Tuesday, August 22, 2017

THE SLEEPING BEAUTY—OR HOW TO ACHIEVE ENLIGHTENMENT

Fairy tales are a subgenre of the artistic and literary genre known as fantasy. A ‘fantasy’ ordinarily involves the following elements: first, a quest or journey of some kind, often involving tests, trials and tribulations, with a battle between good and evil; secondly, a fictitious or legendary place in which strange, seemingly unnatural events occur; thirdly, the presence of strange, seemingly unnatural, fanciful, even grotesque, characters and capricious forces; and fourthly, lessons in how to live, evolve, and relate to others and a power-not-oneself that is capable of freeing oneself from the bondage of self.

Fairy tales are not just about fantasy and most such tales are not even about 'fairies'. That grand master of modern fairy tales J R R Tolkien wrote that fairy tales have four main uses: escape, consolation, recovery, and fantasy. I have already spoken, albeit briefly, about fantasy. The ideas of escape and consolation are fairly straightforward, but the notion of recovery is a fascinating and most important one. Recovery is, yes, all about regaining what seemingly, and perhaps actually, has been ‘lost’, namely, our spiritual heritage.

Nearly all fairy tales are encoded spiritual and moral lessons (‘road maps’) of great importance---just like the parables of Jesus in the New Testament---and they almost invariably incorporate more than a few fragments (‘gems’) of ancient wisdom, with the spiritual ideas and themes being portrayed in a highly figurative and literary manner. Fairy tales graphically depict the involution and evolution of the soul, or, in the language of the great American mythographer Joseph Campbell, the 'hero's journey' of self-discovery through trial, tribulation and adversity. Here’s a clue. In fairy tales, as well as in most sacred literature, the soul is nearly always spoken of as a woman, and the human spirit a man.

If there is one theme or underlying message contained in the great religions of the world it is this---we come from God (Spirit, Life, the Source), we belong to God, we are never truly separate from God (even though we act as if we were), and we are all on our way back to God. Of course, not all the world’s religions use the word ‘God,’ or express this idea theistically, but that is largely immaterial. The idea is generally still there.

Now, the story of ‘The Sleeping Beauty’.

A king and a queen have been trying to have a child for years. Finally, a frog prophesies a birth. When the child finally arrives, they call her Aurora. A great holiday is proclaimed to celebrate Aurora’s birth. Visitors come from far and wide, including three good fairies. One of the most distinguished guests is another king from a neighboring kingdom, who brings along his son Prince Philip. (No, not that one. He’s not quite that old.) Both kings realize that their dream of a united kingdom can now come true.

Three good fairies begin bestowing their gifts upon Aurora. She receives the gift of beauty, and gift of song, but before the last gift is bestowed, a wicked fairy interrupts. This wicked fairy is upset that she wasn’t invited to the party, so she casts a spell on the day of Aurora’s 16th birthday, to the effect that Aurora will prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and die. The third good fairy hasn’t bestowed her gift yet, and she’s horrified at the spell the wicked fairy cast. The good fairy isn’t strong enough to undo the spell, but she is able to dilute it a bit, such that instead of death Aurora will instead fall asleep until her true love comes along to undo the spell with a kiss. As a precaution, all spinning wheels are removed from the kingdom, and Aurora lives in hiding as a peasant with the good fairies for protection.


Aurora grows up, meets Prince Philip, and falls in love with him. On the night of Aurora’s 16th birthday, Aurora, Prince Philip, and the good fairies all go back to the castle to live. But the evil fairy sneaks into the castle and pricks Aurora’s finger with a needle, causing her to fall asleep. With the help of the good fairies, Prince Philip, after a heroic, difficult, and dangerous journey, reaches Aurora, then kisses her, and she awakes---and, yes, they all live happily ever after.

Well, this is a story of ‘paradise regained’—a very familiar theme in fairy tales, indeed in almost all sacred (so-called ‘occult’) literature. We have the involution of the human soul, with its incarnation from the starry regions of space-time and the cosmos. Significantly, it is a ‘frog’ that heralds and prophesies the birth of Aurora, a frog being the ancient occult symbol of metamorphosis. The princess is called Aurora, which means ‘dawn’ or ‘enlightenment.’ If you are familiar with Roman mythology Aurora is the goddess of the Dawn. She renews herself each morning and flies across the sky, announcing the arrival of the sun. Much symbolism there!

