The basic idea of the Yogasutras is quite simple. In localising as the intelligence of the human organism Consciousness loses touch with its nature. This invites a deep existential suffering in human beings that can not be resolved by any cultural activity. Patanjali describes how this problem resolves naturally within the deep internalisation of awareness.
If human intelligence becomes aware of the subtleties of its conditioned functioning, its source in unconditional consciousness becomes clear. The key to this is meditation. Not meditation as a means to an end, but meditation as a letting go of all effort and intention into the natural activity of intelligence.
Intimacy with the unconstrained activity of internalised intelligence reveals its subtleties, roots, source and nature. In doing so the unconscious habits and assumptions that sustained the sense of separate self and its disturbing implications lose their power. Then the fundamental properties of Consciousness are free to express themselves unhindered into the flow of daily life.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is a remarkable document. Probably over 2,000 years old and written in a language that has not been a native tongue for centuries, it has been interpreted and translated countless times. Yet still it remains shrouded in mystery. No-one seems to be sure quite what it means, nor exactly what relevance it may have.
In fact many interpretations are little but speculation awash with palpable nonsense. Part of the problem is that people only too easily confuse intellectual and academic knowledge with direct and experiential knowledge. Most interpretations of the Yoga Sutras are not direct interpretations of Patanjali but interpretations of interpretations of interpretations. No wonder there is so much confusion about its meaning and relevance.
To make matters worse very few people actually have direct knowledge of the subject matter of the Yoga Sutras. To understand what Patanjali has to say, and so to be able to translate him, requires a deep familiarity with Consciousness, awareness, cognition and perception: their limitations, possibilities and inter-relationships. This familiarity can only come from intimacy with their subtle and elusive functioning in the roots of human experience. That intimacy is perhaps only provided by meditation, where meditation is undertaken as self-enquiry rather than any attempt to control, refine or purify the mind.
The Yoga Sutras are not a how-to manual. They do not provide instruction in yoga practices and techniques. They provide a map of what can happen when intelligence internalises within the lens of self enquiry. At the same time they provide a clear understanding of what yoga is, what its practice must involve, and what supports and hinders that practice.
My rendering and interpretation of Patanjali are based on over forty years exploring the ground of human experience. This exploration has been most fruitful in and as the practice of meditation and yoga. It is not designed to give a literal rendering of Patanjali’s sutras, as the result in a modern language would be more or less meaningless. Rather than offering a word by word translation it presents their psychological and spiritual implications in the light of what i have found in my own exploration of human intelligence as practitioner and teacher.
Therefor mine is not an academic treatment of The Yoga Sutras but, more usefully, a guide to its implications for anyone interested in human intelligence: especially those that pursue that interest on a meditation cushion or yoga mat. Instead of following the exact etymology of the Sanskrit, I have tried to render its experiential and practical implications in terminology that anyone who has looked deeply enough within will be able to make sense of. The footnotes provide the Sanskrit word on which my translation is based and the sutra numbers from the original text.
The Yoga Sutras is not a scientific, nor religious text. It is not designed to explain anything. As a guide to the interior dimensions of human experience it simply points to its key elements. It is concerned not with the absolute nature of reality, but with the subtleties of human intelligence. At the heart of which is the conundrum of the self, which is not only the centre of our experience, but the chain with which we are bound to our suffering.
Human consciousness is deeply paradoxical. There is nothing with which we are more familiar, and yet little that we understand so poorly. It seems to be far more complicated than it actually is mainly because our vocabulary is inadequate to it, having developed in response to external experience.
This being the case Patanjali’s text flows in tightening arcs around the core dynamics of consciousness. In doing so it offers glimpses and insights from a number of different angles. In order to make sense of the text it is better to flow with it as a single whole, allowing the subtle cadences of its repetitions and re-statements to build up a sense of its deepening meaning.
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I am going to consider the fundamental structural property of awareness, through lens of kissing. Most of us like a little kissing, now and then. Maybe you can’t remember your first kiss, but I’m going to be talking about a particular kind of kissing which when I was young was called French kissing. I don’t know if it still is, although the French are known to be rather more daring and disgusting than the English.
So I’m not talking about social “hello and how are you” kissing. Even if you can’t remember your very first French kiss, which some of you might well, you might be able to remember the first one that you had with the person that you are currently interested in doing it with, or the last one if there sadly isn’t a current one. Perhaps before this first kiss happened there was a bit of a build up; you wanted it to happen. Let’s just assume that you were really in love with this person and that this person was really in love with you even if they were pretending not to be and even if you were pretending not to be. So there was probably quite a strong momentum for this first kiss to happen. Then not only would there have been an energetic momentum for it to happen but the mind would have been going there, the mind would have been talking to you about kissing this person.
No matter how much the mind might have been making up stories about how you were going to make it happen and what it was going to be like, it actually wasn’t like that at all. First of all hopefully it just happened and it wasn’t really engineered, but of course it may have been. Even if it was engineered the chances are pretty high that all your thinking, all your anticipation, all your expectation about what it would be like were totally absent and irrelevant during the actual kiss. Even though possibly afterwards you might have said, “wow, that was great”, to yourself or them.
Let’s just assume that it was really great, that the kissing was really fantastic which kissing the right person tends to be. Chances are pretty high that certain things would have happened in the mind afterwards at least. First of all “good kiss” that’s the the kiss label, the deed label. Second comes another label, the person label: “good kisser”. Labelling not the deed but the doer, or one of them. Now imagine this very same kind of kissing happened with somebody a thousand times over a year. Maybe it’s already happened. It doesn’t stay the same. Finally it gets to the very last kiss and you say “crap kiss: crap kisser”. This has happened right? The “great kiss, great kisser “ has become “crap kiss, crap kisser”.
You can of course substitute this for any kind of experience. Making love, listening to the Sex Pistols, eating an ice cream. How it is that a “great kiss, great kisser” becomes a “crap kisser, crap kiss”. Or how does a great life become a crap life? Even if only temporarily. In finding that out we are discovering the nature of kissing as representative of all activity: not kissing as a particular kind of activity but as an expression of activity itself. The nature of activity becomes evident and also what has to become evident is the nature of those elements that constitute activity, in particular the object.
When you go “Oh, great kiss, must kiss him or her again because is a great kisser”, you’ve made two objects. You’ve made the kiss an object and you’ve made the kisser an object. Whereas because of all of the anticipation, the desire, the love, the excitement, when you were actually kissing there was no object, there was no kiss, there were no kissers. There was just kissing and there was no labelling. Hopefully. You could say the same about eating an ice cream. It very often happens on the first mouthful there is just tasting and especially if somebody is asking you for some of it, the last one also. The ones in the middle you often don’t really notice. If you’re not careful that’s a metaphor for your whole life. By careful i mean paying attention to what is actually happening.
Finally, ten years, ten months, ten weeks after the first amazing kiss it leaves you cold. You know that transformation, don’t you? You’ve fallen out of love, haven’t you? You have a kiss with the same person that is technically exactly the same but doesn’t have the same effect. The person is the same. The kiss is the same. The experience is not. the delight is gone.
The delight of the first kiss was not in the kiss. It was not in the kisser. It was in the attentiveness. It was in the wanting. The wanting focusses your attention totally on the kiss. It’s not the kiss that holds the delight, but your attentiveness. What makes it so delightfully juicy to kiss, or take a lick of chocolate ice cream, is that you are totally and utterly fascinated. Through that total and utter fascination with what is actually happening you are totally present. Your attention is totally there; so you feel everything without needing to label. You drown in the feeling without having to identify and the delight is an expression of your attentiveness. The delight is an expression of the quality of your attention.
This is one of the great secrets of life. You can be delighted by anything provided you are interested enough, passionate enough to be fully present. When you discover that delight resides in the quality of your attention or the quality of your awareness, you are half way to freedom. Delight is so appealing it can act as an invitation for you to stop objectifying life, to stop looking for objects to satisfy and delight you as soon as you realise that delight is inherent in awareness itself. Attentiveness focusses the power of awareness, and you feel that power as delight, as love even. This kiss, the kissed and the kisser are not the point, you realise that that’s not the point. The point is what is happening within that.
There is an apparent paradox here because there is a sense that when you are focussing on something you are gathering it in, condensing it. When attention deepens and subtilises it is narrowing and opening at one and the same time. The narrowing is from the original field into the object, the opening is into that narrowed field of the object expanding as the field. As you come closer it narrows, as you go deeper it opens. You are actually opening the aperture of awareness. If it opens enough and objects are no longer imposing themselves, then in that openness of awareness, delight is all that is left and you can feel this delight whenever you are fully present. Ananda is the word that the yogis use. You could say the inherent vibration of awareness is delight
When you relax through the specific content of consciousness, when you are no longer having to process, recognise, label, understand, identify everything, the background delight becomes apparent; even when perceptions are occurring, even when thinking is happening. Delight is another word for emptiness. Delight is the tone, the quality, the scent of emptiness, of awareness itself. It is not enough to understand all this about objects and actions, form and emptiness, from your mind. It doesn’t matter how well you can understand. It doesn’t matter how much you agree. That’s not enough. You have to know from experience what objectlessness is. And you all know what it’s like: it’s there when you have that first kiss. You all know exactly what it’s like. This is emptiness. It is not a void. It’s a fullness, a fullness of delight.
Being broken is the norm for human beings. We can imagine a time when human beings lived and loved sanely, unrestricted by neurosis, psychosis, individual and collective trauma; but we are not living in one. We are, now at least, a wounded species, and, in not fully acknowledging that, we displace our wounded-ness onto the world that supports and nourishes us: Nature. Even now that more and more people are realising that we are rapidly destroying our habitat, we continue to live and love as if we were not wounded and broken.
This does not deny that many people are trying to heal their own wounds, even perhaps realising that it is only because of these wounds that they perform the self-destructive rites of exploitative consumer culture so readily. While others are trying to reset the balance and shape of the social structures within which we all love and live the best we can, but without recognising that the institutions and norms within which we are self-destructing are not really the cause of our malaise: they are its symptoms.
The cause of our malaise is that, individually and collectively, we are wounded, broken, unwholesome, un-whole, unholy.
We can not erase the past. You can not erase your past. Everything you have ever done, everything that has ever been done to you is ineradicable. Yet their fruits are not. How you feel about your parents can change, even if what they did can not be changed. How you understand your past actions can change, even though those actions, and their historical consequences, can not be changed. Wounds can heal, psychosomatic armour can dissolve, behavioural habits and norms can change.
Do you know how deeply you are wounded? Do you know how many wounds you bear? Do you know how all your wounds were caused? Do you know how many of your wounds you regularly, or occasionally, reinforce with your current behaviour? Do you know the different ways that you do so?
Were you bottle fed, or weaned before you could walk? Did your father punish you with a belt, rod, slipper or hand? Were you bullied by your siblings, schoolmates, teachers? Were you intimidated into conformity by aesthetic norms that tell you how you should look, what you should wear, what you should be able to do, how much body fat you should carry, what shade your skin should be? Were you forced to spend most of your childhood indoors, sitting down listening to an adult you did not otherwise know? Were you made to believe that your value and your happiness depend on who approves of you and how much some of them pay you?
Do you know how many wounds you carry, how deep they are, how strong?
Are you at peace with yourself, others and the world? Are you at home in your body, at peace with your mind? Are you sensitive to the needs and feelings of others, and your own? Are you open about your preferences, dreams, desires, anxieties and boundaries? Do you present yourself honestly to others, to yourself? Are you generous, with your time, your attention, your material resources?
Do you know that not being so is rooted in your wounds? Do you know how nourishingly wholesome human nature actually is?
Do you know that you were not born selfish, greedy and aggressive; but that you have learned to be in order not to be sidelined in the struggle to survive and succeed? Do you know that this learning is a many layered wound, that constrains your intelligence and inhibits your happiness?
While these words may disturb you, they will not wound you. They do not constitute a threat to your well being. Rather they could be a prologue to you recovering it.
