Suhkha…

“In darkness, look to the light” is a line from the Dungeon Master, for those of you old enough to remember the old Dungeons & Dragons cartoon from the Nineteen-Eighties, a line I’ve carried with me through the last four decades.

Whilst my last post outlined and detailed the current dissatisfaction points in my life, that of course is just one side of the coin.

My wife read my post yesterday and whilst holding back on the many other problems she sees from her position (no doubt), she asked me what gave me satisfaction, what gave me suhkha, suhkha being the opposite of duhkha, those things in life which keep our wheel in kilter, spinning perfectly.

The list below is a definitive one using the same categories and clusters from yesterday, and although no doubt others could argue against a few of those, this captures the things that please me, that put me in the PMA zone (Positive Mental Attitude) and allows me to function at my best;

Work

◦ I am well respected in work as someone who works hard and achieves greatness

◦ I mentor and nurture others to help them realise their potential

◦ I am liked by my work colleagues

◦ I am paid very well for what I do, and have a good work/life balance

Health

◦ I am fit and healthy for my age

◦ I have optimised my weight and BMI

◦ I am in tune with my health and can listen to my body, adapting my habits when required

◦ I like to take alternative therapies to keep my balance (mind, body and soul)

Mental Well Being

◦ I am happy compared to others I know

◦ I can recognise when I am under stress and have the right tools to decrease anxiety

Relationships

◦ I have friends for life, not many compared to some, but loyal and honest soul mates

◦ I like spending time with friends and they like my company

◦ I am a good judge of character and don’t suffer fools / waste time on pointless relationships

Society

◦ I like being a part of my local community / tribe

◦ I like it when people I know and like do well in life

Hobbies

◦ I like reading

◦ I like blogging

◦ I like music and live concerts

◦ I like the arts, film and theatre

◦ I like time spent in nature

Being

◦ I love my family, my family loves me (my ikigai)

◦ I am liked by friends, neighbours and colleagues

◦ I am seen as fun and energetic by others

◦ I believe in life beyond death which settles me

◦ I am wise and see the world how it really is, not how it is presented by others

◦ I am kind

Life is all about balance, good vs bad, light vs dark, day vs night, but such things are not conflicting or fighting against it’s opponent, it is complimenting it.

If we do not have opposites in play which bring the balance, how can we truly evolve as individuals if everything we have or do is positive.

I have spent this weekend in one of the most magical places on Earth (in my opinion), the Isle of Avalon, Glastonbury, where I am penning this blog from now, the majestic Tor sitting atop its ancient mound in view from my temporary bedroom window.

I have been coming to this place for the last twenty-seven years, and every time I visit I feel closer to The Source.

Adding what happened this weekend would not do justice as a footnote here, so I will save that experience for another post, but I will leave you with a pictorial reminder the both duhkha and suhkha exist, and it is our challenge to find the right balance, so we become balanced, which for me is enlightenment…

Duhkha…

“I got nighty nine problems but a bitch ain’t one” is a horrendously offensive line from a rap song from the ultra-materialist Jay-Z, but the origins of that line go back millennia.

Whilst I may have personally been impacted by the pull of the brace of supermoons recently, and unconsciously by the pandemic, there is something not right at my core. I feel like there is a huge fatberg in the sewers of my mind, building up quickly now, and with it a huge pressure on the entire system.

Why I gravitated to the dusty tomes in my loft this week I don’t know. As I have been off work this week enjoying the sunshine, I took some time to rearrange my personal bookcase in the bedroom, with the four quadrants of my Billy bookcase organised from left to right (History, Science, Noetics and Nature). Alas, one book was missing (and I didn’t even know I was looking for it) in Steve Hagen’s Buddhism: Plain and Simple.

Eager to reread, I recalled buying it on iBooks several years ago, so spent some time this week refreshing my memory on the content, whilst the physical book remained hidden somewhere in the attic.

The book explains the concept of duhkha, not easily translated into English, but can be attempted by saying dissatisfaction or as the book puts it, those things that puts our wheel out of kilter.

The extract below details quite accurately explains the human condition today and how none of us really want any problems to deal with:

Once upon a time an affluent farmer approached Buddha with great hope. He prostrated before the sage and sought his blessings. Buddha raised his hand in benediction.

“O Venerable One!” the farmer said, “I have a major problem and I know only you can help me.”

Buddha kept quiet and the man went onto narrate that his good-for-nothing son was troubling him and that he was mad at his wife because she supported her son over him.

The man said, “Do something so their minds change and they realise how much I’m doing for them.”

“I can’t solve this problem for you,” Buddha replied and lowered his eyes again, in a meditative state.

The farmer told Buddha how he was worried about the upcoming harvest as the weather didn’t seem too favorable and the monkeys were destroying his crop.

“I can’t help you with this one either,” Buddha said calmly.

Still hoping in the powers of Buddha, he told him that many people owed him money and he was having hard time recovering it from his debtors. And that he too owed money to lenders and creditors. He asked Buddha if the sage could give him any remedy or amulet.

“Hmm…” Buddha said, “I can’t solve this problem for you.”

“What good are you then?” the man yelled. “Every one says you are the enlightened one and here you can’t solve any of my problems. Is there absolutely nothing you can do? I’m tired of my terrible life.”

