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Home Articles Thelki inSOUL 2012
inSOUL 2012 PDF Print E-mail

inSOUL is a regular email alert offering short inspirational meditations and reflections to people of all faiths, or none.  This page presents all the 2011 issues. To receive future issues each week, simply subscribe online with your email address.  You can unsubscribe at any time.


speak truth to power

Speaking Truth unto Power  (31 December 2012)  In truth, there are only three forms of power in our world: Divine authority; man-created authority; and human authority. And of these, only the first and third have any substance, whilst the second is illusory, temporal and frequently corrupt.

Divine power comes from the Source of All. It is the Word, that existed before everything else, and from which all else is created and derived. It is an energy that can be resisted but never changed or stopped. When we recognise and accept this power, it offers a way of life for all life forms.

Human power is the other end of the rainbow. Divine power provides each of us with our individual autonomy to be a force for love, compassion and justice in our world. When human power is located within, and nourished by, Divine power, we are magnificent.

Yet in-between, humans have created a hierarchy of man-created powers in such forms as rulers, leaders, politicians and executives. Whilst these forms may start out with the intention of serving God or man, almost all become corrupted - by status, money, power, sex, war, control or self-preservation. These are the false gods associated with power. Both ancient and modern prophets repeatedly teach and warn that such man-made authorities are ultimately dangerous and self-serving. When man is in communion with the Divine, we have no need for any other authority. Speaking Truth unto Power is a way to return to such a heaven on earth.

Speaking Truth unto Power  (24 December 2012)  Speaking Truth unto Power comes with a cost and this is why people choose not to stand up and confront those in power who are being unfair, unjust, or corrupt. Invariably those who speak from their inner knowing of Truth are regarded as a threat by those with power. The truth-speakers are speaking on behalf of the powerless, the poor, the marginalised, the discriminated, and the dispossessed. They are the voice of conscience, integrity and humanity. This is invariably heard as an unwelcome challenge by the power-abusers - a threat to their position of power. After first trying to ignore the truth-speakers, they move on to ridiculing, undermining and eventually removing them.

This is the risk for truth-speakers. You may be regarded as a prophet by the powerless, but you are disliked by the powerful. And the fate of most prophets throughout history has been ostracism, ridicule, and death. This is the cost of Speaking Truth unto Power.

Speaking Truth unto Power  (17 December 2012)  For some time now, since I retired from a professional career, I have been reflecting on the role and purpose of this next phase of my life. One of the strands has come together in the last few months in this phrase - 'Speaking Truth unto Power'. References to this saying can be found in ancient Jewish, Christian and Muslim texts. It came to prominence in the 1950's as the title of a publication by the American Society of Friends setting out non-violent responses to the nuclear arms race. Now it feels to me to have resonance across an ever-widening context.

Most of us have very little 'power' in our lives, yet we are surrounded and are lives are heavily 'controlled' by those who have political power, physical force, financial muscle, commercial monopoly, and publishing or broadcasting weight. Those with power usually claim to exercise it in 'our' best interest, yet even a cursory look at today's media shows rampant self-interest, corruption, vested interests and dishonesty at work.

As conscious humans, we know and recognise this abuse of power. Our heart centre tells us that such use of power is contrary to natural humanity, compassion, equity and justice. Without any counter-power ourselves, our best response is to speak up, calmly and clearly, with the voice of humanity and seek to bring attention to unjust power. This is the role of Speaking Truth unto Power.

Building Blocks - Letting Go (10 December 2012)  Where do all these building blocks come together? What is the foundation stone that holds the structure of spiritual enquiry together? The simple and consistent underlying bedrock is to let go. A letting-go - or surrendering of our individual will and control - is all that we are being invited to do, in order to find and experience peace.

When you look with Beginner's Mind, you approach each situation without pre-judgement, as if for the first time. When you release drivenness and embrace the natural calling of what you are being drawn towards, the struggle of living falls away. When you cease to react towards each event, and instead simply observe what is taking place, the pressure to 'do something' is released. And when you recognise that your control over events is marginal at best, there is a real opportunity to live in the letting-go. We are accustomed to perceiving Surrender as some kind of defeat, particularly in a military context. The battle is in our lives: once you allow yourself to let go, you discover the peace that comes from allowing what-is to exist in another and deeper context.

Building Blocks - Whose control?  (3 December 2012)  One of the great foundational questions on the spiritual path is 'whose show is this anyway?' Put another way: am I in charge of what happens to me - or am I a part of something larger that remains always beyond my control? Our human attempts at control in this world are invariably small and pathetic. Witness our inability to prevent floods, maintain good health, win battles, or sustain personal relationships. Yet the ego-mind persists in wanting to exert control over as much as possible. It's as if by establishing a control of will, undesirable outcomes can be prevented from occurring. And when such control fails - as it always does in the end - the ego-mind just re-doubles its efforts! The mind does not want to recognise that there is a larger program script running in the background that over-rides everything else because it is operating in a universal context.

The human mind, for all its intellect and creativity, is also our greatest curse. It led us out from paradise and into this ceaseless, futile struggle for human control. Like all the rest of this planet we can choose to work with the natural universe rather than seek to impose our will upon it. When faced with any perceived challenge, there is comfort in the great cry from Gethsemane: "Not my will, but Thy Will, be done."

Building Blocks - Action and Reaction  (26 November 2012)  If you ask someone 'What is the opposite of Action?' you normally hear the response, 'Reaction'. We seem to jump automatically into reacting to all the events, messages, activities and words that reach us. It's as if we are programmed to react in response to each and every trigger.

Stop for a moment. The opposite of Action is actually Inaction. Or, as Richard Rohr puts it, Contemplation. There is no need to do anything in response to most stimuli. The human body has reflex responses to those stimuli that are life-threatening. Despite the pressures for ever-faster responses in an electronically-wired world, it is generally more helpful to wait and reflect before re-acting. Contemplation is the practice of observing and reflecting. It leads to discernment, to seeing the bigger picture, to greater wisdom. It leads from constant doing into present being. A key foundational spiritual practice is simply contemplating what is happening, without the need to react to it.

