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A Spiritual Almanack- May: Flourishing

Hexagram 46: Growing Upward

 

Earth over Wood.

Wood grows up from the earth,

An image of flourishing.

In correspondence with this,

The superior person cultivates his virtue,

Accomplishes small things

And evolves to a higher level.

 

Karma is a mysterious path.

May 1st – Mayday- used to be the day created by the workers to celebrate their unity and solidarity. But now that almost all of us are workers (or self employed), we no longer feel there is anything to celebrate. For many of us work has become a drudgery, a form of indentured slavery that we must perform to make money to pay for our daily needs; a kind of curse, without joy, without pleasure, without satisfaction, without meaning. It is rarely performed as an end in itself, but as a means to an end.

The Bhagavad Gita presents a yogic view of work that is radically different than our contemporary view. The yogic view of work is called karma yoga, and is a transforming vision of how to live. If we could follow its teachings we would create a revolution in the way we think of ourselves, our actions, our relationship to others, and to the world, and this would reinvest our lives with deep meaning and purpose. The Gita shows us how to transform work from a mundane and deadening activity to a form of spiritual teaching and inner evolution.

In the Gita Krishna, a God who is the incarnation of the Hindu Trinity – the gods Brahma the creator, Siva the destroyer and Vishnu the preserver – teaches the warrior Arjuna about spiritual duty and the search for spiritual freedom. In this dialogue Krishna makes the clearest statement about karma yoga, the yoga of selfless action,

Do your work, but don’t go looking for any benefits from the results. Don’t be motivated by the fruits of your actions, but you must never become inactive either. Do your work in the peace of Yoga, free from selfish desires, not moved by success or failure. Yoga is evenness of the mind, a peace that is always steady.

Work done for reward is much lower than work done through the Yoga of wisdom. Take refuge in wisdom, because those who are motivated by the rewards of their work are to be pitied. With this wisdom and stillness of mind, we can go beyond good and evil. So practise yoga, for yoga is perfection in action.

Looked at in this way, work can be an evolutionary process by which a human being progresses towards a state of being which is at one with a greater purpose, which we call the divine, or God, or Tao, or the Spirit. This aspect of the divine is not a stranger to us, as it lives within our inmost core as our deepest self, and the aim of yoga is to allow it to emerge and flourish so that it can inform our very consciousness. Karma yoga is a process of spiritual evolution.

Karma yoga calls on us to perform the ordinary activities of life, but to remain detached from their fruits or results. It asks us to concentrate only on the act itself, operating solely in the moment, considering each act as an end in itself, and not motivated by future results.

If a person’s reason is unwavering, and she is free from the desire for the results of action, she is liberated from the limiting aspects of actions performed while being attached to the objects of sense.

The unenlightened do things with attachment to results. The enlightened, however, do things with the same energy but without attachment, and so guide others on the path of selfless action.

The modern view of karma yoga is of selfless action undertaken for the good of others. But this is not the way the ancient Gita sees it. To be truly selfless does not mean to be altruistic, since actions undertaken for ends, even good ends, are still attachments and are less perfect than acts undertaken exclusively for themselves.

Krishna says that the wise, aware that there is no escape from the duties of life, fulfil their duties and submit to their work in a spirit of joy. However mean the work, they do it well, but without attachment or selfish desire. Work undertaken like this can perfect the soul, so the type of work does not really matter. As Swami Satchidananda says,

Once you are free of selfish desire

You work for the joy of it

And all your actions are as play

People worry that if they give up their ego-driven focus of work, nothing will get done. Without desire won’t we just vegetate and stagnate? Krishna explains,

The forces of nature accomplish everything. But when our minds are clouded with ego, we think that we have made things happen. Arjuna, the person who understands the relationship between the forces of Nature and actions, and sees how the forces of Nature work together with other forces of Nature to make things happen, does not become their slave. If we are deluded about these forces of Nature then we become attached to nature’s functions.