There are ‘good fairies’ (successes, achievements, growth) and ‘bad fairies’ (setbacks, mistakes, failures) in life. We can learn from them all. The curse from the wicked fairy represents all those trials, setbacks and negative forces with which we have to grapple and which we have to overcome is we are to grow spiritually. Once again, we have the archetypal Path or Quest so frequently found in sacred and even secular literature. Then, there’s the staircase that Aurora ascends, being a symbol of the spiritual unfoldment of the soul. (In sacred or occult literature all ‘uprights’ such as stairs, ladders and trees represent the creative divine life within us; cf Jacob’s ladder.) The ‘spinning’ refers largely to intellectual development, that is, the ‘spinning’ of one’s thoughts. 

Then we have the Prince, who must fight his way through overgrown thickets of tall trees and sharp brambles. At first, only the very tops of the castle’s towers could be seen, and then a fearsome dragon (or, in some versions of the story, ferocious dogs or other animals). Yes, the human spirit, represented by the Prince, must fight its way through evil and false beliefs (sin, separateness, selfishness, etc). Some commentators have written that we also have here an allusion to the spirit evolving and successively passing through the various kingdoms (plant, animal, etc) in its divine unfoldment. (That, however, is not how I see it.) Ultimately, there is the ‘kiss’---that is, the connection and conjunction between truth and love, the union of the human soul and the human spirit with the divine. Enlightenment is achieved. Oneness. Wholeness. Union. Communion.

Now, here’s something else—something very important. Aurora is not really a separate person from the Prince, for she is nothing other than the soul of the Prince that was sleeping—lying dormant—in the illusion of the material world or realm (the false self). Ultimately, the Prince is able to ‘spouse’ his enlightened soul—and live happily ever after! So can you.

So, what is enlightenment? Well, as I see it, it is waking up to the reality of one’s true self, one’s true be-ing-ness. It is casting off the false self/selves, that is, the belief in our separateness from other persons and things, and the life of selfishness and bondage to self. It is ceasing to identify with all those false selves (the ‘I’s’ and ‘me’s’, our likes and dislikes) that make up our personality but which are not the real person that each one of us is. It living as a person among persons.

Come alive! Awake the sleeping beauty within.


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Wednesday, August 2, 2017

THE PRESENCE AND POWER OF ETERNITY

'For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place …'
Isaiah 57:15 (KJV).

There was once an Australian soldier and evangelist John G Ridley MC who preached a sermon titled ‘Echoes of Eternity’. Actually, he preached more-or-less that same sermon more than once, and perhaps many times. A copy of an audio file of one taped version of the sermon, preached by Ridley in his later years, can be found here. Ridley was a dynamic and powerful preacher. He painted the most wonderfully evocative word pictures ...

… Eternity … This word is a solitary word, wonderful word, just like a great mountain peak standing up and leaping above all its fellows and casting a kind of glorious shadow over the whole mountain range, an Everest of scripture, snowcapped in the purity of God. Eternity! Eternity! … Eternity. What a remarkable, uplifted, glorified word! Once uttered, because there is only one eternity, and the eternal God is in command of it. I seem to hear it coming out of the past like a distant sound of thunder, bursting with a clap in the present, and rolling on with mumblings and rumblings into the unknown future. Eternity. Eternity. How can you preach on eternity? Yet, if a preacher does not touch on eternity, he’s missing the great mountain ridge and glorious throne that God has given us in this verse, who inhabited Eternity. … [We] are travellers to eternity.

... Eternity, Eternity, I wish I could sound or shout that word to everyone in the streets of Sydney. You’ve got to meet it. Where will you spend Eternity? ...

When John Ridley preached this sermon in Sydney, New South Wales on what was perhaps the first occasion—this was way back in 1932a man named Arthur Stace (pictured), who had been a soldier himself and who was a reformed alcoholic who had been converted to Christianity a couple of years earlier, was so moved by Ridley’s words that he went outside the church building and wrote the word ‘Eternity’ in beautiful copperplate writing with chalk on the footpath. He continued to do that on the footpaths of Sydney and even beyond Sydney and the State of New South Wales for about 35 years—some 500,000 times.

