Monday, 12 November 2012

A question of digestion

Here's a question for you: "If everything is energy and, if ethics are rules created societally rather than universally, what difference does it make what we eat?" What potential for animated and colourful philosophical debate, hey?!

And indeed it all got quite lively when discussed recently, the ideas of which I took away with me and, after some digestion (sorry), here are my thoughts:

Different types of foods carry different energy and the yogic diet categorises them thus:

Static foods - which can lead to a duller, less refined state of consciousness - such as meat, cheese, onion and mushroom.
Stimulant foods -  which can promote restlessness in the mind - such as coffee, dark chocolate, salt and some spices.
Sentient foods - which can assist clarity of mind - such as most fresh fruit and vegetables, unsalted nuts and seeds.

If we consume more foods from the sentient foods category and less from the other two our mind is likely to be calmer, our meditations deeper and more meaningful and because of that we will be more likely to become more conscious and therefore more compassionate and happier. (And the reverse is more likely if our diet is heavier in the other direction).

What does it actually matter?

Well, technically it doesn't if you're a believer in "what is just is" and accept that everything is perfect exactly as it is, suffering and all. In fact, if that is the case then critical thinking will lead you to the conclusion that, whether we like it or not, rape, torture, murder and consumption of flesh (human or animal in all cases; there's nothing to distinguish them in critical thinking) is perfect exactly as it is; it's all happening just as it is supposed to.

But, if what you're trying to create during your time on Earth is less suffering for yourself and others, then it matters a great deal what you eat as the energy the foods carry affect your mind, which affects your attitudes and behaviours which can and do strongly affect those around you.

What can we do?

We can continue to eat foods that dictate we operate at a lower level of consciousness and therefore continue to perpetuate suffering. Or we can alter our diet to help elevate our level of consciousness and, slowly but surely, perpetuate compassion and joy. But it doesn't stop there. As we are all a part of and connected to the universe the energy that we perpetuate doesn't stop at our planet but radiates outward, through space and time...

Hang on! Through space and time? This would mean that what we eat affects everyone and everything that ever existed or will exist in the entire universe!

Gulp! A tough nut to swallow, huh?

For the record, I don't follow a yogic diet, I'm just using its categories to offer a simple explanation of how food can affect our state of mind but, since having it brought to my attention through the Ananda Marga philosophy, it's something I'm going to read a little more about and experiment with (within the parameters of veganism) for myself. All the best to you on your own path.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

It's hardly quantum physics!

Now, I ain’t gonna lie to you: I’m no expert when it comes to Quantum Physics (haha, no shit!) BUT, what I am gonna do is explain to you what all the hoo-ha was about a few months ago because, if you’re like most people (and me, until not so long since) you’re probably wondering, 

“What the chuff is a Higgs Boson?”

I’ll help you with that. I’m not going to give you lengthy scientific explanations (as if I could!), but I’ll give you the bare bones of it. So, quit hovering over the mouse pad; this is gonna be REALLY simple and basic. You will not walk away from this a physics genius (unless you already are, of course) but you WILL have a rough understanding of what quantum physics is about and you’ll maybe even become a little bit interested in the subject – imagine that!

“What is quantum physics?”

All scientists are trying to do is to understand what’s going on. Through experiments, they’re trying to work out a set of rules to explain how and why things do what they do – they want to give everything a formula. You know, like the laws of gravity – there’s a formula to explain what’ll happen if you drop a piano out of a second story window. With these rules they’re ultimately striving to explain the big picture - why we’re here, where we’re from, where we’re going but, you know, we’re kind of a long way off that yet.... But, the questions we ask when we stare at the stars at night? The stuff that religions and spirituality sometimes offer explanations for? There are scientists trying to figure this stuff out – cool job, huh?
And Classical physics (or Newtonian physics, named after Sir Isaac Newton) has rules to explain how everything works for things above the size of an atom – ace! Then someone came along and split the atom and realised that the tiny stuff making up atoms doesn’t adhere to the same rules – bugger; back to the drawing board!

So, what physicists have been trying to work out for about a hundred years is the rulebook for the tiny stuff that makes up atoms and that’s what quantum physics is concerned with – finding the formula to explain the behaviours for the tiny stuff. And although there are theories, it’s only on 4th July this year that scientists at CERN think they may have decided which one is correct.

"What’s CERN?"

CERN is a nuclear research centre in Switzerland from where the World Wide Web (t’internet!) was created. It’s also home to the Large Hadron Collider which is a gigantic piece of equipment built underground and shaped like a tyre about 17 miles in circumference. Scientists conduct experiments by firing particles through the LHC to hit each other and use the results of these experiments to work out which of the current scientific theories may be correct.

"What scientific theories?"

So, there are two types of physics:

Classical or Newtonian physics (named after Sir Isaac Newton) which is the stuff you were taught at school and includes things like the rules about gravity, and cause and effect, and is all very neat and tidy, and applies to everything above the size of an atom. 

