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.

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.”

Incoherency of Self, and the Amnesiacal Echoes of PTSD

The Buddhist notion of the Self is that it is not as coherent as we would like to think. We create a self image with a story, a drama, about itself. But we even forget this story and where we were taking it. It changes in such a way from day to day that a film director would sack his continuity error man if our lives were films in production. Our image of ourselves is not who we are. It doesn’t even get close.

There’s lots on the web about Buddhism and the Self. It’s quite a meaty subject, and I don’t want to go into it here.

I’ve recently been reflecting upon the way Buddha explains the Self, leading me out of attachment to my own whims and fancies of who I am. And whilst I’ve been doing that something else has been happening too. A sense of something going on mental health wise. On the surface this looked like a kind of amnesia – an echo of having had PTSD. But on closer examination I realised this feeling was a short-hand message from somewhere deep within for something coming from several sources. One was the amount of times I kept finding things that I did or wrote or documented whilst I DID have PTSD or was on anti-depressants, and noticing that I’d completely forgotten those things until seeing them again. And another was a sort of jumpiness which has come about from having, unfortunately, been surrounded by at least two people with anxiety issues of their own; this bringing back some PTSD-like behaviours for myself. In the jumping, there was no sense of time to dwell on specifics – and so some information (often unimportant) in the recent past would be lost.

So on the one hand I’ve been reflecting on letting go of self-made images and reflections of a self identity, and on another hand I’ve been troubled about incoherency from another angle.

This has not been a pleasant phase. But it has been useful and, in its own way, intriguing. Then, as if to bring closure to this moment, I read the following paragraphs in Kim Stanley Robinson’s ‘Icehenge’ novel:

“Memory is the weak link. This year I will be three hundred and ten years old, but most of my life is lost to me, buried in the years. I might as well be a creature of incarnations, moving from life to life, ignorant of my own past. Oh, I “know” that once I climbed Olympus Mons, that once I visited the Earth, and so on; I can check the record like anyone else; but to recall none of the detail, to feel nothing for this knowledge, is not to have done it.

It isn’t as simple as that, I admit. Certain events, moments scattered here and there in my life, exist in my memory like artifacts in the layers of an excatavion: fragments of meaning on the debris of time, left in a pattern of deposition that I fail to understand. On occasion I will stumble on one of these artifacts – a trolley bell in the sreet, and i see an Alexandrian’s smile – a whiff of ammonia, and suddenly I am reacquainted with my first daughter’s birth – but the process of deposition, the process of recovery, both are mysteries to me. And each little epiphany reminds me that there are things I have forgotten forever – things that might explain me to myself, which explanation I sorely need – and I clutch at the fragment knowing I might never stumble across it again.

So I have decided to collect these artifacts, with the idea that I had better try to understand them now, while they are still within my reach – working as the archaeologists of old did so often, against rising waters in haste, while the chance yet exists: hurrying to invent a new archaeology of the self.

What we feel most, we remember best.”

Atoning for evil karma

“The river laughed. Yes, that was how it was. Everything that was not suffered to the end and finally concluded, recurred, and the same sorrows were undergone.”
Hermann Hesse, ‘Siddhartha’ (1922)

“It’s a long, long Way,
‘Cause I’ve been there before,
And I ain’t goin’ back there no more”
Seasick Steve, ‘Long Long Way’ (2011)

Atoning for past karma, in Buddhism, is for me at least a process of having to be awake to the grim process of the desires of old karma, while also being awake to what these desires result in, and being awake to a better way.

Old formulations are easy and automatic no matter how dysfunctional they are. Wanting to live in anxiety of the presumed expectations of others (‘never good enough’), in earnest of myself (‘is this right’), in low self-esteem (‘of course not good enough’), in expecting punishment for the sake of punishment (‘hell is where I belong’). These are all automatic patterns. But they are all also harmful, and dysfunctional.

There is no other way to a better way, than to go through this process of change. And ‘going through it’ is the same thing as atoning. Having distance from the old dysfunctional patterns, recognising them when they arise, being aware of a different response, learning to take that new response.

I misunderstood ‘to atone’ before because that is a word used in Christianity; often to mean saying sorry to God. Truly atoning is not saying sorry to anybody or anything, but simply committing to the process of change from negative karma. Saying sorry makes no difference at all, whether it is to God, or to an ant!

