Posted on

There is a field I’ll meet you there

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
There is a field.
I’ll meet you there” (Rumi)

As the world contemplates yet more conflict in the supposed cause of wrongdoing and rightdoing, the poem by the Islamic mystic Sufi Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī serves as a useful reminder across the centuries and cultures of what is universal to us all – if we pause and reflect. There is indeed a field, which we each find in our own way.

In the ruler and warrior traditions as usually conceived perceptions of wrongdoing are usually followed by knee-jerk responses of counter-action. These counter-actions, often intended to punish or deter have very often been followed by escalation of conflict and thus results well beyond what the originators intended. However, we don’t pause and reflect on what we’re doing, so caught up as we are as humans, in the world of ego, in the sense of “rightness”. Only later do humans tend to reflect and wonder on the utility of what they do, often too late.

Hence the very act of pausing has great, universal value. It can open the portal to a higher truth, beyond perceptions of right and wrong, and beyond different ideologies and belief systems.

Taking a pause in the onward flow of thoughts, wonderings, ideas and action is an opportunity to become aware, be present, be mindful, notice what’s going on, take stock, review options, develop new strategies, become resolved. Our glass might need regular replenishment and it’s good to stop and allow it to be refilled from the abundant river of the universe.

In meditation, practitioners may often become aware of the gap between the inflow and the outflow of the breath, and the outflow and the inflow too, and allow their awareness to be present there. In the flow of conversation there are pause points, as people take breath, collect their thoughts, and reflect on what’s being said. People may have pauses between jobs when they need to think about the way forward and re-gain new energy. We go on holiday to “have a break” and allow ourselves to get a re-charge or whatever.

In the pause can be silence and stillness and it can also be pregnant with new possibility. The skill is to be unattached to what may emerge – and even to whether anything may emerge! The creative space needs that opening, the right brain to be freed of the logic, rationality and judgement of the left. Habitual learning is to cut that off, as part of the survival and coping process of everyday life, but it doesn’t serve us for long. In the silence of the pause there is infinite possibility. Many options lie there, more than we consciously know. NLP has it than we can only hold plus or minus 7 such pieces. So think what else is floating around!

Caught up in ego, we get attached to a particular option and lose the ability to take the broader view and access other ways of acting, including not acting at all. In the present situation in the Middle East we here in the west seem to have lost that ability to hold a higher state and be the witness.

Being the witness, connected to your own deeper truth, helps give you the ability to be present with What Is, to choose not to engage, and to allow things to be – and maybe in the process resolve themselves as they need to. While caught up in being “right”, in positions, in beliefs and in culturally-inherited attitudes, we lose that ability and descend into child-like conflict, where nobody really “wins”.

Posted on

Finding common ground in relationships

Very often in conflict in relationships, we are very focused on getting our own way, insisting we are right and making the other wrong. Such a pattern tends to be destructive of the relationship, and of relationships with other people in general. It was refreshing for me this last weekend to hear again about Non-Violent Communication and that the ideas and practice are still very much alive. While the context was between men, I was reminded of how the practice is also of value in relationships in general as a way of moving away from conflict and towards a mutual meeting of needs.

Put in simple terms, Non-Niolent Communication (NVC) is a process between two people by which each get to express themselves authentically to one another, to listen with deep compassion to one another, for each to be compassionately aware of one’s own process, including taking ownership of projections one might make on to the other party, and the mutual satisfaction of needs. More conventionally this general approach is often referred to as “Win-Win communication”.

Very often people can be so invested in conflict, and in the emotions that are aroused, that they are unable to step back and see what is going on. It is a very good example of how we get caught up in our stuff. Yet, behind the retaliation and the blows, actual or figurative, there are often deep hurts. Our own buttons get pushed and conflict can often be the playing out of our own old wounds and old patterns. It can literally be a “re-enactment” of old stories. Thus it is very powerful to step back and instead become aware of our own process, how we are hurting and what that is about, and express that in ownership and without blame, which not easy to do and takes practice and learning.  Thus we learn to not “dump” our stuff on others. Instead we learn to listen empathically to others and hear where they are coming from and really “get” their perspective. In this mutual self-expression can lie the germs of resolution.

Thus it is very powerful when a warring couple get to hear each other’s needs and perspectives. Very often this process opens the heart and people feel more connected, more compassionate and more willing to find common ground.

At times this work really “works”, at others it can seem very theoretical, and at others people are unwilling to let go and be so self-exploratory and willing to meet each other in what can feel like “no-mans land”.

