Crisis of Conscience

The current case of Asia Bibi’s unsuccessful appeal for asylum in the UK is a blatant example of the tragic consequences of abandoning our heart-felt truth and individually held principles of compassion in favour of pragmatic, fear-based ‘damage limitation’.

Asia Bibi is a Pakistani Christian woman persecuted for blasphemy in her home country, having quarreled with some Muslim women who then brought allegations against her. As a result she was imprisoned and placed on death row. Eventually, after eight years, she was pardoned, but this very act triggered rioting in Pakistan as radical Muslims continued to call for her punishment. To escape with her life she is seeking asylum in the Christian nations of the West, but the UK authorities have declined her appeal, on the basis that it would cause civil unrest among our own Islamic population.

Writers such as Douglas Murray and Melanie Phillips dedicate themselves to highlighting the increasing regularity of this kind of politicking  on our shores. They articulate the issues far better than me, so I’m not going to even try to embellish their argument.

Instead, I’m going to express the thing that really angers me about this whole issue – namely the careless abandonment of our own courage and conviction in the face of religious and political dogma and ideology.

How can we continue to allow our individually held heart-felt knowing of what is right to be drowned out by the external moralising conscience of fanaticism?

We each have our own conscience, our own still small voice which whispers to our heart to guide us and set us right. The trouble is we do not learn to listen to it keenly enough. We do not know how to tune in to it. It is therefore vulnerable to the cacophonous rantings of ideological groups.

It is easier to follow the mob than to pay close attention to our own consciousness. It is easier to adopt the conscience of our society than to speak up for ourselves. We do not learn how to interact with our own inner voice of conscience.

When we think of conscience as morality, or as the teachings of dogmatic religion, our own interaction with its voice becomes limited. We curb our courage to question those teachings, and our conscience becomes the voice of others’ expectations around us rather than the truth of our own heart.

All along the desperate arc of Asia Bibi’s plight there are points at which the true conscience of individuals has been denied and drowned out by dogmatic moralising and ideologies. Religion and politics and media echo chambers drive out our awareness and acknowledgement of individual experiences – and paradoxically as a result we end up aggravating multiple collectives in society, rather than appealing wholeheartedly to other individuals’ sense of what is right.

It’s difficult to argue in truth that it is better to leave an innocent person to a cruel fate than to do the right thing and offer them safe haven. National authorities have abandoned the principles of compassion and justice in favour of keeping the peace among ideologues and religious fanaticists. This is yet again a huge international crisis of conscience.

The antidote to this is first to learn better how to differentiate between the individually perceived voice of kindness and the loud drumming of dogma, and then to choose to act from individual courage rather than the so-called conscience of the mob.

I fervently believe that reflective writing in a journal contributes to this nurturing of our own individual awareness of truth and possibility and what is right.

This is not a political post. This is an appeal for us all to connect more deeply and consciously with our own courageous truth.

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How do you feel about reunions?

Whether school, college or university – how do you really feel about reunions?

I’ve just returned from the 30 year reunion of my college year. It was an extraordinary weekend.

Most of us have a morbid fascination with how our contemporaries might have aged in comparison with us. Many of us are intrigued to know how life has treated our peers. Some of us would run a mile in the opposite direction rather than find out. A handful are terrified of the prospect that few have achieved very much at all.

Inevitably over the years since graduating I’ve discovered that while I’ve been raising a family and working on my writing craft many others from my college cohort have been working on high-powered careers. Ten years ago I found the comparisons cringe-worthy, almost shameful, as my ego tried to taunt me about how little I had to show for my education.

But as we enter our fifth decade there is a different feeling. An awareness of our mortality perhaps. A realisation that for all the striving we can neither take our success with us, nor hand it on to anyone else.

Now my contemporaries and I are more open, more honest, more prepared to admit our mistakes, and more eager to know what else life has to offer other than climbing to the top of the corporate ladder and professional tree. It seems like we are becoming far more wise than clever.

At this reunion I’m happy to say I felt much more comfortable in my own skin. I learned that while others have become lawyers and bankers and headteachers and chief executives I have become myself. And that felt good.

Regardless of whether or not a school or college reunion is a possibility in your life, it’s a useful exercise to reflect in your journal on how you might bring people you used to know up-to-date on what, or who, you’ve become.

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November 12, 2018 · 2:42 pm

Another inconvenient truth

Philosophers typically don’t talk much about Love.

And yet I feel it’s a topic we need a much more dedicated philosophical discourse about, because without it we are missing much of its power and potential.

Whether you think of Love as an emergent emotion, triggered by a particular set of physical/chemical/hormonal circumstances; or whether you consider Love to be the ground of all being, the commonest transcendent human value – it all bears some scrutiny and discussion.