Building Blocks - Driven or Drawn?  (19 November 2012)  Decision-making is a fact of life for all of us, but the critical foundation stone is to be aware of where we are making the decision from. Is the decision arising from our head-mind or our heart-centre?

These two decision modes have very different qualities. With a decision made by the mind, there is usually a sense of being driven into doing something. When you listen to your mind making a decision, you can hear the tell-tale signs of " I should / must / ought / need ...... do this". This is the mind asserting control and telling you what to do. It uses a range of tools including guilt, punishment, and so-called 'rules' to achieve what it wants. The mind literally drives you into a decision.

The heart-centre is always more open and compassionate. It knows what you want at the deeper level. Decisions made from here are founded on your desires and your instinctual needs. Quite often the heart-centre decisions are more challenging to implement but because they are rooted in who-you-are, they always feel right. When you feel yourself drawn to a decision - and without any need to justify it - you can trust it.

stone wallBuilding Blocks - Beginner's Mind  (12 November 2012)  The foundation stones of a spiritual approach are what I call the 'building blocks' - essential tools, questions and koans to work with in bringing ourselves closer to wholeness.

The notion of Beginner's Mind is a valuable practice whose origins lie in ancient Buddhist teaching. This simple instruction is to approach all situations - particularly those with which we are most familiar - with Beginner's Mind. That is, to view the situation as if you are experiencing it for the very first time. Life appears to comprise a succession of repeating patterns and experiences; they are so familiar that we no longer see them cleanly because we have already recognised them as "the same as last time" and categorised them accordingly with a pre-programmed response. With Beginner's Mind, you look at each event as if you have never encountered it before. What is it really like? What is actually happening here? What do you instinctively feel in this moment?

I believe that Beginner's Mind is what Jesus was referring to when he said, "Unless you become like one of these little children, you cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven". Children look at the world with Beginner's Minds because all situations are new; they have no preconceptions and embedded patterns in their experience. Children live in the fresh aliveness of everything; they can see what-is.

S is for Surrender  (5 November 2012)  This fifth (and final) sacred S practice is Surrender. It's a practice that many find difficult to 'get' because of our modern-day association of the word with weakness of position and giving-in to temptation. But as a spiritual practice, it really means the exact opposite. It took me years to 'get' that surrender is truly about strength of belief and total acceptance of all-that-is.

All great teachers have lived a surrendered life. To surrender spiritually is to recognise that my individual will is not in charge; I don't control anything of any significance. Surrender is to accept willingly and thankfully that our lives are subject to that greater unseen all-powerful dynamic that is at work all around us, and which we choose to call Nature, Love, God, Mystery, Creation. To surrender is to trust - to trust that all is working out exactly as it needs to, even though we cannot know or understand the mechanisms or reasons - and that "all shall be well".

There are my five core sacred S practices: silence, stillness, solitude, simplicity and surrender. There are others - soul, shadow, sexuality, suffering - and all still lead to the Sacred.

S is for Simplicity  (29 October 2012)  The fourth sacred S practice is Simplicity. The more we fill ourselves, our lives, our homes, and our time, the more we are distracted - by possessions, activities, people, places and events. This is clutter. Clutter blocks our path, our vision and our connection. Until you de-clutter, you cannot see what is real and true.

So many aphorisms and parables remind us of this simple truth. Less is more. Gold is what is left when all else has been panned away. The millstone around our necks is all the clutter that we have acquired through life and still hold onto in our homes as well as in our minds. We become defined by this clutter and then who-we-are becomes stuck in its definition. Look around. What 'stuff' no longer serves who-you-are today?. Look within. What bagage from the past is still holding you back? And what is it that prevents you from letting all this clutter go and living simply as your Self?

S is for Solitude  (22 October 2012)  The third sacred S practice is solitude. For many, this is more difficult than silence or stillness: people tend to either avoid time on their own; or else they have too much lonely time. Either way, solitude can be uncomfortable. Yet solitude is where we can face our Self, where the distractions and avoidances fall away, and where we encounter the sacred Mystery.

The experience of this life involves a balance between being alone - the inner experience of contemplation - and being with others in community - the external experience of action. Very few of us can manage a life of pure contemplation; yet a life that is filled only with action in the external world lacks any solid grounding. Most of us need both solitude and community.

Notice how these first three sacred practices - silence, stillness and solitude - interact with each other. It is possible to experience one alone without the other two being present. We can enjoy any two, without the third. And when all three are present together, there is real listening, deep connection, and profound peace.

S is for Stillness  (15 October 2012)  The second sacred S practice is stillness. It is good to remind ourselves that we are human beings and not human doings. The over-active mind is engaged in creating a constant stream of doings that are processed as events, lists, action points, reminders and roles. This has led to false mantras: 'if I'm not busy, I'll be bored'; and, 'without work to do, I'll be worthless'.

No other life-form in nature has this mentality. It's a mentality that leads humans into ill-health. Only in stillness do we have the chance to see the bigger picture beyond the immediate stimulus. In the contemplation of this stillness we can begin the perceive the greater self. Only when we are still can we hear that voice of guidance and reassurance that comes from somewhere other than the mind.

The practice of regular stillness is far from 'wasting' time. One of my most recurring discoveries in stillness is that what my mind tells me needs doing now is rarely that important or urgent. In the words of Psalm 46, "Be still, and know that I am God."

Letter SS is for Silence  (8 October 2012)  Have you noticed how many of the practices on the spiritual pathway begin with the letter S - including the words 'sacred' and 'spiritual' themselves? Over the next few weeks, inSOUL will offer reflections on some of the most significant S-practices.

Perhaps the most common practice is the conscious entering of Silence. Sara Maitland, in The Book of Silence, points out that the Oxford English Dictionary offers two definitions of silence: first, an absence of noise; and second, an absence of words. When we seek silence, we try to find spaces without noise - in nature, in a quiet corner, in a Quaker meeting - but entering a space without words is far more difficult.

The mind is rarely silent. The ticker-tape stream of mental chatter seems almost impossible to quiet; even when we find physical silence, we fill it with prayer words, mantra words, read words, and written words. Contemplation seeks to silence these mind words. Then it's possible to encounter body silence in which we can feel and 'hear' the sound of the heartbeat, the digestive tract, and other internal organs. And beneath that awareness is the silence of the soul. Your soul speaks in a language of desire and self-knowing that you finally hear intuitively, as that "still small voice within", In this silence, there is a homing call that is infallible in its guidance. In this silence, we hear what we need to know.

