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We seem to be becoming a very divided society – or am I dreaming?

Am I imagining it, or are we becoming a very divided society and alienated from one another? And if this is true, then how do we respond to this, to our fellow humans’ tendency to differentiation, of seeing another as different and as a threat? One area that has been concerning me for some time has been the growth of a tendency in society to separate off from one another in terms of nationality, religion, ethnicity, gender, physical ability and welfare dependency, among other differentiations. At one level this may not seem new, one might think “T’was ever thus”, but at another level it seems to me to be very strong at the moment. Do we get engaged and make one group or another wrong and “us” right? Do we make a stand for mutual respect, love and tolerance? Or do we do nothing, or “rise above it” and say, that’s all ego?

I’ve heard recently from an South Asian-origin colleague of a Muslim being spat in the face on a bus by a white woman. I read of disabled people who struggle to work and yet are being deemed fit to work, of people being obsessed by alleged levels of immigration which don’t fit the facts, of a rise in racist abuse, of women being abused by men, or of nationalists wanting to secede. What’s going on?

At one level we might comment on the effects of economic recession and how that stimulates an “us versus them” mentality and the tendency to scapegoat minorities. At another we might want to join in the battle, and get engaged around some sense of conflict. So our minds can get absorbed by awareness of one human’s disagreement with and alienation from another.

Then we might also take the route of the  bigger picture, challenging though that can be.

We could support love wherever we experience it, in ourselves and in another. We could note how much that can be positive and uniting that can emerge when people drop their guards and their distrust and suspicion – and feel the real connection that exists between one human being and another.

When we observe disunity, we experience separation, and we project on to one another what really belongs with us ourselves. We don’t take ownership of our own sense of alienation from life. What we make wrong in others is what we really make wrong in ourselves. It is a projection of our dislike of ourselves and feeling separate from and at fault with the One. What we really need to heal is our own psychic injury, our own primal wound. Otherwise the current alienation from one another is another playing out of that age-old ego drama, as we see for example in the doctrines of Original Sin and other beliefs in human kind’s basic “badness”, where it is always the “other person” who has the problem.

We could simply see God in each other.

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Feeling disconnected from others and life can be hard

When we don’t take satisfaction, don’t fully engage in the moment and derive pleasure from what has been accomplished, we can remain apart from what has happened. This can be an example of the “separation” experience, where what is occurring isn’t a part of us, we’re feeling disconnected from it. Instead we perhaps have a judgement about it, think it’s “not enough”, question it, are not happy with it, and want something different, more, or better. Instead of “At-Oneness” we have “aloneness”.

For some this might seem an abstruse point, and yet it goes right to the core of who we are, or rather who we perceive ourselves to be. Being separate is a core human experience. In this, we’re experiencing ourselves as apart from others and from life, the observer of it but not happily so. Thus we’re in relationship to other things and people as subject and object, even separate polarities. You might think, “Well isn’t this just how we are?” And so it can seem.

If by contrast we’re fully engaged, in the moment, “in the flow” as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi would call it, and making “full contact” with the experience, in Gestalt psychology terms, we can feel at one with the experience. It is a part of us, who we are. People report feeling fulfilled and complete when they have this experience. It is they say “life affirming”. We can feel at One in this state, in a sense united with that with which we’re in contact, or with whom. In the understanding of yogis, this can even be the sense of consciously being the Self, Atman. Thus “being yourself” takes on a whole new meaning. Here we move beyond authenticity to the level where we can begin to experience Oneness with life and a whole new contentment, joy and happiness.

Some may be feeling separate or disconnected from others in the sense of not enjoying good friendships or relationships. Some can feel “apart” from the group, or not “part of the team”. Some might feel excluded socially. Hence we can feel lonely and isolated. It is a source of much unhappiness. It can also be a scary place, if we allow ourselves to go there. Thus instead fight like crazy to be connected to others, although it can be inauthentic since the underlying pain is unresolved.

This experience was the subject of a whole body of early 20th Century literature and philosophy, as with “L’Étranger” (The Outsider) by Albert Camus or the work of Jean Paul Sartre such as “L’Être et le néant” (Being and Nothingness), arguably a product of an era of pessimism.

In personal development terms it is a useful if perhaps painful awareness in that once we’re aware of feeling separate we have the opportunity to bring ourselves back into connection with ourselves, others and life. It is a matter of shifting one’s state, once you know what is going on, and more about states associated with connectedness and about how you can shift your own state at will. We can however get stuck in separateness and get caught up in the feelings associated with it referred to above. Thus it pays to learn about the art of self-management and about how to manage and shift these feelings and states.

