Saturday, 22 September 2018

Equinox

Today is the Autumn Equinox, the mid-point of day and night. The sun is overhead at the equator at midday travelling further South to give us a winter.


Celebrating this; links us to nature's cycles and a deeper connection to our own cycles, the balancing of darkness and light, the power of letting go, and the acknowledgement that everything changes. 
Tantra as a spiritual practice is always ultimately about Oneness and the skilful use of polarities like Shiva and Shakti  - or consciousness and energy. It is tempting to put the two together and think in terms of a harmonious balance of Shiva and Shakti. This can be misleading. Putting together two different types of qualities can  cause more problems than doing so may solve. The familiar yin yang symbol of a black and white sector whirling together has limitations but it is better than mixing black and white together and getting grey! 

This is true even with the Equinox as a balance of light and darkness. They are not exact opposites - one candle will dispel the darkness, but one bit of darkness doesn't remove all light.... On a planetary level from the perspective of space there isn't day and night just a beautiful blue-green planet spinning in space. 

Whatever the equinox means to you, may you be blessed, may you be loved, and may you be held gently in this golden autumn light.





Sunday, 20 May 2018

Words, words, words



We have become a very wordy culture. Perhaps it is all the texting and social media posts that have contributed. Perhaps it is the real absence of silence in our culture and opportunities to reflect in beyond words.

I have become interested recently in how words are used. They can be used to conceal as much as they reveal and the ubiquity of words and the speed of texting and speaking can hide what is behind them; particularly assumptions and claims. In our fast-moving culture uses of words and shades of mean can also change quickly.

For example, a couple of years ago it was almost unknown to hear anyone say “I feel triggered by/when……. “ . The first thing to notice, of course is that “triggered” is not a feeling or emotion in the way anger, fear, sadness, shame are. This is one of the peculiarities of the English language that the word “feel” can be used to express a thought, intention, desire, preference or emotion. The word “triggered” in this sort of context comes from recent understandings of trauma and in particular PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). It refers to the fact that a relatively innocuous event in the present can cause the neurology to re-experience a past traumatic situation which will include being overwhelmed so the system can’t process it (which is what trauma is), and often have a visual component; a flashback.  The recent use of the word “triggered” seems to be adequately covered by the words, “upset”, or “hurt” unless the user has actually been catapulted back in to a real past trauma. The use of the word slightly medicalises the experience and takes it out of the hands of the experiencer – because in a real situation of being in a flashback you cannot choose whether to go there; it is automatic. It points to a person seeking the position of victim. The only real remedy is therapeutic work on the original trauma.

A similar thing has been happening over a longer period of time with the word “depressed”. Depression as a psychological condition is very real and to many degrees quite debilitating. In fact, at one end, there is psychotic depression which often needs hospitalisation. 
Nowadays someone can claim to feel depressed that they have run out of biscuits! Similarly, I have noticed that sometimes people claim to have “a migraine” when it is more accurately a bad headache or be allergic to a food when it can be an intolerance or even a preference to not eat it.

This has always happened as language evolves. The word “gaudy” which now means “tastelessly bright, harsh or lurid” in the sixteenth century came from roots meaning “joyful” or “rejoicing”. There was certainly no negative connotation.

Of more interest to me at present it the use of words to signify a position. Currently there are many competing theories and ideologies and ideas in the world and many diverse subgroups and subcultures. In fact, I am not sure there is really one single culture at all anywhere in the world outside of a few isolated, traditional communities. Words can signify an alignment with a theory or position or group without every having to examine any of it.

