‘Doing Human’ : Our Role on this Planet

‘Doing Human’ : Our Role on this Planet

doing-human

By 1926 wolves in Yellowstone National Park had been eliminated by park employees as part of their policy to eliminate all predators. The elimination of wolves however had unforeseen consequences that altered the entire parks ecosystem.Elk, no longer pressured by predators became abundant but in doing so also began to destroy their own habitat. With no fear of predators elk began to congregate around the river banks, eating and destroying vegetation that had previously prevented soil erosion. This in turn affected and saw the decline of fish, amphibians, and reptiles in the waterways as they became broader, shallower, and warmer due to the loss of shade from stream-side vegetation. Recognising that without the wolves the ecosystem would continue to suffer, in 1995 wolves were once again reintroduced into Yellowstone and slowly the ecosystem began to repair itself.

All Has Its Place

It is clear from this and many other examples that every thing in nature has its place in an ecosystem. All actors play a role in the health of that ecosystem, no matter how large or small. This is the first Law of Ecology: Everything Is Connected to Everything Else. Take away or lose one part of the ecosystem, and the entire system suffers, even worse it may fail.

Now enter humans.

What really is our role on this planet?

If every human had to disappear tomorrow morning, the Earth wouldn’t skip a beat. In fact, the Earth would have the opportunity to heal from all the damage that has been caused to it by humans, especially over the last hundred years.

In short: unlike everything else in an ecosystem that is reliant on everything else, the earth doesn’t actually need us at all. As Sören Faurby, a senior lecturer in zoology at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden’s 2015 study noted, without humans, Earth would largely resemble the modern-day Serengeti, an African ecosystem teeming with life.

The Strangest Incredible Story

In all of the above there is, at the deepest level, an incredible story underway. A story so mind-blowing that it can’t be real, but yet it is (at least to our current understanding). At the beginning of this story (as far as we know) resides the quantum vacuum. Arising form this vacuum at the next level of scale are the smallest things coming out of the quantum foam, giving rise to subatomic particles, then atoms, then cells then bodies: Here a ‘body’ implies you and me as human animals or the wolf.

At the heart of it, we are until that moment of ‘body’ exactly the same, we share the same building blocks. The wolf then becomes a wolf and does what wolves do, as the elk does what elk do. And as highlighted in the beginning of this article, wolves serve an incredibly important role in keeping the ecosystem healthy. Human’s on the other hand — what is it to ‘do human’?

'Doing Human'

Along the road we have forgotten that we are animals too, just as wolves and elk are. We have forgotten what it is too ‘do human.’ Our unique abilities of problem solving, to be creative, and adaptability puts us in a unique position to be custodians of this beautiful planet. If there was ever a reason for us to be here, to serve an important role in the planetary ecosystem surely this is it. If we can understand our place as custodians of Gaia, then it absolutely matters if we are here or not.

“To be whole. To be complete. Wildness reminds us what it means to be human, what we are connected to rather than what we are separate from,” – Terry Tempest, American author and environmentalist.

Taking our role as custodians of this planet seriously also changes how we view each other, and how we all live on this planet. Rather than being driven by consumerism and all out capitalistic gain in favour of the few, we would find ways to live in harmony with nature, and each other collectively. As Zeno, ancient Greek philosopher noted “The goal of life is living in agreement with nature.”

We clearly have our priorities wrong. We have forgotten our place, we have forgotten our animalism and what it is to ‘do human’. As  Henry David Thoreau reminds us “What is the good of having a nice house without a decent planet to put it on?” In the end there is no easy answer to sway 7.5 billion human animals to reimagine themselves as caretakers, custodians of the home we all share. Nothing short of a global revitalisation of a life philosophy that puts the Earth and all its inhabitants (no matter how small) first will bring about the change we desperately need. For now, each of us needs to be content with doing our part to become custodians of Gaia – no matter how small the act. I may not be able to change my neighbours view of what it means to be a human animal, but I can surely begin with myself.

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The Real Reason so Many of Us are Unhappy!

The Real Reason so Many of Us are Unhappy!

wy-we are unhappy

Do you feel like you constantly treading water but not getting anywhere? Everyday feels exactly the same? Weeks blur into each other and the years seem to be speeding up. Each time you look again you are back to where you started. Yet you are trying your best to get ahead, to make it to shore, but it all seems hopeless. You are left with one conclusion: you are the problem. Many of us can see ourselves living out this story — and too many of us believe we are the problem — that we are the reason we are not seeing success. It’s our fault that we feel anxious all the time, frazzled, depressed, angry, and unmotivated.

Success for Most is Doomed to Fail

As hard as this may be for many people to accept, everything we are trying to do to be successful is largely doomed to fail. This can’t be true right? Looking around you see people succeeding, or at least it looks that way. However, when you look closer, the only people that are getting anywhere are the ones that have learned to manipulate the current system to their benefit. Their success, if one can even call it that lies within a narrow band of the modern human experience: capitalism. Albeit truthfully narrow, capitalism has become the predominant life way of the modern man and woman. So when we say we see other people succeeding, what we are really saying is that they are succeeding in material wealth.

There is no denying that in our modern consumer driven society for those of us that are simply trying to survive, material wealth will make our lives easier. But just because life becomes easier, doesn’t mean that in of itself it will lead to personal fulfilment. One only has to look around to see extraordinary successful material wealthy people committing suicide, losing themselves in drugs, and self sabotaging their success. As cliche as it may be: “money doesn’t buy you happiness”.

The Lie of Success

The notion of survival of the fittest, to hoard as much things as you can, to be prepared to do what ever it takes to climb over the person in front of you, and personal gain at all costs — was never our nature as a continuation from hunter gathers, to farming, to cities, to the modern world we now find ourselves in. This narrative of modernity that we now find ourselves embedded into, the consumeristic culture, was untrue for most of our time as human animals on this planet.

For most of our time on this planet we were hunter gatherers. In those societies it was frowned upon to hoard, or to have more than the next person in the tribe. The tribe was largely egalitarian, whilst leadership was temporary, with anyone vying for permanence in that role, made fun of, or simply ostracised. If you led, you did so by example, not simply by title. There was no competition or trying to outdo the next person, but rather reciprocity and personal freedom in general were the norm. Problems were mostly solved within the tribe without the need for courts or prisons. While our hunter gatherer ancestors didn’t have much in the way of technology as we recognise today, with stone, wood, fibres and bone they comfortably met all their material needs. For the most part it was living a life of few needs that were simply met. All of this was done without having to destroy their environment either. I could go on an on, but I am sure you get the point.

Clearly, up until around 12000 years ago this is how virtually everyone lived. But things have changed and not for the better it seems, at least for the vast majority of us. While the reasons for how we now find ourselves in despair may be complex, one thing is certain it is not how we lived for the vast span of time on this planet. It seems to me, that we have allowed those with deep greed to take control of everyone’s life trajectory. I am certain greed has always been with us, but from the research done on hunter-gatherer societies it was never allowed. Hoarding, or even having a greater share than others, was seen as socially unacceptable. For example as James Woodburn a prominent social anthropologist points out, among the !Kung and the Hadza, hoarding food when another person is hungry would be unthinkable.