It is the forces of Nature (The Three Gunas) that really make things happen, but we delude ourselves into thinking that it is our will that has actually accomplished something, and so our ego and pride inflate, taking us further away from reality.

Once we understand that it is the potent energy of the universe that makes things happen we can stand back and let go, and this letting go allows us to function freely and easily in the world, and through this playful freedom we are able to effect the healthy flourishing of body, mind and spirit.

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May 2, 2016 at 12:30 pm Leave a comment

The Real Son Of Saul

I see that Son of Saul, the Hungarian film about a Jewish slave worker in Auschwitz is about to be released in the UK. I’m sure it will be a gruelling experience, but I am looking forward to seeing the film. This film is fictional, but my book I Survived a Secret Nazi Extermination Camp contains the real story of a Jewish slave worker in Belzec, one of the Operation Reinhard extermination factories. Rudolf Reder was the only post-war survivor of this hell hole, where 650,000 Jews and Gypsies were murdered. In 1946 he gave an account of his experiences to a Jewish Historical Commission which was gathering testimonies for use in future war crimes trials of the Nazis.  Reder’s witness statement, which runs to 40 pages, is a highly detailed, graphic and horrific account of what he saw and experienced. It is not easy to read the painful incidents that he recounts. When people ask me if I plan to make a film of the book, my response is that if the story were told truthfully, it would be the most painful horror film which would force all viewers to avert their eyes. So I am interested to see how the director in Son of Saul manages to show the unbelievable cruelties that occurred in Auschwitz  to innocent men, women and children.

April 13, 2016 at 9:11 am 1 comment

A Spiritual Almanack- March: Early Growth

Hexagram 4: MENG (Childhood)

Mountain

Over

Water (stream)

I have always been regretting that I was not as wise as the day I was born.

H.D. Thoreau

All beginnings hide their magnificence. Life is unfolding, but it is not yet fully manifest: in the beginning of things, in early growth, we see only the tips, the first growths that hide enormous potential.

The image: A spring flows out of a mountain.

Water emerging from a deep source under the dark cover of the mountain collects naturally into a spring, pure and transparent, like the clarity of a child’s innocent mind. As it travels down the mountain and enters the valley the murmuring streams converge into a great river, grow broader and deeper and eventually merge into the sea. When the spring gushes forth, it doesn’t know where it will end, it just flows on and on, trusting its own nature. Everything begins in this small way and has the potential to become naturally great.

But at the foot of the mountain lies difficulty. After the spring emerges, sediment builds up and the initial pure clarity of the fresh spring is obscured and lost. Our own minds also start out pure and clear, showing the mind of Tao, but as we grow up we acquire conditioning – kleshas, ignorance, attachments, false illusions – which obscure our inner clarity, and we are left with the conditioned human mind, losing the real and gaining the false. We fail to see the world clearly, and our ego gets in the way.

The way to combat ignorance, to reverse the human mind back to the mind of Tao is through self-cultivation, through nourishing our correct nature, but it is difficult to do this without losing childlike innocence.

Lao Tzu was asked,

“Can you explain the Tao of keeping good health?”

He replied,

Can you embrace the One?

Can you keep from losing it?

Can you know good and bad fortune without consulting the oracle?

Can you rest where you ought to rest?

Can you stop when you have enough?

Can you leave others alone and seek it in yourself alone?

Can you flee from desire?

Can you be sincere?

Can you become like a little child? A child can cry all day without becoming hoarse — so perfect is its harmony. It can clench its fists all day without relaxing its grip – such is the concentration of its power. It can stare all day without moving its eyes — so unconcerned is it by the outside world. It walks but doesn’t know where. It rests where it’s placed, but it doesn’t know why. It unconsciously mingles with things, and just follows their flow. This is how to guard life.

