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One Middle-Aged Man Reclaims His Body as a Temple

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‘The human body is the best picture of the human soul.’ Ludwig Wittgenstein

‘Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own’ 1 Corinthians 6:19

I long since discovered that – like us all – I was born to be a vessel for something greater than myself.

And like most of us, I had spent the first half of my life confused as to what that might be, pouring in various substances and behaviours to get the desired result.

The ubiquitous mistake, of course, is to fail to empty and cleanse the vessel in preparation for that which seeks to enter.

One Sufi master put it this way: ’When I go out, He comes in.’ The injunction is clear – get out of your own way.

And why not, for who wouldn’t want to be penetrated by The Holy Spirit, which promises the ultimate joy – a kiss on the inside of your own heart?

As a young man, I was given devastating glimpses of what was possible, moments of utter bliss that were pure gifts and a joy that could not readily be put into words.

The trap is to spend one’s life chasing that one holy instant rather than accepting it with gratitude, knowing it is a herald for things to come and a peace that passes all understanding.

Given that, it would be sensible to put my own house in order.

But like many of us, my body had its own plans, which ran counter to my varied attempts to corral it under my control.

Looking back on my 55 years – and it’s a big ask for a man to admit this – I ran, pumped weights, shed three stone in three months boxing, took up various martial arts, dropped various martial arts, drank pukey powders, went weight watching, walked The Camino and of course, joined gyms the length and breadth of Britain.

I don’t think I have been to the latest one for months, with more pounds going out than there are coming off. What was missing, of course, were consistent good habits and regular daily disciplines.

Yet I seem to be seasonal and rhythmic – although not in a good way.

It used to be easy. In my 20s, I ran and yomped across the Malverns with a guy from the SAS. At 40, I boxed with other yuppies in Ladbroke Grove, both with heroic turnarounds.

At the end of last year, I began Ju Jitsu, but was soon out of action when the instructor landed on my rib cage with an almighty crunch.

Down the years, I had two girlfriends who were into raw food and, for a time, I would clean up my act. But try as I might, I would always return to couch surfing with an assortment of favourite, salty snacks.

The low point came when I found myself brushing my teeth with my own urine and realized the pendulum may have swung too far the other way.

The simplicity of moderation had always passed me by but the one thing I actually enjoyed was juicing. I started with a 30-day juice fast with raw foodie number one and then completed a 60-day fast on my own in 2015.

I felt vitalized, alive, marvelous.

But in the past two years, my blood pressure and my cholesterol had crept up as my good habits slowly began to unwind. When my iron levels went down, I had tubes inserted both ends to check for cancer.

It was clearly time for a re-think, although there remains no satisfying explanation for my iron deficiency and luckily no cancer.

I had heard about Vital Detox through a superb herbalist, Fiona Milligan, who had begun to despair of my lack of interest in my own body and quite fairly had me pegged as a hopeless case. She had been a key member of the staff team since it began life in Wales.

I turned up for the week at Middlewick outside Glastonbury – now luckily a stone’s throw from me – at the end of January. I had paid, spent three weeks with the flu, and had fallen out of the shower, tearing a cartilage, the day before arrival.

Crutches never look good on a detox but I wasn’t alone. We arrived in various states of health and, swaddled in blankets for morning meditation, turned the place into something resembling a care home with funk.

Groups don’t faze me. Having done and run so many over the years, I tend to stand back (sit back in this case) and pace myself, avoiding the usual temptation to over-talk as people get to know one another.

The warm, allowing atmosphere created by the staff team grants an immediate ease and there is an attention to detail that comes from a genuine love of human beings. (Founder Anna Tolson suggested comfrey oil for my knee and it appeared the next day via someone’s visit to Glastonbury.)

It slowly became clear there was something unusual going on: a business not motivated to make zillions but to reach people in a deeply personal and heart-centred way.

The regimen was strict, not rigid with meditation at 8am and juices and broths at 9am, 12 noon, 3pm, 6pm and 8pm, although everything was optional, including the excellent talks with Fiona, Fran, Barbara, and Annie. If we wanted food, said Anna, food would be provided.

What has been achieved and what is so key to healing – as any good therapist knows – is an emotional container that provides a safety that will allow unconscious material to appear.

Detox does not just mean of the body but the mind and the emotions too and all 26 participants had individual process sessions with members of the team, who have various skills.

I missed using the swimming pool but received a supremely soothing massage from Rachel and a less comfortable yet important abdominal massage with Andrew.

But there was one thing I was not looking forward to – the self-administered colonics known as colemas. I am not overly familiar with having things inserted into me (although my recent colonoscopy had given me fair warning) and I prevaricated for the first few days.

Finally, I hopped up to Fiona and asked for help. She set up the various paraphernalia, including a bucket of water above my head, and left me to it. While I couldn’t say I enjoyed it, I was aware of its importance so I gritted my teeth and surrendered.

By day four, the process was considerably more hardcore than when I started. I was now on daily colemas; the juices were now almost utterly devoid of fruit and I couldn’t wait for the day when there was more going into my mouth than out through my posterior.

Finally, we came out of the fast into raw food and a feast for the senses. People started to notice I had dropped both weight – and crutches – and had that famous fasting glow. I was clear skinned and ready to go.

A month on and now off wheat, dairy and sugar with the odd minor relapse, I turned up at the staff cottage to speak with Anna.

The child of a bohemian mother, after an ‘alternative’ upbringing she had trained as a homeopath but struggled, like many seekers, with what she calls ‘existential angst’, that wrestle to be here, on this earth, in a human body.

She had attempted to heal that split (I call it the wound of the Chiron in Pisces generation) through relationship and had finally reached a devastating rock bottom after another painful ending.

But victory came when her mother gave her Brandon Bays’ book The Journey: she qualified as a practitioner in a few months after chasing seminars around the globe. She condensed the process while working for another detox business and the rest is history.

‘It was a miracle and it was exhausting, but the results of combining detox and journeying were extraordinary. People are so emotionally available because they are so stripped bare.
I had been depressed my whole life not wanting to be here. I went into my rage and have never been depressed since.’

The effect on her relationships was that they transformed from being traumatic to supportive.

With a push from a client, she then set up her own team in Cardigan, before finally moving the centre to Somerset, her intent to create a happy team:

‘My driving force was to do this job but with people who loved each other. We would become an intentional family.’

One week a month that family lives on site in the lee of Glastonbury’s famous Tor and brings its well-being and care to others.

I had known that a session from home with a practitioner or even a series of sessions would not be enough to get me on track. I needed a new foundation.

Happily, I found it.

