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personal growth

The way you look and feel, how satisfying your life is depends primarily on you. Unless you are aware of this, unless you have an active sense of participating in and being responsible for your own well-being, you are unlikely to develop the motivation you need. Self-responsibility holds the key.

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In The Psychiatrist Chair

In The Psychiatrist Chair

BBC Radio 4 recently contacted me for my permission to re-broadcast an interview I did with Professor Anthony Clare on “In the Psychiatrist’s Chair”. Born in Dublin in 1942, Dr Clare’s broadcasts were fascinating to listen to. He became the voice of psychiatry to millions in the British Isles for more than two decades. His goal with his interviews was always simple: To uncover and reveal the inner life of the famous and successful. I was honored when he asked me if he could do an in-depth interview about me and my life. His questions are candid, probing and sometimes unsettling. You who send me so many wonderful comments on my blogs and weekly newsletters on lesliekenton.com and curaromana.com often ask me to share more of my personal life with you. To know more about me, a great place to start is listening to Anthony’s “Leslie Kenton In the Psychiatrist’s Chair”. I’d love to know from you if you think he got me right. Hope you enjoy it.

Erotic Power - Set Yourself Free

Erotic Power - Set Yourself Free

Before we begin I would like to share a short interview I did with Helen Musset, who was on Leslie Kenton's Cura Romana and lost 20 kilos while on the program. I was lucky enough to interview her about her experience. You can listen to the interview here. Now back to my newsletter. Frequently discussed yet little understood in our post-industrial society is the value of ecstasy and the spiritually creative power of the erotic. For power, it is of an order that can be both frightening and tremendously creative. It is no accident that in all of the Eastern religions it is the erotic which symbolizes man's pathway to realizing the Divine. In our capacity to experience ecstasy at the deepest levels may lie both the key to our survival and our ability to create. Studies of the human brain and its interfaces with the body have for the first time in history begun to chart what takes place biologically when one allows oneself to enter fully into the erotic state. PATH TO FREEDOM The results of this research are not only helping us see just how important this can be to health and wholeness, they make us conscious of just how far away the so-called sexual revolution has taken us from our being able to experience true ecstasy. For the mechanistic approach to sexuality with which we have lived for the past four decades, with all its sex-manuals and all the advice on “how-to-do-it-better”—instead of leading us towards a state in which we are more able to plunge into the irrational, oceanic, all-trusting state which every ecstatic encounter demands—has taught us to intellectualize sexuality. We’ve made it into something which too often we do and watch ourselves doing; something that we learn about and something that we try to control. Yet right at the core of every truly ecstatic experience is a fundamental demand that we give up all control, so that for a time we allow ourselves to dissolve our boundaries and merge into a celebration of the body, of life itself. In doing so, we experience being fully present in the moment. THE PRIMITIVE BRAIN Each man and woman has not one brain but two: The rational brain or the neocortex, which like an immensely complicated computer enables us to make conscious choices and to collect, store and interpret the data we receive from our sensory organs. We also have the subcortical nervous system known as the primitive brain. This primitive brain is sometimes referred to as the “reptilian structure”. From an evolutionary point of view, it is the oldest part of our brain. Unlike our conscious mind, it can never be disassociated from our basic adaptive systems such as the hormonal system and the immune system, on which survival depends. Your emotions and your instincts are bonded to the activity of your primitive brain. The hormone control center area regulates the activity of all your endocrine glands through complex feedback mechanisms. When you experience joy, your hormonal functioning is better. When you grieve or when you engage in intellectual thought, it is subject to greater stress. This complex feedback network between our mind and body, mediated through the primitive brain, is often referred to as our primitive adaptive system. On the quality of its responses and how well it is balanced with the functioning of our neocortex depends how healthy we are physically, mentally and spiritually. LOSS OF TRUST But being human in the so-called civilized world is not always easy. In our culture, the neocortex—our rational brain—has become highly developed. It is this development which gives us the capacity to make rational decisions, to define what we perceive to be “reality”, and to consciously manipulate the outside world to our advantage. In a truly healthy person, the balance between the two brains is good. However in most of us, our rational brain inhibits the primitive brain. In truth, in our 21st century world, this neocortical inhibition of the primitive brain has been carried to extremes. So much is this the case that we have undermined our ability to experience ecstasy, diminished our capacity for creativity and joy and have forgotten how to trust in the wisdom of our instincts. Take the experience of childbirth, for example. Instead of our being able during the birth process to give over our bodies to the event and trust that at the right time the appropriate hormone will be secreted to dilate the cervix and bring the child into the world. This leads instinctively to the desire to nurture new life at the breast and experience the oceanic love that comes with mother/child bonding. When we try to exert conscious control of the process, we undermine our natural, primitive adaptive processes. As a result, hormones shift in inappropriate ways and we lose touch with the ecstatic experience of surrender to the body, as well as with all the joy this brings. In short, Whenever we bring into play the rational brain at an inappropriate time we suffer for it. (So, incidentally, does the baby.) Then we experience ourselves as separate from what is happening to our body, and we feel pain. THE PAIN OF SEPARATION It is not our rational brain that is the problem, but the inappropriateness of allowing it to come into play at the wrong time, which results in an experience of separation and anguish. Human instincts, which need to be valued, trusted and allowed freedom to be for us to live in real health and wholeness Fragile things, they are easily repressed and inhibited, constantly changed and controlled by the power of the neocortex. So much is this the case in the majority of people nowadays these inhibitions have become so unconscious and habitual that they are not even aware of them—something which eliminates the