The Theme of Wilderness  (1 October 2012)  Almost all spiritual teachers refer to the significance of their time in the wilderness. The wilderness space may take several physical forms - desert, mountaintop, plain, cave, ocean. And it is often metaphoric, rather than physical, referring to a sense of being deliberately detached from all conventional and familiar life supports in order to gain insight, perspective and connection.

Wilderness is always an emptying. The human soul is stripped of superfluous baggage and story. It is often a battle between mind (temptation, control, comfort, status, fear) and heart (desire, meaning, purpose, connection, love). Today, the closest that many come to wilderness is a short retreat, though this rarely offers the same depth of experience. Deliberately taking yourself out into wild nature can be a more profound experience. Being alone for a significant period, asking the bigger questions in the silence, experiencing the elements and the environment at first hand; waiting and observing patiently to be shown what the surrounding cosmic nature has to teach, leaving unwanted stories and feelings behind - all these are more are available once we allow ourselves to step beyond this illusory, consumerist bubble.

When did you last spend quality time in the wilderness? What stops you now?

The Theme of Justice  (24 September 2012)  Reflecting on the two approaches of those who live by rules, and those who seek to do right, we start to question the nature of justice. Justice takes two different forms. Legal justice in the form of laws, codes and rules, is created by man. Despite its history, legal justice is temporal and subject to change. It requires detection and enforcement systems, and the exercise of human judgement about what is wrong conduct. Legal justice results in penalties and punishment. We become fearful by the threat of a future judgement day.

Universal justice - or divine justice or natural justice - is experienced in quite different ways. There are no mechanisms within the universe that seek to prevent un-natural conduct. Indeed individuals often benefit from actions that are 'wrong' or un-natural (such as theft, exploitation, violence, corruption, profit), and use the legal system to sanction such actions. Instead of enforcement, judgement and penalty, universal justice is always shown to have consequences, often over a lengthy and undefined timescales. Eastern traditions recognise this beautifully. Conscious and selfless acts for others confer merit. Selfish and harmful actions create karma that may have adverse consequences in the future. Divine justice leaves us with choice over our actions, and invites awareness of consequences through love rather than threat.

How do you decide what is 'right action'?

horizonThe Theme of Rule and Right  (17 September 2012)  Most sacred texts begin with a set of rules (or laws) to create order in life - and then end with a far simpler and intuitive guide to living the 'right' life. This is the journey from primitive externally-given rules and laws (with all the incumbent judicial systems necessary to maintain them) to the great truths of internally-devised precepts based on conscious humanity, that guide and direct our actions without harm to others. This is the evolution from the Ten Commandments to the Eight Beatitudes; from 'I must' to 'I trust'.

Unfortunately, most people never seem to trust this internal intuition; they are stuck in their adherence to their imposed rules and laws. Rule-rs are addicted to their great imperatives of should / ought / must which completely limit their freedom and their humanity. Right-ers are moving towards the Buddhist eightfold path: right understanding, right intent, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration. Another version is the golden rule: do right to others, as you want them to do right to you.

Instead of trying to do things right, try seeking to do the right thing.

The Theme of Being L(e)ast  (10 September 2012)  Like the distinction between first and second children, there is a related theme in many sacred texts that points to a greater distinction for the last (or the least) over the first (or the proud). Israel's last son Joseph comes to rule over all his elder brothers. The rich guests who ignore the invitation to the feast are replaced by the poor and the homeless. Children are regarded as more receptive to the spiritual message than adults. Indeed, the whole of the gospel teachings are focused on the marginalised, the undeserving, the rule-breakers, and the outcasts and portrays them as being more 'special' than the pious, religious and conformist men and women.

This is revolutionary theology. The last and the least are more 'worthy' than those who regard themselves as successful, good examples, obedient and mainstream. How do we make sense of such radical teaching? I believe it demonstrates the importance of humility over ego. What we do and what we achieve are far less significant than what we are in our ordinary being. Those men and women in our community who are marginalised and disempowered have far less ego to protect, and can therefore live more authentically and more wholesomely. Those who have least can grasp this truth first.

The Theme of Being Second  (3 September 2012)  Have you ever noticed the recurring theme of first-born and second-born children in sacred texts? Esau is the eldest but has his rights of inheritance taken away from him by Jacob. The returning prodigal son is welcomed home with a party whilst the dutiful elder brother sulks. Resentful Martha gets on with catering for a large number of visitors whilst Mary sits still and listens. Clearly each of these pairings is set up as a lesson in contrasts. In each case the older one is portrayed as loyal, dutiful and doing-the-right-thing; the younger one is wayward, adventurous and selfish - and yet seems to be rewarded. The notion of first-born dutifulness and honour is maintained in our present society in the laws and customs related to inheritance and succession.  

Yet this is a paradoxical teaching which challenges our notion of fairness. Being dutiful, loyal and conscientious is not enough. Simply following the established rules does not confer any automatic reward. Fairness is not a matter of doing the right thing. It is those who look beyond the rules, who go off and experiment and do their own thing, who make big mistakes and are prepared to fail, and who then come to their own understanding of what is really true, who have the most to gain. Living by the rules is playing safe and confers no worthwhile success at all. Exploring, risking, losing, failing and learning Truth from the experience of life is what 'counts'.

bloodThe Theme of Blood  (27 August 2012)  Blood: some people dislike it and turn away; others watch it with fascination. This rich red fluid is essential to human life; the heart's juice keeps us alive. Acts of sacrifice were performed in order to deliberately spill blood through death. It's surprising then that in some circumstances blood is regarded as 'unclean', perhaps because of its ability to carry infection and disease. Yet blood is at the heart of most initiation rites and many sacraments in traditions, cultures and societies throughout the world. To shed blood is a mark of release, acceptance, joining, maturity and adulthood. 

Women are familiar with the monthly cycle of bleeding from puberty. It is the evident physical sign of fertility and maturity. This blood is the death of one monthly life cycle. In men, there is no such natural bleeding, so initiation rites have always created one. From 'blood brother' exchanges to male circumcision, the deliberate wounding and spilling of blood has marked the transition into manhood.