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Beyond Religion

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‘Those tender words we said to one another are stored in the secret heart of heaven. One day, like the rain, they will fall and spread, and their mystery will grow green over the world.’Rumi

The mystery that lies within the hidden heart of the human being, and is also the secret heart of heaven, takes us right to the core of creation and the dark wholeness that births what indigenous cultures call the ten thousand things.

‘In the whole of the universe there are only two, the lover and the Beloved.’ And for some, for the mystics of the world, the divine is not father nor mother, but the sweetest, most ecstatic lover that seizes our heart in the most passionate affair of our life.

When the heart is on fire a blaze is created that burns away everything in its path so all that is left is Love. This evisceration, this burning, is the necessary but cruel cleansing that returns us to our self.

‘I burnt and I burnt and I burnt’, says Rumi: ‘I lost my world, my fame, my mind. The Sun appeared and all the shadows ran. I ran after them but vanished as I ran. Light ran after me and hunted me down.’

Al-Hallaj, who was executed for revealing the divine secrets put it this way: ‘When Truth has taken hold of a heart, She empties if of all but Herself. When God attaches himself to a man, He kills in him all else but Himself.’

There is just so much that has to burn in us, so much that has to die, but the destruction of the false self – that scaffold we erected to stave off the wounds of childhood and other incarnations – is consoled.

And it is consoled by the arising of the divine light within, from a small spark to a steady and fierce longing that somehow makes all the pain worthwhile. Just as the pain of childbirth subsides in the memory of the mother as joy takes over, so too are we soothed by sheer wonderment and joy.

But the ego does not go easily. What has to die are all the psychological patterns and attachments that keep us wedded to the world.

Irina Tweedie, who spent several years with her Sufi master in India, said the pain was so bad she thought she was going to die…and the rewards do not come from the world but from the divine. As Rumi says, he lost his world, his fame, his mind.

Everything is given but everything has to be given up. But as Andrew Harvey says, when you no longer want the world, when it no longer matters, it is returned to you on a silver salver. That is the cosmic joke, or one of them.

An emperor had a slave whom he loved immensely and he wanted to know if the slave really loved him. So, into a room heaped with vast treasures, he summoned all the slaves saying they were free to take what they wished. They were over joyed and ran here and there taking what they most wanted. But the slave whom the emperor loved just stood in the corner of the room. When the room was empty, the slave walked quietly over to the emperor and stood by him, his eyes full of love. The emperor said to him, ‘What do you want?’ And the slave said, ‘I want you, just you.’ And the Emperor said to the slave, ‘Because all you want is me, all I possess is yours.’

As Harvey says, in his marvellous book The Way of Passion, it is trust, absolute trust that is the key. And for the Sufi, life itself is the greatest teacher and everything and everyone that crosses our path has the exact lessons we need to learn.

It is what I call having an eye for initiation. The Sufi teacher counsels us to look for the hint in the heart and the wayfarer lives not by the rules and regulations of society nor the covert co-dependent agreements of our culture, but learns to listen only to the still, small voice within.

To hear, and learn to obey that voice, so much rubbish has to be removed. So much that we thought important heads for the shredder! And it is seen that none of it was important after all.

What is revealed is that each of us is unique, that each hair on our head really is known, and that we, as this particular manifestation, will never pass this way again. We are important, vital even, and are here to play our part, large or small, it doesn’t matter.

But this way is not for the sensible, rational man or woman; this way is not for those intent on safety; it is only for those willing to give themselves to an affair of the heart, responding to the call of the moment.

A Persian poem offers this warning: ‘Do not come near to the Lane of Love! It is not a thoroughfare! You cannot sleep, you cannot eat; you don’t enjoy the world anymore.’

As Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee points out, a human love affair can pierce the heart, how much more potent an affair with the divine lover who lives inside your own self.

From Him, from Her, there is no escape, no hiding place. But as Rumi says, if we don’t make this journey within in truth we have done nothing with our life:

‘Desperation, let me always know how to welcome you, and put in your hands the torch to burn down the house.’

When I first started this piece, I wrote a piece called Exile and Longing, which grew out of my own experience of exile from family and society, and the choice to live by my own light come what may.

Often, those of us with mystical awareness, have to live outside the consciousness of the culture which we were raised in, beyond its limitations and judgments, patterns and demands.

As a boy, I was baffled as to why I did not want what others wanted, why achievements, even success, were not important to me, did not satisfy me. What I held to was a small light burning softly inside me, which I finally began to nurture.

Irina Tweedie wrote of her small life, living alone in North London, looking down from her hilltop at the comings and goings of those engaging in the world, and knew that although she had given up everything the world sees as important, she had gained the one thing that matters.

‘Those who belong to the Beloved, carry His curse, which is the memory of His embrace. Nothing in the world will fulfil them,’ writes Vaughan-Lee.

So it is, and if your heart is longing and burning, if you are calling God secretly in the night, if only Love will do, at some point you will be answered. Spiritual processes always begin within before manifesting without.  You don’t find a teacher, the teacher finds you.

‘Light upon light, Allah calls to Him whom He wills.’

When the divine spark is lit within and the Beloved turns towards you the journey of lover and beloved begins. One light calls to the other, the other calls in return. Finally, the ‘I’ that stands in the way is no more and the two merge in an ecstatic union.

If you are seeking, seek Us with joy for we live in the kingdom of joy. Do not give your heart to anything else, but to the love of those who are clear joy. Do not stray into the neighbourhood of despair; for there are hopes: they are real, they exist. Do not go in the direction of darkness – I tell you, suns exist.

Rumi said this because he knew. His meeting with the ferocious wandering Dervish Shams completely remade him. He went from erudite, spiritual scholar to Love’ supreme poet, today the world’s most popular poet. The price he paid was a terrible grief.

The ecstatic union that he enjoyed with Shams came after Shams struck a deal with God, the price of which was his life. The old sage, despised and feared by many, knew that he must pass on what he knew to someone worthy of it and capable of transmitting it to many.

He found Rumi in Konya and their great spiritual love affair began, a union so intense that it roused jealousy and anger among Rumi’s family. Shams disappeared once sending Rumi into paroxysms of grief and longing.

He was found and returned and they were reunited in joy, but Shams disappeared for a second time, finally murdered, probably by Rumi’s younger son.

It was this final pain that Rumi transformed, as he united on the inner planes with his beloved master, spending the last 30 years of his life working to bring the divine light into the world.

There are many different Sufi groups with differing practises, but the work on the path is similar: meditation, chanting the names of God, working with dreams, facing the shadow – all those qualities we have buried and not loved , facing the contra-sexual aspects within, what Jung called the anima and animus, and working with archetypal energies.

And what is right for one aspirant is not right for another. Each of us is unique, yet the practises of the path keep us on track in single-pointed focus on our heart’s devotion.

