Gaia’s Wrath

Oh dear, more crazy weather. A typhoon ends in one part of the globe only to be replaced by a tsunami or an earthquake in another. And more innocent people die.

Our planet is fed up with the way we have been treating her and in the same way that if we treat another person badly, they won’t particularly like us, Gaia is fighting back. She’s pissed off with humanity. And quite damn right. Thank goodness for organisations like Avaaz who are coordinating huge campaigns in this area as not enough of our politicians take climate change seriously enough as always it is the poor people, those least responsible for having f-d up our planet, who pay the price. I wonder why we have to wait til crises get so large before we do anything. I mean why didn’t we do more in the 60’s? In a way the whole ‘counter culture’ movement that I was part of, failed.

Perhaps for several reasons; one, we didn’t try hard enough as the immune system of our planet wasn’t sufficiently compromised. Two, we thought ‘all you need is love’ was the answer and it wasn’t, and three, there was too much of a split between those aggressive-ists who said ‘down with the suits’, and the hippies who went East and sat on mountain tops saying ‘Om’!

I think today all of us have to take the health of our planet much more in our hands and do positive things and realise saying ‘Om’ only gets us so far and trying to attack the climate change deniers gets us nowhere. Telling a bad guy he’s bad will only activates his defenses.

The Resacralisation of the Planet

The Resacralisation of the Planet a video lecture that I made for this years Feeding The Soul World Summit. It addresses the price we pay for the secularisation of our society and how we can again bring sacred meaning back into the world; exploring the current world situation according to the three states of being in Satish Kumar’s book The Spiritual Compass.

The Rescralisation of the Planet

Trump, Clinton & the dark side of America

When I work with people in therapy I notice that often, just before they are about to make a big breakthrough – a significant leap to another level – they often have to come face to face with some of the worst things about themselves that are standing in the way. If they can confront and, as it were, embrace or integrate their dark side, then they will move to the next level and if not, they won’t. This process, however, is never easy. It is always painful when one has an image about oneself as being a kind, helpful person only to discover one has a shadow side living inside one that is exactly the opposite! Well, the same thing holds true of the evolution of the larger human collective – humanity as a whole also has a dark side – and so does America and I believe that, as a nation, America is poised on the threshold of making such a leap.

If this is the case, then Trump is absolutely essential to this process and he is offering an enormous gift to the American people generally and to the Republican party specifically. How so? What he is doing is holding up a mirror reflecting everything that is worst about this party – and indeed, worst about ourselves – everything which is low and disgusting and conspiratorial and hatred-filled and which prevents this party moving forward and therefore which badly needs confronting. In an article in today’s New York Times, Paul Krugman wrote: ‘Assuming that Trump loses, many Republicans will try to pretend that he was a complete outlier, unrepresentative of the party. But he isn’t…. and his vices are, dare we say, very much in line with his party’s recent tradition…He is a pure distillation of his party’s modern essence.’ I wonder: will the Republicans have the humility to take this on board? I hope so. There is a character in a Thomas Mann novel that tells us: ‘If a way to the better there be, it lies in our taking a full look at the worst!’ And there’s a hell of a lot of that ‘worst’ out there today.

United States of America Presidential Candidate Donald J. Trump

And of course Trump not only embodies that worst but incites it. Every day in the news, we are informed about some new transgression of his or some new person he has insulted. It is well known that he is a bully, a sociopath, a narcissist, a misogynist , a racist and a sexual predator, that he is greedy, a liar, a manipulator and a fantasist and conspiracy-theorist, has a highly inflated view of himself, demeans everyone and everything and that his vision of the world is both narrow and negative. He clearly has multiple personality disorders. For me, he embodies every single trait of the immature, weak, insecure, macho-infested, wounded masculinity that characterises the shadow side of a patriarchal mindset that simply has to die, as it has dominated the world for far too long and is the main reason why our planet is so full of violence and chaos today.

Yes, I think Trump not only embodies the Republican party’s dark side but also America’s dark side and even perhaps the dark side of many of us non-American men as well. Certainly, as a result of all his goings on being paraded in the news every day, he is giving all of us the opportunity to perhaps look at some very ugly parts of ourselves. So perhaps we men need to stop projecting our shadow onto Trump, let him off the hook for a moment and instead look inside our own hearts and see if we too might be carrying some facet of Trump-hood inside us. Perhaps we can even be grateful to him for offering us the opportunity to confront aspects of our own selves standing in the way of our being more fully human!

