One of my problems, like everyone, is that I get stuck in habits and opinions.
And these habits slow down, even sabotage, my development as I seek to become more connected, more conscious and more loving.
My opinions and my sense of self are the worst ruffians.
Just because I have a particular opinion I am attached to it. These opinions are both very shallow and very deep.
At the shallow end I have a sense of aesthetics and culture. So for example I think people should enjoy certain television series and not others, wear colours that suit their skin tone and not own motorcycles of a certain brand.
Less shallow, I am opinionated around politics, social and cultural affairs. It does not take long to identify me as an anarchic green socialist with strong tendencies to intellectual snobbery.
I also have distinct opinions about metaphysics, esoterics and spirituality. These inform much of my daily life and practice.
And then so much deeper is this sense of self, this particular William.
Being glued into any of these opinions — I use the word ‘opinion’ lightly and deeply — blocks the flow and expansion of my growth.
So a while ago I wrote a prayer-poem to help me.
I share it with you now:
EACH BREATH, NEW PATTERNS
Life within me
Unfold within me now the
Power of growth
Wisdom of love
Intelligence of being
Let me find integrity in the
Service of liberation
Let my inner life be proved in the strength of silent action
Recently a research project asked me for my definition of consciousness.
Answering this enquiry philosophers, psychologists and neuroscientists usually disappear down a rabbit hole of complexity. But I like a simple answer. I encountered it first in Vedic philosophy and the books of Alice Bailey.
I summarise it:
Consciousness is the innate capacity to respond to stimulation.
It is the capacity in everything to respond to stimulation.
Every time we see something responding to stimulation we are witnessing consciousness in action.
This applies to everything. I really mean everything — electron, atom, rock, plant, animal, human, planet, solar system, galaxy, cosmos, space . . .
Here are examples:
A rock responds to pressure and temperature. That response is an indication of the rock’s consciousness.
A plant may respond to temperature, gravity, sunlight, moisture and nutrients.
Animals may respond to many stimulations.
Humans respond to even more stimulations. Humans can respond to their own thoughts.
So the difference between a rock and a human is this. Human consciousness is more complex, more responsive to multiple stimulations.
Based in this interpretation we can suggest that consciousness is woven into the essential fabric of life and cosmos.
Expanding their awareness beyond the human realm mystics suggest that planets, our sun, stars, galaxies and the cosmos also have consciousness.
Space is consciousness.
This possibility can be a focus of enquiry in metaphysical meditation as human consciousness expands and experiences altered states. Sitting quietly it is the empty mind, like a receptive radar dish, that can garner insights. These insights are found in what one of the fathers of yoga, Patanjali, called ‘the raincloud of knowable things.’
Some meditators may reject the idea of any activity when sitting in silence. Others are very happy to explore inner realities, possibilities and dimensions.
I have been building on this understanding of consciousness. In meditation I have been contemplating these seed thoughts and exploring their mysteries:
— Space is an infinite ocean of consciousness with an innate capacity to respond to stimulation
— Empty space is filled with matter, energy, electricity, vibrations, beings, ideas, plasma . . . some miniscule, some galactic
Like all mystics and meditators my consciousness expands further when I am in a soft mindful state of love and bliss
Let me now add a thread that may help us address our current global crisis.
Ultimately our galaxy and all the dense matter we know will disappear. It will be sucked into the mystery of a black hole.
This event is billions of years away, but it is inevitable.
So here is an interesting possibility:
When all the matter of our galaxy disappears into that black hole, will human consciousness also disappear?
Perhaps only dense matter is sucked into the black hole. And the more subtle matter of our consciousness continues.
This kind of enquiry posed in meditation is profoundly relevant to how we manage the current global crisis.
We can only conduct these contemplative enquiries if we are deeply calm, centred in our hearts and awake.
In that state we can truly see the bigger picture.
Waves and cycles of human history come and go.
There have been many plagues and demagogues. They pass.
Calm compassionate equanimity radiates.
It can balance, stabilise and heal the suffering, distress and anxiety of our times.
Humanity’s destiny is to be loving, conscious and connected.
It is obvious isn’t it? If you are sensitive or empathic or an introvert, who feels easily overwhelmed by life or people, you need boundaries.
I myself am a sensitive empathic introvert and can be easily wobbled by other people’s vibes. I know very well how to self-soothe and use calming techniques. They are great and useful. They certainly work well when I am on my own.
But when I am out in the world dealing with people and everything else, I need more than self-soothing. I need boundaries.
