gets stuck on?

One possibility: The Great Filter could be at the very beginning—it might be incredibly unusual for life to begin at all. This is a candidate because it took about a billion years of Earth’s existence to finally happen, and because we have tried extensively to replicate that event in labs and have never been able to do it. If this is indeed The Great Filter, it would mean that not only is there no intelligent life out there, there may be no other life at all.

Another possibility: The Great Filter could be the jump from the simple prokaryote cell to the complex eukaryote cell. After prokaryotes came into being, they remained that way for almost two billion years before making the evolutionary jump to being complex and having a nucleus. If this is The Great Filter, it would mean the universe is teeming with simple prokaryote cells and almost nothing beyond that.

There are a number of other possibilities—some even think the most recent leap we’ve made to our current intelligence is a Great Filter candidate. While the leap from semi-intelligent life (chimps) to intelligent life (humans) doesn’t at first seem like a miraculous step, Steven Pinker rejects the idea of an inevitable “climb upward” of evolution: “Since evolution does not strive for a goal but just happens, it uses the adaptation most useful for a given ecological niche, and the fact that, on Earth, this led to technological intelligence only once so far may suggest that this outcome of natural selection is rare and hence by no means a certain development of the evolution of a tree of life.”

Most leaps do not qualify as Great Filter candidates. Any possible Great Filter must be one-in-a-billion type thing where one or more total freak occurrences need to happen to provide a crazy exception—for that reason, something like the jump from single-cell to multi-cellular life is ruled out, because it has occurred as many as 46 times, in isolated incidents, just on this planet alone. For the same reason, if we were to find a fossilized eukaryote cell on Mars, it would rule the above “simple-to-complex cell” leap out as a possible Great Filter (as well as anything before that point on the evolutionary chain)—because if it happened on both Earth and Mars, it’s almost definitely not a one-in-a-billion freak occurrence.

If we are indeed rare, it could be because of a fluky biological event, but it also could be attributed to what is called the Rare Earth Hypothesis, which suggests that though there may be many Earth-like planets, the particular conditions on Earth—whether related to the specifics of this solar system, its relationship with the moon (a moon that large is unusual for such a small planet and contributes to our particular weather and ocean conditions), or something about the planet itself—are exceptionally friendly to life.


2. We’re the First

We're the First

For Group 1 Thinkers, if the Great Filter is not behind us, the one hope we have is that conditions in the universe are just recently, for the first time since the Big Bang, reaching a place that would allow intelligent life to develop. In that case, we and many other species may be on our way to super-intelligence, and it simply hasn’t happened yet. We happen to be here at the right time to become one of the first super-intelligent civilizations.

One example of a phenomenon that could make this realistic is the prevalence of gamma-ray bursts, insanely huge explosions that we’ve observed in distant galaxies. In the same way that it took the early Earth a few hundred million years before the asteroids and volcanoes died down and life became possible, it could be that the first chunk of the universe’s existence was full of cataclysmic events like gamma-ray bursts that would incinerate everything nearby from time to time and prevent any life from developing past a certain stage. Now, perhaps, we’re in the midst of anastrobiological phase transition and this is the first time any life has been able to evolve for this long, uninterrupted.


3. We’re Fucked (The Great Filter is Ahead of Us)

We're fucked

If we’re neither rare nor early, Group 1 thinkers conclude that The Great Filter mustbe in our future. This would suggest that life regularly evolves to where we are, but that something prevents life from going much further and reaching high intelligence in almost all cases—and we’re unlikely to be an exception.

One possible future Great Filter is a regularly-occurring cataclysmic natural event, like the above-mentioned gamma-ray bursts, except they’re unfortunately not done yet and it’s just a matter of time before all life on Earth is suddenly wiped out by one. Another candidate is the possible inevitability that nearly all intelligent civilizations end up destroying themselves once a certain level of technology is reached.

This is why Oxford University philosopher Nick Bostrom says that “no news is good news.” The discovery of even simple life on Mars would be devastating, because it would cut out a number of potential Great Filters behind us. And if we were to find fossilized complex life on Mars, Bostrom says “it would be by far the worst news ever printed on a newspaper cover,” because it would mean The Great Filter is almost definitely ahead of us—ultimately dooming the species. Bostrom believes that when it comes to The Fermi Paradox, “the silence of the night sky is golden.”