This is polishing the mirror and when the heart is free of blemishes, the divine sun can be reflected in it. Here the mind is drowned in the heart and as we return to the unmanifest world from when we came we sacrifice ourselves on the altar of love.

Finally, the heart is made as soft and as warm as wool, and the alchemy that was started within you way back when is over……for now.

Last words.

A lover does not figure the odds. He figures he came clean from God as a gift without reason, so he gives without cause or calculation or limit. A conventionally religious person behaves a certain way to achieve salvation. A lover gambles everything, the self, the circle around the zero! He or she cuts and throws it all away.

This is beyond any religion.

Can You Get on Your Knees?

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‘Go you, sweep out the dwelling room of your heart; prepare it to be the home of the Beloved; when you go out He will come in. Within you, when you are free from self, He will show His Beauty.’ Sufi

I notice I have never been good at bowing. It usually takes a large piece of wood – or at least the emotional equivalent – to get me on my knees.

Even then I tend to get up too quickly, my ego returning, stronger than ever, like some tumour determined to spread to another, as yet unaffected corner of my being.

True surrender only seems to happen when we run out of road, our own defences, plans and trickery finally exhausted, defeated by a power greater than ourselves.

Self-preservation can do it. I discovered that when, aged 25 and a determined atheist, I found myself begging God to save me from the painful consequences of my drinking.

I was on my knees, and I should have stayed there.

But I didn’t. I got up and although I gave up drinking, my mind was most definitely going to stay king if not emperor of other important areas, not least sex and relationships. 

Although in truth, it was anything related to pleasure. Fear will only humble a man for so long. After all, I was only 25 and I needed to swagger a while longer.

Luckily, however, somewhere in the depths of me lurked a mystic who secretly longed for love and with it the sense of wholeness and completion that is our birthright.

The human task is to become divinised, to remember who we are beyond name and form. To upgrade has become urgent. Without it, we will almost certainly destroy ourselves.

The mirrors are now flashing endless reflections: Trump, Grenfell Tower, Isis. The world is dying and so our sacred task, what Rumi called the one thing, is pressing.

And the work is personal and calls us to stop looking in the world and turn within. This world, for all its glamour and show, is a realm of reflected light.

The light of pure consciousness is within the heart. The Sufis understood it and yet it is an understanding that lies beyond the mind:

‘The heavens cannot contain me, or the void, or winged exalted intelligences and souls: Yet I am contained as a guest in the heart of the true believer.’

This is the divine secret. The whole universe lives within the human heart. Our destiny is to realise it, to discover powers we cannot even begin to imagine.

But we only receive the powers of mastery when we no longer want the world. We only get them when we have been purified enough in the divine flame, passed through rings of fire and proven that all we want is love.

To be the lover, the Beloved, and finally Love itself.

How few of us are ready to give up all our secret longings, to become empty enough to receive the jewel the divine has for us. There is always something else to play with so, like me, we miss the opportunity to stay down, be humbled enough for grace to enter.

And we have no idea how tragic it is.

But then life presents us with another opportunity, if we are lucky. (I have seen many people who thought they could indulge their poison one more time leave this planet.)

The mystic Andrew Harvey describes wonderfully what he calls our addiction to stage two culture, where the rewards of the prevailing culture keep us smug and satisfied.

He goes on to recommend a nervous breakdown sometime in your 20s to catapult you out of it. As Rumi says, leave safety for in truth it is final danger. Complacency kills.

The difficulty is most of us do not want the work of purification, what the Sufis called polishing the mirror, so the divine sun can be reflected in it.

Yet that work is inevitable. We all have to do it and we have to do it willingly. If not in this life, then another.

But as I know from my own life and in working with clients, resistance is often dogged. Submission and obedience to a will other than our own takes collapse or the threat of the loss of something we are not prepared to live without.

And it is the smartest people, the intellectuals, those with a head filled with knowledge, who find humility so hard. But humility and its bedfellow gratitude, are qualities the ego-driven westerner need to assimilate.

Structures by their very nature carry a weight of unconsciousness that is often impenetrable and more so when combined with intellect.

The mind sits on the throne of consciousness and hoodwinks mainstream culture into accepting its dominance, despising the spiritual.

I’m also not in the business of martyring myself before the mob so I can only say I am a penitent man, after recent events.

I am in touch with my shadow, that which remains in need of integration. It does not make me bad, although others might judge me as such.

But it does mean there is more work to do on a road less travelled. (I will save my confession for a more private vessel.)

You can stay entranced by the rewards of stage two culture if you like.

I will do the work of wholeness, As Rumi put it:

‘Heart be brave, if you cannot bear grief, go. Love’s glory is not a small thing. Come in if you are fearless. Shudder and this is not your house.’

The Ferocity of Necessity

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This head of mine tells me stories
Of predictable gloom, of past pain.
So I have to trust my heart and its
Sudden surge of feeling, which
Catches me unawares and races
Towards the smell of your familiarity
And our conjoining.

We are so entwined now that I am
Inconsolable without you near me.
Can you feel this force field that
Pulls us nearer, that demands 
Our togetherness with the Ferocity
Of Necessity?

It is, I think, the power of love
And a need that must be met.
It hinges on our absolute loyalty
that must be forged in fire like
The strongest iron, unbreakable
and tested in the heat of passion.

And witnessed in a sacred ritual
in words straight from God, 
One to the other.

India My Love

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‘A time comes in a person’s life, in a particular incarnation, when he begins to lose interest in the affairs of the world, knowingly or unknowingly. He may feel that he does not belong to the world, and the objects of the world no longer give him satisfaction. Though not clearly perceived, somehow he intuitively senses that the objects of sense gratification which he has sought over and over again, perhaps in several incarnations, have brought him nowhere. A faint idea begins to haunt his thoughts that he belongs to some other order of existence and that his home is somewhere else. This is the beginning of the search for that permanent element we now call “soul”.’ Ravindra Kumar


Somewhere in the Kumaon Hills, where gods circle mortals like vultures, a blue troupe of uniformed children accost me on their way home.

We are far from the klaxons and smells of Delhi, way north, climbing first by train, then Jeep, then foot, finally criss-crossing the Ganges, spiritual soldier ants in search of God knows what.

I had stood in my room shaking for weeks before boarding the plane. Don’t ask me why; the body has its own lexicon. But let me throw down some bones.

Sixty years earlier, when Gandhi was murdered, throwing the sub-continent into another tailspin, my family had packed their bags and headed – hastily – up The Suez Canal.

Although my mother and grandparents had been born there, little evidence of India made its way to the new world as I recall. My grandfather had broken ranks with his family to become a priest, missionary and – it was rumoured – tiger hunter.

