Factual, realistic, pragmatic: Inside Out is the simple truth

Factual, realistic, pragmatic: Inside Out is the simple truth

If you want a Hollywood film with true emotional depth; which expresses universals of the human heart; a film that tells life like it is: the Pixar animation, Inside Out does the job. (Trailers)

It’s had all sorts of glowing reviews, no need for more here. What I want to say is that this isn’t any type of metaphor for the human mind. This is actually how it is. There actually are sub-personalities in relationship with each other, inside our heads. This film is real, real, real.

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Fighting is not compulsory – first aid for couples conflicts

Fighting is not compulsory – first aid for couples conflicts

Do you have painful repeating habitual fights in your relationship? Do you have eruptions you can’t control, walk-outs that scare you to death, or repeating fights about the same things over and over and over … and over and over? In an earlier post I wrote about the importance of If It Doesn’t Work, Do Something DIFFERENT. This present post is a few all-purpose first-aid measures you can do to interrupt those stale, dead, painful repeating cycles.  Then you can make room for listening, understanding, intimate closeness. Many of the couples tell me  they find these rather enlightening: Oh! We don’t have to fight!

You can do any one of these on its own, or two, or three, or all four, whatever works.

[Find more exercises, including watching films together, here on the index page for relationship posts] (more…)

Don’t complain about feelings, make requests for actions

Don’t complain about feelings, make requests for actions

Relationships are about love, sex, fun, communication, emergence, transformation.  Whether you travel together for a day or a lifetime, every journey is step by step from this here and now … to this here and now. Communication works best when it is rooted step by step in the here and now. Sometimes the heart invites us to flow with deep currents; still, there is no other moment than now. This post is about keeping communication in the here and now. It is, if you like, a form of relationship meditation or communication mindfulness.

It’s simple and it is useful and it is basic to good communication. The key is grammatically-positive communication. That means that you ask for what you want instead of complaining about what you don’t want.

Far too often, we tell the other person either what we don’t want or don’t like (“I’m not happy about our sex life”, “You spend too much”),  or we ask for vague things like. “I want to feel you want me”, “I want you to respect me.” Mostly this is combined with hurt emotions imported from our own past. Such communication has no root in here-and-now physical life.  At best it goes round in circles. At worst it degenerates into a toxic cycle that can easily sink even a relationship full of love and affection.

This isn’t by any means all there is to intimate communication. But grammatically negative communication is like potholes on a runway, it stops love from flying.

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That’s meditation?! – La Roux, In For The Kill

That’s meditation?! –  La Roux, In For The Kill

In for the kill
by Elly Jackson (La Roux)

This song doesn’t sound like meditation, it certainly does not. But it is; at least if you get rid of the idea that meditation means sitting quietly still. Instead think of meditation as “choiceless awareness of life”. Then, this is a song with a certain kind of quality of meditation to it.

In any case, this is definitely a “pop song with truth.” That’s simply because the protagonist isn’t singing about needing or getting or losing the other person; she’s singing about herself. She’s celebrating herself even in getting rejected by the other person. That fact in itself makes this different from 99% of pop songs.

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“You Colour Me” by Pocket Universe – deepen your relationship via pop songs

You Colour Me by Pocket Universe – deepen your relationship via pop songs

Here’s a simple exercise to make your relationship deeper.  Listen with your partner to this track (You Color Me by Pocket Universe) – a woman laying it on the line about not being seen straight. Then talk with your beloved about seeing the real person that he or she is, and letting yourself be seen. That’s it, listen and share, and your relating will move a step towards deeper intimacy. 

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“Love, look at the two of us” – deepen your relationship via pop songs

Love, look at the two of us  – deepen your relationship via pop songs

Here’s a fun exercise to make your relationship deeper.  Listen with your partner to “For all we know”, famously covered by the Carpenters. Then talk about it; I’ve also suggested an exercise you could do. That’s it, listen and share, and your relating will move a step towards deeper intimacy.  (More relationship postsmore  pop songs of truth and love)

I got the idea from some great research by Dr. Ron Rogge that newly-wed couples can halve their divorce rate simply by watching and discussing five movies about everyday relating.  I don’t claim any such dramatic results for this playlist of pop songs. But listen together to these tracks, discuss them together, and you will at the least have a more loving understanding of each other.