Would you like to be at peace with yourself, others and the world; at home in your body, at peace with your mind; sensitive to your needs and feelings, and those of others; open about your preferences, dreams, desires, anxieties and boundaries; present yourself honestly to others, to yourself; be generous, with your time, your attention, your material resources?
If so, you may not need to heal all of your wounds. You may need only to starve them, to unlearn the behaviours, perceptions and thoughts that reinforce them. You may only need to recover the wholesomeness of your human nature, so that your wounds atrophy amongst new habits of thought, perception and action.
You can not change the past, but you can change your behaviour, perceptions and thoughts. All the thoughts, perceptions and behaviours that shape your life, many of them expressing your wounds in doing so, have been learned. Your capacity to learn remains intact, even if dormant. You can use it to dissolve your wounds, collectively, into the nourishing wholesomeness of your human nature.
You can not do this by thinking about it. You can not do this by reading about it. You can not do this by talking about it. You can only do this by experiencing deeply, and often, the nourishing and healing wholesomeness of your own presence. By becoming regularly intimate with your own presence, you release the healing nourishment of your own nature. This intimacy, and its release, begins with and in the body.
The body is where all your wounds are stored. Your neuromuscular tissues are distorted and restricted by traumatic past experience into debilitating perceptual and behavioural pathways. These pathways can be replaced. You can replace them in movement, when that movement is guided by the intelligence of your body, not by the information in your mind. You can replace them in stillness, when that stillness is fertilised by intimacy with the sensations being generated by your body, and not regulated by the intentions of your mind. You can replace them in the amplifying, mirroring presence of others, by sharing your needs, fears, boundaries and desires with those doing the same.
Alternatively you can use your knowledge of behavioural psychology, emotional trauma, psycho-somatic armouring and therapeutics to pick through your behaviour, your posture, your emotions, your thoughts, to identify all of your wounds. Then, one by one, you can apply whatever therapeutic modalities you trust to heal them. This will take time. This may take more than a lifetime. A lifetime of digging into pain. You may not have enough time to do that, even if you do have the diagnostic and therapeutic skills available. You may not have the heart for it either.
To take such an approach is to be hoodwinked by the ungrounded intelligence of your mind, and its, even if only subconscious, conviction that it must and can solve all of your problems through the accurate application of skills based on accurate knowledge. This is to compound your problems further, by deepening the disembodiment that your wounds have left you with.
There is another option, and it is not a spiritual bypass. It also will take time, but it will take neither (diagnostic) knowledge nor (therapeutic) skill. You can let go of giving your well being to the strategies and information of your mind. You can give it instead to the wholeness of your nature: mind, body and spirit. To do this you need only become intimate with your own nature. Within this intimacy you will encounter, and be nourished and healed by, the Peace Without a cause, the Joy Without a Reason and the Love Without an object that express your spiritual nature.
Of course becoming intimate with your own presence will reveal the presence of your wounds. There will be resistance, discomfort, even, sometimes, pain. In not having to heal them, in not having to understand them, you can allow them to simply dissolve into the transforming acceptance of genuine intimacy. You do not have to struggle with them. You do not have label and name them, You do not have to fix anything. You have neither the understanding nor ability to do so. Nor does anybody else.
Nevertheless your wounds can resolve into the presence of Peace Without a cause, Joy Without a Reason and Love Without an object. They can, and they will, if you replace your intention to heal with a willingness to feel. As your willingness to feel deepens the healing power of your spiritual nature will express itself more freely and fully. Healing will take place as nourishment, rather than as therapy. Old habits will atrophy and habits of wholeness will replace them.
You can not do this alone. You are a social being as much as you are a biological or spiritual being. You need other people. You need other people to help you to heal. Not psychologists, or doctors, or gurus, or therapists. You need the open, willing presence of other wounded human beings. Other people also wanting to recover their wholeness are necessary to your recovery of yours. If you look at the person next to you, behind you, in front of you, you will see one.
With grateful acknowledgement to Joseph Chiltern Pearce for the title.
There is much more to disembodiment than being out of touch with your body. More deeply and tellingly it means living principally from and in cognitive intelligence, the story telling genius of mind. The ability to think is given dominion over the ability to feel. Shared ideas are given more authority than personal experience.
Disembodiment insulates people from their inner compass, out of touch with the Natural Intelligence and Intuitive Wisdom of their body. This creates an ongoing anxiety so deep and so common that it functions below the threshold of conscious awareness and social convention. Unable to locate a sense of safety within, people are looking for safety to the accepted and acceptable. They are at the mercy of the natural instability of mind: their own and the collective. They displace their helplessness into the herd. Not only by participating in relentless consumerism, but by colluding with authoritarianism.
Disembodiment is expressed through and supported by false and constraining ideas about satisfaction, happiness and success that are inextricably linked to the consumption of distracting experiences, compensatory gadgets and mood altering chemicals. While disembodiment satisfies itself with the virtual, it is driven by the conceptual. This leaves people satisfied enough by the idea of something to not look for the experience to which the idea points. Thinking and talking about compassion, solidarity, enlightenment, wholeness become substitutes for experiencing them.
Embodiment reverses the dynamic between mind and body, between information and experience. So, it can not be led by the mind. It is not possible to think or talk one’s way to embodiment. Yet thinking will participate, talking can even help. Embodiment, thinking and talking, have to be led by the body, by somatic intelligence. Somatic Intelligence expresses itself to conscious awareness through and as sensations. It is a very simple language that it ‘speaks’, a binary language, of pain and pleasure. Each of which is expressed through a spectrum, from the obvious and intense to the elusive and subtle. By feeling the sensations of the body, whether pleasant or unpleasant, welcome or unwelcome, mind becomes embodied, for the duration that sensations are being felt. How fully embodied it becomes depends upon how deeply the sensations are being felt.
When sensations are being felt deeply mind becomes very quiet, grounded in and by the body. The activity of the mind becomes a direct response to the sensations being generated by the body. The more fully these sensations are felt, the quieter becomes the mind as its interpretations become more simple and concrete. Its need to elaborate and speculate dissolves into its ability to recognise the simplicities of what is actually happening in and as the body. It lets go of its anxious story-telling and engages with the concrete simplicity of immediate somatic experience.
Contemporary human culture is driven by the genius of the mind. This is not only expressed in the potent discoveries of science and the remarkable technologies it spawns. It is also expressed more deeply, in the assumptions and values that, consciously and subconsciously, drive us all forward in an orgy of unfettered and exploitative consumption. This ultimately self destructive momentum is not only powered by the mind, it is justified and even sanctified by it. Not only in free-market ideology, but also in the assumption that whatever problems the mind creates, it can solve. Within the individual this assumption is usually completely subconscious, and therefor all the more resilient. Yet its deep, internal effect is to disassociate mind from body and leave it marooned in its own ungrounded computational and speculative brilliance.
Yet there is more to intelligence than computation, just as there is more to being human that the mind. The ability to think is an extension and expression of the deeper abilities to act and feel. The mind, the ability to think, is an extension of the body. It depends upon the remarkable cellular sophistication of the nervous system, not least the cerebral cortex. This sophistication has evolved by way of the trial and error undertaken for billions of years by intelligence both more reliable and more hidden that that of the mind: Natural Intelligence embodied in the cells of all living organisms.
The human body, like that of all living creatures, is not a machine that has been sparked to life by an external force. It is alive because it is intelligence compressed, compressed into every cell in and as DNA. While there are those who deny the reality of evolution, nobody can honestly deny the reality of DNA, nor its role in propagating life, and transmitting information reliably from body to body, from cell to cell. The cellular intelligence that has been driving life for billions of years has been generating more and more complex bodies, more and more sophisticated nervous systems. Not so long ago it generated the human being, and our remarkable ability to think rationally, mathematically, computationally.
Yet this ability has turned against itself, against its host, in threatening to destroy our habitat irreparably. This escalating destruction of environmental interdependencies has been created by the human mind and its ability to speculate and create without limit. It will continue in the same vein until it encounters limits that it can accept. Such limits exist, but can only be found by way of the body. Only by becoming willing to feel clearly the sensations generated by the body can the mind find something that will allow it to let go if its need to know and control into the stability and support of its source.
The source of computational, cognitive intelligence is in the body, upon which it entirely depends. By becoming intimate with the body the mind becomes grounded in the deeper currents of Natural Intelligence. As it becomes grounded its activity becomes more simple, practical and effective, and its creativity is no longer compromised by self-destructiveness. The deep challenge for the mind, is the challenge that human beings most deeply need to rise to. It is the challenge of returning to its source, becoming ‘docked’ in the body: the challenge of embodiment.
Embodiment is not something that can happen in the mind. It happens to the mind. Of course the mind must recognise its need for grounding, for stabilising. It must be willing to consider that it may not be adequate to all the problems that we face, and that it has not entered the natural world by magic. On the basis of that willingness it must then learn to access the other frequencies of Natural Intelligence available to support, ground and nourish it. These frequencies can only be found in the body. They are accessed only by a willingness to feel.
Even though the willingness to feel is always compromised by suffering and pain, it is not and can not ever be eradicated while life continues. The ability to feel is the foundation and the guarantee of life. It can recover its power and reveal its significance by way of feeling the sensations generated by the body. Feeling sensations is what grounds, quietens and ultimately embodies the mind: not ideas and thoughts. The more deeply and clearly sensations are felt the more quiet and less relevant the mind becomes. It loses the false and damaging authority it has been given by our disembodied culture. As it does so it finds itself supported, and actually totally dependent on, deeper frequencies of Natural Intelligence.
As that support expresses itself the mind is able to let go of its need to control everything, and therefore its need to know everything. It feels safe within the ineradicable currents of Natural Intelligence. It finds within, and by way of, the body its Place of Greater Safety, from which it can express its creative genius without self-destructiveness.
To reach your Place of Greater Safety your mind must learn to let go into the presence of Somatic Intelligence expressed in and as the flow of physical sensations. The deep resilience that comes from finding your Place of Greater Safety, can not be called up by thought. The compassion, generosity and solidarity that only feeling totally safe allows can not be created by your mind. They can only be found within your body.
To find and embody the compassion, generosity and solidarity that life, and human society, needs to survive in any recognisable form, you must let go of the false authority of mind. To find the reliable authority of Natural Intelligence you need to ground not just your mind, but your life, in your body. You need to become intimate with sensation. While this depends on your willingness to feel, it can be undone by your ability to think, and even your ability speak. To the extent that you are entranced by the power and poetry, the insight and elegance of thoughts, words, ideals and ideologies you will think and act as if you do not need anything else. You will continue to think and act dis-satisfyingly and destructively.
To ground your mind in your body you need to become intimate with sensation. To ground your life and relationships in Natural Intelligence you need to develop a new vocabulary for both thinking and talking. This vocabulary must be somatic, concrete, direct and simple. It must reflect and express your immediate experience, most of which takes place in, and all of which depends upon, your body. This vocabulary can not be invented by your mind. It can only be learned by your mind, from your body. This learning takes place through the habit of feeling sensations.
As feeling sensations becomes the default mode of your experience and life, your mind becomes embodied. As your mind becomes embodied its vocabulary becomes more somatic, concrete and simple. As your thinking and speaking become more somatic your mind becomes more embodied. As you become more embodied you become more concrete, direct and honest in your communication, in your relationships. You are nourished and uplifted by a self reinforcing cycle of embodiment, within which both mind and body are flowing in harmony.
You can support this cycle directly from your mind, by learning to speak from your body. The art of Somatic Communication not only allows you to be more honest, open and intimate in your relationships, it also grounds the intelligence of your mind through the intelligence of your body.
When you feel out of sorts you do not tell yourself that your “nervous system is de-regulated”. You do not tell yourself that you are “out of alignment with the universe”. You tell yourself that you “feel like shit”. Or you “feel exhausted, tense and irritable”. When somebody dies you don’t tell your friends that they “passed on” or “passed away”. You tell them that they “died”.
For this to happen you need to let go of communicating from and through information and knowledge. Tell me what you are actually feeling, not what you know about neurology and psychology, and i will understand and know you better.
