What does it mean to thrive, or to flourish in life? Arianna Huffington’s book Thrive aims to answer this.
During heady days of spiritual exploration in the early 1980s, we attended a workshop by Tai Chi Master Chungliang Al Huang. At the workshop was a young and obviously intelligent lady, a bit pushy, Arianna Stassinopoulos, along with her mother. This was the lady who later became Arianna Huffington, co-founder and leading light of The Huffington Post. Arianna is also the author of a number of books. Thrive was published in 2014, so I’m a bit late catching up with it.
Thrive basically summarises all those good spiritual and personal growth ideas that were around in the early 1980s and which have been put into exemplary practice in Arianna’s hugely successful life – successful in terms of her influence on the world.
What is true well-being?
What does it mean to have wisdom?
Where is the sense of wonder in our lives?
How important is it to give, as well as to receive?
These are the subjects of the main chapters of this book. Much of it you will be familiar with, some of it may be new to you. What I can say is that it’s well written, makes much sense, and says things that are worth saying. Great stuff!
Interestingly, Arianna’s key inspiration was her mother – an almost obsessively ‘giving’ person, as was evident in that 1980s workshop!
T.S.Eliot had a way with words, a way of saying what is just beyond what can actually be said with words. Thus it is in the following, which says so much…
“The endless cycle of idea and action, Endless invention, endless experiment, Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness; Knowledge of speech, but not of silence; Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance, All our ignorance brings us nearer to death, But nearness to death no nearer to God.
Where is the Life we have lost in living? Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries Bring us farther from God and nearer to the Dust.”
Here’s another poem by Steve Taylor – his take on the famous poem by Rudyard Kipling, ‘If.’ According to Steve, it’s a reflection on the meaning of success. It’s also a profound meditation on the meaning of life and where true contentment lies.
If you can find out who you really are
beneath the habits and opinions that you’ve absorbed
and the instructions that you unthinkingly follow –
If you can distinguish the deep impulses of your soul
from the shallow desires of your ego
and let streams of thought pass through your mind
without latching on or listening –
If you can sense the sun of your true self
behind layers of cloudy concepts and constructs
and keep your mind open and clear
so that soul-force shines through every action of your life –
then that’s all you ever need to achieve.
There’s no need to search for answers
if you’re expressing the truth that’s inside you.
There’s no need to look for meaning
if you’ve found the path you were meant to follow.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re applauded or ridiculed
whether you make a mark on the world
or live and die in obscurity.
If you can do what you’re supposed to do
and be exactly who you’re meant to be –
Daughter often sends interesting web links. The latest was this one How to Avoid Raising a Materialistic Child. Apparently, research shows that practising gratitude makes children’s attitudes less materialistic. Well of course it does.
Psychology Today defines gratitude: “Gratitude is an emotion expressing appreciation for what one has—as opposed to, for instance, a consumer-driven emphasis on what one wants or thinks they need.” So it is also an antidote to consumerism.
Those messages to children to ‘say thank you’ are very important and need reinforcement by adults in their words and their behaviour. I know I used to think this was just a socialised habit that was meaningless; I now know it’s just so important. Gratitude is one of the main ways we connect with others, and with the natural world.
While researching this, I came across this excellent TEDxSF talk by Louis Schwarzberg – well worth the ten minutes run time, with some superb time lapse photography and inspirational messages – gratitude is the secret! The beauty of the natural world inspires gratitude for existence, gives meaning to life.
Another poem by Steve Taylor gives a positive slant on worrying times; it is in the nature of things that systems grow, flourish and then begin to outlive their time, to be replaced by the new – there is always the bright new beginning.
How can our lives have meaning
when we’re living through the end times?
How can we find fulfilment
with catastrophe hovering us?
Why should we keep building
when structures are collapsing all around us?
Why should we keep trying to contribute
when nothing may remain to receive our gifts?
Why should we keep striving
when our goals seem to be dissolving, like mirages?
But look inside yourself – can’t you feel your soul aching
with a new yearning for change?
Can’t you feel the impulse to surrender
to a transcendent new goal, that is rising like a wave?
