Can you have engaged awareness in a world seemingly going crazy?

Is there a contradiction between being socially or politically engaged and personal growth and spirituality? Many traditions point to the evil of humankind’s ways and how we need to turn to “the truth”. Many encourage people to step aside from everyday life in order to do this. Can we have “engaged awareness”?

Laparade view over the Lot valley
Laparade view over the Lot valley

Yesterday my wife and I were on our terrace enjoying the view over the Lot valley in the evening sun, sipping an apéritif, absorbed in a discussion about the state of the world, and suddenly we became aware that we had hardly given the beauty of the view a real look. Our minds were elsewhere. A deep breath was needed!

Mindfulness teaches that such points of awareness are important, to pause, notice, breathe and be present with what is, to notice what our mind is doing, but not be “caught up” in the drama so that we lose our awareness of the bigger picture.

How might such awareness help the engaged?

Awareness and our demons

I would suggest that the distinction commonly made between “everyday life” and spirituality is a false one. Life is what happens every moment of every day, wherever you are and whatever you are doing.

We often refer to the “spiritual bypass”, how people get into some form of personal and spiritual development, adopt some belief system, or go to the mountain top, and can seem very deep and earnest in what they are doing or being. Yet, down inside, there’s a whole lot else going on. They might, for example, be angry people doing a great pretending they aren’t and are being very peaceful and at one. Until something pushes their deeper buttons and out comes some torrent of rage. The deeper unresolved stuff is still there, but denied. I think we’re seeing this right now in the world, big time!

Personal growth can often be the “journey” to identify and resolve these inner tensions, so that they no longer mess up one’s life. Awareness can be to know these different parts of ourselves and accept them. The more we know and learn to let go of them and return to a steady state, the more we acquire some degree of mastery. Being who we are is being who we are, warts and all.

Beware of the false heaven

There are those who make much of the serene heights of “enlightenment” as something only some people “attain” and others have to work at and have lots of these demons to deal with. Somehow only some are deemed worthy enough, have accumulated sufficient merit. It can be a version of the “elect”, those that somehow have it – but oh, no, you! You’ve got work to do! Humans like to make distinctions, to compare, and to put each other down, consciously or unconsciously, and there’s always some people who are deemed better than others.

Except they aren’t really: it’s another ego game, when we’re really all one anyway. Bit silly really!

So some will teach of a rarified heaven, but you’ve got to build up lots of credit to get there, and only certain people have the key. I’d like to say we all have the key. It’s whether we use it.

The world is what we make of it

Thus the world we live in can be presented in a bad way, and if you’re working in it, big trouble. “There’s so much evil!” This is very current at the moment, where there’s a lot of conflict and division. Countries are increasingly at odds with one another. Within countries, there’s an increasing sense, or so it seems, of conflict between different groups. In the West we have the rise of populism and “identity politics”. “Where you are from” seems a big issue. People are hateful towards people of a different ethnicity, or sexual orientation, or religion, or whatever. In Britain there’s a big urge to pull up the drawbridge and pull away from our European neighbours. It’s about “us versus them”. So much anger and hate.

How does the aware person live with this? Even more, from my personal perspective, be engaged in seeking to combat this loss of respect for one another, this separateness, disunity, hate and division.

Again my response is that to make a dichotomy between the way the world is and our personal and spiritual goals, however we define the latter, is to make a false dichotomy.

Dealing with the enraged Brexiter is as much spiritual as it is being at one with the view of the River Lot in beautiful South-West France. “See God in each other”. The world is what we make of it. We are responsible. We have choice. And we can choose to hold to our deeper awareness and be engaged in the world

In fact, I would suggest that we can make a better contribution to others, to humankind and the world we live in, in crisis though it is at the moment, by being being present and aware and engaged.

It’s like to reach down inside to the love that’s really you, and then get out there and make a difference!

Healing conflict in ourselves and in the world is needed right now

These are undoubtedly very testing times for very many of us. Countries are beset by political conflict and division. People in the UK are about to be confronted by a very serious political crisis, but they are not alone. In other countries in Europe and America, there are also serious crises. So what does the concerned, consciously aware person do in such circumstances? Is there something that can be done around reducing or healing conflict?

You might feel yourself getting caught up in the conflict, taking sides, feeling angry about what is happening and indignant about certain actions. Or you might want to avoid it all, and try to pretend it isn’t happening, that is of course until perhaps the incoming tide washes at your shores too. I don’t find it easy myself, with all these feelings about Brexit. Yet, there are certain understandings and approaches that can be useful.

