Letters For My Sons

Category: Happiness Page 1 of 2

Hey! I’m a Spiritual Guy

Spirituality has a bad name.

It recalls dirty hippies chanting in a forest. Yuppie city-dwellers reclining in a sweat lodge using affirmations to attract money. People talking about their totem animal, a dream they had, or a pantheon of norse gods and Crowleyan angels.

It’s time to reclaim.

I consider myself first and foremost a spiritual animal. I’ve clothed myself in the tresses of material things, my career, my role as a father and my hobbies. But beyond all that, at the fundamental level, I build upon an internal spiritual base.

But what is spirituality?

Spirituality is the quest for answers to life’s problems, answered in a way that is deeply and fully understood by the entire self.

Mentality Vs Embodiment

Western culture swims in the seas of mentality. We place great emphasis on the ability to think well. Rote memory, rationality and logic are paramount, and they are very important.

When we look to understand, we often do mentally. But this is not the same as whole-body understanding. It’s the difference between telling yourself to stay calm in an anxious situation, and simply staying calm. Its the gap between trying to ignore someone whose behaviour is annoying you, and being non-reactive. One is a call to logic and reason, and the other an integration of that knowledge into the body that needs no reminders to activate.

What we ignore as a culture is the value of embodiment, the state of having a body, and the knowledge that bodies bring. The primary value of having a body is the immediate and individual nature of body knowledge.

Body knowledge happens only to us. It is absolutely personal. There is no way to describe accurately to another person the exact nature of our experience. This is the primary difference between mental knowledge and body knowledge.

Mental knowledge uses language so we can discuss and agree upon abstractions. We can discuss “communism” and approach a shared vision through discussion. Body knowledge does no such thing. It is personal and unique to such a degree that “true” discussion is impossible.

We can agree that the statement “my knee hurts” is communicable of a certain experience. “Sharp pain on the inside of my knee” makes it even clearer. But the complete experience is personal and non-communicable due to my body (including the brain and all the organs) inhabiting a different space from yours. Not only that, but the nervous, synaptic connections that tell my brain of events in my body are wired differently from yours. Even if my body were yours, your brain would interpret the inputs differently.

A Body’s Dialog with the Universe

We all have different bodies, and thus, different world views. Our histories, the nature and nurture of our upbringing, the impact of surrounding cultures, and the key imprinting moments of our childhood are all profoundly different. All these contribute to fundamental differences in our personal processes, from our baseline rationality to emotional patterns and our physicality.

We know this intuitively. Conversation with a liberal politician, a muslim shop owner, a pot-smoking hippie, and a Harley-riding bikie gang member are all going to be substantially different, and my attempts to convince them of my point of view are going to have marked variations in success.

Here’s an exercise. Thinking of these human types, imagine their bodies. Imagine how they feel in their bodies. Imagine the emphasis certain parts of their bodies place upon their abilities to think, to emote, to physically feel, to exist in space. For example, the pot-smokers lungs would have an impact on their posture and therefore the way they hold themselves. The bikie might have a very muscular upper body that impacts their felt experience.

The politician would stand and talk very differently to the bikie, who is different from the shop owner. Their embodied experiences are diverse. Now you might imagine people from even more diverse backgrounds. And these imaginings really only account for external behaviours because of the impact our own consciousness and its habits has upon this exercise. Imagine how different the embodied experience would be! There is really no way to truly understand the totality of someone else’s experience.

Cubes and Funnels

Religion has traditionally taken the role of curating the body’s interaction with the universe. At some point, someone says “How I’m living my life is better than how you’re living yours.” What they are really saying is “You cannot be trusted to operate your own body correctly in this cultural milieu. Therefore I will dictate some rules that limit your universe-interactions to a boundary comfortable for your fellow Earth-travellers.” They then develop a code for living which becomes a religion, a bureaucracy for interacting with the universe.

I define religion as the attempt to answer life’s problems as a bureaucratic experience. Many religions are literally spirituality via committee. This stems from the historical belief that we all share a common understanding and experience of the world. All of our culture, our political landscape, our religions and our education originate from this erroneous belief.

This may have been true in tribal days. As a member of a small 100 person tribe, most people would have had a very similar upbringing and life experience. Today there is such a variety of child-raising and experiences that there is very little common ground, even between people of the same culture or ethnicity.

