Schools should be streamed, but not by ability

Today I took my daughter to her new school. It was not a very encouraging experience. We spent a long time listening to speeches and explanations that we could not understand (our portuguese is still not that good) and then she was taken away to do activities that were supposed to be fun, but she didn’t find fun at all. I would hope that there might be some corner where she will find herself there, but I am not at all confident that will happen. I find myself full of demands that I wish to make to the school to make it better, and yet I can understand the school’s point of view too. They have to deal with the needs of all the students, and the restrictions of the national curriculum and education system. How can they have the time and energy to give one child everything that they need?

But I have an answer – one that I have never seen put into practice, but is born out of my experiences teaching music over many years. (and some other knowledge from my spiritual education work.) The answer is a kind of streaming. And this at first might seem a strange thing for me to promote. Streaming tends to be a highly competitive system that rewards those with certain talents and is not so supportive of others who are not able to do as well. The idea tends to be that if some people are good at maths they go in a class together and get to do more maths, faster, and others who are not as good do maths in a slower more careful way so they can understand it – or similarly with other subjects. This kind of streaming can be very damaging to some people’s self esteem, and even to those who excel it does not really help them with their life skills. They do not come out of school particularly better prepared for life or career, and I who am so against the current competitive system – how could I promote something like this?

But it is very different if Streaming is applied in another way. Instead of thinking about it as different abilities better or worse why don’t we put people of similar learning styles and personality types together. Someone who loves to talk and discuss can be in a group that learn together through discussion – the interesting ideas of mathematics can be explored, and they can in the process learn more about themselves in a deeper way as well as about mathematics. Similarly someone who loves a more rigorous learning style can be with a group of others who also enjoy this. Mathematics will be more rigorous – may be it will be applied a little bit more and become something closer to engineering, and those who like to learn like that will love it, and again learn things that can be very useful in their lives.

Of course what I am talking about is the different centrings, the 8 personality types that I find really important in all aspects of life. Each one centring in a different chakra, and each one finding their flow in a very different way of looking at the world. If we are surrounded by people similar to us we learn so much about ourselves and who we are – things that can never be taught directly, but are crucially important to a good life and career.

It seems quite simple to apply this idea to our education system. Do you think we can begin to do it?

Why I still use the ‘N’ Word

Apparently we should never use the ‘N’ word in any circumstance. It is offensive and should not be allowed to be spoken because that is racism.

Let me clarify what I am talking about, the word is ‘Nigger’

Nigger Nigger Nigger

Are you offended yet?

Now I must clarify that I would not in ordinary speech use this word. I do not see any reason to call anyone this word that does indeed carry with it some rather unpleasant connotations and baggage, and could be considered offensive for very good reasons. In the same way that I don’t normally swear. Walking around and swearing all the time in ordinary conversation is very coarse and unpleasant, and I would not like to be that kind of person, nor would I want to spend much time with one who speaks like that, but there are times under extreme stress or pain that a swear word has been known to pass my lips. There are cases where it is appropriate. There is a study that has shown that swearing actually increases your tolerance to pain. It is a useful part of human society and culture – in moderation.

Now there are places where any word is appropriate or inappropriate, and I would attempt to use them in an appropriate way.

What happened recently is that I was explaining to my children the origin of the childrens rhyme:

Eenie Meenie Miney Mo – Catch a tigger by the toe.

When I was a child it was ‘Catch a knicker by the Toe’ which I always think of as a very funny image, and I felt it was important to also explain the origin of it ‘Catch a nigger by the toe’ and one person who shall remain nameless found this to be very offensive and asked that I never say that word, but I can see serious problematic implications of taking such an extreme stance – ‘never’ is a long time. In this particular case I do not believe that all the children I was speaking to would have even understood me if I said ‘the n word’ instead of saying ‘Nigger’ and how can we begin to discuss historical literature and culture without using the words that were used back then? Do we ban books like Huckleberry Fin that use the word because that was how people spoke at the time despite being clearly in favour of respect towards all races? Do we constantly wonder whether any other words I might be using are also going to be offensive, but I don’t know it? There are so many good classics of literature that use the word that to refuse to ever speak or use that word would deprive us of so much of our cultural heritage.

