Tag Archives: Spirituality

Look Up!

When you’re walking in the street.

The sky is so big, yet we never look at it when we’re going about our business.

Why is that?

Do we forget it’s there?

That just behind the curtain of our lives, there is a another curtain which opens up into the vastness of space and time.

Life is a game sometimes. It’s so easy to get into the tunnel vision of everything that is going on. You have to eat breakfast, go to school/ work, meet deadlines, see friends and family, go to meetings, health appointments, gym, and so on.

But, what is waiting up there? Out in the vastness of life revolving on the grand scale, we still exist, yet we cannot quite grapple with it. It’s too difficult to say ‘I am walking in the city, but I am also a sigh, a breath, a magical heart beat propelling the universe into existence’. It sounds absurd, I know, but what feels right?

Are you just a piece of flesh, caught up and bound in a mesh of materials and small significances? A rare aberration of nature’s creativity with heat, water, and minerals? Or are you life itself, exploding, bright, passionate, constantly in flux and without limitation? So rare is that we exist at all, even in our own revolving solar system.

You know that you are alive. Can you imagine what that means? How precious to know that you really do exist and can experience the entirety of Earth in all its magics and splendour. You just popped up into being, and now you’re living! Can you believe it?

Hard to come to terms with, especially now that life is so insular and wrapped up in itself. The many ways we can forget what part we play are growing. So many distractions.

But did you ever just stop, a minute.

Did you ever just… look up?

Swirling clouds, bright blue skies, birds, gliding overhead, the subtle tones of sunset and sunrise, colours in combination that are enough to steal your breath away. What peace and serenity there is in that vast space. And we are living here. We are part of that huge power that moves all of life. And we are not just making it happen, we are watching it happen and we can move with it too.

Next time you feel lost. Next time you are cruising on autopilot, or down in dumps, or stressed beyond all belief because the small things are piling up around you. Just look up. There, you see? We’re just floating, here on Earth, watching the open sky as it changes and brightens.

Better, right?

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Acceptance in the Age of Terror

We don’t know the limits of life’s horror.

There are so many evils that we will never know. We are not in a world where we could be sent to concentration camps because our opinions do not align with the government’s (though, outside of the west, this can still happen), we are free to express our dissent in protest, online and in press, though some would argue that the scope of this freedom is being slowly eroded by various means, and we have jobs and some level of welfare (again variable) to protect us from the very real and very easy to fall into trap or homelessness.

So, with that, what is our oppressor in this modern world? What is left to fear and to fight in the west?

Fabricated terror.

What do I mean by this?

I mean that we live in a world which is saturated by lies. We are drowning in advertisement, we are suffocating in media, both online and in print, and we are asphyxiated by the increasing avenues of society to perceive us as ‘other’.

Advertisement is everywhere. It tells us constantly ‘you need this, you wouldn’t be as happy without this thing that you can buy.’, but it’s all lies. In fact, having worked adjacently to the marketing team in the company that I work for, I can tell you, they make a living from creative lying. This is disappointing, that the only forms of creativity in which we can find a living easily, should be the ones in which we must instantly discard our integrity. Exaggerated claims about the longevity or performance of products is the first outrage, though it is rife and quite commonplace in this area of work. Then, what about the fact that the marketing department, who have all the money and power, who tell us what we can and cannot do, will wilfully expect us to lie to customers about the claims a product can make, or even to avoid the truth that sometimes there are limitations and that these limitations on a product’s ability should be respected. I find that customers appreciate that honesty more than any unbridled claims about how much a product can do for the value of its cost. And then, as if to take it to the limits of incredulity, they would withhold product faults or issues from us, the front line staff who must fix the problems, for fear that we are untrustworthy. There is no greater hypocrisy, no greater insult to the genuine staff that I work with.

Every cell of the body of marketing companies is without integrity, from the creativity, to the authority, to the obfuscation of truth, which hampers our ability to help customers. There is no integrity in advertising before you even reach the advert at hand.

And then let us look at the products themselves.