Of course, it is not by chance that Trump’s opponent in the race for President is Hillary Clinton. While she is certainly not without her faults (it is damn hard, believe me, to operate within the system as she has done for thirty years and not be implicated in it to some extent), I believe she nonetheless embodies many of the qualities required not only to lead America in the tough times that lie ahead, but also to assume leadership on the world stage. A lot of the reasons why she is despised is because she is a woman – a woman with power – there is still a strong misogynistic streak in America, even among women. Hillary is the archetypal warrior lady. She’s a fighter. She is highly intelligent and she works damn hard and I respect her tough-heartedness and courage and she is certainly not devoid of tenderness as her detractors like to suggest. OK., her foundation may have received money from one or two dodgy sources, but it was never money she used for her own self-aggrandisement but always for her projects. People forget that all during her life, she has done a lot in many different ways, to help women and oppressed minorities and this requires a lot of love, integrity and commitment. It is tough work. And what’s wrong with being ambitious? I believe she truly wants to change the system, to create a better world with greater equality for all and I trust that she will keep her word and fight to make all the changes in government that she talks about and that it will no longer be business as usual, that is, politicians not keeping their word, but rather, business being done along brand new lines.

United States of America Presidential Candidate Hillary R. Clinton

At the time I admit I was sad that Bernie Sanders didn’t make it and while I love much of what he stands for, I feel a) that many of his policies will be implemented by Hillary – she’s said she would – and b) that the kind of complex challenges which we face in the world today can best be handled by intelligent warrior women like her as opposed to by old men. The fact that today we are witnessing a whole new raft of these strong women ( Angela Merkel, Teresa May, Nicola Sturgeon) emerging on the world stage, has to be celebrated. This is what the world needs if it is to evolve and heal, namely, the continued emergence of the feminine presence in leadership positions to celebrate the end of the oppressive, backward-looking patriarchy which is everything that Trump represents.

I therefore think it is fantastic that the new US President will be a woman. America is a very fine country. I was privileged to have lived there for over a decade and I am all the better for my experiences, having encountered some of the wisest people on the planet. So when we remember that Jung, who coined the term ‘the Shadow’, told us that ‘the tall mountain casts a long shadow’, we understand why the US shadow is so big and dark. Trump-ism is emerging everywhere not because America is slipping backwards but because the country is moving forward quickly and thus is having to confront all the many skeletons in its closet so that it can continue on its upward journey. For confront these skeletons it must do. There is no way of avoiding this. And what Trump offers is the full monte. Put simply, the world we are moving into today has to transform and move beyond old fuddy-duddy and deluded worldviews. It is not about building walls and denying climate change and waging war against Islam. It is about letting the drawbridges down and honouring climate change and respecting Islam.

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.

How do we Deal with Depression?

SA How do we deal with depression

Depression is a terribly debilitating condition and in this chaotic world of ours with its topsy-turvy values, lifestyles that have become increasingly inorganic and artificial and a media constantly feeding us doses of gloom and doom, it is, very sadly, on the increase.  How does it affect us? It drains us of our life force. It makes us feel bad about ourselves and dislike ourselves. When depression comes over us, we live in a world where the glass is always half empty. If severe, it can compel us to hide away from life and many depressed people drink or take drugs to try to numb the pain.

We need to know that there are many different kinds of depression and they occupy many different levels on the spectrum. For me, they fall into five main categories:

The first category is what we call a ‘clinical depression’, which is the result of some faulty wiring somewhere in our brain (often due to something having gone wrong in our early childhood). This can verge from our experiencing continual low grade despair, to feeling especially ‘sad’ when the sunlight goes, to having a serious depressive illness such as bipolar disorder.

The second kind is the result of tragic things happening to us in our lives, such as a big financial loss, being made redundant or losing a loved one.

The third kind is how we feel if we never bother to do anything remotely meaningful in our lives, that is, if we just live on benefits and never try to find work and live like the Royle family, a sitcom formed around a family that has never asked serious questions about life but spends all day gawping mindlessly at the television.

