soul

Cultivate Attention and Discernment (6)

Illustration of Ibn al-’Arabi | Image source: www.en.qantara.de/

“He who knows himself knows his Lord;
… indeed, He is his very identity and reality.

— Shaykh Ibn al-’Arabi


Reading time: 25-30 mins

The Qur’an

Orthodox Islam has a bad rap these days, and not without good reason. However, just as Christianity has wisdom and truth underneath all the centuries of re-writes and distortions, so too the Qur’an which has buried the strains of Islamic mysticism which infuse its origins before corruption set in. The Sufi tradtion and Islamic mysticism it stands for, is very different to the Islamism and Jihadism of the kind we have witnessed in the modern age. Here too, the importance of discernment is clear.

Like the Bible that constantly warns of temptations and lies that could “deceive the very elect” the Qur’an is equally explicit in its warnings regarding dark forces of the demonic or Jinn overseen by the Shaytān or “Whisperer” both of whom seek to imperial travellers on the “straight path” with “insinuating thoughts” or waswasa. The strengthening of spiritual perception is necessary in order to discern the true from the false and shun the crooked path. Indeed, we have seen that intelligence as much as faith is crucial to seeing the unseen and the signs of higher states of consciousness which might lead us to embody the presence of a Universal Intelligence or God/Allah. As the Hermetic maxim reminds us – “as above, so below”. And like the Bible, one has to sift for the gold in the Qur’an in order to see the reflected light.

Dr. Kabir Helminski‘s translations from his 2005 book The Book of Revelations: A Sourcebook of Themes from the Holy Qur’an provide an excellent summary of the qualities needed to begin seeing the unseen and its relationship to self-development and spiritual practice. The teachings encourage us to reflect and perceive the conscious creative power of all that flows through Nature and the universe. By paying attention to: “…the change of the winds, and the clouds that run their appointed courses between sky and earth: these are messages indeed for people who use their intelligence.” [1]

So, rather than having our head in the clouds and seeking signs and portents of a superstitious nature, we are learning to observe life’s hidden symbols and patterns of meaning. We may then learn to recognise the patterns of creative and entropic influences which can be understood as extrapolations of truth as it applies in Nature and in man. Regarding these “signs” embedded in converging and radiating “arrows of time,” we have the following injunction to remain aware that intelligent design is at work, not only in the evolution of organic life but from the influence of other dimensions of existence that interpenetrate our own. We only have to take note of this design in order to see how carefully the Earth and cosmos is a school for learning:

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Cultivate Attention and Discernment (5)

La Clairvoyance (1936) (“Perspicacity”) By René Magritte 1936.

“Sound judgement, with discernment is the best of seers.”

— Euripides


Reading time: 15-17 mins

So far, we’ve looked at healing the past so that we have a firm foundation upon which to build, such as choosing constructive, positive emotions. To be able to take the first steps, we must have enough self-respect and at least some measure of self-control to take responsibility for our own development. That means choosing this as a central aim parallel or including, a process of objectives, without self-deception or short-cuts. We must simplify our daily routines and scale back our ambitions so that undue complexity doesn’t enter in prematurely. Economising our energy permits progress to that end. If we never have enough mental, emotional and physical energy available then our aim will remain in the realm of fantasy – the very source of the drain itself. Non-identification, positive detachment and proper attention help us simplify and return to what is essential. To be aware of the mammalian brain and its addictive habits we can choose to cultivate attention. When we know what to look for, we can begin to recognise the emotional, intellectual and physical patterns which keep our creative potential trapped. We might then be able to discern the true nature of ourselves and our relationship to others.

So, what is “discernment” exactly? From the Latin words ‘dis’ (apart) and ‘cernere’ (to separate), it’s a skill that we develop in order to comprehend what is vague or obscure. This applies to a person, situation or an abstract idea. It is the art of seeing which includes the realm of the five senses and by extension, the possibility of accessing different modes of perception using the marriage of intuition and reason. And we do this by shunning self-orientated, subjective impressions and by striving to obtain an objective view of life as possible.

If we can comprehend something and reach clarity then we can exercise sound judgement and the further ability to discriminate between what is true or false. Discrimination – the noticing of any part, quality, impression, detail or difference in comparison to another object, person or situation – is the essential partner to discernment. Without constant discrimination between what is negative and positive, good or evil, gaining useful insights from a holistic view cannot be attained.