Our personal goals are fading
so that a collective cause can take us over
as we turn to face the end times.
Our vision is becoming clearer,
our minds becoming more focused,
against the background of the end times.
The superfluous is being stripped away,
our lives are being pared down to their essence
by the urgency of the end times.
This isn’t the time to be despondent,
but the time to transcend fear
and abandon every doubt and inhibition.
This isn’t the time to sleep
but to redouble our efforts to awaken –
to harness every quantum of our latent higher selves
and send out waves of transformation into the world
so that the darkness and chaos of the end times
can give birth to a new beginning.
Featured image by John M / Light at the end of the tunnel, via Wikimedia Commons
Neither instinct nor intuition involve thought. Both involve responding directly to a situation. So what is the difference?
Instinct is an innate faculty we share with other living beings. We respond automatically to situations, eg catch a ball that is about to hit us, avoid contact with an unfriendly being. It typically involves a fixed pattern of behaviour, “reacting”. Instinct came along first and maybe represents the sum of experience of earlier generations, plus learned responses.
Intuition is direct knowledge of a situation. We just know what is right, what is true, what is about to happen, etc. Something is “seen” or “understood” beyond what is presented. Spiritual writings suggest that this involves a link to our ‘higher self’. Others suggest it’s something to do with pattern recognition. Intuition develops over the individual’s experience during a lifetime.
A quick web search showed me a huge variety of definitions of instinct and intuition. The most inspirational I found was that by Christen Rodgers:
True intuition arises from within the depths of your soul. It speaks in the language of the spirit – the language of love, flow, hope, and forward movement. Instinct, on the other hand, isn’t a spiritual sense but a physiological one. It comes from and serves the flesh and speaks the language of survival – fight or flight, judgement, avoidance, aggression, and fear.
This key difference is how you can tell them apart. Whereas instinct speaks in terms of resistance, intuition speaks in terms of flow. Intuition will urge you to go this way, do this thing, or approach that person. If something isn’t right for you, intuition won’t push against it. Instead, it will simply redirect you towards something else. Instinct, on the other hand, pushes back. It resists, fears, or judges what you perceive as wrong rather than beckoning you towards what’s right.
For Christen, the difference is between a response coming from a place of love, and one coming from a place of fear. I think this is going too far – animals clearly have both fearing and loving instincts. So maybe she’s right in terms of how we should assess our automatic responses, but not in strict definitional terms.
Other insights will be welcome as comments. (‘Insight’ – there’s another similar word that some writers take as a step beyond intuition.)
After writing my last post on Person, I was inspired to look back at a book that has graced my shelves for nearly fifty years – a rather battered copy of Paul Tournier’s The Meaning of Persons – which shows how long I have been interested in these ideas! The subtitle Reflections on a Psychiatrist’s Casebook accurately describes the content as his own reflections on his experience as a doctor, psychiatrist and Christian.
Tournier uses the word ‘person’ in its modern sense of the whole living individual, and uses the contrasting term ‘personage’ to represent the mask we present to the world, the outer human being, as opposed to the inner lived human being. Jung called this personage the persona (per-sona), so I will stick with Jung’s term henceforth.
Tournier ponders the question How can we Discover the True Person, in the context of his psychoanalytic work. He contrasts the process of objective and scientific inquiry, where information is exchanged, with the process of subjective and intuitive personal encounter where a bond of sympathy and affection is established between two people. In the former learning takes place; in the latter understanding takes place. He suggests that in the latter case there is true communion which touches the other person deeply. Tournier regards this communion as spiritual, and relates it to Martin Buber’s I and Thou. This is also the key to understanding oneself as a person – relationship with others.
Further reflection suggests that the person is the original living creation, and the persona is the automatic, habitual routine presented to the world. Industrial society and technology are increasingly impersonal and encourage the repetition of the persona and not the creativity of the true person. Much of social media and the celebrity culture focus precisely on personas.
There is an ongoing tension between person and persona, because we do not fully ‘know’ ourselves. This tension is often greatly magnified in those who need the support of a psychoanalyst.