The Modern World is Spiritually Bankrupt

The bottom line the way the current economic system is set up allows for a few to control the many. It allows greed to go unabated, built of a lie of scarcity and that consumption is the only path to happiness. Most of us have been flung into this consumeristic culture without much to say about it. To make matters worse, those that lead the charge on how wonderful life is now compared to the supposed brutish short lived lives of our ancestors (which is a lie as seen earlier), design systems to ensure we continue to believe that we can all win if we just hustle a lit bit harder.

The truth is, you can only win in the current system if you are willing to become the very thing that is keeping everyone else in a perpetual state of economic slavery. What you need to become in the end isn’t going to be liberated, but rather a cog in the wheel of consumeristic psychosis, believing all along that this is what being human is all about. You will like many who have reached the capitalistic top, feel terribly empty, while attempting to fill that emptiness with more of what the system says you should to feel better.

 

Showing Up Via an Ancient Story

Or….You can begin to search for an alternative way to show up in your life. First you have to acknowledge that our collective mental trauma is caused by attempting to integrate into this modern system of consumption. That the consumeristic nature of our modern economy is in fact a sickness twisted and manipulated by those who are most unwell among us. Philosopher, Krishnamurti reminds us, “It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” 


As Zen Master, Thich Nhat Hanh notes, “We have constructed a system we can’t control. It imposes itself on us, and we become its slaves and victims. We have created a society in which the rich become richer and the poor become poorer, and in which we are so caught up in our own immediate problems that we cannot afford to be aware of what is going on with the rest of the human family or our planet Earth. In my mind I see a group of chickens in a cage disputing over a few seeds of grain, unaware that in a few hours they will all be killed.

It’s time for all of us to realise that in fact our default mode of being is one of deep connection and caring towards our fellow man. That we are not meant to be competing with each other, but rather cooperating so that each of us can live our best lives. That having just enough to live a fulfilled life is what happiness truly means. To not take more than we need to survive comfortably and to give to those who are struggling.

I know we have heard this all before. It does sound utopian. And yes, it often doesn’t work. The reason this approach to life fails for most isn’t because people are the problem, but rather the system in which we live is the problem. As political activist, Emma Goldman “With human nature caged in a narrow space, whipped daily into submission, how can we speak of its potentialities?” This modern system we now find ourselves in is designed to pit each one of us against the other. It’s designed to have ‘haves-and-have nots.’ There’s no other way, because without them above, and most of us below, the system would fracture and fail. The system teaches us from an early age to look down on anyone who doesn’t seem to be winning as either lazy, stupid and or no good.

In the end, there is no easy answer to any of the above, but from my end, one way is to build a community of support and connection — encouraged by the lessons of our ancestors so that we can embody their wisdom to show up in our lives truly fulfilled. Consider joining the TELEGRAM TRIBE HERE>>

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Bees, Slime & The Present Human Dilemma

Bees, Slime & The Present Human Dilemma

Bees-slime-and-the-human-Dilemma
Imagine for a moment that I asked you to take part in two experiments. In the first experiment you are confronted by a Y-maze giving you the option to go down two opposite corridors. Before you enter the maze you see a blue sign at the entrance. Previously you were told that the color blue signified a reward. Once you entered the Y-maze at the end of each corridor you find two doors, one blue and the other yellow. Knowing that blue signifies a reward you decide to enter that door first. Congratulations you have successfully matched the color at the entrance, with the same color on the door. Now for the second experiment. Imagine that you have been placed in a standard maze, the kind with dead ends and only one possible exit. At the exit you are told a fantastic dinner awaits you as a reward if you work out the maze. Naturally you do what ever it takes to find that exit. Again congratulations and enjoy the feast!

We are Not the Only Intelligence

We can agree that both of these experiments wouldn’t be hard for a human being to figure out. Humans after all are imbued with intelligence.

However, what if I told you that both of the above ‘experiments’ were solved by non-human species. That’s right the first was solved by bees showing they can think and handle abstract concepts. The second experiment was solved by a charismatic slime mold called Physarum or popularly known as “the blob”—which can learn, make decisions, and go through mazes without a brain. Clearly both show intelligence, or at least how we think of intelligence in every day experience.

However, they are not the only non-humans to show signs of intelligence. For example prairie dogs who have brains the size of grapes, use a sophisticated form of verbal communication involving high pitched chirps to describe the world around them. They can describe intruders according to species size, shape, speed, etc.

I highlight the above as a taster of the growing recognition that intelligence can no longer simply be ascribed to human beings. This is important because for far to long we have been told that we are the only true intelligent inhabitants on this planet. Everything else is either primal or primitive. It’s this state of hubris—the anthropocentric view that we are the most important life form in existence on Earth—that has created the global environmental destruction we now all face.

Modern Civilized People Are Increasingly Unhappy

For all that we have gained in the West, and for all that civilization has promised, most people are far from happy. For instance a recent (August 2019) nationwide survey in the UK found that 89% of 16-29 year olds claim that their lives are ‘meaningless’ (that’s the word they actually used). The average overall was 80% for all age groups. Over 60s do the best with only 55% reporting that their lives are meaningless.

Just walk into any brick and mortar bookshop (or now online) and you will find row upon row of self-help books promising happiness, managing stress (an epidemic in its own right), a search for meaning and personal mastery. Most who are prolific readers of this self-help genre if honest, will tell you that after all that reading they still aren’t any happier. I believe both the self help books and subsequent courses, often fall short in helping us discover true ‘happiness.’

Why?

Because they ascribe to a way of telling us how to become happy, but situated within the very problem that’s causing the unhappiness in the first place. In other words modern society, the so called civilized world itself.

 

As spiritual teacher Krishnamurti reminds us: “It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”

 

 

Without exception all the books and courses currently available on becoming more happy, managing stress, self-discovery and personal mastery center on being achieved (i.e., training us to be well-adjusted to) within the capitalistic, materialistic society we now find ourselves in. In my opinion this is exactly why reading these books, taking those courses or listening to motivational experts so often fail. Taking a page from Krishnamurti, each of these programs are attempting to make us healthy and well adjusted to a profoundly sick society. As such all these programs offer a band aid and not a lasting solution. All are therefore destined to fail!

We all need to start waking up to the fact that while many good things have come about because of progress, science et al. It will never be able to replace what we all need—a deep connection to spirit, that cannot be quantified, measured or reverse engineered.

Is There a Solution?

Through my own personal practice and research I have discovered that the answer to lasting fulfillment lies in reintegrating ourselves back into the natural wisdom and rhythm of the world. In order to achieve this we need to purposively make an internal shift and embody a largely forgotten way—at least for modern humans—of being in the world. This starts by acknowledging as many ancient wisdom traditions have always known, that we are not separate to the Earth, to Gaia. Yes, we are intelligent, but so are the bees, the slim mold, the trees, rivers and all that inhabits our beautiful planet. We are not separate but one and all is intelligence if you willing to change your perspective.

