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inSOUL is a thoughtful spiritual meditation for people of all faiths or none. Regular publication and email distribution of inSOUL is currently suspended, as explained in the entry for 17 June 2013.

 Click here to receive inSOUL direct to your inbox each week.

A Personal Message  (17 June 2013)  Now is the time for me to suspend this weekly crafting and distribution of these inSOUL reflections. As you may have discerned from several of the themes over recent months, I am increasingly drawn into contemplation of the 'big picture' issues and questions that guide and transform our spiritual experiences. I notice my continuing withdrawal from everyday earthly responsibilities, and seek the greater freedom of living unattached, in the cosmic void, and truly free to serve the Highest Self that enfolds us all.

In a practical sense, I will continue to serve you through retreats, rituals, rites, contemplative practice, prayer, mentoring, spiritual direction and similar offerings, on both an individual and group basis, in both the UK and in SE Asia. Details are always available online.

It has been a joy to prepare inSOUL each week for three years. The collective archive will remain online for future reference. For the present, my writing and reflection will continue in more private ways. I want to acknowledge and thank all those who have been in touch with your appreciation for these reflections. You are always welcome to contact me at any time. Meanwhile, may your path of consciousness and discernment continue to be both Peaceful and Blessed.

question marks

5W-H Questions  (10 June 2013)  6. How am I?

The sixth and final question in this perennial series of Who, What, Where, When, Why ... and now How? It is the most significant question of them all: How am I? Or, expressed another way, How is my Being? For our significance lies not in who or why we live but in how we live this life.

The example of the Lord Buddha showed that upbringing, status, suffering and death were unimportant relative to the joy and profound contentment of experiencing this present moment. The teaching of Jesus of Nazareth showed that love, humility, compassion and selflessness were the only path to experience the 'kingdom' of eternity. Our modern-day prophet-eers show total commitment to integrity, non-violence, authenticity, humility and inclusiveness. This is the eternal call to live as Human Beings, not mere human doings. As others have said, Jesus' frequently repeated call was not to "worship me" but to "follow me" - 'to live and be as I am'.

How do I live? The constant quiet call is to live selflessly, lovingly, presently, humbly, and consciously, towards all other beings and at all times. This call is to live in the 'big picture' - without judgement, in acceptance of all-that-is - in a time/space that some call Nirvana, Cosmos and Heaven. Being human is to fall short of such aspirations. Being human is also to keep remembering this How?

5W-H Questions (3 June 2013)  5. Why am I?

We now come to the last two 5W-H questions: after considering Who, What, Where and When, there remain the seemingly most obvious questions of Why? and How? Both are deceptive: one seemingly important, is not; the other apparently unimportant, in critical.


Why? It's the question we ask most often - an interrogative question, an arrogant question, sometimes an accusatory question, usually prompting a defensive response. The Why? question always seeks for understanding and explanation. Werner Erhard, in his est training offered a simple aphorism "In life, understanding is the booby prize". Understanding is fool's gold; it is the wooden spoon. By understanding, we think we have made a big advance, yet understanding changes nothing; it emphasises the reasons for being so stuck. For all of the effort, there is no real gain. What difference would it make if you knew Why-you-Are. Would you ever trust the answer to the question Why-am-I-here. Why? does not help us lead better or more fulfilling lives. Why? is a distraction: it takes us away from the real questions about what we are doing with our life and how we live our life.


To put yourself into an infinite loop, try sitting with the question: Why do I keep returning to the question of Why? Why is the least valuable self-enquiry. Maybe it's time to give up this question.


5W-H Questions  (27 May 2013)  4. When am I?

After considering Who? What? and Where?, let us reflect on the second of the space-time questions - When am I? Or, asked another way, When do I exist as my-self? We have become wedded to the notion of a linear timeline, marked off by dates. We define a person's life by the dates of their birth and death. Each year, we celebrate our annual birthday, whilst unknowingly also passing through our annual deathday. Yet the teaching at the core of all spiritual traditions is that all life is cyclical not linear. Birth and death are followed by resurrection or reincarnation. The soul is eternal and not temporal. Birth and death are two 'sides' of life, whilst the Whole - the Tao - is greater than either.

We struggle to comprehend this whilst we remain committed to a linear timeline. And that very linearity is itself a trap: you can't go back in time to fix something in the past; nor can you jump forward in time to experience the future. The only moment of time we have is Now. Now then is replaced by Now now. There is only ever Now. Now is all we can actually know. The answer to the question is 'I am - and always will be - Now'.

5W-H Questions  (20 May 2013)  3. Where am I?

