The Gift of Trump

As a psychotherapist, I find that if people want to make changes in their lives, they need to see what doesn’t work in their lives and where there might be some part of themselves that is sick or ugly. Often change comes about through experiencing pain and being courageous enough to face dark truths about ourselves. The gift – and I really mean gift – that Donald Trump is giving America is that he is continually holding up a mirror to his country of an aspect of its own wounded, pathological, narcissistic and heartless psyche.

Donald J. Trump

Note I said “an aspect” of its psyche not its whole psyche. There is much about the American character that is also noble, wise and visionary, but Trump represents something that is very, very ugly and by his continuing to remain in the news with all his stupidity and hostility, he is continually reminding his country of this fact and as such is actually doing a very great service. My hope is that Americans will stop projecting their shadow onto him and start taking responsibility by looking inside themselves and recognising certain Trumpian  features inside themselves. Viz., the mindset that went to war in Iraq, that is violent, dumb and obsessed with guns. This self reflection is something  which the Republican party in particular needs to do. Above all, it needs to ask itself: what has happened to its soul that has made it deviate so far from those noble ideals which  initially gave it birth and has thus resulted in its having created this Frankensteinian  monster to represent it. Thomas Mann, in one of his novels, made a character say: If a way to the better there be, it lies in our taking a full look at the worst.

I hope Americans are doing this.

The “Enshadowing” of Tony Blair

SA Tony Blair

One of the reasons why the press has had such a field day with Tony Blair following the publication of the Chilcot report, is that we love to find fault with people, especially if they are wealthy and famous and have committed some indiscretion. And Blair, who took our country into an illegal war that should never have been fought, features on all three counts. He exaggerated the threat of the WMDs, he went to war even though peaceful options had not been exhausted, and he made no preparations for peace. He tried too hard to please the Americans. He sent men and women into battle ill-equipped. Nearly 250,000 Iraqis got killed and ISIS emerged out of the disbanding of the Iraqi army. Blair also refused to heed the greatest anti-war march our country has ever seen, and as is now well-known, the war was engaged in solely for geopolitical reasons and of course, for Iraq’s oil. If you read Naomi Klein’s extraordinary book The Shock Doctrine, you will see that the real aim was to pummel Iraq to smithereens – to shock the country so badly so that there would be no resistance to the large corporate interests in America taking over.

So of course Blair has a huge amount to answer for. However, this does not explain why he is being so demonised, on top of, a few months ago, also getting pummelled for possessing a multi-million pound real estate portfolio? Why is he so, so reviled?

The main reason is that we really love to have someone to hate, as it makes us feel so much better about ourselves. Our tendency to demonise used to be focused on Saddam Hussein, then it shifted to Osama bin Laden, then the late Jimmy Saville took over the mantle and now it’s old Blair. And it works like this. We all have a dark side, a dimension to us that we don’t know about and don’t like to see and which Carl Jung called “our Shadow”, and it is the opposite to what we primarily identify with about ourselves. In other words, if you and I like to believe we are only generous and selfless, then we’ll probably have a dark, Shadow side to us that is also mean and selfish which we will probably refuse to accept about ourselves.

Thus, in order to stay in the dark about this aspect of ourselves, we look around for people to use as objects onto whom we can project it onto, for then we don’t have to look at what is unpleasant to face inside ourselves. So in Blair’s case, if we don’t want to own the fact that we may be materialistic or greedy (perhaps we think we are only “spiritual” and generous!) then he is a jolly good hook to dump our “stuff” onto! He’s also a great hook for our greed, for our inauthenticity (“Teflon Tony”), our tendency to be fawning (his relationship with Bush), our abuse of power and our grandiosity. And if we can make Blair into the baddie, then it follows that we become the goodie. In other words, when we project what we don’t want to look at in ourselves, onto another – in this case, onto Blair – we can feel purified and self-righteous.

