Darth walked over to his comfy chair, now faded and tattered, but which sunk down and enveloped him in a warm hug as he lowered himself into its welcome arms. He barked at a storm trooper to bring him a mint tea, all this empire building seemed to upset his tummy somewhat, he kicked off his heavy boots and removed his helmet. He gave a heavy sigh then took a sip of scalding hot tea, just the way he liked it. As he sat there fiddling with a loose thread on the chair, staring into space he asked himself the same question he had asked himself more and more frequently. "Just because I have negative thoughts and am not sure about how much I like certain aspects of myself necessarily mean I am a bad person?" He had always assumed that the answer to this was yes, so in that case it was just best to go with it and in fact become the baddest of them all, as he always said "if you are going to do a job best do it properly". And better that he thought than feeling guilty about every little thing I think and feel. However, he couldn't help but wonder if there was another way that meant he didn't have to be a harbinger of doom and also didn't have to be a holier than thou goody two shoes like those pesky Jedi. Really, if he was honest about it, he really would like to be able to get along better with others and use his work ethic for something more productive, like a bit of gardening, he'd always fancied himself as having green fingers, but could he? Was he really more than what he had always thought he was? He was starting to have difficulty carrying on with this train of thought as it was actually making him feel quite upset that maybe he had wasted parts of his life and by changing might have to actually face who he was. Anyway, he thought no time for being teary eyed now, can't let the troops see you like this, stiff upper lip and all that. Down the hatch he thought as he finished his tea, reluctantly put his boots and helmet back on, straightened his back and walked purposefully out of the door.
Later on that evening after a day of dastardly deeds, which would normally invigorate him and put any worrisome thoughts to bed, he was still suffering from what he could only describe as existential anxiety! "This is troubling indeed" he thought. As was his way, he felt the need to resolve this issue and as quickly and as efficiently as he could. Darth secretly commandeered a TIE Fighter and punched in the coordinates for the planet Theraputica, poured himself a large G&T, asked the computer to play a bit of sister sledge and sat back, trying to take his mind of his troubles, "we are family" he sang. Once at Theraputica he headed for their famous Wisdom Dome Library, he rather enjoyed his last book from there Influence, Science and Practice. He started to search for anything that might help, but unfortunately he drew a blank as he wasn't really sure what he was looking for. He started to get a little panicked, which was unusual for him, he just walked round and round loosing focus, with the panic rising to his throat, "bloody hell, I wish I could take this helmet off". just then a librarian appeared, Darth jumped, "you scared the living daylights out of me" he thundered. "Sorry sire", responded the tunic and sandal clad librarian, "My name is Ren and I wondered if maybe I could help you with something?" Darth felt the calmness of Ren wash over him and before he knew it he had told her all about his problems. Ren nodded and asked whether Darth had ever heard of the psychotherapist Carl Jung? Darth had not. Ren proceeded to inform him that Jung had come up with a theory of the Shadow self, "Ooh I like the sound of that" said Darth. "It is the parts of ourselves that we do not like that we either repress or show and blame others for" said Ren"maybe things such as anger, destructive tendencies, jealousy to maybe something as simple and less harmful as irritation. The issue comes with the fact that we do not own these feelings as our belonging to us and as part of ourselves; therefore we cannot then control or utilise them. I will read you a quote from Jung.
"Unfortunately there can be no doubt that man is, on the whole, less good than he imagines himself or wants to be. Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. If an inferiority is conscious, one always has a chance to correct it. Furthermore, it is constantly in contact with other interests, so that it is continually subjected to modifications. But if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected."
“Psychology and Religion” (1938). In CW 11: Psychology and Religion: West and East. P.131
"Well I know about all that bad stuff, I live it day to day said Darth, so what?" "Ahh, but you are not accepting it completely as your own" replied Ren, "you blame other people for your behaviour, Luke and Leia, the Jedi, your upbringing, your Mum for not showing more fight, someone getting you the wrong brand of tea bags etc. which means you cannot change it, Jung goes on to say.