In this third enquiry, we face a seemingly simple question; but the deeper you enquire, the less obvious are the answers. We are so familiar with locating ourselves in this space-time continuum of geographic earth and historic time. Yet this is no more than the material world of our physical senses. It does not begin to touch upon the deep hidden, less-conscious worlds of our intuitive instincts.

When we locate ourselves in the material world, we perceive and define ourselves as individual and independent beings, existing separately from each other for a finite time, and immersed in our fears and uncertainties, games and strategies. Where I am is a place of fear because the external world is a place to be afraid of. The intuitive domain within is a quite different place. We experience it in our dreams, our loves, our fantasies, our yearnings, our inspirations, our callings, our stillness and our centredness. This location is beyond space and time; it is always available here and now. In this location 'I' am no longer separate, no longer alone, and no longer afraid.

Defining where-I-am is not an either/or choice, but a paradoxical balance of both/and. I am located in both this earthly material world of fear, and the inner, ethereal world of love. What is at stake is how I focus my conscious attention.

5W-H Questions  (13 May 2013)  2. What am I?

Closely linked to the enquiry into who-am-I is the question of my true nature. In this material world, we have become accustomed to recognising ourselves as merely physical objects - flesh and bone - what we see in the mirror each morning. Yet sight alone is just one sensor. It can easily be expanded by What do I sound like, taste like, smell like, and feel like? Yet these too are simplistic. Science now recognises well over a hundred different senses, including our senses for balance, gravity, beauty, fear, compassion, awe, instinct, danger, repleteness, and many more.

In truth, we are all of these ... and yet something more. To be a human life is to be more than the sum of all these mechanical, physical and sensual parts. What I am is life itself. And you are life too. We share life. We are both an aspect of this mystery that we call 'life' and which we cannot define. We know and experience the creation of 'life' but understanding it remains beyond us. Yet what I am is life.

5W-H Questions  (6 May 2013)  As a project manager, I learned to investigate and explore many situations through the 5W-H technique - the application of six questions to a problem: Who? What? Where? When? Why? and How? Using these same 5W-H questions in the reflective context of spiritual enquiry offers deeper insights.

1. Who am I?

Perhaps the most fundamental spiritual enquiry of all. A question that has been asked by seekers throughout time. And one that generates different answers each time it is asked. There is no consistent response to the question of who-I-am.

We have a stockpile of different answers: I am this role, this job, this gender, this nationality, this title ... all of which seek to define me by some attribute, characteristic or function, and thereby differentiate me from others. It's as if who-I-am wants to make us stand out and give value to our individual nature or ego. Yet none of these define our essence. They paint an outer shell, not an inner reality. Take a piece of paper and jot down 25 or more answers to the question who-am-I, and then consider whether any one of these responses is really you. If you can't capture your true essence, then how can anyone else truly 'know' you for who-you-are?

The question was first asked by Moses of God: Who are you? And God answered: I am who I am. In John's account, Jesus identifies himself in seven great 'I AM' statements. I AM is sufficient unto itself; perhaps it needs no object definition.

underwater view

All is Nothing (29 April 2013)  All that you have is nothing. Nothing is all that you need.

In this sharp light, all that we individually create / own / amass / hoard (... such as wealth, status, possessions, partners .... even Facebook 'friends') is transient, ephemeral and worth-less. What counts is not what we have or what we do, but what we are - our being-ness; this is worth-y.

The greatest men and women of this age, and of all previous times are almost invariably those who have divested themselves of riches, personal power, physical possessions, and attachment to their legacy. Their ego is diminished. Their authority comes from who-they-are. We recognise this greatness in their presence - their way of living, their authenticity, their consciousness, and their humanity. As one teacher expressed it: "they are in this world, yet not of this world". We experience the quiet benevolent karma that surrounds their presence.

Such men and women live unobtrusively all around us in our communities. They know their nothing-ness.

All is Nothing (22 April 2013) 'Ashes to ashes, dust to dust', says the Anglican funeral rites, as a reminder of our nothingness. We come from nothing more than dust - the original cosmic dust of the universe settling awhile here on this planet, transformed for a time into living beings. And we will revert to ashes - an inconsequential state of nothingness, after this life is done. Yet all of who we are, how we live, and what we do is to be found between these two bookends of nothing. Our dust does not have, in and of itself, any significance. The speck of dust that we are, in this temporary existence of being-ness, may be only a random event in cosmic history ... yet it is all of who-we-each-are. For this moment in time, it is ours - individually and uniquely - to create, embellish, use, savour, and delight. In this brief interval of space-time, all is possible; creation from nothing. For tomorrow, we return to nothing again.