As i know very well what it feels like to be human i will feel safer with you speaking from your body, than if your words speak mostly of what you know, believe and think, which i may neither understand nor relate to. Developing the art of Somatic Communication, of speaking from your body, can go a long way to embodying your mind. It can go a long way to your feeling safer and more satisfied in your life and your relationships. It can help you to find your Place of Greater Safety, from which you can live with generosity, compassion and solidarity.
While there are many who would disagree, it is clear to me from my experience and work that first and foremost each human being is a spiritual being. Of course our spirituality is clothed in our biology, and that is why so many believe that a human being is exclusively a biological being. For me this is not only not the case, but a false dilemma. As, for me, our biology is an expression of our spirituality.
This, for me, is the case for all animals, insects and living organisms. I give no special spiritual status to human beings,
while of course recognising the fertile sophistication of our biology. Not least in the unique richness of our neurology
and the perceptual and cognitive possibilities that it offers us.
As biological beings we have many needs. Not only physical, but psychological, emotional, social needs. We can satisfy none of these needs alone, even if we can satisfy many of them without direct human interaction.
Some of these needs are survival needs: oxygen, H2O, amino acids, lipids, minerals and vitamins, warmth etc. Some of these are satisfaction or fulfilment needs: company, understanding, love, intimacy, touch etc. Even if all our survival needs are met
we cannot be genuinely happy or satisfied if our other, social, needs are not.
Many people have been experiencing this especially clearly in the last two years, because we are social beings no less than we are spiritual beings in biological expression. So, we have not only biological and social needs, but spiritual need also
Once upon a time, and even still for a very few, human society was very unlike the way it is for us. It was tribal, and deeply embedded in nature. Now the urban nature of contemporary society imposes on most of us a solitude that deeply compromises our social needs, even as we are surrounded by hundreds and thousands of other human beings.
As biological beings we are hard-wired to contain a limited amount of information. Apparently the human brain can only contain detailed information about 150 or so other human beings. That is enough to live in the kind and size of tribes our pre-urban ancestors lived in. This means that if we live in a city or town we are surrounded by strangers about whom we know nothing other than their occasional appearance.
This is is not only a problem for individuals, it is also a problem for the collective. This problem becomes one of regulation, of how people who can not know each other live harmoniously together in large numbers. To this end we not only have laws and regulations, but also moral codes and ethical norms; codes and norms which function more below our awareness than in the plain sight of our understanding. The things that they are designed to make us do and feel are taken to be expressions of our nature whereas in fact they are the result of our social conditioning.
Deep at the heart of our social conditioning is sex. Just as it is deep at the heart of our biology. As social conditioning it becomes also a matter of gender, of differentiated roles that we are given in society. This differentiation of roles may be based on biology but it has been usurped by love of power. In so being it has been institutionalised in the gender inequalities that stratify our world. In this stratification the structural sexism of society is mirrored and supported by the behavioural sexism of individuals. This includes not only how we act, but also how we think and perceive, consciously and unconsciously
Most men and women are of different genders, and more deeply all are different sexes. Both of those differences shape the ways that each of us experience the world. Yet there is much about that experience that we share, even if in ways subtly different because of those differentiations. We are all socially controlled, we are all sexually repressed.
A dark street will rarely feel the same to a man as it will to a woman. A new born baby will usually produce in a woman a depth of tenderness it rarely will in a man. This is as much cultural conditioning as it is also biological differentiation.
Gender and sexual differentiations have long been used to establish power hierarchies in society, at the heart of which is control. The control required to ensure vast numbers of strangers can live together peacefully.
The fundamental institution of control is ownership.
There has never been a time when men have been the property of women. There has never been a time when men have had to promise to obey their wife. Long ago, and rare, are the times that men and women experienced their sexuality equally or equivalently
If a man, even a married man, has many lovers, he is, by his peers at least, admired and envied. If a woman, even an unmarried woman, has many lovers, she is, by almost everyone, despised and condemned: sometimes even to death by stoning.
So, even though the social control required of urban society demands the control, regulation and repression of human sexuality in general, the demands of hierarchical implementation of that control repress, regulate and control female sexuality much more viciously. So it is that while both men and women are regulated and normalised into sexual insensibility, men are allowed to more fully experience and express sexual desire. While women, for whom by virtue of child-bearing, sex is far deeper and more significant, are left to pretend that sex is not as important as it is.
So we have the myth that women need an emotional connection before they can be sexual, and men don’t. Whereas the real truth is that both just need alcohol, or anything else that will deaden or dampen their sensitivities. Because to be genuinely, honestly, sexual, requires an openness and intimacy which are as intimidating as they are rewarding in equal measure.
At the same time as urban living compromises our social needs
it compromises our spiritual need.
This need is very simple, but very very powerful. Yet within the constraints of urban living it is more deeply repressed than our sexuality
It is the need to give without demand.
Giving within exchange is a social need that does not provide us with that which giving without demand does; which is the deep, nourishing satisfaction of spiritual fulfilment. This has little or nothing to do with religious ritual or belief.
Giving without demand is love: not romantic, parental or filial love, but pure, unconditional, spiritual love.
The repression of our spiritual need to give compromises our willingness and ability to truly love socially. Love is reduced to the contractual fulfilment of our social needs and biological desires.
Within the gendered differentiations of human sexuality everybody is suffering sexually, almost everybody is living without love. For this to change you need not only to 'own' your sexual nature fully. You need also to 'own' your spiritual nature. You can do both, simultaneously, simply by becoming intimate with your own presence. Intimate enough for the depths and subtleties of your nature as a human being to reveal and begin to express themselves into your life.
Then there will no longer be conflict between your spirituality and sexuality. Nor will there need to be conflict between you and any different gender, nor you and the opposite sex.
Sometimes, no doubt, you wake up in the morning feeling vulnerable. Perhaps it is clear why that is. Perhaps not. Perhaps it falls upon you as you slip towards sleep, or somewhere in between. Of course you do. To be human is to be vulnerable: very vulnerable.
You have neither armour, nor built-in weaponry. You are neither very fast nor very strong. Neither fast enough to outrun a lion, nor strong enough to wrestle a wild boar. You are very, very dextrous, but not very agile.
Your strengths are in your brain. Especially the parts that allow you to represent, imagine and communicate. Our strength lies in each other.
It is with each other, through each other, for each other that our remarkable intelligence evolved. You have had many ancestors: most not human. Your distant human ancestors needed each other in ways that may not be so obvious now. Yet we depend upon each other still. No human being can survive alone for long.
To be human is to have many needs. You need so many different nutrients, as do all animals. You need a regular supply of oxygen and water, as do all living creatures. You need shelter from extremes of heat and cold, like all mammals. Yet we have other needs that few mammals, less animals and even less living creatures need.
To be human is to be the most needy form that life has ever taken.
You are very, very needy. No matter how powerful you are. No matter how wealthy you are. No matter how famous you are. No matter how succesful you are. You need so many things.
You need to be alone and you need reliable friends. You need silence and solitude. You need to be understood, seen, recognised. You need to be able to express your uniqueness. You need to be touched, and you need to touch. You need to be loved and you need to love.
All these needs make you vulnerable. You know that. You feel that. You are always looking for more reassurance: another friendship, another kiss, another credential, another achievement.
No matter how many friends you have, how much you have learned, done, achieved or created: you want more. You need more. Not because you are neurotic. Not because you are spoiled. Not because you have a narcissistic sense of entitlement. You continuously need more because you are a human being. It is because you are a bipedal mammal with a massive brain that you are so needy.
You have so many needs: biological needs, sexual needs, social needs. Some of these needs are so pressing that you can go a long time without noticing them being fulfilled. Such as your need for oxygen. Some of these needs are more subtle. Your cells do not die if they are not fulfilled. Such as your need to be understood or to touch. All these needs make you very vulnerable.
Yet you have one more need that may be both more subtle and more pressing than all the others. A need that in not being fulfilled prevents you from being happy. No matter how many friends you have, how much you have learned, done, achieved or created.
This is the need to love. Not romantic love, sexual love, familial love. Although it may encompass any or all of those. This love is simply the need to give yourself. To give your time, attention, energy to others. To other people, other creatures, other beings.
To love freely and fully is your deepest need. It arises not from your biology, but your spirituality.
Here lies the beautiful paradox of human nature. Your biological needs are expressions, embodiments of your vulnerability. Your spiritual neediness is an expression of your invulnerability.
Can you remember going to sleep with no responsibility, no obligation left undone? Perhaps in your childhood. Perhaps last week. Can you remember going to sleep like that knowing that in the morning you had no responsibility, no obligation awaiting you?
I hope you can. It may have been a long time ago, before you became an engineer, mother, lawyer, father, chef, teacher, banker, nurse. It may have been when the uniforms you wore were only for play.
You know that your social identity comes with a uniform. Does a rapper dress like an investment banker? Does a cavalier entrepreneur dress like a tramp? When you go to work, even if only online, you put on your uniform.
Yet your uniform is more tham clothing and the style and values they display. It goes deeper than that.
When asked what you do, what do you say? Do you say: “i breathe a lot”? Do you say: “i love as much as possible”? Do you say: “i worry about the future”?
Usually you allow yourself to defined by your social identity. You filter out your emotions, expectation, hopes and dreams. All of which lie beneath your social identity.
Yet you go deeper than your emotions, expectation, hopes and dreams.
Remember those mornings you woke to no responsibility, no obligation? Perhaps it was a summer’s day, light clouds in a sunlit sky, birds were singing outside your open window, warm air billowing across your cheeks. Before you put on the clothes you wear when you have no responsibilities, no obligations, you will have put on your psychological clothes.
The psychological clothes of a son, brother and father are different, very different from those of a daughter, sister, mother. The psychological clothes of a teenager are different from those of a septagenerian. The psychological clothes of a wealthy, white businessman are different from those of an impoverished darker skinned zero-contract worker.
Have you ever been truly naked? Without your psychological clothes as well as your social clothes?
Yes, you have. Not only as an infant. On those blissful summer mornings when you awoke to no responsibility, no obligation you will have had a moment of complete nakedness. A moment of just enjoying the dappling sensations on your skin, the seeping warmth in your bones, the music of birdsong in your ears.
Of course, very quickly you will have put on your clothes, your psychological clothes. You will have remembered the implications of your age, your gender, even the social standing of your family. You will even eventually have picked up and put on your name.
Yet lying there in the reverberate stillness of your summer morning, you had no name. You needed no name. You had no identity. You needed no identity.
Your name, and all that goes with it of your social identity, is for others, not for you. You do not need a name to recognise yourself, to know yourself.
You may have woken up to many blissful summer mornings, without any need for identity, nor name. Yet i am sure you were never mistaken about who was waking up. I am sure you never wondered if it were your brother or your sister in your bed enjoying the birdsong.
You don’t need a name, nor an identity, to know who you are. To know that it is you that is present. To know that it is you who is feeling, smelling, hearing, tasting, enjoying.
Who is this you? Who is this that needs not clothes, nor identity nor name? Who is this you that has always been present in your life through all of its changes? Who is this you that has always remained unchanging even as all your beliefs, desires, hopes, dreams, expectations, memories, values, friends and knowledge constantly changed?
This that you most deeply are. This that you have always been. This that you have neither knowledge nor memory of being without. This that has never abandoned nor rejected you is as elusive to understanding as it is consistent to experience.
Yet it is what you most truly are. It is what i most deeply am.
To you i may be white, male blogger, a somatic educator, writer, poet. To you i may be Godfrey.
Yet for me, to me, i am only that: me. I am not Godfrey to myself. Only to others. To myself i am what is looking when i see. What has always been looking through these eyes, whether bright from mountain air, or blurry from whiskey. To myself i am what is listening through these ears whatever they may be hearing.
To me, i am not what i see, hear, feel, experience, know, believe, remember. These are only passers by. Though you may identify me by them.
I know that my DNA put limits on my height, set the colour of my eyes and skin, the span of my reach. I know that it specified the particularities underlying my social identity: the limits and potentials that my experience fleshed out. I know that Godfrey one day will die. My DNA will dissolve back into the matrix.