“You see,” Buddha said patiently, as if he hadn’t heard the man’s tirade, “at any point in time, you’ll always have 84 problems in your life. The 84th is the key.

If you solve the 84th problem, the first 83 will resolve themselves.”

“Please solve my 84th problem then,” the man said, going back to being humble. “How do I do it?” he added.

“First, we have to identify your 84th problem.”

“What is my 84th problem?”

Buddha smiled and peered deeply into the man’s eyes that were full of desire, doubt and anxiety.

“Your 84th problem is,” Buddha said and paused, “you want to get rid of the first 83 problems.”

So whilst I understand that we can’t solve all of our problems, and that if we do pop a few off our list, inevitably a few new ones will be added, I felt it was time to actually document all of the things that cause me duhkha right now, and see if any (or all of them) are significantly increasing the size of the fatberg that grows within.

The process is the same as Step Four from the 12 Steps to Recovery programme those with serious addictions go through, and it was quite cathartic jotting those down and reflecting just how much each one was impacting my being.

The list below is a definitive one, and although no doubt others would add a few more, this captures enough for me to cogitate on for a while. They formed natural clusters once the list was complete, so it felt natural to categorise them:

Work

◦ I don’t like the ethics of the company I work for

◦ I don’t feel in control of my own career

◦ I don’t like my job

◦ I don’t trust my chain of command

Health

◦ I don’t like the ringing in my head (tinnitus)

◦ I don’t like the pain in my “man pipes”

◦ I don’t eat the right things, too much processed food

◦ I drink alcohol but I don’t like it’s effects any more

◦ I don’t exercise enough

◦ I don’t walk the dog enough

Mental Well Being

◦ I don’t relax enough

◦ I don’t do yoga enough

◦ I don’t do meditation enough

◦ I don’t speak nicely enough (curse too much)

◦ I don’t want to be stressed

Relationships

◦ I don’t have enough like-minded friends

◦ I don’t spend enough time socialising / connecting with friends

◦ I don’t spend enough time with my sister/niece

◦ I don’t speak to my parents

◦ I don’t like how I am too self-righteous and judge others on their actions/inactions

◦ I don’t like the way I judge others on how they look and not how they are

◦ I don’t do enough for others

Society

◦ I don’t like having a big mortgage

◦ I don’t like the way I spend too much money on things I don’t need

◦ I don’t like the way society is (broken) but do little to change it

Hobbies

◦ I don’t read enough books

◦ I don’t blog enough

◦ I don’t spend enough time learning the ukulele

◦ I don’t spend enough time with nature

◦ I don’t do enough sports

Being

◦ I don’t want to live my life without being enlightened

◦ I don’t connect with my higher self

◦ I don’t always make the right choices

◦ I don’t react well in conflict situations (too quick without thinking)

◦ I don’t like the way I want to control things beyond my control

◦ I don’t like acting upon my cravings rather than acknowledging them

◦ I don’t like feeding the addictions my ego desires (sugar, alcohol)

◦ I don’t always make the right choices

◦ I don’t like other people controlling what I do, how I look

It’s quite some list, and likely not unique either, I’m sure most of us have experienced some, most or all of them over time, and perhaps continue to do so.

The more serious ones, the ones impacting my mental and physical state of being, do need to be addressed now.

Acknowledging our duhkha list is, in my opinion, the first step to recovery and unblocking the sewer, just how we do that depends on many factors, but the overriding one for me is courage, courage to make difficult decisions or to change deeply engrained and programmed habits and behaviours.

To have that mindset, that ability and willingness to change, often needs a catalyst, and that will be the topic for my next blog.

Enter, The Ice Man, Wim Hof!

Serpents Rising…

There is no doubt that energy is shifting daily like the sands on a windy beach.

Getting back to nature last week and living life temporarily outside the chaos has brought new light on dark times. Ignoring the pandemic, turning off the news and revisiting the positivity of the past has of late rekindled introspection and what gives me inner peace.

Experiencing the sensory and physical aspects of reality – the flora, the fauna, the cloud formations, the rush of the sea at high tides, the setting sun, the rising moon, as well experiencing the mystical and metaphysical aspects of reality too on just what it feels like to part of something so incredible, I find myself at times in awe of such beauty and the associated feelings experienced are rekindling forgotten spiritual connections I have with some people that I have lost touch with over the years, giving me such a huge internal boost in these troublesome times.

It is seven years ago to the very month that I took my reiki training, opening the neural pathways to something quite alien, quite astounding, tapping into hidden energies that had been hitherto out of reach for the materialist I once was (and have been again over the last couple of years).

Once again it was my wife that reminded me of just who I was back in 2013 and how of late bits of my old self had returned. My “being” back then was born out of abject negativity and selfishness, with me operating as it were as a mid-week bachelor and weekend dad (replicating the abhorrent behaviour of my own alcoholic father).

Such was the shame at this realisation that I was becoming him if not already, that drastic action was required else my strong-willed wife and children would be gone, something my mother sadly never had the strength to do.

So an awakening took place, and with it a connection to a hidden and healing energy, a cosmic current taped into for the first time, opening my eyes to the fact that there was more to this reality than the five senses could serve up.

Buddhists and New Age folks say that things go around in seven year cycles, and here we are exactly seven years later and I find myself knocking on the door of my old reiki master “L” who has “upgraded” to kundalini yoga, and has her own practice based out of a majestic place in the heart of the Wirral countryside.