Working with clients now for more than 20 years, I see the imprints of inter-generational shock and trauma, the legacy of diaspora, everywhere. And, of course, it found its way into me.

What happens to us is only one part of the piece; how it is handled, processed, another. There is a strong case for the importance of de-compressing, unfolding, allowing and spaciousness.

I was the first person in the family other than my young son (on a trip to Goa with his mother) to visit, as if the continent lay buried in the family vault, creaking with complexity.

So I shook with a desperate fear which left without notice as soon as I stepped foot on the plane. I felt carried by angels the whole trip, and wandered freely.

In Delhi, I went happily along with a nice little con (the money I passed on was nothing to me and everything to them, making the con itself something of a farce).

Like all egos, I was a seeker and my seeking had reached a kind of fever pitch. A number of years earlier, fate intervened with the arrival of new neighbours who were devotees of an Indian guru.

This wasn’t just any Indian guru, but the supreme avatar, Babaji. Those of you who have read Autobiography Of A Yogi will know that Babaji is said to appear at key times in history to lend a helping hand.

More than that, his last incarnation lived in the same small district as my family was from. If you prefer coincidence to synchronicity then perhaps move on.

I was 29, hungry but green, desperately frustrated by my life in newspapers and, although I probably wasn’t aware of it, a natural devotee.

As I joined in the rituals and seasonal celebrations, I was graced with the blissful experience of union I sought. I didn’t go to India for it, but I felt I had to go. It took me another 14 years to get there.

In looking at astrological charts for people these past ten years, I have learned many things. Whenever I see Venus conjunct Neptune in a chart, I know that person’s task is to find soul union.

When romantic love converges with spiritual love the seeker will not stop until he finds an ideal union, firstly with a lover and then – usually after repeated disappointments – within the Self.

The thirst is tangible, dissatisfaction with the world palpable. Many get lost in the physical world, in addictions. A gnawing sense of emptiness, meaningless, accompanies the seeker.

Those who don’t understand what they are seeing will often provide judgment and condemnation, instead of seeing the paradox: the closer we are to the light, the more the darkness comes for us.

Many are those who are bewildered as to why they are not interested in what the world offers, blaming themselves and struggling to find their place in the world.

The writer Eckhart Tolle calls them frequency holders and recognises that although the material world no longer values the contemplative man or woman, in times to come their currency will change.

As my consciousness re-aligned itself with my Indian heritage, in the final throes of my twenties, I went with a group of Babaji devotees to Battersea to see the hugging saint, Amma.

At around the same time, I would escape the drudgery of work on the evening paper in Gloucester, to steal a few pages of Andrew Harvey’s book Hidden Journey in the book shop over lunch.

Harvey is both scholar and mystic, his tome on his time in India compelling, quenching, and satisfying.

In Battersea, I attended a lunch party for devotees, desperately self-conscious and shy. A small Indian woman answered the door and we filed in. She stopped me by raising a hand. ‘Here we have a very old soul,’ she said.

It was hard to tell if it was my heart or my ego that leapt, but it was clear I would get to India.

And so, in the mountains, I found myself walking a dusty track with a companion in search of the fabled Jesus Tree.

It was here, the story goes, that Jesus sat and was taught by the great avatar, during his missing years when it is widely said, he walked The Silk Road, studying with the masters of his day.

I had been given the money for the trip by my then lover, although our separation caused us both considerable angst and I found myself sitting astride the thorny fence that can separate romantic and spiritual love.

I was in the ashram for the spring Navaratri festival and vacillated wildly as my heart both opened and closed. This was a place of huge intensity, strong emotion, no more so than in festival season when numbers swell.

At the height of proceedings, making an offering of food in a long line to the resident guru, Muniraj, Babaji’s successor, I managed to drop some grapes in his lap. He looked at me fiercely: ‘What do you want?’

‘I don’t know,’ was all I could manage and we stared at one another wildly. It was a stare that lasted the whole trip and I could not wait to get out and back on the road.

When the day came, a small band of us were driven back to the village where we would meet taxis at the local pharmacy. Just as I thought I had been delivered from my embarrassment, Muniraj, who doubled as the local pharmacist, appeared with his ever-present cohort of black-clad Italian devotees.

It was a small shop with only two chairs. I was on one; he placed himself on the other and resumed his stare. Again, we were locked in together.

‘Leaving?’ he asked.

It was a question working at many levels. He knew it and so did I.

‘Yes,’ I affirmed, knowing that what I was doing was both wrong and perfect.

My solo taxi ride took all day and although heading for Rishikesh, had no plan, surrendered to fate and found myself on a yoga retreat a mile or so out of town.

The river, the one I would bathe in at 4am each day, seemed to have followed me and I would sit on its banks watching white-water rafters as we practised pranayama (breathing exercises) – a small group of westerners watching their bellies move in and out.

The country’s premier practitioners could be seen daily on television sucking in their stomachs, promoting good health and spirituality as if it was diet coke.

The bizarre and sublime nature of India was astonishing and yet I knew that like many people, nothing in this world would satisfy me.

Often people castigate themselves as selfish or ungrateful at such a point in their evolution, without any cultural reference for their experience it is easy to think in such terms, but that is most often an error.

What is being presented is a doorway, one that is a threshold that leads out of a world of a reflected light into one much purer that lies within.

Sometimes, we need the grace of suffering to enter it. Once there, we have to face the repressed pain that acts like a Biblical angel with flaming sword, barring the gates to Paradise.

In Sufism, this turning point of the soul is called tauba, and marks the start of our return journey to a place we cannot remember yet once called home.

© simon heathcote

I Want You Slow-Cooked, or Not At All

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‘The man, who, being really on the Way, falls upon hard times in the world will not, as a consequence, turn to that friend who offers him refuge and comfort and encourages his old self to survive. Rather, he will seek out someone who will faithfully and inexorably help him to risk himself, so that he may endure the suffering and pass courageously through it. Only to the extent that man exposes himself over and over again to annihilation, can that which is indestructible arise within him. In this lies the dignity of daring.’
Karlfried Graf von Durkheim

It is interesting how when we start our journey we have completely the wrong idea – that somehow by magic we will wind up in some blissful nirvana. Instead we find the path narrows, gets more painful as well as more joyful, and there are fewer and fewer true companions.

Opening the heart is devastating as we feel everything more acutely. It seems there is no anaesthetic if you want to become one with life, only a singular commitment to being all of it, to incorporating more and more until the conscious life reflects the wholeness of the Self.

In moving into a loving relationship recently, I am being tested to the core of my being and everything that is not love is crawling (and sometimes shooting) to the surface of my consciousness. Loving is hard, painstaking work. No wonder many of us renege on it before we get more than a few steps down its dusty road.