I know that my biology is vulnerable. I know that it has its limits, its weaknesses, its endless needs. I feel its limits, its limitations, its neediness every day.
I can lie in the grass by the river, no obligation calling me, with neither identity nor name to burden me. Then what i am, what i know myself to be, what i have always known myself to be is without clothing of any kind. I am not Caucasian. I am not male. I am not even human.
I am simply Consciousness.
Consciousness becoming aware through my eyes and my ears, my ability to feel. As the sights, sounds and sensations coalsece into my experience of the world i have no need of identity. As the world of continuous change unfolds around and even within my body the changeless is what i most deeply, clearly and constantly am.
This unchanging ‘me’, has experienced every event of my life. It has never changed even as everything around it is contincuously changing. I am this changelessness much more deeply and truly than i am any of my posessions, credentials, achievements, memories, hopes, dreams and aspirations.
Knowing this my biological vulnerabilities feel less compelling, less significant. I know that what i most clearly know myself to be has never changed. None of the external changes of my life have changed it. It has always been present. While it experieces and knows change, it does not ever change. Who i am is always irrevocably me in its changelessness.
In this changeless presence is my invulnerability. Nothing about it speaks of endings nor beginnings. In the light of this, for me, indubitable invulnerability, my vulnerabilities no longer have the power to torment me.
I know that calamity, catastrophe is coming. While i make my preparations i am neither afraid, nor anxious. For i know, with more certainty than i know that the sun is not going around the earth, that although Godfrey was born and must die; I was never born, will never die.
Here we are just over the threshold of the 21st Century. Here we all are facing a crisis of intimidating proportions. This crisis has been a long time coming, just as its coming has long been denied. Nevertheless this blog will be a response to that crisis that is as optimistic as it is even realistic.
It will not offer external remedies nor solutions. They are not so hard to see and find. Rather it will aim to inspire you to look again within. To look so deeply and so relentlessly that a shift might take place in your attitudes, your orientations and even your actions. A shift that will come not from me, not from my words, but from you, from your own inner experience.
For this blog will present a very specific perspective on human nature. One derived from a lifetime’s digging at the roots of human experience. This is a perspective that runs through Mother Nature to Human Nature. A perspective informed by deep and sustained intimacy with human experience. Intimacy with the presence and activity of the body. Intimacy with the presence and activity of mind. Intimacy with the presence and activity of others: human and otherwise. An intimacy that generates a Radical Ecology.
Human nature is not something we need learn about from academics, philosophers or any kind of teacher. It is here for us to explore directly ourselves. May this blog inspire you to turn your irrepressible curiosity inwards, upon your own experience, towards your own nature. Not the content of your experience, but its nature.
So that perhaps within the particularities of your personal experience as a human being, you may encounter the deep roots that we all have in common. Some depths of which we have in common with all living creatures, all life. For, whatever our spiritual dimension may imply, we are expressions of nature.
I write these posts, of course, from a position of inescapable, though modifiable, prejudice. Likewise one of unusual privilege. I was born white, male, able bodied into a comfortable, educated English family of Norman descent. My parents made extensive sacrifices to provide me with a sound education and the confidence it can provide.
Nevertheless, whatever your origins, we have as human beings, much more in common than we have distinguishing us. Much of which, even the best of which, we share with all living creatures, even with life itself. This blog is an invitation for you to find that for yourself.
This was first written on 21/07/2021
While trauma has become the lens through which many people makes sense of human behaviour and experience it is, in itself, a certain type of debilitating experience, loosely related to certain types of events. If it is traumatising to a woman to have an uninvited male hand placed on the knee, then it is more traumatising still to be born, go to school, be continually rejected sexually as a teenager, and not least to be subject to the institutionalisation of sexual shame and free will. However this elasticity simply renders the concept of trauma almost meaningless, while doing nothing to help people assimilate deeply wounding events such as violent rape, surviving an otherwise fatal car accident or being beaten with a weapon by agents of the state, while belittling their experience by clumsy and insensitive association.
Trauma is a psychosomatic condition that you can be left with as a result of something that is no longer happening.
The effect of a specific event is determined in part by the individual psychology and social relationships of the participants, and what they experience immediately afterwards. What is a traumatic event for you, is not necessarily a traumatic event for me. I have been threatened and attacked by strangers, beaten by police, arrested at machine-gun-point, looked into the frightened eyes of a teenager with his finger on the trigger of the weapon he held against my forehead, convicted of crimes i did not commit, serially institutionalised, sexually assaulted by friends, prison inmates and police officers, raped, held a dying child of mine in my hands, while my appetite for life, risk and the unknown remained and remains undiminished.
The biggest problem in resolving trauma, is the reason resolution is required in the first place: disembodiment. Any event that is threatening, or even apparently so, can be met and dealt with, or it can produce a dissociation response that obstructs the free flow of Natural Intelligence. This response can be anything from denial to total freeze. Mind turns away from the threat, but body is shocked into a specific neuromuscular constriction. Unable to safely respond the body becomes locked in a psycho-somatic pattern of defensiveness. This defensiveness then colours all future experience, not only those that resonate with the originating threat.
Although trauma always has its somatic imprint, it originates within dissociation from a painful event. This dissociation is a moment of disembodiment. One that takes place even as the traumatising event becomes debilitatingly embodied as muscular tension. While disembodiment can be a momentary event, it can also become a state of being.
There is much more to disembodiment than being out of touch with your body. It means living principally from and in cognitive intelligence, the story telling genius of mind. The ability to think is given dominion over the ability to feel. Shared ideas are given more authority than personal experience.
Disembodiment insulates people from their inner compass, out of touch with the Intelligence and Wisdom of their body. This creates an ongoing anxiety so deep and so common that it functions below the threshold of conscious awareness and social convention. Unable to locate a sense of safety within, people are looking for safety to the accepted and acceptable. They are at the mercy of the natural instability of mind: their own and the collective. They displace their helplessness into the herd. Not only by participating in relentless consumerism, but by colluding with authoritarianism, extending from the arrogance of the professionally qualified to the hypocrisy of those that govern.
Disembodiment is expressed through and supported by false and constraining ideas about satisfaction, happiness and success that are inextricably linked to the consumption of distracting experiences, compensatory gadgets and mood altering chemicals. While disembodiment satisfies itself with the virtual, it is driven by the conceptual. This leaves people satisfied enough by the idea of something to not look for the experience to which the idea points. Thinking and talking about compassion, solidarity, enlightenment, wholeness become substitutes for experiencing them.
Hidden within this is the fallacy that conceptual understanding is knowledge. This fallacy allows people to believe that psychotherapy has been successful because they can conceptualise and explain their sense of un-ease. The explanation is an evasion mechanism, that displaces awareness from facing the issue: disembodiment, which contains a hidden alienation from Natural Intelligence. The same can be said about trauma.
How do we become whole, when we do not know what wholeness is? How can we experience wholeness when we feel broken? Is there something that we can fix, and when fixed will allow us to feel whole? I have been answering these questions with Somatic Methodologies of Intimacy for over thirty years. Methodologies that invite the left over traces from unresolved past experience to release by way of the vulnerability of honest and open intimacy. These methodologies are based on the understanding that the accessibility of wholeness is not dependent on information, skill, understanding or intention; and that the experience of wholeness is prevented by the effort to achieve it.
Trauma has two fundamental aspects: the somatic imprint left over from unresolved past experience that constrains both action and perception; and the stories with which they are associated. These stories, including explanations of cause and effect, however insightful, function as displacement techniques. It is the activation of these stories that creates resistance and panic. Any sensori-motor pattern, however restricted, deep or frozen is signalled by sensations. While these sensations may be unpleasant they are pale shadows of the resisted sensations that put them there. Feeling them is not re-traumatising, dramatising them is not either, though it is surely reinforcing.
To remember being hit by a car is only symbolically like being hit by a car. One can kill you, the other can not. This blurring of the distinction between the experiential and the imaginable is one more example of the destructiveness of disembodied mind running away with itself.
Trauma is not really the problem that it is often taken to be. We have all been traumatised, although some more violently than others. Being traumatised does not prevent you from experiencing wholeness. Nor does it prevent you from completely letting go of defensive somatic imprinting. This is why trauma can lead to substance addiction for so many. Disembodiment is the problem; and it is not so difficult to reverse. Not by rectification or compensation techniques. Not by words however elegant, insightful or relevant. But by experience: deep and ongoing experience of somatic intimacy.
The fact that everyone carries deep wounds, and is constrained by sensori-motor defences, means that somatic intimacy needs to be guided with understanding, compassion and sensitivity. Guidance and support must be given on the basis of a clear understanding of human nature and its vulnerabilities, and human intelligence and its source. It is not enough to care, you have to know how to take care.
To know how to take care of wounded human beings you have to understand how the body learns and unlearns, and how mind does. You have to guide people experiential step by sensitive step. People cannot learn to be sensitive dancing to music or running. Nor can they learn to access Natural Intelligence if they are prompted to reinforce the false authority of mind, by immersing themselves in elegant ideas and compelling concepts.
We simply need to recover our willingness to feel. This will not come from understanding our unwillingness to feel and its origins. It comes only from learning that it is safe to feel more. This learning can only come from experience. It can only come sensitive step by experiential step. These steps need to be based on how the body learns and unlearns, and how mind does. They need to support body and mind in developing new perceptual and behavioural pathways that become stable and deep enough to replace the old. This is not so hard to do.
Healing trauma, if such a concept is even valid, only requires letting go into the power of Natural Intelligence, and its innate momentum towards wholeness. This letting go can not be imposed. It comes naturally as the willingness to feel deepens. As it does the ability to feel is released and able to fulfil its natural momentum towards wholeness. It is in your ability to feel, not your ability to think nor ability to act, that Natural Intelligence most directly and potently expresses itself, and its momentum towards wholeness. As long as you are being breathed Natural Intelligence is available. Accessing that intelligence is the challenge that is not being met.
When you don’t know where the light switch is, your flounder in the dark. So it must be with all attempts to understand and support human psychology and behaviour that do not take into account the nature and significance of Natural Intelligence. At the same time the inadequacy of the mechanical materialist model of life to human behaviour and psychology is incoherently complemented by idealist assumptions about intention, volition and intelligence which have no basis in human nature. Yet even though totally speculative and unsubstantiated, they underpin the ‘official’ conversation about wellness, wholeness, therapy and trauma.
False assumptions about human nature, how people perceive and learn, the power of intention, the ability to choose, the significance of consciousness, habit and circumstance have led to an overview of health, disability and trauma within which the ability to think is not only running away with itself. In doing so it makes false claims of ascendancy and ownership over the ability to feel, marginalising it. While at the same time the boundaries of trauma are continuously extended to the point of meaninglessness, simply because the whole project is driven by a limited understanding of human nature and intelligence, and what it means to be healthy.
“Somatic Therapy” and “Trauma Therapy” as pop-cultural phenomena are specialised expressions of the “damage-fix” culture spawned by the collective mind running away from the body. One that needs to continuously generate new theories and new methodologies to compensate for and replace their failed predecessors. This is not happening in isolation. It is happening within a broader culture of ‘progress’ within which the solution to all problems are based on their cause: disembodied mind, alienated from nature and blind to Natural Intelligence. The ‘solution’ to the destructiveness of technology is more technology. The ‘solution’ to illness and disease is to suppress symptoms with surgery or pharmaceutical chemicals. The ‘solution’ to pollution is to consume differently.
As this madness creates ever more deepening alienation and marginalisation, a panicked reaction of “Inclusivity Culture” has established itself, while contributing further to alienation, isolation and deprivation. “Inclusivity Culture” is continuously expanding the boundaries of unacceptable behaviour, so that the solution to racism is to criminalise opinion, the solution to gender dynamics is to outlaw gender dynamics, and the solution to differences is to insist that there aren’t any.
