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 – how to be inspired

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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What’s your brand of love?

I am often disappointed that we’ve only got one word for love in English. Or rather that that word is expected, in our language, to embrace all manner of  ways of loving.

The Greeks had seven or eight concepts of love – each given its own label. In the same way Inuits have dozens of words for snow. Strikes me that the more a people think about something, the more vocabulary they give it.

So what does our only having one word for love say about how we think about it? Does it affect the way we feel? How we talk about it?

Do we even talk about it?

Is it true that by limiting the language, we also limit the concept and its permissibility?

I certainly feel that in the society in which I live the concept of love is rather biased to the side of the romantic or the erotic. And if for whatever reason people don’t feel that way inclined, then love starts being treated either as something a bit pink and fluffy and light-weight;  or a bit shameful.

This doesn’t feel good to me at all.

Of course we love our families and our children and our friends. But how often do we tell them? Are we talking about love in the right places?

And what about in our public lives? Do we act with love in our businesses, with our acquaintances, our colleagues, in our everyday life?

How easy is it for you to love the white van man who’s cut you up on the roundabout? And how do you show love to the sick and the needy?

And the real million dollar question is how well we love ourselves. How well do you know what love feels like to you? What are the physical sensations that you experience? What activities are you engaged in when you feel them?

Personally I think that understanding our own brand of love is one of the most important priorities of our age. We need to be able to talk with greater eloquence about what love would do in a wider range of scenarios than simply the romantic.

Journal-writing is an act of self-love. Paying attention to our inner voice in our journals is an important step towards cultivating love for ourselves. After all we are the most important person in our life. The better the relationship we have with ourselves, the better our relationships with others will be.

So – is it time to expand your experience of love? Pick up your journal and reflect on some of the questions here. Slowly but surely you will begin to identify and recognise your own particular brand of love.

 

 

 

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Compassion fatigue?

I don’t think I’ve properly understood what compassion is before this year.

Do you know what it is? And how to practice it?

All the gurus and spiritual teachers from the Dalai Lama to Mother Teresa either talk about or practice compassion – yet to the intellectual mind it’s just another word or concept that’s open to a lot of misinterpretation.

For example, how do you feel when you watch Children in Need?

Until recently I would typically sit and sob, or leave the room, or conveniently forget that it’s on in the first place so I don’t have to put myself through the self-flagellating guilt and shame that others are suffering sooo damn much and all I can do is pledge a paltry donation. Surely compassion is more than a conscience-salving monetary promise?

And when I encounter  people huddled on the street and hear that quiet plea “Got any change love?” my whole system is sent into a momentary crisis, helpless in front of the injustice and the uncertainty over what might be the right and ethical thing to do. Finding a way that feels proper to me is still a work in progress. And giving a sympathetic, conciliatory smile along with a pound coin doesn’t feel proper at all.

One day I heard a thud against the picture window in the kitchen. My heart flipped: I recognised the sound of a bird’s doom. I found the stricken gold-crest quivering on the ground by the window. I almost couldn’t confront the animal’s pain. I almost left it to its fate.

But something within me gave me courage. I remembered that keeping stunned birds warm while they recover will save them. So I gingerly, shakily scooped up the small life and held it. Tears flowed. And then joy as after about ten minutes the little creature shook itself off and flew away.

I admit that I have been woefully ill-equipped to deal with heartbreak and suffering. But maybe there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Because this year, maybe inspired by the gold-crest, I’ve taken a different view. You might say I’ve understood how to turn the question of compassion on its head and I have gained a new, less exhausting perspective.

Seems that ‘compassion’ is not the effort required to put myself in someone else’s shoes and feel their pain, with an added dose of self-berating over my own comparative good fortune.

No. Beating ourselves up and trying to ‘feel for’ those struggling, or try and feel what they’re feeling is actually impossible.

We can’t feel what others feel. We cannot step into another person’s reality and experience. It’s arrogant to think we can. And trying to adopt another’s suffering as our own is phony and ineffective and knackering. It’s what leads to so much virtue-signalling and hypocrisy.

And if we try hard to make ourselves suffer in the face of someone else’s pain all we do is introduce more suffering. It doesn’t help anyone and it totally depletes us, making us less available to the person or creature who needs us.

The neat alternative I’ve learned to this is to “feel with” instead.

This means allowing ourselves to feel whatever is going on within us, without judging or analysing or interpreting; and allowing the emotion or the tension to move through our own system until we become neutral again. When we are calm we can be more resourceful, and we can tap into our own source of wisdom to discover the next right step.

This takes a certain degree of self-knowledge and self-awareness. We need to learn how to feel what we feel and to love ourselves through our own pain. We also need to acknowledge that calm neutrality and wisdom are constantly, albeit very quietly, available to us. We have to quieten our mind to hear it.

Journaling can help with this, but we also need to do some body work to accompany it, and perhaps some meditation. Reflective writing ought to draw on mind, body and spirit as the resources to achieve neutrality, calmness and inner peace. Then the next right step will present itself. And the gold-crest will survive.

 

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