Following my epic article on the Dark Night of the Soul, I wanted to go into a little more detail on the symptoms of the Dark Night and strategies for surviving it. I was going to include this information at the end of the previous article but it was already too long.
A Dark Night of the Soul always arrives uninvited, yet it could be the best thing to ever happen. It’s a sacred initiation into the underbelly of the soul that will make you feel cursed and blessed at the same time. Dark Nights of the Soul are all the rage these days. Our civilisation is self-destructing and we seem powerless to stop it. Some say we have brought ourselves to this dangerous precipice through our collective blindness, arrogance and selfishness, and that may be true. But we may also be on the brink of a breakthrough.
Twilight falls, the moon rises, and hidden in the darkness, a dog howls. You have crossed the threshold to the underworld, the realm of Hecate. It takes a while for your eyes to adjust to the gloom and you find yourself in a fearful place. The dead, the lost and forgotten, the compulsive, secret fantasies, and transgressive irrational desires. How could you have ended up here?
Hecate reveals your shadow. She shows you who you really are, when you’re not pretending to be civilised and rational and normal. She is at home here in the darkness, and wants you to feel the same way. Hecate watches over the darkest nights of your soul and teaches you to see through your fears. With her help, you can deepen, grow in wisdom and become less rational and naïve. You can become whole.
Mindfulness is everywhere these days. With the number of books and apps and courses available you would think we had become a nation of bodhisattvas overnight. The positive effects of mindfulness are widely known and aggressively advertised, but the practice doesn’t work the same way for everyone, and it can actually make you feel worse. However, you wouldn’t know this looking at the literature and studies that have been done. If you start to meditate thinking that only good things will happen, you might be in for a shock.
“Mindfulness is the skill of thinking you are doing something when you are doing nothing. One of the good things about mindfulness is that you get to do a lot of sitting down. Sitting down is good for the mind because so much positive energy is stored in the lap.” – The Ladybird Book of Mindfulness
I recently attended a Writing for Wellbeing workshop which was designed to promote “mindfulness and calm.” We did various writing exercises and a little guided visualisation, and were told: “Whatever you write is right for you – when done mindfully.” Well, maybe I was having a bad day, but I didn’t feel calm or mindful.
Earlier this week we looked at the process of feeding your demons, which is a way to make friends with your shadow. In this post we’ll dig deeper into the various types of demon you might find skulking in the darkness of your worst fears. But first, what is a demon?
Recently I realised that I’d spent my whole life fighting against the darkness. But my demons won’t die, no matter how many times I bash them over the head. It’s exhausting. So I was open to trying anything that might help when I came across the practice of Feeding Your Demons in the book of that name by Tsultrim Allione.
As a kid I spent a lot of time thinking there was something wrong with me. I was totally convinced that my lowly opinion of myself was true, and there were plenty of so-called facts I could use to back up my claim. I wasn’t a happy bunny. It was only when I discovered psychology and Buddhism that I began to deconstruct the ideas that were making me miserable.
“What does not kill me makes me stronger.” – Nietzsche
Where there is light, there will be darkness, but hidden within the dark are the seeds of creation and the key to finding the light. In the last two posts we met the predator and discovered how he works in the story of Bluebeard. It’s time to get our hands dirty and jump into the viper’s nest to explore the origins of our arch-nemesis.
“What hurts you, blesses you. Darkness is your candle.” – Rumi
We’re on a quest to discover more about the murky depths of the mind and our worst enemy. In Going Dark we met the predator. Now we’ll dig a little deeper using the story of Bluebeard to learn how he operates and what we can do to overcome him.
“One does not become conscious by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.” – CG Jung
There’s a demonic creature that stalks us through our nightmares. He targets the innocent and the hopeful. He squats in the dark, hidden until he attacks. He wants to destroy us, to stop us from growing or knowing the truth. He wants to take our light for himself.
We’ve already explored how consciousness evolves from birth into a fully mature ego, plus some of the problems encountered on the way. To finish, we’ll look at where we can go next. Assuming all has gone well and we don’t have too many hang-ups or kinks in our development, it should be possible to evolve to higher stages of consciousness and move beyond ego into awakening.
“We are afraid to approach the fathomless and bottomless groundlessness of everything. ‘There’s nothing to be afraid of’. The ultimate reassurance, and the ultimate terror.” – R.D. Laing, The Politics of Experience
Absolute Subjectivity, Pure Awareness, Suchness, No-mind, Oneness, Non-duality Consciousness, Brahman, Original Mind, Luminous Emptiness, God.
