Get Creative : Radical Awareness (Part 2)

Creativity thrives when we allow ourselves to become absorbed in what fascinates us.  Children are really good at this.   Children can lose themselves in whatever beguiles them.  They have an uninhibited appetite for anything that catches their interest.  Out of this appetite comes growth, learning and inventiveness.  Adults have the same capacity for absorption, the same voracious appetite – until the voice of reason sobers them up.  Adam Phillips, former principal child psychotherapist at Charring Cross Hospital in London and prolific writer of books, was recently interviewed by the Paris Review .  In the interview, Phillips observes that children in healthy environments have an incredible ability to focus on what interests them because: Read more

Get Creative : Radical Awareness (Part 1)

According to a 2002 report by the Gallop Organization  over 80 million American adults have had at least one spiritual/religious experience that profoundly influenced their lives.  Spiritual experiences are episodes of radically expanded awareness.   Also known as peak states, altered states, awakenings, mystical states – they are far more common than people think.  They’re the result of mediation, breathwork, prayer but they also come spontaneously.  One of the things they teach us is to embrace the unknown.  And embracing the unknown is a key to unleashing your creativity. Read more

Emotional Awareness 5: My Default Thinking Pattern

In my experience, emotions usually indicate something is afoot.  But that “something” is not always what we think it is.  And it’s not always as big or as little as we think it is.  Emotions are sign posts telling us we need to look deeper into ourselves and the situation that has generated the feeling.  The skill of Awareness does the rest of the work.  Awareness helps us uncover exactly what lies at the root of the feeling that troubles us so much. Read more

Emotional Awareness 4: Blinded By Feeling

Once we recognize the presence of strong emotion  and have named it, the next step on the path of emotional awareness is to recognize that this feeling, this joy or sorrow or anger that can seem all consuming, may or may not be a reliable guide to reality.

In the grip of emotion, this fact can be hard to reach.  If we feel this strongly, surely there must be a real, objective, verifiable reason.  And often there is.  Those footsteps behind us on the street may signal real and imminent danger.  But equally, the sound of footfalls might just mean someone is walking behind us.  Read more

Flying into Los Angeles, Part 3 of 3

Non-attachment, detachment.  It’s often seen as a Buddhist concept, but it appears, worded differently, in Christianity and probably most other spiritual traditions.  It means many things.  Generally, however, it boils down to divesting ourselves of attachment to anything outside ourselves as a source of happiness.  And then divesting ourselves of our attachment to happiness itself.

I recently picked up a book on relationships and read the inside cover.  The author’s take on successful relationships was that we should face the fact that we’re emotionally dependent on each other.  Steeped as I am in the ‘wisdom’ of detachment, I found this bald statement a little startling. Read more

Through a Glass Darkly 3

see clearly, pool, awareness, see reality

My friend Jana believed the man she loved didn’t love her.  She might have been right.  He was tentative and hesitant and eventually left her.  But she might also have been wrong.  She’ll never really know because for the six months they were together, she foundered around in the very murky territory that is relationship without awareness.“Awareness, awareness, awareness, awareness.  To put it somewhat graphically,” Anthony de Mello writes, “…When I’m listening to you, it’s infinitely more important for me to listen to me than to listen to you.  Of course, it’s important to listen to you, but it’s more important that I listen to me.  Otherwise I won’t be hearing you.  Or I’ll be distorting everything you say.  I’ll be coming at you from my own conditioning.  I’ll be reacting to you in all kinds of ways from my insecurities, from my need to manipulate you, from my desire to succeed, from irritations and feelings that I might not be aware of.  So it’s frightfully important that I listen to me when I’m listening to you.” (Awareness by Anthony de Mello, Fount Paperbacks, 1900, p. 71)

For many, very good reasons, Jana grew up without much of a spiritual core to connect with.  Then her man appeared and suddenly life had meaning.  She floated up out of a morass of depression and stared into a bright, warm future.  It didn’t last long.  If the man didn’t call exactly when he said he would, or if he didn’t want to see her every day, that future came under threat.  Eventually it disappeared completely.

A year later she’s still trying to understand what happened by analyzing him – Did he not love her? –and what happened between them – Did she drive him away?  She goes back and forth, what he said, what she said, scrambling for signs, for ways to calibrate discernment.  But there’s no way to get to grips with it this way.  Her judgment, shrouded in insecurity, is just too unreliable.  The only solution is to stop asking the question and start developing some deeper level self-awareness.

This, for Jana, is particularly painful.  But she’s starting to do it, nonetheless.  She’s beginning to look at the agonizing insecurities at the core of her being.  The tricky bit is to be able to do that without judgment, to see the shapes and contours of herself without interpreting, categorizing or criticizing.  The man is irrelevant really.  Focusing on him is a distraction, just as self-criticism is a distraction from Awareness. She is her own best compass as long as she can manage to listen to herself first.

Through a Glass Darkly 2

See, self-deception, mirage, columns, Greek columns, Roman columns

A woman once asked me to watch her luggage at an airport while she went to the toilet.  I agreed without thinking, but after 10 minutes all those dire warnings about unattended luggage and terrorists bubbled to the surface.  She could be a terrorist, a suicide bomber minus the suicide.  Finally I decided to find security.  They’d want a description.  I thought about it…she was young, 20’s probably, definitely Oriental with short dark hair.  But before I set off in search of someone in uniform, the woman returned.  She was middle-aged, Spanish with short, very grey hair.

