Archive for August, 2009

Death Is What Happens To Someone Else

I have been reading Denial Of Death by Ernest Becker. Ironically, Becker was dying of cancer as the book came out in 1997. The matter of Life and Death as the Zen masters say, is the most important subject  we can engage in. Without unflinchingly facing our own death, as Becker did, we are not able to engage fully with life. To deny death or seek oblivion from it, means that we cheat ourselves of the fullness of life.

Becker’s book is in part an examination of our fear of death, a fear that he claims is almost primal, one that we become aware of when we are still quite young. Freud thought that the unconscious had no sense of time or death, so that it is our conscious mind that becomes aware that one day we will die. Our unconscious continues to act as a carefree teenager, assuming that our existence will never come to an end. This is why soldiers going into battle assume that it will be the guy next to them who will be hurt and that they will emerge unscathed. Death is what happens to someone else.

Our conscious fear of death Becker calls a terror of death, and it is because of this terror that we try to hide from it, seeking oblivion and diversions of all kinds, from religion to drugs, to sex, to work, to TV. We try to put death out of our minds and to a large part we succeed, but the cost of doing this is high. We repress the idea of death and put it into our ‘shadow’, the dark side of existence that we don’t want to acknowledge.

But the things we relegate to our ‘Shadow’, the parts of ourselves that we don’t accept, need energy to keep them in their place, and this energy can only come from the total energy that we have available. Anyone who has had any dealings with batteries knows that a constant trickle of energy soon runs down a battery. We use some of our valuable life force, our chi or prana, to keep the Shadow secure, and this means we have less energy for the rest of our activities. This is why Becker says that denying death leads to a lessening of life. The total energy that we ccould apply to our  life has been diminished by the Shadow’s call on our resources.

It’s often said that we use only 10% of our brain power. Clearly it would be good to access the 0ther 90% but how do we do that ? I think meditation can help to release some of this power. When we meditate we go into a state of deep relaxation. This relaxed state can be the ground from which new possibilities can open up, new awareness and perspectives can be discovered, and a wider more expanded consciousness can be  created. This expansion of awareness can lead to insights about new ways of thinking and acting, so that people with problems or stress can find ways to accept or solve or survive the anxieties that life currently poses for them.

Fear, anxiety and stress all cause contraction of the body and the mind, leading to a kind of paralysis of will, a hopeless passsivity that creates a victim mentality. Meditation can help reverse this by expanding the mind, which really means expanding the universe, since each person’s mind is its own universe. This expansion can lead to movement and growth, creating a new positive situation where previously only negativity reigned. With more space created in the brain, there is the possibility of finding new ideas and solutions, and at worst there is the choice of accepting the dire situation you are in and trying to find the best way out of it.

To do nothing is not a solution.

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August 27, 2009 at 10:43 am Leave a comment

DISTRACTIONS

I am reading a book by Arnold Mindell called ‘Working on Yourself Alone’. Mindell is a Jungian trained psychotherapist who has developed his own process-oriented psychotherapy. He is also the only person I have ever heard of who can bring coma patients out of their coma. I‘ve always been impressed by that feat, which is really unique.

In his book he talks about how people feel ‘distractions’ in their lives, and how ‘distractions’ are always defined by the primary process of the person. By primary process he means their consciousness of who they are, that is the primary process is the way the person sees himself or herself and their role in life. As he puts it,

“In process theory, we speak of a primary process with which you identify yourself most of the time. This primary process is the part you call ‘I’, the part which you see ‘doing’ your life, playing certain roles, working and performing duties. The secondary process is the one that happens to you, like a dog barking, or a sudden voice in your ear, or a pain in your stomach.”

He gave an example,

“..if you are a successful business person driving to work in the morning and are held up by an accident, your primary process is being a successful, punctual business person, and your secondary one is relaxing, slowing yourself down. The secondary one happens to you; it disturbs, surprises and annoys you.”

Now this example struck home to me, because it made me realise how my ‘primary process’ has changed over the past ten years. I was also a thrusting ambitious business man, a hungry film producer whose consciousness was focused on getting films made, and almost everything else was seen as a ‘distraction’ from that role. Now I have turned that around so much that my primary process is more like the secondary process he describes above: to keep myself healthy, balanced, tranquil and content, Now I see my business activities (phone calls, emails and meetings) as the current ‘distractions’ from my leisure, which seems to be my primary process these days.

Thinking about this change led me to realise something else: that I know that I was too one-sided when I was a busy film producer, and the ‘distractions’ that I resented (demands of family life, domestic chores and kids) really had a lot to offer me, things that I needed to maintain a good balance in my life. Similarly, it’s now wrong for me to see my work demands as a ‘distraction’, stopping me from doing what it is I would really like to do. Again, this maintains a one-sided unbalanced view of life which can only be unhealthy.

It’s clear that I need to stop feeling frustrated or annoyed when a ‘distraction’ comes along, but to accept that life is full of events, some that may attract me more than others, but that it’s better for me to accept them and deal with them without annoyance rather than build up this resistance that ‘distractions’ create in my mind. This resistance is a form of low level stress and it’s not good stress either.

