When I was about 8 years old, a member of my family found a strange creature in the bath tub. It looked a bit like an earwig and I remember it being long and spindly. It wasn’t particularly threatening but thinking about how it might have found its way into the bath was a bit creepy. Somebody removed the creature and I went back to the bedroom which I shared with my brother. The next thing I remember, I’m looking up and seeing loads of these creatures – I call out to everyone that there are hundreds of them coming out of the ceiling. When my parents arrived in the room they reliably informed me that what I was seeing was not more creatures but simply some pins which were keeping the polystyrene ceiling tiles in place and which had worked their way loose.
The house we were living in at the time was surrounded by fields, about half a mile from the main road and over a quarter of a mile from the nearest neighbour. On school days we would ride our bikes as far as the neighbour’s house, leave them there and walk the rest of the way to the end of the lane to catch the bus. One such day I was coming home from school and went to collect my bike. The neighbours had one of those dogs which have a habit of getting under your feet and barking furiously. As I rode away the dog started to run after me, barking frantically. I started to pedal faster but the dog seemed to be gaining on me. I kept looking behind me anxiously but each time I could see the dog chasing me and hear it barking at me. I kept pedalling faster and faster until it all became too much and I fell off my bike. What I experienced next was the dog jumping on my back and me attempting to fight it off. After a few seconds I realised that the dog had actually given up the chase about 50 yards back and I was busy having a fight with my rucksack.
The reason I relate these two stories is to illustrate how easy it is to be fooled and how easy it is to add two and two together and get five. Now we could say that I was only a kid and that kids get things wrong all the time. But this might suggest that adults are not so easily fooled and not at all prone to delusion. As I write this I am becoming aware of how easy it is for children to draw conclusions from the limited amount of data and experience they have. Adults have much more knowledge at their disposal and have many more life experiences to draw from before reaching a conclusion. Adults have the ability to step back from a situation and consider various possible explanations for what is happening. Children will tend to form conclusions more quickly. The human brain has a great capacity for making connections between phenomena and seemingly unconnected life events, but it can only work with the data that is supplied. Children have less data available and are prone to draw more simplistic conclusions. We often see this in the way that a child will believe himself to be responsible for the death of a family member, parents getting divorced or some other unhappy event in his life.
But although adults have much more data to draw upon, they have much more complex questions to answer. As a child, if I’d had a few extra bits of data – that polystyrene ceiling tiles are held up with pins, that these pins come loose over time, and that they are about the same size and shape as some insects – I might just have been able to draw a different conclusion to the one that said there were loads of creepy insects coming out of the ceiling (or maybe if I’d realised then that I was becoming short-sighted, it might have made more sense of why a pin looked like an earwig). As adults, when we form conclusions about life, can we really be sure that a few extra bits of data won’t be enough to completely change our worldview? How can we be sure that what we think we know is objectively true?
In science and in daily life we look to validation as a way of backing up our theories and proving we are right. Yet the history of science is littered with theories which were presented as truth because enough people validated them and found evidence to support them, only to be completely revised or thrown out altogether at a later date once new data had become available. So too it is with our own lives – we look to our friends, family and peers to say that they agree with us so we can feel stronger in our “knowing”. But just because other people share your view or say they agree with you does not make it true. How do you know that they are not just as deluded as you are?
As humans we make assumptions and we draw conclusions from the data we have available. But then new data comes along and we have to rethink everything. Logic would tell us that we are always uncovering new data and perhaps it would be better to avoid drawing definite conclusions altogether. Perhaps we could find a way of learning and discovering which does not involve making grand claims for objective truth. Perhaps we could investigate one of the biggest assumptions of all: that there is an objective world “out there” which is the same for everyone. It certainly seems to me as though there is some kind of objective world out there but experience shows that no two people will experience that world in exactly the same way. Therefore, although an objective world may exist, it does not appear to be objectively verifiable. Many sensations which are experienced by the minority rather than the majority can be dismissed as delusions because they do not get verified by enough people. But if only one person in the room hears a sound, does that mean he is deluded? If only one person in a group feels energy, does that mean he is mistaken? How many times have you and a partner, colleague or relative had differing recollections about what was said or what actually happened (i.e. the facts of the matter)? Do you always assume that one of you must be right and therefore somebody must be wrong? If we start to question the possibility of being able to verify objective reality, where does that leave the whole concept of delusion?