What is the creation of your present being, between this dust and that dust?

All is Nothing (15 April 2013) Where can we find the great places and spaces of Nothing today - from which all is created? In this busy, consumer, materialist world, it takes surprising effort to find places of No-Thing. By tradition, such space was found externally in the desert, where the endless sand offered a quiet perspective on earth and sky; today, modern-day hermits are still to be found living at the margins of our communities, two-steps removed from the busy-ness of life. Time in quiet or wild nature offers a good and accessible alternative - in the mountains, amongst the trees, or by the oceans. Nature teaches us from this Source of emptiness.

On the interior plane, No-Thing is entwined with the space and places of silence. The OED defines silence in two ways: the absence of noise is the one we are most familiar with; whilst the absence of words is more difficult to achieve - including the absence of not just spoken words but also written words and thought words. Yet here lies the deep contemplative silence of listening to that which is beyond us: the silence of creation; the no-thing from which all creation is in-spirit-ed. Truly, here nothing speaks.

All is Nothing (8 April 2013) Everything comes from nothing. This is the great paradox of creation. For anything new to come into existence, you start with nothing. Everything else is just changing and transforming what already exists.

New ideas - inspiration - arise from an empty mind. Great works of art begin with a blank canvas (and that same inspiration). The first-time experiences of love, grief and fear arise out of nowhere. For me personally, I experience this 'nothing' as the void: it is the silence I seek; the empty space around me; the infinity of cosmic space. These are all the same Source from which everything is created, both within my own personal domain and throughout the universe.

This is the Big Bang of the beginning of the universe, when all matter was created in a tiny explosion of enormous size, and from which all creation has been expanding ever since. This is also what John described so poetically: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made.

Time lapse mountain

Faith, Hope and Love  (1 April 2013)  We don't yet see things clearly. We're squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won't be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We'll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us! But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love. (1 Corinthians 13, The Message)

Faith (living in complete trust and confidence) creates Hope (that all shall be well, even when we are lost in the fog and mist). With these two building blocks in place there is no need to fear the future. Fear is what happens when we think it is down to us. Fear arises from our attempts at controlling the future.

Once we recognise that our self-ish response from fear is unnecessary, then we are free to respond from Love. We love what is happening in the present moment. We hold the prospect of the future with love. When there is no longer any necessity for fear, we are free to "love extravagantly". In the words of an updated Romeo and Juliet film: "Love is all there is".

Faith ----->> Hope ----->> Love

And the best of the three is love

Faith, Hope and Love  (25 March 2013)  For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13, NIV)

With faith comes the possibility of hope. Life on this dark and uncertain earth, amidst the smoke and "mirrors" of everyday existence, is made easier with the "faith" that Paul describes - living in complete trust and confidence that arises from those occasional moments of experiencing that we are part of something infinitely larger. This inner knowledge of a greater reality beyond our limited comprehension gives us "hope". Hope that we will stumble into more moments of awareness of this greater whole. Hope that our life path is not as random as it may seem. Hope that all these events have a purpose of which we are not currently aware. Hope that unseen energies are at work. Hope that there is a future. Hope that we will survive this present. Hope that heaven awaits around the corner.

It is this knowing that Faith generates Hope that may have led Julian of Norwich to declare: All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well. This certainty of faith, sustains hope in the future.

Faith, Hope and Love  (18 March 2013)  For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity. (1 Corinthians 13, King James Version)

In this well-known text, Paul describes his understanding of the certainty of the 'Kingdom of God'. He knows that we cannot 'see' it, can never rationalise it physically, and cannot prove its existence, because in this life we "see darkly". Yet he offers the reassurance of "faith" - a much misunderstood word that is commonly taken to mean some blind hope or wish for the future. The dictionary definition is more specific: 'faith' is complete trust or confidence. Faith implies the absence of doubt. Faith is certainty.

What gives faith to spiritual enquirers? For most of us, it's not possible to live in permanent certainty. Yet just one personal moment of individual experience that our existence is part of something greater can be sufficient to create this faith. Once you 'know' that your life experience is part of a greater whole - whether you experience that in nature, in the cosmos, in physical or mystical love - then that 'inner knowledge' opens you to seeing more clearly that the small self is not alone. This is faith; if you experience it just once, however 'darkly', you know - you have "complete trust" - that it exists.

galaxy above

Heaven Above?  (11 March 2013)  Finally, we may begin to get some inkling of what Nirvana - this 'Kingdom of God' is all about. Through metaphor and paradox, through a 'world within' that 'encompasses everything', through a perception of this world that is outwith the familiar mind and body processes, we are led towards the discoveries that those who have walked this path before have experienced.