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“Your true colours are beautiful” – deepen your relationship via pop songs

Your true colours are beautiful – deepen your relationship via pop songs

Here’s a fun exercise to make your relationship deeper.  Listen with your partner to Your True Colours are Beautiful by Cindy Lauper, then talk about your true colours; I’ve suggested some topics. That’s it, listen and share, and your relating will move a step towards deeper intimacy.  (More relationship postsmore  pop songs of truth and love) (more…)

A few understandings that help with anger

A few understandings that help with anger

This is a short auxilliary post (a “lemma”, indeed) to the Friday in Heaven, Friday in Hell post on radical non-dual acceptance. It offers a few understandings that help you step out of anger. And to avoid doubt, meditation always needs such understandings. The body-oriented meditation approach makes them much easier to use, it doesn’t replace them.

These refer to the Black Friday example, but you can easily apply them elsewhere.

When you are angry, don’t assume that anger is the main or final emotion. It may be. But until you let your body move freely, with an alert consciousness as to what it happening each moment, it is hard to know what the emotion is. Underneath anger can be pain, fear, all sorts of things. You can’t necessarily take your surface thoughts at face value. As your body moves in anger, all sorts of other things may come up.

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If it doesn’t work, DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT

Icon insanity different einsteinIf it doesn’t work, DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT

“If you do what you always did, you’ll get what you always got.” – Anon

“All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

“If it doesn’t work, don’t do it. It if works do it more. If it might work, give it a try.” – Anon

“It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

OK, you get the message – this post is about trying different things. Particularly it’s about doing what works, not what doesn’t.  Simple, but effective. Obvious, but almost universally overlooked. Do what works for you!  There’s an exercise lower down that page, Moments I’d Like More Of, that I can’t recommend too highly. Not only will it help your relationship a lot. It will immunise you from having to read those silly lists on the internet of “Ten things to improve your relationship.”   You already know this, you just need to trust yourself and do those things more.   [More like this: index page to relationship posts] (more…)

“Thank you for hearing me” – deepen your relationship via pop songs

Hawking gratitudeThank you for hearing me – deepen your relationship via pop songs

Here’s a simple and fun exercise to make your relationship deeper.  Listen  with your beloved to Sinead O’Connor singing about gratitude. Then share together things you are grateful about. That’s it, listen and share, and your relating will move a step towards deeper intimacy. 

I got the idea from some great research by Dr. Ron Rogge that newly-wed couples can halve their divorce rate simply by watching and discussing five movies about everyday relating.  I don’t claim any such dramatic results for this playlist of pop songs. But listen together to these tracks, discuss them together, and you will at the least have a more loving understanding of each other. (more…)

Universal love and “private-reality” love in your relationship

Icon Rumi love barriers yellow flowers 1Universal love and private-reality love in your relationship

Before I start, I want to make clear that I never start work with any couple by talking about things like this. Relationship counselling can be very successful, indeed sometimes more successful, without ever mentioning such things. Couples benefit most from starting with (maybe staying with), a practical and direct approach that each partner is brilliant and together they can draw on what’s brilliant in the relationship to heal things.  For practical everyday relationship exercises, see for example Watch movies and grow closer and If doesn’t work, do something different. So this post is kind of what’s going on under the bonnet. It’s pretty advanced. You can most often drive the car without knowing. ( Index page to all relationship posts)

In your relationship, in every sexual relationship, there are three versions of love. THREE. There is universal love, in itself complex and multidimensional; love in relationship, love in presence of being, and infinitely so much else. Plus on top there are two versions of  what I’ll term “private reality” love: your private version of love, and your partner’s version. If you want to feel a deep and nourishing flow of intimacy and close connection with your beloved, you need to begin to step out of private realities about love. Real love has a universal quality. It is not interested in, does not care about, your private ideas around what love should or must or ought to be. These only get in the way. The challenge in answering the call of love is to step out of our private realities and into something larger.