Rabbi Jesus said,

Truly I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

All beginnings, whenever we start something new, whether it is a yoga teacher training course, a business, a relationship, a creative work, a new political or social movement or the birth of a child, all follow this pattern. We start everything with the expectation that it will grow, develop and prosper, and it can if we have the flexibility of yin to act in accordance with the time and follow the right principles.

The danger at the beginning of things can only be overcome by cultivating our virtues, our highest human values. These are the principles that can sustain our growth, help us to fulfill our potential, and avoid and correct any obstacles that arise. What are these virtues? Swami Satchidananda said that his teacher Swami Sivananda used to say that yoga was so simple. It was “just being good, doing good.” All new beginnings need to be sustained by the most positive values that we can bring to bear: love, compassion and honesty. The ethical teachings of the yamas and niyamas in Patanjali’s yoga sutras say the same thing – by living correctly, ethically, we can live well.

At our beginning we are innocence itself, pure love, and for most of us we are as close to our essence as we will ever be in this body and in this life. As we grow and develop we cross a bridge from love to fear and our task is to return to that beginning and go back over the bridge from fear to love.

When you watch a baby, she is completely at one with her body; her body moves where it needs to go, and her beauty is in her perfection. She is totally present; there is no future, there is no past.

The goal of yoga is to find our true essence, to be totally connected to the spirit or soul within, our inner God, and to be present in each and every moment, just as a baby is.

As we practise our yoga asanas, we are looking to release the habitual patterns of deep tension and bad posture that many of us have developed so that we can allow our bodies to move freely and without tension. It is our attention on the body as we practise and the conscious use of the breath that will help us to get in touch with the body’s inherent wisdom to keep us healthy and happy. As we allow the gravity and our breath to work for us and touch the ground with trust and love, we can learn to trust and love ourselves and the universe around us. This is how we can make the return journey to that bridge so that we can cross back from fear to love.

Pranayama practise and kriyas will help us to clear the impurities from the body, clear our energetic pathways and give us a deep inner strength. The purpose of meditation is to still the mind, learn to understand its wily ways and gain some control over it so that we can go beyond the conscious mind to something much deeper that puts us in touch with the God within us and the immense universal power within us and outside of us. This is true love and with this love we have nothing to fear.

March 1, 2016 at 12:19 pm Leave a comment

A Spiritual Almanack – February: SEEDS

Hexagram 3: Beginning

i_ching_03_chun[1]

Cloud (water)

Over

Thunder

After stillness, action; after rest, movement; after completion: beginning. One yin and one yang make up the entire universe.

In February seeds lie in the ground, but they are not dormant. Within they are beginning to stir, slowly uncurling, starting the long journey to fulfil their mysterious inner potential. But we cannot see their progress; the ground hides them, just as our deepest motives and impulses, the mysterious unseen movers that cause us to move, lie hidden in our psyche.

The Decision of the I Ching Hexagram 3, Beginning says,

The beginning of a tiny sprout.

Sublimely prosperous and smooth.

Favourable to be steadfast and upright.

Do not act lightly.

From the slowly rousing seed, there emerges first a root, which buries itself deep into the soil, and then a tiny seedling appears, a tender shoot which rises up. This first tendril represents new life, and life grows out of two movements – the rise of yang and the descent of yin. The seed surrenders itself to the earth and in turn receives nourishment from it.

In our yoga practise as in life we need to follow both of these dimensions: using gravity to find our own root, and using our prana, our life energy, to rise up. We need to understand how we relate to the ground, how we use the ground. To find our own root is to learn to trust the earth, and to let it really support us, with no holding on to muscle tension. The ground represents elemental power and energy, the power that nurtures and grows. Can we trust it enough to just let go and rest into it?

The seed is the essence of the plant, just as our seeds – our cells and eggs – contain our essence, our inner self. So in this season our being starts to emerge from its hibernation, the life force unfolding towards the light. Seeds are powerhouses of energy, sharply concentrated and attentive foci of action. The smallest plant, soft and pliable, carries tremendous power in its root, the serenely unfolding yang power of the life force. We too have this power within us, but our fears, doubts and anxiety create obstacles that inhibit the release of the intense force of our life energy.

