Tag Archives: meditative practice

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

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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Meditating on independence

At my daughter’s school they often have a theme for the term – such as courage or friendship or understanding. Theoretically this gives some sort of framework or something to think about during the weekly assemblies and in ‘golden time’. It’s a neat idea – and in a reflective environment I think it would work extremely well. (Just not sure about how reflective a school environment is.)

So I decided to pinch this idea. However, instead of choosing my theme at the beginning of the week, the theme chose me. It crept up on me and presented itself to me rather stealthily.

I was preparing for an up-coming Journal Talk Podcast with US journaling coach Nathan Ohren when I suddenly found myself writing about my role models as a young person. (Nathan’s prep questions are SO good.) And just as suddenly I found myself with a powerful inner conviction that my greatest influences were women who best modeled independence.

The whole concept of independence fascinates me. For me it has moral, ethical and political resonances as well as material ones, and it occured to me that this is a theme worth investigating further.

Interestingly my thought process on this during the past few days has indeed been completely independent of any journaling – as I have done none. At the moment I am happy to hold the inquiry “what does it mean to be independent?” as a form of meditation, a ball that my sub-conscious mind keeps tossing while I get on with my day.

I’m not yet ready to journal on where the meditation is leading me – but I have a sense that it is leading me somewhere quite significant. It’ll be great to see what shows up on the page when I finally enter the reflective classroom of my journal.

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