Although I had not seen her for many years, it was clear that time doesn’t exist (does it anyway?) when it comes to a rekindling of spirits. A quick non-non-distancing hug and catch-up revealed that we would pick up exactly where we left off and both agreed that paths we have taken across the years seem to be forever intertwined.

The same for my wife too. She has been struggling too over the last six months as a furloughed complimentary therapist with too much time on her hands, consuming the chaos, facts, lies and conspiracies for most of her waking hours, minutes and seconds each day. She too needed to refocus by joining me on this journey.

I decided after our trip to Devon to remove meat from my diet. The previous seven days had seen us consume half a farm, chickens, pigs and cows were all present on our daily calorie count and a return to the homestead made me feeling bloated and like a badly cooked steak, over-done.

I was a vegetarian for around eighteen months when I took my reiki training and with the new outlook, new friends, new energy and new lifestyle, it was only natural a diet forms part of the new me.

We have all consumed too much during the lockdown, grazing from cookie jars and overdosing on Netflix for too long over the last six months and our portly figures provide the evidence of that, so a dietary change was a must. I’ve also been out every morning running, cycling, kayaking and land-boarding before everyone else opens the curtains, and boy what a difference a week makes.

Tuesday saw our first kundalini yoga session with “L”. I like to understand what I’m getting myself into so spent sometime on Tuesday morning researching what kundalini yoga was all about. I had heard and read some negative and sensational reviews of the kundalini experiencing, ranging from mental instability to whole body orgasms and a lot of other stuff in between. Classifying it as fake news (but having an awareness of it in case I experience such – yes to the orgasms!) we joined the class and took part in what was such a different experience to the Hatha / posture-based yoga I have always undertaken.

Relatively easy positions were counter-posed by vigorous breathing techniques (breath of fire) leaving us both exhausted yet conversed completely invigorated and energised by the end. Everyone in the group was lovely, warm and welcoming, leaving us with the opinion that in some way, we had found our way home.

We spoke fondly of our experience on the drive home through the shadowy country lanes and with energy still racing when we got back home, I went for a run with the old and faithful pooch, giving new life to old legs.

Land-boarding on the promenade and looping the local marina in the morning sun as the open-water swimmers raised the mouths for breaths the next morning reminded me what if felt to be alive, a positive feelings I’d not felt in a long, long time.

If the early part of the week blew us away with positive energy, then what we experienced on Thursday made that look like a mere ripple on the sea compared to the the tsunami which was about to take place. When we have good weather and as we live close to the sea, when the conditions and tides are right, then “L” conducts her kundalini yoga class on the beach, which is accompanied by evening swims and paddling (sea kayaks and stand up paddle boarding).

As we approached, the beach car park (usually only partly occupied) we were surprised by how was rammed it was with vehicles. As we decanted our kayak and paddling gear, we looked up to see over 100 yoga mats laid out facing the sun, a welcoming inward tide and our spiritual instructor for the day in the lotus position waiting to begin. Incredible.

The session was the same as the “kriya” as Tuesday so we both knew what as to come, this time it was easier as we had had the practice, the session was more magical than the previous one, given the setting, the sheer volume of people and the communal and positive energy by all, resonating a common frequency of happiness.

Feeling again totally energised, we spent the next hour kayaking on the open and warm waters of the Mersey Estuary, totally at one with the universe and the like-minded souls we were spending time with.

Without sounding like a stuck record in reference (reverence) to Westworld, the words “Some choose to see the ugliness in the world, the disarray, I choose to see the beauty” never rang so true. If you are in the position to commune with nature and seek out opportunities for serenity, there is no better time than now. I’m mindful that we are not all in that position presently, with my friends and colleagues in India under almost full lockdown so I have to tone down my own personal journey at the moment, so not to fan their flames of despair, but they are in my thoughts and non-religious prayers.

I’m not one for taking good photos, but every now and again I hit jackpot. As my wife was paddling in, I stood waist-deep in the sea as the sun was setting and pressed click, the result of which reminded me of the ethereal Pink Floyd album The Endless River (Sea in this case), which sure seemed to be that way with nothing visible on the horizon, almost suggesting that infinity beckons…

Headspace…

There is a term often used in Buddhism called “mind monkey” which attempts to describe times of unsettled, restless or uncontrollable states of conscious awareness; those periods of self-generating noises and voices inside one’s own head which are difficult to turn off.

I only came across this phrase last week which my seventy five year old yoga teacher very accurately described monkey mind as those subconscious thoughts which surface and compete for primary attention during times when we least want them to; as we drift off to sleep or in this case the fifteen minutes of meditation time at the end of the session. 

She gave the very clear and accurate advice on how to clear our “headspace” as she called it, a technique which would act as a sort of mind enema.

Last weekend, I attended a philosophy / yoga talk with her eighty five year old husband entitled “Awaken Your Healing Potential”, the pair of them are a true inspiration to others and an incredible advertisement for yoga (and he himself is recovering from a broken back using only yoga breathing techniques for pain relief rather than the prescribed morphine tablets from his doctor).

After sharing some of his decades of accrued wisdom, he instructed us to take in a full breath (a breath which represented an action in the physical realm). As we approached full lung capacity, he asked us to focus our thoughts on the “headspace” between the brows (the location of the pineal gland / third eye) and try to activate a connection with the meta-physical realm / universal prana field (also the location of the higher mind). Our instruction was to hold the breath and stay in that state for as long as we could before becoming aware of the physical realm once again by breathing out and channeling the tapped-in energy to areas of the body which required any healing attention. 