What do they look like? Smiling white toothed models holding products tenderly and proudly, like new-born babies. Except where is paternal love? Cold, dead eyes stare back through LED screens at bus stops and on billboards. There is no love here, only spiders, sharks, and vultures behind white porcelain veneers. And what of those things that they would sell to you? A mortgage? With expressive coolness, they say we can lift you up when you need to make that big life decision, yet, do we even know where the term comes from? ‘Mortgage’ means ‘death loan’. It was used to describe a sum of money you would pay until you were dead. Rather grimmer in reality than as posed to us in advertising. And what happens when you cannot pay your mortgage? Ultimately, they will repossess your home. What does ‘repossess’ mean? It meant to ‘start again’ or more viscerally, it could mean an ‘undoing’. A creative term for obliteration and recycling of home, of life as it was. And still, we cannot see how, underneath the language of advertising, there is so much violence and misery. Smiling mortgage providers extend a hand, all the while, they have leashes around the necks of mortals who will wear them until death, and whose homes can be yanked from beneath them when life takes a turn for the worse.

I am reminded perhaps of the buddhist teaching that grasping for material things, like products etc are a fast track to misery and emptiness. And we cannot breathe in our society for the grasping! Everywhere you look, some talon, miserable, wan, clammy, dead, extends and swipes, hoping to land its sharp sinus in your mind-flesh. We are fatigued because we step into waking life under siege from all angles, but not the kind which forces the body to move and take evasion from, but attacks on the mind, bamboozling us in every waking moment of every day. We are indeed living in a nightmare and there are evils waiting for us always. What must our subconscious landscape look like at this point? Deep, scoured craters, trenches, scarred, muddy battlefields, and desolate to boot.

This is the first terror, and it is a terror which plays on the subconscious as soon as we wake, ravaging our inner mind, so sensitive that it is, we do significant damage without even knowing it.

Then what of the media? Is there ever a good word to say about the world? It makes it no less true of course that bad things happen every day, but we know this, we implicitly understand that life can be filled with tragedy and it will touch all of us human beings at various points in our lives.

So what is this constant reminding? Yes, it has its purposes. We must not forget the past, for if we do, we can bring it about again through forgetting, but that is what history is for, which should be taught and passed down by communities and schools and parents and relatives. The media does not play an active part in the dissemination of history, but rather in current events. So we are bombarded with the worst miseries of modern times from across the globe. And it is worse because now there are not just newspapers and radios, there are also computers, smart phones, televisions etc which can send information to us more quickly than at any other time in human history. How can we deal with so much misery, so readily and quickly available. The mind again lays itself out to be flayed and stuffed, like foie gras ducks, we are stuffed until we are sick to death. It is true that our impulses and attention are quick to gravitate towards negativity, in the fact that our base brains are powerful, primal and quick. But it is our humanity which lives in the outer most parts, the prefrontal cortex and higher brain which control our ability to be empathic and good, and to form strong, meaningful relationships with other human beings.

The media highjack of our base impulses is the second terror.

Then what of our avatars in this world, where information flows to quickly and spreads vastly under the right conditions?

Social media, where we put our lives online to show others who we are is dangerous. No version of ourselves which appears through the internet is fair and representative. We want to be successful and revered in the eyes of our peers, so we often lie about how we feel. Curiously though, I have started to see a new phenomena, the rise of the ‘down to earth’ media star. They burp, fart, talk about real shit and their vulnerability with the world. And this too is an insult to our humanity. There is a paradoxical lack of integrity in the very act of putting all of yourself onto the internet. A camera always makes us behave differently because a camera is not a person, it is an inanimate object which captures our likeness. We can only communicate by way of in person exchange. Energy flows between life, not the cold dead barrier of camera lens or social media profile. Something is lost in translation. The soul, perhaps, the integrity perhaps also, but we are so desperate for love that we will take this half-filtered shadow and accept our fate.

And then we say something online that can be taken out of context. And the likes of twitter can be the catalyst to the utter destruction or exaltation of anyone or anything in about an hour. ‘Tweeting’ is a form of mass hysteria which is more revolting than anything I could every imagine. And now we all know that what we say online can be taken by little birds, cut, edited and morphed into something grotesque with the power to abjectly destroy your life, no matter if it is true or not. Once it happens, whether you are later cleared or not, there is no way to reclaim your integrity. People have stopped being interested once the the hysteria has passed. They now only retain the perception which made them excited, which in almost all cases is shy of the truth, or abjectly false. We are living in post-truth. It matters not if something is real, only that it could be real.

Hear say has always existed, but the extent to which this can then become global truth is alarming.

