The TV at the Garage – Some thoughts on Meditation

I’ve been working on my meditation practice during the pandemic and have made strides in strengthening and maintaining my approach to this core practice of mindful (or, depending on your perspective, “mindless”) stillness.

If you drive, think of the last time you took your car to the garage, maybe for some tyres, a service or a repair. Let’s imagine you’re gonna wait while they do the work. Many garages around the world have a coffee machine and TV in the waiting area, for patrons to sit and keep themselves occupied whilst the important maintenance work on their car is undertaken. Ordinarily this is tuned to a news channel or perhaps to generic daytime TV – nothing too engrossing, not part 7 of a 10-part drama series, just enough to keep people’s attention until they’re “released”. Actually some of the time I feel this is just there to distract patrons from the somewhat disconcerting antics of the mechanics. Either way, in 45 minutes, an hour, two hours, the work is done and the patron pays and leaves.

Meditation is somewhat like this, in my estimation. In meditation we may focus on a mantra, or on the state of “simply being” beneath the ground of thoughts. When we do so for a while, we begin to notice our minds or lives run more smoothly. I’m beginning to understand that meditation is like the TV in the garage – it’s there to give our brains something to focus on whilst the important maintenance work is undertaken, unseen, behind us.

When your car runs smoothly, you almost don’t notice it. When something is not right with it, it can be obvious (“Oh wow, what’s that squeaking noise?”), but it is sometimes the case we think the car is running fine until we take it for some maintenance and drive it again – we realise, suddenly, it wasn’t right at all. It took the maintenance work for us to experience how smooth the car feels to drive when it’s in perfect working order, free from a rubbing this, a loose that, a worn-down the other. Meditation is also like this. You don’t know how much better you’ll feel if you take the time to maintain your mind – you probably don’t even realise your mind needs maintenance! But once you start to maintain the mind, or rather, invite it to maintain itself through that still concentration, that focus on the TV in the corner of the waiting room, you soon get to drive away on a smoother set of wheels.

Think of your dreams. Each night your unconscious mind takes your experiences, thoughts, feelings, fears and ideas from the days, weeks, months before and does, well, SOMETHING with them. I don’t want to speculate on what it does, but we know that depriving people of dreamful sleep for long enough causes mental disorders. Clearly, the business of dreaming is doing SOMETHING positive in terms of maintaining our brains, and we are certainly not (for the most part) conscious whilst it does so. Meditation is in a sense, the same thing as done by our conscious, awake mind. We decide (a conscious, awake process) to go into maintenance mode. We do so by visiting the garage, sitting down in the waiting room, and watching the TV.

Each day we dream, but we don’t think “damn, better dream!”. We instead think “I’m tired; better sleep”. Dreaming is a positive byproduct of sleep. Feeling “better”, less stressed, more aware, calmer, “ourselves again”, is a byproduct of meditation. Unfortunately for us, we don’t have a corresponding “I’m tired” for a need to meditate. Many will go through life without ever truly meditating, certainly not deliberately, in a way none go without sleep. Some cultures make meditative practice of some kind a core component of how one lives – it would be rare indeed to be raised as a Buddhist monk without feeling the need or urge to meditate! – but for those of us in the West, we don’t have this drive to meditate. We have to develop it ourselves.

Take the time to visit the garage in your conscious mind. Sit down, calmly, while invisible mechanics undertake the maintenance work on your mind. Focus if you like on the TV in the corner, time will go quicker and the work will seem less tiresome. When you’re done, drive away and notice how much smoother it all feels, how much more together, how “right” in a way you didn’t realise was possible.

What They Believe – Jediism

Recently Ros, who trained under the same Master as I did, spoke eloquently about Jediism with the What They Believe video series:

I thought this was a really eloquent expounding of what it means to be Jedi to Ros. Whilst there are thoughts or ideas I don’t share, I do believe Ros is a real, sincere and authentic Jedi and I was pleased to hear her thoughts here.

Assumptions and Projections – Seeing what isn’t there

This week I’ve had a number of assumptions made about me, many of which have been incorrect, and this has led me to reflect on the nature of assumptions and projection.