Then there's Quantum mechanics which has theories about all the tiny stuff at atomic level and below that do not follow the same rules AT ALL as the bigger stuff. Basically, there is maths to prove that the little stuff (particles and waves) cannot be pinned down in terms of location, and measured in terms of speed because, as soon as you observe them, they respond to your observation so there's no way of measuring what they're doing when you're not looking! (A bit like the toys in Toy Story or naughty children – when you watch them they behave differently to how they behave when you’re not looking...)

So the really tiny stuff has its own set of rules different to the rules used by the bigger stuff, and scientists had to work them out and came up several theories, the favourite being one called the “Standard Model”. The Standard Model says that the whole universe is made up of 12 different types of particles, and four different forces. It’s currently believed that these 12 types of particles that make up everything in existence cannot be split into anything smaller. However, the problem is that according to the Standard Model, matter inherently has no mass, and the Standard Model does not explain where mass comes from. 

"What’s mass?"

Mass is the thing that stops stuff moving at the speed of light (about 300 million miles an hour). If you had no mass you’d move at 300 million miles an hour, you’d have to, those are the rules. But, seeing as you are able to move more slowly and, indeed, stand still, you obviously have mass. And this is where Peter Higgs and his science crew stepped in and said there must be a “field” – they call it the Higgs Field (after Peter) – that particles pass through or bounce off in order to slow them down. 

What they said is if the Higgs Field DOES exist then, after the passing through/bouncing off process, there’ll be a particle left over, which they named the Higgs Boson (Higgs after Peter, Boson is just the name for a particular type of particle) - and that is what was found by scientists working at CERN in July; a particle that behaves in the way they expect the Higgs Boson to behave. Which means that the Higgs Field probably exists.

Now, it’s early days; they’re still not 100% certain that this particle IS the Higgs Boson but, if after more experiments, it is found to be, that would make the Standard Model theory correct and would mean that science has found the scientific formula to explain how the little stuff works – hurray!

“If the Higgs Boson is the “God Particle” does this mean they’ve found God?!”

No, it means nothing of the sort. The God Particle is a label made up to sell newspapers – just ignore it.

“This is all too abstract. What does it mean in the real world?”

Excellent question. Remember I said that the small stuff doesn’t behave like the big stuff? Well, the main difference is that the small stuff behaves differently when it is being observed. What this means is that waves (of energy) only turn into particles (of matter; stuff you can touch) when they are being observed. Otherwise they remain as energy, waiting to be turned into something. WHAT?! OK…

In any situation, there is the potential for several things to happen – these potential happenings are called “superpositions”. These superpositions exist in the form of waves, i.e. they haven’t turned into particles of matter and so they don’t yet exist in our reality. When an observer witnesses the outcome, only then does the wave turn into a particle and come into existence, i.e. become what we see as reality. Yes, I know this is a very peculiar concept to understand but, like I said, the small stuff doesn’t behave like the big stuff AT ALL. To make it easier to grasp there’s a famous thought experiment that could help you get your head around it, called, “Schrodinger’s Cat” – I’ll also simplify it so make it more straightforward.

In this thought experiment (you don't have to worry about the cat, it didn’t really happen, it’s just something to help you understand the concept), a cat is placed inside a sealed metal box along with a thin glass tube of poisonous gas. If the tube of gas were to break, the cat would be instantly poisoned and die. There are two superpositions (possible situations) here:

1) the glass tube of poison is still intact and the cat is still alive (yay!)

2) the glass tube of poison is broken and the cat is dead (booo!)

While the box is sealed and the cat is not visible, both situations, or “superpositions” potentially exist in wave form. It’s only when the box is opened and an observer can witness the cat that one of the superpositions becomes reality – that the waves of energy become particles of matter and the glass tube is either broken and the cat is dead, or the glass tube is still intact and the cat is alive.

However, there are two schools of thought with quantum physics. One is that ALL possibilities come into existence, i.e. if you open the box to see the cat is dead, at the same time another you in another parallel world opens the box to see the cat is alive. This school of thought that there are infinite universes with infinite situations going on is called the Many Worlds Interpretation. The other theory is that all other possibilities disappear (or wave function collapse) and you’re left only with the one you’re witnessing (i.e. the cat being either alive or dead) – this is called the Copenhagen Interpretation. Just for info. ;o)

We don’t yet know whether there are infinite parallel universes (Many Worlds Interpretation) or whether there’s just the one (Copenhagen Interpretation) – what do you reckon? Is there an infinite number of you wandering around doing infinite stuff somewhere out there? Would this explain the feeling you sometimes get of déjà vu, or the stories you see in dreams..?

“Is there a Theory of Everything?”