Now, Ridley and Stace had their own evangelical understanding of the word ‘eternity’. By the way, that word appears just once in the King James Version of the Bible, and it is in the verse set out above.

The Sydney Harbour Bridge lit up with the word ‘Eternity’.

What is eternity? Well, as I see it, we are in eternity now. We are immersed in eternity. We live, move and have our be-ing-ness in eternity. Eternity is not a ‘thing’ we enter into at death. No. Eternity is now. Everything is contained within eternity, that is, the eternal now. All duration – or time – is total and complete in the now. There is an eternal quality about the now. It is forever new. The present moment has its unfolding in the eternal now for it is nothing other than that which presents itself before us in and as the now, which embraces past, present and future. It is in the eternal now that we have our presence.

For me, God is the eternal now—omnipresence. There is only one eternity, one eternal now and it is both the medium in which all things have their be-ing-ness as well as Be-ing or omnipresence itself.

You may or may not share my understanding of the word eternity. That is your prerogative. The important thing is not to wait until you die in order to experience its tremendous presence and power.




Wednesday, July 12, 2017

BE STILL AND KNOW

The Bible makes it clear that stillness leads to knowledge of the Divine (that is, the sacred and holy), for it is written, ‘Be still, and know that I am God’ (Ps 46:10). They are wonderful words, especially the first two words—‘Be still.’ You see, there is really nothing to do. Justbe still. Start with the body, and the mind will become still as well.

When conducting retreats or leading group meditations I often take the abovementioned verse and progressively break it up, as follows:

‘Be still, and know that I am God.’

‘Be still, and know that I am.’  

‘Be still, and know.’  

‘Be still.’

'Be.'

Who or what is God, you may ask? Some theological construct, unconnected with reality? Well, if you think that God is a giant man or woman 'up there' or 'out there', that is, some supra-personal, supernatural person or being with a face, body, arms, legs and genitalia, then you are horribly mistaken. Here is an insightful passage from the 3rd chapter of the book of Exodus in the Bible, in which Moses enquires as to who or what God actually is:

13 Then Moses said to God, ‘Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they say to me, ‘What is His name?’ what shall I say to them?’ 14 And God said to Moses, ‘I AM THAT I AM.’ And He said, ‘Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’’

In other words, God, the Great I AM, is saying, ‘I AM pure Be-ing,' 'I AM the Great No-Thing,' 'I AM unformed, undifferentiated consciousness.' That is the name and nature of God. Being the All Being, the Great I AM is the infinite, incorporeal, self-sufficient, self-perpetuating, ever-present Being of all. I AM that which is. I AM that which I AM. The words 'I AM' refer preeminently to the subject of all existence (namely, the unlimited and ineffable, egoistically conscious Omnipresence), although the words also refer to the object. The subject and object are one. The Bible says that I AM is God. In India the I AM is called Om. God – the very essence and be-ing-ness of life itself – becomes, or rather is, what God has said that which God is. ‘I AM THAT [WHICH] I AM.’ I AM = I AM. God is. We are. We are all children of the Great I AM, the Divine Fire, the basic ALL of existence.

Mitre Peak, Milford Sound, New Zealand

I AM THAT I AM. That is the nature of God as revealed in the Hebrew Bible and expounded in metaphysics. The words describe and encapsulate the Omnipresence and Omnipotence of the Divine declaring Itself---to Itself. This is the self-knowingness and self-consciousness of God, the Great I AM. We, too, can be conscious – or rather self-conscious – of that very same I AM-ness, because each one of us is a divine spark, and that same I AM-ness is the very ground of our be-ing-ness. It is the ground of all be-ing-ness. It is the ALL-in-all ... the ALL-ness of all. 

Yes, God – pure Be-ing – is the one formless, sourceless, essenceless, unlimited, unsearchable, self-existent, self-knowing, self-giving, absolute, omnipresent, indestructible, and abundant existence that forever takes form, that is, incarnates, as you, me, and everything else, but which is never even for a moment absorbed by the innumerable objects of its self-expression. What I am trying to say is that the I AM within you, and within all living things, is the only Presence there is. That Presence, which manifests itself as the Eternal Now, is forever creating, by an endless process or renewal of the present moment, an infinite number of centres of its own consciousness. The Great I AM is the creativeness of the universe as well as being the source of own our creativeness.