This action was to be repeated until we reached a state of pure relaxation and deep meditation, and as a bi-product the total annihilation and expulsion of the monkey mind.

I have been doing yoga on and off for the last four years yet this simple explanation and exact instruction gave me the instant ability to find a place hitherto unreachable within the space of a few minutes. I have connected with the prana field on many occasions previously through kundalini reiki but found the practice too strong for me, literally riding the lightning and wreaking havoc on my tinnitus. This approach was different, a calmer and more effective approach for inner peace and well-being.

As I am not working away at the moment, some focus has rightly turned to getting my house in order (physically and mentally) and part of that was to tackle the attic space. I had grand designs last year to build a “meditation loft” but decided in my infinite wisdom to erect a outside bar and seating area.

So I sat down and discussed my plans with the wife and she stated that the attic was currently a metaphorical and physical representation of my “headspace” in that it too  was loaded with junk making things that much more difficult to gain access to when required (trying not to take it too personally of course).

Whilst agreeing with her completely, there was one word that stood out immediately; headspace. Not only had my yoga teacher and husband mentioned this on separate occasions recently, not only had I downloaded the Headspace mindfulness / meditation app recently, but here was my wife giving me yet another subliminal message to go create that yoga suite upstairs and once I had finished it, to use the space to connect with my inner self and beyond and cleanse the system.

If minimalism has taught me one thing over the past few weeks it’s be ruthless. Pulling down the ladder and peering over the ledge revealed the truly mammoth task that lied ahead. Bin bags, boxes, books, board games and everything else beginning with the letter B (plus every other letter in the alphabet) was looking at me head on as if to say “I dare you to take me to the tip”.

Mindful that if I threw any of the wife’s stuff away without having her explicit permission beforehand would end up with me sleeping on the dogs blanket for a few nights, I was nevertheless very successful in my first cleansing exercise, and with the resulting twelve bags full of crap safely ensconced in the local recycling centre, I can once again see the exposed floor beams and fiberglass insulation goading me to cover them immediately with floor panels, laminate, Persian rugs and zabutons…

A Rough Guide to Happiness…

Ask people what do they really want out of life and the response from the majority will be that first and foremost they want to be happy.

Beyond that initial claim and things start to become more diverse, a lot more subjective. How we all achieve and measure our own happiness is quite rightly a personal thing and there is neither a magic formula nor a percentage barometer to measure whether one is in a nirvana state of mind.

happy

I sat down in front of the Apple TV after work on Friday and once again found an interesting documentary on Netflix called Happy, which had some real thought provoking moments and dovetailed in nicely to my new minimalist approach to life.

According to research, a study has found that around fifty percent of our happiness levels are from our genetic code, so for each and every half of us, our parents dictated at a biological level whether they passed on happy or unhappy genes to us (though I’m sure they were not thinking of that at the time, just their own, immediate and intimate “happy ending”).

Some people often speak of others in not so pleasant terms that folks who are grumpy or negative or psychotic are not “wired up” in the same way as others, so on reflection (although those words should not be used) there is some truth in that.

Imagine if you will that our happiness is a workman’s vertical spirit level, when the bubble is on the line, everything is normal and in balance. There are several mood related neurotransmitters generated by the brain which have a positive or negative effect on our “spirit” level. Serotonin is one (who can ever mistake that chocolate rush for something else) but the main one is Dopamine.

serotonin-and-dopamine

When Dopamine is generated in higher doses, the body reacts in a positive way and our pleasure centre creates a sense of happiness. Conversely, if not enough Dopamine is created, then the pleasure centre shuts up shop for the day so negative and depressive states of mind occur, and in extreme Dopamine lows, suicidal thoughts (when mixed with other factors).

Dopamine is created in naturally occurring higher doses when we experience positive variety or new things, be it from meeting new people, new exercise regimes or by travelling. We can also unnaturally temporarily increase those levels via other means (like drugs and alcohol) but what transpires after the hit is a real low when coming down, the spirit bubble falls way below the equilibrium point, and feelings of unhappiness return until either the body re-adjusts itself or the vicious cycle starts again, ad nausea.

Of the remaining fifty percent of happiness level, ten percent is attributed to our present circumstances (what we earn, where we live, our social status, our current health condition) and forty percent is attributed to intentional activities (actions we choose to do).

So it’s easy to see that with the right balance of a good genetic code, amiable social circumstances and varied / new experiences that folks would be naturally happy. It is also easy to see why those whose family have been troubled with a poor biological code who live under difficult circumstances and only run around the same track every day become depressed and seek out ways to alleviate their experience by turning to synthetics and chemicals.

No one person is excluded from the calculation above. In the current Western society, many folks presume that the happiest people must be the ones with the most money, the nicest houses and the best jobs. Not so.

Jim Carrey once said “I think everyone should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer”.

People are largely extrinsic or intrinsic when it comes to goals and life objectives. Those who have extrinsic goals focus in on money, self-image and social status, whereas those with intrinsic goals focus on personal growth, good relationships and a desire to do things for others.

There is no doubt that money and the availability of resources has an important part to play in everyday life, but beyond a certain point having more money and more things beyond the basics adds no value in terms of happiness.