Indeed, I think that Blair probably felt the same vis-a-vis Saddam Hussein who carried his shadow. I think he saw his own dark side in the power-hungry and ruthless dictator and unaware of this, felt that he would be feted as a world saviour if he were only to rid the world of this tyrant. Actually, by waging war against Saddam, he was simply trying to rid himself of his own inner tyrant!

Certainly, I admit that I initially took part in the demonising of Blair. However, if I look closely at myself, I also ask myself how I would have operated if I were in his shoes, and my answer is that if I had no self-knowledge of the inner demons driving me – which Blair obviously didn’t – I might well have made some of his mistakes, for power, we remember, is incredibly corrupting and great power even more so!

Put simply, is there some aspect of a Blair inside me? The answer is yes and I want to start owning this instead of continuing to project what I refuse to look at in myself, onto him. I choose to stop saying “Oh that dreadful Blair and by default, that wonderfully virtuous me!” I wish to do this because I know that the more I can be aware of my own dark side, the more I can work to transform it and in the process become more whole as a person. Blair’s presence helps me do this.

The point I want to make, then, is that those people who reflect aspects of our own dark sides, give us a gift in that they ask us to view the mote in our own eye and so help us stop playing the game of being a pot calling the kettle black. When as a psychotherapist, I work with people to help them become more aware of their Shadow side (repressing it takes up a lot of energy and in extreme cases, can lead to a very delusory self-image) I often ask them to think of someone of their own sex with whom they have a big charge with and see what that charge really is, and then to look back at themselves and ask themselves if what they have been making that person carry, is something that they are denying or don’t want to own. It mostly is.

My point is simply that if we can see what our shadow sides are, then we can do something about them – we can work at integrating them. If we don’t, then we let them control us as was the case with Blair. In other words, had he seen where he was inflated, greedy, distorted by power, narcissistic and messianic, and, deep down, felt impoverished (he had a difficult childhood and was very poor), we would not be in the state we are in today. A hundred and ninety-seven servicemen and women would still be alive and we would not, as a nation, have so disgraced ourselves on the world stage.

Heart to Heart on Brexit

QUESTION. ‘Serge, can you comment on the whole Brexit situation?

Well, it ‘s crazy times, isn’t it. This leaving the EU which we’ve been part of for so many years, has resulted in Cameron falling on his sword, a rebellion against Jeremy Corbyn and the possible splitting up of the Labour party, together with our seeing some rather ugly racism rear its head in England. As Lord Hazeltine said on the late-night news: ‘We are facing the greatest constitutional crisis the country has had since the great war.’

For me, who wanted England to stay part of the EU, this break feels such an abrupt one. It’s as if a partner whom you had felt secure with – even though there were always a few ripples of unrest – suddenly tells you that they want a divorce and that life will be much better for you without them. You don’t realise how important and secure-making the relationship was until it is no more. And now everything is up in the air. None of us know, least of all our politicians, where anyone or anything stands and what our ‘exiting’ really involves.

Well, I don’t want to discuss the ins and outs of Brexit. Rather, I want to look at how we deal with crisis, for this is what we are all facing and we’re all affected in one way or another. What will it to do our status abroad? Will our businesses be affected and our pensions? What will happen to the economy, the euro, the pound, etc, etc? What about England’s future? The one thing true at this time is that there’s a hell of a lot of insecurity in the air.

A political or an economic or a social crisis – and this crisis is all three, and I’d also call it a spiritual crisis – is always a personal crisis, which the Chinese have a great word for. Crisis for them is translated as a ‘dangerous opportunity,’ and I think this is exactly what we face. For crises, if they don’t destroy us – and some of them certainly can, although I don’t think this one is quite of that league – can also have the capacity to expand us, if that is, we have the courage to face them and not deny them and take time trying to see what they have to teach or reveal to us. As a psychotherapist, I work with a lot of people going through crises, which are generally around themes of loss – loss of a loved one, loss of one’s job, loss of health, etc – and once I’ve helped them deal with the shock effect and our tendency to want to deny things that are unpleasant (most crises hit us out of the blue – we aren’t expecting them), I try to make them see that there is always a positive side.