The experience of Heaven can only be in the present moment. It cannot be remembered and neither can it be predicted. The awareness of Heaven (enlightenment, presence, kingdom) is only and always now. To enter into heaven - into the Presence - is to be only and completely in this present moment. Babies and infants live in the present moment very successfully. Those who are in the process of dying are also experiencing this present moment. Perhaps that's why we have such a limited association of heaven with death. The present moment - the now - exists in neither earthly time nor space. The constant invitation is to shift our perception of this world with its pre-occupation with the past and the future, time and space, and to live from this Now, to experience heaven now, and to be simply enlightened.

Heaven Above?  (4 March 2013)  Contemplate the two seemingly mutually-exclusive statements about the state of Enlightenment. 'The Kingdom of God is within' implies a hidden, private, individual and personal experience of heaven - one that is beyond our mental processes and our physical bodies, and somehow related to the constancy of our heart-souls. And yet, 'The Kingdom of God encompasses everything' implies a vision of something so large, so inclusive, so expansive that heaven embraces all of the physical universe, all beings, all space and all time.

Whenever you encounter something seemingly paradoxical like this, you can be assured that there is some greater Truth at stake. Our attempts to use human reasoning to "understand" such cosmic statements are doomed to fail. If heaven is 'within', how can all-of-everything be within? - though of course, our entire experience of the world and of life and death is generated within each of us. Or, if heaven is so expansive, how come I am so small and insignificant? So contemplate the implications of both statements being true. As the paradoxical koan puts it: "I am a part of that of which I am the whole".

Heaven Above?  (25 February 2013)  The teachings and illustrations about Heaven / Nirvana / Kingdom are invariably obscure and obtuse. In the Christian gospel, Jesus most frequent response to questions on the subject is to use parables and metaphors beginning "The Kingdom of Heaven is like ... " (see Matthew 13). He actually says that most people are unable or unwilling to see, hear or understand what he is talking about. Rather than being a specific time/place, he teaches that heaven is already present here/now ... only most of us are incapable of realising it. What it requires is a different way of thinking. More accurately, it requires a new way of non-thinking, since it is the incessant striving of the ego-mind that prevents our perception of this ever-present nirvana. This kingdom is like a parallel universe that is both integrated into our existing lives and yet invisible from here. This universe is beyond thinking mind and physical body.

We have traditionally associated heaven with a state after death, and of course our understanding of human death is a future time when the mind has stopped working and the body starts to decay. Instead, if you want to experience today this "kingdom of heaven within you" it requires a willingness to let go of all thought and all bodily attachment in order to perceive and 'know' the ever-present moment of Now that exists beyond.

Heaven Above?  (18 February 2013)  One of the great themes in all spiritual teaching is the contrast between 'life today' - characterised by suffering, illness, upsets and discontent - and 'life tomorrow' - often referred to as Nirvana, Heaven, Unity, Enlightenment and Love. We seem to have developed an expectation that this notion of heaven is only available at some unspecified time in the future and is located in some other unspecified place. Yet neither of these common perceptions really stands up to scrutiny.

Certainly, all spiritual teaching implies a journey-to-enlightenment. This is vividly described in the Buddha's wanderings, in the exodus of the Jews, in the wilderness stories, and in the many other accounts of desire, travel and longing. The search for individual and collective enlightenment seems to require effort and a spiritual journey - which may be real or metaphoric. Yet this does not mean that 'heaven' is another place with a specific location. In the case of several of the great spiritual teachers we are offered examples of men who have actually achieved 'enlightenment' or reached the 'kingdom of heaven'. Reflect instead on the possibility of Heaven as a conscious state not an ethereal place; a state that is possible now, as well as in the future. Jesus' teaches repeatedly: "The kingdom of heaven is near" and, even more telling, "The kingdom of heaven is within you".

not just one way

Not Just One Way  (11 February 2013)  More words have been written about the various faith traditions than on any other topic in the history of literature. At the core of this writing are the sacred texts of each tradition - texts that are venerated, quoted, interpreted and disputed around the world wherever there are believers, and disbelievers.

To most readers, these texts are obscure, mysterious and contradictory. Most offer stories, questions, poetry and paradoxes; these suggest that the texts are intended to be wrestled with in the search for ever-deeper meanings. For each apparent 'answer' another reader can find a contradictory statement. Literal readings have generated much fundamentalist thinking; the recitation of simplistic rules based on these texts has led people away from deeper contemplation. If you find something that appears to be certain or definitive, then you have almost certainly missed the point!