Buddha confirms that attaining Enlightenment is a very difficult thing to achieve. Persistence is required, and it is easy to lose nerve. He is also very clear. When we lose nerve and go back to the automatic and comfortable ways, they do not stay comfortable. So it is that we trap ourselves in a karmic cycle. Ever repeating itself because we are afraid to move on.

There is much less pain, and much more freedom, to be had with just a little persistance. Not persistance at doing ‘right’, but persistance through the grim challenge of re-living our own karmic causes and effects whilst also being awake to them and realizing a different manner altogether.

But I’ve read many people say this, and not understood it until now. Only now is this a lived reality. And that’s the funny thing about the Way.

Just so many words on a blog. There’s a sunset outside, and small birds are singing.

Bigger than you

The conditioned part of my self – the part that broke – cannot be resurrectd; it died. And with it died my old wants, needs, desires, hopes, fears. But however newly conditioned I become, the broken part is still htere wanting to draw a bridge between life and death; pulling me into desire and suicidal thought patterns.

I can’t afford to cross that bridge if I want to stay alive.

Staying alive requires letting the broken parts stay broken.

It would be too much to bear were it not for the fact that it’s the ddivine life energy drawing me on like an animated corpse into the land of the resurrected. Like Lazarus with bandages and skin intertwined.

To continue transforming myself and the world I have to continue to trust the process that is bigger than my self. The process wich is life – the consciousness of the cosmos – is the driving force of vitality and joy. I cant manufacture the conditions I seek. Trying to do this only brings pain and suffering to others and to me.

Let go, and trust the process already begun.

Paradoxical wholeness

It turns out wholeness is a paradox; one that others have written about. On the one hand I have the tools and skills I’ve developed for myself through recognised psychology procedures. Tools to enable the residual developments of my healthy ego that were lacking in my upbringing.

Here, it is my skills and abilities for dealing with the world that are under scrutiny. Noy my ego in the sense of self-identity, although new identifications and attachments do emerge all the time as part of this work.

On the other hand, the task of spiritual wondering is to overcome and transcend the ego; the self with attachments and conditioning. So on the one hand I am doing work to improve the conditioning or conditions of my ego (my, if you like, programmed patterns for dealing with reality) – and on the other hand I am doing work to transcend identification with that ‘new self’ or emerging self and instead recognise self as both that emerging self and also my psychological and physical components that are unchanging, and also my unbounded spiritual self that is beyond definition and overflowing with possibility and potential.

Others have also already said that this appears to be, but is not, a paradox. It is the ego’s need to identify or attach to regular patterns of the conditioned self that gets in the way of spiritual growth; not the patterns of the conditioned self, in and of themselves.

The spiritual growth feeds into the psychological growth and change; it is the increased awareness that sheds light on which conditioned patterns need to change. I’d even say that it is the increased awareness that allows space for that transformation to take place in effect. A sense of greater calm and peace from which better responses always flow.

And the psychological growth feeds into the spiritual growth too; without it I would not be functioning so well, so would have less room and time for spiritual work.

Nobody can become Nirvanic overnight. Moments of ‘Om’ are moments until they are not moments any more. Until then, the conditioned self benefits from work in these two ways.

Enlightenment is not a bubble

My Aunt visits me regularly. We like to go out for coffees and lunches sometimes. It was she who introduced me to Eckhart Tolle, and it was Eckhart Tolle’s writings which led me to a ‘sudden awakening’. I am indebted to her; she is a skillful bodhisattva!

My Aunt thinks that enlightenment is like a bubble. If you have found this enlightenment bubble, then it does not matter what happens to you each day; you could have a bad run-in with a boss, a disagreement with a family member, someone could light your fuse, but you would remember your bubble and you would remove yourself from your immediate wish to feel all of those strong emotions. Instead you would replace them with calm, serenity, critical distance, and some compassion for yourself and for the other.

At least, I think this is how her bubble works; I am only guessing that this is what she means. However, I am cautious to regard enlightenment as a bubble. To be enlightened is to go deeper into our centres of pain – the relationships and the places that give us pain and suffering and grief – fully and deeply into them, so that we can understand all that there is to be understood about that pain and suffering, and from there we can start to release the energy of that suffering around that relationship or area and start to think more positively about it. This is the only way to be released from the perpetual cycles of suffering we are in; the network of suffering that is the human condition.