Or is it possible that we take another approach? An approach where we treat each other with respect, and those speaking do their imperfect best to express themselves in a way that others will be able to hear and appreciate, and those listening do their very best to listen in a way that can understand the message without getting offended – to take in the deeper spirit of a person’s meaning even if their expression is not perfect. In Non-violent Communication this is called ‘Giraffe ears’ as against the way of listening that easily gets offended ‘Jackal ears’ – the image being that the Giraffe stands tall above the issues and can look down and see the whole pattern, whereas the jackal leaps in to attack.

Let me tell you a comparative story – in the city of Samara, Russia there once was a statue to the Czar Alexander II which commemorated his compassionate works including freeing the serfs – freeing the slaves is worth commemorating no? And after the bolshevik revolution it was destroyed and replaced by a statue of Lenin. Is there not something wrong with destroying art because we changed our minds about what we believe in, should we not hold onto our cultural heritage even when it is disturbing?

And there are more issues that this brings up as well – the fact that company cultures where people are focused on using the correct, inoffensive words have been shown to be detrimental to people’s sense of wellbeing, and even to reduce the ability for people to negotiate issues of equality and race – making it so difficult to talk about that people avoid the issues rather than solving them. This is totally counterproductive to the reason for making this stand against offensive language – shooting ourselves in the foot if you will. And then there is the question of how far this extends – do we avoid anything that any person finds offensive? How many people have to find it offensive for us to stop using the word? One in a hundred, one in a thousand? One in a million? Is there actually anything that we can say safely if we are focused on not offending any single person? And if we do not take it that far, then what is the basis for deciding what is offensive and what is not? Is it only the minority groups that have made enough of a fuss for us to realise that they find something offensive who we have to think about? As Jordan Peterson says it is difficult to say anything important without risking offending someone, so what do we sacrifice in this attempt to avoid offense? Our cultural heritage, our ability to communicate, our ability to express ourselves clearly?

Don’t get me wrong I am not about to go around shouting the N word everywhere. It is not a word I am likely to use very many times in my life, but the creation of a very strict rule around the word, is completely counterproductive and is likely to create more racial tension not less, and more importantly prevents us from truly meeting and understanding ourselves, our history, our culture, and each other.

here are some important videos and links on the topic:

Censoring Mark Twain is unacceptable

Rethinking Political Correctness

Learning the N Word

The Downwards Journey

There is a concept that the greatest journey you can make is from your head into your heart.  It is a nice thought, but inaccurate.  The first confusion here is between centring yourself in a particular centre, and opening a particular centre.  The heart should be open, and flowing with the pure love and light of spirit, but to focus on the heart as your primary centre – that is more questionable.  As we awaken we journey through our energy centres our chakras – I hope you are familiar with the chakras.  If not I will quickly introduce them – they are energy centres found down the centre of the body where we store different emotions, feelings and states of consciousness.  We all have 7 main chakras – main energy centres (and of course a myriad of other minor centres in the same way that you have countless muscles, nerves and veins in your body).  We are most familiar with these centres through their (mostly negative) expressions when one certain emotions arise.  We describe someone as a tight ass if they are too self controlled for their own good, as having balls if they are courageous.  We talk about butterflies in the stomach, heartache, frogs in the throat, stress and worry in the head, and only in the 7th chakra the crown of the head I can find no stressful situation to describe, but it is here that we feel the connection with universal consciousness and divine love.  So these 7 centres should be reasonably obvious to most people – Yogis will describe them in more elegant ways, but for a general understanding you can look at them in this way – the butt, the genitalia, the belly, the chest, the throat, the forehead, and the crown.  