This is very much what our work is about, since it can bring great inner peace, contentment and fulfillment, and you can begin to learn how to make these changes on our courses. Click here.

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Feeling separate from the one we seek

“Will I ever get there?” How many of us at different times wonder whether we’ll achieve what we set out to do in terms  of our core goals? They’re commonly used words, wanting, success, goals, achievement, accomplishment. It can seem like we’re forever seeking but never getting “there”. Perhaps if you get there, that can become another “here” and there’s another “there” to strive towards.

Without wishing to get too far into the realm of human accomplishment in practical terms, because surely there’s lot’s who have achieved a lot. I’m thinking more of the inner driver, the inner wish, that which senses also a lack of accomplishment and that something is missing.

Yogis and others would say this is because we get ensnared by desire, wanting, in the egoic sense, and we get attached to it and it eats away inside. Others might say it is inappropriate goals. Or that we have a limiting belief that we won’t make it. All of these and more could be explored.

However, I’m interested here in the very fact of seeking. In terms of non-dual philosophy, by seeking we’re setting ourselves up to be another subject in search of an object, that which we seek, and therefore immediately make ourselves separate from it. And this can be the knub of the problem, the sense of being separate.

A classic way the sense of separation is experienced is feeling very separate from one you are in relationship with. The anxiety of separation eats into the relationship and drives the other one away, especially if it is accompanied by intense neediness, seeking love from another.

More generally people can feel separate in all sorts of ways, such as in social situations, feeling lonely, feeling apart from others, or engagement with life and living in its broadest sense.

Feeling separate from that which we seek could be said to be a core human dilemma. From a non-dualist perspective we are all One. Yet our human ego experience is that we are separate, and hence get to feel unloved, alone, abandoned, isolated, or at least those of us that connect at this level. So we might say that the early experience of the infant at fearing being separated from her/his mother taps into this core human dilemma. Existential aloneness and problems with infant bondedness get mixed up with each other, one fuelling the other.

From a spiritual perspective, this is all an illusion and hence part of the work is to let go of such feelings and to focus awareness on the sense of connectedness within us, as in meditation but also in our engagement with others. For example one can work to increase the feeling of connection and to hold to that in contact with others.

This is the sort of learnings we provide in The Point of Awareness.

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How feeling alone, separate and isolated causes us grief

One of our big human dilemmas or challenges is the extent to which we feel connected to another and the degree to which we feel separate. Feeling separate is a classic ego characteristic.

When a couple fall out in a blazing row, they may both be angry but they are probably upset too, and one underlying sense is of the gulf between them and how alone each feels. It’s a classic example of the dance between being together and separate, in Gestalt terms between confluence and isolation. Each may have their positions and their points of view but both are likely to be acutely aware of the gap between them. They may of course make up and a driver in that could be the fear of aloneness or of losing the other one. It might be love of course, but it is often worth exploring how much the fear factor of separation and isolation also plays a part.

Another way this ego characteristic can operate is feeling different from others, which also brings in a tendency to compare oneself with others and to see “good” and “bad” points in oneself or with others as a comparison. Being separate could include a tendency to pull apart or not get involved, even to prizing independence. One might not like to get too close and fear closeness and intimacy.

Existentialists speak of the existential dilemma of the fact of death and the fear very many have of what might happen when their lives end. It underlies much of the fear of separation and isolation, that there might for example be nothing, a void. Also we speak of whether a person sees a void in their lives as barren or fertile.

You could also say that what humans need is love, and the feeling of separation is a very painful revival of the fear of not being loved.

Learning to face the void, to experience the fear of isolation and to move through it, can be an enormous healing, in that what people can find is an immense love that lies beyond it. Because when we finally really let go of fear, that all there really is. People who have near-death experiences or who move through immense suffering and have an awakening experience report this occurring. We’re not really alone and isolated. That’s ego. We’re all One. The pain and the tragedy of being human is that we somehow many of us often seem to have to go through the pain of separation to find this out.

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Desire is reminding us of our disconnection from the Whole

We’ve been exploring the function of desire as an interrupter to our enjoyment of life. It’s a curious one, since we probably frequently think that if only this issue was resolved or that event happened, or that person did something, or stopped doing something, all would be well. Except that life isn’t really any different. You might get a short-lived pleasure in the resolution, but after a while the old issues reappear.