Japan is a country I have never visited before (and I kicked myself for not going over there when I lived in Malaysia) but there is no doubt that it is by far one of the most diverse places in the world; it is both the happiest and saddest place on planet earth.

Take Tokyo, a highly extrinsic city which focuses mainly on money, image and status and breeds a culture of working until you drop and is quite literally working some of its people to death, so beyond the bright city lights a very sad and depressive place to live for some (not all) of its populace.

elderly_japanese_couple

In stark contrast take Okinawa, a highly intrinsic island which focuses almost solely on a sense of community and an ethos of human and spiritual connectivity with a wanting to do things as a collective and to do so for others and with it so much happiness. They live long and happy lives and it is the place on earth which houses the most centenarians.

It’s clear that when individuals are fuelled by ego and extrinsic values that unhappiness follows.

It’s also clear that everybody has to deal with adversity from time to time but in football terms, the happier and intrinsic people have improved levels of “bouncebackability” and return back to the centre line on the spirit level a lot quicker.

Society’s primary aim should be to produce a long and happy life for all of its citizens (not just the privileged few), but sadly in today’s climate it instead peddles such extrinsic values on the masses as this generates more income for the coffers and the rich get richer (though ironically and ultimately no happier).

So we can we do to become happier? I’ve revisited some of my old books and come up with a neo-Buddhist approach for happiness, a rework / take on the Eight Fold Path:

1. Right Diet: The right balance of all the things you are meant to eat, in the right quantity to the right amount of calories for you, everything in moderation.

2. Right Exercise: The right amount of aerobic exercise, the right stresses and strains (nothing too excessive or unnatural).

3. Right Community: The right selection of family and friends, surround yourself with the right amount of people on the basis it’s quality not quantity.

4. Right Things: The right amount of things to own, make sure that each item has a purpose and a value to you.

5. Right Hobbies: The right activities which keep those Dopamine levels up, seek out new and meaningful experiences.

6: Right Attitude: The right way to be and the right way to act around and towards others, commit to acts of random kindness on a regular basis.

7. Right Goals: The right things to achieve and the right way to achieve them.

8. Right Priorities: The right order in which to do things and not to forget which things are always important and take precedent.

And above all, don’t worry, be happy!

Minimalism and how to value things…

After what seems like decades of being submersed and trapped inside the capitalist / commercialist paradigm, I came up for air this weekend and it smelled good.

I was flicking through Netflix on Friday and as usual found little substance in the movie section, so I headed on over to the documentary section and found a programme which caught my attention called “Everything That Remains” fronted by a pair of Amercican hipsters who go by the name of The Minimalists.

Although a little self-centred at times, a lot of what they said (not neccessarily in the manner in which they said it) made total sense. Less is most definitely more. However, minimalism it seems, is not without a sense of irony as our hipsters friends try to sell us their library of written materials in an effort to “unminimalise” our bookshelves. 

I read “Faithlessly Religionless” by Timber Hawkeye on the long haul to Cape Town recently and whilst I was somewhat disappointed by the way in which the book was written (again rather self-centred for a modern Buddhist and the overuse of exclamation marks also grated after a while), one thing I did take away was his sound approach towards simple living or minimalism.

Here we had a man who worked in corporate America, a man trapped inside a machine who wanted to get out, a man surrounded by things he did not need. Whilst his next steps were admirable in leaving his life and possessions behind on the mainland, heading out to a gregarious lifestyle of sorts in Hawaii, as a single man with no committments it was a relatively easy thing to do, not much hope of a man with a wife and three children in following those footsteps quite as easily (not that I would want to either, well not just yet).

My main take away however was simplicity. He left behind his gizmos, gadgets and wardrobes full of clothes and reduced the amount of things he owned and travelled with to a more manageable and mobile level.

I have over the past seven months lived out of a suitcase (and a very large suitcase at that), travelling to several exciting and exotic locations for both business and pleasure. It was after getting back on the bathroom scales which displayed a particularly woeful number that I realised that entropy was back with a vengeance. There was no structure in my diet, there was no structure in the things I owned, there was no structure in my wardrobe. Chaos was once again reigning supreme but at least I had been able to stand back this time and acknowledge that disorder had made an unsavory reappearance.

I was both willing and able to change, starting off with the diet. My eldest offspring treats his body like a machine, his motto is “calories in vs calories out, try not to think about how good the food tastes, know that you can pretty much eat what you want as long as you have a set calorie limit”. Whilst no doubt that is flawless logic, knowing in advance what and when to eat requires thought process and planning so I began to adopt a minimalistic approach to breakfast and lunch. Every morning I eat low fat yoghurt with granola, every lunch time I eat a bowl of bran plus a banana, and my evening meal can have the variety the mind seeks to satisfy the wants of the needy limbic system.

My minimalistic meal approach very quickly reaped rewards and the seven kilograms I had gained during the previous seven months of travelling were literally flushed down the pan (very literally in Cape Town after suffering a particularly nasty bout of seasonal gastritis). 

It does become easy after a while, removing the noise from within for craving something different to eat helps to free up time for other activities, there is no pondering at the fridge as the majority of the food is predetermined, there is no anxiety over cravings after a while as the mindset towards food changes. What we give away in terms of palatte pleasure we take back in calorie reduction and more importantly time saved.