If it’s the case that our observations affect what happens at the sub atomic (tiny) level, and that everything at the sub atomic level is what makes up everything in our “big” (human) world, could it be that our observations/thoughts/intentions, affect what goes on in our human world? There are a lot of people will tell you that it definitely does. But although there are scientists working on trying to find a set of rules that includes everything from the huge to the tiny (with incomplete theories such as string theory, superstring theory and M-theory) as yet, none have been proven accurate with experiments… If in the near future one of these theories of everything become complete then perhaps we can talk again.

In the meantime, I hope this has helped you to get a basic grasp of what quantum physics is about. 

(Science boffins out there, if there’s anything here you know is not accurate, please do let me know so that I can edit it – like I say, I’m no expert and I’ll very much appreciate your help!)

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Earth calling Lisa

Had someone told until recently that I could become excited about composting toilets I'd have told them to bog off (haha) but last month's permaculture festival at Angsbacka truly inspired me to consider self-sufficiency! Yes, really - the girl who, just a year ago, lived and worked in Canary Wharf, craves a basic lifestyle. I've had several failed attempts in the past at growing herbs and vegetables on my balcony and windowsills but I'm encouraged to try again now I've met people who survive on home-grown produce.

If it's possible to make a fully functioning loo out of a wooden box, a toilet seat and a bucket; to build a rocket stove in a matter of a few days, using an old oil drum, some clay, bricks and incorporating warm, outside seating; to grow our own food and to eat directly from the plants around us, even using some of them as simple toiletries (add a small branch of spruce tree to your bath to get rid of a cold, fragrance the water and moisturise your skin!) it sure makes me wonder why the majority of the Western world equates "success" with money, cars, property and clothes (and the associated misery of trying to obtain and maintain it all).

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying a permaculture lifestyle doesn't come with struggles, of course it does, but the satisfaction and contentment of knowing you're minimising damage to Earth, and working with nature has to, in my eyes, sit way above the constant longing for fashion and fast cars.

I arrived in Angsbacka kind of by accident (I think it hears your needs and lures you without your knowledge) mid-July in time for the yoga festival, then came the raw life festival, then the tantra festival and then the last festival of the year, brought about by a merry band of permaculture enthusiasts - and, oh how they transformed the energy of the whole place!

They smiled, they sang, they planted, dug, built, danced, played and, everything they did they did with the kind of pure love, cheer and enthusiasm I've only ever seen displayed by my grandparents - true creativity with gratitude and contentment; completely present in every activity, with the confidence that they're working for the good of the planet; with nature instead of against her.

And, at the end of the closing ceremony, as we all stood together in a huge circle of over 200 smiling faces, each holding a flower from the Angsbacka garden, presented to us by the organisers, it occured to me that every person in the room shares a vision of how the world can look, if we step off the capitalist treadmill, consume less, and consider our lifestyles in relation to the overall effect on the planet.

As the GM of Angsbacka said at the closing ceremony, "It really feels like we're coming together to create a brand new world." I hope so.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

What are you? A look at existence through zenquiry

Zenquiry - see what they did there? A combination of "zen" (meditation) and "enquiry" (asking questions), zenquiry entails two people facing each other, looking into each other's eyes and answering a really huge question pertaining to our existence, such as Who are you? or What is love? or What is life? - the kind of conundrum that takes us out of the box and really has us thinking deeply about what we're made of, why we're here, what's the point - you know, the stuff we talked about when we were kids staring at the stars. Or when we were on drugs and solved the mysteries of Life, the Universe and Everything but couldn't remember properly afterwards what we came up with that made perfect sense at the time, godammit!

I've done this child-friendly, drug-free exercise twice and on both occasions I've worried a bit beforehand that I'll just draw a blank and won't be able to come up with anything but, au contraire! During each of the enquiries the meditative environment was so conducive to this deep thought that I came up with loads and was still talking when the bell chimed! (Thankfully there's an "I've started so I'll finish" policy.)

When initially I did this exercise in July I had the realisation that I'm not my identity - that "Lisa" is just a body I'm in and a role I'm playing during my life on planet Earth. And that when I'm done here, I'll be off some place else, or maybe back here in a different body before heading off some place else... I knew and could feel that I'm not simply a human being. It's a really cool feeling although it didn't actually explain WHAT it is that I am, underneath my Lisa The Human Being costume. Maybe you've felt the same thing at some point in your life. Or maybe you just think I'm a complete mentalist...

Either way, today, I answered the question, What are you? It took me almost two hours to get there but eventually I was able to see the following:

I am the same as you. I am an octopus tentacle, out there feeling; experiencing. The octopus body is God; source. I am part of source, as are you. Source is a perfect balance of energies and therefore cannot feel; experience. When there is perfect balance there is no up, down, right, wrong, inside, outside, black, white... In order to feel; experience, an imbalance of energies is required. And that's what I am: an imbalance of energies. And that's what you are. I experience you, you experience me but we are both part of the whole, of source, of God. The more imbalanced my energies, the more I feel and experience; the more extreme my existence. I seek perfect balance because the more balanced my energies, the more I am closer to source; to God. It makes no sense to compete with you because ultimately I'm competing with myself. It makes no sense to hurt you because ultimately I'm hurting myself. The kinder I am to you, the kinder I am to myself.