As a species, we tend to see what we want to see. Sometimes, that’s reversed – we hope to see something and instead end up looking for its absence or opposite. Either way, instead of perceiving the world as it is, we force a view on it. We insinuate things which may or may not be true without checking. We push our perception of reality ahead of reality.

Sometimes assumptions are a tool of judgement, of pushing our expectations on someone or insinuating them in our emotions. A personal need of or from someone can lead one to assume that person is receptive, open and prepared to ignore the past. This is a selfish assumption indeed. Likewise, projections can be a highly egoistic phenomenon, where we ignore the narratives of those we meet and instead push our narrative onto them, whether they know it (or consent to it) or not.

So, how do we work our way away from assumptions? Happily, this is a simple thing to teach, though a harder thing to practice. We ask. We check. We discuss. We are delicate. We do not presume to flood others with unasked for information or opinion. We test the waters prior to diving head first into them. In short, in order to stop assuming and projecting, we must start looking for the world “as it is”, in itself, rather than the world as it exists within our narrative.

A simple exercise to check your assumptions:

  1. Ask yourself “What do I stand to gain by believing this, whether it is true or not?”
  2. Ask yourself “Who else is involved? What do I know about their feelings on this matter, and what am I aware I don’t know? What am I adding myself?”
  3. Ask yourself “Does this belief serve just me, or others?”

The answers you receive here will vary, their efficacy will also vary. You will get it wrong, but you won’t be wrong for trying to do better in these areas. Over time, this process of questioning your perceptions and beliefs can become a healthy habit which encourages you to reappraise, put away old prejudices or the heuristic assumptions we all accumulate, and just see the world as it presents itself. What intuition you can find in doing so! What rare insight which others may have missed!

It has frequently been said about me I am too cautious, too ready to “assume the worst”. In fact I feel I am actively engaged with my assumptions, trying to remain aware of them, trying to validate rather than to assume. I would certainly rather have it this way around than the opposite: brazenly pushing my perspective onto the world. The world is as it is. Everyone and everything is engaged in dialogues we know nothing about.

A final comment here – of course we all operate using assumptions however much we try and become aware of them. This is just the nature of belief and human experience. I don’t have to make astronomical observations to predict the sun will rise tomorrow morning; likewise no gastrointestinal surgery is required to establish that I will be hungry come dinner time. But some of these “givens” do age out – it is usually worth checking, when you’re in doubt, that something still holds true.

Consider.
Reflect.
Check.

Put the other before yourself in your beliefs, mindful as you are that of course your brain puts you first by habit.

Realise your needs and motivations do not have priority when you approach another, or at least, do not by default.

These are the actions of a Jedi.

Strange Days – An update from this Wayward Jedi

It has been such a peculiar time for us to live through. This will certainly be a period in human history all of us now reading will remember, reflect on, and debate for decades and centuries to come. How strange, to know one is amidst a historic event? And yet, how hollow when enduring the daily deprivations we all suffered.

For me, the hardest part has been my restricted access to my kids. I was going for weeks at a time without seeing my eldest two, and spending a good deal of time apart from them even when they were in the same building as me, as I had to work from home whilst they were kept home from school. This is to say nothing of the loss of expertience by beautiful baby daughter has endured through the first 6 months of her life – last week she held hands with another baby for the first time, after she had cut her first two teeth. My wife has lost her maternity leave to caring for my other kids, something I shall always be grateful for.

Of course, our small suffering is nothing beside the far greater sorrow of those who have endured, died or lost loved ones to the virus itself. We were screened from the worst of this, of course, by the lockdown. We have not suffered as they suffered, and I don’t believe I even know anyone who has lost a loved one to the virus. This thing has killed so many who would otherwise be alive, and stolen so much from those who remain.

How does a Jedi keep faith when faced with such life-altering conditions, such death and such sorrow? Well, I will be honest and say my faith has been knocked. I have been variously investigating other religious approaches – Christian (for the first time in my life), Quaker, Vedic. But it is to my core Jedi beliefs that I return, in the end. I realise that in the vast river of th Force, our current unrest is but a small eddy. That those who have been taken prematurely are not really gone, that they have moved on. That what happened was always going to happen and that it is instead our expecations which trapped us in the belief this was somehow unfair, unjust, unreal.