Why? Because the self-soothing mindful calming techniques will, in fact, just make me more of a passive sponge.
That is a horrible thought — being a passive sponge. But that is exactly what happens if we self-soothe and calm ourselves when faced with hostile or difficult behaviour and vibrations. We just become receptive radar dishes absorbing all the crap. Not good.
I talked about this when I was recording the interview for The Shift’s ‘Meditation and Mindfulness Summit.’ The very experienced woman in charge of the video/audio technology said afterwards that this was the first time she had ever heard that. “I’m a sensitive empath and no one has ever told me to assert my boundaries. That makes total sense.”
Especially for women who from a very young age have had to endure unwelcome intrusions of their boundaries, it can be crucial to learn to respect and assert your space.
— I recommend books on ‘assertiveness training.’
— I suggest too that people do twelve months of a martial art so as to learn the minimal strategy of throwing a kick or punch and asserting your boundary. You may never need to throw that punch, but that attitude will be in your aura and be felt by bullies who will back off.
— Sometimes I suggest that folk should wear a watch that beeps every hour (I have a £6 Casio that does the job) and every hour they pause and assert clearly and loudly to themselves: This is my space! My boundaries! Respect! Do that sixteen times a day for a few months and things will change.
As always, do it with love and affection.
I hope that is all of the above is helpful. The huge silver lining to being empathic and sensitive is that we can also feel all the good things.
And of course — if you are strong, healthy and have clear boundaries, be chivalrous and kind.
People who are engaged or interested in spirituality often think that mainstream thinking is hostile to spirituality. But do some research and you will be surprised by the number of authoritative bodies that publicly assert the value of spirituality. They may not be clear on how to put spirituality into action, but they have public statements about spirituality and good practice.
For the students on the Diploma in Practical Spirituality & Wellness we have a reassuring handout. It is evidence that we do not have to persuade the mainstream that spirituality is beneficial and important. Below is the text of the handout. I hope you find the statements interesting and inspiring. And if you know others, please add them in Comments at the end of this page
Royal College of Psychiatrists ‘Spirituality and Mental Health’ 2014
‘Spirituality emphasises the healing of the person, not just the disease. It views life as a journey, where good and bad experiences can help you to learn, develop and mature.’
World Health Organisation May 1984
The Thirty-Seventh World Health Assembly adopted resolution WHA37.13, which named the “spiritual dimension” as an integral part of WHO Member States’ strategies for health.
United Nations – The Earth Summit Conference 2002
‘Health ultimately depends on the ability to manage successfully the interaction between the physical, spiritual, biological and economic/social environment.’ Agenda 21, 6.2
The Nursing and Midwifery Council
‘The Nursing and Midwifery Council expects newly qualified graduate nurses to be able to: In partnership with the person, their carers and their families, makes a holistic, person centred and systematic assessment of physical, emotional, psychological, social, cultural and spiritual needs, including risk, and together, develops a comprehensive personalised plan of nursing care.’ (2011)
Scottish Executive Health Department ‘Spiritual Care and Chaplaincy’ 2009
‘Chief Executives are asked to ensure that this guidance is brought to the attention of all appropriate staff and, in particular, to ensure that: They have appointed a senior lead manager for spiritual care.’ ‘Spiritual care is usually given in a one-to-one relationship, is completely person-centred and makes no assumptions about personal conviction or life orientation …. Spiritual care is not necessarily religious. Religious care, at its best, should always be spiritual.’
General Medical Council ‘Personal Beliefs and Medical Practice’ 2013, p.1
‘A doctor must adequately assess the patient’s conditions, taking account of their history (including the symptoms and psychological, spiritual, social and cultural factors), their views and values.’
Education Reform Act of 1988
The opening sentence ‘The curriculum for a maintained school (must be) a balanced and broadly based curriculum which — promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils at the school and of society.’
Education (Schools) Act 1992
‘The Chief Inspector for England shall have the general duty of keeping the Secretary of State informed about … the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils at those schools.’
Ofsted School Inspection Handbook, Jan 2015
The word ‘spiritual’ appears 20 times – Para 128: ‘Before making the final judgement on the overall effectiveness, inspectors must also evaluate: the effectiveness and impact of the provision for pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development . . .’
British Association of Social Workers ‘Code of Ethics for Social Workers’ 2012
Upholding and promoting human dignity and well-being ‘Social workers should respect, uphold and defend each person’s physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual integrity and well-being.’
