Monthly Archives: December 2009

Spritual Path IV

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Meditation is a very simple process. It is a way to experience the depths and richness of our inner being, and to capture insights into our broader nature.

Unfortunately, we are not so simple. We are complex beings with many layers of expression.

Consequently, when we come to meditate we project into our meditation practice our hopes, fears, expectations and general cultural programming. As a result, meditation can seem to be more difficult than it is, and it sometimes seems to be an impossible process to master.

A futher twist in the tale of meditation is that unlike other skills we have learnt, we are not trying to achieve anything. For instance, if we learn to cook, or read or train for a profession, we specific results in mind.

Whereas with meditation it can best be described as the art of letting go and being fully aware of whatever is arising in our being without trying to push it away or to hold onto it. And during our meditations many things will come and go, from bliss to boredom, from incessant thoughts to deep stillness, to an awareness of the ocean of unconditional love in which we live and have our being.

Through this repetitive surrender meditation can liberate us from the constraints of our limited personality and allow us to open up to the rich diversity of our vast beingness

 
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© David R. Durham

Taoism

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One of the interesting facets of modern China, especially in Hong Kong, is the presence of Taoist temples. Some of these are hundreds of years old, and many share their site with buddhist shrines.

Taoism is very much a chinese flavoured system of beliefs, ritual and practices, which are several thousand years old. In trying to understand it, it doesn’t help us too much to attach western labels such as religion or philosophy. These seem to inhibit a full appreciation of its richness, fluidity and down to earth nature.

Indeed the very attempt to ‘nail down’ what Taoism is in words and concepts is bound to fail. In part this is due to the limitations of linguistic translation and also because Taoist beliefs invite us to move beyond the restrictions of language and mental concepts.

For instance, Taoist texts advise us on the relationship between our physical body, cosmic body and social frameworks.

There is a combined air of mystery, simplicity and ordariness about Taoism, where even the most distinguished Taoist masters are lay people with no special status in society.

Historically, it has gone in and out of fashion with the ruling classes during China’s formation and development over the centuries. Its’ charismatic mysticism proving both alluring and yet impossible to control at the same time.

Its oganisation has remained rooted in diverse local structures, with masters whos roles became hereditary. It is and remains very much a way for and of the ordinary people, rather than a power structure for any ruling class.

Despite the assaults of communism, buddhism, catholicism and muslim faiths it is still here, and still practiced. And there is increasing interest in its ways of living and advise for a longer and fuller life.

More to follow ….

Sources:
1. Taoist Body,
Kristofer Schipper,
1993, University of California Press, USA.

 
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© David R. Durham

Aging II

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If we look back through Western history to some of the first written records of attitudes to older generations, then it seems that the ancient Greeks had a bit of a problem with old age.

With their pantheon of gods who were ageless and deathless and their worship of the beauty and athleticism of youth, it is seems hardly surprising that the features of old age were unattractive to them.

With its increasing frailty, increased risk of ill health and impending death, it seemed to have little to offer.

Another feature which opened up a generation gap was the increasing literacy of the population. This meant that oral traditions and stories which had been passed down personally from one generation to the next, could now studied and read.

There was a thawing of their negative attitudes during the 5th century. This came about when some of their noble philosophers and statesmen were still active and productive in their seventies and eighties.

So in both Greek and subsequent Roman cultures, the elderly may be given some respect for their wisdom and experience, their frailty still created doubts as to their value.

A lot depended on a person’s social class and wealth. The wealthy and privileged could have their roles and status change agreeably as they got old, but for the poor it was a case of continuing to work until you drop.

This latter point highlights one of the key aspects of the attitudes and treatment of elderly people in Western Europe, throughout history and right up to the present day. And that is that your experience of old age would be greatly affected by your gender, social class, religious group and general cultural traditions.

In the middle ages, the contrast of the benefits of wisdom and experience versus the deteriorating health and vitality once again came to the forefront. Some early steps were taken to make make provisions for the elderly, with a pattern developing of going into monastic retreats or lay religious communities in old age.

During the 15th & 16th centuries, it is hard to separate out views on the elderly from the prevailing Christian religion’s take on old age. For instance, the elderly could be viewed as a kind old teacher, whilst at the same time identifying vanity as a vice of old age.