As Jedi we understand the only constant is change. And we have changed! Changed more than I ever expected. Yet in that change we find the seed of change’s opposite: that which endures, in spite of (or perhaps because of) change. We find our selves. Our qualities, both positive and negative. The light and shadow of who we are have had nothing but a thin, two-dimensional space to play across. In that space I have found more shadow than I was hiterto aware of, a sad thing to be sure. But also a source of growth in the months and years to come.

I am engaging now on a course of Jungian shadow work. This I have undertaken under guidance from Scott Jeffrey – I am finding new things about myself daily and new insights which I can fold into living as a more whole, complete person. I am also reminded greatly of the gateway text to Adlerian psychology, The Courage to be Disliked by Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga. I am doing the tasks which are mine to do, some of which I hadn’t understood were mine to own.

The short summary here is – in shadow work we understand that which moves us to feel uncomfortable, afraid, unhappy, angry. And we look to understand the lesson in that experience. If someone annoys me, what does that tell about me? About that which I wish was different about myself? How much of what I project onto the world, that great manifold of experience which comes to me filtered through subconscious or unconscious actions of my own perception, is really visible to me? How do I become more aware of that which I send out onto the “everything”, rather than what is actually there in and of itself?

I also find myself increasingly reflective of those I have known who have died, most prominently my childhood best friend Tom, and my former apprentice and brother Senan. I think on the world we have come to live in which they never knew. The changes we will face now, the deviations from paths we thought we knew well, the “way things are” which is now the “way things were”. I remember their friendship and warmth, their nonjudgmental love and the feeling I shall not know that exact thing again in this life. I feel old. Tomorrow is my 37th birthday and so many of my friends are dead, gone, or just alien to me these days. Perhaps that is a truer reckoning of age than years? And how much of that distance, that loss, that alienation has been of my own making? It is certainly something I reflect on a lot right now.

Yet – the future is not bleak. I am buying a house, a home for my family and I to grow into and make ours. My beautiful baby daughter is a daily delight, and my older two children are now dazzling beacons of joy, curiosity and love. My wife is a constant, continual source of light and hope. We spent the last week in a beautiful little cabin in the forest on an island off the British coast, enjoying beaches and spotting wildlife. My job is good! My health is fine! The sun still rises each morning and I am very grateful to be here, warmed by its rays and awake to see it.

So – where am I? Where have I been? I have been walking my way. I have been following the path where it leads, and it led me back here. Here, to reflect. To recuperate. To restate my commitment to the Jedi path, despite alternatives, despite doubts and sorrows. I am more now than I was before, thanks to the lessons and obstacles of my path. I am ready for what comes next, ready to be the best father my children have known and the best husband my wife has met. I am ready now to embody the lessons of the Force more fully, to do my work and take on my tasks.

The path continues, and I walk on, gladly.

A Time for Jedi – How you can help during the Pandemic

Thought it might be sensible to brainstorm some ideas for Jedi who wish to help their communities during these strange days we’re living through. I’ll start with some thoughts and you can add yours as replies.

Disclaimer – not every suggestion will be possible in every geography, depending on local laws, restrictions and medical advice. Please use your discretion and obey the laws of your country/state.