Blood - the very symbol of human life pumping from the heart at the centre of the body - is inextricably associated with wounding. To be human is to be susceptible to wounding. We don't go through this life without suffering wounds - bodily, mentally or emotionally. This was the conclusion of the Buddha as he observed the wounded suffering of work, ill-heath, poverty, old-age and death. The Christ figure was pierced on the cross and his wounds became his identification after the resurrection as if to say 'Look, I carry human suffering'. 

On the eve of his death, this man also handed out bread and wine. The bread is his body and the wine is his blood, symbolising a new relationship with Life. We now drink this wine-blood. We ingest this symbol of both suffering and life. If blood is the mark of our human weakness and frailty, its symbolism has been transformed into a direct connection with that which is greater, life-affirming and strong.

The Theme of Sacrifice  (20 August 2012)  The Hebrew Bible contains frequent references to the slaughter of animals and their sacrifice on the altar. The worship of gods through ritualised sacrifice has a long history. Such sacrifices are found throughout the ancient Greek and Roman cultures, as well as in various native traditions around the world. The sacrificial message appears to be one of obligation and appeasement: the worshipper has to 'give-something-up' in order to prove their commitment to the god. The higher the value of the sacrifice, the greater the demonstration of loyalty. Abraham was prepared to sacrifice his only and long-awaited son Isaac in order to show his total obedience to God. From such sacrificial obedience we retain a vestige in the offerings, tithes and gifts that worshippers still make.

As man's relationship with God evolves, the Christian Testament teachings turns this understanding of sacrifice entirely on its head. In response to an enquiry about how to enter the kingdom of heaven from a rich man, Jesus replies by saying that the man must give up his worldly possessions and follow him. Now this 'giving-up' has evolved from an obligation into a choice; free will has replaced duty and obedience. And the sacrifice is no longer made to God but by God. Time-and-time again, the message of Jesus to his followers is one of "doing this for you". The final death of Jesus on the cross is the ultimate sacrifice by God to show that man is completely accepted as he is, and no longer has to prove anything.  The response to the spirit is one of choice. In the face of this sacrifice we are simply asked to accept the invitation of compassion that is offered and to choose love as the basis of our free life in the world.

Human legacy  (13 August 2012)  What is the true measure of a man's achievement? We have been amazed by speed, height, distance, strength, endurance, artistry, and perfection. We have been enthralled by the drama of success and failure. We have witnessed human competitiveness without violent conflict or chaos. And now we ask what this all means? What is the 'legacy'? 

There is a simplistic measurement of achievement by medals, flags, nations and tables. We fail to see that these symbols are entirely transient. It is not the medals table nor the national anthem that we will remember. The trophy is not the same as the race. Our personal nationality is a biological accident and of little significance in the world. 

What stands out on this great dramatic stage of sporting excellence is the passion, courage, integrity, vulnerability, commitment and vitality of individual men and women. This is what we admire: to live on the edge, to risk everything, to reveal that inner well-spring of emotion and inspiration. We in turn are inspired less by what they did, nor how they did it; but more by who these individual men and women are in the world. Our legacy is an insight into such human--ity.

taoTranscending Duality  (6 August 2012)   The human condition is one in which we see ourselves as separate and independent. Only just occasionally do we gain a glimpse of what greater unity might look and feel like. These are the moments of being deeply in love with another, of finding ourselves in a state of contented peace, or of receiving unconditional support. Our lives are lived on the 2-1 spectrum, between Two (duality) and One (unity), and heavily weighted towards the separation end.

The human mind is unable to comprehend what unity as One is like: to have head and heart in perfect alignment; to be both masculine and feminine at the same time; to see birth and death as simultaneous; to know that God is in me, and I am in God. The ancient symbol of the Tao captures this beautifully. Do you see only the separation of the two swirling halves, or do you see the whole that encompasses them both?

It is this elusive nature of such unity that makes it aptly described as the Mystery and which our minds fail to comprehend. The Mystery that we call by so many other names: Love, God, Allah, One, Buddha-nature, Heaven, Source.

The cost of dualistic thinking (30 July 2012)  When we see ourselves as separate, we are hooked by dualistic thinking. This duality makes a distinction between you and God, you and me, you and everyone else. Everything comes to be perceived as me and them, us against the world, I'm-right-and-you're wrong. This perception of duality leads inevitably to defending our own position and attacking or diminishing the position of others. It reduces and limits our view of the world, rather than expanding it to encompass the whole picture and every different point-of-view.

It is this dualistic thinking that creates the conditions for violence and war. Only by seeing other people or races as separate and different can we ever attack them. War is the expression of duality made fearfully real.

When we heal the duality in our own conscious and unconscious thinking - and begin to acknowledge ourselves as completely one with all others - only then will we start to create the unity that makes violence and war impossible in our society. For who would ever attack another if they truly knew it was themselves they were hurting?

Separation  (23 July 2012)  In each moment that we cease to be present, we are separate. Being separate is the condition in which we see ourselves as individual beings, dressed in our own skin, walking on this planet alone, distinct from everyone and everything else. We perceive ourselves as being independent. In this condition, we create a separate identity - one that is separate from the Divine Mystery.

This independence creates a certain freedom: to form judgements, to do things our own way, to project our constructed persona, and to inhabit our own sense of status and identity. This separation also comes with a hefty price. It makes us fearful. Fear that our world may fall apart. Fear that we might be 'found out'. Fear that this won't last. Fear that we may lose control. The cost of this fear is incalculable. At the level of the individual, this fear causes stress, breakdown, greed, corruption, prejudice, and violence. At the level of the group, community or nation, this fear generates conflicts, exploitation and war.

As individual human beings we work so hard to maintain this perception of independence and freedom - and all we get for it is fear. Yet this separation from the ever-present Presence serves to deny us the peace, love and contentment which we most desire.

here now

Being Present  (16 July 2012)  The 'now' is the present moment.It is the constant invitation to live our lives in real time, and not in memories of what-has-been in the past nor in anticipation of what-might-be in the future. It is to live here and now, with whatever is being experienced in this present moment. Being present is the conscious awareness of what we are experiencing in each successive moment - not as thought - but as living experience. When you can simply notice this without any need to change the experience, evaluate it, keep it, end it, or make it mean something, then you are present to it.

