Wednesday, 22 October 2014


To “keep the dream alive” I work 3 days a week for one of the big supermarkets. It’s been one of the greatest learning experiences of my life.

The work, for most, can be quite repetitive and, for some, hard – proper physical labour. There’s nothing wrong with an honest days work, in fact it’s an important part of a meaningful life. However there’s a side to what I’ve seen over the last few years that doesn’t feel right and at times has stirred a great deal of anger in me.

The company I work for has seen profits rise every year for the last 3 years so that last year their profit was over £1 billion. I often think a billion looks better as a number than a word – that’s over £1,000,000,000 profit. In one year.

However over this 3-year period the employees of this company have been told time and time again that belts need to be tightened due to the economic climate and difficult trading times. This has meant below inflation pay rises and, worse, a gradual reduction in the (hu)man hours available for tasks – more is being asked of less people.

The effects of this are manifold – those with responsibility have the stress of trying to get more done with less people at their disposal and those that do the “heavy lifting” simply have to do more of it. It’s literally breaking peoples bodies – the incidences of back injury, joint problems and repetitive strain injuries are common and increasing.   

At least as harmful as the physical damage is the worry that I see in so many people. Fear that their jobs aren’t safe, that they won’t be given enough hours to work to earn the money they need – not so they can live an extravagant lifestyle but to pay the rent, their council tax, electricity and then feed their children. It’s corrosive – this ongoing, gnawing worry that is ever present. It’s heartbreaking. However these are difficult times. Difficult times for who? – remember that’s £1,000,000,000 profit. In one year.

It would easy to turn this into an exercise in blame – corporations this, globalisation that– however if we look a little harder it’s not so clear cut and not as convenient as that. If we start pulling at one thread we soon start to realise that it’s all so utterly interconnected.

In the Western world our population is aging – everyday more and more people are retiring and living longer, more active, lives. This needs to be paid for. The largest investors in stocks and shares globally are pension funds – whether this is a private pension or that provided by the state. Do you think that these pension funds are all invested in ethical, sustainable, noble enterprises? Of course not – they invest in that which will give the best long-term yield for their investors. Not necessarily the riskiest but no doubt that which offers profitable returns. The lifestyle expectations we have demand this. Somebody, somewhere has to pay for this comfort. It’s inescapable.

These funds receive their return on the backs of those working in the warehouses of our supermarkets (which compared to so many other parts of the world is relative comfort), on the backs of those working in the copper mines of Zambia[1], on the backs of those harvesting crops all over the world. Our comfort depends on this whether we like it or not.

I realise now that even when I lived in the ashram my comfort and ease of life was paid for by the toil and labour of others. Every time I turned on a light switch, felt a warm radiator or ate a meal someone was paying for it through toil and hard work. It would be nice to think that all this money came from people working as organic beekeepers etc however it didn’t – many visitors would be doing jobs they didn’t like for companies whose primary purpose was to provide a return for their investors (see above) and even some would have already been receiving an income from this type of fund[2].

And so to the point of this (if there is one) – there is very little moral high ground here. It’s the vibration of our time and we’re all part of it. It may make us feel good to think that we’re not part of this however unless we’re completely off-grid and self-sufficient then chances are our roof over our head and our full belly relies on this system.

It is after all Kali yuga[3] and, if I’m honest, I don’t think it’s optional. It’s like cosmic energetic weather and the world we see manifesting is a result of that weather.

And yet it hurts. What I see around me at work hurts. Sentimentality it may be but that’s the way it is. Good people with hopes, aspirations, with good hearts, with potential and they can’t see a way out, a way to a better life. Maybe there isn’t and to be honest I haven’t got any answers – it would be easy to say “well let’s just share out all the money more equally” however I get the uncomfortable feeling there’s only so much wealth in the world because it is possible to create so much and to hold on to it.

Maybe all that we need to do is feel the hurt, to recognise our shared pain – to see it as it is. Who knows what may come from that?


[1] For well-balanced, informative, difficult viewing I would highly recommend the films available on the website Why Poverty – rational yet eye-opening stuff.

[2] This is not some thinly veiled argument for enforced euthanasia – just trying to highlight how seamless it all is, there are no clear boundaries and lines. We’re all in it together.

[3] According to the Indian traditions the lifespan of the universe is divided into different ages, yugas, which repeat time and time again through time. We are said to be living in Kali yuga – a time of great imbalance, discord, greed and fear.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Being without a 'me' - continued

As discussed in the previous article, or loosely related ramblings depending on your point of view, this understanding is in no way nihilistic.

I’d like to share an experience[1] with you as it still has such a profound effect on me from time to time. This happened in autumn of 2007 (I’m not 100% sure of the year anymore!) and even now this experience is still altering my understanding and perception.