If you imagine someone who is brave enough to withdraw all his projections, then you get an individual who is conscious of a pretty thick shadow. Such a man has saddled himself with new problems and conflicts. He has become a serious problem to himself, as he is now unable to say that they do this or that, they are wrong, and they must be fought against… Such a man knows that whatever is wrong in the world is in himself, and if he only learns to deal with his own shadow he has done something real for the world. He has succeeded in shouldering at least an infinitesimal part of the gigantic, unsolved social problems of our day.
“Psychology and Religion” (1938). In CW 11: Psychology and Religion: West and East. P.140
"People are nature" Ren continued "and that means they embody what nature is and this includes destructive forces, if you accept this and that means accepting your own nature, then the next question becomes how do I choose to use and react to those parts of myself?" This left Darth feeling a little stumped if he was honest, he had not thought seriously that he could be any different for such a long time, it was actually quite a scary prospect, choice was responsibility and responsibility could mean fear, what if he chose wrongly, what if he couldn't always moderate his thoughts and he tried to be different but people still thought he was a bit of a wally? Ren seemed to understand what he was thinking and said "You also need to understand that everybody has these random thoughts such as "why did I marry this idiot?" or "who the hell do they think they are etc," but this is just a linguistic interpretation of how we are feeling, if we take away the words away and get to the emotion we will understand how we feel and also how transitory all these feeling are, just because you are angry with someone doesn't mean you don't love them and that your anger will diminish and give rise to love when you say ok I was a bit annoyed then but I am still happy with you" Darth sat and pondered for a bit and said he might need some time to think about these things. Ren said she would leave him in quiet contemplation for a bit, but said before she left, that he should also think about how some of his seemingly shadow parts could actually be of use to him in a more positive and less destructive way, like say for instance his ability to influence people may mean he could use that to create cooperative groups; or say use his fiestiness to accomplish some other end, such as advocating for others. This really made Darth sit up and think, "thank you he said I will think on it all"
After his quiet contemplation Darth got into his ship and flew back, this time in silence, just watching the stars and planets fly be, becoming ever more certain that his nature was at one with theirs and that as a conscious member of nature he should really look at his own responsibility in that? Did he want to use his shadow self for destroying what he was or did he want to help the universe to grow along with his own nature? Over the next few days he try to put small things into practice, when he had a hard day, instead of barking for his tea, he allowed himself to shout it in his head, acknowledging his feeling, but then owned how he felt and said "I have had a very hard and stressful day and a cup of tea how I like it would be good right now" The troops started to notice the change and liked what they were seeing, it was starting to become a much nicer place to work, they might not need to strike after all. Darth started to feel as though he could understand his feelings towards Luke and asked him if he would come and speak with him. Luke, feared it was a trap. but came anyway just in the hope their relationship could heal in. After listening to his father, Luke started to get quite upset and said that he constantly felt guilty for the small bad thoughts he allowed himself to have, such as when Han didn't do the washing up in the house share they were staying in, and was so tired of carrying around this guilt, He said he felt relieved to know that this was normal and that it was ok to have a balance of all the emotions within him. Luke left promising that he would spread the word of this change.
Darth had also been thinking about what Ren had said about using his shadow self for something more positive, something that would help nature grow not destroy it. He rounded up the troops and told them "Today has been a long time coming, I cannot in full consciousness of myself and of the universe carry on constantly destroying everything including myself. I have decided that we will be turning the Death Star into a bio-dome and we will be searching the universe for as many different species of plant we can find. I say now that there may be times that I get angry or frustrated during this endeavor but please forgive me in advance it is part of who I am."
"The cosmos is within us. We are made of star stuff. We are a way for the universe to know itself" Carl Sagan, 1980
I lie on a bed of green grass above a white beach on the Atlantic Coast. The sky is blue and it is as warm as it can be on a summer's day in Ireland. I am numb, stirred in with a tear drop of sadness. I don't know exactly how I came to lie here? A whisper to me from the waters edge, I turned away from the breaking waves and here I am.
I stare up into the sky not expecting anything. It comes then. It is not gentle and easy, it is sudden and immediate. The faces and bodies of those who have been in this place before me come unbidden but not unwelcome, I see but also fleetingly feel how they have felt, these men, women and children from different times. I am overwhelmed, my heart feels like it is expanding, expanding until I think it may burst. Then the visions stop and It is there, It talks to me without language, but I understand the communication being sent my way and am grateful for it; I lay there trustingly and look up into the expansive blue sky and I know that I am connected with everyone who has been here and everyone who will be here. It shows me that I am a small part of the universe, that I along with everything that exists are part of and the same as the universe. I am not alone.