There are interesting reflections on the distinction between psychology and spirituality. Tournier suggests that psychology is the science or method by which the mind is ‘laid bare’, but as soon as we approach questions of attitude to self/life/God/morality, then we are in the spiritual business of soul-healing.
In the latter part of the book, Tournier reflects on the bible, the living God and Jesus Christ as important aspects of his own perspective on the world – and entirely consistent with his psychoanalysis and the rest of this book. Indeed the bible has many hidden messages about discovering the inner living person. St Francis was a great exemplar:
“St Francis had become so fully a person, found such personal fellowship with God, that in every thing he saw a person, a reflection of the person of God.”
We could do worse than follow that…
With thanks to my friend Geoff at university for introducing me to Tournier’s book.
The photo of Paul Tournier is from Wikipedia.
We use the word ‘person’ to signify a particular human being. But it was not always so.
The word person comes from the Latin word persona, maybe from the earlier Etruscan persu, a sort of mask through which actors spoke (per-sonare). Just one or two centuries ago person was still used to signify the exterior appearance of the individual, not the whole being including the human interior.
The word person has subsequently expanded to connote the whole human being, precisely at a time when materialism has been in the ascendant, psychology reduced to an objective science, and inner spiritual/soul experience increasingly denied.
“Once we were human beings, now we are persons.”
Thus language reflects changes in consciousness. Being aware of this helps us to understand how we got where we are, and maybe what has been lost in the process.
This fascinating thread of argument is presented in Anders Lidén’s article ‘Rimbaud and the Breaking Down of the Mask’ in the Jan-Mar 2018 issue of The Beacon magazine.
When reading an interesting text and coming across a word you are not familiar with, there is a terrible temptation to march on and hope that the meaning becomes clear from the context. For me, such a word was metanoia. Recently reading Alister McGrath’s book Enriching our Vision of Reality, I was brought to a better understanding by the author’s clear definition, related to ways of seeing reality.
Wikipedia throws further light, giving two meanings – one spiritually oriented and the other psychologically oriented. Metanoia is about a fundamental change in the way we see and act in the world, maybe a bit more fundamental than the similar concept of paradigm shift. Such was perhaps what happened in Europe as a whole around the time of the enlightenment, when a religious and naturalistic perspective on the world was gradually supplanted by a scientific and materialistic perspective.
The world we see today reflects both the benefits and the fundamental problems that have emerged as a result of this perspective, which has ignored the natural ecosystem as the essential support for human existence (giving global warming, pollution, species extinction etc etc.) and has lost touch at a political level with the morality and values necessary to give a good and equitable life to all humans (leading to incredible inequalities and a clear lack of moral leadership from the titular heads of countries and other supposed leaders).
There is now little doubt that metanoia is what is needed at a global level to avoid a nightmarish future for humanity. Of course, I have in this blog frequently referred to the concept of a New Renaissance, which is another way of putting it. Personal psychological and spiritual transformation is a big part of the answer, and everyone needs it.
In particular, there are enormous egos in politics and in business, to whom circumstances happen to have given great wealth and power. Their, and our, need is that they transcend those egos and work for the common good.
Note that one dimension of this is by paying good wages and paying due taxes, which is a way of sharing out that good fortune to all. Opting instead for the apparent current fashion of an ego-expanding philanthropy that remains within the ego’s control is a diversion, possibly beneficial to the general good, but certainly not a metanoia.
Our greatest opportunity to feel good and maintain happiness is to constantly seek to uncover a lesson in every condition we encounter in life.
If you’re not learning something, life will teach you a lesson.
Looking for a lesson is the equivalent of instigating change. Just as it feels better to resign than be fired, or to break up rather than be dumped, the one who finds a lesson finds a reason, which removes the sense of helpless that often accompanies unanticipated conditions.
We will not be able to control everything that we encounter, so we must take responsibility for what freewill we do have.
Mindfulness is a tool for helping us recognize our relationship with time. If you are reading and it takes 30 minutes to get through one page, it becomes obvious that your mind is wandering. This is mindfulness.