The Sufi mystic Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee recites a meeting with an aspirant who when asked if she was prepared to spend the next few years peering into her own shadowy darkness said a flat ‘no!’

Bully for her for at least she possessed the honesty of foresight and a degree of self awareness that seems to completely bypass many New Agers bent on their next manifestation, which will presumably acquit them of the sludge of self discovery.

This mistaken awareness that suddenly we should be feeling good all the time once we are ‘awake’ can lead to a very rude awakening of an entirely different sort. After all, true peace is freedom from the need to feel good all the time. That is simply the tyranny of the ego which, as ever, wants life its own way.

Certainty is a curious thing. How often do we give our power to those who appear sure of themselves and seem to offer the safety of certainty and with it direction? Yet power almost always lies in the hands of the ‘wrong’ people because those who are power driven are most often at the beginning of an evolutionary cycle where the developmental task is to build a strong ego.

At that early stage there is only a tiny amount of light in the soul and it is this inability to see the full spectrum of life in all its varying shades which lends the power of certainty. Tyrants and despots everywhere do their worst under such limited insight.

In ‘spiritual’ circles we can observe the same phenomenon: the need for egoic power masquerading as ‘love and light’. Give me teachers of human frailty, compassion and self doubt any day; someone who is willing to be vulnerable and say ‘I don’t know’ when necessary and someone who has seen enough of life to know their own failings. That involves moving around the wheel of life, experiencing many different facets of one’s humanity, making mistakes, and being authentic rather than perfect.

In reality, whoever we are, sometimes the floor keeps opening and we just keep on falling through it to yet another rock bottom. Along the way, we pass through those feelings we spent a lifetime or more avoiding, until we reach the core of the conditioned mind – worthlessness and self hatred – only to finally discover that within us lies an invincible summer.

Courage is required not to circumvent this process, and faith. If you just want ‘love and light’ in your life don’t even begin, keep holding on to what makes the ego feel safe. But it seems to me, that for all of us, there comes a point when the only thing we can do is to let go and live our own peculiar passage through time until we land in eternity.

And it is precisely that journey that has called me in recent months and some days I have zero confidence in my ability to make it and withstand its searing test. Yet in truth I know the hero’s journey is the only game in town and, however I may complain, it is a burning of the heart that I want.

We so often think love is soft and warm, but it takes time and maturity to learn that love has a hard, cold edge too that is ruthless about Truth or Reality and exists only in Freedom. Love is a laser beam that cuts through to the heart of things, discarding all that fails to serve its interests.

The Sufis say that love’s apparent absence experienced as emptiness and longing is just as important as the heat of its sun. If we really love another, it seems we also have to be prepared to let them go if being with us is not in their own best interests.

Love’s agenda is different to the self-serving needs we impose upon it and sloughs us off like some bucking bronco when we try to bend it to our will. The conditioning of our co-dependent culture can make it hard to be clear in the mind yet that is what we owe one another. We must never compromise our complexity for a false peace.

Give me someone who can talk about their in between places, not their successes, achievements and ambitions. Someone who has done the work of traversing the wild current of their own innards, their dark history; someone who has travelled and understood what appears to be the most insignificant cul-de-sac of their deepest being.

I am not interested in those who can bang a drum, perform a ritual and look good. I am interested in the person who will tell it how it is, talk straight, disappoint me to support themselves, understand the simple value of kindness over spiritual trickery, clear with me by making an amend when wrong while looking me in the eye and speaking from the heart.

Those people are few and far between in my experience yet I would take one of those, the person whose heart is true, over any number of do-gooders, shamanic pretenders or weekend warriors. It is interesting how deep psychotherapy has gone out of vogue, the slow pain-staking work of true self enquiry in favour of quick fixes and sudden shifts.

I want you slow cooked or not at all, I wrote a while back. For it seems to me that unlike the day world or ego, the soul likes to meander and take its time and seeks to root out even our smallest transgression or quirk, all that we had long forgotten and never wanted to see again. How many are truly up for the underworld journey?

Some people like to think they will be immune from pain the more they mature in consciousness. But that is simply a ploy by a mind still burdened by the fantasy of its own power. The more conscious we become, it seems the more sensitive we are, not less. Shams, the poet Rumi’s master, moved away, in pain, from those whose unconsciousness assaulted his depth of awareness and Love. Isolation is, ultimately, preferable to a long bath in idiocy.

It is a great unwisdom to always be trying to escape our vulnerability, be positive at every moment, always to be on the up and on the make. For as the poet David Whyte points out, there is no escape from it, we are our vulnerability. So the question is more about how we become one with it without letting it consume us, rather than trying to outrun it, control it, and allow pride to throw a veil over our humanness.

The current idea that we must heal or fix everything is based, I believe, on a flawed concept of what it is to be a human being. Rather than always thinking of being better, we could simply keep opening to those pockets of unconsciousness we all carry, allowing their gifts to come forth. We are not static entities, but life unfolding, awareness awakening slowly, over time so we can integrate at all levels. There is no rush. We will all end on a breath.

As for relationships, I know that infatuation is a potent impostor, an ersatz love, a sugar-hit for the soul, that simulates the real thing, a near miss that is a million light years away. It is the mind’s version of what love looks like when it has had a failed, often devastating, experience of the real thing. It is so beset by desire, fear and projection it has little hope of peering out of the fog of its imaginings to see clearly.

And yet somewhere, hidden in its dark and desperate recesses is the grain of something finer. There is no wanting in love and to arrive at this place, where the only desire is for the beloved’s happiness, will excoriate the ego.

To transform infatuation into love is one of life’s true rarities, yet holds the seeds of greatest potential for true love and freedom. Yet it means a complete transformation in outlook and attitude with the ego no longer dominated by consciousness but sinking roots deep into the unconscious where all its repressed memory of failed love lives.

And so my love, I am still here, stretching toward you as you stretch toward me and I am reminded of the words on love from the first spiritual book I read, Scott Peck’s The Road Less Travelled: ‘Love is the willingness to extend oneself for your own or another’s spiritual growth.’

Amen to that.

Will You Risk Opening Your Heart To Relationship?

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‘There is no force in the world but love.’


At the core of all longing, striving and struggle languishes the bloodied, tender heart, with all movement either taking us further into the heart wound and the possibility of wholeness or into contraction: the recoil that cuts us off from life and love. The heart is either opening or closing.

In the first flush of romance the heart blossoms like a spring flower but, drawn to rekindle the wounds of childhood, the heart’s eye knows just the right partner to select: those who will frustrate and deny fulfilment just as mum or dad did way back when.