Hexagram 3 is an emblem of this situation: the crashing power of the thunder is damped down by the clouds above. Our tremendous latent power is covered over and inhibited. Before we are able to emerge into our own light we must make a journey back, a reversal into our root so that we can again emerge from it. Paradoxically, we make progress by moving backward, crablike, as the Tao Te Ching tells us,

The Tao moves the other way

The Tao works through weakness

To go back the other way means to return to the root, to the source and origin of our being, where our power lies hidden and sleeping, coiled like the serpent power – Kundalini. Yoga is a means of discovering and releasing this latent energy so that we can use it in daily life. Many of us live too much in our heads so we need to practice bringing our energy down to our base, our fundament. Vanda Scaravelli taught a yoga influenced strongly by using gravity, allowing the natural pull of weight to draw us down to earth, to ground ourself in ourself. When we work on the base – the essential, the fundamental – then we are working with the base chakra, the first power centre of the body. As we allow ourselves to be supported by life, solidly grounded on the earth, comfortable in our own skin, then we are balanced in the root chakra. And the root chakra is the support of all the other chakras.

Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa says:

We connect to the planet through our first chakra, and it’s where we return ourselves back to the earth beneath us. It is at our first chakra that we accept we are even here on earth. It is where we first say ‘yes’ to life.

Once we can unconditionally say ‘yes’ to life we can discover our true self, our true nature, and in doing so we liberate our energy and become free of fear, as the Katha Upanishad tells us,

. When the wise understand that it is only through the Eternal Self that we see, taste, smell, feel, hear, and enjoy, they meditate on this Self and go beyond all suffering. When we are present with our Self, we are beyond fear. And this is our true nature. The Eternal Self lives not only in our hearts but also among the physical elements. It is a boundless power manifesting as life itself, entering every heart, living there among the elements – that is the Eternal Self.

When we lose fear we automatically gain courage, which is why courage is one of Socrates’ cardinal virtues. He did not mean only the bravery of a soldier, but our everyday courage when we strive to overcome our deepest fears. Yoga can be a powerful tool to help us gather our courage, and learn to live in greater freedom. When we are free, we begin to see reality clearly, without the delusion of the past. In such a state, we can see the obstacles that stop us, can grow past our old conditioning, can learn to grow ‘prosperous and smooth’, just like the tiny plants.

As the Zen monk Tiantong Hongshi says,

Everywhere life is sufficient, in its way.

In us life is also sufficient, and we have everything we need within to fulfil our enormous potential. All we have to do is wake up and realise it.

February 1, 2016 at 12:30 pm Leave a comment

Beyond Fearlessness

When I was suffering from the negative aspects of my law suit against the Pythons- mainly fear and insecurity – I was helped greatly by a book by the Tibetan Buddhist teacher Chogyam Trungpa. Trungpa was an amazing character who filled his short life with some impressive accomplishments, including establishing the first modern Buddhist University -Naropa- in Colorado. The book that I used was called Shambhala- The Sacred Path of the Warrior, and its teaching helped me to stay centred during my darkest days and nights.

This teaching says that confidence and bravery are primordial, and that fear and doubt are a later imposition upon them. The events that we encounter in life and how we respond to them create fear and doubt which stop us from acting in our best interests. Fear makes us cowards, even though we were not born cowards. By doubting ourselves we create anxiety. The combination of fear and anxiety gives us stress and if this becomes long lasting, we are in danger of serious illness. By understanding that before fear and doubt there was confidence, and in learning techniques (mainly meditation) to  regain that confidence, we are able to go beyond fear into a kind of ‘fearless zone’. In this zone we can feel protected and can bring out our earliest and strongest positive qualities to fight the negative influences that are assailing us. In using our primordial confidence we are able to become warriors, not aggressive war-like soldiers, but warriors who can create, build and grow things. By re-igniting our inherent confidence, we are able to bring our positivity and inherent goodness to bear against the negativity.