Careful discrimination weighs up and compares, discernment permits initial recognition of impressions received. We are then able to exercise judgement and reach a conclusion of the overall picture, coordinated by the will of attention. As Scottish theologian Sinclair B. Ferguson states: “True discernment means not only distinguishing [discriminating] the right from the wrong; it means distinguishing the primary from the secondary, the essential from the indifferent, and the permanent from the transient. And, yes, it means distinguishing between the good and the better, and even between the better and the best.” And this means learning that the “devil” is often in the details because lies to ourselves and lies in the outer world are frequently sandwiched between the sweet and seemingly well-intentioned. Or, as British Baptist Preacher Charles Spurgeon once cautioned: “Discernment is not a matter of telling the difference between right and wrong; rather it is telling the difference between right and almost right.” Which is why ancient philosophical traditions emphasize the subtleties inherent in developing such skills.

“Almost right” is still wrong. And that can be a big deal when your life depends on it.

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Strive For Simplicity, Economise on Energy (3)

“I have long held an opinion, almost amounting to conviction, in common I believe with many other lovers of natural knowledge, that the various forms under which the forces of matter are made manifest have one common origin; or, in other words, are so directly related and mutually dependent, that they are convertible, as it were, one into another, and possess equivalents of power in their action.”

— Michael Faraday, English Physicist and Chemist


Reading time: 20 mins

Energy

What is energy?

Energy is a property of matter, space, objects and fields. It can be transferred and converted, but it can’t be destroyed – or created. Energy can be chemical, thermal electrical and kinetic, all of which exists in and around the mind-body system.

For our focus it is potential energy which can be stored and qualitatively accumulated which is of interest.

Energy can be refined in order to get more vitality for your voltage, so to speak.

Since sufficient energy is the fuel for all manner of action, (and The Work) it stands to reason that the more energy you have within your mind-body system the more enhanced the capacity for change.  With enough stored, (and the “space” ready to store it) we have a greater chance of changing our physical, mental and emotional states.

With a greater store of energy on tap, this might even provide the “nourishment” and power needed to fuel overall meta-physical transformation.

At this point in history the demands on our time and energy are relentless. Many of us have become mentally ill or physically debilitated due to environmental and psycho-social factors. In this technological age there are reasons to fill every waking hour with activities and distractions which feed our restlessness but give little in terms of true nourishment. If we cut out the clutter and re-organise our daily lives so that things become simpler we make better use of our time. Time management goes hand in hand with simplicity. Economising conserving and simplifying are mutually inclusive.

What is crucial to your life and what is just repetitive, useless busy-ness? Is that moving centre sending into you spirals of pointless activity in order to displace energy that could be useful to personal transformation? Ask yourself honestly: Is your attention habitually fixed on getting things to feel better? Has this focus overshadowed what’s truly important in my life?

If that’s true and like so many of us, you have been caught up in finding too much satisfaction in possessions (or possessing people) then it’s a cue to simplify and to realise that attachment to beliefs and their possessions are often the greatest obstacle to living a more harmonious life. Or, as German poet and playwright Johann von Goethe expressed it: “Things that matter most must never be at the mercy of things that matter least.”

To achieve simplicity we have to conserve our energy in thought and action. One thing is for sure, you’ll need every ounce of it if you are to transform your inner life. By gettting rid of that which ultimately drains you, it opens up the space for an ongoing process of spring-cleaning, much like you do with your flat or house. And it’s amazing how much more can be achieved by decreasing one’s complexity.

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Choose Constructive Emotions (and don’t forget your greatest asset) (6)

“You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death. It is easy to say you believe a rope is strong as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But, suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice? Wouldn’t you then first discover how much you really trusted it?”

—  C.S. Lewis


Reading time: 8-10 mins

The Positive thinking, LOA and YCYOR triangle is the lynchpin of the new age or Human Potential Movement, often fused with left-liberal beliefs. What happens when these ways of viewing the world are placed in an overtly spiritual context?

A constant theme that runs through many of these essay series is the idea that one’s spiritual quest is fraught with potential dangers. It’s designed that way and is not for the faint-hearted. I am one of those who has learned the hard way that self-awareness and seeking truth requires an exacting sacrifice of personal, selfish desires.

If you decide to follow a genuine spiritual path without attending to fundamental emotional issues, you will find yourself on a very hard road indeed as the signal to grow receives a response. Such a response (depending on the degree of personality deformation present) sets in motion a process whereby the person is given the tools and circumstances by which soul influence can begin to grow. That cannot be anything other than painful since, like a drug addict, you are shedding outmoded and negative behaviours which you have taken on as normal. Cold turkey isn’t just for those coming off substance abuse, it can be as harrowing to divest yourself of childhood and cultural conditioning.

The cultural inculcation to support a psychopathic worldview is disguised as benevolence or empowerment. In the final analysis however, we always have a choice to change and to seek out what is really going on behind The Wizard Of Oz’s theatrical curtain on reality. Dealing with our emotions is the first step.

