Musings on the Muse

My muse is a shapeshifter. She’s indiscriminate: a divine whore and angelic trickster up to her knees in mulch and butterfly cocoons. She’s in sunshine and dogs and fleeting thoughts and pain. She isn’t something other than me, but I can’t control her. She is my daemon, my guide. 

She would also like me to tell you that I don’t understand her and have no idea what I’m talking about. 

What Is Enlightenment?

After busting some enlightenment myths, I thought I should look at what enlightenment actually is, with the rather obvious disclaimer: I am not enlightened, although I am working on it… 

The first thing to say is that it isn’t possible to say what enlightenment reveals. The true nature of reality is beyond concepts and language, so cannot be expressed. It can only be lived as Being. 

Myths About Enlightenment

What comes to mind when you think of enlightenment? Saints glowing with divine radiance? Gurus with unfeasibly long beards chanting incomprehensible mantras? Endless do-gooding and lots of smiling? Floating on a cloud of bliss while dispensing otherworldly wisdom? 

Enlightenment is often seen as a one-off event that changes your life forever. Darkness is banished and you spend the rest of your days bathed in light and goodness. 

Well, no. 

What is the real meaning of Mindfulness?

“Mindfulness of Breathing, monks, cultivated and regularly practiced, is of great fruit and great benefit. Mindfulness of Breathing, cultivated and regularly practiced, brings to Perfection the four Foundations of Mindfulness. The four Foundations of Mindfulness, cultivated and regularly practiced, bring the seven Factors of Enlightenment to perfection; the seven Factors of Enlightenment, cultivated and regularly practiced, bring wisdom and deliverance to perfection.” – Anapanasati Sutra 

How to Meditate: The Four Immeasurables

The Four Immeasurables is a Buddhist meditation that is often used to dedicate your practice to the enlightenment of all sentient beings. It can be directed at yourself as well as others, and helps you to feel more compassionate. Practising the Four Immeasurables will remind you why you practise in the first place. It helps you to focus on your intention to awaken and to share your light and kindness with others. 

How to Meditate: Tonglen

Tonglen is a Tibetan Buddhist practice of giving and receiving. You take in the suffering and pain of others, and breathe out love, compassion and understanding. It’s a very powerful practice that uses visualisation to develop compassion and unconditional love for all. 

How to Meditate: Savasana

Savasana is a very powerful yoga pose which can bring healing to the body and mind. Savasana means corpse pose, but don’t let that put you off! This pose is usually performed at the end of a yoga session and is ideal for total relaxation. 

How to Meditate: Self Identification Meditation

This is a guided meditation taken from the therapeutic practice of Psychosynthesis which was started by psychoanalyst Roberto Assagioli. It is a process of gradually stripping away the layers of false self-identification to reveal the true nature of the Self underneath. 

How to Meditate: Body Scan

The Body Scan is a guided meditation that is simple to do but brings excellent results. It can be done sitting or lying down and is a good way to check in with your body to see if there are any changes you need to make to improve your health. Using the information gleaned from the body scan you’ll be able to make timely changes to your diet, exercise regime or lifestyle that will have long term benefits. It’s also an excellent way to get back in touch with your body as it keeps you grounded and stops you from getting lost in your head. 

How to Meditate: Centring Prayer

Centring Prayer is a form of meditation that has a more spiritual meaning than many other types of meditation. Mindfulness, body scans, watching the breath, and even vipassana can all be practised without focusing on spirituality at all. They’re all great ways to learn to concentrate and discipline the mind. 

How to Meditate: Zen Walking

Meditation doesn’t always have to be practised sitting down. Moving meditations can be practised while running, dancing, doing the gardening or cleaning, and when exercising or walking. 

Martial arts, Tai Chi and Yoga are all forms of moving meditation. Athletes often have peak experiences while training or competing. The meditative awareness induced by being totally focused and present in the body as it moves can trigger a spiritual awakening. 