The fourth kind is how we feel if we live a totally topsy-turvy and destructive and violent kind of life, where we treat others disdainfully and earn our living dishonestly!  I would imagine there is a very high incidence of depression among ISIS members.

My last category of depression is a natural part of what happens to us at certain phases of our spiritual journey and is the result of a more spiritual part of ourselves beginning to awaken. If we go into a ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ crisis, for example, we may enter a very despairing and bereft place inside ourselves, where we come face to face with our many shortcomings as they parade themselves before our eyes and we get to see all those negative parts of ourselves which, up until now, we  might not have wanted to see and have suppressed (and may well have projected out onto others.) However, it is only when we can see what kinds of dragons exist within us, that we can do something about confronting them.

I have written a long article about this  kind of depression – which is essentially about despair – called ‘The spiritual path as a tough and beautiful journey‘. It is on my website. My point is that we  cannot transform our lives if we do not at times go through phases of despairing of our current lot, as this despair gives us the impetus to  do something to try to change it. Sometimes, these different depressions  all collude together and  therefore the reason why we spend all day doing nothing is not because we are necessarily lazy but because we are too clinically depressed to do anything. Conversely, sometimes, loafing  lazily around all day  without any meaning to our lives or living a violent kind of life or being in a relationship with a violent person, conspires to upset the brain chemistry, and this makes us clinically depressed. However, it can  also be that a serious life tragedy becomes an integral part of how we begin opening up spiritually, where, in reaching  ‘rock bottom’,  we experience certain key insights and we emerge once more into the light having learned to see the world  from a whole new perspective.

If we  feel depressed, we might ask ourselves what category or categories we feel we  fit into. Certainly, if we constantly feel  very debilitated, we should go to our GP and  if we feel that deep-rooted issues may be at stake, perhaps ask him to refer us to a psychiatrist. I say this because many GPs, who are not experts in this field,  and only have a few minutes per patient, tend to be over fond for writing out prescriptions for anti-depressants, which not only may not be required – our society is  all too fond of pill pushing – but  merely addresses the symptoms while covering up the cause. And all depressions have a cause, which when unlocked, often diminish greatly.

There is often a strong connection between depression and creativity and many of the greatest artists, scientists and writers have gone through long periods of being very depressed. Churchill’s ‘black dog’ did not prevent him  being an effective war leader or living a highly creative life where he also received the Nobel prize for literature. So our depression may have much to teach us. Indeed, many very eminent people who have bipolar disorder, are able to live good and productive lives. If we feel depressed, what can be very helpful is that we try to surround ourselves with loving and supportive friends, try to make an effort to do things that we love doing, and, yes, even try and help others, as this gets us out of the unhealthy place of morbid self-introspection which is so easy to get locked into and yet emotionally is so counter-productive.

If you think your depression is severe enough to see a psychiatrist, make sure your psychiatrist is a human being kind of psychiatrist and not the type who pathologies everyone and is only interested in seeing what is ‘wrong’ with you. A good psychiatrist will assess the seriousness of your condition and  unless he feels it absolutely essential, will probably not put you on medication. He may suggest you do Cognitive Behaviour therapy or  EMDR or may even send you to someone like me.

 How do I support people who come to me feeling depressed? Firstly, I try to assess what kind of depression they are experiencing and how deep rooted it is and I will explore with them what it is that  so saddens them. Maybe it is a belief that they should be something they are not. Maybe it a sense they have  that they are not ‘good enough’ or are able to live up  to the many false images society tells us we should live up to! Maybe, it is due to some deep unresolved trauma in our early childhood. If we have experienced living in a war zone or have been in a battle as a soldier, we may suffer from traumatic stress disorder and this can make us very depressed. There are many, many reasons why we get depressed, all of which relate to our general ‘character’, our family background and our life experiences. I also believe depression can be the result of some unresolved ‘past-life’ trauma, the hidden memories of which, are carried over into our current incarnation.