As Chief Seattle reminds us:

“All things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.”

Or less poetic, and more pragmatic by Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson:

“We are all connected; To each other, biologically. To the earth, chemically. To the rest of the universe atomically.”

Beyond Connection

Beyond acknowledging that we are part of and not separate to all that exists on this planet, we need to return and honor ancestral wisdom. This requires going back to a sensibility where our ancestors lived in harmony with nature.

I get it that it’s not possible for most of us to return to a lifeway of a hunter-gatherer, but that doesn’t mean that what first people have to teach us is any less important. In fact as I have discovered, by integrating their lifeway principles into my own life, I have been able to heal not only from my childhood trauma, but equally be more successful at dealing with a world that seems to care little that I exist. The reality is that the modern world sees all of us as commodities to be strip minded for its own ends, which is to perpetuate consumption at any cost (and mostly this is done at a cost to our health).

It’s these ancestral lessons that I teach in my Awakening the Human Animal Retreat. It is these lessons that will allow you to Unlock your Instinct {Code}. Some of the lessons include how First People view mental wellness. For example for First People wellness was and is holistic, encompassing a state of balance with family, community and the larger environment (i.e., the connection to the natural world). As a side note here: it’s my belief that the reason so many First People now suffer with mental illness is precisely because they are being forced into a lifeway of modernity, which itself is the catalyst for mental illness that we see so much of today. Historically, and before the interference from colonialism, First People suffered far less with mental illness as they do today in the modern world. The reason for this was that First People have a holistic traditional psychological system and healing practices, often based in spirituality, ceremony and ritual.

The truth is, we now live in a time where information is ubiquitous, but wisdom is in short supply. Ideologies consume the modern landscape but meaning is scarce. People are burnt out. We clearly need a new way to show up both in the world and our lives.

But maybe, just maybe the story we need to tell isn’t a new one, but rather an ancient story that is now desperately needed to be experienced. I believe if we can bring this ancient story to light, learn to integrate it back into our modern experience we can find the rhythm of living an exceptional life most of us seem to be missing. In turn, it will equip us with the wisdom to change the destructive path we are on, and so that we can take our rightful place as care-keepers of the natural world — our Mother, teacher and spiritual muse.

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Reawakening The Human Animal

Reawakening The Human Animal

reawakening-the-human-animal

We have been indoctrinated into an ideology of modernity, and civility that claims that we are far better off than our brutish primitive ancestors. In order to be victors of these claims we are sold a narrative to hustle, to compete, to win at all costs, to conquer and take ownership of everything on this planet—because we have been told we are the superior intelligence. Everything, and everywhere we look, from what we are told to buy to make us happy, to the most popular sports we play and watch, is designed to bolster the above claims. 

As such, most people I encounter find it really hard to believe, even less accept, that much of their internal strife and suffering is largely due to their modern lifestyle. I once counted myself as one of these people. I bought into the search for happiness, and to advertise my success through material gain and wealth. But, as often is the case as I ticked off one more success box, the house in the right neighborhood, the BMW, and so forth, the surge of happiness was short lived. To be honest, I never enjoyed most of that so called success anyway, I simply went along with it because that’s what you were expected to do (and especially if you wanted to fit in).

The truth is, the constant pursuit of material wealth, outdoing each other at any cost, competing for anything and everything, along with a loss of true connection to each other as technology pulls us further apart—is literally making us ill. Many mental health issues such as depression, suicide and anxiety so common today in the ‘civilized’ world were largely absent in our hunter-gatherer ancestors.

All is Not Lost

However, all is not lost. Of course not everything is bad about modernity, but I believe to truly flourish we need to once again find balance and flow in our lives. Many people may not want to accept this, but in my view and experience it requires us to go back, to reconnect with and honor our ancestral lifeways.

We can accomplish this by coming home to ancestral ways of reconnecting to nature, by advocating cooperation not competition, by leading only when we have something to offer and stepping aside when we don’t, by simplifying the way we live, by decluttering our minds, by being more fully present, honoring intuition, and living a life that doesn’t harm others (both human and non-human). Finally it can be accomplished by abiding in Anima Mundi, in the spirit of all things.

The problem of course is that humans fear letting go of the known for the perceived unknown. The truth is we have become way to comfortable, domesticated human animals, who have lost both the knowledge and physical conditioning and skills to live under the night sky.

Have We Truly Lost Our Human Animal, or Simply Let It Lie Dormant?

What I have just suggested above we have always intuitively known—although it has been stifled by modernities relentless focus on rationality. We have been told that it is indeed irrational to let go of what is referred to as our ‘civilized ways’ in favor for what is said to be the uncivilized, the primitive. The capitalistic economic machine doesn’t want us to reawaken to our human animal because it would mean living out our birthright, as one with all that is.

However if we are brave enough to allow a small opening for the call of our ancestors to once again reawaken within our hearts we can find a way of embodying our natural life flourishing intelligence.

Contrary to what we have been indoctrinated to believe it is not natural for us to fight each other. We are not meant to compete against each other. We are not meant to have power over each other. The reality is we have never been the most intelligent species on this planet, as such we never had the right to conquer, consume or believe to own nature as we have.

We are as Albert Einstein (I bet most never thought he would be the one saying this) notes:

The Bushmen in the Kalahari Desert talk about two “hungers”. There is the Great Hunger and there is the Little Hunger. The Little Hunger wants food for the stomach; but the Great Hunger, which is said to be the greatest hunger of all, is the hunger for meaning. I believe there is an inner revolution underway. More and more individuals are waking up to the lie of modernity that promised success and happiness. People have begun to realize that the answer to their fulfillment lie elsewhere and not in the modern world we know today or what it will become tomorrow. There’s a deep desire to return to a time where we needed little, and knew how to live a life of fulfillment—a time of minimalism, kinship, and connection to the land. More and more people are finding the courage to reject conformity and live a life on their own terms.

Diogenes, an ancient Greek philosopher and one of the founders of Cynic philosophy taught that genuine freedom comes from within. Genuine freedom emerges from self-sufficiency rather than from wealth, power, or reputation. Genuine freedom does not arise from having as much as possible, but rather from needing as little as possible. The time has come to ‘unschool’ ourselves from the falsehood of happiness promised in modernity and in turn relearn and reawaken once again how to reconnect with the uncluttered, minimalist experience of being fully alive with ourselves. In short we need to ‘RiˈWīld’ ourselves!

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Phenomenology of Embodiment

Phenomenology of Embodiment

PHENOMONOLOGY-OF-EMBODIMENT

Welcome to my Musings section of my blog. What I write in this section of the blog are thought experiments, while attempting to  make sense of some very difficult ideas. It is not meant to be a definitive answer to the subjects covered in each piece, nor am I saying I am even right. At times, I come back and retract some of what I wrote, or rewrite sections as the ideas make more sense to me. Some of the writing is academic in nature, others not, while at other times a mix of both. Take the pieces as such and in the spirit they have been written.