A committee cannot possibly understand your path in the world. It cannot be inside your head, feeling what you feel, knowing what you know. It can only assess your external behaviour, which, though we have reams of research and Freuds and Jungs to explain it, is still a shadow thrown on the wall by your internal reality. A committee’s answers to the questions of life can only partially sate spiritual thirst, simply because they are not you.

Religion can be seen as a cube, a container. All the answers and rules for living are contained within a code, whether it is in a book, or defined by the preacher, iman or guru. There is nothing without that has value, and despite the ostensible views of the church that (chaplaincy-proscribed) communication with God can enter the system, in reality nothing changes the contents of the container. Proponents of religion will argue that their relationship with their God is personal, and there is no doubt it is. However, this relationship in consciousness could be compared to playing a board game, where the board and rules are defined.

Containerised limitations have been broadly positive for humans in the past. At this point though, as our culture suffers from the deepest Meaning Crisis yet seen, people sense the yawning chasm of the nihilist abyss. The containers and meaning-generators of past religions and modern Western culture cannot fill the hole fast enough with enough outdated moralities, new technology, new media, and new outrages to hide the hungry maw. This black hole is endlessly hungry for anything non-personal, for personal experience is the only thing The Maw cannot stomach.

Spirituality on the other hand can be imagined as a funnel. The individual is in direct connection with their body, which is funnelling information at all times from the universe to consciousness. The answers one seeks are found in this diaphanous connection, the interpretations a body can make with this information. A body can use only the consciousness at its disposal, therefore a body will only find the answers its consciousness is able to observe, decode and integrate. Hence the saying “you only get what you can handle”.

The benefit of the funnel over the box is that the amount and variety of incoming information is infinitely bigger. Comparing this to the board game metaphor is to say spirituality is the table the games can rest upon. More games can be chosen according to the person, the time and the place (in the broadest possible terms), and there is even the potential to leave the table altogether (or upset it, if that’s your cup of tea).

Applied Spirituality 101

To an experienced body this universal information can be decoded in infinite ways. In my personal experience I’ve decoded inputs via words in (reading), words out (decoding consciousness via writing, speaking, song and conversation), physical movement (dance, exercise, practice, paratheatre, trance-like writhing, complete surrender to non-mental bodily control, conscious movement), art (drawing, painting, sculpture, pottery etc), metaphor, music, landscape interpretation, relationship interpretation, personal narrative overlays, meditation, mindfulness, and more.

Answers are always there, ready to find. Our job is to remain flexible in our approach, to be ready to try new things or reuse old ways of knowing.

Personally, the arrow I follow is toward joy. The approach to joy is found through feeling entirely in my body, regardless of the emotion or feeling state. In this state my body answers all my questions. All the knowledge I have ever needed has been discovered through listening to my body, listening to my Self.

Again, spirituality is the quest for answers to life’s problems, answered in a way that is deeply and fully understood by the entire self.

Not just the mind.

Not just the habitual thought processes we journey through daily.

All the answers are found through one’s own body. And moreso, answers are found only this way, and only for oneself. It is precisely the personal nature of the direct embodied experience that enables spirituality.

Sieging the Fortress of Guilt

There are three kinds of people:

  1. Those who are lazy and have infrequent punctuations of activity that soon lapse,
  2. Those who are driven and have infrequent punctuations of inertia, usually through depression, sickness or injury caused by excessive action, and
  3. Those who are happy and partake of both activity and relaxation without guilt or self-loathing, as and when they feel like it

This last group is by far the smallest, incredibly rare in todays society.  This is because we are taught to feel guilty about our actions in some way from a young age.

We feel guilty about our action or inaction, and depending on our personality, react to that guilt with drive or laziness.

The goal is to destroy this guilt centre, and live life happily.

I’ve found three pillars that enable the destruction of this fucked-up guilt complex:

  1. Self-Appreciation
  2. Self Awareness
  3. Self-Driven Movement

Each one feeds the others, and they are all built up together.

Self Appreciation

Self appreciation requires that we cease judging ourselves.  We stop our guilt, and our self-loathing, and accept who we are in the moment. 

There is a difference between striving to become better so we can be more satisfied and happier, and being driven to not be so hopeless and weak.  In the first case you are already accepting of your current state and want to become better, in the latter you hate who you are and thus are trying to escape it. 