Being aware that you are caught up

Getting caught up is what the ego does. According to the understandings used in this blog, the ego is about survival and an identity construct is created to support that. “Who I think I am” is one who is, for example, fearful, and a defence against fear is to get angry. Often these are creations from childhood. As an example, you or I might be afraid of being left alone and abandoned, as a knee-jerk response from that time. So when it looks like there might be terrible upheaval and chaos, my fear might kick in, but masked as anger directed at some perceived “other”. But this is a false construct, my ego. It is not who I really am. I’m pure spirit and light and at essence love, part of the whole. My ego however fears separation from that essence of who I am and the fear of separation often lies at the core of ego.

What we are experiencing at the moment, in my view, is acute separation consciousness, manifesting as division from one another. Over Brexit, whole families and neighbourhoods are at odds with one another, very angry. New enmities are being created. Separation.

Use your awareness

The aware person at this point needs to pause, notice, step back and see, sense, feel, think. Enter your aware state and what we call witness consciousness. From that higher perspective, you need no longer be caught up in ego and separation. You can witness what is going on.

Others may not be doing this, of course, but that doesn’t mean they are not beings of light like you, even opponents. They just aren’t aware of it right now.

Letting go in this way, enables you firstly to release yourself from what’s going on. That doesn’t mean you won’t get caught up again, but you know who you really are, and you can come back to this state whenever you choose.

The key is to practice and to know that place more and more. Hold that inside. Meditate on it. That way it builds, and your confidence, your faith, will grow too.

Extend what you know to others as healing energy

Yet the aware person could do more than that, if he or she so chooses. Does not this world need healing right now? Could we not be standing, as the witness, for something higher than this conflict? People may not consciously listen, but it can help. People can pick up the subtlest of energetic shifts after all, at some level.

You might feel, for example, as I do, that now is the time to be really sending out healing, to be healing conflict.

There’s an excellent book by James Twyman called “Emissary of Light” that describes how a group of people came together in the midst of the Bosnian civil war to meditate and send out healing light. That was right in the middle of it, even when troops approached their building – and passed by not even seeing it!

These emissaries would sit everyday in a circle and meditate for 12 hours. Each would focus on sending energy to a person in the centre of the group who would then channel the energy out into the world. Every day while the conflict lasted. What service!

How to extend your energy – an activity

You could do this too, if you wanted to and were willing to commit to it, as a contribution to healing conflict. For example, you could sit and meditate, and while meditating, say in the last few minutes, do this:

Allow your awareness to focus on a happy memory. It might be a person, a place, a particular occasion or some other way of accessing inner joy. It might be your love, either for a person, animal or something else. Really be aware of that.

Now bring that joy or love to your heart centre or chakra. Very gently allow the energy to build in your heart centre. Really allow it to grow in your heart.

Then imagine there is a door in your heart that you can open to let out that energy to the world. So, when you are ready, just open that door and let out all that love and joy into the world and send it right out there to all beings who are suffering and in conflict. Do it without judgement and any feeling other than what is inside your heart centre. Send every last bit.

Then, when you have finished, bless the world in whichever way you might do that and then bring your meditation to a close.

You can access a download of this process as an mp3, for a limited time, here

What we wish for ourselves, we give to others

After all, don’t we also want healing, love and peace too? All we’re doing is giving to others what we also want for ourselves, healing conflict in ourselves. After all, we are all One.

Need and want can be very destructive ego strategies

Two of the most powerful self-limiting strategies must be that of need and want, especially when fuelled by a sense of lack, of “not enough”. After all they are thoughts that not only fuel much of our economics and politics at the macro level but also, at the micro level, for some it drives the need to meet every-day needs in order to survive, and for others to satisfy the seemingly insatiable hunger for more and more of the material trappings of life. It is so pervasive that we don’t think of questioning it, but instead we assume it to be part of us, who we are.

To get a sense of how destructive wanting can be, it can be useful to write down all things that you want. The fantasy of winning the lottery is one such example: can’t we all do that big time, filling our thoughts with the splurge of materialism? Also we might be imagining that we will also be happy, despite all the evidence that materialism doesn’t bring happiness. Then there’s the emotional lack that we can get into, wanting love, a relationship, to be valued and appreciated, that others care. Thus we can get into all that’s missing in our lives. Money usually comes up at some point, wanting more than you’ve currently got, there never being “enough”, always a sense of insufficiency.

Unfortunately the cycle of lack is such that satisfaction of need tends to set up another desire after a while and we go throughthe loop once again.