Phenomenology o Embodiment

The academic neglect of the body as both instrument in lived experience, as a valid source of knowledge and as an active agent in the world goes as far back as Plato’s Phaedo (Gallop, 1975). Plato saw the body as negatively interfering with the search for true knowledge. The body he claimed interrupted our attention, with all kinds of passions and fancies. In other words it distorts reality through its flawed perception (Bostock, 1986). The body then was seen as merely a tool in the service of our intellect. This way of thinking of the body held powerful sway for centuries in Christian philosophy and more later in modern philosophy such as idealism (Shusterman, 2008).

Inspired by Edmund Husserl (1859-1938), phenomenology was one of several prominent philosophical approaches during the 20th century. Husserl saw phenomenology as a way to come into contact with concrete lived experience, a way of doing philosophy that was as he viewed it — a radical shift from the metaphysical speculative pseudo-problems of western philosophy since the ancient Greeks (Moran, 2000; Lewis & Staehler, 2010). The tradition of western philosophy, as Johnson and Rohrer note, “mistakenly asks how the inside (i.e., thoughts, ideas, concepts) can represent the outside (i.e., the world)” ( 2007, p.17) thereby further separating mind from body.

Phenomenology can be understood as three distinct, yet interrelated conceptions, as methodology, as research process and as a philosophy (Van Manen, 1997). At its heart Van Manen (2014) has argued that phenomenology is essentially a philosophy. Distinguishing itself, phenomenology as defined by Husserl (1901) advocated describing experiences, as well as the things themselves “apart from their relation to our intuition” (Kant 1999 p.35), without resorting to metaphysical and theoretical speculations. In other words, experience should be examined in the way it occurs, and on its own terms as they are perceived or understood in human consciousness (Smith et al. 2009).

Husserl sought to develop a science of phenomena, with the intention of understanding how objects present themselves in consciousness through corporeal existence (i.e.of or relating to a person’s body). Husserl suggested that objects present themselves in a persons consciousness by intentionally translating stimuli from the body into meaning in the mind. Although initially concerned with finding the essence of reason — not dissimilar to Plato — Husserl instead concluded that the “body is…the medium of all perception” (cited in Rojcewicz & Schwer 1989, p 61). From this perspective, the body in phenomenology is seen to directly contribute to the content of what is perceived, and its role in the external material world is one that is relational (Welton 1999).

 

Essence of Practice

Here the essence of practice (Wilde,1999) or the ‘how’ takes a central role. Phenomenology brings forth a focus on the “originally [of] personal experience. The experience of the way we live situationally, the way we are personal beings in space” (Patočka, 1998, p. 97). Figal (2010) has suggested that any philosophical discussion that is not ‘originary’ in nature, whilst it may make a contribution to philosophical understanding, is not a philosophy in of itself. This premise sits at the heart of phenomenology, that the phenomena of appearance, or more succinctly how it appears in the lived experience of a person, their consciousness — is knowledge that both counts and is necessary (Lewis & Staehler, 2010). Reaching similar conclusions, William James, American philosopher and psychologist noted, “The world experienced…comes at all times with our body as its centre, centre of vision, centre of action, centre of interest” (James 1976, p86).

Nietzsche (who predates Husserl), whilst not considered a phenomenologist but rather an existentialist — viewed the philosophy of thinking, acting, feeling, and living, as beginning with the human subject (Macquarrie, 1972). Just like Husserl, Nietzsche rebounded against the metaphysical position which focused on the ‘about’ of things as they appear, rather than the appearance itself as the subjective person living in the world (Rehberg, 2011). Where phenomenology is the study of things in the way in which they appear to us, metaphysics on the other hand focuses on what is not subject to the senses, suggesting rather that there can be no scientific knowledge of appearance, only opinion (Lewis & Staehler, 2010). For Nietzsche if there was a ‘thing in itself’ not only was appearance part of it, but these appearances were the “direct presentation of what really existed” (Lewis & Staehler, 2010 p.2-3).

 

The Body as Lived Experience

Husserl defines two ways in which we experience the world from a first person perspective. On the one hand is what he terms the ‘natural attitude’ of everyday life. Here, we see the objects of our experience such as other people, physical objects, and even ideas, as simply real and straightforward in existence. In other words they ‘just are’ or are our ‘ordinary’ way of being in the world. The phenomenological perspective emerges when we step back from this ‘natural attitude,’ not denying its existence, but rather to investigate these experiences as they arise (Husserl, 1982). Phenomenological enquiry then arises from the embodied person as a “prediscursive phenomenon that plays a central role in perception, cognition, action, and nature to a way of living or inhabiting the world” (Weiss, & Haber, 1999 p. xiii). Central to phenomenological enquiry is ‘bracketing out,’ to put aside one’s own belief or knowledge of the subject under investigation (Carpenter, 2007), so that the ‘thing itself’ emerges — this is crucial for it to be genuinely considered a philosophy as Figal (2010) argued earlier, and further a science.
 

Noting the above points, its is clear that in phenomenology as a philosophy, the body plays a central role in lived experience (Merleau-Ponty, 2002). Yet does the body stay the same over time, or is it rather a product of social and historical constitution? In other words is the body itself natural, primordial (Merleau-Ponty, 2002), or is it rather ‘deformed’ or ‘formed’ by cultural and social forces (i.e., socially constructed)? (Foucault, 1984; Hoy, 1999.) Historically in philosophy, with the exception of Nietzsche the body had been seen as unchanging (Csordas, 1994). It is only with 20th Century thinkers like Foucault and Bourdieu that the later had been seriously argued (Hoy, 1999). For Foucault the body is malleable, transient and discontinuous over its history, whilst Bourdieu is more focused on the body as persistent and continuous (Hoy, 1999) — yet both viewed the body as being formed by cultural and social forces.

While Foucault doesn’t deny what he terms “structures” of experience (i.e., a primordial state), he argues that they are not independent of concrete determinations of social existence, and cannot in themselves give rise to or interpret experiences. Rather, these experiences arise through thought, which itself has a historicity “proper” to it (Hoy, 1999). Thought then, having this historicity is not “deprived of all universal form, but instead that the putting into play of these universal forms is itself historical” (Foucault 1984, p.335). The main argument as presented by Foucault (and Bourdieu) that there is nothing natural in the body, but instead it is socially and culturally constructed — so how can it then be deformed? To be deformed requires that it changes from an original, ‘before’ state, something that could be considered primary before these changes took hold (Hoy, 1999).

In contrast, Merleau-Ponty (2002, p.168) believed that the body had an “original and (perhaps) primary” nature, a practical knowledge (praktognosia), which could not be analytically deconstructed into concepts such as ‘body’ and ‘mind’. In his view, the body’s practical knowledge allows for a “way [for us to] access…the world and the object” (p.168) — for example our perception of spatial relationships between us and an external object. We experience these relationships not as objective (out there), but rather always from the perspective of our own action oriented bodily organisation (e.g., down, up, near, far, on, under). These form dimensions of our lived ‘phenomenal’ spatiality, arising out of the ‘praktognosia’ that we sense from our embodied intentionality.