  • Check in on neighbours. This can be low-contact, you can leave a note with your phone number. Especially important for elderly neighbours.
  • Set up a local WhatsApp group. Helpful for anyone isolating or coordinating supporting those who are high risk.
  • Combat the spread of misinformation. Online and off, stay informed and if it doesn’t feel right ask for sources. Snopes is your friend.
  • Offer your services. If you have knowledge or skills which can be offered remotely, let your communities online and off know about it! I’ve seen teacher friends offer to help with questions around homeschooling for example. At times like this, advice on cutting hair or cooking can help someone!
  • Keep your eyes open. Where people are upset or struggling, offer support. If people can’t source items, use your Google-fu to help. Offline keep an eye on stores and buy small items for neighbours.
  • Keep spirits up. Arrange virtual hangouts or activities. Virtual choirs and bands are starting to gain momentum. What are your hobbies? Can you offer them online?
  • Use your voice. If you are seeing an inequality issue or other incidents related to the spread of the pandemic, don’t sit idly by. Write to your officials. Make petitions. Speak up for the silenced.
  • Be prepared. By this I don’t mean suddenly start stockpiling. But be frugal with what you have. Learn about foraging in your vicinity. Find alternative, low-resource ways to live as you usually do – survival and bushcraft websites and videos are great for this.
  • Don’t sit in judgement. Everyone is fighting their own fears and concerns. Reminding others that the panic buyers and bar-goers they demonise are their neighbours may not win you friends but it is the right thing to do. Rather than hating find more compassionate ways of changing behaviour.
  • Learn. Take this time to learn about those around you, new skills, even a list of what you wish you’d known before this all started which you’ll start learning afterwards.
  • Self care. The better you’re doing, the better you can be there for others. Eat as well as you can, sleep plenty but not continually, exercise and relax or meditate. You’re no use to us stressed and exhausted!
  • Stay safe. Likewise, if you’re struck down by the virus there’s very little you can do to help others.
  • Only do what you can. Your mental and physical resources are finite. It’s fine to do something small or even just get by during these difficult days. Don’t beat yourself up for what you didn’t do – instead focus on what you did do. Even liking someone’s photo can make them smile, and that counts.

What are you doing to help?

And about that path…

I love it. I truly do. The good and the bad, the thrilling and the boring, the easy and the hard and the great expanses of inbetween… I love it. I am grateful for it. I am accepting of it.

This life is a gift! We are so quick to dismiss and to despair, when the truth is this immaculate universe is open to us, ready for our wonder and our action.

Nothing more to say than this. I love the path. I love knowing I am far behind where it shall someday lead me. Long may it continue, and may its windings be many, interesting and enlightening.

The Force is with us. Always.

Drugs and the Path

I was spurred to write this post after reading about someone’s “Jedi Experiences” whilst taking psychedelic drugs. I don’t personally believe there is anything “Jedi” about deliberately consuming drugs unless there is a genuine medical need to do so, and I wanted to set down why that’s my opinion, but also to work things out in a post so I can examine my own views.

First up, the pro-drugs argument I hear most often in Jedi circles is “Drugs are part of the Force. Taking them is part of the Force”. You’re 100% correct! They are a feature of this amazing reality we find ourselves in – how strange, how beautiful that we can warp and twist our perceptions and thoughts in such a way! The Force is amazing.

Something being part of the Force is not in itself “good enough” for it to be Jedi. Stabbing your neighbour then shooting yourself in the head is something “of the Force”. It happens, it is. It’s pretty clear that something being “of the Force” is not equivalent with it being good, to be promoted or valuable for Jedi. Poison is of the Force – does that mean all Jedi should consume it? Or does it mean they should understand it, recognise the valid uses of it and make a judgement as to its efficacy for those pursuing the Jedi path? I think the answer is pretty clear… and drugs are a type of poison. They induce atypical states. They affect us, can kill us in sufficient doses.

We are all, always “under influence”. We are under the influence of our perspectives, our opinions. Our experiences, our hopes and dreams. All of these things influence how we see the world, how we interact with and understand it. For me, one of the responsibilities of a Jedi is to work to understand, know, own and to stand outside of those influences. Through self-study and self-knowledge, we can come into something closer to objectivity. Why is this important? Because Jedi are there for the whole – the universal, the Force. How can we consider our approach to this as authentic if we’re only ever in the thrall of our influences? How can I get closer to you, if neither of us work towards some sort of compromise, some common ground? That;s why Jedi seek truth, in my opinion – by seeking the truth, we seek to move away from what is purely and solely “us”, and into a realm which is more “ours”.

This is one reason Jedi meditate: to observe the mind, to be “outside” of “it”, of our habitual selves, for a time. To let the ripples die back and see with clarity what rests below. Indeed, to own the ripples; but to do so by first perceiving them clearly.