For example, the word “heteronormative” is used increasingly. If we take the word itself then “hetero” is from the Greek meaning essentially “other” or “diverse” and “normative” has two related meaning that have become conflated here. The first meaning is prescriptive; creating certain standards or rules of behaviour. The second meaning is descriptive; for example, the median salary in a range. It means closer to “standard” or “usual” without any implication of correctness. English is the normative language spoken in England but there are many locations (including Oxford Street in London in summer) where that is not the case. The mixing of these two can easily suggest that everyone should speak English. So, in the use of a term like heteronormative there seems to be an implication of how things should be rather than a simple description of how things are. If out walking in England I meet someone I may speak to them in English. It is perfectly possible that they are in fact Polish and cannot understand or respond in English. I am not implying that they should speak English. This is normative in the descriptive use. Most people in England will speak English to some degree; that is simply statistics.  But the term “heteronormative” is not used to suggest that otherness is the usual condition. It implies a whole range of other assumptions connected to theories and ideas, which are not articulated and may be disputed.

To illustrate this, I will connect heteronormative to a set of ideas that I find very important. The Advaita or nondual tradition in spiritual teaching simply says that there is only Oneness. Atman and Brahman are one. There is no division and no boundary. This is the ultimate spiritual reality so anyone who believe in otherness creates an illusory division. The most profound teachings of tantra; in the Kashmir Shavite tradition are all non-dual.  Therefore, there can be no heteronormativity; no sense of otherness and certainly therefore no privileging of otherness. There is only One. Heteronormativity is to live in the illusion of separation. At the same time it is actually our everyday lived experience (except perhaps for some enlightened mystics); we notice day and night, hot and cold, comfortable and uncomfortable and usually male and female through the contrasts of difference. In sublime states; we lose the sense of “I” and of all separation.

In doing this I have claimed the term for my interests rather than subscribing to a different subculture. However; ultimately the meaning of a word is its use. So, the question has to be; its use within which group and what are the assumptions behind the use of the term in that group? The other very important question is the power of that group in relation to perceived other groups who may be more dominant or at least more numerous. 

Continuing with the hetero and homo theme; the word and even the concept of homosexual really only began between the two World Wars (see The Invention of Heterosexuality by Jonathan Ned Katz). Most cultures for most of history have not concept of heterosexuality or homosexuality.  It seems now that there is an ever greater need to create terms and use them to claim an identity. It is precisely this reification of being and then the claiming of rights in relation to a supposed other (as a way of creating social justice and presumably social cohesion) that people like Jordan Peterson are questioning. I doubt if may readers can really distinguish between demiflux and demifluid! We now have the terrifying rise of incels; usually young males in Western culture who are involuntarily celibate. They feel empowered to create an identity and air their grievances to the point of killing people on at least three occasions in North America (See Link).


In the spiritual world the basic question of self-enquiry popularised by Ramana Maharshi with the question; “Who Am I ?” ; can lead to profound realisations. All labels and identifications impede this deeper realisation. Words obscure as much as they reveal. We are spaciousness; emptiness appearing as form; a wave in the ocean of consciousness.
 
At the moment I am reading The Radiance Sutras by Lorin Roche. He has lived for decades with the Sanskrit verses of the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra and his translations are sublime. He writes of the process of getting to know a Sanskrit word over years; getting to know the images which go with the meanings in the definition. These are words to live with and grow through.  Namaste!



Monday, 30 April 2018

Beltane and May Day

Tonight is a full moon and from this evening it is Beltane and tomorrow, May Day; a celebration of sexuality and fertility and the union of the Goddess and the God. 

It is a time of fertility and abundance. Celebrations include, circling the Maypole for fertility and jumping the Beltane fire for luck.  The myths of Beltane state that the young God has blossomed into manhood, and the Goddess takes him on as her lover. Together, they learn the secrets of the sexual and the sensual, and through their union, all life begins.

Beltane is the season of maturing life and deepening love. This is a time to celebrate the coming together of the masculine and feminine creative energies. Beltane marks the emergence of the young God into manhood. Stirred by the energies at work in nature, he desired the Goddess. They fall in love, lie among the grasses and blossoms and unite.

The flowers and greenery symbolise the Goddess and the Maypole represents the God. Beltane marks the return of vitality and passion of summer. The word tantra in Sanskrit comes from a root meaning of weaving and this is "English tantra"; dancing around the maypole and weaving the ribbons around the maypole as the two sets of dancers move in opposite directions. 