These are some of the words used to name the unspeakable at the heart of life. It’s impossible to make any positive statements concerning the nature of non-dual Awareness. It is variously described as Undifferentiated, Unborn, Unchanging, Unknowable or Unknown, Limitless, and Eternal. It is Universal, Collective, Transpersonal or Impersonal, Empty, Void, Non-being, and No-thingness.
The stage after Ego is a radical shift in the evolution of consciousness. From this moment on, you’ll never be the same again. Once you’ve tasted the open space and peace of the Witness, the ego feels even more claustrophobic.
Life has an uncanny ability to undermine your sense of self-importance and competence. No matter how hard you try, you’re never going to make sense of it. You’ll never fully know yourself and life will always surprise you. This is good, but we don’t always see it that way.
In the last post we discovered how the ego creates the shadow by rejecting anything we find unacceptable. Now we’ll look at what we can do to heal the wounds that cause us problems along the path to wholeness and awakening.
“I only know as much about myself as my mind can work out under its current conditions. And its current conditions are not good.” – Zaphod Beeblebrox, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
We don’t know who we are or what we want.
This sounds like a drastic overstatement, but most of the time it’s true. Many of our needs and instincts are unconscious. We only know what we’re conscious of or what we allow ourselves to know. Because our true needs are hidden they’re never fully satisfied, so we often feel something is missing. We’re split in two and don’t know how this sorry state of affairs happened or what to do about it.
Last time we looked at how consciousness evolves through various stages of development. In this post we’ll look at what happens when this process goes wrong.
Back to the house building metaphor: as the foundations for your character are being laid problems can arise which lead to difficulties later in life. If the support structures in your house aren’t stable, the walls will crumble around you and if you’re really unlucky, the roof will cave in.
Growing a person is a mysterious process. Most of it happens in the dark, but we have discovered certain patterns that unfold in all people in more or less the same way.
Imagine you’re building a house. This is less complicated than growing a person, but it’s a useful metaphor. We’ll leave aside the problem of the architect for now and just say the blueprint is ready for construction.
“The first time an Ashaninca man told me that he had learned the medicinal properties of plants by drinking a hallucinogenic brew, I thought he was joking. …But he was not smiling.”
The Cosmic Serpent is a fascinating exploration of the links between DNA and molecular biology by anthropologist Jeremy Narby. While doing fieldwork in the Amazon Pichis Valley, the Quirishari told him that their incredible knowledge of plants and biochemistry was given to them by the plants while under the influence of ayahuasca. Narby was sceptical at first, but then became increasingly drawn into a quest to understand how this was possible. The book recounts this quest as a compelling investigation that pushes him to the limits of rationality and forces him to question his scientific training.
In this final part of the series I want to look at how we can put all these ideas into practise. There’s no point reading a book like Active Hope and then not doing anything – the clue is in the title, after all!
Humanity is undergoing a radical shift in consciousness that will enable us to transform our way of life. We are poised on the edge of a new world. Industrial civilisation has grown as far as it can and in the process has brought us to the brink of destruction. We need to change our whole approach – not just what we do but also the way we think, what we value and how we see ourselves.
How much time have you wasted staring out of the window today? If you want to be productive, then the answer should be – a lot!
Freud dismissed daydreams as infantile wish-fulfilment, but now we know they actually make us more creative and productive. Daydreaming allows the unconscious to come up with solutions to problems, often while we’re busy doing something boring, like the washing up or our day jobs. One study has shown that our minds wander 47% of the time while we’re awake. (It’s probably higher in my case, especially when I’m meditating 😉)
It’s nearly Christmas! (It was when this was first posted 😉) Yes, I know it’s only September but it won’t be long before the shops are bedecked with shiny plastic tat and soon-to-be unwanted presents. When I flip to a new month on the calendar I always have the same thought: “Where did the time go?”
Time seems to move faster each year. Perhaps I’m just getting old, but I always feel like I’m running to catch up. I never have enough time to do all the things I want to do. Even when I actually manage to be productive, I still feel like I’m spinning my wheels, going nowhere fast.
Do you feel lonely? If the internet is to be believed, we’re currently suffering an epidemic of loneliness. Many are keen to blame social networking, but it might not be that simple.
A recent survey by Relate in the UK found that a significant minority of people had no close friends and rarely felt loved. This kind of bean counting is always suspect as you can never know if people are telling the truth. What one person defines as a friend, another may see as an acquaintance, so some of us may be more lonely than we’re willing to admit.