One classic example of this is when people win the Lottery. Studies have shown that people generally haven’t in the long term found their lives to be any better, and for some it’s been worse. The likelihood is that the malaise that has driven the search for something to “be better” hasn’t been fixed. The malaise reappears, unless the underlying cause has been addressed.

I referred in the last posting to deficit need, the “hole” inside and the sense of love been missing. There’s a deeper aspect to this too. Spiritually, we could also say that what is most missing for us is our separation from the whole, God, Spirit, Life or whatever you want to call It. It’s this deep, profound, but only dimly glimpsed sense of disconnection from All That Is.

People often say that when they re-gain this connection, in whatever form that might be, they report that they have “come home.” It can be a very emotional experience, tears of great joy, a profound relief, and an outpouring of love. And this love is not of the needy kind, but one where everything thing feels right and complete. There’s also the report of those that have experienced “awakenings” such that life is never the same again. One thing that stands out here is desirelessness. They are no longer seeking. Particularly they seemed no longer concerned by money matters!

It begs an interesting question as to what role the things we seek are actually playing in our lives. Would they actually be symbols for us of this sense of a gap between us and the unity of consciousness?

So, try this out. If you find yourself hankering after something or somebody, breathe, let go and think instead of being at One. Let go and let God.

Thus one aspect of our program Connecting to Inner Peace is exploring what being connected to/disconnected from the Whole means for each of us and how we can re-discover our sense of unity.

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What have rioting young people to teach us about alienation?

Normally on Wednesdays I aim to write about ego characteristics, the self that we think we are. Yet as I write my country has seen a major outbreak of rioting in city centres, perhaps of the kind last witnessed in France in 2005. What has all this possibly got to do with ego?

It is especially hard to write about people who have taken part when I know so little about them and what drives their behaviour. Already there’s masses to read about on this in any case. See for example this article on the psychology of riots . What has struck me however has been the large number of TV programmes in recent years on various aspects of life in our inner city or “post-industrial” estates where family breakdown, joblessness, low educational achievement, drugs, crime, racism and other factors have interacted within an overall culture which is very separate to the mainstream of our society, a part of our population, albeit a minority, whom we choose to ignore, excluded it seems from the benefits of affluence the rest of us have indulged in, albeit massively “on credit”. However, policy makers have largely continued to ignore the problem, except for recent strictures to “get people off benefits and into work”. So, with such a background, and particularly with the recent public spending cuts, it is perhaps not surprising that such people – perhaps bred in a violent gang culture, usually controlling the streets at night, with nothing to do, where nightly incidents occur that involve violence, often including the police, which we don’t hear about – should take advantage of an opportunity of slow police reaction to seize hold of what is not normally available to them.

To comment on all this from a standpoint of ego awareness could seem extremely disconnected from what life might be like for such people. Yet the word “separate” particularly comes to mind for me, amongst many others, separate from others in society, separate from opportunity, separate from a stable, secure, structured upbringing, and separate perhaps from the love that connects us to others and from whom we learn about living responsibly in a civilised society. Such a world as our ghetto estates seem rife with a profound, despairing exclusion and a breeding ground for anger and resentment.

In one form or another, life seems to construct itself so that we experience what being separate is like, in one form of another. Being separate might be to feel excluded, or to be apart from ones we wish to be with, unloved even. It might be to feel isolated and very alone. It is of course the polar opposite of unity, of being at-one, of being totally connected to oneself, to others, to life and All that Is. So, to read about life on these estates is, for me at least, to be reminded of such a powerful, profound disconnection from the Whole.

Yet I have watched with great admiration TV programmes like “ Secret Millionaire ”, where wealthy people who’ve made their fortunes go and live undercover in these estates and identify both the problems there but also charities who are working selflessly and with little funding to help such people. These individuals then start to support these charities. It is a moving programme to watch, not least for the utter commitment of many individuals in the face of such despair. What oozes out of this programme is often what was missing in the lives of the millionaires themselves, the love they missed out on, the love shown by these selfless volunteers and the very genuine desire of the to-be philanthropists to put something back.

Maybe we all need to be doing this. Who could you reach out to today and give some support to?

Behind the image of the hoodie, much though we may deplore the violence, is an aching soul, heavily concealed though it might be. This is when, despite all appearances to the contrary, we need to “see God in each other”.