Maybe, you can say that I was delusional but to me this experience was very real and in a way saved my life. The hope that it left me with enabled me to start the process of getting better and of taking control of my existence. It has taken a long time and the journey goes on, but I have always been looking for something to help me explain that experience to myself. Is it spiritual or biological, nature based or metaphysical, something other worldly or just plain physics, personal or universal? The road from my experience above didn't start with these larger questions, it started with me making the long journey to connect more completely with myself, to gain a different perspective on my own internal universe, re-aligning the planets spinning out of time, seemingly out of control, erratic and chaotic. After focus and time, the realisation dawning on me that I was configuring myself in that way due to creating my existence based on life experiences. Creating my own theory of internal physics on mainly external opinion and conjecture; Opinions that had become internalised and made universal law; laws that were holding me back from an existence where I could feel more steady, balanced, accepting and in control.
Once I felt that I was on a steady path with the above, I started to look towards a bigger picture. Naturally my first port of call was to look towards nature and what explanations that might bring me. I noticed that I still had small instances, that I'm sure we all share, when I would look out of the window, look up to the stars, feel the breeze on my face and I would instantly feel overawed, that my outline would start to blur momentarily, enjoying it until it passed or I felt a need to be distinct again. I initially look towards ecotherapy,ecology and nature based practice, thinking about how we experience connectedness and whether there is any physical basis for this seemingly metaphysical experience. I say metaphysical because I think my experience does conjure up thoughts of God/s and spirituality, some force bigger than life on earth; historically this something more has been aligned with the spiritual. And indeed spirituality offers its own explanations, from the pagans and druids with their nature based Gods to Buddhism and its concept of interconnectedness or pattica samuppada.
This idea of interconnectedness in Buddhism is interesting as it does seem to fit with biological interpretations of ecosystems. This pattica samuppada is described as "Existence is seen as an interrelated flux of phenomenal events, material and physical, without any real, permanent, independent existence of their own. These events happen in a series, one interrelating group of events producing another." (Encyclopedia Britannica:2016) It seems that what is being suggested here is that all things are part of the same system/s and that each phenomena helps create the other an thus no thing can exist independently. In his book, Wild Therapy, Nick Totton looks at explanations of how ecosystems work and describes the concept of 'dependent co-arising' which links in to the Buddhist view above but also links into general systems theory "I am attempting to break with the long established habits of Western culture and think ecosystematically, which means seeing each species, each being, each person, not as an isolated monad, a sort of old fashioned billiard ball atom interacting with other billiard balls by knocking into them - but as inherently and profoundly linked with every other species, being, person." (Totton:2011)
Ecosystems are described as complex and the more complex, the more likely to survive due to one system feeding/helping/creating each other. However, a more simple system may lead to the annihilation of another as one rely's too heavily on the other, such as humans have been doing to planetary ecosystems. So, taking this point and running with it, it seems that to be part of, not objectify existence, seems to be a positive way forward and also concludes that by doing this we accept that we are part of something bigger than ourselves, something that we can't and maybe shouldn't always control. When I was on that beach, did I experience that because something in me let go, let go of objectifying my experience, let go of my perception and need to control? My identity of one who is separate dissolving? Graeme Barker, on forager communities wrote "Commonly the environment is regarded as a benign spiritual home..relations with it are modelled on the same principle of sharing that applies within the human community: it is the source of all good things 'a giving environment'...Foragers...commonly do not have words for distinguishing between people, animals and plants as separate categories. (Barker, 2006:58-9)
So, I hear you all say what other evidence do we have that we are connected? Well, we can look to physics itself. The quote at the top of this blog, written by Carl Sagan about star stuff is pretty much true as far as physics is concerned. If we take the theory of the big bang to be true, which I know is a debated point, then the evidence suggests the following, "while the universe was still very young and hot. As it cooled, the quarks were stuck to one another , forming protons and neutrons. The mutual gravitational attraction among these particles gathered them into large clouds that were primeval stars. As they bumped into one another in the heart of these stars, the protons and neutrons built up the seeds of heavier elements. some stars became unstable and exploded, ejecting these atomic nuclei into space, where they trapped electrons to form atoms of matter as we know it...those atoms from a long-dead supernova are what make you and me today." (Close, 2012:11)
Pretty impressive huh, to think that what makes us up is nearly as old as the universe itself if we go by this theory? Physics tells us that all life so far contain the two essential building block of protons and neutrons, which are the foundations of all other elements, everything is made from the same stuff. This gives greater insight to Sagan's quote, that "we are a way for the universe to know itself" (Sagan:1980)
So where am I going with this? Well, if we take the scientific approach and say that universally everything is made from the same stuff and then add in the idea that we are part of ever larger eco-systems that rely on each to co-exist and co-create, to change our perspective from one of humankind being separate to the rest of nature/the universe. Add in the metaphysical/spiritual element relating to connection, which I feel says something less about our need to connect, but that it is actually necessary to connect to live in a more harmonious and natural state of being, then I feel that maybe this could help describe the experience I had and that maybe the sum of the parts just described can produce something greater.
