Saturday, 10 December 2011

Just This

It’s not often in our lifetime we get the chance to spend time in the company of an enlightened being. Amma, the hugging Indian spiritual master, came to London for three days in November. Spending time with her is quite literally the equivalent of being around Jesus or the Buddha.

You can read my article about Amma in Cygnus Review.

In preparation for seeing her, I took myself off on solitary retreat to a secluded hut in the woods the week before. The six nights I spent with the owls and the five days with the squirrels included 11.11.11.

Wood burning stove, compost loo and some food was all I needed. The hut has no running water or electricity. Its simplicity aptly supports the simplicity of Mindfulness practice. Virtually everything I ate and drank was out of one white china bowl. Secretly, I schemed to get rid of most of our crockery at home, such is my longing to be able to take this pared down living back to my every day with me.

I spent my time meditating, chanting and walking in the estuary landscape of Devon’s river Dart. The only book I took with me was ‘Messages from Amma in the Language of the Heart’. These are brief quotes and teachings for daily reflection and inspiration. On my last day, as I settled down to meditate, I opened it at random:

            ‘Spiritual practice is crucial.
            As the seed of the plant
            only bears fruit if rightly cultivated,
            the truth of the human being
            only shines brightly through spiritual practice.’

Here is some poetry I wrote. May it help you keep your practice and your life simple!

A Retreat in Five Days
Day 1
Just this
Just this autumn rain falling
Just this leaf pirouetting
Just this

Just this moment
Just this breath
Just this

Day 2
Just this
Just this puddled footpath
Just this sun warming my cheek
Just this
Just these white yachts
Moored in the distance
Swans, with their tall necks
Reaching up
Just this

Day 3
Just this
Just this walking
Just these dried blackberry husks
Gift wrapped in cob webs and dew
Just this

Day 4
Just this
Just this stream gently flowing
Just this breath gently flowing
Just this

Day 5
Just this
Just this stove
Just this laying my nest of kindling
Just delighting in the flames
Just this

This material is copyrighted. I’m happy for you to use it elsewhere, as long as you credit the source. Thanks! And do leave your comments here – I’d love to know how it’s received!

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

The Highly Sensitive Person

Are you coping with your level of sensitivity?

Probably highly sensitive to start with, the process of spiritual emergence and emergency tends to leave us even more so. At times it is an exquisite sensitivity, a wonderful gift, at others it can be overwhelming. The key is learning to look after ourselves; to reap the benefits of being able to pick up on every detail, every subtlety, whilst knowing how to reduce the onslaught of stimulation when we need to.
            Not only are we sensitive emotionally and energetically, but each of our physical senses is also finely tuned, so that bright lights and noise can be too much for us. It is this increased sensitivity which makes us less able to tolerate certain environments, noise levels and so forth. I find the energy of places such as supermarkets and pubs very difficult, which means that I avoid them as much as possible. I opt to do my supermarket shopping on line, delivered to the house. Busy, noisy cafés, tea shops and restaurants are also challenging for me on many different levels. Given the choice, I will always sit outside. If I do have to be in crowded, public places, then a walk in nature afterwards clears my energy again.
 To flourish as highly sensitive people we need to choose supportive environments and activities. To some extent you may find yourself naturally drawn to what is supportive, but you may also need to make conscious decisions to avoid certain things.
I’ve recently been reading ‘The Highly Sensitive Person’ by Elaine N Aron. The impact it’s had on me has taken me by surprise… given that the book confirms what I already knew about myself. But as well as confirming it has been hugely affirming. Knowing there are lots of people out there with the same level of sensitivity somehow gives me permission to do what I need to do to look after myself, whilst cherishing this amazing gift we have. She says: ‘When I have to be with a group of people for a whole day or weekend, I often explain that I need plenty of time alone.’ No wonder I enjoy silent retreats or, even better, solitary ones!
The trick is to find the right balance for you individually between being out in the world and retreating to a place where creativity can flow. If coping with your increased sensitivity after spiritual emergency is an issue, you might find helpful the section in my book on the ‘Third Key Phase of Moving Successfully Through Spiritual Emergency: Going back out into the world’. And please do share your coping strategies here by leaving a comment – we can all learn from each other!

P.S. My article ‘Mental Health: the Psyche’s Journey to Wholeness’ in Positive Health Online is available now at

Friday, 14 October 2011

CBS Radio Washington

TODAY 3.15pm PST, 6.15pm EST, 11.15pm UK

I'll be talking with the Business of Wisdom Show host Dr Alvin Jones about 'In Case of Spiritual Emergency'.