There are many individuals and many groups of people who believe they know the truth and that other people are deluded – politicians, fundamental religious groups and cult leaders to name but a few. But it is the very close-mindedness of these people – the fact that they believe they are right and that other people are wrong – which causes so much conflict in the world. If someone comes to your door and tries to tell you something is true which you don’t believe, you will want to defend your position. You will feel, on some level, like you are being attacked and that you need to protect yourself.
As I discussed earlier in the book, certainty makes us feel safe. If we know something to be true we feel less vulnerable and if other people share our knowing then we feel stronger still. But jumping to conclusions, being attacked by people who have jumped to different conclusions, and then engaging in some kind of war, is certainly not the fast track of evolution. It is slow, cumbersome and so unnecessary. If we are not open to receiving new information our understanding will never progress. So our development is enhanced if we adopt an approach where we seek the truth whilst always remaining open to receiving new data.
All the while we equate knowing with safety and not knowing with vulnerability, we will not move past this point. But equating not knowing with vulnerability is a symptom of the idea of separation. It is a sign that we are using knowing to make ourselves feel better by covering up our emotional wounds and protect us from other people and their beliefs. If we had healthy self-esteem, self-belief and self-confidence we would not feel the need to be right about everything – we would be open to learning.
It just feels right
So to answer the question of how we can know that what we think we know is objectively true, perhaps we don’t need to know. Perhaps we can accept that life is a constant unfolding and that we are on a never-ending journey of discovery. Perhaps we could trade in our certainties for a new approach which revels in new discoveries and feels excited about how much more there is to learn.
But if we are going to live like this we will still need some kind of guidance system so we can know which general direction to go in. Now at this point we could say that the best approach is to trust how we feel. Most people will probably have had, at some point in their lives, a feeling where they just knew something was right and they couldn’t explain it. Maybe it was meeting a new partner or buying a new house or finding a new job – some feeling that said “this is right”. So would it be safe to conclude that we can simply follow our feelings when deciding which way to go? Now I’m not particularly proud of what I’m about to say but I once thought I was a reincarnation of an Ascended Master. I even thought at one stage that an Indian holy man was giving me telepathic instructions on how to manifest objects from thin air. I tell you this, not so you can decide that I’m a complete fool and you should throw this book out of the window, but to illustrate that it is easy to be fooled. Both of those beliefs were delusions and let me tell you, delusion can feel so good! If you think you’re a reincarnation of Christ or that God has chosen you for a special mission, you’re going to feel pretty good in that belief. So where does that leave us when it comes to knowing what to trust as our guidance system? Can feelings really be trusted?
As I contemplated this I began to suspect that there were going to be no easy answers, but then a thought arose which said “Think of something you believe to be true and now imagine how you would feel if it turned out to be true and how you would feel if it turned out not to be true”. As I mentioned in The Embodiment of Qualities I used to be a very strong believer in reincarnation. I had read so many books written by people who believed reincarnation was a fact and it seemed to make sense to me as the reason why people have different abilities and different degrees of aptitude. The idea of reincarnation was also pivotal in the broader spiritual belief system to which I subscribed – that the point of life was to evolve spiritually through successive lifetimes. There had to be an enduring Self – a Self or soul which could carry forward our progress from one life into the next life – for any of it to make sense.
But then I started to discuss reincarnation with my partner, Jo, and she shared with me her view that when we die we simply return to some kind of cosmic soup, like water returning to the ocean. In the next life water would be taken from the ocean but there would be no guarantee that it would be the same water that lived before. As my belief in reincarnation became challenged in this way I found myself wondering how it would feel if it turned out there was no enduring Self or soul and why did I feel the need to “know” that reincarnation was true?
Over a period of time I began to see that my belief in reincarnation represented a form of attachment and further evidence that I was still subscribing to the idea of separation. It was my life which was important, not anyone else’s. I wanted to escape the cycle of life, death and rebirth. I didn’t want to believe in a life where “who we are” in each life is the product of some random process. Without reincarnation the concept of Karma would not make sense. Life would be meaningless. People would be born into poverty and disease and there would be nothing to make sense of it or justify it. It would mean that life was simply crap after all. I wanted life to make more sense than that and I wanted to feel like I was in control of my own life.