Often, then, a crisis can be a blessing in disguise. Could this be one? Could all the heartache and anger and confusion and uncertainty in the air today, be pointing us in a new, positive direction? I would like to hope so, if that is, we can all invest our energy into positively musing what could be – what could potentially lie ahead – as opposed to lamenting what we feel we’ve lost.

There’s a great line in the poem Morte d’Arthur by Alfred Lord Tennyson. ‘The old order changeth yielding place to new’ and certainly the ‘old order’ is changing in England. And very quickly. It is no longer a question of left versus right. Things are becoming much, much subtler. Indeed, our world as a whole in the last decade has become much more transparent, and today many more of us are much more wise to the fact that not only are many of our politicians not giving us what we want but also that many of our institutions are becoming increasingly dysfunctional. This in America, has certainly been responsible for the rise of the two ‘populist Washington outsiders’, Trump and Bernie Sanders.

The truth is that there is a lot wrong with how the EU operates today. It started with a wonderful vision but has got bogged down over the decades with the result that much of its original fire and enthusiasm has become compromised. Basically, the EU needs to evolve. Just like the UN (see its abysmal failure to deal with Syria), it needs to move to a higher level, become more integrated, more open, more functional, more able to deal with the needs of parts in the light of what is required for the larger European community, thinking also of what is best for the world as a whole. My perception is that for too long, European countries have tried to address their difficulties by trying to paper them over and not address their deep causes, and this crisis is not going to be solved this way and so is bringing many things to a head and is also causing many other European countries to look at themselves and their relationship with the EU from a new perspective. (Most crises have an ‘intelligent purpose’ hidden inside them if we can only pull it out!)Serious world problems like inequality, corruption, racism, terrorism, injustice, the problem with immigrants – they all need examining more closely and the ‘gift’ of this crisis is that it is opening up many cans of worms that had previously been conveniently covered over. To use another analogy, lots of different cats are currently being let out of lots of bags and this is forcing us to see a) that certain problems can no longer be overlooked, and b) that many of our old ways of dealing with them are no longer working.

Basically, the game needs to change.

In my early thirties, I went through a huge crisis in my personal life. I had a serious illness, a woman I loved left me and I lost a lot of money through some big mistake being made. These things all happened at the same time and this triple whammy initially absolutely floored me and I was full of anger and denial, blaming everyone and everything for what I saw as a ‘big injustice’ that had suddenly descended upon me. I felt quite a victim. However, I had the luck of having a wise friend who helped me see that my dark cloud had a silver lining and that my crisis had a deeper purpose to it. I saw that I needed to evolve as a human being. I realised to my horror that I was full of arrogance, fear, intolerance, prejudice, small-mindedness etc and that these aspects of me were standing in the way of my being a real person and needed to ‘die off’ to allow a more resilient or ‘fuller’ me to come into being, and that in reducing me ( at one level), i.e., knocking the wind out of my sails, my crisis was actually helping expand me at another level – helping me become a bit more human! Although this transition took time and was not without its challenges, I look back on that year as being one of the most important ones of my life as it pointed me in a whole new direction. I think that if my life hadn’t fallen apart, it would have gone on in its old tracks which were not satisfactory. I wouldn’t knowingly have derailed myself as I was stuck in my comfort zone – and, folks, we all hate and resist change. I needed a big crisis to come from outside and turn me upside down and inside out!

I would like to suggest that the radical derailing we are currently all experiencing in this Brexit crisis, can be a similar gift. There’s another Chinese aphorism that goes: ‘Unless you change direction, you are bound to end up where you are headed’ and as I see it, a space is starting to open up both within our country and within Europe that can possibly move us all in a new direction. I would like to feel this could be a blessing in disguise both for England and the EU and maybe somewhere down the line, we will unite together again in a much stronger and much more integrated spirit.