I wont be dancing around a Maypole but I will do an Agni Hotra fire ceremony in Sahaja's tantric temple. 

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Equinox

Today is the Spring Equinox, the mid-point of day and night . The sun is overhead at the equator at midday travelling further North to give us a Summer;  much needed, under the snow we now have.

The familiar symbol, known as the yin yang symbol but properly called the taijitu is about a thousand years old from China. Similar designs are found in Iron-Age Celtic culture in 3rd century BCE.

It shows a dynamic  harmony, within the circle of the polarities of black and white moving together.

Tantra as a spiritual practice is always ultimately about Oneness and the skilful use of polarities like Shiva and Shakti  - or consciousness and energy. It is tempting to put the two together and think in terms of a harmonious balance of Shiva and Shakti. This can be misleading. Putting together two different types of qualities can  cause more problems than it may solve. The familiar yin yang symbol of a black and white sector whirling is better than mixing black and white together and getting a static, uniform grey!

Within each, there is a dot of the opposite which points beyond  separation to the reality that int he heart of each is the other.  In some forms of this symbol there is an empty circle in the very centre of the symbol to show that this duality is based in emptiness.

Enjoy the dance. Today there is an equal balance of Yin and Yang and the turning of the year towards light and Spring. This can inspire us to believe that, along with the Earth, we too might change, release the past, and give birth to new passions, ideas and projects.  Soon will be Easter and then May Day as Life comes riotously into abundance.

On a planetary level from the perspective of space there isn't day and night just a beautiful blue-green planet spinning in space.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Jordan Peterson and Tantra


Unless you have been living in a cave you will have heard of Jordan Peterson. He is all over the Web and particularly You Tube with at least 300 videos – (often put up by others and badly titled). The subjects cover a vast range from The Bible, relationship advice, extended commentary on Disney's The Lion King, diet, gender, equality and above all, his dislike of the effects of post-modern deconstructivism particularly on young people.   

He is a clinical psychologist and a Jungian. This in itself is rather unusual but it means he can bring both research results (he has authored 120 research papers),  and archetypes to bear on whatever he has in his sights; as well as clinical experience. Most Jungians are rather quiet, introvert and write books (such as Robert Bly and James Hillman) but Jordan Peterson is passionate, outspoken and very open (See interview with him and his daughter on his depression) .He is also spiritual, coming from his life experience and philosophical enquiry.

He rose to prominence from his objection to a Canadian law which would force him to use an invented pronoun to refer to transgender people. He argued that language evolves rather than being legislated and what you call someone comes from a relational connection not a law. He immediately became the target of protests - but received a great deal of support from transgender people who disliked being used for political purposes.

He says a great many things that to some seem very controversial and to others; like me mostly seem rather obvious. But he states them in a powerful way usually backed by research. As a result of his stand and outspokenness he is often misunderstood in the heat of the debate. The most famous example is a recent Channel 4 interview (See Link on Analysis of this).

His most watched video An Introduction to the Idea of God has had 1.6 million views. 
Apparently 80% of those who watch his You Tube videos are men; even though many of those videos are lectures he gave to psychology students 80% of whom are female.  Clearly JP is saying something to young men. Has a message which is particularly pertinent for that group; grow up, take responsibility, find a moral and ethical framework to live by, discover the complexity and depth of life.  Nearly all women would want this of the men in their lives; given that our society tends to keep men as perpetual disgruntled, and sometimes fatherless adolescents - as most of the school shooters in USA are. 

Turning to tantra. Jordan Peterson's philosophy of life covers every aspect of;  "Life, the Universe and Everything" and this is absolutely true of tantra as well. This means that there should be many points of connection and correlation.   He has not; (as far as I know) made any direct reference to tantra but the list on his website of his approximately 50 recommended books includes two from Carl Jung on Psychology and Alchemy and the momentous Mysterium Coniunctionis. Alchemy is the part of the European tradition of tantra. The list also includes Mirace Eliade's Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy. 