Although I was initially a bit defensive about the idea of reincarnation, I was fortunate enough to be open to considering new possibilities and this allowed me to see what feelings were hidden beneath my false sense of knowing. Allowing these feelings to surface gave them chance to be addressed. Over time I was able to let go of the idea of reincarnation to the point where I felt it would not matter if it turned out to be untrue. It wasn’t the promise of heaven after this life which mattered; it wasn’t the promise of a better life next time around; it wasn’t the thought that in my next life I might be able to remember who I am right from the word go and not have to endure decades of ignorance before waking up which mattered: it is what is happening right here and now which matters. Realising, here and now, that we are all part of the same ocean, is what is most important – transcending the concept of separation and stepping into connectedness and Oneness is the way to go.
Beings of light
As I often find when I sit down to write, it seems like there are many subjects which need to be addressed at the same time. One topic which seems to be linked to this broader topic of knowing is that of non-physical beings.
I have read many books by people who claim to have had very real, very tangible experiences with angels. Their experiences have included visits from beings of light, objects appearing and disappearing and being shown future events which later came to pass. To these people angels are undeniably real. Now I once had a dream about an angelic figure but I have never had any kind of experience which I could say was proof of the existence of angels or which left me in no doubt as to their existence. I’ve had encounters with total strangers in which it seemed like they were there to give me an important message, but I believe that life has a way of telling us what we need to know through the mouths of ordinary humans, so I have no need to claim these people were angels. I have had prophetic dreams and there have been numerous occasions when I seemed to just know something about someone without knowing how I knew it. There have also been many occasions when an idea or thought just popped into my head which turned out to have profound significance for what I was doing at the time. But how do I know that any of this had anything to do with other beings? How do I know that I wasn’t simply tapping into some form of impersonal collective consciousness or some broader aspect of my own being?
When I write I feel a presence – I feel that I am being guided in some way and that I am not alone. Yet I very rarely stop to think what this presence might be and that, I believe, is because it feels so familiar and I trust it. The trust and familiarity is such that I do not consider this presence to be something separate from myself. The bonding is so strong that the lack of aloneness comes, not from feeling like there is someone else with me, but from feeling like I am more than a lone individual.
And yet, this presence, which I trust, seems to be urging me to write about non-physical beings and non-physical intelligence. Seeing as we dispensed, earlier in this chapter, with the need to claim any certainties about our feelings, I feel free to present a few concepts to you on the basis that this is what I feel is seeking expression. I make no claims but only wish that it will encourage further enquiry.
Extracting the essence
I feel that our human tendency to extract essences from plants and to “isolate active ingredients” is a symptom of the story of separation and our attempts to control our environment. I also feel that in so doing we are missing some vital aspects of how plants can help us. To me plants are not collections of essences or active ingredients – they are life-forms which have presence and energy. For me, when we look at another human being, when we see only the body, we see but a fraction of that person’s entire being, and when we look at plants, when we see the physical form, we see but a fraction of what they are. We could say that humans and plants alike exist in multiple dimensions at the same time, some of which we can see with our physical senses and some of which are only detectable through the subtle senses.
The feeling that started to grow within me a few years ago was that, when we have a headache, instead of inhaling rosemary and mint oil, the way to restore wholeness was to spend time in the presence of rosemary or mint. Now there are many people in the world who “feel the pain” of Mother Earth when they tune in to the way that we have treated this planet, but there are still many more who believe that trees are just trees and that plants are just plants. Trees, plants and waterways are treated as inanimate, non-conscious “things”. But what if trees, plants and rivers were living beings with consciousness? And what if we extend our concepts of connectedness and Oneness to encompass ALL life on this planet or perhaps even all life in the universe? If we see plants, trees and rivers as beings and we see that all beings are part of one “Unified Being”, what we do to them we do to ourselves. Can you imagine treating a member of your family in the same way that we humans collectively treat the Earth?