It can take great humility and the letting go of ego to engage in this practice. However, if you are in some kind of conflict with your partner, friend, relative or other this weekend, see if you can work with the other to adopt a new tactic, one that takes you into more open ground where you can both meet each other, beyond conflict.

After all, at the spiritual level we are all really One anyway. There’s no “other” to be in conflict with!

Posted on

Healing after a relationship breakdown

A characteristic of a relationship breakdown, be it personal or at work, is the way each party blames the other. Somehow what has occured is the other person’s fault and they themselves feel innocent and a victim. To the outsider it can be hard to see that anybody is “right”. The atmosphere can be inflamed with emotion and people will be very tense and stressed. The participants will be very polarised and it seems impossible to find common ground and a compromise that will enable the relationship to continue. The divorce courts are full of aggrieved litigants in a conflict where it is very debateable that there is ever real victor or justice. The conflict can then roll on over the years that follow if the parties are obliged to interact, for example former couples over children and money.

In these situations, it can be very hard to take a detached view and see what’s really going on. People can get sucked into a relationship breakdown and end up taking sides. Thus truth goes out of the window. What one can be left with is conflicting versions of what went on. If people try to stay out of it, they can seem heartless and uncaring by one or the other, who might feel unsupported, abandoned and let down.

What can take real effort, but can ultimately be rewarding, is when one party finds it in them, maybe at some point much further down the line, to let go of the drama and start to become aware of their own process and how they contributed to what occured. Then healing, arguably, can take place. Then there can be forgiveness, in a sense that isn’t always clear to people, in that one gives up the right to punish and truly lets go of all resentment.

Until then, one can continue to be caught up in the drama, invested in one’s own version of events and in a blame/victim stance. The world is full of versions of this drama, from states downwards. To step outside this drama, and look honestly at one’s own part, can mean facing unpleasant truths about oneself, how one has contributed and how one helped bring it to crisis. It takes two for these things to occur, even the apparent victim can, perhaps outside of awareness, got some part to play. Looking honestly at what happened is not about re-apportioning blame. It is about being aware and acknowledging what occured. This can including exploring one’s own shadow that was projected on to the other party and re-ingegrating the shadow into the aware self. This is a powerful healing process, and can include a letting go of lots of pent-up emotion and investment in a position held. Yet, perhaps only then can we really release ourselves from this aspect of our past.

Posted on

Are we lacking a one world perspective on age?

A sad feature of the current economic malaise is to find perceived causes or even scapegoats for the problem among different sectors in our society. One example has been to blame it on immigration, as the European far right are doing right now. Another such tendency is to make it an age-related issue.

I was struck today by an article arguing that a solution to the large size of youth unemployment was for the over-50’s to resign en masse. Lucy Kellaway was suggesting that the over-50’s would be more able to create other work than those who lacked any work experience. She was also saying she wouldn’t be resigning herself.

Recently the Intergenerational Foundation has been arguing that one solution to the difficulties faced by young people in getting on the housing ladder in the UK was in persuading older people in large houses with under-utilised space to downsize.

Both in their way are pointing to the challenges being posed in so-called “advanced” countries of having an ageing population. We can see the issue too in the problems of care for the very old, whose numbers are rapidly increasing, and too in the squeeze on pensions and the problems people are increasingly facing in funding their retirements to come. As with other such issues of change, it is very much a matter of the choices we adopt to manage these changes. I guess what concerns me here is the tendency to go for simplistic solutions to complex problems that concern us all and which in a democratic society need to be agreed upon by all.

For example we can also argue that the housing crisis is partly due to a long-term failure to provide sufficient housing stock in a very overpopulated island, a preoccupation with the owner-occupier ideal, the love of the detached house and garden and a dread of high-rise housing blocks. We could say we have been going through a very deep recession, in economic terms a depression, and that high unemployment tends to be par for the course. Then we could point to the failure to maintain an industrial base and to provide apprenticeships in sufficient number. And for decades we have continued to fail to get to grips with the integration of school leavers into working life, with an education system dominated by the academic university ideal and no thought-through process of preparing young people for work that would offer usable skills to employers. We have simply ducked this issue totally.

Then again in recent recessions there are usually two sets of people who typically get hit, the under-25’s and the over-50’s. This recession is no different. Both struggle to get work.

Of course older people could get defensive about the issue and say they’ve paid their dues in taxes and work, they’ve earned what they have, they’ve already being supporting their own children through, for example, higher tertiary education costs and are still housing them at home, etc. This sort of stuff would of course be more of the same, also adversarial. And a mask for a deeper discomfort, which some are reporting. After all, the duty of the young is to receive and the older to give. There’s a natural reciprocity, instinctual even.