Considering that enlightenment is a bubble invites me to pretend that there is no pain or suffering. This is true; suffering is an illusion. But this is also not true; I cannot know for myself that I have foregone all suffering until I have gone into each area of my suffering fully and snuffed it out. Pretending that there is no suffering when I have not gone into the suffering and out the other side, in every area of my life, is not enlightenment. It is an emulation of nirvana, but it is not nirvana. It is looking for a shortcut that does not exist!

Enlightenment is more like a burning fire consuming all illusion until there is no illusion left. When all illusion is gone, there is just a calm glow radiating warmth and light. Which is best? A fire? Or a bubble? A bubble will feel nice today, but tomorrow when it pops the floodgates of pain and suffering will be open again. A fire will feel difficult to handle today, but tomorrow there will be less pain and suffering than there was today.

Racket body pain

In psychology (Transactional Analysis), there is a concept called ‘racket feelings’ or ‘racket thoughts’. The idea goes that certain situations in life will invite us to recollect (and relive) feelings and thoughts from the past. In other words, we are invited to racket-ball all the way back to something that happened, say, twenty years ago, just because something that is happening right now has enough signals in it to remind us of that past feeling or thought. (This is a very rough description, and nothing beats reading a few book chapters on the subject. ‘Racket moments’ rely on another concept, called ‘scripting’, which I won’t go into here.)

As I’ve been going deeper into recovery, and getting used to avoiding more and more ‘racket thoughts’ when they surface, I have made what I think could be a new discovery. Racket moments do not just extend to thoughts and emotions. They extend to physical conditions, too.

Here are some of my racket body pains:

– Hunched shoulders deriving from early teens when growing bigger felt awkward

– One shoulder usually higher than the other deriving from a paper round I used to do

– Bad posture derived from low self-esteem

I have also learnt through meditation and mindfulness that:

– Mindfulness can assist me to let go of these old body pains

– There is nothing that is broken that can not be healed over time.

Enlightened does mean free to experience life

For much of my adult life so far, I realise, I have not been present in it. Now that I have had my ‘sudden awakening’, my moment of zen, I can see this.

It’s like I was always caught up in a mental story. Most of it was about worrying about the future; so much so that I would often miss out on experiencing what was going on around me. Even miss out on conversations. Present in the room, but not present mentally within myself or with others.

I have read enough to understand that this behaviour is extremely common, and would suggest that it can be more common in those who have experienced a lot of stress or hardship in life.

It would be easy to feel pain about this; as though I have been deprived of experiencing life. Cheated. But feeling pain about it is exactly the sort of absent-minded activity that caused the absence in the first place; it does not help me to stay present today, in the moment. Therefore, I choose not to feel pain about it.

Today I have learned that what Buddhists call ‘dependent arising’, or ‘attachment to the samsaric world’ of things, possessions, relationships, is a liberating thing to be free from.

For a while I have been scared that to remove myself from any attachment to experience in the samsaric world is a cloaked form of the same old absence from experiencing life. I have been afraid of non-attachment, feeling as though it is some kind of religious instruction denying me yet again from living my life. It seemed to threaten me with another form of experiential denial, just like my mental stories did before.

But I have learned that it is not a negative thing at all. Not a religious instruction, but a suggestion of something that might help tremendously and wonderfully. It is a beautiful thing. It is the perfect way to be. It harnesses the potential for, ultimately, an egoless sense of immortality. And… it requires presence.

Experiencing what is happening right now, and responding skillfully to that, is non-attachment. Being properly and fully present – genuinely here fully in the moment – it is not possible to attach to things. Dependent arising becomes impossible. Attachment or dependent arising require a mental story. They require time – a past and a future. A mental sense of time does not exist when you are present in now.

Non-attachment is not another form of mental absence, or denying myself to really feel experiences and enjoy myself. (Permission to enjoy myself please…) It is the very way to go deeper into life, and into now.

Or putting it back the other way; presence in the now results in non-attachment at the same time as liberating me to experience what is going on right now in life.

This is hard, and also very easy at the same time. It is hard to stay present. It takes practice and a lifetime. But it is also a lot simpler and easier than ‘trying’ to detach myself religiously from everything. ‘Trying’ is another mental game. Another version of mental absence. Trying so hard to be enlightened that I am missing enlightenment.

And so another block on the path has been removed.

Pain body choices

Each day presents a new challenge. As I recover from a long period of poor health, features of my character and habits bubble back to the surface. However, ‘recovered’ to me does not mean ‘just the same as before’. To make that equation would be to miss the great opportunity this has been to grow as a person.