Now the obvious expectation and one that is very popularly discussed is that we grow spiritually as we move upwards through the chakras eventually achieving some kind of spiritual enlightenment when we reach the crown chakra, and this may be true in some esoteric sense, but in the more obvious sense of how we experience ourselves and our own journeys it actually goes the other way.  As people first get in touch with the spiritual path they tune into the crown chakra and get a sense of the presence of God and God’s love which leads to religiousness, they then proceed to develop and deepen and begin to question, entering the head, the third eye centre, and learning deep thought.  (This of course is what people are talking about ‘coming out of the head’)  For someone who is new to this intellectual approach it is a very valuable and positive thing, but for those ready to move on it can be stifling and prevent their further growth.  (As can any of these centres if one allows it to be the end of the journey.)  In further development one focuses on the throat and its expressive and creative powers, becoming  more expressive and insightful oneself.  This eventually leads on to the heart where one finds compassion and inner peace – a great thing, but hardly the end of the journey.  In the belly one finds transcendental passion, intuition, knowledge that goes beyond this world.  In the sacral centre (the genitalia and lower abdomen) – one develops the ability to connect and become one, to harmonise.  In this sense much of what I am talking about oneness is found here in the lower abdomen, and hence the recommendation in many martial arts of focusing your mind on the tantien, or hara, or lower belly.  It is also interesting to note the connection between harmonising, connecting, oneness and sex.  Sex is the physical expression of those principles – of coming together as one, of harmonising our energies.  It is a profound expression of spiritual upliftment and connection – or at least it should be. 

You can see that we have reached the expression of oneness, but have not reached the end of the journey through the chakras, through the centres – there is one left – the bass chakra, the butt.  It is here that we find true transcendence taking our consciousness outside of this world, and experiencing the joy of the beyond, of emptiness.  A wonderful experience that is indescribable, and barely possible even to remember, I can highly recommend that you learn to experience it, but it is not a very practical place from which to deal with worldly concerns, and so in order to deal with the world we return back to the lower abdomen, the sacral centre, and the experience, of oneness, universal connection as the deepest way of truly living in this world. 

Universal Harmony

Likely you have heard of Chi, Vital force, Orgone Energy, Prana, or whatever you like to call it. Star Wars fans will call it ‘The Force’ – and that is as good a description as any. This is an energy that is as yet not measured by scientific machinery, but the mystics, and healers, and spiritualists are able to perceive it, and in fact it is not hard to learn to perceive it yourself.  This energy flows through your body, through all people, through all things.  There is a popular idea that if you strengthen this energy then you will become healthier, and stronger.  There is some truth in that, but a deeper understanding is useful.  

It is the quality of this energy that is more important than its quantity, though quantity also helps.  If you have an illness then that illness will be communicated and expressed through a particular frequency of that spiritual energy, if you cultivate negativity and hatred then that also is a particular frequency of the spiritual energy (The Dark Side of The Force).  And of course the more positive experiences, the love and peace and compassion, health and vitality – they are also expressed as frequencies of this universal spiritual energy.  In order to transform from the darker and more negative to the more positive and uplifting a transformation of the frequencies of energies is required.

Now many attempt this with a focus on positivity instead of negativity, beauty instead of harshness, and this has some effect, but the ultimate positive spiritual energy that resolves all of the negatives, and brings together all of the positives is the universal energy – the infinite energy of the cosmos.  When we tune into some particular flower or plant, rock or person, we tune into the frequency of that object, of that being, and each object is different, and brings a different feeling.  When we tune into different feelings then also each one has a different frequency.  Some seemingly more negative than others, but all of these frequencies are part of a holistic pattern that is more beautiful than any single part – more uplifting as one infinite harmony than any individual expression.  When we tune into the universal holistic infinity then we tune into the ultimate positive energy.

The harmony that we create when we tune into one particular aspect of creation allows us to work with it, to move with it, to dance with it.  If you tune into a gemstone you can feel how to cut it, if you tune into the wood you can feel how to work it, if you tune into the plants in the garden you can feel what they need, if you tune into your partner you can dance together as one.  All great craftsmen understand this principle of tuning in, and it is this tuning in that allows peace and harmony instead of conflict and stress.  When we are out of harmony with some aspect of our lives, or the world around us that disharmony creates stress, creates ineffective action, creates conflict, and in the end leads to more and more difficulties and problems as the disharmony exacerbates.  Once we come into harmony all of that stress quickly disappears.