How to Meditate: Vipassana

Vipassana meditation is about looking into the true nature of the mind to discover who you really are. It’s also known as Insight meditation and was the form of meditation practised by the Buddha in order to attain enlightenment. Through practising vipassana he realised that suffering could be overcome by seeing into our true nature. 

How to Meditate: Chanting Mantras

A mantra is a sacred word or phrase used in meditation to help focus and calm the mind. The mantra can be spoken or chanted out loud, or repeated as a thought in the mind. The idea is to focus on the meaning of the mantra as you chant, and doing this can have a transformative effect on your whole life. 

The simplest mantra, and probably the most well-known, is ‘Om’. This comes from the Hindu tradition and is known as the source of all mantras. Om is the foundation of all existence, the seed from which the universe came into being. Chanting Om helps you to focus on the oneness of all and acts as a reminder of your true nature. 

How to Meditate: Mindfulness

Mindfulness is one of the simplest and most powerful meditation practices because it can be done anywhere and at anytime. There’s no excuse for not practising mindfulness! 

Mindfulness is about paying attention. Normally your attention is scattered all over the place. You can be doing one thing, or maybe even several things at once, but your mind is busy thinking about something else. 

How to Meditate: Watching the Breath

Meditating on the breath is simple but powerful and should be the foundation of your meditation practice. It’s good to start your practise session with this meditation, and then if you wish, move on to other types. 

Watching the Breath helps to calm your mind and body. If you’re having trouble with negative thinking or difficult emotions, focusing on the breath will help you to gain control. It stops you from getting lost in your head because it brings your focus back to your body in the most direct and intimate way. 

How to Meditate: A Guide to the Ultimate Healing Practice

If you think meditation is just for religious people or crazy-eyed sadhus in loincloths, you could be missing out on one of the most powerful practices available to humanity. Meditation reduces stress and aids healing, clears and focuses the mind, and makes you happy. 

You don’t have to be spiritual or religious to meditate, but if you are, there are meditative or contemplative practices in all religions. There are no special requirements, you don’t have to tie your limbs into esoteric knots or chant incomprehensible mantras – unless you want to! 

The Handless Maiden 7: Inner Marriage

Our story continues: the queen is healing in the forest with her child, but what of the king… 

Soon after the queen left the castle, the king returned from the war, but the queen and his child weren’t there waiting for him. He asked his mother where they were. She was furious with him, and said, “How could you? I did as you ordered, you lunatic!” She showed him the eyes and the tongue, and the terrible letters he had sent. 

The Handless Maiden 6: Wandering and Waiting

Our story continues: the queen with silver hands has given birth, but all is not well… 

The queen and her son were no longer safe in the castle, and so, with the baby bound to her breast, the queen bid farewell to the king’s mother. Weeping, she left the castle and returned to the forest. 

She wandered, not knowing where she should go or where she would be welcome. She prayed for guidance and an angel appeared on the path. 

The Handless Maiden 5: The Devil Returns

Our story continues: the maiden has become a queen with silver hands… 

The queen stayed in the castle and the king lavished her with love and care. But in time, he had to leave to wage war in a distant land. Before he left, the king asked his mother to take care of the queen, for she was expecting his child. She must send a letter as soon as the child is born. 

The Handless Maiden 4: Love in the Underworld

Our story continues: the maiden has found her way to the king’s orchard… 

The next day, the king was walking in his garden, counting his pears, for he knew exactly how many were on each tree, when he realised that one was missing. He called the gardener and questioned him. The gardener explained to the king what he had witnessed the night before. A spirit without hands had been led into the garden by an angel and had eaten one of the pears. 

The Handless Maiden 3: Entering the Forest

Our story continues: the deal has been made and the maiden has lost her hands… 

The devil retreated to the forest and the maiden’s parents did their best to care for their daughter. Her father begged her to stay, promising to provide everything she could ever want or need, but she refused. She had her bloody stumps cleaned and bound in fresh white gauze, and then set out towards the forest. 

