This week I had the privilege of speaking to an older man who has lived much his long life. In conversation, he shared some of his experiences and some of his losses. As tears gently paid homage to his heart’s loves, this dear soul recounted the names and lives of those he has been with as they took their final breaths. At the side of his friends, parents, family members, child and wife, this man has sat, holding the hands of loved ones as they transitioned through death.
What do you say to someone whose heart is breaking as he realises in that moment he hasn’t got the strength to sit with another close friend who is dying; and that his own death is imminent?
I said nothing. Only held his hand for a moment, and listened.
And when his tears still fell but his words had ceased, we just hugged.
He thanked me for hearing him then, said that no one would. And I was pleased to have remained quietly present for him.
I think it was Tara Brach, the Buddhist psychologist, who spoke about authentic presence – being truly in the moment of relating.
We are conditioned to respond in ways often that negate our feelings and our true experience of situations. So too, we have habitual ways of being that can talk over people, say what we think they want to hear or simply reflect our own beliefs, fears, stances, minimising or vanishing the other’s voice, and heart.
Authentic presence mean pausing, feeling, listening to your inner response in the moment and moving from that place of genuine beingness rather than reactivity or habit.
It takes practice and cultivation. And getting to know yourself and how you react, respond and relate, as well as learning to feel and communicate from a place of open heartedness.
The pause is often the hardest part to remember, but like any old habit, it can be learnt and part of our new way of being. Mindfulness practice is a fabulous beginning.
At the end of our talk, blue eyes glistening and a gentle smile, this gentle man reflected…
‘Your world is the people around you.’
Having just returned from a celebration for the autumn equinox with companions on the magical path with me, his words resonate soundly.
The people in our life make it what it is. Let us gravitate towards those people who make our world rich and loving.
And let us love those people in turn with our rich, authentic presence.
One of the rich experiences of writing a blog is that whatever I am working on, contemplating, noticing or even exposed to – by self or others – becomes a topic for the week, calling me to explore it more deeply. And in my reflection you have told me that you enjoy your own resonances and reflections. Thank you.
This week, with a touch of irony, it is mindfulness. I write this having just returned the clinic keys, which I have absentmindedly taken home with me – twice this week!
I first learnt about mindfulness in 1996 from Chinese Medical Doctor, Andrew Lim, who was teaching me about chi and qigong and meditation. It was not the panacea in the Western world that it is today, but it was the start of my life-change – who knew paying attention to the breath could bring about such awareness.
For me, mindfulness is the foundation tool from which all self-exploration might step. Whether you’re Buddhist or not, the very act of mindfulness practice in the every day brings with it a range of beneficial flow-ons.
Mindfulness really isn’t advertised in a way that appeals to the average person. It’s certainly become the ‘fix-all’ in particular branches of the medical and natural therapies fields, but it still isn’t sexy.
Folk I talk with about mindfulness think it’s hard work, sitting still and trying not to think. But when they learn about the benefits, they’re sometimes ready to explore a little more…
understanding and decreasing anxiety
greater mental focus and clarity
better relationship with self and others
first steps in spiritual and psychic awareness and development
greater inner harmony
more energy, and
increased sense of wellbeing, among much else…
I used to run a group in Melbourne called Mindful Living. Working in community health meant that of the ten or so people attending the group each 8 weeks, most were experiencing anxiety, had been diagnosed with mental health conditions, some had been homeless, and others survived violent relationships.
Each one of the people in that group made significant life changesbased on their experiences of mindfulness practice and understanding how their thoughts and feelings impacted their behaviour and choices.
From the smallest shift in one person contributing to the group, to larger ones that saw individuals able to do their own shopping or leave the house without a carer or assistant.
Mindfulness of course is not just for folk who experience anxiety. Mindfulness practice helps us to become aware of the ways our unconscious processes animate our thoughts, feelings and behaviours, as well as becoming more aware of our external world and how we interact with it.
And mindfulness is not just about meditation, and sitting still for hours in the lotus position.Mindfulness practice can occur at anytime throughout the day, during any activity – inner and outer.