If you look for the cause of a problem do not seek for who did what – for who caused the problem, for who is to blame.  That in itself will prevent you seeing the true nature of the situation.  Look for the nature of the disharmony – where are we out of harmony, and where can that harmony be created.  The environmental destruction of the capitalist system is not caused by particular people who do not care about the environment – it is caused by a disharmony between the nature of the environment and the nature of the system that we are using.  A fight between two people is not caused by one person striking the other, but by the disharmony between the two (and thus could be solved by a harmonising process by either side or by a third party).  Please note that harmony does not always equate to passivity or submission.  In order to harmonise with an intense situation somewhat more intense action is required, though certainly being as non-violent as possible is worthwhile.  Please consider Aikido – the gentle martial art of love – a great demonstration of this principle.  The student learns to harmonise with the attack.  This results in the attacker falling down – and being controlled, but not necessarily hurt.  This very gentle power to control disharmony and to bring it into harmony is what I am talking about here.  Similarly with all the challenges facing us – if we can harmonise with the situation then we can resolve it.

But do we want to solve only one problem?  Or do we want to solve all the problems?  Do we want to harmonise with the holistic pattern that is challenging us on all sides in our life?  This is universal harmony.  In order to do this we must tune in to the frequency not of one particular thing, one particular issue, but to the frequency of everything at once – seemingly a very difficult task as everything is very big, but this task is made so much easier because at the infinite cosmic level all is one, and we only need to tune into that oneness in order to tune into all things, and harmonise with all things.  This is Oneness.

Selfishness, Selflessness and Self-fullness

Obviously selfishness causes all kinds of problems in ourselves and society and the world.  It is a kind of love, but a very limited kind of love that can be cruel to others because its compassion is limited to only the self.  Most of us are not purely selfish – that dubious honour is reserved for only the most undeveloped or traumatised of us.  However for most of us there is a limit to our love where we become a little selfish, there are at least corners of egotism.  Look around at the political leaders of the world, how many of them seem truly good people?  So few.  But how important it is that truly good people can lead and guide us.

The obvious conclusion would be that we need selflessness.  People who care more about others than themselves, and people who have completely lost their egotistical nature, who have destroyed or given up on their egos.  This however is not a reasonable request.  It is not really possible, and if this is the direction that we aim then we will never achieve it, and our situation will be all the worse.  Aiming for unachievable goals creates a stress that leads often to the opposite of what we are wanting to achieve.  Aiming for true selflessness leads people to pretend to be selfless, or to be very critical and spend their lives in seclusion because they realise they are not good enough to serve in an egoless fashion.  And this means that our leaders remain the least developed and most selfish of all – who do not realise their own flaws.  It also means that we can never truly step into our own power – our own expression of self actualisation – of serving the world in our own natural way.

What is possible?  Not selfishness, or selflessness, but self-fullness – not removing the ego, but rather expanding it and creating a greater sense of self.  When we expand our sense of who am I, then we expand our love with it, and in the end when we identify with all, then our ego is expanded, not destroyed, and we achieve Self-fullness.  We still do everything out of self interest, but as that self interest incorporates the interests of everyone else (being all part of that self) then we have a generous form of self interest.  In effect selfishness and generosity become one and the same thing.

People who achieve this form of enlightened self interest become very powerful agents for change, because their work in serving and making a difference is not done out of the rather weaker force of idealism, but out of the strong heartfelt desire to serve, and strengthened by the joy that is received in that service.  

Seek not to lose your self, but rather to find it.  In this we will be set free.