Whatever kind of depression or whatever its cause, I will do my best to help a depressed person reconnect to what has truth and beauty for them in their lives – if they are an artist,  to their painting, if a sports person, their sport. Some people I will take for long walks in nature and I will do processes with them to help them open up to its healing embrace as I believe nature is a great healer and so much of our pain in life is because we have learned to become disconnected from our own nature with the result that the artificiality, separation or alienation we experience, comes and ‘presses down’ on us. I may teach a person  mindfulness meditation and suggest they  make an effort to listen to uplifting music. As my style of psychotherapy is very connected with helping people open and heal and gradually evolve their hearts, all this is very relevant. Three things for me are  most important. First, a person has to look at and explore their hidden or their shadow side. ( ‘Going on is going back’ Lao Tzu tells is in the Tao te Ching.)Secondly, they need to learn to open up more to the good things of life –  life’s abundant or  ‘light’ side – and realise life’s essential blessedness, and lastly, they need to learn to live in a more balanced and holistic way. Taking regular exercise, finding a work that is fulfilling and choosing healthy relationships and a healthy diet  can work miracles.

Linking being a psychotherapist with being an activist

A few years ago, I used to feel there was a dichotomy between my roles as psychotherapist and social activist. Increasingly, I am coming to see where they converge, as many of our personal difficulties mirror social problems and many social and economic problems are reflected in our emotional symptoms.

Interestingly, what I have also found with my clients, is that those people heal their emotional wounds much more quickly to the extent that they are willing to stand up for social values they believe in and see their lives not solely from a personal viewpoint – what do I want; what’s in it for me? – but who also experience being part of a larger whole and needing in some way, to live in a way that contributes to this larger whole of life. In other words, if many of our personal problems revolve around our not experiencing enough “meaning” in our lives (as when we subscribe to society’s diminishing description of us as mere “consumers” (Yuk!)), I have found that the more we commit ourselves to, as Gandhi would put it, being “the change we want to see happen”, i.e., trying to actually embody the values we believe in in how we live our daily lives, the happier we feel.

Why? Because it gets us out of being so overly identified with our little egos, where true meaning is not to be felt. I’m not saying ego is bad. We all need some ego. The problem emerges when we think that the ego viewpoint is all of us and that we are nothing more than the images our egos tell us we are. This is why if we wish to heal ourselves, we need to find ways to embrace higher states of consciousness or, as I argued in my recent book, open our hearts. Too much traditional psychotherapy is simply about re-arranging the furniture in our prison cells and this gets us nowhere. The name of the therapy game has to be to lift ourselves out of our prisons, so we can become more who we really are. My favourite quote of the moment is one by Jean Huston, namely, “We are all born Stradivariuses but raised to believe we are plastic fiddles”. When we stop believing this, our world will change. Most of those men – because , let’s face it, they are mainly men – who are into power and fame and disrupting our ecosystem in the name of making more and more and more money – are basically men who deep down, feel plastic fiddle like. If we don’t know how to be – how to celebrate the beauty and richness all around us – we need to possess and have more and more things.

If a man doesn’t know how to love a woman, that is, unite with her, he’s gonna try and possess her… The chains that incarcerate our world are both outer – political, economic and social – and inner, the beliefs we have about ourselves. Our challenge is to free ourselves at many levels…

The Times Rich List

Just perused the “Rich List” published every year by the Times and the fact that we have such a list says something about the culture we live in and what obsesses us and we also see that the gap between the rich and the poor has grown much much bigger in the last few years and which I feel is the greatest problem in the world.

Those who often suffer because they have too much of everything and those who suffer because they have nothing of anything. Oxfam tells us that last year, the hundred richest people earned enough to end extreme poverty four times over. Wow! Also the richest 200 people in the world have about $2.7 trillion, which is more than the poorest three and a half billion, who only have about $2.2 trillion combined. Wow! This is not blaming the super rich, very many of whom give away lots of money and do great good in the world, but this great disparity is a reflection of our dysfunctional system which seems to me to be divided between three distinct economies, each of which seems to be governed by different laws.

One economy exists for the super rich, where super expensive art, property, etc. continues to go up and up in price whilst risks are minimal and clever accountants allow one to pay minimal tax. Another exists for middling people like most of us who do pay tax but is inherently insecure, and a whole other economy – or “non-economy” – exists – or fails to exist – for the super poor who have little help from the system and who often live in “sacrifice zones” on the planet and who have no hope on their own of pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. It makes me feel very sad.