However, regular mindfulness meditation does enhance our ability to be present and to notice the flow of inner and outer experience in the moment.
Regular practice enables us to watch what is coming to us and how we are responding or reacting. By noticing in this way, we are free to make choices more suited to our wellbeing.
In my mindfulness practice this week I realised that my needs are particular to me. My design is particular to me. And therefore, my alignment is something only I can make happen and be.
In this age of modern gurus and online social marketing, the personal development world has taken a giant step into our living rooms and everyday life.
We are bombarded by ‘opportunities’, ‘experts’, ‘fixes’, ‘the best evers’, emails, advertisements, groups, events and the like. I noticed how easily the sales pitches and invitations to participate, learn and know more, can spin me out of our trajectory and distance me from our alignment with Source and Self.
As I write this, an email pings into my Inbox with the heading ‘OMG!! Exclusive Offer! Are you in?’
During my meditation practice I noticed that the things I was reaching for were distractions. They widened the distance from my alignment – from the place I feel my authenticity and self-knowing.
That’s not to say that all the material is harmful or distracting; there will be some that suits me just fine, and from which I will benefit. Through my mindfulness practice, I am better able to discern which they are, and not get swept up in the current of ‘must be more’ or ‘ooo, that looks interesting…’.
While I was writing this, I came upon a timely video about a London artist celebrating his black female friends by spray-painting their likeness around London*. Dreph, the artist, finished his interview by referring to the world’s current political climate and the great desire that many of us have to help in some way:
‘I think we’re all under pressure to be other than ourselves, and that when we are feeling that pressure to be other than who we are, if we can just remember that we are enough, then that will go a long way.’
From my mindfulness meditation practice this week, my state of being shifted out of need, want and getting, to simply being…
In my state of being, I am able to respond to that which gravitates towards me. I observe it and notice whether it fits with who I am or whether it takes me away from my enoughness. And you can do the same.
Among so much else that mindfulness practice is beneficial for, the very act of observing our thoughts, feelings, sensations in the moment, can help us to know that we are enough.
And from that place of enoughness, we can take action available to us – whatever that is and however small or large – to contribute to making our beautiful planet sustainable and harmonious for all beings.
There are generally local Buddhist centres in large towns and cities offering free introductory classes to mindfulness meditation and practice. The Mindfulness Association in the UK offers paid classes, as does the Salisbury centre in Edinburgh. There are many online courses available, and I will have one up and running by the end of September. If interested, just let me know. Meantime, may you find peace in the moment…
This weekend I was with companions remembering and honouring our ancestors. It was a deep and emotional experience for us, bringing the past forward, and the present back again, bridging and merging time.
It was my great-grandfather, Charles Duncan Rice, who came forward for me, and the more I moved into memory and the feel of this man, the closer we became.
From the experience of sitting quietly with his photograph and my inner vision of him, came a greater sense of knowing and understanding of his life. And from this came a profound feeling of family and belonging.
The more I let the feel and thoughts of great-grandfather Rice flow through me, the likenesses I detected between us and our life experiences increased. Charles Rice had beginnings that set him on a path. He received a scholarship for education, and became a teacher, philanthropist, scholar and orator. From all accounts, he was a learned, liberal, genuine man who was passionate about teaching and education for all. He lived in Peterhead, in Aberdeenshire, and was the Rector of Peterhead Academy for 3 decades.
Sadly, he died suddenly, a heart attack, in his garden, aged 58 years. My grandma’s life took a drastic turn then and her ambitions to study medicine were curbed as the family took to surviving beyond their beloved Charles’ keep. She became a nurse instead, and put her healing efforts to much use in that capacity.
As the workshop afternoon went on, my kin drew nearer to me, such that I could feel his presence in spirit standing so close behind me. With the touch of his hand on my shoulder, the generations between us dissolved, and I knew him part of me – and myself part of him.
This weekend of ancestor connection made way for other realisations, primarily about how we distance ourselves from our Self.
It occurred to me that there is no distance between who we are and who we want to be; that the person we know deep within us, connected as we are to Source and our Soul-Self, is always available to us. Only self-alienation makes it appear not so.