I've been seeking answers to some existential questions for about a year now and very recently I've been offered some plausible explanations - halle-flippin-lujah! (Yeah, I go all over Asia and find the answers in Sweden from a group of people I met last year in London - ha, bloody typical!) Anyway... Maybe a continuation of this simple zenquiry technique will allow me to check whether these jigsaw pieces I'm being offered fit my picture...

Sunday, 24 June 2012


It had been a while since I'd had a decent conversation about Buddhism so I decided to attend "monkchat" at Wat Chedi Luang, a stunning temple in the centre of the Old City in Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand.

The monkchat set-up is a collection of tables and chairs shaded by trees in the temple grounds where young monks and novices (monks not yet qualified), take it in turns to attend for a few hours each day to talk with visitors, one on one or in groups. These conversations allow visitors to ask questions about Buddhism and the life of monks, and encourage the young monks to improve their language skills and learn about the lives of foreigners. Great idea; everyone's a winner!

As well as myself, my monk chat group consisted of a small collection of visitors from the US and France and our monk was Tung, a friendly 20 year old newly qualified monk with good English skills, from Wat Suan Dok, a nearby Buddhist monk university. As I didn't have a voice recorder it would be unfair to quote everything Tung told us as I'm only going from memory and a few scribbled notes which are, of course, open to interpretation but, here's what I got out of it:

If you were to give a Westerner just one piece of tangible advice to take away, what would it be?

"Practise meditation," Tung replied with a laugh. He went on to explain that monks in Thailand generally learn two types: 'insight meditation' and 'tranquility meditation' but that in Theravada Buddhism (the type of Buddhism they practise in Thailand) they only practise insight as it makes them more knowledgeable.

Insight mediation or "Vipassana", also known as "mindfulness" meditation, is the meditation of nirvana - the end of suffering. This type of meditation is about observing physical feelings in the body, and observing one's emotions, but without focusing on them and without attachment; just noticing them.

Tranquility meditation or "Samatha" is the meditation of enlightenment - the wisdom of emptiness. There are several types of tranquility meditation but one often used is a focus on the breath in order to calm the mind.

The Buddha practised both types but Tung stipulated that it's very important to have a meditation teacher and that you study it before you practise otherwise if you practise before you study you are likely to go the "wrong way". (I'm not sure what happens if you go the "wrong way", we didn't ask.)
Why do Theravada Buddhist monks not practise Samatha?
Because it doesn't give knowledge but Samatha meditation is like magic - "monks can fly!" (I couldn't get a solid explanation for this but, believe me, I'm looking for one!)

What happens to a Buddhist's soul when he dies?

Tung explained that we never see the soul, we can just feel a love. We go to one of four places when we die, depending on our lifestyle / state of mind:

1) If we are an angry person, we will go to an evil place
2) If we are a desirous person, we will become a "hungry ghost"
3) If we keep the five precepts, we will be reborn into the human world
4) If we have high merits we will go to heaven. 

What are the five precepts?

No killing
No stealing
No sexual misconduct*
No lies
No alcohol.**

*I've looked into this and as long as nobody gets hurt it's fine. Phew!
**Yeah, it is what it says; bad luck.

How do you know if a Buddhist is enlightened?

Apparently you don't. You continue to go to your Buddhist meetings and they will go to their enlightened meetings to talk about things but you will never get to find out.

Do monks pray?

"We don't pray, we chant and meditate."

Fascinated, and eager to learn more, I returned a week later and, this time, spoke alone with a monk named Supot, aged 23.

Supot, who travels to attend monk chat almost every day from a monastery outside of the city in the countryside, explained how difficult it can be to speak to visitors who have strong religious beliefs. "They're not open to new ideas," he told me. Because they're so focused on a "God" figure, he went on to clarify, they can't get their heads around a religion without one, and constantly try to push Buddha into that role which, of course, won't fit because Buddha was a regular guy (albeit a prince - but he was still human like the rest of us, and that's the point).

Supot quoted a Buddha proverb, "Everything is dependent on your actions."

His point is that Buddhism is all about taking responsibility for yourself, rather than relying on being judged, rewarded or punished by an external God. "When I put something on my Facebook," Supot told me, "not everything is about Buddhism. You must not only pray for things, but you must also take action. Things happen, not because of their wishing or praying but because of their action."

I told him I'm still amused to find that monks use Facebook but he didn't respond directly, although he did express disappointment that the world seems to be reducing face to face communication, which he deems important for happiness, in favour of spending more time making and maintaining relationships online. He advised me to live in reality because virtual friendships are not real. And oddly that echoes exactly what my good friend Karen told me the day previous. (I guess I need to listen!)