If you know other authoritative and useful statements, please post them in the Comments below. Thanks.
Glastonbury Abbey is a place of Christian hospitality. In that spirit, we welcome people of all faiths and of no faith. And we invite you to enjoy our Prayer and Meditation Moments.
For hundreds of years this beautiful abbey was a place of worship, of learning and of sanctuary. As you enter its grounds, you may want to contemplate that your life is a spiritual journey.
Wherever you approach one of the areas indicated on the map, slow down and pause. Take the opportunity to breathe calmly and find peace within yourself. Then, if it feels right, follow the brief instructions.
You can do as many or as few of these Prayer and Meditation Moments as you choose. There is no particular sequence to them so you can do them in any order that works for you. We have however mapped two walks – a short one and a long one – which you might want to explore.
ST PATRICK’S CHAPEL
Many people came to Glastonbury Abbey for healing. Sit quietly in this chapel. As best you can, breathe calmly and allow your body to sink and be at ease. Quietly say this prayer:
I am open to receive the gift of healing. May all people and creatures be blessed with good health.
This Glastonbury Thorn tree flowers twice a year in Winter and in Spring, like a Middle Eastern thorn. Legend suggests that it is a cutting from an ancient line of trees that dates back to the visits of Joseph of Arimathea, the uncle of Jesus. Quietly contemplate:
How wonderful that the cells of this tree carry its history and its future. May I always see the connections and wonder of all life.
LADY CHAPEL Upper Level
This chapel is dedicated to the worship and celebration of Mary the mother of Christ. The divine female can be found in many spiritual traditions. Quietly say this prayer:
Mother of the world, help me to love and care for all beings.
ST JOSEPH’S CHAPEL Lower Level
There are legends that Joseph, the uncle of Jesus, came to this very spot bringing the chalice from the Last Supper. Walk slowly and mindfully towards the altar. Quietly say this prayer:
I am grateful that I am safe and have a home. May all people have a safe home.
Legend states that King Arthur and Queen Guinevere are buried here. Their court was home to the Round Table of chivalrous and brave knights. Quietly say this prayer:
In a world of injustice may I have the strength, courage and wisdom to support and champion the weak and vulnerable.
Here in the cloister the monks walked slowly, praying and contemplating life. See how slowly you can walk around the cloister and at the same time calm your breathing.
May I be slow and calm. May I be wiser and more loving. Help me understand life’s difficulties and guide me into clarity.
In this kitchen food was prepared daily for the Abbot’s visitors. Quietly say this prayer:
The food I eat comes from nature, plants, animals, farmers, transporters, traders and cooks. I give thanks to all of them. May everyone be fed and well.
A monastic Herb garden would have supplied medicines, aromas and flavours. Quietly say this prayer:
I give thanks for the beautiful diversity and healing power of nature; and I give thanks too for the gardeners and their care.
Every year this beautiful orchard gives an abundant harvest of apples. Quietly say this prayer:
Thank you mother nature for your beauty and your abundance. May I always remember and care for you.
FISH POND (Lower)
Water is one of the four ancient elements. Earth. Water. Air. Fire. This beautiful pond is cradled by earth. It is filled with water.Airand wind play on it. Light from the fireof the sun reflects from its surface. Quietly say this ancient prayer:
Earth my body. Water my blood. Air my breath. And Fire my spirit. I am one with All That Is.
WILDLIFE POND (Upper)
‘Ask the animals,’ said St Francis, ‘and they will teach you the beauty of this earth.’ At this pond we find fish and fowl. Pause. Calm your breath and be at ease. Notice the fish, the birds, and the insects. Be aware too of the sky and the hills around you. Feel the air against your skin. Quietly say this prayer:
I give thanks for the blessings and gifts of all animals. May all creatures be treated with care and respect.
PARK AREA – BODY PRAYER
There is a beautiful tradition of moving your body in tune with a prayer.
Slowly raise your arms above your head and stretch upwards:
The universe is filled with mystery and love.
Slowly bring your hands down and place them over your heart:
I too am filled with mystery and love.
Lower your hands so that your palms face the earth – or kneel down and touch the earth:
I bless the Earth and all living beings.
Repeat the action as many times as you like.
In this area we celebrate untamed nature – God’s garden. Be quiet. Imagine our whole planet and humanity living in complete harmony with the natural world. Quietly say this prayer:
From the tiniest insect and wild flower, out to the greatest ocean and mountain, may I celebrate the beauty of all creation.
