Friday, March 25, 2016


What is life, other than a perpetual resurrection?

Easter is about endings and beginnings. It is about love overcoming hate, hope prevailing over despair, and life triumphing over death. Easter celebrates the fact that the spirit of life is indestructible. As I have said more than once before, we are forever part of life’s self-expression, that is, livingness, so we can never cease to be. Yes, we will change form and vanish from view, but we---that is, the spirit of life in us, as us---can never cease to be. We cannot be separated from life. We cannot be less than life.

The end of every day is a ‘death’ of sorts. It is gone forever. Now, that is a very good thing, for if it were not to happen there could be no tomorrow. Every new day is a rising of sorts. But it’s even deeper than that. Every new moment is a new beginning---a resurrection of life. We must constantly ‘die’ and ‘rise again’ into newness of life.  Most importantly, we must die to self each moment of the day if we wish to be free from the bondage of self.

Here are some wonderful words from Dr Harry Gaze, minister, lecturer and world traveller, who was a pioneer in the field of applied psychology ('constructive psychology', in his words):

True living is a perpetual resurrection, a constant awakening and arising to the increased livingness of today. Every day is Easter to the one who is initiated into the teachings of the new life. The more that we include within the area of our attention, of the good, the true and the beautiful, the more we extend our consciousness. This extension of consciousness is a richer, fuller livingness.

Happy Easter!

Sunday, March 20, 2016


The late, great American preacher and author Dr Norman Vincent Peale [pictured right], whose writings and addresses have helped me greatly over many decades, once said, ‘Americans are so tense and keyed up that not even a sermon can put them to sleep.’

Peale wrote and spoke much on how to relax, and so have many others. The self-help books are full of advice on how to relax. Most of the advice is well-intentioned. Some of the advice is even helpful, but most of it is too complex and difficult for the average person to put into practice.

Here’s what I consider to be the best advice I ever heard on the subject—and, yes, it comes from Dr Peale:

Sit still, be silent, let composure creep over you.

That's all you have to do. It’s that simple.

First, sit still. Now, some people can’t sit still for more than a few seconds. I have lectured to some 12,000 law students in my time, and I have spoken to many others as well in the mental health field (psychiatrists, psychologists and psychiatric nurses). So many of these people, including the health care professionals, couldn’t sit still if their lives depended upon it. I can understand the law students being restless. After all, the law can be a pretty dull subject, but the psychiatrists? ‘Physician, heal thyself.’ Anyway, I digress. I guess for some people it takes practice. Sit still. Let the body remain as motionless as possible. Be conscious of your breathing, and perhaps the beating of your heart. Be aware—just be aware, no more than that—of any bodily sensations, external noises, and thoughts and feelings you may experience. Whatever happens … SIT STILL. That is the only 'doing' thing in the whole procedure. That means not moving or making a sound. I’ll get to the latter—not making a sound—in a minute. It gets easier with practice. The poet T S Eliot wrote of the 'still centre' or 'still point' where the true reality is to be found. Yes, stillness is indeed the name of the game.

Secondly, be silent. Note that word ‘be’. It is not something you do—it is the total absence of doing—but something you are. What are you? I will tell you. You are be-ing-ness itself. An inlet and an outlet of life’s self-expression, that's what you are. Just be … and be silent. Say nothing—and that includes nothing interiorly to yourself. Silence is more than saying nothing. It means remaining as motionless and quiet as possible.

Now, don’t try not to think, for that will only result in your thinking. I love what the Zen master said to his then not so-enlightened student (who had asked the master what he had to do in order to become enlightened), 'Whatever you do, don't think of the white monkey.' Of course, you know what happened then. All the poor student could think of was---yes, the white monkey. You see, thinking about not thinking about the white monkey is the same as thinking about the white monkey. Trying not to think about the white monkey results in your thinking about the white monkey. So, don’t try not to think of anything. The secret is---simply forget to think. Got the idea? It is something passive. The power of non-action, that is, of not doing something. Don’t try. Again, it is all about the total absence of doing anything—except to sit still. The rest is all about not-doing … and letting. Well, it does get easier with practice.

Thirdly, let composure creep over you. The most important word in this third instruction—indeed, in the whole advice—is ‘let’. It is something entirely passive. Again, it is not something that you do. It is something that happens of its own accord—as soon as you remove the barriers to its happening. Once you sit still, and are silent, composure will creep over you. It’s not miraculous, but it is something very wonderful and precious. Now, this word ‘composure’, what does it mean? You know, even the word itself has a nice, relaxing sound and feel about it. Merriam-Webster defines ‘composure’ as ‘a calmness or repose especially of mind, bearing, or appearance’. Here are three other words that mean more-or-less the same thing: equanimity, serenity and imperturbability.