Hoy (1999) has argued that one can simultaneously acknowledge the body’s “primary” nature, yet at the same time take into account how the body is influenced socially, by its historicity and culture — The body then can be seen as more or becoming more than what it was previously. This acknowledgement of becoming, sits at the heart of phenomenological enquiry. There is no gap between mind, body and a person’s experience of reality (Lakoff and Johnson 1980). A person’s experience of things, arises out of that person’s embodiment in the world.

References

Bostock, D. 1986. Plato’s Phaedo. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Carpenter, D. R.(2007). Phenomenology as method. In H.J. Streubert &D.R. Carpenter(Eds.),Qualitative Research in Nursing:Advancing the Humanistic Imperative (pp. 75-99). Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott.

Csordas, T. J. (Ed.). (1994). Embodiment and Experience: The Existential Ground of Culture and Self. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Foucault, M. & Rabinow, P., (1984). The Foucault reader, New York: Pantheon Books.

Figal, G. (1998). For a Philosophy of Freedom and Strife: Politics, Aesthetics, Metaphysics. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.

Gallop, D. (1975). Phaedo. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Hoy, D.C. (1999). Critical risistance: Foucault and Bourdieu. In Weiss, G. & Haber, H.F., 1999. Perspectives on embodiment: the intersections of nature and culture, New York: Routledge.

Husserl, E., (1901). Logische Untersuchungen, Halle: Niemeyer.

Husserl, E. (1982). Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy. (F. Kersten, Trans.). Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

James, W. 1976. The Experience of Activity in Essays in Radical Empiricism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Press.

Johnson, M., & Rohrer T., (200&) “We Are Live Creatures: Embodiment, American Pragmatism, and the Cognitive Organism.” In Body, Language, and Mind, vol. 1, 17-54. (eds.). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Kant, I. & Pluhar, W.S., 1999. Critique of pure reason abridged, Indianapolis: Hackett.

Lakoff, G., and Johnson, M. (1999). Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and its Challenge to Western Thought. New York: Basic Books.

Lewis, M., & Staehler, T. (2010). Phenomenology: An Introduction. London: Continuum.

Merleau-Ponty, M. (2002). Phenomenology of Perception: An Introduction. London: Routledge.

Moran, D. (2000). Introduction to Phenomenology. London: Taylor & Francis.

Patočka, J. (1989). Jan Patočka: Philosophy and Selected Writings. (E. Kohák, ed.) Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Shusterman, R. 2008. Body Consciousness. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Smith, J.A., Flowers, P. & Larkin, M., (2009). Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis: Theory, Method and Research. Los Angeles: SAGE.

Macquarrie, J. (1972). Existentialism. Philadelphia: Westminster.

Manen, M. V. (2014). Phenomenology of Practice: Meaning-giving Methods in Phenomenological Research and Writing. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.

Rehberg, A. (2011). Nietzsche and Pphenomenology. Newcastle upon Tyne UK: Cambridge Scholars Publication.

Weiss, G., & Haber, H. F. (1999). Perspectives on Embodiment: The Intersections of Nature and Culture. New York: Routledge.

Wilde, M. H. (1999). Why embodiment now? Advances in Nursing Science, 22(2), 25-38.

Van Manen, M. (1997). Researching Lived Experience: Human Science for an Action Sensitive Pedagogy, 2nd end. London, Ontario: The Althouse Press.

 

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How to be Steady & Well Ordered in Life

How to be Steady & Well Ordered in Life

steady-and-well-ordered

Walking down the busy city streets, I blend in among the crowd. I am about to give a presentation to an important group of people, and while my nervous system is engaging for the upcoming stressful event, with heart rate increasing, palms sweaty, and dry mouth, I have a secret weapon – I have the inner tools to bring myself back to calm. The presentation went extremely well, and I am off to the airport to catch my flight to my next destination.

Landing at Manchester airport, I am met with chaos. A volcanic eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland has grounded virtually every flight. The lines of disgruntled passengers are already forming, tempers begin to flare as people realize no one is going anywhere. As I stand there watching the unfolding scene, I feel the frustration boil up inside me. But I have a secret weapon, I have a long practice of being present in difficult situations. Several hours later, I am told, “You won’t be flying out today.”

Stranded in Manchester and unable to get back to Johannesburg, with insomnia as my friend, I roam the city streets at night. Turning down a quiet street corner, I witness a man aggressively pressing a woman up against a wall, hand lifted above his head about to strike. But I have a secret weapon, years of jiu-jitsu training has prepared me for this very moment. The aggressor never expected to find himself on the floor.

Walking away from that incident, instead of feeling anger, I had a secret weapon, I have learned to let go of the fight, both external and internal. Resuming my walk, and as I entered the main street, I blend into the crowd, steady and well-ordered. When you see me, there’s nothing special about me that stands out. I am just another face among many. But I have a secret, I have done the ‘work.’

The Work

My ‘work’ has been ‘fierce’ and ‘original.’ My life has been an inner adventure, searching for the secrets to showing up in life with poise, focus and clarity. Looking at me, you wouldn’t know about the ‘work’ I have committed too. But it shows up in my actions. I decided a long time ago not to conform to the status quo. I was going to follow my own path, on my own terms.

I survived government housing, and growing up poor. I survived government schooling, where the teachers told me I would never amount to anything. I survived severe bullying as a child. I survived an abusive alcoholic Mother. I survived being kicked out of the house at 17 and finding myself homeless, sleeping on the inner city streets. I survived the South Africa military. I survived seven years outside as a doorman outside some of Johannesburg toughest nightclubs. I survived an empty fridge, while I hustled to make my martial arts school a success. I survived having no support in all of this, but I figured it out as I went. In all of this, I was doing the inner ‘work’ so I could thrive.

You see, the steady, well-ordered man that stands before you now, has done the ‘work’ that you have no idea exists. Gustave Flaubert a French novelist, who at his time was highly influential, and considered the leading exponent of literary realism in his country noted: “Be steady and well-ordered in your life so that you can be fierce and original in your work.”

What I take from Flaubert’s words is that the work is done often behind the curtains, and outside of the public eye. As each one of us comes to the work with our own unique life’s experience it is naturally original.

Doing the inner work is never a smooth ride. It’s fierce, and requires ferocity to stay the course. It is to easy to slip into the status quo, and follow the crowd. To be truly self liberated one has to be willing to stand outside what is considered the norm, while being fiercely determined to stay the course of authenticity, while not becoming ensnared by the modern worlds definition of happiness. You know, that lie of the modern world that industrial civilization, along with limitless economic growth, consumerism and material affluence is a pathway to prosperity and happiness.