Still, there was more to do, a lot more. I opened both of my wardrobes and saw yet more disorder, not only were the clothes spewing from all angles, half of the clothes I did have I never wore. So again taking the minimalist approach, I took a scythe to the lot. I decided that five was a good number (it seemed to work well for the Jacksons and Enid Blyton) and that everything I owned should be reduced to five. Two large refuse sacks later, the law of five reigned supreme; five casual shirts, five formal shirts, five ties, five white t-shirts, five black t-shirts, five jumpers, five jackets, five jeans, five shorts, five (times two) socks, five (times two) pants and five shoes. I followed this up with five gizmos (Kindle, iPhone, SmartWatch, Wireless Headphones and Wired Headphones) and five (times three) books, so I now only possess ninety things. Ninety things sounds like a lot but from where I started from it is a big improvement. Not only has the local charity shop benefitted from the cathartic clothes purge, but I now get back the decison time back to do other things; when in work choose one of the five shirts, when not in work choose a black or white t-shirt with jeans.

Once again the noise of choice has gone, and with it comes real value. I am already starting to really cherish the few items I have in my possession. Going forward, I no longer need to buy anything new, anything which will break that rule of five simply will not be purchased, except to simply cycle out the items I have with replicas when the old ones become dysfunctional.

There is a lot to be said for minimalist living, it gives back time, it gives back money and gives a sense of real value in those things we do possess…

The digital self…

Many see the human brain as an organic equivalent of a computer’s hard drive. When a computer boots up for the very first time its memory is empty and as time goes by more and more programs are installed, increasing the functionality of the system and eventually over time giving an understanding to the self of how the whole thing works.

computer-brain

If we are lucky, our computer lasts for its intended (albeit finite) lifespan, with only a few minor problems which have no major impact on how it operates, how it runs.

In those early days, some people will come along and install good programs, programs which enrich the computing experience which in time teaches us how best to fine tune the system so that we can harmonise all working parts, guiding us to make the right decisions on which programs are best.

However, some people come along and install bad programs, sometimes for their own pleasure or selfish misguided ends, resulting in our computer not working as it should, crashing constantly and in certain cases to the point where the only solution appears to be to power off one last time never to be booted up again.

malware

There is a solution before such terminal measures are taken. As long as we are aware that our computer has a problem and that we are willing to fix it, then there is hope. There are those that have the knowledge of how to find the bad programs (the malware and viruses) and these people can show us the way to erase or partition those bad sectors to a place which does not affect the main running of the system.

Once we possess the knowledge of what is good and what is bad for the computer, we then have ultimate control of what gets loaded and what does not, having the experience and understanding to know what happens when bad programs are installed and how well the system functions when not.

When we are imbued with this knowledge, we can then educate others on what is good and what is not good; wisdom we did not have in those early days and when we do that, we have the ability to break the previous chain(s) of bad programming, forever.

Talking to professionals, talking to those who have reformatted their hard drives, talking to those who have experienced the good programs and the bad can help all of us who seek the path to optimisation…

The Consciousness Within…

God can be (and has been and will continue to be) defined as a great many things, including:

  • The Creator of the Universe and the Source of all moral authority.
  • A perfect and all-powerful spirit or being that is worshipped.
  • The One who has power over nature and human fortunes.

I’ve never proactively gone to church, but I have over the last two weekends, not only as an opportunity to see parts of a location not usually frequented but also as a way to remove myself from a heavy workload, tourist schedule and external factors, even if just for one hour.

St Georges Cathedral in Cape Town is steeped in history and is renowned for the political stance it took during apartheid and is recognised as a strong symbol for democracy in South Africa. It’s significance lies not just with the building itself but also by the actions of different clergymen, including Desmond Tutu, the first black archbishop of South Africa who led numerous marches and campaigns for the formal end of apartheid from the front steps. It was a common meeting point for all activists of all races as well as woman’s rights groups who were part of the resistance to apartheid laws and the struggle for social justice, equality and human rights.

cape-town-cathedral

As I sat there listening to the gospels and hymns, one thing struck me. When I started to strip back things within this place, a certainty revealed itself to me at least, hidden for those who choose not to, or know not how to, peel back the layers.

Take away the church building itself. Take away the religious symbols and iconography. Take away the ceremony. Take away the physicality of the congregation. What is left is connection; oneness of being in the same place, a spiritual and aggregated consciousness tuning in to the same frequency.

Whilst in quiet contemplation or prayer during certain times of the service, external reality closes off its influence on the mind and allows one to go beyond the physical to get closer to the core, to inner essence (call it Heaven, call it Nirvana or call it Consciousness – for me it is the same thing).

On the topic of the resurrection, we were reminded by the Bishop that we ourselves should not fear death as life is eternal, and when we leave our mortal bonds we become one with God and join him in Heaven. It was at this point that I was also reminded of a lyric in a song I hold dear, “Presence” by Anathema:

“One has to come to term us with one’s own mortality, and you can’t really help people who are having problems with mortality if you’ve got problems of your own. So you have to begin to sort things out and I thought I had sorted things out until I saw this excerpt from this book, of certainty I shall remember what it said:

“Life is not the opposite of death. Death is the opposite of birth. Life is eternal.”