Moving into the 17th & 18th centuries, the negative views on old age derived from antiquity began to be questioned, and a more positive cultural view began to emerge. However, as life expectancy ages started to increase, tensions began to surface, especially in the poorer classes. Here the harshness of economic reality caused some to question how many generations could a household support.

The coming of the industrial revolution created a whole new set of circumstances. The young tended to move away to the newly developing cities, with the older generations being left behind in the countryside.

Another effect was that many parents lost their role as teachers of the new generation, as new skills, trades and professions evolved. And as people got older it brought into question their ability to keep up with machines, and to learn new skills as required in a fast changing environment.

This period also saw the beginning of saving societies to help people to prepare for old age, and the social provision of poor houses.

Sources:
1. Handbook of the Humanities and Aging,
Eds. T. R. Cole, D. D. Van Tassel & R. Kastenbaum,
1992, Springer Publishing Co., New York.

2. The Long History of Old Age,
Ed. Pat Thane,
2005, Thames & Hudson, London.

 
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© David R. Durham

Addictions

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Our ability to repeat actions, thoughts and behaviours is at the foundation of our capacity to learn.

It is through repition that we learnt to walk, talk, read, ride a bike etc.

What is perhaps less obvious, is that repitition is often behind some of our negative abilities, such as acute anxiety, chemical addictions, depression etc.

The biological mechanism of how this works is controlled by our internal chemistry.

We have a marvellous internal balancing process which regularly tests our blood to see if our normal chemical balance is being maintained.

Unfortunately, this automatic internal checking cannot evaluate is whether this normal balance is healthy or not. And when this normal balance is disturbed, the body releases chemicals which motivate us to get what is needed to correct the imbalance.

With negative addictive behaviour patterns a false ‘normal’ has been established.

For example, if someone consciously worries and worries and worries, then a series of neural networks in our brain, with their corresponding chemical peptide patterns are developed. This reptitive process literally programs our physiology into a worrying state as a false normal condition.

So over time, our chemical balance is set to ‘worry’. So if we stop worrying, this creates a chemical imbalance which our body reacts to. And through that reaction it motivates us through chemical releases to start worrying again. And what we have is a self-perpetuating negative condition. A similar problem exists with alcohol, crack, gambling etc.

This is why addicts to negative thoughts and behaviour find it hard to break their addiction. They often need an external stimuli or support to break this pattern and to establish a new one. This may come from a combination of changed life circumstances, counselling and maybe medication.

This shows how our mind and behaviour affect our body, and how our body then influences our mind and behaviours.

The same process operates with positive thoughts and behaviours, such as smiling a lot, regular exercise, feeling confident etc.

So it seems there is a biological foundation for the adage: We first form habits, then habits form us.

An excellent book on our mind and body relationships is:

Evolve Your Brain: The Science of Changing Your Mind, by Joe Dispenza.

USA Books UK Books Canadian Books

 
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© David R. Durham

Yoga Styles

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Yoga is not one ‘thing’, but it is a title given to a wide range of spiritual values, approaches, goals and techniques which have developed over the last 5,000 years in India.

Consequently, there have evolved many different expressions of Yoga, centered around different flavours of teachers and their styles.

However, whatever the mode of expression, they all have the same basic aim, which is the transcendence of the limited body/mind consciousness into a broader, deeper and more complete awareness and experience of ourselves.

In many ways the Yoga traditions have tried to systemise and sign-post the process of awakening to our broader consciousness.

It also seems to be the case that many try, and few succeed. And of those who do succeed, many keep quiet about it. This may be because having got over the bliss of the initial energy release, it becomes evident that this is simply your natural state, which you’d never left. And then the human condition can be experienced as a rather special and precious state of consciousness.

There are several main stream schools of yoga, where there is a good deal of overlap in principles and practices, and they should not be thought of as separate in any literal sense of the word.

Raja Yoga
This school is focused on meditation, contemplation and mind training.

Hatha Yoga
This is very much focused on developing the body as a means of transcendence.

Jana Yoga
The emphasis here is on self-realisation through knowledge or wisdom. It is through gnosis that reality is seen.