This culture of ‘inclusivity’, which continuously expands the boundaries of unacceptable behaviour, may be designed to protect the vulnerable, but actually undermines the experience and vulnerability of those who have experienced genuine trauma. It is a culture that is based on fear. At the surface, this fear may be of professional incompetence or misconduct, but its roots run damagingly deeper. They are embedded in our cultural disembodiment within which imagination and reason have lost their grounding in the embodied domain of direct somatic experience. This disembodiment generates an ongoing unconscious anxiety within which any perceived problem is responded to without reference to the nature of human intelligence, and little or no understanding of the ‘relationship’ between body and mind. Instead the false authority of mind is left to run away with itself with new theories based on the old assumptions; new techniques based on the new theories; new problems created by the new techniques.
’Trauma Culture’ runs the risk of becoming a land of make-believe within which almost all psychological suffering is categorised as trauma, and most unpleasant experiences as traumatic and traumatising. This is a very similar trajectory to that taken by psychoanalysis, within which every boy wants to kill his father and fuck his mother. For the words “trauma”, “traumatic” and ’traumatising” to retain significant meaning they need to have a clear, consistent, limited definition. This is not going to happen. It has already happened, and has been made irrelevant by the paranoid impulse of “inclusivity”, and its disembodied assumptions about human nature, experience and behaviour. For those assumptions to define the norms of human behaviour or the protocols of healing would leave us all clutching at stars and chasing rainbows forever.
Obsessed as everybody is with the obvious, quantifiable and mappable, the significance of the subtle, unquantifiable and un-mappable has been disastrously lost to us all. So it is that human beings relate to each other in and from an ignorance that binds us all in a snowballing momentum of symptomania. While from the calm and spacious depths of Natural Intelligence, the quantifiable and mappable constitute the rippling waves at the surface of a stable, vital ocean. Yes, this shallow surface is where we choose, struggle and suffer. But it we look to it alone for solutions, this suffering will continue.
There is a wisdom within each one of us. This is not myth, nor metaphor. This wisdom is orchestrated through and by the body, but does not originate there. It has no origin. It can not be located, quantified nor mapped. It is not a passive wisdom, it is the power that creates and sustains life. It is the source of all insight and genius, all wholeness and healing. It is the Natural Intelligence that underlies and expresses itself through the intelligence of both body and mind, most pertinently as the innate momentum towards wholeness. Putting people in touch with this momentum is not so hard. Familiarising them with it a little more so. Their staying in touch with it is the challenge. This is a matter of circumstance, lifestyle and support.
The roots of self-destruction are not as deep as they seem. They flourish in the tangle of our biological and social vulnerabilities, and they originate there. They neither extend into nor compromise the stability and invulnerability of Natural Intelligence. This invulnerability contains, supports and mitigates our biological vulnerability and its troubles. Yet we have become so alienated from it that we neither clearly recognise, nor understand, its presence. If we are really interested in wholeness we have to become intimate with the Natural Intelligence that we most deeply are. This does not require the erasure of our past, nor the wounds by which it may have constricted us. It requires only a willingness to feel. This willingness can not be commanded. It can only be invited. Not so hard to do.
Our wounds only appear deep from the surface. Those who pride themselves in being deep are usually only scrabbling under the surface, looking back up at it. They see what those who look down from above don’t see, but they are still looking at the surface, the superficial. This is almost inevitable as it is only at the surface that anything can be meaningfully quantified or mapped. Yet there is more to life than what mind can make of it with its names and labels, categories, distinctions and divisions.
Once you stop struggling with your wounds, and allow your deeper intelligence to take you, they lose their power. They no longer seduce you into thinking that you can or need to get rid of them. The past can never be erased. It can only be contextualised. We are all fucked up on the surface, and we will all remain that way. Yet if we are able to see how small a part our fucked-up-ness actually plays in the unquantifiable vastness of our being, we can find the way to soften and contextualise it within the richness of our deeper invulnerability and its loving generosities. That way is somatic intimacy. A way that flows without the strategies and intentions of mind, through your willingness to feel into the deep wisdom and power of Natural Intelligence.
Defining yourself, and your capabilities, by your trauma is to infantilise yourself and remain in a state of external dependency. You may be anxious, guarded, ill at ease, but you are no less the compression of intelligence that you were when born, albeit functioning less fluidly. That fluidity can easily be recovered through commitment to Somatic Intimacy that deepens your willingness to feel. It will not come from hope, nor from the compassion and wisdom of others. It can only come from your own ability to feel being released, little by little, sensation by sensation, from its learned captivity.
This was first written on the 2/07/21
It’s really not so hard to see why the “wellness industry” is having a field day. Remarkable though the discoveries underlying modern medicine may be, their application has been a barely qualified failure in terms of human health and well-being. This is not to discount nor disparage the life-saving powers of surgeons, antibiotics and life-support technologies. Yet, ill-health, fatigue, chronic pain, depression, anxiety and debilitating diseases such as heart and auto-immune diseases, diabetes and cancer are more than common place. One, at least, is, or will be, the inevitable lot of almost anyone alive today. Not to mention debility or death by virus or vaccine. Controlling or suppressing symptoms may make you feel better, but it does not generate health. It merely masks the underlying processes of dis-ease, while leaving their causes in place. So, it should be no surprise that so many seek help outside the authoritative institutions of modern medicine.
You, yourself, nor anybody that you know or have heard of, are a statistic. You are a unique, laughing, crying, living and dying conscious, mobile and thoughtful organism. You, i am sure, do not want to be one of the mortality statistics attached to any form of modern medicine. Nor would you mind, i am sure, were you, after ingesting herbal or homeopathic remedies or hosting needles, to find yourself recovered of persistent and debilitating symptoms. Even if you had not participated in a controlled, double-blind study, and your well being, or survival, were ‘merely’ anecdotal. So, again, it should be no surprise that so many people are seeking help outside the medical profession.
The impulse to submit to external authority may be strong. Yet so also is the impulse towards wholeness. The former tends to exert itself in conditions and times of uncertainty and vulnerability: times like these. Yet the latter remains. However, the rush to ‘alternative medicines’ is no less an expression of submission to external authority than automatically subscribing to the, inconsistent and often contradictory, recommendations of the medical profession. It may comfort itself with vocabularies of hope and ideologies of wholeness, while it remains one more anxious reaction of a disembodied mind, chronically divorced from the experience of wholeness.
Most of the wellness industry is simply monetised talk. This is neither to discount nor disparage the power of words, nor of the placebo effect. Nevertheless talking or thinking, or even fasting, your way out of cancer or a stroke is, surely, one hope too far. While eliminating their more obvious symptoms with surgery or drugs will return you neither to health, nor wholeness.
Nevertheless your body does not exist in isolation. It is a part of the natural world. Your body is nature. Through and as your body you most deeply know, and most directly are, the natural world. You are not a machine. You have neither been designed nor manufactured by human ingenuity. Your body is not helpless; it is a conscious and mobile expression of the power that has driven life, evolution, for billions of years: Natural Intelligence. This intelligence, the Intelligence of Nature, is compressed, as DNA, in your every cell. It is active in every cell that is not yet dead. You are intelligence before you are an organism, before you are tissues, before you are cells, before you were alive.
This intelligence does more than keep you breathing, and supplied with the nutrients it extracts from your food. It also, amongst so many other things, evaluates and responds to external organisms so as to maintain equilibrium, to keep you alive. This natural, cellular , genetic, intelligence, functioning as your immune system, is directed towards your well being. Its primary function is to maintain and, where necessary, re-establish integrity, wholeness.
This intelligence does not exist in isolation. It is a part of the natural world. It has evolved through millions, billions of trials and errors, albeit unsupported by control groups and double-blinds. It is not random. The ability of your body to heal a graze or a cut, to grow back bone, is not luck or chance. It is science: biological science, biological medicine. This medicine, this science is practiced by the natural intelligence that you most deeply are. An intelligence that has evolved through the billion year dance of organism and environment. To be genuinely healthy, at ease in your body, and peaceful in your mind, you must look beyond the artifice of human inventiveness. You must look to Nature. You must make your peace with the natural world.
This is old news. Your grandmother, and hers too, could have told you that the first line of defence against disease is adequate rest, movement, fresh air and sunlight, along with a nourishing diet and meaningful activity. This is no less true for not having been discovered in a man made laboratory, through the painstaking protocols of the scientific method. This simple, truthful and effective regime has arisen within the laboratory of life. A laboratory wherein so many are proving that to become dependent on man-made chemicals is not only to destroy the natural world, but to compromise the integrity of your own organism.
Of course you live, breathe and eat in a man-made world. One which is toxic from the air that you breathe to the water that you drink and wash with. Nevertheless if you have the leisure and security to be reading these words, then you surely have the means to access your own Natural Intelligence. When you know, or even simply suspect, that the ingestion of chemicals will neither guarantee, nor return you to, health and well-being, the intelligence that you are may be your only reliable resource. You may not be able to make every healthy choice that you would like to, but you surely can make some. You are the front-line of your health. What you eat, how much sleep, fresh air, sunlight you get, how active and engaged you are, all affect your health, your ability to resist dis-ease.
What you see unfolding all around you is only superficially a viral pandemic. More deeply, and more tellingly, it is an epidemic of man-made chemicals: from agricultural technologies, industrial waste, pharmaceutical medicine, fossil fuel combustion. This epidemic will not be undone by more, or more sophisticated, chemicals, or delivery systems. Nor will it be undone by the anxious hope and wishful thinking that drive the self-deception at the heart of the ‘wellness industry’. It can only be undone by way of the organism/environment symbiosis whereby Natural Intelligence has brought life from single cells to the cataclysmic tragedy of human hubris. It can only be done by taking care of Nature, within you as well as all around you.
This was first uploaded to a blog on 21/03/2021
is no extra
on this stage of life
no matter how misunderstood, maligned
it flows through the epicentre of humanity
back through the ejaculate mists of your generation
parents, grandparents, great grandparents
back and back and back
through couples and couplings
that predate both history and humanity
in immeasurable sexual continuity
sex is sex is life
it is never only sex
although it can be just
sex always comes as something
or with something
often it comes with alcohol
sometimes it comes with drugs
money, violence, contempt and with heartless control
but when these legal tenders are conspicuously absent
what then remains is sex
nothing to twist it with or for
desire, pleasure and corporeal fulfilment
pure sex, just sex
is both a giving and a receiving
a celebration of life’s polarities in
sensitivity, honesty, openness, intimacy and generosity
the hidden gates through which the fire of life flows
modulated apertures through which asking is answered
listening hears, looking sees
pure sex, just sex
can take you in deeper
than any imaginable outcome
deeper even than your biology
to the cool incandescence of love
that holds you
even where your biology falters and fails
to the love that in endlessly pouring inwards, leaping outwards
spawns the drives that fire your outer longings
into unjust manipulative sex
and its immediate disappointments
can you feel it
quivering, shivering deep inside you
can you feel, really feel
the cool soft shimmering fire
deep sifting lava of your core flowing molten silver
from the reaches of space into the limitlessness of time
seeping into eddies and currents of desire, showers of satisfaction
can you feel , can you really feel
can you feel the atmospheric balm
soothing you from every direction
through every cell and tissue
and turning into the chills and fires that drive you
into the relentless arms of sex
sex is never only sex
it is always throbbing with the soft pulse of love
spinning in its in-extricate web
of indeterminable creativity and captivity
when sex is really, simply sex
when sex is just sex
it comes alone
not contractual legalistic love
with its un-keepable terms and manipulative conditions
not even wishful thinking romantic love
with its childish dreams and deadly expectations
but true love, pure love
the readiness to give and give and give
the longing to receive
the willingness to give comfort, pleasure, delight and joy
cascading frequencies of love
in all its nutritious simplicity and varieties
simmering in the steaming caldrons of unfettered touch
where barriers dissolve, boundaries blur
and two aching, quivering bodies
slurp, slip and slide towards oblivion
on the rhythms of desire
the hymns and psalms of pleasure rising
and falling, falling, rising
deeper and higher closer and closer and closer
not two, not one
initiating transparent mind
so bright, so still, so clear
empty of time and outer circumstance
saturated with chemicals of intimacy
through two bodies without distinction
and into the soft warm afterglow
the indescribable exaltations of love
This was first written on 19/02/2021
Leonard Cohen told us over 25 years ago that the future would be “murder”. While this is, of course, poetic metaphor, it seems chillingly apt. Billions have already died because of habitat destruction and collapse, and even though only a small percentage of those have been human, it is more than have died of Covid. Yet this collapse is not going anywhere. While some dream of colonising other planets, others dream of ‘greening’ growth, as if the problem were one that we stumbled into, rather than one we have created through our relentless pursuit of development and growth.