These books are not particularly accessible or seen as directly relevant to most young people (neither is tantra unless they think it is only about sex!) but aspects of his philosophy; such as the need to walk the edge between order and chaos (See here) illustrated by the familiar Yin-Yang symbol are clearly tantric. His call for men to step up to engaging fearlessly with the world rather than hiding in nihilistic or dis-empowering philosophies is straight from the Shiva traditions of tantra with the call to wake up; become aware and embrace the virya; the warrior whose role is to engage the power of  presence.  He believes that meaning can come from dialogue and not from the deconstruction of all meaning. He also believes that not everything comes from social construction and societal pressure but to an extent there is a biological and neurological underpinning. This is absolutely standard from neuroscience and from research, but unfortunately, the general climate of anti-intellectual and anti-science; which gave us Trump and "fake news", is usually not interested in debates about evidence.  

He described his own politics as those of a “classic British liberal … temperamentally I am high on openness which tilts me to the left, although I am also conscientious which tilts me to the right. Philosophically I am an individualist, not a collectivist of the right or the left. Metaphysically I am an American pragmatist who has been strongly influenced by the psychoanalytic and clinical thinking of Freud and Jung.” He also said  ”I’m and Existentialist". He believes in virtue, respect, gratitude and hard work. 

He can certainly be criticised for making sweeping statements on a broad range of areas of social concern. Many people prefer academics and clinicians to stay in their own ghettos. Much of what he says appeals to men who are in some danger of moving towards a far Right  way of thinking as they feel so marginalised. Curiously, this is taken as a criticism. Rather like saying that Christians shouldn't talk to sinners when that is exactly who they should be talking to!  His style can be somewhat hectoring; but as a lecturing style to students, this engages them when otherwise they would be tempted to sleep through the lectures. He talks of topics that are of real concern to people; like relationships and career and the nature of creativity.  He dialogues with anybody with genuine enquiry. There are dozens of videos of these dialogues with Russel Brand or Ben Shapiro or Camille Paglia and many critics and activists; black, white, trans and so on. 

Jordan Peterson brings a mixture of a background in a Jungian sense of the mystical with research date and trait theory. His somewhat depressed personality may affect his sense of what is possible and it grates on much New Age optimism. He is pragmatic, seeks the middle way and recognises that life involves suffering. Classic Buddhist notions. The place where he doesn't interface with classical tantra is his lack of practices other than a sort of stoicism in the face of the difficulties of life and taking responsibility for ones own life.  This is a good foundation but needs more.  One of the core meanings of the word tantra is "practices" or methods and Jordan Peterson is weak on practices but strong on the basic principles of Shavite tantra. Chaitanyamatma or "consciousness is everything"; or as Jordan Peterson would put it; Wake up! Grow up! Show up and take responsibility in your own life!











Saturday, 10 February 2018

Tonight is Maha Shivaratri


   
      Maha Shivaratri, the spiritual night of Lord Shiva, is considered to be the most sacred night of the year. There is fasting during the day and the puja goes on all night with mantras to Shiva whilst anointing the shivalingam with water, curd, honey, and flowers.

     Mahashivaratri happens the night before the new moon and is a chance to honour Shiva and the masculine principle of consciousness and awareness. Everything is consciousness and it is on this foundation principle that the world is danced into being through the awesome creative power of Shakti.  


     There has probably never been a time in history when the principle of the Divine Masculine needs to be honoured and affirmed as it does now, for it is precisely the qualities of the Divine Masculine that can create the space and the safety for the feminine. Far too often, in many cultures across the world women are trying to hold both poles of masculine and feminine at the same time and be mother and father to their own inner child and to their "outer children". Men are physically absent for many reasons or emotionally absent from their own lack of connection to the Divine Masculine and their historic lack of good enough mothering and fathering. They then end up as wounded, disconnected and dangerous; perpetual teenagers fuelling the cycles violence that are destroying the Earth. This year, it is the day before Valentine's Day dedicated to love relationships. All relationships work through an appreciation of the dynamic poles of the relationship and appreciation of difference. Appreciate and celebrate the masculine as the force of awareness, consciousness, presence and the Truth of who we really are. 