possibility of choice. Quite simply, we have forgotten how to let go and trust to our body. We deny the power of our instincts. Then, instead of working for us they work against us. Each woman is a great deal more than her rational mind. To be whole, to be healthy, to live the power of her own individual truth, she requires a highly developed emotional and instinctive life as well as a strong rationality. She needs to learn to trust her body so that, at appropriate times, such as in childbirth or lovemaking, she can abandon herself to it fully. Then the highly developed neocortex—responsible for the development of culture and rational achievement—instead of working against our vitality, can help channel her instinctive and emotional life in exciting and creative ways. We become able to experience joy in simply being, the way a child can—a joy and a radiance which does not depend upon what we do or have, or on how clever we are, or how admired: We come to live life moment by moment, simply by being fully present to whatever is happening. THE SERPENT AWAKENS How do we rediscover this kind of trust in our body and our instincts? The answer is not simple. It involves experiment, listening, adjustment. Usually it develops slowly, in fits and starts, by learning to trust ourselves, by becoming aware when instinctive responses begin to take place and allowing them to happen. This is especially important in the experience of sexuality—a realm in which the primitive brain comes into its own more easily than in any other. The erotic, the ecstatic, has a power far beyond the experience of pleasure it brings. Ancient philosophical and religious traditions teach that the font of our sexual power, known as the kundalini, lies coiled like a sleeping serpent at the base of the spine. When aroused, this intense procreative energy, the most powerful energy known to human life, begins to uncoil and rise up the body, activating our energy centers—chakras—one by one. There are seven main chakras in the body. These locusts are where life energy, which controls biological processes, interfaces with the physical body. Each chakra relates to particular endocrine glands and each manifests a different quality of powerful instinctive energy. For instance, the first chakra which lies near the base of the spine deals with our survival. The next chakra, located in the pelvis, looks after procreative energies. The chakra at the solar plexus is involved with our will, the heart chakra with compassion, the throat with our higher creative energies, and so forth. The seventh chakra at the crown of the head is known as the thousand petal lotus. It has long been believed to be responsible for man's spiritual development at the highest level. When fully activated, this crown chakra can emit a radiance which you find depicted in every religious tradition in the form of the halo around the head of saints, the Christ, the Buddha and all the rest. CREATIVE FREEDOM The kundalini or life force is not something which can be aroused or activated through rational effort by the conscious mind. For its energies, being sexual in the very deepest sense of the word—a sense which encompasses self-expression and creativity in every way from giving birth, to art, to Dionysian celebration of the erotic in sexual intercourse—are irrational in nature. They belong to the realm of the primitive brain. As such, they defy definition and elude any who would classify, categorize or try to control them. Since we belong to a civilization that places great value on classification and control—and which therefore has sought conveniently to ignore or dismiss as non-existent any part of experience which does not fit into whatever is rational and controllable. We often feel particularly unsettled whenever the power of these profound life energies surface. They can make us decidedly uncomfortable. After all, if we decide to follow them, we risk dissolving the boundaries of ourselves. Then we fear a loss of the very control which the overdeveloped rational mind so loves. The irony is that it is this very loss of this control that we most long for. Here’s the bottom line: Without an ability to live the instinctive as well as the rational, we will never experience our wholeness. Without this, the full creativity of our longings and our humanity can never be realized. For it is the inhibition of this ability to experience the ecstatic and to trust in ourselves and our bodies that bring feelings of powerlessness and meaninglessness which are now widespread in our society. CELEBRATE ECSTASY As black American writer Audre Lorde says, “The Erotic is a resource within each of us that lies in a deeply female and spiritual plane, firmly rooted in the power of our unexpressed or unrecognized feeling... As women we have come to distrust that power which rises from our deepest and nonrational knowledge... It has been made into the confused, the trivial, the psychotic, the plasticized sensation. But the erotic offers a well of replenishing and provocative force to the woman who does not fear its revelation, nor succumb to the belief that sensation is enough.” Exploring the realms of ecstasy, the truly erotic in your own life, is a long way from experimenting with all the mechanistic sexual stuff you will find in the popular press which tells us how we are supposed to get more pleasure from sex by doing this or that to your partner. Sadly, instead of freeing us to explore ecstasy, the so-called “sexual revolution” has crushed our erotic power not set it free. When this happens, what is meant to bring ecstasy instead turns pornographic then our powers for creativity and freedom are truncated. It is time that we develop the ability to surrender ourselves to the realm of instinct, to trust our bodies and stop relegating our sexuality to the realm of the neocortex. To experience high level health and wholeness, we must find a marriage between instinct and reason. It is a union which like any marriage takes time to develop and grow, but a union which in terms of our wellbeing, self-respect and capacity for joy in day to day life can bear infinite fruit. DOWNLOAD MY FREE BOOK 7 STUNNING SECRETS FOR WEIGHT LOSS FREE It Will Bring You: • A clear understanding of why conventional weight loss diets fail. • A step-by-step guide to help you shed excess fat permanently. • Insight into food cravings and why they are not your fault. • Actions you can take right now to move forward towards a leaner and healthier body. latter Download 7 Stunning Secrets For Weight Loss HELEN LOST 20 KILOS ON CURA ROMANA - INTERVIEW Helen Musset, who was on Leslie Kenton’s Cura Romana lost 20 kilos while on the program. I was lucky enough to interview her about her experience in this short audio conversation. Many people find it hard to understand the transformation that occurs through out the Cura Romana program as it almost always seems to good to be true. I hope this sheds some light into this process from someone who has been through the program and experienced it’s powerful weight loss properties as well as it’s ability to provide tremendous personal transformation. I hope you enjoy. Listen to Helen’s Interview