Bhakti Yoga
Here the heart is introduced, and bhakti yoga is a purification through love of the divine.

Karma Yoga
This is a yoga of inner attitude towards action. This action freedom aproach views the world as a vibratory arising process. And through the realisation of this, our limited ego-mind can be seen through.

Mantra Yoga
This is tuning into and experiencing the vibratory world of sound. This is practiced through sacred chants and hymns. Some of the oldest recorded spiritual writings, the Vedas, are designed to be sung.

Tantric Yoga
Tantric yoga contains ways of exploring the depths of human consciousness and has tools for transformation and liberation from the limits of our superficial human condition. (See my blog on the 1st of December for more)

What can be noticed when we see a brief summary list such as this, is how these different strands of the fabric of yoga can appeal to different people’s natural predispositions and mentality.

What can also be observed how the inseparable human qualities of mind, emotions and body can all become channels to the realisation of the divine within all of us.

For the serious student of yoga, I’d recommend the following book:

The Yoga Tradition: Its History, Literature, Philosophy and Practice,
by George Feuerstein

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© David R. Durham

Aging I

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The ticking clock of aging begins very early in our life, and with each passing year it becomes more pronounced. For we are an expression not only of our genetic inheritance, but also of our cultural reality, upbringing, life experiences and our interpretation of those experiences.

Aging is one of those fascinating areas of study which cuts a broad slice through a range of academic disciplines and facets of our collective and individual lives.

It is impractical in the short space of a blog to go into the subjects around of aging in any meaningful way, so I’ll be doing a series of blogs over coming weeks highlighting some of the kay areas, such as:

  • How different cultures view the role of the elderly
  • The impact of bio-technology on our understanding of the aging process and how it can improve the quality of our lives
  • What should be the priorities for resources?
  • Should resources be focused on disease prevention, slowing the aging process or lengthening life span
  • What are the social and environmental costs
  • Is quality of life more important than duration
  • Will it create two classes of people: Those who can afford it and those who cannot?
  • Is the holy grail of immortality a childish dream? Or a work of true vision?

More to follow …

 
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© David R. Durham

Kali

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When you understand that the name Kali translates into english as time, you can begin to see why the goddess Kali has the characteristics she has. And why she is linked to change and death.

The terrible ticking clock which brings us one step closer to our impending doom!

On a more subtle level, the ceaseless change in our world through time acts as a reminder that the only thing which does not change is change itself. And hence change becomes a reflection in our earthly existence of eternity in this time-space universe.

In the trancendence of our limited self our attachments to temporal forms have to be let go of. It is Kali, in her infinite compassion, who accepts this offering, and in doing so she liberates us from the delusion and suffering of ignorance, and delivers us to the eternal life.

So in both a symbolic and real sense we are sacrificed to the divine within us.

In the constant life and death rhythms of living, Kali is the life-force we experience through time.

Kali As Beauty
She has a beauty which can be both mesmerising and terrifying. Her physical beauty is but a pale reflection of her eternal delight.

She is the illusive and beautiful woman who takes our breath away, but whom we can never quite grasp.

She is the angelic child who dies in our arms.

Seeking her eternal beauty we desire so much, she leads us into an endless seeking which we can never quite attain.

Oh Kali! Supreme amongst hindu goddesses and consort of Kala (Shiva) the lord of time and eternity.

For a first-hand poetic and passionate account of Kali try this beautiful book:

Yogic Secrets of the Dark Goddess:
Lightning Dance of the Supreme Shakti, by Shambhavi L. Chopra.

USA Books UK Books Canadian Books

 
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© David R. Durham

CBT

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Cognitive and Behavioural therapy is an approach to mental health issues which uses cognitive and behavioural models to relieve symptoms.

It is usually a time-limited and problem focused approach, with a view to a specific outcome.

The average client will have 10 to 15 sessions with a therapist, each lasting around 45 to 60 minutes each. As with most therapies of this type, this is just a guide figure, and more complex disorders, or compounded disorders may require longer.

At the heart of the cognitive model is the assertion, often highlighted in NLP, that the map is not the territory, and the over use of generalities to understand and describe situations.