In short, get the body still first, then the mind will follow, and when the mind is still composure will creep over you. I love that word ‘creep’. The word ‘creep’, in the sense used here, refers to a process or movement that happens slowly, steadily and almost imperceptibly.

Sit still. Be silent. Let composure creep over you. Let this happen to and in you many times a day if necessary.

Remember—sit ... be ... let.

It's as simple as that.


Friday, March 18, 2016


'To see far, first see near.’ That is the sound advice of the American spiritual teacher and author Vernon Howard [pictured left], whose books, lectures and talks have helped me greatly along life’s way.

Self-change begins with self-observation. Unless we have insight into our thoughts, feelings, moods and sensations we will stay the same. We may even regress.

Self-observation comes from a mindful attention to, and choiceless awareness of, the content of the present moment, from one such moment to the next. The word ‘content’ refers to both psychological and physical (including bio-physical) content—action both inside of us and outside of us.

In his insightful book Esoteric Encyclopedia of Eternal Knowledge Vernon Howard says:

To see far, first see near. Be mindful of the present moment, for it contains answers about future and past. What thought just crossed your mind? Are you now sitting before me with a relaxed or with a tense physical body? Do I now have your full or partial attention? Come close to home by asking questions such as these. Close questions lead to distant answers.

In those few lines Howard makes three very important points.

First, if we want to come to understand the ‘big’ things of life, we must start with ourselves and the content of our own mind.

Secondly, in order to ‘see near’, that is, gain insight into ourselves and the workings of our mind, we must be ever-mindful of the present moment. After all, the present moment is all that we have. A memory of the past is a present experience. A hope or expectation for the future is a present experience. Everything—and I do mean every thing—occurs in the present moment, and that, my friends, is where knowledge of yourself is to be found.

Listen to these oft-cited words from author and ‘disciple’ P D Ouspensky (In Search of the Miraculous) as he quotes his master George Gurdjieff [pictured right]:

The first reason for man's inner slavery is his ignorance, and above all, his ignorance of himself. Without self-knowledge, without understanding the working and functions of his machine, man cannot be free, he cannot govern himself and he will always remain a slave, and the plaything of the forces acting upon him.

This is why in all ancient teachings the first demand at the beginning of the way to liberation was: ‘Know thyself.’

The third point Howard makes, albeit somewhat indirectly, is this—self-knowledge comes from self-questioning. First, a mindful attention to, and awareness of, the content of the present moment. Then, self-questioning. What am I thinking now? What I am feeling now? What is my pain telling me? Where is this anger coming from? Am I paying attention? Am I aware of my awareness? These are the types of questions you must ask yourself. The answers you will receive—in the form of self-knowledge and insight into yourself—will literally astound you … and in time change you for the better.

Once a Zen master invited questions from his students. A student asked, 'What future rewards can be expected by those who strive diligently with their lessons?' The master answered, 'Ask a question close to home.' A second student wanted to know, 'How can I prevent my past follies from rising up to accuse me?' The master replied, 'Ask a question close to home.' Zen masters often gave that advice to students who ask the 'wrong' question. Actually, it was always the right answer to all their questions--the only right answer. Ask yourself a question 'close to home'. Don't try to solve the big mysteries of life and the universe. It will be more than enough for you--and me--to solve the mystery of ourselves. So, self-knowledge comes from ... asking questions close to home. As Vernon Howard says, 'Close questions lead to distant answers.'

Now, what I am now going to say is important, because some people get the wrong idea about all of this. I am not advocating self-absorption and self-obsession. Like Howard, my goal is to set people free—and most of all, free from themselves. Perhaps paradoxically, self-knowledge leads to freedom, not more self-absorption.

To see far, first see near. Ask a question close to home—right now.

Note. For more about Vernon Howard click here.


Sunday, March 13, 2016


The word ‘prayer’ troubles me a bit. I neither believe nor disbelieve in God. The belief-disbelief spectrum forms no part of my worldview or mindset, so even agnosticism is not an option for me. Besides, the traditional concept of God is contradictory, and I reject, as totally untenable, all notions of there being some all-powerful Creator to whom we can talk and who supposedly listens to, and will answer, our prayers. So, not surprisingly, I reject all forms of theistic, petitionary prayer.