(1.25) Thought is transmuted into character and character…
Here’s another poem by Steve Taylor, a message to all of us embedded in the constant involvement with media and other busyness:
“Be gentle with your mind.
Don’t overload it with demands
or fill it with too much information
or pressurise it with too many deadlines
until it frazzles with strain
and refuses to work for you anymore.
Your mind isn’t a machine; it’s a sensitive artist.
It gets agitated easily, if conditions aren’t right.
And then it can’t think clearly, or give birth to new ideas and insights.
The energies of your mind are pure and powerful, like a clear fresh stream,
but they get polluted easily, if you don’t protect its environment.
And then you feel uneasy, as if your life is out of harmony,
and the world is conspiring against you.
So be gentle with your mind.
Give it time to rest and regenerate.
Allow it to be filled with space, not clogged up with information.
Allow it to be soothed with quietness, not bombarded with stimuli.
Let it be open and clear, so that you can feel its ease and stillness.
Let it be a pure channel, so that the universe can flow through it,
directly into you.”
Featured image shows Dee Estuary when sun going down
I’ve long found inspiration and sustenance from the beauty and simplicity of the Cistercian abbeys, still found in various states of repair across Europe. For me their simplicity of form is unfailingly beautiful.
In this context I’ve also been aware of the towering spiritual figure of St Bernard of Clairvaux, one of the main instigators of the Cistercian movement, and wondered what sort of person he might have been.
So I couldn’t resist the book ‘The Spirit of Simplicity’, being translations of classical French texts by that modern spiritual seeker Thomas Merton. The book is in two parts. The first part is a text with the book’s title, attributed to Jean-Baptiste Chautard in the mid 1920s. The second part contains selected texts by St Bernard himself on Inner Simplicity. Could this explain what lay behind the beauty of those old Abbeys?
The original Cistercian movement was one of renewal, aiming to return to the Rule of the monastic life originally established by St Benedict (c. 480-550 AD). Inner simplicity was a founding principle, and from this flowed the external simplicity of the forms created. The fathers of the first Abbey at Citeaux in the early 1100s were dedicated to this.
Chautard suggests that there was a golden age of 150 years for the Cistercian movement, when this simplicity was effectively maintained. This was followed by a silver age of another 100 years when it was not so effectively maintained and embellishments crept in. After the middle of the 14th century decline set in – with several causes: the Black Death, religious wars, and then the Reformation. (Paradoxically, Protestantism saw a return to simplicity in the form of religious buildings. Many of the older decorated Gothic buildings now show an almost Cistercian simplicity.) Another renewal movement at the end of the 19th century ensured that there are still some Cistercian Abbeys operating today.
St Bernard himself is regarded as the finest exemplar of the movement. The second part of the book contains his reflections on that simplicity, the need for humility, and obedience in the context of the monk’s life, the importance of the monk knowing himself – so actually quite modern psychologically – the overcoming of pride and dedication to the love of God.
I was quite struck by one particular quote:
And what greater pride is there than that one man should try to impose his own opinion upon the whole community, as if he alone had the spirit of God?
Modern dictators and populists please note. Pride always comes before a fall.
So the outer simplicity of the Cistercian abbey is a reflection of the inner simplicity of the monks. The evident beauty is a reflection of the inner beauty of their souls.
I would not suggest that the life of a monk is right for everyone, but it is clear that this dedication to inner simplicity produces this wonderful contribution to the beauty in the world. Go see some of these superb buildings for yourself – Fountains Abbey in UK, Fontenay, Senanques, Silvacane, Fontfroide, Pontigny and many others in France, Orval in Belgium. There are far too many to list them all. Here are just a few random selected photos.
Orval chapter house
For most, you must travel to less frequented parts of the country. The communities were built to be self sufficient, away from centres of population. These journeys provide a scenic mini pilgrimage in themselves. Even the less well preserved abbeys, such as Abbeycwmhir in an isolated valley in mid-Wales, once one of the largest abbeys in the UK, have a special atmosphere about them.
And the book is certainly very readable if it aligns with your interest. Merton knew his stuff.