There's a fair bit of information here and everyone will make their own interpretations but, for me, there's a big question jumping right out that cannot be answered by a Theravada Buddhist monk:

What'll happen if we practise tranquility/Samatha meditation, the meditation of enlightenment? Will we find that "prayer" (or a form of prayer) can manifest our wishes without action?

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Chinese whispers

This scorching hot Thailand afternoon I was sitting on a plastic chair in the shade, just inside the doorway of a Chinese Buddhist temple, examining the faces of rows of giant golden statues staring down at me. Elaborate Chinese dragons wrapped themselves tightly around pillars and enormous, brightly coloured decorations hung down from the ceiling, dancing lightly in the occasional breeze. The whole ensemble was so extravagant that I felt they were portraying a message so obvious I was missing it, like when you're playing charades and your friend is frantically jumping up and down and waving their arms around, demonstrating a concept that is juuust out of your reach, but then when you're told the answer you kick yourself - how the hell did I miss it?!

It was like that; the expressions on the statues' faces were almost straining with the answer. The luminous gold, the colourful dragons and the fancy embellishments were akin to a charades buddy's manic gesticulations. "Come on, you know this," they were insisting, "just look!" A few days earlier I had visited this temple and whispered to a golden Buddha, "Show me the way." This time I couldn't leave until I got the answer.

So, I sat a while longer, half meditating, half desperately trying to figure out what these statues were silently bellowing at me. And eventually it came:

"You see us as Gods but you're the same, you just don't realise it. Everything is perfect; open your eyes to the perfection."

"That's easy for you to say!" I thought to the all-seeing, all-knowing statues. "How do we open our eyes?" I begged, out loud into the echoey chamber. After a few short seconds the simple reply radiated from their golden faces.


Of course. OF COURSE! I closed my eyes as they filled with water that spilled onto my cheeks, the mild anxiety in my heart and head draining into peace, and the half-smile on the statues' faces reflecting onto my own.

Like I've suspected and experienced many times, this time the answer was crystal clear:

The inner peace we seek is found in surrender; accepting what is.

As I exited the shady temple into the bright sunshine I laughed a little at myself - how the hell did I miss it?!

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Amazing grace!

Something really remarkable happened this morning...

It must've been around 5am. I'd not been asleep too long with having had a late night and the blistering heat and complicated night-time decisions about open/closed windows, the air-con, the fan and the duvet... I woke up, as I often do here, to find myself scratching a mosquito bite - oh God! If you've ever had mosquito bites you'll know what I'm talking about; no amount of scratching relieves it - you stop scratching, the itch returns with a vengeance and this can carry on for hours. My usual plan of action is to scratch and scratch until I'm exhausted, or get out of bed and run the bite under the cold tap, or apply some tiger balm to soothe it but, this time, I decided to try something new... 

As you well know, there are many things in life - mosquito bites being one of them! - that go against our ideas of what's "right" or "good" or "perfect" and when one of these things comes along it can really upset the apple cart. What I've been learning are various adaptations of a basic technique that allows us to handle these apparently negative life events in a way that prevents us from suffering. Thing is, as life has been going pretty well for me lately, I've not really had an opportunity to try it out. But the itching mozzie bite provided me with just that...

Here's what I did: I relaxed and allowed myself to feeeel the itching without resisting it. Without dialog, without giving it a label, or a history, without analysing or blaming - I just surrendered to the itching; felt it fully. In my head I sat right in the middle of the itching. And the incredible thing is, the more I did this, the less the itching bothered me.

Then, after about 30 seconds of this, in my imagination, I "peeled back" the itching to see if there was an emotion underneath - I found anger! Again, I didn't think about the anger, try to reason, justify or explain it, I just allowed myself to feel it fully; to sit in the middle of it.

And you know what? The itching stopped and I fell asleep - the whole process took less than a minute! A bit later, I woke again to find myself scratching a bite and so I did the process again and again it worked like a dream.

This probably sounds like nonsense to you - who cares that I did some sort of "mind over matter" thing to stop some itching, what's the biggie? But, it IS a biggie, my dear friend! Because this technique can be applied to anything and everything that upsets us, irritates us, angers us, makes us feel terrified or desperate or isolated..! If, instead of trying to numb, ignore, "treat" or push away the "negative" feeling, we allow ourselves to feel it fully but without attaching a story to it, no reasons, explanations or blame, just embracing the fear/sadness/anger/whatever and then let any other feelings come to the fore, again without a story, eventually the pain subsides and we come to our source; grace; peace - ultimate freedom!

This cessation of suffering through surrender is explained in The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle and, I'm told, there is a similar technique used in Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP).