Other countries might look askance at this debate, for example in countries where family cohesion is much stronger and the concept of respect for older people much more deeply ingrained, and where family wealth might be much more jealously guarded and handed on. Perhaps in the UK we are now paying the price for the disintegration of family of the last few decades.

This is a complex issue and it needs a cross-spectrum approach to deal with it. However, the pattern of recessions is to divide people and this is reflected in political crises, unstable governments and radicalisation. Thus it becomes all the more important to rise above the petty, adversarial squabbles that are occurring and look for statesman-like solutions that are supported across the political and social spectrum. There is always a basic fund of goodwill that gets eclipsed in an adversarial situation but can emerge if fostered. After all, let us not forget that at essence, we are all One and this is One world. What we do to others we do to ourselves.

Posted on

In longing for inner peace don’t neglect its polar opposite

The longing for peace is as ancient as you can get: it’s called “Shantih” in Sanskrit and part of the practice of yoga was, and is, to focus on inner awareness in order to open up the pathways to the peace of the Self (Atman).

I wrote in an earlier posting about meditating on the mantra Om Shantih.

It’s interesting therefore that our current perceived reality is often very much the reverse, busy lives, busy minds, busy environment, conflict, aggravation. It’s a polar opposite. In this way, as in other ways, we humans experience duality, in this case between the desired objective and current perceived reality. In fact it may seem that the more you focus on what you want, you actually get the opposite, if not in your own life then in the lives of those around you.

It’s a very contemporary issue. The marketing people say that what people want now is peace and calm after the turbulence of the past couple of years and thus for example are furnishing their houses to create peaceful-seeming environments. The trouble is, what you resist, you get. The more you try to move away from something, the bigger it gets. So we need to transcend it. Hence the value of looking at what the turbulent bit is about, what it means, what it represents, why we are creating it.

So, if you want peace in your life, do by all means look at developing the experience of peace, but do not neglect its polar opposite. This feels like a paradox and it is. How on earth, you might think, do I get inner peace by looking at all this negative stuff?! Firstly, by being aware of what we are creating, and how we create it, we can grow our self-awareness, manage our minds, more effectively let go and connect. Letting go is important. However, secondly, and I’m being more subtle here, by embracing what you resist you transcend it. The point here is that the world of opposites is an illusion. All is really one. So, if for example I am afraid, and I am really hooked on that, right there in my fear is my salvation.

I have written in my book, “Connecting to Inner Peace”, how by focusing on the feeling of something, and letting go of the thoughts, you can dissolve fear. It’s by facing it, that’s the point. It’s by facing fear that we release ourselves from its hold over us. While we resist it, it persists, and hangs around or keeps coming back.

That’s why I find meditation so useful. Take whatever is going on into your meditation and sit with it. Breathe deeply into the feeling, let go of thoughts, as one does in meditation, and allow things to be. Become the Witness of the experience. It is not who you are. Through the fear, love is shining. It is beckoning to you, like a long lost old friend. If you allow yourself to transcend fear, with the knowing that Reality is love, love will gently and gradually emerge. It is a letting go.

That’s where we meet inner peace. When we contact the love that is who we really are, we have the potential to cultivate an awareness that leads us to the “love that passeth all understanding” as the Bible says (Phillipians 4 :7), where there is often the sense of coming home, of feeling complete, of utter satisfaction, complete contentment, supreme bliss (Ananada).

Thus it is vital, as my guru Swami Chidvilasananda said, “for a seeker of the Truth, a seeker of peace, to cleanse his or her heart. Not just once, not just from time to time or whenever you happen to think of it. The heart must be purified continually. it is a constant sadhana.”

That is why we do self-enquiry and personal development.

Posted on

Allow yourself to meditate on love

Reading the news today, and the usual catalogue of disagreements, upsets and conflicts as presented by our media, I was reminded of an excellent book by James Twyman, Emissary of Light, which describes the author’s visit during the Bosnian conflict to a group of people who devoted years during the conflict to meditating together right in the midst of the conflict in the cause of peace.

Every day, this group would meditate for most of the day and they would send out light to the world. James describes how on one occasion, a large group of soldiers were advancing and came right up to where they were and then passed them by without seeing them. They had made themselves as if invisible.