Some years ago I participated in an interfaith course studying the different major religions. Two features of Buddhism particularly stick in the memory. One was of course mindfulness, the other was the practice of Metta, the subject of this post.
As well as being a subject for meditation, the practice of Metta essentially involves projecting ‘loving kindness’ or ‘universal love’ or ‘benevolence’ out to others. In its ultimate essence Metta is beyond ego and concerns of the individual self; its concern is the wellbeing of all, of life itself.
An exercise of my course was to practise Metta while walking, projecting this benevolence to all you meet. This practice does first require you to be mindful.
It is not surprising that the response of people you meet is more positive than when you are immersed in your own concerns. This is, literally, spreading goodwill around the world.
Worth a try, don’t you think?
Featured image is a Japanese representation of Buddha.
The occasional irritation is a cross I still bear, echoes of bouts of sometimes incandescent anger in earlier years. Because anger is habit forming, and certainly not commensurate with participating rationally in the world, nor with inner wellbeing. It takes long years of effort to step back and move beyond this reinforced negative response.
In the Agni Yoga teachings there is the concept of imperil – “the poison resulting from irritability”, actually deposited in the nervous system. Imperil manifests as ‘spiritual wasting’, reinforcing the ego and blocking higher energies of soul/spirit. So the ego is irritable, and not amenable to its own higher faculties. And the thought forms created have a poisonous quality.
This useful concept seems quite consistent with my own experience. Imperil is one of the great blockages to our own development and to our own mindfulness.
In this age of apparent domination by ego in the media and politics, it would seem that mass imperil is actually putting our societies in peril, which is actually the meaning of the word.
I am indebted to John Rasmussen’s article “I don’t want to separate anyone from anyone” in The Beacon magazine, April-June 2018 for reminding me of this concept of imperil.
Featured image is of the painting Lotus by Nicholas Roerich, with Helena Roerich transmitter of the agni yoga teachings.
“The Mundaka Upanishad presents a beautiful way of understanding duality. Two identical birds who are eternal companions perch in the same tree. One eats the sweet fruit of the tree, the other, a bird of joy, watches. Both make up the dualistic reality of the individual. Union comes through detachment from identification with the bird who eats the fruit and attachment to the bird of Joy who watches with love. True personality detachment only comes with increasing attachment to the soul within all forms, and an ability to observe one’s self and others from the viewpoint of the bird of joy … always remembering that, in the Upanishad story, the two birds are identical and eternal companions.”
This striking quote by Steve Nation comes from the newsletter of the Lucis Trust, corresponding with the recent Gemini full moon.
“I recognize my other self and in the waning of that self, I grow and glow.”
Seed thought for the sign of Gemini.
Featured image of two gannets by By Al Wilson, via Wikimedia Commons
A poem from Steve Taylor‘s regular newsletter that I particularly liked.
I don’t sense that you’re different from me
even if you believe you are.
I don’t believe that babies are born with distinctions,
belonging to a religion or nation.
I don’t believe that human beings die with distinctions,
belonging to different sections of a cemetery.
I don’t feel that I have my ‘people’ and you have yours,
and that the lives of our peoples have a different value.
I acknowledge your need to define yourself.
I understand your need for belonging
but you can’t separate yourself from me
without making yourself feel more alone.
You can’t withhold your empathy from me
without hurting yourself inside.
Your thoughts may convince you of distinctions
but they can’t change you underneath
where there is no solidity or boundary
and our beings infuse each other, and everyone else’s too.
I accept allegiance only to the human race.
I recognise only our common core
the essence beneath identity
the deep shared space where we are one.
I had the please of meeting Steve at the Manchester Schumacher Lectures in the early 2000’s and attended one of his seminars. A great seeker!
In Touch: How to Tune In to the Inner Guidance of Your Body and Trust Yourself by John J. Prendergast
One of my recurrent themes on this blog is that we have lost contact with our connection with others, and with the natural world. But worse, have we lost contact with our own body and inner self? This is precisely the subject of In Touch, by psychotherapist John Prendergast.