Also Wednesday 19 October, 11am PST, 2pm EST, 7pm UK
I'll be talking with VIVID LIFE RADIO host Sharon Quirt. More details to follow...


Monday, 10 October 2011

Following up on Book Launch Webinar

I’d just like to expand a little on some of the topics covered in  today’s Book Launch Webinar. Ted Esser, Operations Manager for the American Spiritual Emergence Network (SEN) mentioned Kundalini awakening as one of the key issues raised by those contacting SEN. Just to explain, if you’ve not come across the term before, in Indian teaching Kundalini life-force energy resides at the base of the spine and when released moves up through seven energy centers located along the spine. This can cause a range of difficult symptoms, including sensations of intense heat or burning in parts or all of the body.

Ted also mentioned ‘possession’ when discussing the slides in his presentation. Perhaps a less loaded term is ‘spirit attachment’. In response to Norma’s question asking for advice on spirit attachment, I would recommend the Spirit Release Foundation in the UK.
Kimberley mentioned that when she was in crisis meditation was recommended to her. This will depend on the individual, but on the whole we need to be very careful about meditating when we’re going through spiritual emergency. It has a tendency to open us up even further, to potentially speed the process up, when what we need is to slow it down.

A few questions we didn’t have time to answer
Will asked: Is a person undergoing spiritual emergency and having hallucinations typically able to read the symbology/meaning of their visions and any messages within them, or does it rather seem a chaotic process with no clear meaning?
My response is that it will depend, varying from one experience to another and from one person to another. It may be only much later, when making sense of the experience and integrating it that the meaning becomes clear.
Dinesh asked: Do you have any sense of how common a problem this is? What research has there been? Ted Esser talked a little about research, as does Kaia Nightingale, whose contribution we’ll be adding to the Webinar over the next couple of days. Many of us are feeling that the incidence of spiritual emergency is rising with the global shift in consciousness that is taking place. The evidence for that is mainly anecdotal.
Richard asked: At the point of spiritual emergency or crisis, I believe we are very vulnerable to people with their own agendas  for acquiring ‘converts’, any comment on that? He also sent his very best wishes for a successful event. Thanks for that, Richard. I agree that we are very vulnerable at such times, in many ways. The best we can do maybe is trust our intuition and instincts, which are usually quite strong at these times, and listen to any warnings we may be sensing. This is also why we need the support of family, friends and professionals to help us stay safe.
Do you have any questions you'd like answered? Did you find the webinar helpful? Just use the comment box below.

Blogging for World Mental Health Day

Today, World Mental Health Day, sees the launch of 'In Case of Spiritual Emergency' - a valuable resource for mental health professionals and others. The key tool for coping with crisis that I present in my new book is Mindfulness. So for World Mental Health Day I'd like to share my article that was published in last month's issue of Yoga Magazine.

Ten Top Tips for Bringing Mindfulness into Your Daily Life

Too busy? Too stressed? The benefits of meditation have long been recognised, but not everybody wants or likes to meditate. Mindfulness is meditation’s twin sister. We can incorporate it easily into our existing daily routine, without having to find extra time or do formal sitting meditation on a cushion. Mindfulness helps us to be in the present moment, without dwelling on the past or worrying about something that hasn’t even happened in the future.  And if you do meditate regularly, then Mindfulness will come to you even more easily!

1                    Choose one meal a day that you’re going to eat mindfully. Do you talk, read or even walk about while you’re eating? This will be the one meal when you give yourself permission to simply eat. So choose a mealtime when you know you can be alone and sit down to really savour those flavours. Explore the colours, textures, tastes of each and every mouthful. Enjoy!

2                    When walking, whether to the local shop or from one office building to another, incorporate mindful walking into your day. Drop down into your body. Feel the soles of your feet against the ground with each step you take. Stay focussed on the physical sensations of the movement. If your mind wanders off, gently bring it back to the soles of your feet. Start with a few minutes and gradually build up to 10-15 minutes.

3                    Introduce 3-minute ‘breathing spaces’ into your day. These are mini-mini-meditations; great little tools with big benefits! So whether you need a break from the computer screen or need to centre yourself after driving somewhere or between clients, try this. Ideally, sit in a chair with your feet flat on the ground and close your eyes. If that’s not possible, don’t worry – these can even be done standing in the queue at the supermarket checkout! Start by checking in with yourself. How are you doing right now, physically, mentally, emotionally? We’re not trying to change anything. We’re just noticing how it is right now, what’s present for us right now. When you’ve had time to do that, take your attention to the breath. Follow it for a few cycles, simply noticing the physical movement and sensations. When you’re ready you can re-engage with the day feeling refreshed.