Deniable though it may be in thought and word, we are already in the midst of very real environmental, biological, political, social and economic collapse. Covid is a part of this collapse, and a bit-part at that. This is a collapse that is not going to yield to technology or hope. It is one that we are going to have to live, and die within. However it may turn out.
We can not yet know how much sea levels will rise in the next fifty years. We can only know that they are already rising, and will continue to. We cannot know how much more average global temperatures will rise in the next twenty years. We can only know that they will continue to rise. We cannot know how many more mutating viruses will emerge in the next ten years. We can only know that many more people will die in and before their prime in the years to come.
We do not know, we can not know, if this collapse is the death-knell of the human race. Even as it is the death of so many members of so many species. We do not know how to do what we need to do to prevent that. We can not even know if the very things we do to prevent collapse will accelerate it.
Yet there is more to life than death. There is more to living than survival. There is more to preparing for the future than technology and politics.
Are you ready for the future?
Can anybody be ready for a future that in its details is so unpredictable, while its broader sweep so clearly and chillingly inevitable?
The answer can only be no. If you are looking to your mind for knowledge, understanding, inventions: hope and wishful thinking.
The answer can surely be yes. If you are willing to feel unreservedly the intimidating enormity of your predicament.
It is not enough acknowledge the overwhelming magnitude of what we are living in. You need to feel it. You need to feel it all. Your grief, your anger, your despair, your confusion, your guilt, your doubt, your helplessness, your regret, your resentment. For they are all stirring inside of you. Even if you can not acknowledge the overwhelming enormity of what we are living in. They all inhabit you.
To feel all this pain is the only way that you can prepare for every possible future. To feel it deeply, fully.
This is not so easy to do. Yet it is not only doable but necessary. The first thing you need is a willingness to feel fully. To feel anything. To feel everything. This willingness is inhibited by your personal history of pain, and your biological need to avoid it. Yet you have learned how to contextualise your immediate needs for your long term needs. You get up and go to work when you are exhausted. You can learn to voluntarily feel your pain, when you know that it will make you more resilient.
The second thing you need is the safety to be able to feel. You can not feel deeply if you do not feel safe. The world is an increasingly dangerous place. Yet you can still feel safe within it. Safe enough at least in the moment to allow your pain to rise fully. Knowing that as long as it remains locked inside you it is driving you without your consent.
When the pain of your sadness, anger and despair bubble up to the surface they always come with a story. The power of emotion invests the story with a false authority. Let it speak freely, but knowing that it is only a story. Knowing that it is not telling you the truth. Instead of contradicting, repressing or listening to the story feel the sensations. Within, around and underneath the story you feel bad. You feel unpleasant sensations. Feel those sensations. Allow the story to distract you when it does without concern, but again, feel the sensations. There is no need to hold tight to them. Allow your attention to waver, to wander when it does without concern, but, again, feel the sensations. Feel them as deeply as you can. Let go as much as possible of your desire to be rid of the unpleasantness. Invite your body and mind to relax, to let go into your ability to feel. Become as intimate as possible with your pain. Become as intimate as possible with your ability to feel.
Feel, the sensations. Find, your resilience.
You mind can not do this for you. Give it a break. Feel the sensations. Find the resilience to face the future with courage, compassion and solidarity.
Recorded in January 2020
What makes Embodied Resilience Possible?
There are two fundamental factors that make Embodied Resilience possible. Where Resilience is the ability to absorb and assimilate difficulty without being overwhelmed. And Embodied means it’s actually functioning for you, not just something you are hoping for, dreaming about, talking about, thinking about.
Embodied Resilience doesn’t mean you never feel unsafe, that you never feel threatened, that you never feel helpless, but just that doesn’t overwhelm you. That those experiences don’t determine the nature of your behaviour: so that your behaviour is as much as possible an expression of your deeper nature and its invulnerabilities, rather than of your biological and social natures and their vulnerabilities. Vulnerabilities which you can never escape from.
The first fundamental factor that allows Embodied Resilience is your nature. Not your wealth, not your knowledge, not your skills, but your nature as a spiritual being. Yes you are a biological being. Yes in your biological nature you are a sophisticated organisation of vulnerabilities. But in your spiritual nature you are an expression of invulnerability. Now this is something we can think about, talk about, argue about, justify, explain and rationalise for or against, or it is something we can experience.
So that first factor that makes Embodied Resilience possible is the invulnerability of your spiritual nature. This is actually the context within which the vulnerabilities of your biological nature and its social expressions express themselves so loudly. So loudly perhaps that you don’t even realise that you have a spiritual nature. Perhaps you have been convinced by all of those people who think they know better that you, that you are nothing but a biological being. That therefore you are nothing but extremely vulnerable and it would be foolish to ever feel safe.
However you can experience for yourself that there is more to you than body and mind. You can even experience for yourself that this more, that you can most directly experience as awareness, is not a serendipitous extension or expression of your biology. That it is far more fundamental and therefore potent than that.
This you can experience.
But how can you do that? It is the how you can experience the invulnerability of your spiritual nature that brings us to the second fundamental factor that permits Embodied Resilience to be possible, and that is a willingness to feel.
All of us without exception have been hurt by life, by others and not least by those that we loved and that loved us. This can be quite disturbing: to have such a long history as we all do of pain. And it can disturb us to a point where we can, even if only subconsciously, decide that it’s better to not feel anything so that I don’t have to keep feeling pain.
Without a willingness to feel Embodied Resilience is not possible. Then it’s only an idea, a fantasy, a dream. It is at best an irrelevance and at worst a hindrance: just a seductive concept that bothers you as you try to find out how to get it.
However the source of Embodied Resilience is your nature, and it’s already present. Accessing the invulnerability that is the source of Embodied Resilience depends upon your willingness to feel. This of course includes a willingness to feel tension, discomfort, pain. Not to indulge them but to become intimate with them.
So how do we become intimate with pain, how do we become intimate with pleasure? Well the answer is very simple: by feeling the sensations rather than getting caught in the conceptual elaborations of their imaginable implications. You know how you feel unwelcome, unpleasant sensations in your body sometimes and you end up saying: “I’m all alone, nobody loves me, nobody cares about me”, in response to those sensations. Your mind has run away with itself into its imaginative elaborations.
What this really means is that the possibility of Embodied Resilience depends both on your nature as a spiritual being, and on your willingness to feel.
However, what connects the two together is feeling as deeply and intimately as possible the sensations being generated by your body.
Most people participating in this immersion live in a world where people spend a long time being educated in school, including university. Even if your were studying dance or communications or music technology, the education to which we are all subject is very cerebral, conceptual, academic. We live in this culture that over emphasises the significance of the mind. A culture within which nobody realises that almost all of the problems we face in the 21stcentury have come from the mind: not least its attempts to solve other problems that it already created.
Within that culture and its assumptions, especially its assumptions about intelligence and happiness, it would be considered ludicrous to suggest that feeling sensations could be in any way important, could be anything more than an indulgence.
Yet it is.
You may think that you agree with what I’m saying. It’s very possible that you think that you do. However, if you do, that agreement exists only in the your conscious mind. It does not exist in your subconscious. Therefore it will not express itself into your behaviour. You will still think that if you want to be resilient, if you want to be ok, if you want to be happy, you have to work out with your mind how to do that. You have to work out whom to listen to, what to understand, what to be able to explain to yourself. Down that road there is nothing but insecurity.
Embodied Resilience depends not just on your willingness to feel, but your readiness to put it into action by way of sensations. You must get down and dirty with the sensations being generated by your body. So that within that you are brought deeply into contact with your nature as a spiritual being. As that contact deepens and stabilises the invulnerability and wisdom of your spiritual nature will begin to express themselves into your life. You will no longer need to rely on your mind to bring you home. You will find yourself already home.
This was first written 22/03/2020
I am responding to Jem Bendell’s post about meditation, chanting and prayer. I am responding from my own almost 50 years experience of meditation, both as practitioner and teacher My perspective on meditation rests on many years experience as a member of the Kanzeon Zen Sangha. Yet this perspective has been deeply fertilised by my experience of almost 50 years practicing and teaching Yoga also.
My perspective is that the deep benefit/purpose of meditation is to integrate the intelligence of mind into the intelligence of consciousness. This is certainly what my Zen training brought me to. In my experience of Zen Training there was no conceptualisation about this process. There was however a strong emphasis on letting go of concepts. Any story of any kind, however satisfying, refined or subtle, was always dismissed by my teachers as a distraction.
As yoga takes place in action and meditation in stillness they offer different challenges and gifts. Yet my experience of Zen inspired me to fold its heart into my teaching of yoga. In doing this i came not only to a clearer understanding of yoga and how it works, but also of what was going on in my experience of zen meditation.
In yoga posture practice the first concern must be to protect the bodies vulnerability at the joints. This demands that the practitioner become intimate with the sensations being generated in the tissues within and around the joints. Then it becomes possible to not only ‘hear’ what the body is saying, but respond to it also. That responsiveness provides the protection (ahimsa).
In my latter experience of Zen Training my teachers had only one instruction for me: “do nothing”. At first i simply rejected this out of hand. They kept at it. Eventually i decided to drop my arrogance and see what it might mean. Eventually i found out. Having spent a lot of time and effort using my mind to ‘make’ nothing happen, in the end my mind let go completely of any attempt to make anything happen.
As my mind let go of its intention and efforts i was overwhelmed by an intense pressure in my chest. This pressure seemed to be pressing outwards and inwards at the same time. Its intensity was initially and for quite a while painful. But suddenly the intensity reached a peak pitch and spread and the pain dissolved into a deep, quiet, satisfying delight.
Even though i did not realise it at the time what i had been taken through was an intense experience of physical sensations. So intense that there was no space left for mind to impose itself on what was happening. Instead awareness was taken deeply by the flow of sensation.
In applying “do nothing” to my practice over time something else happened, over and over again. If my mind really did let go of its ability to make things happen i arrived at the same place. A place of clear, calm rapture. This happened no matter the quality of feeling i was experiencing. It was the same for pain in my ankle, pressure in my shinbone, aching in my back, grief, anger, fear.
So, my advice to anyone wanting to ‘deal with’ intense emotions through meditation is simple. Feel the sensations as deeply and clearly as you can. Allow your mind to express its dynamism freely, but invite your mind to let go completely into your deeper ability to feel.
This means no longer paying special attention to the content and activity of your mind. Instead it means just feeling the flow of sensations as continuously and clearly as possible: whatever they may be. It means no longer asking your mind to do anything. Not even to understand: with experience it will understand. Not even to notice anything in particular: what can be known will eventually be known.
Feeling sensations is quite different from noticing them. In noticing there is a gap. This gap can reduce intensity, but it reinforces the split in your experience between the observer and the observed. This split is the foundation of our sense of separateness and the anxiety and aggression it generates. Meditation for daily living must dissolve that split, close that gap: unifying observer and observed, dissolving the distinction between self and other.
If we emphasise our ability to observe or notice the gap our underlying sense of separateness is strengthened. This can lead to chronic detachment. Not only from particular feelings, inspiring us to avoid, displace or repress our anger, grief and fear. It can also detach us from life itself. It can create a deep longing to escape the pressures and responsibilities of daily life and flee to an ashram, monastery or cave.
If we emphasise our ability to feel we will be doing more than quietening mind. Our ability to feel is a remarkable capacity. One that we share, in different ways, with all living beings. What it is that we feel as human beings is excitations in our nerves. Yet we do not feel most of the neurological activity of our bodies.
To feel a sensation three things must be present. The intelligence of the body must be generating neurological activity in the sensory nerves. The intelligence of mind must be recognising that something is happening, even if it does not recognise exactly what. Yet the experience of a sensation also requires awareness.