Evolve through Struggle

SA Europe Flag

There is a character in a Thomas Mann novel who says: ‘If a way to the better there be, it lies in our taking a full look at the worst’. In other words, we need, all of us personally, and nations nationally, to confront our dark side or our shadow. In America, one is seeing this via Trump – maybe he is a gift, as he embodies one aspect of thy country’s very dark face – and only if we can see and then confront the dragon, can we properly transform it, and maybe over here with this referendum, we have to confront our egos. I believe we need to become more international, more global (viz ‘Think globally, act locally’). But I don’t want to be fanatical about my opinions. I think we need a new kind of democracy whereby the opinions of EVERYONE can be included. I don’t know how this can come into being, but maybe it could be a new political ‘next step’. Again, my little opinion on this referendum issue is that I agree that there is something wrong with most of our institutions, ie the UN (it was pretty shabby in its trying to deal with Syria) and the EU. But that is because they need to evolve. There gets to be something ‘wrong’ with you and I, when in our lives, we stay put and don’t evolve to the next step. And I think there is the wisdom in the EU to self evolve. For me, the ship doesn’t need abandoning nor having its holes patched. A wholly new kind of EU ship needs to be born out of the gradual demise of what we have at present. But I am not a) pretending I am right – it is just an idea, and am not b) demonising those of you who disagree. Wars continue ‘out there’ – out in the world- folks, because you and I haven’t yet healed the conflicts inside us. I.e. We externalise our inner capacity to demonise. We gotta explore this. Put some energy into healing ourselves, i.e. we need to put some energy into earning our inner living as well as our outer. Big challenge, n’es ce pas? Politicians ain’t too great at that. They’re too busy doing their outer stuff…

Written 23rd of June 2016

Innie or outie?

Why this hostility between the stay in-ers and get-out-ers? It’s got like a religion – out of hand. We get so identified with our beliefs about what’s right and wrong that we think our beliefs are who we are. They are not. Those who think differently from us are not bad or wrong or deserve to be pilloried or humiliated. They are beautiful human beings who think differently about something and should not be crucified. Remember Wordsworth talking about the healing principle in life that reconciles opposites. We must remember this and know there are truths on both sides and no one is bad or dumb or wrong and that we human beings just have a habit of liking to concoct facts to fit our beliefs. I bet that whichever side wins that few of the prophecies are proved correct be they on the positive or the negative side.

Written 22nd of June 2016

Inquiry of Philip Green

Inquiry of Philip Green at the House of Commons

It is interesting how all bullies are, underneath everything, cowards. And tycoon Philip Green, recently fallen from grace, who loves to be in the hot seat where everyone bows down to him because of his money and where he is always in a position where he can control and push people around, may have realised that yesterday when he was in another kind of hot seat , a rather less comfortable one. He was being questioned by a parliamentary committee over the shortfall of cash in the BHS pension fund which he’d owned for 15 years, then selling it to a known bankrupt as a result of which BHS has collapsed with thousands of people being made redundant.

Philip Green at the Commons Inquiry

And he didn’t like it one bit. One saw the insecurity and paranoia on his face. I was prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt if he’d shown a bit of heart and admitted he’d put a lot of people in a precarious position. But not a bit of it. No remorse at all. You could see his fragile ego was fighting for its life. He wasn’t so much concerned about the pensioners who’d lost their pensions but with the loss of his self-image and becoming the latest ‘unacceptable face of capitalism’. In his mind, everything was everyone else’s fault and poor little ‘Sir’ Philip was the victim now of everyone getting at him. Boo hoo. ( I asked myself what kind of inferiority complex required someone to have not one, but three super yachts!) and I thought it sad that our system not only hands out honours to damaged and insecure little schoolboys like him who need big toys to play with. Why do we give honours to people who are not honourable? He fits the typical insecure psychological profile of many men who are driven by money, fame and power: inside they feel small and are terrified of being controlled and not feeling powerful . Did mummy smack him a lot as a little boy for being bad and wee-ing in his bed, I wonder!

But I also look at the part of me judging him. Who am I to do so? What do I get from it? I think we all like scapegoats to project our shadow side on so maybe we don’t have to see a Sir Philip Green archetype inside us. What would I do – what would we all do – if we had his billions?