It is easy to dismiss such ideas as fantasy and to stick to our “knowing” that trees, plants, rivers and the rest of “nature” are simply non-sentient and without consciousness, but it becomes equally difficult to live with ourselves if we consider that they might actually be “alive” and “feeling” and that we have been poisoning and terrorising them for decades. But then again, maybe it’s not so hard for some people to live with themselves when we consider how easily some people find it to eat animals which are obviously alive, conscious and sentient.
Now it is not my intention to veer off into some form of vegetarian rant and I wish to remain mindful that the way in which we discuss these topics has a great bearing on the conversations we have and the stories we tell. I would like to invite you to consider the possibility that there are other beings, of a non-physical nature, who exist in the same space and time as we do, and that they might be able to help us. When I use the word “invite” I am reminded of something else which I feel may be true: that human evolution has a sacred element called “free will” and that only a certain amount of “outside intervention” is permitted without an open invitation. In other words, if there are other beings around, they can only do so much to help without an invitation – if we want them to provide more help we need to invite them to do so.
I am sure that there will be those amongst you who have been disappointed that a chapter which started out as being quite rational and level-headed has veered off into discussing angels, nature spirits and fairies. And, believe me, I share your discomfort. My mind contains a very strong personality of doubt who is always seeking to bring me down to earth and deal with hard, verifiable facts. But whatever good has come from my life has come largely from intuition. It is because I trusted my feelings, even when nobody else believed me, that I have grown the most and helped the most. I feel it is important that we discuss these issues and I also feel it is equally important that we are mindful of how we discuss them. Whilst encouraging ourselves to express what we feel in a way which feels right for us, we should perhaps keep one eye open to see where we might be claiming false certainties and where we might be doing so in order to calm the pain from our own emotional wounds.
As I mentioned in the early chapters of this book, spiritual seekers can very easily be put off by claims from gurus who say that the physical world is just a dream or an illusion. If we claim that there are no non-physical beings on this planet because we have no proof of their existence, we are effectively saying that we are not open to enquiry. Equally if we claim that we “know” of the existence of “multidimensional beings” or “intergalactic intelligences”, we need to be aware that phrases like this will not endear us to those of us who like to keep our feet on the ground.
I want to believe that angels exist but I’m not convinced that seeing a few feathers on the ground is enough evidence for me to accept that they are reaching out to me. It may be the case or it may not. I’m not quite as concerned as I used to be about looking a fool or being humiliated – I’m more concerned with finding the truth and I’m not convinced that “blind faith” is a better route to take than being a doubting Thomas. 2012 made fools of lots of people as they took refuge in underground shelters and spoke of the “end days” being upon us. Many spoke of galactic equators and cosmic alignments without being able to offer much evidence. I asked several people where they had obtained their information about so-called Mayan prophecies and planetary alignments, but no answers were forthcoming. People “just knew”, it seemed. But to me it sounded like a big game of Chinese whispers. Somebody once said something about it and a load more people bought the theory and repeated it. Now I’m not saying that Mayan prophecies don’t exist or that there are no cosmic alignments, but when I looked into them I couldn’t find any corroborating evidence for them. And in the end, come December 2012, the world did not end, there was no major planetary cataclysm and people did not spontaneously find that they had psychic powers as many were claiming would happen.
Truth, it seems, can often be a subjective affair. Definitive conclusions often seem elusive. But does our need for definitive conclusions hold us back from further discoveries? When I was in my early 20s I read a lot of books by an author named Robert Anton Wilson (or RAW for short). RAW introduced me to the idea that we could discuss extraordinary phenomena without the need to jump to conclusions. In at least one of his books, at the end of each chapter he would offer several possible theories for what he had been discussing. This had the effect of opening the mind rather than closing it. Maybe we could approach the subject of non-physical beings in a similar way. Maybe we could put everything in the pot, stir it around and see what new information presents itself.
Many believers would say that I am holding back, afraid to believe what I want to believe. And there is probably some truth in that. I want to believe in non-physical beings but I am wary of delusion. How would I feel if it turned out I’d been deluded for a long time? I’d probably feel quite alone and quite powerless. And what of the hard-nosed sceptics who deny the existence of non-physical beings because they have no proof – how would they feel if angels started to appear in front of them? I hope they would feel uplifted but I suspect they would also feel humbled as they realised that they had been using false certainty to cover their own wounds of feeling alone, powerless, vulnerable and insignificant in a vast universe.