God – if you choose to use the word at all, for that's up to you to decide – is the life that is the subject of true existence, the very life that lies within, and otherwise manifests itself through and as objects, being all persons and things---the very livingness, or rather self-livingness, of life itself. Put perhaps more simply, you are I AM in expression, as youIn the words of the minister and author Eric Butterworth, you are an 'eachness' within the ALL-ness of God.


Here are some words from Joseph Benner, from his book The Impersonal Life:

I AM You, that part of you who IS and KNOWS;
WHO KNOWS ALL THINGS,

And always knew, and always was.

Yes, I AM You, Your SELF; that part of you who says I AM and is I AM;

…       …       …

But I AM not your human mind, nor its child, the intellect. They are but the expression of your Being, as you are the expression of My Being; they are but phases of your human personality, as You are a phase of My Divine Impersonality.

…       …       …

… I AM because You Are. You ARE because I AM expressing My SELF.

I AM in You as the oak is in the acorn. You are a phase of Me in expression.

…       …       …

I AM the Tree of Life within you.

Each one of us is both an inlet and an outlet of life's self-expression. The ‘us’ in us – the ‘AM-ness’ of us – is not separate from life, rather it is life, or being-ness, itself unfolding from one moment to the next. Whenever we affirm ‘I am …’ we are affirming our being-ness, our I AM-ness, our true spiritual identity. We are saying, 'I AM alive. I AM here. I AM aware that I AM alive and that I AM here. I exist.' You see, the 'I AM' is both universal and individual, for whatever we attach to our I AM-ness, we become. Yes, what we put after those two words 'I am ... ' shapes our reality for better or for worse.

Now, trained as I was as a lawyer and scholar (ugh), I used to think that one could come to know God through academic study and the use of reason and the intellect. Well, that will take you some of the way, like to the end of the proverbial runway but not up into the air. After many years of suffering and self-defeat, I have learned this — the best way to know God is to be … still! 

Meditate. Get really still. Be silent. Say nothing. Let the mind go into neutral, so to speak. Let composure creep all over you. Feel your AM-ness pulsate through your arteries and veins. Breathe in more of that AM-ness. In time, you will come to know your very AM-ness as the ALL-ness of existence individualized in and as you. God is pure Be-ing, and we have our be-ing-ness in God, as the Christian mystics say. 'For in him we live and move and have our being' (Acts 17:28). There is only one way of be-ing. Call it the ALL-ness of God, if you like. Your AM-ness, which is a small part of that immense, boundless and infinite ALL-ness, enables you to say, ‘I am …’, and ‘I know … .’ 

Know this, 'I AM come that you might have life, and have it more abundantly' (Jn 10:10). What's more, this I AM-Presence within you and as you is with you always, even to the very end of the age (cf Mt 28:20). 

I AM is the Eternal Now, unbound by time and space. 'Before Abraham was, I AM' (Jn 8:58).

Be still! — and know — I AM — God.


The photographs of Mitre Peak, the lotus flower
and the cactus flower were taken by the author.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

MEDITATIVE PRACTICES REDUCE THE ACTIVITY OF INFLAMMATION GENES

Coventry University’s Brain, Belief and Behaviour lab works at the cutting-edge of mind-body integration by developing innovative models and interventions to modify or enhance neuro-cognitive functions, beliefs and behavior.

The lab recently conducted the first systematic review of studies of gene activity inside cells and how meditation (including mindfulness meditation) and other mind-body practices might influence the immune system and disease risk.

The research team analysed 18 trials including 846 participants, ranging from a 2005 study of Qigong to a 2014 trial that tested whether tai chi influenced gene activity in people with insomnia.

Although the quality of studies was mixed and the results were complex, an overall pattern emerged. Genes related to inflammation became less active in people practicing mind-body interventions. Genes controlled by a key protein that acts as an inflammation ‘on-switch’, NF-ĸB, seem to be particularly affected.

Microscopic gene. Source: Cardiff University.

Chronic inflammation is associated with increased risk for psychiatric disorders, autoimmune conditions such as asthma and arthritis, cardiovascular disease, neurodegenerative disease and some types of cancer. Some 5 years ago researchers at NYU School of Medicine for the first time identified a single gene that simultaneously controls inflammation, accelerated aging and cancer and researchers at Cardiff University recently discovered that genetic variation is the reason why some immune systems overreact to viruses.