Awareness is an expression of the intelligence of Consciousness. Awareness functions through different pathways: feeling, smelling, tasting, hearing, seeing and thinking. Thinking, seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, feeling all require the intelligent presence of consciousness. Your ability to feel requires the intelligent presence of consciousness.
Your ability to feel is a direct expression of the intelligence of consciousness. This is not the consciousness of the conscious mind. It is a deeper, more fundamental expression of consciousness. One which we share, in different ways, with all living beings.
By becoming intimate with your ability to feel you are becoming intimate with consciousness. In becoming intimate with the presence of consciousness mind becomes very still, quiet and clear. It is absorbed into the presence of consciousness and its spacious luminosity. The disturbing stories of anger, fear and grief dissolve into that peaceful luminosity. This allows us to act on their underlying cause with a clear, calm mind.
If you are feeling fear, grief, anger, loneliness or anxiety you have many options. Yet, whatever else you do, try feeling the sensations within them as deeply as possible. So deeply that you no longer even know exactly what you are feeling. So deeply that you no longer even know exactly who or what is feeling them. Stay there, being deliciously marinated by the nourishing presence of consciousness. It will make a welcome difference.
This was first written on 8/03/2020
There is in the discourse and institutions of human culture a deeply destructive dogma. That of the “Higher Self” which supposedly inhabits this body for a while. Sometimes known as the “soul”, we are convinced it is the real, meaningful part of us, untouchable by the trials and tragedies of circumstance. Untouched by disease and death. Even when, the story says, it can be stained by sin.
The fact that we are biological beings makes this dogma very tempting. We all know we are going to die. Most of us are going to die too soon, before we are truly ready. We know this. It makes us insecure. It makes us susceptible to well orchestrated superstitions masquerading as divine revelation or spiritual insight.
All of the errors, confusions and tragedies of the worlds of religion, meditation and yoga have their roots in this unsubstantiable dogma. Clearly any belief system that includes a transcendental personal core will generate psychological, technological and social artefacts that bind and distort human intelligence and its longings. Perhaps in the end even destroying the natural world upon which we all depend.
How can we truly love and care for nature if we believe there is something in us, that we really are, better, more valuable and significant than our own natural bodies.
So tenacious and all pervasive is the longing to be free from the inescapable vulnerabilities of our biology that there seems to be no escape from this dogma and its destructiveness. Even for those who recognise its absurdity. Yet escape there is.
It has a clearly delineated path: deep into your body.
This is the fertile soil within which Radical Ecology unfolds. Your body, its vulnerabilities, its dependencies, its intelligence, its richness, its capability, its deeply rooted power. This richness, this power has been sidelined and lost within the slander so relentlessly directed at the body, and thereby at nature.
It is only our alienation from our bodies and their significance that allows us to be bound by doctrines that feed and depend upon our destructiveness. It is only our alienation from our bodies that allows us to see others, to see ‘the other’ as aliens. It is only our alienation from our bodies that allows us to feel threatened by, and so be a threat to, nature.
To become intimate with your own body is to encounter its identity with nature. To become intimate with your body is to encounter your identity with the world. To become intimate with your body is to encounter directly your spiritual nature.
Become intimate with your spiritual nature and the vulnerabilities of your biological nature will lose their power. Become intimate with your spiritual nature by way of your body and the temptation of ‘spiritual’ dogmas will dissolve into the clear light of the natural intelligence that you are.
Human nature is not distinct from Mother Nature. The intelligence that allows you to derive meaning from these words is a natural intelligence. It emerges from, is dependent upon, the sophistication of your biology. It is not a “ghost in the machine”. It is just one among so many expressions of the intelligence that sustains, drives and generates nature. It is not only intelligence that is encoded in your DNA. It is the intelligence of nature. Your DNA is an encoded record of the journey nature took from its opaque beginnings to you.
The easiest and most direct way to recover and embody love and respect for nature is through your body. Become intimate with the remarkable intelligence, power, resilience and wisdom of your body and you will find yourself face to face with intelligence, power, resilience and wisdom of nature. Then it will not be so easy to use your body as an instrument of destruction. Just as it will not be so easy to use your body to harm itself.
This is the way of Radical Ecology. The way that takes you through human nature into Mother Nature by way of intimacy, awe, appreciation and love. Radical ecology is not a discipline. It is a celebration: of Nature in all of its breadth, depth and subtlety: human nature and Mother Nature. Try it.
This was first written on 17/02/2020
We are living in scary times. The familiar and the known are threatened from every side. As the planet heats up exponentially, the soil is losing its fertility. As billions of living creatures are incinerated in wild fires, the insect population is being worse than decimated by chemical agriculture. As trees are demolished at accelerating speed, water is being degraded by the activity of rapidly reproducing human beings. Not to mention financial instability, religious fundamentalism and the rise of fascist populism.
It would seem like we have little choice but to shrivel uptight with anxiety and fear. Or gird ourselves with elaborate denials and hypocritical self deception.
Even if we police our thoughts, and allow others to regulate our information flow, there is more to us than what we think. There is more to being human than what we can do. More fundamental than our ability to act and our ability to think is our capacity to feel.
What we feel is not unlike what we think and do. In that they are based on experience. They all function through the remarkable power of habit. We do not really choose what we think. We think what we think now because of what we have thought before. We can not do something just because we want to. We have to learn to drive, use a computer, climb a tree. We feel what we feel because of what we have felt in the past.
Human experience is a function of our ability to learn. Although based on genetic determinants we have to learn to walk the way that we walk. Although based on inherited capacity we learn to speak the language and the way that we speak it. Although based on the nature and limitations of the human nervous system we all learn to perceive what we become able to perceive. Eskimos see many more shades of white than other humans. Those who grow up in the jungle or forest see flora and fauna that city dwellers can not.
It is hard to look at little babies without responding with warmth and delight. They are so full of joy and love. They can not speak, nor move freely. Yet when they are not in physical need they radiate happiness and trust. This can not be said of many human adults, if any.
This universal transformation from joy to anxiety, from safety to insecurity is no mystery. It is a learning process. A learning process based mainly on experience. We learn to feel unsafe by experiencing being threatened. We learn to mistrust by being neglected, rejected, manipulated, exploited. Not only by strangers, but even and especially by those that we know and love.
It can be unlearned. Not by reading, thinking, talking about it. It can only be unlearned by experience.
A human being is a social being, a tribal being. We need each other. Because we experience neglect, rejection, manipulation and exploitation at the hands of others we feel unsafe. We know how vulnerable we are from long and often bitter experience. To feel safe we need to experience something else. We need to feel that we belong. That we are not alone. That we are supported.
This is definitely possible. Even in these cataclysmic times we can learn to feel safe. Even though we can never know when nor how disaster and death may take us, we can still feel safe in the unpredictability of this world.
There is a place of inviolable safety. It is an unusual place. It can not be found on any map, nor in any diagram. It has no geographical location. It can be found in the city or the desert. It can be found by the old and the young. It can be found by rich and poor, able and disabled. It can be found no matter the colour of your skin, the architecture of your ideologies. It can be found in solitude and it can be found in company.
It is to be found in the heart of human nature.
The heart of human nature is not a place. Yet when it reveals itself you feel completely at home. You feel totally safe. Anxieties and strategies fall away into a peaceful, satisfied silence. There is nothing left to know. There is nothing left to prove. There is nothing left to do. Being is enough. You feel safe. You feel supported. You are home.
This place is easily found. You only need become intimate with your own presence, or that of another. This does not require any technique or action. You do not have to know anything. You do not have to do anything. You only have to feel. To feel as deeply and clearly as possible.
Of course the sensations generated by your body are always changing. Inhalations become exhalations. Air flows create changing stimulations on your skin. Digestion creates changing vibrations, rumblings, circulations. Gravity creates changing pressures and tensions. Plans and regrets rise into awareness. Doubts and anxieties bring changing feelings into your body. It you give them all welcome, if you let them express themselves without indulging them, they will pass.
If you remain quietly within your own presence, or sharing your presence with another, these stimulations will fade. They may continue in the background perhaps, but you will lose interest in them. Instead you will be taken by more subtle currents, flows and rhythms within your own presence. Currents of softness and warmth. Vibrations and pulsations of pleasure. Rhythms of opening and release.
It does not matter what your mind had been doing. If you leave it alone and just feel the simplicity of sensations being generated by your body you will be taken through the anatomical presence and physiological activity of your body. You will be taken into the presence of your spiritual nature. You will be taken through the particulars of your socialisation and biology. You will be taken into the universal presence of the human spirit.
This presence does not belong to any culture or society. It is as universal as DNA. It is with you. It is you.
Sometimes you may be a teacher, nurse, doctor, mechanic, engineer. Sometimes you may be a daughter or son, sister or brother, mother or father, wife or husband. Just as you do not always wear the same clothes, you do not always act and live through the same social persona. We are all continuously changing our psychological and social clothing: in response to changing circumstance.
Whatever the social and psychological clothing you may be wearing you remain present. It is never your daughter or son, sister or brother, mother or father, wife or husband. It is never your best friend. It is always you. It has always been you at the heart of your life. It always will be.
Beneath your social and psychological identities is who you most deeply and continuously are. Who you most clearly know yourself to be. You are only sometimes any particular social role. You are always you. You know this you with a certainty, a clarity that you do not have about any of your social roles.
This you has no distinguishing characteristics. It is neither young nor old, small nor large, wise nor foolish. Yet you know it more intimately than you know anyone or anything. It is you. It has always been you. It has no flavour although you know it better than any taste. It has no scent yet you know it better than any smell. It has no sound but you are more familiar with it than you are with any melody. You know this presence better than you know anything. Yet if your try to speak of it you will likely find yourself floundering.
This presence, this pre-social, pre-cultural you, is not only more familiar to you than anything. It is also more reliable, more consistent than anything else in your life. You have always been you. You have never been anyone else. Even as all your experiences, hopes, memories, skills, knowledge continuously change, this presence and its familiarity never change. It is with you always, even when you don’t notice, without ever changing.
It does not change because it can not change. It can not change because it has not been created. It can not end because it did not begin. Even though most of the time you do not notice it. Even though most of the time you can not experience it. You cannot experience it without a nervous system. You cannot experience it without a brain, a body. You can not experience it in a coma or when you are asleep. Yet it is present. It does not go away. It has never gone away. It can not go away.
This presence, this you, is your spiritual nature. It never goes away. It never changes. It can never change. It will never change.
It is because you know that everything changes that it is so hard for you to feel safe. You know that what is born dies. You know that whatever begins ends. This makes it hard to feel safe. Unless you know something else also.
There is something you know that has never changed. That will never change. That which animates your own life as you. To become deeply familiar with your own unchanging presence is to loosen the grip of the changing. It is to weaken the power of your biological vulnerability. It is to find the presence of invulnerability: spiritual invulnerability.
This invulnerability is always present, always potentially available. To unlock that potential you need only become intimate with your own presence as often as possible. To hang out as deeply as possible within yourself whenever you can. To let go of your social, psychological and biological personae into who, what you most deeply are. Into this presence that is not a thing.
You don’t have to do this alone. You can do it with others: one other or more than one. It doesn’t matter. Whether you are alone or in company just settle into stillness and tune in. Tune in to the sensations being generated by your body. Allow your mind to freely recognise their implications. But invite your mind to relax, to let go, as much as possible into your deeper ability to feel. As distinctions blur and boundaries dissolve you will be taken through the opening spaciousness of your own presence into the peaceful abundance of a formless emptiness. You will feel and find your self at home. At home in your body. At home in your mind. At home in this unstable, crumbling world.
The experience of the changeless is all you need to counterbalance all of the experience that have left you feeling unsafe in this world. For within your experience of the changeless you find indubitably that you are not only a biological being. You are also a spiritual being. In your spirituality you are untouched by change, untarnished by time, untouchable by death.