Bliss Brings Freedom

Bliss Brings Freedom

I’d like to share with you a life-changing story. Here’s how it begins: “Follow your bliss,” the gypsy said. “Connect with your inner light. Hear the sounds of birds. Taste the ocean’s spray. Listen to the whispers of your soul. Bliss is your key to freedom. Have you forgotten?” The gypsy’s words echoed in my heart. Like most women, I had never followed my bliss. I’d tried my best to do the “right thing”. I’d listened to the voices of others and valued their opinions above my own. And I am not alone in this. Too often, we women have gone on and off diets, lost weight, gained weight, made money, spent money, found lovers, lost lovers, done assertiveness workshops and quit doing them. Every so often, we figure we’ve found an answer to something. Then it melts away from us like a forgotten dream. The gypsy woman on the road was old and wrinkled. Yet her eyes shone with a light so bright you could hardly bear to look at them. What the hell, the woman thought, let’s find out what this old lady has to say. What have we got to lose? That was the day this woman let bliss into her life. That was the beginning of a journey that transformed her body and illuminated her life. You know, most of us waste a lot of time and energy doing what we think we’re supposed to be doing. This takes us far away from connecting with our souls and experiencing bliss. I believe it’s time for each one of us to discover what we love and then follow it. When Carl Jung was searching for meaning in his own life, he asked himself a simple question. “What did I most love doing as a child?” He remembered he adored making little streets and houses out of stones and blocks. So he bought some land at the side of the lake in Zurich, and began to build a house with a tower. There was no rational sense behind his decision. After all, he already owned a fine house. But what he created for himself, by choosing to do this, was a unique, sacred space in which he could both come in touch with the core of his being, and begin to live out his deepest longings. By honoring the whispers of his soul in this way, Jung not only expanded his capacity for bliss. He set the stage for the finest writings he would ever produce during his lifetime, and he embarked on a road to fulfillment he had never imagined to be possible. Long before you were born, you were wired for bliss. You still are. Its oceanic quality brings an experience of oneness and harmony both with the essence of who you are as well as with the world around you. You probably first experienced it when you were floating in the womb: Relaxation, aliveness, security and the sense that your life has purpose and all is right with the world. If you want to live in the fullness of your being and connect with your creativity, vitality, radiance and beauty, now’s the time to invite more bliss into your life. Our capacity for bliss, as well as our need to experience it, is inscribed on the primitive brain—almost as deeply as our need for air, water and food. Bliss happens to be the medium through which mind, spirit and emotions weave a tapestry of meaning. Bliss renews. Bliss cleanses. It makes us feel whole, solid, stable and alive. When we encounter something new, bliss tells us “This is something I want to try.” Then it brings us the courage to go for it. In ancient India, they had a name for it—Satchitananda. This composite Sanskrit word is made up of three roots: Sat means being or existence. Chit translates as awareness or consciousness. Ananda means bliss. Together they describe a radiant, boundless state of being that carries a sense of infinite awareness and joy. Satchitananda brings the capacity to create worlds and forms out of itself. There was a time when such experience was reserved for saints and shamans. No longer. Sometimes we steel ourselves against bliss out of guilt or misguided self-denial. Then we become as mechanical as a sharp-nosed spinster—nitpicking and critical of everything and everyone, most of all of ourselves. Is bliss the be-all and end-all of life? Nope. Is it an essential ingredient in realizing your potentials on every level? You bet. So important is bliss to discovering who you really are, and bringing your most cherished goals into form, that when we deny our need for it, or forget how to experience it, we’re forced to look for artificial substitutes. Addictions arise: to food, drugs, alcohol, sex—even ambition. But these addictions disempower us, taking us further and further from the authentic freedom and satisfaction that is our birthright. All life is lived through your senses. The more awake they are, the more you’ll get out of the multidimensional pleasures of every moment: the aroma of freshly made coffee, the touch of silk against your skin, soulful fingers on guitar strings, waves of orgasm that swell your body and silence your mind. I believe it’s time, just like the gypsy said, to leave behind guilt and self-criticism and begin to live from moment to moment just as you are. The secret to using bliss to enrich your life lies in becoming fully aware of everything you feel, touch, taste, smell, hear and see. Play a little game with me, right here, right now. Ask yourself these questions: What is the moving power behind my life today? What matters most to me? What did I love most when I was a child? How can I begin to live what I love most right now? Explore these questions in an ongoing way. When you go for a walk, lie in a warm bath, or wake up in the night—let yourself feel bliss wherever you are. It’s the perfect antidote to the meaninglessness we feel when we have been following the wrong directives. It’s time to uncover your bliss and discover the marvelous inner freedom that comes with it.