The Handless Maiden 2: Dismemberment

Our story continues: the deal has been made and three years have passed… 

At last, the dreadful day arrived when the devil would come to claim his payment: the maiden. That morning, the girl washed and drew a circle around herself with chalk. The devil appeared, but couldn’t come near her. Furious, he demanded she must not wash herself again, and then he left. 

When the devil returned the next day, the maiden wept and wept and her tears ran down her arms to her hands, washing her clean. So the devil still couldn’t touch her. Enraged, he ordered the girl’s father to cut off her hands so she couldn’t weep on them. 

The Handless Maiden 1: Deal with the Devil

Once there was a miller who had fallen into poverty. His mill was broken so he had to go to the forest to chop wood. One day, when he was hacking at a tree stump, an old man appeared and said, “I’ll make you rich if you give me what stands behind your mill.” 

The miller assumed the old man was talking about the apple tree out back, so he agreed to the deal, dollar signs flashing in his eyes. The old man told the miller he would return in three years to take what was his, and then he vanished. 

The Handless Maiden: Healing a Dark Night of the Soul

The Handless Maiden is a myth that speaks powerfully to our dark and confusing times. It’s a fairy tale that was collected by the Brothers Grimm in 1812, but its roots are much older. The story is about a maiden whose father sells her to the devil in exchange for wealth and convenience. Her hands are chopped off and she must wander alone in the forest in search of healing. 

Jungian analyst, Robert A Johnson, says the story is about the wounded feeling function, a wound that’s so common in the Western world that many people don’t even realise it’s a problem. In a sense, we’re all handless maidens, wandering about, bleeding from our stumps, feeling lost and alone. 

Tarot and the Hero’s Journey: The World

The final step on our journey to awakening is The World. A young figure wrapped in a veil dances within a wreath holding two wands. Four creatures are depicted in the corners. This is card number 21 which reduces to 3 symbolising the synthesis of opposites and creation. 

The World symbolises the unified Self. The figure in the centre is an hermaphrodite, combining both male and female in a synthesis of opposites (the carefully placed veil hides the evidence!). The tetramorphs in each corner symbolise the fixed cross of manifestation in the zodiac: the ox for Taurus, the lion for Leo, the eagle for Scorpio, and the man for Aquarius. The androgyne represents the goal of the quest. The opposites have been integrated and the hero no longer has any illusions about being separate from the world. He has reached his goal and dances joyfully at the mystic Centre where past and future, action and inaction, intersect. 

Tarot and the Hero’s Journey: Judgement

The next step on our journey to awakening is Judgement. An angel blows a trumpet and in response, figures rise from their tombs, ready for the Last Judgement. This is card number 20 which symbolises the duality of the number 2 but on a higher plane, so it’s moving towards a final synthesis. 

Judgement shows the rebirth of the integrated Self. The naked figures in the foreground are the divine brother-sister pair with their child between them. The child from The Sun has matured into adulthood and united the opposites to give birth to the Divine Child, or regenerated Self. The united psyche bursts forth from the walls surrounding it and a new stage in spiritual development is reached. 

Tarot and the Hero’s Journey: The Sun

The next step on our journey to awakening is The Sun. A joyful child rides a horse in front of a wall topped with sunflowers, while the sun blazes down. In some card packs two children are shown dancing together in front of the wall. This is card number 19 which reduces to 10 symbolising a return to unity out of multiplicity. A number of attainment. 

The Sun shows a return to the state of innocence and childlike joy. The hero has made it through the illusory lunar night and arrived in the sunlit garden. The child represents the pure light of the inner self, while the white horse represents purified instincts and libido. The hero’s old self is dead and he sees the world with the fresh, innocent eyes of a child, but without the naivety of the Fool. Consciousness has triumphed over the dangers in the unconscious. 

Tarot and the Hero’s Journey: The Moon

The next step on our journey to awakening is The Moon. In a dark landscape, a crayfish crawls from the water while a dog and a wolf howl at the moon. In the distance are two towers and a road leading away into a mysterious land. This is card number 18 which reduces to 9 making it the final part of another stage of the quest. This card is similar to card 9, The Hermit, in that it represents solitude and vulnerability. 