Desire is a trap for the seeker

No wonder masters tell us that desire is one of the most deadly and destructive forces to the spiritual seeker and to those interested in their self development. Wanting creeps up on us, subtly, unseen, despite maybe a successful bout of meditation, learning, insights and understandings. Most common is how people come back off their spiritual “high”, back down to earth, to the “realworld” as people put it, to their everyday needs, such as the need to earn money, only to be hit by that old devil called desire.

In the Bible, when a rich man asked Jesus what is needed for eternal life, he was enjoined to give all he has to the poor and follow him. But, we are told, the rich man was sad, because he had much wealth. The material will easily get in the way of our higher aspirations. It is so powerful. And this thought powers much of our current functioning, at all levels.

Being attached to desire, to unmet need and want, it is said, is the source of much of the world’s unhappiness.

You might check for yourself how much of your day is taken up with various aspects of want and need. Again, as with all self awareness, it is to catch yourself being caught up in it, being wrapped up in your ego. Then the real task is to let go of it, and to keep doing so each time it reoccurs.

Being in survival mode is ego

For our ego watch today we’ll take the whole survival mentality, since this is where people can so easily go when faced with economic challenge and hardship. It’s become really salient with climate change.

After all, it’s so easy, although that’s not how we’d like to see it! You read all sorts of scary headlines about the economy, share or stock prices, house prices, flooding, forest fires, or whatever, and the heart starts beating fast, you go cold, a terror gets a hold, and in a panic you start thinking of all sorts of cataclysmic scenarios. Or you feel like getting out. Or you freeze, and can’t think at all. All well-known stress responses.

The ego is all about survival, keeping us safe. This is our false identification, who we think we are. So, with these sorts of scenarios, it can kick in very fast, a knee-jerk response, seemingly spontaneous, with a feeling response to go with it, all good indicators of the ego at work. Years ago Maslow developed a whole model of this, a “hierarchy of needs” that put physical survival at the bottom and self-actualisation at the top. It won’t surprise you to notice that, while we’re feeling good we’re probably nearer the top, but when the ego kicks in with our scenario we flip back down to the bottom! This is very frustrating to those on a personal development path, since it seems all our efforts have been spoiled.

Well, it hasn’t. This is all part of the personal and spiritual journey and why we need to develop and maintain a personal development or a spiritual practice. The power of Awareness is to spot when the ego is at work and to interrupt it and then to use technique to manage the mind and bring yourself back to your centred state. And keep doing it, whatever occurs. Don’t make yourself wrong or think you’ve failed if your ego management strategy seems not to have worked. That’s how things seem at the moment. They can change, and so we focus, stay on purpose and work to shift our state.

This is all the more important when fear has kicked in and we’re in survival mode. This is not who we are. Time to work on it.

Seeing perfection in what seems imperfect

When things are messy and it feels like it’s all gone wrong, it can be very hard to get that it’s also just perfect. Seeing perfection in the midst of adversity goes right against our belief system. It could be that despite what’s going on for you right now, where you are is perfect.

Usually our belief is that we’ve “got to get it right”, “be better”, in other words live up to some imagined external standard which is more likely one we’ve internalised. Of course, there may be people in your world who want it to be better than it is, and usually we need to deal with that, but what I’m getting at is where we are dissatisfied with something according to our own standards. It’s just “not good enough”. The inner driver here can be one of perfection, and we put ourselves under great, if not enormous pressure. To be less than perfect is a failure. So we can be very self-critical, about what we do, what others do, or don’t do, and also about ourselves, finding fault with ourselves even.

So, when things “go wrong”, we give ourselves an extremely hard time, and probably others too, if not directly then in our minds.

To see the perfection in imperfection requires a shift of awareness, a letting go of judgement, and an understanding that everything is perfect. This can seem like a complete contradiction, given the above.

So it is worth looking at the understanding of perfection. From a divine perspective, all is complete, at one. When all there is is love, everything is just right just as it is. You love all of it, and all of yourself. Then it all feels perfect, and imperfection is unimaginable. For example have you ever been so utterly in love that somehow everything was well with you and with the world? People do have these experiences. This is Who we really Are.

When things are perceived as imperfect, we are comparing something with an absolute, sometimes a seemingly unreachable standard. So we are making ourselves separate from the divine, a good old ego game.

So, as you go about your day today, maybe catch yourself giving yourself a hard time (and others) about things “not being right”, breathe deeply and let go of the thought, and allow the possibility to be present that wherever you are, is just perfect, just as it is. All is OK with the world, and with you. It is only your understanding that is currently stopping you seeing that.

Being who you really are

Do you “know who you really are”? Do you know what “being who you really are” is? Unless you are an enlightened guru, deep spiritual teacher, leading psychotherapist, or major philosopher, for example, you might, if you were honest, struggle with the answer. And honesty is partly what it’s about.