So each day, and in increasing depth due to meditation practice, I am reminded of old behaviours that do not rest comfortably with who I am now, today. The strongest of these at the moment is attention seeking through stroke deprivation.

In psychology there is this concept of a ‘stroke’. We are socialised into what is a standard quotient of strokes for us as individuals when we grow up. There are positive and negative strokes. Positive strokes have a greater effect. But a stroke is a stroke at the end of the day.

If deprived of strokes, it is quite common to go on an emotional rampage and look for strokes – either positive or negative, it doesn’t matter – from others.

I am stroke deprived at the moment. My partner suffers from SAD and is emotionally absent. And in addition I am taking some intentional time away from some family members, thus depriving myself of strokes there. Strong emotions have been surfacing as a result. Attention seeking ones. ‘Why doesn’t anyone want to do what I want to do’. ‘Why won’t you spend time with me’. And even actions: getting up ridiculously early this morning with the intention of going in to work three hours early just to show the household that I am not getting the attention that I want.

Tolle coins a useful phrase: the ‘pain body‘. The body of pain which has a sense of time about it – mostly stuck in the past – and which we all carry around with us to a greater or larger extent, into the present moment and present day.

We can choose to feed this pain body, which needs more and more negativity from others in order to ‘feel alive’, or we can choose to starve it, coming back into ourselves, weakening its hold on us, and leading us to realise that our pain bodies are not who we are: they are simply a body of negative emotions possessing and controlling us.

So this morning, instead of stomping out of the house early to show that all is not well, to show that I am hurting and not getting what I want, I have had 20 minutes of tranquillity meditation, and a blog entry to write.

Apparently, each time we starve these emotions, their grip on us weakens. This is important for me. My pain body includes suicidal tendencies. I am faced with a choice, and the choice is a stark one. I can either keep giving in to the pain, letting it control me, going back to the dark places of the soul. Or I can slay my demons, cast out the pain, and each day get closer to a greater, wholesome, more fulfilling existence.

My pain body invites me to think that there is little point in living sometimes. ‘What’s the use’. Before there can be any other point to it, there first has to be simply the point of starving the pain out, the pain which leads me to think that way.

Life is a precious gift. In the Buddhist sense, to have incarnated as a sentient human being is a very rare gift. Who knows when or if it may come around again. There is only one opportunity to reach Nirvana; grab it while you can.

The only thing coming in the way of perfection is ignorance

If we believe that physical reality, this world, and our bodies and desires, are fallen or bad, then we want to keep escaping the world and escaping our desires and bodies.

This is pain and illusion. It is not possible to do either. It is also the wrong direction to take. Rather than leading us closer to heaven, it leads to hell. Heaven is knowing that all of nature, and our own nature, is always already perfect. The only thing coming in the way of experiencing this perfection is ignorance of this fact.

There is no healing process

There is no such thing as a healing ‘process’.

There is whole, or not whole.

When I am calm, centred, and have that natural sense of deep inner peace and stillness that every being can feel, that is wholeness. All of my pain, all of my problems, are vanished. There is no further to go. No retreat, no course, no therapy program could take me to this point of wholeness any better.

This does not mean that to have found some kind of spiritual experiential awakening means to have become a whole person. There might not be a healing process, but there is a process of integration.

Integrating that awesome peace into every area of life and every relationship is a craft that I have only just started on.

Why does the distinction matter? Surely there is not much in it. Healing process / integration process. Same thing?

Not the same. I have been to too many religious retreats and programs where the implication is that healing or personal wholeness from all previous damage is just one more step away – always just over the horizon.

If you look at it like a healing process, you may never know what healing feels like. All that it invites is for you to feel more and more sorrow for yourself.

Better to experience being a whole person first-hand – even if only for a few moments each day – and allow that light, joy, energy in through the window of your body and your mind, relationships, and all aspects of life, a little more each day.

This is upside-down to the way the world thinks. It is not in the interests of people who run churches or healing programs to teach that wholeness is already there, ready and waiting, for you to discover; that it starts with stopping processing; that our life journeys start best with discovering that we are divine amazing creatures already, and end with integrating that discovery into who we are and how we live. That is too much like being a graduate before you have studied the course. So how will the teacher get his pay?

A greedy teacher may be preventing you from discovering the truth for yourself.