This stage of the journey represents the final great trial which must be gone through. It is the dark night of the soul which follows the withdrawal of the inner light of The Star. The hero’s faith will be tested as he realises everything around him is an illusion. He knows he is close to his goal but he can no longer see the way forward clearly. He can’t rely on his normal senses in this badly lit landscape and must allow himself to be guided by intuition. 

Tarot and the Hero’s Journey: The Star

The next step on our journey to awakening is The Star. A naked woman kneels by a pool pouring water from two pitchers. Behind her a bird perches in a tree and the sky is filled with stars. This is card number 17 which reduces to 8 symbolising renewal and rebirth, linking it with the idea of baptism. 

The Star represents the mystic Centre, or True Self – the goal of the hero’s quest. It is the Evening Star which guides the hero through the darkness, bringing the hope of enlightenment within reach. 

The water on the card represents the aqua nostra – the water of life – which the alchemists saw as fire. This is the energy of the psyche which is needed to transform consciousness. The hero survived the baptism of fire in The Tower, and now must undergo the baptism of water. The woman pours the water onto the land and into the pool, signifying that consciousness and the unconscious are balanced and joined in harmony. 

Tarot and the Hero’s Journey: The Tower

The next step on our journey to awakening is The Tower. Lightning strikes a tower and flames fill the building. A golden crown is dislodged from the top of the tower and people fall to the ground. This is card number 16 which reduces to 7 symbolising power and positive action. 

The Tower is the reverse side of the previous card. The Devil as Dionysus is lord of darkness and irrationality, but The Tower is Apollo, lord of light and reason. Instead of Satan, we have Lucifer, the light-bringer. Lightning is also related to Zeus, and to Mahayana and Tantric Buddhism where it symbolises the truth blasting falsehood and duality out of the mind. It is the inner illumination which brings the freedom of enlightenment. 

Tarot and the Hero’s Journey: The Devil

The next step on our journey to awakening is The Devil. A rather conventional devil squats on a plinth holding a flaming torch. At his feet stand two figures similar to the ones on The Lovers, but now they have horns and tails, making them demons. They are restrained by chains around their necks. All very medieval. This is card number 15 which reduces to 6 symbolising the conjunction of opposites and again linking this card to The Lovers. 

The hero has gained a secure link to his Higher Self and now goes deeper into the unconscious to see what else lurks in the darkness. Although he is supported in his quest by the creative forces of the unconscious, the danger isn’t over. Beyond the personal unconscious, the hero encounters the collective unconscious

Tarot and the Hero’s Journey: Temperance

The next step on our journey to awakening is Temperance. An angel pours liquid between two goblets. She stands with one foot in the water and one on the land while the sun rises above a mountain on the horizon. This is card number 14 which reduces to 5 giving us the pentagon, a five-sided figure symbolising organic growth, inspiration, and the reconciliation of several parts into a greater whole. 

The hero has sacrificed his old self and let go of his attachments. He waits in a passive state of potential for the next stage of the journey and his new life to begin. He can no longer use his ego as a point of reference so he can’t make any value judgements in relation to the world. His consciousness remains in a dark communion with the unconscious, and into the void steps the angel of Temperance. She fills the hero’s consciousness with the water of new life. 

Tarot and the Hero’s Journey: Death

The next step on our journey to awakening is Death. A skeleton rides a white horse through a field filled with bodies. He carries a flag with a white rose. In the background flows a river and on the horizon stand two pillars framing the sun, but is it rising or setting? This is card number 13 which symbolises death and is often seen as bad luck. It is made up of 1 and 3 which reduces to 4, the symbol of order and organisation. Although Death seems to bring chaos, it is only bringing the new order which naturally follows life. 

The sacrifice of the Hanged Man has been successful and his old self is dead. The hero’s perspective has shifted from being self-centred to being self-transcendent. He now enters a period of purification and transformation where he learns that everything dies, but nothing can grow without death. 