Love in it many forms

I once was looking for good words to describe love in more subtlety than we tend to do in English – to try to express the different types of love – the love of a mother is different to the loyal love that a dog will express to you, and the love for your romantic partner is quite different again, and then there is divine love… So I looked at the words for love in sanskrita, and it was completely overwhelming – I found over a hundred different words for all the different subtle expressions of love. This is great, but not something that I will ever be able to make use of, so I turned to greek – they at least limited their definition of different types of love down to 7 or 8. But the important point is that we need to recognise these differences. It is not really useful to discuss love without defining what we are talking about – love is so all encompassing, so present everywhere in every thing that we do that it is difficult to say what is not love. It would seem obvious that war is not an expression of love, but what is it that moves a person to fight for their country if not love of country? Aggression and abuse would seem to be the opposite of love, but they are so prevalent in exactly the situations where people feel that love is appropriate – in close families – that there must be some link. At the other end of the spectrum the mystics who sit and do nothing and can smile at the world’s problems are also experiencing a kind of love. In the end I believe that all our actions are motivated by a kind of love – the various expressions coming about through the different types of love, or perhaps the different directions that love is directed. Much of what we think of as not love would be rather love of something else – if one focuses exclusively on the wellbeing of their own family then one can be quite harsh to everyone else etc. And so this leads to the obvious conclusion that what makes a difference here – what makes us more loving, and good people, is not the quantity of love, but its scope – how big a circle do we draw around ourselves inside which we love, and how large is the rest of the world where we choose not to diret our love? Where do you draw the line? What do you love? and what do you not?

As we grow personally we expand that circle of love and learn to connect and care about more and more of the world. This is a process that can be continued unto infinity, expanding and exanding until love becomes our world. I believe this is what the mystics, and spiritual teachers are referring to when they say that love is so important for us, to open to love etc. Allow that love to expand and fill your world, and in the process the love changes flavour. We go through a series of stages very similar to what we discussed previously about the different kinds of connectedness and disconnectedness. People begin with a kind of love that is very selfish, they expand to care about the people around themselves, and goodness, and it becomes generous, and noble, but less focused on themselves and their personal needs. Then the expansion happens again and they start to love the world around, and understanding it, the truth of the physical manifest world. This kind of love of truth is a rational intelligent way of looking at things, that may sometimes seem dry, lacking in warmth, but there is plenty of love and warmth it is just focused less on people and relationships, and more on things. As people expand their love further it encompasses more depths inside ourselves, and the animals and life around us, and becomes very compassionate, and interested in the emotional side of the world, and this then leads to the next step where the focus is on the whole pattern of relationships and connections, and not on any one individual which can be less earnest, but more peaceful. And then when people open up to the love of the universe, to the love that flows everywhere they experience ecstatic states of joy and divine romance, but the one that interests me the most, and the one that I think is very important for us as a society and as individuals is to learn to expand beyond the universe – beyond limitations to experience the infinite flow of love that is everywhere and in everything. This great expansion of love is known as Agape – it is not just ‘unconditional love’ but rather the essence of love that underlies all other expressions of love – it is this love that is the building block of the universe. Nothing exists that is not made of this infinite cosmic energy. (Sorry for making such a big claim without evidence to back it up, but to one whose eyes are opened to the experience of oneness and Agape this truth is patently obvious. All great mystics should be able to tell you this, because they experience this truth in every moment. Some things cannot be proved by logical argument, but can only be experienced directly. For example how do you know that the leaves on the tree are green? Only because you see them, some of our knowledge must be based on this direct perception.)

Triple Connection

We aim for connectedness – which is perhaps a better way of saying love – not the I love you, but the ‘we are connected’ however there are a lot of different types of connections, and ways of being disconnected. It is easy to see people who are lacking in connection to others – they are course, insensitive, rude. But what about people who are lacking in connection to themselves? They can be self sacrificing, and sometimes surprisingly needy, as they are not able to satisfy their own needs, or to really acknowledge them, but those needs still exist. It is also reasonably easy to see people who are disconnected from the universal, positive flow – this creates depression, unhappiness, meaninglessness. And so you see the three main directions of connection that we all need: to self, to others, and to the infinite.

Again you will find this theme throughout all spiritual traditions – the recognition of the 3 ways in which we need to connect. Some people would call it 1st person, 2nd person and 3rd person – as in I, you and It – which you should be able to see is just another way of describing Self, Other and the Infinite. You might call it Authenticity, Sensitivity and Positivity, but whatever words you use these three kinds of connection are essential to the harmonious balanced experience of life. Oneness and universal harmony implies the connection to all three at the same time. I do not serve you and forget myself, I do not serve myself and forget you, and I never forget the infinite loving connection. Sometimes this may seem difficult to balance, but in the end it is where joy and ease is found – once you discover it, it is really quite simple.