Drugs are exclusively used because they are an influence. They are a specific, intentional, deliberate method of alienating ourselves from that which is. What this means more clearly, is “that which is outside of ourselves”. They work because they play on the barrier of self-hood vs the truth of connection. They lock us into a self which is unable to access the objective, the “outside-of-ourselves”, however much people would believe the opposite. If you drop acid, and feel love for the entire cosmos, you are only really experiencing yourself. The cosmos is as it was before you dropped acid. The cosmos is the same as it was, bar the very small part of it you cordon off as “you” when you deliberately took a perception-altering drug, but you can’t see that.

You can observe it, though. A common quote in wide circulation amongst Jedi is:

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

— Will Durant

Take a look at what people dropping acid (for example) “do”, here:

Not much Jedi about that, is there? And yet his internal experience may feel significant, meaningful, beautiful. The point of this part of this post is… Jedi don’t just think, they do. Drug users don’t really “do”. Stoned on weed, we may think we have some insights which help unlock the keys to the universe. That’s a cheat, a trick of the light which avoids the truth of the work and knowledge-building required to gain true wisdom and realise true insight. How compatible with that which is Jedi is it to say “You too can understand the deep truth of reality! But before you do, but on these 3D glasses!”? The truth is behind the glass, behind the drug. If you want the truth, throw away the glasses, and learn to see with your own eyes!

The truth is outside of “us” and “other”, and therefore a mindful observance of self as a part of the universe entire is, for me, a truer reflection of the wide and eternal Force. For me, that means drugs are to be understood, assessed, but as a general rule, avoided wherever possible. By taking some mushroom and vanishing into yourself you are certainly experiencing some aspect of the Force, but you are consciously and actively disregarding the aspect of the Force which is most important to the Jedi: that which appears outside of ourselves. How is it in any way commensurate to the tenets of Jediism to be so self-centred? Is the business of Jediism not about… stopping playing the Ego game, stopping focusing on our own selves at the exclusion of others, and working to incorporate and recognise that which routinely seems “other” to ourselves? Sure, we need self-knowledge,but drugs are more like… self-entertainment. They are the trashy TV we put on when we tire of the documentary, the junk food we consume when we’re bored of leafy greens.

All that said, in my opinion (which is all that I offer here), there are some very valid reasons for taking drugs. If you are sick, drugs may offer you respite. Sure, the truth of your reality may be pain, but no compassionate being would have others suffer needlessly. If you take drugs to mitigate pain, or confusion, or other “atypical” states, more power to you. But for a Jedi, I think that decision needs to be made deliberately, consciously. You need to “own” that decision and to understand the truth which exists outside of how you’re choosing to handle it. Actually, it’s much easier to relate to other people if your experience of the world is akin to theirs, so on a fairly superficial level I would say it’s totally fine to “balance out” when you’re finding yourself in some atypical state.

But the obvious issue here is people think of a few beers or a joint or a line or a cigarette as something they take to “balance out”. Balancing out is required by addiction, and addiction is an atypical state. I speak from experience of it that it’s clear addiction warps our perception of what is “medicinal use”, what is “typical” and “atypical”. We need the mindfulness of self-knowledge, the clarity of calm and passive observation to ascertain what “normal” looks like in these situations, and the thing is… we don’t need to tie ourselves in these kinds of knots, by avoiding intoxicants in the first place. Why risk addiction, when we know it could warp our ability to see with clarity the perfect and eternal Force? Mindful of this risk, I believe Jedi seek to remove intoxicants, to remove all influences besides our devotion to the Jedi Path, and to the Force, from our lives.

If you want to take drugs and think it builds your understanding or the Force, more power to you. I am not here to dictate what anyone else can or can’t do, but this at least outlines my own opinions and where they come from. For me, a Jedi with a joint in their hand is still a Jedi – but they are not doing something which is in itself “a Jedi act”, in the same way a dieter eating a cheeseburger is not “doing dieting” in that moment. Jedi don’t rely on filters to make reality interesting, or to fake a sense of connection with the Force. For me, the truth is enough. When it is unpalatable in some way, well, at least it’s real. At least it is what is. How could I ever trust my perception if I were so dissatisfied with what is, and so unprepared to face it as it is, that I would deliberately sabotage my connection, perception and understanding of the Force?