In this state of being present, you are truly alive. Other people are more likely to notice you. You radiate 'aliveness'. This is your presence.

And in your presence, you encounter and meet with that greater Presence within which we all live and breathe and have our being. This is the Presence variously described as life, love, cosmic energy, creation, god, mystery, divinity, and source. There is a joining of your presence with this Presence, and the start of an opening to peace, security and reassurance. The mystical poet Muhyiddin Ibn 'Arabi ( 1165-1240) wrote of this:

I am nearer to you than yourself,
Than your soul, than your breath ....
Though you are not even aware of it.

And St. Augustine expressed it similarly:

...closer to us than we are to ourselves.

Into the Presence  (9 July 2012)  Our contemplation of this amazing verb 'to be' inevitably leads us into consideration of the present. The name of Yahweh, "I AM", is a statement of the present moment. I AM is now and here. This present moment is suffused with presence. And Presence is the manifestation, consciously or unconsciously, of God. As he embarked on his great task of leadership, Moses was reassured by God: "My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest" (Exodus 33:13-15).

The invitation is always and everywhere to open ourselves - to become more conscious - of this Presence. The Presence is neither in the past nor in the future. It is revealed now, here. Those people who live their lives consciously and in the present moment inevitably have great personal presence. And it is in this awareness of their own presence that they connect with and are guided by that greater Presence of which they are a part. Living in the present is a constant theme of spiritual writers throughout history. In his wonderful guide The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle writes: "What is the power of Now? None other than the power of your presence, your consciousness liberated from thought forms."

In this present moment is pure experience and awareness of what IS right now. What IS may be transient sensation, emotion, thought. Beneath this transient narrative is the only constant, the presence of Presence itself. Know this, if only for a moment, and you know your Being. You ARE.

Who ARE you?  (2 July 2012)  We are human beings, not human doings, yet we spend our time defining ourselves by doing rather than being. What does it mean simply to be? The verb 'to be' is an amazing one. The Oxford Dictionary describes it as "an irregular and defective verb". It's conjugation is entirely non-standard: I am, You are, It is, We are, etc. This irregularity applies in other languages also, such as French. 

This is also the simplest, yet most profound, of words. It denotes existence and presence. It is the heart of much great sacred teaching. In several Eastern traditions, Nirvana is finally attained when the seeker is able to recognise and accept that 'IT IS' is the universal truth, requiring neither qualification nor judgement from man. When Moses first asked for the name of God, the reply came: "I AM who I AM" and "tell the Israelites that I AM has sent me" (Exodus 3:14). Ehyeh [I Will be] is used 43 times in the Hebrew Bible. Jesus begins each of the five great teachings in John's Gospel with the phrase "I am ...". At the centre of all existence lies this mysterious truth about being. 

Our Being in this world is far more significant than our Doing. Answering the question Who-are-you? is of hugely greater depth than the trivial and transient What-do-you-do?. When you begin to state "I am ..." you are presenting your Being. You are becoming your presence. You are you.

desert landscape

The Presence in Nature  (25 June 2012)  What is it about the natural world that makes it so resonant in its teaching? The clue is in the word itself. Nature is without pretence. What you see is what you get. Nature has no thought-process, no ego-mind, no judgement, no constructed personality, no angst, no point-to-prove. All nature has a past history and a future existence, yet the nature we see all around us is simply here, now, being present to us in the way that it shows up. The natural world - both animate and inanimate - demands nothing from us, yet continuously and quietly invites us to notice it, absorb it, and take comfort from it. It matters not whether what we are seeing is a quiet sunset, a thunderous storm, an ancient landscape, or a fast-moving animal. We are drawn into the wondrous mystery that is presented to us.

The presence of nature touches and resonates with something deep within each of us. Nature reflects back to us the state of mind and being that we yearn for in our day-to-day lives. We 'know' this natural presence in our DNA but we have largely lost touch with it. The ego-mind running on auto-pilot is obsessing with past memories and future possibilities, whilst our heart is touched by Nature's reminder that the chattering mind is missing the point. The heart knows this presence. The soul seeks re-connection with the awe-filled mystery of Divine Nature. The 'what-is' of nature, simply reminds us of who-we-are.

Nature's eternal lessons  (18 June 2012)  When we sit or stand in contemplation with Nature, we are led out of ourselves and into the awareness of that greater whole that surrounds us, enfolds us, accepts us and welcomes us for just who we are. Nature does not argue or judge or condemn. This vast natural world comprises all the geology, landscapes, plants, animals, elements and atmospheres of our planet. Their combined wisdom dates back at least 14 billion years. Listen ... and let Nature wisdom teach you five lessons:

  1. Everything is cyclical - birth, growth, decline and death are to be found in all things
  2. Nothing is constant - no part of nature lasts forever; the only constancy is the empty mystery itself
  3. Creation is everywhere - we are surrounded by a universe that is always evolving, diversifying and expanding
  4. We humans control none of this - literally, we are not in charge
  5. This is the Mystery.

There is awe and wonder in this. Nature has the capacity to bring us into the awareness of this wonder-full Mystery. And we human beings are just one part of Nature. So these five lessons apply just as much to our individual human lives.

Spend some time today contemplating how each of these five lessons operates in your life.

Nature, the first sacred text (11 June 2012)  The great wisdom books of each spiritual tradition are regarded as deep pools of eternal knowledge. Whether you read the Torah, Dhammapada, Tao Te Ching, Koran, New Testament, or the writings of Eckhart Tolle, William Bloom, Marianne Williamson, all may lead you into a deeper inner awareness and connection with the Source.

Yet the written word has been with us for less than 5,000 years. These books are the second sacred texts. The first sacred text is written all around us in Nature. Here is all of Creation. There is nothing in nature that has not been evolving for countless millennia. Simply observing nature can teach you all you need to know - about birth, change, love, truth, suffering, transformation, constancy, death, and so much more. A wise friend once reminded me: "Whenever you are troubled, go out into nature, lie face-down and scoop out a shallow hollow for your face, and pour out your suffering to the earth; it can take it all."