And I thought that it’s the most profound words I have ever heard and it really put me at peace. And that’s it, what else is there to say? Life is eternal. Surely the opposite of life is not the death, but life is eternal. There is no opposite. It is a state of pure consciousness, stillness and silence. What we are looking for now, we are searching for and we have been searching for is already there; there for ever to seek. It is there and it’s going be there, all the time, forevermore”…

Leaving church left me with a great many things to contemplate. Without the offertory, the amount of churches would diminish and with that those who rely on buildings and ceremony as symbols for hope and peace would be lost. Churches, synagogues, temples and mosques are bricks and mortar, but true spirituality lies within its patrons and not itself, yet if by going to them reminds one to be more spiritual and less materialistic, then one should go.

So it was no shock to me that soon after my return from the cathedral, that flicking through the channels on the afternoon TV I found one of my favourite films Groundhog Day, an ontological orgasm of a film, whereby Bill Murray plays out the Buddhist eternal return (resurrections included) until he gains enough knowledge and wisdom to move on.

After the film had finished, I phoned home and asked the wife how things were going three weeks in to my six week stint in South Africa, the first words from her mouth were “It’s like Groundhog Day”.

capture

As if that was not odd enough, I was in work this morning when my colleague and friend shared with me the last two chocolates from the UK, namely two boxes of Mini-Smarties. He turned to me and said “What’s the answer to life, ‘maybe Smarties has the answer’ eh?” the jingle/phrase that accompanied the product on a UK TV advertisement. I turned to him and said “Well you know the answer to the ultimate question is 42 (according to Douglas Adams and his Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy) and if there are 42 Smarties inside that box then that is proof that there is something else beyond physical death and life is eternal”.

So there he sat, next to me counting out the Smarties in the small cardboard box into piles of ten. The look of shock on his face and mine when, after four piles were laid out on the desk, he showed me the open box to reveal two left inside.

An extraordinary synchronicity, could that have really been just a coincidence or was it a message from the other side?

Life is experience not knowledge…

What better way to share knowledge than through the written word. Since we picked up the first quill, we have over the ages scribed masterpieces from ancient texts, through Shakespeare and the Classics and on to modern theories of Life, the Universe and Everything via the internet.

Whilst it is just to read to expand the mind and become more knowledgeable, just reading is simply a data transfer between paper/screen and the hippocampus. Life is not simply about reading, understanding and sharing the words of others, life is about taking in knowledge to better experience. Quoting Freud or Nietzsche whilst in dialogue with friends and colleagues only shows that you have retained the knowledge once shared by great thinkers and writers, living and experiencing theories is however something very different.

I have not read a great many books cover-to-cover in my life, I have a tendency to read about fifty to sixty pages of a book, ponder over its content and existential relevance and put it down again perhaps for months, even years, taking in such nuggets and using that knowledge to enhance my experience on Planet Earth.

I was fortunate enough today (for now as this is my last project with my current employer) to be sat in a Business Class seat on-route to Cape Town where I will spend the next six weeks working (and being a culture vulture at weekends). I’m not the greatest of flyers so struggle a little on long haul flights so try to find things to do to keep me occupied for eleven hours fifteen in this case, as sleep as rarely an option. Armed with three books (A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Persig and The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley), a fully loaded iTunes/Spotify and the in-flight entertainment system, I felt that I had enough to keep the turbulence palm sweats at bay.

Apropos the in-flight entertainment system, I guess like most others I headed straight on to the documentary section and quickly settled on my selections for the flight. The documentary picks where quite easy; Cosmos narrated Neil De Grasse Tyson, Through the Wormhole narrated by Morgan Freeman (materialism vs mysticism checklist complete) and Robin Williams Remembered (a look-back at the life and works of one the modern-day greats).

Robin-Williams-Death.jpg

I recall the days after he had died as not one of my finest moments. News had reached the UK that he had taken his own life which was a tragic event but what I could not understand at the time was why people where literally crying in the streets, and everybody seemed to share their own grief on social media. My point (wrong as it transpired) was that just because someone a famous person takes their own life, doesn’t make it any more or less tragic than someone who is not, a life is a life. There is some truth in that I guess but this stance got me into some sticky conversations until I rightly rescinded my comments once the views of others had been taken in.

The in-flight fifty-five minute documentary showed a true genius at work, from small beginnings to an Oscar winning performance, from a loner to a global megastar and back again, leaving gaping voids in the people that knew and worked with him.

After I had watch the three documentaries, I cycled through the three-hundred plus films on offer, hopefully taking the opportunity to watch an ontological/existential flick as I rarely get chance at home. Sadly there was nothing there.

Coincidentally though, Good Will Hunting starring Mr Williams was there. It’s a film I watched a long time ago and I recalled it was quite good so on it went. Having read a little Freud recently, I remembered that Williams played a shrink so quite a relevant film (a visual experience to go with the transfer of knowledge). Needless to say and in my opinion (at last!) the film is an absolute classic, with Williams a genius and humbling watch. His performance rightly won him the Oscar, arguably one of the best pieces of acting I’ve ever seen on film.

gwh

There is a scene in the film where doctor (Robin Williams) and patient (Matt Damon) are sitting on a park bench. Here on display, in Technicolor at 37,000ft is a monologue to end all monologues, which describes in majestic detail that life is about practice and not about theory. I just have to share this verbatim as no analysis or opinion is required (SPOILER ALERT!):

“I thought about what you said to me the other day, about my painting. I stayed up half the night thinking about it. Something occurred to me. I fell into a deep peaceful sleep and I haven’t thought about you since. You know what occurred to me, you’re just a kid and you don’t have the faintest idea what you’re talking about. You’ve never been out of Boston.