What this means is that we all have underlying beliefs and assumptions about the world we live in. We have to have them in order to function efficiently in this world. These are developed as we grow up and learn to manage the world we’re in, based on the culture we’re brought up in.

What cognitive therapy points out, is that people who suffer from abnormal levels of anxiety and depression have distorted and inappropriate assumptions and core beliefs about themselves and the world they find themselves in.

So, whilst someone’s compulsion to avoid red buses may seem irrational on the surface, it is perfectly logical from their viewpoint of the world, based on their core beliefs.

With anxiety problems it is the coming together of excessive danger related thoughts, with inappropriate assumptions and beliefs which creates the problem. Simply stated, it is an over estimation of the perceived danger, and an under estimation of their ability to cope with the situation.

In the case of depression, it is the combination of thoughts of loss and self-devaluation, with distorted assumptions and beliefs which often gives rise to the phenomena.

When an anxiety or depression symptom is triggered, what then follows is a stream of negative automatic thoughts, which often lead to adverse behavioural reactions, which lead to more negative associated thoughts etc. This results in a self-reinforcing destructive loop, which the sufferer finds almost impossible to break, without outside help from a therapy such as CBT.

The negative automatic thoughts are often compounded by self-doubts, negative evaluations and negative predictions about the situation.

The resulting behaviour, is from the unconscious point of view, aimed at self preservation. Unfortunately, the faulty core beliefs and assumptions means that the behaviour is actually self destructive or severely limited.

In a CBT session, the therapist will first assess the nature of the problem, and seek to uncover the core beliefs, assumptions and negative thought patterns.

Based on this assessment, a number of techniques and exercises can be employed to allow the client to re-assess their core beliefs etc., and hence have the opportunity to break the negative cycles, and change their behaviour.

The success rate with CBT is relatively high, when treating anxiety and depression problems. As with almost all therapy of this nature, it is not 100% successful, but since we’re dealing with humans here, that may be an unrealistic aim. Unless of course you’re an obsessive perfectionist, when anything less than 100% success is viewed as a failure.

Source:
Cognitive Therapy of Anxiety Disorders, by Adrian Wells. (Wiley, 2007)

 
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© David R. Durham

Sleepy Head

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Sleeping is an important part of of lives, it must be, as we spend on average 7 to 8 hours a night sleeping.

Of course, people vary in how much they need. For instance women sleep on average 20 minutes per day longer than men, maybe this is why the live longer.

But regardless of whether you’re a 6 hour a night person, or a 9 hour a night person, we all have a core deep sleep requirement of about 5 hours.

What happens if you go through a phase of not being a sleepy head? Insomnia is quite a common problem and there are broadly speaking two types of causes. The first is anxiety and worry, and the second is physical pain.

Regarding anxiety, relaxation techniques can help and setting a time and date to confront and deal with the issues you’re worrying about. And if it is something you cannot change right now, then maybe you have to accept the current situation short-term, and stop worrying about it.

Its also best to take out of your bedroom all the props you use to amuse you when you cannot sleep, such as books, internet, TV etc. Force yourself to go somewhere else to get them if you really need them.

Sleeping pills are at best just a short-term fix. And they may affect your daytime alertness.

An underlying depression can also be an issue, see my blog from Nov. 10th on Depression for more details on the symptoms.

If you have a pattern of awakening after 2 hours sleep, then waking at around 4am to 5am and unable to get back sleep then depression is probably your underlying cause.

 
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© David R. Durham

Spiritual Path III

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Are you feeling stuck in your meditation practice?

One of the things you can try is to move your practice down from your head to your heart.

What would it feel like if it came from your heart? I.e. when it is no longer just a concept in your mind.

It may take a few sessions to really get the hang of this.

Why might this help?

Well there are two main gateways to our deeper states of being; one relates to our mind and the other relates to our heart.

This is why balanced spiritual growth develops both our wisdom and our compassion.

When I say relates to our heart, I don’t mean the physical organ or heart chakra. It is consciousness as it relates to our heart.

Where are we, as consciousness, coming from?

This guidance was graciously given by the spirit of ayhuasca.

 
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© David R. Durham