This is the third terror of modern life.

And so we can see how life is plagued by sinister and pale oppressive forces which barrage the psyche at every waking moment. Once, long ago in the medieval period, we believed in demons, spirits and angels, the wrathful vengeance of God and other divine entities. Are we any better now? I could make an argument that we are actually worse.

We know our enemy, we know where it stems from, but still, we let it suck us dry.

Advertisement, news, and social media, the new demons and wrathful Gods of the modern age.

How to tackle this new threat is a whole new article, but I will leave you with this rather commonly quoted passage from Chinese General Sun Tzu:

“Know thy enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles, you will never be defeated. When you are ignorant of the enemy but know yourself, your chances of winning or losing are equal. If ignorant both of your enemy and of yourself, you are sure to be defeated in every battle.”

Sun Tzu

Acceptance, knowing who we are and what the enemy is, will be salves and healing potions in this phase of monsters and mythical terrors.

Follow @heathen.life for the next instalment.

Leviathans and Drowning Men

This is a strange question to ask, but often it is the puzzling ones which need to be explored more deeply for answers.

I have spent more and more time in meditation, asking myself, or to the best of my abilities, the subconscious, the questions that matter?

What are you hiding?

What is in the darkness in your heart?

Can you learn to confront it?

And so much of the buddhist teachings that I have been exposed to in the past few years have extolled the ‘return’ to child and further still, the return to nothing. The consciousness we were before we knew we were ourselves. And that is a hard concept to grapple with. If I am not the sum of the things that have happened to me, who am I?

Naturally, the teachings have many answers, ranging from ‘consciousness’ to ‘everything and all things’ to ‘nature’ or even ‘nothingness’. And though each of these answers resonates on an intuitive level, it is hard to accept that the nothingness and unity are qualities we are born with and can access at any time. On top of that, we have so much conditioning. We have so much baggage from the life we live. The work we do, the people we must war and make peace with. The relationships that break down. The start over and collapse, the relocation, flight, settling, beginning, ending, breaking and fixing that we all go through. We are constantly in motion, and this is indeed a core principle of life itself and at the heart of the wheel that turns the universe, but until we acknowledge that the motion of the universe and the things that it has done to us, are still not ‘us’, we are trapped. We think to ourselves: ‘why is life so hard? why am I so exhausted? this wheel is never-ending, will I suffer until I am dead?’. It leaves a person with nothing but the absurdity and mundanity of repeated experience as a basis for their lives. And the dissolution that ensues is enough to drive anyone to madness.

We were hurt. By our parents who were supposed to love us. By our friends, who did not care about us. By our employers who did not value us. By our children who did not respect us. By our observers who wanted us to be what they wanted us to be. And we wrapped ourselves in a thousand bands of scar tissue, hardened and calloused against the world that did not appreciate us. We lost loved ones to misjustice. We were violated in our trust. We were used when we were vulnerable. Life is full of opportunity for violence and tragedy and the impact is to make us hate ourselves, to hate our scars because of what they represent. Each lashing a tailored violence against the body and mind.

But to return. To return to the child. To return to the wild. To return to nothing. These are our birth right, and our destiny. We may dip our toes into the lapping waters of the ever ebbing and flowing universal tides, if only we know how. And it takes a walk inside oneself, through the rugged terrain of life’s every day circumstance, through the caverns and caves where fictitious monsters lie created by a mind on fire with fear, and to go deeper still, into the rockpools and underwater tunnels, then into the vastness of open water where nothing is and no one goes. And in this place, you are drowning and breathing, living and dying, laughing and crying, catching and caught, finding and losing, holding and releasing, and it is indescribable and it is wordless, but is you and it is me and it is us. And from this place a great knowing floods in. That there is nothing to fear, that there is bliss in life and meaning in death, and heart and spirit move beyond the confines of circumstance, experience and body, and into this place where all is meaningful and empty and profound and wordless.

So, who were you before you were cut open? Before you bled for this life. Before the sacrifices, heartache and violence? Before the betrayal, misery, misunderstanding and displacement? Go inside. Find it. Ask the questions. Soothe your wounds in the blissful deep. And despite our fear of the ocean, of the indiscernible black liquid and the visceral undertow inside of us, no leviathans live there, only the bliss that a drowning man feels when he lets go, and the salt water fills his lungs.