If I asked you about art, you’d probably give me the skinny about every art book ever written. Michelangelo, you know a lot about him; life’s work, political aspirations, him and the Pope, sexual orientation the whole works, but I bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel? You’ve never actually stood there and looked up at the beautiful ceiling, I’ve seen that.

If I ask you about women, you could give me a salver of all your personal favourites, you may have even been laid a few times, but you can’t tell me what it feels like to wake up next to a woman and feel truly happy.

If I ask you about war, you will probably throw Shakespeare at me right: “Once more into the breach dear friends”, but you’ve never been near one. You’ve never had your best friends head in your lap and watch him gasp his last breath looking at you for help,

If I ask you about love, you’d quote me a sonnet, but you’ve never looked at a woman and felt totally vulnerable knowing someone who could level you with her eyes, feeling like God put an Angel on earth just for you, who could rescue you from the depths of hell and you wouldn’t know what it’s like to be her Angel to have that love for her that will be there forever through anything, through cancer. And you wouldn’t know about sleeping up in a hospital room for two months holding her hand because the doctors could see that in your eyes the term “visiting hours” don’t apply to you.

You don’t know about real loss, because that only occurs when you love something more than you love yourself. I doubt you’ve ever dared to love anybody that much.

I look at you I don’t see an intelligent confident man, I see a cocky, scared shitless kid, but you’re a genius Will no one denies that. No one could possibly understand the depths of you but you presumed to know everything about me because you saw a painting of mine and ripped my fucking life apart. You’re an orphan right. Do you think I’d know the first thing about how hard you’re life has been, how you feel, who you are because I read Oliver Twist? Does that encapsulate you?

Personally I don’t give a shit about all that because you know what, because I can’t learn anything from you that I can’t read from some fucking book, unless you want to talk about you, and who are you – then I’m fascinated. I’m in. But you don’t want do that do you sport. You’re terrified on what you might say”.

Calmly and expertly delivered, Williams is sharing a part of himself with the viewer, both fragile and moving.

In the final scene, Damon opens up and sobs after Williams (who himself reveals his historic abuse story) repeats time and time again “It’s not your fault; it’s not your fault”. I guess I was kind of glad all of the blinds were down on the airplanes windows and most of the folks were asleep as the tears were rolling down my face like the Victoria Falls I was flying over at the time.

We would do well to remember what William’s said on that bench, life is about experience and not knowledge. If we have had bad experiences thrust upon us, then we can and must try to lose that historical knowledge and live life in the present moment…

To err is to human…

One is never too far away from chaos, from disorder, from entropy. Conjure up if you will an image of a person who appears to be in perfect harmony with the Universe, a person who has a decent understanding of the human condition and who operates a nicely balanced mind, body and soul.

Take that very same person and inject them into a situation where that balance is completely and utterly destroyed by substances they imbibe to the point where everything that they truly believe and everything they actually possess teeters to the point of non-existence.

Whilst it is commonplace (not obligatory) to take alcohol in social situations, excess is a very dark and dangerous path to Freud’s Ego and Id, a solitary and lonely path to disorder.

the-path

Advanced states of inebriation dissolve the Super-Ego like the inevitable next day Berocca; something solid which melts away to reveal churning and cloudiness. Introducing alcohol in large quantities into the system temporarily removes conscience and pride, the staple diet of the Super Ego and without it, all that is left is the bloated Ego and the selfish Id, and with that all reason is lost.

And so it was on Saturday, where I took it upon myself to smash myself out of the park for no real apparent reason, or perhaps one that my external self chooses not to reveal under normal circumstances.

I have of late likened my time living in the corporate world to that of a marionette; an executive order controlling my every move telling me what to do and when to do it, much to the annoyance and disappointment of my inner self. There are times (and that is becoming increasingly regular) that I loathe capitalism, commercialism and coin-based economics, such things never truly bring real happiness. Sometimes it’s seems an easy option to turn to drink to banish those thoughts even if only temporarily, yet invariably things turn out very ugly indeed.

puppet

I do have a grand plan, a plan one day to leave behind all of the pandering to bosses and reliance on money, but for now (with having three children) my Super Ego keeps things in check and perspective (and rightly so) and puts that plan ten years hence, which ordinarily I’m ok with.

However, when the balance is knocked severely off kilter with such force and aggression (mental not physical), egotistic and selfish needs and desires come out to the front of class and exhibit a rather loathsome and disrespectful show and tell, leaving strangers bewildered and confused and loved ones bemused and upset.

The cold light of the next day brings back the conscience ten-fold (leaving pride to scuttle off under the bed), as if its absence the night before needs to take centre stage for every waking moment for days to come, deliberating, cogitating and judging the self’s embarrassing stage show the night before.

We are never too far away from chaos and should do everything to avoid entropy at all costs; we must be reminded that a life of moderation and not excess brings balance.

“To enjoy good health, to bring true happiness to one’s family, to bring peace to all, one must first discipline and control one’s own mind. If a man can control his mind he can find the way to Enlightenment, and all wisdom and virtue will naturally come to him” – Buddha