The Taoists have a term for this kind of accepting attitude – wu wei, which is often translated as non-striving or non-acting, but really means an easy-going accepting spontaneous response to life. This implies a unique response to life’s events and not an automatic reaction, which I think is what these feelings of ‘distractions’ are- automatic habitual reactions to events that we feel are taking up our time or attention, attention that we would really like to apply to our main aim- our primary process.

Mindell agrees and says it would be good

“ to accept and process all events, including anger, jealousy and greed, in order to reveal their life-giving potential. How can I make use of all my perceptions for my own benefit and for the rest of the world?”

This is really learning how to use non-discrimination in our lives.

August 26, 2009 at 7:50 pm Leave a comment

Illness and the mind

I read the following a while ago and jotted it down. It caught may attention because a friend of mine has prostate cancer and is trying to work out how best to deal with it. I was about to say combat it, but combat may not be the best way to deal with cancer. Unfortunately illness seems to be a learning experience, maybe not one that people would prefer to have, but once they have it, they need to use the experience to expand their consciousness and change their life. My friend is starting to do that, and I hope he will be able to become healthy again.

If your mind is not on your illness,
a heavy illness will become light
and a light illness will heal by itself.
Keep your own nature peaceful and harmonious.

The mind is master of the body.
If the master is not at ease, the whole body will become disorderly.

August 5, 2009 at 9:19 am Leave a comment

From my journal- July 29 2002

We have a negative conception of human nature, while the Taoists and Confucians had a positive conception. This means we also have a negative conception of nature itself, which may come from the experience of living through the plague, or it may come from much earlier- from Christianity itself, which had a view of fallen man and fallen nature. Christianity may be at root a negative philosophy and so incapable of being reformed. How to find a positive conception of human nature now? The only way may be through the new cosmology, through science, since this is not touched by Christian negativity. The positive nature of humanity means that it can adapt to change and improve situations, to turn negative to positive. It is capable of transformation. The problem is that psychology since Freud, and religion and much of philosophy is negative or nihilistic or cynical or sceptical, all attitudes that make real change very difficult.

August 4, 2009 at 9:55 am Leave a comment

Transformational Breathing – Part 1

In 2009 I started doing some Transformational Breathing, This is a technique originated by Judith Kravitz of the USA, who has been leading workshops in this technique for the past 30 years.

I started with a CD made by Judith called “100 Breaths to Joy” that I followed by practising at home, and then I read Judith’s book, “Breathe Deep, Laugh Loudly”. I did have some success doing this on my own, but I was able to make more progress after attending two workshops in London run by facilitator Alan Dolan.

Why was I doing this form of breathing? I have a long term project to do a kit (book, cd, dvd, workbook) on health, well-being and longevity. For the kit, I wanted to include a series of yoga positions that people could do in order to discover (if they didn’t already know) where they were in pain, or stiff, or had some kind of physical blockage. I asked my ex, a yoga therapist, if she could devise this set of asanas (postures) but she thought that this was a secondary phase, and that more primary for the kit’s readers should be a self analysis of their breath, and learning how to breathe better.

I thought this sounded right and I realised that I had not really done much breath work on my own. So I decided to start looking at my own breath and this led me to pick up Judith Kravitz’s CD and begin. In the past, I had a feeling (confirmed by a shiatsu practitioner) that my diaphragm was holding in some places along my rib cage and spine, and this holding was obstructing my full breathing capacity. I worked on this area for years with shiatsu and self-massage, and felt that I had loosened the areas of holding, but never completely.

I also knew that my solar plexus was the place where I had held some old emotional traumas from the past. Whenever I had a shock of any kind, like the death of my father, or being let down or betrayed by someone or any other strong emotional shock, it always seemed to hit me in the ‘pit’ of the stomach, and I think that I had an accumulation of emotional hits in that area. The solar plexus and diaphragm must be closely connected since they inhabit the same area of the front of the body.

Transformational Breathing, unlike yogic pranayama or Taoist belly breathing and reverse breathing, is a technique for breathing through the mouth rather than the nose, and keeping the in-breaths and out-breaths in continuous flow. I won’t try to describe the technique since it is best explained by a teacher. Suffice to say that when I tried the technique via the CD I did have a strong response at my solar plexus which allowed me to release some very old emotional baggage that I had been holding there. This related to some issues of loss, betrayal and self-doubt that I had been carrying from childhood on, and the deep belly breathing managed to shake up the solar plexus where these emotions had become lodged. I was able to deal with the old emotions and thoughts and this helped to release some of them from my body.

A few weeks later I had a chance to do a couple of group workshops with Alan Dolan, an experienced Transformational Breathing facilitator, and he taught me how best to use the technique. After the two sessions with him I felt my solar plexus vibrating, and I felt sure that more clearing was taking place. I also felt that my diaphragm had now finally ‘let go’ and there was no longer a holding at the rib cage. I felt that my breathing was now very deep and very easy.

I am now continuing to use the technique and I have started to do some further research into other breathing methods and techniques so that I can use this knowledge to inform the section on Breathing that I intend to have in the longevity kit.