Spend half-an-hour immersed in Nature today.

void

Death - void or vacuum?  (4 June 2012)  Most commonly, we tend to regard death as an emptiness and our attempts to avoid death - which is the same as controlling life - are aimed at delaying or denying this ultimate emptiness. Yet there are two quite different forms of emptiness that we call vacuum and void. A vacuum is a space so empty that it is devoid of any matter; the physics of a vacuum are such that it seeks to fill its emptiness; the emptiness itself is sterile, lacking oxygen and the means to support life. A vacuum truly represents our fear of death. A void is a space whose size and contents we neither know nor comprehend. Voids exist quite easily. The infinite cosmos is a void with numberless galaxies occupying only a miniscule proportion of the space. And in quantum physics we now know that the large spaces between sub-atomic particles are also voids. Voids are constantly conducting heat, light, energy and gravity. Voids are spaces filled with creative potential, which you might call energy, healing or love.

Death is an entry to the void, not the vacuum.

live for todayLive for today for tomorrow we die  (28 May 2012)  What makes us so afraid of death? To an ego-mind obsessed with retaining control, it is the unknowingness that frightens. Because we cannot know the manner, the timing, or the location of our physical death, the mind is engaged in a never-ending struggle to defer the possibility of death. Pills, fitness, diets and supplements are all part of this anti-death strategy. We even buy life insurance to mitigate death. Yet nothing controls the randomness of death's eventuality.

The one certainty in life is that we have this moment, this hour, this day to enjoy and to take full advantage of. Our human life exists only in this present moment; now is the only time we have. Time past cannot be re-used; time to come may never arrive. This is the moment to truly live.

A contemplation for today: Are you using today to do what you most desire?

death figureThe Three Deaths  (21 May 2012)  'The only certainties in life are taxes and death'. It's true that nothing is certain in this life, except that we always know we shall die one day. Even though many people avoid any consideration of death, we are surrounded by death always. 'In the midst of life, we are in death.'

To the spiritual seeker, there are at least three forms of death within life. First, there is the commonly understood physical death of the body at the end of our human life, and the opening into the spiritual dimension that this is often portrayed as. Second, there is the death of the little-self, the ego-self, that occurs slowly over several years, as our individual efforts of ambition, control, status and personality start to fall away revealing a more authentic and wholesome soulfulness within. And third, there are the little-deaths that are occurring constantly in life, as each individual event and moment passes to be replaced by a new opportunity in the transition from past to present. The phrase 'le petit mort' - the little death - refers to that fleeting moment of orgasm. Nothing can ever be captured and held; it is always dying.

In the midst of my life, I am dying.

A contemporary prayer  (14 May 2012)  Recent inSOUL's have explored prayer as a means of listening to the Divine, with an attitude of selflessness, and seeking to change our perception of the world, rather than pleading a particular cause. How does this all come together in practice? Perhaps the most well-known prayer in the Christian tradition is the one used by Jesus in his teaching and often called the Lord's Prayer. Here is one contemporary interpretation of this prayer:

Beloved Mystery of Creation forming the eternal here-now that is beyond my understanding,
May I let go of my attempts at control and adopt Your Way in this life and all that is to come.
May I be given all that I need for today.
Help me move beyond my limited judgements of others and accommodate their mis-perceptions about me.
Help me to stay on the path of spiritual growth and keep me from the dangers of my own ego-mind
For You hold the only true and complete view of the One Universal Energy, now and always.
So may it be.

prayerThe purpose of prayer  (7 May 2012)  Rather than being concerned with pleading and petitioning, the purpose of prayer is all about right perception. We are asking to see the world - our situation, our way of living - as it truly is, and not as we want it to be, think it ought to be, or seek to change it. When we perceive what-is in the world, we are aligned with the creative engine of the universal Mystery.

There are three possible foci for our prayer. We can pray for ourselves, that we might perceive and accept our true situation just as it is. We can pray for others, particularly those in distress or suffering, that they find the strength to fully experience and accommodate the reality of their circumstances. And we can pray for the man-made structures and institutions of this world that they choose to re-align themselves with the natural energies of creative life (and not the individual human agendas of those in apparent power).

My prayer is for right perception to see and accept what-is at all levels.

The Form of Prayer  (30 April 2012)  When prayer takes the form of a remembrance of God, for what should we pray? Many peoples' prayer takes the form of petitioning or pleading. Since Jesus' teaching is that "God knows what you need before you ask" (Matthew 6:8) then such plea-bargaining is unnecessary. It is essentially self-ish. Rather, we can step into prayer that is self-less. All sacred teaching urges us to accept 'what-is' as the only path to peace. So instead of praying selfishly "help me to succeed in this ... [project]" we can shift into selflessness with "help me accept whatever the outcome of this ... [project] ... as part of the unfolding Mystery of Creation". This form of prayer is a surrendering of our little desires, goals and will to the greater and unknown Will of the Universe - which will transpire anyway.

The most common form of prayer in the New Testament is simply: 'Lord, help me' or 'Lord, save me'. This is not a selfish plea but a deep surrendered heart call that sums up the vulnerability of the human self. It can be the most effective form of prayer.

man prayingThe Meaning of Prayer  (23 April 2012)  Prayer is a core aspect of most spiritual traditions but one that many misunderstand. Too often prayer is regarded as a request list or a petition. We have been brought up to see prayer as a time when we talk to God about our desires or our fears. It's far more helpful to turn this idea on its head: prayer is actually a time to listen to God.

The Islamic tradition invites men and women to prayer five times each day. It's a way of encouraging a continuous remembrance of God in all things and at all times. This remembrance is an acknowledgement, a re-membering, and a connecting with God in the busy-ness of our day-to-day lives. At its heart, prayer is simply 'time for God' - a pause, a reflection, and a re-connection. If these words 'God' and 'Prayer' don't resonate for you, just notice that this same pause occurs when you walk in the landscape and see a beautiful sight, when you are stopped in front of a creative artwork, when you are captivated by a lover, and when you look up into the celestial sky. Each such moment is a pause when the human heart receives nourishment from the connection to beauty, love, nature, creativity and the mystery of the universe.