Tarot and the Hero’s Journey: The Hanged Man

The next step on our journey to awakening is The Hanged Man. A young man hangs upside down from a T-shaped tree. His hands are tied behind his back but he is serene and his head is surrounded by a halo of light. This is one of the few images in the Tarot that is definitely not found in Christian symbolism. It is card number 12, a combination of 1 and 2 signifying the interaction of unity with duality giving rise to a third dimension. The tension of number 11 is resolved, so 12 stands for renewal and salvation. 

The hero has confronted his shadow in the form of the lion in Strength and has a new perspective on himself. He realises he doesn’t know himself as well as he thought and now hangs precariously between two worlds. He can’t go back to the certainties and ignorance of his youth, and he can’t submit to the shadow and be overwhelmed by the unconscious. In order to continue forward on his journey he must become free from both his ego and his shadow. He must move to the centre. 

Tarot and the Hero’s Journey: Strength

The next step on our journey to awakening is Strength, or Fortitude. A young woman holds the jaws of a lion in her hands, calm in the presence of this powerful beast. This is card number 11 (8 in some packs). It follows the perfect number 10 so signifies vulnerability and danger. In Arabic numerals it is the number 1 repeated so is similar to 2 and represents tension and opposition. 

In the Wheel of Fortune the hero began to encounter images from his unconscious, all the repressed parts of himself bursting back into consciousness. This is the shadow, the instinctual side of the psyche. 

Tarot and the Hero’s Journey: Wheel of Fortune

The next step on our journey to awakening is the Wheel of Fortune. The card shows a wheel surrounded by strange figures. On top of the wheel sits a sphinx holding a sword, while a serpent and a representation of Anubis move around the wheel. In each corner is a winged creature: an Ox, a Lion, an Eagle, and a Man. This is card number 10 and is the first of the double numbers symbolising a new beginning and the completion of the earlier series. Ten is traditionally seen as a perfect number, and the wheel is also a representation of perfection. 

The Wheel of Fortune marks the start of the second half of the hero’s journey. Using the Hermit’s lamp of intuition, he begins to see images arising from the depths. The threshold of his consciousness has lowered allowing all sorts of unconscious content to come to the surface. What returns to consciousness at this point is not controllable. The hero will encounter his karma and the workings of fate. 

Tarot and the Hero’s Journey: The Hermit

The next step on our journey to awakening is The Hermit. An old man dressed as a monk holds a lantern that lights his way. In this other hand he carries a staff, which in some packs is entwined by a serpent. This is card number 9 which is the last of the single numbers so it stands for the end of a cycle. The outward turning, solar path of extroversion has reached a conclusion. 

The Hermit is the archetype of the Wise Old Man, the teacher who guides the hero through the chaos of life, shining the light of his wisdom to show the way forward. The hero has arrived at the end of the first half of his journey and his attention is turning inwards. He listened to the voice of his conscience in Justice and is looking for answers to the questions that came up. 

Tarot and the Hero’s Journey: Justice

The next step on our journey to awakening is Justice. A stern woman sits on a throne holding a sword and a pair of scales. This is card number 8 (although in some packs it’s number 11) which stands for balance, equanimity, eternity, and the workings of destiny. It represents a point of balance between the outer world of the body and the inner realm of the spirit. 

Justice marks the achievement of maturity. The hero has found his place in the world and built a secure environment in which to raise a family. He can now reap the rewards of past efforts to achieve prosperity and status in society. But deep inside his heart is a feeling of lack or dissatisfaction – something important is missing or has been forgotten. 

Tarot and the Hero’s Journey: The Chariot

The next step on our journey to awakening is The Chariot. A young man rides a chariot pulled by two horses, although here they appear to be sphinxes. He carries a sceptre and is crowned with a star. This is card number 7 which stands for unity within complexity, being a combination of the numbers 3 and 4. This makes the Charioteer the progeny of the Empress and Emperor. Seven is the number of progress, self-expression and independent action. 