Alan Dolan can be contacted at info@breath-works.com
http://www.breath-works.com

August 3, 2009 at 3:55 pm 2 comments

Spiritual Almanack- August – Fullness

Hexagram 55. Feng.

feng images

Thunder
Over
Fire

Harmony and peace naturally lead to fulfilment.
Those who find harmony and peace in life will surely reap prosperity.

Do not worry
Be like the sun at noon

The image: Flourishing.

“The flowers of the pear tree have gathered and turned to fruit.”
Chen Yi

Nature has performed her miracle and transformed the flowers into fruit. The light and warmth that makes the fruit ripen ripens all of life, filling our bodies and minds with light and warmth, opening us to the truth and goodness of the universe.

Commentary:

When the sun reaches its height
Declining begins.
When the moon attains its fullness,
Waning starts.
The waxing and waning of heaven and earth
Accord with the course of time.

Our bodies, if we allow them to, will naturally stay in tune with nature and its cycles. We are also nature, human nature, and the energy cycles of the universe manifest in us. When there is a full moon we react like the tides with a rush of energy, and the new moon’s darkness contracts the tides and draws us to seek rest.

After a time of fullness and abundance, there is a natural waning and emptying, since things cannot stay full for ever, but they rise and fall just as yin gives way to yang and yang gives way to yin. This is the nature of the universe, a law of life. Yang is the same as the constant expanding force of the universe, while yin is shown in the force of gravity that contracts and holds things in.

After the fulfilment of yang there is always the contraction of yin. The days grow shorter and as night draws in the air grows cooler. But it is important to treasure and enjoy the time of fullness, and not worry about the decline. If we are humble and share our abundant and prosperous times with others, and not try to selfishly hoard them out of fear, then we spread our enjoyment widely, and increase communal harmony. This can create prosperity and abundance in the future. Real abundance means peace and joy, good health, love, the sky and sun, the sea, mountains, all the natural world and its beauties.

Yang and yin, expansion and gravity, are the same dynamics found in the solar system and in our bodies. We experience expansion when we take an inbreath and we feel contraction on the outbreath. In our bodies the rise and fall of the breath reflects the rise and fall of the sun, the moon and all natural dynamic processes.

There is a normal human desire to want the pleasureable and the abundant to continue, and this leads us to try to stop or deny loss and pain. But we need to accept and welcome decline in the same way that we want to have abundance, because profit and loss are two sides of the same yin and yang coin. To be fully human, we need to embrace loss as well as gain, since one cannot exist without the other. Rabbi Joseph Gelberman tells how his father dealt correctly with loss,

When I was a young boy in Hungary, my father taught me an important lesson. He owned a big department store, and one day while we were at the synagogue, his store was broken into, looted, and set on fire. And to make it worse, he found out it was our neighbours who did it! But it was the Sabbath and on the Sabbath you don’t talk business. So we continued with our prayers.

That night we finally talked about it. He wasn’t the least bit angry.” We have to build the store again. This is our home. What else can we do? If I lose my store and allow my blood pressure to rise, that is paying double. I don’t believe in paying twice.”

The book of Genesis tells this famous story of abundance and decline,

And it came to pass that Pharaoh dreamed; and behold, seven ears of corn came up upon one stalk, rank and good. And behold, seven ears thin and blasted with the east wind sprung up after them. And the thin ears swallowed up the seven rank and full ears.

Pharaoh’s spirit was troubled, and when no one could tell him the meaning of the dream he called Joseph out of the dungeon to interpret it, and Joseph said,

The seven good ears are seven years; and the seven empty ears blasted with the east wind are also seven years, and they shall be seven years of famine. Behold, there come seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt. And there shall arise after them seven years of famine; and all the plenty shall be forgotten in the land of Egypt; and the famine shall consume the land.

Joseph interpreted the dream correctly, and he advised Pharaoh to set aside a fifth of the corn from the seven good years so that there would be food available for the people during the seven lean years. We need to do the same. I failed to do it when I was in my full earning years.

The Tao Te Ching tell us ‘ Don’t try to be full’, and explains how to maintain a sufficient level of fullness, one that does not become over full and therefore topple over into its opposite- emptiness. Chapter 9 says,

Instead of pouring in more
Better stop while you can
Making it sharper
Won’t help it last longer.
Houses full of treasure can never be safe.
The vanity of success
Invites its own failure.
When your work is done, retire
That is the way of heaven

To know when to stop, to know when you have enough, is the key. When it says retire it means do not become possessed and possessive about your work and accomplishments. In other words, practice non-attachment, avoid pride and overdoing things.

If we can purify our heart and mind, and be at one with the divine, then the swings and roundabouts of fullness and emptiness, gain and loss, success and failure, abundance and scarcity will not affect us. If we only desire what we truly need, and are generous in giving away the surplus, then we are always in a state of fulfilment, a state of love naturally filled with compassion, joy, peace and light. Knowing that enough really is enough is true harmony and contentment.

August 3, 2009 at 2:53 pm Leave a comment


The Blog That Fell From The Sky

Reflections on an age of anxiety.

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