Crisis To Creativity

Crisis To Creativity

Christmas had been full of laughter. But on Boxing Day when the children left, Emma began to cry. Grief racked her body. It was as though she had been taken over by a power beyond herself. There was no apparent reason for this, yet it went on for three hours. That was the beginning. Within three weeks, each time she went out to walk in the woods near her house, the trees, the grass, the rocks - all came alive. They seemed to vibrate with energy and to glisten with light, almost to breathe. Their colors had become overwhelming - too intense to bear. Panic set in. This healthy and competent woman in her early fifties feared that she was losing her mind. The doctor suggested tranquilizers, sleeping pills and psychotherapy. "Don't worry," he assured her. "We will soon have it all under control." For Rebecca, 32, the crunch came at work after neglecting her relationship with her lover and ignoring a mounting biological urge to have a child, then passing up two intriguing job offers and working 18 hours a day for seven months on a marketing plan for a new toothpaste. She knew it was just what she needed for a promotion which would make her the first woman on the board. Then the managing director announced the take over. The launch had to be scrapped. The product would have been in direct competition with the new company's own product already on the market. Two days later, her boyfriend announced he had fallen in love with someone else and was leaving. Then one morning while doing her morning run in the park, Rebecca sprained her left ankle so badly that she could not walk at all for two weeks. This meant that now, when it was absolutely crucial that she be at work to secure her future, she found herself completely bedridden. She felt her life collapsing around her and knew she was helpless to do anything about it. the signs of molting Two women in crisis - that moment in life when the foundations of personal safety, beliefs, security or values are challenged, overwhelmed by either internal forces or external events. When any one of us experiences such a crisis it is a sign that a molting is about to take place. We are being asked to walk a passage which, if made with awareness and trust, can expand our experience of life and our sense of ourselves enormously. This demand for personal metamorphosis may be triggered by a death, the ending of a love affair, the recognition that one is addicted to alcohol, drugs or work, a dawning awareness that what you have always worked for and what you have achieved no longer holds meaning for you, the loss of a job or reputation, or even the detoxification process of a cleansing regime. Although each person's metamorphosis is unique, experiences of profound change have much in common. The advice to people in the midst of crisis is pretty standard too. It goes something like this: "Pull yourself together," or "Don't worry," or "Go see the doctor" (who most often supplies a long-standing prescription for potent antidepressants, barbiturates, or tranquilizers). In the case of women - particularly women of menopausal age - the men in their lives (whether they be husbands, lovers or bosses) are frequently made so uncomfortable by the unexpected changes in a woman's feelings and behavior (changes that they themselves feel unable to handle) that they insist she must be mentally or biologically ill. For they, like most of us, just want things to return to normal. We are all afraid of crisis, and fair enough. Change that is truly transformative seldom comes easily. mid-life transition Emma's background was simple. After many years as a successful wife and mother, she approached the time in her life when all of the structures on which her life had been built were becoming redundant. Her children had left home for university and work. Her husband, the managing director of a large engineering firm traveled a lot and she, who had given up a job in publishing twenty five years before to look after her young family, felt she had little to look forward to. Before crisis struck, Emma had become vaguely aware of these things and told herself she should take up a hobby or go back to work, but nothing grabbed her interest. Thanks to the success of her husband's business, she did not need to earn money. When, unable to cope with the strange states of consciousness into which she found herself plunged, and on the advice of friends and family, she sought help from the doctor, he told her she was menopausal and wrote out a prescription for tranquilizers and hormone replacement. Something prevented her from having the prescription filled. "I feared I was losing my mind and I was absolutely terrified that these intense visual experiences together with sensations of powerful energies flowing through my body in waves day after day were a sign that I was actually going to die," she says, "But a small voice somewhere deep inside me kept saying `see it through - don't run away from it.' I didn't know where to turn. Everyone, including my husband, thought I was irresponsible not to do as the doctor advised. The irony of it all was that the one thing on which I had always prided myself was my sense of responsibility." The healing power of friendship As it turned out, Emma was lucky. Despite her embarrassment and shame about what had been happening to her, she frequently spoke about it to people whom she did not know very well. "It was as if I had to tell someone" she says "and I couldn't speak to my family and closest friends since they were convinced I was crazy." One of the people she told was a woman who had herself been through a similar experience five years earlier. Emma, relieved to find anybody who "understood" and didn't brand her psychotic, began spending time with this woman. On the advice of her husband who thought a change of scene would be good for her, she decided to spend a fortnight with her new friend in a small holiday cottage in the Lowlands of Scotland. There the two women lived together, ate together and walked in the wilderness. Emma's symptoms continued, but the woman she was with was not in the least afraid of them, neither did she worry about Emma's intense emotions - feelings of grief at the loss of her children, of uncertainty about her future, of abandonment much like a baby must feel when taken from its mother - nor about her strange bodily sensations which were particularly severe at night. She simply stayed