Perhaps the Times next year should publish a ‘Poor list,’ so we can see the true state of the world, how much poorer people have become the world over, only I guess that wouldn’t be sexy, would it, it wouldn’t sell newspapers and it ain’t something many of us “denialists” like to look at!

The New Story Summit

The New Story Summit

Findhorn

At the end of September, 325 people from all over the world convened on the Findhorn community to participate in a one-week conference called ‘The New Story Summit’.

The idea behind it was that the stories we all hold in our head determine how we see the world – how we think and act – and that many of our old stories, such as, for example, those about war and famine being inevitable or that the purpose of life is to ‘make it’ and get to the top ( of what?) are not only becoming increasingly anachronistic but are responsible for much of what doesn’t work in the world. The aim was to discover what the new story or rather new stories are, so we may instead touch into what will inspire us and move us forward, help us to think and see the world in new ways, engage in our relationships in new ways. Above all, what we wanted to discover was not just a new story but one at a higher level. After all, we can buy a new iPhone with more gizmos on it but it’s basically still at the same level. No real shift. We need new stories that will shift and ennoble us, help us realise that as Jean Huston once put it, ‘We are born Stradivariuses and must stop believing in the story that we are plastic fiddles.’ Were anyone present still to have subscribed to this myth, I feel that this week at Findhorn will have eradicated it for once and all.

The beauty of this conference was that it succeeded in giving us the experience of such a level shift, as its organizers wanted to create a structure that not only enabled us to theorize with our minds about new stories, but also to explore tangibly what putting them into practice might imply. One way it did this was to create a ‘gift economy’, whereby instead of everyone paying a flat fee, each of us paid what we felt we could. Those with more money paid more than those with less, which allowed for scholarships to be available for the low waged and to pay for air fares so that many indigenous people could fly over and grace us with their presence. The conference also moved away from the traditional model of ‘teachers lecturing students’ – the former telling the latter how to be or what to think – to one where all of us could be students and teachers for each other. After a couple of structured days, the organisers felt we were ready to create our own structures whereby those of us who felt they had something to offer, could advertise their wares. The result was that many concealed sages emerged from the woodwork and not only revealed to us that they knew just as much about the new story as the so called ‘experts’, but were also beautifully embodying it in the way they lived.

What we clearly saw was that the old story was about giving our power away to authority figures, those whom we believe know what to do – viz., our bankers, politicians and doctors etc. – and then complaining or blaming them for the various messes they get us into. The new story, on the other hand, we realised, is all about our claiming much more responsibility, not only for how we choose to live, but also for the state of the society around us. We learned that if we want to see change happen in some area, then we need to take a stand, speak up, make our own voice heard. And this is what happened at the conference. In particular, I was reminded of the incredible power of the creative arts to make a difference and that the new story is not simply something to be told but it also needs to be sung and danced and painted and clowned into expression. Speaking as an ‘oldie’, one of the most encouraging things was to see the awesome wisdom and contributions of many of the younger people present which made me long for them to come into power in the world as they were not burdened by the same limitations and conditioning that has burdened us. For me, they were my teachers and it was a total honour to be in their presence.

We were very privileged to have the mayor of a large town in Senegal come and say a few words to us about community living.’ I am from a country,’ he told us, ‘that is very rich, not because of big banks, but because in Africa we share things. We share our joy and our pain. Community is something that can include people with least capital and cultural resources. Through community, we can learn to live together in a new way. It is a remedy for the global disease of loneliness and separation and it will help us learn to trust one another and so wean us off our many consumer addictions’. Yea.

Perhaps what most moved me was encountering some incredible women warriors reconfirming in me that the Feminine principle had truly come of age, all of them beautiful wise goddesses showing us men that fierceness and strength can be aligned with compassion and tenderness. Some were activists for human rights, others for children’s rights, others for abused women, some confronted the evils of ‘big business’, others were peace activists. All were awesome human beings. One woman who described herself as an ‘Earth lawyer’ reminded us that we were all earth lawyers and that ‘when human law aligns itself to higher law, harm moves to harmony’. A mother suggested that ‘We women need to raise our children so that they are never able to kill another woman’s child’ and a political activist reminded us that ‘at all times we need to use our voices at the edge of our comfort zones in order to penetrate the edges of power’.