A lot of their work was about transcending fear, since conflict originated from fear. He describes how at one point he was instructed by the leader, referred to as “Teacher”, of the principle that “as you release fear through surrender and trust, incredible waves of light will wash over you. You’ll begin to feel joy and peace greater than you even knew existed,” and “You in your essence are the fountain of unconditional love…let it flow from you and wash over all those you see.”

This reminded me too of the passage in A Course in Miracles about love and fear. “God“, it says, “is not the author of fear. You are.” It goes on to say that “Nothing real can be threatened. Nothing unreal exists. Herein lies the peace of God.” It is love that is real. All else is an illusion. “The opposite of love is fear, but what is all-encompassing can have no opposite.”

When we get caught in our stuff, or we read about others doing the same, whether on an individual, group, or national basis, this is always worth remembering. “All there is, is love.” It is so easy to forget, such is the power of ego. We can forget these words in minutes, which is the testimony to our disconnection, and thus replicate the same dilemma.

Thus, spending time meditating on love is a powerful practice, not just for ourselves but for everybody. Unconditionally.

Posted on

Finding our own peace in the midst of conflict

Yesterday on New Year’s Eve we went to the church in the “lost” village of Imber on Salisbury Plain for a peace vigil. Most people probably know nothing about this place, which was taken over by the military in preparations for the D-Day invasion of Europe of 1944 and held by them ever since. The inhabitants were ejected in the cause of the greater good, never to return, except on occasions when the MOD open up the access roads for a few days.

The place in midwinter seems forlorn, showing little sign left of the once-active farming community’s houses but instead blockhouses used for combat training in built-up areas. Only the church is preserved, and beautifully so too. It had a barbed wire fence round it, and I wasn’t sure if that was there to keep the troops out. I was struck how somehow this place was still there while all about the military no doubt unleashed hellfire and whatever, somehow a fitting symbol of the cause of peace in the midst of war. It was almost a symbol for life as a whole too, a place of calm within a potentially turbulent environment, like the utter calm of our inner Selves when the ego is externally seemingly in full control.

There were small groups of visitors quietly walking around, or standing to read the displays showing the history of the place, or sipping the tea on offer. We made a small circle, lit candles and took it in turns to reads poems about peace, and just be present there.

It seemed fitting somehow to be marking the calendar change by holding a peace vigil. It also seemed good to go to a place associated with war to do that. At times like this it’s good to reflect for a moment on the fundamentals of life, one of which is our propensity for war and conflict. While we think it good to protest against it happening, it’s also worth remembering that it does happen and that we do need our military to help us when we’re so involved. However, it is at times like these that we can perhaps also think of what is preferable, and of the ultimate futility of war.

What occurs “out there” is a reflection of what occurs within, and when we each think about war it is worth thinking of our own propensity to conflict, our own resentments and anger, which we might direct at others but might also direct at ourselves. Christmas time is one such occasion when these boil over, and when we can be most acutely aware of our own inner wars. It is these inner conflicts that we humans need to take responsibility for and address. Then we can really know peace.


Posted on

When people fall out they lose contact with the bigger picture

When people are having a row, positions are usually entrenched, they aren’t listening to each other and they are more concerned with being “right” and in having their own way than in what be possible for both or all of them. In such situations, people are emotionally caught up. Their ego buttons have been pushed and they are in “fight” mode.

To take a step back and look at the bigger picture seems impossible. The emotions stirred by the conflict can quickly overwhelm any attempt to do that. Yet the ability to take a step back and see the bigger picture is what awareness is all about. And it means including yourself in what you are looking at.

Becoming aware can occur at any moment. However a very good opportunity for it is paradoxically in a crisis, when you’d expect the opposite, more conflict.

You might be busily embroiled in the row, but a part of you has woken up. You might still feel caught up in it all. But somewhere inside something is happening. Part of you starts to notice what’s going on. That’s the breakthrough, and if you’re trained in awareness you can then work to get into witness mode and potentially interrupt the pattern. The more training you’ve done in this, and the more you’ve practised it so that it is more embedded within you, the more you can exercise awareness to rise above the conflict. And if you know the skills that go with it, like managing the mind and letting go, the more quickly you can connect with the still part within, and no longer be part of the conflict.

You then have more options about how to behave.

The other party or parties also then have more options, because the energy has gone out of the conflict, the racket in TA terms has halted.

But you’ll need to know about awareness to do this. We teach this in our major upcoming programs, the Power of Awareness and The Point of Awareness starting on 26 February 2012.

Posted on

The more it snows, the more it goes

“The more it snows…the more it goes…on snowing” hummed Winnie-the-Pooh. Some things just carry on, like arguments between people about rights and “being right”. Which can be dangerous when each “side” is armed to the teeth.