There is a strong wisdom in this kind of warriorship, which merely asks us to become who we are, since if we really know who we are we will pursue our aims with bravery and confidence, and not hinder ourselves through fear of the future or doubt about our ability. This is what Heraclitus said about the Warrior:

“Out of every one hundred men, ten shouldn’t even be there, eighty are just targets, nine are the real fighters, and we are lucky to have them, for they make the battle. Ah, but the one, one is a warrior, and he will bring the others back.” 

Bravery is not being afraid of who you are. The Shambhala teachings say that there is a basis of sanity and goodness in our lives which we can tap into at any time. Unfortunately we are not taught how to do this at school, but it’s good there are teachers in the world like Trungpa who can help us to get on the path to this wisdom.

January 25, 2016 at 2:46 pm Leave a comment

Unique Book Launch for The 7th Python

I don’t know if anyone has ever created an animated cover for a book before, but we may be doing something original and unique in our launch for the hardback version of my book The 7th Python.

We – editor David Cohen, publicist Nigel Passingham , webmaster Richard Cobelli , social media maven Patrice Stephens, and writer/publisher yours truly  – have been preparing a campaign to launch The 7th Python on an unsuspecting world. The centrepieces of the campaign are two animated videos of the book’s (cartoon) cover, which we plan to send to influencers and web sites in the English-speaking world with the aim of making our cover (via the animations) go viral.

The cover itself (soon to be revealed) was created by cartoonist Owen Williams. We asked Patrice Stephens how best to saturate the web with our attractive, colourful and funny cover, and she suggested putting it on all the social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and so on. She thought that the striking image would attract attention. Nigel Passingham then suggested that if the image caught peoples’ attention for a couple of seconds, wouldn’t an animated version keep them viewing for longer. Patrice agreed and said that we would need two versions- a 15 second version for twitter and Instagram, and a longer version for other media.

We were lucky to find a young and talented animator in Ruth Barrett, who created the two animations for us – one 15 seconds and the other 54.  Composer Helene Muddiman (Ice Age 4) arranged Sousa’s Liberty Bell March (Monty Python’s theme tune) into a jokey music score (inspired by comic Les Dawson’s piano routines), and we were ready to roll.

The challenge – not quite the 12 travails of Hercules – is to see how many people the video can reach who would then blog, busk and bitch about the book.

Oh and buying it, too.

There’s no denying it
We want you buying it.

So we hope to entice as many as poss to our Facebook page – The 7th Python – and to our website http://www.the7thpython.com.

There you’ll find info on the book and be initiated into the mysteries of buying it.

P.S. Fans of Cleese may be distressed he’s now repeating his brilliant ‘thrash the car with a branch’ routine from Fawlty Towers as an ad for Specsavers!

January 18, 2016 at 9:19 am Leave a comment

Michael White and The Holy Grail

I’ve just been watching The Last Impresario on Imagine (BBC1), a film about Michael White, the theatre and film producer. Michael was the exec producer of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and he invested 50% of the budget. I liked Michael very much, and we worked well together. We eventually went on to do other things. such as a production of Woody Allen’s The Bluebird Of Unhappiness. He was incredibly helpful on the Holy Grail, because when we had a terrible preview of the film, Michael didn’t panic but helped to put up the additional money to redo the soundtrack. He was cool in the face of seeming disaster. Here is how I describe it in The 7Th Python:

The Disastrous First Screening

It was one of those evenings when Python flopped. – Terry Jones

Back in London, we worked hard to produce a cut of the film that we could show to the other Pythons and the investors.

The preview took place on October 1 1974 at the Hanover Grand Preview Theatre in central London. We had invited about 200 people, including most of the investors. This screening was one of the worst film experiences of my life.