However, there are many forms of prayer including affirmations of various kinds. We all pray, in our own way--even the atheist. In the words of an old hymn, ‘Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire, uttered or unexpressed.’ Thus, if you really want good health for yourself or some other person, or world peace, that is your prayer.

Does prayer work? Well, if sincere, a prayer can change the pray-er, and if he or she changes for the better, change may occur elsewhere as well. It all begins with the individual.

Here’s a prayer of sorts that was written by Dr Annie Besant [pictured above right] in 1923. I have made very slight changes to the original wording in the interests of gender inclusiveness:

O hidden Life, vibrant in every atom;
O hidden Light, shining in every creature;
O hidden Love, embracing all in Oneness;
May all who feel themselves as one with Thee,
Know they are therefore one with every other.

What powerful words!

We start with ‘life’--the fact of existence itself. Life is everywhere. It is omnipresent. In a very profound sense, life is omnipresence itself. Is it ‘hidden’? What is hidden about life? Well, we do not really see life itself. What we see is the out-picturing—the outpouring—of life. Life takes shape in innumerable forms. What we see are living things living out their livingness from one moment to the next. However, the essence of life—the very ground of being itself—is invisible to the eye. The dynamic, creative, inexhaustible and ineffable life-principle animates and sustains all living things—including you and me—but it cannot be seen. Yet it is ‘vibrant in every atom’.

And this word ‘Light’. When life becomes visible, in the form of innumerable living things living out their livingness, it is right to describe it as ‘light’. What is hidden about light? Well, as with the word life, the real light cannot be seen. It is in the nature of pure consciousness itself. Consciousness is non-physical, immaterial, and spiritual. A spiritual substance is something which, although real, is not perceptible by the senses. We only know 'it' by its effects. We cannot see electricity, but we see the light emanating from the light bulb. This inner light shines in every creature, including you and me, and it radiates outwards in a visible manner.

‘Love’. What is love but the givingness of life to itself so as to give rise to more life. The self-givingness of life. All around us we see the effects of the self-givingness of life in action, but the self-givingness itself is invisible to the eye--hence, once again, the use of the word 'hidden'. We see the phenomenon at work everywhere, whether it is in our garden or in the maternity ward of a hospital. This love does indeed embrace all in oneness. I am not advocating monism or pantheism. When I say that life is one, I am trying to say a couple of things. First, a single logic applies to all things and how they are related to other things. Secondly, all things exist on the same order or level of reality, and on the same ‘plane’ of observability. Call it the ‘interconnectedness of all life’ or, if you like, ‘InterBeing.’ The latter wonderful term comes from the Vietnamese Buddhist monk and teacher Thich Nhat Hanh [pictured above left]. I love that word ‘Interbeing.’

The bottom line is this. There is only one life manifesting itself in all things and as all things. The one is constantly becoming or giving birth to the many, but the one is inexhaustible. It is both manifest and unmanifest. Visible and invisible. Yet it embraces all multiplicity in oneness. In the words of Alan Watts, 'Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of Nature, a unique action of the total Universe.' And not just every individual, but every thing in existence.

The ‘Thee’ referred to in the invocation is not in the nature of a personal God. Annie Besant certainly did not believe in a God of that kind. She rejected all notions of an anthropomorphic God. And so do I. ‘Thee’ is not something or someone to be petitioned in the hope that He/She/It will answer our prayers. However, if you chose to believe in such a God, that is your business. The ‘Thee’ referred to in the invocation is the ‘Hidden Life’, the ‘Hidden Light’, and the ‘Hidden Love’. Those three things are a triplicity of sorts—different words for the same ‘thing’. The ‘thing’—actually, it is not a thing at all as we ordinarily understand that word—is the livingness, consciousness and self-givingness of life. When we come to feel—note that word ‘feel’—ourselves as one with that dynamic, creative life principle, in time we come to ‘know’—this is no intellectual knowing—that we are therefore ‘one with every other’. 

This ‘feeling’ is no warm and fuzzy thing. The word ‘feel’, as opposed to ‘think’, is used to denote a choiceless awareness of what is. There is no judgment, analysis or interpretation. Just choicless awareness. It’s the same with that word ‘know’. As I just said, it is not a matter on book knowledge or reasoned analysis. This knowledge is transrational. Not irrational, but transrational. As we read in The Voice of the Silence, ‘The mind is the great slayer of the Real.’ There is a place for the use of reason in our lives—a very great place—but the use of reason can never bring us to an understanding (again, not an intellectual thing) of what is truly ‘real’.