If we insist in wallowing in the influences of Official Culture, whilst immersing ourselves in the theory of spiritual transformation – it won’t work, at least not in the way we might think. Information becomes knowledge by applying and testing out what we have discovered. That means we cannot be in two realities at once which means a decision will need to be made, whether we like it or not. If you are perpetually on the fence then you at a standstill or worse, one centre of gravity within your personality will be inflated whilst another will atrophy.

Much of the illness of our western culture derives from the denial of what is, and the rejection of inner knowing in favour of security, self-satisfaction and a fragile peace. It’s ultimately a denial of the Universe/God which seeks consciousness, seeded in complex sentient life i.e. humans – to become self-aware, warts and all. Once we have made a contract with Life due to our self-evident existence, part of that decision is to willingly choose to access your greatest potential by serving others, thereby serving yourself. When we do so with conviction a new dimension of possibility opens up for us – literally. Walk long enough along that road without application of those discoveries then reality will become more and more insistent that you “walk the talk” away from theory and toward actualisation of faith and purpose.

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Respect Yourself (2)

The archetype of the Hero slaying the dragon of inner and outer chaos
St George on Horseback, 1505, engraving, Albrecht Durer


Reading time: 15 mins

The four instinct / survival archetypes

       C.G. Jung’s mandala from The Red Book

The idea of archetypes is very useful as a metaphorical tool in relation to healing and clawing back some self-respect – indeed to understand all of the 31 suggestions we’ll eventually explore. This might be a long way round the block to arrive at self-respect, but bear with me, you’ll see how it all comes back to this quality by the end.

Firstly, what are archetypes?

The concept of archetypes goes back to Plato who called them “forms” which he believed were reflected in the material world. But the basic concept is probably as old as human evolution itself. This theory was further advanced to a considerable degree by the swiss psychologist Carl Jung who called the source of these accumulated blueprints archetypes which fuelled the little “I”s or “psychic complexes” within the human mind.

Archetypal images, iconography and literary themes are sourced from universal patterns or motifs which in turn, are accessed from what is known as the collective unconscious, and closely connected (if not the same) as the akashic records mentioned in theosophical and anthroposophical literature. Think of it like a psycho-spiritual reservoir of ancestral experience, containing both the darkness and light of collective wisdom spanning possibly hundreds of thousands of years of human interaction with social groups and the environment.

This accumulated energy has a direct connection to personal unconscious and has defined the content of mythologies, legends and fairy tales of global cultures. It is the soul’s software, if you will, and a source of great teaching. Archetypes are psychic blueprints of emotion and instinct that lie in the triune system of the brain (reptilian, limbic and neo-cortex) as a psychic and structural template to primordial nature. They have a positive and negative aspect, the latter known as “The Shadow” which has been discussed frequently throughout this blog. The idea is that through confronting and then integrating these dark elements which have been denied and locked away we can dissolve the negative impact which would otherwise surely have occurred.

They are dualistic in nature and operate according to the nature of the unconscious which economises and conserves energy whilst also remaining highly adaptable. New personal narratives containing these archetypes appeal to the its adaptive processses and lay down new neural pathways from intense learning carried out in the present and overlaying the now defunct patterns of the past. The personal reservoir of the unconscious has a creative, tailor-made version of archetypes which are a unique product of your own stored life experiences. Along side this personal source is the collective or universal unconscious. Our intention is like an upload to that resources which responds in kind offering an automatic download which we access through our dreams. The images, motifs and mythical themes are identical for all.

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2. Respect Yourself (1)

By M.K. Styllinski

“Above all things, one should maintain his self-respect, and there is
but one way to do that, and that is to live in accordance with
your highest ideal.”

— Robert G. Ingersoll


Reading time: 15 -18 mins

“He doesn’t respect himself much if he can carry on like that.”

Did you see her last night? She’s got no self-respect.”

Have some respect for yourself for God’s sake!

Such judgements and admonishments are unlikely to install the kind of respect those persons are looking for. The very notion of self-respect is highly subjective. One man’s accusation of poor hygiene, grungy dreadlocks and disrespect for authority is another man’s expression of a “free spirit”. What matters however, is whether you have the kind of respect for yourself that makes your life worthwhile and makes you a pleasure to be around.

It reminds me of my time as a bewildered twenty-something who gave an air of self-control and ease but was struggling to make sense of life. The recurring theme of that period was a battle between dissociation and reality, creativity and sexuality, perfectionism and surrender. When one has the feeling of persecution and guilt embedded in one’s very being it means that making a mistake is the end of the world whereby great horror, ridicule and even annihilation awaits should you err in the slightest way. Way over the top of course, and a form of compensatory narcissism that makes you retreat into a smaller and smaller bubble that you deem navigable, where everything is micro-managed to shield oneself from anymore pressure. Ironically, that only makes such a bubble more prone to bursting, since embracing objective reality becomes a threat to that congealed mass of ego-masks built to protect, yet a barrier to growth. Bloody conflict ensues between one’s fears and the promise of change. Thankfully, I did break that conflict, but not without cost, which is as it should be.