Here’s my fantasy: that he learns from his mistake. He changes and puts the full amount back into the Pension fund that got removed and has a St Paul on the road to Damascus conversion, and suddenly sees himself for who he really is – the good, kind, generous man hidden underneath all that surface froth – and he devotes the rest of his life donating his money to good causes and using his considerable business expertise to make a difference in all the many ways he is capable of it. And yes, keep one yacht. I think if you really enjoy it , dude, you won’t need two more. I wish you well.

Unsung heroes and stage-hogging zeroes

SA Unsung heroes and stage-hogging zeroes

Question: What is your view of the state of the world at this moment? Do you think we’ve a hope of making it or are we toppling right over the precipice?

 

Well, if we just get our information from the media, you’d think we hadn’t a hope in hell as the media just loves telling us about what’s going wrong with everything, the result being that we all get a bit hooked into disaster and some of us even take a vicarious pleasure out of it, plonking down in our armchairs of an evening to watch the news to see was what’s the next juicy bit of ghastliness coming up? Who has Trump offended now? How many died in that earthquake? Have ISIS really got hold of nuclear material? And so on…

 

OK, this is all happening and some pretty terrible as well as some very superficial things are going on, but many other very good things are also taking place which we are often wholly unaware of as they don’t get reported about. Why? Because good news isn’t dramatic or exciting and so it doesn’t sell newspapers! Many years ago a group of us got together to try and start a positive newspaper, only giving the good news. Guess what. It never took off!

 

Actually, there are many wonderful people all over the world doing many incredible things – designing new technologies to irrigate deserts, creating new economic systems to try to eradicate inequality, helping refugees damaged by the ravages of war, etc. Look at Médecins Sans Frontières, for example; fantastic bunch of people. I recently wrote a book which explored how we can ‘make a difference’ in the world and this led me to discover that actually millions of people have this as their aim. And in every country: Russia, China and North Korea all very much included. Generally, they do their good work behind the scenes. Thus, for every brave woman like the well-known Afghani schoolgirl Malala Yousufzai who, if you remember, stood up against the Taliban who shot her in the face for championing the education of girls – there are hundreds of other equally brave women standing up against evil and corruption and equally deserving of Nobel prizes. The problem is that they are completely unknown.

 

Anyway, it is because of such people, that I have great hope in my heart. I feel it won’t be too many years in the future when we will stop awarding knighthoods to the likes of ‘Sir’ Philip Green – who, a few years ago, stole £571 million out of the pension fund of BHS to help fund the construction of his third super yacht – and award it to truly noble people, who do truly good things for the world, for these people sure exist. As my hero Bob Dylan put it ‘The times they are a-changin’, and yup, Bob, they’re doin’ so a hell of a lot quicker now than half a century ago when you wrote that immortal song.

It’s interesting: we seem to get two kind of messages today. One side says ‘Yes, it’ll be tough. We’ve got some dark roads still to go through but we’ll make it – fear not,’ while the other side categorically says ‘No way José. Things are too far gone. The environment is now too damaged, the system too dysfunctional, we’ve gone beyond the point of no return. No way back. Sorry!’

 

Yet perhaps it is good that we receive this conflicting information. If we all felt things were going to be OK, we might sit back and do nothing and so things wouldn’t be OK (for, after all, if they are to be OK it is up to you and I to make them that way. Change, if it happens, happens through us!) Conversely, if we felt everything was hopeless, we might give in to supercharged despondency and also do nothing. This way, we are challenged to stay on our toes as the world is full of surprises, nothing more so than the continued ascendance of ‘The Donald’. But perhaps here, there is some method in madness. The fact that so many people support him is a reflection of some part of the American psyche ( or should I say ‘American psycho’!)