I learned a fully comprehensive process based around this technique, called The Journey by Brandon Bays. The Journey utilises this concept of feeling (and therefore releasing) trapped emotions that cause misery and sickness, in order to become happy and healthy and move forward with our lives. A practitioner did a full Journey process with me and, in 45 minutes, I got over a huge issue that had been shadowing my life since I was a child.

So, when I say something remarkable happened this morning, it was the realisation that I can do this myself, at any time, with any issue. I'm not saying it'll always be easy but at least I know it's possible and therefore something to aim for - how amazing!

Monday, 26 March 2012

It's a bug's life

Last week when I moved into my rented bungalow in Thailand I noticed a few tiny ants about the place. Not many - maybe two or three in the kitchen, the occasional one walking across the bed, one or two in the bathroom. They were no bother, I figured they were looking for food and so was careful not to leave any crumbs or spills about as one ant can turn into hundreds at the mere sniff of a splash of orange juice.

I put my rubbish meticulously into a plastic bag in the bathroom bin and there was nothing more than a few pistachio shells and an empty cornflakes packet. Nonetheless the next time I looked there was a dual carriageway of ants marching purposefully between a small crack in the skirting and the bin. They carefully navigated the rim of the bin and some stood by while others made the death-defying, slippery descent into the plastic bag to retrieve cornflake crumbs and bits of pistachio nut.

I was amused and impressed by this display of organisation and co-operation but didn't really think it was ideal to have all these ants in the house so I took the bin bag outside to the main bins. A few hours later a group of about 50 ants was standing near the bin as though having a meeting about what to do next and then shortly after, they'd all gone. I decided to put a new bin bag somewhere they couldn't reach so I hung it from a sticking-out screw in the bathroom wall and went to make a cuppa.

While making the cuppa I spilled a penny-sized drop of soya milk on the worktop and quickly wiped it up before taking my drink to the bedroom. When I took my empty cup back to the kitchen I noticed a penny-sized group of ants on the worktop where I thought I'd wiped up the milk. This group was being joined by a long line of ants stretching across the kitchen worktop, round the corner, into the bedroom, past the skirting board, down the step into the bathroom, along the floor (always sticking to the edges) and into the small crack in the bathroom wall at floor level.

I gently shooed them off the worktop with the yellow sponge and gave the area a good clean and, within minutes, all the ants had disappeared.

I had a nice packet of cashew nuts with my drink and put the empty wrapper in the cunningly-placed carrier bag in the bathroom - I was proud of my strategy - there's NO WAY they'd find it there!

But, I kid you not, when I went back in the bathroom an hour later for my shower, there was an organised army of ants marching between the hole in the corner and the carrier bag dangling from a screw about 5ft up the opposite wall. They came at it from above as well; they shimmied across the dado rail and slowly, being careful not to slip, climbed down the shiny, vertical, tiled wall, across the sticking-out screw and the bag handle and into the bag. But what really blew me away was, the ones coming back were carrying tiny pieces of cashew nut several times the size of their own little bodies! Out of a cashew bag, out of a plastic carrier bag, up a slippery tiled wall and across a distance the equivalent of a few miles to us. And they could make it back in less than three minutes! After a while the activity started to die down. As I watched them I noticed that every ant, as they passed each other on the way to/from the bin bag, would stop and interact with each other. This interaction was only for a second and consisted of them facing head on, waggling their antennae before carrying on their way although, sometimes the interaction would be followed by the ant who had been heading toward the bin bag now changing direction to go back to the hole in the wall... It was all rather fascinating and did make me wonder what they were "saying".

These ants, measuring no more than 4mm in length, displayed spectacular intelligence, adapting quickly to a new environment and reacting immediately to new stimulus, communicating efficiently to their group, yet I can bet most of us have never really considered them to be anything more than a bit of a nuisance.

The majority of us likely has at least a vague awareness of the intelligence of some household pets - cats, dogs, birds, etc. - but, what about the creatures we don't regularly interact with? Is it fair or accurate to consider them lesser beings simply because they're not human? I wonder, if you had the choice of hiring an employee with the agility, brain, brawn, commitment, communication skills, teamwork and tenacity of an average ant, or that of an average human, which would you go for?  

Friday, 23 March 2012

Pune intended

It's hard to explain how I ended up in this busy, polluted city for two whole months but something told me a visit to Pune was absolutely the right thing to do. 

It's hardly "typical India"; there's not a great deal to see, there are too many strange people (foreigners more so than the locals) and, for much of it, I felt I was wasting my time by apparently not doing much toward my goal of understanding happiness. Regardless, I trusted my inner voice and rented a flat and it turned out to be a great learning experience!

See, as well having met a truly wonderful man, taking a life-changing course (more another time), and writing and recording a song (I'll make you hear it soon!) because there wasn't much to do and nobody I wanted to make friends with, I spent a good portion of my time on my own. This made me realise some things about myself which has led to a more solid understanding of the basic requirements of different levels of consciousness.

OK, I'll put my plain English head on...