In the last paragraph I wrote:
“I want to believe in non-physical beings but I am wary of delusion. How would I feel if it turned out I’d been deluded for a long time? I’d probably feel quite alone and quite powerless.”
A few days after I wrote those words I was pondering why it was that I had wanted to make contact with angels in the first place. I realised that proving to myself that angels do exist would have the effect of making me feel like I was not alone. It would also make me feel safe because I would feel like there was someone I could call upon for help. This revealed to me that feelings of aloneness and powerlessness were already present, whether I took a chance on believing in angels or not. If I already feel alone and powerless what difference would it make to believe in something and run the risk of later finding out I had been deluded which would make me feel alone and powerless? I was afraid of an outcome which would result in the very feelings I already had.
Also I should mention that wanting to have contact with angels or any kind of experience with other non-physical beings is to continue the story of separation and to believe that we need to seek the help of “another” to make us whole. It is perpetuating the idea that we need to look outside of ourselves to some other separate individual or group of beings to help us fulfil our spiritual needs.
Of course the reason that this journey of discovery had to be so drawn out was because feeling alone and powerless are feelings which come from an unhealed emotional wound. Just as we all do, I had been burying that wound and the emotions related to it because they felt so bad. Avoiding painful experiences and unpleasant emotions seems like such a strong urge within us, it is almost primal. It seems almost inevitable that we will become wounded and to believe that being wounded is a sign of failure or weakness is to unjustly punish ourselves for something which could not have been any other way. We become wounded because the people we share with in our formative years are also wounded. At the subconscious level we are all trying to heal our emotional wounds and in so doing we run the risk of passing those wounds on to the next generation. We only begin to break this cycle by bringing the subject of emotional wounds into consciousness and consciously relating to each other on a level of true feeling.
I’m always drawn to charities which help children who end up living on the streets. Why? Because in those children I see my own wounds reflected. I feel the sense of aloneness they must feel, the pain, the fear and the feelings of powerlessness and hopelessness. I feel a deep sadness that these children’s lives have been abandoned, that their talents and gifts have been disregarded, that the joy of being alive has been replaced in them with the harsh realities of surviving in a world of inhumanity. I was very lucky in the sense that I never had to live rough like these children do. But on the inside, in my heart, I felt a similar kind of emotional wounding. I felt abandoned and alone. I felt like my potential had been stifled, my gifts to the world unwanted, and my truth disregarded, because everyone I knew had buried their pain so deeply that they did not know how to recognise such pain in someone else, let alone how to heal it.
When we feel sadness, aloneness or fear, we can only allow that to surface and we can only allow it to be shared if we feel safe. If we don’t feel safe it will turn to anger. If others see that anger they might wonder why we are angry. But unless we feel safe we will be unable to admit, even to ourselves, why we are angry, let alone open up to someone else about it, so it is likely that we will lash out and start to blame those around us. This takes us further away from any potential healing of our wounds, triggers other people’s wounds, and leads us into outer conflicts.
I would like to repeat something I said a couple of paragraphs ago:
“At the subconscious level we are all trying to heal our emotional wounds and in so doing we run the risk of passing those wounds on to the next generation. We only begin to break this cycle by bringing the subject of emotional wounds into consciousness and consciously relating to each other on a level of true feeling.”
We have become accustomed to believing that painful emotions are a sign that there is something wrong with us, that we need fixing and that we need to do something about it. Inevitably the vast majority of our efforts at healing ourselves fail. Why? Is it because we’re not trying hard enough? Maybe we need to learn some new techniques or attend some more workshops? Or could it be that we are basing our actions on “fundamental” assumptions which are, at best, distorted?
I would like to share with you what I believe to be true about emotions. The presence of painful emotion is not “bad”. It is not a sign that there is something wrong with you. Therefore you do not need fixing and you do not need to do anything about it. Emotions pass of their own accord, if only we allow them to. It is through resisting them that we hold on to them. It is because we judge them and try to move away from them that they persist in following us around. They stay in our bodies because we don’t let them pass.