Let’s look at some of the possible imbalances:

Meaninglessness

the most unpleasant and difficult of all the states of consciousness is that when we are disconnected from all – from ourselves, from the infinite and from others. Life becomes completely meaningless, and the purpose of our very existence is questioned. The answer to this question of ‘why am I here’ that existential crisis comes only in finding some kind of connection that brings some joy and meaning into our lives.

Selfishness

When we connect to ourselves, but not to anyone else then we become selfish. We can be narcissistic and self absorbed, or cruel, selfish and greedy. It does not in the end lead us to happiness, but certainly is less depressing than absolute meaninglessness.

Martyr

If you choose instead to tune into the other person instead of yourself you make yourself into a martyr, always serving others to the detriment of yourself, never making yourself happy, and the happiness you give to others is never real or lasting, or sufficient. Perhaps you are less destructive to the world around you, but hardly effective in creating a good life for yourself or for others. You simply do not have enough emotional resources to be giving of yourself all the time.

Fanatic

Focusing only on the infinite but not on self and others leads you to religious fanatacism or fundamentalism. There is a joy that is found in the divine, but the insensitivity and lack of understanding of yourself and others leads you to unwise, forceful, and sometimes downright hurtful actions. This is what leads to bible bashing religiousness. The spiritual connection that these people have is real, but it is not balanced enough to be a truly positive force in the world.

Angry Activist

Activism is a good thing, but if it is led by a connection to self and other, but lacking in the infinite positivity it becomes a kind of humanism that while caring for others is at the same time, aggressive, angry, and lacking in a positive vision. This is not fun for the individual living in that way, nor for those around, and that angry aggressive approach can also lead to conflicts that actually get in the way of solving the very things that they are trying to improve.

Peaceful Mystic

Being at peace and having compassion for all certainly seems like a good way to live, and it does appear to not cause much harm, but when lacking in a connection to the self – when it is only the understanding of others and the divine love that leads to deep compassion and peace at the same time is missing the inner passion and spirit of self knowledge that leads to powerful action in the world. Yes this experience may lead to a good life of meditation, but it does not lead to really making a difference.

Crazy Devotee

Dancing in ecstacy feeling the love of the infinite divine as it flows through me the devotee is drunk on the nectar of spirit, but they are still lacking in awareness of others and sensitivity – this also leads to an inner spiritual journey that lacks the outer practicality. Again the devotees tend to be good people and don’t do much harm, but it is often surprising how much resistance they create in others less open, and how that resistance can actually lead to the opposite of what they want.

Complete Connection

The ordinary, happy, effective person is one who connects to all. They have an inner joy of spirit, a warm smile, and a sense of human connection, they know themselves and what they need, and the devote themselves to something that is meaningful to them, when not working they know how to have fun, and overall they seem like very normal person, but one with a deeper strand of peace and joy that runs through them. This is the life of Oneness that I think is worth pursuing.

Self Realisation and Self Actualisation

Self realisation is not the end of the journey. You discover yourself, and your deep inner nature, you find the joy of connection with all things, you feel a sense of constant peace – then what? Is that as far as it goes? Do you just sit and meditate for the rest of your life? Or do you take what you have learnt and bring it back into the world. I believe that the deeper and more important reponse is the latter. As we find our sense of connection with all, as we identify not just with our personal small sense of self, but with the greater universal self, then service becomes natural, the desire to help others is part of the desire to help oneself. It would be inaccurate to call it ‘selfless’ service because there is so much that the person gains through that service, so much that is gained by giving – it is ‘Self-full’ service – giving with the whole being because it is good for myself, and for the other who is also in some way part of my greater sense of self.