To use the now well-known words “Being who you really are” is to open up a multi-layered question around what we mean by the phrase and, when it is contemplated, we may not get any clear, definitive answer. It serves us better to simply ask it as a question as a process of enquiry, to help us know and understand ourselves better.

Honesty, openness and authenticity

When we talk about honesty and consistency, we also get into transparency; “who you say you are” is who you really are. They should in theory all go together. But that might be assuming people know who they really are, which very many people probably don’t – if they were honest, that is. This raises the question of authenticity.

I think some can “do” the open bit really well, some find it really hard and others think they are doing it when they aren’t. Now they might be doing a good job at disguise. And then they might honestly think they are being real, when they aren’t. They just don’t know it.

This is where self awareness work is so incredibly useful, especially when you also get feedback from others. I used to do a really good job at disguise, thinking I had to “be” a certain person that worked in the world. After a while I wasn’t aware I was being like that. Until someone on a seminar told me that she knew me but actually she didn’t really know me. That was a shock, but it set me off on a journey to find the real me. And learn to be transparent in communicating that “me”.

One of the major developmental shifts people can make is into the authentic zone. You might have to shift some baggage out of the way in the process, but when people really hear what’s really there for you, they really “get” you. It can be a process of peeling away layers of the onion skin. This will vary from person to person, but you’d need to know more about what goes on inside, how your body feels in different situations, how you are feeling in those situations, and what thoughts come to mind.

This is self-awareness training, learning to monitor your on-going process, and catch those patterns that don’t serve you. The point of authenticity is to learn to be able to resonate with your own internal process. And be willing to be with others from that space. So that you are truly being real. It sounds scary and people think it will get them into all sorts of messes. And this is the point. We so often do this stuff because our ego, which is there to look after us and ensure we survive, is probably busy saying, “Hey, watch out! Don’t go there. It’s scary. It’s dangerous. You’ll get trouble. People will laugh at you, ridicule you, get angry with you, not like you.”

Often it’s the last one that really hurts, the fear of not being liked. So we cover up and behave differently.

Narcissism is inauthentic

An extreme form of inauthenticity masquerading as authenticity is narcissism, the false self. Donald Trump is probably the best-known example of a narcissist. Essentially, a narcissist has created a false identity and seeks to get positive endorsement of that false self from others. It is a construct to avoid a gaping hole inside that they are terrified of encountering, because that would threaten their whole identity.

We are living in the age of narcissism. People are very self-absorbed, “me first”, and seek positive reinforcement from others, such as admiration, to bolster their self-image. They may act as if they are being authentic, but they don’t really, truly, know what that is.

To truly know who you are requires a profound shift. Honesty can be the way but it requires self awarenes, including knowledge of the different parts of ourself.

Once you learn to shift your ego out of the way and be authentic, you can take it to another level still, and this is where it gets really interesting – that is, if you are interested!

This is where you can then learn to connect with your candle flame within, who you really are at a fundamental level of your Being, where truth really resides, where pure joy lives and where there is lasting peace and contentment. Then you are being authentic with your Beingness.

How is it that what you truly want eludes you?

When you try to grab hold of it, it isn’t there. Have you had that experience, really pushing to get hold of what you truly want and it keeps eluding your grasp?

No wonder people get cynical about life. It doesn’t seem to deliver. The more we want, the more we don’t get what we want. What we get instead is wanting.

I was giving a talk last night to a group of interested people about how to connect with inner peace and one questioner expressed the dilemma she experienced of having seemingly spontaneous feelings of contentment and yet when she tried to hold on to them, they vanished.

Even worse, if we try to feel happy, all we get is what we are unhappy about. One is separate from the other.

I explained to the questioner that once we become aware of something like the feeling she described, that whole inner beauty of who we really are, what we yearn for, we disconnect from it. We separate ourselves from the experience. Our rational thinking selves kick in. It becomes subject and object. Here’s us and over there is what we want. Wanting and needing, our ego stuff, gets in the way.

In a nutshell this is a big part of the dilemma of being human. Being in our ego selves, we think of ourselves as finite. After all, the ego is about survival and it fears it won’t survive. So it fights to hang on. Thus we separate ourselves from what we really want, at a soul level.

This is the contracted or limited self, disconnected from the divine in us. The task is to reconnect with the One.

Let go and allow to Be

By being more self-aware, at the fundamental level of awareness of Being, we can learn to let go and allow things and ourselves to Be. This is the creative power of the universe. We’re no longer driven by ego behaviour. Thus many seekers use meditation, to be present and connect and be At One, instead of Alone.