It is clear that the overarching interpretation of Love in our culture is emotional. When we think of Love we are most likely thinking of EROS – romantic and sexual Love.

As a consequence, people talk about Love as only one part of our human experience. Some people pursue the notion that Love is an optional ingredient in a fulfilled life. Others cannot help but put Love right at the heart of every aspect of their experience, wanting to possess it and be validated by it and in it.  They might even become dependent upon it and addicted to it. Like a drug, it is viewed as an external temptation, an inconvenience, running counter to rational logic. It’s something that’s at best avoided, at worst sampled in moderation.

I have come to believe that having this limited, take-rather-than-give view of Love is driving us mad. And yet philosophy stays quiet on the subject. It doesn’t really help us out. And we need it to.

When we get emotional about Love, when we consider it as a personal condition or affliction, we also evoke other personal emotions that are akin to the fear of losing it or spoiling it. Jealousy, grief and anger rear their heads; closely followed by shame and guilt.

I intuitively feel that these are emotions generated by our egos, our personal thinking, that serves to keep us separate from danger and discomfort, but in actual fact over-actively menaces us with separation from our true selves.

Typically, the more we love, the more insecure we feel, as our egos plague us with all the scenarios where what we feel is wrong or might go wrong.

No wonder the philosophers don’t want to touch this state of mind with a barge pole. It is a muddled minefield of irrational passions.

So why can’t we admit that Love, as our ingenious language suggests, is something altogether more broad and less specific? Why do we resist the notion of Love as a value? Or at least as the most humane and human mode of treating ourselves and others?

The answer to these questions lie, I feel, in the fact that we’re too ready to let our egos run the show, and not well enough equipped to calm down our minds and allow ourselves to perceive our deeper truths. So to a logical mind it might seem sensible to allow a distressed baby to ‘cry it out’, whereas to the deep love of a mother this would be cruel and impossible: she could not stop herself from attempting to comfort the infant.

Our ego thinks it knows better. It tells us it knows better. It bombards us with Logic. But it doesn’t know Love. It holds itself separate from Love. It goads us with the dark side of Love, and tries to hold us separate from it too.

Meditative embodied practices help us to calm this part of our Mind. Journaling helps us bear witness to it, and provides us with the capacities to appreciate our underlying sense of Self.

The real inconvenient truth I suppose is that Love cannot be categorised. It is both an emotion and a deeper, broader truth and value.  And maybe this is the thing the philosophers struggle to wrap their ego around.

How do these manifestations of Love play out in your experience?

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Photo by Hope Blamire Artist

 

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October 25, 2018 · 12:50 pm

One Word

I’ve been thinking a lot about Love recently.

And I started to feel hard done by that we only have one word for it. Compared to the Greeks’ eight or nine this seems paltry.

I started thinking that we mustn’t take Love seriously in our culture and language to only have one word. The Inuits have dozens of words for snow. Surely if we cared more about Love we’d have a wider range of vocabulary?

Our English word Love is ancient. It pre-dates the Norman Conquest of England and finds its roots in the Old Germanic, then middle English, ‘lufu’.

So it survived Latin and French, and was unperturbed by amore or cherir. Far from not taking it seriously, it feels to me like we defended its unique meaning to the hilt.

But what is that meaning? Doubtless in medieval times people knew exactly what they meant when they spoke the word. These days I’m not so sure. It has so many meanings and so many contexts. Predominantly these days in common parlance it refers to romantic and erotic love rather than love for friends, family, off-spring, nation, self or God.

But it’s still just One Word. There are dozens of other words signifying states of mind  which might lead us to Love: like joy, or appreciation, or creativity, or truth or gratitude, or freedom, or even anger, but still that single, ancient, honourable word endures.

And now I’ve come to think of this as utter linguistic, cultural, spiritual and epistemological  genius. Because of its multi-layered, multi-faceted nature it is the ultimate “all things to all men” notion.

We can each choose individually how broad its scope is for us. We can confine our best love for our beloved, our family and at a pinch our closest friends; or we can surrender our egos to universal loving compassion in the style of Buddhist monks.

We can recognise the emotions of Love and we can also consider the values of it too. We can be human about it, or we can touch the Divine through it. It is basically the quickest and most effective vehicle to get us wherever we want to go.

So whatever definition of Love rings true for you, get curious. Are you defending it with all your might? Are you dismissing it? Taking it for granted? Are you living it fully and intentionally, to whatever level you choose? Or are you cheating yourself?

It’s One Word. But we make of it what we will.

 

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October 21, 2018 · 5:37 pm

More than our minds

Our bodies are important. They are our physical presence in this world – and they contain their own wisdom.

How tuned in are you to your intuition and your physical intelligence?