“ This involved a powerful dream/vision where I[2] found myself completely immersed in a clear golden light. This Light had no limits or scale. I don’t want to use the word infinite as this implies going on forever – more that in this space dimensions, directions and boundaries didn’t apply. It just was. And it was even, smooth – there were no variations. I became very aware of an incredible sense of fear in me, almost overwhelming and becoming panic. Then something happened and that is the most important word – happened. The understanding arose that there was nothing to fear and the fear just fell away – the holding on just fell away. And I began to merge into the light – I began to dissolve into this space. As this was happening I was still aware and this is aspect of the experience that was the most profound and is taking the longest to sink into my personality. What I was most aware of was the most incredible gentleness, kindness and love - these qualities weren’t toward anything in particular, they just were. This Light, this Space was those qualities – they were its nature[3]. And I was dissolving back into them. This continued until there was almost nothing but the Light, a sliver of me left, and then it was over – I was no more.”

I woke the next morning and felt incredible, literally incredible – the first thing that came to mind that this was death, this is what happens as we die. As is often my way I got really excited by aspects of this and almost forgot the incredible gentleness and love that the sense of I dissolved into.

But it’s more fundamental than this. That Consciousness, that Radiant No-thingness, Mind (insert your term of choice if you do not like any of the former) is really all there is – what we call you and me could be looked upon as vritti within this Chitta[4].

Yet life goes on.

Days after the experience at work described in the previous article, and no doubt after this experience, this clarity faded and the illusion of Nick as a separate, autonomous individual becomes completely entrenched once again. However, in this frustration can become very strong – as though there is the knowing that the sleight of hand is on again. Even though in this clarity the me is shown up for what it is, there is such relief in this – so much so that I want it again.

The absurdity of this is that something that has been seen to be so utterly impotent, a ghost in the machine if you like, wants to have that feeling of utter impotence again!

Ramesh Balsekar[5] delightfully described this process as “the flip-flop” – we move, oscillate in and out of clarity. In some periods the understanding is prominent, in others we are completely embroiled in the illusion. From what I read, and from hearing the experiences of those who met him, Balsekar would take great delight in pointing out that as there is no-one doing anything, who can do anything about this “flip-flop”? – it is all just happening.

Nothing in actuality is being destroyed in our seeking – it’s just the idea, the impression of volition or control that is being seen through. It is a process and we have absolutely no control whatsoever over this – we never did. How could we?

“All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”[6]

[1] I’m sometimes a little wary of sharing personal experience as some may see it as a form of self-inflation. I don’t intend it that way. In the same way that I would dearly love to share a sighting of a wild otter fishing with any of you (so I will – take a look at the image below) I also think there is validity in sharing our inner experiences with others. Who knows what may come of it?
[2] When I say “I” there was no sense of physicality – I was just there and I was aware of what I was experiencing.
[3] Sat-Chit-Ananda if you like – look it up, enquire into this if you wish.
[4] Please see the previous article Being with out a “me” for very brief and possibly inadequate descriptions of the concepts of vritti and chitta.
[5] Ramesh Balsekar (1917 – 2009) was a famous teacher of Advaita Vedanta in Mumbai, India. Get hold of some of books if you want to read his words. The Wisdom of Balsekar published by Watkins is a great introduction and at the same time contains the very essence of his understanding.
[6] As You Like It by William Shakespeare Act 2 Scene 7.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Being without a "me"

Earlier this month I was at work doing what had to be done. I walked off the shop floor into the warehouse, with a degree of tension and disquiet in my mind (which is nothing remotely unusual), and….bang!

I almost stopped dead in my tracks as the realisation arose that there is no-one in here, in reality there is no me. This has come many times before, as it does for many, however this felt almost cellular – deep down. It was so abundantly clear that this ‘me’ is a collection of experiences, conditioning, attitudes, concepts etc. The effects of this ‘knowing’ seemed to spread out, almost instantaneously, into so many other concepts, assumptions – into ignorance.

And in that moment it shattered them.

I realised that there is no reincarnation, no afterlife. What do these concepts depend upon? – a “me”!
This may sound nihilistic and depressing. Far from it. There was an incredible sense of relief – as though the correct order of things was seen. It was the truth and it was clear, again there was this wonderful sense of relief.

If we are honest, in this light, we can see how so many of our concepts and theories are so egocentric. They are created to protect, to perpetuate, the very idea of me. We have created God in own our image or maybe more accurately we have created God to serve and protect our own image. If we see the ‘me’ for what it is, the “ghost in the machine” where is the need for re-birth, for karma? The need doesn’t even arise.

Again this is in no way nihilistic. It’s honest.

Yet not all concepts perpetuate illusion – many are crucial to undoing the rigidity of our minds. As Ramana Maharshi so famously said a concept can be used as like a thorn to remove another thorn (after which we discard both). What is this other thorn that needs removing? – the notion[1] of an autonomous, volitional, separate me!

After doing a fair bit of concept bashing we can now explore another concept which helps to more accurately illustrate the nature of our being.

We are vritti.