What Really is The Work

The work is being able to show up in the modern world, and have had done the fierce and original ‘work’ behind the scenes so as not to become a victim or slave to modernities pathologies. The West’s cultural values of competition at any cost, survival of the fittest, keeping up with the Joneses, the endless hedonic treadmill, a focus on material wealth as a marker of success and so forth have contributed to a society that feels fragmented, anxious, stressed out, and suffering from a loss of meaning. We are, if we view it that way or not, cogs in an enormous market-based machine — a machine that care’s little for our humanity.

While it is true, for most of us, that we cannot simply opt out of the modern world, we can however make a conscious decision on how we are going to play the game. This is where the fierce and original work comes in. The simplest way to do the work is to look around and see the most common struggles people are facing and find a way to do the opposite. 


A Thought Experiment

In an attempt to really get to the bottom of what is important, I offered a client the other day this thought experiment. Imagine for a moment we could be transported back to the time of our hunter gatherer ancestors. After we had insured the safety of our band, and had a successful hunt so there was enough food, sitting there what else would be important?



What would be occupying our ancestral minds? All of the things we fret over in the modern world, simply wouldn’t exist, except for what really mattered. We would have a deep connection to family, friends, and earth. Our days would be spent laughing, exploring, and looking up at the night sky with wonder. We would move with the seasons, and our mind would be a mirror of the beauty and awe of the landscape we inhabited. As Emma Goldman, an anarchist political activist argued about our modern life, “With human nature caged in a narrow space, whipped daily into submission, how can we speak of its potentialities?” Our ancestors on the other hand were connected to the uncluttered, minimalist embodied wisdom of the human animal and in doing so experienced a natural inner rhythm.

I believe it is still possible, even as we live in the modern world to recapture that natural inner rhythm (although admittingly much tougher). This is the ‘work’ I do daily, and coach to others both individually and at my retreats. The ‘work’ is about being able to show in the modern world with all its uncertainty, chaos, and stress — steady, and well-ordered — in other words with poise, focus and calm.

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How To Free Your Human Animal

How To Free Your Human Animal

freeing the Human Animal

We often take words for granted. However, on closer inspection there meaning, especial there ‘root’ history can have profound influence in how we understand those words. For example, the word ‘human’ comes from the Latin word ‘humus,’ meaning earth or ground, whilst ‘animal,’ is based on Latin animalis ‘having breath’ from anima ‘breath.’ The human animal then, is one that emerges from the earth, breathed into life.

We are therefore not separate from all other life on this planet. We are just another version of animal that occupies the same home. We are as activist and actor Ian Somerhalder suggests “ The environment is in us, not outside of us. The trees are our lungs, the rivers our bloodstream. We are all interconnected, and what you do to the environment, ultimately you do to yourself.”

We Have Forgotten Our Place

We have forgotten, or should we say rather been indoctrinated to believe that being human is somehow far more special — or should we say we have a god like dominion over the Earth and all that live upon it. It is this lie of separation, or excommunication from the natural world by greedy capitalistic thinking that has laid baron and ecologically devastated our planet. We no longer view ourselves as part of the natural order, as co-inhabitants of this beautiful planet, but rather have been told to take ownership of it. People in the modern world, surrounded by skyscrapers believe this to be reality. How can we not think this, surrounded by our glorious manmade objects. On the face of it, it seems clear we do own this place — but we don’t and never will!

We forget all to often that the human who arises from the earth, goes back to it. There is no escaping our end. We are short term visitors on an exquisite planet, that wont miss us when we are gone. In fact the planet really does not need us at all. If every human being disappeared tomorrow morning, the planet, Gaia, will continue on in our absence. Unlike the delicate ecosystems we are destroying at an alarming rate, where every insect, plant, microbe etc al., plays a vital role in the health of that system, we in fact really serve no purpose. The Earth doesn’t need us in order to flourish, but we need her.

This is a sobering thought. 

In fact, we are food. We are being used as a source of life sustaining sustenance ourselves, every moment of our lives. As biologist Alanna Collen notes,

We are so arrogant to believe that just because we are able to walk, talk, and reflect on ourselves, that this allows us dominion over what we perceive to be resources for our own survival. In turn we are strip-mining the earth until there’s nothing left for anyone. And if that’s not good enough, we ensure that we enslave our fellow man, kill him senselessly, abuse him, and hate him for all sorts of ridiculous reasons. I often joke with my partner that I want to sue the world. Am I not a citizen of this planet? Yet, we have to ask permission to go to other parts of the world. We think we are free, but we are in fact enslaved. 

Who enslaved us? 

We did it to ourselves.

As Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddhist Monk and peace activist so eloquently points out:

Reclaiming Our Human Animal

This is why I am adamant that we need to once again reclaim our human animal. We are part of this amazing planet, along with every single other organism, insect, plant, and fellow animal cousin by decent or otherwise.

When I reflect on growing up, I have always felt out of place. I never quit fitted in. I still don’t. My happiest times as a child was when I was out alone in the African bush or practicing primal skills, from martial arts, to foraging. These experiences in the natural world were also my two sons most favorite times. It’s no coincidence either. Unwittingly we were re-embracing our natural animal human state. We where born to be apart of this world. We don’t own it. No one does. A Haidenosaunee teaching articulates this well, “We are a part of everything that is beneath us, above us and around us. Our past is our present, our present is our future, and our future is seven generations past and present.”

As Cultural historian Thomas Berry in The Dream of the Earth has argued,

Or in the words of Albert Einstein,

We can only free ourselves from this tyranny of domestication in the modern world, and the illusion of separation from the natural world — by stripping away the conditioning it has burdened us with. We are clearly not happy. The self-help industry is larger than it has ever been. A new psychological tool comes out every other year to help us deal with our psychological suffering. New ‘happy’ drugs are being developed at an alarming pace. We plug into virtual reality via video games, to escape the current modern reality. The onslaught of mindfulness practices in all its guises are being shoved in our faces everywhere. Non of this would exist if we were happy.

Modernity, with all its fanciful trappings, has made us ill. No amount of reading that next self help book, taking that next happy drug, or sitting quietly in a candle lit room — alone is going to ease our suffering. We are lost, and we have lost something really important, we know it, but we seem to be searching for it in all the wrong places.

 

How To Reclaim What We Have Lost

To be truly fulfilled requires reconnecting with the uncluttered, minimalist embodied wisdom of our ancestors, our human animal — and in doing so unlock our natural inner rhythm. It’s time to RIˈWILD! To Ri’Wild is to reverse the process of domestication and to return to a more wild or self-willed state.

But as Paul Shepard in, The Only World We’ve Got realizes, “ It is not necessary to ‘go back’ in time to be the kind of creature you are. The genes from the past have come forward to us. I am asking that people change not their genes but their society, in order to harmonize with the inheritance they already have.” Changing society is incredibly hard, but changing yourself, and how you show up in the world is possible.