Is this some cruel trick of fate that renders love powerless, or is it instead precisely this lighting of love’s flame in this particular person that offers an opportunity to transcend all that is loveless and unloving and return us to the most profound healing?

Relationship as spiritual path has a hard time of it nowadays and it is easy to give up on human love, but for some the journey of learning to love another and allowing oneself to be loved offers the ultimate redemption. Does it not make sense that if a man is wounded by mother and a woman by father then in loving and forgiving and being loved and forgiven by the beloved a person can experience a sense of homecoming like no other?

But why do so few find the healing balm they seek, instead foundering on the rocks that lay in the treacherous waters just outside the honeymoon isle? How can redemption be found when thrashing around for power? As Nietzche said, where there is the will to power then love is absent.

The key battle for most couples centres around the two-year-old self’s struggle for both attachment and autonomy. If you have not had sufficient attachment needs met at that and later developmental stages the psyche will keep seeking closeness and merging. If you’ve not been given sufficient autonomy and independence then the movement is away from relationship to satisfy that particular need.

Few of us had our early need for both attachment and autonomy handled well, setting up the later push-pull of adult connection. We want love, we fear being smothered. We could call this the love addict and the avoidant or the fuser and the isolater.

In truth, both poles are usually operating in both people, although one partner will invariably tend toward one position, polarizing the other partner. Yet the truth is both people have exactly the same need, to love and be loved, with both operating their individual set of defences to protect the wound of the heart. And they can easily reverse roles as the poles shift on their axis.

I have seen this again and again, both in my own personal relationship life and, formerly, as sex and love addiction therapist at The Priory Roehampton.

Essentially, we are all trying to get at and integrate the material we repressed as children and we are unconsciously drawn to those we think could help us get it – namely our complementary opposite. The goal, as psychiatrist Carl Jung said, is to integrate those fragments of ourselves we buried as children so our conscious life can reflect the wholeness of the Self.

Some of us learned, for instance, that our anger was unacceptable, others their sadness. We soon realized that we could not be ourselves and emotionally survive in our families. Socialization only served to gird that belief as we discovered eros, the life force, was blunted in the wider world of school, friendships and work as well.

But then that magical person comes along and we project all those wonderful qualities we have hidden from ourselves on to them. They appear to have all that we lack and for a while – the honeymoon period – we feel whole again.

Yet it is an ersatz love, based on projection and adoration, our own narcissistic longings. As Robert A Johnson points out in his marvellous work We: The Psychology of Romantic Love, our so-called love is a Western phenomenon that coincides with the loss of an authentic spiritual life, the rightful home for our deepest longings.

The reason the Sufi mystic Rumi is one of the world’s most popular poets is that he writes, beautifully of longing and spiritual love in the language of romance. Perhaps, just as Jesus spoke in parables, this Middle Eastern master transmitted his own message in the only language that we could understand.

It is the perfect spiritual fodder for modern western romantics who seek, unconsciously, a return to the paradise garden, Eden before The Fall:

‘If you have lost heart in the path of love, flee to me without delay. I am a fortress invincible.’

Rumi speaks from the position of an enlightened one, but such words could easily be uttered from one desperate love to another, Romeo to Juliet, Tristan to Isolde.

Yet during what alchemists call nigredo, the dark night of the soul, couples fall into the power struggle and most do not emerge – at least not together. What was once admired in the other becomes hated, a cause for both perplexion and consternation.

The reason for this, though hidden, is simple. What we admire in the other is what we buried in ourselves and although we both need to reintegrate those qualities and are indeed attracted to them, because they were originally taboo they stir up some pretty deep anxieties.

Yet the childhood need for love and affection, which remains with us until satisfied, is so powerful that when it is denied we contract against our own need like a circuit breaker. Some move so far away from that need they no longer know it is even there. Such people are truly lost and often cannot be reached easily. Throw in abuse and brutality and you get the Hitlers and Stalins of the world.

One of the most helpful things we can do is make friends with our own needs and neediness and do the same with our partner’s. It is probably wise to move away from those who act tough and needless and refuse to change and the current crop of seekers who are doing a spiritual bypass and residing in a need-free nirvana. Anti-dependency, after all, is simply the flip-side of co-dependency.

But unfinished business does not just come from childhood, it comes from past-life connections with our partner too. I have come to believe that most, if not all, of our more serious relationships are with those we know from other incarnations. I am also aware this is a radical view unacceptable to most.

We are drawn towards those on our path on many different levels and will rehash the same old battles until we learn to love one another, which may mean letting go and moving on. I find current theory on relationships limited and primitive in one way or another and certainly using addiction models to treat relationship issues is a mixed blessing, healing some and reinforcing early experience of shaming and harshness in others.

The most complete and hopeful work comes from the pioneering psychiatrist Harville Hendrix who seems to have put all the component parts of relationship together and made sense of them.

In a nutshell: we are drawn to people who share positive and negative traits of our parents to win an old childhood struggle for love; to change brings up our fear of wholeness, which was not allowed as children; we are so fearful of our own wholeness we fear we are going to die if we change – hence most relationships fail during the power struggle; we have to confront and contain the life force (eros) within us that has been trapped since childhood; in finding a container for our feelings and needs with the help of our partners we begin to feel safe enough to heal and, most wonderfully; in dedicating ourselves to meeting our partner’s needs we restore ourselves to wholeness.

The last part is paradoxical but true. If the partner our heart’s eye selected contains all the qualities that we have repressed in ourselves, which we are first drawn to and later detest, then in loving them we are really loving parts of ourselves. When partners become allies and not enemies dedicated to healing the childhood wounds in each other, with loving turning outward towards the beloved in reciprocity, a circle of love is formed which is deeply satisfying to both parties.

Love, always cleverer than the self-serving ego, only finds itself through acts of unconditional generosity and giving.

Finally, restored to wholeness not just through their partner’s love but critically through the act of loving itself, a couple can bring love and healing balm to all those around them.

As Rumi, said of the relationship with his spiritual guide and teacher Shams:

‘Those tender words we said to one another are stored in the secret heart of heaven. One day, like the rain they will fall and spread and their mystery will grow green over the world.’

Psychotherapy Without Soul Can Fuck You UP

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Without an appreciation of the soul’s radical desires, psychotherapy can interfere with psychological and spiritual maturation and promote a non-imaginative normality that merely supports people to be better-adapted cogs in a toxic industrial culture’

Bill Plotkin

There is a marvellous moment in Perfect Love, Imperfect Relationships by the pioneering Buddhist psychotherapist John Welwood when a client finally hits the ground of infinite possibility. The truth is, she says, that right now I am a completely fucked up human being and cannot be otherwise. This revelation was no doubt preceded – as it is for many of us – by years of therapy and workshops, potions and pills. From that moment of crystalline authenticity doors began to open as she sank into the richness of her own being without judgment or concept.

