How Mystics Manage Isolation

Isolation can be a recipe for anxiety and depression. Left alone people may wither.

But what about hermits and mystic loners who enjoy solitude? What is their secret?

Mystics have always had a simple answer. They experience companionship in nature. From a grain of sand, the touch of air on their skin, out to the infinity of the cosmos, mystics sense a connectedness with all that is. They also sense an invisible and benevolent presence.

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Mystic: a person who seeks by contemplation and self-surrender to obtain unity with or absorption into the Deity or the absolute, or who believes in the spiritual apprehension of truths that are beyond the intellect. (Oxford Dictionary)

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Yet mystics are not cut off from cruelty and suffering. In fact, because of their deep connection with the wonder and energy of life, they can meet pain with courage, compassion and dignity.

This is one of the assets of great spiritual leaders: they model a deep connection with the wonder and energy of life yet are simultaneously fully present to suffering.

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Mystics also do not need the companionship of other people. They may enjoy the company of others, but they do not need it.

But infants and children absolutely need people around them. Without other people the infant brain simply does not grow. (See Sue Gerhardt: Why Love Matters – How Affection Shapes a Baby’s Brain.)

Children then mature. As part of their development they gradually detach from their families and carers. They need to explore, expand and become independent.

Adults, even though independent, still experience instinctive biological needs, including those for company and touch. At its most physical there is a DNA programmed biological response. Being in a crowd can feel great. Like most animals we like being stroked. Massage and lovemaking can even be blissful.

Unhappily natural instincts can become habitual, addictive and self-harming.

We see this in cravings, from food to sex. We see it too when the instinct for human company and touch becomes needy.

So here is a stark question. In this context of the pandemic and lockdowns, how much of the current concern about solitude and restriction is based in neediness rather than necessity?

We know that children absolutely require human company and affection. But do we adults really need it too or is it just the desire to satisfy a habitual craving and not a necessity?

That may seem an unnecessarily harsh enquiry. Certainly our first awareness should always be compassion and the relief of suffering. But when the suffering is based in addiction, we may need tough love.

Desire is the memory of things that have given us pleasure in the past — Patanjali 200 BC

This is where mystics have useful strategies.

They are content in solitude and isolation because they are nurtured by a felt, benevolent presence. But to achieve that state they conduct regular spiritual practice.

Their ongoing experience of the wonder and energy of life is not serendipitous. It does not just happen. Its foundation is in commitment, perseverance when times are tough and self-discipline. Mystics have robust rhythms of taking long periods of time to give full awareness to their spiritual connection.

Self-discipline however is a sensitive subject.

When someone is vulnerable and in pain, stoic willpower can be irrelevant, insulting and harmful.  

On the other hand the stoic willpower of daily spiritual practice can be beautiful, nurturing and liberating.  What is better for us than a deepening experience of the wonder and energy of life?

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Although entangled in the web and habits of biology, instinct and human relationships, we are still independent beings.

Solitude, even restriction, can be enjoyed. Even the poignancy of feeling alone whilst also being spiritually connected can be appreciated. The choice is ours.

Blessings and love to all.

Past Lives, Trauma and Autism

Past Lives, Trauma and Autism

Reincarnation and past lives are a natural part of Buddhist, Hindu, Jain, Sikh, Gnostic Christian, Jewish Kabbalah, some Sufism and most Pagan cultures.
Even if you do not believe in it, it can provide an interesting way of thinking about and understanding people. Often, when I do not understand why someone is behaving in a certain way, I contemplate them through the prism of reincarnation. Is there a deeper and longer back story?
Logically, I also believe in life after death. This belief is based in experience, mainly from a near-fatal illness in my twenties when I had a sequence of out-of-the-body happenings.

In this context of past lives and life after death, I think about my mother who died a few years back. Usually, when someone I love dies, I feel their presence or some kind of communication from them over the coming weeks and months. But I felt nothing from my mum. It was as if, once out of her body, she moved away from Earth as fast and as far as she possibly could.

Then in meditation a few weeks ago I found myself contemplating her again and wondering if she would reincarnate and where. Tuning into her soul I felt a great reluctance on her part to reincarnate. This was understandable because her last life had contained much traumatic tragedy. At the centre of this tragedy was her time in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp. The secret police had decided that she was a spy and troublemaker because of her interest in braille — and they treated her with great cruelty.
As a result of her deprivations her first child, my sister, was born deaf. This led my mother into pioneering charitable work for deaf children.
My mum, Freddy Bloom, was well known for her courage. A book was written about her. She was an early subject of the television programme This Is Your Life. And she had a difficult relationship with my father.

So she did not fancy reincarnating. I felt her saying to me:
If I reincarnate, I do not want to feel all that pain again. I do not want to be so involved with people. I want my sensitivity allowed and protected. I will need to be very introvert. I won’t understand relationships.

Sensing this from her, I was reminded of all the presentations of autism. The NHS describes autism in this way. Autistic people may:
— Find it hard to communicate and interact with other people
— Find it hard to understand how other people think or feel
— Find things like bright lights or loud noises overwhelming, stressful or uncomfortable
— Get anxious or upset about unfamiliar situations and social events
— Take longer to understand information
— Do or think the same things over and over
https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/autism/what-is-autism/

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Over the years in my work as an educator and carer, I have often wondered about autism and its relationship with past life trauma. I often have conversations with psychologists who also believe in past lives and contemplate whether autism might have its source in past life trauma. Imagine survivors of concentration camps — prisoners and guards; imagine folk killed or tortured in conflict; and so on — how might these souls choose to incarnate? What circumstances would provide the context for expressing their trauma and allow recovery?


Following my experience in meditation with my mother and her reluctance to reincarnate, I started to think about writing this blog. I hesitated. Would people believe it or accept it? Would it seem too weird?
As part of my preparation I googled ‘reincarnation and trauma. Google immediately responded with this academic paper: ‘Reincarnation Type Presentations of Children with High-Functioning Autism in Sri Lanka.’

The abstract for this paper reads as follows:

Here we describe three children from Sri Lanka claiming memories of their past lives and later diagnosed to have high-functioning autism. The first, a seven-year-old Buddhist believes he was killed by terrorists as a soldier in his previous life and attributed his birthmark to be an injury which caused death. The second, a five-year-old Catholic girl suffering from asthma claiming she died of breathing difficulties in her previous life where she was a Buddhist grandmother. The third, an eight-year-old academically superior child claims he was a monk in his previous life and demands parents to allow him to enter the priesthood. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29602719/

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Whether you believe in past lives or not, this way of looking at autism may be positive and useful. It provides a framework that reinforces acceptance, careful safety, space and time to be.