Of course, we don’t do this, we don’t have compassion for such people. We get into judgement instead. Of course we can’t tolerate such violence, but we also need to look at what is really going on, ourselves included. We too may feel very “separate” from such people. But, at some level, they too are God.

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Being alone on a Friday evening

I remember a time when on a Friday evening I would look out of my window at uni at all those people walking busily up or down Oxford’s High Street, going somewhere or other. In my eyes, there was lots going on, and I wasn’t part of it.

I don’t know whether you’ve had the experience that everybody seems to be having a good time except you. It’s like certain people always have the “desirable” people as their girl or boyfriends. There are those who always seem to be at the centre of attention, to be “popular”, to have lots of friends, and they always go to parties and have a fabulous time. But you (or I) don’t. It’s a bummer, isn’t it!

It was only later, after much soul searching, that I finally discovered that there were many people just like me! For example, I thought that the really cool people had girl-friends (this was at that time a hugely male-dominated university) and that women were in short supply! Then when I finally got to get inside the hallowed grounds of a women’s college (yes, they had segregation), I found out that there were quite a lot of women there with no boy-friends.

Just in case you are wondering, this is actually a very important discovery, of great value to just about all of us, which I think a lot of us make at some point in our lives. That is that we are not alone, despite appearances to the contrary. The human experience is to feel alone and separate. Once we get across this particular illusion, there are actually many others who have similar experiences. And just in case there is any doubt, those seemingly “popular” people could be having the most enormously screwed up lives and be desperately alone and unhappy inside – as I found out about what later happened to many of the people I was referring to above. They have just formed a different “creative adjustment” to life to deal with it.

The universality of life experience is one of the great discoveries of doing group work, where you can find that your life drama is actually shared by others – and that you are no alone, but At One with others.

The challenge is to find a way to step outside the polarity of aloneness/At-oneness and find what unites you to everybody else. We explore this polarity, among others, on my programs.

So, as you get to your Friday evening, reflect on the illusion of separation, and perhaps take into a meditation the understanding that “I are That”, I am one with All. And allow the feeling of being connected to All to be there for you in your meditation

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Ego, separation and being One

Feeling separate is an everyday experience that many of us have. At the extreme end of that, we may feel very alone and isolated. Unloved.

An unhappy place to be.

Many of us try hard to avoid this experience, but probably find ourselves there from time to time.

What does this mean for those interested in reaching beyond our current limited, alienated, conflict-prone paradigm?

Separation is a facet of the human experience at the ego consciousness level. “I” as I might identify myself is a way I might experience myself as a person, with a knowledge of a history of being “me”, feeling in this body, and experiencing things going on “out there” that I experience as separate from me, as “not me”. Polarity is also a function of ego consciousness, in which things are differentiated, as good or bad, strong or weak, happy or unhappy, and I might see differences within myself, such as different “parts” of me, like an irritable me and a contented me. Thus in terms of separation, you are perceived as different from me, not me, and this will be confirmed by differences that I see in you to how I see myself – or at least as I think, which is more to the point.

When we feel separate, we are more prone to fear and distrust and it is not far from there to conflict.

Of course it need not be like this. We may feel various levels of connection with ourselves, others and life. For example, if we are in love with another and are feeling very connected, it might seem like we are almost as one. Also, if we are feeling very happy and at one with life, everything can feel very OK, “in the flow”, and we may feel very connected with everybody else. This experience is important. The more we see another as at one with us, the more we feel love for them. The more we connect with the love inside us the more it also occurs “out there”, which is really us anyway.

From a higher consciousness perspective, you and I are One. Within me, I am at One. I and the world are One.

The dilemma is that such is the power of ego that that is not our everyday experience. Thus it is an ongoing practice to constantly remind ourselves, re-mind ourselves in terms of the mind, that our everyday experience is not how things are, but how we perceive them through the filter of the ego. It can be useful to adopt practices to catch ourselves stuck in separation thinking, to connect with a deeper level of awareness, let go of egoic thoughts, feelings and perceptions, and be who we really are.

How do you do that, you may ask? It is a crucial question in today’s world, which is at a crisis of ego and needs to move to the next paradigm. To find out how to do this, come on the Point of Awareness and learn key tools to help you to step beyond your own ego. Then you can help others to do the same.