The premise is in the book’s publicity material:
“Your body has a natural sense of truth. We can feel authenticity in ourselves and in others. However, this innate wisdom is obscured by our conditioning—the core limiting beliefs, reactive feelings, and somatic contractions that fuel our sense of struggle and veil who we really are.
In Touch is a groundbreaking, experiential guide to the felt-sense of our inner knowing—the deep intelligence available through our bodies. Each chapter presents moving stories, helpful insights from spirituality, psychology, and science, and simple yet potent experiments for integrating the gifts of inner knowing into every aspect of daily life.”
So the book takes this forward and explores this inner felt sense, which is found through connection with our own body. It aims to ‘help you recognize your own natural sense of inner knowing by showing you how to listen to your body for guidance.’ We are not just a mind that happens to sit in a relatively independent body; we are one integrated organism, and forget that at our peril. It very much reminded me of the book Bodymind, written by Ken Dychtwald in the 1970s and still gracing my shelves.
I read this book on Kindle, for convenience when travelling. I don’t recommend this, but it did give me easy access to quotes from the book highlighted in the following. Far better to read the real book.Read More »
These sex and money scandals – it’s all about the misuse of power, with money as its ally and enabler.
The power and will of the undeveloped ego does not move beyond selfish impulses, empathise with others or reflect upon the consequences or morality of his/her actions. Some such persons become capable of sexual aggression or rape; others take their own wealth to be of supreme importance at the expense of others, some consolidating their position by dictatorial politics or gangster rackets.
Money is the enabler that pays the lawyers and accountants to ensure that their actions are legitimised or not penalised. How often have you heard the words ‘I haven’t done anything illegal’?
It is interesting that the worst corporate offenders in terms of avoiding their obligations to the wider society seem to be the young (and still rapidly growing) IT companies – Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon etc. – entities still essentially in their adolescence, when a sense of balance and fairness is often not yet achieved by the ego.
The developed ego strives to continue to grow and move beyond these primitive influences, leading ultimately to ego transcendence and spiritual being. For these people, power and money give responsibility for their wise use, in the situation in which one finds oneself. Exploitation of others and personal aggrandisement are no longer part of the game.
Our challenge today is to raise the level of everyone’s game (ego). The bringing to light, to public awareness, of what was previously hidden, is an encouraging part of that process of change. I salute all involved in this cleaning of the inner stables, particularly those with the amazing courage to speak out the unspeakable things done to them and those journalists whose efforts shine that light.
It was great to be back in Lincoln the other day, despite the odd spell of rain. Sometimes a rainy street helps the effect in night shots, such as this one of The Strait/ Steep Hill, leading up to the cathedral.Read More »
Looking back, do you not find that some particular individual people and synchronistic events have had a special influence on your life? This is what Will Parfitt focuses on, related to his own life, in his recently published book Meetings with Amazing People – somewhat along the lines of GI Gurdjieff’s Meetings with Remarkable Men.
I remember reading Gurdjieff’s book many years ago, at a time when I was fascinated by the life and ideas of that remarkable person and his associate and sometime collaborator PD Ouspensky. That book really was a thrilling and at times hair raising read, and gave good insight into where Gurdjieff was coming from.
It would be wrong to try to measure Will Parfitt’s book against such an illustrious benchmark. Will has been for many years a leading UK exponent of psychosynthesis and qabala, so this is the context. Does it give insight into the formative influences on Will and the development of his practice?
The answer is a resounding yes. Will identifies seven key influences on his early development, in the intriguing context of a task set by a mysterious messenger, Sri Anandapuran. Each of these seven individuals had a significant and formative influence on Will’s future outlook on life.
The story in this short book is very readable and well told, to the extent that the reader can feel why each episode was of such importance. It also provides an intriguing glimpse of a life inspired by synchronous occurrences and ‘swinging 1960s UK’.
For me, the added benefit is to inspire your own consideration of what were the significant and synchronous influences in your own life, what was the universe really trying to tell you, and did you listen and act upon it.
Health warning: Will’s story is imaginative and readable, and not necessarily an exact factual statement of events in his life.