This was first written on 23/12/2019
An ecological catastrophe of intimidating proportions besets us all. While some may have neither the freedom nor time to take it into account, many are those in denial of it. Those for whom denial is no longer an option are growing in number daily. Honest acknowledgement does not, can not come alone. It necessarily creates a response that arises from deeper than the rational, conscious mind. A response that arises into awareness only when it has space to do so.
This space depends upon more than honest acknowledgement of the immensity of this cataclysm. A cataclysm that has already eradicated many species and habitats, while threatening even more.
This space also depends on a generosity of circumstance: both inner and outer. External circumstance needs to provide both enough time and a sense of safety. The sense of safety almost inevitably includes the company of others who also can see clearly enough what is happening. Yet it also includes an absence of immediate threat.
Internally we need the courage to feel deeply the effects on us of this intensifying catastrophe. We also needs the resources capable of assimilating and integrating these effects: such as panic, grief, anger, despair.
Many approaches to emotional and psychological well being have been explored and developed. Many of them will be able to provide resources for this assimilation. Yet these resources have been developed in response to less intense and less permanent trauma.
What could be more traumatic than the imminent extinction of the species and habitats upon which human life depends?
This is not a trauma that you can put behind you. It is one you must face. Not just once, but continuously. It may not be fully assimilable with the resources currently available. It is a trauma so powerful, do deep, so inescapable that perhaps it demands an approach of a similar magnitude and depth.
Such an approach may be more available than it might seem.
The psychological discoveries and understanding that we today enjoy contain a significant blind spot. This blind spot is the minimising of consciousness in the conversation about human experience, behaviour and intelligence.
Consciousness is the context of all human experience. Without it there can be no experience, no fear, rage nor despair. It is the ground of all understanding and knowledge. Yet it remains a mystery. Some even doubt its existence.
This mystery has often been challenged: by philosophers, by scientists. Yet there is no consensus about the origins, nature and implications of consciousness. There is no similar contention about gravity, light or radio waves. Nor about the origins, nature and implication of lightning and thunder.
Even if all there is to consciousness is conscious awareness, lived experience, this is a significant omission. If we do not understand the ground of human experience, how can we truly understand its inner dynamics? How can we understand the nature and origins of emotion? How can we fruitfully assimilate our response to bio-catastrophe?
While a cat does not talk, and a lizard does not distinguish between Vitamin B12 and Omega 3, they both have awareness. They know when danger is near, and they respond accordingly. They know what to do when hungry or tired. They are not automata, despite so much human hubris to the contrary. Bees have been heard screaming as they burned to death. Plants respond differently to the presence of humans that have damaged them.
In order to understand human emotion we need to understand consciousness, awareness. We need to recognise that conscious thinking is not the only expression of consciousness. So, also, is enjoying Mozart or Led Zeppelin. As is enjoying the taste of caviar or chocolate ice cream.
Although it has subconscious roots, our experience of thinking occurs within the light of conscious awareness. This thinking is the conscious mind. The light which reveals it is awareness. We do not need to think, nor even be able to think, to feel pain: to know that it is pain we are feeling. Awareness is the ground of all our experience, only part of which includes thoughts and thinking.
Without awareness we can not experience despair, grief or anger. Without an understanding of awareness we can not hope to assimilate the potentially overwhelming anger, grief and despair precipitated by ecological catastrophe. If we do not see clearly the distinction and relationship between mind and awareness, it is likely that our attempts at assimilation will be limited.
Such a limitation is not necessary.
If we become intimate enough with our own presence we encounter not only the physical sensations being generated by body and the cognitive interpretations made by mind, but also the luminous, inclusive presence of awareness.
This encounter with the luminous presence of awareness offers insights that can help us to respond internally to ecological catastrophe in a nourishing and healing way.
One thing that we can quickly learn is that the presence of awareness makes a difference.
Become aware of your breathing and it changes. If it were shallow and restricted it will release and deepen. If it were forced and aggressive it will quieten and become more subtle. These changes happen spontaneously in direct response to the presence of awareness. Very often these changes will be reversed when awareness wanders. Only to be re-initiated on its return.
This tendency of awareness to initiate integrity or wholeness can be observed in everyday life. If the bucket you are using to water plants is leaking, your watering will be wasteful of water, energy and time. For it not to be so you need to become aware that it is leaking. As soon as you become aware of it, and not before, you can take steps to conserve your water, and energy: even if at the expense of time.
For the nature and implications of awareness to be well understood a deep and clear intimacy with your own presence is all that is required. Within that clarity you can learn something very valuable about inner intensities such as despair, rage or grief. This learning takes place when we allow ourselves to really feel any emotion.
To really feel an emotion is not so easy. Especially a deep, existential emotion such as ecological despair. It has such overwhelming and irresistible implications that it should be no surprise that we avoid them any way we can.
Perhaps the most common way that we resist feeling our emotions is to talk to ourselves about them. Of course we know how helpful it is to talk to others about them. Nevertheless talking to ourselves about our emotional suffering only too easily becomes an unhealthy excursion into masochism. We also know that denying, repressing and avoiding our feelings is equally unhealthy.
Yet expression and repression are not our only options. There is a third, far more healthy and fruitful option. This is the option of intimacy. To fully feel an emotion is to become intimate with it. To become intimate with it requires both a focussing and a quietening of mind.
All emotions have a sensory base. No matter what twists and turns your mind makes within your sadness, fear or anger there are physical sensations underneath. To become intimate with your emotions means to feel these sensations so deeply and clearly that mind lets go of its interpretations, of its stories. It settles quietly into your deeper ability to feel.
Instead of feeling sadness, despair or rage you will be feeling physical sensations. You will no longer be suffering. You will simply be feeling without any mental elaboration. Your mind will be quiet and satisfied. It has not turned away into any kind of evasion. It has simply become intimate with what actually is.
This is because an emotion has layers. One in the body and many in the mind. The physical layer is the presence of sensations: of heat, cold, pressure, tension, tingling, nausea, heaviness, dizziness, pain. While some of these sensations may be extremely unpleasant, that unpleasantness is a limited, local somatic event. To become overwhelmed by emotion it needs mental layers. The sensations need to be interpreted beyond their simple, somatic implications. Deep suffering, such as despair, anguish, rage and panic are generated in the multilayered elaborations of mind responding to simple sensations.
These layered elaborations only too easily get carried away with themselves. Then what was something very real, very concrete (unpleasant sensations), becomes something fantastical and abstract. It is in those abstract phantasms that most of our suffering lies. If we can strip away those abstract layers of mental interpretation, our suffering peels away also to a manageable core. Then it becomes possible to absorb and assimilate that core.
This does not depend on any special skill or knowledge. It depends only an a willingness to feel. A willingness to feel fully the sensations that are disturbing you. This is the heart and the power of somatic intimacy: the willingness to feel.
Somatic intimacy means becoming intimate with physical sensations. So intimate that all the abstract implications generated by mental interpretation peel away. As mind settles deeply into the presence of sensation it both quietens and clarifies. As mind quietens and clarifies the sensations themselves begin to dissolve. Even unpleasant ones. Eventually even intensely unpleasant ones will dissolve into the clear light of awareness. Their presence has been absorbed, their energy assimilated. This is the nourishing, healing power of awareness expressing itself.
This was first written on 20/11/2019
The vulnerability of our biological nature does not define us. We are also spiritual beings. This does not mean we are made of two different parts, or substances. It means that we experience ourselves in two fundamental, and differing, ways: the outer and the inner, the external and the internal, the visible and the invisible, the material and the spiritual dimensions of our experience, of our nature.
Like all living creatures we are bio-spiritual beings. These two dimensions of our nature are neither separate nor in conflict. Nevertheless so much human suffering, struggle and confusion arises from the differing weight and emphasis we give them in our daily living. We are always driven from within, by what we feel: huger, pain, joy, enthusiasm, curiosity, anxiety, insecurity. Yet we almost always navigate and strategise by the outer, by what we have learned about the world.
This shows itself even in our vocabulary. We have many words for, and can make much finer distinctions amongst, the objects and actions that populate and define the external world. We have a much more limited vocabulary for our inner experience.
Take the phenomenon of consciousness, for example. It is the ground, the root of our lives. Without it we could neither think nor speak about anything. We could not even experience anything. Yet how rich is our vocabulary of consciousness? How many distinctions can we make amongst its properties, its frequencies? What if any is the difference between consciousness and awareness? What is the relationship between intelligence, consciousness and awareness? Our internal vocabulary is so limited that even these questions are not so clear in their meaning as the kinds of difficult questions we ask and answer about the external world.
This leaves us not only ignorant about, but alienated from, our spiritual nature. Yet here it is. It does not go away in our ignorance. It still expresses itself, but not into our conscious understanding and experience. This is a disaster.
It not only leads, by way of good intention and honest aspiration, to the tragedies and terrors of religious fundamentalism, but also bounces off them into denying the existence of the spiritual altogether. Within the materialist fundamentalism of some well educated minds there is actually no such thing as consciousness. In that view consciousness is simply an impression, a delusion generated by neurological sophistication.
So we are left stranded between or amongst the speculative metaphysics of religions and their cultish cousins, and arrogant dogmas of mechanical materialism.
Yet we all experience love. We all know that courage and friendship exist. We experience them. We all know that there is more to life than that which can be measured by technology. We all long for more than our intelligence reveals when it is projected outwards.
When we turn our intelligence in upon itself a new world opens. It is not the world of science, though we can approach it with the scientific spirit. Neither is it the world of which religions usually speak, though it speaks to the longing that underpins religious endeavour.
It is first the world of internal experience. A world in which intelligence encounters not only its own context, but its own functioning. Secondly it is the world of perception, rather than the world of objects and actions. The concrete is replaced by the fluid. The particular is replaced by the general. The local is replaced by the non-local. The stable is replaced by the dynamic. We are no longer in a world of objects and actions. We are in a world of rhythms and vibrations, currents and tides.
Our everyday vocabulary is populated with words derived from our experience of objects and actions. It is inadequate to our inner world. We can not navigate and map it with the same terms and points of reference. We must let go of our need to be right. We must let go even of our ability to be certain. We must relax and let go into the dynamics of change.
Yet if we let go deeply enough we will be taken through the ever changing flow of sensations, perceptions, impressions into their context, their container: the changeless. While everything we are used to naming and describing is continuously changing, the changeless remains. While our experiences, feelings, sensations, thoughts, perceptions come and go, they do so within the continuous presence of awareness.
Even when we are asleep awareness remains. Otherwise how would you be able to wake up when the alarm goes off, when the earthquake cracks and rumbles? The assumption that awareness disappears when we fall asleep is based on the inadequacy of our interior vocabulary. Awareness can be conscious, as it is when you read or hear these words. It can also be subconscious, as when you are woken by a sound or a vibration.
Awareness is the non-negotiable foundation of your experience. Without it you could have no perceptions, thoughts, sensations, feelings, experiences. You would have no life.
Yet how well do you know awareness? How many of its properties can you identify?
Perhaps the most obvious and important functional property of awareness is its ability to reveal, to illuminate. Perhaps its most significant structural property is its changelessness. Everything we know changes, in one way or another. Except for awareness.
There are other structural properties of awareness that are more seductive, delicious and obviously nourishing: spaciousness, love, peace, delight.
Yet the changelessness of awareness is what we most need to become intimate with in the face of the ecological catastrophe that is approaching. This catastrophe, which is already well under way, will challenge our every vulnerability. It is already compromising people’s ability to breathe, drink and eat healthily. Our biological vulnerabilities are going to become more and more obvious, more and more deeply challenged.
If we are not to be overwhelmed by these challenges we need something real and available to offer us courage and resilience. It is in the changelessness of consciousness that this can perhaps most easily and authentically be found.
Don’t waste your time thinking about whether or not this idea fits into your pre-existing belief system. Forget about it, or test it. Try being scientific about it. Take the time to get to know your own nature. Take the time to become intimate enough with your own presence that the presence of Consciousness becomes clear. Not only as the subtle luminosity (awareness) by and within which everything is revealed, everything is experienced. Find its changeless nature. Find that unchanging invulnerability at the heart of your own nature: the love that you most deeply are.
If you need help visit radicalecology.net.