To learn more about developing your own inner awareness of who you really are, and how to connect with your inner essence as One, take part in The Point of Awareness programme. Read the brochure and sign up here

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Beware the trends towards separation

One of the sad things about these economically uncertain times is the rise of a “us-vs-them” mind-set. This is where one group of people develop a hostile attitude towards another group. This can be between different groups in society, or an attitude towards minority groups, or perceived intruders into a society such as immigrants, or between whole nations. What we get is polarisation and an increased inflexibility and refusal to compromise. Parallel to this has been the rise in right wing extremism.

This also happened in the 1930’s depression, with the rise of power of racist and nationalist parties. Simplistic solutions involving the scapegoating of perceived “alien” groups became widespread, again paralleled with polices aimed to further a country’s own economic and political interests at the expense of others.

Thinking people need to pause and take note of the trend. Is this what we want? Is this who we are and who we choose to be?

At a simple, personal level what’s happening is to make another not OK for being different to us. It fails to appreciate that under the perceived difference is someone who is very like us, and at some level is us. From the understanding that you and I are One, what difference can there be?

Being different is a function of the ego, the sense of an individual “I” who has these or those characteristics, unlike others who are seen as being separate. The sense of separation is at the bottom of being “different”. A function of the ego is to separate off into polarities, and to make comparisons. It involves fear and adversarial thinking.

Economic hardship tends to foster such perceptions, since there is a fear that we will lose out unless we take certain actions against others to defend our interests, an attitude that can get reciprocated and lead to conflict.

It is striking therefore to note government policies withdrawing support from certain disadvantaged groups, while the very rich draw even further “ahead” in absolute and relative wealth terms. Countries are putting tariffs on each other’s goods. Policies aimed to halt immigration are increasingly popular, despite the economic arguments in favour of it. Public hostility to minority groups like the disabled has sharply increased. Nationalism at the expense of international collaboration is spreading, as in the decline of the European ideal, or the growth of separatist movements.

Those that have the understanding that we are all One need to challenge these trends. Meanwhile the global crisis over the climate and resources that requires massive international collaboration goes unheeded.

To learn more about developing your own inner awareness of who you really are, and how to connect with your inner essence as One, take part in The Point of Awareness programme. Read the brochure and sign up here

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When we fight another, we also fight ourselves

Once more we talking of committing our armed forces, belatedly, to help rebels who have risen against their ruler, or to prevent further oppression aimed at civilian protesters against dictatorship, or to protect western oil interests, depending on your point of view. Humans once again are at each other’s throats. No doubt many of us will have strong feelings about the dispute, while others might hold back in hesitation at the wisdom of armed intervention. And others might still have an eye to the force of nature thousands of miles away, which has led to a near-meltdown of 3 nuclear reactors and a huge loss of life. It’s as though we humans carry on against one another regardless of what’s really going on.

Neil Donald Walsch has written an interesting set of musings on human behaviour in this regard, “Communion with God”, in which God points out that we humans live in a world of illusion in which we have a tendency to see each other as separate from us, that we each have needs, that there is not enough, that there is something we must do and if we don’t do it we’ll be punished for it. Thus we argue about what is right, what we must do, and to believe that it is legitimate, when it suits us, to kill one another to defend our belief about what is right. If however, we take a higher view, then “right” ceases to be an absolute but instead a creation of interpretation, seen through the filters of the beliefs we each hold, our own illusions.

Seen through another filter, in which all life and all existence is sacred, we might reflect on how it comes about that one must impose his will on another in order that we can co-exist.

So for those who have an interest in being self-aware, we might pause in all this to reflect on what in us causes us to be aggressive towards another. After all, as Jung would see it, Colonel Gaddafi is also our shadow, deeply though we may think him to be “wrong”. What in us is the abuser of another? What in us is angry and vengeful to another? When we next act against another, what is the motive in us? When we own our own motives for action, when for example we see our own anger and hatred in another, when we learn to heal that in us, then we are more able to see the pain in another, the hurt that drives their anger, and as we heal our own anger, so too do we make it less likely that we are polarised from one another and more able to reach out, feel compassion and offer help, and step out of the interpersonal racket and give space for another in turn to drop their resistance and see the possibility of harmony.

Did not Christ say, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye”? And also, “let him who is without sin cast the first stone”.

This is therefore a good time to reflect, as our troops yet again prepare it seems to go to war, and as people turn to vilify the “enemy”, that in the so-called enemy is also God. The experience of separation is an illusion, since we are all One.