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

#wetoo


The #metoo movement where women speak out against sexual violence and intimidation by men in power was long overdue. The statistic that 1 in 3 women have been sexually abused is an understatement. All women experience aspects of being objectified and sexually intimidated or used without their consent. The anger and the power of women speaking out is vital if we are to move towards a sane, inclusive society.

I have been very keen that men do not jump on the same bandwagon and attempt to hijack the debate with their own experiences of abuse. There is something very unsavoury about a race to claim victim-hood as a sort of prize.  Yet, men’s pain; though expressed less vocally than #metoo, and more often expressed through actions; is palpable. Suicide is the largest cause of death for men under 50 and then there are the deaths through addictions and reckless disregard for their own lives. I read somewhere the shocking but quite
unprovable statistic, that in USA more men are raped than women. With 2¼ million men in prison this is certainly possible.  On the streets most male violence is directed against other men and throughout the world many men see no alternative to joining wars and large scale violence. On the domestic front in the UK, men are three times as likely not to tell anyone about being the victim of partner violence than women are; presumably because that is so humiliating. Yet for every three victims of domestic abuse two will be female and one will be male.

Undoubtedly men cause most of the physical and sexual violence that occurs against women and against other men.  However, physical violence is not very subtle and relatively easy to detect. It literally leaves marks. I knew one woman who had worked as a barrister in divorce cases who stopped working as she was so appalled at the way men were treated. The Families need Fathers movement and now the Men Going Their Own Way (MGTOW) movement are the result of pain at loss and separation. All three men I have known who killed themselves had become separated from their children and felt so powerless and angry. Last year I went to one funeral and I really don’t want to go to any more. Of course, if men could cry and reach out for support and help this wouldn’t happen so much. It is easy to say that they are the victims of their own Neanderthal ideas of masculinity. However, these ideas are powerfully socially enforced by men and women. It is equally possible and unsympathetic to say that women are the victims of their own lack of speaking out.

Sexual violence and intimidation of women comes from the objectification of women. Some of the violence that occurs in intimate relations comes from men also being seen as an object. An object to provide financial and emotional security. The mechanism is essentially the same. Many men have had the experience of been viewed as sperm donors once, and then money donors for the next twenty or so years.  In my own life I have only ever been ripped off by women; financially, and in terms of my willingness to help and support in practical ways. As an Enneagram Type 2; the Helper it has been an important lesson for me to learn to be much less obliging.  The massive success of Jordan Peterson's views where he vigorously uses archetypal psychology and his clinical experience to comment on modern issues particularly to do with men (See Link to Video) is a modern phenomena.

Another aspect is the seduction of children away from their fathers. Many people, men and women, see their father through their mother’s eyes. It is a sort of mass-kidnapping which I have heard of many times in my work as a psychotherapist. The mother over-bonds with the children, perhaps as a form of self-therapy, or perhaps as she feels she has little power elsewhere. The father becomes a distant figure and ripe for projections.  He may also be working away long hours. There are some men who arrive home from work after a long commute after their young children have gone to bed and leave in the morning before their children wake up. They only see them at weekends.

There is no value in chasing victim-hood. There is a great value and a deep need for appreciation of the different roles and histories of men and women. Whilst binary notions of gender are a convenient fiction, they suffice for an initial analysis. Men have had the historic task for the last two million years of separating from instinct and Nature in order to develop self-consciousness. This has been necessary for the development of humankind. (Follow link for more on this) So where does all this lead?

There is huge value in improving communication particularly about consent. Expression of desire need to be seen as a potential gift, not a threat. All gendered stereotypes need to be dropped so that real listening can happen to the unique needs and experiences of each person. There is a huge need for appreciation of the contributions of everyone. We have all lost out and need to be consoled, appreciated and healed.  



Thursday, 1 February 2018

Sugar is a Poison!