Brine and ambrosia. So much the same.

A last breath is the first. The drowning man breathes again.

To Beat Chronic Illness You Have to Trust Your Gut

When dealing with chronic physical and mental illness, who will help us but our instincts?

Chronically Ill People

Nobody can tell you why you hurt. People call you ‘whiner’, ‘hypochondriac’, or even worse, they ignore your pain altogether. 

You’re hurting, not just inside, but in your very bones. It’s difficult living with pain you can’t pinpoint and symptoms as mysterious and worrying as they are diffuse and intangible. 

You’re not getting any where with doctors. They tell you over and over again: ‘your bloods are fine’, ‘you have depression’, ‘you need to take it easy’. And you try your best to do this, but you aren’t winning. So, you continue to push for answers. 

The problem is, nobody has the answers. Nobody who we consider reputable anyway. And by reputable, I mean medically sanctioned. The issue here is that medical sanctions apply to medical research, and when the research comes up on chronic illness, it comes up extremely short indeed. 

University was a trigger point for me. I didn’t fit in. I wasn’t part of the cut throat bullshit that kept the private school feeder college kids energized. They loved to jibe and poke at each other, find ways to get underneath the skin, and into the mind. It was an unpleasant, jarring experience. For a while, my mind took the brunt, but eventually, like an ass overburdened, my body broke too. 

I started getting ill more often. At first it was just small things, like breathing problems during the summer after exams, when the quiet period allowed my body to feel the emotional pain it had endured during the whole year. By the end of second year, however, I was a wreck. I had a slipped disk which had caused all manner of painful nerve problems, and a degree of numbness that persisted. It got so bad that I could not walk properly at one point. The MRIs spat back data suggesting it was ‘nothing serious’, but it didn’t feel like that to me. 

I endured increasingly bizarre health complications. I couldn’t breathe — something like asthma was taking hold. I had heart palpitations, more severe by the day. I experienced numbness and tingling in my hands and feet. My bones ached in my ankles, knees, and hips. My blood pressure was extremely high all of the time. The list of problems spun out of control. 

Nobody could help me. The doctors were not listening, and appeared unconcerned by the raw data they were getting back — all the while, my quality of life plummeted. I was getting nowhere. 

It’s at this breaking point —  when you really have to decide to give up and die, or get up and do something —  that you really put your life into perspective. 

I realized, ‘Julian, nobody is going to save you from this, you have only yourself, and your intuition to guide you — use it, and get better.’

So, I listened to that voice, telling me to guide myself, to trust my gut, ironically, one of the first places I focused my healing energies. I’d always had some digestive issues, but I largely ignored them. What can you really do about it? You feel kind of powerless when it comes to your stomach. It’s used every day. You seem to feel as though it should handle the task its set without complaint. Everyone else seems to manage it, why can’t you stomach it too? 

Well, I started to realize, our bodies really do have weak points — places, organs, or points that need fortifying. Many have a weakness in the stomach, but it’s just not something that we try to manage or intuitively fix. We just carry on until something really bad happens and we need surgery. This is a disaster. We need to fortify these weak points before we end up in hospital. Every single one of our organs can do its job well if we give it what it needs. 

But it takes a lot of work. We have to do research. We have to be prepared to look outside what is considered scientifically justifiable. There is so much that science has the barest grasp, and people with chronic illness are the first to know about this. They are the first to learn the limitations of science when it comes to fixing their health. Once you realize just how thin the net is, you learn to make your own net. You cannot rely on medical interventions for your health. Some of them are ineffective, some still are down right dangerous and unnecessary. Now, I am not anti-science, and I am not anti-medicine, but I do think that when it comes to chronic illness, we have a disastrously poor grasp on what is causing it. An open mind is the only way to better health. 

I’ve read some very out there stuff. How about Anthony Williams, the ‘Medical Medium’? He writes about chronic health issues, and he gets his answers from a spirit that guides him by talking to him in his head. Do I rule it out as fraudulent? No, I let my intuition guide me. Does the message seem genuine? Are people getting better? If the answers are ‘yes’, then who am I to discount it? 