The truth about deathDeath and beyond  (16 April 2012)  As a species, we are perhaps alone on this planet in having the capacity to contemplate our own death - and yet most people either don't consider it, or view it solely with fear. Death is the great unknown: we know neither its timing nor its manner; we can know nothing of what lies beyond death. Nature demonstrates that death and life are cyclical. The laws of physics demonstrate that nothing is ever lost, just changed in form. Religions and spiritual initiations teach the value of "dying before you die" - in other words, learning to let go of what is impermanent in life in order to begin to know that which is permanent.

The three common elements of life are body, mind and soul. In death, the body visibly breaks down and decays as its organic matter is recycled to nature or converted back to carbon. The neural and electrical impulses of the mind simply cease: the mental activity that has sought to dominate and control our life is finally shown to be entirely temporary and powerless in the reality of death. What is left, then, is the ethereal soul - an intangible essence without form, possession, quantifiable energy, or evident manifestation. Literally "something and nothing".

When we contemplate our own death, it is this sense of soul that remains.

life and deathThe Pascal Mysteries 2 - Life and Death  (9 April 2012)  Perhaps the greatest paradox of all is to be contemplated throughout this Easter week. It is expressed in many different ways throughout the Christian Bible. To find life, you must first lose it. In the middle of life, you are in death. The seed must die for the plant to grow. Death is not the end.

Most human beings fear physical death and will do anything it avoid it, delay it, ignore it and deny it. We witness the constant cycle of life, death and re-birth that is present throughout all Nature, yet fail to see ourselves in this same inevitable cycle. This great Pascal Paradox teaches that holding onto 'life' involves pain and suffering; embracing 'death' is liberating and life-affirming. Such a paradoxical teaching has multiple depths.

The invitation: By allowing your-self to die, you discover what your life is.

humilityThe Pascal Mysteries - 1  (2 April 2012)  The Christian teachings of Jesus' final week illustrate some of the most profound paradoxes. Throughout this week we are invited to reflect on power, leadership/followership and humility. Jesus is acclaimed as the King, the Saviour, and the Son of God. Yet this man is shown to be living with friends outside the capital city; he rides on a small donkey; he talks openly of his own death; he washes feet; he eats in simple fellowship.

This man possesses nothing. He has neither wealth nor belongings, no home, no descendants, no writings, no symbols of authority, nothing. He teaches primarily about love. He is welcomed by the people. Yet he is so feared by the priests, the law-makers and the officials that they plot to kill him, by one means or another. What do they fear? What do they fear losing?

We see this still today [Think capitalism, communism, corruption, Burma, Syria, and so many more]. Power that is gained through the ego-mind lives in fear. True leadership is recognised and acclaimed as authentic when it derives from the humility of the soul.

paradoxBiblical paradox  (26 March 2012)  Whilst Biblical teaching is full of imagery, metaphor and parable, it is in the conscious use of paradox that the reader is often most challenged. The use of Biblical paradox is clearly deliberate. We are meant to grapple with the seeming contradictions until we begin to expand our view of the universe beyond what we comfortably know and include an awareness of all that is unknown.

"Many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first" (Matthew 19:30). Perhaps a teaching in humility.

"I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God" (Matthew 19: 23-24). Another teaching on humility or on attachment.

"It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35). Perhaps a teaching on abundance and scarcity.

In these and other paradoxes, the deeper layers of insight that can come from sitting with them are often counter-posed to the earlier understandings. Try them!

The power of paradox  (19 March 2012)   The power of paradox lies in taking you beyond the mind. Paradox needs to be absorbed because it cannot be understood nor rationalised; instead, you can only intuit paradox through a greater awareness. As a result, the value of paradox is that it expands you. The restrictive view that something is either/or, is expanded in the contemplation that it can also be both/and. Try reflecting on some more paradoxes:

I am both in this world and beyond this world

I am Being and Doing at the same time

I am both male and female

I am filled with love and filled with fear

I am alive and I am dead

I am everything and I am nothing.

i am a paradoxLiving with paradox  (12 March 2012)  A metaphor usually draws you into the contemplation of a paradox. A paradox is a statement leading to a contradiction that defies mental logic or reason; it requires understanding at a deeper level than the mind is capable of knowing. Many mystic traditions use paradox to escape the limitations of the mind. The Zen tradition teaches koans. Jesus taught in parables. Whenever you encounter a paradox, you can be certain that some deeper inner wisdom is being revealed. Many paradoxes require the unitive form of both/and thinking (rather than the dualistic form of either/or thinking). Try to absorb and apply these paradoxes to your own self-awareness:

  • I am simultaneously both right and wrong
  • I am a part of that of which I am also the whole
  • If creation is infinite, how did creation begin?
  • Is there any end to me or any beginning to you?

We are surrounded by paradoxes and yet so many of us seek to deny this radical uncertainty by exercising judgement and control in our separate either/or mini-worlds.

mystic circleThe power of story-telling  (5 March 2012)  Why is so much sacred writing presented in the form of stories, metaphors, parables and anecdotes? Any modern guidebook would be full of 'How To' instructions and bullet-lists in order to make the teaching as clear and direct as possible. The authors of the Tao Te Ching, the Dhammapada, the Hebrew scriptures, the Christian scriptures and the Koran were not interested in offering quick-fixes; they knew that true inner awareness took a lifetime of searching. Douglas Adams' supercomputer took 7.5 million years to deduce "The answer to the ultimate question of life .. is 42" by which time the question was forgotten.

A good story or parable works by being absorbed over time, often unconsciously. If you strive to understand the meaning at the first hearing, you see only something that is simplistic and moralistic - and usually entirely contrary to the deeper levels of meaning that are also embodied within the story. Literal story-telling lead to fundamentalist right/wrong thinking. Metaphoric story-telling can draw you into the mystical world of expanded thinking and awareness.

Contemplation: Take any simple sacred story and sit with it for 15 minutes to allow possible new insights to emerge.

refugee childrenThe literal and metaphoric child  (27 February 2012)  The images of childhood and of the little child are found throughout all sacred teaching texts. Are they to be taken literally (- that only young children experience grace) or metaphorically (- that we should strive for some quality of the childhood mind and heart). I invite you to contemplate for a time and discern your sense of the God-Child.