Such disrespect for what is, warts and all, is for me, not Jedi. And thus I don’t feel taking drugs is compatible with being Jedi.

I aim for the heart of Being. I aim for the unaltered truth.

And that is what makes me a Jedi.

To a Girl

This has been a momentous year for me in many ways. I got married for the second time, a distinction I mention because of the very significant commitment it represents having been there once before and having been through its collapse. By enduring the hardness of something, we l earn its softness. How Jedi, that lesson? And how apt for what comes next…

But I digress, back to this year of new things! I have climbed 5 mountains (the first 5 of my life). I have been to Japan, Australia, New Zealand, UAE, Denmark, Sweden, Poland. I have read new books, heard new songs, walked new forests, breathed new air. But next year promises to be even bigger, because through the endless ripples of the Force, despite my belief I would never experience this again, I am to become a father for the third time.

As my life begins a new phase, I find myself in a reflective mood. Whilst I have two wonderful children already, this will be the first since I began following a self-consciously “Jedi” path. I didn’t know to think in these terms when they were in the womb still, I didn’t have these points of reference and the small cache of wisdom I have build these past few years when I first me them. I wonder at the strange and beautiful way in which part of me, and part of my wife meet and make such a window of opportunities. A point of bright white light which glowing grows, a feather which settles then becomes a bird, takes wing and flies away. There is so much to ponder, so much to imagine and to dream.

My daughter (because we do know we are expecting a girl): I will be as much of the person you need me to be as I am able to, and will work hard to close the gaps where they inevitably appear. I will fail, often, badly. And I will keep trying, keep getting up and keep fighting for a wonderful life for you, and for our family. It is now already a part of me to be a part of your world. It is a significant, vital thing-that-I-am to belong to you.

I will guide you, I will protect you, I will love you all your days.

I would add… I couldn’t have made this commitment to you years ago, before I was a father. it is by being a father that I know what it means to be one, what it means to commit one’s life to something so entirely. Your brother and your sister are my world. For them I would lay down my life, and I do, day by day – gladly. It is an honoured privilege to me to be their father, to make each sacrifice and endure each hardship as they come. It is my purpose to be theirs – and to be yours.

We are going to have so much fun together, you and I, and them, and your mother. Your family loves you and awaits you impatiently, eager to get to know you and to start this new adventure: the adventure of you.

I can’t wait.

Hollowness and Emptiness

This week I’ve been reflecting on the Force and how it weaves our lives through those of others, through thoughts, ideas, places, times. How everything is interconnected but also distinct, changing, growing and shrinking. Thinking of wax and wane, fullness and emptiness and the constant dance of opposites which make the universe “be”.

Times of hollowness and emptiness come into every life. Perhaps they are the out-breath from some great event, the tide sweeping back to reveal the shore. And perhaps they are more permanent, a change which cannot be undone. I wonder, sometimes, that in a reality which moves in cycles, which cycles will outlast my life. Which things I shall never see again, and which I shall never get to know at all.

Of course, the “I” in this game is the trick – there is no true “I”, there is the Force. The perceptual separation we are so accustomed to working within is a trick of the light, a bubble in the stream – all that’s there is water. And indeed, that notion is some comfort. Some day, all that is “I” will be “other”. It will be dispersed, shattered and distributed across the universe. It will be part of many “I”s, many “other”s. And it will be fundamentally the same as it is now, as me.

Hollowness and emptiness, these can be pervasive feelings. These can shade a life and darken days. Sometimes we have too much of something else and that creates a shadow, a darkness beside such blinding light. Other times, there’s simply not enough to go around, not enough to “fill”, not enough to satisfy.

In time, those distinctions are undone. They are swept away by whatever comes next, and the Force cycles on, a million billion adjacent cycles all forming the one great whole. Nothing is permanent, not even the end. Nothing lasts forever, not even time. Nothing stays, nothing endures. And nothing itself cannot endure. This is the great paradox – just as things seem set, they are unset. There are no absolutes, no constants. Only change.

Such it is with hollowness, such it is with emptiness. In time, the Force will obliterate all and fullness, satisfaction will return.

The Force is exhausting like that!

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