Explanation Group 2: Type II and III intelligent civilizations are out there—and there are logical reasons why we might not have heard from them.

Group 2 explanations get rid of any notion that we’re rare or special or the first at anything—on the contrary, they believe in the Mediocrity Principle, whose starting point is that there is nothing unusual or rare about our galaxy, solar system, planet, or level of intelligence, until evidence proves otherwise. They’re also much less quick to assume that the lack of evidence of higher intelligence beings is evidence of their nonexistence—emphasizing the fact that our search for signals stretches only about 100 light years away from us (0.1% across the galaxy) and suggesting a number of possible explanations. Here are 10:

Possibility 1) Super-intelligent life could very well have already visited Earth, but before we were here. In the scheme of things, sentient humans have only been around for about 50,000 years, a little blip of time. If contact happened before then, it might have made some ducks flip out and run into the water and that’s it. Further, recorded history only goes back 5,500 years—a group of ancient hunter-gatherer tribes may have experienced some crazy alien shit, but they had no good way to tell anyone in the future about it.

Possibility 2) The galaxy has been colonized, but we just live in some desolate rural area of the galaxy. The Americas may have been colonized by Europeans long before anyone in a small Inuit tribe in far northern Canada realized it had happened. There could be an urbanization component to the interstellar dwellings of higher species, in which all the neighboring solar systems in a certain area are colonized and in communication, and it would be impractical and purposeless for anyone to deal with coming all the way out to the random part of the spiral where we live.

Possibility 3) The entire concept of physical colonization is a hilariously backward concept to a more advanced species. Remember the picture of the Type II Civilization above with the sphere around their star? With all that energy, they might have created a perfect environment for themselves that satisfies their every need. They might have crazy-advanced ways of reducing their need for resources and zero interest in leaving their happy utopia to explore the cold, empty, undeveloped universe.

An even more advanced civilization might view the entire physical world as a horribly primitive place, having long ago conquered their own biology and uploaded their brains to a virtual reality, eternal-life paradise. Living in the physical world of biology, mortality, wants, and needs might seem to them the way we view primitive ocean species living in the frigid, dark sea. FYI, thinking about another life form having bested mortality makes me incredibly jealous and upset.

Possibility 4) There are scary predator civilizations out there, and most intelligent life knows better than to broadcast any outgoing signals and advertise their location. This is an unpleasant concept and would help explain the lack of any signals being received by the SETI satellites. It also means that we might be the super naive newbies who are being unbelievably stupid and risky by ever broadcasting outward signals. There’s a debate going on currently about whether we should engage in METI (Messaging to Extraterrestrial Intelligence—the reverse of SETI) or not, and most people say we should not. Stephen Hawking warns, “If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn’t turn out well for the Native Americans.” Even Carl Sagan (a general believer that any civilization advanced enough for interstellar travel would be altruistic, not hostile) called the practice of METI “deeply unwise and immature,” and recommended that “the newest children in a strange and uncertain cosmos should listen quietly for a long time, patiently learning about the universe and comparing notes, before shouting into an unknown jungle that we do not understand.” Scary.[2]

Possibility 5) There’s only one instance of higher-intelligent life—a “superpredator” civilization (like humans are here on Earth)—who is far more advanced than everyone else and keeps it that way by exterminating any intelligent civilization once they get past a certain level. This would suck. The way it might work is that it’s an inefficient use of resources to exterminate all emerging intelligences, maybe because most die out on their own. But past a certain point, the super beings make their move—because to them, an emerging intelligent species becomes like a virus as it starts to grow and spread. This theory suggests that whoever was the first in the galaxy to reach intelligence won, and now no one else has a chance. This would explain the lack of activity out there because it would keep the number of super-intelligent civilizations to just one.