The world is power mad. The game to get and keep power drives history, ruins lives and despoils the land. It’s easy to feel powerless when we look at world events and wonder: what can one person do to change things?
We need a new way of looking at power and a new way to feel powerful. If we can do that, we may find more ways to change the world than we think possible.
“It is a remarkable fact that a life lived entirely from the ego is dull not only for the person himself but for all concerned.” – Carl Jung
When the scale of the environmental crisis we’re facing seems overwhelming, it can be helpful to remember we don’t always see things the way they actually are.
We see things as we are.
This has a profound effect on what we believe we can accomplish. If you believe you’re a tiny little person, isolated and alone, battling insurmountable odds, it’s enough to make you want to give up in despair. But this view of the self isn’t based in reality.
We’ve all done it: you feel terrible, like a zombie in training, and you run into a friend who asks how you are. ‘Fine!’ you reply, grinning like your brain has been removed and secretly wishing you really were a zombie because then maybe people would leave you alone and stop asking how you are…
It works the other way too. When you ask someone how they are, do you really want to know? Do you want them to regale you with the intimate details of their malfunctioning bowels, lavishly illustrated with a PowerPoint presentation?
I didn’t think so.
Pain makes us uncomfortable, and not just physically. When confronted by a reality we don’t like, we tend to turn away and pretend everything is fine. Even in a life-threatening situation, people will look the other way if they see others doing the same.
If the news and miscellaneous madness of the world is getting you down, there’s one guaranteed way to cheer yourself up: Gratitude. In fact, gratitude could be seen as a kind of elixir of life. Do you want to be healthier? Practice gratitude. Want to reduce stress, boost your memory and improve your relationships? Practice gratitude.
Watching the news these days can be a shattering experience. Daily we are shaken by the images of broken bodies and desperation playing out in Gaza, Iraq, and around the world. It can leave us feeling helpless. What can we do? Is making a donation really enough?
We are privileged to live in relative safety and peace. I can walk down the street without worrying (too much) about being attacked. My flat will not be bombed. I will not starve. I will not have to watch my family being massacred. If I don’t like what I see on the news I can switch the TV off and do something else. But the images stay with me. I am haunted by death. I must find a response. I must do something. But what?
Following my short review of Active Hope by Joanna Macy, I wanted to take a closer look at The Great Turning and the important changes we are living through now. Civilisation as we know it is on the brink of collapse and the choices we make today will have profound repercussions into the future.
Think you have to be religious to experience a spiritual awakening? Think again. Many people, like me, start out entirely secular. I didn’t believe in anything, was a proud and apparently rational atheist until the rug was pulled from under my feet. All it can take is a little boredom, a little dissatisfaction with the paucity of the material rewards offered by consumerism, a little frustration with daily life, for the searching to start…
The Hero’s Journey is one of our oldest myths. It shows how we grow from ignorance to enlightenment through various stages of development, both individually and collectively. It was called a monomyth by Joseph Campbell in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, and is often used to structure stories in film and novels. I’ve already explored the Hero’s Journey through the films Thor and Jane Eyre, but here I want to dig a little deeper into the symbolism and how it shapes our consciousness.
The ox herding pictures represent the process of awakening as described in Zen Buddhism. Each image is a metaphor that reveals the internal stages of meditation – how awakening looks from the inside. In this series we’ll look at each picture and explore what they mean, but first a bit of background.
If you want to understand the ideas that underpin any belief system, it’s best to start at the beginning. With Buddhism, that means going back to the Four Noble Truths which was the Buddha’s very first teaching. The Four Noble Truths of the Middle Way include the teachings on the Eightfold Path, which is a way to free yourself from suffering so you can live a full and happy life.
The Sun of Wisdom is a commentary on one of the classics of Buddhist literature by one of the great Tibetan masters, Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso. Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way was written by Nagarjuna in the 2nd century and is a commentary on the Buddha’s teachings on the nature of appearance and emptiness.
The Buddha prophesied that someone would come 400 years after his death to give a perfect explanation of his teachings, and Nagarjuna fulfilled the prophecy. Khenpo Rinpoche uses Nagarjuna’s text and modern master Ju Mipham’s commentary as a framework to explain and illustrate the most important verses. He deconstructs the ideas and shows how they apply to your everyday experience, and how you can put them into practise.