One of the cavernous blind spots that snag the seeker lies in the poisoned nature of the ground in which she seeks healing. Without the soul as companion too many therapies are simply confounded by what is presented. How can that which is devised within the confines of ‘toxic industrial culture’ – that which fails to incorporate blessings and curses, ancestral hand-me-down wounds and individual karma – bring cure to what ails?

Again and again I have seen clients struggling under the weight of a geis, or what I call conditions on the soul, failed, inevitably, by systems that don’t get them, don’t want them and finally throw up their hands in confused failure offering another diagnosis by way of compensation and to save professional face.

Soul sickness does not respond to that which is soulless. It does not seek a fix, although the personality which accompanies it will. It cannot be touched by much in this world. For what has taken root in a human being, what has found a home there, is both incurable and a reflection of what is not right in contemporary culture. This sickness comes from being separated from the beauty that has been lost and which the soul now desires as a matter of urgency. The individual holds both the illness and the answer for that which lies outside the Self.

It is almost that after the soul’s journey over many lifetimes the pressure builds to a point where only death or breakthrough matter. It has to be one or the other. Nothing else will do. I am either going to find the beauty within or I will return to it in the Otherworld, the realm of the ancestors. The mood is pressing and the initiatory circumstances both more terrifying and exciting.

In Zen, it is said that the nature of dilemma is like having a red-hot coal stuck in the throat. It can neither go down nor out. You can neither cough it up nor swallow it. This stuckness or impasse is common in both individuals and society, and as Jung said it represents a preparatory period before significant breakthrough, even an evolutionary leap.

We are too quick to want to get out of this wasteland. In these days of sound bites, quick fixes and instant communication the thought that the soul might have its own agenda and desires is abhorrent. That it might want you to grow sicker and sicker until you are beyond human aid is unpalatable. This is where insight into the mythological level of life is critical. Without understanding and accepting the soul’s need for slowness and to sink into its own depths it is too easy to think a life is no longer worth living.

But the soul is calling you down, deeper than you would go on your own, farther than seems necessary to the conscious mind that only wants to ‘get on’. It takes a long time and much flailing about looking for ways out of our dilemma before accepting, like the client above, that perhaps there is no cure, at least none that we can see. If you study mythological tales, this image of the fall from grace, the wasteland, and the kingdom once abundant now in ruins is everywhere. And it is a necessary part of being alive.

For the sickness pulls us down into territories of great learning, a brush with death, and strips us of all we have known thus far until all that is left is the vision with which we were born and which has been forgotten. ‘The only way to treat the condition,’ says mythologist Michael Meade is to get everything out of the way and allow the sickness to speak for itself. It can only be heard when all the possible cures have been eliminated and its incurability has been admitted. The soul sickness needs permission to be the strange story that it declares itself to be.’

The only way at such times is to understand we have ingested soul sickness, that it is purposeful and contains great gifts, and to go further into it. In other words we have to follow where the sickness leads and where it leads is often to a threshold we don’t even want to see let alone cross.

In modern times, I see this happen most often in relationships. Everywhere I turn I hear people stuck on the horns of dilemma: should I stay or should I go?; I love him but I’m not in love with him; I just don’t feel anything any more. As soul, that feelings of passionate aliveness, most often enters us in western culture through our romances, small wonder that is where we will feel its absence.

People stay miserable within these dilemmas for years, for the sake of the children or a myriad of other sensible reasons. Yet soul is not interested in common sense or material security. It just keeps pressing in on you until you give it its due and it won’t let up until you do, ever. That does not mean the solution is to break with relationship. That may or may not be the case. It does mean you have to find a way to attend to your deeper life or get sicker.

In a sense, the more soul sickness you’ve imbibed the better equipped you are to heal what is within and without. In turning towards what is dark within the Self and the culture we increase the possibility of bringing some of the beauty trapped in the Otherworld back over the threshold. It is as if we have to risk death to step over and beyond ourselves, but what we bring back can alone illuminate that which has fallen into forgetful chaos.

Redefining the Spiritual Journey…

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‘Spiritual life begins when seeking fails.’ Adi Da Samraj 

The freshness of the day glinted through the window, navigating its way through the small opening and spreading out like a fan made of silken butter, over the sheets and into my caress. I wanted to marvel at its honeyed wonder, but was instead wrestling a demonic hangover. One of the dread trials of the dependent drinker is waking. A febrile and sweaty worry greets the day, the only compensation being that it doesn’t matter if it’s rain or shine although rain does not carry with it the same burden of guilt; the guilt of time about to be wasted, already spent.

It takes time to be able to meet any day after drinking and even in the hours before the first eye opens warily upon that day, a nightmarish fear would take me over in the dusky threshold between two worlds. I imagined that I did not have to wake as at sixteen – yes I was only sixteen – a familiar heart-thumping dread was hanging low in my belly and was about to climb into my chest. Generally, I turned over and tried sleep again.

Unconsciousness is always preferable to the alcoholic. If only I knew then how lucky I was and that my fear was only of my parents’ hostility and not yet the terror of waking in a soaked bed, occasionally with someone I had never clapped eyes on, with the sure knowledge of recent disgrace. Blackouts are useful but do not save one from repercussions, aftermaths and consequences.

But this, I soon remembered, was a big day, not one whose preparation best required a night on the town. I was about to be confirmed. Sweetly, a girlfriend and I had sought to cement our union before it was whipped away from us and it seemed right to have God’s blessing whether or not we believed. In a sense my two addictions had dovetailed neatly, drinking and love, yet this ceremony hinted at a purer wine, one that I desperately needed but was too young to understand.

I emerged and was, fairly, greeted with a certain frostiness. Relatives were coming, godparents, friends. I was looking bilious and quickly needed to find my sea legs before nestling into the backseat of a 40-minute car journey, hoping that I could sense the earth and see the road. It wasn’t long before we were pulling over. I flung the door open, threw up and crawled back inside, not green any more but white. It didn’t give me the sort of virginal innocence that could have elicited sympathy and we pulled up at the cathedral, soon all smiles after a lengthy silence, as the more sincere religious among us found us in the crowd.

The service stretched before me like some accursed desert, dry to the mouth and interminable, no oases yet an ending some way down the road. If I looked up into the cathedral vaults I got vertigo; if I looked down a wrenching sickness I struggled to hold down. The bishop, looking fine in his regalia, his fish-hat faintly ridiculous, his purple robes rippling under a moted shaft of sunlight. It was way too hot and he seemed to go on and on. Finally, it was my turn and I knelt before him, fighting hard to keep the dread blend of bitter and lager within my body. Rarely had I struggled so hard or had to endure so much. I got away with it – just. For years afterwards, I saw images of a jolly fat man in a fishy hat and a purple dress sprayed with projectile vomit, a thousand-strong congregation dashing for the exit. I often had the sense of getting away with it by a whisker, making light of my revelry in order to avoid the pain that drove it.