Self-respect never arrives when we shield ourselves from life and do everything we can to avoid failure. The latter is how we learn and there is no other way to build success – be it in business, relationships or the growth of self-awareness. You will err, you will fail and that’s okay. The information that led you to failure offers knowledge for next time. And provided you don’t give up, then such bad experiences become useful for the future you wish to create – they are needed grist for the mill.

Without self-respect it is hard to achieve what we desire. It is even harder to sustain any success should we manage to block out that doubting voice which is intimately linked to self-sabotage and victimhood. “Better to scuttle one’s ship now and face an even bigger disaster” says that voice, Better to protect myself from that kind of pain and suffering.” Yet, it is precisely this fixation with future “disaster” and the debilitating voice of unreason that is asking to be analysed and thereby integrated. (see no. 1 Heal Your Past).

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Why Young Lives Are Losing Meaning and Purpose VI: The Universe Doesn’t Negotiate Or “Welcome to the Matrix”

By M.K. Styllinski

Kazuakai Tanahashi | brushmind.com

“‘Soul-making’ needs to be re-imagined and reintegrated into our societies. We need not go back to animism or alchemy to find soul-making. We can find it here, in the everyday Now. …The interior life should be recognized as an inherent human need, and it should be socially acceptable and encouraged to direct part of our gaze in its direction. After all, if the outer sun rises but the inner sun does not, then nothing has been gained.”

~ Kingley L. Dennis


Reading time: 20-25 mins

This exploration of happiness seems to have morphed into that which underlies the seeking, namely what it really means to change ourselves and if there is something deeper to access. Change is about leaping into the unknown and battling with the dark recesses of our unconscious mind which have so far evaded detection yet continue to sabotage the promise of a life of meaning and purpose. Even if we have attained a semblance of peace and success in this world, depression and inner dissatisfaction continue to arise. This suggests something much deeper is going on and that exhortations to find happiness will only paper over the ever-widening cracks in our psyches.

Regardless of your beliefs discovering meaning and purpose is a spiritual quest. By “spiritual” I mean the will to obtain balance and creative flow with life, living in the Tao, or honouring the Divine in our thoughts and actions. The eventual result is more harmonious relationships and a constructive daily life. We create something unique in that exchange because we have made the effort to achieve it – it is our contribution borne from an accumulation of experience; a struggle that eventually bears fruit and from which everyone can be nourished. Happiness results, as a byproduct of observable results, namely, the effects we have on others. When that begins to occur, our state of Being radiates and effects whatever social unit we find ourselves embedded. But we have to cultivate resilience from a centre of calm within to let such dividends arrive. This process comes from simple understandings and life lessons which haven’t really changed much for thousands of years.

If you are skeptical that one person can change the world then we’d be in agreement. But one person who changes their inner world positively must logically cause ripples of change in the outer reality. We are wired to cooperate and to adapt to tumultuous circumstances. If your intent and consequent effort remains consistent you’ll connect with others doing the same. Being alone in daily life is not a good survival tactic as our ancient ancestors realised. This is the nature of real-life social networks: a contagion for good or for ill can spread in a non-linear bursts of transference, given enough key connectors. So, there is no reason we can’t transform ourselves, and by extension, our family life, the neighbourhood and local community, if we form or tap into the right kind of networks. As discussed throughout this series, applied knowledge/spirituality should be useful – useful to our own aims and to those of others, otherwise, what’s the point? As author Kurt Vonnegut, reminded us: “Find a way to be useful; if you aren’t useful you are useless.”

That doesn’t mean we seek global transformation because that very desire tends to run up against hubris and the consequent road blocks of ideology. Reality simply isn’t designed to be second guessed in that way. But we can start small and build seed-visions of quality that have tangible results in our lives. These seeds of change determine the quality of all that follows and sends a signal to the information field that we choose to join and augment the creative dynamics of reality, rather than enforcing our visions onto people and situations which, though well-intentioned, often add to the chaos commensurate with the law of unintended consequences. (Good intentions divorced from self-awareness and critical thinking – but satisfying for the emotions – always makes things worse).

The will to change from what is clearly not working to other more harmonious possibilities may not lead to spectacular revolutionary fireworks but then, constructive change seldom manifests this way. Usually, in terms of inner work, it’s just hard drudgery and a battle we must do alone even when surrounded by intense social interaction. (No one knows our weaknesses quite like we do). In the beginning, depending on the level of transformation you seek, sticking with it will eventually cause minor to major changes to your environment and the people with whom you associate some way down the line. In the short-term, you might have little to show for it, but when you keep going, step by step, day after day, month after month with incremental victories you suddenly realise that you are positively different and your life signals that change.

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