However, there is a further part in all this and that is the question of consciousness in this experience; I actually felt like the universe was speaking to me. One suggestion could be that I am conscious and as the universe is made from the same matter as I am, therefore, couldn't the universe itself be conscious? If it is conscious then it may not speak English right? or see things the way that I do? But did I see it that way just because I and my brain had to make sense of what was happening to me and received it/translated it/perceived it in the way I knew how. Therefore suggesting that I am indeed co-creating experience. A relatively recent theory has emerged around physics called Biocentrism which indeed posits that the universe and our observation with it evolve together, "The biocentric universe theory is a radical change in the way we view the world and our place in it. It proposes that the physical universe evolves in tandem with the evolution of Earthly life. The universe exists specifically in relation to us — similar to how the position and appearance of a rainbow is dependent upon the position of the person seeing it, and is not a fixed, absolute object. According to biocentricity, the universe is incredibly complex not because it just is, but rather, because the biological organisms observing it have become incredibly complex." (Biocentrism.net:2016)
Indeed, if we draw back from the universe and look to our own lives, isn't that what we are doing all the time co-creating or co-authoring our experience? Basing our view of the world on the assumptions and beliefs we hold onto as our personal law? For me, this is exciting as as we know perception can be changed, we can choose to experience the world differently by taking a second look, talking it through, asking for help,changing our mindset etc etc?
After exploring all of the above I feel as though maybe it is just as simple as, I am connected to the world and the universe at large because I am made from the same stuff, I need the universe to exist and it needs everything in it including the matter I am to exist. Life and the universe is consciousness and I was able to notice that and process it my own way when I needed it, that this wasn't a one off experience but that this is the constant state of things. I know my life cannot always be lived in this state of connectedness at all times, life is full and difficult and can feel lonely, but being aware of my belief around it, find that I feel more connected to others. Of course, I have just skimmed the surface of these theories and these are just my own conclusions, you may have others but I hope that it has been an interesting and thought provoking subject.
Live long and Prosper ;-)
,So who are you?... Who am I?... What make us who we are?
If we are honest with ourselves how much of this question is answered with an idealised version of ourselves? With details airbrushed out, uncomfortable truths, painful experiences and emotions swept under the carpet, in no small part, to enable us to cope with everyday life; a safety cloak if you will. I, and I believe many others have experienced these parts of ourselves in this way, under our cloaks, living in the shadow, lurking, ready for when our defenses drop, at which point the cloak slides back and it is almost as though an interrogation lamp has been blindingly shone onto all those things that we are ashamed of, angry about, vulnerable about. That many of us have felt scared that somebody might see those things, see us stripped bare, shivering and scared.