with her friend and allowed it all to happen. In Emma's own words, "The experience of her simply letting me be in the state I was in and her complete sense of trust that what was happening to me was all right was incredible for me. I learnt from it that the death I feared was not physical death as I had thought, but the death of everything in myself that was meant to die - the end of the life I had lived as a mother, always sacrificing myself for the sake of my children and my husband, and the death of my image of myself as a responsible but limited person with no real sense of identity apart from the way I could serve others." After about ten days, her symptoms peaked and then began to subside. By the time she got home she was still experiencing strange energy flows in her body and the colors still seemed extraordinarily bright (it took about three months for all that to change) but now she no longer feared what was happening because, she says, "I could feel for the first time in my life that there really was something inside me - something very alive and real. I am determined to get to know it and to find out what it is all about. Where it will lead I don't know. I have begun to paint - to try to get some of that vibrancy of color on paper. Incidentally, a lot of people don't like the `new me'. They prefer the `good old reliable Emma'. But I feel, far from my life being over, that I am beginning a new adventure and that wherever it takes me, it is uniquely mine." harbingers of change This sense of impending death which Emma experienced is common in the experience of molting. It is something I have experienced again and again before a major change takes place in my life. As American expert in transformative psychology, John Wier Perry MD says, "Whenever a profound experience of change is about to take place, its harbinger is the motif of death. This is not particularly mysterious, since it is the limited view and appraisal of oneself that must be outgrown or transformed, and to accomplish transformation the self-image must be dissolved... one is forced to let go of old expectations... let oneself be tossed about by the winds of change...cultivating a more capacious consciousness, open to new dimensions of experience." Perry, a Jungian analyst, encourages people to work through their experiences - even when they are very extreme - without the mitigating effect of drugs. Instead they are given the support of a safe place to be while their particular molting is taking place, and a lot of loving support from people who have, from experience in their own lives, learned to turn the experience of crisis into a passage to power. Perry insists that, like the crab in need of a new shell, what precipitates such a crisis is the surfacing of energy from deep within the psyche, which has been bound up in the structures of a self-image or a worldview that has become obsolete - too limited to suit a person's needs. where inner and outer meet One of the most common objections amongst conventional "batten-down-the-hatches" psychologists to viewing crisis as part of a transformational process is that, while a crisis such as Emma's appears largely to have arisen from within, that of Rebecca was triggered entirely by outside events - the company take over, the decision of the man in her life to leave her, the accident to her ankle which put her to bed - all things over which she had no control. Or did she? According to British transpersonal psychologist Barbara Sommers, the outer and the inner world are not as separate as we might imagine. A woman like Rebecca may be far more responsible for precipitating the outer events that triggered her crisis than she thinks. Each of us has an inner and an outer world. When these two get out of balance, say, by emphasizing external or material values to the detriment of more personal deeper values, then a person invites disruption. The more someone like Rebecca pushes on with her ambitions and neglects her inner voice, the closer she brings herself to situations that precipitate crisis. Then crisis becomes a way of rebalancing things by forcing her to turn and look within. Things fail: She loses the man she loves because she has, by her actions, undervalued and neglected the relationship, and she damages her body so she is quite literally forced to go to bed, to be alone and to listen to her inner voice. In Sommers' words, "The real woman inside her doesn't like the way she has been living so she starts to cry out, `What about me?' The more she drives her energy into her conscious external life, the more power from her unconscious is generated to redress the balance. The `feeling' side of her (as opposed to the `doing' side) actually magnetizes a field around her so things start to happen." According to Sommers the important thing about Rebecca's crisis is that out of its forcing her to be with herself, instead of constantly being caught up in doing, comes the opportunity to ask questions such as "Who am I?" and "What do I want? - is my goal really to have a seat on the board? Or is that something I think I want because my father, my society, my friends think it is important?" All crises big or small are opportunities to get in touch with the wholeness of ourselves, not just to live lopsidedly or as partial people pushed into the way we are living by our culture, by education or by other people's views or values. rehearsal for change All crisis offers transformation provided, as the poet Rilke says, we have the courage to embrace it: "...this very abyss is full of the darkness of God, and where one experiences it, let him climb down and howl in it (that is more necessary than to cross over it)." Let yourself become aware of any structures of your own life - emotional, physical, environmental, intellectual - which no longer serve you and the choices you are making. See if there are any passages that are appropriate for you to make consciously. Making simple changes willingly can be useful practice for developing the skill of transforming crises, when they appear, into passages to power. You might like to experience the passage to new energy and clarity that a detoxification diet followed for a few days can bring. Or you might try doing without some addictive substance or activity which you feel is draining your energies. If you choose to do either, notice any changes that come about and pay attention to any messages that you get from within in the process.