It is often said that our biggest ego barrier is fear. Contemplating the void is scary big time. Yet when we find the courage to let go, embrace the fear, and step into the unknown, we become safe beyond measure. Feeling separate makes us feel afraid. Yet when we embrace fear, it dissolves. After all it is False Evidence Appearing Real, F.E.A.R., an illusion.

So a major self-development challenge in learning to know and be who we really are, is to learn to let go and trust, and through our practices and living a more wholistic life have more of the experience of Being at One.

What you truly want is really love, which is the experience of being at One. All the other things we desire are nothing compared with That.

Being unattached to the outcome

Do you find you can’t let go of what you want and keep on at it even when all the signs are that it probably won’t work. This is where one gets “attached” to an outcome. It’s all too familiar and often doesn’t serve us. Instead we can benefit from being unattached instead.

For example, have you ever found you’ve wanted someone else to do something for you and despite your efforts he or she persists in not doing what you ask? You think you’ve made your request pretty plain but what you get back is not what you wanted. Let’s assume the process relies on the other person’s cooperation for things to get done. You push harder and somehow it still doesn’t happen as you want. It seems as though everything, and particularly this person, is conspiring to prevent you getting what you want. Let’s say the day has come to an end and you leave your workplace with the matter incomplete. But in yourself, you are still fuming from what has seemed like your inability to get a result, what we call “being on it”, caught up in a drama. Do you get this in your life?

I have certainly done. In fact it’s got so sophisticated that I can be pretty sure that if I continue pushing, things will continue to jam up and nothing works. It’s like I’m working in an old paradigm that’s past its sell-by date and therefore pointless to continue to try to operate.

One thing that’s powerful of course is to become aware of what is happening, and what I’m doing here, let go and “get off it”, ie. let go of the drama. The beauty of this is that very probably everything then works out.

Being attached

However, there’s another related concept that I also use here, and that is “attachment”. While I am caught up in some drama like the one described above, I am being attached to it. To let go, or even more powerfully, not to get caught up in it in the first place, is to practice being unattached, known as “non-attachment”. Non-attachment is related to the concept of the Witness. While I am in the space of the Witness in relation to happens in my life, I am not emotionally engaged in what happens. I am not wrapped up in my ego and my egoic patterns which I learned eons ago. I am unattached. You can learn this through the practice of mindfulness.

When we are caught up in something, we are acting outside of awareness. It is unconscious, a knee-jerk response. We are wrapped up in it and we won’t see what’s really going on, such as that we are emotionally caught up, maybe feeling angry in this example, won’t take the bigger perspective, won’t see it from another angle, won’t see it from the other person’s point of view, etc. It’s as though, to use an old image, a vinyl record has got stuck in a groove and keeps repeating. We are very probably doing just that, repeating an old-established way of feeling, thinking and acting. This is the ego at work. To enable us to survive, as we saw it, we learned to react in certain ways. This is the ego, ahamkara, and the identification or attachment of one’s ego or limited personality. However, whatever we learned when we were still throwing the toys out of the pram in a tantrum now doesn’t serve us in adulthood, or as we grow psychologically and spiritually. The old creative adjustment that we made back then to the circumstances of life as we perceived them at that point is no longer serving us today. The trouble is, getting it. The seductiveness of the ego is to bring us back into old patterns, to ensure our perceived survival.

In attachment, what is happening is that, almost perversely, we keep on with the pattern. Something happens like my example of someone not doing what you want, and you dig in, get engaged and get “on it”. You are holding on to the pattern, belief, attitude or whatever. You’re attached to it. And, lo and behold, the universe, under the Law of Attraction, gives you more of what you are thinking. So you get more of it.

Being unattached

To practice non-attachment is to be in the Witness, to choose not to engage. You notice what is happening, you may even witness your own response, but you exercise your will, you take responsibility, you choose to not allow your mind to go down its familiar route and you breathe out the emotions that you sense in the background. You keep mental clarity. You hold no expectations about what is to happen. You may intend a certain result. But you are not attached to it. There is freedom here, even for something else to occur, maybe even better that the one you might have got engaged about. You can allow life to flow and to trust that what you really need comes to you.

When we are attached, we are afraid it won’t come to us. In the ego state, we live out of fear, fundamentally that we won’t get what we want, most of all of which is love.

Non-attachment, being unattached to the outcome in particular, is a hard practice to follow in the West, given our environment of desire, expectations, orientation to action and getting the results we think we need and our seemingly heavy involvement with many others thinking the same. But it can be done, even in the thick of things. It only takes awareness and a shift of perspective. That needs to be learned and practiced, developing mental clarity, nothing more.