In the beginning most of us come from the latter state, and it’s why many of us start self-work in the first place.  We want to escape ourselves and our pain.  We want to become different.  It is only with time spent in self-appreciation that we finally see that pain and difficulty has made us who we truly are. And it is from this recognition that we can finally start to appreciate ourselves.

Self Awareness

Self awareness is important because it tells us both what we are feeling and what we are doing.  Am I feeling guilty?  Anxious?  Happy?  Ecstatic?  Why do I have this pain in my stomach?  Is it anxiety, or simply an upset tummy? 

We also become aware of what our body is doing in real time, and cease to be completely robotic: 

We find that we have a twitch in our right eyebrow when we are unhappy in a converstation. 

We find that a certain movement in our hips twinges our hip flexor because our abdomen is not engaged. 

We find that our thoughts turn sour when we have eaten certain foods or gone without exercise for a day or two. 

We are no longer slaves to our feelings, but are able to predict and  control them to some extent because we are more aware of what creates them.

Self-Driven Movement

Imagine almost any small child you know, and think of how mobile they are. Their whole bodies are moving, shaking, flicking, tapping. It can be annoying as an adult! They get taught to restrain themselves, to be quiet, to control their movements lest they break something or upset someone.

But movement is the nature of the body; it is the physical representation of the mind and spirit.

As adults we have controlled this movement. And that’s mostly ok! Control of our body is part of becoming an adult. What is problematic is that we no longer give ourselves the option of moving as and when we like. Our control is almost total, and that control is linked to feelings of guilt.

It’s remarkable how, even alone in the privacy of one’s own room, we control ourselves so strongly that we feel embarrassed to move, flail, thrutch and spasm. Noises are especially difficult to release, as children should be seen and not heard (at least 35 years ago that was the case), and this triggers big guilty feelings, and a feeling that we are doing something very wrong.

Some notes about self-driven movement:

Self-driven movement comes from within. 

There is no reason for it. It is not exercise.  It is not for fitness. 

My body is doing it “on its own”.

It twitches and spasms.  It shakes.  It moves all parts of my body in all manner of fashions, none of them pretty or cool in any way, all of them spastic and occasionally undulating.  But I’m not “doing” the movement. Instead I’m “allowing” my body to move, as it wants, when it wants.

What is surprising is how smart my body is.  It homes in on the parts that are tense.  It moves them and breaks them apart.  It keeps going past the point of mental pressure and continues until the muscles don’t need it any more.  Then it stops.

By allowing ourselves to do these things, to just release and let the body move, allows our character to push up against the fortress of our guilt. We start to siege it, and over time we reduce it to smoking ruins of rubble.

And we finally get the chance to experience joy.

Ocean at sunset

In Which The Ocean Provides Her Infinite Wisdom

I love the beach.

I can sit on the sand for hours if left alone.  I run my hands through the grains, feel the ocean break.  I watch the gulls and sea eagles drift by.  

Silence comes and goes in rhythm with the waves.  The silence in my mind sometimes matches it.  Thoughts swim by, in and then out of my field of view.  At other times they will stick around while I turn them over and over like a seashell in my hands, running my fingers on every curlicue and ridge upon it.

I jump in the cool ocean.  No matter the weather, save for a scary stormy sea, I’m in there in the morning.  Sometimes I stand only knee deep after a quick soak.  Sometimes I drift with the current in a clear turquoise sea, looking towards the headlands and the secrets they enclose, then seawards towards the rising sun.  I squint from the salt and brightness, feeling the soothing bath of the elements relaxing and yet somehow energising me.

I look towards the house where my family is staying.  We come here a couple of times a year in various seasons.  My family is asleep still, rocked by the sound of the crashing surf.

We live the mountains a couple of hours away, but the beach is where I feel refreshed and reawakened.  I bring problems to the ocean for solutions.  The ocean brings perspective.  In some primal amniotic way the ocean either integrates or flushes the problem, leaving it for the scavengers in the deep.