Choose any tree that you like. In many spiritual traditions, trees are a symbol of strength and wisdom. Pause and imagine that you are a tree. Imagine and sense that you have roots growing deep into the ground. Feel the strength of your trunk. Feel the flexibility and movement of your branches.Quietly say this prayer:
In a world of endless change and noise, may I be like this tree – strong, flexible and wise.
Holistic leadership can make the world a better place. It can happen in all areas of your life — family, friends, workplace and the wider community of your neighbourhood, nation and planet.
‘Holistic’ means that everything in life is in some way connected and interdependent; and that your actions and behaviour ripple out to touch everyone and everything. So as a holistic leader you are aware of everyone and everything involved in your project. Also your leadership is fuelled by your highest values, so that your actions always benefit the whole community of life.
Whether it is family, work or globe you obviously want to improve the situation. But sometimes simply wanting things to be better is more like a complaint than a vision. I want my family to be more harmonious. I want work to be more enjoyable and productive. I want the world to be safer. I want animals and nature to be protected. These are understandable desires, but they are not leadership visions. Desires on their own achieve nothing.
Leadership needs a clear vision of the outcome and strategies for achieving it. And appropriate action.
The beauty of Nelson Mandela’s leadership — the first black President of South Africa — lay in his inspirational vision filled with goodwill and hope. He is a wonderful model for us.
Having been a militant revolutionary, he became an icon of peace and harmony. During his twenty-seven years imprisonment on Robben Island he went through a process of personal and political transformation and saw what was truly necessary. People needed healing, hope and inspiration.
He went beyond an African liberation movement to a radical vision of the rainbow nation — a nation in which all races lived together in harmony. What a stunning transformation.
Nurture your dreams and develop a clear vision of the outcome you truly want for your family, work or community.
Of course when he was finally released from prison and became President of South Africa, he met political realities. The rainbow nation vision was not enough, but now needed negotiation, tactics and strategy. It needed carefully nurtured communications and relationships with everyone, especially those who had once been enemies.
This long process of manifesting the rainbow has had successes and failures. This is normal. It is in the face of failure that we see the true leaders, because they stay resolutely true to their vision despite challenges.
You may want to heal relationships in your family, run a profitable business or be an effective activist. But you won’t get anywhere if you lose motivation and crumple at your first setback or when you first meet opposition. I know so many people, for example, who say they want to heal their relationships, but become outraged drama-queens at the first offence.
Good leaders know that they have to wrestle with life and with people, and they do it with goodwill, love and respect. Holistic leaders also have an understanding of the unseen dynamics in relationships and communications, especially why and how people resist change. Sticks and carrots, clarity and compassion are carefully used.
Persevere with hope and goodwill when you experience failure.
What is your attitude to the people who may oppose your vision and leadership? You must welcome your opponents. That was the brilliant grace of Nelson Mandela. His vision included those who had been his worst enemies. If they had been excluded they would have carried on being dangerous antagonists. He welcomed them with careful tactics and communications. He once wore the green and yellow jersey of the all-white South African rugger team. A shrewd and careful move.
Holistic leadership is emotionally literate and mindful. You know how to recognise and guide your own feelings and thoughts; and you are considerate and empathic to others. This is more important in fulfilling a project than technical or scholarly knowledge.
This psychological wisdom also applies to how you do your planning. There is a wealth of solid research showing that people think best when at ease. Aroused, anxious or urgent we flood our brains with unhelpful electro-chemistry and it skews our thinking. So good leadership means that we take time to think carefully about our projects — what needs adapting, who needs time, crucial next steps. Out of prison and throughout his presidency Mandela liked to sit in his garden with a glass of wine pondering strategy. You do not need twenty-seven years forced contemplation, but you do need time out and space to plan, even if it is in a long soak in the bath or walk in landscape or a park.
It is during these periods of relaxed planning that you can literally feel the fulfilment of your vision. It is not just an idea in your head but a felt experience of success. This is what is meant by Be the change you want to see. Why should anyone else shift if you don’t do it first and lead the way?
Your actual style of leadership will need to be authentic to the kind of character you are. Humorous or dry, introvert or extrovert, sporty or armchair, servant-leader or front-of-the-pack, facilitator or emperor — your leadership, actions and communications will be filled with patience and persistence, care and consideration, and a deep connection with the whole community of life.
And whether you are successful or not, your efforts and your integrity are always valuable. So always remain hopeful and remember the inspiring words of Margaret Mead, ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.’
The purpose of freedom is to create it for others. Nelson Mandela