I guess a question might be, 'but why does a person feel this way about themselves?' For me it was my own past. We all have a past and we are shaped by the things that happen to us, the words that were said to us, the conditions that were placed upon us eventually leading us to place conditions upon ourselves. We edit ourselves for reasons such as denial, safety and issues of acceptance. We create messages that we may feed ourselves, such as, 'if I can be good at this thing, then maybe people will appreciate me, that there will be less possibility that someone will respond negatively, meaning less likelihood of me feeling hurt'. Living in this way certainly means less pain, but also I feel, creates a sort of identity crisis for each of us, a feeling that we are not living honestly with ourselves and the way we feel; therefore narrowing the remit of our experience, leaving us comfortably numb.
How do we get to an understanding of what is meaningful to us if we cannot accept the things that happened to us and accept that things that happen to us do not signify a lack in us. To see that we do not need to feel guilt, embarrassment and shame to the degrees that we do. If we can do this maybe we can disentangle how these experiences have shaped us and our view of what is meaningful to each of us and allow us to make decisions about how we want to chose to live our lives based on all of our experience, not just a slice of it. The Author Andrew Soloman gave a TED talk on these ideas and discussses how we can take these moments in life and understand how they make us who we are:
The other issue this brings up is that of our emotions, especially of those we perceive as negative, such as shame and fear etc. We can feel that somehow these feelings should not be part of our lives. But why not? Feelings are a part of who we are, all feelings, we all experience them. They indicate what is effecting us and in what way, they are in effect, our guides to emotional life. It may also not be negative feelings, but also say a a fear of of loving deeply, knowing we have no control over this and that ultimately this may leave us heartbroken.
If we decide to walk this path we are lead to a position where we are asking ourselves to accept who we are, accept how we feel and to also have the courage to take action and to live according to our heart and soul, to have the vulnerability to allow others to see us for who we are and to be ok with that. Not a small ask! But if we can make inroads in this way we may find that by accepting that we are vulnerable but acting anyway can bring a happier and more fulfilled life, which will include love but also loss, happiness and sadness, joy and grief. The researcher Brene Brown gave quite an inspired talk on this:
So I guess a question you may be asking is how and when? I guess the only answer I can give is that you will probably know when the time is right for you to take action, even if this starts with reading blogs like these, reading books, seeing a therapists, going on a journey etc. It is not always an easy undertaking, it takes work to undo a lifetime of automatic responses and to sooth that fearful part and I am still working on it all the time, trying to accept and get to know myself better. I challenge myself to act with as much courage and honesty as as I am able to muster, such as telling people how I feel, living in line with my heart even though I don't know how it will be received and giving myself some space when I start wanting to close down, knowing that I am ok. We won't ever not feel hurt, shame, anger, distress, loss or love in our lives, but it seems that this should be seen as something valuable in its own right as this gives us meaning. Maybe if we could all live more authentically, vulnerably etc. then potentially we might all feel a little bit more reassured that we are not the only ones feeling this way and we wouldn't feel the need to put that cloak on so much. The poet Derek Walcot wrote:
Love After Love
The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other's welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
I recently came across the above quote, by Osho, that had been shared by the collective evolution facebook page. I read it once and then a few more times as I felt that there was something in it that didn't sit 100% comfortably with me. I agree in principle with the quote in that it is beneficial to reach a place where you can be alone, and you can probably infer from this that you have reached a state of being whereby you feel a sense of contentment with who you are and that this in turn means that you can relate better with others and not use them as an emotional crutch. However, I think that the words 'without becoming dependent on' and 'if the other leaves they will be as happy as they are now' feels a bit like you may need to be in the realms of zen master to pull this off?
I open my eyes. My hands are in front of my face. I see that the sun is shining by the red glow of my skin. I part my fingers slightly and peek through, moving my head slowly, left to right and right to left.
In between the blindingly thick frames of my fingers I see the beginnings of a rainbow. I see the red tinged clouds as the sun rises in the sky. I notice a flicker of wings, of something soaring through the air. I see the moon; the moon that lingers, its last shimmer of brightness after its glorious performance the night before.
I hear two people laughing; the sound makes me take a sharp intake of breath, I turn towards the beckoning sound and just see them embrace before they move out of sight. I’m curious, what is it to live and love?
I move my hands away from my face slightly to get a better view of the world. A sad melancholic song reaches my ears and sails through my mind, it conjures up an image of an old man who is lost without his partner; the song is his cry, declaring his sadness to the world. I feel sad.