Outside, in the lee of the building that I loved and had attended every day while at school, I managed to pose for photographs, and introduce two families. We returned home for the celebration and I retired to bed exhausted and sick. Everyone wondered where I was and excuses were duly made. It was not my finest hour and while mostly I drank away from my family there were occasions like this one when it was out in the open.

I threw up in spectacular fashion that same year on a boat across Niagara, my sea legs more needed yet less available than ever. It was a pattern that progressed for another ten years, almost fatally. At 26, I was done and almost at once catapulted out of this shadow aspect – the addict – into the land of the lover. He had long lurked underneath the pain and chaos that drove me. I was, in short, a natural devotee and, as my focus turned 180 degrees I discovered that alcohol is called spirit for a reason. Like a drunken native American in many a western, I had been robbed of the conditions I needed to thrive, and so my spirit went underground emerging like a mad genie in a bottle.

It is nearly 28 years since I stopped drinking and began the search for what really ailed me and what I really wanted. I rarely think about it now except occasionally to give thanks. There are countless stories these days of ‘recovery’ with people wrapping themselves tightly in their new identity. It can be an important phase, yet as the ego calms down one that needs to pass, in my view, and life met again. So this is not really a story about drinking at all, but of a search.

When I was 18, a school friend – actually a girl I hardly knew who not long after died of cancer – gave me a copy of The Magus by John Fowles. It was my introduction to mysticism and it bore a quotation from Little Gidding by TS Eliot: ‘We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.’

Eight years later when I came to, I fell in love with Taoism and Zen Buddhism and came to realise that I lived in a patriarchal culture where the effortless being that I was reading about – the feminine qualities of love and relatedness – had been driven out by a tyrannical masculinity that wanted only money, power and control. Later, as I explored Jung, I saw there was an evolutional power in the universe that sought wholeness and integration of the duelling opposites both within the world and in the psyche.

Slowly, as the fog cleared, I realised that the conscious life was meant to reflect the wholeness of the Self, which could only be achieved by doing the work of integration, which meant dredging up the long buried contents of my unconscious, facing my shadow – both its darker and more golden aspects – and making peace with it.

It is a monumental work and so often traumatic events are the springboard that propel our seeking. Without pain, where is the spur? Some people are drawn to the essence of love, to what Rumi calls the root of the root of loving, a place where all other desires have been seen through, cleared away. I realised, with a start, that my longing made me a mystic and that I would never be satisfied by the rewards of society.

‘Love draws us back to love, and longing is the fire that purifies us,’ writes the Sufi master Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee. Andrew Harvey, another mystic, recommends a good nervous breakdown in your 20s to propel you out of what he calls Stage Two, where we settle for the reward and bribes of the culture, continually fulfilling the false needs of the false self.

My breakdown had been spectacular, my false self – that scaffold we erect to stave off the wounds of childhood – utterly ruptured and a beam of light had hit me between the eyes, smack in the third eye. A portal had opened, my longing had found its proper context. I was a natural mystic and I wanted soul union and that was that. My ego, however, had other ideas.

I was given to over-indulgence in sensual pleasures and was charged with the task of embracing both my humanity and my divinity. I felt in exile all of my life, but again realised without that sense of exile, of not be-longing, I would never have had sufficient longing to travel the journey I have.

That journey took me into living in various communities, becoming a travel writer, re-training as a therapist, studying with different spiritual teachers, travelling to India to study yoga and meditation, finally becoming an initiate of an ancient inner mystical pathway that showed me clearly that the physical world is a realm of reflected light – all its pleasures and pains cul-de-sacs and dead ends that herald our awakening.

The light of pure consciousness can only be found in the heart by turning within. Like everyone else, I spent years looking in this world of reflected light, chasing shadows. Alcohol was only one dead end. There are many others of course: work, sex, food, drugs, gambling, success, achievement. Remarkably, on a bad day I still fall into some of the same old traps.

‘When you extend yourself frenetically outwards, seeking refuge in your external image or role, you are going into exile. When you come patiently and silently home to yourself, you come into unity and belonging,’ wrote the late Catholic priest John O’Donohue.

We are all addicted to exteriorizing our lives, living in our false selves or egos. The more pain we carry, the more we live outside ourselves, for the first thing we encounter within is our distress. Ask any therapy client.

Somehow, we have to learn to be displeasing to ourselves. One of the great deficiencies of The New Age is its emphasis only on love and light and its denial of the shadow. The ego always wants pleasure without pain, happiness and high vibrations linked together in some happy clappy harmony. But I like the dark as well as the light, sadness as well as joy, pleasure and pain. Freedom is letting go of the need to feel good all the time.

If you notice, most of the many programmes for self improvement – often costly – are popular precisely because they appeal to the false self which is predicated on the belief that there is something wrong with us that needs changing. In a sense that is true, but it is the false self itself that is erroneous. There is nothing wrong with our true nature, but most of us are not living in it.

As it says in Alcoholics Anonymous, self will cannot overcome self will. Instead the will has to be surrendered, the false self relinquished entirely not improved. Yet of course, like everything else in this realm of reflected light, the game goes on and people keep buying it. It is, after all, what makes the world go round.

I realised there is nothing wrong with the game just so long as you know it is a game. I have my own place within the game and yet I know it is not real. Success and failure are both impostors.

Finally, seeking is seen through and starts to wind down and then we are in a place of unknowing.

For a time, I followed the teacher quoted at the start of this piece. He said this: ‘The childish individual wants someone to save him; the adolescent wants to fulfil himself absolutely and independently. The true man simply serves good company and surrenders to Truth, the living God.’

I can be in any or all of those states in any one day and I find that quote a good and true barometer for my being. Today, I am doing the deepest inner work of my life, which involves facing more pain yet I know it is not real and that the veils between worlds are parting.

‘Do not stray into the neighbourhood of despair for there are hopes: they are real, they exist. Do not go in the direction of darkness – I tell you, suns exist.’ Rumi was referring to his experience with his own spiritual teacher, Shams of Tabriz, the sun that eviscerated Rumi’s darkness.

In some ways, the 16-year-old boy that I was has come a long way; in another sense, no way at all. For in truth there is no journey, although the mind can only conceive life so, only a gentle swerve into an innate rhythm long forgotten that waits patiently for its own rediscovery.

TS Eliot had it right.

© simon heathcote


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