The discord we feel between our inner knowing and our outer experience is a perception; a perception born of thoughts that wraps itself around feelings, convincing us that it is real. But this perception alienate us from our true Self. It creates a gap that isn’t actually there.
We are already, always united with our authentic Self.
It is only the perception of separation – of difference – that tells us otherwise.
And yes, if we are not self-alienating, then there is plenty ‘out there’ that will hold up a mirror to project difference onto us. If it’s not the media, educational or religious institutions, cultural norms, it is the people in our life – often our families, friends, work colleagues – who give us plenty of comparative material for us to self-deny, self-criticise and Self-separate.
What I realised over this weekend, is that it is up to us whether we want to accept the reflections and self-perceptions. It is up to us to decide whether we view ourselves ‘out there’ in the land of others’ ideas and perceptions of us or whether we decide to define and know ourselves ‘in here’, in the place of our true Self.
We can only be separated from our Self if our perception of ourselves does not marry upwith who we feel we are. And as we know, perceptions and feelings have a long history of influence in our childhood and adolescent experiences. They are often reinforced by adult experiences that tell the same lies about us so that we lose sight of who we are. Still, there is a place deep within each of us who knows who we are. Sometimes that place reveals a quiet voice longing to be heard. Often it is a voice that has pleaded and cried out for years and years for us to listen.
Over the weekend, I learnt that one of the ways we can make our way back to that deep Soul place and live outwardly our inner truth, is by connecting with our ancestors. There, in a long, long line of people, there will be those with similar life experiences, hardships, traumas, dreams, habits, talents, skills, creative impulses, the same as you.
My idea of self-difference has served to separate me from the person I am in that I have thought no one will be interested in my ideas, my writing, my spiritual experiences. They couldn’t possibly understand or want to engage with my view of the world. And as such, I have shied away from expressing that view, that ‘me’; I have not offered her to the world as fully as I might.
Blending with my ancestor, great-grandfather Rice, gave me the experience, not just the awareness but the tangible experience of knowing that there is no separation. Now all I needed to do was blend my separated self with my internal self – the one who knows who she is.
As my ancestor moved closer to me, blended with me, I came to know and feel the I am who I am, and the distance I have created, which is quite simply a perception – a false one. I don’t need to fit into the mould of what I think the world out there expects me to be. I just need to be me. Along the way, I had allowed circumstance to be my excuse for separation and denial of my true self. My perceived difference, held in some respects as a badge of honour, in many ways served to keep me apart from my Self.
By closing the ancestral gap – in time and dimension – I was shown a roadmap to dissolve the gap between my distorted perception of my outer self, and my authentic Being.
It was an energetic experience. Just as Charles Rice had moved closer to me as I dwelled on him, I brought my self-projection to mind and went to that deep place within me – that core of Soul Self. And when I could hold the feelings of both in awareness, I gently shortened the cord of energy between us until we were very close. I then deepened my feelings of my authentic self by bringing to mind all that I love, adore, am passionate about at my core, and my faith, and I heightened those feelings. And then, I moved into the outer projection and we became one, and the projection dissolved in the energy of my Soul Self until only that beautiful truth remained.
You might be wondering why I simply didn’t cut the cord of energy connecting me to the projected, perception-self. Well, that would have been a short-term solution. Nothing would have changed in my thoughts or feelings, and new habits would have been all the harder to form. I had to raise the awareness, the feelings and emotional connection to my inner Light, so that I could irrevocably know what that Light feels like. I needed to blend with the lesser energy of the outward personality – the false perception – in order to feel it dissolve within the strength of my authenticity.
Now, that is not necessarily the end of the separated-self; like any new perception, it takes reinforcing in the face of daily counter-rhetoric. Supposedly, 90 days of repeated practice will form a new habit – and I intend to practice! Already, the Universe is sending me opportunities to fall back into my old ‘who I think I should be’ self. And I am kindly acknowledging them, passing them on, and gravitating towards other opportunities the Universe is offering me, and which invite me to be who I really am.