 

The thing is that so long as our dragons are buried in their lairs, we can’t see them. They breathe their fire on us but we can’t do anything about it as we don’t know where the flames are coming from. However, once the dragon is out of his lair and we see him for what he is, then there are things we can do, and I think the gift that Trump’s presence is giving the American people is that he is reflecting for them a certain part of their dragon-like nature which needs a lot of addressing as it sure ain’t pretty and it is very dangerous. The good thing is that a lot of the American psyche is also very good and very noble and this part of itself is, even now, contemplating how best to deal with its dragonry…

 

My reading of the world at this moment is that a huge struggle is going on between two hugely conflicting worldviews. On the one hand, we are surrounded everywhere by outmoded behaviours and values, which are both holding us back and destroying our planet and therefore need to die off, yet are often fighting furiously to try and stay alive and maintain their positions. On the other hand, we are seeing many movements for change going on all over the world and which are being led by people totally committed to working for a new and healthier future and who are aware that the process of salvaging our society requires nothing less than a wholesale transformation of dominant cultural patterns, a dramatic shift in the very design of human societies.

 

What I find so reassuring is that those leading this transformation are no longer society’s outcasts, poets and assorted weirdos, but those in high positions in government, industry, science and the arts – people in positions truly to make a difference. Put simply, what, forty years ago, had existed at the edge of our society – etc, namely alternative technology, alternative medicine and strategies like my spiritual retreats – are today at the centre of society (the word ‘alternative’ being changed to ‘complimentary’). People who come to my retreats nowadays are no longer a groups of out of work ‘consciousness explorers’ but people in government and corporate leaders. I remember when I worked as a publisher in my youth, going to have lunch in a little whole food, vegetarian restaurant in London called Cranks. Often, my friends laughed at me. Today, you are seen as a bit of a crank if you don’t eat wholefood! And this is all healthy.

 

So that is why, in answer to your question, I am hopeful and positive. If we believe that there is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come, then surely its corollary also applies and there is nothing weaker than ideas whose time has past! Perhaps, this is one reason why we are currently seeing the implosion of the Republican party in America. Yes, one doesn’t like what ISIS is up to and it is true to say that the world is finding it hard to address the many very complex problems lying behind the emergence of terrorism. And goodness knows what that tubby-faced little creep with the weird hairstyle and an inferiority complex in North Korea, will get up to next – certainly the ‘being a tyrant ‘ business has not yet lost its allure – and yes, global warming is a damn serious issue (despite what the climate deniers believe), yet despite all this I believe a powerful new integrative spirit is afoot in the world and that the forces for goodness are more powerful than those for badness. However, as I said earlier, I do still think we all need to stay on our toes, take nothing for granted and avoid complacency.

Corporate vs Heart

Corporate vs Heart

SA Corporate vs Heart

Question: I work for a large corporation and receive an excellent salary for my work. While I like my work, I am starting slowly to change how I see the world and I am seeing that my firm does not support my values and beliefs as much as a small company or charity perhaps might. So I have two questions for you: do you think it is emotionally damaging to continue to work for a company that does not share one’s vision of the world and do you think I should I give up working for it?

Boy, those are both biggie questions and I am sure you are not the only one around asking them, as with our world becoming ever more transparent, more and more of us are becoming ever more aware of the fact that the value systems of many companies may need shifting. Interesting, isn’t it, how having a conscience or becoming more aware of what is ‘wrong with our world’ often makes our lives more complicated!

At one level, I suppose you need to ask yourself what is the lesser of two evils: do you compromise your pay packet in order to stand up for your values or do you compromise what you are increasingly coming to stand for, in order that you keep your good salary? Perhaps you need to ask yourself which is the most important: your money or your life! Ha ha! If you have eleven children to feed or you don’t want to sacrifice your luxury holidays, then the question is decided for you.

Interestingly, what makes this issue more problematic is that you like your work! I mean if you hated what you do and did it just because it brought in the bacon, this dilemma would be easier to resolve. That said, who knows that you can’t also have your cake and eat it! I say this as you are presuming that only smaller firms or charities have values similar to yours and that none pay well. Maybe this isn’t the case so I would certainly try and see what smaller firms or charities pay and also if there are some big organisations around with values you agreed with.