Do you see how the realisation leads to the desire for action? And this drive to serve leads to the next big challenge in one’s life – the challenge of making a difference – and of finding your particular role in service to the all. People are not always satisfied by simply serving in any particular way, this is also about themselves after all – it is about service to all – including oneself, and so the joy of expressing yourself in an authentic, beautiful, skillful way is also an important part of the mix, and so people begin to search for their own unique role in the world, their passions, and their mission. They go on vision quests, or they make vision boards, they take on projects and look for meaning in all of these actions. If they have done the previous work well – if they have truly realised themselves then they will be positive, joyful, and unstoppable – even when things go badly they will stand back up and quickly recover to try again. They will not necessarily know the best things to do, or have the greatest skills in the area, but skills and knowledge can be learnt, and that basic foundation of connection and inner peace makes all of this action so much easier or at least gives so much energy that the difficulties are much easier to manage.

Oneness is not just an inner experience, it is a fundamental shift of perception that leads people to become truly good – to combine the wisdom that they have learnt from the inner work with the passion that comes from the care and connection with all. I do not think it is enough to seek self-realisation. The world and all those around us need us to become self-actualised to step into our power in truly loving way. It is this profound expression of spiritual truths in action that can unite and bind our society, and transform the challenges we are facing into true growth and upliftment. Can we imagine a society of people living their truth – self realised and self actualised? What would they do to the world around them? What problems would they not solve?

The Layers of the Mind

Throughout the world in all the spiritual traditions, and even in modern psychology the same understanding about the layers of the mind pops up again and again. It is described in different ways, and in different contexts, but the essence of it is always the same. In yoga they are called the layers of the mind or Koshas. In Christianity St Teresa d’Ávila described them symbolically as the mansions of the heart – different houses that we can live in inside our heart. The Theosophists describe the 7 rays, Zen and chinese buddhism have an artistic representation based on the story of a Bull that runs away and must be found and brought home. In western psychology they are described as stages of psychological development, but no matter what system you want to use, we all go through the same stages in our personal growth. The same recognisable experiences – presumeably because we are opening up the same levels of our consciousness. Of course exactly how many stages and how you describe them varies slightly, but there is a fairly close consistency across the traditions and around the world. Here is my best understanding of those layers of the mind

1. Instinct

Those who live by their instincts respond quickly and effectively to emergency and survival situations, but may have trouble controlling themselves in situations where the challenges are less direct. Modern city life for example does not lend itself well to a purely instinctive existence. Instinct is necessary, and it creates the fastest responses, but not always the wisest, or most loving.

2. Conscience

Our conscience leads to honourable and righteous behaviour, it restricts and controls the instincts so that they can be adapted to suit more closely our social existence. It is the conscience that allows us to live well in society, to become an upstanding, professional member of society. You will see the conscience well developed in most religious people, and it is a large part of what conventional, conservative religion teaches. It is also the foundation upon which all more elevated spiritual experiences begin.

3. Intellect

The scientific and technological revolution that has led to the wonders of modern society was the upswelling of this layer of the mind. It is responsible for deep thought, and analysis. This is a wonderful thing, only limited by the fact that analysis by its nature is divisive – it understands by separating things into small pieces and comprehending each little piece. In order to understand the systems and connections between things – the patterns that underly everything – one needs to access further layers, but enormous knowledge and ability can be developed at this stage.

4. Insight

Beyond the intellect is creativity, inspiration, dreams, and insight into oneself and others. All of these things are part of one way of looking at the world – a way that does not divide into pieces, but rather looks at how the different elements fit together. It is not precise, but rather inspired. It is this that allows us to develop emotional intelligence, to create inspired artwork, and to come up with creative solutions to the problems facing us. Many of the greatest scientists, although they worked primarily in the field of intellect – their great breakthroughs were when the inspired creative mind came through with an answer that changed the way we look at and understand the world. Many of our great artists access this part of the mind a lot, and it is responsible for the sensitivity that leads people to humanism – to championing justice, human rights, freedom, equality and such positive qualities.

5. Compassion

Even creativity for all its wonderful qualities can be stressful and overwhelming, and only when we can step beyond it can we find peace, and in that peace a deep compassion for others. This is the layer of mind that is responsible for detachment – the ability to step back and be at peace, not to grasp at what one desires, or thinks should be important; and also for the quality of discrimination which allows one to see what is important, and what is superficial, and to create wise priorities in life. And these qualities lead to wisdom. To a deep understanding of what is important and what is not, and to a sense of compassion that allows the holding space for others true self expression and growth.