Consciousness is NOT about how intelligent we are, how good we were at school or how well we do our job. Consciousness is our awareness; it's the relationship between the mind and the world with which it interacts. The most conscious people are called "enlightened" and they include people you might have heard of like Jesus, Buddha, a spiritual leader called Osho and a writer called Eckhart Tolle. There are probably LOADS more of them but enlightened people don't usually like to mention it... 

So, yeah, what I figured out is that people at different levels of consciousness have different basic needs:

The lower levels need constant stimulation in the form of gossip, shopping, smoking/drugs/alcohol, TV, and other similar types of entertainment and addiction. They often aren't aware of the benefits of good nutrition and exercise; either that or their diet and exercise become an addiction. They don't know the extent of their ability to change their own lives and believe they have to "follow the herd". They usually live in the past or the future (in their head) and are rarely "present", making them dissatisfied, bored, depressed or anxious. When things "go to plan" they experience extreme pleasure and conversely when things don't go to plan they suffer enormously.

The mid-levels, although often give in to one or two addictions, can usually manage without constant stimulation but still need five basics otherwise their well being suffers: enough sleep, exercise, nutrition, the company of friends/family, and a purpose. They're aware of the benefits of meditation, often know that they have the power to change their lives and have a thirst for knowledge about the mind and the universe because, once they start learning there's more to life than what's on the surface, they need to know more. Although occasionally they get excited about the "good" stuff and struggle with the "bad" stuff they're conscious enough to realise it's all in the mind and can usually get by without too much drama. 

The highest levels need none of the addictions and stimulants required by the lower and mid-levels. They live in a state of meditation - that's not to say they're always sitting in the lotus position but that they are present in all they do making them content. Their focus is clear and, although they feel and express happiness and sadness, they don't get overly-excited or upset. They have their minds and behaviours under control: when things don't "go to plan" they're able to accept it because they know that everything is perfect whatever happens. They deal with life without getting shaken up because they can see the bigger picture. 

So, the higher our level of consciousness the more content we are and the great news is that it's entirely possible to move upwards..!

Want to know more? Maybe start by putting "consciousness" into Wikipedia and see what occurs...

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Soon-a come-a day, gonna be-a big-a star...

Can you remember that song Shaddap You Face? A fine example of musical creativity, yes? No! But nonetheless this dubious song made it to number one in the UK singles chart, didn't it, keeping at number two a beautiful piece of musical genius highly deserved of the top spot, namely Vienna by Ultravox. It's an absolute travesty but, bitterness aside, my reason for bringing this up is to illustrate the point that, contrary to what we're led to believe, we do NOT have to be exceptional at what we do to achieve our goals. And it's not about who we know either - it's about deciding what we want, believing in it and taking opportunities, and that's all.

If you want to achieve something, here's what you need to do:

Step 1) Decide.
The hardest part of getting what you want is deciding what you want. Don't limit yourself to what you think you can easily achieve - if your heart's in it you'll find the way. Then say it out loud, "I will move to Austria and join the opera!" Say it often and write it down. Tell people you plan to move to Austria and join the opera. As well as opening doors this will ensure that when the relevant opportunities present themselves you'll recognise them.

Step 2) Believe.
The second hardest part of getting what you want is believing you can have it. We all equally deserve to realise our dreams - keep reminding yourself of this. "I can and I will move to Austria and join the opera - heck, I deserve it!" Don't worry about how you'll achieve it, that will never be a problem, just believe in it. This will ensure that, when you recognise the aforementioned opportunities you don't just ignore them.

Step 3) Take.
The most straightforward step is simply to seize the opportunities. You don't need to be good at or have experience of your goal (do you think Joe Dolce was especially talented?!) because what you need will appear when you need it. People who've moved to Austria and joined the opera will fall out of the woodwork keen to offer advice. Well-wishers will help you. You'll be bombarded with useful articles, classes, videos, magazines... Take hold of every opportunity toward your goal that, in your heart, feels right.

There's no step 4 - that's all, folks! Follow the three steps above and you WILL manifest your goal - Ohhh, Viennaaa..!!

Friday, 10 February 2012

One love

Hate, war and competition can never lead the world toward love, peace and togetherness. Love, peace and togetherness consist of acceptance, collaboration, compassion, trust and truth.

If WE can...

- Accept others exactly as they are, whether they are like us or not
- Collaborate with others instead of competing against them
- Show compassion; remembering everyone has their own issues they're battling with
- Trust and be trustworthy
- Be honest and truthful all our daily activities, then WE are the world leaders for love, peace and togetherness; one global community: one family: one love.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Become one

Bleedin' Nora, could I ever wait for the power cut to cease so I can share this golden nugget with you..!!

Some of you may know that very occasionally I receive profound little messages during meditation. It's never while I'm thinking (I try really bloody hard not to!) and it's never about something which I've been previously considering - it just appears out of nowhere and leaves me a bit shocked. In a good way.