I want to buy a beach house.  I want to have a place to bring my family whenever I want.  I spend some time each day looking in the real estate windows, dreaming.  My wife and I sit at the table with the ocean outside, and discuss the potential for buying, re-mortgaging, borrowing, finding an investor, buying and renting through Airbnb.  We lounge on the deck with champagne and measure the costs, imagining how we can pay the rates, the electricity, the water.  We muddle in the sand and dream our little dream of being at the beach with our family and each other, warm in each other’s embrace, cuddles on the couch and adventures by the sea.  We imagine our boys catching puffer fish in the rock pools and fishing off the headland, cooking their prizes in butter and lemon, flour and salt. 

I wake up and head to the beach.  I feel the sand between my toes, grainy and cool.  I walk straight into the water and she welcomes me, swirling between my legs, drawing me gently in to her cool enclosure while I take long breaths in and out, feeling the joy of my aliveness.

I look towards our house, where we stay each year.  It’s a beautiful mansion to us.  Our friends own it and we stay here for free, a week at a time.  We pay no rates, no bills, no maintenance fees.  We spend no time checking Airbnb to see if anyone is staying this week, if we can afford the mortgage.  We have no stress over having two properties miles apart.

And in the oceans embrace, I finally see.

We have our perfect beach house.

We just don’t own it.

If You Wanna Be My Friend

If you want to hang with me, if we are going to be friends, you’ll behave within certain parameters. Not like “you gotta do this”, but because you are like this. 

Its totally cool if you don’t behave in this way, but we are not going to hang out.  We are unlikely to be friends.  And that’s ok.  If you have respectable ideas, I will respect them.  If you voice your opinion, I will listen to it. But you will not be a part of my circle nor any of the advantages and disadvantages that come with that.

I used to be flexible.  That guy who continuously adjusts their behaviour until connection is found with the other person.   The one who flexes their boundaries ever so slightly so that others can be a little more comfortable.

I now have little need for flexibility in establishing connection.  If I’ve had to make more than a couple of flexibility adjustments to my character to connect with you, I probably won’t be talking to you again, not in any real, deep sense.  And, I’ll be making a quick exit. 

Flexibility is exhausting, and certainly inauthentic.  However some people armour themselves, and it can take them a little time to find that dialogue with me is a safe space.  They’ll armour with humour, or accent, or trivialities.  I’ll take a little time to see if there is something worth pursuing in the other person, to find a connection that is rewarding.  A connection that has you walking away with a feeling of joy, humour, warmth or lightness, and a desperate need to talk with them again.

These people I want to connect with again are usually recognised within the first 2 to 3 minutes of conversation.  They are the ones that dive deep straight away.  They are talking of their likes and dislikes, talking of their fears and loves, talking from the heart.  They are not parroting shit from TV.  They are not repeating the tripe of the social media day.  They are not outraged about anything. 

They are explorative. 

They are learning. 

They are unsatisfied with how little they know. 

They are feeling.

They want answers.

They are blackly humourous, you know?

They are probing.

They ask questions. 

They deftly reinsert conversational threads that we had barely unravelled ten minutes ago before being distracted by another fascinating turnabout. 

They disagree, healthily. 

They criticise, constructively. 

They bear the same from me with grace and good humour, without a trace of defensiveness. 

These people understand that it is ideas that are to be argued, discussed and disembowelled, not people.  They know that the idea and their Self are utterly seperate, thus an idea can be hung, drawn and quartered without the Self suffering in the least.  They are grateful for torture that teaches.  I know I am.

I want dialogue.  I want interaction. I seek connection above all else. 

And what a beautiful thing it is to connect with another fascinating human.

The Australian Fires and the Fresh Start

We’ve been burning here for months now.

The Blue Mountains, from the north of the Wollemi National Park to the deep south of Kanangra, has slowly but surely transformed from a stunning vista of eucalypt forests into a black moonscape, bereft of identifying features.

The fire has destroyed homes and threatened villages with new dangers appearing almost every week, fuelled by hot conditions, dry landscapes and wind.

The anxiety comes and goes, wondering whether this will be the week it’s our turn to lose our house, our belongings, our lives.

What surprises me is how many people secretly wish since the beginning of this fire season, to lose everything they own and start again.  How many have longed for a fresh slate?  I have talked with many people and been surprised at the sentiment of “the fire can take it all… I’m insured”.

It seems we don’t really want our stuff, but we don’t want to get rid of it ourselves.  We want an external force to remove it from our lives.  We want to be free of the weight of our belongings, those “things” that tie us to earth, to our past, to our background, to our fears of loss and our anxieties of the future.

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