The results of the analysis suggest mind-body interventions might help reduce the risk for inflammation-related disorders, both psychological and physical. However, some rigorous clinical trials are still needed to show whether the changes in gene expression really do result in improved physical health.

Acknowledgement. Some of the material in this post first appeared online in New Scientist on 16 June 2017 and was authored by Jo Marchant. All rights reserved.

Journal reference: Buric I, Farias M, Jong J, Mee C and Brazil I A. ‘What Is the Molecular Signature of Mind–Body Interventions? A Systematic Review of Gene Expression Changes Induced by Meditation and Related Practices.’ Frontiers in Immunology, 16 June 2017 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fimmu.2017.00670


IMPORTANT NOTICE: See the Terms of Use and Disclaimer. The information provided on this blog is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your medical practitioner or other qualified health provider because of something you have read on this blog. For immediate advice or support call Lifeline on 13 1 1 14 or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800. For information, advice and referral on mental illness contact the SANE Helpline on 1800 18 SANE (7263) go online via sane.org




Tuesday, June 6, 2017

MINDFULNESS CAN REDUCE FEAR OF LABOUR AND POST-NATAL DEPRESSION

Teaching mindfulness to pregnant women can reduce the fear of labour, the risks of postnatal depression and the need for opiates during labour, according to a recent randomized controlled trial (RCT).

In a demographically diverse sample, this small RCT demonstrated mindfulness-based childbirth education improved women’s childbirth-related appraisals and psychological functioning in comparison to standard childbirth education.

Participants showed greater childbirth self-efficacy and mindful body awareness, lower post-course depression symptoms that were maintained through postpartum follow-up, and a trend toward a lower rate of opioid analgesia use in labor. They did not, however, retrospectively report lower perceived labor pain or use epidural less frequently than controls.


Study: Duncan, L G et al. ‘Benefits of preparing for childbirth with mindfulness training: a randomized controlled trial with active comparison.’ MC Pregnancy and Childbirth. BMC series – open, inclusive and trusted 2017 17:140 DOI: 10.1186/s12884-017-1319-3.


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IMPORTANT NOTICE: See the Terms of Use and Disclaimer. The information provided on this blog is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your medical practitioner or other qualified health provider because of something you have read on this blog. For immediate advice or support call Lifeline on 13 1 1 14 or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800. For information, advice and referral on mental illness contact the SANE Helpline on 1800 18 SANE (7263) go online via sane.org



Tuesday, May 9, 2017

MINDFULNESS HELPS STOP YOUR MIND FROM WANDERING

'I wonder as I wander.' For some people, it's more a case of, 'I wander as I wonder.' For others -- far too many, in fact -- it's simply, 'I wander as I wander.'

A new study from the University of Waterloo set out to see whether a short bout of mindfulness training might help focus the minds of people who are clinically anxious.

‘Our results indicate that mindfulness training may have protective effects on mind wandering for anxious individuals,’ said study author Mengran Xu, pictured right, in a statement. ‘We also found that meditation practice appears to help anxious people to shift their attention from their own internal worries to the present-moment external world, which enables better focus on a task at hand.’

Previous studies have found that mindfulness meditation can quell the mind’s tendency to wander, by quieting a region of the brain known as the default mode network (DMN)the part of the brain that’s ‘on’ when our minds are just wandering about. Other studies have shown its physical effects on the brain over time, not the least of which is its connection to greater volume in areas like the hippocampus, which in part governs emotion regulation (and is smaller in depressed people) and reduced volume in the amygdala, which plays a central role in stress and fear. And a study last month found that the two classic forms of meditation, focused attention and open monitoring, have the capacity to reduce the number of ‘intrusive’ thoughts people had when they were asked to conjure up a personal fear.


Study: Xu M, Purdon C, Seli P and Smilek D. Mindfulness and mind wandering: The protective effects of brief meditation in anxious individuals.’ Consciousness and Cognition. Volume 51, May 2017, pp 157-165.



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IMPORTANT NOTICE: See the Terms of Use and Disclaimer. The information provided on this blog is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your medical practitioner or other qualified health provider because of something you have read on this blog. For immediate advice or support call Lifeline on 13 1 1 14 or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800. For information, advice and referral on mental illness contact the SANE Helpline on 1800 18 SANE (7263) go online via sane.org