This morning's bolt from the blue told me: we are all here to learn, awaken, evolve, to a higher level of consciousness so that eventually we will all see what we're part of, which is one universal consciousness. The image in my head showed us moving upward to join a huge, white astral light which felt enormously joyous and contented, like finally coming home.

Then as I sat, taking this in, eyes wide open with shock, another wave explained further: when an individual stops evolving and awakening, they becomes sick and die, as they are no longer fulfilling their purpose for existence. They will then be transferred to a new existence in order to continue their journey toward universal consciousness.

I mean, WTF?! This is not something I consciously believe (particularly - I'm not sure what I believe) or have been thinking about AT ALL. It just came to me in images and then in words while I sat there trying not to think about how cold my hands were.

Later, still a little in shock so steadying my nerves with a packet of Spanish Tomato Tango Lays crisps (I needed the sugar) and warming my hands on a cuppa tea, it dawned on me that this is why we spend our lives yearning to belong - because fundamentally we do but most of us are just not aware of it yet.

Which brought strongly to mind, and added a whole new depth to the quote by Thich Nhat Hanh, "We are here to awaken from our illusion of separateness."

Sunday, 8 January 2012

8 simple rules

Even though I quit the course at Kopan Monastery because I didn't get along with the teacher's style (!) I certainly wasn't ready to dismiss Buddhism in its entirety and so, after leaving the yoga ashram, I sat a three day Buddhism course at a small centre in Pokhara, and what an altogether different experience, and not only because I made it to the end. The monk-teacher was an "opinionated American" (thank you, Andy) as well as a critical thinker whose style really appealed to me and made me wish he'd taught the month-long course at Kopan as I might have enjoyed it, stayed and learnt something!

Anyway, my point is that, regardless of any bits of Buddhism I disagree with, it has some solid philosophies at its foundation that are useful tools to understanding happiness.

In Buddhism there's something called "The Four Noble Truths" and they go like this:

1) There is suffering
2) There are reasons for suffering
3) It's possible to make suffering stop 
4) There's a path you can follow to make suffering stop.

Point four is made up of "the eightfold path" which is a list of tangible ways to stop suffering. It's a brilliant list and I don't doubt it works but I don't think it's exhaustive in itself and I feel it can be made more relevant and straight-forward for us regular people.

And that's why I'm in the East, doing courses, reading, meditating, thinking, talking to spiritual people, trying to get to the bottom of it so I can cut to the chase, write it in plain English and bring it home. (Did you know that, by the way? I'm not, as a paraglider I met recently suggested, "having a midlife crisis". Or if I am, I've been having one since I was nine.) 

I've narrowed down my findings to a few main points, all of which I aim to explain in full in due course as, obviously, the "hows" are just as important as the "whats".

Meantime, for your perusal, here are the WHATS...

Firstly, there's a bunch of things we need to know. I'll call them "The Four Plain Truths": 

1) The cause of our suffering is because of our untrained mind. The more we train the mind in the right way, the less we'll suffer. 

2) Everything we do has an effect. Every action and interaction with a person, an animal, even an inanimate object has an effect both on ourself and them that can be positive, neutral or negative. We may not be here for a long time but what we do perpetuates and may stick around long after we've gone.

3) Pleasure is not true happiness. Pleasure is temporary, whereas true happiness is a deep, peaceful contentment that lasts.

4) Religion works as a technique, not just a belief system. We can't know for certain about past and future lives,  ghosts and gods, etc. but that's not to say that all religion is bullshit. A lot of people have found true inner peace through following the rituals of religion but they don't have to believe or understand every word to do so; it can work just as effectively as a technique to attain lasting happiness (as long as we also follow "The Four Simple Instructions" - see below).

And then there's a bunch of things we need to do. Let's call them "The Four Simple Instructions":

1) Be kind to everyone and everything equally, INCLUDING OURSELF! Those of us with low self-worth need to work on it as negative thoughts and beliefs stop us from ever being at peace, and harm both us and those around us.

2) Be present in everything we do. When working, concentrate on working. When socialising, keep the mind right there with our friends. If we're with our family, don't let our thoughts wander off to something we did earlier or will be doing later.

3) Accept what we don't have control over, and that change is inevitable. When things are going well we hope it'll always be that way, and in difficult times we hope it'll pass. Nothing at all stays the same, things change, life moves on and the best way to handle that is to accept it as we sure as heck can't stop it.

4) Trust the universe and flow with life. Let go of "should" and "must", stop worrying about whether it'll make you rich or popular or whether it's scary or impractical, and follow the path of your heart. 

Because of our conditioning (everything we've been told by our parents, teachers, peers and society from the day we were born) The Four Plain Truths can be hard to accept and The Four Simple Instructions can seem anything but easy, yet they ARE possible; the next level of my quest is to explain the HOWS...