As a teenager, I used to have two spoonful’s of sugar in my tea. As a rather physically lazy and large young man, I soon realised that I would put on weight (as a kapha body-type if using the language of Ayurveda!). So, I gradually cut down over six months to no sugar. After that, of course tea with sugar in tasted disgusting. 

Forty years later; I am now convinced that sugar is basically a poison and the most widely “pushed” drug in the world. It does more damage than tobacco, or cocaine. By sugar, I don’t just mean white sugar; I mean all types of sugars. That is all chemicals that end in “……ose”: glucose, sucrose, fructose, lactose, dextrose, maltose. Plus anything called syrup. It can seem natural, even wholesome like honey or unnatural like high fructose corn syrup. It is all more or less the same. It is all damaging. It is all highly addictive by hitting the dopamine reward centres in the brain. 

As an addictive drug, it is used to sell a staggering range of products; I can hardly call them foods. There are the obvious ones, like a can of soda containing 11 teaspoons of sugar; and there are the less obvious, like bottles of soy sauce where sugar is the second ingredient after water; or cans of baked beans and jars of peanut butter.  Many products that were, or could be, healthy like natural live yogurt are hard to find amongst the flavoured sweetened yogurts in most shops.

So depending on where you look for data the Average American now consumes up to 300 lbs of sugar a year. Four hundred years ago it was 2 lbs of sugar. The Ancient Romans and later people used sugar just to sweeten bitter herbal medicines. 

In fact; things are even worse than this. We think of fruit as natural and wholesome; but all the fruit we eat today has drastically changed through selective breeding from The Middle Ages. They have all been bred to have more sweet flesh.  Every market stall selling fruit proclaims that these are “sweet” grapes, or peaches or apples….And making fruit in to fruit juice makes it even sweeter and absorbed faster. Drinking a glass of pineapple juice gives your body a huge hit of sugar.
Medieval banana

Sorry, but it gets even worse. Our body converts starch and many carbohydrates in to sugar. This starts even in the mouth. I remember at school in science being asked to chew a piece of raw potato and in a minute or so getting the sweetness of sugar in the mouth.  As with fruit; the grains we now eat as bread and cakes are far from the ancient varieties. Some complex carbohydrates like puffed rice are converted more and faster than white sugar. 

Sugars and some carbs are fast becoming the primary source of calories in our diet. Sugar, not itself an opioid peptide, is known to increase brain levels of endongenous morphine and may produce metabolic products in the brain very similar to those produced by morphine. Fructose in isolated or concentrated form is highly toxic. Sugar is a poison. Not an acute poison like arsenic, but a chronic poison which over years promotes inflammation and diseases including cancer. It leads to obesity, heart disease and diabetes where the body can no longer cope with the sugar. It is an addictive poison. John Yudkin, a professor of nutrition published his book "Pure White and Deadly" nearly 50 years ago and was ignored.

The industrial revolution was able to happen because of the development of the steam engine which used coal as a fuel to power the machines and the development of easy sources of sugar which was the cheap fuel to power the workers in the factories. Now sugar is pumped in to everything to create addiction. This is quite deliberate and a merciless attack on the worlds population by big business. It completely dwarfs the whole of the illegal drug industry.

At the moment I am on a very low carbohydrate and no sugar diet and it is hard to go in to any small shop and in all the rows of shelves of products, to find anything I can eat at all; other that buy a bottle of water (and I am certainly not paying for something that comes out of taps!). The poorer the area the more shops are filled with products full of sugar, and carbohydrates. This is true throughout the world. Sugar and carbs are not necessary; my body is running perfectly well on fats and protein. Hiding in plain sight, in every corner shop is a blatant and successful attempt to enslave the world through addiction to sugar. 

Breast milk is sweet, so sugar gives us an artificial sense of comfort. Instead, we could seek the “sweetness of life”. If we are really adult (and consumer culture keeps us as needy children wanting the reward of sugar); then the sweetness of life comes from a deep connection to Self, to others and to Nature. This is the only real cure for addiction.