We see selectively.  Ask any forensic psychologist.  Eyewitnesses are notoriously unreliable.  They’re not insincere or deceitful or stupid, just human and human beings can’t be relied upon to perceive reality as it is.  We’re neurologically built that way.  Given our difficult accurately perceiving physical objects, non- physical reality is a potential minefield.  This is colored not only by our neurobiology but by our psychology – our needs and beliefs and the complex layers of life experience.

We see what we want to believe.  We see what we need to see at the time.  We see what our level of Awareness permits us to see.

We can want to believe lots of things – that people love us, that they are well-meaning, that they are wise and honest.  We can also want to believe that they have betrayed us, that they don’t like us and a host of other things that blind us to who they are…and who we are.

Limited perception often serves our need for security – the security of knowing the world is as we think it is.  Whether that’s pleasant or painful doesn’t matter, it’s the security of knowing the sun will rise tomorrow that’s important.  If we grow up hurt, we can anticipate it in all new relationships, brace ourselves for the inevitable, see it where it doesn’t exist.  But the world, at least, is true to form, reliable in its cruelty.

In contrast, some people desperately want to believe in the goodness of everyone – the dark side of human nature fades into the shadows and, like me and my old friend (see…) end up scratching their heads in puzzlement over what happened.  Nothing happened except a shift of perception, an expansion of awareness and some change in the way the other person shows the multiple facets of themselves.

It seems to me the way out of this bind is not so  much in through awareness of others, although that helps, but through awareness of ourselves and our need to see what we want to see.  Or, as it says in the Bible:  “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face:  now I know in part but then I shall know even as I also am known.” (1 Corinthians, 13:12 American King James Version)


“The first time someone shows you who they are, believe them.” -Maya Angelou

A Trip to Disneyland – Show (Part 2 of 2)

stage, backstage, lights, performance, actor, chorus line, director, dancers

Backstage at Disneyland, the vast, electronically managed costuming system is not pretty.  But every day it churns out the thousands of costumes that make the Disney show happen.

And every day our back-stage mechanisms create the ‘show’ we present to the world.  If we don’t like the audience response, it makes sense to follow the Disney practice and  go behind the scenes to tweak the technology rather than criticize the audience.

Awareness is a skill that improves with practice.  High skill levels mean we can do a lot backstage by ourselves, but at some point most of us need some support with the tinkering.  If we have the humility to recognize this, our first port of call is often a friend.

In friendship, it’s easy to translate support as agreement, AKA ‘collusion’ in psychotherapy-speak.  Our friends can join us in blaming the audience, which is often just what we want to hear.  I come away from such conversations reassured, comforted, yet feeling strangely cheated and guilty.  I struggle with how to handle the balance between comfort and collusion when I’m in the supporting role myself.

The audience may well be the wrong one for us.  They may well be unappreciative or downright hostile, even dangerous.  But unless we go back stage and examine our own mechanisms, our opportunity to learn and grow and even to move on to a new more appropriate audience is decidedly limited.  That kind of conversation is not so comfortable.

How do you balance comforting a friend with honesty?  Leave a comment.

Reality Part 2

kitten, lion, mirror, self-reflection, awareness

I recently read an essay called ‘Psychology, Reality and Consciousness’ by Daniel Goleman.  He writes about multi-level consciousness and how Western culture permits only one interpretation of reality – that which we perceive when we are awake in ordinary daily life or “waking state awareness.”

Other cultures permit multi-state consciousness where reality varies depending on your level and type of awareness.  Multi-states of consciousness, which we often ethnocentrically call Altered States, are well documented in eastern texts and in western writing on transpersonal psychology.

What does all this have to do with the price of anything?  Well, do we accept our lot in life or fight against it?  That’s a common question, at least in my life.  New Age types vote for acceptance, atheists and social justice types say fight.  But framing the issue through waking state conscious is seriously limiting.  If we see only A and B, acceptance or fight, we will be stuck on one side or the other of a narrowly defined problem.  But what we see depends very much on how we see, on our state of consciousness.  If we permit alternative states to emerge, a whole world of alternative realities opens up.

Emigration is once again a reality around the world.  Emigration brings a particularly intense and painful form of loneliness.  An emigrant at least initially, lives in a world where they know maybe a few people superficially and nobody intimately.  That is their current immutable reality.  Lincoln’s dog (see Quotes for Living:  Abraham Lincoln).  Given a single state consciousness, the choices are limited.  The emigrant can return home to a different kind of pain.  They can battle loneliness with an intense and often desperate burst of socializing and wait until some relationships take root.  They can drink away their loneliness, as many do.

In another state of consciousness, reality presents very differently.  In other states, reality can be an intense experience of union – union with what really doesn’t need to be defined.  In this state, loneliness doesn’t exist.  So how would the absence of loneliness affect the immutable reality of being alone in a foreign country?

A lonely person often comes across as needy.  Neediness generally repels rather than attracts.  Conversely and ironically, a deep state of inner union can be magnetic.  The effect:  that period of initial socializing can be gentler, more measured and have far quicker and healthier results.  In other words, the altered state of awareness can affect what appears to be immutable reality.