Which are easier to understand - the works of William Shakespeare, or the texts that make up the Bible or the Qu'ran? And look how many interpretations of Shakespeare work there have been in the past 400 years! Sacred texts work because they don't offer up easy answers.

Not Just One Way  (4 February 2013)  Each faith tradition tends to create its own rituals, practices and sacred texts. We do well to be reminded that these man-created associations serve to reinforce the tradition - but they are not the essence of any tradition. Too often the practice, ritual or text has become an end in itself, and not the vehicle for reconnecting with the true spiritual core of each tradition. How often is prayer, meditation, chanting, ritual, recitation or the Eucharist undertaken as a necessary rote, observed in ritual practice but lacking in lasting transformational impact? If that's all it is, better to drop the ineffective practice and seek inspiration for a more effective way of entering the Presence.

True and effective spiritual practice and ritual seeks to connect you with something greater that is both within your being and external to your circumstances. It seeks to achieve communion with a mysterious union. It brings you into wholeness, presence and the Now. Churches, temples and mosques may assist this practice but neither are they any substitute for 'it'. There is really nothing between you and 'it' other than your willingness to enter by any means that works for you.

Not Just One Way (28 January 2013) Of all the hundreds of thousands of life forms on this planet, it is only Man who searches for meaning. This is seemingly true for 500,000 years of man's existence, although we only have written records from the last 5,000 years. It's not surprising that teachers and leaders and groups have found different ways of expressing and explaining their understanding of Man's purpose in all the diverse communities around the planet throughout history.

So what makes people in recent times so insistent that their tradition is the ONLY truth? Is this a competition? Is Christianity "better" than Buddhism? Says who? - certainly not the Buddhists nor the Muslims. No, each tradition is ONE tested way to truth and meaning. The things we seek to understand - life, death, love, creation, eternity, infinity - are all universal. No one tradition can 'own' the sole rights. These questions are bigger and older than any one tradition.

If your tradition, religion, creed or faith helps you with these questions, then follow it; just don't let anyone arrogantly claim that this is the only way or the best way to search for meaning - for it clearly isn't. The majority of people on our planet, and all other life forms, believe differently.

Your Heart's Desire (21 January 2013)  However long you defer listening to your Heart's Desire, it will remain with you, quietly waiting for attention, gently reminding you of its presence in your less busy moments of reflection or prayer. Why is this? Because the gift you received that created this inner desire is a constant. It's not dependent on what you do or what you have achieved or how you live. 

Contrast this with the kaleidoscope of thoughts, feelings, impressions and wishes that are forever tumbling through your mind. The mind is fickle, feeble and inconsistent by comparison. It is constantly changing direction and preference. The constancy of your Heart's Desire should tell you something about which is the true voice to follow as you move further into 2013. 

Your Heart's Desire  (14 January 2013) When you listen deeply and discover your Heart's Desire, you start to wonder why it is that it's so difficult to pursue it. What holds you back from following and doing that which you most desire in your life? Why have you delayed so long? If you want something so much, what's stopping you?

Remember that your heart's desire is not something created by you. It's given to you - it's a Divine gift and wish for you. So, to accept this gift means letting go of your own self(ish) will and accepting the Divine will that created the desire in the first place. This is huge! Let me say it again. The thing that you most want - your heart's true desire - requires no effort on your part as it is simply a gift to you. But to accept this gift - to find that happiness and fulfilment which you have sought for so long - requires you to relinquish your own control over your life, and surrender to the Divine will that planted your desire in the first place. It's that simple; and that difficult.

heart

Your Heart's Desire  (7 January 2013)  New year - a time for clarifying intentions and making resolutions. But how many of these are derived from quick-fix mental solutions and fall away within weeks or even days? In the dark depths of winter there is a better and more powerful opportunity. You can take notice of your heart's desire. What do you truly yearn for? What are you longing for deep down? What is calling out to you in your life for change or transformation.

Your probably know it already. You have heard this call of desire many times before, and always you have found reasons (or excuses) to avoid it or defer it. Yet it doesn't go away; if anything it becomes stronger, more insistent. [And if you really haven't heard it, then now is the perfect time to simply stop, enquire and listen.] Your heart's desire is your soul calling out to you, wanting to be heard, wanting some change in your life. And here's the important thing to realise: your heart's desire is not something made up or created by you. Your heart's desire is given to you; it is formed inside of you; it is gifted to you by God as God's wish for who you are and how you live. Maybe it's time to accept the gift.


View the 2012 editions of inSOUL

Last Updated on Thursday, 13 June 2013 08:11