Ill be honest, even as I close-in on 50, I don’t have all the answers. As you have, I have been pulled by the allure of modernity, and cajoled into the human Zoo, and swayed down the path of domestication. I have fought against it all my life. But as we likely can all agree, when the world as a system works entirely one way, rallying against it is a difficult prospect. I therefore have done, and increasingly so what Paul Shepard noted earlier. Realizing that until there is a mass sway in the direction back to sanity, all I can do for now is be a voice, and activist for the Human Animal. My boys fondly remember me telling them, “Boys we have to be awake and realize we live in the Matrix, but not to be owned by it”. While I readily recognize that I cannot go back to a time of my hunter gatherer ancestors, a time where by all accounts we suffered rarely as we do now in modernity, I am drawing strength from their ancestral knowledge so that I can optimize my life to fit into the modern constraints I face.

This takes the form of recognizing the spirit of Mother Earth, and to be humble within my place upon her. She has gifted me a space to call home, to live, and the opportunity to explore my full potential. While she would not miss me one bit if I was gone tomorrow, I do believe we are here to have an experience of what it means to be in flow with all of life. I often think of it as somewhat like training wheels for the next adventure when we leave this home. Based on how humans conduct themselves here, on this beautiful planet circling the sun, one could only imagine what the human species would end up destroying if they were immediately thrown into the universe as fully fledged citizens. Clearly, we need to go to ‘Earth Kindergarten’ first, before being allowed anywhere near the vastness of space.

As such, I fill my days now with moments of deep connection, and reverence in nature. I try my utmost not to burden to Gaia, doing as a I can to lessen the load on her. I make a point to make all of my activities to honor the natural intelligence that I am. Rather than seeking outwardly for answers or happiness, I look inward, to what I have been given. By applying my breath in the correct way I can manage the flight and fight response of my nervous system. By steadying my mind, I can be at peace exactly where I am, rather than being consumed by self defeating thoughts. Through my martial art practice I am able to experience flow. Through my movement practice, not only can I connect to the natural world, but experience her in way that is not separate from myself, but connected.

In all of the above, what stands out for me is simplicity. As I have written elsewhere, there was a time before the advent of agriculture, where our ancestors lived as part of the natural world, and while lacking all of what modernity offers us now, were happy. Happiness then, or what I prefer to call fulfillment isn’t complicated. The only reason it feels complicated, the only reason so many people are confused on how to achieve piece is mostly down to how we live now. As the anarchist political activist Emma Goldman points out “With human nature caged in a narrow space, whipped daily into submission, how can we speak of its potentialities?”

I leave you with these thoughts from John Seed, founder and director of the Rainforest Information Center in Australia and the 13th-century Persian poet Rumi. Should you want to explore Re-Awakening Your Human Animal with fellow travelers, take a look at my yearly Retreats in Thailand. I hope you decide to come spend some time with us Re’Wilding. 

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Going Silent is Great for Mental Health

Going Silent is Great for Mental Health

stepping-into-silence

Deep inside all of us resides what I call our natural rhythm, a healing rhythm that most of us have forgotten exists. We spend so much of our lives living outside of ourselves, that we have become disconnected from this natural rhythm.

What is it?

Silence!

We are so afraid of being fully alone with ourselves that we fill our lives with endless distractions and activities, searching for fulfillment and wellbeing outside ourselves in wealth, success and power. We distract ourselves with TV, the internet, social media, and of course video games. It seems most people are doing absolutely everything to avoid themselves. In addition many people are afraid of silence because they are afraid of what they might find there — the proverbial skeletons in the closet. In prison for instance the worst kind of punishment is solitary confinement. People literally go insane when left to themselves. For many people silence, being surrounded by quiet activates their fight and flight response, creating a sense of anticipation or anxiety — an expectation that something is about to jump from behind the bushes.

The Cultivation of Deep Patience

Inuit hunters have a word, ‘quinuituq,’ that means a deep patience needed while waiting for something to happen. Inviting silence into your life is a process of ‘quinuituq’ — being patient as we wait to find that which we have lost: our inner rhythm, our balance point. In other-words, finding inner rhythm and balance isn’t something we go out to find, but rather to allow it to reclaim us. This is counter to what our modern society has taught us. Modern society tells us: we need to hustle, we need to get out there and make our mark, success after all doesn’t come to those who wait. But yet, and again, so much of what modern society requires is a distancing from ourselves. Modern society draws out and leaves the best of us on the sacrificial alter of consumerism, until we no longer have a clue of who we are. Learning to be in silence, is in a way reclaiming what we have given up unknowingly thinking it will serve a greater purpose — when it never can — because modernity is built upon capitalistic cannibalism focused on its own selfish desire: profit.

There is no ‘profit’ to anyone when you seek silence, outside of the unmeasurable bounty accrued to your own inner wellbeing. By coming home to silence you step out of the hedonistic treadmill. But, if that’s not convincing enough, here’s some research to back that up. Silence has shown to lower blood pressure, boost the body’s immune system and benefit brain chemistry by growing new cells. For example, Kirste et al. (2013) found that two hours of silence could create new cells in the hippocampus region. The hippocampus is a region of the brain that is linked to learning, remembering, and emotions.

Bernardi, et al. (2006) showed that as little as two minutes of silence can relieve tension in the body and brain. This is the opposite to what noise invokes which is to increase stress and tension in the body. Probably for most of us especially in the modern world who are constantly battling incessant noise pollution, is that time in silence allows the brain to ‘recover’ some of its cognitive abilities. As Stephen Kaplan (1995) has noted, silence allows the brain to stand down from its sensory guard, allowing it to restore some of what has been ‘lost’ through excessive noise.

How To Invite Silence into Your Life

There is no right or wrong way to invite silence into your life, other that clearing a path for it to show up. By far the most profound moments of silence I have had in my life are walks out in nature. Walking alone, in silence, just with myself, and the natural world as my wonder is an invigorating experience. The key here is to leave all modern distractions behind, iPhone, EarPods, etc. 



I have found it equally important throughout my walks in silence, to take a seat every now and then and simply observe. Sitting still with my eyes wide open, without having to make sense of what I hear, see and smell, brings me back to the natural rhythm I have spoken about in this article. That natural rhythm is that space between stimulus and response. It’s a place of creativity, inspiration, and awe.

It takes practice of course to stay there. As was noted earlier, with so much of our lives lived outside ourselves, when we stop, breathe, and quiet down, we initially feel pulled: surely we should be doing something else? But given enough time, and practice, you will feel the call to silence echoing inside your soul.

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Building a Meaning Framework Part 2

Building a Meaning Framework Part 2

meaning-framework-2

In Building a Meaning Framework Part One I posited that in finding meaning we should consider three key ingredients. Firstly that of Purpose: in other words, what motivates you, what do you believe, what do you want your life to be about? Secondly the Process, how are you going to embody your purpose? How are you going to bring it to life? How are you going to get there? And then finally the Results: are you getting the results you want? Are you arriving in other words?