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Friday in heaven, Friday from hell: radical non-duality in action

Friday in heaven, Friday from hell: radical non-duality in action

Important note. Beginners to mindfulness meditation traditionally start with 20 minutes a day of mindful breathing. To give a sense of scale, I’m going to call that  “primary school meditation”. On that scale, some parts of this page are postgraduate-level. I’m not suggesting you leap straight from introductory breath awareness to doing what is on this page on your own. In fact, please don’t do that. This post is an artificial example for explanation purposes. I’ll get to simple practical related self-help meditations very soon.

With that out of the way, I’ll invite you to imagine Friday afternoon in two alternate realities, two parallel universes, Friday from heaven, Friday from  hell. I’ll use these scenarios to show you an active-plus-silent, radical meditation approach to anger that’s completely opposite to Buddhism. It’s “radically non-dual”, in the sense that it treats joy and anger exactly the same. It’s a practical, if postgraduate, approach to meditation that many people use and find transformative.

Radically non-dual means: remain the same while moving into opposites. This is what Krishna says in the Gita: In pain or pleasure, be the same; in success or failure, remain the same. Whatsoever happens, let it happen — you remain the same. Instead of life jerking your leash up, down, this way, that way as events unfold you have a centre of integrity, of serenity that you remain in, or quickly recover, as events pass through.

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Secular mindfulness cannot escape the sacred

Secular mindfulness cannot escape the sacred

I have to say am not a fan of secular mindfulness, aka NHS or evidence-based mindfulness. It claims to capture the good bits of Buddhism, the useful essence, and surgically excise the oriental nonsense. It certainly has value, great value. It introduces people to the practical basics of one  type of meditation in modern language. It presents the element of Buddhism to those who might be put off by its undoubted complexities (my critique of Buddhism today.) In our highly outward-oriented society, it’s indeed a breakthrough that people are being invited to look into themselves, In so far as it goes it is valuable to help people be less depressed, less anxious, cope more resiliently.

But Buddha’s proposition is something far, far more radical. Even at its best, by Buddha’s standards, NHS mindfulness doesn’t go far at all. It cuts out every essential thing that makes Buddha’s proposition, and what I’m calling radical meditation generally, so uniquely valuable. In this post I’m going to focus on one very specific, but to-me central, limitation: secular mindfulness is at war with the miraculous.

Watching a sunset, perhaps the word comes to the mind unbidden: this moment is sacred. Or in a certain moment of making love, the same: this moment is sacred. Yes, these moments truly are sacred, precious glimpses of the mystery of being.

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What makes a school of meditation “radical”?

What makes a school of meditation “radical”?

(A reminder, that “witnessing” and “mindfulness” are two ancient words that mean the same thing. Mindfulness has baggage, so I mostly use “witnessing.” )

We’ve seen a basic definition of meditation, aka mindfulness.  Meditation teachings are very varied. There are many schools of meditation, of which the most famous is Buddhism; then there are many schools of Buddhism. There is also Westernised Buddhist mindfulness, made famous by Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book Full Catastrophe Living. This is a bold attempt to wrest from Buddhism the bits seen as practically useful,  and leave behind what is perceived as oriental esotericism. The recent book Mindfulness by Mark Williams and Danny Penman is a British counterpart, the gold standard in NHS-prescribable Westernised neo-mindfulness. And there are so many other ancient and current schools.

I am using the term “school of radical meditation” to apply to some of all this, but not to all. Gautam Buddha was a very, very radical meditator. I wouldn’t apply that term to all of modern Buddhism.

So what do I mean by radical meditation? How does it relate the the 20 minutes daily sitting meditation that is famously the starting point for beginners?

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Of another era, complex and unalive: a critique of Buddhism today

Of another era, complex and unalive: a critique of Buddhism today

Most critiques of Buddhism are written from a viewpoint that is humanist or anti-religion or science-holds-the-answers. These brief remarks are different in that I have a lifetime of experience of meditation. So unlike many critics, I have every trust in the underlying truth that Buddha pointed his listeners towards. Indeed I have immense respect and reverence for Gautam Buddha: he is a very, very great human being, one of the pillars of human consciousness. I would not dream of criticising Buddha or his teachings. My critique is that Buddha’s teaching belonged in a time long gone and in a place remote and alien. In a different world and 2,500 years later, I do not believe that Buddhism is any longer the best pointer to that same truth.