The Chariot shows that the right choice was made in The Lovers, and the hero has successfully moved away from conforming with the established order. He now seeks an independent path and has control of his own psychic energy rather than being dominated by it. The psychic energy is the libido or life force, symbolised by the horses. So the Charioteer harnesses his animal instincts and drives his chariot without reins because he has self-mastery. 

Tarot and the Hero’s Journey: The Lovers

The next step on our journey to awakening is The Lovers. In some card packs the image shows a young man flanked by two women while Cupid prepares to fire an arrow into his heart. In this version (the Rider Waite pack) we see two figures who appear to be Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden with an angel watching over them. This is card number 6 which stands for tension and ambivalence, and was traditionally associated with the six days of creation in Genesis, linking it to ideas of evolution and the creation of life. 

The Lovers represents choice. This is the first decision the hero must make alone without assistance from the parents, represented by the Empress and Emperor. As an individual he is now responsible for his actions and therefore, his destiny. In cards depicting a youth choosing between two women, the hero is torn between loyalty to his mother and desire for his beloved; stick with traditional authority (The Pope) or strike out alone. The cherub wounds him with an arrow of love which helps him to make the right choice. Love awakens the hero so he can become independent and leave the familiar world behind, but the wound inflicted by the arrow also brings awareness of death. 

Tarot and the Hero’s Journey: The Hierophant

The next step on our journey to awakening is The Hierophant, or The Pope. He sits between two pillars holding a triple-tiered cross and blesses two kneeling priests before him. This is card number 5 which stands for creative thought, moral law and intellectual synthesis. It represents life being made whole as the four cardinal points of manifestation are united in a common centre. 

The Hierophant holds the symbols of Papal office and at his feet are the crossed keys. As God’s representative on earth, he provides the keys to the kingdom and acts as a bridge between the world of the senses and the inner world of the spirit. The pillars represent the structure of the established church through which he upholds orthodox religion and accepted codes of behaviour. 

Tarot and the Hero’s Journey: The Emperor

The next step on our journey to awakening is The Emperor. He is the Father and embodies the principles of authority, power, order and reason. This is card number 4 which stands for organisation, order and laws. The Emperor is the consort of The Empress and also represents creation, but his is the creation of the will, not feelings. He signifies the use of power rather than love. 

The Emperor represents the Father archetype and is related to the distant sky gods of the patriarchy. He holds a sceptre (which looks suspiciously like an ankh), the symbol of his masculine potency and the energy he uses to build his empire. In his other hand is a golden orb which represents his rational understanding of the laws of the physical world. It is his rationality which allows him to organise the world and make the laws and rules by which others must live. 

Tarot and the Hero’s Journey: The Empress

The next step on our journey to awakening is The Empress. She is the Mother, an embodiment of nurturing, abundance and fertility. This is card number 3 which stands for synthesis and harmony. It resolves the tension created by the preceding duality by adding a third unifying principle. This is the number of childbirth, new life, and productivity. 

The Empress represents the Mother Goddess, the source of all living things. She gives birth to the creative forces of nature and is rooted in the earth and material reality. For the first time on this journey, the hero encounters the emotional world of feeling. He must accept the physical laws working through his body and emotions, and learn to see the divine as a presence in all material things. 

Tarot and the Hero’s Journey: The High Priestess

The next step on our journey to awakening is The High Priestess, sometimes called the Female Pope or Papess. She is the Lunar Goddess and sits between the pillars of her temple, the book of wisdom in her hands. Like the sun and moon, the Magician and High Priestess complement each other – she represents the soul, while he is the spirit. 

This is card number 2, which stands for duality and the relativity of pairs of opposites. For the first time on our journey, we encounter the ‘other.’ This card signifies our experience as a separate ego living in time in the manifest world. The soul embodied and living by the reflected light of the moon, rather than the unmanifest and timeless spirit bathed in the direct light of the sun. 