Every screening has a certain mood that you can feel in the theatre, and the mood at the end of that screening was certainly pretty grim. People weren’t responding, they weren’t laughing the way they should have been. There was laughter at individual scenes, but no sustained build-up. The main problem was that the sound effects were too prominent. Because the comedy is quite slight, the jokes need to have a context in which they work, and if you overwhelm them with sound, they will just get drowned, which I think is what happened.

This was the first time that either of the two Terrys had ever done this kind of film sound mixing, so it’s very easy to try something which doesn’t work, and at that point it can all be thrown away, can all be redone. But someone who doesn’t know the technical side, might think looking at it, “God, this is it, and we’ve got to live with what we’re currently seeing,” which of course is not the case. A certain amount of inexperience may have led people to think it was a disaster which couldn’t be repaired.

Afterwards, there was a feeling of “This is a mess, what have we let ourselves in for?” I think there were people who probably felt the film was a lost cause. And it’s
very easy, when you’re in a position like this, to panic.

Eric Idle walked out halfway through the film; everyone else stayed to the bitter end. There was polite applause at the end. (Michael) White and (John ) Goldstone (executive producers) didn’t speak to the Pythons.

Here is how everyone remembered the event, in David Morgan’s book, Monty Python Speaks:

TERRY JONES: Terry G. had done the dub, and you know what it’s like when you’re making a film: you’ve got two or three sound editors working away for months and months building up wonderful, incredibly thick soundtracks. It started off everybody laughing at the beginning and then after a while just nothing; the whole film went through [with]
no laughter at all. And it was awful, I was sitting there saying, “It
just can’t be unfunny.”

JOHN GOLDSTONE: We’d already spent all the money by then and couldn’t quite go back to them and say, “Can you put up some more because we’d like to refinish it?” So we had to go to a bank and borrow money against personal guarantees to make up the difference.

TERRY JONES: So we went and redubbed it and as soon as anybody started talking I just took all the sound effects out, all the atmosphere, everything. I went through the entire film doing that, and that seemed to help, it was something about the soundtrack filling in all the pauses.

TERRY JONES: Neil Innes’ music sounded quaint, it didn’t have an epic
feel to it. And we’d run out of money by that time, so I went along
to De Wolfe Music Library in London and just took out piles and
piles of disks and just sat here at home trying out music to it, trying
to get something to work. So it felt like what you needed was really corny, heroic music.

NEIL INNES: The Arthurian themes were too thin with the instruments we had available- two French horns, two violins. Terry rang to say we can’t use the music because it’s just not strong enough. The 12 piece orchestra couldn’t cope with the 120 piece orchestral sound that the film required. Artistically it was a better solution to go to a library to get epic music. We would never have had the money to record that size score. I wasn’t that disappointed. I understood it. If it was my film I would have made the same choice.

We had some very heavy meetings over the next few days, a post mortem to see if we could bring this dead film back to life. Michael White was very supportive; he didn’t panic and I was glad that I had kept him involved in the production. In the end we remixed the film, bringing down the level of the sound effects to let the dialogue punch through, and added the mock heroic library music score. We knew there was a good film buried there, and if we went back and remixed it, we’d have a funny film. The next screening was very positive. Now we knew the film was very good, it was very funny, it was working well. I think everyone was very happy with it. So it was really night and day.

If the Pythons had not owned the film, the director (or directors) would probably have been replaced at that point, or at least told to stay out of the cutting room. But the structure I set up meant that even through a disaster, the two directors had the time (and we had to find the extra money) to let them correct their initial work.

Everyone benefited from the great success of the film, and thirty years is plenty of time for memories to blister and fade so that some of the Pythons seem to have had a bout of amnesia concerning who raised the money – and much else. The two Terrys, Graham and Michael all knew what my role had been, but Cleese and Idle had no involvement with the setting up of the film, so had no idea as to what I had done for them. This became a real problem when their management changed, and (their former manager) Anne Henshaw was no longer there to keep alive that memory.

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December 2, 2015 at 12:23 pm Leave a comment

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