Be honest: if there was something every bit as good as Buddhism but simpler and more fun, wouldn’t you prefer it?

I’ve spent my whole life all over the world finding by much trial and error  what type of meditation works for me and what doesn’t. Knowing what I’ve learned, I’m heartily glad I didn’t spend those 40 years practising modern Buddhism (still less the logarithmically dilute version espoused by the NHS.) (more…)

“Thoughts” includes EVERYTHING

“Thoughts” includes EVERYTHING

I’m lucky to live in one of the most creative and alive cities in the world, Bristol. I’m further blessed to have a wonderful walk from where I live in to my office, along the harbour-side. This morning as I walked in it was raining with the soft rain of a September day that was mild and warm, yet carried the inescapable news of autumn . And what was I doing as I walked?  I was thinking of this post and what to say in it! What a waste of a beautiful morning.

Such random attention to other times and places is just useless junk-thinking. Ubiquitous, universal; useless. Much of what people think of as “meditation” is calming down this useless mentalising. This is often easy, by attending to here-and-now body experiences and sights and sounds, or by classic sitting meditation.

But the radical meditation definition of thought is very wide. EVERYTHING is a thought. And radical meditation confronts, befriends, and changes your relationship with every single one of them. Just a sketch list of for-examples:-

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What is “radical meditation”? (1) The Song of Ashtavakra

What is “radical meditation”? – (1) The Song of Ashtavakra

What I am calling “radical meditation” rests on the basis there is no self – that the “I” that we think we are, just does not exist. There is no-one doing our lives. But we think to ourselves “Of course ‘I’ exist.” And we dismiss it all as too remote and too niche; as esoteric and religious; as “contrary to science”; as a mad, bad idea dangerous to mental health.  So what I ought to do is to give a careful, helpful explanation of what no-self and no-doer means, and make the incomprehensible comprehensible. Instead, in this post I’m going to do the very opposite.

I’m going to present to you  (for now, other things later) one of the most hard to understand, terse, compressed descriptions of no-self and radical meditation, The Song of Ashtavakra.

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Thoughts are physical, not mental. Meditation is physical.

Thoughts are physical, not mental. Meditation is physical.

Here’s the second understanding I’d love people to take away from this blog (the first). The buzzing thoughts that interfere with happiness and won’t go away when you meditate are not mental or intellectual objects. At root, these thoughts are physical.

Thoughts are physical because life is physical. Being born is physical, death is physical. That which we call real, we call real because we know it physically. How can meditation be other than physical?

When you are angry, your body want to move in anger. It wants to scream, shout, kick, punch, even strangle or stab. When you are happy, your body wants to laugh, to dance, to hug someone. When you are struck down by grievous loss, your body wants to sob, to wail; to be held, to be comforted. When you are in love, you body wants to kiss, to caress, to play and have fun; it wants to fuck.

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Meditation is not Stop Action

Meditation is not Stop Action

If you take only one understanding from this blog, let this be it. There’s nothing in the definition of meditation about sitting still or closing your eyes. Meditation is a state of being, a shift in the relationship between you and the flow of your experiences. Meditation is not Stop Action. (more…)

The definition of meditation (and it’s not sitting still)

The definition of meditation (and it’s not sitting still)

I might define meditation as the search for an inner peace so deep and enduring that one remains at peace in the deepest hurricanes of life and in the moment of death itself. But that could as well apply to religious belief, and meditation certainly is not that.

So here is a more practical, experiential definition. It is a fairly standard definition. The links on the page however branch off in some less-standard directions.

A moment of meditation is a moment (minute, hour, week) in your life where you are

  • (a) relaxed
  • (b) present and alert to your experiences inner and outer
  • (c) no judgements or preferences about your experiences. This means: no judgement that some experience ( eg anger) is “bad” and you want it to go away, while some other experience (eg joy) is “good” and you want to have more of it. It is a kind of relaxed friendliness with experience.

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