Immersed In Freedom

Immersed In Freedom

When I was six years old I had my first love affair. Yes, really. Of course, not until years later did I recognize the experience for what it was. But like every first love, it changed my life forever. My father was a jazz musician so our house was equipped with the best possible sound equipment. Both he and I loved to listen to music—just about any music—at full volume. This my mother could not stand—which made it something even more exciting. While my playmates roamed the hills of Hollywood skinning their knees, I would lie on my belly in the living room, listening to music at full blast. THE MAGIC BEGINS One day, combing through our vast supply of records, I came upon Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring.” It meant nothing to me, but I liked the colors on the cover, so I put it on the record player, turned up the volume and flopped in front of our huge speakers. Strange, mysterious, often discordant sound flooded my body, opening a secret door to somewhere deep inside me. It was a place I had never been before. I did not even know it existed. I trembled with fear and excitement as the music wound its way into me. I flushed hot and then cold; my heart raced then calmed. I lost all sense of place and time as I rode the waves of an imaginal sea into unexplored worlds, too numerous to identify. ONE WITH STILLNESS I have no idea how long this lasted. Before long, even the “boat” carrying me along, and all the images that came with it, had dissolved like sugar in water. Then, in perfect union, the sounds and child-that-had-been-me swirled into a vortex, becoming lost in each other. We shared excitement, fear, longing, fierceness and sadness. Like lovers, we had come together—music and child—in an immediate, passionate, all encompassing union. Eventually I found myself at the centre of this whirlpool. There, even the ecstasy of the movement vanished. Like Alice down the rabbit hole, I tumbled—not into Wonderland, but into that place of unspeakable stillness. Zen practitioners claim this place is available at every moment to each one of us. For me it was an indescribable event—beyond space, beyond time, outside thought. Here I knew, without the slightest possibility of ever being able to describe it, that everything was exactly as it should be. In the words of Zen Master Daisetz Suzuki, it is a place where I would eat when I am hungry, sleep when tired. I knew that “it was fine yesterday and today it is raining.” Or, in the words of Julian of Norwich, that “All things shall be well, and all things shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” My affair with Stravinsky lasted more than four hours. At least that’s what my mother said. “Don’t tell me you are still listening to that awful music.” She had to raise her voice to be heard above the sounds. “For God’s sake, turn it off. Do something useful.” MY USEFUL LIFE So I did something useful. I went to school, then to university where I learned at least some of what you are supposed to learn. I earned praises for good marks, went to work, won prizes, gave birth to four children, wrote books, gave talks and made television programmes. In effect I did what millions of men and women do—became the breadwinner, the carer, the nurturer of others’ lives. And I loved it. Yet through all the years between six and now, my passion for music, painting, books, poetry, architecture and design never left me. Far from it. During most of those years, my longing not only to experience the emptiness that listening to Stravinsky had brought me that day—an epiphany, and the experience of being fully alive for the first time in my life—but also to create things: books, films, relationships, and to explore physical places, inviting me to move beyond thoughts to a place of unity with the rest of the universe. They kept gnawing at my gut. They would not go away, just as the urge to breathe never goes away no matter how long we hold our breath. SIX YEAR OLD WISDOM That day, when I lay on the floor lost in Stravinsky, without realizing it I had decided that what interested me most was the beauty of art—whether it be music, words, film, stories, sculpture, buildings or what-have-you. Why? Certainly not because I had any idea that art was supposed to be valued since it was part of what grown-ups called culture. I knew nothing about either. I could not have cared less. After all, I was a kid who, when I was not entranced by what I was seeing, hearing, feeling or touching, spent the rest of my day learning card tricks, wrestling with my rough Collie, and trying (unsuccessfully) to sell packets of chewing gum my grandfather brought me to neighbors’ kids. Nope—I loved the beauty and wonder of art in all its many forms because, unlike the world around me, with which I seemed to have little in common, it had always grabbed hold of me and would not let me go. It demanded of me both a submission and an active participation in the making of it. TIMELESS REALITY What I did not know, and this took me scores of years to come to understand, is that the rabbit hole into which I had accidentally tumbled at six is described by every culture and religion in the world in one form or another. Nor had I any idea that, at any moment in time, anywhere in the world, regardless of the circumstances of our lives, it is available to each of us. To Zen Buddhists, this wordless, timeless space represents ultimate reality—that which can only be sampled through immediate experience. In Suzuki’s words, “For the sake of those crucial experiences Zen Buddhism has struck out on its own paths which, through methodical immersion in oneself, lead to one’s becoming aware, in the deepest ground of the soul, of the unnameable Groundlessness and Qualitylessness—nay more, to one’s becoming one with it.” ANNIHILATION AND RENEWAL It is a state in which nothing is thought or contrived, longed for or expected. It reaches out in no particular direction, yet it knows itself able to handle the possible as well as the impossible. Concentrated, yet so expanding is its potential, such power is both purposeless and egoless. As such, it is often called truly spiritual. Why? I suspect because it is charged with an awareness that spirit is present everywhere. The universe and all that is created is never attached to place or time. In such a state, because the cosmos is present everywhere, we too are present everywhere. We have direct experience of and access to the power that continues to create the universe itself. And, like water flowing through the river, we have full access to that power of creation to use in our own lives, in whatever way we choose. DOORWAY TO BLISS The Sufis call this state fana—the annihilation of your individual selfhood. When we experience fana, our everyday personality becomes transparent, so the larger being that we are shines through. You become fully absorbed in the all-encompassing fascination of the moment—textures, nuances... Cutting edge physicists speak of a holographic universe in which we live but seldom access because we are plagued by endless mental concepts which blind us to reality. They also blind us to the experience of Samadhi—“a non-dualistic state in which the consciousness of the subject becomes one with the experienced object.” This state of selfless absorption and total surrender is characteristic of children when left alone to follow their instincts. Yet it is available to each one of us, regardless of age. Honoring whatever brings us bliss in our own lives opens the door to it.