How do you include your body in your journaling practice?

I have a strong conviction that journaling is a physical practice, utilising the miracle of fine motor skills and integrating the two hemispheres of the brain.

I also feel that there is more that we can do to include our physical wisdom in our daily experience. Living in a world where logic and reason are paramount, we tend to neglect the intuitive hits that originate in our gut.

So we need to cultivate this practice – and have fun with our bodies!

Here are some activities to try in order to experience connection with your physical self:

Dancing

Allowing your body to move to your favourite music is immediately uplifting and freeing. You don’t have to learn any steps or attend a class – though that can  be fun – you just need to allow your body to respond to the rhythm.

Body, mind and the passion of your soul can be united in the dance to immediate effect.

Take notice of your mood and energy level before and after, and try the prompt “Who am I in the dance?”

Yoga and Meditation

I began practicing kundalini yoga on a daily basis about 6 months ago – and find it an extremely powerful discipline to calm the mind and restore trust in the strength of my body. Through the practice I have learned that “the soul is the friend of the body” and that tuning in to our breath, our Spirit, enables us to bypass the mind chatter and have a direct experience of our physicality.

There are many meditations to try, including mantras (chants), asanas (postures), mudras (hand positions) and pranayamas (breathing techniques).

Tune in to your breath and try the enquiry “What is the message of my Spirit?”

Food

Are you eating the right food for your body? Do you experience any discomfort after certain foods?

Try keeping a food diary for a few days and paying attention to your energy, sleep patterns, level of satisfaction and frequency of cravings. Listen to your body to determine if it could be time to research ways of eating that serve you more optimally.

I’ve recently begun a Zero Carb way of eating, relying on protein and fat for sustenance. My body is loving it. I have greater mental clarity, less bloating, more energy and two new notches in my belt!

Of course everyone is different so it’s really important to do your research and maybe talk to your GP before radically changing your eating habits. But it is an important consideration in taking care of your body.

Sleep

Always always always my favourite pastime! Whenever my body asks for sleep I never ignore it. This has been the simplest step in tuning in to my physical wisdom, and one of the greatest sources of creative ideas.

Try picking up your pen on waking to write 100 words. See what inspiration rest can bring.

Holistic Communion

Communing is Exercise 14 in The Journal Writer’s Handbook. It involves inviting a conversation with a part of your body where you are feeling tension or strong sensation.

In workshops it is an exercise that evokes the most resistance – writing down the script of a conversation with your nose can feel a bit weird! – yet it is also the exercise that evokes the most a-ha moments too.

Give it a go.

 

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Reflecting on writing

There’s reflective writing – and then there’s reflecting on writing.

Clearly these are not the same. The first is an action in full flow, the second is the pause before or after.

I’m not really into navel-gazing. I get impatient with myself when I spend too long ruminating. I’ve learned to judge when I’ve done enough and when I need to come back down to earth.

Nevertheless there is a tonne of value in understanding why writing is so powerful. Reflecting on writing is a pause worth making.

Firstly rather than wait to be inspired to write, try writing to be inspired. Like yoga, the discipline to turn up to the mat or to the page is the only step. Then you can let the practice take over.

Reflective writing is about surrender to the quieter voice that guides us. Maybe you call it your higher self or your inner being or your sub-conscious. Whatever it is that takes over when we allow it to can reveal to us a whole depth of wisdom and insight we never realised we had access to.

And if we can begin to plumb those depths then we can come to recognise our own truth and authenticity. We each have our individual thread of integrity that runs through us like the writing through a stick of candy rock. Reviewing our journals over time often shows us the same messages and impulses, whether or not we ever chose to heed them.

Finally reflective writing can give us the springboard to action, to taking the next right step for us. Crucially it can illuminate our place in the world, giving us the guidance on how best to contribute our unique gifts to others in a way that feels so easy, because it’s so natural.

So reflecting on writing I am grateful for the inspiration, the discipline, the wisdom, truth, authenticity, integrity, action and guidance that it offers, ensures, and delivers.

What’s not to love?

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Balancing light and dark

Autumn is here in the northern hemisphere. Mabon to the pagans.

We have arrived at the moment of the year where night and day are poised in equilibrium – and from where night will gradually encroach more and more upon our waking hours.

Nature provides us with so many metaphors at this time of the year. Produce is plentiful so we can celebrate abundance. The trees shedding their leaves show us how to release what is no longer needed and simplify our life. And as the nights draw in and we go within we have time to reflect on our own light in the darkness.

It’s a rich time.

So whether you celebrate or not at this point of the year you can always think about whether you are typically ‘light’ or ‘dark’.

Are your actions, beliefs and thought patterns based in love or fear? How does the darkness serve you? And how can you use the season for inspiration?

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