Whatever the emotion, if we simply allow it to be, allow ourselves to feel it, the emotion will pass in good time. When I say “allow it to be” and “allow ourselves to feel it” I mean just that – I do not mean think about it or mentally repeat the mantra behind the emotion. I mean just let it be.
Part of our cultural mindset is the concept of management: everything has to be managed, from workplaces to natural spaces. We manage natural habitats, cull species which seem to be getting out of control and reintroduce species to the wild when we perceive a need. Now I’m not saying that we should not interact with the rest of nature and have a say, but when we seek to control a situation too much we run the risk of ignoring the innate wisdom which exists within the situation itself. We are so set in our ways of viewing the world as a collection of separate things that we often fail to see that processes and events can teach us just as much as people can. Our human-centric tendencies go so far that we close our eyes to the living intelligence which is nature herself.
We carry this mindset of management and control into our treatment of emotions. We believe we have to control them in some way. Do we try to fence them in or set fire to them? Do we introduce another emotion to control the spread of the “bad” emotion?
It’s not necessary to do anything with emotions. We don’t need to intensify them or force ourselves into them. If we simply remove the judgement that says they are bad, stop thinking, stop running, stop fighting and allow them to be, whatever they have to teach us will present itself and the emotions will pass. In allowing the emotion to be it may well intensify and feel stronger, but we allow this to happen in its own way, without forcing it.
As I mentioned earlier, feeling safe is a prerequisite for allowing emotions to surface, so it’s worth keeping that in mind when you begin to feel emotional. When emotions present themselves it can be good to seek out a safe place in which we can allow the emotions to surface without fear of judgement or reprisals.
Once we have allowed an emotional wave to pass through us, it is important not to speculate about what might happen next. Believing that we have finally let go of the emotion or that it will undoubtedly come back are both attachments which can hinder our experience of what is true. The body has a way of expecting what it has come to experience. If we have had hiccups the body seems to continue to anticipate hiccups even after they have stopped. The same can happen when we have become accustomed to feeling a particular way. If we have felt stifled for a long time and this has led to tension in the body, that tension can continue to occur as the body anticipates further stifling, long after the cause of the stifling has been addressed. In this way we can get caught up in trying to process emotional issues which have run their course. The original event which created the wound has long since passed and the feeling would pass too if only we could see that the game is over. Sometimes we can get so caught up in our games of warfare as we battle to survive in the jungle of our emotions that we fail to realise when the war has ended.
There is a belief that leaders should be strong and teachers should be authoritative. This same belief says that teachers must demonstrate that they have already completed the path which they are guiding people along, that they should have an answer to every question and show no weakness. They should not give the impression that they are imperfect or still have work to do on their own development. To do so would diminish their effectiveness – the patient has to believe in the cure and have faith in the doctor after all.
I have to say that I do not adhere to this school of thought. I don’t believe in authority or giving my power away to someone else who claims to have all the answers. I believe in an open-minded and open-hearted enquiry where we are encouraged to look within ourselves to find what connects us to the world around us and to find our unique gifts which we bring to the world.
This is not a book by some perfected master. I haven’t walked the path. I haven’t finished climbing the mountain. I’m still walking, still climbing and still growing. I do not seek to make myself feel safe by presenting myself as an authority on spiritual practice. I wish only to share with you an alternative message: that there is great power for healing and enlightenment in opening up our hearts and minds and sharing with others from a place of true feeling.
I shall finish this chapter with a simple message of hope. When we see someone looking vulnerable we want to embrace them, to hold them and make them feel safe. I would like to suggest that we embrace vulnerability itself. Be not afraid of vulnerability. Some of the dictionary definitions of the word “vulnerable” include being susceptible to emotional or physical injury and being open to criticism. I encourage you to be open. If you open yourself up to criticism you will learn so much more. If you open yourself to possible attack maybe you will see that you are not your body and not your emotions. Maybe not defending your position, not fighting back and speaking freely about how you feel will lead you past your emotional wounds and help you to get in touch with the part of you that cannot be harmed in any way. If being vulnerable makes you feel scared – feel scared. It’s OK. If being vulnerable makes you want to cry – cry. That too is OK. It is by exploring weakness that we find our true strengths. It is by exploring doubt that we find truth. Embrace vulnerability – go on, I dare you.
*** This chapter is taken from my book The Light Within ***