Posts tagged ‘Socrates’

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.

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

My Glorious Publishing Career Part 1

I have now made all of my books into ebooks, so it’s a good time to look back and reflect on my illustrious publishing career. It’s been an interesting ride so far, and I hope it continues. Book six is about to come out, and I think it’s going to be a bit of a breakthrough.

For the record, my first 5 books are: The Spiritual Teachings of Marcus Aurelius, The Spiritual Teachings of Seneca, The Spiritual Teachings of the Tao, The Spiritual Teachings of Yoga and The Living Wisdom of Socrates. The new one is called I Survived a Secret Nazi Extermination Camp and is coming out in September.

I started writing by accident. In 1997 I thought it would be a great thing to make an audio of The Tao Te Ching, the 2300 year old Chinese Taoist classic. And one day it just happened. I visited Martin Palmer in Manchester and told him this was a book I would love to record. He told me that he made religious programmes for the BBC and maybe he could arrange a recording studio. But who would read it? I hadn’t thought that far ahead, so I needed to think about good actors who could handle the text. Ideally I hoped to find someone who knew the book, but failing that, I needed someone sensitive to ideas and feelings. I settled on the late Nigel Hawthorne, who didn’t know the work but threw himself into the project with great enthusiasm. He did a remarkable job, responding very well to Martin’s directions regarding the meaning of the sometimes inscrutable text. Once we added music to Nigel’s voice, we had a very fine recording of the classic.

I now needed distribution to get the audio (it was a cassette at that time) into shops. Someone introduced me to Rupert Lancaster at Hodder and Stoughton and after he listened to the tape he offered me a deal. A year later, he rang to ask if I had any other audio ideas. It just so happened I did (or at least I did once he put the idea into my mind). I gave Rupert four ideas and he responded best to the notion of recording The Meditations Of Marcus Aurelius.

To be continued (possibly).

August 26, 2014 at 8:39 pm Leave a comment

A Life Well Lived

I went to the cinema to see Joss Whedon’s film of Much Ado About Nothing. One of the ads that preceded the film was for San Miguel beer, and the ad’s slogan was- Una Vida Bien Vivida- A Life Well Lived.

It got me thinking – what is a life well lived? Socrates said ‘The unexamined life is not worth living”, so for him a life well lived is one in which you cease living through habit and conditioning, and instead clarify what it is you are doing with your life, where your actions and behaviour come from, and what thoughts have made these events come about. This makes your life full of spontaneous yet well-thought out responses to life, rather than reflex conditioned ones.

That may not be everyone’s idea of a life well lived. In the past my conception probably included a certain level of materialism, the idea that a surplus of cash helps to make a well-lived life. But recently I’ve changed my mind. I am not against having money, but since the past couple of years have brought a forced reduction in my income, I’ve had to revise my ideas.

A well-lived life must mean one in which, as an individual (and there is no way we can experience life other than as individuals) we feel that we have done something good with the life that we are given. I know that good is a very broad word, and I use it deliberately, because the kind of good we can do ranges from raising children, to making art, cooking food, making wine, working for our families, loving others and yes- even drinking San Miguel beer. Good spreads itself throughout the landscape of our lives, overwhelming the evil that we also do.

A few years ago I looked back over my life in a very long sweep of personal history. This presented a jagged series of ups and down, times of plenty and joy alternating with times of woe, easy times and rougher times. But looking back from that present point I realised that the waves of good and bad formed a pattern in which the final result was good. I was reassured by that, that the overall pattern of my life constituted a ‘life well lived’ although I didn’t characterise it like that at the time. I didn’t have the ‘San Miguel philosophy’ to help me out. How pleasing to find philosophy alive and well in the cinema.

July 18, 2013 at 8:52 pm Leave a comment

Standing On Others’ Shoulders – Part 1- (don’t hold your breath for Part 2)

I think it’s time that I started standing on my own creative feet and stop standing on the shoulders of others. In my case that means old philosophers – both east and west.  My first 5 books were all about philosophies or philosophers: Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, Taoism, Yoga and Socrates. I explained the ideas behind the philosophy, followed by key texts I had referred to.

My latest book – I Survived A Secret Nazi Extermination Camp – is entirely different. The first part of the new book is a short introduction to  the little known but infamous Nazi death camp called Belzec. In this isolated, forested camp in SE Poland,  the Nazis killed an estimated 650,00 Jews and Gypsies.  The time between arrival by freight train to death in a gas chamber was only two hours. Rudolf Reder, a Polish Jew, managed to stay alive for four months as a worker in the camp, before making a miraculous escape. By the end of the war, Reder was the only survivor of the camp, and he gave a Witness Statement recounting his experiences.

It is this Witness Statement of Reder’s that forms part two of the book. He recounts the horrific, pathetic and harrowing events that took place in Belzec, and the cruel and criminal acts of the Nazi and Ukrainian guards.  It is a difficult account to read – one man recounting the hell that the Nazis’ madness had created, and which he saw first-hand.

Part three is an account by me ( a kind of memoir ) about how and why I came across this Statement of Reder’s. It’s partly about my family and partly about my relationship to the holocaust, and its victims.  A few years ago, I decided to search for my Grandparents’ roots online via JewishGen which led me to discover hundreds of ancestors. This search ultimately led me to Lublin, and it was on a visit to the Majdanek Concentration Camp that I found Reder’s Statement. At the same time I learned the fate of my grandfather’s family – those who he left behind had been sent from their homes in Lublin to be killed in Belzec .

How is this book different to the other 5? Of course it’s much more personal. I am not writing about dead philosophers but about the terrible fate of my own (newly discovered) family. It’s about history, but told in a personal way. I’ve set out my reflections on what I was learning, and my own memories were part of this discovery.   Obviously I am not a survivor of the camps and no known relative of mine had been one either. We were Americans, not Europeans. All my grandparents emigrated to the USA in the early 1900s, and my parents and all of our family had been born in America. Growing up, I never realised that my grandparents had left family behind – parents, sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles. It is the fate of those family members that my search revealed, and my memoir reflects how I came to terms with this dark knowledge.

June 28, 2013 at 9:26 pm 1 comment


The Blog That Fell From The Sky

Reflections on an age of anxiety.

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