Metamorphoses For Freedom

Metamorphoses For Freedom

Examining what works in your life and what doesn't takes courage. It is never easy. It demands that you disassemble structures that you take for granted but which may no longer serve you at the deepest level. These structures can include anything from a habit of munching your way through two pounds of chocolates every time you feel depressed, to holding on to a job that is meaningless, or to a relationship which does not help you grow - all because you are afraid you can't cope otherwise or do any better for yourself. Every transformation, every profound and life-enhancing change in some way involves dismemberment. It dissolves every structure that has become inadequate to support an organism. Like the crab which sheds his cramped shell in order to create a larger one, each of us again and again is faced with the prospect of taking apart structures in our own lives which have become too small to contain us. If we don't consciously rise to the occasion, then life takes them apart for us, and we find ourselves precipitated into crises: It seems as though you have entered a dark tunnel leading to an unknown land. You feel that you don't know yourself any more, or what you value, or even what is going on. So fundamental is this uncomfortable but necessary process of molting to human physical, emotional and spiritual health - in fact to life itself - that it takes place again and again in our lives whether we like it or not. Sometimes change comes spontaneously as a result of something that happens to us - the death of a loved one perhaps, or the loss of a job. Sometimes it is consciously chosen out of an awareness that our current life structures no longer serve our values and our goals. Whether the transition required is a big one - choosing to enter or leave a long-term relationship - or a relatively small one - putting yourself through a short spring cleaning diet to detoxify your body - it frequently brings an experience of deep uncertainty and anxiety - the sense that you are in crisis. The transition facing you seems terrifying. You want most to run away as fast as you can. You feel overwhelmed and unable to cope. The irony in all this is that it is only in facing a crisis and making the transitions it demands that we learn we can cope, and that life can be trusted. We also discover that, given half a chance, the body has an amazing capacity to heal itself, and that there exists deep within us a wisdom and a clarity more profound and powerful than the conscious mind. The Lebanese poet Kahil Gibran wisely wrote, "Your pain is but the breaking of the shell than encloses your understanding." For most of us, learning to live through our crises and to make something positive out of them means revising a lot of what we have been taught about ourselves, our minds, even life itself. Most of all, it means looking at the concept of crisis and the experience of change from a whole new point of view. It means learning to transform what may feel like a life-threatening situation into a true passage to power.

How I Learned That Love Is Real

How I Learned That Love Is Real

My first child was born in a huge teaching hospital in Los Angeles. The labor was long and regrettably not natural. I was given an analgesic during labor and an epidural for the delivery. It was all very cold, efficient and mechanical. The hospital I was in happened to be a Catholic one in which every other woman there seemed already to know the ropes since she was giving birth to her fifth or eighth or tenth child. Nobody bothered to tell me much about what was going on or what was expected of me. My baby was taken from me immediately after the birth and put into a nursery with all of the other babies while I was wheeled off to a private room. Soon they brought this tiny creature to me. I held him in my arms and stared at him in stark wonder. Then at three hourly intervals he would reappear for twenty minutes at a time and I'd hold him in bed beside me until the nurse would come and take him away again. The third or fourth time they brought him to me, he began to cry. I nestled him, rocked him, and spoke gently to him but he wouldn't stop so I rang for the nurse. `My baby's crying,' I said, `What should I do?' `Have you burped him?' `Burped him?' `You have fed him haven't you?' `Fed him? Am I supposed to feed him?` The nurse took him and put him to my breast. His tiny mouth opened and reached for me as if he had known forever what to do. He began to suck with such force it took my breath away. It was like being attached to a vacuum cleaner. I began to laugh. I couldn't help myself. It seemed incredible that such a tiny creature could have such power and determination. He too had a purpose. He was raw, insistent and real. With every fiber of his being, this child was drawing his life and he would not be denied. Tears of joy ran shamelessly down my cheeks while he sucked. There in the midst of all that clinical green and white, I had discovered what love was all about. It was really quite simple—a meeting of two beings. The age, the sex, the relationship didn't matter. That day two creatures - he and I — had met. We touched each other in utter honesty and simplicity. This experience was for me a true epiphany. My life was forever altered by it. There was nothing romantic or solemn about it. No obligations, no duties, no fancy games, and you didn't have to read an encyclopedia of baby care to experience it. We'd met, just that. Somewhere in spirit we were friends. I knew beyond all doubt that I had found something real and real it has remained.