Tarot and the Hero’s Journey: The Magician

The next step on our journey to awakening is The Magician. He stands alone and confident, his magic wand held aloft, the symbols of the Tarot arrayed before him. This is card number 1, which stands for positive action, individuality and creativity. The Magician represents the archetype of the Trickster, one of the earliest figures in mythology – a divine messenger and provocateur. He is Prometheus, stealing fire from the gods and gifting it to mankind. 

That fire is the first spark of consciousness and this is the power the Magician seeks to wield. The Tarot symbols on the table represent how he tries to manifest his divine consciousness in the physical world, directed by his will (the wand in his hand). The symbols are the Four Elements: fire (baton), earth (pentacle or coin), air (sword), and water (cup). The figure of eight above the Magician’s head represents the inspiration to act coming from his True Self – the spark of divinity within. The white of his clothes shows the purity of his intention, while the red shows his purposive will. He is ready to teach the Fool the hidden ways of the spirit. 

Tarot and the Hero’s Journey: The Fool

The Hero’s Journey begins with The Fool. He walks blithely along, not looking where he’s going and completely unaware he’s about to step over the edge of a precipice. He carries his past in a bag on a stick. In his other hand is a small white flower, and a dog follows at his heels. 

This is the archetype of the Wise Fool whose lack of worldly experience appears to put him at a disadvantage, but it means his mind is open to another level of consciousness – whether he realises it or not. He lives on the edges of life and society, and goes his own way regardless of what others think. An example would be Peter Sellers’ character in the film Being There. He plays Chance, a gardener whose simplistic statements are taken as profound by everyone around him. The wise fool is the Holy Fool or Divine Child – a lunatic who hides genius within his madness. 

The Eightfold Path 8: Right Concentration

Right Concentration is the final practice of Mental Discipline on the Eightfold Path and is about disciplining the mind to see reality as it is. It’s also known as Right Meditation or Samadhi, and is the practice of focusing your mind on one thing until you’ve reached meditative absorption or jhana

Samadhi means concentration, and it’s called absorption because when the mind is intensely focused like this you become one with the present moment. It’s a non-dual state of oneness with reality where the self is gone, or absorbed in unity consciousness. When you meditate in samadhi there’s no effort involved – the meditation does itself. There’s no one breathing – the universe breathes. 

The Eightfold Path 7: Right Mindfulness

Right Mindfulness is the second practice in Mental Discipline on the Eightfold Path and involves being aware of the present moment with a clear focus. Right Mindfulness is the heart of Buddhist practice and applies across the whole Eightfold Path. When you’re mindful, your thinking is Right Thought, your speech is Right Speech, your actions are Right Action, and so on. 

The principle of mindfulness is very simple but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. All you have to do is pay attention to whatever you’re doing or experiencing without judging or interpreting, and without any unnecessary thought chatter. But it’s only when you try to stay present in the here and now that you realise what a challenge that can be. 

The Eightfold Path 6: Right Effort

Right Effort is the first practice in Mental Discipline on the Eightfold Path and is also known as Right Diligence. This practice supports all the others because it gives you the energy to keep practising, even through difficulties. It involves cultivating a positive attitude and cheerful determination on your quest for freedom from suffering. 

Right Effort is about making a persistent effort to do the right thing from day to day, and follow all the various rules and precepts. In other words, you give it your best shot. But it also means doing so without complaining when things get difficult. 

And things always get difficult. 

The Eightfold Path 5: Right Livelihood

Right Livelihood is the final practice in Ethical Conduct on the Eightfold Path and is about how you earn a living and take responsibility for your choices. The ideal is to earn a living without going against the principles of love and compassion, and to do work that expresses the truth of your deepest Self. That means you’re not just working for yourself, but working to benefit others too. 

To practice Right Livelihood you should avoid work that involves receiving money for something that directly or indirectly harms either yourself or others. You should aim to work in a way that promotes respect, equality and fairness. This means being honest and ethical in all your business dealings, and doing your best to find work that is meaningful and life enhancing.