I’m serious. If you’re battling chronic illness, you need to be open to ideas that fly directly in the face of the concrete bastion of the scientific method. You are not going to get the answers that you need or want there. It is going to be grueling, and you are going to doubt what you are doing at times, but you must trust yourself. If nothing else, having faith in your mind and body will help you get better. Many people who suffer from chronic illness have lost both, and that is a tragedy. 

My point is, there is much we don’t understand, and when nobody understands you, or what you are going through, you are going to have to find ways to understand it yourself, many of which will seem very bizarre indeed to the vast majority of society. That’s none of your concern. You are listening to your intuition and following a path of learning. You’re a pioneer, and a marauder on the edge of understanding. You have got to believe in yourself and use your feelers to find the truth. This truth may be heretical, even absurd to many, but that is not for you to worry about. What you care about is getting better, so get better, by any means necessary. You’re going to learn a lot about yourself on the way, and trust me, it’ll be worth it. 

Just in case you don’t know, I’m doing better everyday. Many of my health issues are clearing up. I’m becoming happier. I trust myself and my body. I listen to the birds, the trees, the earth, and the sky, and I believe in that. I believe that the universe supports us when we listen to it, so I’m letting it guide me, by putting my faith in that spiritual reality. I’m only at the beginning, and all because I listened to a man who hears voices in his head. I think I’ll keep an ear out for the plants and trees, maybe they’ll have something to say about it too? Nothing is too weird. Keep pushing for the confidence in your life, your soul, and the spirit of Earth. It is waiting patiently for you to listen.

Trust your gut. Heal it, if you need to. Be prepared for a bumpy ride. You’re going to end up in places nobody else understands. What an exciting opportunity. Use that gift to build confidence in your life and spirit. It’s a turning point for anyone. You might need to walk on the fringe, but if that’s how you get better, does it matter? I guess that’s for you to decide. 

Follow Heathen for more stories on the cross section of health, spirituality, and mental wellbeing. Share with anyone who needs the message of love and support that lies within.

Falling Asleep During Meditation

Most of us will remember a time when we meditated in an evening and started to drift off.

Meditation takes a concerted amount of mental energy and focus and falling asleep during the process can be an extremely frustrating issue for some people. In my last post, we talked about implementing meditation into a busy schedule. This post is about the dreaded drowsiness that follows your jam-packed life and how you can tackle its impact on your focus training!

Here are five ways to make sure you don’t let falling asleep ruin meditation for you.

1. Forgive Yourself – We’re human, we fall asleep when we become relaxed and this is only natural. Award yourself the positive thought that you had a nap and this is good for your body. If you were tired enough to fall asleep, you needed a break anyway. Part of the process of learning to meditate is allowing your body the space and time to understand itself. To feel the tiredness and listen to it. We are trying to give our bodies what they need. Falling asleep can be a form of listening and that is positive.

 

2. Meditate in the mornings – This one is easier said than done, believe me, I know! But waking up, having your morning coffee and taking just ten minutes to concentrate and focus, can set you up for a productive and meaningful day. Meditating before the day begins is a good way to focus the mind on the tasks ahead. Think of it like the time it takes to delicately string a bow before the marksmen shoots.

 

3. Make your sessions shorter – For some people, twenty minutes is just too long when they first start meditating regularly. Starting out with just ten minutes and working up to longer periods is the best way to make sure you don’t become tired and put off by the process.

 

4. Sit up and maintain good posture – Some people lie down to meditate and this may work in some cases, but when you come up against sleep, being so comfortable can be unhelpful. Remember, this activity is about maintaining that connection with your whole body. When your body is not engaged in some form of movement, it can switch off and we can find it difficult to connect with the sensations as well as we might when we are using it to stabilise our upright selves.

 

5. Limit the number of sessions – As has already been explained, meditation is taxing on the mind. When we first start out, meditating every day can be daunting. Like any new exercise, physical or mental, it is best to stagger the progression of time you do it. As your endurance increases, we may eventually work up to meditating every day, but for those just starting out, you might choose to meditate three days a week or only on the weekends at first. Don’t make meditation a daunting experience. It is supposed to be useful, not a chore.

So there you have it! Five easy to implement ways to reduce sleepiness and sleep associated self-chastisement during your meditations. Enjoy learning about your body and mind, but do not pressure yourself into more than you are comfortable with. Meditation is not a regime, it is a tool, and we can enjoy it on our own terms.

Happy focus, warmth and joy to you all.

J

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