I am someone who likes the idea of life being an adventure and I think you need to use this dilemma positively, as an opportunity to explore new avenues and perhaps if you found somewhere new to work that did pay less, you might find your new work so creatively fulfilling that making the shift would be worth it for you. (I think the more dissatisfied we are, the more we feel driven to need a lot of money to compensate!) I also think we need to measure well being or abundance in ways other than just material. Yes, materially you might be downsizing a bit, but because your new work might be so interesting emotionally and creatively, taking it on might actually be up-sizing! Personally, I think the kind of work we do is very important and I feel very sorry for people who have to do something they hate simply to put bread on the table, and I know this is a lot of people’s lot in life today. But at least it ain’t yours!

In my life, I have always worked with people, trying to help them get well, sort their heads out, be more themselves and I love doing this as I love people. It makes me feel good. In no way would I substitute this for sitting in an office all day even if I was paid huge amounts. The price I’d pay would be too big. But that’s me. I think you need to listen to your heart as this part will tell you what you need to do. This is not a problem you face. It is a great opportunity.

Finding your place when moving abroad

SA Finding your place when moving abroad

Question: I have recently arrived in Mallorca to live with my wife and young daughter and we can’t quite settle in. I don’t know why this is. We also haven’t really made any close friends, yet we live in a part of the island with plenty of British ex-pats. Could you give me any advice about what most people do when they come to live here as we may be doing something wrong.

We need to start with why you decided to move abroad and live in Mallorca, as people come for many different reasons. To have some sun. To avoid the rat race. Because you’ve fallen in love with someone on the island. To retire. Because you don’t like England any more. To avoid terrorists blowing you up (if you live in London). For your health. To embrace a more relaxed lifestyle. Because you have found a job there. My list could continue…

So ask yourself these questions: why have you come? Perhaps for a few of the above reasons and a few more as well. Also ask yourself: did you really feel good moving abroad? I presume your decision was not spur of the moment and that you researched Mallorca well and you decided where on the island you wanted to settle and as you have a young child, you haven’t based yourself in a part of the island full of raging night life!

The point about most islands is that they are always rather special places and Mallorca is no exception. My experience is that either they accept us or they don’t. In this sense islands are rather like people. Many years ago, I felt very drawn to spend time in Ibiza and at first the island welcomed me with open arms. I couldn’t have felt happier. And then one day I remember, I arrived at the airport and those familiar island smells that I so loved, suddenly seemed rather insipid and I realised, in the way we sometimes realise when a relationship with someone has come to an end and we no longer take joy in their presence, that my love affair with Ibiza had finished. It was time to leave. And I did.

So ask yourself. Has your love affair with Mallorca ever begun? To live here one must deeply want to. Was it your heart that brought you here or your head? And does your wife also like it? What about your little girl? Does she feel at home here? I presume she is going to a local school. The question is: are you feeling this way because you are not supposed to be living here, or not yet?

Or are you feeling this way because you are supposed to be living here and your heart (that always knows best) has led you here, but there is perhaps something in you that may be a bit rigid and so doesn’t allow the island to put its arms around you? The thing about uprooting oneself to go and live elsewhere is that we are leaving our old securities behind and we are challenged to put down new roots. And this can be challenging as the kind of roots we need to put down in Mallorca are different from the kind we had in England. Thus it requires some imagination and flexibility. And, most important, time. New roots can’t be put down at once. They need to be planted gradually. Is the problem that you may be a bit impatient?

Another question to ask is how good are you and your wife are at making new friends, for it is a bit of an art and not all of us are accomplished in this area. I am interested in this issue and for many years I have taught a weekend workshop called The Art of Friendship as I believe having good friends whose presence truly nourishes us, is so important for our health and happiness and if we have blockages here, it can be very detrimental for us.

The point is that if we go to a new country where we may not meet as many people as back home and if we wish to have friends, we need to be open to meeting people who may not be exactly what we feel is ‘our type’ or ‘like us’ and so we need some flexibility in this area. We also need to ask ourselves how naturally friendly we are – if we make it easy for people to approach us. If we are someone naturally suspicious of those we don’t know, then we put blocks up and we keep people who might become friends, at arm’s length.