What we all got to see so clearly was that most of our old stories, birthed as they were by the egoic us which believes we are separate from other people and from our world, all revolve around the idea of separation. This is why, both as individuals and nations, we have behaved so selfishly never considering the wider implications of many of our actions and have regarded our planet as a lifeless entity whose resources we can plunder for our own gains. And for the ego, difference equals separation. In that domain, what is of paramount importance is what class, race, colour, religion or culture we belong to, how rich or poor we are, how influential we think we are, what tribe we belong to, whether or not we think we have ‘made it’ and ‘know the right people’! In that world, we need to be right and others wrong. And of course, all these divisions lie behind so much of the inequality and violence all around us.

For me, the great gift of the conference was spending a week in a culture where none of these old divisions existed and where differences could be celebrated. Despite all of us coming from many different walks of life, there was nonetheless a spirit of deep respect for one another, a powerful awareness of our shared human unity and with it, the sense of how powerful we were as a unit. I felt that in the same way that we might visit the ashram of an enlightened Master in order to have our spiritual vibrations accelerated, so we need to go to gatherings like these and be in an energy field like this in order for our social and cultural horizons to be similarly expanded. I felt very empowered to relate to everyone with the love and respect with which they related to me and in this new space I found that I learned something from everyone present as well as being synchronistically drawn to connect with particular people whom I needed to learn particular lessons from.

New stories require new behaviours. Remember Gandhi telling us that we needed to be the change we want to see happen? Well people at this conference were the change. I had the profound sense that the days of individuals going it alone – i.e. stories of the old heroic macho myth of our needing to have dragons to fight to prove how strong we are – needed burying, and that we would succeed in our mission to create a healthier society for ourselves only if we all joined forces and moved forward as a collective. Yes, I thought, if each of us takes responsibility, realises we are part of a larger planetary consciousness, we really can make a difference, we really can create a world that works for all concerned, and that very possibly the days of our being in thrall to the corrupting or rogue forces in the world may well be numbered. They are, after all, only as strong as the power we ascribe to them. Sadly, our media is still, on the whole, enmeshed in the old ways and loves pushing out the same old scare stories, telling us that if Ebola doesn’t wipe us out, terrorists, floods and storms or total economic collapse will! This sells newspapers. I realised, too, that from the perspective of the old story, scarcity abounds everywhere – there’s not enough food, water, money, happiness, love, etcetera.

From the perspective of the new story, however, abundance reigns supreme, and when we feel abundant – this being born out of a deeper connection with our hearts leading in turn to a recognition of our integral wholeness – there is no longer the need for us to act out all our many ‘pain games’ centred around the myth of insufficiency. (For example, if we didn’t spend our money on weapons of mass destruction and organised things more effectively, everyone in the world could be fed. Similarly, if fear and greed did not predominate, the financial system could be made to work for all concerned.) From the perspective of the new story, we are all conscious agents of evolution and being there to help and support those less privileged than ourselves is not going out of our way; it is our way. From the new perspective, we don’t always have to be striving all the time – ‘working till we’re wrinkled and grey’ to have bigger houses and bigger cars, for we can see what a futile game it is, what a huge price we pay and we know it doesn’t make us happy. If we are connected to a self that is more than our egoic self and that exists at a higher level of consciousness, we can live simply and genuinely and no longer need to be consuming all the time to fill our inner emptiness. Why? Because the new story is one that recognizes our substantiality. When a new consciousness opens, we see that so much of our greed comes from the belief that we don’t have enough which in turn relates to the old stories about our not being enough.

What I learned was that we need many new stories to serve a new emerging culture. We need stories predicated upon the importance of our having peace in the world, stories giving us a deeper understanding of the universe, stories that see life as beautiful and worth celebrating, stories that empower both the elderly and the very young, stories to help us value the fact that we are all artists, stories that recognise that there are many other currencies in life in addition to money. One beautiful young South American rap artist suggested that

‘We want a vision where earth won’t be sold to the highest bidder and where profits will no longer be made from other people’s toil and where every banker will be an artist of fair play…’

I particularly liked that last line, as part of the new story, I felt, is for us to move away from our old blame games of just trashing our bankers and politicians, and instead try to honour them as people as much caught in a system/old story as ourselves and where more could be gained by infecting them with a new vision of a world that works. What came up strongly for me and for many others whom I spoke to, was just how infected many of us still were with the old stories as they had been drummed into us over so many years. Our challenge, we realised, is to get to recognise them, see how and where they manifest themselves in our lives and then choose to drop them. And the more we work at consciously activating the new stories, the easier this becomes. But we need to be careful and be very honest with ourselves. For example, I saw that while I talked haughtily about how addicted we all are to oil, that I too, came into that category. I don’t yet have solar heating and I still drive around in my gas guzzling, environmentally polluting extremely ancient diesel car. In that area I certainly do not walk my talk.