I have thought about this considerably in respect to my own life. When I think of my Purpose in this life, I want to flourish. A big part of flourishing for me isn’t about seeking happiness, which I see as transient, momentary — but rather to be consistently content. I see contentment as a state of satisfaction with my life, where it is now, and where I am going. A big part of making this a success I feel comes down to the Process used.

In our modern Western society, it is clear that growth isn’t growth unless it can be quantified. In other words, measured. Things like wealth, titles, acquisition of all kinds, and so forth. This is the hallmark of a capitalistic prism, whereby it is what we can objectively count that matters. Yet, in doing so, we have relegated qualitative growth to the sideline. Even when people say they are working on themselves, seeking self-mastery, one only has to look closer to find that it is often to achieve some quantitative aim. For example: “I know I have succeeded when I have this partner” or “I have arrived when I get that promotion” and in accordance with these aims “only when these things happen will I truly be happy”.

In this sense growth is about more. But growing towards more isn’t always a good thing. Remember when you were a child, free, and unencumbered by the worries of the world? Then you grew, and you have grown older, and now life is about stress, about worry, and anxiety. One day you will grow to be frail to need care, and feel like a burden to others. As a young adult you enter the workforce in hopes of growing into a productive adult, only now to find that you have to inhabit a more masculine creature in order to compete with others, and to continue to win. Growing isn’t always what it is cracked up to be!

Contentment & Meaning May Be About Less

What if I told you that becoming more, about finding the meaning you seek in leading a life of contentment, and your continued qualitative growth may come down to BEING and BECOMING less, not more?

And, what if I told you that this counter cultural, even counter intuitive idea comes straight from research into peak human experience?

This is probably one the most important lessons I can impart on you. I know it made a profound shift in the way I show up in my life now.

Let me explain.

You have likely heard this somewhere:

“we only use 10% of our brain, imagine what we could do if we were able to use all of our brain power — the other 90%”

Is this even true?

It turns out, what we intuitively thought would be required to optimise our brain, in other words using more of it, is not actually true.

It is a common belief that our experiences are produced by this big organ in our heads, called our brain. We have known for some time that most experiences that we have correspond to certain patterns of brain activation. For example computers can now scan your brain and correctly guess what you are looking at. In other words when you engage in certain activities, like looking at a specific image for example, we are now able to see specific parts of the brain light up.

Naturally the thinking then was if we are able to use more of our brain, in other words have our brain light up more in experiences the richer the experience will be.

But in fact the opposite is actually true.

For example, for decades it was thought that things like psychedelic substances worked by lighting up the brain like a Christmas tree. But since 2012 experiments conducted by the University Hospital, Zurich, and Imperial College London, have shown that the opposite occurs.

In other words, you could be having the most mind boggling, rich, powerful peak experience of your life while your brain effectively goes to sleep. This realisation doesn’t end with psychedelics, Vietnam War veterans who previously suffered brain injury have been shown to more likely report rich spiritual experiences. Pilots who have undergone acceleration induced loss of consciousness, which drains the blood out of their brain have reported having rich dreams while seemingly unconscious. In addition people who have recovered from a near death experiences, where their brain was effectively dead — regularly describe extremely rich, even life changing sensations.

Powerful right?

In the next piece of this series, I will begin to unpack what the implications of these realisations are to human flourishing and how you and me can tap into this in a way that can aid us in finding more bliss in our own lives.

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Building a Meaning Framework Part 1

Building a Meaning Framework Part 1

meaning-framework-1

Firstly, I am never going to tell you how to live your life. Please take everything I write as my own personal experiment in living. You will notice that when I write and explore what can be done to overcome certain challenges we all face in life, I do so from my own experience. It is important that you never simply take my word for it and that you try it out. Test everything I suggest within your own experience. Some things I argue for will resonate, others wont. At times you many not be at a certain point on the path to make what I am suggesting happen and it may only become relevant later on.

In addition, think of the pieces I write as ‘works’ in progress. At times, I may come back to some of these pieces of writing and re-work them, even re-write them as I continue to explore my own meaning in life.

Mans Search for Meaning

I realized sometime back that to live a fulfilled live, it was crucial to have a constant waypoint of meaning in my life. As Viktor Frankl has argued meaning serves several important functions in our life. Crucially, meaning provides a Purpose for our living. Secondly, it furnishes values or standards by which to judge our actions. Finally, it gives us a sense of acceptance and resilience to the unfolding events in our life. This is especially true for those events that are difficult and painful.

Now of course, many people default to acquiring meaning through religion. There is of course nothing wrong with that. I have however, always believed that to be fulfilled in life it’s important to develop a personal meaning framework, that although may be inspired or influenced by various spiritual traditions should be uniquely your own. The reason I believe this is so important is that one approach can never encompass the beauty of our diversity. We all come to this moment with our own unique experiences, journeys and life histories.

For better or for worse, where you were born, and the culture you were born in to, and the family dynamics you experienced, shape who you are today. Acknowledging this can either be a crux or liberation. For example, I grew up poor in government housing, without ever knowing my Father, bullied by the neighborhood kids and shunned by my Mother. This created childhood trauma that I carried all the way with me into adulthood and still rears its ugly head from time to time. I could quite easily use my childhood trauma as an excuse to not be able to live a fulfilled life now. But realizing that while no child should ever have to go through what I did growing up, without that experience I wouldn’t be who I am today. This was a profound lesson for me: that within every difficult experience is a salvageable positive and potentially profound lesson if you not afraid to look.

Meaning then will always be shaped by our life’s story. While that may be the case, it is a story and as all stories go we can rewrite, reimagine and reinterpret it. Our life’s story is a story in motion, constantly evolving as we do, and the final page is never written until the very end of our life here on this planet. In other words, we can always reinterpret our Meaning, and change the outcome of our life’s story.

Building a Personal Meaning Framework

Life however is complex. It’s easy to become unhinged, to be lost. Having a Meaning Framework can help orient ourselves to where we need to focus our energy right now. In the end, I believe we are all seeking inspiration in our lives. Are you inspired to show up fully each day? If not, then it’s likely that you haven’t worked out your meaning in life. Said another way, most of us know what we are doing, few know how we do it, and even fewer know why.

Think of it this Way:

  • Your Purpose – What motivates you, what do you believe, what do you want your life to be about (i.e. meaning)?

  • Your Process – How are you going to embody your purpose? How are you going to bring it to life? How are you going to get there? This is where a personal Meaning Framework can be very useful. Your Meaning Framework will always be built off, and inspired by your Purpose. Think of it as the ‘how to’ of ensuring that you are able to live your purpose every day.

  • Your Results – Are you getting the results you want? If not, then either you need to look closer at your ‘Purpose.’ Here honesty is key: maybe what you defined as your Purpose isn’t what you want it to be in the first place. However, if you believe that you are on point with your Purpose, then something is up with the way you are trying to get there (i.e., something in your Meaning Framework isn’t quite right). The easiest way then to get back on track is by tweaking your Meaning Framework so it begins to give you the results you want.

In the next piece, I will continue by looking closer at the building blocks of a personal Meaning Framework.

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