6. Ecstacy

Peace and compassion are lovely, but in their quietness they do not engage our passions, and naturally as human beings we have a lot of passion. As we step beyond the layer of compassion we open up the layer of ecstacy where our passionate nature is engaged into our spiritual journey, and where we experience directly for ourselves the deepest aspects of the nature of the universe, and love itself. Devotion, and the divine love affair often find their expression here, and the gnostic experiences of direct perception of the nature of reality. Belief no longer is relevant because you can observe directly for yourself what is true. This is a powerful experience, an intense loving experience, but at times one that is too strong to be comfortable.

7. Connection

The loving ecstacy has a profound quality of love – I love you, and you love me, I love God, or I love everything. In whatever form it takes there is a lover and a beloved, but in the layer of connection all becomes one – I can no longer love you because I am you, and yet it is one of the most profoundly loving experience one can have. It is this experience of connection that people call oneness, and that leads to selfless service, and worldly effectiveness at the same time as deep inner peace and joy. The intense feelings that we experienced in the ecstatic phase have softened, so that the love is still there in some form, but it no longer feel difficult or intense, rather it feels peaceful and satisfying.

8. The Beyond

This is a book devoted to Oneness and Connection and yet to be complete I must point out that there is an experience beyond that – the experience of Emptiness, of Nothingness that is infinite peace, and completely detached from worldly existence. This experience allows people to step outside of our ordinary reality and experience profound bliss while they are totally unaware of their bodies. The greatest of joys, but in some way impractical – one cannot operate in the world at this level, and so after our little holiday in the beyond most people eventually choose to come back to reality (or at least this reality), and bring just a touch of infinite bliss with them.

Beyond Love

Is Love the answer? The obvious joke would be that it depends on what the question is – but that is not really accurate. Love is so universal that in some form it is the answer to almost any question that one can ask, but whether or not you have a true answer depends on what you mean by love. The current popular vision of love as portrayed in hollywood movies clearly does not solve our life challenges, and even the more hippy concept of loving all, or unconditional love does not seem to create a true powerful transformation, only a counter culture that appears to be in conflict with the rest of society – and how can conflict be an expression of love? Interesting don’t you think. And yet as I said Love in some form or other will be the answer to all of the questions, and especially the one I am particularly interested in – ‘What is the answer to the challenges that face us today?’ – the challenges of society, of environment, of modern life.

Everything we ever do is motivated by love. Some actions are motivated by love of self, and so seem to be selfish actions, some actions are motivated by love of friends and family, and so seem more generous, and yet are still limited in scope, some are motivated by love of country, which can be more noble, but in its nationalism can be highly problematic, leading to wars and conflicts. Some actions are motivated by a seemingly selfless love for all others around us. The difference is not in the love – the difference is in the expansion of that love – where is the boundary beyond which our love does not reach? The greater the expansion of that boundary the more great and positive seems the love, but as long as there is such a boundary then every loving action will also be unloving towards someone or something else. If we truly want to resolve our challenges with love then we cannot be at the one time resolving problems in a loving way, and at the same time creating problems elsewhere in the place where we do not consider, and do not love. Even those who seemingly love all, often have trouble loving the system and the nature of society as it is. Who can love the capitalist system, the misguided leaders who are taking us down dangerous paths, and also the person in front of us challenging us in this moment? And who can love themselves as well at the same time. It is not possible to achieve this kind of love while seeing things as separate – we do not have space in our hearts for a billion different loves, but only for one love that encompasses all things. And it is this encompassing love that we experience when we discover the Oneness and connection with all. It is this love that allows us to harmonise with all things, and to bring light into the darkness, joy where there was suffering, celebration where there was struggle. It is this encompassing love of all as one that answers our challenges today. It is different to the romantic love, to the compassionate love, to the dedicated faithful love that we see in common life and fiction, though it has elements of all of these. It has a very particular quality – no longer ‘I Love You’ – a phrase that is said with such serious earnestness, now it has become ‘We Are One’ a sentence that can be expressed with exuberance and joy and celebration as well as with the deepest peace and contentment.