Essentially what the new story is telling us is that the great American dream is over and we all need to recognise this and start embracing a whole new set of values. For example, no longer must we believe that we’ll create a better world solely with science and technology or that we can move forward effectively if we are saddled by debt. We also saw that engaging in inner work is of paramount importance and is as, if not more, important than outer work, a) because if we are to shift to a new level , effort needs to be put into it, making the transition is by no means a ‘given’, and b) because we can only have a changed external society if we will have shifted internally. I.e., as within, so without! Put simply, we can’t embody a new story and thus bring it to bear in how we ‘do’ our relationships, our politics or economics etc., unless we are a space to receive it, and if we are still full of unresolved hatreds and angsts, if we still believe in scarcity and are greedy and competitive and don’t mind succeeding at other people’s expense – if these considerations are still central in our lives- we are no space for anything new. Put simply, if we want peace in the world, we need to work to create it inside our own hearts in the realisation that our tendencies to want to wage war against everything – terrorism, drugs, cancer, crime, you name it – never works. As Elisabet Sartouris, one of the conference initiators put it: ‘It is cheaper to feed your enemies than try to kill them!’ Similarly, if we want stories about co-operation to take root inside us, we need to ensure that we operate cooperatively. And that was what was so moving about this conference. We were all ‘there’ for one another, to help and support each other and when people manifested symptoms of egotism, it was easily spotted and handled, as in this conference, big egos were the exception as opposed to being the norm.

Our challenge, I felt, is for all of us to stand up and be counted, to stop being ostriches hiding our head in the sand but instead be courageous and outrageous and stick our necks out giraffe style and take stands for those causes we wish to champion and never be afraid to speak our truth but always to do so in ways that honour people. Gandhi modelled this beautifully in his doctrine of Satyagraha. When dealing with the English in India, he would bow to the Atman (God nature) within them, that is, honour their inherent essence while at the same time speaking his truth. This is why he could say things like ‘ I honour you but I hate what you are doing to my people’ without in any way invalidating their humanity. There is much we can learn from him today. I will finish with a quote from my recent book on Spiritual Activism as perhaps it sums up the spirit of the conference.

‘Today those of us who want a better world need to be what I call an ‘enheartener’, that is, a person able to lead from the heart, to move through life in a wakeful, tender, gentle, wise, loving, honest and strong way, so that wherever they go and whatever they do, wholesome energy flows out of them and into whatever part of their world they are seeking to engage with. What enhearteners do is they ‘enhearten’. They bring a new story into expression on the wings of love. They may do it via the spoken world, through actions they take, through words they write, songs they sing, paintings they paint, and dances they dance, and what characterises all these stories is that they have a positive vision of the future. They see something glorious lying ahead of us and are concerned with drawing this new future down into our present and infecting as many people as they can with it. Enhearteners don’t put life down; they don’t see the worst in everything, they don’t reduce or marginalise. Enhearteners raise life and regardless of whether they are a politician, a banker, a housewife or dustman, whoever they are and whatever they do, in their presence the environment around them becomes elevated and ennobled.’

Over that week, I felt surrounded by many enhearteners and my life has been subtly changed by them. Thank you Findhorn and everyone who put such effort into creating this conference. Though small (relatively speaking), it was a world event.

The Mystery of the Integrative Process

Integrative design spiritual and externalI am often being asked the question about what integration means and I think it is a very important one, so I’ll start by saying that today, all of us are being faced, not only personally, but also inter-personally, nationally, internationally, politically, economically and  globally with this challenge. Indeed, our very survival  on the planet may be dependant upon on how successful we are in this venture, since the more integrated we are, the more whole or spiritual a person we become and the more capable we are of bringing integrative energy into the world. So it’s a pretty important issue. Continue reading