I’ll need to check in each time, and now I have a compass to guide me. Those heightened, authentic feelings that I reached in to find in that deep place, they will continue to show me the way best aligned with my Soul Self. I take that path because ultimately, that is why I am here, as you are, and once we begin to regularly walk it, the way becomes oh so much smoother.
So, I wonder if you have ancestors who might offer you self-acceptance and the opportunity to be your authentic self in the world. An ancestor who overcame adversity, who had particular qualities or even who had negative or unhealthy traits that highlight to you how change is possible… A long ago family member who can show you how to bridge the gap between the person you think you ought to be, and the person you know deep within you are.
Our ancestors are not simply distant memories or people who no longer exist.They are spirit, living energy that is not only part of us, but which may be touched, consulted and honoured. And they can teach us a great deal about how to live a connected, authentic life.
This week has seen the turning of Beltane, the rich, wild, illuminating fires of seasonal shift in the planetary cycle of our beautiful hemisphere.
At this time, Edinburgh has a vibrant celebration at the top of Calton Hill. A few thousand people witness the Celtic carnival of summer’s emergence in a fire festival with the Green Man and May Queen. The bon fire at the end is exceptional, and to dance around it as the night gives way to the new morning, is a pulsing, trance-like experience of connection – with earth, elements, nature’s creatures, fey, people and self.
This year, my own celebration took place with a group of 8 companions in the Scottish Borders. The theme of our gathering was Beltane Masks.
During the Saturday we contemplated what a mask is, what it serves, when do we wear them, and what would it be like to cast off our masks?
Each of us decorated papier-mâché masks, having decided upon that aspect of our personality or habit we would like to change.
We had taken a journey on the inner through a maze of internal corridors to come face to face with our personal mirror. What we saw in the mirror ostensibly would reveal to us that which we wished to de-mask.
I saw fear. And I felt courage.
It wasn’t a general sort of fear, but fear linked to spiritual truth. And the feeling of courage, yearned to come out from behind the mask of silence and fear.
Recently, it has occurred to me that my spiritual truths have changed or have been urging me to change and I have been resisting them. Like one of those pictures that you look at and see one thing, then shift perception and see another thing, I have been attempting to hold my perception in place so as to only acknowledge particular aspects. The others, which have crept up on me, relating to inner plane teachings and personal experiences, I have not wanted to acknowledge or integrate.
How could I be a credible therapist while also speaking with Spirit, channelling teachings from the inner planes or using my advancing psychism, particularly when some of those teachings and experiences seem so ‘way out’ there?
Even as I write, I smile to myself because of course, if I am not comfortable with my spiritual truths, how can I expect to help others come to understand and develop their own spiritual experiences?
And you might say, yes, but Karolyne, I’ve had sessions with you, and all of this has been part of our time together, and I’ve been able to express my own ‘way out’ beliefs too. And of course, that is all true.
I guess, I am thinking specifically about my writing, and more specifically about a book I am writing – Spirit Talk. A friend asked me the other day – what is it that is served by me stalling my writing? It came to me that by putting off writing, I am protecting myself from being judged. If I’m not judged, I won’t look ‘crazy’ or strange or incompetent.
So after I had painted my mask – with Eyes of Horus, for my inner plane contact, with a division down the middle for being torn in two, with a closed mouth for silence and a pretty look for hiding – I took such great delight to dance around the Beltane fire with my companions and to throw that mask into the flames!
Of course, it’s not enough, just to recognise the mask and to cast it off in such a ritual; the next step is likely the most important, and that is to move in the direction that the mask was inhibiting.
So my work now is to write every day – to get that book written – and more, to increasingly incorporate my spiritual truths in my language, conversations, behaviours and work, where applicable.
I wonder if you can think of a mask that you wear? Like most of us, probably more than one. Maybe it is a mask worn through fear or for safety, to fit in, to please, to hide, to mirror another, perform a behaviour that you’d rather not or any other reason…
What would it be like to remove that mask?
And what needs to change in your life to help you remove that mask? I’m interested to know. If this blogs prompts some thought, drop me a line.