4                    If, like most of us, your mind tends to be very busy, notice what kind of thinking the mind is engaged in. For example, is it rehearsing a conversation, planning, brooding, catastrophising, daydreaming, drafting an email? Just becoming aware of the kind of activity the mind is busy with can help us to step back a little, cultivate the observer and be more in the present moment.

5                    Does over-work and too much stress leave you feeling tired, dull and flat? Whilst acknowledging how we’re feeling, we can intentionally seek out the pleasurable, the beautiful, the enjoyable. A good question to ask when we’re struggling is ‘what else is in my experience right now?’ There will always be something, no matter how small or subtle, that is positive in our experience right now. Maybe you can feel the breeze on your skin, maybe the cup of tea you’re holding feels warm in your hands ...

6                    Find ways of being kind and gentle with yourself. Notice when comfort eating or flopping in front of the telly is self-defeating and find real treats for yourself. Bring awareness and mindfulness into your self-care and self-nurturing.

7                    If you have a daily yoga practice, you’re probably already practising Mindfulness! The way we bring ourselves into the present moment is through the body and the five senses. So during your practice really focus on the physical sensations. When the mind wanders off simply bring it back patiently, without any sense of judgement.

8                    Choose one routine activity a day to practise Mindfulness. That might be cleaning your teeth, having a shower or washing up. Spend that time really focussing on the physical sensations of the hot water on your skin, the taste of the toothpaste and so on. Involve as many of the five senses as possible to help you be totally in the present moment.

9                    Changing our relationship to what we find difficult lies at the heart of Mindfulness. Our default mode is to resist anything we find painful, physically or emotionally. We don’t want it to be happening; we want it to go away. Unfortunately this only makes our suffering worse. If we can gently turn towards it, say ‘hello’ to it, life will become easier. Start by noticing where you might be resisting aspects of your experience. Be compassionate towards yourself.

10                If stress, whether caused by work, relationships or health, is a major concern for you, consider finding a Mindfulness course to help you learn the tools for a better quality of life. Whatever issue or problem you’re struggling with, Mindfulness can’t and won’t make it go away; what it can and will do is help you to cope and look after yourself.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

10 September, World Suicide Prevention Day

The Dark Night of the Soul

Often associated with depression, the dark night of the soul is perhaps one of the most perilous forms spiritual emergency can take, because of the danger of suicide. Reaching out for support is imperative at such times. In the UK there is an excellent non-medical facility in London for anyone who is feeling suicidal, the MayTree Foundation. You can stay there for up to four nights, with someone available 24 hours, to help you through the worst time ( Alternatively, call the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90 or, in America, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on 1-800-273-8255, both 24 hours a day.
       Contrary to popular belief, the dark night of the soul is not only about pain and misery. It is as much about the freshly dawning light that can break through after the totally debilitating times of the dark night. A helpful book on the subject is Gerald May’s The Dark Night of the Soul: A Psychiatrist Explores the Connection Between Darkness and Spiritual Growth. Drawing on his clinical experience, May writes that depression and the 'dark night' often go hand in hand, in the same way that we have seen how other spiritual crises can be accompanied by psychotic-type symptoms. He considers it not helpful to try to separate them out, the important thing being to treat the depression where present and to support the 'dark night'.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Join us for the ‘virtual’ book launch!

World Mental Health Day, Monday 10 October 2011
7.30pm GMT (11.30am PST, 2.30pm EST)
I’m very excited about creating a truly international book launch event! I hope you’ll join me on World Mental Health Day in dialogue with my special guests, all from the comfort of your own home. You’ll need to pre-register for this free webinar event.
I’ll be joined by two people featured in the book, Kimberley Jones and Emma Goude, sharing their experience of spiritual emergence and emergency. We’ll also hear from Kaia Nightingale of the Canadian Spiritual Emergence Service and from Ted Esser, Operations Manager for the Spiritual Emergence Network (USA). I’m delighted that Carol Shaw from publishers Findhorn Press will also be joining us. And of course I’ll say a few words about the book too!
Exclusively, for World Mental Health Day ONLY, you can buy a signed copy of the book from The Academy of Living Wisdom. If you would like me to write a personal message inside the front cover, you can type that in when you make your purchase.
Not joined a webinar before? No need to worry; it’s simple. All you’ll need to do is log on at 7.30pm, follow the link we’ll have already sent you and sit back and enjoy!
I look forward to welcoming you to this exciting international launch event!