We live in a very troubled world. Has it ever been any different? We see politicians—well, some of them, at least, who are very much in the news at the present time—who seek to divide and pit one group of persons against another. That is not the way to world peace and harmony. It never was the way. I see plenty of division and conflict in our world but I also see plenty of evidence of an ever-growing group of people who, recognizing their common humanity with all other people, are working for the good of all and for the very survival of our damaged planet. They are the ones who rail against bigotry, racism, sexism and all other forms of discrimination. They are the ones who think deeply before following their nation’s call to take up arms against other peoples of the world. They are the ones who believe that climate change is real—which it damn well is—and who are advocating for climate change action at all levels. They are the ones for work for justice and equality for all, including refugees and all displaced and homeless persons. They know the truth of Dr Besant's prayer, even if they have never heard of her or the prayer the subject of this post.

Yes, these are the people who, often without any connection to formal religion of any kind, are ‘praying’ this prayer. They are praying in the only way that really matters—with their lives.

Sunday, March 6, 2016


‘Thou canst not travel on the Path before thou hast become
that Path itself.’ H P Blavatsky, The Voice of the Silence.

Most religions talk about a ‘path’ or a ‘way’. One religion even quotes its purported founder as allegedly saying, ‘I am the way …’ (Jn 14:6). Whether the man in question actually uttered those much-quoted words, and what the words actually mean—for they are certainly capable of more than one interpretation---is a matter of debate and conjecture.

I am here to tell you, as I’ve often done before, that there is no ‘path’ or ‘way’. So stop looking for one, or believing that you have found it in this person or that person, no matter how great that person may be.

‘Truth’---that is, reality or life---‘is a pathless land,’ said J. Krishnamurti [pictured right], ‘and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect.’ Why is that? Well, each one of us is always in direct and immediate contact with reality, both internal and external. A ‘path’ presupposes a separation or distance between point A and point B. In truth, there is no such separation or distance.

There is no path, yet there still is one. What path, you may ask? Listen to what Joy Mills, an eminent Theosophist and friend of mine who died last year, had to say about the matter: 'There is no way until our feet have trod it.' What wise words!

The path or way is whatever presents itself as your reality, that is, as your consciousness and experience. Your path or way to truth (reality, life) will always be different from mine. Each of us 'makes' our own path through life, dependent upon the steps we take and the choices we make--and it all happens moment by moment. 

However, in a very profound sense your path and my path are one and the same, for each of them is life unfolding itself from one moment to the next. That, after all, is what life is---livingness, be-ing-ness, unfolding and manifesting itself from one moment to next, ever changing shape and form but forever remaining essentially one and the same in essence and truth.

Bodhidharma [pictured left] was a Buddhist monk who lived during the 5th or 6th century. He is traditionally credited as the transmitter of Chan Buddhism to China, and regarded as its first Chinese patriarch. In the 13th century, Chan Buddhism spread to Japan, where it became known as Zen. He was a very wise man, and I have derived much benefit from reading about his spiritual teachings and practices. 

Listen to these wonderful words from Bodhidharma:

When mortals are alive, they worry about death.
When they're full, they worry about hunger.
Theirs is the Great Uncertainty.
But sages don't consider the past,
And they don't worry about the future,
Nor do they cling to the present.
And from moment to moment they follow the Way.

There you have it. The truly wise person does not fret about or regret the past nor worry about the future. Why? Because they are so immersed in the present—the eternal now—that they simply have no time to engage in such fruitless and harmful activities. And even though they are immersed in the present, they do not cling to the present. They live in the eternal now, from one moment to the next. In other words, they live mindfully. And in so living they come to know a peace that passes all understanding, and they come to experience a power that makes all things new. They are one with all that is, and they come to know and experience that oneness as their true be-ing (‘I am-ness’).

The only path or way is life renewing itself from one moment to the next. You ‘follow’ that path by living mindfully, that is, with choiceless, non-judgmental awareness of whatever unfolds as your life experience moment by moment.

When you come to live that way, you too can truly say, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life.'


Friday, March 4, 2016


It is well-documented that the regular practice of mindfulness is very much associated with cognitive improvements in such things as focus, concentration and memory.

Here is a link to a recent and most interesting article from the LSE Business Review which shows how being present has big impacts for performance, decision-making and career longevity.