To celebrate Chinese New Year and the Year of the Monkey, I thought it would be fun to explore the background to one of my favourite TV shows: Monkey. It’s a cult classic and was on TV during my formative years in the 70s. We would rush home from ballet class (don’t ask) because I couldn’t bear to miss it – this was before we got a video recorder and long before digital catch-up. I remember re-enacting scenes from the show in the playground at school, throwing myself off a bench and screaming, “Monkey!”
I grew up wanting to be Monkey, but didn’t realise how much impact that crazy show would have on my life. The Buddhist teachings got under my skin while I was busy enjoying the fights, the bad make-up and wobbly sets. It was only later that I discovered the story was based on the real-life adventures of Xuanzang, the monk who brought Buddhism to China during the Tang dynasty.
|Trina Shoemaker at the mixing desk|
I was always odd, the resident freak or weirdo in any situation. And then I became a sound engineer. As a woman, that makes me exceptional. There aren’t many of us, so when I heard about Laura Marling’s latest project, Reversal of the Muse, I gave a cheer. It’s about time there were more ladies rocking a mixing desk.
Reversal of the Muse came about when the award winning singer-songwriter realised that in 10 years of making records she had only come across two female engineers working in studios. So she decided to dig deeper and explore female creativity in the music industry. Why are there so few female sound engineers and would the presence of more women in the studio make a difference to the end product – especially for female performers?
|Aerial view of the Gobekli Tepe site|
The stone age temples dug into a hill near Sanliurfa in Turkey are causing a storm. It’s not often we find something that overturns everything we know, but Gobekli Tepe is a genuine mystery. Archaeology and history are being rewritten.
There’s a new mindfulness craze sweeping the nation: colouring books for adults. It’s supposed to help you relax and be more mindful, but does it work?
“I traffic in fiction. I do not traffic in lies.”
Alan Moore reminds me of an Old English Sheepdog with a wry twinkle in his eye. You just know he’s got a juicy bone hidden somewhere. He’s best known for his comics, like Watchmen and V for Vendetta, and for the fact that he hates the movie versions with a passion. Hollywood, he says, “spoon-feeds us, which has the effect of watering down our collective cultural imagination.” Moore is an artist driven by the art rather than the market. A writer, storyteller, magician, rebel, iconoclast, and psychonaut, who like William Blake, believes the reality of imagination is paramount. Moore’s new novel, Jerusalem, is out later this year.
I wrote a Fantasy novel by accident. That’s not an easy accident to have; not like tripping over your own feet or walking into a glass door. It’s not that I was trying to write something else and it turned into Fantasy. I wasn’t aiming for any genre in particular – I just wrote the story. It was only when I had to pitch the book to agents and publishers that the penny dropped. I worked down the list of literary genres looking for the best fit and ended up at Science Fiction and Fantasy.
Visionary Fiction became a recognised fiction genre around the turn of the millennium, but stories using visionary elements have always existed. In fact, Visionary Fiction (VF) might be the oldest genre of storytelling.
|Jane Eyre (2011)|
In storytelling, the Heroine’s Journey is structured the same way as the Hero’s Journey but the feminine experience of the story tends to differ from the standard masculine interpretation. It's the same basic myth but with a feminine twist.
There are many ways to structure your stories but one of the most common is The Hero’s Journey. Joseph Campbell identified this monomyth in his seminal book The Hero With A Thousand Faces, and it was later taken up by Christopher Vogler in The Writer’s Journey.
I’ve struggled with Morning Pages for years. I would do them for a bit and then quit. Start again. Quit again. Repeat. Then last week I finally worked out why: I understand the problem with Morning Pages and I know how to fix it.
So we come to the end and it’s time to stop.
To be creative means to recognise when you’re not being creative, and be able to do something to rectify that situation. To change and move forward you must stop whatever it is you’re doing (or not doing) that doesn’t serve either you or your creativity.
Stopping links all the other active qualities of the creative person, making it possible to leave behind unproductive behaviour and negative thoughts, opening the way to freedom through active creativity.
To be creative means to be open to life and curious about what’s going on and why. If you want to create something meaningful you must educate yourself: demand to know everything there is to know, whether about the world around you or the world inside you.
|Look with more care than this...|
To be creative you must pay attention to the world around you. Creativity is born out of an interest in life and other people. Turn your gaze outward. Search out the telling detail, ready for the moment the mask drops and the truth is revealed.
True creativity happens right on the edge of rebellion, on the edge of chaos. This is where life functions at its best: at a point of dynamic equilibrium. Always changing, always transforming into something else.