In his commentary on The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Swami Venkatesananda[2] describes vritti as being “thought wave, mental modification, or the ripples on the mind lake”.[3]

Movement or modification of what? Citta[4]

Citta is Consciousness. The Luminosity in which all that appears to be, the entire manifest universe, arises. All is movement, modification of Consciousness.
The whole manifest Universe is vritti – you, me, all living things, the planets, ‘our’ solar system, every"thing". All vritti. I like the concept of fractals[5] in helping to feel into this.

A fractal is a never-ending pattern, infinitely complex patterns that are self-similar across different scales. In the same way the entire manifest can be seen as vritti within vritti, repeating and unfolding endlessly. The endless play or dance of Consciousness, of Mind.[6]

And we are That. There is nothing else.

“We are such stuff as dreams are made on….”[7]

[1] It is very important that we recognise that it is the notion, the idea of the “separate entity that has control” that is seen to be false. This ego-sense is just that – a sense and never had any realness as such. Not for anyone. What does this do to our sense of right and wrong – how can we judge any apparent action as good or bad. There never was anyone doing anything – it just appears that way.
“No such thing as good or bad, buth thinking makes it so” Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2 by William Shakespeare.

[2] This fabulous commentary is available in pdf form from
[3] The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali with commentary by Swami Venkatesananda, p.4
[4] I am using Swami Venkatesananda's spelling as I don’t know any better
[5]  “A fractal is a never-ending pattern. Fractals are infinitely complex patterns that are self-similar across different scales.”
[6] The upper case ‘M’ is important here.
[7] The Tempest, Act 4, Scene 1 by William Shakespeare

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Return to Innocence

"Thou hast created us for Thyself, and our heart is not quiet until it rests in Thee."
Saint Augustine
In 2009 I was lucky enough to visit the island of Iona for the first time. I had been clearly called there in a dream, to cut a long story short I had found a fax machine hidden under piles of clothes in a second hand shop and small printed flyers kept printing out from this machine. At the top the flyers was printed, in large black letters Iona....Iona....Iona

And even though there have been many times in my life, before and since, where I've not acted on this inner guidance in this case I did. And so I found myself in Iona Abbey, at the busy Sunday service, crying from the depths of my being as I realised that I too was a welcome and valued part of Creation. I just knew it. It was one of the most exhilarating and, at the same time, painful days I've experienced. 

And this burning away, loosening, of all that makes us feel apart and separate is such a vital aspect of the spiritual voyage that so many of us find ourselves on today. As long as these inner divisions and conflicts hold sway how can we expect our external relationships to be open and relaxed? We can't, we just can't and if we are honest our personal experience will testify to this. 

It is a process of becoming whole. This means slowly coming to accept our whole story, not just the chapters we have chosen to represent us. It is a process of allowing these hidden, and often for good reason, truths to emerge - to be integrated into our whole. 

"One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious."

C.G Jung 

However, without wishing to question, Jung do we make the darkness conscious? I'm not so sure. A process of unravelling, unfolding seems to be at work - the hidden aspects of our experience that keep us divided begin to surface. Can we make ourselves accept these conflicts and emotions? I don't think so. Yet in time there just seems to be more and more space within us to feel and to face our pain and all that we've tried to deny. We become softer and kinder to ourself - to the whole of ourself. This process does not appear to be linear - it's not a straight line. It is more labyrinthine or spiral in nature as we are taken further and further into the hidden corners of our psyche. 

As the knots within slowly unravel this will be naturally reflected in what we perceive as our external relationships - it will naturally happen. As we become more and more able to say yes to the totality of our experience we will naturally become open to the whole of what we perceive as our outer experience.

I fondly recall being at work, at a local supermarket, one Christmas and being in a busy aisle full of shoppers realising deep down that though I may never know all the people in front of me and that we may well not get on they were all faces of Being. That they were all projections, embodiments of this deeper level of being - call it Consciousness, Source, Spirit, Self, God - and so was I. 
(I must also add that there are have also been many, many times since then that I have not felt this lack of separateness - far from it, though this just highlights that labyrintine path again).

And fundamentally the process is the dissolving of all division - or more accurately the illusion of division.

There is no Creator and Creation if you wish - they are not two. Without wishing to offend a large proportion of the planets population Genesis 1 is a beautiful description of how the Absolute, the One appears as the many. It's not something that happened long, long ago - it is Now (1). 

Hence the staggering 6 words from Jesus contained in John 10:30 

"The Father and I are One".

It means you too, and me - the whole of you, the whole of this me. And this is why the process of becoming whole must take place - that which divides us, internal and externally, has to become whole. We Return to Innocence (2).

(1) This is beautifully described in J. Philip Newell's book The Book of Creation: An Introduction to Celtic Spirituality.
(2) to quote the title of the song by Enigma.

Thou hast created us for Thyself, and our heart is not quiet until it rests in Thee.

Thou hast created us for Thyself, and our heart is not quiet until it rests in Thee.