Possibility 6) There’s plenty of activity and noise out there, but our technology is too primitive and we’re listening for the wrong things. Like walking into a modern-day office building, turning on a walkie-talkie, and when you hear no activity (which of course you wouldn’t hear because everyone’s texting, not using walkie-talkies), determining that the building must be empty. Or maybe, as Carl Sagan has pointed out, it could be that our minds work exponentially faster or slower than another form of intelligence out there—e.g. it takes them 12 years to say “Hello,” and when we hear that communication, it just sounds like white noise to us.

Possibility 7) We are receiving contact from other intelligent life, but the government is hiding it. This is an idiotic theory, but I had to mention it because it’s talked about so much.

Possibility 8) Higher civilizations are aware of us and observing us (AKA the “Zoo Hypothesis”). As far as we know, super-intelligent civilizations exist in a tightly-regulated galaxy, and our Earth is treated like part of a vast and protected national park, with a strict “Look but don’t touch” rule for planets like ours. We wouldn’t notice them, because if a far smarter species wanted to observe us, it would know how to easily do so without us realizing it. Maybe there’s a rule similar to the Star Trek’s “Prime Directive” which prohibits super-intelligent beings from making any open contact with lesser species like us or revealing themselves in any way, until the lesser species has reached a certain level of intelligence.

Possibility 9) Higher civilizations are here, all around us. But we’re too primitive to perceive them. Michio Kaku sums it up like this:

Lets say we have an ant hill in the middle of the forest. And right next to the ant hill, they’re building a ten-lane super-highway. And the question is “Would the ants be able to understand what a ten-lane super-highway is? Would the ants be able to understand the technology and the intentions of the beings building the highway next to them?

So it’s not that we can’t pick up the signals from Planet X using our technology, it’s that we can’t even comprehend what the beings from Planet X are or what they’re trying to do. It’s so beyond us that even if they really wanted to enlighten us, it would be like trying to teach ants about the internet.

Along those lines, this may also be an answer to “Well if there are so many fancy Type III Civilizations, why haven’t they contacted us yet?” To answer that, let’s ask ourselves—when Pizarro made his way into Peru, did he stop for a while at an anthill to try to communicate? Was he magnanimous, trying to help the ants in the anthill? Did he become hostile and slow his original mission down in order to smash the anthill apart? Or was the anthill of complete and utter and eternal irrelevance to Pizarro? That might be our situation here.

Possibility 10) We’re completely wrong about our reality. There are a lot of ways we could just be totally off with everything we think. The universe might appear one way and be something else entirely, like a hologram. Or maybe we’re the aliens and we were planted here as an experiment or as a form of fertilizer. There’s even a chance that we’re all part of a computer simulation by some researcher from another world, and other forms of life simply weren’t programmed into the simulation.



As we continue along with our possibly-futile search for extraterrestrial intelligence, I’m not really sure what I’m rooting for. Frankly, learning either that we’re officially alone in the universe or that we’re officially joined by others would be creepy, which is a theme with all of the surreal storylines listed above—whatever the truth actually is, it’s mindblowing.

Beyond its shocking science fiction component, The Fermi Paradox also leaves me with a deep humbling. Not just the normal “Oh yeah, I’m microscopic and my existence lasts for three seconds” humbling that the universe always triggers. The Fermi Paradox brings out a sharper, more personal humbling, one that can only happen after spending hours of research hearing your species’ most renowned scientists present insane theories, change their minds again and again, and wildly contradict each other—reminding us that future generations will look at us the same way we see the ancient people who were sure that the stars were the underside of the dome of heaven, and they’ll think “Wow they really had no idea what was going on.”

Compounding all of this is the blow to our species’ self-esteem that comes with all of this talk about Type II and III Civilizations. Here on Earth, we’re the king of our little castle, proud ruler of the huge group of imbeciles who share the planet with us. And in this bubble with no competition and no one to judge us, it’s rare that we’re ever confronted with the concept of being a dramatically inferior species to anyone. But after spending a lot of time with Type II and III Civilizations over the past week, our power and pride are seeming a bit David Brent-esque.

That said, given that my normal outlook is that humanity is a lonely orphan on a tiny rock in the middle of a desolate universe, the humbling fact that we’re probably not as smart as we think we are, and the possibility that a lot of what we’re sure about might be wrong, sounds wonderful. It opens the door just a crack that maybe, just maybe, there might be more to the story than we realize.