Stress & You

Stress & You

Take a look at how you may be putting yourself under unnecessary stress. Try to identify unnecessary stressors in your life. By eliminating as many as you can, you free a lot of energy for more positive use, and for meeting important challenges. For instance, physical inactivity is a stressor - it decreases your body's ability to function at optimum levels, it encourages the storage of wastes in the muscles and skin, and makes you chronically fatigued. So instead of indulging in it, start some kind of exercise program, and follow it regularly. Many people who take up regular exercise report that they experience conceptual shifts so that things which appeared stressful before no longer bother them. Like cigarettes and drugs, various foods and drinks can be heavy stressors, too. They offer nothing in the way of positive health and vitality, but are a constant drain on the adaptive energy in your body. It is well established that caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, sugar and excess fat are stressors, which actively work against its normal healthy functioning.

Live Life

Live Life

Thanks to our growing understanding of the natural laws of health and advanced research into high-tech biochemistry, what was once little more than a pipe dream - the notion that the length of human life can be extended - is becoming a reality. Gerontologists have now challenged the maximum lifespans of many species of animals. Man is next. Already physicians are using antioxidant nutrients, electromagnetic techniques and other anti-aging tools to prevent physical degeneration and to restore health and balance to ailing bodies. Meanwhile psychiatrists and psychologists trained in biochemistry and in the orthomolecular treatment of the brain are not only beginning to cure mental and emotional problems associated with age, they are even using the tools of their trade to expand consciousness. It becomes important to ask the question, `With what consequences?' The first worry about life extension for most people is usually, `What will we do with these old people we are creating?' `Won't they be yet a further burden to society?' Naturally they want to know about the effect that longevity will have on housing, medical costs and the rest. Such questions are valid. But it is also important to penetrate the point of view from which they come - the assumptions and paradigms which underlie them. Our society has imprinted its members with negative concepts about being old. In the book for which he won a Pulitzer Prize, Why Survive? Being Old in America, Dr Robert Buffer outlined the enormous practical problems of dealing with the aged: housing, pensions, personal security, need for meaningful occupations and the rest, and the horrific conditions in which many old people in modern Western society live. He also pointed out that we hold many unconscious assumptions about the aged which continue to create these conditions. They are always with us and they greatly distort our view of aging, old people and their place in society. These assumptions include a belief that the aged are inflexible, senile, unproductive people waiting for the inevitable arrival of the grim reaper. Basically not interesting, of little value, they are people worthy of being assigned to a foreclosed existence. Alex Comfort refers to these common views of age and the elderly as `ageism' which he defines as `the notion that people cease to be people, to be the same people or become people of a distinct and inferior kind, by virtue of having lived a specified number of years'. The assumptions of `ageism' lie behind many of the most often asked questions about the social and political consequences of ageless aging. They make such questions impossible to answer adequately from our current perspective and with our current views of reality. They also force us to ignore a number of important realities. We forget for instance that chronological age at its very best is only a limited indication of biological and functional age. Even our present old people are capable of far more than society allows them to express or contribute - indeed more than they themselves allow. We also forget that every major disease is age-dependent and all of the major causes of death and disability are secondary to the progressive degeneration of aging. Little wonder, for until now, after the age of 30 we have been witnessing a steady and inexorable increase in the probability of morbidity and mortality from one disease or another. But people living by the principles of ageless aging will be different. Highly resistant to the ravages of degeneration which manifest themselves in our major destructive chronic diseases such as cancer, coronary heart disease, arthritis and the rest, they will be less rather than more of a burden to the state in terms of medical, social and psychiatric care. Application of these life-lengthening and life-enhancing principles to health on a wide scale should lead to an increase in the ratio of productive to nonproductive men and women with prolonged life spans. This has been the conclusion of Yale's Professor Larry Kotlikoff, one of the few academics to look seriously at the issue. Kotlikoff initiated an inquiry into the economic effects of increased lifespan. He also concluded that this increase in the ratio of productive to nonproductive people would result in an increased per capita output whether or not the working period increased year for year with life expectancy. With the increased longevity and the improved resistance to degeneration which are the natural outcome of applying the findings of age-researchers to our everyday lives, the population of our old people will also change. So will our attitudes to them. No longer a burden, like the Vilcabamba Indians or the Abkhazians of the Soviet Caucasus they will become not `old people' but `long lived people'. Such a simple shift in attitude could revolutionize us as human beings not only in terms of politics and economics but by shifting us towards a more value orientated society. At that point the question of `What will we do with all these old people?' begins to take on quite a different meaning. For the challenge now becomes not how we house, feed, and care for a growing sector of the nonproductive population but rather how we can best use the energy and wisdom of the older members of our society.

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