In our big freeze one source of heat generation has been the matter of human rights and state rights, or perhaps different perceptions of rights. On the one hand we have an outcry here for press freedom as the founder of Wikileaks is under attack for publishing leaked documents from US diplomatic cables, while in the democratic US people call for his blood. One the other hand we have China putting pressure on various countries not to attend the Oslo presentation, to an empty chair, of the Nobel Peace Prize for the imprisoned Chinese human rights dissident Liu Xiaobo.

Indeed people can resort to violence over such differences. A way of resolving such differences can be for one group to inflict violence upon another group, in the cause of “being right”.

Who is right? In a democracy, different perceptions of what is right will compete with each other. And we’ll shake our heads in disapproval at one another’s behaviour. States do the same. One person’s terrorist will be another person’s freedom fighter.

No wonder God observed in Neale Donald Walsch’s “Conversations with God” that us humans have in developmental terms barely made it out of the kindergarten.

Now you might find yourself passionately embroiled in one cause or another. It might be the cause of human rights. Then it might be whether knife carriers be imprisoned. Or whether you have the sole right to determine what goes in your wheelie bin unmonitored by some surveillance system operating under a law designed to deal with terrorists.

As we approach the festive season, it is worth pausing and stepping back from whatever dispute is going on. It can be rather like observing two people having an argument and not taking sides. You aren’t sure who is “right”. Since people claim this season to be one to celebrate peace, and some send each other Christmas cards with doves on to remember that, it might be worth reflecting on where peace lies when humans find so much to disagree about – potentially at huge cost to all humans.

As the world goes through periodic tension, and as individuals conflict with one another, to step aside from conflict and arguments about “being right” can seem hard to do.

Yet, from the perspective of the Witness, this is more ego. Making each other “wrong” is what the ego does. We have a need for example to feel OK, to “keep face”, to preserve our perceived dignity, to maintain our conception of the good life, and thus miss the essence of all humans, which is not about who is right but where there is no distinction, where there is no enmity, where there is no threat, where each gives and receives total respect, where each is of service to the other, where love is All there Is.

This is a very good time to connect with our essence and remember That. When we are so connected, these distinctions no longer matter, and we feel at One with our fellow humans. Then such distinctions appear meaningless and of no consequence in the higher order of things.

Thus the point here of developing awareness is to be able to take the higher view in disputes between people. We need to do this more than ever. Our survival depends on it.

Posted on

War and peace

We’re now at a time of year when in the UK and in a number of other countries affected by the First World War people remember their war dead. Traditionally people have often stood in silence for two minutes at 11.00am on 11th November, the time when the Armistice agreed that the guns would fall silent in 1918.

It might seem like a patriotic occasion until one recalls that when these ceremonies first started there were many who thought this had been the “War to end all wars”, that with the setting up of the League of Nations and a new international spirit, and with the huge loss of life, this would never happen again. However, it did, 21 years later.

So, one might acknowledge this occasion for a variety of reasons, perhaps loyalty to fallen comrades, or at least forebears, to those who have died in recent conflicts, as a national ritual, or as a thought about the ultimate futility of all conflict.

After all, much conflict has unintended consequences and the victor, if there is any, rarely sees a long-term benefit.

Thus there are those who see this occasion as a time to think about peace.

Thus, to stand (or sit) in silence can also be a time to focus on the state of peace as experienced in silence, not just as an intellectual understanding, or as a wish, but as a direct experience. Thus, those who aspire to see true peace in the world, can embody that desire by being it. As Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Inner peace, world peace.

After all, the conflict that goes on “out there” is at some level a projection of what goes on “in here” inside each of us, our own war and peace. Where we see conflict out there, it is worth attending to any owned or disowned conflict within oneself. Where we see one being aggressive with another, where is there a disowned aggression inside us? That too needs healing.

Silence can have all sorts of connotations for people. There can be good silence and there can be less good silence. Thus intention is important. It would be good to reflect on one’s intention behind the testimony of silence. One could do it for a variety of reasons. Mine would be to connect with inner peace, the “Peace that passes all understanding,” deep peace, profound peace, as much as I am able to in the moment, as an experience for its own sake, as one way to be with the Ultimate.

Will you stand (or sit) in silence? What will you intention be? What would you wish for?

PS. If you want to read more in-depth articles on personal development, you could subscribe to my newsletter, which contains much longer articles and is sent free to you each month or so. Click here to sign up.