We each begin this life as dependent children; and most of us will end it in another helpless child-like state. In-between, does the child ever go away? In growing-up, most of us cover, hide or bury the inner-child; at worst, we disown him or her, choosing to show only this professional mask. Yet the vulnerable child can become visible again - in love, in loss and bereavement, in anger, in intimacy. I suggest that it is these little-children, the ones we keep hidden within us, that are the Children of God, and to which the sacred stories about children are guiding us metaphorically.

Beginner's language  (20 February 2012)  'Beginner's mind' is the Zen practice of experiencing everything as if for the very first time - like a child - and without any pre-conceptions or evaluative judgements. It is accompanied by something we might call 'beginner's language'. The child knows this language well: it is the language of the heart. The heart recognises, knows and appreciates things through love, nurture, mystery, uncertainty, enquiry, generosity, unknowing and paradox. Yet as we grow from childhood into so-called maturity and adulthood, this wonderful heart language is overtaken by the voracious language of the mind. The mind's primary concern in all situations is control. Its language is fear, anxiety, understanding, rationality, independence, preservation, possession and scarcity.

The whole human being needs both aspects to be in proportion; all too often we have substituted the language of the mind for that of the heart.

Reflection: Where do I still use the beginner's language of the heart?

beginners mindBeginner's Mind  (13 February 2012)  You cannot reach the level of the soul through the mind. Mindfulness is not about using the mind, but about emptying the mind, in order to discover what lies beyond the mind. You can't think your way to God; which is why God cannot be explained in words. We have become so accustomed in the West to graphic depictions of God in human form that we assign human rationality and understanding. Other paths do not fall into this trap. Islam forbids any attempt to depict Allah. Mystic traditions use words such as Mystery, Creator and Unknowing to refer to the Divine around us. Buddhism refers to Right Mind.

We need to cultivate the Zen practice of 'beginner's mind' in which we seek to experience everything that happens to us in each moment as if for the very first time. This is the same instruction as Jesus used when referring to children and saying "unless you become like one of these children, you cannot enter the mystery / heaven".

Reflection: Let me start to see with Beginner's Mind.

eternal loopThe three modes of knowing  (7 February 2012)  We each live in one of three 'states'. Far and away the most common is the 'non-conscious mode'. This is the state of existence, sleep-walking, and survival. It's where most people live. Its most common characteristics are blindness and ignorance with a constant focus on knowing and understanding.

The second mode begins when you start to awaken. It is the 'conscious mode'. Here you start to develop awareness and mindfulness. It is characterised by periodic insights and (excessive) thinking. You begin to know that there is a very large unknown.

And the third mode begins when awakening shifts into internal and external contemplation or prayer. This is the 'unconscious mode' and is characterised by inner wisdom and trusted intuition. It has no character: it is simply being, in which the mystery of unknowing is always present and welcomed.

Reflection: May I become more un-knowing.

here and nowWhat is presence?  (30 January 2012)  The word has attracted several meanings deriving from 'the state of being present', often shortened in a spiritual context to simply 'being'. It is that state in which you are consciously aware of what is happening here and now in this moment and which is often different from the last moment or the next moment. That awareness encompasses sounds, body sensations, sights, emotions, thoughts, intuition, external circumstances and more. It is the awareness of all senses and all events currently affecting you. All forms of prayer, meditation and contemplation invite you simply to notice - without changing, judging, disregarding, omitting, holding, justifying or denying. So simple, and yet so apparently hard.

Reflection: Let be what already is.

Being noticed or Being present  (23 January 2012)  There is a world of difference between being noticed and being present. To be noticed is to attract attention to oneself in the external world. To be present is to pay attention to one's Self in the internal world. All great spiritual traditions teach the importance of being present. Whether you call it prayer, meditation, contemplation, awareness, stillness, inward-looking, mantra, observing or yoga, being present is the recurring practice.  Each Biblical reference to 'awaken', 'eyes to see', 'wake up', 'be vigilant', 'see here' is this reminder.

Reflection: Can I be present, here, now?

invisible manBeing un-noticed  (16 January 2012)  Most responses to the question 'Who Am I?' tend to draw attention to some aspect of our physicality, status, achievements, character or behaviour. This contrasts sharply with the simplicity of presence in the Divine name 'I AM'. In our cultures, we invest value and merit in all the busy doings; and we give little attention to the underlying being. We are so invested in doing that we try to record, capture and publish all the details in words, pictures, films, blogs, and other media. We clamour for attention and historical legacy.

Yet notice how the most influential people who have walked this planet - those who are most able to answer the 'Who Am I?' question - have had no need or desire to draw attention to themselves or record their life story for posterity. Lord Buddha did not need a Twitter feed to bring inner peace to countless millions. Jesus never arranged for any of his teachings to be written down. Ghandi disdained physical effects. The Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi are not maintaining personal Facebook profiles.

Reflection: Am I more authentic when I am noticed less?

I amWho are you?  (9 January 2012)  Any resolution to 'simply be me' inevitably invites the question: So, who am I? This is one of the fundamental and recurring questions in life. We answer it at the physical level (I am this body), and we answer it at the intellectual level (I am this age, this job, this status, this characteristic) yet such responses provide a transient answer usually about ephemeral aspects of the persona. Who are you at the soul level?

When Moses first asked this question of God, the reply came: "I am that I am". Moses is told to tell his followers: "I AM has sent me". It is a profound name, a name and a description without qualification. Whilst we add an object to every description, this is a sentence without an object. It is used by Jesus at crucial points in his teaching, including, most tellingly: "Who do you say that I am?"

This is a soul question inviting deep reflection: Who are you?

being meResolving to simply be  (2 January 2012)  At this time when people are making resolutions and stating intentions, what is it that we should work for? The wish for a peaceful year establishes a context for our lives. The desire for improvements in prosperity or status or health or romance is attractive yet self-centred and often materialistic. If we are not to be selfish, what is the resolution that others would most welcome by our adoption? It is simple: to give up our 'acts'. To let go of the striving and pretence to be other than we truly are. To cease those actions and behaviours designed to satisfy others. To stop the self-defences and self-justifications.

This resolution is to return to authenticity and integrity; to rediscover who I am; to be just the person I already am.

Reflection: This year, can you simply be you?

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