I know I have put more questions than given answers, but the key is asking the right questions and if we can do that, then the answers naturally emerge. The deeper question is: are you really supposed to be living on this island or not? Are you really ready to sever your roots with your homeland and come to Mallorca? If not, then the island is being honest with you. If you are, then it is up to you to evolve better friend making skills and be a bit more patient and tolerant. I am teaching a weekend on this topic at the end of May, so if interested, get in touch with me. I wish you well.

Living a Spiritual Life

SA Living a Spiritual Life

I had someone write this email to me, asking:

“Serge, I really want to live a deeper spiritual life. Can you give me any advice?”

Here was my reply:

It depends what you mean by a spiritual life which for a lot of people means one of austerity, and being adept at difficult yogic postures! This is not my understanding. Just being able to stand on your head for two hours does very little good in the world and by no means guarantees you are a decent human being, which for me is what being spiritual is all about. Yes, yogic practices or other spiritual practices help refine us and certainly if we wish to be more spiritual we will probably need some practices to do, meditation being my favourite one, but remember that a practice in itself is not spiritual. What is spiritual is the potential in us that a practice may help bring about.

I prefer the term being more fully human to spiritual as that sounds more genuine. For me, spiritual people are people who live with gusto and passion, who don’t deny their own fruitiness, who prefer expressing than suppressing, who see the value of working at opening their hearts and listening to them, who are interested in some way of being a force for positive change in the world and don’t try to escape life by living on a mountain top in the Himalayas but are engaged in it fully without taking on its horrendous value system. Or as one teacher of mine put it: “The challenge of being spiritual is about being in the world but not of it!”.

A spiritual person for me is not about being some skinny ascetic (unless one feels one’s true calling really is to renounce the world and live cloistered away in an ashram and this is a few people’s calling, I admit) but rather someone willing to live in the midst of civilisation and its many discontents in a way that doesn’t aim to increase them so much as be an antidote to them. A spiritual person then, for me, is someone whose aim is to emanate a good, positive energy and not dump their surplus anxieties and fears onto their environment but rather is willing to recycle them. Such a person seeks to be authentic and not to engage in all the manipulative game playing that is so prominent in the world today. A friend of mine used the phrase “Elegant Simplicity” and I think that if we are seeking to be more spiritual, that that is how we should attempt to live.

Modern life is so complicated and inelegant. We all have so many eggs in so many baskets and are always feeling we need to do more or be more, so I say that a spiritual life is one where we try to reduce what we do to essentials, not have surplus stuff hanging around, and put more energy into being than having or into connecting with rather than possessing. We need to practice right livelihood, have a profession that is respectful of our planet, and see that the way we live, move, and generally have our daily being is less and less about feeding the many problems in the world and more and more about trying to be part of their solution. Thus, we seek to not be greedy, not to have our investments in oil or armament shares, not to believe that killing off more and more terrorists will end terror, not project our dark side out on others but take responsibility for it ourselves. For me, a huge part of being spiritual is seeking to treat all people in a kind and compassionate way and to see the best in them and thus to work at ridding ourselves of the terrible tendency so many of us have, which is always to be critical and see what is wrong with everyone and everything. Thus, we need to see if we hold beliefs and values and attitudes that are in any way ‘anti-life’ and if so, think about changing them. I hope this is OK for starters.

The last thing I will say is that we need to have an aim in life, a purpose. My experience is that powerful “helping forces” exist in the world. I wrote about them in my recent book on Awakening the Universal Heart, and if we really wish to be more human, then we start evoking these wonderful forces and they start working on our behalf. My point is really that being spiritual is all about the way we live our daily lives and it requires more than just reading a few spiritual books and going to the odd weekend workshop. It needs to be a total commitment that engages us in all areas – our work, our relationships, our families, what we do to relax. My new book coming out next year, provisionally entitled From Separation to Celebration, will attempt to answer your question more fully. I wish you well in your commitment.