I start to move my hands further from my face and all the beauty and the sadness comes rushing towards me, ready to overwhelm me and teach me to embrace life. My fingers start to whisper...”what are you doing, you can’t handle this, what if someone comes and shoots the beautiful moon down from the sky?” I hesitate, the whispers get louder, “What if you find that loving embrace but actually they don’t really love you and you end up singing that sad song” I start to move my hands back to my face, “yes that’s right, we will protect you”.
I stay like this for a long time, watching in this way, while my hands protect me. They are my comfort. They know me. The longer I watch the more I feel something stirring inside, a need to see and feel more, to connect with what it is to live a life that is not half seen.
I pull my hands slowly away again and I hear the whispers, but this time I understand that they are only trying to protect me from something.... This something can’t be what is out there right now at this moment as I am not allowing myself to experience this life. I suddenly remember past hurts and sadness. I am tempted to retreat but I hear another voice, one that is calm, clear and warm, it helps me see that my past is not the present, my past is not my future and my past is not my story.
I know that I am not living this beautiful one and only life, a life that is full of happiness and joy, but also sadness and sorrow, pain and hurt, love and warmth. I cannot control these things but I see that life is all these things and you cannot have one without the other. I want to sing that sad song as it means I have understood what it is to love.
I am scared but I lower my hands.
Tanis Hogan 23/04/2015
At the end of a session with a new client, the said client commented to me on the way out that they were happy that I hadn't mentioned 'self love', It was said tongue and cheek and we both laughed in the way you do when you've only just met someone; however, if I am honest with myself there was something about those two words together that did make me slightly guffaw inside. Coming from a counsellor I wasn't sure that the guffawing at the idea of loving thyself was in keeping with my chosen career path, so I decided then and there that I would find some time to work out what that guffaw was about.
Making lunch the next day I opened myself up to my feelings around the above and let my imagination do the rest. I was initially transported to the smell of nag champa and visions of dancing hippies, which actually is not an issue for me; you can frequently hear my partner mutter "Tanis, you are such a hippy!", so this was not the problem. I refocused and the next thoughts that came in centered around phrases such as How to learn to love yourself in 10 easy steps, with talk of creating self love rituals and knowing that your body is a loving vessel; I mean really! it's just jargon for 'try and find a bit of time for yourself and try to eat well'. Why does it need to be dressed up in visuals of people in flowing white linen, perfect teeth, drinking wheat grass while leaving footprints in the sand. This is not how people generally live and to me it seems as though it promises something that may not be delivered and the gift of love is a big delivery to fulfill.
Yes, of course people do need to find time for themselves etc. but this surely needs to be within the realms of their everyday lives. To me it seems that this misses the idea of acceptance; acceptance that this is my life and how do I make things better based on what I have got and what is within me? This for me is where the heart of the matter lies, should we be talking about self acceptance rather than self love and actually can self acceptance lead to a deeper love of self? When I say acceptance , I am not talking about self resignation, I mean acceptance! Acceptance of all the different parts of who a person is, this includes accepting a person's potential and capability as well as their limitations (limitations not being a bad thing; I will never be an amazing artist or do a good job at a lot of things I would like to be able to, but I can always try and enjoy them along the way). By owning these things I believe a person can make choices in life that fit with who they truly are, not who they think they should be. A person can feed their strengths and know when something may not be right for them. Self acceptance is not about what you can acquire, it is a quiet respect for who you are.
If I think about my son I can tell you that I love him fiercely and it doesn't matter what he does I accept him. Of course I get angry and frustrated being a parent but it doesn't make me love him less and I have to really accept how I feel in any given situation, know that I love him and make a decision on how I react based on those things together, being congruent and understanding what is best. Following on from that, if I get angry and frustrated with myself but accept how I feel and act accordingly to what is best for me am I showing myself love and is this then indeed self love? I think maybe it could be?
I feel as though the term self love has been appropriated by some (whatever their intentions, i'm not knocking them as people) and I worry that there is a view out there, an ideal, a culture that has been shifting towards a society that believes that things can be 'fixed' and/or made into something better, but what is wrong with who you already are? And where does this thinking end? Maybe that is a subject for another post, but in the meantime let's take back some self love man!